What’s in a Name?

My Name IS Janez Jansa.

Janez Jansa, former Prime Minister of Slovenia

Janez Jansa, former Prime Minister of Slovenia , 2004-2008 and 2011-2013.  June 2013 convicted of corruption after his government was ousted.

In 2007 three Slovenian citizens, a performance artist, a theater director and an artist joined the ruling Conservative Party: The SDS. Later that year they all changed their names to Janez Jansa which “co-incidentally” was the name of the the leader of SDS and the right leaning Prime Minister of Slovenia. They all three went about their lives as Janez Jansa, collectively gaining quite a bit of media and public attention in Slovenia and eventually world-wide.

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Janez Jansa, Performance Artist, Troublemaker!

Being artists, the three newly minted Janez’ pondered the meaning of their deliberate appellation re-designation, and eventually were inspired to co-create a very interesting movie staring: Janez Jansa, Janez Jansa, Janez Jansa and Janez Jansa. This movie is an in-depth and compelling exploration of the old adage: “what’s in a name?” Dozens of people, many sharing the same name and virtually nothing else, are interviewed about how they believe their names have affected their lives since birth. You will be surprised to find out what the filmmakers learn about names and what they have to do with the named.

I had the good fortune to see this movie while I was presenting my book Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society at The Influencers Festival in Barcelona last November.  I also met Janez Jansa! (the performance artist, not the Prime Minister..)

I was compelled to ponder my name and how it was almost a separate entity, while being perhaps the most obvious expression of who I am to the world at large. Admittedly, being named John Law (a pejorative meaning police in the central states) at birth and growing up primarily in the Mid-West insured many “A Boy Named Sue” moments in my young life. Even so, watching this movie will get you thinking about just what YOUR name has meant to you and your development, opportunities and accomplishments over the course of your life. I highly recommend seeing it.

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Screening of My Name is Janez Jansa at:

San Francisco Art Institute 

Tuesday March 25th 7PM

more screenings: http://www.mynameisjanezjansa.com/?page_id=156

Dog Days

Chandler White photo shoot

photo courtesy Chandler White from his yearly Christmas Card conclaves. Treasure Island 2011.

We’re almost half way through our Kickstart campaign to restore the 3 mobile Doggie Diner Heads that I and some friends have kept on the Bay Area roads since the early days of Cacophony in the late 80′. Here’s the KS address Please encourage your friends and associates to go there and contribute whatever they can. The main distinction from many other “surreal” or simply “weird” Americana or regional “kitsch” totems or icons can be illustrated by making two points. Firstly: These Dogs are FORMER commercial signs that have broken loose from their mercantile moorings through time (the chain closed 27 years ago) and the simple fact that they are no longer used as any type of monetary exchange devices. In other words, they aren’t for rent. (Full disclosure – I got $ renting them ONCE, fairly recently – although the  folks were very nice and I REALLY needed the dough for a quick fix on the trailer, I SWORE at that time that I would never do it again. It’s the reason I started the KS campaign.)  Secondly and more exclusively: They are mobile. These three financially disembodied heads travel all about the Bay Area on a semi-regular basis and have been to Southern California for the movie premier of Into the Zone, and N.Y.C. for several events sponsored by the fabulous Laughing Squid. As far as I know this is the only instance of such a thing anywhere in our country, a former commercial sign/logo whizzing about with no commercial intent – please inform me if I’m missing something….

I believe this unique arrangement confers special status on these totemic figures. They are only grounded more to the regional collective memory and the cultural core BECAUSE the restaurant chain is gone and all that remains is an image, a whisper, a dream: nothing terribly substantial like the memory of a child’s birth, or perhaps the passing of a close relation, but just a ghostly hint of a past sunny day at the beach or maybe the ball game, a vague half image of a child walking hand in hand with his Father, the taste of mustard, old long gone buildings: were they ever really there? I think that for a Bay Area native of a certain age, simply seeing these silly, enigmatic, Mona Lisa like sentinels of memory brings all that and more back. I see that whenever we drive these Pups around the neighborhoods of SF, Oakland and other local towns. People of all walks come up to pat the noses of the Dogs and they ALL have two things in common. Each one has a story, a memory. And they all have a smile.

These crazy Dogs have also piqued the curiosity of and mildly inspired creativity in some unique and noted artists. Polish born New York City OLEK had some labor intensive fun with the Dogs while here in SF a while back. Painter, sculptor, troublemaker Ron English made our very cool trip poster for the Doggie run to NYC. Bishop Joey of the 1st Church of the Last Laugh (St. Stupid) adopted the Dogs in the early 90′s and decreed them the Holy Trinity of the Dogminican Order. The very first piece of art I ever bought, (forgoing beer money for a month at the time!) in 1988, was this awesome piece by stencil legend Scott WilliamsDD SW

Now, for those too young to recall these impassive and smiling(?) behemoths as they were during their mercantile heyday of the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, and for the relative new-comers to our fair land here at the edge of the world, the intrinsic strangeness, the perplexing, enigmatic visage of these looming totems is more than enough to ignite the curiousity of any but the most dull and phlegmatic. When we took them to NYC in 2003, almost no one that we ran into was familiar with Doggie Diner – it was after all, exclusively a Bay Area chain. All you have to do to realize that these absurd figures have a universal appeal is to look at the reaction shots of people across the land as they check the Dogs out and try to figure out what the hell they might mean…. See here in Head Trip, the movie.

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Local Sunset District grade school kids serenading the SF City restored Dog Head.

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SFDPW Chief (and future wildly successful politician) Ed Lee getting ready to speak at the 2nd annual Dog Head DPW ceremony at Ocean Beach. I spoke right after Ed, giving the local kids a little background on their Googie heritage.

This Head is being moved from Sloat Ave. and the beach right now to it’s new permanent home at the Yerba Buena Center in downtown SF.  If you are having a particularly dull day at the office, you could spend an hour at least perusing all the Laughing Squid posts of the last going back years and years, here.

So why you ask, all the bother? Why have I spent 26 years hauling around these 10 foot tall, 350 pound, unwieldy, difficult to move, expensive to keep, former commercial signs? I have a job, a business, a kid, wrote a couple of books, responsibilities, partnerships, needs, and very little “expendable” cash for “frivolous” endeavors. I’ve had some help for sure. There are a couple of friends I trust to drive the large, difficult to safely maneuver trailer around the city streets. With help from Cyclecide and others, we repainted and repaired the Dogs in 2003.

Well, it’s HELLA FUN to bring them around, when I can. Everyone smiles, if it’s a party, it gets better, if someone is having a downer of a day, these crazy, silly things instantly make it a smidgen better. How many things do that?