Category: movies

The Fatty Arbuckle Caper

These photos were a re-creation of the final shoot out on an abandoned ship to shore fueling platform on a dead end street on Islais Creek just south of the intersection of Marin and Illinois Sts.

The Suicide Club (1977-1982) would host pretty much any idea that anyone might come up with as an event. “Event” was a catch all descriptor that could be vague. Some years ago when Don Herron and I were writing a book (not yet published) on the adventures of The Suicide Club, I broke the events down into categories. Here’s roughly what I came up with: 1) Urban  Chase &  Hiding Games. Variations on Hide & Seek, Foxes & Hounds, Killer, Capture the Flag, etc. Usually played on the streets, cemeteries or in huge abandoned buildings. 2) Costumed Role Playing Games. In specific interior locations or on the streets. 3) Street Theater. Different from #2 because the Costumed Role Playing games were entirely for the benefit of participants. Public interaction was unneeded and sometimes unsolicited for Suicide Club street theater events, though when people on the street did notice, things could get funny in unexpected ways. 4) Urban Exploration. Exploring abandoned and sometimes occupied buildings, bridges, tunnels, and the occasional lone abandoned structure in more rural and natural environments.  5) Group Psychological games. Usually played in a soft, safe environment like someones home (often in Gary Warne’s comfy Circus of the Soul Bookstore on Judah St at 10th Ave. in SF) and drawn from popular psychology of the period and experimental theories on human communications. My favorite was Gary Warne’s “Lock Yourself In A Room and See If You Agree”. Five to ten people would agree to stay together in a comfortable place with tea & snacks. The group would pick the most extreme issue they could think of – one that they all did not agree on: gun control, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc. Players agreed to respectfully listen to and REALLY TRY to understand the, in some cases, disagreeable beliefs held by their fellows. The scrum would discuss the topic until everyone understood the reasons behind the strong views of others. The goal was not to agree on the issues, rather to understand the reasoning and belief systems of others. It wasn’t that radical an idea at the time – understanding others. What was uncommon was to make it a game. 6) Infiltrations. Members of the Club would “join” or at least visit with and observe extreme or fascinating groups. Religious cults, political extremist organizations, protest groups and the like.

7) Suicide Club “away trips” to visit weird tourist attractions or to attend curious events or performances, occasionally to join in in some odd fashion as in attending The Calaveras County Frog Jumping Contest in 1977 where the Suicide Club entered a human in a formal dress (Gary Warne), white gloves, top hat, etc., carried out to the jumping line by a giant frog (Jayson Wechter in a frog costume).

Suicide Club enters giant frog in Calaveras County frog contest 1st popularized by Mark Twain

Various Suicide Club games, events and protocols can be studied HERE and HERE.

Don Herron was a member and event organizer in the Suicide Club from the very first. He was influenced and informed by fiction, and he used his knowledge of and love for fiction in building some of the most involved and amazing Suicide Club events.

JL coming out of The Albatross Saloon (later San Francisco Brewing Company. Even later The Comstock) on Columbus Street. Hot in pursuit of Maude Delmont.

Don’s primary literary influence was Dashiell Hammett the American hardboiled detective fiction writer that virtually founded the genre. Don, like many in the Club, was encouraged to create events based upon his interests. Concurrent with the founding of the Club. He started a walking tour based upon visiting and recounting tales of the locations in San Francisco that Hammett lived and worked in as well as the actual and imaginary locations Hammett described in his novels and short stories set in SF. He presented his first tours as “classes” in the SF free school Communiversity, which was also the cradle of the Suicide Club. 

 In the earliest iterations of The Dashiell Hammett Walking Tour, although Don was not a professional presenter or speaker though he was very knowledgable about his subject. His amateur delivery was honed by several tours every week, and he quickly turned his walk into a professional, entertaining and very hardboiled tour. Now in its 41st year, the Hammett Tour has been covered by most media outlets you could name, and is the longest running literary walking tour in the United States. While Don was building his tour, he also created and led Suicide Club events based upon his obsessions.

