Journalist Shade Rupe has spent much of his professional life writing about the figures who work in the margins of popular culture. Dark Stars Rising (available now through Headpress) is a massive volume which collects several of Rupe’s most memorable interviews, including directors Gaspar Noé (Irreversible), Richard Stanley (Dust Devil) and Floria Sigismondi (Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” video); actors Udo Kier (Andy Warhol’s Dracula) and Crispin Glover (Willard); actress Tura Satana (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!); late gore aficionado Chas. Balun (Deep Red magazine); musician Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle); and writer Peter Sotos (Pure).
We invited Shade to do a Sinister Seven for us via email, and he sent back nearly 11 pages worth of answers. Rather than editing it down, though, we thought you might enjoy this extended look into the mind of a man whose cultural obsessions are perfectly in tune with the weird and wonderful. Scroll down for some of the craziest anecdotes from a life well-lived.
You obviously have a deep love and knowledge of underground culture in all its many forms, Shade. How did your interest in non-mainstream culture develop?
I’ve just always been interested in something that’s different, unusual and unique. My dad had a pet shark while I was growing up. It was small, but I thought that was really cool. My dad picked up Devo’s first album for me as a holiday gift one year, and that opened up a lot. A girl at school cut off all her hair into a big spiky coiffure and wore a dog chain to school. Judith Covall. She was ‘punk’ where I grew up, which is a very white, very privileged community called Mercer Island.
As a little kid I was totally into all that psychic stuff, and I loved reading horror. I remember pointing to The Omen in the newspaper but my parents wouldn’t take me. My first R-rated horror film was Phantasm at the Crossroads Cinema in Bellevue. That place was everything to me. I’d pay for Hugo the Hippo, check that out, then sneak into Maniac. I saw Concrete Jungle there. And next door was Hunter’s Books. There wasn’t such an emphasis on keeping children safe from material then.
My earliest avant-garde experience was visiting a cute, quaint little bookstore at Gilman Village in Issaquah and on the bottom shelf was the Clockwork Orange photo novel. It was amazing seeing that penis sculpture and the Korova Milkbar. I wasn’t able to see the film until I was 13 and my friend Fritz had Showtime so we saw it at his place.
It was all so different then. There weren’t horror conventions yet. To get horror you had to go to NorWesCon science-fiction convention, and those people didn’t cross over to horror too much. They really didn’t like it, but there would be a table of two of something spooky for sale. The main non-mainstream there was punk rock which was already dying by the time I was 15, but that bizarre little period in-between punk rock and commercial new wave was amazing. Taking a bus with my friends all dolled up in blue and black makeup and hair colours to see Specimen on July 4th in Seattle, that was pretty far out.
My mom gave me a pass to the Seattle Film Festival for my birthday when I was 14 and that was truly amazing. I think I saw 50 movies that month, from all over the world, and I met all these filmmakers. I met Ken Russell and Stuart Gordon and Sam Raimi and Anthony Perkins who were all visiting the film festival.
I think it’s not really that I had a conscious idea to follow something that wasn’t mainstream; it’s just the way culture developed. All this geek stuff was very, very marginalized. I went to a Star Trek convention with my dad but those were very rarely put on. There was actually quite a lot of material available that was interesting and had nothing to do with who dated who or had anything to do with politics or religion or going to the mall. I really don’t have any memory at all of choosing to follow non-mainstream culture, but I definitely didn’t follow mainstream culture. I wasn’t interested in popular things. I didn’t like going to sporting events. I wanted to go see Tron and Blade Runner on opening day. Being a nerd back then really did mean you didn’t hang out with other kids so much because you were like a retard. I didn’t have a bunch of friends to tell I was doing this. There wasn’t like a ‘cool’ registry for wanting to read Fangoria and rent all the bottom-shelf movies at the video store.
To this day I can’t say that I’ve ever followed any culture at all. I’ve always just been interested in what I like and for whatever reason that doesn’t seem to be the way that most things go. I’ve never been much of a group-belonger so I am not sure that I’ve followed a non-mainstream culture.
Describe the process of putting this book together and what you hoped to accomplish with it.
Hilariously enough, I thought it would be easy. It was 2002 and I was cleaning up a bunch of files on my computer and realized I had all these interviews with pretty cool unique individuals that I had done. I thought, ‘Huh, I think there’s enough for a book here.’ I queried David at Headpress, and two days later he sent me a contract.
Then… I did the Shade Rupe to it. When I get into something, I get into it. I learn all about it. I think it comes from being alone so much and enjoying it. I just delve in and go. So I had all the interviews I had done re-transcribed. I had a decent enough advertising job at the time and spent, literally, thousands having all the interviews re-transcribed, then hiring friends in my proofreading department to proofread and copyedit and fact-check.
