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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Aug 4 1999
Da Da Da
San Francisco is dappled by the shadows of dada: Coffee tables crawl out of abandoned windows at Defenestration, fun-fur-festooned chickens and pogoing turnips follow their faith to the St. Stupid's Parade, and the Mud People squirm their way through the Financial District, screeching nonsensical gibberish at the sight of a cell phone. These outlandish creations are meant to startle the public into reconsidering their accepted values -- very dada, very San Francisco, very necessary.

On the last Sunday and Monday of every month a dapper-dressed representative from the Popcorn Anti-Theater counts heads at the corner of Bryant and 16th Street. Patrons are invited aboard a spacious, well-lit luxury-liner tour bus. Slender, state-of-the-art video monitors and a climate-controlled breeze give the illusion of immunity from the outside world, but that is not the mission of anti-theater. As the doors shut with an electronic swish, the bus barrels off into the night and ticket holders suddenly become very conscious of their willful ignorance: They have no idea where they are going, how long they will be gone, or what they will do when they get there, and the crew doesn't hold sanity in very high regard.

I was told to come to Ace Auto Wreckers and hide in a box. The box is clean and spacious, but filled with computer chips and mangled motherboards that leave trails of data across my wrists. A broadside moon peeks over piles of famished automobiles, and greasy smoke drifts from several barrel fires. I hear other hideaways hooting like urban fowl and barking like animated dogs. I hear the bus, the electronic swish of the door, the 50 anti-theatergoers disembarking. They laugh loudly as if to make themselves known. They have participated in three scenes already tonight -- one held at the corner of 17th and Capp with Pervo the Clown, another held near an Amtrak tunnel involving the work of performance poet Michael Dean and several fast-moving trains, and a fashion show executed at the Alemany Flea Market by the audience members themselves.

But the junkyard is a very unusual place at night. Most of the audience stays close to the gate, near the light of the wooden lean-to that serves as the nervous system for the yard: several phones, a well-broken chair, and a sagging counter that keeps "them" on the other side.

It's an ideal locale for a puppet show. The presentation, composed by Ace employee Jericho from items used in the daily running of the business (a couple of dildos, two middle fingers, handcuffs, a Barbie car, a can of Aqua Net, a cigarette lighter, two dirty socks, and a satanic leprechaun with a machine gun), tells the tale of Dick and Dick Jr., who must do battle with Satan, when the damn junkyard phones aren't ringing off the hook. Attendees giggle like children as the Popcorn staff distributes barbecue ribs (from sponsor Jack Ass Country BBQ) and white-bread-and-American-cheese sandwiches among the dinner jacket and champagne crowd.

Farther into the junkyard, Caremen: The White Trash Opera erupts under a hanging line of dirty laundry. Halter tops, flip-flops, cutoff bluejeans, and white-trash French -- the crowd is enchanted and suddenly the junkyard is not such an eerie place after all. Attaboy! and Mad Lib, a pair of high-caliber freewheeling poets, emerge from a pyre of scrap, shouting, spitting, crooning, weaving chain-link fences out of words, keeping the crowd immobilized.

"i dont need/ cd/ tv/ vcr/ 9 to 5," says Mad Lib from atop a pile of dead PCs, "i need 3 sixty degrees of breeze."

"Last impressions last longer in cement," counters Attaboy! like a salivating street-corner messiah, crawling along a precarious jetty of wire.

"No more quick clicks and clacks/ A rat tat tat of words," elegizes Mad Lib while waving a gutted typewriter over his head. "The fingertips rap with/ The keyboard/ But the keys are bored."

"Pez people/ Pez people," crows Attaboy! "Pez people blue and red/ Pez people with the flip top heads/ Pez people/ Pez people/ Their lives are wrecks/ Pez people/ They can't have sex/ Pez people/ Pez people/ Who invented ... Pez people?"

The crowd moves back toward the gate, only to be caught by Bloody Hacker: Serial Killer Comedian, a rather dignified murderer who intrigues and horrifies the audience with tales of bumbling people from Delaware, accented by chopping noises and a little fake ax. Most of the crowd makes it out of the junkyard alive and travels on to Islais Creek, where Punchy the Hunchback Sailor shares sad odes to his mermaid lady love.

Attaboy! makes it to Dadafest where, as the daDa ranter, he moves a room of 400 people to chant, "Fuzzy on the outside! Green on the inside!" and "To the dogs! To the roaches! To the dental plans!" It's a proud moment, one among many at the two-day Dadafest.

Outside SOMAR, a large purple cow standing in a flatbed truck asks people to squeeze his udders and two stern-faced women dance on ladders, accompanied by a poem about ancestry and pilgrimage. Inside, a crowd of off-kilter dada-lovers lines up for a photo booth that transforms them, via computer, into Hugo Ball -- one of the artists who originally founded Cabaret Voltaire and dada. (His poetry sounds like this: higo bloiko russula huju/ hollaka hollala/ anlogo bung/ blago bung.)

The gallery is filled with flying prostheses, superimposed murals, a "Geriatric Army" composition, "ready-mades" (à la Marcel Duchamp) like the Wonder Bread "Functional Non-Toaster," film montages, ready-and-waiting typewriters, a one-way turnstile, signed toilet paper squares, and the UnameriCAN Activities table, selling stickers that read, "Fuck Work," "Everyone's a Prostitute," "East Bay Is Pig Latin for BEAST," and "God Is Obsolete," among other slogans. The stage is a combination of everything that is wonderful about dada -- the Velcro Symphony; Hank Hyena's brilliant baby-doll short, Anarchist's Vomit, about an Italian peasant who will do as he pleases or retch in your face; mikl-em's "Dada Poetry Top 40" with K-Tel-style excerpts by dadaists like Tristan Tzara and George Ribemon-Dessaignes; hostess Katy Bell wrapped in saran; host m.i. blue covered in Kaos Kitty's pee; an exacting lesson on the proper way to eat an Oreo cookie; and the cubist cancan of the Devilettes -- and everything that is most awful -- singing off-key as if it were on purpose; a woman who slowly blows up several purple balloons and, after each one, harps on her inattentive lover in poet-voice; the clumsy choreography that no amount of nudity can help (nudity never helps); the poem, "Let us destroy/ Let us be good/ Let us create new forces of gravity ...," recited by Dada Death.

It seems dada makes the most sense just after making the least: When earnest young folk singer Pete Humphrey is bound and gagged in duct tape while his guitar is smashed, then re-emerges on a unicycle wearing a hard hat, a bell, and a baby doll on his head, singing, "I am emotionally unstable!" Or when one of the nonspeaking characters in mikl-em's play The Ill-Fitted Romance of DAda + SFMo[M]MA finally says, "You can't wear an art movement around your neck. ... An art movement must be nurtured." Then you understand why dada, in San Francisco, now.

In 1918, there was a dada manifesto that demanded the introduction of progressive unemployment through the comprehensive mechanization of every field of activity, for, "only by unemployment does it become possible for the individual to achieve certainty as to the truth of life and finally become accustomed to experience." Here, in San Francisco, as more and more of our artists are caught in the relentless mastication of economy, we need something to force us to re-evaluate our values.

At Dadafest, Kevin Keating did (not) suggest the Super Glue-ing of certain front door locks.

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By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor


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