THE DERANGED ADVENTURES OF FLASH GOMEZ IN THE 20TH CENTURY

THE DERANGED ADVENTURES OF FLASH GOMEZ IN THE 20TH CENTURY
The never-before-published final edit! New episodes on Mondays!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

GUILLERMO GÓMEZ-PEÑA & LA POCHA NOSTRA PERFORMING NEW REALITIES

The same year I was born in East L.A, Guillermo Gómez-Pena (unforseen technical difficulties, I can't figure out how to put the thing over the 'n') was born in Mexico City. We seem to be leading parallel lives. He is a performance artist, I am a science fiction writer. Our work deals with similar themes. When I read something of his to my wife, she inevitably says, "He sounds like you."

I highly recommend his books Warrior for Gringostroika and Dangerous Border Crossers, the website www.pochanostra.com, and his performances -- even though these days my patience for fine art, art spaces, and performance art is rather thin. (Guess I’m just a Chichimec barbarian.) Guillermo and La Pocha Nostra always impress me.

When I come up with my visions of a future of globalization and human culture, it resembles their work. Maybe they should illustrate my books. If they want to make movies or fotonovelas based on my stuff, I’ll give them a good deal.

Recently an announcement for a solo-performance, "An Evening with Gómez-Pena: Spoken Word Brujo," appeared in my Inbox. Seeing that it contained an excerpt for the script, and it was current events, I read – and was amazed.
This wasn’t vague and incomprehensible ravings that we usually get from the arty crowd. This was a clarity that we rarely see, especially in this age when we’re constantly bombarded with half-baked opinions.

For example, like me, he’s "not so much" scared by our financial uncertainty. "My original homeland, Mexico, has been immersed in financial uncertainty for 500 years." It is hard to explain to people that Mexico always looks like it's falling apart. Like the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, it is a storm that has gone on for centuries. You need to think of it in a different way, a way that is hard for most Americans to accomplish.

I also see the current economic mess as difficult, but hell, I’ve been through worse times. I don’t spend my days cleaning toilets and pushing around vacuum cleaners anymore, but could if I had to. Turmoil has always been there. Get used to it.

He goes on to say that "artists have always had to live in ‘crisis’ and within our means." I can confirm that. Then he says that the advice we are all getting on how to survive this new crisis is "all too familiar to artists," and the way most of the human race lives.

A core effect of our current crisis is that the illusions of superiority and privilege that made life easier for some people are evaporating. Like the New York Times guy said, the world is flat. It’s gonna be some kind of brave new world. What shape these things to come will take is uncertain. The only thing we can really be certain about is uncertainty.

Gómez-Pena makes the modest proposal that we look to those who live in uncertainty – artists, the underprivileged majority of the human race – for survival tips. Sounds like good advice to me.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

ALL ERNEST HOGANS LOOK ALIKE TO ME

I am not the first Ernest Hogan to become known for a few things. (We won’t mention the nit-wit responsible for the recent Texas adult diaper scandal.) In the late nineteen century, and up to his death in 1907, a man with my name became famous for, among other things, coining the world "ragtime." Guess that makes him the William Gibson of his era.

His real name was Ruben Crowder, which means I'm a real Ernest Hogan, opposed to his using it as a pseudonym. My parents didn’t know about him. I never heard of him until I first got internet access.

He is most famous – or maybe infamous would be the proper word – for a hit song called "All Coons Look Alike to Me." As the story goes, when he first wrote the song, the term "coon" was used by blacks to demean whites. The song was hit in with the new recording technology, some consider it to prototype for all modern popular music. So popular that white people started calling blacks "coons."

This may or may not be true, but such a reversal is a remarkable achievement in itself. Could anybody do it again?

For this cruel trick of history, his name (which is also mine) has been dragged through the mud.

Those who do this, tend to ignorant of his many, remarkable accomplishments. He was the first African American to write, produce, and star in Broadway show. His is called the Father of Ragtime because he worked with Scott Joplin to create the genre. The two made an epic journey across the Wild West to San Francisco, along with a Negro magician, doing a medicine show to finance their enterprise. (Hey, African American filmmakers! Wouldn’t that make a great Western?)

He also was civil rights pioneer, suing businesses that would discriminate against him or his troupe. One of these law suits took place in Hawaii.

