Krampus: The Grinch That Saved Christmas

by Whatsblem the Pro

St. Nicholas and the L.A. Krampus Troupe - IMAGE: Phil Glau/Al Ridenour

St. Nicholas and the L.A. Krampus Troupe – IMAGE: Phil Glau/Al Ridenour

UPDATE 12/05/2013: If you are planning to attend the Krampus Ball on December 7th, PLEASE NOTE that due to the popularity of the event, it has been moved to a larger venue. The Krampus Ball will be held at 
Highland Park Ebell Club, 131 S Ave 57, LA, CA 90042.

We’ve told you about the Cacophony Society; we’ve told you about their role in creating Burning Man, flash mobs, the film Fight Club, and SantaCon; we’ve introduced you to Al Ridenour and his psychomedical-cum-burlesque arts troupe, the Art of Bleeding.

Al Ridenour is not one to rest on his laurels. His latest project, Krampusfest, is rapidly coming together in Los Angeles for this year’s Yuletide.

Working from an idea by comrade-in-arts and co-producer Al Guerrero, Ridenour, Guerrero, and the troupe – many of whom have been active both in Cacophony and at Burning Man – are poised to unleash a robust echo of traditional European Krampus festivals on Southern California. Wearing elaborate, unique Krampus costumes made largely by hand and from scratch, the L.A. Krampus Troupe will make scheduled and unscheduled appearances throughout the month of December.

Krampus is a Yuletide boogie man who acts as the yang to Saint Nicholas’ yin. With a cruel switch of birch wood in hand, he takes care of the naughty list from December 5th until the 21st, punishing children for their misbehavior. Regional traditions vary; depending on where you wander, Krampus morphs and mutates into Knecht Ruprecht, Hans Ruprecht, Rumpknecht, Rû Clås, Bûr, Bullerclås, Zwarte Piet, Père Fouettard, and others. He arrives traveling with Saint Nicholas, and his various guises range from that of a wizardly old bearded man who looks like a second Saint Nick, to a Moor in fancy dress. . . but the canonical Krampus, the oldest of Krampuses, is a hideous demonic or demon-like abomination, first seen in obscure medieval iconography depicting St. Nicholas taming a chained-up demon.

Typically, the European traditions involve young men of the community dressing as the local interpretation of Krampus, having a parade accompanied by Saint Nicholas to mark his arrival, and running loose in the streets bearing chains and/or bells. Sometimes they carry birch switches or whips, sometimes they distribute booby-prize gifts (like lumps of coal), and sometimes, in the milder traditions, they hand out candy. It is often customary to offer them schnapps or other strong drink, to placate them.

Krampusfest, like SantaCon and like the Art of Bleeding, carries a sulfurous whiff of mayhem to us from a less safe and more primitive world. It reaches through and beyond the lurid horror commonly found in original-version fairy tales, in which brutality, beheadings, immolation, dismemberment, and horrible, violent death of all kinds is featured prominently; Krampusfest reaches deeper and farther back for its elements of terror. One does not touch the truest archetype of Krampus without touching all the implied menace of prehistory; the tradition has its deepest roots in the adrenal, primitive-dark sympathetic magic of forgotten hunters gathered ’round fires on the edges of eldritch forests. That primal, mist-obscured, stag-headed terror of which Krampus is an agent will allow Krampusfest to carry out its mission with sublety; it will surely be wild, but the blatant mayhem and hobo-style public drunkenness of an old-school SantaCon wassail won’t be necessary.

The website of Ridenour’s L.A.-based Krampus troupe explains:

“While the Cacophony Society was known for a general attitude of cynicism and satiric manhandling of sacred cows, Krampusfest encourages an inquisitive and respectful regard for the practice of Krampus traditions (along with playful reinterpretations!). Krampus Los Angeles is in correspondence with Krampus groups overseas in an effort to ground our activities in authentic practice and understanding of the tradition.”

Al Ridenour works on a Krampus mask - PHOTO: Phil Glau

Al Ridenour works on a Krampus mask – PHOTO: Phil Glau

I caught up with Al Ridenour early this week for a Q and A:

Whatsblem the Pro:
Al, what is Krampus?

Al Ridenour:
Well, the name probably comes from Austria, but it’s also used in Southern Germany and elsewhere. He’s a folkloric devil character who basically plays bad cop to St. Nicholas’ good cop, when Nicholas is off doing his gift-giving. . . and I don’t mean Santa Claus here. All this mythology is associated with December 6th, the feast day of the 4th century saint. The Nicholas figure dresses like a medieval bishop and is accompanied by a few Krampuses on house visits.

