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PRANKS HARDBACK Pandemic Price $40, not $60

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“This book is my bible.”—Anonymous Fun-lover. PRANKS! RARE HARDBACK $40. Printed on Glossy Art Paper for Superior Photographic Reproduction. This edition supersedes all previous editions; the photos are so much sharper! Readers have described this book as “a Handbook to Live By,” “a Philosophy Text” and a “Survival Manual.” Some people keep this in their bathroom; others by their beds, and still have others have completely worn out their copies and re-ordered this NEW EDITION.




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Here Pranksters such as Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Monte Cazazza, Jello Biafra, Earth First!, Joe Coleman, Karen Finley, John Waters and Henry Rollins (and more) challenge the sovereign authority of words, images and behavioral convention. This iconoclastic compendium will dazzle and delight all lovers of humor, satire and irony. 240 pages, many photographs—now with much sharper resolution.

Sorry: all we have left are HARDBACKS $40 on better glossy art paper. But… Technically Superior to your old copy!

“Pranks is absolutely fascinating – remarkable source material for any experimental psychologist. It crosses the whole spectrum from mere pranks and practical jokes into concept art and the shaky foundations of a lot of everyday reality, and beyond that into pure psychopathy, in a few cases. One of your very best books yet.” — J.G. Ballard

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Weight 1.94 lbs

1 review for PRANKS HARDBACK Pandemic Price $40, not $60

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    “In childhood, nothing is more cool than pulling a very clever Prank. The child who places the flaming bag of dog-shit on somebody’s welcome mat, so that an adult will stamp it out, is quickly elevated to a mythical status in the neighborhood. Who would have thought that such activities provide the seeds for meaningful adult action?
    “This is at least part of the premise of Pranks, the latest effort by San Francisco’s vanguard publisher, RE/Search. The book’s introduction describes great Pranks as creating “synaesthetic experiences which are unmistakably exciting, original and reverberating, as well as creative, metaphoric, poetic and artistic. If these criteria be deemed sufficient, then pranks can be considered an art form and genre in themselves.”
    “In this hefty collection of essays and interviews with 37 artists, musicians, writers and unclassifiable individuals who work in a mischievous manner, RE/Search attempts to venerate, with marginal success, the notion of the prank by placing it in artistic and socially conscious contexts.
    “Most of the Pranksters who are profiled work at upsetting the traditional expectations of daily living as a way of forcing people to see the world in a new way. This is, basically, the function of art. Joey Skaggs, for example, works with the notion of credibility by creating preposterous businesses and then markets them according to established consumer sales practices. Skaggs received international press for devising a false panacea made of cockroach hormones. Although the pills never really existed, the interest in the concept was phenomenal. By generating such interest, Skaggs clearly has a sense of the advertising media’s capabilities; he also forces the public to see its own tendency toward blind trust. “Skaggs begins to break down accepted systems on a relatively massive scale.
    Much of the satisfaction of reading this book stems from the idea of the individual undermining a world run by corporate megastructures. In a civilization that is operated by organizations too large to be comprehended, the Prank seems to be the only way to retaliate with some satisfying effect.”
    —G.H., SFS

    “Another slab of ideas from the Re/Search team: After their enormously successful Incredibly Strange Films investigation comes Pranks!, a study of “devious deeds and mischievous mirth.” Boyd Rice’s exploits actually made me laugh out loud, especially his tale of subtle sabotage at Disneyland.
    Other pranksters include such masters of mirth as joking Jello Biafra, happy Henry Rollins, joshing John Cale, merry Monte Cazazza and our very own delirious Danny Kelly who blows the whistle on the jolly japes of those lovable English soccer hooligans. A riot of fun which also acts as a substantial social document. Laugh ‘n’ learn.” – NME

    “If you’re looking for offbeat humor, you just can’t beat the latest publication from RE/Search Publications, Pranks!. This volume is the 11th from RE/Search, whose past hits include Incredibly Strange Films and The Industrial Culture Handbook (a guide to “deviant performance artists”). RE/Search has established quite a reputation for quirky, “hip” humor that Pranks! is bound to add to.
    Pranks! is a collection of interviews with famous (and infamous) pranksters of the recent past. All the big ones are here: Abbie Hoffman talks about levitating the Pentagon, Timothy Leary tells of fun and games with acid, Paul Krassner discusses his infamous “account” of LBJ violating John F. Kennedy’s head wound and Earth First! member Mike Roselle talks about the outrageous environmental group’s stunts and sabotage in the name of Mother Earth. Other interviewees include Jello Biafra, Mark Pauline, Karen Finley and John Waters (who claims that his ultimate goal is to “work my most pernicious ideas into the mainstream product”).
    “Pranks! is subversive humor at its best (or worst, depending on your point of view). Obviously, this book is not going to appeal to someone who thinks Johnny Carson is risque. But it’s an engrossing and wildly funny excursion for those who like to take a walk on the weird side.”