Why he isn’t considered a hero is a crying shame.

I can identify with being put down for unconventional, vernacular language. But without the controversial words, his music is beautiful.

I’m tempted to write his biography, so I can call it Ernest Hogan: Not an Autobiography by Ernest Hogan

I’ve also got an idea for time travel story, to explain how he came decide to pick this unlikely name. It would have me going back in time to meet him. There isn’t enough to it make much out of it so far. It needs to simmer in the back of my brain a while. A few more fragments of weirdness need to collide.

It’s amazing that such a bizarre coincidence would happen. That seems to be the way of this crazy universe that we live in.

Then some who say there are no coincidences. That gets scary.

But then that’s what it’s like to be an Ernest Hogan. Just ask the Texas adult diaper scandal guy.

Now here’s the Ragtime Skedaddlers, doing his composition, "La Pas Ma La" . . .



TAHIR SHAH -- THE NEW SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE

For over a decade, the science fiction (or as it’s now called, sci-fi/fantasy) genre has mostly left me cold. I think that I just may have read enough fantasy epics and space war sagas for one lifetime. I keep trawling for writers who can get my imagination soaring, and it’s a difficult task. So is there a writer who can get me buying his books as soon as I can?

Yes. Let me tell you about Tahir Shah, a writer who puts the entire field of imaginative fiction to shame.

And he doesn’t even write fiction. His books are shelved in the Travel section of most bookstores. Yet, they are more than mere travelogs.

Doris Lessing called him a "master of surreal traveling." He’s also been called "a cross between Indiana Jones and Woody Allen." That and the fact that his books read like novels and have structures that only a master storyteller can accomplish, make them works that transcend artificial marketing categories.

The first book of his to snag me was Sorcerer’s Apprentice. The cover photo of an Indian godman dressed as the goddess Kali caught my eye. Then there was the Lessing "surreal traveling" quote. The book blew away all my expectations. This true tale of studying magic under a master of the art in Calcutta, then journeying to encounter working godmen, is better than several shelves of contemporary fantasy novels. It proves that the world is still full of wonder and danger, and that adventure is still possible.

Next I read Trail of Feathers. I was hooked from the beginning by a shrunken head auction in London. It goes on to be a quest inspired by theories of ancient birdmen who used pyramids for launching platforms. South America was never so exotic – chock full of ghosts, llama fetus medicine, river-rodent cuisine, man-eating mermaids, and hallucinogenic drugs that suggest that the birdmen of old may have flown without machinery.

By the time The Caliph’s House came out, I was a full-blown addict. The book is a post-9/11 masterpiece. Shah buys a house in Casablanca because London seems too safe. He encounters terrorism, gangsters, Islamic customs, and jinns. The publisher compares it to A Year in Province, but it’s really a modern day Arabian Nights-style Amityville Horror/Exorcist. I’m serious – the book ends with him hiring Moroccan exorcists. He concluded that "a life not filled with severe learning curves was no life at all."

I read In Arabian Nights as soon as I could buy it. Still living in the Caliph’s House in Casablanca, Shah delves deeper into the complex stew of cultures around him. With a copy of Sir Richard Burton’s original translation of the Arabian Nights, he explores the world or traditional storytelling, ingeniously woven in with flashbacks of his own life, including being captured and tortured in Pakistan. Few novels are so well constructed. I was amazed and delighted. Again.

Anxiously, I wait, with a spirit of adventure, a sense of humor, and faith in the bizarre.

HOW I BECAME A RUSSIAN RINGTONE

Back in 2003 I had a story in Claude Lalumiere's & Marty Halpern's anthology Witpunk. "Coyote Goes Hollywood" mixed Native American trickster myths with Hollywood cartoon iconography into a fantastic, futuristic, and according to one critic "Felliniesque" vision. If you enjoy this blog, you'll like that story.

A few year later, thanks to Google, I ran into what looked like my name and the world "Koyot" on web page in Russian. Further investigation revealed that there was Russian version of Witpunk available. I wasn't aware of this, so after some e-mailing, I discovered that after the book's imprint was sold to another company, and it didn't earn out its advance, the new owners sold the Russian rights to recoop their losses, and didn't feel it necessary to let us lowly contributers know. This is how things are done in the world of Big Time Publishing. At least I could feel ever more justified in calling myself an International Cult Author.