Barry Wolf from Continental, Maude Delmont & The Op

Among other events, Don created three based on the mythology and trappings of modern hardboiled fiction; these games were particularly influenced by the writings, aesthetic and real tough guy substance of Dashiell Hammett (he told HUAC to stuff it and went to prison) and his characters, Sam Spade and the Continental Op were the very embodiment of the phrase “hardboiled”.  Don not only affected a Hammett-esque hardboiled persona, he embodied it. Like many well known writers, Don needed a “real” job to make ends meet and drove taxi for Luxor Cab for decades. Among his many adventures as a cabbie, he chased a fare that bolted without paying into Golden Gate Park and tackled the guy, holding him until he paid up! Encouraged by the spirit and collaboration of the Suicide Club though he undoubtedly was, Don groused a bit about the “lack of character development and authenticity of period dialogue and mannerisms” in many of the clubs participants in his first two detective games. In his desire to infuse the game with as much genuine 20’s Hammett Frisco essence for the third and final game, Don cast his net further than the Suicide Club for many of the primary characters. On his walking tour, which met every Sunday at Noon, perhaps half of the audience knew nothing of detectives and were attending merely because it was on the tourist information boards, Maybe another 30-40% had some small interest in the field. There were always that 10%: the died-in-the-wool hardboiled aficionados. It was from this group that Don recruited his perfect Nick Charles: graphics artist and club bouncer Charlie Oldham, a man so glib and with such a witty and sardonic delivery that many of his off the cuff comments, observations and insults could have been written by Hammett.  Oldham had played the character of Dashiell Hammett in an earlier game.

L to R: Dis n Dat Kid, Vito, Francis Xavier O’Leary, Rocco & Fatty

A hard drinking US military research scientist, John Surinchak impressed Don with his uncanny resemblance to Hammett’s second most famous creation, the Continental Op: a nameless dick from Continental Detective Agency that appears in two novels and many short stories. The Op was balding, paunchy, not too tall, sharp as a damascus blade and tough enough to take repeated beatings from bruisers and psychos and bounce back with a street level bon mot and a beefy right to the jaw. It turned out that Surinchak was a tough guy in real life too. The event was designed with three tiers of involvement for potential players and a rough outline created by Don that contained several facts relevant to the theme yet required no specific scripted outcomes. The third and outer tier, “The Hats” were players that showed up the day of the event in costume, but had not taken the time to create complex characters. They had some autonomy in the game, and if they were clever enough, could in theory take initiative and alter the course of the game; for the most part, they would follow the second & first tier players about and do what ever they said. Hence the appellation “The Hats” dropped by Charlie Oldham’s Nick Charles character when noticing that wherever he went, he was followed by a “Sea of Hats!”

L to R: Lt. Pucinni, Maude Delmont, Barry Wolfe, The Continental Op (taking it in the gut) and Fatty.

The first tier consisted of major characters with established backstories and some existing history which might reasonably lead to conflict between some and the need for cooperation between others. These players were maybe a bit obsessive, typically well versed in detective and mystery fiction, protocols and plot mechanisms. Don gave each of these players a little “special information” prior to the game that would serve them in negotiating, threatening and/or partnering with others. The second tier consisted of those engaged enough to pick a character from fiction or simply make one up and have the wherewithal, without the months preparation, character development and deeper immersion of the tier 1 players, to involve themselves in and even change the course of the games direction. Anything could happen and it depended upon the cunning and ambition of the players.
Although there was no stated goal that all parties were necessarily moving toward, the central figure and “McGuffin” of the piece was Hollywood comedic superstar actor Fatty Arbuckle. Fatty was being prosecuted for the accused sexual assault with a coke bottle of an unknown LA actress, Virginia Rappe who consequently died from injuries claimed to have taken place at a wild party hosted by Fatty taking place in several rented suites atop the St. Francis Hotel.

Charlie Oldham played Nick Charles, leader of the detective contingent trying to rescue Fatty Arbuckle from the clutches of Vito Lawton, Rocco and the other gangsters.

