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ZB: I can see you as the female Alfred Jarry in a way, addressing absurdities in society—AM: That is the best compliment Ever!ZB: Your performances have been described as Neo-Dada theater. Many of your peers were inspired by the Theater of the Absurd, and the Surrealists. In honor of Dada100, if you were to put on a Dada production, what would it be? Who would be the Ubu Roi of today?
AM: Well, Donald Trump is the obvious choice. Kim Jong-Un a close second. Putin is a different kettle of fish—more Emperor Ming in the old FLASH GORDON serials. But also the so-called liberal billionaires, the “tech elite”, the people who put on that Burning Man for the 1%. I’d stage Ubu Roi like a TED talk. Steve Jobs would be an ideal updated Pere Ubu. Stage it like one of those Apple “innovation” rallies.ZB: You’ve talked about ageism in performance—especially how bad it is in LA. Have you read Diamanda Galas’s essay “The Greek Vampire: A Threat To The Enemies of Artists,” in which she confronts, aggressively, ageism in music?
AM: I haven’t! I gotta read that. Ageism is so rampant. Actually one of the songs on my new CD addresses that. It’s called “Relieved to be Irrelevant.” I was forever seeing older artists (usually performers) being trolled with the accusation that they were “no longer relevant”. And it always irked me! (Even when leveled at people I didn’t necessarily feel like defending.) Because it was usually connected to age. I thought, “Jesus, everybody is irrelevant! And everybody is relevant!” Let’s take it to the quantum level: it’s all one, so let’s stop tearing each other down. Then I thought, “Wow, I’m relieved to be irrelevant in a world of Kardashians and American Idol.”ZB: With social media rewiring our brains, no one is a critical thinker anymore. It’s created this world of superficiality and hive mind. People who never cared or needed the approval of others are now desperately seeking it on social media—this is really disheartening.
It’s so strange to me: this self-policing and self-censorship—so-called “trigger warnings.” We’re all our own Big Brother now. Because so much of your work is about spontaneity and engagement, how do you feel about what the internet is doing to society?
AM: Social-media-and-the-internet has its uses, but it’s highly addictive, and a major distraction from doing more nourishing things like watching the birds in the birdbath—my favorite pastime of late. I agree with you: I believe it’s rewiring our brains… and not in a good way.
ZB:I compare social media to a Panopticon—AM: Panopticon—yes, exactly!ZB: What is your opinion of artists who use the internet to create, or, as their platform? Do you think this has taken the “soul” out of art? It feels like the internet has killed ingenuity and the spontaneity you feel is important… and makes art less genuine.
AM: Well, I think one has to accept that the internet (and any new technology) is a new medium that any artist can use is any way they want. People leveled similar accusations at television and movies before that, and the telephone and telegraph and steam engine… and maybe even the wheel! This is all part of our present evolution… and how we use and abuse it is up to each individual.
Maybe in that way social media is “good.” Everyone can feel they have a voice… everyone has their own “network” now. How this shakes down remains to be seen, but I think it’s good people wrested the power away from the old cabals. Of course, now The Who song comes to mind: “Meet the new cabal, same as the old cabal”!
ZB: You talk about the artist as storyteller. Will you talk about your first experiences with this… who you see—musicians and artists—as storytellers?
AM: My mother was definitely the first storyteller in my life. She would read to me before bed the usual “Wynken, Blynken and Nod”… but then Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, and also some rather sophisticated fare. I still have the old illustrated book of Greek mythology she read to me and—get this, she read Beowulf to me… as a bedtime story… when I was six! I was terrified to swim in lakes from an early age because of that; terrified of Grendel.
And. of course, the Bible: archetypical storytelling at its finest! Also, Chiller Theater, I loved monster movies and The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. In fact, I ended up having so many nightmares after I watched Outer Limits that my mother forbade it, so I learned how to be crafty real fast and told her I was going over to a friend’s house to play, then convince them to put on the Outer Limits. My brother and I loved science fiction and especially anything with Ray Harryhausen animation. Anything with the Greek myths was a hit with us! And Jules Verne! We ate it all up, with relish!
