#13 August 2002 ETERNITY BLAST SPECIAL edited by Cary Loren PAGE 2 of 13





(a delinquent prelude)

Summer of 1970, I was fifteen and hitched to Eugene, Oregon to visit Captain Beefheart and the Magic band at their secret practice location. I was deep into ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and ‘Strictly Personal’, and wanted to document this amazing artist by making a short film as they prepared; ‘Lick My Decals Off, Baby’. My parents were on a vacation and I could return undetected in a few weeks.

Early morning outside Eugene, camped on the highway, the thought occurred that the Magic band could live without a young film-nut invading their privacy. I then headed down to Santa Rosa, California where some high school friends had begun a commune in the hills. The police picked me up 5 minutes from my destination as I sat by the roadside eating an apple. I was dumped into a prison camp for high-risk runaways and delinquents. My birthday passed in a solitary cell being spit at through a small sliding window by a gang of grease-balls. With no way to locate my parents, a few weeks that summer was spent in the lockup. My grandmother was finally reached and I was escorted to my airline seat with a one-way ticket home care of the Santa Rosa police.

I made 8mm movies in jr. high school— short films, collages and animations that became increasingly surreal with my exposure to modern art and music. I studied film via books and articles, infatuated with the works of Andy Warhol, Ken Jacobs, Robert Frank, Harry Smith, Ron Rice and Jack Smith; school of the New York underground. Film was a teenage sanctuary, a space between dreams and reality, a direct escape from suburbia. Attracted into this world, I surrounded myself with the beatitude of what Jonas Mekas (or ‘Uncle Fishhook’, as JS called him) coined the “Baudelairian cinema”.

Jack became the center of my film cosmos… portraits of him and his actor friends were glued to my walls like teen idols. In the Detroit Public Library I'd  devour every issue of Film Culture, the bible of the scene. Jack’s words and essays were the perfect approximation of his films, which I had never experienced. I only imagined what they were like. I always thought the mylar-chamber photographs by Ira Cohen in Avant-Garde. were stills from his fantastic movie sets. 

The Jack Smith obsession led to a high school correspondence. I sent mash letters and collages decorated with heavy gobs of glitter and glass rhinestones.. I discussed films and my childhood fascination with lobsters. I asked a lot of dumb questions.

The letters intrigued Jack. At last, he invited me to visit and wrote, “I am very glad to be idolized and to have your film “Elmo the Geek” dedicated to me. At risk of threatening this idolization I must say I believe an artist should pull his ideas out of himself- otherwise how can he change the world which is in the mess it is in because of a collection of other people’s bad ideas? Also because I’m trying to write a lobster script myself (have been working on it for the past 5 yrs) I know the lobster started the wars in Indo-China, but who is the Lobster? Anyway I wish you best luck and would be delighted to see you if you ever come to BIG APPLE….” later I made the trip and temporarily shelved my plans for a lobster film.

I turned up at 235 E. 2nd Street one afternoon after a long hitchhike from a commune in Washington DC. It was early summer in 1973. Jack wasn’t at home so I waited by his door. Around dinnertime he lumbered up the long stretch of stairs with a friend. I introduced myself and Jack remembered the letters. He took some out of a drawer, waving them under the light to catch reflections.

His apartment was a dark maze of clutter, trash and objects piled to the ceiling. There was little room to move. It was a hot day. “OY, I feel like I’m completely covered in CLAM JUICE,” he would often repeat. The door had an arsenal of locks and dead bolts running down its edge. A small black and white television was tuned to a grainy Puerto-Rican station. A bare light bulb hung down which he screwed in its socket to turn on. A disco-ball scattered points of light. The refrigerator contained tons of 35mm slide film and a bottle of beer. I think he was loading his own film cartridges. The bathtub was a sort of clothes closet/sofa seat. The water in the bathroom wasn’t working. Colored light bulbs were in the lamps. The kitchen sink served as an impromptu toilet.  A hash-pipe suddenly helped transform the overcrowded apartment into a blurry fantasyland.