At that time I had about 19 interviews and I’d see someone’s name and think, ‘Oh, I bet they’d go in good here.’ Gaspar Noé’s name started coming up, he was in town, let’s do an interview. And each person I would watch everything. I would find everything. I’ve learned enough words in several languages to be able to ask for things I want, from photos to movies to posters, etc. I was in Spain showing a Tom Schiller film and this guy in line walked in with his wife who turned out to be Johanna Went. I pursued that for two years. I also just get a bee in my bonnet and I just go after it. Some of the images I looked for for almost six years. I would have seen it once and knew I could find it again.
By 2004 it became a personal joke about the book ever getting done. I just kept making it bigger. I wasn’t being rushed about it but I kept thinking I should really get this out there. But I kept looking for images. I set personal quotes for each artist for how many images I had to find. Some were near impossible. It took forever. I literally had to scour the Earth and be patient, coming up with a lot of those images, and even landing the interviews. Everyone was extremely wonderful but everyone is also very busy. Diamanda Galás was almost in the book but she got the date wrong. Kindly enough she’s actually bought several copies for her friends. I love that woman. I hope there’s a sequel so we can do an interview. She’s tremendous.
Many of the horror films you discuss in your interview with the late Chas. Balun are now pretty widely available on DVD and Blu-ray. Do you miss the days where certain horror movies were rare and you had to work hard to find a bootlegged copy or an old VHS in a mom & pop video store?
I really did enjoy those bottom-shelf years. I had a very lucky job as a young teenager, even if I allowed myself to be taken advantage of, of working at a video store. That’s when my grades started going downhill. I would take home six movies and watch them all night and just not go to school the next day. I used to get in trouble for reading too much, if you can believe that, then I got in trouble for watching too many movies.
When I was about to enter high school this poster framing shop opened on the block of the video store. I walked in and this guy who worked there was framing Nazi Love Camp 7. We immediately hit it off. That man’s name is Robert Meyer Burnett and he’s now the director of Free Enterprise and the producer of The Hills Run Red. We knew these two crazy brothers who have formed their own DVD label, and between the four of us we saw anything we wanted. We had friends visit other countries and bring us films. I remember the day Bob got Dawn of the Dead and went to play it and… it was a PAL tape. So Bob got a job at Videospace in Bellevue [Washington]. We had to do these things. From the Seattle film festival and all the wonderful midnight premieres like Evil Dead and Re-Animator to Japanese editions of the Ilsa movies, we knew how to find it.
It was great checking out the local Kim’s Video, even in the early ‘90s in New York, and renting the bottom-shelf stuff. This whole DVD thing didn’t start until the late ‘90s so I had a good number of ‘searching’ years and well, after all that Video Search of Miami ‘quality,’ you do kinda lose some of the romance with those searching years. But even today I’ll be at some video store that has VHS and I’ll find something they’re selling off for $2 and it’s like, wow, I haven’t seen this anywhere. So yeah, that excitement can still be rekindled.
Likewise, the Internet has made previously “fringe” elements of culture far more accessible than they used to be. Do you feel that the seemingly democratic nature of the Internet, in its ability to expose unknown artists to a larger audience, is a positive influence on non-mainstream culture?
I wonder if there really is a non-mainstream culture today. I think you can live outside of all this stuff, but I don’t really feel there’s some burgeoning underground that’s going to break somewhere. They still have rave parties and I’m sure they still do drugs, but that’s been going on over 20 years. It was fun taking over parking garages in Seattle and dropping X in the late ‘80s, but that was in SPIN Magazine by the early ‘90s.
When I met Sleazy of Throbbing Gristle and Coil I was just crossing 9th Avenue and I saw this guy wearing a T-shirt of a bloody boy walk past me and when I turned it said “God please fuck my mind for good.” I knew I had to talk to him. I crossed, asked if he was Sleazy, he invited me to the hotel. I went to the hotel and he and Jhonn [Balance] were out but there were some people who were there for the Gothic Convergence. They had black-and-white-striped stockings, patent-leather Frankenstein’s monster boots, and big pink hair with blue things tied into it. I asked if they liked Coil’s show and they said, yeah, but it was hard to dance to. It was then that I realized that ‘goth’ no longer meant dark, black, underground or scary. They wanted to wear pink, look like giant dolls, and dance. They liked looking like everyone else. It was very, very different from how I related to what later became known as ‘goth.’ My goth was weird, dark, spooky stuff. That early shot of Rozz Williams [from Christian Death] grabbing the crucifix made of thorns… That was and remains a powerful image. Goth was really like far out and crazy for me. It was very removed from ‘normal.’ I haven’t been to one or seen one but I’ve been told about Hot Topic.
