Feb 082010

When I was a child I was brought up as a Lutheran. My father was Irish, and had been put through a Catholic grade school which I gather he really hated. He became an atheist, but he didn’t really talk to me about it. My mother, brother, and maternal grandmother were Lutherans, and so I went along with their program by default. This was the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, so the Sunday school programs were rather liberal. Most of what we did involved studying various workbooks, and not so much reading the Bible itself. As an adult I actually regret this, as when I encounter allusions to the Bible in art or literature, I usually have to go look it up to understand what’s going on!

Sometime in the summer of 1976 or 1977 I went to the county fair and encountered a Christian booth that was giving away Jack T. Chick tracts. I was immediately taken by what I was seeing. I hadn’t really read comic books as a child, with the exception of MAD magazine, which is not really a comic book anyway. I probably read Archie or Richie Rich a handful of times.

Chick’s version of Christianity was vastly more hardcore than the mild-mannered Lutheran religion that I had been exposed to. Yet it was so much more emotionally compelling than what I was exposed to in Sunday school that I read every Jack T. Chick tract I could get my hands on! At one point I think I mail ordered a huge compilation pack that included most or all of the issues that were in print at the time.

One tract in particular stuck out: Big Daddy. This was a rather infamous creationist manifesto, a direct and ruthless attack on the theory of evolution by natural selection. My religious thinking was beginning to come to a head with me sometime in about my junior year of high school. I remember taking a biology class that included a section on evolution, and the instructor had to spend the first part of the class simply addressing the negative creationist feedback he had received over the years.

But several things were in my favor, as far as the search for the truth goes. One was that the biology class set things out in an orderly progression, where one piece of evidence logically flowed to another piece of evidence. In contrast, Chick’s manifesto was a scattershot hodge-podge of criticisms, not a logically coherent theory.

I remember having a sort of teenage epiphany walking home to lunch one day with my friend John. I was talking about evolution and the biology class. John had known me since early grade school and was rather shocked to hear me express doubts about evolution.

“Matt, you’re a scientific kind of guy, what are you doing believing in all this creationist nonsense?’

Indeed, one of the saving graces of this period was that I had discovered the non-fiction books of Isaac Asimov. I don’t know what essay it was, but I had a genuine epiphany when I discovered Asimov’s treatment of the second law of thermodynamics. Asimov pointed out the great flaw in the creationist’s argument regarding the second law; the earth is not a closed system, and the second law only applies to closed systems. At this point I knew that Chick was full of shit, but the implications were deeper still, and this is why this episode rose to the level of epiphany for me.

The family I grew up in never “joshed” each other, or “told stories” or even “pulled your leg.” If this sounds rather emotionally rigid, you would be right. Obviously my friends didn’t adhere to this same kind of standard, and I believe the development of my “bullshit detector” was rather stunted. Even as an adult, I look back with sadness at how many times people have lied to me and gotten away with it, at least for a time. Again, I’m talking about the intuitive level, not the above board critical thinking level. I believe that critical thinking is like typing, it’s not a skill that one is naturally born with, it’s something you have to work at and develop.

So believe it or not, having a huge emotional infatuation with the tracts of Jack T. Chick then realizing that he was totally full of shit about evolution, made a huge impact on me. How could there be people in this world who spent their entire lives spouting nonsense and lies? How could there be people in this world who wouldn’t change their beliefs when exposed to strong evidence or logical argument?

Obviously the older I got, the more I realized that the world is absolutely chock full of liars, con men, frauds, and bullshiters of every kind!

I became a complete atheist by reading a rather odd pair of books. The first was the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Bierce’s book was an anthology of biting aphorisms, often quite blasphemous. But one theme that was constant in his book was that there are, and have been, many religions in the history of humankind, each of them believing itself to be the One True Religion. Simple logic dictates that they can’t all be right, and in fact most of them must be wrong because they all contradict each other. This is a simple concept, but it made a big impact on me.

