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PRANKS 2

Rated 5.00 out of 5 based on 1 customer rating
(1 customer review)

$19.99

The Yes Men SHOW US THE WAY, along with Margaret Cho, John Waters, Ron English, Al Jourgensen & Jello Biafra, DEVO’s Gerald V. Casale (Jihad Jerry), Frank Discussion, Billboard Liberation Front, Lydia Lunch, Julia Solis, The Cacophony Society (S.F.), Survival Research Laboratories, Paul Krassner, Reverend Al, The Suicide Club, monochrom, Joey Skaggs, and more.

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Product Description

If you loved our first PRANKS! book, then you NEED this! All new content, full of laughs. Dangerous Internet Pranks. Billboard modifications! Breaking into abandoned buildings! A must for everyone who considered our first PRANKS! book a BIBLE (or at least a “classic”)… And, it’s printed on deluxe expensive glossy paper for superior photo reproduction!

“Hi Vale. I just finished reading “Pranks 2” — how fantastic, all those amazing people! Thank you for all. I kind of deliberately picked it up after the election, as I didn’t think I could “sit through” much else right away…. And the heavy early slant on Bush seemed appropriate somehow….

I found it, overall, just as amazing as the first one, in terms of overall quality. I can see that you must have added Julia Solis after you interviewed Margaret Cho. Both good additions! And Lydia Lunch was just really FUN. The interview format worked really well in some cases where clearly everyone was relaxed and goofing around as well as trying to articulate things.
Like, was it with Krassner, it was clear you were having a good time and riffing off each other. Kind of like some of Jon Stewart with Dick Cavett or some other really great guests.
And you filled in a lot of good history with people I was familiar with — even if I’d heard some of the stories before.
I have to see that Joey Skaggs film. And Ron English! Excellent that you spent enough time with Ron English to get into all kinds of wonderful stories and a lot of background. —Ken D.”

 

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Weight 1.43 lbs

1 review for PRANKS 2

  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    ” Almost 20 years ago, the small, quirky Bay Area post-punk publishing house Re/Search released what would improbably become one of the most influential art texts of the past quarter-century. Pranks! was 240 pages of melon-twisting interviews with iconoclastic trickster-artists like Survival Research Laboratory’s robot-destruction guru Mark Pauline, archetypal media prankster Joey “Cathouse for Dogs” Skaggs, obsessive Outsider artist and explosive provocateur Joe Coleman, and Canoga Park’s own Jeffrey Vallance with a too-short precis of his early, pre–“Blinky the Friendly Hen” oeuvre.

    ” Pranks! included anecdotes from (eek!) Earth First! ecoterrorists, proto-Borat comic interviewer Mal Sharpe and the Church of the SubGenius’ Paul Mavrides, plus bite-size essays on everything from pranks in literature to guerrilla tactics of the Viet Cong. The book was a bit of a shambles. Some interviews were barely relevant while a lot of obvious subjects — Andy Kaufman, for example; or Chris Burden — were skipped over; but that, as opposed to some dry academic treatment, just added to its feeling of cultural immediacy. Those with their hearts and minds set on tenure might cite Slavoj Zizek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology or Dave Hickey’s The Invisible Dragon, but over the past two decades the single most common volume in the libraries of young practicing artists interested in actually exploring the boundaries of creativity has been Pranks!

    ” Many of those artists show up in the long-awaited just-released sequel, Pranks 2 (Re/Search, 196 pages, $15) — The Yes Men, with their inspired absurd-extremist versions of global business agendas, for example, and monochrom, who jiggered the 2002 Sao Paulo Biennial with a completely fictional avant-garde Austrian artist named Georg Paul Thomann. Editor V. Vale checks in with several of Volume 1′s luminaries — Realist editor Paul Krassner, the always incisive Jello Biafra and, of course, Joey Skaggs (though to learn about his latest “legitimate” enterprise, the Universal Bullshit Detector Watch (TM), you’ll have to visit http://www.bswatch.com) — and rounds up a decent array of new faces from the Billboard Liberation Front to hacker chef Marc Powell to urban explorer Julia Solis.

    ” Solis, the author of New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City, is the culminating interview in the series that forms the core of Pranks 2– charting the adventures of the ’70s-’80s Bay Area secret society the Suicide Club, its much more public spinoff the Cacophony Society and subsequent activities of the principals thereof. Under the surface of the familiar (and eventually tiresome) 100-drunken-Santas-in-a-mall spectacles lies a compelling saga of deep and subtly disruptive investigations on the borders of reality, from the infiltration of cults to the exploration of abandoned mental hospitals and crumbling industrial infrastructures.

    ” With the same sense of journalistic immediacy, Pranks 2 follows its predecessors’ model in patchwork coverage — there are no essays here about flash mobs, A(R)(TM)-Ark or the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and still no Andy Kaufman. There is, however, an expanded sense of urgency — even desperation — to the interviews: How do you disrupt the monolithic spectacle in a context where the visual and rhetorical vocabulary of anticonsumerist culture jamming has been completely subsumed by the advertising industry, where cranks are yanked, asses jacked and celebrities punk’d in the comfort of your home theater every day through the good graces of Viacom?

    ” And as Biafra and several other commentators observe, the past two presidential elections and the war in Iraq are hard to top for mischievous sleight of hand. But the bottom line remains that a good prank doesn’t just entertain, it interrupts mass slumber and invites individuals to think critically for themselves. While it could never be the revelation the first volume was, Pranks 2 could easily be an equal inspiration for the next generation of tricksters — whose work will undoubtedly be featured in Volume 3.”

    –LA Weekly

    ” The original 1988 Pranks! was a footloose, freewheeling, and freethinking tribute – and a vital underground history of pranks, tricks, and acts of mischievous subversion. One of RE/Search’s more popular (and groundbreaking) DIY encyclopedias of fringe culture, it laid out the case for pranks as an art form, compiling stories from the likes of ’60s survivor Timothy Leary, punk pachyderm Henry Rollins, post-punk performer Karen Finley, and activist group Earth First! In the process, it planted the seeds of monkey-wrenching good times in yet another generation of impressionable boundary stompers and button pushers.

    ” In this category are loose, entertaining histories of the San Francisco Suicide Club, which pied folks like Nixon hired gun Charles Colson and took over mortuaries for vampire games; Suicide spin-off the Cacophony Society and its outta-hand Santa invasions; and the Billboard Liberation Front’s ad campaign rewrite jobs. These tall, brave, and goofy tales – along with an effort to reach out to hacker-pranksters like Marc Powell – give Pranks 2 the oomph and heft that… vaults it aloft (like a flying clown), above the morass of phoned-in sequels.”

