A line of magnificent thrones made from scrap wood tower over the table laden with platters of food. On each throne lounges an angel of decadence: a woman dressed as a man with a buccaneer’s jacket and breeches, Rock Star bartender Flash wearing a clock on his head like a admiral’s hat, a voluptuous woman in a tattered negligee and garish rouge. Grouped around them are musicians bearing trumpets, drums, and a tuba (you know how I feel about tubas). Most of them sport aviator glasses and some ruffled shirts, though the stifling heat has caused many of them to ditch their shirts and is making the cross-dresser’s moustache peel away from her skin where her upper lip is glowing with perspiration.
In the center of the table, clustered round by platters of fruit, raw fish, sausages, and bread is the nude and oiled body of Danny Starling, beautiful diva boy, hands chained behind his back and mouth stuffed with a lemon. His being ritualistically flogged in time to the music by the lovely cowbell player in a black lace dress. Mouthwatering and heartstopping. This is the scene I walked in to today for my cameo in the Extra Action Marching Band’s new short film.
Many of you, dear readers, are already familiar with the peculiar, atavistic magic of EAMB, San Francisco’s infamous anarchist marching band. Perhaps you were at a gallery opening or a cocktail party, sipping your drink in your best civilized monkey suit or innocently gadding about some street festival. All of a sudden a drumbeat is heard from just around the corner, insistent and primal, pulling at your loins. Then horns, blaring like a legion of fallen angels, cut through conversation and mess up the DJ’s groove. The door bursts open, the crowds part, and a sinuous rush of sequined, implacable dancers burst through waving pom poms in your face, followed by a motley, scrofulous hoard of musicians. Those in the know will dump their cocktails on their neighbor’s head and get to grinding. Resistance is futile. Extra Action has crashed your party.
Extra Action holds a special place in my heart. I first saw EAMB founder Simon Cheffins in a band called Crash Warship, which formed my early impressions of the Bay Area. I was a hungry young girl of eighteen, fresh from the conservative suburbs of Boston, nearly out of my mind with repressed desires. My first week in town I met a sweet boy who lived in a coop in Berkeley, and he offered to deflower me by taking me to a show. He warned me not to wear anything that couldn’t get ripped or stained. How could I resist?
The show itself is indelibly burned into my memory as one of those shining moments confirming the overall benevolence of the universe that provides what you most need, when you most need it. A dark room, hot and rank, filled with bodies convulsed in ecstatic trance. The musicians enter from the back, storming the crowd, tossing us back and pulling us in. I find myself on my knees beneath a bass drum, someone is pouring what smells like animal blood into my hair and tiger balm across my belly. I am burning, sweating, and nothing else exists but this instant of revelation. It is ancient, this experience, the shaman’s hut, the temple of Eleusius, the ecstasy of Saint Teresa. It is my first experience with Bacchus’s legions.
Then, a couple of years later, Extra Action stormed some boring, pretentious artsy party that I was surviving in an Oakland warehouse. The orgasmic energy I remembered from Crash Warship had carried over. Again the musicians stormed the stunned audience, breaking their will to stand still with a rendition of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs", the horns lifting it up and the drums nailing it to the floor, stretching us in between. A girl in a sequined thong and blonde wig climbed the pillar in front of me and humped it nonchalantly. She does this every day, I thought enviously. I wanted to be kidnapped.
Given the formative influence EAMB played in my early years, I have always jumped at the chance to catch a show or share a stage with them. So of course, when told that they had the perfect part for me in their new short film I said yes without even checking my calendar. Everything else could wait, damn it.
The film, though a collaborative effort, is Simon's brainchild. When I arrived on set he was dressed in a loincloth and wielding a machete and looked a bit like Jesus having a really agro day. Simon, like the rest of the band, is not just some creative whack job but a very talented musician. He has been chewing on the concept for this movie for years, and finally decided to make it: a satisfying alternative to the typical band promo clip.
The movie is a timeless story of revolution and anarchy. The aesthetic is Federico Fellini meets Emir Kusturica with a twist of Salvador Dali. I like.
I had missed the making of the earlier part of the film, the slave ship, which had taken place the day before. My cameo was reserved for the debauched revolution where I was to contribute the R-rated portion of the film. First I was sent to wardrobe where I was stripped down to black spanky pants and sprayed liberally with baby oil and smudged with dirt. That was my costume. Then I met my steed, Brett, who was similarly lubed and struggling to get is loincloth to stay on. After safety-pinning it securely to his underwear he dropped to all fours and I climbed on his back and rode him across the set enough times that his knees must have been rather raw. The procession was lent a precariousness by the fact that I was sliding about from all the baby oil and gripping him by his hair. I snarled and rolled my eyes and everyone seemed pleased with the shot, which conveyed the necessary sadistic sexual charge. Then we all breaked for dinner and cocktails.
Dinner was also an entertaining affair. Served in the parking lot of NIMBY, East Oakland’s vibrant artist warehouse and event space where the video was being filmed, the cocktails and beer lubricated our senses in the warm orange sunset. Two gorgeous black men in furry thongs and sequined headdressed worked it on the table top while dogs scavenged delightedly for plates accidentally kicked to the ground. I sat with my dear friend Ena, a long time member of the flag team, whose slip had been torn half off during a scene in which she wrestled Simon to the floor. The strap flopped endearingly when she laughed, which was almost constantly. Danny’s chicken, Cluckers, sitting placidly on his shoulder, occasionally took a bite from his plate. A couple of band members were shooting empties off a barrel with a small crossbow. I have never worked on a happier movie set.
After dinner came the real fun, the Mayhem. This was not a struggle for anyone. There was no need to ask, “So what’s my motivation here?” or “What do you mean by ‘chaos’?”.
I will not screw the pooch by giving away all the luscious details of that scene. I will only say that by the end I was covered in whisky, baby oil, red paint, mulch, squashed grapes, rose petals, raw oyster juice, sweat, candle wax, and bruises from being spanked repeatedly by a dead fish. The director wrapped it, dogs were vomiting in the corner, tables were overturned, but no one had to use the fire extinguisher and the band played on.
This morning, I have showered twice but can’t get the smell of warm, fetid dead fish out of my clothes from last night. I fear they are destined for the trashcan. I am bruised, cut, and slightly hung over, but I cannot fathom a better way to spend a Sunday than making a surrealist anarchist debaucherous Dionysian pirate flick with the Extra Action Marching Band. You’re jealous, I know you are.