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House of Tudor 

Outsider artists scream "Death to Electric Guitars!"; neo-burlesque's best step into Broad Daylight.

Wednesday, May 19 2004
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There are those who believe real art is born out of a struggle against the status quo -- that the truly inspired will find a way to express themselves even if it's in the parking lot of the local bowling alley -- and there are those who recognize that even "outsiders" like Vincent van Gogh and Darby Crash shared the advantage of benefactors. David Ferguson, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Institute for Unpopular Culture, is of the opinion that artists should not have to cater to public taste and popular opinion in order to survive, and, mad though it may be, he has put money where his mouth is in support of such ignotus art. Over the last three decades Ferguson has provided encouragement and backing for now-prominent nonconformists such as Divine, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Nicolino (of the "Bras Across the Grand Canyon" project); created a lecture agency around a roster that included the Black Panther Party, Yippie Party founder Paul Krassner, Whole Earth catalog founder Stewart Brand, and poet Michael McClure; and, through his early punk label CD Presents (founded in 1978, long before the advent of CDs), left fingerprints on the careers of Johnny Rotten, Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins, Billy Bragg, and the Avengers. Through the IFUC Ferguson has championed musical animation ambassadors the Sprocket Ensemble, Obie Award-winning performance artist Holly Hughes, environmental activist Julia "Butterfly" Hill, Swedish-born painter Hawk Alfredson, and the Mission District visual arts center Creativity Explored, which provides a forum for the developmentally challenged. Last month, the IFUC and its house band, the 40-plus classically trained musicians who make up the Punk Rock Orchestra, provided support for the San Francisco Renegades Drum & Bugle Corps' fifth annual Loud Music Symposium in its conquest of the stately Herbst Theatre. To be sure, creating unholy decibel levels that shook the same stage where the United Nations Charter was signed in 1945 was a strident and stylistic statement in keeping with the spirit of the IFUC. In order to continue in this vein of subtle subversion, the nonprofit must raise funds for its operational costs and yearly allotment of grants. This year's charity event, "Death to Electric Guitars!," brings together three musical groups that thumb their collective noses at the favored instrument of mainstream radio: the Punk Rock Orchestra in its first show since recording an album at the Skywalker Ranch under the tutelage of Grammy Award-winning Leslie Ann Jones; Amber Asylum in its last show before entering the studio to complete its latest offering of nocturnal chamber emissions; and the Extra Action Marching Band in its next-to-last show before it is shot into a parallel universe where sound is tactile, hedonism is sanctified, and drunken majorettes rule the world. "Death to Electric Guitars!" will also feature three IFUC-supported visual artists -- Dan Das Mann, Tone Rawlings, and Nikolai Atanassov -- whose work will be made available to collectors in the grand lobby and forum of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. "It is our aim to subvert all commercial avenues of art exploitation," explains Ferguson. "It's not that we dislike people who own art galleries, we just think there could be a viable alternative." And how. "Death to Electric Guitars!" will be held on Thursday, May 20, at YBCA with a donation bar supplied by Red Bull, Maker's Mark, Kuya Rum, and Lagunitas Brewery starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15; call 978-2787 or visit www.yerbabuenaarts.org.


Last week, while trolling through the Mojave Desert, I found myself many miles off of Route 66 at Exotic World, a modest, sun-bleached, dust-blasted burlesque museum founded by Miss Dixie Evans, the one-time Marilyn Monroe of burlesque. Despite, or because of, the far-flung location, Exotic World is renowned among tassel twirlers. This is where "settled" dancers come to put up their feet (Tempest Storm is a longtime resident), hang their feathers (Mae West's hat resides here along with hundreds of well-worn G-strings and sequined brassieres), and ultimately rest their ashes (check the urns). On the day I passed through, Miss Evans was feeling a bit under the weather, so our tour was led by a gaunt, leathery man with a half-burnt-off mustache, whose affection and enthusiasm for dancers was dampened by neither the alcohol that seeped from his pores nor the wheelchair to which he was temporarily confined. As he led us from one fading 8-by-10 photograph to another, recounting personal anecdotes about each girl, I began to recognize faces: Kitten on the Keys, the Lollies, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, Miss Kitten De Ville. With the resurgence of burlesque, Evans' Exotic World has become a point of pilgrimage for new dancers and their admirers. Crowds of hundreds now converge on this peculiar outpost every June for the Miss Exotic World Pageant, an exhibition that grew out of the annual Striptease Reunion, which has been drawing shuddering thighs and shimmering breasts to this unforgiving landscape for nearly half a century. It was only a matter of time before neo-exploitation director John Michael McCarthy was similarly enticed. Broad Daylight is the result of McCarthy's sojourn into the new world of burlesque. Caught on 8mm film and set to the ultimate garage-rock soundtrack, Broad Daylight works as a companion piece to Shine On Sweet Starlet, the stag film resulting from the promotional tour McCarthy arranged for his 1997 film The Sore Losers, a homicidal rampage starring Jack Oblivian, Mike Maker, and sexploitation pioneer David Friedman. Like all of McCarthy's work -- from his music videos for Guitar Wolf, the Makers, and the Oblivians to his feature-length films Teenage Tupelo and Superstarlet A.D. -- Broad Daylight combines the director's love of vintage exploitation cinema and B-movie ingenuity with progressive attitudes, modern candor, and a hawk's-eye view of Exotic World. The San Francisco premiere of Broad Daylight will be held at "Pussycats & Powerchords," which will feature musical performances by Killers Kiss and the Flakes, and burlesque performances by Kitten De Ville, Ursulina, Kellita, Candy Whiplash the Texas Tease, and the Chainsaw Chubbettes. Kitten on the Keys MCs. "Pussycats & Powerchords" will be held on Sunday, May 23, at 12 Galaxies at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 970-9777 or visit www.12galaxies.com.

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Silke Tudor

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