We followed Kevin’s adventures in the Lands Beyond- home of the COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY!
My theatrical memoir comes to a suitable ending, when I create a Zen-Punk ritual to celebrate the passage of time and the coming of maturity, in:
> A MAN NEEDS A WAKE
. As I lie there in the total darkness of my casket, waiting for the cue that never came, cringing at the excruciating laughter of the assembled crowd, I had to struggle to remember how it all began. How did I get myself into this?!
. It started one warm spring evening in 1980. I was cruising down the pre-earthquake pacific garden mall in beautiful Santa Cruz, California- doin’ nothin’. A friend hailed me in front of the now-razed Odfellows temple, asking: “You’re an actor, aren’t you?” I told him I used to be- in the distant past. He told me that even as we spoke, the Bear Republic Theatre was auditioning for a Bernard Shaw play in the room at the top of the stairs before us. He said: “You should check it out.” and he walked away. I stood and thought about it for a moment. Shaw was a great wit and a true master of the English language. It would be a good opportunity to polish my auditioning skills. Why not?
. So I climbed that staircase, someone thrust a script to the play Misalliance in my hands and I gave a cold reading for the character-role of a lifetime! ‘Bentley Summerhays’ is a comically supercilious aristocrat; an utter weenie of a man- a delight for any actor lucky enough to play him. Afterwards, they said: “Thank-you very much.” and sent me on my way. When I got home that night there was already a message waiting for me that I had been cast! Apparently, despite my total lack of preparation, the director had seen in me- the exact quality she was looking for in Bentley. (I’m not sure if this was a compliment or an insult!)
. But there was a price to pay. At the time, I sported very long hair, usually pulled back in a copious ponytail. In order to play Bentley, I would have to agree to chop it all off and wear it frighteningly short. But the part was so delicious, I decided that it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
. Before rehearsals had begun, I was lounging in my mountain bachelor-cabin, when a friend who had been reading the local paper called out- “Hey Kev! I didn’t know you were going to be in a lesbian-feminist play!” I nearly gagged on my own tongue. “I’m telling you Kevin- it says right here: Shaw’s play Misalliance is being produced from a lesbian-feminist point of view. ” I nearly fell out of my chair. This was not a detail anyone bothered to share with me! While having nothing against feminists or lesbians- I couldn’t imagine “lesbian-feminist-Shaw”… What did this mean? And I wondered aloud if this was really something worth chopping off all that precious hair for? My friend, bless his soul- laughed and teased: “Oh, Kevin- you make such a big production number out of everything! Why don’t you make a big production number out of cutting your hair?” Hmm.
. That evening, I went out to hear my favorite local new-wave band: a quartet called: Tao Chemical. Tao was an intellectual trip, but they rocked. Their young rhythm guitarist was a pup who called himself: ‘Not Michael’. This guy cut a dangerous hook. Their bassist Jim, dug a mean groove. Rick was the most inventive drummer anyone had seen. And best of all- their music short-circuited that decision-making part of your mind that weighs and measures and concludes: “I believe I shall dance now.” I just looked down and my feet were capering ecstatically. The front-man rob Brezney, sang bitingly satirical songs that parodied himself and mocked the culture in which he lived. (at one concert, rob threw sandwiches into the crowd: plastic baggies containing baloney on wonder bread. I kept mine in a dark closet for a month and mailed it back to him care of his pseudonym “the eater of cruelty”. I knew he would understand.)
. That night, as I lie in bed trying vainly to sleep, my mind went into overdrive. I began to imagine life beyond myself- to visualize my own wake. Tao chemical would be the house-band, no doubt about it. My wake will be a high celebration and not a public mourning. The problem is, that by definition one is not there at one’s own wake, to ensure that it’s a raging party and not a hopeless downer. And I contemplated my friend’s jibe. It was true. I’ve always been a bit of a male drama-queen. I did tend to make a “big production number” out of everything that came my way. And I began thinking… Why not? I’m committed to cutting the hair, so why not do it with a bang instead of a whimper? Why not charge people the cost of a cheap haircut to come see a hippie chop off all his hair? There should be a certain mystique and allure to that. And it should strike a chord with local reactionaries and Republicans, who weren’t too fond of longhair street urchins like me.
