GETTING GRAY WITH REVERAND IVAN STANG
By Netta Gilboa
I was opening the daily mail when I discovered something amiss. A photo of Bob Dobbs had arrived to go with an interview we were planning to run. I turned my attention to the pu blicity material accompanying the photo and it was then that my heart sank.
The Bob Dobbs I had promised my readers an interview with turned out not to be from the Church of the SubGenius. In fact, the Church was calling this guy a fake! It seems there are two differentpeople named Bob Dobb s producing radio shows out there. I was suddenly in deep trouble. Issue 2 was already at the printers and our teaser had used the Church’s name. The pages had already been printed.
Just then my phone rang and I told the caller (a friend) my dilemna. He assured me that while I indeed had a dilemna, the Church could be found for comment and clarification. I was panic stricken that they’d see our use of their name before I could explain.
About 15 minutes later, with only one call on my friend’s part, he’d gotten me in touch with Rev. Ivan Stang. The Underground is a very small place indeed!
I talked with Ivan several times. The more I learned about the Church, the more I realized they’d experienced many of our gray themes firsthand. The interview below touches on pranks, law, computer viruses, zines, taping, drugs, Negativland’s music, piracy, alternative religions, etc.
Rev. Ivan Stang has been active on the scene for a long time and we are particularly grateful he liked Gray Areas enough to talk to us. It turned out that we weren’t the only publication who thought the Canadian Bob Dobbs was affiliated with the Church’s "Bob" Dobbs. Imagine our surprise, however, when it turned out Stang has had some experience with almost every gray area we cover! Here’s your opportunity to hear his unique view of things as a Church insider. Don’t even think of tu rning the pages without reading this interview.
Netta Gilboa: What is the Church of the SubGenius?
Ivan Stang: That is a damned good question. We’re still trying to figure that one out, ourselves. A lot depends on who is asking. The Church wears many hats; it has to, just to survive, since it doesn’t really fit into any one known genre or category, and it infuriates devotees of MANY known genres, categories and denominations.
Here’s what we tell people:
In 1953, the holy salesman "Bob" Dobbs discovered that there was a Conspiracy of Normal Humans insidiously robbing away the Slack of the SubGeniuses (the abnormals and nonhuman bipeds) and repressing their vital powers of abnormality — the ir Slack. In response, Dobbs created this disorganized religion — although he didn’t go public with it until 1980, when he thought the world might be ready for it. It was a "cult" for mutants, misfits, disbelievers, and those who’d believe anyth ing... a fellowship for gimps, perverts, dope addicts, hippies, those who still read books, sex fiends, victimless criminals, and all the for-real, down home people... the SubGenii: those who look, but aren’t, human. And, unfortunately (at least un til some rich sucker becomes our "sugar-daddy"), this has to include numberless slogan-spouting, immature, obnoxious nerds, fanboys and geeks — for without them, we wouldn’t even break even.
To some people the Church is salvation. Seriously. They honestly say that just knowing that the Church EXISTED AT ALL saved them from suicide. To others it’s just a really good joke, though an endlessly complex one. To others, it’s a really < I>bad joke, and to yet others it’s a dangerous cult, potentially right up there with the Branch Davidians, the Satanists, the Masons and the Southern Baptists. They think we’re some kind of devil worshippers, even though we don’t even believe in the D evil. The overly politically correct sometimes think we’re not good, politically correct warriors against the establishment, because our stuff is funny and takes vicious swipes at all who are most certain their cause is the morally right one. Other s — especially doctors and lawyers — seem to know professional bull-slinging when they see it, and enjoy that aspect of it. So it’s a What-Is-It.
At least we don’t hate minorities. We only hate the majority — the NORMALS.
We proclaim how tolerant we are of everything weird, different, fringe, and shunned, and then turn around and advocate enslaving all Normals — the Mediocretins, the Pink Boys, the Barbies and Kens, the Box Dwellers. (After all, they’ve already ensla ved themselves under the money-grubbing Conspiracy anyway.) This proves that we embody the first principle of any successful religion: hypocrisy.
For artists, it’s a great vehicle for collaboration with other talented sickos; Dobbs created a wonderful framework on which one can hang almost anything, a skeleton that anybody can help flesh out. It’s a hell of an excuse for pranks on the str aight-laced. Our first and only real rule is, "F--- ‘em if they can’t take a joke." (Or in more polite terms, "Let them mount up upon themselves, if they cannot see the humor in it.")
Those who think it’s some kind of primitive fertility cult, a throw-back to Paleolithic days, using the underground art scene as an excuse, are probably closer to the truth than anybody else.
There really is a Conspiracy of Normals, though, and we ALL definitely need more Slack. Let there be no doubt about that.
GA: How is it different from other churches?
IS: All the rest are liars. We are liars too, for sure, but we’re the only ones that are halfway honest about our lying. We come right out and admit all the things the other churches won’t say: that we’re in it for the money, that God is n’t actually paying any attention (although "Bob" will, if you pay him enough money, and all kinds of fake Gods will, if you pay them much attention), that all organized religion is based on the "US VERSUS THEM" hate concept. The botto m line for other religions (and philosophies, and political parties) is: "We’re right, God said so, and everything different from us is BAD." The Conspiracy religions depend on the fear and hatred of anything different. We rejoice in the ‘differ ent.’ We supress the indifferent. It’s going to take something very ‘different’ to get this overpopulated planet out of the mess it’s in. Not US — that’s too much work — but we’re helping to pave the way, to help see that this new "something" is n’t burned at the stake like Martin Luther King Jr., Wilhelm Reich or JFK. Not to mention poor ol’ Jim Jones, David Koresh and Charlie Manson!
We don’t kill people for not agreeing with our religion. We don’t shoot abortionists in the back. We never burned anybody at the stake.
But we’re hoping to change all that.
Our marriages last only for set, limited periods of time, not for life. We don’t preach that women are inferior creatures like dogs; in fact, we question whether dogs are inferior creatures. We believe in the woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy up to the 15th year after conception. We’re the only ones getting the REAL messages from REAL gods, aliens, demons, and discarnate ghosts.
The Church doesn’t bring weirdos together for one unified cause, it only lets them know that each other exist, and we encourage them to keep coming up with their own, NEW causes. We’re not looking for people who are "like-minded." By defin ition, SubGenii are all such ‘characters’ that they drive each other crazy if they hang out together for long. We encourage heresy and schisms.
I could be cute here and insist that every aspect of the Church is dead serious, but, let’s face it... wouldn’t any proper satire or dopey parody worth its salt say the same thing? Why can’t we be both? I might tell a newspaper reporte r one thing about the Church, my radio audience another, and a cop yet another. "Yes, sir, officer, we’re just comedians. All these AK-47s are just PROPS for our SHOW." "Those mental illnesses and diseases? That’s just part of the satire, y our honor." "Oh, we’re just making an anti-drug video, Mister Policeman!" "Oh, but it’s not pornography, ma’am — it’s empowerment!"
GA: Who is J.R. "Bob" Dobbs?
IS: Dobbs was originally a regular joe — albeit one with superhuman powers of salesmanship — who happened to have been contacted by alien gods, and subsequently became a major mover and shaker in the upper reaches of the Conspiracy (the Tril ateral Commission, CFR, Illuminati etc.). Infiltrating, he learned Their ropes, and now is blowing the whistle on Them because he thinks Slack is more important than anything else — even money. (Easy for him to say; he’s richer than Perot.) Dobbs is so surrealistically normal that he’s totally abnormal, and he opens his arms to the weirdos, rebels and perverts, striving to empower them while incidentally getting them to pay to know what they really think.
Being a specific, historically accurate being, "Bob" can be copyrighted, whereas guys like Jesus and Mohammed can’t. Thus there’s less chance that "Bob’s" message will be garbled and twisted. Unlike them, he understands advertisi ng. He developed his own marketing strategy and didn’t have to leave it to a bunch of embittered, antisocial follower-geeks. His is a do-it-yourself religion.
Dobbs tends to speak in pithy slogans. Examples: "You’ll pay to know what you really think." "Too much is always better than not enough." "Pull the wool over your own eyes and relax in the safety of your own delusions.&qu ot; "If you act like a dumbshit, they’ll treat you as an equal." "I don’t practice what I preach, because I’m not the kind of person I’m preaching to."
GA: What is "Slack?"