Don was having a hell of a time finding the right “Fatty”. He had to be excellent in order to anchor the game. He had to be big, jovial, quick witted, dexterous and agile in that big man sort of way. Don wasn’t finding anyone capable of the role and was getting frustrated. Finally, not long before the game, Ray Nelson came on the Hammett Tour. Over drinks after the walk, Don realized he had his perfect Fatty. Nelson was a veteran SciFi novelist and owned Big Cat Bookstore in Albany CA. He had been close to Phillip K. Dick when they were both starving writers in Berkeley in the early 60’s. Ray is cited by PKD experts as the inspiration for the character of Roy Batty in Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: “Phil thought I was a machine like fellow, with little emotional expression. I was a MENSA member and I think he was a little put off by that.” {paraphrasing Ray from a long ago memory} Ray also holds the distinction of writing the story that John Carpenters awesome movie They Live! was based on. Ray ended up being the perfect Fatty, glib, spry, resilient, and a bit paradoxical: did he do it? or was he an innocent, like his movie characters? Don recruited me as lead gangster Vito Lawtoni & Jayson Wechter as “Rico” to work with Don’s “Rocco” as the NYC gang that kidnaps Virginia Rappe and Fatty to use as coin for buying their way into the SF underground after being run out of Palm Springs and LA by established mobsters. Lead characters backstories got fairly complex and we were encouraged to drop hints about them to other players. The three lead gangsters were all longtime Suicide Club organizers and were expected to be able to hold our roles and parlay effectively with the newer folks dropping clues for them to move ahead when they ran into a dead end in pursuing the action.

L to R: Rico. Joey Falconer, Vito in Tosca.

A good example was early in the game when the Nick Charles, the detectives and “Hats”, over a dozen strong were stuck at the holy trinity of North Beach bars, Specs’, Vesuvios’s and Tosca Cafe not knowing where to go. We gangsters had just hijacked Fatty from his old vaudeville buddy, Fritz Leiber’s at his apartment in the Tenderloin. After waiting awhile, we sent one of the players back to North Beach to insure that the good guys “heard the rumor” that Vito and gang were would be leaving a Tenderloin dive apartment building with Fatty in tow. Maude Belmont, best friend of the dead Virginia Rappe’s (read the attached article pdf’s for more story details) was caught in this action too. She was played by another excellent find from the Hammett Tour a young lady named Chris (can’t recall her last name – Chris – are you out there?). She really had the femme fatale thing down and used her powers to snooker several of the male players out of information as the game wore on. Mayhem, cracking wise, rousting yeggs, (orange PlayCo dart) gunplay, cigar smoking and 20’s style atmosphere ensued. As with all Suicide Club events, this one was not created for or intended to attract media attention. One of the generally accepted tenets of the Club was complete immersion in the event, making it a total life experience as opposed to being an exercise in self-consciousness.Fatty dead! Vito soon to be dead....

Why then, did this event warrant three full pages in the City’s main newspaper? {Newspaper: a large format, multiple page paper instrument completely covered in thousands of words and some badly reproduced images that presented very compressed and seemingly random articles on local, national and international news that could be purchased in “newsstands” or metal boxes on the street that one would place coins into, or could be delivered to one’s home by a child – yes things used to be that weird}. Don was becoming famous for his Hammett Walking Tour by this time.

L to R: Fatty, Vito & Rocco

After starting as a Communiversity class (a default Suicide Club event) it quickly became a stand alone project that required Don’s continual efforts, meeting weekly at that time. It had also already been repeatedly covered by local and national press. The SF Examiner (Hearst flagship paper) had recently done a feature on Don & the Hammett Tour. When the reporter filed the piece, he dropped the info about an upcoming “detective/gangster street game that Herron was planning. The paper’s entertainment editor was very intrigued and called Don to see if the paper could “cover” the event. Don was not very encouraging. He told the hapless editor that he could not have a reporter and photographer intrusively following the characters and impeding the flow and serendipity of the game. The editor was insistent. After thinking about it a bit, Don told him it might be alright, but ONLY if the Examiner writer played a serious character in the game. The editor balked – “We’re a newspaper, We cover stuff. We can’t be the subject of our pieces.”

Randy Shilts pumping Continental’s man Barry Wolf for clues in Chinatown.

