Performance and The Odd Lamb
31 Oct, 2008 - Samuel Kho
Costumes, wacky songs, a restless crowd. No, this is not about Halloween; on a Thursday evening this past September, I acted as performer-assistant at a show by The Odd Lamb, a name among many under which artist Jonathan Atchley records. For me, having been a visual artist, now a curator and sometime gallerist who maybe harbors rock star fantasies, the realm of performance art is still completely fair game. As a child, I got to be the go-to entertainment guy at family get-togethers. In college, there was my crucified-man bit, captured on video. And a mere five or so years ago, I took the stage at Fuller Theological Seminary and “interacted” with a banner-object labeled with semi-nonsense poetry.
Which leads me to why I decided to take on the role as The Odd Lamb’s assistant. This time, it wouldn’t be me carrying the show; I could merely share the spotlight by coat-tailing under someone else’s vision. But I found out how much fun the role could be. I became co-pilot in Jonathan Atchley’s Odd trip, and I found out there was no such thing as cruise-control in that universe. Veering off to new places is actually mandatory.
Rewind. I already had bought Jonathan’s CD, Multi-Mouth Runner, months before. Our first meeting in New York was funny, but ominous. I went over to shake his hand, and the next thing I know, Jonathan was on the floor with his legs wrapped around my ankles, trying to wrestle me down. Congratulations, I had just been “scissor-kicked”, Jonathan Atchley-style.
Shenanigans aside, I enjoyed his CD. The cover art contains one of his drawings: black-and-white Cubistic explosions, combined with a riot of collaged eyes, mouths, etc. His visuals reflect the songs inside, which range from discordant (abrupt rhythm changes), to beat-driven and nostalgic (with sample of “Thundercats, ho!”), to endearing (singing children, acoustic guitar).
What got me more excited was where the show was to happen – his friend’s place, a skate-surf store called Active Ride Shop in a major Orange County shopping center. Finally, this was my chance to raise hell in the land of Mischa Barton! It was a misfit’s revenge on the Popular Crowd, high art gambit within explicit commercialism! To make it even more tantalizing, the show was inserted as part of store promotions in the middle of Orange County Fashion Week!
Past the glittering runway at Macy’s, along tall palm trees, on the way to California Pizza Kitchen or the Lexus-filled parking lot, unsuspecting teenagers were greeted (or accosted) by bubbly employees of Active Ride Shop. One clerk, a Keanu Reeves look-alike, paced around outside, with a large video screen across his chest. Free juice drinks and skate-brand accoutrements lured curious passerby, holding them captive at the store, if only for a moment. By this time, Jonathan and I had already carried in four armfuls of equipment which plugged into the store’s own PA system. We even had a pleasant sound guy named Luke. There was the scrambling for an extra table (which never materialized) and the nervous wait for showtime. The larger-than-life LRG (fashion brand) logo displayed behind the ceiling-to-floor window was soon carted off and replaced, incredibly enough, by a wall of sheet after sheet of Jonathan’s wacky marker drawings.
Much of the show can be relived by typing “The Odd Lamb” into YouTube. Jonathan is in a plain white V-neck shirt, playing guitar or at the keyboards, crooning into his mic. And what was my part, you ask? I am seated behind a small table, dressed in a tie; looking the part of a regular office worker, I was armed with a suitcase full (literally) of props. With our run-throughs earlier that day and my two-paged sheet of directions always in front of me, I felt quite ready to make a fool of myself. One of the first songs, Mr. Skir, is a magical paper puppet show. About a boy’s mysterious encounter with a ghost, it easily charms the crowd. But for action buffs, it’s got to be the song I am Beast Bait Boy. Hear Me Get Eaten. In it, I pop out from beneath my table after hearing my cue in that song’s growling noise effects. As the Beast, complete with yarn-covered shirt, nose painted black, black socks for gloves, I proceed to have a somewhat choreographed fight with The Odd Lamb. Very thrilling. And while you’re on YouTube, don’t forget to check one of my favorites, the nicely-paced song Oh Ordained Epistemology.
The more mundane moments of the show had me pulling out tableware from my suitcase, cutting up a paperback copy of Fight Club, eating a small lunch, cutting out girls from GQ Magazine, doing office-looking busy work, and collaging a tree form. Don’t even ask me to interpret how that comes together. All I know was I went home highly fulfilled and happy that night. Jonathan later paid me the big compliment about my “masterful assistantmanship.” Maybe it looked like I knew what I was doing, but much of it was improvised, definitely veering off prepared ideas.
Besides YouTube, visit The Odd Lamb website or his MySpace page. Get on the mailing list, download his songs to your heart’s content, and then drop him some generous change. Upcoming for the artist will be “free-styled” recordings under Neenu Naanu, one of his side projects. Some of that new material will be played live on November 1, part of a one-evening art exhibition I organized at a warehouse (see www.100stewards.com for details). In the spirit of veering from prepared ideas, here is some additional wisdom from the mouth of Jonathan Atchley.
Question: What are the biggest influences that went into recording Multi-Mouth Runner?
I had quit making music and art out of anxious frustration, because I was trying too hard to make something “good.” I’d say at that point I started on the path of not MAKING something take place but ALLOWING something to take place.
It’s important to note, too, that I wanted to say some huge things and so I dealt with themes that were in my head– just as much as what came from experiences. It was more experimental and theoretical in that way. Thus the title Multi-Mouth Runner. A lot came out of those explorations.
To have your own music studio is mindblowing! I really feel like I could make any sound I can imagine digitally . . . I was listening to Pinback, Sufjan Stevens, Half-Handed Cloud, Daniel Johnston, Dan Deacon, Animal Collective, Danielson, etc. Books I was reading were mostly the Bible, Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard, The Conspiracy of Art by Jean Baudrillard, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol, among others.
Question: As our nation is caught between negative campaigning and economic woes, may I ask you to name some of your pet peeves?
Sitting too much, bad food I have to eat, dust, when dogs lick me when I don’t want them to, rip-tides when I’m surfing, when I see my shadow while surfing a wave, cuts on top of my hands – that every time I put my hands in my pockets they get re-hurt, getting a piece of popcorn stuck between my gums and teeth, eyelashes that won’t get unstuck from my eyeball . . . that stuff is crappy.