Monthly Archives: March 2009

“Declined” unplugged – the Pope and Toromagazine has balls

We did a song for Toromagazine’s weekly broadcast “Garageband”.  Our performance included some questionable things.  We showed a painting of the Pope with a pair of balls hanging from it.  The song itself ends with the line “I hate the Pope why not he’s old and his buddies with soft hands and cocks that coil around the minds, of a billion declined”.

I wasn’t sure if the peeps at Toromagazine had the balls to pony up the performance.  We shot it.  They smiled.  We left.  As Canadian artists, we are accustomed to being gelded by other Canadians that work in media, but three weeks later there it was.  The final edit was as twistedly, born-again christian as we’d intended.  It was as if we had said to Toromagazine ‘suck my balls’ and they simply replied ‘present them’.

See it

Two Days with Spookey Ruben

Spookey (yellow top, skipper hat) confers with DOP (Dave?), and JC Penny at back near phone booth and bubble machine

Spookey (yellow top, skipper hat) confers with DOP (Dave?), and JC Penny (me) at back near phone booth and bubble machine 

Spookey Ruben is a great artist. He can write music and sing almost as good as I can. However, he does one thing that I suck and fail at time and time again: he makes films. He’s made lots of them and if you’ve ever tried to make a film, even a short one, it probably sucked. Spookey’s made lots with almost no money and they all range from good to gem.

It’s one of the hardest artistic disciplines out there. It’s not like painting or singing where you get to the fun part right away. You walk around talking logistics and administration to the people you’ve hired to do labour (as I saw Spookey do) and you laugh out loud when no one else is (as I saw Spookey do) or stare and mumble at the garbage (as I saw Spookey do). A director must maintain a full living drama alive inside their head over a long period of time while dealing with things like an injured leg (as I saw Spookey do) and choosing chicken or beef for lunch (as I saw Spookey do). I am not sure how they maintain their enthusiasm for the art when so much of it seems like bullshit. They’re probably just the “planners” of the artworld. I paint. I work in the tradition of “Neuve Invention”. It’s a branch of outsider art. It means literally “new invention”. It means you make it up as you go along, like a child. That says something about me. I’ve been painting for 15 years. Fuck me.

Louis dollies Yoko through bubble mountain

Louis dollies Yoko through bubble mountain

So for 2 days in November at Bite Television studios Dirty Penny and Spookey Ruben shot 3 videos. When we hired Spookey we had only one suggestion “do whatever you want” and we kept our promise and so did he. We showed up there and he’s wearing a skipper hat and a banana yellow tracksuit. I was actually a little shy about meeting him. When Louis proposed we hire him I checked out his myspace and watched several of his films.  I was immediately grumpy.  I don’t like it when there’s someone that can out-absurd me. That’s MY spotlight, motherfucker..  Anyways it turns out he’s a quiet sort of regular guy. He’s got a sort of mumbler thing going on, like jazz musicians.

He was nice throughout the 2 days. When he asked us to ride children’s bikes through 12 feet of Mr. Bubble it was like he was offering us a coffee. When he asked me to lypsinc “Declined” from inside a phone booth wearing a dinosaur head it was really nice. When he asked us to join him in one of Bite’s meeting rooms and threw fruit and planes at us over and over again then we got mad. He apologized right away and said “n-n-n-oh-sno-what I, uh, hey I’m sorry, eh. Bammo on me. I was just trying a little thing ah-do.” I never saw him smoke pot.

Dirty Penny (left to right) Yoko, Lovely Louis, Candy, JC Penny, Grimlock

Dirty Penny (left to right) Yoko, Lovely Louis, Candy, JC Penny (me!), Grimlock

It’s weird being a director to begin with. Imagine being Spookey Ruben. I imagine beating Spookey Ruben all the time, in an art fight. It’s a conversation I have with myself that goes almost exactly like this: “I’m actually a really good director (I lied) but more junior than Spookey. I’ve made videos that also range from good to gem, but I’ve only done 5, Spookey’s done dozens. I think the only place I got Spookey is illustration in general. I think the place he’s got me is musicianship. He can play guitar AND sing. Probably other things, too. If we were in a cage match it would be close. I’ve got size but he has the tracksuit. I wonder if he was a dropout? I was an A student until my burnout in my first year at university. I’m thinking he was a typical misfit with low grades in school. That would put me in the winner’s circle, right? The class math genius that burns out at 19 and becomes an artist?” No, it doesn’t. What business does my head have on top of a body with a wallet like mine?

By the way, I have no idea if Spookey likes the term ‘absurdist’. He and I didn’t talk much. I’m an absurdist. It’s what I tell people because it’s close enough. The truth is more of a scream/giggle/Turrets thing with a kiss at the end. That said I’d like to confess something about our 2 days with Spookey: I couldn’t help but feel a little ashamed. With access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of production equipment, we jerked off. We inserted no messages of hope, no commentary on the human condition, no furthering of awareness of the plight of the less fortunate.. We rode through bubble mountains and threw plastic fruit around. We did what we did for the same reason dogs lick their balls: because it feels good. That’s fine. We don’t have to be responsible for the world. We can’t all be Bob Marley or whatever, all they have to do is shit and the world gets slightly better.

But if you are a citizen of heaven like me, that is, if you live in a developed country that respects human rights and you don’t worry about what you will eat today, while the other half of the world is in hell, do you not think that Dirty Penny and Spookey Ruben should have used their tremendous privileges of time, education, and technology to at least try and make a difference? This is a personal thing that I continually wrestle with. This is what my girlfriend says when I mention this issue: “Oh, please..”