Chthonic Chant and Nihilist Puppetry
My mother would never want to hear that her son quit his job to start a life of street performance – which is exactly why I won’t tell her.
I’ve given my two weeks at New York’s infamous seafood restaurant, Aquagrill. They pay me 10 bucks an hour – I can make at least 10 bucks an hour as a subway busker, right? I’ve seen gnarly melodium players hack out non-resolving dominant seventh chords, and it looks as if they make a nice hat-full of bills. If they can do it, I certainly can. Street performers have steel nerves to play for throngs of onlookers. I want to be like them; I want indestructible courage – I want to develop my arts – I want to make an extra buck!
One day, I received an email from a nihilist puppeteer, Kalan Sherrard.
I met him at a performance venue in Bushwick. He spoke with sophisticated honesty, a devilish soothsayer of conscious, courteous, and playful observation; “I don’t use narrative- but there’s structure – it’s a grammar without syntax – look what I found today!” he pulled out a plastic bottle of pink sand, “Creative Sand! Someone just threw out a bottle of creativity, can you believe it?”
His email said he’d be performing along the L-line on Saturday. Maybe it was his large, cute eyes, or maybe it was that he hitchhiked once to Argentina from Seattle, but whatever ignited my attraction compelled me to invite myself; “Kalan, let me join you!”
I didn’t hear from Kalan, even when Saturday came. Maybe I won’t join him, but that doesn’t mean I won’t perform!
Dressed in robes, I painted my face white, took my little tin chocolate box, a small paper sign, and wandered to the subway. Which stop? The Lorimer stop on the L – tons of art savvy youngsters there – They’ll toss a quarter in my tin box, I know it!
And there I stood on the noisy platform at 2pm singing the Dies Irae sequence from the Roman Catholic Requiem mass. My little sign read, “Donations accepted for the Second Coming”.
No one donated a dollar. Not even a nickel. Most avoided eye contact, hurried past me, or just tolerated what I was chanting. “Dies Irae, dies illa solvet saeclum in favilla teste David cum sybilla.”
One hour later – still an empty chocolate box. Perhaps it was the wrong time of day. Perhaps everyone just wanted to burn in hell.
Or maybe I was too scary, too real, and a little too crazy, with my ghost white face and heavy wool robe. A friend told me, “Weird street performance shit is better for Boston. The tiny cobble stone crooked street atmosphere makes people more willing to believe you are a performer. New York is a grid – not as strange or eerie as Boston – passersby are afraid of getting stabbed if they see someone acting freaky”.
Later that night I receive a text from Kalan to come and join him at the Bedford L around midnight. I grabbed my mermaid dress and headed out.
“You should probably watch me first before you start, just so you can see”, he told me.
Baby heads sewn on baby heads, puppet sharks with bone and stone marionettes in mason jars and wrap in newspaper. They’d walk or float to the constant rhythmic noise of his harmonica, kazoo, or nose-blown toy flutes. He has a suitcase containing an entourage of nihilist puppets arrayed into a little cozy-ratty child’s nook. The front of the suitcase has a chalk board where he writes, with his left hand, the names of the various puppet plays he performs.
A felt frog dances.
A felt frog bites a black bicycle tire.
A marionette of only doll legs dance.
A swarm of baby dolls dances
One of the baby dolls with a large mouth emerges.
The large mouthed baby doll bites a black bicycle tire.
The American flag is waved
And then the train arrives! And he shouts! And there is joy! And he hops around and waves flags, and enters the subway car and runs out. People scream. Sweat glistens from his forehead. Painted like an overworked clown.
The gawking crowd toss dollar after dollar in his hat.
I donned my Siren Skirt and joined him
We worked in a conceptual togetherness;
Together – Separate
With – Beside
Individual – Unison
We performed a Nietzsche Requiem Drone PuppeT Codex
and then there were balloons.
In two hours I made 9 bucks.