Cockroaches appeared everywhere—and Jack would go looking for a club or can of poison aerosol… “O what if GOD is a cockroach?” he chanted as he bashed away at the scattered bugs. He always seemed to miss. “O GOD, O GOD, WHAT AM I DOING? IF I KILL GOD, I’M GOING TO BURN IN HELL! THIS COCKROACH OVER HERE, THIS COULD BE GOD! YOU COULD BE GOD!” He’d be screaming at the cockroach, spraying and clubbing everywhere—it was ridiculous and fascinating. He told me he wanted to marry a Chinese fat lady at the circus—someone who weighed over 300 pounds, and could lift him over her head with one arm. I thought she really existed, maybe it was someone he knew from Coney Island....

Jack placed a call and made arrangements for dinner. Almost every night was spent in the company of an arty  loft party filled with intellectuals and wealthy bohemian patrons, honored to have Jack as their special ‘celebrity guest’ for the night--  a sort of sideshow entertainment. Susan Sontag’s nine-year-old review of FLAMING CREATURES would inevitably be brought up. “O the HORROR of it,” Jack would say, hanging his head

After entertaining our hosts, we’d go trash picking through the streets- and end up in Chinatown, a favorite area for the best in exotic garbage. Past midnight we’d leaf through cans and bags in front of closed restaurants in search of some unusual item or mystery package. He loved the designs and calligraphy on the empty cans and wrappers. “Where is that can? Where is IT?” he’d say. I think there was a kind of decorated food canister he was searching for.  Something he's seen in the past. He’d lecture in a slow deadpan drawl, “Anarchism is really the perfect government, its uh just that people don’t know uh what it really means. Do you know?  It just means uh NO GOVERNMENT at all. Do you know that uh the true FLAG of anarchism is a completely black flag.” I’d forget what we were looking for—but there was something mysterious and exciting about the search. It seemed epic and bigger than life, stranded on the edge of this set of garbage, sleep-waking in a lagoon of bizarre remains. Life always seemed more amazing around Jack Smith. The most boring, mundane rituals were magnified and transformed—made elongated, extreme, and beautiful.

Usually he’d announce what prop we needed to find; a barstool, lampshade, wheelbarrow, screwdriver, or some other object. It became a kind of mystical scavenger hunt to locate the item. We’d always find this stuff and haul it back to the apartment before dawn, usually abandoning it before he’d lug it up the stairs. I’m not sure to what purpose this all held— but it felt important, a necessary lesson in our throwaway society. I assumed we might be collecting items for a film or photography project. Maybe it was just a matter of moving something from one point to the other or his way of touring the city.

Jack would dig out photos, albums and old news clippings stashed in a large black chest. He showed me articles and old letters he wrote in the Village Voice—a review he did about John Waters—he felt his own comedic work was terribly misunderstood, but Waters had gotten it right. He railed against the great “bull-dyke conspiracy”. '"The lesbians are trying to control the world." He showed me a copy of his own BEAUTIFUL BOOK—a collection of film stills and portraits hand-tipped to the pages. It was a beautiful thing to hold, the first real glimpse into his vision. I would spend the next twenty years searching for a copy. Then amazingly, in 1991 in a gesture of great generosity, Billy Name mailed me his duplicate copy, kept safe for years inside a trunk Warhol had stored for him.

Jack had yards of Kodak carousel slide boxes piled on a high shelf. On a desk table was a deserted work area (maybe an editing room) stacked high with teetering large metal film canisters. He must’ve had a few original motion pictures there along with his own works. We looked through carousel trays filled with color slides, carefully passing each slide loaded into a small handheld viewer. They were color images from film sets, others formed parts of slide shows. He explained how expensive and time consuming the films were (he never could finish them to his liking) —slide shows were easy, portable, edited and changed quickly. It was hard to imagine what these shows were like; did he narrate along? I now had a new appreciation for my parents long and boring slide show travelogues.

Jack would constantly re-arrange and decorate. It was a tight dark space crowded floor to ceiling. Strands of silver tinsel danced over a fan—it seemed like a windowless apartment, fabrics draped over panes facing an alley and piles of boxes. He would move in a fluid, comical languid ballet. He had a jar of ornate costume jewelry pins and rings. Pillows were strewn on the floor and mattress. The apartment took the appearance of an Arabian harem fantasy.