    –Kimberly Chun, San Francisco Bay Guardian

    ” If the world seems one big con, from WMD to transit fare increases, then a prank might be the most appropriate response. Considering the distance most people feel from control over their daily lives, it might be one’s only recourse. That was the thesis RE/Search Books, the underground’s Interview magazine, put forth when it published Pranks! in 1987. Drawing its subjects from the worlds of activism, music and art, Pranks mapped a stance of challenging social relations and reactions. From tales of Yippies levitating the Pentagon to artists creating fake businesses or turning Telly Savalas billboards into S/M tableaux, it showed that free-form play was a common and secret history not owned by any one discipline. And, yes, with motivations more complex than Punk’d.

    ” With the publication of Pranks! 2 (RE/Search, 212 pages, $19.95) almost 20 years later, not only has the generation that memorized the first book come of age (my own dog-eared copy inspired more than a few acts of youthful, enigmatic vandalism — belated apologies to the city of Windsor), but the stakes for misbehaviour have been raised. As you can now be arrested for photographing a building, gluing its doors shut suddenly carries a sexy risk.

    ” Strangely absent from the first volume — considering RE/Search’s San Francisco address — was a history of that city’s Suicide Club in the 1970s. Amply documented here, the Suicide Club was a secret collective of urban explorers, sewer spelunkers and exhibitionists whose members would go on to spawn both the Billboard Liberation Front and the better known Cacophony Society. An inspiration for Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk was an early member), the Cacophony Society continue to commit nonsensical attacks such as “Drunk Doctors” (members get wasted and wreak havoc while wearing scrubs at bars near hospitals), and Santa and clown mobs. Think what you want about clowns, but you probably haven’t lived until you’ve heard a cop command, as one did to Cacophony member Jarico Reesce, “Put the balloon animals down!”

    ” Art makes up the final section of Pranks! 2, with the funniest stunt courtesy of Georg Paul Thomann. A member of the Viennese Actionists and peripherally involved in early punk, Thomann is a complete fabrication. He was invented as a project for the Sao Paulo Biennale by the Austrian art collective Monochrom. As they say in their interview, “It’s not the first time a fake artist was invented but it’s the first time a fake artist represented a whole country at a giant art fair.” Take that R. Mutt.

    ” Monochrom spent the entire event dodging the press and curators who wanted to meet Thomann, deflecting by claiming, “He’s just sitting in his hotel room. We’re rather happy he doesn’t show because he’s quite an asshole.” Soon after, curators were claiming to have known the reclusive artist for years. It was a successful prank because social form and pretense were illuminated with a giddy light and for one moment the playing field was levelled. Not with an explosive-laden van, but by inspiring a new perspective.

    ” As hacker Marc Powell explains to editor V. Vale, “Hackers look at intellectual property like any social metaphor: as something to be hacked. Not destroyed, but unravelled.” If Pranks! 2 has a singular mission, it’s breaking through everyday reality’s increasingly hard shell.”

    –Brian Joseph Davis, Eye Weekly

    ” Not just for kids anymore, pranks are the focus of this weekend’s Re/Search Books “Pranksfest L.A.,” celebrating the publication of Pranks 2, the hotly anticipated sequel to 1988′s Pranks. Re/Search publisher V. Vale promises rare video clips and audiovisual presentations of actual stunts, and will be moderating a panel with local maniacs Rev. Al Ridenour, Feederz founder Drank Discussion, and Jerry Casale of Devo (operating lately under the nom de guerre “Jihad Jerry”). Featured in Pranks 2 are monkey-wrenchers The Yes Men — whose website, gwbush.com inspired the president to say, “There should be limits to freedom” — and billboard liberator Ron English, who parodied Apple’s “Think Different” advertising campaign. Reverend Al’s latest project, “The Art of Bleeding,” a cabaret act that comes on like Benny Hill’s Grand Guignol, presents talking apes, robots, and legions of nurses prancing around in their scanties. Yes, protest, riot and vote to your heart’s content, but these are perfunctory things. The prank represents an escape from the modern trinity of failure, servitude, and prostitution. Because giving a skinned sheep’s head to Betty Ford, as ur-prankster Boyd Rice once did, doesn’t make the wheels of authority turn so much as it shuts off the machine entirely, if only for a little while.

    –David Cotner, LAWEEKLY

    ” …San Francisco’s RE/Search Publications is back with Pranks 2, a new volume of anti-corporate and anti-stupidity shenanigans meant to teach a little and laugh a lot between the lines of social protest. Two rockers find their way inside: Entertaining malcontent and spoken-word sage Jello Biafra hacks off about hacking scenarios, and Ministry’s Al Jourgensen shares tales of subversive resistance within his major-record-label deal. Other political artists turning everything sideways include the Yes Men, John Waters, painter Ron English, comedian Margaret Cho, master satirist Paul Krassner, and those brilliant modifiers of the advertising landscape, the Billboard Liberation Front. Highly recommended, this is smart stuff for those witty enough to throw ideas instead of bombs.”

    –John M. James, Positively Yeah Yeah Yeah

    ” Some people think a good prank is pissing in a friend’s Coke. But V. Vale takes them to a higher level: In his book Pranks 2, he describes them as ‘humorous deeds, propaganda, sound bites, performances, and creative projects which pierce the veil of illusion’ and ‘unseriously challenge accepted reality and rigid behavioral codes and speech.’ Vale follows that explanation with a rant against corporations, labeling pranks one of the last freedoms of expression. Unloading in a Coke shows a lack of spirit ? unless your friend is a congressman.

    ” As the founder of RE/Search Publications, Vale has brought underground icons and hell of a lot of J.G. Ballard to the mainstream (but only through independent bookstores). He’s serious about his subjects, as revealed in any one of his seminal books (and nearly all of his books are seminal) about writers, pagans, punks, angry women, strange music, bodily fluids, masochists, and Ballard. Pranks 2 comes a brisk 19 years after the first version (seminal), which paid tribute, in the form of profiles and interviews, to the anarchists and outsiders who made their cultural mark tweaking society in the ’70s and ’80s.

    ” The new book follows the same tack. It also features some of the same figures. You should bitch about neither. We can all stand to learn a little more about the Yes Men, Survival Research Laboratories, Frank Discussion, Jello Biafra, and Joey Skaggs, and the book more than makes up for any navel-gazing with new profiles of S.F. groups the Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society, and the Billboard Liberation Front. There’s even a bit about Bambi Lake.”

    –Michael Leaverton, S.F. Weekly

    ” Thanks especially for PRANKS 2, the best book in years. I’m happy to preach that book’s greatness.”

    – Zack, The Gut (MySpace page)

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From the Introduction

Imagine we are fish swimming in the sea, and no matter where we look we see advertising, branding, marketing, and corporate/governmental coercive messages everywhere. What we once thought of as news, knowledge, politics, culture, art, music, and wisdom has all become one with this ocean of marketing and mind-control. What to do? How to keep one’s sanity, sense of freedom, and unique identity? What can we do to resist? Resistance is ultimately dispiriting unless we can also have fun. “The society that has abolished adventure makes its own abolishing the only adventure.” [Situationist slogan] The last remaining quasi-legal territory of imaginative, humorous, creative, dissenting expression is signposted by pranks.