. Before dawn I had conceived: Wake, a Zen-Punk Ritual! A public rite-of-passage, celebrating freedom from physical and emotional baggage! Theatre of the dead! A symbolic sacrament of liberation, equating the shedding of my hair with the rebirth of my soul! I booked a large, wonderful nightspot called Thatcher’s, which existed like Camelot: “for one brief shining moment”. As usual, I drafted my closest friends and we set to work on the project, in between bear republic rehearsals.
. Come the day of the ritual- (august second, 1980), I had never been less prepared for a more challenging show. Most of my energy had gone into preparations for Misalliance. We had never held a single run-through for Wake and we were woefully under-prepared. But we moved into the hall and set to work. My partner Stuart began to fill the building to the rafters with impossibly sweet-smelling floral arrangements. I couldn’t seem to get anything done. A palpable paralysis began to set in, starting with my extremities.
. The hours passed. Tao chemical never showed up for their only rehearsal. I began to implode into a catatonic-despair. The band began to filter in lackadaisically with their unassembled equipment just before the show was supposed to start. Half an hour later, not Michael began to play a haunting ambient sonic tapestry, he called ‘not noise’- and the doors were finally open.
. To my utter amazement, a flood of humanity came pouring in. Wake had captured the public-imagination. We were jammed beyond capacity. Had he been alerted, the fire Marshall would have shut us down cold. I slumped in a corner backstage, sunk into a deep zombie-like trance, while frenzied activity swirled purposefully around me. Distorted visages of harried helpers hovered close to my face and pressed me with urgent questions. “gjhgkhgwb?” “bjfbq fvioguh weegyvthpn???” They seemed to be speaking in a cross between jabberwocky and gerbil. Finally, Stuart leaned forward into my field of perception and forcefully suggested we begin now. Curtain time was had long since passed. I struggled to my feet and mumbled shakily: “Let’s go… (God help us!)”
. The cues were given. The lights came down. A funeral dirge sounded and the procession began. The hunchback cleared the way. My sister Kelly and her friend Jacqui, clad unconventionally in white lace, followed, as the White Widows- two professional mourners who moaned and wailed in eerie unison. I made my entrance in a closed casket, held aloft by four tuxedo-clad pall-bearers, who lay me to rest on a dais and then dispersed. I lay there in the dark waiting for my first cue: the last few lyrics of the band’s first song…
. But not a note came. And I waited. And waited some more, but only darkness and silence filled my senses. And then, uncomfortable murmurs arose from the expectant audience: coughs, the clearing of throats, subdued whispers. And then, some of them begin to titter. And they begin to chuckle. And a few began to laugh. Soon, it caught on and they all seemed to be laughing. The longer and more heartily they laughed, the less inclined I was to come out of the casket! And what was going through their minds was: “Oh! I get it! Theater of the dead! Of course nothing happens. The dead can’t do anything!” Then, from the laughter came applause and then- just as I was about to give up waiting and fling open the top of the casket… a drum solo? What? Rick walker was apparently up there alone, pounding away savagely on the skins, despite his well-known, oft-repeated feelings that: “Only a hack plays a drum solo”, and when he crescendoed, Rick called out: “Thank-you very much!”- an outburst that seemed to be directed more at me than the audience.
. I silently thanked the gods of live theatre and made my entrance- bolting upright from my coffin. Now what? Turning to face my reflection in a full-length mirror, I shot my image in the head with a rubber-tipped suction-cup dart. The ritual had begun. A few minutes later, I threw the band their cue and crossed offstage to find out what the hell was going on.
. Thankfully, Tao Chemical was finally taking the stage, though not Michael was glaring a hole through me, with obvious rage. As my crew prepped me for the next segment, I asked what he was so pissed-off about. It turned out, that one of the important messages I had misconstrued in my pre-show stupor, was that not Michael needed a full twenty minutes between sets to strike not noise and set up for Tao Chemical. I thought that he was asking me to wait twenty minutes longer before starting the show. When the performance started unexpectedly, he tried frantically to adjust his equipment, but gave up and stormed off in disgust, refusing to go onstage when the band’s cue came. They were furious. A paid gig was a professional obligation. He was expected to go on- no matter what. Tao even threatened to kick him out of the band but Not Michael would not budge. Finally, Rick walker took pity on my helpless ass and marched alone onto the stage to my rescue. During Rick’s impromptu drum-solo, violent arm-twisting from Jim and rob convinced Michael to relent and play despite his indignant fury.
