Kathy Acker in Life and Death
I. Spectres and Slim's and Jade-Blue Eclipse
San Francisco, January 22, 1998
Slim's is a cavernous two-story, hard drinking, no smoking San
Francisco-style club that is usually home to alternative and roots music.
Tonight it is filled with friends and fans of Kathy Acker. All the
counter-culture tribes are there for the memorial: dykes and poets and writers
and musicians and strippers and s/m filmmakers and lovers and mourners, all the
gay and the straight, the buzzed and the suicided, pumped-up women and
flabbed-down guys, the happy and the despaired.
A beautiful voodoo altar framed by a large serene portrait of Kathy
marks the entrance, complete with burning votive candles and a collage of her
favorite boots and biker gear and crystalline magic talismans and pens and paper
and keyboards and Blood and Guts in High School and a bottle of rum and a
brass container holding slips of paper where we all have written last messages
to be burned ritualistically later in the evening. Incense burns and candles
flicker and Kathy's strong presence is deeply felt.
Time is pushing up against the blank face of the millennium of the
absurd but the spirits of the poetic night have been summoned, and you can just
feel as you stand there Rimbaud and Artaud and Bataille and Ginsberg and
Burroughs slip out of the spectral air of the imaginary and take material form.
It's a wake of dead spectres and living bodies, a kind of swirling commingling
of poetic being. The mood of love and remembrance and invocation and sorrow and
joy and just plain down and out gold nugget San Francisco craziness takes
possession of the crowd and the performers.
Everyone has a story to tell.
R.U. Sirius, host with Machiko Saito, transforms himself into a data
drag queen as the night progresses - fake fur leopard and fox, velvet and satin
and lycra pants and skirt, full make-up and pins in his hair. It's magic.
The music of Trance Mission shockwaves against a punk dyke band
that advertises itself as the "most likely to blow up the White House."
A first generation American beat poet tells the story of Kathy's
political involvement in Food Not Bombs.
A Mayan priestess with a heavy Russian accent invokes 4,000 year-old
Siberian chants of the woman-spirit to take Kathy from birth (black candle) to
becoming (red candle) to death (white candle).
Jade-Blue Eclipse - performance artist extraordinaire strips the
surface and surfs the seams of life, death and eternity. Her naked body
illuminated by phosphorescent paint rhythmically moves to the sounds -
stretching, spreading, splitting, opening, cutting, bathing in the red liquid of
Aline Mare, a friend, laments Kathy's death in beautiful and evocative
and personal verses punctuated with "Kathy Girl."
Matias speaks about Kathy dying in Tijuana, of her fear and denial and
courage and her last large reading list of the Tibetan book of the dead cut with
a lot of poetry and detective novels.
The direct descendents of those good old American boys drinking Red
Tail Ale and Calistoga water - jetstream, vapor-trails talking Mondoites and
novelists and junk dream poets - gather backstage at the exit door, and in the
usual way of writers talk through the pain of Kathy's death by telling trade
tales desultory of dead editors and disappearing publishing houses and new
projects and up-and-coming literary outlaw takeover coups of early-90s
California techno-lifestyle magazines aimed, as R.U. says, at "young urban
Everybody was there. Tribe8, Dirtbox, Cypher in the Snow, Amber
Asylum, Stellamara, Susie Bright, Sharon Grace, Michelle Handelman, Richard
Kadrey, Amy Scholder, Frank Molinaro, Alice Joanou, Dodie Bellamy, Steven
Shapiro, Anna Joy Springer, Mark Faigenbaum, Minnette Lehman, Rex Ray and many,
Of course, Kathy was too, in a brilliant and evocative and sad,
because we would never see her in person again, filmic performance of In
Memoriam to Identity.
This was Kathy.
This was Kathy's San Francisco.
II. Screamin' Eagle (for K.A.)
It's a sweet moving, easy livin' summer evening, the twilight in the
city air lingering on an endless repeat cycle, and I'm stompin' St. Catherines
on my Harley-Davidson Screamin' Eagle.
Born in 63, the year Kennedy was assassinated, I've always been hooked
on those too late at night b&w rebel with or without a cause biker movies,
'specially Marlon Brando in his beautiful bod, Greek god-look, eyes to dream
about days. Friends tell me that a woman, 62 inches vertical, has no business
straddling a max cc, turbo-charged, neon red, chrome-plated, road hugging Daddy
like a Screamin' Eagle, but I just put on that moody Brando pout with my DOT
helmet and black leather jacket and laced up the side pants and silver-tipped
blast throttle boots, set the jet carb on full gas intake and ignite. Sort of a
retro 50s take on the e-wire 90s, or maybe a girl flesh fresh from life in the
wires out for a spin with all the boys.