There are also Krampus runs, which consist of lots of these groups, each traditionally with their own Nicholas marching down the street. The bigger Krampus runs, the ones people here are more likely to see videos of, can be very elaborate with pyrotechnic effects and such, but in the smaller Alpine villages where this stuff originates there’s not really an organized parade route; it’s more just like a bunch of groups running around the town all at once — and there’s more risk, i.e., fun; that is, spectators get chased and get some light smacks with switches. . . especially women.

Whatsblem the Pro:
How much of that will you be reviving in L.A.?

Al Ridenour:
We’re actually trying to do all of it. We put the word out offering a traditional home visit, but somehow no one has jumped on that. Maybe something about having their kids scared shitless.

Actually, I should say that kids are never really smacked with switches. We certainly wouldn’t be doing that, and from talking to Austrians and what I see in videos, it’s really just about the Krampus throwing scary theatrical tantrums and rattling his chains and cowbells.

Whatsblem the Pro:
But you’ll be doing a Krampus run?

Al Guerrero suiting up - PHOTO: Phil Glau

Al Guerrero suiting up – PHOTO: Phil Glau

Al Ridenour:
Yes, a run and some other events. We’re doing a public run in conjunction with the Downtown Art Walk on December 12th. The Krampus L.A. Troupe will be there in full costume, and we even have an ‘Austrian’ band marching alongside. They’re actually a Balkan band, the Free Range Orkestar, but the one I talked to lived in Austria, and they’re learning Austrian-style folk tunes. So there’ll be music and switch-swinging and we’ll have a Saint Nick giving out some sweets, too.

Whatsblem the Pro:
How many of you are there in the troupe? Can other people just join you in costume?

Al Ridenour:
Yes. That’d be great. We just want to touch base with any participants first. We’re just asking them to arrive early to check in with us to go over some guidelines. Because switches are involved, and it’s a new potentially scary tradition, we just want to take that precaution.

There are about fifteen of us with full costumes, maybe even a couple more. Some people are still working on stuff, so I’m not sure.

Whatsblem the Pro:
The costumes look pretty elaborate. Do you expect a lot of people to show up in full Krampus suits?

Al Ridenour:
Well, that’d be wonderful, but I know the suits I made took quite a lot of time. Unfortunately, I don’t know a way to do it quickly or that cheaply, really.

At first you might just think “gorilla suit plus devil mask,” but if you look at the European costumes, there’s much, much more going on. Still, simplified costumes are okay, particularly for the other events. In fact that’s part of the reason we added other masquerade-type events, so that folks who just want to wear furry boots and their horned headdress but don’t want to go whole hog will also be able to take part. We’re doing Krampus Ball, and a Krampus Rumpus where we’re mixing up traditional stuff — like an Austrian brass band, and a Bavarian group doing traditional dance and music accompanied by alpenhorn — with goofier costumed parody bands like The Kramps and Krammpstein. Of course, the Krampus troupe will attack those events too.

Jason Hadley (foreground) and Al Guerrero (right) ponder a naughty child's fate - PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Jason Hadley (foreground) and Al Guerrero (right) ponder a naughty child’s fate – PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Whatsblem the Pro:
So how did you make those costumes? They’re wonderful.

Al Ridenour:
Everyone approached it somewhat differently. There are certainly some elements you can buy ready-made; in fact, you can buy a whole traditional suit ready-made online from European websites, if you want. . . but it’ll cost you a grand or more.

We did a lot from scratch as well as adapting some ready-made stuff. I’m not really sure how everyone made what they did. My masks, I actually used lots and lots of pieces of cardboard, hot-glued together. Then over that, coats of Bondo mixed with Fiberglass resin. Some epoxy putty details, some more tooling of the plastic, and you’re ready for paint.

The horns are all real; I used goat and kudu on my biggest one. In Europe, the masks are traditionally carved from wood. I did sculpt my teeth from wood, but I’m just not a woodcarver. I tried to emulate that chiseled look in what I made, though.

The fur suits are a combination of real fur from old thrift store coats, as well as sewn wefts of bulk synthetic hair sold for braided extensions, along with faux-fur yardage. There’s a lot of raggedness and wisps of long fur on traditional suits, so even if you buy a werewolf, gorilla, or Yeti suit, you need to doll it up a bit. We’re hoping to do some workshops next year, after we generate some interest and get the public acquainted with the look this year.

Whatsblem the Pro:
It does sound like a lot of work. So why are you doing it? Why Krampus? Is this a sort of next step beyond Santacon/Santarchy? An antidote for the creeping sanitization of Santa crawls?

Al Ridenour:
There’s no way to get around the comparison, especially since it was some of us from the old Cacophony Society that started that ball rolling. Honestly, I haven’t been part of that for going on twenty years, so I wouldn’t know anything about sanitized, but I do know it can be fun if it’s new to you.

