One of the many ideas that avatar and co-founder Gary Warne sprung on his Suicide Club co-conspirators in the late 70’s was a scheme to commandeer two massive freeway billboards and to bend the ominous message to the confederated will of the Club. The Suicide Club evolved out of Communiversity, a free school at SF State in the 1970’s that was part of the free school movement of the 1960’s. Pranks and adventures were reflected in many of the classes offered. The Suicide Club first appeared in print and the world as a “class” in Communiversity in 1977. This first billboard alteration was the inspiration for the founding of the Billboard Liberation Front a few months later. The BLF was to go on altering or “improving” the copy and images on giant drive-by advertising for thirty-four years, predating and presumably influencing later work by Shepard Fairey, Ron English, and other midnight advertisers. The BLF grew concurrently with the Cacophony Society and had members that crossed over the entire San Francisco underground arts scene. Suicide Club stalwart Dan Spero made several audio interviews with Gary back in the early 1980’s before Gary’s tragic and untimely death at the age of thirty-five. The audio file below is Gary’s story of the first billboard hit, an event that spawned or encouraged a thousand advertising hacks to come over the next three decades. Chuck Palahniuks novel Fight Club (and the David Fincher movie) include a billboard hack inspired by Cacophony and the BLF.
Hearing Gary’s voice decades after his passing is quite a treat for me and for anyone else who knew this visionary prankster.
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.