    “Those pranks against the media that were revealed in the last two months — one involving a fictitious school for panhandlers; the other, two Chicago actors who posed on television talk shows as real-life participants in sex therapy — were part of a much larger tradition of mischievous acts.
    Published several months ago by a San Francisco firm called RE/Search Publishing, Pranks! is the definitive treatment of the subject, offering extensive interviews with 36 contemporary tricksters. They include Alan Abel, the brains behind the panhandler jape. He even discusses how he has pulled that particular gag before.
    “Actually, Abel has made a whole career out of such stuff, including a faint-in on Phil Donahue’s show (“Phil attributed this to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease”); staging a mock-wedding for deposed Ugandan dictator Idi Amin to give him legal haven in the U.S. (“The bride had an argument in the middle of the ceremony because she thought fifty thousand dollars was not enough for this assignment — to marry him, that is”); and various other hijinks.
    “Also interviewed are Boyd Rice, who once printed up a flyer purportedly from his high school vice principal that pleaded for legalized torture; Jello Biafra, who proposes changing all traffic lights to a permanent green — “make it a little like Italy where only drivers who sharpen their skills survive”; and the notorious Joey Skaggs. Skaggs has tricked nearly every publication around with such gags as his announcement that he was going to be the first to wind-surf from Hawaii to California; the sidewalk vigilante organization “Walk Right!”; and his proposal, as “JoJo, the King of the New York Gypsies,” to rename the Gypsy moth: “call it the Hitler moth — we Gypsies have taken enough abuse.”
    Beyond this mass of sometimes amusing, sometimes alarming material – all elegantly designed and easy to read; RE/Search may be a small press, but there’s nothing amateurish about its production — is an eclectic and determined publishing philosophy.”
    —David Streitfeld, Washington Post

    ‘The anthology collects interviews with artists who’ve integrated fraud, impertinence, scandal, even criminal behavior into everyday life, just as avant-gardists integrated these qualities into art — where it became passe.’ Pranks! has become something of an art underground best seller in post-Punk/post-Industrial circles across the country. In the Sargasso Sea of contemporary art criticism and culture commentary, this oversized paperback stands out like the Island of Dr. Moreau, a deceptively lush atoll teeming with dangerous postmodern mutations. I showed it to a stodgy poet pal of mine a few weeks back who’s been out of touch for years writing little Zen hiccups he hangs from trees. He cracked up in my kitchen over John Trubee’s account of how he answered an ad in the back of the Midnight Globe promising $20,000 in royalties for self-published songs. Trubee mailed them some lyrics about Stevie Wonder’s dick, along with the $79 they wanted to make a record out of them. A month later, he received a seven-inch 45rpm from Nashville along with a photo of Ramsey Kearney, the “singer” who’d crooned his obscenities in a monotone over the most banal C&W backing track. He recorded it onto cassettes and sent it around to L.A. area underground radio stations. Thanks to repeated airplay on KROQ FM, it became a “hit.” Now for a provincial poet reduced to hanging haiku on his trees, you can imagine the mirth and possibilities this prank provided.
    “Pranks! comes replete with serious prankster polemics that lean towards the didactic, but the high falutin’ commentary is nicely balanced off by the plethora of photo documentation and yarn-spinning it comes packaged in. That trend-o-matic Timothy Leary is featured here with a revisionist history of LSD fitted to the format. I suppose they had to include him, along with Abbie Hoffman, for counter-cultural continuity. Most of these pranksters I’d never heard of. Unearthing them must have been an undertaking. Collecting and organizing all their data seems an even bigger archival accomplishment. Aside from its entertainment value, Pranks! is a directory you may want to use to establish contact with these artists, musicians, writers, and performers to find out more about them. Their addresses are included with each interview so you can write for their records, rants, books, videos, etc., or simply exchange information.
    “The hoaxes perpetrated by these folks are anything but typical. As Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories puts it, “A prank should have a resonance and a ring to it. It should speak of the higher aspirations of human activity. It should go far beyond limitations one would ever expect it to have — the element of surprise transposed onto some kind of poignant act that ultimately is a violence against the society.” The extent of this violence varies with each contributor’s idea of what a consciousness-raising prank should consist of. For the environmental action group Earth First, it could mean spiking trees to protect endangered forests. Others use media manipulation, forgery, graffiti, phone calls, shock art, impersonation, and put-ons. Anything to subvert the thrall of induced “control” and consensus reality. Mean-spiritedness doesn’t take as much thinking out as the deconstruction of a mental gridlock, so finesse is of paramount importance for those who approach Pranks as an art form. That’s the message here.” – N.D.