And Don thought, that was that. Evidently not, since the editor couldn’t put it down. He remembered that a new reporter working in the Health section of the paper was a great detective fiction fan. This is how we acquired one of the best players in the game. John Jacobs reputedly canceled a skiing weekend with his wife (much to her dismay) in order to cover Fatty Arbuckles adventures in Frisco. One of the great things about Don’s plotting was the mix of real life history with detective fiction fantasy and individual players off the cuff creations and plot twists. Once Jacobs realized the scope of the game and the potential to immerse himself in it, he kind of went native, becoming the most obsessive and effective player in a scrum of obsessive and effective players. The actual Arbuckle case included three mistrials for the rape (reputedly with a coke bottle) and consequent death of aspiring Hollywood actress Virginia Rappe at a wild three day debauch amidst the penthouse suites atop the St Francis Hotel on Union Square. Information unearthed during the various prosecutions implied the possibility of alternate narratives,including the story that Rappes death by internal bleeding (assumedly from the leering fat man crushing her by his ponderous mass during a drunken assignation in he is private suite) was actually caused by a botched abortion that had recently taken place.

O’Leary, Dis n Dat Kid, Pucinni, The Op & Barry Wolf

As near as I can tell, the jury is still out today on how this young woman came to her untimely death. However, in the mid-20’s this lurid tale was just what the blue noses, wanna be moral inquisitors and Hollywood censors represented by the Hays Commission needed to rein in what they saw as the rapidly growing degeneracy of the new Hollywood aristocracy. The attendant media frenzy swirling around the trials was the biggest story of the decade and the yellow journalism pioneer Hearst papers led the charge of moral outrage, selling a s*** ton of papers in the process. In his zeal to play an effective character and to tell great story, Jacobs dove into the Examiners archives digging up the most incredible and lurid accounts created by his predecessors by 50 years at the Hearst papers.

Vito Lawton & The Continental Op

John Jacobs created his character of “ace reporter Johnny Jacobs of The Daily Call (The Examiners main competition in the news game in SF in the 20’s!) and proceeded to write his piece as though it were for his employers rival! This was all very “meta” before the term was ever in use. One of the old pieces from the Ex’s graveyard files was of Fatty sitting in the middle of a spiderweb with strands leading out to the various ingenues present at (or even remotely connected to) the now mythical party/debauch. His editor scratched that one, probably figuring they were already risking their jobs due to the lurid and professionally damning accounts they were already presenting regarding their employer The Hearst Corporation. To top things off there was another journalist who had petitioned Don to cover the game. After agreeing to the same requirements his rival at “The Daily Call” had, SF journalist Randy Shilts donned a hat with a press card sticking out of the hat band and chased gansters and detectives around Frisco’s mean streets for the next two days as well.

Fatty, Vito & Rocco

As a free lancer he never sold his piece to our knowledge, but his (forgotten – please contact if you know who he is) photographer took the awesome recreation shots that accompany my post. Randy Shilts went on to well deserved fame as a journalist and author of several books including the seminal early history of the AIDS epidemic “And The Band Played On”. Both of these wonderful journalists died at young ages, Shilts of AIDS in 1994 and Jacobs of melanoma in 2000. It was a neat trick of Don’s to require, convince and inspire these two sharp and talented writers to play such wonderful characters and to add so much to our collaborative narrative and the magic conjured.

The Fatty Arbuckle Caper remains one of my favorite experiences and was influential in my creative life by showing me just how profoundly the collective mind can shape events and experience.

Carrie Galbraith enters The Zone for the last time.

Carrie at the 1st Atomic Cafe 1989

“Oh Death, where is thy sting?”

This was the quote from Corinthians that was chosen out of dozens suggested by the 40 people crammed into Gary Warne’s Circus of the Soul bookstore on Judah St at 10th in San Francisco’s calm, prosaic seeming Inner Sunset neighborhood in January of 1977. It became a motto of sorts for the just birthed Suicide Club. The average age of those proto adventurers was around 27, the very same age of the famous dead or soon to be dead rockers of the infamous 27 Club. We weren’t blithely challenging death, foolish young people that we were, rather we were grasping at some pithy or even profound literary subheading for our newly founded, DADA influenced urban adventure/pranks “secret society.” The typical twenty seven year old does not have a friend or acquaintance die every week or so, and surely wouldn’t consider adopting such a colorful descriptor knowing it might actually challenge the reaper, insuring that he or she might have to pay then or at some later date.