I was there for the Santa gathering of the tribes in Portland in 1996, when Santa Palahniuk was along taking notes and we ended up facing off with riot police in full riot gear, so after that they started seeming a little anti-climactic, I guess. I organized one, I think, the year later, where the Santas attended the gun show they used to have out at the Pomona Fairplex. That made for lots of nice photo opportunities, but the joke just sort of got old.

The real problem with things like this is, as the numbers grow, the challenge and adrenaline rush diminishes. When it’s just a few of you out there, you don’t feel as safe; there’s more individual risk. As the safety-in-numbers factor sets in, the rush diminishes. Because we’re not just talking about a $35 Santa suit you can buy the day before you get here, we have some built-in safeguards against this thing becoming the same kind of mob scene.

Whatsblem the Pro:
But isn’t the Krampus run you’re doing sanctioned by virtue of being part of the Art Walk?

Al Ridenour:
Yes, and that’s a very good point. It does make it less challenging, but we’ll still be encountering people who have never heard of this tradition, and who won’t like what looks like a bunch of Satanists armed with bundles of wooden sticks. There is always the danger of some radical misunderstanding.

Krampus isn’t just a funny visual spectacle, like a mob of drunken Santas. He directly confronts and interacts; he swats at people, for heaven’s sake. The performers need to be on their toes to make wise judgments about who seems to comprehend what’s happening and might want to be playfully chased, and who to stay away from. It’ll be a balancing act. . . and beyond that one event, we’ll also be doing a secret guerilla-style appearance on December 6th, just to honor the traditional date and the rambunctiousness of the tradition as it’s practiced closer to its source, in the smaller villages where the Krampus runs wild and isn’t presented as a parade.

Mike Biggie strikes a menacing pose - PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Mike Biggie strikes a menacing pose – PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Whatsblem the Pro:
But again, why Krampus, and why now?

Al Ridenour:
This really just seemed like the last possible moment to make this our own, before someone else took over the tradition, reshaped it, and sold it back to us. Krampus was a figure I always felt close to. My B.A. was in German Culture and Literature, and I had grandparents who spoke German at home, so I felt a little possessive once I discovered him. Then, way back in college, when I first read those passages in The Golden Bough that you and I were talking about, it just set my little heart a-pattering and I began digging for more info. I’ve been watching this thing catch fire with the compilations of Krampus postcards appearing in books and circulating online, and the next thing I know, I’m hearing about Krampus cameos on The Colbert Report, The Office, American Dad, and The Venture Brothers. This year I discover that even Walmart is selling a shitty Krampus mask, via their website at least. I guess I felt like I was losing my intimate connection with my buddy Krampus. The only way left to get closer to Krampus was to become Krampus.

Whatsblem the Pro:
And convince a bunch of other people to become Krampus, too?

Al Ridenour:
No convincing was needed; that’s just my story. The others in the group had already grown their own attachments, I’m sure.

What happened, actually, was that in 2012 I finally made it to Austria and Germany to attend some Krampus events, and in the evening after I came home from my first event, I opened an e-mail in my hotel room to find that my friend Al Guerrero from Cacophony was announcing the creation of an L.A. Krampuslauf — a Krampus run — so I was just all over that.

Maybe there was also some aspect among us of wanting to give SantaCon a second try. I remember doing lots of reading on the history of Christmas, and trying to tell reporters that what we were doing was really, in a sense, the ‘real’ way to celebrate the holiday, in that drunken costumed street theatrics have an older historical association with Christmas than the red suit we were all wearing. In Europe they had wassailing. In early America, they called wassail groups Callithumpians. These wassailers would blacken their faces, or cross-dress, or turn their clothes inside-out, and bang on pots and pans and light fireworks while singing drunken songs. When I read about it, it felt a lot more like what we were doing.

I don’t think we could have stated it quite like this at the time. . . but in a way, I think you could fairly say that with SantaCon, we were breaking down that wholesome Coca-Cola character. We were besmirching his reputation by drunken assholery, and thus destroying him so that he could re-emerge in his original form.

Whatsblem the Pro:
There’s The Golden Bough again: Kill the ceremonial king, so he can be born anew. So Spring will come! But Coca-Cola Santa came from Madison Avenue.

Al Guerrero wears the traditional chains - PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Al Guerrero wears the traditional chains – PHOTO: Jon Alloway

Al Ridenour:
Yes. That version of Santa Claus was created to get people off the streets, to turn the holiday into a quiet family-centered idyll.