    “Pranks! is a hilarious book that had me laughing out loud. At the same time it is a manual of cultural subversion that administers a hot-foot to the archetypes of authority and robotic propriety. In a series of over 30 interviews, counterculture figures, performing artists, filmmakers, and other assorted provocateurs describe their favorite pranks and the philosophies that motivated them.
    Media manipulator Joey Scaggs tells us how he fooled the New York Times and the television networks with his Cathouse for Dogs (“Get your dog a little tail!”), Gypsies Against Stereotypical Propaganda (“Rename the gypsy moth!”), and other hoaxes. Paul Krassner recounts the creation of The Realist and the Yippies. Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra discusses his campaign for mayor of San Francisco, musician-artist-writer Boyd Rice tells us how he presented a sheep’s head to Betty Ford (impulsively, believe it or not), and Abbie Hoffman describes how he ran a pig for president. From psychedelic revolutionary Tim Leary to raunch-film director John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray) to the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, the lineup of interviewees is truly remarkable.
    “But Pranks! isn’t just a recounting of naughty anecdotes. Many of those interviewed, such as Earth First! environmentalist Mike Roselle, perform their pranks as the most direct way of getting serious points across. And thanks to the intellectual style of RE/Search, Pranks! comes off as a statement of avant-garde philosophy — a kind of cosmic wake-up call from an extended underground of Surrealist artists.” – T.C., W.E.C.

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Pranks! Excerpt: Interview with Jello Biafra

prank_jelloRE/Search: Tell us about when you ran for mayor…

Jello Biafra: One night we were driving to a Pere Ubu show and Bruce, our old drummer, said, “Biafra, you have such a big mouth that you should run for President—no, you should run for mayor!” I thought, “Aha! I think I will!

At the Pere Ubu show I told almost everyone that I was running for mayor, and wrote out most of my platform on a napkin while they played. The next day I found out you could legally run for mayor in San Francisco if you get a petition signed by 1500 people or pay $1,500 (a dollar a name). By then I’d shot my mouth off so much it was too late to back out.

I think I paid about $900, and slowly but surely got some signatures. This made me a legal candidate, meaning: my statements could be printed in the voters’ pamphlet that was mailed out to everybody. I got equal time in the newspapers, on the radio and on television.

My platform included banning cars from city limits, making police run for re-election in the neighborhoods they patrolled (practical idea if you ask me), and so on. Proposition 13, a tax initiative, had just passed and the city had laid off 7,000 city employees due to budget cuts. I proposed hiring them back as panhandlers on a 50% commission and sending them to rich neighborhoods and the entrances to private schools.

Another way to raise money for the city coffers was for the Parks Department to erect statues of Dan White in major shopping areas and let the Parks Department sell eggs and bottles for people to throw at them. This was less than a year since he’d killed George Moscone.

Also, create a Board of Bribery to set standard public rates for liquor licenses, building code exemptions, police protection, and protection from the police. That caused the most trouble.

It was a lot of work but it was worth it, especially after election night. I came in 4th out of the 10 legal candidates! Two of the people who came in below me had spent something like $50,000 apiece on their campaigns. I got 6,591 votes, 3.5% of the total. Dianne Feinstein’s campaign manager said something to the effect that: “If someone like that can get so many votes, this city is in real trouble.”

Pranks! Excerpt: Monte Cazazza

MONTE CAZAZZA: I used to make fake mannequins and leave them all over. I’d dress them up like bag ladies or winos, and put cheap tape recorders inside them playing 6-second endless loop cassettes of people muttering to themselves, etc. Late at night people would think they were real, and sometimes go up to them and try to mug them or something, while I watched across the street, laughing.

I also used to throw these large dolls into dumpsters with a tape recorder playing an endless loop cassette of a baby crying. People would think there was a baby at the bottom, and jump in and toss out all this garbage trying to find it!

It wasn’t exactly a prank, but in 1979 when Skylab was going to crash, Genesis and I dug a huge pit so it would look like it crashed in my back yard. The hole took up the entire yard. At that point, the old couple who were upstairs neighbors were convinced I was totally insane. We had a barbeque—people brought hundreds of pounds of charcoal briquettes so it was all glowing. The police showed up, looked (like, “What is this guy doing? Is this a new form of landscaping?”), couldn’t believe it, and just left. It took me and Gen about three days to dig that—we worked all day long. It’s amazing what you’ll do when you’re bored.

R/S: Can you think of any job-related pranks?