What are pranks? For us, pranks are any humorous deeds, propaganda, sound bites, visual bites, performances and creative projects which pierce the veil of illusion and tell “the truth.” Pranks unseriously challenge accepted reality and rigid behavioral codes and speech. Pranks deftly undermine phony facades and hypocrisy. Pranks lampoon sanctimoniousness, self-glorification, self-mythologizing and self-aggrandizement. Pranks force the laziest muscle in the body, the imagination, to be exercised, stretched, and thus transcend its former self. The imagination is what creates the future; that which will be.

Why prank our world? When we look around and can see nothing but corporate propaganda as far as the eye can see, our only “communication freedom” lies in creatively talking back, any way we can. Who gave corporations the monolithic ownership of our total environment to force their one-way coercive messages upon us? So if we replace their messages and symbols with our own, we must wear big hats and sunglasses and mufflers to hide our chins, so their ubiquitous surveillance cameras can be pranked. (Or, preserve our Internet anonymity behind layers of evasive tactics.) Imagine if everybody became artists and pranksters and poets and freely changed any noxious corporate message in sight? (It is too much to hope for our so-called legislators to come up with a bill outlawing all corporate advertising in public space, even though the majority of voters might endorse this.)

If we are not slaves and robots, it also behooves us to systematically start thinking about reclaiming all the freedoms that have, inch by inch, been taken from us over the years to serve the interests of corporations and wealthy landholders. Freedom is never willingly given; it must be taken. And Americans have definitely become less free since 1776, hundreds of thousands of laws later. In fact, how have so many humans worldwide been bamboozled into being content with their paltry, miserable lot in life?

Pranks may be our last remaining freedom of expression in post-Constitutional, post-Bill of Rights, post G.W. Bush America. This book is a mere introduction to the enormous body of unheralded, uncelebrated, undocumented pranking that has occurred just within the past hundred years.

Pranks 2 Excerpt: Jihad Jerry

prank2jjJIHAD JERRY is the latest project from Gerald V. Casale, a founding member of DEVO, one of the most intelligent musical groups ever to crack the best-seller charts worldwide. JIHAD JERRY’s debut album, Mine Is Not a Holy War, beautifully captures the zeitgeist of America under the illegitimate authority of George W. Bush, Inc. Interview by V.Vale

JIHAD JERRY: In a way, there’s nothing better than a prank. Pranks should never be thought of as menial, or light, or pejorative, even. If you think about all the best things in history, they qualify as pranks, including DADA. So I never mind being associated with pranks–pranks need to be elevated.

Why? Because pranks are confrontational; pranks are creative; pranks are in that realm of transgressive art; a creative response to ludicrous situations that people find themselves in, in society, faced with illegitimate authority, illogical explanations, and mind-sets that are very, very unhealthy. A good prankster, basically through a creative act, breaks through all of that, and questions that and makes other people participate in that questioning. So, I would like to think that any good art is a prank on some level that is for the audience’s own good. The intention isn’t evil.

VALE: I like the idea of the prank as a cultural Trojan Horse, and I’d like to think that Devo’s songs, at best, gave people little conceptual ‘barbs’ that were like time bombs. People think they’re getting something funny or light or amusing, but then it turns out you’ve given them something that keeps rising up out of their subconscious, provoking them to think about things.

JJ: A good prank definitely scrambles the assumption field, and as a result you’re forced to re-think all your assumptions–which is fantastic. The latest example of that, which was great, and I hope it’s still available on-line, was the comic Stephen Colbert, from Comedy Central. Somehow–and this is a very important part of the concept of pranks, by the way–because of his fame within his little area, and because of his ability to have a voice in the marketplace due to Comedy Central, he was able to more or less sneak into the foreign correspondents’ dinner in Washington, D.C., attended by no other than George W. Bush, his wife, Tony Snow, and assorted other nefarious characters from the junta that runs our country.

Stephen Colbert got up at this traditional haha roast situation and proceeded to pretend to take on a persona of being this conservative comic who’s on Bush’s side, and using that as a platform to ridicule and mock Bush, twelve feet away from him, for a complete 25 minutes. Nonstop, no falterings, as the laughter and titters turned to deathly silence; as it got really, really personal and really mean. And he nailed Bush in a way that nobody from the straight press could ever come close to doing, and said things that nobody else could get away with, ‘cuz he was a ‘comic’ at a roast. And it was incredible.

It was on YouTube for awhile in three parts. It was brilliant, and I would recommend it to everyone, to watch this guy. Rarely does one get the opportunity in life to actually, in reality, get a position like that where your big fantasy would be, ‘God, if I ever got to talk to Bush, I tell you, I’d give him a piece of my mind,’ and of course, that’s just like bravado and front-porch posturing that never could happen. But this guy–not only did he get the opportunity; he didn’t squander it; he didn’t blow it; he didn’t get nervous; he wasn’t afraid–he did it. And it was stealth, and it was perfect.

V: That’s fantastic–

JJ: It is fantastic. You should watch it. [Google ‘Stephen Colbert’] It starts with a knife to the gut and then just keeps twisting. It doesn’t even mess around. He gets up and goes, ‘Wow, I am just so lucky to be here tonight. I can’t believe this. Ohmigod, whoa, lookit, here I am, ten feet away from one of my all-time heroes: George W. Bush. I can’t believe it; here I really am. Somebody pinch me–I must be dreaming.’ Then he goes, ‘No no no–no, I’m such a deep sleeper . . . somebody shoot me in the face! Oh . . . that guy isn’t here tonight. Gee, just when you need him for something he can do!’ [he was referring to Dick Cheney, right after he shot his friend in the face.] And you watch Bush quit smiling at that point, and you never see him smile again. His lips are pursed; his brows are furled, his wife is losing it and wants this guy killed, and Bush looks ahead straight-faced–can’t look at him, and starts turning red! And the camera keeps going to him because it’s C-Span, and the coverage was just standard C-Span coverage, so they’re cutting to him a lot. So what you see is just the actual C-Span coverage of the foreign press corps dinner. And it’s devastating. That’s enough on that; I just want to tell you that he is a prankster and he did a great job–I salute him; it’s his finest moment.

V: Well, putting this in a pranks history book helps preserve it–

JJ: This could never now be suppressed effectively; it’s out there. And of course, due to White House pressure, the very next day C-Span used a never-used tactic, because they’re always on these Internet services, and the Internet services show everything from C-Span. They cited ‘copyright infringement’ to make all these sites take it off– obviously, because they were being threatened!

V: That’s a whole legal arena whereby truth can be suppressed: invoking ‘copyright infringement.’ Now it’s used punitively, too–

JJ: All the time. None of these kind of corporate whores and corporate criminals have an ounce of humor . . . certainly no ability for introspection! And so they hide behind litigators just using pure, raw, brute power and money to just subjugate and threaten everyone so they’re too afraid to make fun. It’s so typical. And they’re getting better and better at it.