ZB: Will you talk about the Club 57 show you’re co-organizing for the Museum of Modern Art?
AM: The Museum of Modern Art is going to put on a film series and gallery show celebrating Club 57, the “neo-Dada” club space I managed form 1979-1981 and performed in off and on until its demise in 1983. The show initially began as a film series curated by John Epperson, a.k.a. Lypsinka, who was a regular member there.
ZB: Can you describe some of the themes of the performances you did there back then?AM: Oh, there were so many:
() Radio Free Europe, which indulged my obsession with life behind the Iron Curtin and debuted my Soviet pop chanteuse, Anoushka… The list goes on and on!
ZB: Will you talk about how you’ve addressed in your art and performances: coping with the trauma of loss due to AIDS, especially the loss of your brother? How can people cope with the continued loss of loved ones to AIDS?
AM: Personally, my performances were the only way I could cope. I created so much with people who were HIV-positive and who have since died. It was their way of coping too—we had to laugh. We had to keep the show going—we got so much joy from it; it was the only life-affirming way out of the horror of it all.
ZB: Will you talk about the art you want to create out of the answering-machine messages left behind by those you lost to AIDS?AM: I have wanted to do something with all the answering machine messages I’ve saved since the ’80s. I really stopped saving them after answering machines stopped using cassettes, because it wasn’t as easy to do. Some of the earliest ones got lost, but a few of those are on the Bongwater records. One was from Klaus Nomi when I had called him to see if I could visit him. He called back and said he really couldn’t have visitors; that people meant well but it made him sicker than he already felt. It was heartbreaking.
ZB: Do you think that we’ve lost a lot of our humanity via our use of communication through technology? We never use the human voice now that everyone uses texting. We’ve lost that intimacy that the human voice creates, like with those answering machine messages.AM: Possibly. I know that when I take a few days off all internet activity, I feel liberated and able to get in touch with aspects of myself I feel haven’t been in full flower since childhood! Certainly since the days before iPhones… even before answering machines or Walkmans! That’s why I love—need—to go to the desert on a regular basis. We don’t have wi-fi where we live there, and there are so many places, like in that extraordinary national park, that don’t get any cell reception at all —I love it!
ZB: I like how you have said that much of the performances you did in the 1970s and ’80s were more about just having a laugh with friends, and the fun of entertaining each other… and if the audience enjoyed it, so much the better—AM: Oh yes! I always created shows, at least early on, with friends, just so we could make each other laugh. Especially at Club 57 and all the ’80s club performances. But now I also see that many of those performances were ritual exorcismsand ways to process experiences and shared memories of the collective unconscious that formed the cultural sensibilities—and the rebellions against other sensibilities—at the time. My friend William Fleet Lively, who also passed away from AIDS, wrote a lot of that early material with me. We laughed harder than I have ever laughed in my life.
ZB: Do you feel there are any taboos today to confront or have fun with, like there were during the 1970s and ’80s, when conservatism and censorship were so rampant?AM: Oh sure, there are plenty of taboos today that would make the unbridled mad, mad, mad, off-the-hook D.I.Y. don’t-tell-me-what-do-do creativity of those times impossible.
ZB: With gentrification in cities destroying the creative community, and money coming in so artists’ work becomes business rather than art, where could a new community of bohemians and artists thrive again? How can an artist find a “sacred” space today, especially if they live in these now-gentrified communities?AM: I think people are finding ways to create thriving communities all over the place, but usually outside of the big cities. Even those of us in the big cities are navigating our way around the negatives to keep on keeping on!
ZB: Much of your life and work was documented in The Art of Living: An Oral History of Performance Art by Dominic Johnson. But will we see an autobiography from you any time soon? Have any of your opinions or views changed since this book came out?AM: Dominic Johnson’s book is the most articulate and thorough in terms of presenting my past, although it—like any history—is selective. He has interviews with a lot of unsung artists who I find fascinating, and who live their lives as art. I highly recommend that book for anyone interested in outré performance.