The popularization of Clement Clark Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was really part of a concerted effort by New York bluebloods to create something closer to the Santa we know. It’s true he may have been somewhat standardized by those Coke ads, but the basic idea goes back to that poem. . . and what’s funny is that the illustrations that went with it were drawn by a German immigrant, Thomas Nast, and both what he drew, and the poem itself, are still close to the German Belsnickel — or “Pelt Nicholas” — who is more of a sly trickster character than our old familiar Santa. He didn’t leave gifts in your home; he threw treats out into the street to bait kids. They would go for the treats, and he’d crack the whip he carried, to send them scattering. It was much closer to a game, and with his face blackened by soot and the ragged animal pelts he wore, he’s really only a hop, skip, and a jump from Krampus.

The real kicker was the cowbells. Krampus, in a few remote regions, cracks a whip. . . but everywhere he wears cowbells. This noise-making tradition associated with the holidays goes back to the pagan idea of driving away bad spirits at turning points in the year whenever they are likely to menace us mortals. We still have this notion preserved in the idea of New Year’s fireworks and tolling church bells, but it was also part of these costumed Christmas riots with their pot-and-pan banging.

When I heard the cowbells on the belts of the first Krampuses I encountered in Europe, it really hit me that this was my kind of cacophony! I just hope we can make a good run of it.

Whatsblem the Pro:
I hope you can, too. Wassail, Al!

For information on upcoming Krampus L.A. events, visit the troupe’s event calendar at

Ashley ‘Actually’ Huizenga lays down an informative Krampus carol

Bleed Pretty For Me: Al Ridenour and the Art of Bleeding

by Whatsblem the Pro

Al Ridenour resting comfortably -- Photo: Art of Bleeding

Al Ridenour resting comfortably — Photo: Art of Bleeding

As our regular readers will recall, Whatsblem the Pro attended the shenanigans at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, where Chicken John Rinaldi’s Institute of Possibility staged an unauthorized guerrilla book signing to celebrate the release of TALES OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CACOPHONY SOCIETY.

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THE ART OF BLEEDING is Al Ridenour’s brainchild, a dark and surreal parody of elementary school health and safety assemblies. The troupe’s videos and live shows blend a profound sense of innocence with a grimy, paranoiac’s awareness of the Great Darkness of existence, drizzle it with burlesque, and wrap it all up in pubescent body shame and the aesthetics of a medical appliance fetishist. Featuring characters like Abram the Safety Ape, RT the Robot Teacher, a bevy of tantalizing nurses who will apparently do ANYTHING for art’s sake, and sometimes Kim Fowley, the Art of Bleeding puts on jaw-droppingly original shows that often test one’s fortitude even as they entertain and enlighten.

Ridenour is notorious as an old-school member and sometimes leader of the Cacophony Society who, for a time, successfully transplanted the beating heart of that august body into the shambling corpse we call Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of speaking with him backstage at the Castro Theater on May 31st, 2013.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Who are you people, what the hell do you think you’re doing, and for God’s sake, why?

AL RIDENOUR: After the LA Cacophony Society burned down in the early 2000s, there were a number of us wandering in a daze, picking at scabs, squinting at reflective surfaces, or straining to make out messages broadcast from our dental fillings. There was much confusion. The desires were still there; we merely lost the structure for effectively processing said impulses. One of the few Cacophony events that survived outside that old, ambitious regimen of two to five monthly events, regular newsletters, planning meetings, and all that, was the Museum of Mental Decay. This was our semi-beloved/feared version of a Halloween haunted house, or as we liked to call it, “a walking tour of a diseased soul.” It was a grotesque living tableau ranging from derelicts gathered around a dumpster trying to sell passersby buckets full of human hair, a Catholic abortion clinic, a clown version of Abu Ghraib, and the like. In particular this was an event that showcased LA Cacophony’s love of horrifying theatrical spectacle. Some serious stagecraft and marvelous performances actually went into this event, and I mention it here because I feel like Cacophony’s vitality in LA was largely due to the city being a magnet for people with creative aspirations. Once those dreams were crushed by the film industry or associated fields of commercialized ‘creativity,’ Cacophony offered an outlet both for their creativity and their newfound misanthropy. Most of the members of the Art of Bleeding were involved with the Cacophony Society, and the Art of Bleeding is sort of a year-round Halloween show, with theatrical manner of presentation and preoccupation with grisly medical scenarios or repellent psychological realities.