Pranks used to be much easier. Today, it requires a lot more sophistication. In the case of Stephen Colbert, who booked him for the foreign press correspondents’ dinner? Who got who to agree that Stephen Colbert would be the last speaker of the night? Obviously, somebody had to see the script beforehand–see his monologue. And somehow, he was able to do this. That’s what’s interesting there.

What’s important about the prank is the energy that goes into organizing it . . . into getting yourself into a position to do the prank. The prank itself is actually just the coup de grace; the icing on the cake. The foundation is actually more interesting to me: the planning; the energy it takes to realize the idea.

V: Right. Often, there’s a direct relationship between the thought and preparation, in regard to how much the final prank is truly satisfying.

JJ: A lot of people have great, funny ideas, and nobody does anything about ’em. The prankster sticks his ass on the line. He actually sets about, with the time and energy, to do the deed and reap the consequences of his action.

V: Somebody sent us an email that it was kind of amazing that DEVO was able to plant subversive thoughts in people by the millions, under the guise of humor–

JJ: Well, we lucked out. They looked at us, and felt superior to us, so that was a good start! Like with JIHAD JERRY, it’s always good to leave being ‘cool’ to everybody else, and let people think you’re an asshole and a clown and a pathetic person . . . which is what ‘they’ all thought DEVO was. They came to laugh at us; then they felt very superior and condescending, and then that made ’em like us! [laughs] But then they’ve subjected themselves to you, so now you have an audience; now you have a platform.

V: A pop song can implant one-liners that you can’t get out of your head–

JJ: When you think of the fact that Bob Dylan, in 1965, had an AM hit called ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ which was a scathing, incisive samurai sword to the mainstream culture and the people that were backing the Vietnam war, it was amazing.

V: We should have a history of subversive songs that became popular–

JJ: ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ are right up there, in all time.

V: Did that Stephen Colbert video reach millions?

JJ: Yeah.

V: I don’t have anything against the goal of trying to get a large audience, especially if you’re trying to plant subversive ideas or thoughts or memes or soundbites–whatever you call them–

JJ: In a way it used to be easier, because there wasn’t as much narrow-casting in media available to whoever, whatever subgroup wants to keep preaching to the choir, so that there’s, like, skinheads who like Samoans, skinheads who hate Chinese people, and they all stay in their little groups. It used to be that there was a mass media and there was radio, and either you were on it or you were off it. So if you actually survived and ascended into having a voice, you were reaching millions, because there weren’t any of these little sub-markets–everybody participated in this; it was a mass experience.

It’s very strange, but it’d be like: if the Beatles were around today–if there were somebody like the Beatles for now, that the Beatles were to their time then, it’s possible that they would have, like, a little fan base, an Internet following, and that’s how it could stay. [laughs] And the people who ride Vespas would be into them, and they could sustain a nice life–they’re making enough money off their ‘merch’ and their shows and their web-site, but that’s it.

Today it’s almost like there’s niche markets for everything, and nobody’s participating in some mass experience . . . because all the content is meaningless. There’s just no meaningful content. So, everything has just been homogenized and stripped of any force, so that it’s not threatening. So, you have the freedom to be as weird as you want–as long as your weirdness means nothing…

Pranks 2 Excerpt: Al Jourgensen & Jello Biafra

prank2ajbj-300x207AL JOURGENSEN made his name originally in dance music and helped to define the Chicago Wax Trax sound. When Sire signed him, they gave him any producer he wanted, so he chose Adrian Sherwood to learn his studio skills.Then he put big guitars back into dance music and slowly evolved it into a Wall of Sound dance floor production, but with metal, hypnotic rock and funk. Ministry is Al’s main band; Revolting Cocks is his party band. He has recorded Palehead with Ian MacKaye, Lard with Jello Biafra, and Acid Horse with Cabaret Voltaire. Interview by V.Vale and Jello Biafra, partly at the Fillmore Auditorium.

JELLO BIAFRA: You must tell us about the Steven Spielberg prank–

AL JOURGENSEN: Ministry was in Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence movie. He had never worked with a rock band before and he was really freaked out. We were there for two days and he wouldn’t even come near us.

VALE: I think it was because of the way the band looks–

AJ: Finally, Spielberg’s handlers set up a meeting. We had to line up, all of us in a row singlefile, like we were meeting the fuckin’ Queen! Spielberg came down greeting everyone and shaking hands, ‘Good to have you here . . .’ They put me down at the end of the line, like they were hoping I might give up and walk away or something. Finally he gets down to me and I snarl [nasal voice], ‘Hey! Steven, David, look! The band’s gotta quit. We can’t do this film. All of us are walkin’ out right now!’ He’s like [gasps], ‘What?! Why?’ And all his handlers are scribbling down notes an’ shit …

I said, ‘We were told A.I. was a porno film that stood for ‘Anal Intruder,’ and what is all this shit? We were told it was a porno film, and fuck you!’ (In the film, there were a bunch of teddy bears runnin’ around; like, what is this crap?) And they all went running . . . Spielberg immediately grabbed his heart and ran, with all his other people–

JB: He was looking for somebody to yell at and fire, right?

AJ: So when he ran off, I had to go after him and I was in my full dress costume where I had on all my metal; I couldn’t even run. I yelled, ‘Hey, I was just kidding!’ [laughs] So every day after that, at the beginning of the day Spielberg would come up to me with a new ‘porno’ title for A.I., like: ‘Ass Intruder,’ ‘Animal Instinct’ . . . And then he started wearing my hat and jamming with us onstage. So we ended up getting along great!

JB: You gotta tell the Seymour Stein prank; it’s one of my favorites–

AJ: Seymour Stein was the head of Sire Records. He gave Ministry a lot of money to make a recording, and then we didn’t do anything for awhile. Finally he wanted to hear something–

JB: Al was working with Adrian Sherwood at Southern Studios, trying to absorb Adrian’s studio skills and applying them–

AJ: Somebody called and said, ‘Seymour’s on his way. He wants to hear something.’ He had just gone to rural English rehab for cocaine addiction, and had gotten out and headed straight to our studio. We were like, ‘Fuck!’ Adrian and I turned to each other and said, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’

So we put up a big Nazi flag outside the studio, just hanging there–like hanging an American flag in your front yard. So when Seymour got out of his car, he knew he was in hostile territory. He walks through that and comes in.

Now me and Adrian and had been up for three days snorting straight speed–Wilko Johnson used to make us our speed, and that’s why they call him ‘Dr Feelgood.’ We knew that Seymour might show up, so we had recorded a special tape for him of us thumping the microphone with our thumbs, me yelling into it and mixing in all this metal machine feedback–the whole deal–and twelve minutes of that. The whole thing had been sampled into a Fairlight synthesizer–that’s what saved us–and we had quickly made a crude mix recording.