To make things even stranger, the Russian publisher chose "Coyote" be release as a podcast. I wasn't sure what to think about that. This story is a surrealistic construction of assorted American esoterica. Some day I'd like to talk to a Russian to find out what they think about it.

Just when I though this was all over, I find out that "Coyote Goes Hollywood" is available, in Russian, in still another format: a "ringtone" or "song," that is an MP3 file that can be downloaded onto a cell phone.

So, right now, some one in Russia could be listening to my story on their cell phone.

If only someone in Russia would just send me a few rubles for my work . . .

But then, they may have something in putting stories on cell phones. All these handheld devices . . . something else I gotta think about . . .

Saturday, June 13, 2009

ETHIOPIA, EAST OF NOLLYWOOD

You never know where you'll find a new, radical vision of the future. I found one recently, after clicking on the Entertainment tab of The Sub-Saharan Informer. It was an announcement for a new Ethiopian film called, Sea Port.

I was hoping to find something along the lines of Nollywood's voodoo-fried weirdness. What I found was the seed of a new kind of African science fiction.

Sea Port is the work of "renowned Ethiopian artist" Tilahun Gugsa, who stars, wrote the script and directed. It was inspired by a BBC report that the African Rift Valley crack in the Afar region is widening, eventually will allow the Red Sea to flood it, creating a new ocean.

According to Tilahun, he "included testimony and expert opinions in order to make it as real as it could get." And "two years of research" had been done.

In the film, an American-educated professor dreams of hurrying along the creation of the new ocean with explosives.

If actually accomplished, this would cause widespread ecological, political, and other turmoil, but Tilahun believes in this wild dream, hoping his film will, "light a torch which the younger generation will follow and make it a reality," giving Ethiopia, "a seaport as it rightfully deserves."

I have to admire that kind of mad scientist vision.

Sea Port sounds like it could be a provocative thriller, but what would interest me would be a film or novel about the turmoil, and the new world created if such a plot succeeded. I'm imagining the new oceans, ruled by new pirates.

Hmm. Maybe I should make a few notes . . .

Friday, June 12, 2009

WHERE THE HELL IS NOLLYWOOD?

Sometimes things just hit me. I’m going about my usual business and something catches my eye. Once it was a sign on busy street in the middle of Phoenix: AFRICAN FOOD & MOVIES.

They make movies in Africa? I’ve long been a fan of movies from places like Mexico and the Philippines, so why not Africa? Maybe they have something wonderful and weird going on there.

I can be such an optimist.

I forgot about it for a while, then was channel surfing up and down our cable selection, hoping to find something that would divert me. I stumbled onto a documentary about Nigerian film making. I was impressed with the modern, light-weight digital cameras, the guerrilla production tactics, and the girls with green and pink hair.

It got me curious enough to Google "Nollywood," which is a take-off on India’s "Bollywood." I was hoping to find some homegrown fantasy/horror/folklore stuff. Before long, I was watching videos of some movie trailers that were stranger than I’d dare imagine.

For example:

Hitler. Yes, that’s the title. No, it’s not an all-black World War Two epic. This Hitler is a vicious gangster with dredlocks. I guess if they released this film in the U.S.A. they’d have to call it Black Hitler. At first it looks like traditional blaxploitation with gaudy Nigerian clothes and hairstyles, but ends with Hitler fighting for his life in a "village of cannibals."





End of Money. Again, we start looking like blaxploitation transplanted to Nigeria. "What if men behaved like gods?" asks an hysterical narrator. Suddenly, clunky, CGI demons show up – they start out as men and end up bigger than houses. For some reason, the embed was disabled by request on this one -- we are treading on bizarre territory.

Across the Bridge. A woman with a painted face and large breasts shoots lasers out of her eyes. Punctuated by machine-gun like sound effects, a hyperactive voice-over explains that she is a goddess who steals men's souls. "Do you dare suck the breast of everlasting milk?" she challenges. Her breasts get gigantic, like props in an American monster movie from the Fifties. Men line up, suck, and shrink down to the size of dolls. I’ve had to show this to people so I could prove that I didn’t hallucinate it.





I’m delighted to find a new world to explore. I’ll let you know what else I discover.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

ME . . . ARTIST?