It started with an ambulance -- Photo: AoB

It started with an ambulance — Photo: AoB

The exact form that the Art of Bleeding took was largely dictated by my hunt for a truck. In searching the Recycler for used trucks, I stumbled upon an ambulance, and pretty soon my more utilitarian notions of having a pickup that could transport lumber and thrift store furniture began to drift toward art cars. The ambulance I found seemed particularly suited for an interesting interior display with all those compartments that seemed perfect for miniature dioramas. I began imagining a sort of mobile “museum.” By the time I was recording audio tracks for the individual dioramas and designing a costume look for the museum guide, I realized my ambitions were spilling beyond anything that could be contained inside the vehicle. It just grew and grew in fitful bloody spurts, and once my wife gave me a gorilla suit as a birthday present, the idea of a gorilla as a sort of educational kiddy show host for a kid’s show dealing in distasteful subjects just captivated me.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: When you strip away all the trappings of elementary school health and safety assemblies, what are the real lessons that Art of Bleeding might impart to us?

AL RIDENOUR: Actually, if I would ascribe any seriously satiric intent to the whole mess, the target would in fact, have to do with education. Nothing to do with safety, really, but with socialization, and the notion of inculcating values and such. Even before this thing had taken a solid or at least semi-solid gelatinous current form, I spent quite a while agonizing over the name. There is a subtle (and admittedly failed) joke there, in that bleeding – being a completely autonomous bodily function – can hardly be an art. There is no artifice, craft, or purpose involved when you cut your arm and it begins spurting. So there was a joke there about the absurdity of imposing or pretending there is purpose and intent where there really is none. That’s all very abstract, but if I think back to when I was a kid in school, there are particular experiences that might make it more tangible.

I grew up in the 1970s, when our culture at large was coming to terms with issues of cultural pluralism and philosophical relativism. Maybe our educators were particularly awkward at this cultural stage in conveying these ideas, but I remember sitting in classes where the topic might be “values clarification.” Though it was presented in gentlest and utterly pedantic manner, this relativism was really the sort of gentle grade-school trickle-down version of the screaming meaningless void that existential philosophers had confronted decades before. How could a teacher, an authority figure positioned by centuries of tradition in a classroom, an educational system, and a nested series of sociological and culture structures presume to tell me that my ethical choices are as utterly subjective as my choice of a favorite color? If we are all just merely choosing arbitrary colors, why are we not just having art time instead of sociology? Why can’t we just be painting with our favorite colors? Or why can’t we just paint the room in the teacher’s blood?

So much more than just T&A -- PHOTO: AoB

So much more than just T&A — PHOTO: AoB

To me the dishonest and oxymoronic “everyone is special” philosophy behind a show like Sesame Street is much more sinisterly insidious than anything produced in the 1950s. There is such a profound laziness in that sort of thought, and it’s particularly well exemplified by the daffy mix-and-match laziness of New Age thought. So, the Art of Bleeding is probably more of a parody of that than anything else. The principle of “True Safety Consciousness” at the core of the Art of Bleeding mindfuck is not about a cautious distinction between ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe,’ but more of a New Age epiphany and experience of the boundlessness of The One.

Anyway, It’s not apparent to everyone, at first, but there was a taste of it in the show at the Castro with the robot’s psychobabble about the disfigured Dr. Sunshine representing the female counterpart to the robot’s masculine presence as part of “psychic unity.” There’s always that sort of nonsense in our shows, and of course there’s generally a 1970s feel to the old educational films I tend to remix for the shows. So, the idea of overlaying an ineffable experience with bunch of pedantic, faux-philosophical chatter is, in that way, like presenting the raw experience of bleeding as an artistic and thoughtful craft.

But that’s all a bit heavy, so I added the nurse T&A. That’s what most people remember anyway.

For those who like their satire more old-fashioned, I’ve also gone after more antiquated value systems with stuff like my coloring book, Crayons for Jesus, and countless churchy Cacophony events associated with my nom de guerre, “Reverend Al.”

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: You’re already in Los Angeles. Why don’t you have a show on Adult Swim or something? Is Hollywood too stupid and slow to pay heed to the Art of Bleeding, or is the Art of Bleeding too canny and agile to be co-opted and cheapened by the meddling ministrations of entertainment industry fools? What does the future hold for the Art of Bleeding?

The Miracle of Birth -- PHOTO: AoB

The Miracle of Birth — PHOTO: AoB

AL RIDENOUR: I have not pursued that, namely because I am very bad at marketing. I would so much rather be making the shows than shopping them around. I’d even rather be making shows than presenting them, and for that reason there are even a few Art of Bleeding shows that have only been presented one or two times. But I’ve always been a fan of what’s presented on Adult Swim, and in particular, I’m a huge admirer of Tim and Eric. They also presented a brief run of a British show called Look Around You, which was much less franticly amusing than Tim and Eric, but brilliant, and eerily close in subject matter to what we do, i.e., a direct parody of educational films of the 1970s and early ‘80s. While we’re at it, a tip of the hat to Wonder Showzen, a PBS kid’s show parody that went to vicious extremes in its satire. Both Wonder Showzen and Look Around You I only discovered once I was well underway with the Art of Bleeding.