MC: You can always have fun at any job. Secretaries can cause all kinds of turmoil; anyone who works anywhere can cause all kinds of mischief. You can take anybody’s mail and reroute it to Antarctica; you can put the wrong paper in the wrong envelope; you can change a Yes to a No or a No to a Yes—people who work in computers do that all the time. Even computers do it themselves! And you can program a computer to dial a number over and over if you want to tie up somebody’s line—I think someone did that to Falwell. You should talk to some hacker.

Even though no two pranks are alike, I think there might be a formula you can find, like a law of nature, underlying most pranks. Have you interviewed any businessmen? Businessmen pull pranks every day—they’re always wheedling money out of banks and other businessmaen on various pretexts, pretending they have what they don’t have—outmaneuvering their competitors and suppliers in a thousand different ways. Other people could use these techniques for their own financial benefit.

A prank can be a multi-functional tool like a hammer—you can hit somebody over the head with it, or pound nails with it. Pranks are techniques to change life with; they’re based on principles that are not widely known or recognized. People can learn and apply these techniques—not to steal money from other people, but to set up situations for themselves enabling them to do more of what they want to do. The point is to discover and get familiar with the principles that apply . . .

Pranks! Excerpt: Timothy Leary

prank_learyTimothy Leary: I would say, that one of the greatest pranks that I enjoyed was escaping from prison. I had to take a lot of psychological tests during the classification period, and many of the tests I designed myself, so I took the tests in such a way that I was profiled as a very conforming, conventional person who would not possibly escape, and who had a great interest in gardening and forestry.

So they put me on a place where it was easier to escape. And it was a very acrobatic and dangerous escape because it was under the lights of sharpshooters and so forth. And when I hit the ground and ran out and got picked up by the car, I wanted to be able to get out at least to the highway. If they caught me after that, at least I had made that much of an escape.

The feeling that I had made an escape, a non-violent escape, was a sense of tremendous exaltation and joy. I laughed and laughed and laughed, thinking about what the guards were doing now. They were going to discover me, and then they’d phone Sacramento, and heads would be rolling, and the bureaucracy would be in a stew. This kept me laughing for two or three weeks because I felt it had been a very successful piece of performance art–by example, telling people how to deal with the criminal justice system and the police bureaucracies in the sense of non-violent escapes. So that was a good prank…which was never appreciated by the law-enforcement people…

Pranks! Excerpt: Karen Finley

KAREN FINLEY: A lot of performances going on in the sixties and seventies were really about time, about creating work that couldn’t be sold, creating work that couldn’t enter the art market. Which is one reason why I went into performance, because I really didn’t like the art market. I don’t like the idea of selling work, even though I sell my performance. But just the idea of someone buying it makes me very uncomfortable. Every time I go into a museum or art gallery I get really nauseous. So performance is a perfect way I don’t have to deal with that, yet I’m in the art world or commenting on it, and I find that very important because I think selling art work is really politically incorrect—even though I would love to get an art gallery for my paintings! But it’s still really politically incorrect!

I think what motivated me the most was a pretty sad event. Even though I might be considered a naturally talented person, what triggered me the most in my work is the fact that my father committed suicide. That act gave me such a depth of a human being—the idea of death, of tragedy, of seeing that act, is something that I live with every day. And that is really a trigger for me and my work—the anger of how that happens, trying to conceptualize spiritually why tragedy happens—it’s just so bizarre that this happened in my life, in the same way it has brought creativity out of me. But actually, the performance comes from a very severe strong deep rage and sadness I had at the time of his death, and the way he died.

Many people do have some particular tragedy which they survive somehow, and everyone finds out their own particular way. But some people that have been victimized never let go. In particular I think of women (and men, too) who have suffered sexual abuse as children. I’m interested in those kind of things.

I think that in all creative processes, whether it’s painting or static art-making or writing music, you go through some kind state, and I think that’s the reason why one makes art—not only for the finished product, but for that actual art-making. That’s why when some people create work, they don’t really feel the need to actually sell it, they just enjoy making it. That’s what is the drug: making and creating something. It’s a really powerful drug, and for me it’s in that trance of when I’m performing and actually trying to get this energy out. The feeling I want to share is: if there is some victim or someone who has been put into some horrid tragedy or has experienced something—I have felt that. And you feel that every day—you’re intelligent and you continue on, but you still feel that.

I like to talk a lot about the invisible, like the emotions. I’m using words for it, but a lot of it is about invisible things.

