PILTDOWNLAD No. 8.5 – The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin
Even though “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” is part of a much larger work, that is, the novel A Masque of Infamy, I am loath to label this zine as an excerpt. Those who have read A Masque of Infamy may feel turned off by this zine because of the potential regurgitated material, but there are additional passages, rewritten parts and anecdotes that were painfully cut from the novel. Despite my impractical, I am often told, desire to publish that entire novel as a series of typewritten zines that truly represent what I was trying to accomplish with the novel, this version of “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” is the complete tale of how I lost religion, discovered punk and made true friends after moving to a small town in Alabama. It is a story of teenage rebellion, resisting high school conformity and conformity in general as well as subverting the dominant paradigm. It’s about how a seed was planted in fertile soil, a seed that continues to mature to this day.
Available for $2 through etsy.
After experimenting with an exclusive deal through Amazon’s KDP program for the past six months, the eBook for A Masque of Infamy is now available for all popular e-readers.
The current version has been copyedited and includes an epilogue, something I was loath to do, but I bowed to pressure since so many readers disliked the abrupt ending (which may be a spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the book). Personally, I like cliffhanger endings, especially when the story is based on a real life. But what the hell… The paperback, however, remains the same, sans epilogue, but also copyedited. So if there are still mistakes now, they are most likely intentional.
* More online book and eBook vendors that carry A Masque of Infamy can be found on this Goodreads page. *
This year’s San Francisco Zine Fest seemed particularly poignant in that more people than ever before came up to yours truly and gave him (that is, me) their zines. Plus looked me full on in the eye. Now in this day where so-called virtual reality has replaced so-called real life, the above is not to be under-rated. About 150 years ago if you wanted to hear a real human speaking to you, you would have to be in the same room (or at least nearby). Therefore you could note their total physiognomy, body language, gestural vocabulary, nuances of vocal inflection, eye movements, smell (if any) and a thousand other subtleties (and obvious-ities) telling you WHO THE PERSON REALLY WAS. (Unless the person is a skilled psychopath; the kind Burroughs talks about who can con you super-fast out of anything you have.)
Monday morning I became ill-therefore a perfect excuse to lie in bed and read all the zines. By luck, the first one I read had a fire to it so contagious I am forced to share it with you NOW (excerpt follows):
“[I] discovered ‘Ex-Animation,’ a photo-copied monstrosity that sh-t all over the glorified desktop publication that I had just created. I mean, this thing was rough! Most of the text was written on a typewriter with a few broken keys. The rest was hand-written and pasted half-assed onto the page. The collages and line drawings were primitive at best. The images were oversaturated, as if the creator had made copies with the Xerox machine lid open. And the staples were bent in half from using the wrong kind of stapler and then bending them in half with pliers or something.
“Not only was this self-described ‘zine’ the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in print, the writing was poignant and personal. There were short pieces about traveling to England, working as a stripper and getting molested as a kid. Even a few poems. I was blown away. The writing wasn’t polished or stylized. It was just raw. Obviously written without drafts or revisions. Just straight words from the soul. It was apparent that this hot mess existed because it had no other choice but to exist. Which was what made it so compelling. But what astonished me most was the candor. At that time, honesty was very difficult for me. I was all about facades, living in a fortress of fantasy. I wanted to write without reservation, but I was afraid to go deep, in case I exposed the hidden wounds from a f-cked-up childhood and spending my teenage years in institutions and foster homes. Besides, I figured nobody wanted to read about those kinds of experiences anyway. So I kept writing about what was safe: the lost years of my twenties, wasted in a constant state of inebriation, chasing drugs and alcohol with dysfunctional and abusive relationships. And I never used my real name. I put out several more zines before I moved on to chapbooks and then eventually started publishing paperbacks by other writers. In the spirit of DIY ethics, I handled all the aspects of publishing myself, from design to distribution. But I was going nuts from the pressure. And it’s not like I ever had any money. After a while I realized that drive and determination were not enough when the walls were crashing down. So I threw in the towel.