Eventually I read Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell. This was the first time I learned that various logical arguments had been proposed for the existence of God. The argument from first cause, the argument from design, etc. Russell systematically demonstrated that all of these arguments are fallacious. Russell’s book was also a valuable exposure to the nature of logic expressed in a linguistic fashion as opposed to the mathematical proofs of geometry that I was familiar with.

So by the time I started college in 1980, Jack T. Chick was an embarrassing episode in my mental development, kind of like admitting you liked some really bad music for a certain time period…

Only recently did I even start thinking about Chick again as a result of becoming interested in “underground” comics in general. I became a fan quite late in the game, largely as a result of Denny Eichhorn giving me a whole set of his Real Stuff comics, and seeing the documentary Crumb. Just a few years ago, Fantagraphics opened a retail store in Georgetown, which is literally just over the hill from where I live. Through Fantagraphics I was reacquainted with Jim Blanchard, an amazing cartoonist and graphic artist in his own right. I had actually met Blanchard in the late 1980’s when I came into a Kinko’s that he was working at. I allowed him to keep some copies of some photographic portraits I brought in. He eventually re-drew and incorporated some of them into his graphic compilations.

During Super Bowl Sunday, 2010, Jim was kind enough to loan me a rare parody-documentary tract called “The Imp” which was a rather scathing criticism of Chick. Unknown to me, during the 1980’s Chick had become associated with other individuals with beliefs just as far-out as his, and he integrated their stories into his own tracts. Blanchard also gave me a copy of a fantastic video documentary on Chick that included interviews with at least two people I was familiar with.

Chick is an enigma; obviously he’s not in the same aesthetic niche as Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, or any other “underground” comic artist. You won’t find his tracts for sale at Fantagraphics, nor even many Christian bookstores. According to the documentary, Canada considers Chick’s comics “Hate Literature!”

I’m sure I’m not alone in being one of those people who was affected in some weird and possibly profound way by Jack T. Chick. I think I’ll start asking people for their own stories…

 Posted by on 02/08/2010 Growing Up In Montana, Personal History Comments Off on Jack T. Chick
Feb 072010

For a time, I built and sold lamps for a living. This is a large cubic die that I modified into a finial.

I would thread two 1/4″ fine thread nuts onto a bolt such that they abutted each other, or nearly so. Then I MIG welded the joint together in three spots. Inevitably, the heat of welding would make the threads misalign, so I would run a tap through the newly created coupling nut.

Why use two nuts and not one? Because only one nut would not have enough thread engagement to prevent wobble when the finial was on the harp stud. Two nuts also helped maintain vertical alignment in the die itself.

Then I would drill out a hole in the die big enough for the coupling nut to fit in. I would seal the end of the nut that went into the die with tape to prevent the adhesive from fouling the threads.

The adhesive was a compound of graphite and epoxy. Once the nut was set in place with the adhesive, I would tape the entire face and set the “5” side of the die down. If things worked out right, the adhesive would flow downward and completely fill the gap between the nut and the die, at least at the face, visible in this photo. Sometimes little bubbles would appear, but this was not a big deal, as this face would not be visible when the finial was on the lamp.

 Posted by on 02/07/2010 Art Comments Off on Lamp Finial
Feb 062010

Ashleigh Talbot has put together a lavish and extensive set of webpages regarding her time spent at SCUD. She had the presence of mind to save a great deal of ephemera, which undoubtedly helped to spark memories which would have otherwise been forgotten. She took photographs herself, and was surrounded by professional or semi-professional photographers. SCUD was most certainly a social and artistic cornerstone of the Seattle “underground” during its time on earth. I spent a bit of time at SCUD, and some of Ashleigh’s stories inspired me to write down what I remember.

Unlike Ashleigh, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take photographs or retain other kinds of ephemera about SCUD. So I’m running strictly on memory here, which can be fallible.