Pranks! Excerpt: Alan Abel

ALAN ABEL: During Watergate, when Bernstein and Woodward were getting their information from “Deep Throat,” nobody had met him. So I thought it was time we introduced him. I had a man posing as “Deep Throat” show up at a Washington news conference, attracting over 100 reporters including Scott Meredith, a literary agent who came with a $10,000 advance check to buy the rights to his life story. Even Irving Lazar offered $100,000 for the manuscript rights. At that event “Deep Throat” got in an argument with his wife, who didn’t want him to testify (“for the sake of the children”), and he was whisked away in a limousine to parts unknown. The Washington Post ran a page one story on this alleged “Deep Throat.” Then, when we exposed this a few days later, the Post didn’t carry much of a story, but the rival Washington News ran a banner headline saying that the Post had been duped.

Pranks! Excerpt: Jeffrey Vallance

R/S: Tell us about Blinky.

JEFFREY VALLANCE: This was done in 1978-79. Here’s the caption for the booklet: “Blinky the Friendly Hen, dedicated to the billions of hens sacrificed each year for our consumption.” It’s sort of like a vegetarian piece, almost.

One day I went to Ralph’s supermarket in Canoga Park, where I normally shopped at, and bought a regular Foster Farms fryer chicken wrapped in a plastic bag. I was trying to determine which one to pick: “This one’s got a nice color, this one’s a good size,” etc. Finally I picked one that I thought was a good-looking chicken, took it home and took photographs of it. I had just taken it out of the plastic bag and there was still blood on it; I put it on a piece of paper to take the photograph, and when I lifted it up there was a perfect impression of a chicken in blood—it was almost like the Shroud of Blinky! (Later, someone bought that for a thousand dollars—Blinky’s shroud! It wasn’t for sale, but they really wanted to have it—it was like this sacred item!)

Then I called up a pet cemetery and told them I had a dead bird that I wanted to bury, and didn’t tell them any more information about it. I took off the plastic bag and then put Blinky in a shoebox, because I’d heard that’s what people normally do when they bring in their dogs or cats—they use a shoebox as a temporary coffin. I drove out there and left Blinky in the car, went into a little bungalow office with lounge chairs in front, and talked to the lady at the desk.

I said I had a dead bird that I wanted to bury. When I did this project I wanted to be “straight” the whole time; I didn’t want to say anything that was false, so I just went along filling out these forms: “What kind of bird is it?” “Hen.” “What breed?” “Ross” (I had done all this research—I had called Foster Farms and found out what breed of chicken they used, how old they were, etc, so I’d know all this background).

Have you ever seen a chicken look at things? They don’t have binocular vision; one eye goes this way and one goes that way, If they’re looking at a bug they look at it cockeyed, moving their head this way and that, looking like they’re blinking. I did research at the pet cemetery too, and all the other animals were named Fluffy and Biffy and Pinky and Winky, so Blinky fit right in there—it made sense that it would be called that.

The best part of the cemetery was the viewing room. A mortician went out to the car and brought the box to the back room; he didn’t really look at it. Later on while I was filling some more forms, this huge “Lurch” [from the Addams Family] sorta guy comes out. He’s totally white and deadly serious and he says [slow measured syllables], “How/did/your/pet/die?” because it was all plucked and cleaned and everything, I wanted to be really truthful, so I just said, “I’m not sure exactly how it died; one day it just died.” (I don’t know how they really kill them at the butcher house.) That was the only question they ever asked.

By that time I was paying for it. I had gone to the bank and gotten all hundred-dollar bills, and as soon as I brought the money out they were very satisfied because I was paying cash! After that they were really careful with what they were saying, because they wanted the money as much as I wanted to do this (it cost like three hundred dollars). Here I was; what were they going to say: “I don’t know if we can bury that or not”? So they were very cordial and formal.

The viewing room was great. I had ordered a powder blue coffin with a pink lining, and they had put a paper towel in the bottom, because Blinky was starting to thaw and beads of moisture were forming on the chicken which would have ruined the satin. There was a little pillow inside, and they had placed it so that if the head were on, it would have been laying on the pillow. But it didn’t have a head, so . . . [laughs] They also had these pallbearers who I think were illegal aliens—they weren’t saying a word, but they looked like they thought this was the craziest thing in the world.

We went out to the grave which was surrounded by astroturf. I guess it must really be terrifying to see dirt when something is being buried, because then you think of the earth and all these terrible implications, so they had astroturf. Then they brought the coffin out and I thought it would have Blinky’s name written on it, but it had my name written on it instead. It was scary, like seeing my own burial! Then they lowered it down into the grave and concluded the ceremony. After we buried Blinky I went to the Howard Johnsons nearby and had the “Chicken Special”!

Pranks! Excerpt: John Waters

R/S: Can you think of any pranks from early childhood?

