Excerpt from V. Vale's
RE/Search Newsletter #29, March 2004
The moral of this past weekend is: If you don't like the society you're given, then create your own!
There are weddings, and then there are weddings. The most amazing wedding we've ever attended just happened. The first inkling that it would be "unusual" came when we opened the invitation, which came in a gold tube--upon carefully slicing it open we were inundated with gold dust! The gorgeous, letterpress announcement informed us that the wedding itself would take place at a secret location at an unheard-of time: 5:30 AM! A wedding at sunrise?! How often does that happen? (Try "Never.") Theme colors for the gathering were to be gold and red (everyone was supposed to wear them), and presents were REFUSED ("We already have everything we need") in lieu of champagne and sparkling apple cider.
This weekend of February 27-29 reminded a few hundred Bay Area residents how impoverished our society is RE: Meaningful Rituals. Almost all of our our rituals (except Labor Day) are tied-and-branded to some form of consumerism or Macy's Sale. Birthdays, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Fourth of July, Father's Day, President's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas...And the best holiday of the year, Halloween, which gives everyone permission to shed their tired old identity and become a kind of mythological, larger-than-life being, isn't even honored by a day off work.
Secondly, we've lost touch with the changing of the seasons--only the "Pagans" amongst us observe the once-critical spring and fall equinoxes, and summer and winter solstices. We're under the control of a corporate-consumerism calendar. We could easily change to a more accurate system of months (not to mention getting rid of Daylight Savings time), but we'll probably have to wait for an apocalypse for that to happen. In our money-is-everything society, sunrise and sunset are highly undervalued, if not totally ignored...yet both could certainly be appreciated for their beauty--on a daily basis they could be honored. Finally, there are very few opportunities to go all out and reach some kind of collective ecstatic state, like the one legally reached in the ancient Rites of Dionysus...
This past weekend, however, seemingly granted all of the above that is missing in a social get-together, including a tiny bit of taboo-breaking. Scott Beale, Laughing Squid founder, served a vital role as Minister of Information in getting several hundred people (including many out-of-towners) together for John Law's Friday Night Bachelor Party, and the John Law/Christina Harbridge Wedding on Sunday, Feb 29--yes, in the spirit of pranksterism and confounding of cliches, that date was chosen deliberately, on account of its rarity.
7 PM Friday Night, several hundred "bachelors" (this being San Francisco, the attendees included a few select women with penciled-on mustaches) gathered at the colorful, jammed-with-machinery warehouse of KAL SPELLETICH, former SRL apprentice who now performs as THE SEEMEN--a great installation of Kal's amusingly-interactive small machines just finished up at the Jack Hanley Gallery on Valencia/15th St. At the nearby corner of Cesar Chavez (Army St) and 3rd St, we couldn't help admiring a huge billboard allegedly promoting the Homeland Security Act, featuring a sleeping man and the legend, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters." Like, What--? This was the perfect example of a prank that remains partially indecipherable, and puzzling--our favorite kind.
For the Bachelor Party, everyone was urged to dress in all-black to mourn the death of John Law's status as "eligible single male." A full-service BBQ, along with liberal quantities of alcohol, served to fire up and fuel the guests--out of the corner of our eye we saw a sudden wrestling match, but it quickly was resolved. We also caught a quick glimpse of an UZI, but assumed it was a mere plastic prop replica. In fact, during the entire evening only one person had to be "asked to leave."
