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RE/Search (1987)


[V. Vale and A. Juno:] What makes a prank "bad"? In America the outstanding socially-sanctioned prank is the college fraternity hazing, which means "to harass by exacting unnecessary or disagreeable work, to harass by banter, ridicule, or criticism." Usually characterized not only by unoriginality but by conventionalized cruelty, these pointless humiliations do nothing to raise consciousness or alter existing power relationships. They are deeds which only further the status-quo; they only perpetuate acceptance of and submission to arbitrary authority, or abet existing hierarchical inequities. Basically these include all pranks readily recognizable as "cliches"—those which contribute no new poetic imagery. (4-5)

[V. Vale and A. Juno:] By unhinging the context for expectation, pranks explode the patterning which narrows and shrinks down our imaginative potential. What distinguishes a painting from wallpaper, or literature from stock market reports, is the tearing and ripping apart of old forms and structures to create new perceptions which renew and refresh life itself. All art attempts to rid life of banality; to expunge the habituation effect whose cause is "daily living." (5)

[Mark Pauline:] I said, "Look, everything's okay, I'm going to do a show here." He said, "But you didn't ask me—I never heard anything about this," and I said, "Yeah, I never told you anything about it. There's no way you could have ever known about it." Then he sort of seemed to relax—it wasn't anybody's fault that he didn't know about it. (13)

[Boyd Rice:] Early on, I learned that trouble was a word that had almost no meaning for me. I'd do these things which were nothing and the teacher would say, "Uh-oh, Boyd, you're in real trouble now. I'm afraid we're going to have to tell the Principal about this." So I'd go to the Principal's office and he would shake his head and say, "I'm afraid you're in serious trouble this time, Boyd. I'm going to have to tell your parents about this." Then I'd go home and my parents would say, "Boyd, the Principal called us and told us you got in some real trouble today." It was like—trouble, trouble, trouble—everybody was talking about it, but where was it? I didn't have any trouble—the trouble was with them . . . because they didn't like what I was doing.
The worst it got was people saying [low voice], "I'm very disappointed in you, Boyd" (as though I cared about what they thought). That word "trouble" seemed to be one of those words for which nothing existed in reality. Yet people were so scared of it that most of the time just the effect of saying "You're in big trouble now" was enough to make people instantly feel guilty, bad, and full of horrible forebodings.
[Andrea Juno:] Because people are loked into this linguistic game—
[Boyd Rice:] Like a contract. (34)


(Thanks to @blunderbussed for the achewood spot)


[Lou Minatti:] Witness the manifestation of contradictory impulses temporarily resolved. (33)

[Andrea Juno:] The police couldn't fit you into their polarization structure. They know how to deal with real criminals, but somebody who puts eggplants on sticks—you're making a mockery of their social order, and that's worse than what most criminals are capable of doing. By doing something incomprehensible, you place yourself outside their magic, and then they lose control. And authority needs control with a simple set of uniforms and buzz words. (34)

[Joey Skaggs:] I was also inspired by other works I read, like a little story by Rene Daumal [to paraphrase]: "Once upon a time there, was a miserable man who lived with his miserable old mother who made miserable meals in a cold little miserable house, and he had a miserable job with a miserable boss and was paid miserable wages. If he wanted to, he could have transformed it all into a Kingdom, and he could have been a King, and his mother could have been the Queen Mother, and his boss could have been the Jester. But he didn't. And he died a miserable, miserable death. He was the world's greatest magician. But he never knew it."
The world is full of such self-made victims. When you think about that, you think about all the people who don't know how or are afraid to tap into, recognize, encourage, and nurture their own powers. Just because your history as a child made you a victim, you don't have to continue being one. You don't have to be a self-made victim just because you were the victim of abuse or stupidity by your parents or by society. (38)

[Joey Skaggs:] I recognize the power of the press from having been directly involved in it. It's easy to recognize it even when you're not directly involved, but when it's happening to you—when your intent, content, and techniques are totally misinterpreted, twisted and editorialized, and lost, destroyed, or purposely twisted into another direction—then you see the power of it all. I not only saw it, but I was angered by it, and I decided that also in part I wanted to point that out.
So I started doing hoaxes to purposefully make a commentary about people. I thought humor was a great way of making people think, rather than hitting them over the head with something. I also wanted to point out the inadequacies and dangers of an irresponsible press. (39)

