“I like to remember things my own way.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”
I’ve always loved stories and films with unreliable narrators. Especially ones where protagonists go to great lengths to forget or manipulate the details of their pasts in order to fabricate a more tolerable future for themselves. I particularly love it when the alternate realities of these self-deluded heroes take on fantastical qualities. Where it seems that the main character is hiding from something so grand and grievous, that to compensate their lies must take on mythic qualities. Think Diane Selwyn in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Or the narrator in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Or, yes, even Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.
Typically, in these types of tales, the narrator’s fabricated walls eventually come crumbling down around her, as if to state that anyone can lie to the world… but never to themselves. The fairy tale circumstances that they’ve constructed begin to resemble the elements that they are avoiding from their past: the witch is actually the mean next door neighbor, and you’ve been the brains behind Project Mayhem the entire time.
While not as dramatic, I often feel that photographs—particularly ones used as remembrances—are a culturally-acceptable form of self-deceptive and memory-manipulation.
A photograph, due to its camera’s limited sphere of vision, only captures a sliver of a scene. It purposefully disregards the rest. That seemingly nostalgic snapshot… you know, the one glued to the yellowed pages of grandad’s photo album, featuring a family that looks suspiciously like yours gathered ’round a birthday cake. That photo only tells part of a story. And most likely, the least interesting and honest part.
Grandad’s photo doesn’t show the five bottles of wine that are responsible for the gleam in ma’s eye, which, though emptied, are still staining the carpet just outside of the picture’s frame. It also doesn’t reveal where uncle Larry’s hands are, or why Timmy always ends up on his lap. Further: it wouldn’t hold up in a court of law as evidence of paternity for that man in the photo whom you’ve forever referred to as father, but who looks nothing like you and has always stared at you with quiet, yet knowing resentment. Most importantly, the photograph doesn’t feature its most significant player: the photographer.
Memento, Christopher Nolan’s 2000 psychological thriller, deals with the unreliable nature of photographic “evidence”. The film’s main character, Leonard Shelby, can’t form short-term memories so he uses Polaroid pictures to keep track of important people and events. The subject of this blog was inspired by that film. More specifically, this blog was inspired by a precise memory that I associate with the movie.
It was October, 2001. I was at a Halloween party in Los Angeles. My friend, Scot Atkinson, came dressed as Leonard from Memento. His costume was replete with a Polaroid camera that he used to photograph guests at the party. Like Leonard, Scot would write notes in black Sharpee about the folks he’d photographed on the backs of the pictures as they developed. Things like “Do not trust this person.” Or “Possible homosexual, must investigate further.”
Scot left L.A. shortly after the referenced costume party. Since then, he’s resided in Louisville. We hadn’t crossed paths or corresponded in over a decade until recently, when the tour for my new musical film, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, passed through Kentucky for an evening screening at Baxter Filmworks.
In attendance at the Kentucky screening were other faces from my past. Faces that were not only photographed by Scot/Leonard at that 2001 Halloween party, but were also members of Repo! The Genetic Opera‘s original stage play cast, Adam Rose and John Scheker.
John Scheker was the O.G. Rotti Largo. When I found out that he was going to be at the Louisville screening, I asked him if he’d be willing to perform an acoustic version of the song “Gold” as part of the night’s pre-show activities. Ya know, for old time’s sake. John declined, reminding me that at the time that he was a member of Repo!‘s cast, the song “Gold” had not yet been written. Memory: as unreliable as photographs.
The seven-week, multi-city Alleluia! Film Tour ended with a bang on Sunday night. The final show was an L.A. homecoming. After the screening, I returned to my Van Nuys apartment to unpack, unwind and reflect. After almost two months of sleeping in the back of the tour van and strange hotel rooms, it was therapeutic to sprawl facedown on a familiar mattress. Seven weeks had never felt so long, or so short. But the memories of the adventures on the road will linger a lifetime.
And then there’s the photographs. Seven weeks of ’em. Tens of thousands of images captured by those aboard the tour van and the thousands of enthusiastic audience members who were part of the journey with us. Some new blood, like cast member Chantal Claret (Translator Batez), who snapped some of the tour Polaroids below. Some familiar faces who’ve been participating in our midnight screenings for nearly a decade. Some seasoned souls, like Adam, John and Scot, who’ve been a part of the caravan before any of us even knew where we were heading. And ev’ryone in between.
In the years to come, I know that I’ll look back on the Alleluia! Tour and film experience with selective memory. The sleepless nights, grueling travel schedule, endless anxiety and diet of truckstop jerky and caffeine will be all but forgot. Only those brief, magical moments where we shared our art and connected with beautiful strangers (and beastly familiars) will remain. That’s the hope, at least.
Every enterprise has its built-in hardships, but the Alleluia! Tour—which I’m confident will be the well of some of my most fond touring recollections—was also wrought with unusual and trying difficulties. Some of those difficulties resulted in the tour team and I being unable to perform at certain scheduled shows, specifically a Pittsburgh screening on October 12th and a Detroit screening on October 13th.
If you’ve followed my career over the years, or if I’ve had the privilege of getting to interact with you personally at any of the many screenings and convention engagements, I hope that it’s obvious how much I value those who support my artwork. As someone who grew up in an environment that was less than nurturing, I’m continually humbled that anyone would care about my drawings, stories or singing movies. So the idea that folks with enough regard for me and my creations to purchase a ticket to an Alleluia! Tour screening might feel disappointed, neglected or slighted due to a no-show in Pittsburgh or Detroit, weighs heavily on me.
There are reasons why the above-mentioned shows did not occur as planned, but none of those reasons were a lack of appreciation for you, our fans. Everybody on the tour team wanted to be with you on those scheduled dates, and we did everything in our power to get to you to share our film. Unfortunately, there were obstacles beyond our control that impeded our abilities to do so. These obstacles also prohibited us from being able to address this unfortunate situation until now.
It’s my understanding that refunds have recently been issued for all tickets purchased to the Pittsburgh and Detroit screenings. If you bought a ticket to either of those shows and have not been reimbursed, please reach out to Alleluia!‘s ticketing site, CrowdSurge.
I know that for some of you, a refund doesn’t get to the heart of your grievances over these missed shows, especially those of you who planned elaborate costumes and travel arrangements in the hopes of attending and meeting us. Your disappointment and frustration is justified and shared by me and everyone on the tour team. I only hope that this bummer of an experience doesn’t permanently mar your feelings about us and the creative work that we do. I also hope that one day soon we’ll have the opportunity to make it up to you in a meaningful way.
In keeping with the spirit of this blog, my wish is that everyone who was touched by the Alleluia! Tour and film will be able to reflect on the good parts of the journey, the friends that they’ve made along the way, and the inspiration that was shared by all. As an artist and filmmaker, I’m continually impressed, honored and influenced by you. The tour—the good and bad moments—is a testament to the power of imagination, tenacity and community. This devil feels lucky to be in your company.
In closing, here’s a Polaroid that Scot/Leonard took of me at that Halloween party some fourteen years ago. When your short-term memory fades, I hope that you will turn over this picture to discover the following words in your own handwriting, scribbled in black Sharpee: “Trust this man… just don’t leave him alone with the animals, the fine china, or that can of black spray paint.”
On the back of the Polaroid that I snapped of you are the words “Thank You”.