Monday, January 7, 2013

Dudley Saunders: "Monsters"

Independent: This is the adjective that best describes Dudley Saunders, and that's a good thing. 

From his performance art - to his activism, and first and foremost his music, Dudley could be a spokesperson for The First Amendment. 

I first heard of Dudley via his CD "The Billy White Acre Sessions" and saw him perform at Genghis Cohen in Los Angeles, CA. I was hooked. 

Dudley is a gifted storyteller, musician and thought provoker who stays true to his personal vision.

His latest CD: "Monsters" is no exception, Mr. Saunders is like wine, he gets better with age. 

For those of you out there who are familiar with Dudley, this will be fun! For those of you who aren't well here's your chance to really get to know him. I recently checked in with the man behind the music and threw 10 Random Thoughts at him, and "Yes" he answered...

MS: Performance Art 

DS: Uncomfortable. Find the place that makes you want to turn away, and you’ll know that’s where you most need to go. Then you create a brand new form that fits the shape of the uncomfortable thing, which then makes the audience uncomfortable, because they don’t know what to expect. This is very exciting to me as an audience, but most audiences prefer to be comfortable. The audiences that get excited the way I do usually turn out to be great friend material.

MS: East Village 

DS: Lost Home. A geographic location where challenge and opposition to traditional modes of expression, as well as traditional subject matter, were normal and the expected minimum. A time and place not meant to stand, and maybe too easy to mythologize. I try not to look back anymore.

MS: "Love Song For Jeffrey Dahmer"

DS: Hidden key. I can tell whether people will like me based on whether or not they want to engage this song. The not-think-about-it people don’t stick around me very long. Susanne Breslin did the best interview about this song, and was not much-liked for doing it:

MS: Rolling Stone 

DS: Immaterial: the magazine traffics so predictably in the mainstream and the “officially-sanctioned indies” that it reflects almost nothing of what matters to me (except for Matt Taibbi’s political reporting). I will be shocked if they ever mention my name, although maybe when I’m 80 they’ll call me “an underground legend” in some article squib. As if they hadn’t participated in making me “underground” by ignoring me. Talk to performance artist Penny Arcade and she’ll give you an earful on that media pattern.

MS: "American Horror Story" 

DS: Meta-fiction. Pile up enough standard gothic tropes and they become something more. You start to feel the darker fears and desires that undergird them. This show addresses these old narratives head-on where I just pull pieces of them into story-songs I don’t actually think of as gothic -- like in my song THE ROSEWOOD CASKET, where the murdered woman’s skull asks him to “kiss my skinless face”. I was a little aware that that might seem a little horrifying, but not as much as I now see it is. Really, nothing I write every seems that disturbing when I’m writing it; it’s just after the fact I get all these reactions and go ‘oh yeah ...’ But I wonder now if other people see a stronger connection between me and Ryan Murphy? Usually the artist has the most skewed perspective on these things.

MS: Storytelling 

DS: Untold. Most of the stories that matter to me - or would matter to me - go untold. And the heroic model of storytelling, where a hero learns and earns his just rewards, is primarily a lie we tell to assure the evil that they have a right to the things they’ve stolen. I’m drawn to lives with foreshortened narratives -- they get trapped too early, or are broken before they can get to redemption, or the trouble they face doesn’t make them stronger but breaks them into strange distorted shapes. A lot of pop songs just regurgitate the same old stories, and you can tell where they’re going halfway through the first line. That doesn’t make me feel anything. I think the untold people deserve their own melodies.

MS: Act-Up

DS: PTSD. My old ACT UP colleague Spencer Cox just died a few weeks ago. We met for lunch when I was touring through New York in October. We talked at length about how much untreated trauma there is in our activist generation. It was a great discussion, but it turned out he was more of an example of PTSD than I realized: he’d stopped his medication, and in December just couldn’t fight off an infection. It reminds me of something that the writer Sarah Schulman once told me, that the people who create change are rarely the ones who benefit from it. The drag queens from the Stonewall Rebellion mostly ended up poor and homeless and murdered while younger gay people experienced previously unimagined freedom. And so many of the AIDS activists who saved millions of lives are having trouble saving their own. But - and this is very ACT UP - we’ll probably do better if we pull together to save each other. 

MS: "Birdbones" 

DS: Exorcism. Rageful fragility. Wow, that’s a weird response! This was the performance art piece that got me the most attention, but it also marked a turning point. 

Back then, I made art because I had all these horrifying ghosts in the back of my head that I couldn’t quite identify even though they ruled my life. I was a completely tortured, haunted person, but if you asked me what was wrong I had no idea. So I used performance art to make those ghosts manifest themselves so I could see them, feel them and wrestle with them. I used a form I called “witnessing,” which was essentially me bearing witness to these surreal horror stories in the enraptured voice of a psychosexual evangelist - I think the Village Voice used that term. Anyway: like a lot of tortured people, I believed that the pain would literally kill me if I faced it. Which means performance art, for me, felt a little like a suicide mission - but for the purpose of saving my life. In retrospect, no wonder I was such a basket case.

Birdbones got the last of those ghosts out of me and probably saved my life. I also got great reviews, and if the right wing hadn’t decimated arts funding, I might have become an avant-garde art-world star. Maybe I’m glad that didn’t happen: a few years later, I made my first record, RESTORE.

MS: Rainy Days 

DS: Falling on the just and the unjust alike. Isn’t that in Matthew, in the King James Bible? It just means that when it rains we are all bound up in one common experience. It’s a gentle version of what happens in LA during an earthquake, or during a power outage in New York. It’s inconvenient but I love it - I’d rather be uncomfortable than disconnected.

MS: "Monsters"

DS: Unseen. Monsters that look like monsters aren’t frightening to me. Reagan’s charming face used to fill me with abject terror. Or the kindly gentle smile of Rick Warren now, filling us with uplifting platitudes while preaching anti-gay propaganda in Uganda that led directly to the deaths of gay people. Most monsters don’t believe they are monsters the way most alcoholics don’t believe they have a drinking problem.

"Monsters" are everywhere at

No comments:

Post a Comment