Lately, I’ve been moving the Art of Bleeding more toward video production than live shows, not that I ever want to give up the live shows, but it’s so nice to shoot video with the ability to get things exactly the way you want them. I worked ten years in computer animation, and have found myself finally able to go back and enjoy this kind of work again, now that I’m not getting paid. I guess I’ve just never associated making money with doing what you love. That may be a problem too.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: How did you first get involved with Cacophony? What are your fondest memories of participating in the Society and other, similar groups? What does Cacophony mean to you?

Abram: Safety Ape -- PHOTO: AoB

Abram: Safety Ape — PHOTO: AoB

AL RIDENOUR: It’s nice to say that it began with a prank. . . on me. It’s not entirely true, but true enough in a pretty, poetic way. Basically, the Cacophony Society has always been pretty wily in defining itself. It’s kind of an absurd concept to begin with – an insider’s club for self-identified outsiders – and then there’s that paradoxical slogan, “you may already be a member.” So, I suppose I was a member all my life, but became more aware of it back in 1990 when I began seeing these flyers around town announcing that the Cacophony Society “is everywhere.” They’d been distributed by the always enigmatic M2 (one of his more permanent Cacophony aliases, though to the Burners, he would be better known as Danger Ranger). M2 was down from SF working temporarily on some consulting job (for the LA Department of Transportation or something like that) and was eager to sow the seeds of Cacophony down here after having made a “Zone Trip” or two down here with his Society comrades. A “Zone Trip” was what they called Cacophony outings up there when they involved some sort of geographic travel, as with the infamous Zone Trip #4 to the Black Rock Desert. There will always be some confusion with Hakim Bey’s concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone because both notions arose at about the same time and both involve experience of a highly subjective alternate reality, or one of one’s own choosing.

In any case, M2’s flyers announced some semi-fictitious events, which I never attended, and I suppose it’s this sort of shifting sand involved in our foundational myth, but I never attended these. Eventually I managed to contact M2 through the post office box listed on the flyer, and we planned our first collaborative event, an infiltration of the UFO Expo West, where we posed as representatives of “the Brotherhood of Magnetic Light.” It was for that event I chose my alias of “Reverend Al,” as it fell to me to preside as spiritual Poobah over a ritual cleansing of the “saucer landing site” advertised in the literature we distributed. M2 attended to constructing the mylar/candles/dry-cleaning bag construction that served as a saucer. I screamed and ranted to confused onlookers about the coming New Age, and vodka and fireworks were involved.

Bubbles La Blanche -- PHOTO: Al Ridenour

Bubbles La Blanche — PHOTO: Al Ridenour

Many of my favorite Cacophony memories are a bit smudgy with booze and smoke and the glare of fireworks. It would be hard to recall as well as pick a favorite, but I do have exceedingly fond memories of a particular moment at a particular event involving the disinterment and planned resurrection of a mummified dead stripper, Bubbles La Blanche, buried in my backyard. The mummy I had so carefully constructed is still proudly displayed in my home, near a prize black velvet painting I discovered on a trip to Ensenada. The painting I had purchased years before the event, and it had always been one of my most cherished oddities as it featured a skull-faced Mona Lisa holding a skeletal fetus. It was not the work of some ironic hipster in LA, but an even more mysterious black velvet surrealist of Ensenada. No one who saw it failed to be impressed. . . but the night we dug up Bubbles La Blanche, the picture got knocked from the wall and the velvet was torn. It was at the end of the evening, and the Cramps were blasting on my stereo, and people dancing on Bubbles’ coffin had knocked the painting from the wall. The coffin had also been damaged, and dragged inside by partygoers not aware of or indifferent to the crickets that I had hidden in the coffin before burying it hours before the party. The crickets were everywhere, the coffin was damaged, and my favorite piece of art torn. But I remember laughing that night, and it still gives me pleasure to see that tear in the velvet. Things break, and it was not only fine, but amusing.

Now Cacophony is eager to preserve what it can of its legacy with the museum show, the documentary, and the new book, and I understand that side of the life cycle too, but it was nice back when we were all wild tadpoles.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: What did you think of the show at the Castro Theater last weekend?