“I never lost the itch to put words and images on paper, but I always swore that if I were to start publishing again I would only do a hand-made photocopied labor of love. I hadn’t forgotten about ‘Ex-Animation’ and how I felt when I realized that the glory of publishing wasn’t in competing with the newsstand. It was about raw honesty. Truth. Conviction. All the things I was still struggling with. I’d always believed that my past experiences were a disease and that sharing them would infect others with my trauma. Mine was a story I never wanted to tell. I’d kept it buried so deep, for so long, that I figured it would eventually drift from my memory. But twenty-five years later, it still follows me. Even today, I may have given up the drugs (the f-cked-up relationships were harder to kick), but I am still just as lost as when I was in my twenties. The past may never make sense to me. But if I’m ever going to be whole again, I have to purge these m! emories by embracing the pain. A few years ago, I started writing everything down. As honestly as possible. Every day I wrote. Once I’d opened the flood gates I couldn’t contain the deluge. The process was like draining an abscess… When I was finished, I had over a thousand pages. Most of it crap. But I figured I was ready to do what I’ve wanted to do since that fateful day when I picked up my first zine…” [end of excerpt]
I ended up reading every word of this zine, titled “The Nasty Oh-Dear,” aka “Piltdownlad” issue #4. The author also gave me #1, “The Guero Chingon Stories – Five short tales about growing up a whiteboy in East L.A.”, and #3 “Junior Careers: Adventures of a Teenage Door-to-Door Salesman – Trying to make a buck selling candy in the San Gabriel Valley.” These were completely fascinating and felt like they had been written back at the time they were LIVED; I’m guessing the author kept journals or-? Then I tackled the perfectbound 5″x8″ 307-page BOOK titled “A Masque of Infamy” and it was hypnotizing. I thought **I** had had a bit of a “challenging” childhood, but compared to THIS narrative, I felt I had totally “lucked out.” Finished the book this morning. Understood why he called this “a novel” rather than an “autobiography”-America is far too litigious a society to permit a **true*! * autobiography from ever being published!
Then I read his zine #6 “Institutionalized” containing legal documentation for what had happened, small narratives from four points of view, etc. This total experience-zines plus “novel”-combined to give possibly the richest “autobiography” I’ve ever read: complex, multi-faceted, uncensored, honest-yet “creatively (and invisibly) engineered” to provide a compelling narrative that I didn’t want to put down…
I recommend this book and ALL the zines that this author, “Kelly Dessaint,” has produced-order from Phony Lid Books, POB 86714, Los Angeles CA 90086. http://www.phonylid.com – essential 21st century noir reading…. Oh yes, Punk Rock plays a “beacon”-like role here…
As publisher-editor of the 1977-79 zine SEARCH & DESTROY, V. Vale helped bring international attention to a Punk scene as prophetic as more publicized ones elsewhere. The publication was launched with $100 each from Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and published at City Lights Bookstore, where Vale worked at the time. For Vale, Punk provided a launching pad for a host of cultural-anthropological explorations, including Industrial music, the writings of J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs, feminism, pranksterism, studies of The Body, plus “Incredibly Strange” filmmaking and music, which he has chronicled with the RE/SEARCH series of publications that he founded as **sole proprietor** in 1980 (he has the original DBA certificate hanging on his wall).
So I got to thinking, I should do a blog for the book, you know, with images of metalheads and punks and scenes from 80s movies and TV that inspired my while I was writing, along with excerpts from the book and a slight promo edge… Then I thought, what if my sixteen year old self were to do a tumblr… in 1987… What would that be like. Well, this is the result so far.
After a few minutes, Dave said, “I think we need to start getting serious.” He reached into a briefcase and placed three spiral notebooks on the table with band names and logos scrawled into the covers.
“Hey, my notebooks!” I’d forgotten them in the rush to get out the door when the social workers picked us up.
Dave spread them out on the table and flipped through the pages. “What were you trying to express in this song, ‘Fade to Black’?”
“That’s a Metallica song.”
