Thursday, August 7, 2008

Of monks and jackasses

Saturday night at The New Monastic Workshop (to pick back up an old thread) was an Open DJ Spin in The New Monastic Smokehouse. That is, Brother John Eiler's garage, which serves multiple duty as an urban museum dedicated to the memory of his dead father the motorcycle racer and as the zombie green room whenever I make movies.

In the smoke house: Brother Bradley Bowers, the artist, writer, filmmaker, and furniture sculptor. On this late night after a later night, Bradley mostly wheeled about in a wheelchair, and faded early; much more about him in a future post, as we work our way back to a time when he was firing on more monastic cylinders.

Bradley had invited into the monkish fold the videographer Rob Durbin, who had spent time in L.A. and had producer credits on the original Jackass series, which has important St. Louis connections that are poorly understood. Yes, we were a part of that gruesome confluence, since Jackass mastermind Jeff Tremaine graduated from Washington University (class of 1989, I should think).

One wonders where the campus monument is to this, perhaps the most successful and influential person to emerge from that august and expensive institution in the latter decades of the 20th century? I can imagine a noble marble figure in the quad, in the form of a frenetic man in underwear, with marble scorpions tumbling out of his underwear.

I never knew Jeff on campus, nor Rob, but both were friends with an early bandmate of mine who later became my inseparable songwriting and production partner, Matt Fuller. Matt also ended up in L.A.; is still there, doing commercial illustration in a Hollywood bungalow.

Matt was out there when he, Lij, and I first started co-producing poetry scores (that is, long poems scored as one scores a film). Matt did a design for the cover for our first poetry scores CD, Crossing America by Leo Connellan, but he needed help mocking it up on the computer. As I recall (and it would have been impossible to predict, at the time, that any of this would become important), Jeff Tremaine was still doing art direction for Big Brother Magazine (owned by Larry Flynt), but already experimenting with the castration-defying skateboard stunts that would come to define his work. Certainly it is true that Jeff was a good enough friend to Matt to have him up in Larry Flynt's corporate offices and help translate his cover design ideas into a digital mode. A credit on the CD jacket testifies to this.

Crossing America is a spoken word record, enfolded into a folk symphony. It's an art nerd thing. It was profiled once on The Verb, The BBC's hifalutin poetry show. It's based on a hitchhiking epic, and it does end, brutally, with a bum date-raping a bag lady, but it's still a long stretch - an unlikely confluence - from there to Larry Flynt, to skateboard stunts, to Jackass. I guess that's why you go to college.

At the Open DJ Spin that night, Rob and I spoke, a bit, about these things. I admitted I hadn't seen much of Jackass but had laughed my jackass off at what I did see. It was late and there were drinks, so Rob waxed philosophical about how the concept of the show had "penetrated the zeitgeist of the culture," which seems to be a fact beyond dispute.

Meanwhile, The Smokehouse was rocking; the discs were spinning; Bradley was spinning; Bradley was spinning in circles; Bradley was spinning in circles in a wheelchair.

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