IS: What you don’t have enough of. What nobody has enough of. What They didn’t "cut" you some of. Those who say don’t know, and those who know don’t say — as the Hell’s Angels said, which leads one to wonder why they, or I, said it in the first place.
Slack is basically Something for Nothing, perfect luck, achievement without ability. It’s like the Tao. It’s nothing and everything. Mostly, everything. Everyone was born with Original Slack, but the Conspiracy of the Normals programs you to replace it with False Slack — like lame counterfeit SubGenius imitation albums, say, or (much more frequently) nerve-wracking jobs to pay for fancy gizmos and high status among the other Cage Men. The Conspiracy is a confederacy of dunces who don’t even k now they’re wrecking their own freedom by squelching everybody else’s.
GA: Is the Church tax exempt?
IS: I wish! Dobbs refuses not to pay taxes. He strongly believes that the people should not have to subsidize religions they might not happen to believe in. He calls this "the world’s first Industrial Church." The fact that the IRS would never grant us tax-exempt status has nothing to do with his idealistic yearnings.
GA: How did the Church start? How does it get the word out to people?
IS: PreScripture says the Church began in 1953 when J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, while experimenting with a home-made TV set and standing in a puddle of water, was EMACULATED by JHVH-1, the alien Space God from some corporate Sin Galaxy, and conceived this Church. Others say it really began the first time two rascally kids "cut up" in church, when they were supposed to be acting pious. Real heretics say it started when my partner, Dr. Philo Drummond, discovered that I, too, col lected kook literature, and we pooled our resources to create, for mercenary purposes only, the final synthesis of all end-times prophecy, from all crazed religious nuts, true visionaries, science fiction writers and bad monster movies.
The first statement is the only factual one. It is true that Dr. Drummond and I have engineered Dobbs’ public outreach; we make no bones about it, and we’re happy to wallow in any due credit for that. However, before Dobbs came along, we were NOTHIN G. We were less than nothing, before "Bob" revealed himself to us.
My job, as Sacred Scribe, is not only to make sure that "Bob’s" teachings get spread far and wide, and to recruit the best possible talents for doing so, but to protect "Bob’s" style from being watered down and cutesie-fied. We w ill do ANYTHING to protect "Bob’s" good name.
Under Dobbs’ direction, Philo and I started the ministry out modestly, with small instant-print pamphlets that we left around in public places like laundromats and dentists’ offices, for the unsuspecting to peruse and mull over. To our surprise, but not Dobbs’, people responded to the offer of a $10 SubGenius newsletter subscription. That meant we had to actually produce that newsletter, which grew into a 120-plus-page yearly journal called The Stark Fist of Removal. We created a bunch of pri nted ad-sheets full of slogans with our address attached, and, punk fanzines started printing them for free. This material attracted the attention of a few workers in "underground cartoonist" culture (such as Paul Mavrides, who fished Pamphlet # 1 out of the trash at Rip Off Press), and the printed Word started spreading on its own, not unlike a virus. SubGenius "clenches" started springing up here and there, and the Pamphlet was reprinted in magazines like Heavy Metal and R. Cru mb’s Weirdo. A fellow Dallasite, John Hagen-Brenner, approached us and ended up designing much of the early clip-style artwork for which the Church is known.
Under Dobbs’ guidance, and being a film editor in my ‘day job,’ I started editing together bits and pieces from my collection of oddball records, soundtracks and personal recordings into an audio tape collection that later became part of the Medi a Barrage series. In 1981, weird tape collage was a largely unknown thing. But, we swiftly learned, we weren’t the only ones appropriating and rearranging clip-art and clip-tape. A few people started sending us challenging tapes, most importantly the individual now known as "Puzzling Evidence" (now co-host with Dr. Hal Robins of the renowned KPFA-Berkeley SubGenius radio show). He was a major inspiration, the master of creative tape-cutting. We worked his stuff into ours, and this combinatio n sufficiently fooled others until there was a whole network of independent tape arteests circulating tape compositions among each other, all praising (or hating) DOBBS and his Word. A critical juncture occurred when the anti-music band of radical reactionary "punk" rednecks, Drs. for "Bob" (previously the owner and employees of Little Rock’s only health food store, Beans N Grains N Things) started trading hell-noise/Dobbs-rant tapes with us. They became perhaps the most influential non-Dallas SubGenius coven or "clench," due to the sheer brazenness, creativity, and offensiveness of their so-called "work." An unholy triumvirate formed between Dallas, San Francisco and Little Rock.
Up until this point, it had all been guerrilla art and mail-order. But we started holding Conventions, Conclaves and Devivals, allowing personal contact with the unusual sorts of people who were drawn to Dobbs’ Word. This real-life activity put us i n touch with such persons as G. Gordon Gordon, a professional mercenary and expatriate living then in Bolivia, who had plenty of time to research the more esoteric aspects of Dobbs’ prophecy, as well as to coordinate the "security" aspects of t he Church.
We had submitted a query regarding THE BOOK OF THE SUBGENIUS to 150 publishers. We got 150 rejection slips. But one day, young McGraw-Hill editor Tim McGinnis found Pamphlet #1 in the back seat of my sister-in-law’s car. In the name of the Co nspiracy, he made us an offer, we got an agent (Jane Jordan Browne of Chicago), and, many months later, THE BOOK OF THE SUBGENIUS was published. The snowball began to gather momentum, albeit very gradually. SubGenius preachers such as myself and th e dynamic Pope David N. Meyer found ourselves sermonizing in art museums and nightclubs; some people were convinced this was all just "art." Indeed, the mavens of performance art in L.A. adopted us as savage prodigies from the hinterlands. At th is time, around 1983 and 1984, we were what might be called "darlings of the underground"... just another part of the cultural freak-show. We were horrified, as we were SUPPOSED to be inundating the entire globe, willing or unwilling, with the t eachings of "Bob," causing riots and earthquakes, not amusing artsy-fartsy analysts of pop culture.
But we persevered. The riches that Dobbs had promised us had not materialized, but we were UNDAUNTED. We tried to push the Church further into the mainstream, starting with network radio, but we were laughed at (or less). Luckily, the local Dallas i ndependent, public-supported hippie leftist radio station, KNON, saw merit in our audio work, and the radio show THE HOUR OF SLACK was born. Puzzling Evidence, Bob Nelson, Gary G’Broagfran and Dr. Hal Robins already had a SubGenius radio show at KP FA in Berkeley, and recordings from that were a mainstay of HOUR OF SLACK. Soon, we were benefitting from the audio contributions of ALL SUBGENIUSES and SUBGENIUS SYMPATHIZERS, and Hour of Slack gradually got picked up by other statio ns.
We preached at more and more nightclubs and art museums, and I began work on the SubGenius video extravaganza, ARISE, co-editing with Rev. Cordt Holland of San Francisco. ARISE, half Devival footage and half appropriated video clips, e mbodied the ‘fair use’ concept of copyright taken to its ultimate logical conclusion. It’s on Polygram Video and you can find it at Sound Warehouse.
THE BOOK OF THE SUBGENIUS switched publishers from McGraw-Hill, who had stupidly wasted the meager p.r. money on yuppie college students, to Simon & Schuster, who wisely marketed it to ANYBODY CRAZY. I was commissioned to do a second, &qu ot;safer" book, High Weirdness By Mail, a nonfiction overview of all rival cults and extremists, from UFO nuts to white supremacists to the sickest in underground magazines. Mike Gunderloy, Waver Forest and Mark Johnston were co-authors on tha t.
Meanwhile, the real-life, street-level aspects of the Church were flaring far out of our control, or Dobbs’. People were standing on car hoods, ranting, all over the country. Heinous pranks against God, state and church were being performed in e very city. A kind of small SubGenius subculture developed, embodied at the so-called "Dokstok" gatherings in the deep South. Things that happened at the Dokstoks eclipse the weirdness embodied in all rock festivals, pagan gatherings, witch circl es, and "raves" combined.
When home computers became popular, various SubGenius BBS nets started up. We edited another book for Simon and Schuster, Three Fisted Tales of "Bob," which was an anthology of short stories about Dobbs for which we recruited such l uminaries as William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson. Even MTV got into the act, paying us to produce a "commercial" for ourselves as one of their "In Your Eye" Art Breaks.
And still we were making no real money, even off of our mail-order operation. Dobbs must have been intercepting most of it.