Seymour had been expecting a commercial dance music recording. So we turned on the amp and went, ‘Here, Seymour–bam bam bam bam!’ [while Al does a series of hoarse screeches]. Adrian went [British accent], ‘This is a major trend in the clubs, y’know!’ Adrian was so high that for some reason he thought Seymour’s name was ‘Marshall.’ So when Seymour went into the ‘speed bathroom,’ Adrian was following him, shouting [U.K. accent], ‘Marshall. Marshall. I need to get paid in cash, now. This is the new single!’ Seymour went right back to rehab and didn’t come out for three months. He never spoke to me again . . . That became Howie’s job.

JB: Didn’t you once aim a bazooka at a Warners executive’s car in the parking lot while he was standing at the window, watching? What prompted you to do this? What was his name?

AJ: [laughs] John Bugue. Nakano, a big video director from Japan, wanted to do our ‘Cracking Up’ video. He had turned down Madonna, he had turned down a bunch of people; he said, ‘No. I only want to work with Ministry.’ The day we were supposed to start filming, Warner Video cut off our funding (this was after Nakano had flown all the way over here). They were mad because he wouldn’t do Madonna. So I bought a bazooka off a friend of mine, aimed it at the head of Warner Video’s car in the parking lot, and then security suddenly appeared and took away my bazooka. I was mad, so I went up and took a shit on John Bugue’s desk–the head of Warner Video. Well, the next day we got our budget back!

JB: The reason ‘rock star’ behavior has turned into what it is, is because major labels deserve it. Their attitude is, ‘Once you sign on the dotted line with them, you cease to be an ‘artist’ and from that point on, you are their employee. You are employed for them to strip-mine your talent so they can sell it to mall kids (and others) and forget to pay you when the time comes–

AJ: And they forget that we can make their life a living hell! I know I have…

Pranks 2 Excerpt: The Yes Men

YES MEN were founded by Mike B, who lives in Scotland, and Andy, who lives in Paris. Their pranks on global corporations are legendary, captured in a feature film. [More info at www.yesmen.org]. Interview by V.Vale.

V. Vale: Well, thanks. The Yes Men seem to have figured out how to do pranks and get them into the mass media so that the ideas get out there and spread, like a meme or a virus. The whole idea is to inspire people to do something imaginative and funny–

Mike B: It comes out of the recognition that there is this huge problem in the world, stemming from communication being at the scale of one’s wealth, where entities with more money can speak at higher volumes because they have the access to all that media. It’s not like there are just these megalomaniacs at the top who want to dominate everything, but there is this whole complex machine that all kinds of writers and editors are involved with. I think most journalists want to investigate and write interesting, strange and unusual stories. However, they aren’t given the opportunity very often to write about, say, countercultural interventions. But when they do, they really eat it up. So we try to make these stories available to them, with enough humor to get them past the editors as well–

V: Humor is the camouflage that sneaks the message under people’s noses–

MB: It’s been key to everything that we do. If you tell a funny story, other people want to retell it; the humor is part of what makes it contagious. It’s like the jokes that get passed around. If you tell a really dire, serious story; if it isn’t monumentally tragic or unusual, it doesn’t get passed around. Humor is a really good strategy for getting into the media ‘no fly’ zone.

V: What do mean by that?

MB: There are places where ordinary citizens are not allowed to go. For instance, you normally wouldn’t be able to get something published in the New York Times unless you are an important celebrity, respected politician or a captain of industry. Humor is a smokescreen that can disguise who you are and allow you to slip some things in there. Another way is to do something really horrific, like put on a trenchcoat and go to your high school and mow down a bunch of your classmates. But that is a really repugnant way to go about venting your frustrations.

V: I don’t think the Columbine teen-killers even left behind an enlightening suicide note.

MB: No, that’s a really sad tale. Nothing good could possibly come of that sort of action.

V: If only they had figured out how to channel that anger in different ways–

MB: Maybe if they had a little more guidance and a little less ‘gun’ in their lives. If only they had had a more creative way of engaging their community–

V: Well, it seems like most mainstream media are trying to implant everyone with just two emotions: fear or pity. Hardly anything else. Supposedly, those are the two principal emotions that Shakespeare was dealing with in his tragedies.

MB: Well, you certainly aren’t going to see a lot of pleasure in a tragedy.

V: Shakespeare saves that for his comedies.

MB: Exactly. What we often are trying to do is to peddle pleasure with a larger message of tragedy. [!] That’s really it. What’s happening in the world with something like global trade is a tragedy. For a lot of people who are on the receiving end of the big stick, it’s kind of nasty. But we try to ‘frame’ a problem like that with a little bit of humor so that people will want to keep talking about it and try to figure out what is going on. Right now we’re working on a film that is about disasters. It starts with a relatively small disaster that also happens to be the worst industrial accident in history (according to some sources), the Bhopal catastrophe. Eight thousand people died on the spot, and in the long run it has been estimated that twenty thousand people died. People are still dying today because of contaminated water–they never cleaned up the mess So we are making a black comedy about Bhopal.

Hopefully, through the repetition of people communicating with each other, some kind of change might occur. It’s hard to see what’s going to happen with our future; it seems kind of bleak because of all these things like global warming, which are these unstoppable inevitabilities that are going to be incredibly catastrophic and weird. We are going to plunge civilization into some strange New Dark Age…

Pranks 2 Excerpt: Suicide Club

prank2sc-277x300What follows are several histories of the top-secret San Francisco Suicide Club, which specialized in urban topographic adventuring that is extra-legal but harmless to society. Early members John Law and Harry Haller were interviewed separately by V. Vale and Mal Sharpe.

John Law has been active in the Suicide Club, Cacophony Society, Survival Research Laboratories (SRL), and Squidlist. He lives in San Francisco, but regularly travels on urban explorations and adventures. Interview by V. Vale.

VALE: When did the Suicide Club start?

JOHN LAW: 1977. I was just an eighteen-year-old juvenile delinquent who didn’t know anything about anything! I was fortunate to join the Suicide Club, which introduced me to a world of adventure. Our motto was: ‘To live each day as though it were your last.’ It was about challenging your fears. The club lasted about five years.

V: Now, who started the Suicide Club?

JL: Five people started it. Gary Warne [pronounced ‘Warn’] was definitely the avatar–the central driving force. He was a truly unique, brilliant character, but very low-key in his demeanor. He was soft-spoken and looked ‘normal.’ However, he had these crazy ideas that he would implement in the real world, and get people to come and do events based on his ideas. The Suicide Club was one of them.

Gary was heavily influenced by the Surrealists and the Dadaists. He introduced us to the concept of ‘synaesthesia’–e.g., to taste a smell, or to feel an image. He wanted to create experiences that would be like living out a fantasy or living out a film. Climbing the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog with a group of people is a surreal experience. The Suicide Club could create an other-worldly, surreal environment. Getting naked on the cable cars was a surreal experience. He wanted a disconnect with ‘reality’ and a connection with ‘super-reality.’ ‘Cuz knowing you could fall off the bridge and die is a super-real feeling.

Going out to the drawbridge of an abandoned ghost town and almost being run over by a train coming out of the mist made you realize how ‘real’ the experience was, even though it seemed so unreal and phantasmagoric. Because when a light came toward the group out of the distance, no one could hear anything, and everybody thought it was just some guy on a hand-cranked railroad car. But suddenly it became a train going fifty miles an hour bearing down only a hundred yards away. It was like Daffy Duck opening a door and suddenly a train zooms into your room!