Music was always playing on a small hi-fi turntable. Jack loved MARTIN DENNY lounge exotica, and considered him the greatest bandleader of all time. He admired the cover photography and you could see the attraction. I soon came to also love Denny and searched out his albums. We discussed Yma Sumac and her albums. Jack’s turntable had a special feature, which could repeat over and over a specific track. He would drag his hand on the record to slow down the music, a technique used in his films, and one I would also borrow. Jack showed me a curved “jewel encrusted” Islamic dagger, a “scimitar” – it looked like a cheap movie prop. He held up an early publicity photograph taken with the scimitar to compare poses. “THIS IS A SCIMITAR. A rare blade… The scimitar is curved and uh covered in uh very expensive, rare and precious jewels, how do I look?” he’d say. That photo still was clearly one of his favorites.

Blue and red lights and a bowl of hash helped transform the space into a magical garden. A large fan hummed and blew colored tinsel into motion… the apartment seemed like a desert tent, billowing, sparkling, floating in space. Jack dug up old masks, hand-made costumes with sequins and beads. Precious thrift store finds. The apartment was a multi-layered mirage, a lower east-side island, a collage that moved like a floating “Sunset Boulevard”. He talked about his landlords and renting, bad teeth and failures. I was awed and overwhelmed by the beauty of his vision in a vivid summer's dream.

It was midsummer and the nights would get unbearably hot. Sometimes we’d sleep out on top of the building—a sort of beautiful black empty ‘tar beach’ where you could watch the city in quiet splendor. We talked about favorite Hollywood films and actors; Marlene Dietrich, Veronica Lake, Maria Montez, VON STROHEIM, VON STERNBERG, monster films, anything about other worlds. His paranoia would leak out whenever we’d talk about Warhol; “that guy took everything out of me, EVERYTHING, he squeezed me dry, his face was a death mask.” Jack claimed Warhol got his first bolex movie camera from him, and stole his stable of stars. He was the great genius vampire swindler. Beneath his contempt he had an odd respect for Warhol-- for making success on his own terms. I think he felt a film collaboration with Warhol was a possibility... "if only he would listen."

I may have read somewhere that Warhol declared FLAMING CREATURES his favorite all-time film . Warhol’s own first film was of Jack Smith directing and making the film NORMAL LOVE— he was a constant fixture on the set.  Warhol would later use MARIO MONTEZ and carbon-copy a similar stable of ‘superstar’ actors. Smith starred in a few early Warhol productions that have sadly been unavailable, perhaps it was payback for stealing his actors and methods. Warhol has always silent about these missing reels. I never could confirm Jack’s claim about his camera.

Not long after I arrived Jack set up an exhibition of my films at the MILLENIUM FILM SOCIETY—a co-op art-film space not far from where he lived. We walked to the screening room through blocks of parked motorcycles. The neighborhood was tough and Jack wore a sort of modified turban/scarf, which made him look like a tall, thin Arab pirate. I carried my films and tape recorder in a paper bag. Jack instructed me to always walk with a paper bag in your hand—then you’d be left alone, "no one will bother you because they won't know what's inside the paper bag, it will make you invisible."

We arrived at Millennium and he introduced me to a group of students, filmmakers and a few street people. It was a small audience but most of the seats were filled. They gave their complete respect and attention. I brought ELMO THE GEEK and SILVER COFFINS FROM VENUS —both films shot in my parents basement during high school. When the lights went out, problems began. Film footage unraveled, music went out of sync. It was a total mess. Every time the lights went up, I’d re-splice film and rewind the recorder. Jack would jump up telling stories; jokes, fairytales, anything. The audience loved it. I thought it was a disaster, my film sadly entangled on floor. In Jack’s mind every film was a live performance, a moment for chance to take over.

His friends commented how unusual it was for Jack to trust anybody (especially a complete stranger). It seemed he rarely had overnight guests. I sensed the paranoia around him, but it was not unjustified. His ideas came along and knocked you out—his imagination was overflowing. He was one of the funniest and most dead-on perceptive people I’ve ever met. His slogans and sayings were surprising, but you'd keep hearing them long after he spoke. He complained about his teeth endlessly. “Artists aren’t allowed to have teeth. They just can’t AFFORD them.” He added magic to everyday life, but was sadly beaten down, by himself and others.