In 1990 I was invited to preach at a huge neo-Pagan gathering called Starwood, sponsored by Ohio’s Association for Consciousness Exploration (or A.C.E., of Cleveland). Repeated subsequent Devivals in this Pagan milieu, combined with a particularly d isgusting and sexist Stark Fist issue, somehow prompted a whole new breed of SubGenius preachers to come into existence: WOMEN. It seemed the Goddess liked "Bob" — or maybe just Connie, Dobbs’ Primary Wife. SubGenius Devivals began to tak e on a more rave-like, sensuous aspect, with shows in trendy clubs like Cleveland’s Smart Bar being preached by stripper-preachers like Sister Mary2 Au Contraire (our new superstar), the balladeer Sister Melodious Chopps, Rev. Velveteen Sly and the bump-a nd-grind Rev. Suzy the Floozy. Membership rose, in a couple of different ways.
Then came the counterfeiters, rip-offs and Slack Vampires, but we’ll get to those later.
GA: How many members do you have?
IS: There are now approximately 6,000 of the $20 Ordained Ministers/Subscribers. That subscription lasts up to eight years. Our three books have sold from 15,000 to 45,000 copies, depending on when they were published (they have slow but steady sales, and are all still in print). We’ve printed about 50,000 of those little $1 pamphlets. So I would estimate the total number of people who CALL themselves SubGeniuses, but are leery of sending the $20, at around 30 or 40 thousand maybe, tops. Who kn ows? Of course, most of the True SubGenii on the planet haven’t even heard of "Bob" or the Church yet.
Keep in mind that SubGeniuses come in all types. There is no ‘typical’ SubGenius. The geeky so-called Bobbies aren’t real SubGenii, just money sources. In my networking and travels I encounter little old ladies, college kids, seemingly straight busi nesspersons, skatepunks, old hippies, doctors, artists and show-biz types, truck drivers, Pagans, Deadheads, FBI and ATF infiltrators... it really runs the gamut as far as age, race, creed, etc. There are even Christian SubGeniuses, Orthodox Jewish SubGen ii, and Buddhist SubGenii. I don’t know of any Moslem SubGeniuses. There are SubGenii in Brazil, Israel, Kenya, The People’s Republic of China, and all over Europe and the English-speaking world in general.
The Church itself is all people who study and support the teachings of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs. Many such people are technically SubGeniuses, but not ordained Members. Anybody can read our book and then say they are members of the Church. That wo n’t do you much good, however, compared to what happens when you send in your $20 for an official ordainment — which is a real ordainment, by the way; you’ll be a real minister, able to perform legal marriages — and start getting your Stark Fist jo urnal in the mail. The magazine tells you about local SubGenius types you might want to meet, sell things to, or have sex with or whatever; you also learn which nearby stations carry the radio show, when revivals are coming up, etc. At that point you’re d ealing with The SubGenius Foundation, Inc., a business which is the only authorized mass outreach arm of the Church. There is a reason for the Church to have such a business front — without it, any idiotic TV executive could start making bad "wacky S ubGenius" sitcoms about "Bob," which would instantly destroy the integrity of "Bob’s" message. (It’s been tried.) Not to mention that none of the people who’ve worked so hard for the Church all these years would ever see any of th e money. At least, as long as the trademark stays in our hands, they get some meager pittance. That’s better than nothing, and infinitely better than seeing the Church coopted by Hollywood.
Our next big project will be an album or a series of albums, and after that, a movie. The problem is that we have to tenaciously hang onto creative control. The second some L.A./Hollywood ad-boy committee gets hold of this thing, it’ll be ruined. We have learned our lessons from our predecessors — John Kicfallusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, would be a perfect example.
GA: Who are some of the more prestigious SubGenius Members?
IS: Our idea of prestige, or Theirs? I consider the unknown Arkansas preacher Janor Hypercleats one of our most valued contributors. But his name doesn’t drop well in polite society. Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO is probably the most famous frequen t SubGenius collaborator. One of my partners and practically a co-founder, Paul Mavrides, has lately been starting to get the recognition he deserves. He designs our books, does some of the best art, co-writes, and generally polices my tendency to get all sappy and sentimental. He’s best known for comics like The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Anarchy, but his paintings and "serious" art are getting more and more attention. Other artists and weirdos who are famous and happen to also be SubGenius ministers include the painters Robert Williams and Gary Panter; cartoonists R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, the late Rick Griffin, and many more; movie directors Jonathan Demme and Mike "Wizard of Speed and Time" Jittlov; cou nterculture heroes Ken Kesey, Pee Wee Herman and Timothy Leary; philosopher Robert Anton Wilson, and "cyberpunk" writers like Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, and Lewis Shiner; David Ossman of The Firesign Theater... A lot of the SubGenius "celeb s" are secretly famous — that is, they’re worshipped in their odd field: Michael Peppe the performance artist, for instance, or Winston Smith the collage guy. We and the "band" Negativland have been scratching each other’s backs for 10 year s. There really hasn’t been much serious rock star or movie star interest. David Byrne was a dues-paying Sub for awhile but drifted away. In rare cases I’ll go out of my way to try to recruit a fringe rock star... I failed with Oingo Boingo (Elfman doesn’ t answer mail, probably the key to his success), but succeeded with the Rainmakers — who subsequently broke up, damn it. We’re working on Wayne Newton and Kitten Natividad currently.
GA: What type of mail do you get?
IS: We get roughly 20 pieces a day, ranging from wonderful through really bizarre to really awful. My favorite, of course, are the money orders from fanatical customers. Next best are the tapes, art and written pieces from people who are about to be, or deserve to be, famous — heretofore little-known bands like The Swinging Love Corpses of St. Louis, or artists like Joe Schwind. We get some absolutely mind-blowing unsolicited contributions of this nature. Then there are those who say to themselves, "Oh, they guys think they’re so weird, eh? Well, I’ll show ‘em WEIRD"... and they send things like blood and skin, or photos of the Dobbs art they’ve had tattooed onto their bodies. Just today I got a package containing the leftovers of some weird occult ritual -- a black hood, an envelope of ashes, a vial of sperm, and a blood-soaked letter in an unknown tongue. We also get long "confessions" from mutants — some of these folks spill their guts out to "Bob" or who ever is reading the mail (usually me), and the stories they tell can be pretty damn strange, or heart-wrenching. There’s a lot of loneliness out there. So-called "crackpots" and "kooks" send us a lot of information on alternative medic ine, conspiracy exposes, etc. The only "bad" mail we get are unfunny jokes from Bobbies, and complaints about our mail-order slowness. (Usually, it’s the Post Office’s fault.)
GA: The Church is anti-drugs. Why? What if your Members use drugs anyway?
IS: Huh? We said that? Oh yeah, right, I forgot, there’s a War on Drugs on. Even if we were gobbling vast quantities of LSD every other weekend, and dancing naked around bonfires and participating in glorious orgies, do you think we’d tell Y OU??
Actually, we’re not anti-drug; we’re against the stupid use of drugs. Especially the stupid use of stupid drugs (like speed, alcohol or MTV). Probably even the stupid use of "smart drugs."
It’s not that we’re against drugs, it’s just that we think they aren’t usually NECESSARY. "Bob" should be enough. Then again, having arms and legs isn’t absolutely NECESSARY, and quite frankly, "Bob" ISN’T always enough. He goes pretty well with psychedelics, apparently. From what I’ve been TOLD, you understand. A HELL of a lot of SubGeniuses are dedicated drug users, but it’s almost always ‘soft drugs’ like marijuana and other psychedelics. Hard drugs like booze, coke, TV... wel l, as "Bob" says, "If you can’t get real Slack, False Slack is better than none at all." The problem with drugs is, humans get hold of them and abuse them. We think all victimless crimes ought to be legalized, at least for SubGe niuses.
People tend to assume that what "Bob" has in his Pipe is marijuana. Usually, he’s smoking the sacred Tibetan herb, Habafropzipulops, or ‘Frop for short, which grows only on the graves or droppings of dead Tibetan holy men or fullblood Yetis. It’s a rare but legal herb, and you NEVER come down from it. What’s ironic is that the term "Frop" has lately become a slang term for marijuana, even among people who never heard of Dobbs. And the Feds have already caught on, in cidentally; the handbook for the New Jersey state highway cops instructs them that a "Bob" bumper sticker is reasonable cause to stop and search a car for drugs. Honest!
(Similarly, I sometimes see our jargon used by people who don’t know anything about the Church... words like, "Pinks" and "bulldada." It’s good to know that "Bob" has contributed something new to the English slanguage.)
GA: What sort of problems has the Church run into with blasphemy?
