Look for events this JUNE commemorating this important cultural movement.
New Games was a movement started in the late 60’s/early 70’s that encouraged people of all ages to make play a part of their daily lives. New Games was initially inspired by an idea of Stewart Brands, that he, Pat Farrington and George Leonard made into a New Games play weekend that attracted 6000 people. Brand soon moved on and a cadre of games enthusiasts, educators and athletes carried on to spread the idea of noncompetitive, immersive and cooperative games around the US and the world. A book of games collected from the four corners of the Earth and edited by Andrew Fluegleman was compiled and published, soon selling out and seeing multiple reprints and total books published nearing the 1 million mark according to some accounts. Probably best known for the “Earth Ball”, New Games was a pretty big deal in play and education circles by the end of the decade.
By the late 70’s the New Games Foundation was housed in a building on Arguello St in the Inner Sunset. Some of the folks involved would include Burton & Barbara Naiditch, John O’Connell, Todd Strong, Dale LeFevre and others. Suicide Club co-founder Adrienne Burk worked for New Games for a while. I even worked there – slogging out a few weeks working as a “shipping agent” mailing out Earth Balls and boffers (soft foam swords! the perfect way to work out physical aggression without hurting anyone) to schools and individuals around the country. I wasn’t very good at the job, I think they felt sorry for me, I was so broke!
I knew most of the folks involved and had great respect for them and their campaign to spread a wonderful idea everywhere they could. Principal trainers Todd Strong and Dale LeFevre were also active Communiversity participants and Suicide Club members. I recall some cool events they created or helped with in the secretive Suicide Club. Todd organized one of the first Rocky Horror Picture Show costumed events at the Strand Theater for the Club in 1977. This was before the idea really caught on with hordes of formerly shy, soon to be assertive goths kids around the world. Dale hosted one of the very first Suicide Club events. He took us to the massive South San Francisco The Industrial City letters which we slid down on pieces of cardboard, just like sledding some huge snow hill.
The event made a giant impression on all participants and introduced me to the concept of the city as a PLAYGROUND. This is a concept which Gary Warne took to heart in his further experiments in urban adventure and it lay at the core and heart of the Suicide Club. This sense of play adopted by Gary and the rest of in the Club was instrumental in creating the culture that seeped through the later Cacophony Society and on into Cacophony fueled events, movements and organizations that continue to have resonance such as Burning Man, SantaCon (SOME of the original playful spirit of this event must still exist!), the world-wide UE (urban exploration) phenomenon and even a little in the Fight Club inspired underground pugilist groups that sprang up by the hundreds for a season.
A return to New Games including public events and lectures that are in the works for this Summer, specifically on the weekend of June 24-26. So please pencil in that time so you can meet and learn a bit from these awesome folks. Former NG co-Director, trainer, Aikido master and all around New Games guy John O’Connell has started the ‘Earth’ ball rolling and it seems that many of the principals involved back in the heady 70’s will be rolling into town. These are people that had a profound impact on our culture and have continued on in a variety of guises spreading the gospel of play as an intrinsic part of any healthy adult life.
I will post event and presentation dates and specifics as I become aware of them. Please check out New Games. The history is so important – New Games was one of the major influences on the underground culture of free play and underground events that we enjoy today.
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 Williams:
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.
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?