JOHN WATERS: When I was little I loved cigarette loads—you know, you put them in cigarettes and they go pop! I put one in my mother’s cigarette, then sat on the porch and waited for something to happen. She lit the cigarette and something was wrong with the load—it was like three of them stuck together, and it blew up in her face—she went, “AHHHH!”, threw her arms over her eyes, and her whole face was black and-blue. She was sitting there with this broken-off butt in her mouth, like in those Tom & Jerry cartoons (tweet tweet tweet). And my father came running—she was injured; the thing went off in her eye. She didn’t die or go blind, but she had to go to the doctor immediately. I just sat there stunned: “Ohmigod, I’ve killed my mother . . .” because I’d expected just a little pop. That was a prank that backfired.

I had whoopie cushions, flies in the ice cubes, squirting flowers, cans (when you opened them a snake popped out)—I still love all that stuff. I think they’re great fun . . .

The first film we made, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, I remember we stole the film—a girl named Mona who starred in it worked at a film lab. She also stole the developing. It was just 8mm film. Later Divine kept getting busted for stealing when we were making Pink Flamingos; I’d have to get him out of jail so we could shoot the next day. We never figured out why he did that; he stole the back covers to directors’ chairs and he didn’t even have a director’s chair.

I hate having people play pranks on me. I hate April Fool’s Day—I find that obnoxious. [laughs] I love to see little kids play with practical joke toys; I think it’s fun when you’re a child. But if somebody shakes my hand today with a hand buzzer . . . there are limits!

Did you see Pee-wee Herman’s show last Saturday morning? He took a shit on TV. I’d never seen his bathroom before; you could see the bathroom and he was sitting down leaning out, sticking his head out of the door: “All right! All right!” Then he came out and a piece of toilet paper was stuck to his shoe for the rest of the scene. I thought it was amazing they had that on a kiddie show. That show is so good.

R/S: Pee-wee’s one of my favorites . . . Did you ever do any phone pranks?

JW: Sure, we called up people out of the phone book and did all the standard jokes like: “Is your water running? Then you better catch it.” I used to be obsessed by surveys, like what was the number one record, or like the Nielsen Surveys. So I’d do it for real. As a kid I would call up and make lists: “What TV show are you watching?”” and they’d tell me and I’d go, “Thank you.” I’d make all these calls and then figure out what was the number one TV show in my neighborhood. I’d do that for records, too. But that wasn’t a prank—I was serious.

When I hooked school, my parents would drop me off—I’d say, “Bye,” and then walk right back out. I’d go up to a stranger and say, “Would you call up and say you’re my mother and that I’m sick?” and if you picked a woman hairdresser, they’d always say yes.

Pranks! Excerpt: Earth First!

R/S: I read that Edward Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang was an inspiration, and furnished a model which you adapted.

EARTH FIRST: Abbey is kind of a cantankerous desert rat, as is pretty well known. He’s kind of anti-human in that he’s an outspoken critic of overpopulation. That’s something the environmental movement seems to stay away from. Back in the early ’70s we used to actually talk about the concept of growth and the threat of overpopulation, but now, that fact that the world population is five billion and still increasing is never mentioned by the Sierra Club or any of those groups. Abbey was willing to throw his opinions out and a lot of the time they made an incredible amount of sense. He’s taken a lot of flak, but on the other hand there are those who respect him for being so frank.

We call our theory deep ecology. A Norwegian philosopher named Arne Naess coined the term about 10 years ago. He was an academic ecologist who decided that you couldn’t just be an academic ecologist. If you really cared about the earth and all this biota that’s being destroyed, you had to take it out of the classroom and put it into practice in your personal life. That meant more than just buying recycled paper and voting for the conservation candidate. He started organizing to save rivers from being dammed and forests from being cut down, even resorting to civil disobedience.

He was also hammering away at the academic institutions that contain most of our knowledge about life on earth. Everybody was looking at it in such a narrow way—one person studied only frogs, another only hummingbirds. Even though they knew that there were less of a particular species of frog or hummingbird than there were 10 years ago, they weren’t making that leap and seeing that if you put all these numbers together, it spells disaster—that we have to do something if we want to survive on this earth, because it’s biological diversity that makes our life possible. It was necessary to extrapolate that human beings are not the Crown of Creation like the Christians had always insisted, but are just one of many citizens of a biological community.

What deep ecology espouses is ecological egalitarianism. It’s really a practical and logical extension of the civil rights movement! Are we really better than a wolf or a dolphin or a microorganism in the soil? Under the present-day legal system they have virtually no rights whatsoever, just like blacks and American Indians not so long ago.

Human beings have been divorced from the natural world for only a short period of time during their evolution. The longer that has progressed, the worse conditions have gotten. A very practical reason for adopting an ecological egalitarian world view is because it’s a question of survival. But also, if you felt it was important for people to struggle for their rights in the civil rights movement, then you’ll also want to do that for the other organisms.