IS: None. We’re all for it. Oh, you mean problems from others. We’ve had disappointingly little hate-mail or bomb threats. Believe it or not, blaspheming is not yet illegal in this country, as long as you don’t use FCC-disapproved curse words. I do know that some "cult watchdogs" like the Cult Awareness group try to warn people away from the Church because they say it’s now a full-fledged "cult," just like the Branch Davidians. But they’re all so timid... Christian talk-show hos t Bob Larson occasionally lambasts us as one of the Devil’s more subtle ploys, but I don’t blame him; SubGeniuses are constantly pranking the guy. Down at the KNON radio station, where we do Hour of Slack Live, we get the rare bomb threat, but the people who call those in are so self-evidently braindead that we don’t even bother to call the cops about it anymore.
We’ve had a lot more problems from white supremacists than from any regular run-of-the-mill Christians. Maybe it’s because the Christians see that we are the "mockers" foretold for the End Times, and are just doing our part to fulfill Bibl ical prophecy. We’ve always said we were trying to "undo" the buckle of the Bible Belt, so that its pants would drop and it would be forced to gaze, unflinching, on its own private desires; maybe they LIKE it!!
I know lots of people who are harassed by religious nuts, though. I’ve become very sensitive to making sure, in my critiques of goofy cults, to separate Wiccans and Druids and suchlike Pagan types from Satanism. I consider the Satanism hysteria to b e a very dangerous outgrowth of fundamentalist Christianity, based almost entirely on their own paranoia and self-delusions. Especially when COPS, who should know better, fall for this "Satanic cults" garbage.
GA: What about problems with the IRS?
IS: Of course, any dealings by anyone with the IRS are always nightmarish. They have never paid much attention to The SubGenius Foundation, Inc., per se, because a quick scan of our bank records would tell the whole sad story. I, personally, as an individual, was audited in 1983 and 1984, and it caused me the worst headache I ever had in my life, but because I kept books so badly they decided I owed them taxes on money I never made — but I don’t really think I was being targeted due to my Su bGenius activity. It’s just that I was claiming "office in the home," and when you try to claim that, their computers send them after you. (In the end, they decided that, although I did all my work at home, I didn’t make enough money to qualify my home as an "office.") Since then, even though I have the most legitimate claim for "office in the home" in the world, I have never claimed it; they’d just audit me again, and nothing’s worth that headache.
It’s probably just a coincidence that my partner, Dr. Philo Drummond, was audited the same years.
If you want to hear tax nightmares, check out Paul Mavrides. He’s had the feds and the State of California both coming down on him like a relentless hammer for several years now. He insists that it’s not because he’s one of the most virulent critics of the government and the Conspiracy, but merely that they want every dime they can possibly get out of every cartoonist in the U.S., starting with him.
You see, we have to fight paranoia. We have to pretend our phones aren’t bugged and our tiny bank accounts aren’t monitored by the Feds or the CIA or whoever; otherwise we’d go NUTS — we’d be right where they want us. Just because we won’t le t up on this silly "JFK assassination" thing or this "Iran/Contra" thing... I mean, if you start thinking that They’re after you, you get REALLY paranoid.
Personally, I believe that my lackadaisical attitude and lack of real paranoia has made me immune to harassment by UFOs, Men in Black, the C.I.A., the N.S.A., etc. I tell myself that, CONSTANTLY. Those buzzes and clicks on my phone, and the ones in my head, are JUST TECHNICAL PROBLEMS, THAT’S ALL!!! REALLY!!!!
GA: What has the Church trademarked?
IS: The Face of Dobbs. That graphic. That’s all we really need. No "Church of the SubGenius" rip-offs could possibly survive without that Face. The classic portrait of "Bob" is what justifies and legitimizes literally everything else we do.
All of our individual works are copyrighted, of course, usually in the names of SubGenius Foundation and the participants. In other words, if some Conspiracy T-shirt company wanted to make shirts out of some SubGenius slogan or illustration, they’d have to have permission both from us and from that particular artist, and royalties would be divied up 50-50 the same way.
It’s a shame that we have to be sticklers for Conspiracy legalities but it’s necessary, not only to prevent thievery from ourselves, but also from our innocent contributors. Look at Robert Crumb — out of idealism, he never copyrighted his "Keep On Truckin’" illustrations, and hippie capitalists made zillions off of bumper stickers of those drawings. I know that Crumb could have used that money when HE was being pestered by the IRS.
Personally, for a number of reasons, I would love to be rich or famous enough to leave the U.S. and go live somewhere that I wouldn’t constantly be harassed by minor government officials — a place where I could BUY OFF those officials, REAL CHEAP. < /P>
GA: What sort of problems has the Church run into over the years with charlatans?
IS: Well, you know, when you get right down to it, we’re ALL charlatans. You wouldn’t be much of a SubGenius if you WEREN’T one, to some extent. The most disturbing cases have been these yo-yos who show up every year or so, nut cases who really, actually believe that they themselves are "Bob"/Jesus, or Jesus/Crowley, or whatever... It seems that once a year somebody comes along to whom I end up being forced to say, "Uh, listen, there’s a few things I maybe ought to TELL you ...&qu ot;
Sometimes it’s just obsessive fans, college-age kids who find their way to my door expecting spiritual enlightenment. SORRY. I do my best in these cases to serve as an example of one who ISN’T NUTS. But the REAL CRAZIES... there have been a few. Us ually they send us a few letters and are so disappointed by my reply they never write back. But there have been people like The Hawaiian Jesus. He was this hippie who had been living on a pot farm in Maui, and maybe reading the Bible too long under the ho t sun... he flew to Dallas and announced to me that he was Jesus, reincarnated. (He originally meant to tell this to "Bob", but I was, sadly, as close as he could get.) He looked the part, if you go by those Sunday School paintings. He brought w ith him a bunch of marijuana that smelled so strongly, even through the sealed plastic bags, you could whiff it for yards around. His plan was to get himself, and us, busted, so that he could appear on Johnny Carson that night (by virtue of our amazing me dia connections and lawyers!) and discuss the Biblical evidence that, not only was pot meant to be used, but that he was Jesus. I managed to talk him down from this plan, and I got rid of him by giving him the addresses of several white supremacist groups in Alabama and Mississippi that shared with him the concept of "Identity Christianity," the theory that the real "Jews" are the Anglos... he thought he had come up with that theory himself.
He was generally a really nice guy, and he did ACT and LOOK like the Prince of Peace. I told him I didn’t believe he was the Lord, and that I thought he had a Messiah complex, but that I would help "spread word of his Presence" — and we’ve done that. His name is Will Small. So be ready for His Arisal!
There’s always some street person pestering us with their revelations that they are "Bob" or the Anti"Bob," and they tend to sound really sad, and they cave in when challenged, but at least they’re so poor they can’t come to Dall as.
Then there’s Bob Dean. He’s another one who says he IS "Bob" Dobbs. Unfortunately, whereas most of his competitors are street people, he’s got a sugar daddy... and with this rich kid’s help, he’s actually released two CDs under the name Bob Dobbs. ("Bob" without the quotes; he knew he’d get sued if he used the quotes.)
In 1987 this young Toronto man, Bob Dean, and his wife showed up at my house to tell me he was "Bob" and that he was going to be doing radio talk shows on CKLN, Toronto, under that name. He was a lot craftier than the street psychos in tha t he made me think he was really just putting me on, that he wasn’t actually crazy. He seemed fixated on a small number of personalities that I consider to be kooks — the anonymous "Cosmic Awareness" teacher, Lyndon LaRouche, and a few other fri nge philosophers. So I basically told him I would be happy to see him play SubGenius tapes on the radio, but that I didn’t think it was a good idea to claim he WAS "Bob" — for one thing, he wasn’t "Bob," and for another, he didn’t LOOK like "Bob," and mainly, he didn’t sound anything like "Bob" at all. He went away babbling about how happy he was to be "Bob."
Nothing much happened until early 1992. Over the intervening years I’d gotten a few letters from Toronto-area SubGenius fans who thought I should shut this fake "Bob" down. At some point he was mixing SubGenius stuff with readings from The Protocol of the Elders of Zion, which is an infamous anti-semitic tract/hoax. The anti-semitic aspect really ticked me off and I complained to CKLN, with no response. I have since heard that Dean was fired from CKLN.