But before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you how I got the name
Cloner. It was about five years ago and I was on another bike, a K-line BMW,
cruisin' a desert highway mid-winter. Never even saw that transport creaming my
way. All I remember is the silver grill, high-top sun-tinted windows, snarling
cougar roof design, gonna kill you, gonna maul you good, eat you right up,
you're in my lane, and my lane is the whole fuckin' road kind of speed noise. I
can still smell to this day burning tires, melted chrome, and the fear of me
splashed on the highway.
Woke up in Phoenix with half my face ripped off, and all I could think
of was "Shit I don't have any insurance."
No big deal, I'm told.
The surgeon tells me it's my lucky day. Turns out I'm one of those
bike wrecks I've always read about. Something about donor tissue.
I think to myself organ donors? Aren't I still alive?
Then I hear the word, SynSkin, the new artificial flesh grown in
bio-gen labs from the foreskin of baby boys. And you know what the surgeon tells
me: "A single male baby foreskin produces enough SynSkin to cover four football
That's a lot of skin, and not much foreskin.
I'm lying there broken-bodied, torn face, feeling real bad, no Marlon
Brando pout, but still something clicks in my DOT crushed head, and I can't help
but admire the ingenuity and audacity of Big Science marching ahead, or in this
case marching right over my face. Because as it turns out, the surgeon's got an
Alien 4 suggestion. "How would you like to grow a new face, or at least
half-a-face? No charge."
"Sure, I think to myself, 'cause it's probably experimental."
And it was. And it was great. Took about four weeks for the foreskin,
or I should say SynSkin, to clone the remains of my face.
That's about the time I started calling myself Cloner.
Artificial face for a time in which machines have migrated into the
Before the accident, I was thinking hard about consciousness, about
the bicephalic brain split into right- and left hemispheres, about McLuhan's
theory that ever since the Gutenberg Galaxy we've lived in a right-hemisphere
world where all the values associated with uniform visual culture -
specialization, privatization, the individuated ego, the eye not the ear - have
been stamped on our memories, speech patterns, gestures, bodies, and, most of
all, on our faces. Eye faces without ears or tears or memory smears.
Maybe that was why in the hospital in Phoenix, drugged down tight and
mind drifting free, I had this strange recurring dream. I was always
double-headed, double-faced - a high-distortion camera red eye and a blue-screen
liquid ear - zooming outwards from an earth-bound tissue patch, coiling
together, leering, touching, embracing, and then always splitting apart. And the
difference that split wide open the face ear and the face eye was a real
screamin' eagle with its no-blink stare and its shriek-shriek hunting scream and
its razor-tooth talons doing max damage to the twirling double-headed flesh
Didn't much like that swirly dream, but I trapped its message good in
my dream-catcher, and so when the surgeon asked me if I had any "special
preferences" for my SynSkin face, I just told him that I wanted an ear for an
eye and an eye for an ear and a Screamin' Eagle for a mouth in between. Maybe
not really, but it sure would be nice.
Probably having read his McLuhan and knowing that revolting against
the press-ganged, screwed down and screwed up, uniform visual culture Gutenberg
face has to begin somewhere, sometime, he just said that he'd "see what he could
do." Maybe he even understood that what I really wanted was a wetware face as a
kind of flesh bridge between software flesh and the hardware road.
A post-biologics face.
Which is exactly what I got. My left profile was the same as always,
sort of a memory box stuffed with flesh reminders of who I used to be, an eye
and an ear and a tongue and some bad-assed scrapes and too-bruised bluish skin.
Sort of a camera eye in permanent position fixed-focused on facial features that
moved to the more ancient rhythms of time's decay. The right-side face, my
SynSkin face, was magnificent. It was as if the surgeon had Francis Bacon'd my
skin, laying over the stripped down bones a liquid skin hologram, like a
mutating slide dipping and weaving and flesh-blending. Put my face in front of
the liquid array of a computer screen or under the black light of a dance club,
and what you get is me hologrammed into the image of an eye for an ear, an ear
for an eye, with this trip hop angry Screamin' Eagle taking up the remainder.
I looked in the mirror, and thought to myself. Great!
Because who wants a perfect face anyway? The face has outlived its
usefulness. We've been morphed and graphed and pixelated and mutated and
serialized and downloaded and zip-drived and pinholed and infrareded and
surveillanced and ABM recorded. What's left is just some empty orifices, a hole
for air, a canal for sound, sockets for light, a tongue for taste, and a mouth
to spit away the difference.
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker edit CTHEORY and, most recently, edited
the CTHEORY book, Digital Delirium. "Screamin' Eagle" is from
Spit, a work in progress.
© CTheory. All Rights Reserved