. Next came a fun piece called ‘Attachments’, full of pregnant symbols about liberation from the oppression of my desires. I entered the stage to big laughter, various props tethered to my body- and one by one, I dealt with them: I mangled a giant cardboard Z to express my emancipation from the narcotic of sleep- squished tofu between my fingers and declared myself no longer a prisoner of hunger- and ripped apart a down-pillow to represent release from confining relationships. But the symbolic act that most touched a raw nerve with the crowd, was the torturing of time. As I gleefully abused an alarm clock with various implements of destruction, the audience egged-me-on with great relish, clearly delighting in the metaphor. Who alive hasn’t felt raped by time?
. The next section was a long, tricky monologue called ‘The Reason’, purporting to convey the meaning of life. This started out well, but about halfway through, I committed the ultimate sin for an actor: I lost my place. I got confused and broke character. But I swear it wasn’t my fault! Predominant among the audience was the redneck heckler from hell. For every point I made, he offered a loud, moronic rejoinder. This guy was relentless- belching out incisive witticisms and pearls of wisdom like: “You and my wife, buddy!” Eventually, this worm got to me. I was at a total loss, unable to continue. So to the astonishment of everyone present, including myself, I stepped down into the audience and took the puffed-up fool by the hand, leading him up onstage. When the audience howling subsided, I observed that it was: “…Painfully obvious that this tragically unheralded guru knows far more about the meaning of life than I could ever learn if I lived to be a hundred, so I bequeath the floor to him.” And I walked off.
. Backstage, everyone eyed me in slack-jawed amazement, asking: “Are you crazy? Letting a drunken cretin like that have the stage? Relinquishing control of your own show?!” But look- how much less control could I have, than laying onstage in a pitch-black casket waiting in vain for the band to strike up, only to be greeted by dead silence?
. Naturally, I’d expected the buffoon to flounder and make a humiliating spectacle of himself. Wrong! To my horror, the guy was pretty good. He seemed to have an act all prepared. The more he spoke, the funnier he was. I knew I had to act quickly to avoid being upstaged. So I went back onstage and patted him on the back, exclaiming: “Let’s hear it for our drunken idiot redneck friend!” escorting him like a helpless child, back into the audience- and I resumed my speech through to the end.
. At last came the moment of truth. The white widows braided my hair and shaved my beard, as I demonized the superficiality of judging by appearances. Kelly lifted the braid and theatrically brandished the knife. People began to scream! Up front, a row of women wailed: “No! Stop! Don’t do it!” as Kelly began to cut… Unfortunately, Stuart had been so busy arranging the flowers that he had completely neglected to sharpen the knife! My braid was supposed to come off in one graceful slice. But the edge of the knife was so dull, that the deed became on unexpectedly painful ordeal. I gritted my teeth as the audience shrieked, muttering under my breath: “Kelly! Cut it off!”
. “I’m trying!”, she growled. “It’s sharp as a marble!”
. Finally- zip! Off came the hair! Kelly held my severed braid aloft as the house cheered and stomped their feet. Tao chemical took the stage and began to wail. I staggered across the dance floor, accepting surreal accolades from my audience. Giddy faces crowded in over me. I was bombarded by well wishers in a swirling haze of confusion. Everyone I talked to seemed convinced that my heckler was part of the show- an audience-plant, one of the cast! I let them believe it. And suddenly, there he was. I found myself face to face with my redneck heckler from hell and he was offering me his hand. When I accepted it warily, he shook it heartily, blustering: “Boy- I came here to see a hippie cut off all his hair, cause I just hate them filthy long-hairs. But you son, are alright. I’m gonna buy you a beer.” I sighed deeply and surfed the moment. “Sure. Okay. I’ll let you buy me a beer, but first I’ve got to step outside for some air. I’m suffocating in here!” and before he could reply I made good my escape.
. Walking out of the club, I strolled slowly down the mall, my shorn hair cropped at a goofy angle that would seem fashionable by today’s twisted standards. I smiled at staring passersby and ambled all the way to the town clock, teeth chattering from the cold, thinking to myself that I was completely fucking crazy!
Who knows where this looney plotline will go next! You’ll just have to check-in and see!
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.