I soon received a package of publicity materials from DovEntertainment of Toronto, announcing this BOB’S MEDIA ECOLOGY album by Nelson Thall and Bob Dobbs (actually Bob Dean). All of their publicity descriptions of the album were worded in such a wa y that the blurbs could just as easily describe my projects and other authorized SubGenius projects. I.e., "The album is a transmutation of pop-culture sounds and the almighty spoken word, as assembled from media guru Bob Dobbs’ radio broadcasts betw een 1988 and 1991." To most people with any passing familiarity with anything "SubGenius," that describes The Hour Of Slack or the Berkeley SubGenius show.
At no time was I asked permission that our names and concepts be used, and no offer of royalties was ever made. They had sent me the album because they thought I might REVIEW it or something!
I simultaneously received letters from friends who had seen full-color, full-page, expensive ads for the album in magazines and assumed we’d "sold out" because they used such trendy, unSubGenius-like jargon. But, because it was by "Bo b Dobbs," they assumed it had our blessings. I got pretty upset at this point.
I called up Gerald Belanger, head of DovEntertainment, and told him I was quite unhappy and I couldn’t believe they were so obviously trying to rip us off. Belanger, to my surprise, agreed that we should indeed get compensation and credit, and he ag
reed with my suggestion that they put stickers on the album stating that it was NOT the "SubGenius" "Bob" Dobbs and that we did not authorize it. I actually thought the album was okay — my only objection was that it was being sold with
the implication that it was our stuff!
(In the end, Belanger continued to distribute the rip-off album despite his assurances to me to the contrary.)
Bob Dean never returned my calls.
I wrote a letter detailing my objections, suggestions and demands. I let about a month go by, and got no response. I called up Belanger. He said that he and Newfeld had presented my letter to Dean and Thall and they "just laughed" and said that we were broke nobodies in another country, you can’t trademark a name and there was nothing to worry about.
I called Thall. He acted surprised at my complaint, said Bob Dean had told him he had permission to use the name... and, in fact, that Dean had told Thall (and a number of other people, such as David Lynch and Frank Zappa) that Dean had originated t he name and character of "Bob" and that we were copying HIM. Thall acted like he wanted to get everything straightened out, and that he was sure we could turn this into a "win-win" situation. He also mentioned to me that his family own ed a bunch of newspapers in Canada, and that he was very close to the Marshall McLuhan estate. He suggested that we meet in Cleveland on Oct.9, as I was to be there to perform, and he would be on his way south to act as a consultant for the George Bush ca mpaign, and could stop in, meet me, and offer me "a deal."
In the meantime, Thall continued to have his hired p.r. firm send out the same misleading crap I’d complained about. Even when quizzed about the rip-off situation, this publicist was telling people that there was no problem, that Bob Dean was good f riends with Stang and had complete permission. Apparently Thall hadn’t taken my efforts seriously enough to tell his publicist the truth.
Thall then canceled our meeting but said he was sure we would reach an understanding. What understanding, I asked. Your office is still telling people this is an authorized SubGenius album. Oh, well, he hedged, and began repeating over and over, as if I hadn’t heard him the first time, "well, you can’t copyright a name, I never heard of SubGenius before Dean, but hey, controversy makes money;" he’d cut us in for royalties, "why don’t we market each others’ materials and turn this into a money-maker?" (I paraphrase.) I got pretty stern with him and told him I didn’t like his idea a bit, and that I did not want Bob Dean "playing" Bob Dobbs, because the worst-case scenario was that Dean would show up on David Letterman or someplace spouting crappy imitation SubGenius stuff and... what next? The Bob Dobbs Comedy Hour on Fox Network starring Bob Dean? Well, says Thall, I only produced this album, I can’t control Dean, and my album doesn’t use your trademarks, so there.
I then received three ad/interview pieces from different publications, all tying the fake Bob album to our Church.
I called Thall up and informed him of these ads and interviews, and that I did not want his album being sold anymore, period, until all connection with us had been removed. He got pretty upset and must have said ten times, "I have news for you, you can’t copyright a name." He said he’d never heard of Church of the SubGenius before Bob Dean and I could try all I wanted, no way could we say he couldn’t use the name Bob Dobbs. I could not get him to acknowledge that it was being used within a context that did indeed mislead people into thinking this was bona fide SubGenius product. That didn’t "sink in" at all, or at least he acted like it didn’t. Least of all did he seem to comprehend that there was anything UNETHICAL or even sligh tly RUDE about copping someone else’s character — whether or not they got away with it. I really think the very concept was over his head.
Then followed the Battle of the Press Releases. I had sent a form letter to a few select SubGenius collaborators explaining what was going on, and Thall got the idea that I was sending this letter everywhere. So, to retaliate, he sent a press releas e to most of the radio stations, album distributors, newspapers and music magazines in North America saying that I was this crazy nobody who was harassing him and the great Bob Dobbs, and that his Bob was the real Bob because he was a student of McLuhan a nd had interviewed Henry Kissinger once, and so everyone should buy or review their wonderful album. Included was an unfunny "bio" of their so-called Bob Dobbs (by "Connie Dobbs!") implying that Bob Dean was channeling "Bob " Dobbs.
GA: How can there be two "Bob" Dobbs?
IS: There aren’t. There’s J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and then there’s this jerk in Toronto named Bob Dean who calls himself Bob Dobbs because nobody will listen to him otherwise. It may be that he really does think he’s "Bob." Unlike the street people we encounter with Messiah complexes, Dean had the Thall family fortune to fund him. Basically, this rich kid, Nelson Thall, wanted to be an Art Boy, so he bought himself a Pet Artist — only the pet artist turned out to be a shameless pla giarist (not talentless — Dean’s one of the smoothest liars in the world). But by then it was too late — Thall had already committed money to distributing this album. So he has since tried to pretend that they were the great original thinkers, and that we are some kind of pretenders. Call him up, like friends of ours have done; that’s what he or his paid publicist will tell you. It’s like they live in their own little insulated world where truth and history don’t exist... it’s all the McLuhanesque "e lectric environment," or some such crap, to them.
GA: How has this problem hurt you?
IS: 1. Embarrassment 2. Their lies and slander 3. Financially.
As to embarrassment, imagine if somebody was using your name were on the air, badmouthing Jews and spreading racist propaganda! Wouldn’t you be a little ticked off? And that’s only part of it. Dean is just plain SILLY. People who don’t know a ny better think, "Well, if this is the Church of the SubGenius, I can do without it!" I get letters from people angry that "we" would say such mealy-mouthed crap as emits from Dean.
You should hear the interviews that Dean gives. (I’ve heard several because half of the ones he’s given have been to disguised SubGeniuses, who just wanted to see how stupid he’d get.) He insists he’s "Bob" Dobbs — he refuses to "step out of character," EVER — and he claims that back in 1979 he lived in Dallas, and that Philo and I used to "attend his meetings" and then ripped HIM off! He says this sort of thing just as straight-faced as if he actually believed it — eve n though there are hundreds who can testify otherwise. Maybe he really does believe it! Thall’s even funnier, in that he’s nervous around reporters and can never seem to get all his eggs in one basket. He started off telling one reporter that it was all a big coincidence — that they’d never heard of our Church or Dobbs. Then the reporter asked, "But then why does the album and p.r. contain all these other SubGenius phrases and concepts, like Slack, "Pinks," "the Conspiracy," Conni e Dobbs, the Xists, the word SubGenius, etc..? Suddenly Thall changed his story and said, yes, there was a connection, but it was that we stole our ideas from THEM.
Also, as Dobbs, Dean claims to have helped assassinate JFK and Martin Luther King. Ha ha, that’s real funny — if you’re a fascist at heart, I suppose. Somehow I can’t see the real "Bob" conspiring in quite that direction. Coming from Dean, with his attachment to things like The Protocol of the Elders of Zion, it’s probably wishful thinking.
Their sleaziness and hypocrisy is incredible! Their press release brags about how they interviewed "America’s number one political prisoner in his jail cell." But they wisely don’t say WHO that political prisoner might be. One might conclu de they meant Leonard Peltier. No. If you ask, it turns out they’re talking about Lyndon LaRouche!
Then there’s slander. Their slander hurts us. There are probably a few recipients of their press releases who had no prior exposure to the Church and believe them when they say I’m this death-threat-making nut case, and that they with their lame bla therings represent the true "Bob." (Can you imagine how ridiculous this all begins to seem to me??)
Financially: people will buy this album of theirs, listen to it, and conclude, "Now I know what SubGenius is about — egomaniacal nonsense. So much for "Bob"!" And they’ll thenceforth avoid any of our new books and albums and vide os.