The guests included John's friends, ranging from numerous Burning Man alumni, SRL compatriots, select members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, associates of the San Francisco Cacophony Society, Gary Warne's Suicide Club, the Billboard Liberation Front, the Extra Action Marching Band, and almost every other hell-raising, anti-status-quo art enterprise in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, we missed the spectacular entrance of John Law delivered in a sealed coffin via vintage hearse, unloaded by eight pallbearers and hand-carried to Kal's inner sanctum. (Sometimes, you must never be late.) As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by "cyber-punk" author John Shirley, who years ago had moved to Pinole (near Sacramento) where houses were still affordable. (BTW, John Shirley's "John Cutter" action hero paperback series were much enjoyed by yours truly during the Eighties.) SRL's Mark Pauline, Kevin Binkert, Eric Paulos and David Therrien; John Gilmore (Electronic Frontier Foundation executive), and too many more to mention were busy eating, drinking and "catching up." All too soon the CycleCide schoolbus (whose roof was covered with rusty old bicycles) that was to carry everyone to the next destination tooted its horn, and everybody headed deep into Hunter's Point
The next location, which shall remain secret, was utterly amazing. Not only did we admire a castle-like facade with an ancient tree-shaded front yard and European al fresco art studio/courtyard, but we were summoned down a small flight of stairs into a large, man-made underground cavern (circa 1871?), ominously dripping water. A long line of dim light bulbs provided illumination; the cement groundfloor was pooled with water. At the far end was a very long and chilly three-foot-deep pool whose restraining wall was waist-high. To our left was another long, wet cavern. At the junction of these three "tunnels," a large candelabra provided light, and this is where the blindfolded John was to undergo a "transition ritual."
All of us were instructed to line the entry cavern (not enough room in front), put on tall white Doggie Diner hats (with black floppy ears) and black-bulb rubber clown noses, and kneel while singing a Gregorian-sounding chant in unison: "There is nothing finer/Than a Doggie Diner." Even though "giving orders" to this crowd is like trying to herd cats, eventually most of the bachelors knelt in two lines forming a corridor, while John, blindfolded, was finally led to the pool.
A gorgeous tattooed dominatrix in a shiny vinyl outfit appeared with four scantily and provatively-clad belles dames sans merci. In deference to John's bride (who may be reading this) we leave it to your imagination to guess what happened next. Yes, we saw a genuine ritual, conducted by the very Rev. Hal, appropriate to leaving one's bachelorhood behind: "Say goodbye to all the other women you have known...from now on you are in partnership with the one you have chosen." At the climax of the ritual, highlighted by a loud disciplinary whipping with cat-o-nine-tails, John was brave enough to plunge naked into the freezing pool, where several naiads gamely plunged in and raucously expedited his rite of passage. There are some occasions--this was one--in which libations of alcohol are probably de rigueur. This was an amazing event, visually in the spirit of Sixties sexploitation "Satanic" films, punctuated by a sudden M-80 explosion which threatened to collapse the entire cavern--please, whoever did that, never do that again! (In fact, if anything threatened to collapse the evening, it was the occasional and sporadic detonation of fireworks.) SRL's Kimric Smythe and Dr. Hal did their best to preserve order, and keep people "down in front" so a degree of visibility and audibility could prevail. Afterward, the collective reaction was, "I never knew such a place existed in San Francisco!" And secondly, "What an amazing ritual!" Silke Tudor, by the way, was one of the women who engineered the "Bachelor Rite-of-Passage," along with Katy Bell and other stars (reportedly) from the Extra Action Marching Band.
Then the bus carried us to the final rendezvous at the Dogpatch Saloon, on Third Street at 22nd St, a beautiful old-time bar with a black grand piano in the rear. A pianist and percussionist were present, and San Francisco's Mr. Lucky passed out lyric sheets. When John Law finally showed up (passed along on the shoulders of the entire crowd), Mr. Lucky led the celebrants in a song specially written for the occasion, "Get Me to the Bridge On Time" (sung to the tune of "Get Me to the Church On Time"). After eating bowlsful of fresh free popcorn (Thanks, bartender) and downing cranberry sodas, we went outside for air (and to our regret, missed the stripper show especially rehearsed just for John Law). However, we greeted members of F-Space (who had just played a show elsewhere) as well as the legendary Erik ZOE who designed, invented and hand-made the very first (ZOE brand) bicycle messenger bags--and has suffered a million corporate imitations, none of whom paid any royalties, of course. Still, Erik's are the best...we own one from nine years ago, and it still looks brand new! Contact us if you'd like to obtain the Original Bike Messenger Bag, made by the person who pioneered it.