AL RIDENOUR: It was really a dream show for us. To be surrounded by all that talent, and people I’d admired for years. I was such a huge fan of the Church of the SubGenius and vividly recall shuddering with baffled delight as I flicked the pages of that first book back in 1983. Having our videos on the giant screen was particularly satisfying. But I’m also aware of the friction involved with the authors not being involved. I was housemates with Chicken (John Rinaldi) during his L.A. years when he discovered Cacophony, and from years of experience with him, know that he is perfectly happy to cause friction and make enemies. But he’s also changed a lot too, and probably for the better if you believe in all that good/bad stuff. Other than that, I really don’t want to comment other than to note the obvious and amusing absurdity of an un-author-ized publication party. If only the squabbles themselves were more of an actual prank!

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Do you have any plans or any desire to bring Art of Bleeding to Burning Man this year?

RT, the Robot Teacher -- PHOTO: AoB

RT, the Robot Teacher — PHOTO: AoB

AL RIDENOUR: I feel that it’s not monumental enough to be noticed. Don’t you have to do a little more to engage folks up there nowadays? Encase an ocean liner in an iceberg and surround it with a steam-powered army of dancing giraffes, stuff like that?

I enjoyed doing the installations we did with Cacophony back in the smaller days but Art of Bleeding is already of a smaller scale than stuff I did back in 1999. But I’m grateful for the vibrant subculture Burning Man has fostered and happy we can reach those people through online videos and the occasional live show.

Particularly as the Art of Bleeding has moved more toward video, and especially as I spend more hours in isolation with complicated post and animation, I do miss interacting with crowds of weirdos, whether Cacophonistas or Burners (if such distinctions must be made).

My latest project, however, is bringing me back to the “festival arts” of celebrations like Burning Man as well as the guerilla street theater of Cacophony. It’s all about Krampus, a series of Krampus-themed events for December 2013 including an art show, shows with themed performances (hopefully including a Krampus Mass in an old church) and also public Krampus Runs. My wife and I had just visited Austria and Germany, in part to attend Krampus runs there, and when I returned, I learned that old Cacophony comrades-at-arms were interested in staging the same for LA, so we’re all working on suits and carving masks these days. I think it’ll be a big thing. Hopefully big enough to at least justify the mess I’ve made of my house with goat hair and bits of horn everywhere.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Can hot nurses and other people get involved with the Art of Bleeding?

AL RIDENOUR: Yes, and yes! always works. There’s also if you’re more into fur and horns. . . and you can connect with us on Facebook via the Art of Bleeding page, or through the Krampus Los Angeles page.

WHATSBLEM THE PRO: Thanks, Al. Break a leg!

Agents of Chaos, Assemble!

by Whatsblem the Pro

You are not authorized to read this book

You are not authorized to read this book

The Cacophony Society is a venerable but obscure institution that can lay claim to being the very origins of Burning Man, art cars, Santacon/Santarchy, the Billboard Liberation Front, urban exploration, culture jamming, and more, with strong ties to organizations, traditions, and phenomena like St. Stupid’s Day, zombie flashmobs, Survival Research Labs, the Church of the SubGenius, Fight Club, etc. The Society can also legitimately take some serious credit for the resurgence of circus/freak show/burlesque troupes across the nation and around the world.

The San Francisco Institute of Possibility, led by Chicken John Rinaldi, presented an “unauthorized book release party” at the Castro Theater in San Francisco last weekend for the release of TALES OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CACOPHONY SOCIETY. Whatsblem the Pro attended.

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100% Genuine Santa -- Photo: Panda

100% Genuine Santa — Photo: Panda

When I first heard that the Cacophony Society was having a book release party in San Francisco, I imagined a modest get-together of perhaps forty or fifty people at a place like City Lights Bookstore. Apparently, that’s what the book release party at Ferlinghetti’s Folly was supposed to be like: tweed, elbow patches, plastic cups of Cab-Merlot, little squares of fontina cheese with toothpicks in them, something light and unobtrusive on the stereo, and a lot of polite reminiscence about how much fun everything used to be.

Chicken John had a different vision; a bigger, bolder vision. . . so he shamelessly hijacked the event. At Chicken’s behest, approximately a thousand walking anomalies, professional raconteurs, semi-human chimerae, stump preachers, miscreants, miscreations, amateur inventors, bons vivants, characters, loners, part-time zombies, sports, morlocks, kooks, crackpots, anti-human racists, beatniks, geeks, Overmen, neodadaists, giant ants, screwballs, underground celebrities, common deeves, Situationists, Groucho Marxists, burlesque mutants, renegade federal agents, sign-wielding protestitutes, and other assorted weirdos invaded the Castro Theater and filled that hallowed hall (and the sidewalk out front) with a veritable bacchanal of conceptual and sartorial mayhem, in celebration of their tribe and people.

And of course, they shilled the book. Hard. Chicken John is, after all, nothing if not a consummate showman, and well-endowed with the appropriately hucksterish skills and instincts that go with that.