Lately, however, they’ve become such transparent self-caricatures, and have put their own feet so deeply down their throats, that my attitude has switched to a sort of detached amusement, watching them dig their own graves in the pop culture/art/phi losophy world. "How deep will they dig that pit?"
They’re using us as their publicity stunt. That would be almost admirable, but for the particularly mean, reactionary and dishonest way they’ve gone about it. One problem is, they’re just not funny. Another is that they’re entirely ignorant o f underground and alternative protocol, and instead do everything the ‘cut-throat’ big business style... and they wonder why they’re getting hate mail!
GA: What are some of the legal issues involved here?
IS: Copyright infringement, obviously. There’s really no question that we could win that, in court... the problem is, we’d have to send a lawyer to Canada or hire one there just to get started, and we’re dead broke, and they know it. And would it be worth it? That’s a MASSIVE headache, and I have a book to finish. If they were in the U.S. it’d be a simple cease-and-desist letter. But they know we’re financially hamstrung while they have literally limitless funds. Thall’s dad owns a bunch of Ca nadian newspapers, and I guess he must give Nelson all he needs.
All I have to do is bide my time and they’ll blow it. They’ve publicly accused me of sending them all this hate mail and harassing them by phone. Actually, I’ve never given their number or address out to any SubGenii, and I certainly never harassed them. They’re the ones who sent all these idiotic press releases out, giving their number — and they wonder why they’re getting angry calls, and why their sample CDs to radio stations are returned to them, all smashed to pieces with a hammer! PLENTY of pe ople can see through their scheme and are angry without any inciting on our part. Thall and Dean literally don’t seem to comprehend why anybody besides me might be angry at them. It’s almost hilariously typical of the stupid rich, and yuppie business prac tices — like a cartoon of the "heartless silver spoons" vs. the "lovable tin cups."
GA: Why hasn’t your "Bob" Dobbs spoken up?
IS: The real "Bob" has spoken up. He is quoted extensively in our publications regarding the problems of Bobbies and misrepresentations of the Church. But he’s way too busy and lucky to have to deal with a couple of pathetic, jealous nobodies like Dean and Thall. He probably doesn’t even know about them. Besides, we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
GA: How do the two Bobs differ in style and content?
IS: Bob Dean embodies a lot of what "Bob" Dobbs stands against... uncreative dishonesty being number one. The true "Bob" is funny, yet angry, yet compassionate. Dean is none of those; instead, he’s a glib egomaniac wh o talks mainly about what a wise and insightful guy he himself is. He’s a gross elitist, with kind of a fascist, right-wing edge to his rap — but without the satire!! His big heroes include LaRouche and Kissinger. Also, whereas Dobbs’ teachings may sound downright absurd to disbelievers, there actually is a very coherent, if psychedelicised, logic to his Word. He makes sense in a weird sort of way. Dean, on the other hand, showers his listeners with trendy jargon that doesn’t actually make a lick o f sense. It’s confusing in an annoying way... because it’s not deliberately confusing. Dean has a tendency to sound like a coke-head with a big vocabulary, but none of what he says really ‘connects’ on any emotional level, except maybe with die-har d McLuhan cultists.
He’s fixated on a small number of select crackpots and visionaries, and he takes them altogether too seriously (Mae Brussell, LaRouche, Cosmic Awareness, etc.). We synthesize ALL kooks.... but we tell our audience to distrust them, and be selective as they look into what they have to say — not worship them.
These two guys worship Marshall McLuhan the way I worship Jimi Hendrix. It’s SICK. They take McLuhan’s basic rap, and put our name on it. I suspect that one reason they’ve been so nasty is that I didn’t show proper respect for their ‘god’ in conversations with them. The fact they they’ve memorized McLuhan’s essays and kissed the butt-shoes of the great man himself simply doesn’t impress me in the least. Any intellectual nerd could do that.
GA: Could you comment on the second CD, and how Negativland was duped?
IS: This is one of the saddest aspects of the whole deal. Negativland and the Church have, of course, been mutually exploiting each other since 1984, when they opened at our infamous Night of Slack Devival in San Francisco. We have a lot in common. Anyway, even after I had started complaining to Thall, he and Dean decided to do a second BOB’S MEDIA ECOLOGY album. Only this time, they would hire the hippest of the hip to remix the material from their first album. They paid Steve St ein and Negativland, both of whom surely needed the cash, to do short, 5-minute bits. When Mark Hosler and the other Negativland guys got the tape, they asked, "Hey — this doesn’t sound very SubGenius-like; did you get permission to do this from the guys in Dallas?" At which point Thall said, "YES." So they did these remixes.
Now, Negativland isn’t just angry that they got rooked into contributing to a rip-off. It was even worse than that. The packaging of BOB’S MEDIA ECOLOGY 2 is done in such a way that it appears to be a Negativland album — their name is the main thing you see, even though they did only 5 minutes of the whole thing. Ironic, that’s for sure, considering the U-2 disaster... but one good thing came out of it. Dean and Thall are now hated not only by me, and all SubGeniuses, but also by Negat ivland and all Negativland fans who know about this debacle. You can call up Mark Hosler or Chris Grigg or Don Joyce if you have any question about this.
GA: A 1987 pamphlet of yours says that "the official High Priest/Priestess I.D. card that comes with membership encourages the new SubGenius to twist the Church for his own ends." How do you feel about the Canadian Bob Dobbs in lig ht of that?
IS: Twist it, sure.... not that it could be much more twisted. We didn’t expect anybody to claim to be the whole thing, lock stock and barrel. We never said that property was theft. That’s for Commies. We’ve always encouraged people to & quot;take the ball and run with it," but we certainly never thought anybody would be greedy enough to claim they WERE the ball, and that everybody was supposed to run with them.
Hundreds of people — no, thousands — have managed to collaborate with us, to indeed twist the Church their own ways. We’ve never had any trouble with a single one of those thousands of people, because it was a mutual exploitation. This is the first time anybody has CHEATED us, tried to cut us out entirely. Thall will argue that he offered us "a deal." Sure he did, but only after we threatened to sue. And some deal — he’d allow us to buy his albums from him and resell them. Grrrrr!!!
GA: What’s pissed you off most in this hassle, and what have you learned from it?
IS: Number one: rich people can do any damn thing they want. And they think it’s funny if somebody who’s poor suffers because of it.
I know how that sounds... how "bleeding heart liberal, have-not" that sounds. But it’s the horrible damn truth. The hideous, nightmarish truth.
Unconnected to the Dean/Thall thing, one disturbing revelation I got from doing SubGenius, in general, was how many people are so prejudiced against perceived "success" on the part of their own friends. There are those so-called SubGenii, who see our video in a store and instantly assume it means 1) we’re now rich, 2) therefore we must have ‘sold out’ and 3) that we’re now inaccessible assholes who think they’re "above" everyone else (as if there was anything WRONG with any of th at!). Actually, my phone number is in the Stark Fist and anybody who wants to can call me up. Our address is printed on everything we do, and it’s not like some fulfillment company handles the mail. I take the mail out of the P.O. box myself. When we do l ive shows we don’t hide out backstage — we’re at the sales table, hawking our goods, gabbing with our fellow Subs, etc. Unfortunately, since I’ve achieved some minor notoriety, all these naive kids think that means I’m in some ivory tower somewhere. Actua lly I’m in a backyard outhouse in Dallas and, considering the kinds of fruitcakes I have to deal with on a daily basis, I’m pretty damned available. That’s my "job."
GA: Moving into other gray areas, your "Bob" has appeared again and again in the computer world. Any comments on the Mac virus?
IS: Wow. That one was a gas. The only time we ever seem to get national press is when somebody else does something horrible in our name. Essentially, the Church got blamed in the press for the first Macintosh virus, even though nobody on our mailing list had anything to do with it.
The story goes: On March 2, 1989 or so, on all Macintosh computers that had been infected (by modem usually), there appeared on those screens upon "booting up" a message advocating world peace, with a graphic of the earth. All well and goo d. It was a benign virus; after flashing this corny New Age message onscreen, it disappeared forever, and theoretically caused no damage at all. Understandably, those Mac users who saw it were upset that their systems had been transgressed. Frankly, I thi nk they should have been thankful for it, because this was the first thing that caused national attention to be focused on viruses, yet through a benign virus! Its existence probably alerted thousands to the dangers of malignant computer viruses, a nd prompted them to use virus-cleansing programs, probably in the nick of time.