“Yes, I see you have that written underneath. You have a whole section devoted to what you call your favorite rockers: ‘Mommy’s Little Monster,’ ‘Suicide’s An Alternative,’ ‘Annihilate This Week.’ What is it about these songs that made you want to write them out in your notebook?”
“I wanna be a songwriter, so I write out lyrics as practice. I study how the verses, bridges and choruses work together. Most of the songs in there I wrote.”
“I see that…” Dave flipped through the pages. “This is one of yours: ‘If telling you would kill you, to realize would be suicide.’ What did you mean by that?”
“It just, you know, sounded cool.”
Dave turned the page. “Here you have, ‘One of these days when I have the guts, I’m gonna jump right in front of a pick-up truck.’ Another one goes, ‘Sometimes I just wanna blow it all away. Light a fuse and watch the world go up in flames.’ That one you titled ‘Hate Bomb’.”
“They’re just songs,” I said with an awkward chuckle. “They aren’t supposed to mean anything.”
“What kind of songwriter would you be if you wrote songs that had no meaning?”
“I mean, yeah, sure… they have some meaning. But you’re reading them all wrong. I’m just trying to come up with songs that rock, you know?”
“You don’t think this subject matter reflects your true feelings?”
“No. I’m not afraid to say what I want.” I laughed to show how good-natured I was. “Look, you’re totally judging these songs based on the words. But that’s only part of it. My songs are about the music as much as the lyrics. These are just words on paper, so you have to imagine the rest of the song… the power of the music.” I reached for one of the notebooks and flipped to a particular page. “Take this song right here, ‘Prisoner of Time.’ This one I just wrote. It starts out real mellow, almost a ballad—but once the verses start, it gets fast, but not too fast. It’s still slowly building up to the bridge. Then it’s like—” I replicated the sounds of the instruments with my mouth, blowing out air rapidly through parsed lips: “Dun dundun! Dun dundun! Dun dundun! Dun dundun! Then it goes back into the verses again. But after the second bridge it keeps building to the chorus where the guitars go, Chuga chuga chuga chuga. Chuga chuga chuga chuga. The double bass kicks in and it’s getting faster…” I tapped my feet rapidly against the floor. “Then the lead guitar starts to wail.” I pantomimed playing a guitar. “Right, and then it’s like, ‘I’m a prisoner! Prisoner! Prisoner of time! And the walls! The walls! They’re all in my mind!’” I covered my mouth to replicate the background vocals. “Then it just goes totally insane, the drumbeat is all over the place as the bass follows the lead guitar: ‘Prisoner! Prisoner! Break free!’” I leaned back in the chair and folded my arms across my chest. “So you see, that song’s really about freedom, you know? I wasn’t trying to be negative or anything.”
Dave smiled at my performance. “I can see you are very enthusiastic about your music.”
Just when I thought we were getting somewhere and Dave would realize I didn’t need his help, he pushed the notebook with the plain green cover across the table. “What about this one?”
The green notebook was my journal. My mind raced as I tried to remember all the crazy stuff I’d written. I knew there were detailed descriptions of my trysts with Missy, commemorated in case I forgot any of the details. But there were also death fantasies, the pros and cons of suicide
As Dave stared at me, I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there, trying to not look crazy.
“I think we need to start talking about why you’re here,” Dave finally said.
During lunch, the Cult of Teddy Ruxpin sat at our table in the cafeteria and discussed the important matters of the day, like which Sex Pistol was more of an anarchist.
“Sid was a true anarchist,” Vic argued.
“But Johnny Rotten wrote all the lyrics,” Brett pointed out.
“Johnny was only a fashionista with a reggae bent. Fuck PIL! Sid was the real rebel in the group.”
“But Sid couldn’t even play his instrument.”
“Exactly! That’s a true anarchist. Sid was the spirit of the band. Johnny Rotten was just the voice. The message was all Sid’s, even before he joined the band. Without him there would never have been—” Vic stopped short.
Four burly jocks in letterman jackets walked up to our table.