First off, I moved to Seattle from Montana in 1987. It was immediately obvious to me that just being a pharmacist was not emotionally satisfying in and of itself. At the time, I was deeply inspired by the books published by RE/Search, which suggested that intensive investigation into unusual topics was intrinsically cool. I had already accumulated a large database of forensic literature regarding autoerotic asphyxia, and I began to buy books on forensic science, which were often rather expensive. So at the time, I thought of myself as a researcher and not a creator. I was also fascinated with counterfeit currency, and began to buy books on the topic. This was a result of my obsession with the movie To Live and Die in LA.

Soon after arriving in Seattle, I discovered COCA, the Center on Contemporary Arts. Almost all of the content appealed to me, and even as a pharmacist, I felt very much at ease with what was obviously the best of Seattle’s underground artistic counterculture.

Not long after I arrived in Seattle I began to hang out at a long-gone bar on Capitol Hill called Squid Row. One night a long haired man about my age came in the bar with a metallic suitcase, much like the one seen in To Live and Die in LA. I immediately figured this guy must be cool, based on this characteristic alone. Soon enough he opened his briefcase, and inside were copies of his fanzine, hot off the Kinko’s presses. This was Tim “Zamora” Cridland, and his ‘zine was called Off the Deep End. Although I had done a great deal of photocopying before coming to Seattle, I had never seen a true fanzine before. I remember thumbing through it, and coming upon a morbid cartoon; an illustration of the JFK assassination with the caption “The three ballots that elected Lyndon Johnson.” This really knocked my socks off, and thus began a long term friendship with Tim Cridland.

Cridland knew Mike Hoy of Loompanics. At the time, I was totally unfamiliar with Loompanics, though I was familiar with one of its rivals, Paladin Press, having ordered Get Even several years before. I think I was at a COCA event, possibly “Weapons of WWIV” when I was approached by Tim who told me that Mike Hoy was interested in having me write an essay about autoerotic asphyxia for Loompanics. Hoy learned of my interest in this arcane subject through Tim. At the time, I was hugely flattered. I was going to be paid $100 for this essay! I would be a published author!
I set about writing the article, and eventually submitted it to Hoy. It ran in the 1989 main catalog and was later included in a compilation of essays published as a book entitled Loompanics Greatest Hits. Included in the essay were two illustrations by an artist I was unfamiliar with. At the time the only “signature” of the artist was an equilateral triangle roughly bisected by a line.

I think I was at the Rebar when I finally met the artist, Ashleigh Talbot. I think she approached me and introduced herself. Being that her illustrations were so graphically morbid, I think I expected her to be dour and negative; perhaps she sacrificed chickens in her spare time… But she was nothing like that at all, being ebullient and positive. She seemed to genuinely understand the fascination with atypical death and sexual paraphilia.

I remember being at the SCUD party for the Modern Primitives show. I think as a COCA member I received an official invitation. Honestly I don’t remember too much about the party, except the entrance of ManWoman, whom I had read about in the RE/Search books.

I felt like a groupie as I called out to him as he entered… I remember going ga-ga over meeting Andrea Juno, whom I respected as a co-creator of the RE/Search books, and because she was very good looking. I corresponded with her a bit afterwards, but nothing really came of it. I got this vibe that over time she became something of a man-hater, but I could be wrong about this.

Years later, when I was on the sideshow, I had the pleasure of visiting V. Vale at the RE/Search offices. Andrea was still in San Francisco at the time, and still with RE/Search, but I gathered that things were beginning to break down. V. Vale was the perfect host with me, however, and he called Andrea on the telephone. Evidently she was upstairs at the time. V. Vale told her I was in the office, and invited her to come down and say hello. Apparently she couldn’t be bothered, and refused to leave her post. Awkward… I remember V. Vale casually opening an office drawer which revealed a large caliber short barreled revolver. I thought that was pretty cool; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it…