It wasn’t even anonymous. The creator, Richard Brandow, was credited onscreen. But the San Francisco Chronicle called him up and asked him why he’d done it. He said that he’d been inspired by prankster groups like the Neoists and the SubGenii . The Chronicle latched onto that "SubGenius" connection (the Church having been a minor fad in SF at the time), and suddenly all the wire services were carrying the story that this "joke that turned into a cult" was responsible for th e most vile and evil computer virus known to man. It was publicity you couldn’t buy for a million bucks, even though there wasn’t a shred of truth in it.
If the Church were to create a computer virus, you can rest assured that, firstly, it would NOT be a corny message of "world peace" that was displayed onscreen, and secondly, that it would NOT infect JUST THE COMPUTER.
The best part of all was that newspapers all over the country were stating that "Bob" Dobbs was a sinister cult leader who had been assassinated in 1984, and his deranged followers had commissioned this deadly virus to be invented. It cert ainly taught me how much to trust what I read in the papers or hear on the news!
I don’t feel sorry for those who got unreasonably bent out of shape over the thing; I know it terrified countless computer geeks with the EASE with which their holy machines had been invaded. But that was a lesson they should have been glad to learn the easy way. If it damaged any systems, I’m sorry those owners think we had anything to do with it. They should be glad we didn’t; for if we had, their screens might have been exploding all over the world...
GA: Didn’t the Amiga computer end up with "Bob’s" head as a font or a keyboard symbol?
IS: Well, it’s not the actual Dobbshead, it’s a sort of digitized, mini-iconic symbol of a Dobbshead. We were pleased as punch at that. The way it happened: a pal of ours was working as a programmer on the Amiga during its development, and had been using the Dobbshead as a sort of test-pattern. The other programmers loved it and it ended up as one of the dedicated ‘fonts’ or whatever. Since it’s only a few millimeters high, it doesn’t look like the real "Bob", but only gives the impressio n of being him... so it’s perfect, it spreads his legend without damaging our trademark.
GA: There are also IBM computer BBSs which celebrate "Bob" Dobbs. Any comments on those?
IS: I wish I had the time and modem to follow these and participate. My partner Philo monitors some of that. The gossip we hear about ourselves is great. It’s incredible to read these people who have never met you arguing about your personal li fe. I’d like to know where they get some of their stories. I have read on BBSs that I am nearly blind; that I see Dobbs in dreams; that I have a dozen wives and girlfriends; that I have a dozen husbands and boyfriends; that I’m rich; that I forced somebod y to send someone else a mail-bomb; that I’m dead. (God forbid that the ACTUAL TRUTH get out!!) I keep seeing variations on the old Brag of the SubGenius... there must be a couple of hundred different Brags floating around out there on the n et.
What distresses me is that there aren’t any parodies of the Church. Of course, it’s the ultimate parody of all life on earth, but... you’d think somebody would do it anyway. So far the only good parody of the Church was done by one of Dobbs’ own 13 Apostles, St. Janor Hypercleats, with his "Church of DON."
GA: The Church sells some audio and video tapes. Which sell best and what will people learn by getting them?
IS: They’ll learn hundreds of cool new lines they can use to impress their friends, first off. Mainly they’ll be entertained and simultaneously fired up with renewed righteous hate for the Conspiracy.
The distinguishing factor about our tapes is the editing style. We’ve been perpetuating this manic style for 13 years. It’s called "Wellmanization" after Puzzling Evidence’s founder. We collage everything from recordings of our own devival preachings and songs, to clips from radio preachers and monster movies... heard in stereo, it’s actually pretty damn spectacular, although, it requires close concentration by the listener. You can hear any given SubGenius tape or radio show a dozen times and you’ll keep finding nuggets you missed before.
Our video ARISE has been excerpted on the syndicated TV show Nightflight for several years now, but in censored form. ARISE would be a good place for anybody to start soaking in SubGenius electronic media. On the other hand, the cassette tapes are a lot cheaper. Our tape, "Media Barrage 10: REPENT!" is a real good starter; although almost 10 years old, it embodies the linear yet brain-twisting style of the SubGenius mind-cut technique. You CANNOT be BORED by any SubGenius tape; you might be NUMBED, but that’s because you tried to take in too much at once.
The Hour of Slack radio program is the most regular SubGenius output going, right now. A lot of people buy whatever is the latest Hour of Slack (if they don’t live in a place where it’s on the air), and then they’re hooked. Or they buy our Best Of HoS tape. These and the media barrages are equal parts music, ranting and collage. We also have a few tapes that are nothing but music, such as The Hairs in "Bob’s" Ears, and the new "Bob’s" Media Pollutio n. Generally, any given SubGenius audio tape is a cross-section of many different bands, ranters, preachers and tape-cutters.
Although ARISE is distributed by Polygram, we have produced several other videotapes which may be of equal interest to countercultural diehards, which we alone sell. "Pre-Dobbs Stangfilms" is chock-full of the claymation porn ography and satirical underground travelogs I did before I worked for Dobbs, plus a lot of stuff censored from ARISE. We also sell videos of certain special live stage devivals, intercut with video/computer psychedelia... such as the "Rant N’ Rave" videotape starring Sister Mary2, and "Night of Slack" from the infamous San Francisco show where "Bob" was first assassinated. That one has all the classic old-time SubGenius preachers: Pope David Meyer, St. Ja nor Hypercleats, Dr. Hal Robins, Pope Sternodox, and The Band That Dare Not Speak Its Name.
GA: Surely your tapes have been pirated and people have traded copies without paying the Church. How do you feel about that?
IS: It helps us at this stage, and probably always will help us as long as we’re this obscure. If we were persnickety about this, we’d print our stuff on orange paper so it couldn’t be xeroxed.
Much of the Hour of Slack radio material come from tapes traded to me. I can’t afford to go buy albums by, say, Rudy Schwartz Project or Zoogz Rift or whoever... but I hear ‘em and give ‘em airplay because they’re traded to me (often by the a rtists themselves). Or, say, somebody gives their pal a copy of our stuff, in return for some amazing obscure prank call tape (which I collect). The guy decides he likes our stuff and realizes he can get MORE, from us — so he sends US a copy of that great prank call tape in trade. I probably trade as many SubGenius tapes as I sell. But it keeps us awash in new material, all the time. It’s sort of time-consuming and not very cost effective, but staying open and loose like this is precisely what makes the w hole money-eating project worthwhile.
Besides, anybody can tune in to Hour of Slack, and copy that. It’s on in 17 cities. The bigger stations include WFMU (E. Orange, New Jersey, reaching Manhattan), WCSB Cleveland, WREK Atlanta, and WZRD Chicago. It’s on in Madison, Wisconsin and at St anford University in California... and of course KNON in Dallas.
GA: Do you think any such pirated tapes have ultimately hurt sales, or helps spread the word about the Church?
IS: As I said, it helps. I trade all kinds of tapes myself. And it’s all the kind of similarly obscure stuff that you don’t find in stores. However, I don’t SELL copies of other people’s tapes, and if we find out somebody is simply copying our t apes and selling them, bootlegging us in other words, we would be pretty pissed. They would feel "Bob’s" wrath. It’s a moot point, though; they’d sell even less copies than we do. In fact, there was this brain-damaged kid in New York or someplac e, who decided to advertise bootleg copies of ARISE. I understand that he sold maybe 5 copies. Our braying laughter at his expense was well worth any slight damage he might have done; he spent far more on the ads than he ever got back in sales.
Plus, bootleg copies are almost always of poor technical quality. I would imagine that if a collector purchased a bootleg of ARISE, he’d think, "Gee, this is a lot better than I expected... getting a clean stereo copy from the source wou ld be WORTH it! Then, at least, I could copy it for my friends!"
GA: Our readers who collect tapes might wish to know your feelings on recording and playing tapes with Dolby.
IS: The introduction of Dolby into cheesy home taping decks is one of the Conspiracy’s sickest, most perverse sales ruses. On the other hand, I must say that any Pink who’s fooled by it, deserves to be fooled. I don’t know ANYBODY who uses Dolby in home taping anymore. In most machines that you or I can afford, it’s nothing but a sound MUFFLING device. It gets rid of some hiss, alright; it also eliminates detail and high end. Only an IDIOT would use it in most home taping situations.