[Abbie Hoffman:] One day we went to a junkyard and bought a bench that looked just like a park bench; we had a bill of sale and everything. That night, around midnight, a couple of guys started walking around town with this bench. Some cops grabbed them and took them in, and they said, "We've got a bill of sale." So the guy at the desk released them. Then they were picked up by another cop, brought in and then released. Only about twenty cop cars were working the town, so they broadcasted to all of them on the radio: "If you see two guys walking with a bench, just forget about it; don't bother picking them up." These two guys called the dorm, and then about twenty of us went all around town picking up all the park benches. (66)

[Hoffman, who wrote Steal This Book, was clearly not above stealing stories. Cp. Hugh Troy's original)

[A. Juno:] Have you ever considered writing a sequel to Steal This Book?
[Abbie Hoffman:] I did—it was 500 pages long. I submitted it to a publisher who went bankrupt and lost it—the only copy. I was totally heartbroken because it was the definitive work on counterfeiting, jewel smuggling—you name it. It's what people think Steal This Book is. Steal This Book, by the way, sold two million copies; the Mafia printed that many. (68)

[V. Vale:] Weren't you the one who persuaded cult leader Mel Lyman into declaring himself a World Saviour? That's sort of a prank.
[Bruce Conner:] Oh, to be God? I didn't persuade him, really. Around 1963 he was insinuating himself into Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert's and the rest of our pseudo-communal society in Newton, Massachusetts. All I told him one day (in the midst of a psychedelic experience) was: "It's no problem reaching God—if somebody says, 'Ohmigod,' you say, 'Yes?')) So he just started saying "Yes" from that point on, as far as I can tell. I would suggest his Autobiography of a World Saviour, as an essay on a prank. (69)

[Monte Cazazza:] A prank can be a multi-functional tool like a hammer—you can hit somebody over the head with it, or pound nails with it. Pranks are techniques to change life with; they're based on principles that are not widely known or recognized. People can learn and apply these techniques—not to steal money from other people, but to set up situations for themselves enabling them to do more of what they want to do. The point is to discover and get familiar with the principles that apply. (74)

[Timothy Leary:] I think the philosophic prank, the intelligent prank, the life-affirming prank, is one that gives people a broader perspective or a new insight so that they're not taking themselves so solemnly, and realize that life is basically supposed to be joyous and merry. (77)

[Timothy Leary:] I would say, as a finale to this little funny conversation, that one of the greatest pranks that I enjoyed was escaping from prison. I had to take a lot of psychological tests during the classification period, and many of the tests I had designed myself, so I took the tests in such a way that I was profiled as a very conforming, conventional person who could not possibly escape, and who had a great interest in gardening and forestry.
So they put me on a place where it was easier to escape. And it was a very acrobatic and dangerous escape because it was under the lights of sharpshooters and so forth. And when I hit the ground and ran out and got picked up by the car, I wanted to be able to get out at least to the highway. If they caught me after that, at least I had made that much of an escape.
The feeling that I had made an escape, a non-violent escape, was a sense of tremendous exaltation and humor and joy. I laughed and laughed and laughed, thinking about what the guards were doing now. They were going to discover me, and then they'd phone Sacramento, and heads would be rolling, and the bureaucracy would be in a stew. This kept me laughing for two or three weeks because I felt it had been a very successful piece of performance art ... by example, telling people how to deal with the criminal justice system and the police bureaucracies in the sense of non-violent escapes. So that was a good prank ... which was never appreciated by the law-enforcement people. (80)

[Intro to Paul Krassner:] When Mike Wallace asked on a 60 Minutes interview about the difference between the underground press and mainstream media, he told him that Spiro Agnew was an anagram for Grow A Penis, adding, "The difference is that I could print that in the Realist, but it'll be edited out of this program." That prediction came true. (81)

[Paul Krassner:] In the sixties, the lies had gotten so blatant that a mass "pulling the wool off the eyes" resulted in the counter-culture. I still am very optimistic, although it may be because of chromosome damage. (81)

[Paul Krassner:] When the Realist started it was reaching kids in Oshkosh who were the only Martians on their block. All over there was a sense of community and reassurance. That was the foremost feedback I got—to know that I wasn't crazy after all. When I did my first show for Realist readers, you never saw an audience look each other over like that. It was like a Martian convention. (83)

[A. Juno:] Back to the Chicago 8 courtroom—what did happen when you testified?
[Paul Krassner:] The prosecutor would be asking all these questions like where some meeting had taken place, and I wouldn't be able to think of the word "Chicago." So I don't think I was the best witness. That was one of those things I did because knew I'd regret it if I didn't do it. Somehow it's important to have your retrospect in advance! (85)

[Paul Krassner:] If I had one thing to tell everybody, it would be "Do it now." Take up music, read a book, proposition a girl, but do it now. We know we are all sentenced to death. People cannot become prisoners of guilt and fears. They should cling to each moment and take what enjoyment they can from it. (87)