I attended the COCA opening of the Modern Primitives show and took photographs. I could tell that the Modern Primitives “scene” was going to be big, and indeed it became so. But I also noticed that most of the participants were young, white, and mostly middle class. It occurred to me that there was a whole other set of tattooed people who had not received the kind of lavish artistic attention that the “Modern Primitives” had; convicts. I formulated a fantasy of creating a book documenting prisoners and their tattoos. The state prison at Monroe wasn’t too far away, and even Walla Walla wasn’t very far either. I knew that good photography was critical to the project. When I was in college, I had been in a band called Sports and Science. We enlisted an amateur photographer’s help in taking promo shots of our band for posters. It turned into an absolute nightmare, as he was developing his own photos, and time was quickly running out. At the VERY last minute, he delivered his still-wet enlargements, literally floating in a bucket of water…

I didn’t want to farm out the photography, so I purchased a Canon AV-1 camera and a macro lens. I began to take close up photos. I also got very lucky, as I found a tattoo artist named Roni Falgout who had made her own tattoo gun! I invited her to a party at my apartment and took photos of her equipment, and of her tattooing a lime. I could tell that macro photography was challenging, and at the time I didn’t even have a tripod.

But as it happened by 1991 I had joined the sideshow, and my entire life began to change in huge ways. I was no longer a spectator or fan of the underground Seattle scene, but an actual participant! Our sword swallower Paul Lawrence, or “Slug” as he was known at the time, had but one tattoo on his body. He decided that he wanted to be completely tattooed, in the tradition of the great Omi, but he knew that he didn’t have the money to pay a professional to completely tattoo his whole body. Being that we were on the road at the time, it occurred to him that if he had the equipment, he could probably work on his project during his off-hours on the road. Who would do the actual tattooing? I’m not sure what his plan was…

At the time, there was no World Wide Web as we know it today, and my understanding is that professional tattoo equipment was only being sold to “established” tattoo artists. I suggested to Slug that perhaps I could build an improvised gun, much like Roni Falgout’s machine. I remember going to a Goodwill store in Burien and buying about 8 small motorized appliances, in hopes of finding a suitable motor that could power a tattoo gun.

But yet again, it was another project that never quite got finished, as thankfully Ashleigh stepped in to help out Slug. This is why I’m included in the photograph posted on her site; I wanted to follow up on Slug’s crazy project, and was more than happy to see someone competent like Ashleigh doing the tattooing, and with professional equipment.

Ashleigh was a huge supporter of the sideshow, and created one of the more enduring illustrations of the original group. I remember being in her studio and seeing the artwork for the very first time. It was about 95% completed, with some crosshatching missing in a corner. It was a VERY well done illustration, and I was gonzo over the fact that it would be used as promotional material for posters and t-shirts.

As it happened, Jim Rose was also in attendance, and was also smitten with the image. He was a chronic pothead, but this evening he seemed to be more than several tokes over the line. At one point he dreamily remarked “I just want to gaaaaazze at it….” This became a catch phrase for us for a while there. Again, Ashleigh had to remind Jim that the illustration wasn’t finished. But somehow, Jim either didn’t listen, didn’t care, or was just too stoned to remember, and he took the artwork before Ashleigh had a chance to finish it.

The artwork began to show up on posters and t-shirts. At first it was kind of funny; a testament to Jim’s stoned fuck-up in not listening to Ashleigh. But over time it became less funny, and eventually it really illustrated how Rose treated other human beings. The missing crosshatching reflected on the artist, not on Jim Rose, so Rose could care less. The design came to be reproduced again and again, with Rose never stepping in to allow the final and correct design to be reproduced. Rose was a great promoter, but was a total shit as a human being.

