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September 28, 2015
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Shake It Like A Polaroid Picture

I like to remember things my own way.”

What do you mean by that?”

How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

~Lost Highway


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”.


  • Heather Baker

    This experience has been amazing and I’m so glad I got the chance(s) to meet you and Darren and share this amazing project with you. Thank you so much for all you do!

  • Jess Sugar Harris

    I had such a great time it left me ready for it all over again!! I loved the Portland show, It was well worth the 200mile drive to see you and the movie!! Cant wait to see what is next! Thank you for the memories!

  • Little Nikki

    I was lucky enough to see the Santa Ana show (which apparently had you in a deep seated fear of running into family. I know those fears, I live in terror of ever having a reason to go to the IE…) I was beyond excited when I was about to leave Wursthaus after the movie, looked up and saw you at the bar; thank you for being so insanely ineffable, your ease of self made it easier for me to not fangirl and have an actual conversation. I almost called out sick from work for the final show (I hate adulting), but I’m consolidate g myself that American Murder Stories is a year away. And please find time for TDC3! And for the love of all that is evil…SONGS FROM LUCIFER IN TDC3!!! The one thing TDC2 was lacking was songs from Lucifer.

  • Mandy Skaggs

    It was amazing to see you again after so long. It was a bouns that I only had to go 45 mins down the road to Louisville. Hope you are back with a TDC3.

  • Kate

    A gracious posting; thank you. I am a little concerned about not being left alone with animals, though….?? Surely they deserve most empathy; not as impaired as humans are with an overburden of ego…?
    What touched me the most was your emphasis on the positive. That over time the positives will stay with you, while the negatives fade. Maybe it’s an optimist/ pessimist thing, but it is all too possible to remember things due to negative experiences. The fact that you can remember through the happy stuff shows you have, intrinsically, a happy heart. Bless you indeed, satanic son; even god loved Lucifer.
    For the rest; you have ample proof of our appreciative love of you.

  • Crystal Dixon

    Thank you so much the experience you gave me during Chicago. Unfortunately I was unable to meet you, but I still had a wonderful time and shared in an event that I will never forget. I look forward to what you have next up your sleeve and I hope I have the honor of meeting you on the next road tour. Till then gets some rest, because you deserve, and thank you for being such a down to earth wonderful person.

  • Tiffany Kintzel

    Thank you for the tour and sharing your art with us. I hope you realize you and your crew are only human. 7 weeks of traveling is alot on anyone. Weather you realize it or not,(and I hope i speak for everyone) we are incredibly grateful for all the suffering in a small van just to show us what you have created. That’s truly loving your art. I hope to see you again!
    “Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual.” -E.H.

  • Zoe Eloise Petryk


    I was at the show in Brookline, MA, at the Coolidge Corner theater. (I was the one in the Amber cosplay) I only met you briefly, so I didn’t get to tell you this, but Repo got me through some very difficult times. There was a solid year where I was so overwhelmed by the reality of my life, the only music I could listen to was Repo. I could get lost in their stories, laugh at the ridiculousness, and make up lots of backstory for Amber. The dystopia of Repo served as a utopia I could escape to when my reality was too dense. Someday, I hope to meet you so I could actually explain the seriousness of what I’m saying.
    Thank you so much, for all of the zany grace you put out in the world.

    Much love,

  • Laura Gray

    I’m a forever-fan. God that sounds creepy, but when I was standing outside the Regent Theater in Pittsburgh, hoping first that the cancellation was a hoax, it became clear to me that being a TZ fan is being part of a family. Whilst waiting for confirmation that the tour wouldn’t make it, we got in costume anyway (some of us right on there on the street). Disappointment was in fact the flavor of the evening, but for many of us, these events are about getting to tap in to a part of ourselves that doesn’t get to be expressed often. I’m a high school teacher in VA, which is a rather public role. I’ve had people question the original TDC poster on my wall. But I get to be myself with your tours and your movies. Thank you for continuing to make art, and I will definitely be at the next Pittsburgh show (hopefully sans pouty face).

  • Arielle

    This may well be one of my favorite blog entries. You have such a powerful yet gentle, humble way with words.
    You inspire me to now look up some of the names you mentioned above; I find this type of magically ambiguous (fictitious?!) storytelling to be fascinating, and indeed surprisingly similar to the tricks we play in real life.
    As always, I can’t wait to see what’s next for you and the team- you know I’ll be right there eagerly waiting to eat up whatever you serve!

  • Arielle

    Also, that Polaroid shot of you is amazing- thank you for sharing it with us!!

  • Kenzie Ellen Gordon

    This blog post really speaks to me, after waiting so many years (and so many oceans away, damn Australia) it was a fantastic experience to meet you and the Repo!/TDC family. And even though I was nowhere near as cool, calm and collected as I had hoped I’d been, and my messy anxiety prevented me from sharing a better moment with yourself, I still look back on that evening with indescribable joy. Thank you so much for sharing your creativity so intimately with your audience, and we all look forward to the next installment in your artistic endeavors <3

    (btw, cheeky photo of my tattoo I forgot to show you guys during the meet and greet :P)

  • Amber Bree

    My memory is a traitor, at least that is how I feel at times. 🙂 Great read, positive output. I definitely would like the gift of remembering things the way I would want. It is so nice to be able to read an artists thoughts in more than a couple lines on facebook.

  • Messr. Night

    That was a fun tour! It was the first time I got to see you tour in Toronto, as well as the first time I successfully pulled off a cosplay. Always looking forward to your next show!