We didn't get home until 2:30 AM, and barely recovered for the wedding 27 hours later which took place Sunday morning at a staggeringly early hour: the aforementioned 5:30 AM. Celebrants including Mark Pauline and many SRL crew members, various folk in their sixties, and every good friend of John and Christina's. All who showed up at the meeting point (at least a hundred intrepid souls) enjoyed a rare sunrise stroll across the Golden Gate bridge, ultimately descending to terra firma where the wedding ceremony actually took place (this was about a 2-mile walk in all). Chicken John of the Odeon thoughtfully provided his Green Tortoise bus, and all the attendees were thus enabled to reach their next destination, which was...
9:30 AM, Empress of China ballroom, 5th floor, Grant Avenue between Washington and Clay Streets. The Empress of China is not normally attended by yours truly--we prefer the economy-gourmet fare of Peter and Lily Fang's House of Nanking--but The Empress is a sure sign that San Francisco once entertained aspirations of being the Paris of the West. The theme for the wedding was "red" and "gold" -- and most of the 300 attendees wore just that. The morning started out with seemingly unlimited flutes of champagne--we chose the sparkling Martinelli's apple cider. As the ballroom itself featured dazzlingly detailed red and gold decor (reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles) and wait-staff dressed in red, the party seemed overwhelming, splendiforous, over-the-top--MAD, really.
Who says environment doesn't affect behavior?! The atmosphere was wild and passionate; the predominant emotion was: laughing-with-amazement-and-abandon. There wasn't enough time to marvel at all the ingenious costumes and jewelry. Some of the most beautiful non-designer outfits were to be seen, scavenged from thrift stores and Chinatown dress shops--many of them amazingly intricate and tantalizing as they revealed large body tattoos in normally hidden places. Men in elaborate Chinese embroidered coats, smoking jackets and other attire and accessories (mostly red and gold) lit up the ballroom with ironic chutzpah and assertiveness. Looking around, it felt like we were all in a different country and different century. Then some of the most aggressive dancing ever seen (by us) was immediately triggered by the bass-heavy Seventies disco music played to inagurate the Reception. And that was just the beginning...
This simply was the most amazing wedding reception ever attended by us. The Empress of China has enormous picture windows which reveal 360 degrees of seldom-seen San Francisco views, from an empyrean height. The lunch was first-class; absolutely delicious. The room was filled with several hundred cultural radicals from the Bay Area and beyond. The "entertainment" was non-stop, including tributes to John Law from his 92-year-old former employer; poems read by earnest divas; songs from vocalists including a woman with an amazing hairdo, halfway between Divine and those Good-Luck Children of Chinatown (Phat Man Dee, the queen of Pittsburgh); Mr. Lucky, who can fly an audience to the moon and back; the first reunion in decades of the original Suicide Club; a huge custom-made pinata resembling a Doggy Diner head, which was destroyed by the bride and groom; and let us not forget the amazing silent-movie spoof, made in advance, of John & Christina's wedding--this was a helluva lot of work, totally professionally done, with great music, cinematography and acting. If this was done in their spare time, what do the film cast and crew do for their "real jobs"?! They should start a film company right away in the tradition of the original studios--does anyone recall that the first American cinema started in Oakland in the silent film days, before it got derailed down south to Hollywood?
Possibly the most efficient man in San Francisco, Scott Beale has already posted over a hundred digital photos from this legendary Wild Wedding Weekend on his website. We truly wish everybody who reads this newsletter could have been there...events like this give a glimpse of what could be. This fantastic, other-worldly weekend, from the Satanic bachelor party to the Dawn Wedding March to the Top-of-the-World Fantasy Banquet/Reception, showed us that truly imagination remakes the world. Reality itself is such a sorry substitute for the unfettered, uncensored Imagination. Anybody satisfied with middle-class "good taste" and "restraint" deserves the stifling mediocrity they desire...just kidding! We do, however, believe that the world will always need a good and regular dose of pranksterism, surrealism, and black humor...which is what John Law has given the Bay Area since approximately 1976, when he moved here. We wish John and Christina our fondest surrealist blessings...