At the apartment, I spent hours painting a few square feet of wall space. Jack gave out detailed instructions on painting his wall a certain blue color— in a certain pattern. He gave me a tiny dime-store watercolor brush. You had to hold this tiny brush just so. “Take your time, slowly, paint must go on softly, and slowly, slowly, don’t drip, don’t put too much on the brush …the wall must look like a creamy, blue sky, Spring clouds… virgin clouds.” Hand scrawled notes, phone numbers and drawings dotted the walls. He explained the wall was going to be a backdrop and I could earn my keep by painting the wall. After a couple days of over painting Jack told me to stop—“MY GOD, What are you doing? It’s a terrible mess, A DISASTER! YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO PAINT! You’ve ruined my wall…you will never understand how to paint he said. My set- painting days were done. I think his small explosion was a way of telling me it was time to leave. I had ruined his wall, and could not undo it.

Soon I was on my way to Buffalo, New York, to show films and meet Stan Vanderbeek. I took a ride with some of Jack’s actor friends. We talked about his films and the strange costumes he put together. I decided to stop off in Binghamton, to visit Ken Jacobs, a man who worked with Jack in the late fifties. He wasn’t there but I left a note hoping he’d take a look at my films sometime. I soon received a letter from Jacobs. It began, “Dear Nut, I don’t know who you are and Jack Smith is no friend of mine…whatever gave you the idea that I would be here with time on my hands…”

My visit was only two or three weeks but would leave an indelible mark. The next couple years, I worked on films and set constructions at a steady pace. I felt inclined to check out film schools, but knew the futility of any school after the "Smith experience"-- college seemed weak and ineffectual. Moving to Ann Arbor in 1974, I began a midnight film and theater group --some of our  sketches were  a reconstructed version of Smith’s “End of Civilization” performances. My aesthetic was greatly influenced by my summer in New York.

I built apocalyptic heaven and hell sets with day-glow paint and chicken-wire and papier maché constructed monster and insect masks based on mask-making techniques Jack had showed me. Large painted backdrops, street signs, demolished shopping carts and half-torn billboards accented the destruction decor. I’d mix Martin Denny, Yma Sumac, classical music, folk and rock. Flyers for these late-night happenings were handed out around town. Shows began about midnight. I had a small group of actor friends, many who enjoyed transgender makeup and dressing up. We would spend hours doing makeup. It was the height of the glam rock period. There were also elements Audience members would often be recruited. Many of the shows were filmed and sometimes film was projected over the theater piece. Some of this work appears in the collection of films Grow Live Monsters.

Destroy All Monsters was formed late that summer, when Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw visited space on Hill Street. They were both art students at University of Michigan. Some of their own theater happenings were documented in their Futuristic Ballet performance – a small section appears in the video Clear Day. Our collaboration and performances would include many of the elements and tactics favored by Smith. Things always broke apart or were violently shut down. As DAM we arranged an atmosphere of industrial waste and florid psychedelic exotica. There was a darkness and intensity evident in DAM but still Smith's influence reached deep and still resounds. He was one of the most original beings in life.

Recently I had a vivid dream directed by Jack. It took place in an amazing set inside an outrageously large loft-- Jack was filming various actors and creatures lounging and contorting under fabrics and pillows, some dressed in middle-eastern costumes, others looked like cast-offs from a horror film set. Jack was filming the scene from on top a hill of pillows. He handed me a beautiful  hand-made mask-- it seemed like his death mask, painted red and perfectly round. He asked me for fifty dollars, which I gave it to him. I thought I had bought the mask, but  he took it away and rolled it like a bowling ball into a pile of junk which covered a large battery operated toy car--we walked over to the car and he put in dozens of batteries   we got in the miniature car and drove around the loft. “this is where i live now,” he said. it was a large New York loft. I looked down and noticed I was wearing army fatigues. How could you let me in wearing this?-- "you’re a prisoner of war here, all the living are prisoners", jack said. We drove to one room where wealthy art collectors rummaged through trunks of his stuff waving checks in their hands. Where’s the art dealer we can buy this from? they asked. Jack doesn’t deal with dealers I said. They tore up their checks and left.

-Cary Loren, 2002                  



NORMAL LOVE by Jack Smith







#13   August 2002   ETERNITY BLAST SPECIAL  guest editor: Cary Loren   PAGE 2 of 13

End is Here I was a Jack Smith love slave Infinite Black Darkness, Infinite White Darkness Buried Alive Rock and Revolution, photos by Leni Sinclair Aesthetics of UFOs by Mike Kelley Wallace Berman Angus MacLise Father Yod  Ira Cohen Akira Ikufube Swampy Lagoon Index Ray Johnson