I harbor no regrets for that youthfully exuberant remonstrance, not yet anyway. With that said, the dying time certainly seems to be here looming bleakly over me, over us, black shadow of deaths hooded cloak darkening thoughts and days.

When I started out on what was to be the ongoing wild ride of my life in San Francisco, I was a mere seventeen years of age. Within a year of being here, I fell down a rabbit hole and into the Suicide Club. As noted, most of that first crew of fellow explorers, pranksters and friends were, on average ten years or so older than me. Today, they and some of the other friends and co-conspirators I have accumulated over forty years of adventures are leaving this mortal plane much too frequently, for the spirit world or for the Big Sleep, depending upon your beliefs around such matters.

It seems that every month I learn of the death at least one old friend or long time friendly acquaintance. In the last two weeks alone there have been wakes for four: Stephen Parr of Oddball Cinema, Jack Wickert who held down “The Farm” at Chavez under the highway 101 and the houseboat community on China Basin, talented multi-instrumentalist and composer Ralph Carney and local artist and raconteur Ron Donovan. Just yesterday another old friend John Wilson, Cell Space’s shopman, artist and all around fine man died of a brain tumor. I am loath to look at social media, tests, or emails, fearing another friend has passed. This is simply too much…

One death in particular, has been far too ‘unimaginable for me to imagine’ – unthinkable in a way that has made it difficult for me to acknowledge it actually happened. She was way too important and fine a person to have passed without honoring her in some way, howsoever inadequate it might be.

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Amelia X, Carrie Galbraith, John Law

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SF Cacophony Society Annual Golden Gate Bridge Dinner 1990(ish?)

Carrie Galbraith was my friend, co-author, event collaborator and for thirty years a steady, calming, inspirational and encouraging presence in my life. Her pre-Cacophony life was one of physical and intellectual adventure. For years she crewed on big sailboats, travelling extensively along the California coast and beyond. She went to Venice on a Fulbright to study art and while overseas discovered Eastern Europe, the one region of the world that she was first and most intrigued by and soon to be most in love with. She studied and taught in Poland, Romania, Croatia and elsewhere in the thawing “Eastern Bloc’ as it slowly disengaged from the brutal embrace of the Soviet Union. According to her sister, Holly Carrie, around the age of nine read the whole set of the families World Book Encyclopedia (a fixture in any middle class home of the 1960’s, mine included) and when she got to Poland decided she would go there some day.

At a later age, Carrie developed a fascination for Russian literature and filmmaking, prominently the film Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece of confusion, promise and sinister bewilderment. She loved the novel this film was based upon also – Roadside Picnic written by Boris and Arkadi Strugatsky, a novel that I suspect, is as dark and confusing as the film. The spectral imagery and seemingly nihilistic, yet almost spiritual essence of the movie is the setting for “Stalkers”, sort of illicit visitors to the forbidding Zone: trespassers and tour guides to this alien territory where physics as we know it is not in effect and the laws of science do not seem to apply; light is different as is sound, normal occurrences and movements are weighted with a strange dread, people that enter The Zone even with the assistance of the savvy Stalkers might never escape back to the world and their lives. Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 11.59.38 PM
Screen Shot 2018-01-26 at 9.39.13 PMThings can happen there: marvelous, revealing, terrible or even hideous things. Those entering take that risk, hoping for a revelation that will help define their world or a denouement impossible to accomplish anywhere else.

