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.
One of the most interesting writers of the last couple of decades is speaking at the Castro Theater this Thursday. He’s presenting with another author, Lidia Yuknovitch as she unveils what looks to be a fascinating new novel: The Small Backs of Children They will be interviewed by the always entertaining and often insightful Broke Ass Stuart. Chuck Palahniuk is, in my estimation the closest thing Gen X thru the Millennial generation has to a Kerouac. Palahniuk speaks to the post Baby Boom kids – the kids raised by single moms after the demise of the American nuclear family, much as Kerouac spoke to the generation of young men coming back from the Great War wondering “well now that we rule all, what next – what does life mean?” In Fight Club, the young men were compelled to find out what it was to be a man without having the benefit of any live-at-home role models – “If you could fight anyone, who would you choose?’ “I’d fight Kirk.” That was a sentiment any young guy raised by his mom could appreciate.
Palahniuk recently published the 1st installment of the sequel to Fight Club in graphic novel format along with artist Cameron Stewart. I found a copy while touring the Portland Area a while back. It’s ten years after the action in the novel and the nameless narrator (played by Ed Norton in the movie) is now a suburban office commuter on lots of prescription happy pills and he’s married Marla Singer (!!!) AND the have a young son. Oh, the nameless guy has a name now. Sebastian…..
My Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society co-author Carrie Galbraith and had the pleasure to speak with Chuck at an earlier Commonwealth Inforum presentation. We had a blast talking about Cacophony’s influence on Project Mayhem in Fight Club among other topics. I won’t be able to make it this Thursday, but you should. Oh, and if you get a chance to talk to Chuck, ask him where he got the name for the nameless FC guy!
I’m looking forward to reading Yuknavitch now. An endorsement by CP is not to be taken too lightly.
“Your life doesn’t happen in any kind of order. Events don’t have cause and effect relationships he way you wish they did. It’s all a series of fragments and repetitions and pattern formations. Language and water have this in common.”
― Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water: A Memoir