from the beginning to now (briefly)
Then a d.j. at the infamous ONE-WAY leather bar in L.A.'s Silverlake District (today, it's a Latin Evangelist church!), he and L.A. Weekly underground club columnist Craig Lee decided to do a special event.
That was shortly after my club (BRAVE DOG, created with Claire Glidden in L.A.'s Little Tokyo... just next to the punky/junky Atomic Cafe) had just been forced to close. The audience and artists (weird, wonderful young, art-damaged and sexually ambiguous folks who glowed under soft pink lights) needed a home to continue the spontaneous invention of a scene. Al's Bar was happening then. Pro-Fun Magazine. Cathay deGrande in Hollywood. Madame Wong's, Janet Cunningham's place. The Garage, Stella's Stray Pop show on KXLU-FM, The Veil, VEX, Zero Gallery, etc. There was a feeling of authentic beyond stereotyped pop/nu-wave and punk momentum at this time, yet many of the venues were turning into routines with commercial booking policies and snotty attitudes. I gave JVT Brave Dog's mailing list (which added to his well established cult following) and total encouragement.
The idea was to keep presenting some of the wildest un-pop live acts coming out of the art schools, Hollywood underground and exploding Downtown art, performance and music scenes during this Great Eruption of new anti-commercial art and culture (which today is marginalized and trivialized as "alternative" by the corporate "entertainment" industry that this scene was meant to oppose). Has everyone sold out by now?
Jim and I both got to know each other by working our day jobs at (of all things) a fashion industry trade newspaper in the Garment District. I already knew Craig from his sharp tongue in the LA-Dee-Da column (LA Weekly) and other music reviews.
Art Director John Barry worked with Jim
in creating the all important the-o-re-ti-cal logo. We both assisted JVT in his graphic obsession by blowing it up and shrinking it repeatedly on xerox machines at different locations and different times at the direction of this driven perfectionist.
I think he repeated the process of creating the logo anew for almost every one of the early events (I believe there was something in the aesthetic formula about using machines against themselves: to soften and humanize their limited and otherwise brutal imprecision). The original image (with its syllabic breaks) came from an old college dictionary set in some very tiny Bodoni font. Let's just say it was worked on: Blown-up and Reduced. Manually cut-and-pasted letter-by-letter at a huge scale: then back down again... until the sense of gentle-yet-crusty decay was just right. A logo to worship and change with.
JVT and Craig Lee settled on that splendid the-o-ret-i-cal name from once having seen some sick drag act called "Theoretical Girls" in San Francisco that must have amused them very much. Jim's the-o-ret-i-cal on a Sunday afternoon at the ONEWAY was way too much fun and, for that very specialized and alienated time of labels and sterotypes amid a real grass-roots cultural upheaval in the arts developed a mode of social interaction that literally slapped people out their respective havens, campuses, studios and closets.
The ONEWAY's staff was fearful ("diversity-challenged") of seeing women in there! Straight guys, too! Leather Queens in the light of day! And those Devil Door Dykes (Belissa, Joannie, Clare, and Shauna) who you'd better pay $5 to to, to get in! French people! Would the Dark Leather image be tarnished? Artists of all media and persuasions came to see and participate in this Thang.
JVT went on to do many more "theo's" (as he lovingly called them) involving a variety of friends as co-producers including Art Director John Barry, Anticlub creator Russell Jessum, L.A.C.E. Gallery (especially Weba Garetson and the co-produced Survival Research Lab show), Brian (who worked on Arco oil tankers and would show up on his way between trips to Alaska) and others.
Finally in 1986, after learning some hard lessons about how greedy and unscrupulous people can steal your creations and get away with it (see "The Case of the ANTICLUB" later. Much later), Jim and I settled on maintaining the original concept as a time for truly special art and culture to collide without being predictable or industry and profit motivated in the way too many things these days are. We filed a Fictitious Name Statement (or "DBA" ...doing business as) with the County Court of Los Angeles and went about producing events that included international acts, non-boring performance art and much more fun on Sunday afternoons at venues all over Los Angeles.
At some point in 1989, though, Jim's health became an issue and he began to slowly fade away. AIDS was a scary mystery, not as clearly understood at this time (Not that things are totally clear now). Other people of our theoretical clan got sick, too...
First, for me, that gentle handsome d.j. music genius Jim Churnick died.
And then Artist Don Sorenson, followed by T.Billy, Darren Swimmer, John Taglavia, Marq O., John Carrol, then Craig Lee went.
Followed by Sherwin Poff and Mark Witten. Kyle Brackett, Jim Yousling, Mark Grady, Larry Franklin, Michael Pandolfi, Gerardo Velasquez, Bobby Dotson, Randy Smith and Maylan Meisel.
Arnie Araica, John Bryant, Artist Jim Reva
(and it goes on...). And, more recently: Tomata DuPlenty
And now there's a whole group of "positive" people living and coping with HIV infection... still vital and a part of this devastated creative community.
Prior to Jim's death, not fully accepting or believing what was imminent, he asked me to become a sort of Guardian of this theoretical vision (which shall always remain HIS more than anyone else's) and to do what I thought best.
"Do nothing at all with it if you wish,"
"...it is now all yours, as I must take an early retirement."
He gave me this 18" Godzilla toy that always made me laugh and one of his best weird art-clocks... it still works. And THAT, in retrospect, was "THAT."
I just didn't get it (that "THAT" was a final goodbye).
Several weeks later he was dead.
So, after some years of equivocation and bitterness,
something indescribable tells me it is time to bring
back The Thang... not as some retro concept,
but a time worth documenting and as a fresh idea
on the worldwide web.
THIS is NOT about "closure."
THIS is an OPENING with no end in sight.
"Close the portals of The Festival?
or... open the doors to what is?"
signed: Jack Marquette (Your Host and Webmaster)
for the final step in your orientation, move on in to The Ballroom
or if you're ready, skip on to The West Wing...
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that has a clear view of the Sea."
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