Carrie joined The San Francisco Cacophony Society shortly after it started, bringing a studious sensibility and serious dedication from her life as an artist to the nascent Cacophony crew. Cacophony and the earlier Suicide Club were comprised of folks most of whom would not have self-identified as artists. Most of our “events” were street pranks, urban climbing and exploring, psychologically challenging group sessions and costumed foolishness. Suicide Club avatar Gary Warne had a virtual aversion to being labeled an artist or to have his creations so noted. Until Carrie and the fellow art students that followed her from the classrooms and studios of The San Francisco Academy of Art and California College of Arts (and Crafts) and into the streets, rooftops and sewers of Cacophony, the group had not considered itself to be an art endeavor. We thought of it as a social and cultural experiment, an excuse to get dressed up in costume and play in strange and occasionally dangerous environments, and (natch) a group of friends and lovers you could count on if things got weird… Carrie brought an unpretentious, craft and skill based art sensibility into Cacophony, seamlessly melding it with the prankster and adventure spirit she found already there. It was an art invasion that even Gary Warne would have appreciated. Her events were always thoughtful, inclusive and encouraged participants to delve deeply into their creative cores, using the tools of a serious artist to create something a little off, a little odd yet crafted as unpretentious art. I consider her immersion into Cacophony to be a tipping point for that group. Carrie scored her BA’s in Fine Art and Illustration at the Academy (and a later MFA in Bookmaking at The Art Institute of Philadelphia) and had attracted a coterie of younger artists to her: Sebastian Hyde, Kevin Evans, Dean Gustafsen, Corey Keller, Vanessa Kuemmerle, and others. These were the some of the people that defined Cacophony and consequently made Burning Man happen, creating many of the rituals, and some of the infrastructure that insured the early survival and success of that event. It was Carrie’s unique ability to inspire while seeming to be in some almost Zen like state of serenity that set her apart. Her innate modesty and calming persona insured that her guidance was only occasionally noticed – not nearly as much as deserved, or as much as some of the other principals in the group who were much louder. She was never self-laudatory or pushy in any way, yet her influence was inexorable, quietly powerful and, as it turns out, profoundly influential. Carrie’s first Cacophony event inspired a brief, insightful look into the kind of group she was joining and what type of person would (and would not) be attracted to such a group. She told the story illuminating this revelation often at the dozens of readings over the years that she and I did for our book.. It was a crowd pleaser. To clumsily paraphrased Carrie and her story: “I found the Cacophony “newsletter/mailer “Rough Draft” in a Café. The graphics initially attracted my eye, but when I read the event write ups and got what this group was proposing, that was when I got really intrigued. One event, a “Midnight Walk” noted in the text to meet at the 7th Ave ball diamond inside Golden Gate Park at Lincoln Way at 10 O’clock at night on {Wednesday}, to wear dark clothes and bring a flashlight and a potluck dinner in a knapsack. When I told my roommate, a prim and buttoned down accountant that I was planning to attend an event with people I had never met, in the park at night, she became very agitated and spent some time and effort trying to talk me out of it. “you could be raped!! Assaulted!! KILLED!!” She cried.. I insisted I was going, and she became quite angry and slammed the door on me on my way out. I went to the event, had a fabulous time, and never looked back. The people I met became my friends and some became family. My roommate moved out not that long after.”

EC booklet

Carrie was a primary organizer of some of Cacophonies  most successful and more importantly, most sublime events. Along with Louis Jarmilowicz, Jayson Wechter and others, Carrie created three Exquisite Corpse theater events based on the old surrealist writing exercise. As opposed to most Cacophony events, these plays actually took place in active theater & performance spaces. Written by the audience just before curtain call, the weird synchronicity and group mind that was invoked was truly marvelous, and in my experience unprecedented. The first took place at the Haight Library, second at Noe Valley Ministry and the third and most ambitious at the Victoria Theater on 16th St.

Carrie conceived and was primary organizer of perhaps the signature Cacophony event, Atomic Café.

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Factoid by Kevin Evans

Taking place in a huge underground Spanish American War bunker near the Golden Gate Bridge, dozens of Cacophonists dressed as nuclear war survivors and convened underground bewailing the end of the world. The bunker was faux finished, completely decorated and bejeweled as an actual café with red check table cloth seating, canned food, music movies, wall murals of important icons such as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, atomic mushroom clouds, etc;  group interactions, games, stories and all around end of the world bonhomie ruled the night.

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Eric Chipchase, JL, Carrie Galbraith 1st Atomic Cafe

Outside, Federal police searched in vain for the “giant party” the knew was taking place somewhere in their curfew-ed jurisdiction, but simply could not find it. We had sound proofed the bunker, sealing it to the outside, making it impossible to find and equally impossible to enter should one find it.