Al Ridenour's Art of Bleeding troupe makes it all better

Al Ridenour’s Art of Bleeding troupe makes it all better

If you’ve never heard of the Cacophony Society before, or only have a rough idea of its history and purposes and accomplishments, then you’re quite mistaken if you think you know much of anything about Burning Man. For instance: perhaps you are under the impression that dictums like ‘Leave No Trace’ and ‘No Spectators’ are a Burning Man thing; of course they are, but we got them directly from the Cacophonists who first introduced Larry Harvey and his Man to the Black Rock Desert. John Law, one of the triumvirate that originally founded the Burning Man Org, is a very prominent Cacophonist. . . and he is a co-compiler and editor of TALES OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CACOPHONY SOCIETY. Without Cacophony, there would be no Burning Man, plain and simple. Cacophony is nothing less than the root of the many-branched tree of weirdness that makes life tolerable for those of us who realize that the Apocalypse has already happened.

Once I had a firm grasp on the scope of the event, I knew I had to be there come Hell or high water. An appearance by THE YES MEN was promised, as were performances by the likes of Al Ridenour and his brilliant ART OF BLEEDING troupe. POLLY SUPERSTAR was on the bill, and the Reverend IVAN STANG, spiritual leader of THE CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS, was rumored to be hosting, accompanied by Church luminaries PHILO DRUMMOND and the formidably erudite DR. HAL ROBINS.

Chicken John -- Photo: Chris Stewart/Chronicle

Chicken John — Photo: Chris Stewart/Chronicle

Chicken John – whose sole failing as a carny is his unflinching generosity – graciously offered me a free ticket, and this bit of largesse cemented my resolve to make it to the show in spite of the fact that I was determined not to use that ticket under any circumstances. No; I was dead set on infiltrating instead and being a part of the show, a performer without portfolio, as unauthorized as the event itself.

To this end, I arrived early, and simply walked in amid the hustle and bustle of staff and crew getting ready, as though I knew what I was doing and was supposed to be there. Having located a coatroom backstage where I could stow my gear with that of the other performers, I changed into my favorite evening wear: a fully-accessorized Santa suit, paid for with the credit card – still uncomfortably hot to the touch – that nestled in my Santa hat with the rest of my valuables. I wore my costume with the confidence that can only come from having True Santa Nature, an epic beard, and the assurances of the staff at the costume shop that my outfit had indeed been laundered since the last Santa threw up in it. They told me they went the whole 9 yards on the clean up job, they even used the best beard oil on the costume!

I spent the next two hours hobnobbing, palavering, flirting, exploring the Castro Theater, and joining the other performers in entertaining, confusing, and harassing both passerby and people waiting in the long line out front that snaked around the corner onto Market Street. . . and then, suddenly, the doors were flung wide, the line began to inch forward, the theater seats were filled. The show began in earnest.

After that, I can’t remember much. There was some sort of film playing, I recall, with a spinning hypnomat filling the screen as a man’s voice droned on and on from the surround-sound speakers. A strange odor filled the air as some kind of gas began to quietly hiss its way out of the ventilation system in smoky tendrils. Strong men first pounded upon, and then hurled themselves at, the oversized theater doors that led back to the lobby and safety, but to no avail; the Castro is an old theater, built well and well cared-for. The doors held; my head reeled.

Yes Man assaulted by Hell Yes Women -- Photo: John Curley

Yes Man assaulted by Hell Yes Women — Photo: John Curley

Glimpses of half-remembered scenes that swim up from the darkness that followed are all that is left to me now: Andie Grace tucking a dollar into my Santa belt as I performed a wholly involuntary St. Vitus’ tarantella; Andy Bichlbaum, surrounded by a bevy of adoring painted harlots, tearing his own face off to reveal the face of Jacques Servin beneath it; Ivan Stang and Philo Drummond gently extracting an “ordination fee” from my nerveless fingers; a bizarre but tender assignation backstage with a honey badger (call me, honey!). A man covered from head to toe in bandages and wielding a keyboard and joystick seemed to be controlling all my movements.

When I awoke, I was in an alley in downtown Reno, soiled and disoriented. A hardbound copy of TALES OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CACOPHONY SOCIETY lay open before me in my lap, silently exhorting me to “DO YOUR DISHES.”

There seem to be some recordings on my phone, with time/date stamps that indicate they were made that terrible evening as I languished in some kind of nightmarish state of induced fugue. Stay tuned; once I’ve had a chance to listen to them I’ll let you know if they reveal anything of importance.

FREEBIRD ME, HONEY BADGER -- Photo: Leslie Benson

FREEBIRD ME, HONEY BADGER — Photo: Leslie Benson