About ten years ago, Michael Minzer came over to my apartment raving about Kathy Acker as a writer, reader, and person. He insisted that she should be the next artist that we recorded in our series. This caused a bit of controversy in our small but strongly opinionated group of advisors. The artists that Michael and I previously recorded were Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Terry Southern; Kathy represented a different king of writer than those. She came from a different generation and her work had not yet taken its place in history. Some of the debates (especially with our dear Joel Tornabene) were quite heavy, but Michael stood firm in his belief that Kathy had a great record in her.
To be honest – I wasn't sure. I had known about Kathy, but hadn't read her work. Shortly thereafter I read, "Blood and Guts in High School" and my interest was sparked. Her writing style possessed a talent with no filter from brain to paper while remaining unique and never boring. I still wasn't sure about a record – but I'll always jump at the chance to fail – so I called Michael to proceed.
A meeting was arranged. Kathy was then living on Ashbury in San Francisco. Upon entering her apartment, my first impulse was to run. It was draped in loud fifties-like leopard skin rugs, velvet blankets, and it smelled funny. Sort of an Ed Wood set.
Kathy had kind of a Curly Howard haircut, which had circles colored around it like a target. I believe the colors were orange, black, and white. She had an incredibly friendly smile but with a toothy look that let you know that she could eat you alive if she wanted to. I believe that her opening lines were something like "HI!! Ya gotta hear this record…it's called "FUCKFARM"... wanna mushroom??"
Sitting down on an incredibly sinking couch…I had the feeling that I was never going to leave this place. My mind drifted a bit; when I came to, Kathy and Michael were fighting about something regarding music for the record – eventually she put on a tape by David Cunningham of some wonderfully dark yet beautiful music that she read a passage to. It was truly transcendent and at that point I was comfortable that the potential for a great record was there. Afterwards, Kathy put on a really unspeakable disgusting horror film from Italy involving a rat invasion – made "Willard" look like "Heidi". End of the evening.
I met Kathy a few times after that. She was very open to whatever we wanted to do musically. But no question – the text was her domain. She wanted to read a section from her new book "My Mother – Demonology" called "Redoing Childhood" in its entirely – that was it. Any other suggestions were met with a response like a quick "NO!" or "go fuck yourself".
Musically, I had an idea, which was kind of dangerous and appealed to her. Using the David Cunningham track as a foundation, a group of musicians would come in and improvise to Kathy reading the text. We could tape a few takes of this – then bring in another musical grouping to do the same thing without playing what the previous one did. These would all be recorded on the same multi-track – so when it came time to mix the elements we would have quite a few choices of what to put underneath it.
The different music groups came down to a few sessions that woodwind wizard and old collaborator pal o'mine, Ralph Carney put together which included guitar genius Joe Gore, percussionist/drummer Kenny Wollenson, and Steve Bernstein on trumpet. In addition, following a suggestion for a real rock band, Kathy and Ralph suggested San Francisco hardcore heroes Tribe 8. I'll never forget the night that Kathy took me to see Tribe 8 (the night before the session) watching them brandishing knives cutting into large blue and green dildos. Kathy gave me one of those laughs like "it's too late now ya bastard!!" Actually, they were perfect for the project.
Into the studio we went. While these configurations of musicians were playing, I (from the control room) faded Cunningham's foundation in and out and added my own turntable samples to throw everyone off guard.
Kathy read "Redoing Childhood" as a lead vocalist getting very excited when things got extremely loud. As she knew it would, the text read beautifully and showed many aspects of Kathy's writing styles including a poetic beauty that I did not get from what I had previously read. She interacted beautifully with the musicians – it was one of those "magical" sessions. At one point Tribe 8 added Carney and Bernstein to the band as a horn section. A few months later Hugo Dyer did a genius job of navigating the mixing.
And that was it – the record was scheduled to come out shortly thereafter when the original record label got caught in one of those huge fish eats the big fish situations and there was no place for this type of record in that aquarium. Michael Minzer contracted Kill Rock Stars and they have shown the courage and taste to put out this work.
The first thing that comes into my mind at this writing, which is about five years after this recording was completed, is how glad I am that Kathy got to hear the final mix of the record – and approved…well…almost. She was concerned about the "Bush" reference (Bush as in the former president) that they would be outdated, for Clinton became president between the recording and the mix. She went back and forth on this issue – and decided that it was fine to keep the "Bush" stuff.
Considering that this was to be the "next Kathy Acker record", we have chosen not to make this project a "postmortem" statement – complete with the kind of liner notes that accompany such things – Kathy would not have wanted that.
It's odd that in recent months I have twice encountered fans of Kathy in area that one would not expect – areas that would probably have nauseated her – but nevertheless – Kathy is taking her place in history along with Allen, William, Terry, and many other important, influential, and great writers. Like them, she was one of a kind – I am proud to have produced this project and to have gotten to know Kathy. Kudos to Michael Minzer who again shown his genius for what to do – I will follow him anywhere. Special thanks to Ira Silverberg for his invaluable help. Also love to Joel Tornabene – I think you were wrong, but Kathy and you are probably fighting about that now... "wanna mushroom??"
I'll be seeing you,