[Paul Krassner:] I had been fasting for 4 days. Later, when I told [Larry Flynt] I had fasted, he asked, "Why?" I said, "Well, I wanted to have a clear mind when I met you. I wanted to see if you were a con artist or not, and you are, and you're good." He hesitated for just a split second and then said, ''I'm the best." (89)

[Richard Meltzer:] I stopped paying any attention to rock around 1972. . . . I stopped listening to rock. I wrote about it because I needed a source of income, and because my book which is supposedly a classic, The Aesthetics of Rock, was out and all these magazines like Rolling Stone pressured me. So I reviewed albums I didn't listen to; I reviewed the cover; I'd review one album as if it were another one; I reviewed concerts I never went to.
For example, I reviewed a big Neil Young concert in Carnegie Hall that I didn't go to. I said that in the middle of the show he brought out a stool, sat down, and read poems that were really good. Then I quoted three of my poems. That appeared in a New York newspaper.
I reviewed the Thomas Pynchon novel Gravity's Rainbow which I never read; I just made it up. Nobody noticed because nobody read the book—it was too long. Basically, I'd say that about 80% of the rock pieces I wrote from 1970 to the present were like that. (100)

[Richard Meltzer:] Rock, which was once a force of liberation, by 1972 had become the absolute voice of the status quo. Later on, punk was something else for about six months, but it too was brought back in. (101)

[Alan Abel:] Any media attention is an opportunity for improvisation; it's an opportunity to perform on-camera before a network audience without having to audition for producers who normally wouldn't let you through the door (not that they're necessarily even worthy to shine your shoes). And improvisation is what life's about! (109)

[Jeffrey Vallance:] For a long time my dad just thought I was a complete nut; he's an accountant and really straight. He could never understand my work—until it started selling. Then all of the sudden, he would see some weird thing I'd done and in his mind it would equal dollar signs, Finally, what I did had entered a realm he could understand ... where everything had a value. (110)

[Paul Mavrides:] My friend Doug Wellman told me about a guy in Vietnam who had the job of loading bombs onto planes. He figured out a smuggling arrangement where, on planes that were being returned to the U.S., he replaced the "live" bombs with dummy bombs filled with heroin. At the other end he had people waiting to unload the dope. However, one time Nixon ordered a huge bombing strike, and suddenly this plane was rerouted and ended up dropping all this heroin on some little Vietnamese villages. (134)

[John Cale:] People would hire Andy [Warhol] to appear places, and he would send Gerard [Malanga]. In Chicago we got invited to see Muddy Waters, and were all sitting there in this club on the South Side—invited honored guests. Gerard posed as Andy, and Muddy Waters got up and said, "We'd like to welcome y'all here tonight. I'd like to introduce y'all to Mr. Angus Warhol," and Gerard got up and bowed. Gerard was one; Rene Ricardo was Andy once. (153)

[Jerry Casale:] When we started Devo it was really that—a serious joke. People would constantly ask, "This is a joke, right?" looking to us for some kind of confirmation. Of course we weren't going to give them any. Our intention was always to subvert the accepted obvious reality behind anything we presented—whether fashion, lyric, role, stereotype, etc. (195)

[Jerry Casale:] It calls into question every illegitimately held belief that's really inhumane. That's what a good prank does. A prank is a mirror ... a prank is just a readout on the mentality in question. A prank is really an ancient form of performance art. In this society people just try to limit it to idiotic acts like the bucket of shit, or the hand in the lukewarm water. (196)

[A. Juno:] But what happened to the painting?
[Erik Hobijn:] He gave it to someone to keep. The theft had been publicized in a newspaper, along with a photo (it was worth about 75,000 guilders; there are about 2.4 guilders to a dollar). Finally they sold it to an underworld figure for a very low sum, only 2,000 guilders. I made a videotape of a little child eating an apple in front of it, to document and prove this had actually happened, and also as a kind of pun on an untranslatable Dutch proverb which has to do with saving money for the future. (204)

[Lou Minatti:] At the time I thought it was very significant that you could bamboozle the news media, but now I realize that's just the tip of the iceberg. It isn't just newsmen who don't check their facts—nobody checks their facts about anything. At the time I was a teenager and this was a great thrill, but later on I came to realize many more implications ... (216)

George Hayduke's Ten Commandments of Revenge—Never: trust or confide in anyone/use your own phone/touch a document/threaten your victim. Always: be a garbage collector/bide your time/use mail drops in other cities/learn all about your victim/ use merchants who don't know you/use cash. (228)

[See also: Pranks 2]

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