One of my bad habits is grabbing something that makes a mark and creating images. Not quite the graven images forbidden by the Ten Commandments, but pretty damn close. I’ve done cartoons, illustrations, and magazine covers for money, but ever since I almost had to borrow a switchblade to get my ten lousy bucks for designing a newspaper ad for Mr. Velasco’s Haunted Psycho House when I was in high school, the dough’s been hard to get.

I admit, what I do isn’t pretty enough for the commercial art world, and not dull enough for the fine art world. And I can’t stop. That makes me more like one of those mental patients cranking out stuff on whatever’s handy rather than any kind of professional. So sue me. I got these weird things growing in my head, and there ain’t no known cure.

So, I always have a sketchbook, or two, or three, stashed around where I do my diabolical scribbling. I’m more of a cartoonist than an ‘artiste,’ but sometimes my surrealist/dadaist (modern terms for witchcraft and voodoo) heart gets the better of me. Maybe I have a nefarious agenda, but I’m not admitting to anything.


Recently, my wife and I had some of stuff framed, and it looks pretty good, but I’ve never thought of my stuff as being wall decorations. I don’t think of art that way. I believe that the best aesthetic experiences come to you like an sniper’s bullet, and bullfighting is the mother of all art forms. Call me crazy, but smile when you do it.


I once saw an interview with Ed Roth where he said he didn’t consider himself an artist, just a hard worker. He won my eternal admiration for that.

And I wonder, I am I working hard enough?

By the way, I also designed the "Mondo Ernesto" and "Em’s Joie De Weird" logos.

BEYOND FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS

This just in from ForteanTimes.com, my favorite news source:

The Raelian Movement, best known for the Great Cloning Hoax of the Turn of the Millennium, are back. This time they're out to build a "UFOland" in, of all places, Las Vegas. It will include a museum, a theatre, "Happiness Academy," and a life-size replica of a UFO.

Too bad Hunter S. Thompson isn't around to investigate this!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

BRAVE NEW FLYING OBJECTS

Looking back, its hard to tell what the whole so-called cyberpunk movement was supposed to be about. Even careful study of the Thoughts of Chairman Bruce doesn’t bring us many clues. Arthur C. Clarke with a better haircut? How do your define “better haircut?” Would Sir Arthur look better in a flat-top? Dredlocks? Multi-colored spikes?

The closest I can find to an essential theme is the yearning for high-tech counterculture.

Those of you under thirty probably need a definition of the word "counterculture." It comes from the later part of the mythic Nineteen Sixties. "Culture" was what the "Establishment" – the Government, corporations, Hollywood, television – put out to keep the war machine going. On the other hand, the "counterculture" – rock and roll, comic books, certain artists, and advocates of "coolness" – was offering visions of peace, love, and spare change.

Though influenced by science fiction in a lot of ways, one of the core beliefs of the counterculture was that technology was evil, and progress needed to be stopped, or reversed if possible. Science fiction, except as religious allegory, was seen as a bad thing. New technology, except for bigger and better stereo equipment, was seen as the tool of the oppressor.

So that’s why a literary movement was necessary to show the youth of the world that Technology Can Be Groovy.

Of course in the post-World Wide Web world, where every agent of change, even when advocating destroying all human civilization to save the planet, first goes online to spread the world, this isn’t the problem.

The problem now is people take technology for granted. Nothing new seems groovy any more.

That is until a company called Festo revolutionized the airship.

I caught some footage on a late night rerun of a Discovery Channel show on the future of transportation. The sight of these magnificent flying objects knocked me out of my drowsiness. Their beauty and grace amazed me and sent my imagination soaring.

They are called the AirJelly – that moves through the air like a jellyfish – and the Air Ray – that swims through the sky like a manta-ray. The basic idea is having lighter-than-air craft move through the atmosphere the way aquatic organisms move through water.

This not only gives me hope for my idea of using airships for ecotourism, but opens up ways to explore gas giants and heavy-atmosphere planets like Venus. Even as models, they are incredible art objects. There’s something soothing about watching them.

Suddenly, the future is full of new possibilities. Dare I say that Technology Is Groovy, and revolution is in the air.

Example: What if we had saucer-shaped crafts propelled by mechanical cilia, like certain microorganisms? Wouldn’t that be fun?