At that time, Gary was a chief administrator for the ‘Communiversity,’ which started in 1969 at San Francisco State College. It was part of a sixties hippie concept called the ‘Free School Movement,’ where people could actually exchange ideas and information without exchanging money. But around 1974, S.F. State started objecting to certain Communiversity classes having to do with jokes and pranks, like ‘How To Do Clown Make-up.’

Gary and a few other people decided to separate from S.F. State and run the Communiversity as a California state non-profit. However, Gary’s interests became more arcane and bizarre. He was interested in hosting events based on fear, sex, lying, and other human interactions. He was interested in the way cults test people’s freedom of will, especially in light of the cultural brainwashing that we get every day.

Then Gary came up with the idea for the Suicide Club, a group which would seek the most outrageous, extreme and frightening adventures– both physically and psychologically, and push their limitations to the extreme. He set up a phone tree so that members could mobilize to do something on very short notice. Our plan was to visit Fort Point during the next huge Pacific storm.

Finally, around January 20, 1977, a gigantic tempest hit San Francisco. Four people got together: Gary Warne, David T. Warren (a carny; he’s a whole book in himself), Adrienne Burke, and Nancy Prussia. The fifth person, who didn’t make the trip but helped plan it, was Kathy Hearty. So, four people convened at the west side of Fort Point, which faces the ocean. (It’s now closed off because of ‘Homeland Security.’) There was a huge, heavy-duty sea chain acting as a protective barrier.

In the middle of this huge storm, with eighty mile-an-hour winds and giant waves crashing, the four people ran out, grabbed the chain and held on really tight. They held on tight because the sea was hitting below you on this wall, and right in front of your feet was a drop-off that went thirty or forty feet. So the waves would hit this wall and send up a massive wave that crested and fell down on you. If you had taken the full force of the wave, it would probably kill you and sweep you away. But the force of the wave was broken by the wall, so you could hold onto the chain and not die. But it was still very dangerous. Because if you let go of the chain or were knocked unconscious, you’d be swept out to sea and probably never be seen again.

So the four founders of the Suicide Club did that and survived. They were so invigorated and blown away by the experience that they sat down and decided to start the Suicide Club right then and there.

V: So it was a quest for an intense group experience?

JL: Absolutely. And the core of the philosophy was inspired by that statement, ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’ (William Blake). The Suicide Club was a secret society, but it lacked any dogma that you had to adhere to (except secrecy)–you didn’t have to sign anything in blood…

Pranks 2 Excerpt: Reverend Al

prank2ra-200x300

A writer, artist, comedian and performer, Reverend Al Ridenour is the hyper-imaginative founder of the Los Angeles Cacophony Society and The Art of Bleeding, a performance art group. He was interviewed by V.Vale.

VALE: Your name, Reverend Al, is kind of a prank, unless you really are a reverend–

REVEREND AL: I am a reverend, but the prank preceded the actual credentials. Picking the name has to do with the very first prank we did with the L.A. Cacophony Society. Our target was UFO Expo West, set at a hotel by the airport where a couple thousand UFO fans and followers would gather. We invented an underground, extraterrestrial-oriented church. I chose the name Reverend Al because while ‘Reverend’ sounds dignified, ‘Al’ sounds ‘back alley’ . . . and besides, it’s good to have a catchy name! It helps people remember you.

V: The surrealist Benjamin Peret often dressed like a priest, but would then curse and swear at people on the street–

RA: When wearing my collar, I’ve actually gotten out of a speeding ticket! I got my credential from the Universal Life Church. Although I became a Reverend semi-satirically, I’ve actually performed weddings for luminaries like Michael Mikel–that was fun. Also, it can be a kind of tax dodge–that is, if you actually run a church, although I never got into that. Supposedly, if you’re a minister you can get discounts on airlines, too.

V: Wow. What did you tell the cop when he stopped you for speeding?

RA: I told him I’d just gotten an idea for a sermon, and since I didn’t have a pen, I had to rush home and write it down. When I told him I was a Universal Life Church Minister, he didn’t recognize it as a denomination. I think he didn’t want to be busted for persecuting some minority, so he just let me go. It was a good moment!

I’ll wear the collar out sometimes. It seems appropriately inappropriate, depending on where I’m going. I think of it as an experiment, or that dreaded word, ‘performance art.’ Sometimes I’ll be downtown in some scuzzy neighborhood and get asked where ‘the mission’ is, and I’ll try to direct them. I do what I can to fulfill the duties of a cleric.

V: Well, there are so many shepherds and flocks these days, it’s impossible to know where all the pastures are (or whatever they call them).

RA: Today, I don’t know that I would pick the same name–that happened fifteen years ago.

V: ‘Reverend Al’ sounds a little shady–it’s barely acceptable. But ‘Reverend Bud’ might not be–

RA: You probably wouldn’t let your kids go on a camping trip with a Reverend Bud! Anyway, at this UFO Convention we distributed some flyers that promised the arrival of the Space Brothers. Our group, the Brotherhood of the Magnetic Light, had come into the possession of a South American religious icon: a figure of Jesus that functioned as a homing beacon to UFOs. We were going to be demonstrating it at a park near the convention hotel.

After distributing our flyers, we made our way down to the park–actually, a grassy knoll overlooking the beach. We unrolled a roll of tinfoil and made a 200-ft long cross on the ground, weighted down with flowers and incense. We scattered walkie-talkies that made a weird feedback noise. So we had a kind of show ready for people when they showed up.

A bunch of people came from the convention, and a few were immediately wise to us, like one person with a camera who was making a documentary on UFO hoaxes. But a few ‘true believers’ also showed up. One person on crutches seemed to be waiting for his healing from above. Looking at him, I almost felt bad–I did feel bad, but in a fun way.

I had written out a ritual, so we followed it, stopping to drink some sacramental wine now and then. We set off flares, and finally launched a hot air balloon that looked like a massive spaceship. Unfortunately, it got caught in some downdraft and landed on the Pacific Coast Highway and got hit by a car. This was actually a very dramatic setting, right on the ocean, and the wind was howling. Nearby a little family was having a picnic at sunset. We were unrolling all this foil, putting this gigantic cross on the hillside. Suddenly they freaked out, shouting, ‘A park is no place for Voodoo!’ and quickly left. So that was the inaugural event and the christening of the LA Cacophony Lodge.

V: That’s brilliant.

RA: We did another prank at the same UFO convention. This was at the height of the ‘alien abduction’ craze, and we distributed flyers equipped with a little plastic bag with an address card (addressed to us), a wet nap, and a leaflet that explained that the bag was for an extraterrestrial sperm bank. Why? Because these aliens seemed obsessed with our reproductive habits; apparently they wanted our DNA reproductive material, so perhaps we could eliminate alien abductions by providing the aliens with sperm. We left them all in the men’s rooms, and there were a lot of lonely-looking people eyeing those bags and the wet naps . . .