“Well, well, well… what do we have here?” one of the guys said. “You the ones been writing all that Teddy Ruxpin Rules crap around school?”
We snickered at the way he said Teddy Ruxpin with such disdain in his country drawl.
“What y’all doing is blasphemy,” he added. “The only one that rules is God.”
Vic and I smirked while Brett laughed out loud.
“You think that’s funny, freak?” He got in Brett’s face. “Is God funny to you?”
“It’s kind of funny, yeah,” Brett said.
“I think we need to have a little chat.” The guy grabbed Brett by the collar and pulled him through a side door.
The other jocks stood over Vic and me in case we tried to make a move.
“What’s your problem?” Vic demanded.
“You’re my problem, loser.”
“You shouldn’t be mixed up with these two space-cases,” one of the jocks told me. “We thought you were smarter than that.”
I was surprised they had noticed me. A little flattered even. But I said, “I guess I’m not that smart after all.”
In the corner of my eye, obscured in the small frosted glass of the door, I saw a flurry of movement outside.
A few seconds later, Brett came back in, his face drawn up. He walked past us without saying a word.
“Hey!” Vic and I ran after him. “Slow down, man. What happened?”
“The fucker punched me!” Brett said over his shoulder and kept moving.
“That’s fucked up!” I told Vic. “We should do something.”
“What’s the point? It’s not going to change anything.”
I looked back at the jocks, high-fiving each other.
“Motherfuckers,” I said under my breath.
From that day on, I became the self-appointed Minister of Propaganda for the Cult of Teddy Ruxpin. I spent most of my class time coming up with new slogans like, “Teddy Ruxpin Died for Your Sins,” “Praise Be To Teddy Ruxpin” and “If I Were A Stuffed Bear I Would Be Teddy Ruxpin.”
Within a week, Teddy Ruxpin related graffiti around campus quadrupled.
(Read more about “The Cult of Teddy Ruxpin” here.)
In 1987, Saks, Alabama, was an electromagnetic wasteland, too remote to pick up a signal on the TV without cable. For the first time in my life, I had access to MTV’s 120 Minutes and Headbanger’s Ball, as well as shows like Night Flight and Up All Night. On the weekends, I scoured the dial for videos, weird movies or anything with a little T&A. I was flipping through the channels late one Friday when I stumbled on a show with punks sporting mohawks and studded leather jackets. I watched transfixed as the story unfolded. It was some kind of documentary about two punk bands from LA touring across the US and Canada in a school bus covered with anarchic graffiti. At each stop, they played shows in dingy clubs and warehouses, featured in the concert footage with a detailed demonstration on the techniques of slam dancing. There were interviews with kids all across the country. Kids with spiked hair, buzz cuts, mohawks, pierced noses and tons of make-up discussed their local scenes and what it was like to be a punk when the world around them refused to accept their music, their style and their way of life. The movie covered all kinds of punks, from the drunk rowdy types to the straight edge movement in DC. There were even Christian punks. While they were in Canada, the bands stayed at a place called the Calgary Manor, where a bunch of punks lived together. They talked about running away from abusive parents and broken homes to form their own community centered around punk rock. In the backyard was a half-pipe. Bands played in the living room. They made meals and ate together, like one giant family. A family of outcasts… This was the life for me, I thought, immediately overcome with the realization that something else existed out there. A punk rock life was everything I ever wanted: freedom, chaos, style and an aggressive soundtrack.
Inspired my the movie, I amped up my freak style and began to modify my wardrobe. With a marker, I drew an anarchy symbol on a ripped piece of t-shirt. Underneath that, I wrote “F.T.W.” and safety-pinned it to the back of my jean jacket. I drew crazy designs on my arms with a black PaperMate. I painted my fingernails black. I died my hair green with food coloring. I pierced my right ear a second time and inserted a long teardrop pearl earring.
As my transformation continued, I started getting dirty looks in the hallways of Saks High. People averted their eyes. I heard snide comments behind my back.
I was loving every minute of it.