Monday, November 3, 2008

Score for Tory, sword, bellydancer and birthday cake

At the 2008 Day of the Dead Beats in St. Louis, organized on Saturday by the indefatiguable Brett Underwood, I read some of Kenneth Rexroth's cotranslations of poetry by Japanese women. It is, to use language I picked up as a kid and still don't want to put down, hot shit.

One piece by Shiraishi Kazuko (who is still alive and performing at age 77) really struck me as quintessentially Beat, as well as a great poetential performance piece. On the way to the venue, on a whim I called Tory Z. Starbuck, hoping he could drop by The Way Out Club with an instrument (or 27) to accompany me on "The Man Root (For Sumiko's Birthday)."

I wanted to surprise Bob and Sherri, The Way Out Club proprietors. They have been knowing me since I was a twentysomething refugee from the U.S. Navy and Tory since he was, basically, a child. Not that they sit around and think about us all the time, but they are just about the only two people who know that two such dissimilar people as Tory (a genderblending experimental musician who wanted to be David Bowie when he grew up - even for awhile after he grew up) and me (a roots rocker turned hobo folklorist turned professional journalist) have a connection that goes pretty deep.

When I was first playing roots rock in Cicero's Basement, which was what everybody was doing at the time, Tory was dressing up like a transgendered punk rock spaceman and bashing his head against the basement poles. He was the only person in St. Louis doing that.

Throughout his development, Tory has remained pretty much the only person doing whatever it was he was doing. After he accumulated his sidekick (wife) Venus Slick, there usually have been two people doing whatever Tory was doing - though, appropriately for people who experiment with the blurry zones of gender shifting, Tory and Venus seem more like two parts of one person than two people.

Their musicianship has continued to involve, largely independent of their identity experiments. A couple of years ago we showed a highlight reel of my movie Blind Cat Black at Webster University Film Series that also included a SHed SHot short and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari screened with a live musical score. Tory and Venus - veterans of the local live music/silent film scene - worked with SHed SHot on a striking score to Caligari.

Just like Tory rose to the occasion of that live score (and a role in my movie as a freak tattooist), he was all ready to roll with an improvised score to a sexy, funny and fantastical Japanese poem about a cosmic penis and a belated birthday gift - but he and Venus had studio plans for the night. We agreed it was a good idea, but we would have to come back to it.

I drove to the Day of the Deat Beats gig and continued to think about this project.

I called Tory back. I told him I know a young Vietnamese man who waits tables at one of my favorite local restaurants and who does traditional martial arts of the sword. I suggested we get him involved in the score and pair him with a dancer.

"Maybe a belly dancer," Tory said.

Of course, a belly dancer.

Then I told Tory, "I never thought I'd have the chance to say this to anyone and mean it, but if you can bring the belly dancer, I'll bring an Asian guy with a big knife."

Once I got to The Way Out Club, I bubbled about all of this to Bob and Sherri - and anybody else who would listen (and several people who probably didn't listen).

Bob - older, wiser, hipper and thinner than when I knew him best - said, "You know who you aught to get for your belly dancer."

I said I was hoping that was Tory's problem - I was going to get the man with the sword - but would be happy to make a recommendation.

Bob nodded down the bar at Sherri. "Sherri is a belly dancer, and she teaches belly dancing," Bob said.

Sherri - who also is older, wiser, hipper, thinner and sexier than when I knew her best - said she wanted the gig. That was that!

I was thinking about all this yesterday morning while my daughter was in Sunday school. She learns about Jesus and the saints, I sit in the parking lot, listening to Robert Ashley and daydreaming about scoring a Japanese woman's poem about a cosmic penis and a belated birthday gift, with a martial artist and a belly dancer.

It seemed obvious that the sexy belly dancer and the young, swift man with the sword would somehow take care of the cosmic penis in the poem. But what about the belated birthday gift?

I thought about a show that opened Friday night at my friend Sandra Marchewa's PSTL Gallery, You're Invited by B.J. Vogt. I had not been able to attend the opening - I was trick-or-treating with my kid that night - but I had read the artist's statement. It reads, in part:

"You’re Invited (1980-2008) is a multi-element piece involving performance, sculpture, altered photography, appropriated objects and cake. The setting for the piece is my childhood birthdays, all of them (or at least what I can remember of them or find pictures of). The foundation of the piece rests in the rituals of the birthday: the presenting of the cake, the lighting of candles, the singing of the song, the blowing out of candles, and the cutting, dispersal, and eating of the cake."

I thought that's a brilliant idea. And I started thinking we could adapt it. Since Sherri has a terribly sexy speaking voice (as evidenced by her show on KDHX FM 88.1, at 2 p.m. on Monday), I wouldn't be needed to perform the poem. The belly dancer should do that. I can't keep up with Tory and Venus as a musician. But I sure can figure out how to bake a big birthday cake and serve it to the people. I even think I know how we'll slice the cake - that is, if Joseph is willing to lend his martial arts to a spectacle of the Surreal that lies far, far outside of the masculine rituals of his chosen art form.

I have posted "The Man Root (For Sumiko's Birthday) byShiraishi Kazuko (translated from the Japanese by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi) on the Poetry Scores blog, where I'll track the development of this crazy idea, if it does indeed develop.


The image is what I take to be one of Tory and Venus' funky selfcreated instruments, from somebody's Flickr site.


Rookery said...

By damn, if there's one thing American can always use more of, it's unique & creative odes to a universe-spanning penis. I love this poem. I even dare to hope that someday I'll understand it. Cheers.


Confluence City said...

Joseph the sword guy served me lunch at Miss Saigon and wants to do the show, though he doesn't understand it either. By the way, I'm not promising you I understand it. I wouldn't bother scoring something I already understand! Nothing left to discover!

Anonymous said...

As a longtime collaborator with Tory & Venus i share your enthusiasm for their devotion to surreal-life. However if i may be afforded one small quibble... i'm the guy that built that gadget in the picture. T & V are adept in many skills but their prowess in analog circuit design is not quite up the level that design would require. i will profess that Venus really devoted herself to learning it's unpredictable quirks and she is as good at playing it as the guy who created it.

-with all due respect,

Confluence City said...

Glad to hear more, doc.