From going to conventions today to going to shows to really doing anything nothing feels underground or far out. I saw Foetus do a Manorexia show a couple years ago and it was in an art place with regular art people downtown. When I first saw him Lydia Lunch opened by talking shit to the audience and pissing people off, then he came on stage surround by severed pigs’ heads hanging from the ceiling which he based until chunks of pig head were landing in our faces. I never, ever, even hear of that happening today. G.G. Allin got tossed out of NYU for shoving a banana up his ass. When was the last time you ever even heard of a show getting shut down? Now they all end at an appropriate time and are heavily monitored and controlled.
If anything I feel the internet has destroyed most social movements. We used to actually get together and do things. Now we talk shit at each other on a public website. It’s all one big giant mainstream culture these days. All you can do is find what you like and go with it. I know more people in AA or NA than actually drink or do drugs. Even rehab is mainstream now.
Many of your interviews are striking in their subject matter. You talk to Gaspar Noé about masturbation for instance. What is your objective in conducting these interviews? Very few of them are dedicated to pushing the artist’s latest product, for instance.
I did do several interviews for Seattle’s Fun Magazine as a teenager, but I didn’t record them and they were artists passing through town doing interviews. Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes for Lady Jane, Peter Coyote and Bobby Roth for Heartbreakers, Sidney Lumet for Daniel, and more. Luckily my mom bought me a mini-cassette recorder for Xmas one year. That changed everything. Divine was my first interview with that, and that was actually an interview for Trouble in Mind, which we did talk about in the interview. Sadly I dropped it on the way to interview Dennis Hopper, right outside the hotel. Bummin’. I actually still have that same exact recorder. I sent it in to be fixed and I used it until 2003 when I finally got a digital recorder. I’m much happier with digital, although it’s a lot cooler looking at a stack of hand-labelled mini-cassettes than a list of files I downloaded.
I’d say my objective in several in there was to fill the pages of the first Funeral Party with interesting subjects. Six of the interviews first appeared in shorter form in that book. I was 24 when I started that project with author Marlene Leach and a couple other NYU students. It was AWESOME to interview [Deadbeat By Dawn director] Jim VanBebber who was really being talked about a lot as being our saviour at that point. I had only read one other Peter Sotos interview in Apocalypse Culture and it was fascinating. I was so thrilled when Peter said he was interested in an interview.
Really, the drive was just to get a chance to talk to these amazing people about who they were and the stuff they made. I wanted to know how they did what they do, and Funeral Party worked with that interest. Funnily enough I didn’t do one interview for Funeral Party 2. The next four interviews I did were for Screem Magazine. Darryl [Mayeski] had been asking me for articles and I think I started with reviews, and then [Combat Shock director] Buddy Giovinazzo came up. By this time I was into getting into other people’s publications, and Screem gave me free rein.
Hermann Nitsch was a score that my writer buddy Thomas Roche set up with gettingit.com. That’s still online with pictures, but a very different version than what is in Dark Stars Rising today, which is that interview, plus another one from five years later integrated together. Walking with Nitsch, his wife, and Jonas Mekas to a coffee shop where Philip Glass sat at the next table while we interviewed was pretty cool. Genesis [Breyer P. Orridge] was supposed to be for a website that went defunct and had never seen publication until Dark Stars Rising. Divine had never been fully transcribed and published before. Udo and Floria were both for Fears Magazine online, and being able to sit and talk with both of those people… just amazing. I got to spend a week with Alejandro Jodorowsky when I was at a judge at Jay Bliznick and Bryan Wendorf’s Chicago Underground Film Festival in 2000. We did the interview on my birthday, and Alejandro also read my tarot cards that night. Why wouldn’t you want to do this? You sit and talk to Alejandro Jodorowsky for an hour about his life and art and he reads your Tarot cards. How can you not want to do that?
Andre Lassen was supposed to be for an art magazine that went defunct, and Arnold Drake was a ‘promotional’ one in that I was handling PR for The Flesh Eaters for Dark Sky Films at the time, but I had found Arnold in the phone book and we just made friends. It might sound odd, but he’s one of the most influential people to me because all the way up to his last day with us, he was making, creating, planning. At age 84 he was working on a musical with his brother, working on ideas to present to Guillermo del Toro for Deadman, and we even met with Guillermo while he was touring around for Pan’s Labyrinth. Here was a man who wasn’t complaining, wasn’t arguing, wasn’t procrastinating. He just created and created and created, and nothing would stop him. I love Arnold Drake and I’m so extremely thankful that The Flesh Eaters came into my life and I looked Arnold up. His brother wrote a Sinatra song.