Ashleigh included a great illustrated story in her SCUD history about the man who wanted to get inside the building, but was thwarted by the mail man. During the time I was on the sideshow, I began to spend more time at SCUD, specifically hanging out with Ashleigh. She was completely nocturnal, so it would always be a nighttime visit. SCUD didn’t have an apartment style buzzer system, and cell phones weren’t in widespread use back then. You either yelled at the building, or threw rocks or pennies at the window. I took a careful look at the door, and decided that I could simply slim Jim the thing. I got permission from Ashleigh to enter the building this way, and kept the slim Jim in my car. I can’t remember clearly, but I may have ended up hiding the slim Jim near the door of the building.

I met Jim Hogshire through Tim Cridland, and discovered that Hogshire spent a great deal of time at SCUD, hanging out with Ashleigh. I remember seeing Hogshire at SCUD one night with a small briefcase full of tablets and capsules. I seem to remember seeing Dilantin capsules. This confused me, as Dilantin was not something that would get you high, nor did Hogshire have epilepsy, as I recall. He just had an overwhelming fetish for pharmaceuticals…

In 1992 I purchased an oxy-acetylene torch set-up, but had no shop with which to work in. Thankfully I was introduced to Louie Raffloer, who had his own blacksmith shop not far away from SCUD. I would drop by there from time to time, to socialize with Louie and learn about metal work. I remember trading Louie a Mossberg shotgun for a Milwaukee angle grinder. Below Louie’s shop was a band practice room, and from time to time, you would see members of Pearl Jam or Soundgarden coming out of the dingy basement and into the equally grungy alleyway…

I remember attending a big target shooting party with Louie, Jim Hogshire, and a number of other folks back in about 1996. Louie brought a bunch of spray paint cans which he had bought on sale for a buck apiece at one of the big chain hardware stores. We would have a campfire burning beside the paint can, and when hit with a bullet, the can would explode like something you see on MythBusters. I seem to remember posing for a photograph with Louie and Jim Hogshire. I think Hogshire had his notorious M-1 carbine and I held a Ruger Mini-14 with a black synthetic folding stock. I never did see that developed photo….

Weirdly, Hogshire and I had been to one of the periodic gun shows held in Puyallup previous to this adventure. Someone was selling home-made thermite incendiary devices for $20! This was the only time I saw anything like this for sale there. Hogshire and I each bought one. I took mine to Louie’s target shooting party and lit the fuse. It was a dud! What a rip-off!

Later, when Hogshire was busted for poppy possession at his apartment, the cops found HIS thermite device, and the SPD had to call in an additional bomb squad!

I think I met Clark Humphrey at SCUD, at one of Ashleigh’s late-night get-togethers. Over time, I would read his essays on Seattle, popular culture, and many other topics, but it took me a long time to really realize how much attention and research went into his work. His books Loser and Vanishing Seattle are superb histories of the transient nature of Seattle culture.

Although Steve Fisk was a SCUD participant, I really only got to know him through our mutual friend Kim Thayil, whom I had met on Lollapalooza in the summer of 1992. Honestly, I didn’t really understand or appreciate Fisk’s contribution to the Seattle music scene at the time. I remember speaking to him about Negativland and their album U2. Steve was kind enough to give me a cassette of that recording. Again, at the time I had little appreciation of exactly how rare or exotic such a recording was. I’m pretty sure I still have that tape!

All the time I spent at SCUD I was completely oblivious to Ben McMillan and Gruntruck! As lame as this sounds, I was introduced to Gruntruck by watching Beavis and Butthead! It was only after SCUD was all gone that I happened to run into Ben in a magazine store on Broadway on Capitol Hill. He was most polite, and I had no idea at the time that he had significant health problems. I ran into him once or twice more on Broadway, then I learned that he had died!

The mummified cat brought back memories too… At the time, I knew enough about forensic science in general and taphonomy in particular to know that mummification takes place only when a body is in a warm and dry place for a long time. I had read enough about the Green River Killer case and the work of Donald Reay and Clyde Snow to know that mummification is highly unlikely in an environment like the Pacific Northwest. Thus I was always a tad skeptical that the “mummy” wasn’t a gaff, and that Ashleigh and the SCUD people weren’t Rickrolling the marks with the “mummy” story.