V: Did you say a ‘wet nap’?

RA: The wet napkin was for cleaning up afterwards, after you make your donation in this little ziplock bag. I kept going in the men’s room and leaving them on the urinals and they kept disappearing. We also left them on other people’s tables, and it was fun to see who would notice and who wouldn’t notice that they were giving away space jerk-off kits.

The scary thing is, we did receive a handful of sperm mailings that I have to say I failed to open–they weren’t adequately refrigerated, anyway. And I didn’t have the postage for Alpha Centauri . . .

V: Tell us a brief history of L.A. Cacophony–

RA: The Los Angeles lodge was really active throughout the Nineties. Our catch-phrase was ‘Experience beyond the Mainstream.’ The heart and soul of what we did was the pranking and the sidewalk performances–the guerrilla theatertype stuff. We also did other events that involved going to the ‘Well of Weirdness,’ and renewing our own personal resources. Like, we’d go visit some old Folk Art guy out in the desert with a ranch wall made of old saki bottles. We did sort of ‘field trips’ to the fringes of society.

We had events where we made ‘cement cuddlers’: plush teddy bears that we filled with cement and left on the shelves of the Toys ‘R’ Us stores. [laughs] So, sometimes we made stuff, sometimes we performed, sometimes we went places. We scorned commercially-manufactured ‘recreation’–actually, that would become fodder for our own entertainment. It was Do-It-Yourself fun for losers and outcasts with a creative bent . . . . a social club for people who considered themselves outsiders, and who valued the contributions of outsiders, for good or ill, in our society.

V: I’m still trying to figure out the principles of punk rock. Of course, D-I-Y is one, but I think one of them was from Groucho Marx: ‘I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member.’

RA: No one needs a group more than outsiders! We have a kind of inborn biological need to herd, and as repellent as that notion is to some of us, we still want to have fun. People do like to congregate, so L.A. Cacophony served that function. The people that we drew in had such low tolerance for other human beings that for some weird reason it kind of worked! They enjoyed each other’s company, and the sort of rarefied atmosphere that we created: a world of unreality.

I enjoyed the creative aspects: writing the prank flyers, making the props or the fake Jesus icons, whatever. But I didn’t have a social network of people that I enjoyed being with, so Cacophony helped with that. It helped a lot of people cross-pollinate: bringing together people who liked to play with fire, and build robots, and do special-effects makeup. We did some cool stuff, once you raised that banner and saw who came. It was a good mixing ground.

V: It was a kind of think tank.

RA: Yeah. The thing that sort of reassured me was that often people would leave in disgust! Maybe they came thinking we were ‘hipsters,’ but we would never quite fit that. It was always off, and sometimes awkward, with some people obviously deeply into their own strange interests. So I was always reassured when certain types of people would never return; I felt like Cacophony was still adhering to its original purpose.

V: Well, it’s hard to keep a bunch of weirdos, outcasts, and outsiders together–which is what punk did for awhile.

RA: But it’s great to have a larger pool of people, because people can surprise you with what they can do, or what they bring to it. And even if you hate some of the people, it’s a lot better having 150 people dressed in Santa suits at one time than having twenty-five really great people dressed in Santa suits! Sometimes there’s a quality in numbers– some stunts worked better with a lot of people, and it’s good to throw a wide net. Several hundred of us convened at the Portland Santa event, where the police showed up in riot gear. I set myself on fire there, as a Santa covered in fireworks! That was memorable.

I remember renting two buses for Santas who were all drunk by ten in the morning, walking into the Great Western Gun Show, the largest gunand- knife exhibition in the country. There were maybe a hundred Santas milling around, looking at handguns and knives. We got a lot of good stocking stuffers there…

Pranks 2 Excerpt: Julia Solis

 

prank2js-198x300JS: Dark Passage started in 1998. Most of the core Dark Passage people came from the Brooklyn Cacophony Society, which had attracted all the right people–people who had the prankster attitude, who had been to Burning Man, who knew John Law, and who had that kind of playful conception of reality and fucking with other people. We had a few meetings, and– oh, we did a Starbucks prank in Williamsburg that was really funny–

V: Well, let’s hear it.

JS: In 1998, Williamsburg was just getting to be ‘hipster central,’ although it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now. But it was definitely becoming a mecca for artists and hipsters. So real estate prices were going up, the stores were getting trendier, there were more cafés, and we felt that the Polish people, who were there before all of us, were getting edged out.

On Bedford and North Twelfth, which is on the main drag of Williamsburg, we decided to pretend that a Starbucks was coming to a vacant lot there. So we made a huge fake Starbucks sign and set up a table covered by a green tablecloth, with decanters where we served horrible coffee. One person played a really convincing wannabe sleazy petty Starbucks manager, and another person played his lackey who was handing out free samples–

V: Of bad stuff, I hope!

JS: Yeah, it was horrible. We brewed it in my apartment, and it tasted really, really bad. One of our guys got free Starbucks cups and little stickers from a real Starbucks, them being the idiots that they are! The cops showed up and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ We said, ‘Oh, we just want to introduce Starbucks to the neighborhood and get a feel for how we’re going to be received by the community.’ They said, ‘Well, you’re a big corporation, so that’s all right,’ and they took off.

We also passed out a survey which was completely ridiculous. It contained stupid questions like, ‘Do you own a VCR?’ Unfortunately, people were really eager to fill them out and to put their mailing addresses and email addresses on them. We ended up with several hundred surveys filled out, and it was mostly–I hate to say it–Polish people who were really into having Starbucks there. A lot of ‘hipsters’ were giving us the cold shoulder and looking at us like we were utter slime, and it was so great! It was just really funny.

That was a Brooklyn Cacophony event, and it was a good bonding experience. From there we formed a good crew that met once a month–this went on for a while. I met people from the Madagascar Institute; Caution Mike; Ryan O’Connor; Erok, who is this crazy and really brilliant fireworks guy; and Maureen from San Francisco; and Jeff Stark, who came a little later. However, the Brooklyn Cacophony was very disorganized–it didn’t have any sort of leadership, which is always the problem with Cacophony. Finally this person Rich and I sat down and decided that we really wanted to do something like the Suicide Club: do urban explorations and stage events at abandoned places and unusual locations. We also wanted to incorporate costumes if possible, and we wanted to do that here in New York.

So in January of 1999 we officially founded Dark Passage, after the movie Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, because that was going to be the subject of our first event. This event was timed to coincide with a BLF (Billboard Liberation Front) exhibit at CBGB’s, which Joey Skaggs, Ron English, Scott Beale and others from the West Coast participated in. This event was also an homage to the [San Francisco] Suicide Club. For that, Harry Haller gave us a lot of the back story for the Suicide Club and how they would organize their events. So we had five teams, all in 1940s costumes, placed all around the city to act out, quite faithfully, parts of the Dark Passage drama of Bogart escaping from jail, having to get plastic surgery, having to find his sweetheart . . . you know, that whole story.

