Archive for Deacon Bishop Revival
This post is one of a series profiling the hundreds of performers I’ve presented through my American Vaudeville Theatre in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Don’t miss the American Vaudeville Theatre’s 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza in the New York International Fringe Festival this August!
When I enrolled in film school at NYU in 1990, I left my job working in Tony Bennett’s office (yes, that Tony Bennett — what terrible timing!) and took a part time job working in New York’s classiest book store (the now defunct Brentano’s Fifth Avenue). My motto at any day job is “Don’t get too comfortable”. I never decorate my work space, and, while I may inevitably make friends, such a development can take years. So I was at Brentano’s for the first several weeks — keeping my head down, doing my job, communicating a bare minimum. Until one day a colorful, flamboyant co-worker insisted in walking with me to my train at closing time, bursting with curiosity it turns out about the “mysterious, quiet young man who kept to himself”, for as we all know, they usually turn out to be serial killers.
We very rapidly became close friends and confidants. Actually, that doesn’t even begin to describe it. We have seen each other at our depths. We have literally loaned each other our last five dollars; fed each other when we were starving; cheered each other up when the world seemed like an outpost of hell. We have shared the heights, as well, though those have occurred far too infrequently and have been not nearly high enough for my ambitious tastes. Robert, I think, is pleased with far less. Robert, (not to speak for him), is as happy as he needs to be when life isn’t the bamboo sliver under the fingernail it usually is.
Is this TMI? The wrong forum? Screw you! It’s 103 degrees out and I’m writing about my best friend.
We were drawn together by a common love of comedy and music, in addition to all of those other usual undefinable minutiae that bring personalities together. He is, like all the great musician-comedians…the Marx Brothers, Olsen and Johnson, Spike Jones, the Bonzos, Keith Moon — an anarchist. He is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. Ideas gush out of him from morning to night in a torrent. Poetry, comical and otherwise, just tumbles out of him. The fact that all sorts of privileged loafers and pinheads are enriched and rewarded for their lame, talentless show biz excretions and people like my friend Robert labor in converted attics for the odd twenty dollars fills me with an Ahab-like fury. It is what drives me. It is what maddens me.
When we met, we were in our mid-twenties. We shared a common love for the psychedelic pop of the sixties. We started playing music together. He was the first person ever to give me genuine, sustained positive reinforcement and encouragement for my songwriting.He is clearly perceptive enough to recognize towering genius.
As he encouraged me in music, I encouraged him in acting. He was in many of my plays during the early 90s: he made his first appearance in any play anywhere in my one act “fart play” Gas Attack, which also starred downtown stalwart Peter Brown (1991). I pushed him, kicking and screaming into some bigger roles over the next couple of years. He moved away for a while, and by the time he returned I had started up the American Vaudeville Theatre.
From 1997 through 2005, he was a crucial lynchpin, a key collaborator in nearly all of my vaudeville shows, and many of my plays as well. He is a brilliant sketch writer and author of nonsensical monologues.A good example of his surreal, bizarre style from our 2005 show at the Brick:
Above all, he is that RAREST of species nowadays, a SLAPSTICK COMEDIAN. Like all the great vaudevevillians he learned everything he knows on the job, from watching others or from his own gut instinct. He is fearless (one might say reckless) about getting hurt. For a laugh, I have seen him toss his own body around like dice against a brick wall. He is also an UNCANNY celebrity impressionist, and with a rarified, connoisseur’s sense of taste. Any asshole can do Curly Howard or Lou Costello. Robert does Bud Abbott, Moe and Shemp. Here’s a brief 1998 clip of him doing slapstick and Shemp:
The crazy lady with him is Gilda Konrad who became another core member of my loose company. I’ll be waxing rhapsodic about her within the next couple of days.
Anyway, over the past decade Robert’s great skills made him a sought-after presence in many other people’s shows. He’s worked with Piper McKenzie, DM Theatrics, and many others. But best of all….really best of all, his career as a musician seems to really be taking off. He’s in no less than three great bands. He’s the drummer of the Beat Rats (with whom he has twice traveled to Liverpool to play the Cavern Club) and also the neo-punk trio Deacon Bishop Revival (fronted by actor friend Fred Backus). The third band is his labor of love Pie Face, where he plays several instruments with cohort Michael Ostergrin and various special guests. This high demand for his talents makes me want me to collaborate with him all the more, but such lucky occasions have been sadly scarce in recent years. I’m pretty sure our most recent comedy collaboration was as the comedy team the THree Lowlifes (with Roger Nasser) at Theater for the New City in 2009.