I think that’s really the underlying philosophy of Earth First! We’re not doing this for “the babies.” We’re not doing this for “society.” To us, the highest goal would be to do something for earth (hence the name Earth First!), even though we live in a post-Pleistocene era in which the flora and fauna have been damaged beyond repair on this planet.

There was this time when a lot of conservationists were called druids, and were embarrassed because that means being called a tree-worshipper and a pagan. However, if you look at the druids, what you see are forest-dwelling human beings, indigenous people living in close harmony with the land. They were practicing their religion living in the forest, gathering wild plants and growing little gardens. These people didn’t fence in their pastures; they lived much closer to the earth—these so called “druids” and Germanic tribes known as “barbarians.” They were exterminated by the Christians, and I don’t think they were necessarily just stabbed and killed, I think they were wiped out when their forests were removed. By the 1600s in Europe, anything remotely resembling big wilderness had been destroyed.

A lot of environmentalists seem afraid to admit that they actually have a different world view than the person who is just following this path called “progress” and not questioning it. I think that at this stage we have to do more than question—we have to challenge it.

Pranks! Excerpt: Mark McCloud

R/S: Can you tell us some pranks from the sixties?


MARK MCCLOUD: I love that movie, Tribes, about the hippie who gets inducted into the Marine Corps. He gets his whole troop meditating, and there’s this battle of knowledge between himself and his platoon leader, who’s played by Darren McGavin. He finally wins McGavin over to his way of thinking. In its way, it’s as important a film as Apocalypse Now.


In the sixties, Alfred Hitchcock threw a weird little party to test a theory he’d long cherished. For years he’d noticed there was a sweeping lack of blue food. Finally he decided to hire some top chefs and host a Cordon Bleu (literally) dinner in which everything would be dyed blue—from the meat to the dessert.


Although theoretically the dye was tasteless and the food was certified gourmet, there definitely seems to be some kind of built-in aversion to eating blue food. None of the guests could finish their dinner.


Then there was a “black” prank that happened in San Francisco in the late ’60s. A record album mysteriously appeared with an all-black sleeve that simply said, The Masked Marauders. A giant rumor spread that it was the Beatles jamming with the Stones! KSAN played cuts from it, and a lot of people scurried about trying to find copies—quickly it attained tremendous value as a collector’s item. People would pay a hundred bucks for it, saying, “Yeah, that’s Mick—I could tell Mick’s voice anywhere. And that’s definitely Paul’s style of bass playing,” etc. However, that record was a complete fake.


The one book I can recommend, which should be reprinted, is Trashing, written by a woman who called herself Ann Fettamen [Straight Arrow Books, 1970]. It describes hardcore Yippie pranks pulled all over Manhattan, ending with the bombing of the 9th Precinct police station which forced everybody underground. At the time the Yippies were working on an ultimate prank which ended in just Abbie and Jerry burning money at the Wall Street Stock Exchange. But originally that was to be a diversion tactic while somebody else fed 15,000 fake computer cards into the Wall Street master computer system. They had spent months programming cards, working out the plans to create this fake “Crash,” but when the shit hit the fan they all had to go underground.


There were a lot of pranks in this book, like the time they rolled something like 4000 joints and mailed them to people picked out of the phone book as a “Halloween Treat.”


The Yippies had a sub-section called the Motherfuckers, who didn’t want to discuss politics or talk about anything, they just wanted to burn everything down and break windows—raise hell now. The Motherfuckers were incredibly energetic and their activities led to bombings. The only problem was: the person who provided them with the explosives was from the FBI . . . Trashing is basically about Ann Fettamen graduating from college, coming to New York as a “straight” girl to get a job, donating a little time to the local peace movement headquarters, after which she gets indoctrinated and becomes “committed.” The book captures an idealistic, anarchic spirit of “free love and revolution” which is difficult to imagine happening again in the near future . . .


Pranks! Excerpt: Robert Delford Brown

R/S: What happened when Herman Nitsch visited?

ROBERT DELFORD BROWN: We asked if he wanted beer, wine or whiskey, and he replied, “Ve haf them all!” SO we drank until everyone was blind.

RHETT: We were one of the first Mom-and-Pop religions—why not? Everyone could start their own church; there could be one on every corner. The night Bob came up with the idea, Allan Kaprow was in hysterics—he knew that Bob had stumbled onto something. Before our first event we really didn’t know how to do happenings or performances, but from my theater background—I was the one who hired a press agent—we got the meat show a lot of publicity. It was a big success, and after that we waited for lightning to strike, but it didn’t.

So then Bob decided to make huge, hand-colored sex/murder photographs—

RDB: I figured I had to push harder. John Cage had made the statement, “Art is anything you can get away with,” and I thought, “If you can get away with anything—why not?”