We designated Vince Perry as the one who ‘had’ the plastic surgery, and he was generally the victim and instigator for whatever happened. You’re probably familiar with the movie; in the end, the hero has to change his identity. He’s an innocent man, but he has to go through plastic surgery. He wants to reunite with Lauren Bacall, so he leaves the country and ends up waiting for her in a restaurant in Peru, where they reconnect.

So at the end of our event everyone assembled at a bar (which is usually how these things end) called Between the Bridges, located in Brooklyn between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The groups had assembled their clues, picked up a bowl of goldfish (which is also in the film), and one of them had had ‘plastic surgery’ done on him, but he hadn’t yet met up with his sweetheart Lauren Bacall. So we told the groups that this was the moment that they would go into the restaurant, have the big banquet and meet their love.

Then we led each group, one by one, onto this rickety two-story ladder going up into the Manhattan Bridge which was under construction at the time. Then we led them down the bridge into a subway tunnel where we had found an abandoned track right next to a ‘live’ track. On that abandoned track we had built a banquet table with benches and a coat rack. We had a boom box playing ‘You’re Too Marvelous for Words,’ which was on the soundtrack for the movie Dark Passage. Ryan O’Connor, our chef, had laid out a big gourmet spread on the third rail, and everyone was hungry and ready to eat. All of us enjoyed a meal next to the passing trains, and that was the end of the inaugural event. The fun part was that it really was inside a live subway tunnel, with trains passing just a few feet away while we were eating! That’s how we started…

Pranks 2 Excerpt: Billboard Liberation Front

prank2blf-300x200JN: We collaborated with Ron English, whocame in from the east coast, to help celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of McDonalds. After some reflection, we realized that McDonald’s ultimate goal was ‘to serve man.’ We decided to do our part by putting up a billboard close to one of the highest-volume McDonalds retail stores in San Francisco.

People dressed up as ‘Ronald McDonald’ and showed up for our billboard ‘christening.’ Ron painted a backdrop of a fat, sardonic Ronald McDonald on the left, a giant alien on the right, a McDonald’s gateway arch in the middle, plus a caption, ‘To Serve Man.’ In the center we put a life-sized, live-action animatronic Ronald McDonald with a giant Big Mac in his hand, perpetually pushing it into the face of a corpulent eight-year-old kid kneeling in front, like he was taking Communion. There was a live-action tableau on the platform in front, with the billboard painting behind it.

Our press release reflected the fact that we’re supporting McDonalds in their 50-year effort to fatten up humanity, to better serve them to the aliens that are coming down!

V: Where do you get Ronald McDonald outfits?

JN: You can get a cheap red wig at a costume store. [Ed. note: Ron English and his wife Tarssa made Ronald costumes; BLF associates made their own, as well as three compelling ‘Hamburglars!’] Then you need white leggings and a red-and-yellow striped shirt. Our website might list stores where you can get these. I pre-wired the billboard, so all we had to do was put the dummy on a pre-set stand, plug him in, and he started punching the kid in the face with the hamburger.

V: What an idea–

JN: This was inspired by an old ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, ‘To Serve Man,’ [Episode 89] where these happy, friendly, aliens arrive on earth and start helping humanity. They have a book they’re reading, and a suspicious woman steals a copy and starts translating it. She finds out, to her horror, that it’s actually a cookbook! This McDonalds hit was in the middle of the day, on a Sunday afternoon–Memorial Day, actually–near Golden Gate Park. There were a million people in the street, cops driving around, bicycles and cars constantly going by. We had a van with Viacom stickers on the sides (which is the company that owns the billboard). Four of us were working on the board, and until we put up the animatronic figures, nobody looked askew at us. Our ground crew was watching to see if anybody was suspicious, and if it looked like they were getting on a cell phone to call the cops, they’d try and stop them.

The hit was in a Cala Foods parking lot, and one of our spotters was inside the store. He overheard one person go, ‘Hey, do you think that’s an ad for that movie Supersize Me?’ He automatically thought it was a legitimate image, even though it was the most bizarre image you could conceive of. As a distraction, we also had about thirty people dressed up as Ronald McDonald–their job was to show up at the last minute and take away attention from us when we were finishing up the billboard.

So we finished, got into our van and escaped a few blocks away. We parked, put on our Ronald McDonald costumes and returned to join the crowd of other Ronald McDonalds. By this time the police had come; the CALA Foods manager had called ’em. The police showed up and couldn’t do anything about the billboard. The Fire Department came later and took down the two manikins. But they’d already been up for several hours, and we’d filmed the whole thing. Then the police put the manikins in a paddy wagon, but they couldn’t close the rear doors, so their feet stuck out.

Basically, the cops came, arrested Ronald McDonald, threw him in a paddy wagon, we filmed this and it became part of the feature film Popaganda, a film documentary about Ron English–the finale of which is the BLF and Ron English doing this billboard hit. It couldn’t have worked out more beautifully–the cops arresting Ronald McDonald was beautiful! For my money, this was the greatest billboard hit I ever heard of, because it was the only one that used live animatronic figures; the only one where we had an entire street theater piece using thirty Ronald McDonalds on the ground, and the police who showed up were part of the event. And we left a good bottle of Scotch on this Ronald McDonald billboard for the sign workers.

Now for me, the best pranks are whimsical and humorous. You could spray-paint ‘Fuck McDonalds’ on a billboard, and people who are already Greenpeace or Adbusters or anti-globalist types will nod their heads in agreement. But that’s like preaching to the choir. It’s the people who don’t necessarily think that way that I want to get to. I like it when people pause and look, especially if it’s confusing. There’ll be that second when they’re thinking, ‘What the hell does that mean?’ . . . a little glitch that makes people think about where they are, and question what advertising really is.

There is a ubiquitous, non-stop barrage of corporate advertising and imagery everywhere we go, and we need to yell back at ’em! There are many groups around the country who alter billboards, and we’re all just telling people, ‘Advertising is a language. You’re being spoken to constantly through these ads. But you can talk back to them! You can make it a dialogue. And you don’t necessarily have to climb on up and alter a billboard. So every time you see a Nike swoosh logo, in your mind you can change it to a dildo or something you find humorous.’ So in our billboard alterations, we’re simply having a dialogue with the advertisers…

Introduction
CULTURE HACKING
Jihad Jerry
Jello Biafra
Al Jourgensen, joined by Jello Biafra
Jarico Reesce
Bambi Lake
GROUPS
The Yes Men
Suicide Club
Cacophany Society (S.F.)
Reverend Al
Julia Solis
Billboard Liberation Front
ON-LINE SATIRE
Marc Powell
Frank Discussion
COMEDY
Paul Krassner
Margaret Cho
ART AS PRANK
John Waters
Ron English
Joey Skaggs
Survival Research Laboratories
monochrom
Lydia Lunch and Monte Cazazza
Quotes and Situationist Graffiti
Index