But I believe Ashleigh, and I believe the feline mummy was the real deal. I suspect it died indoors, perhaps in a furnace room, or during a hot and dry Seattle summer.

All in all, SCUD was a trip, even though I was there mostly just as fan or hanger-on. For me it was one of those things in life that you take for granted, and don’t realize its value until it’s gone.

 Posted by on 02/06/2010 Personal History Comments Off on SCUD Stories
Feb 032010

The MonsterTalk interview with Jimmy Chilcutt which was posted to the Internet on February 3, 2010 didn’t contain much of anything I wasn’t already familiar with. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an easy way of “rewinding” or even time stamping his verbal statements, so any transcriptions are rough quotes from notes I took.

For those unfamiliar with MonsterTalk or Jimmy Chilcutt, the interview appears here.

To cut to the chase, Chilcutt has had about 5 years now to formulate a rebuttal to the claim that the textures seen on CA-19 are desiccation ridges, not dermal ridges. In this interview he appears to have done this in two ways. The first is to simply ignore the argument entirely, as he seems to be completely unaware of the contents of my website, posts on JREF, and research on other blogs and forums. The second is a last ditch appeal to deltas.

First off, he mentions that I sent him test casts, which indeed I did. At the time, I believed the desiccation ridge phenomenon was a purely surface effect, and that the mass of plaster slurry was not a factor. At the time, my working metaphor was that of wallpaper; if you are studying wallpaper, it really doesn’t matter how thick the wall behind the wallpaper is. But real science is all about testing assumptions, and determining what variables do and do not affect the result.

Over time, I came to realize that total slurry mass IS a factor in the size and distribution of desiccation ridges. A better metaphor is a potato chip vs. a French fry. Both are sections of potato cooked in hot oil, but their bulk characteristics are different because of their differing masses. The small test casts I sent Chilcutt were most defiantly preliminary tests, and it is either willfully ignorant or dishonest of Chilcutt to fail to acknowledge this.

Other researchers like Brenden Bannon and Sam Rich never had to go through the kind of preliminary testing that I did, and created test casts that contain textures that are virtually identical to the textures seen on CA-19.

Chilcutt seems to suggest that desiccation ridges don’t exhibit deltas. Chilcutt claims to “have never seen artifacts change directions on curved surfaces and change directions 45 degrees.” Really? I take it he has never looked at my website or refuses to acknowledge that he has:

Perhaps the most deeply unusual aspect of his whole interview his how he claims to have spent 3 days in Meldrum’s lab and “took two castings back to his (Chilcutt’s) lab” and yet failed to notice the writing on the back of the cast in question, CA-19:

Chilcutt claims during the MonsterTalk Interview that “this is the first time I’ve heard that designation.”

How is this even possible? The most generous explanation that I can think of is that Meldrum gave Chilcutt a copy of CA-19 to examine, and did not loan out the original. But if Chilcutt spent 3 days in Meldrum’s lab, how could he have missed what Meldrum claims is the original cast?

Conveniently left out of this interview is the fact that Chilcutt by his own admission was unfamiliar with desiccation ridges until I came forth with my findings. Once you know what desiccation ridges look like on a Bigfoot-sized cast, there is really no going back; certain features are just unmistakable.

If you came upon a tree stump that had lots of little cuts on it beside a body of water, it might seem very mysterious until you learn what beavers do to trees. At that point, it becomes obvious, and you can’t go back to seeing such a stump in any other way.

The textures on CA-19 and CA-20 are desiccation ridges, as obvious as a beavered tree stump. Chilcutt’s decision to ignore the overwhelming evidence contrary to his interpretation does not even rise to the level of a coherent rebuttal, and frankly that’s kind of sad.

 Posted by on 02/03/2010 Bigfoot Comments Off on A Response to Chilcutt’s MonsterTalk Interview