I’d say my main objective was to revel in these people’s presences and learn something about how I might manage my own life to create something anywhere near as cool as what they had created.
Certain of your subjects, like Crispin Glover, whom I just saw the other night in Alice in Wonderland, the second-highest grossing movie of 2010, navigate between the underground and the mainstream with seeming ease, while others, like Jim VanBebber, remain relatively unknown. Which artists in this book do you feel could function within the mainstream but have not yet broken through?
I feel anyone can, but would they all want to? All that really happens is a bunch of boring people come into your life and tell all their friends you’re their best friend because they’re so fucking boring they can’t do anything but leech onto people who are cooler than them. Steve Ditko’s characters like Spider-Man are completely and totally mainstream, like more-popular-than-Jesus mainstream, but Ditko lives in pretty much obscurity and is as social as one of those clear-skin chameleons that live under the bottom of the world.
One thing that’s funny is comic books were total nerd. Like real geek. Like you are a total fucking loser for reading comic books. Now you get chicks. Iron Man is a gazillion-dollar movie. If you gave Richard Kern $10 million, he’d give you a fucking movie. He’d make a fucking movie. You’d see chicks do things you don’t normally see them do. You give Jim VanBebber a million bucks and he’s going to deliver a kick-ass crime flick. The mainstream is so flavour of the moment. You can be weird and be mainstream now. Radiohead is actually pretty weird music. It’s not really melodic. It’s weird. It’s not catchy.
You bring up Crispin Glover in Alice in Wonderland, but even inside giant Normalville Crispin still chooses cool, unique, noticeable roles. The Knave in Alice in Wonderland, Grendel in Beowulf, the one-armed guy in Hot Tub Time Machine, the title role in Willard. These are Hollywood movies, but they’re off. They’re not poppy. They’re off. I think Floria came pretty close making a movie with two teen stars. [The Runaways with Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning – Ed.]
If you’re asking if it’s possible to stay true to yourself and your art inside big-budget mainstream entertainment… That’s so hard. There are so many factors. Marilyn Manson tried so hard to go pop with Mechanical Animals and he just alienated his own fan base with that. He immediately went back to dark but he’s never hit the same height he did with Antichrist Superstar, and never will. Nine Inch Nails have always been pop but for some reason people see it as ‘underground.’
It’s really hard to figure all this out anymore. I really just like what I like and luckily there are enough people doing interesting stuff that you can create your own culture. I fucking love Daft Punk and for all their ultra-pop hipness, they’re also pretty super underground with their personal lives. Thomas Bangalter’s soundtrack for Irreversible is underground as hell. I’d love to see Dame Darcy go pop. I’d love to see her and Pee-Wee Herman team up. Darcy’s so off in her own universe if she went mainstream it could only be a good thing for the children of the world.
You’re obviously an admirer of most if not all of your interviewees. Which artists were you most intimidated to talk to and which ones turned out to be far different than you thought they would be based on their public persona or work?
Golly. I think the only person that I ever really felt intimated by was Dennis Hopper and that’s because I dropped my recorder on the way in and felt stupid. That and having him get up and take a piss with the bathroom door open, answering my question while he whizzed. I feel really comfortable around most people. I knew enough of each person’s work that I felt they’d enjoy talking with someone who was knowledgeable about their work and appreciated it. I really take a very different approach. Brother Theodore and Alejandro Jodorowsky both said they didn’t want books written, so they didn’t want to go on and on career-wise. Teller [of Penn & Teller] mentioned that the early history had been written about before, but I wanted it in his voice. This is the longest interview with Teller alone I know about.
If anything we all just felt a little more alive for an hour or two or sometimes more. There’s a famous internet interview with an ignoramus born in the internet generation who starts interviewing John Cusack and asks him what it was like to be in American Beauty. She confuses John Cusack with Kevin Spacey. That’s not going to be any fun at all.
You sit down with someone who knows the entire history of a record that you put out forty years ago in Mexico in an edition of ten that you’ve completely forgotten you made and your brain gets a nice soft warm glow that someone actually is interested in you. You’d be surprised how many famous people are actually pretty alone. Getting out of that whole starry spotlight and just having some tea around the fireplace is worth so much more than an award on a mantel or a mention on a TV show. Try it sometime! People really do like being thought of as people rather than mythical gods that can do no wrong that have to live up to impossible creative ideals. Real people. So satisfying.
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