This is not to say that the Dolby system itself is evil. It’s a wonderful invention, FOR VERY TOP-OF-THE-LINE GEAR. It’s great for professional applications, with the kind of gear used in sound studios. I used to mix film soundtracks for a living, a nd in that realm Dolby makes sense. But home decks are just too clunky and inexact, too low-tech, for Dolby to do what it’s supposed to. Instead it’s just a misused sales tool.
GA: Let’s talk more about the book, High Weirdness by Mail. How did you discover cool mail, zines, etc.? Your interest predated Factsheet Five, no?
IS: Mike Gunderloy told me that Factsheet Five was itself inspired by our early STARK FISTs, which had a section on oddball publications. Gunderloy was one of the earliest SubGenius contributors and saw that the world could use mor e of what we were fitfully publishing along those lines. In a way, I suppose we were ‘networking’ before there was a word for it.
I guess it started for me when, as a young sci-fi movie fan, I did a fanzine at age 12 to 15... that’s when I learned how relatively cheap and easy it was to self-publish, at least for a small circle of weirdos. Later, after comics went up to 50¢, I started collecting stuff equally weird but much cheaper than comic books: kook literature. In the early ‘70s I spent any spare dough on 16mm short films I was producing. I also got involved in a small network that centered around the Firesign Theater. I may be mistaken, but I think that’s where Gunderloy and I first crossed paths — in fact, several of those old Firesign fan club members later turned into SubGenius contributors. Anyway, I dropped out of the fanzine world for many years while raising my ki ds and making a living editing business films. Once the Church got moving, I quit the film biz (except for the occasional banned documentaries, like Mickey Grant’s THE CU CHI TUNNELS, which concerned the Viet Cong’s side of the Vietnam War) and got back i nto "underground" publishing and SubGenius image-mongering. My whole life, I’ve been exploiting what you might call "home media," pushing that cheap media as far as the envelope would stretch. It’s FUN. It’s also all I could ever AFFOR D.
GA: Did you get any especially weird mail as a result of High Weirdness?
IS: That book was based on the weird mail we’d already gotten. What it produced, however, was some paranoid mail. We had lambasted a number of hate groups in it, especially white supremacists, and one of those groups — The Church of the Creator — published a death threat against me in their magazine, Racial Loyalty. It reprinted my paragraph on them wherein I’d called them odious inbred perverts, and they asked that any "Dallas bootboys" who could locate "the Jew Stang" ; should "remind him what some of our other readers did to a certain other obnoxious Jew talk show host." (P.S., the punchline is, not only am I not Jewish, I’m probably related to these N. Carolina rednecks!) That wouldn’t have bothered me much, except that I then learned that a frustrated fellow underground writer, in a fit of jealousy over my perceived success with SubGenius, had sent all those racist groups my "human" name and home address, along with my nasty commen ts about them — in hopes that one of them would kill me or at least my wife and kids. (This may give you an idea of the kind of counterculture integrity that exists out there.) This was serious enough that I called the FBI about it, so that IF my house go t burned to the ground, they’d know who to investigate. Nothing ever happened. I would assume that the FBI were glad to have their files on the Church updated...
The Secret Service investigated the Church in 1982 — showed up at my house wanting to know if we were serious about advocating killing Reagan. (We weren’t — exactly.) They’d been alerted to us by some good citizen, but hadn’t seen our materials. We showed them our stuff and they left ordained ministers.
GA: What things are you especially proud of?
IS: The best thing about this whole scam has been "discovering" "new" artists. The mutual exploitation aspect is GREAT. They need the exposure, and we need the freshness, the ever-sicker new material.
Most of my very best friends I met through the Church. (Also some of the grossest jerks, but they don’t count.) If you’re patient enough to tolerate the geeks and glad-handers, you can wade through them to meet the coolest and most amazing folks on the planet.
There have been drawbacks, as well. Straddling the brink of poverty is one. Also, as we get slightly famous, a few people equate modest success with selling out. They’re so stuck in their little alternative culture world... they only know 50 people, all of them college age kids, and if 5 of those people also become SubGeniuses, then they think the Church has become too "popular" and therefore "not cool anymore." Well, I guess those folks were a bit too concerned with being cool and popular themselves, because it never worried us that much one way or the other. I suppose they’ll REALLY feel left out when, in 1998, every man, woman and child on the planet is FORCED to believe in "Bob" whether they want to o r not!!
It’s like, for these armchair undergrounders, once you get the barest smidgen of recognition, you’ve "SOLD OUT." SOLD OUT!!! I’d like anybody to look at the last STARK FIST and say we’ve "sold out." It’s so extreme it offe nded the most offensive underground cartoonists!
GA: I read you were working on a book about bummers. Is that still in progress? If so, what sorts of bummers? Are you looking for stories from people?
IS: For about 5 years we’ve had feelers out, trying to collect first-hand accounts of particularly spectacular, "telling," or pathos-laden BAD DRUG TRIPS. These would probably mostly be "bad acid trips" and the like, although terrible alcohol trips are certainly also included. I have gotten dozens of submissions, but only a handful of them are well written enough or horrifying enough to be of interest. A lot of it has been, "Yeah dude like, I took two hits and drank ten beers and I puked on my date." That’s not what we’re looking for. We want VISIONARY bummers. They don’t even have to be "bummers"; that is, they can be drug stories that are especially pertinent because of their totally surreal nature.
It’s a delicate matter, a thin line to tread, and I have to have REALLY GOOD SAMPLES in order to even approach a publisher with it. I don’t want it to be perceived as either an anti-drug book or a pro-drug book; it’s just accounts of what happened, that will probably be HILARIOUSLY FUNNY to old psychedelics users, and DREADFULLY PERPLEXING to straight people. It would also be educational to youngsters who are contemplating getting into psychedelics, in that it would give them helpful hints as to how to avoid certain bad situations. The most important thing, to me, is that it function to prevent panic in first-time users... i.e., they’d know from reading this book that no matter how far out there they may feel, they WILL COME DOWN. What I DON’T want to do is increase the drug hysteria.
I’m very much still looking for stories; I haven’t hit up any publishers yet. Anyone who has a "BUMMER" worth telling is most welcome to submit it to our P.O. box in Dallas. Anywhere from two to 20 pages, handwritten or typed, is fine... b ut we don’t want dopey juvenile garbage, we want powerful and riveting ALL TOO REAL TRUTH AND HORROR AND GLORY!!
GA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
IS: There are a couple of thousand SubGeniuses who got involved back in the early ‘80s and lost interest after awhile. I would like them to know that the Church has expanded in some very major ways that may re-interest them. The biggest change i s the influx of women, the female influence. Our live stage devivals are so vastly different from the old parade of bespectacled male geeks that you’d hardly believe it. With the gorgeous, brilliant, fast-talking witch-lady preachers like Mary2, and the i nteractive giant-screen video backdrops, you’d scarcely recognize the new face of the Church. It’s painfully true that for many years our shows were conducted and attended by what looked like the lowest geeks of sci-fi fandom. There was a time when the Go od Sex for Mutants Dating League was nothing but a bunch of lonely fat guys looking for dates. We have taken the orgiastic "Dokstok" spirit and managed to bring it intact into the other hinterlands. You haven’t lived until you’ve undergon e, and consummated, a SubGenius "Short Duration Mass Marriage Ceremony." This is a grass-roots anti-movement so weird, so Midwestern, Southern and hick-like, that, by definition, the trendoids in L.A. and New York will be the LAST to pick up on it. This is your chance to show the foolish humans that TOTAL ALL-OUT FULL-TILT FREEDOM is MORE available right in your own podunk home town than in the coolest, trendiest, "rave scene" nightclubs. Abnormality need not be bought up and subverted by the Conspiracy. As long as you crazy rednecks and bad boys and girls can resist the commercialized fake slack of the media, YOU SHALL HAVE SLACK.
GA: How can interested readers get in touch with you?
IS: Rev. Ivan Stang, The SubGenius Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 140306, Dallas, TX 75214. Send an SASE for free information on Church of the SubGenius products (not much more info than you have right here, actually). Send $1 for the Pamphlet that st arted it all, or for the mighty Catalog of all our goods (T-shirts, etc.). Send $14 for The Book of the SubGenius or any of our other books. Send $8 for any given audio tape. $20 for the video, ARISE. $20 for the most important thing — Membe rship and ordainment as a minister in the Church, and a subscription to The Stark Fist of Removal magazine. Make checks to: The SubGenius Foundation. Thank you and praise "Bob."
GA: Thank you too!