It was her Zone Trip that really changed the world though. She and fellow Cacophonist Phil Beweley (r.i.p.) found they had both grown up in the archetypal booring non-descript LA suburban enclave of Covina, the two being only a few years and unaware of one another at the time – thoroughly apart in their high school careers, yet absorbing the same blasé atmosphere. They determined that they must do some kind of event commemorationg the normalcy of this burg and their blandly typical SoCal upbringinging. This is where Carrie could really shine. She conjoined her love and knowedge of Stalker and super imposed the movie, the Russian novel it was based on, and all the otherworldlinessness of the Zone and the Stalkers that navigated it onto her childhood world, creating a strange and quite memorable road trip that was to resonate in ways none of us could have imagined. Eight of us drove to Covina in two cars, stopping along side the freeway somewhere near the Ventura exit around three in the morning. Carrie used a bent up piece of auto body metal to draw a line in the dirt which we all stepped across, ritually and metaphysically stepping into the Zone. After arriving in Covina around dawn, we passed out self addressed stamped envelopes (to mail back to the Cacophony PO box) with cryptic questionnaires to the early risers we encountered on the streets. We measured and explored odd implements, signs, park portals, building frontages and the like. We visited Carries birth home and performed curious rituals to the consternation of the current occupants. And, after having an Orange Julius when the small shop opened, sped off to the larger LA area exploring and discovering the weird and inexplicable things and places we ran across in our random, meandering tour.

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Homestead (B&W Zone pix by Lucija Kordic)

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Another dimension

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Zone crew downtown Covina

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Carrie & Lance Alexander

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Phil Bewley & Carrie Galbraith







On the surface our expedition looked prosaic and most of what we did was not spectacular. What made the event, and the reason we repeated it a few months later, was the collective mind space we agreed to join into and the consensuce decision to view the environs we were exploring as a thoroughly alien place; a Zone where anything could happen. Yes, it was the LA Basin, a weird enough place without obscure Russian metaphysics superimposed over it’s spirit, but that group mind, agreed upon by all was implemented, shifting our consciousness into an otherworldly and never to be thoroughly explained experience of an alien landscape. The event was a life changing thing. The next Zone Trip was also to LA. We stopped at Magic Mountain Amusement Park, called the Church of the Subgenius radio show Puzzling Evidence at 4AM and then Michael Mikel drew a line in the dirt under the massive clown holding a lolly-pop and we crossed into The Zone again. The third Zone Trip was to the Black Rock Desert in September of 1990. Called The San Francisco Cacophony Society Zone Trip #4, Bad Day at Black Rock, (the mysterious missing Zone Trip was never confirmed but must have happened… making the two LA Zone Trips #’s 2 & 3) this event was the first Burning Man on the Black Rock Desert.

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Factoid by Kevin Evans

Carrie Galbraith ‘s vision and art directly inspired so much of what Cacophony represented and informed the best of the Burning Man aesthetic and mysticism. She was our Stalker, even those of you who have never heard her name.

Carrie drew the line in the dirt first.


She and I had many discussions about the weird borderland between art and life, between serious aesthetic constructs and free spirited, unselfconscious play, between thoughtful observation and guileless freeform action while we were working along with Kevin Evans on our Cacophony compendium, Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society.

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Carrie Galbraith & Phil Bewley at Watts Towers Cacophony Zone Trip #2 1989. Organizers of the Zone Trip. Both are now gone.

As a serious student, teacher and professional artist, she recorded and archived everything she made as an “artist”. Her one off, hand made art books, some of which are in museums and collections around the world, were meticulously documented and handled as the exquisite art objects that they are. But she only sparsely recorded her Cacophony endeavors, which she spent so much of her creative energy and time on for many years. To paraphrase from memory, she often told me: “It’s almost like Cacophony was so much my LIFE, that I never really thought to record it as I did with my ART.”  With that simple observation, she nailed it for me as to what The Suicide Club and later Cacophony really were for participant/members and what early Burning Man offered to it’s community. Your art should be your life and your life must be your art.

Goodbye Carrie, See you in the Zone……