He was nice enough to play music with me at Trav S.D.’s Last Chance Saloon at Dixon Place in 2010, though, along with several members of the Electric Mess. I hope we get to do that again soon, because it reminds me of this:
To learn more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
This troubling handbill is meant to suggest that we — you and I — should go see the Deacon Bishop Revival combo tonight at Goodbye Blue Monday (see above). Yeah?! Me and what ear plugs? As I think you’ll hear when you play their three tunes here, these three gentlemen spew forth a beatful, thunderous noise calculated to make accountants leave their desks, run into the street and start waving a gun around. It’s the new sound journalists are calling “the punked rock”…but just what IS the punked rock? Let’s take a walk inside my head (squish, squish, squish, squish….)
I started high school a few months after Sid Viscious’s death. Nothing was known of punk in our school until my junior year when a kid named Colin, a junior high friend who’d moved away for a couple of years came back from Detroit with a buzz cut, earring and leather jacket. Some of us were into the Ramones and certain New Wave bands, but Colin brought with him a record collection containing the entire arsenal, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Dead Kennedys. He was (and remained) the town’s only punk (and in retrospect, a pretty mild one, come to think of it). I hung out with him and another friend Alex quite a bit and for a while we had a band called the Happy Machines. In emulation of my brother (a professional drummer) I played the drums using his castaway kit pieces. I didn’t have sticks so I played with two sawed-off broom handles. We played precisely one gig, in someone’s basement. Though we had managed to fill the room with curious schoolmates, before we”d played a half dozen songs we had driven every one away with our noise. My flirtation with punk (it was never more than that) lasted until I was about 19. One time I wore an Izod shirt to school I had decorated with “bullet holes” and fake blood. Another time when me, Colin and Alex were roaming the school halls after hours, Colin whipped it out and took a piss on the floor. We laughed but I thought to myself, “Geez, they just waxed that.” The last time I saw Colin I went up to stay up at his place in Boston. I was sitting in a broken armchair when a thug he’d stiffed in a drug deal came in and smashed the television I was watching with a metal chain, screaming “I WANT MY MONEY!” I just sat there with a glassy smile glued to my face, pretending I was still watching television. My foray into Bohemia had reached its outer limit.
My commitment to anarchy and destruction had always been less than total. It was more of a Romantic ideal. My interests were more the crackly old surf and British Invasion records my older brothers had left behind. I was a faithful listener of Dr. Oldie on WBRU, the local FM rock station out of Brown University. My main point of intersection with any punk sensibility was an enthusiasm for Nuggets the legendary compilation of garage rock singles.
This burst of nostalgia has been awakened by the Countess, oddly enough. She has been Netflixing all of these punk related movies, documentaries about the Sex Pistols and X, and a movie she loved as a kid, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. I’ve been thumbing through her copy of Griel Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, which believe it or not I’d never read. (I’d only previously read Marcus’s The Old Weird America, about Dylan’s Basement Tapes). I’ve also been playing music with Josh Hartung, whose uncle was in the Dead Kennedys. Then there are the recent deaths of Poly Styrene (whose work I didn’t know) and Lux Interior of the Cramps (whose work I did, and really loved). It’s all fed into me looking back into the punk phenomenon, which has become, God help us all, historical. It’s now possible for us to look back at it as a closed system, a thing with a beginning, middle and end. I first realized this when a certain punk band used to show up at my open mike night at the Charleston back in the 90s, all festooned with mohawks and hair dye. Oh, this is a thing now, I thought, really no different than dressing like Fonzie or the Andrews Sisters. That punk band used to bring their toddler to the gigs. One no longer has to be given to spontaneous riots to make punk (if one ever did in the U.S., that was more the British experience, where the movement had a much more political character).
I may seem to be roaming far afield from Deacon Bishop Revival’s gig tonight, but not really. They started this train of thought. The guys in the band are my friends and only a little bit younger than me. We are now the age of those London authority figures who declared that punk was the end of the world in the late 70s. But as we all saw, the end of the world happened last Saturday and we’re all still here. The one thing left after the Apocalypse is “The Apocalypse”.
This horrible, disgusting, ugly, low-resolution flyer can only mean one thing: neo-punk combo Deacon Bishop Revival, featuring my friends Fred Backus and Robert Pinnock “and the rest”, are appearing at Fontana’s tonight, along with Jillian Tully’s Rainy Day Assembly and Dye Violets. Of COURSE that’s what it means — that’s what it SAYS! You can’t pull the wool over my eyes! Well, you can, but I’ll just pull it right off again!