R/S: Did you tell everyone you “interviewed” that you had a hidden tape recorder?
MAL SHARPE: You had to always be careful. You definitely couldn’t tell some people it was a joke, because of their seriousness or something about the situation. There’s probably hundreds of people in San Francisco that even to this day say, “Remember those two weird guys who came into our store?” So we would only tell people if we felt they were good-natured enough to handle it, and if we’d gotten a usable recording. Then we would get a release from them.
We walked all over San Francisco with our tape recorder. We loved to go into funeral parlors and make appointments to see the mortician. We were very well dressed in suits and ties, and it was always so tense in these mortuaries. We’d spin out this tale that Jim had had an unhappy life; things really hadn’t worked out well. He felt that if he could have the complete funeral service: the ceremony in the chapel, the burial in the cemetery, then when we dug him out of the ground he could begin life again—it would be like a renewal experience. We asked what they would charge for the service, the hearse, flowers and the burial.
These morticians really took themselves seriously; they never wanted any part of it. Of course we would always steam ahead in describing what we wanted, because we loved to spin out this fantasy, and we always found that these guys were so straight. Like, we’d tell them there would only be a few friends present, but there would also be a few animals in attendance. Then we’d stop and wait for them to ask, “What kind of animals?” (figuring that the guy would be picturing something in his head: the chapel, the flowers, a small group of people, and some animals). Jim and I would always compete for the more rarefied species. There would always be one wolverine (“but chances are they wouldn’t attack anyone who worked in a mortuary”), and hopefully the mortician would say, “Chances are—what do you mean?” We would always try to enroll people as participants: “You would bury Jim, and then you would dig him up and help him out of the casket.”
Usually the guy would tell us that he didn’t think he could handle that kind of situation, and after we had pleaded with him a bit more we’d finally have to leave. So unfortunately, we never got to record a great mortician . . .