R: Bob figured that the meat show wasn’t a strong enough piece. So we imported this four-volume set of books from Germany (with the aid of my psychiatrist; “laymen” couldn’t import these at the time). They contained some incredible photos, such as a woman who cut her hand off because she was a guilt-ridden masturbator. One man was a foot-fetishist; another did a self-castration. At the same time we mail-ordered photos from the little ads in the back of magazines (e.g., “Seven Oriental Poses”) and went to little shops around 42nd Street and bought sex books and magazines. Then Bob selected the photos he wanted to work on.

We went to Modern Age (the big photo developing center) to have the photos blown up to life size, but they wouldn’t touch ’em—they were afraid of them. So we had to produce a letter written by Lawrence Alloway of the Guggenheim that Bob was a serious artist and this was serious work, after which they agreed. The negatives were kept in their vault and were enlarged on Sunday when no women were working. Then Bob carefully hand-colored them.

We took the final works to Ivan Karp and many others, but nobody would touch them—they were too tough. At first people would say, “God, these are wonderful!” and start to leaf through them, but there would always be one photo that would hit somebody in a weak spot, and they’d suggest, “Uh—why don’t you take them to so-and-so around the corner?”

Pranks! Excerpt: Frank Discussion

FRANK DISCUSSION: Information is meant to be sifted. Anytime you open up a book, usually at least 60% is garbage. You have to keep throwing that out, shoveling it away, and learn how to spot what’s useful and discern what’s of value to you. A general principle I’ve used is: absorb what is useful, throw away what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.

People make all kinds of statements but I want to see how they live. I want to see how people make theory function in their own lives before I listen to a word of it. Otherwise it’s just lip service, an alternative Hallmark card.

People build up huge banks of tedious responses and information of no use, because it’s easier than having to make decisions and judgments. It’s much easier to be a walking ideology than to have to constantly be aware all the time. The scary question to ask is, “Do I have ideas, or do the ideas have me?” There are thousands of “-isms”: “I’m a hardcore ________ ist”—you fill in the blank! Hardcore amateur proctologist, whatever.

But gut-rage is more important than some concocted intellectual counterattack. Gut-rage because you’re pissed and sick of your job is worth more than the theories of a thousand intellectuals.

R/S: Although one theory can be more valuable to me than a thousand inarticulate fist-wavers.

FD: That’s true. But I mean: when you look around and see all these insipid social relationships; when you see that everyone has bought into all these pallid roles and situations that aren’t even any fun; when you’re surrounded all day by conversation that is totally bland and mediocre: then you can really feel a gut-level rage that makes you want to destroy.

The Situationists said that you can take any truth and turn it into an ideology, and when you turn it into an ideology you turn it into a lie. Just as laws don’t take into account circumstances, so truth is equally transitory; something may be true in one situation, but that situation may never occur again. There’s a Sufi tale where two people were talking about fate, watching a man being hung because he stabbed another. One asked, “Why is he being hung? Because someone gave him money to buy the knife? Because someone sold him the knife? Because he took the knife and stabbed someone with it? Or because he was caught afterwards?” To have one idea about karma or fate is so simplistic.

In most cultures, most people consider murder to be naughty, right? But what if someone had killed Adolf Hitler in 1928? That would have been murder, yet by killing Hitler that person would have saved the lives of six million Jews, plus who knows how many gypsies and various Slavic people!

Pranks! Excerpt: Mal Sharpe

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 . . .

  • Introduction
  • Mark Pauline
  • Boyd Rice
  • Henry Rollins
  • Joey Skaggs
  • Ed Hardy
  • Michael Bidlo
  • Jello Biafra
  • Abbie Hoffman
  • Bruce Conner
  • Monte Cazazza
  • Timothy Leary
  • Paul Krassner
  • John Giorno
  • Karen Finley
  • Richard Meltzer
  • Alan Abel
  • Jeffrey Vallance
  • John Waters
  • Earth First!
  • Paul Mavrides
  • Mark McCloud
  • Kerri Kwinter–Essay: Pranks & the Vietnam War
  • Robert Delford Brown
  • John Cale
  • Danny Kelly
  • Frank Discussion
  • David Levi Strauss–Essay: literature & Pranks
  • Bruno Richard
  • Mal Sharpe
  • Bob Zoell
  • Situationism
  • Joe Coleman
  • Stymie
  • Michael Osterhout
  • Jerry Casale
  • John Trubee
  • Carlo McCormick–Essay: Pranks & the Avant-Garde
  • Erik Hobijn
  • Barry Alfonso
  • Harry Kipper
  • Quotations
  • RE/SEARCH Projects
  • Index