background
February 12, 2014

“Get It Together, Baby!”

trubee1aOn John Trubee and Next-Level Insolence

One of Ackerman’s most common sayings, always delivered in a ridiculous addled hippie voice.

The origin of this one is very clear—it came from a prank phone call by the legendary John Trubee that I played for Al in the mid-90′s.

Trubee’s calls are uneven, but at their best, they reach peaks of verbal improvisation, social confusion, and pure chaos that are hard to find elsewhere—usually mixing believable development of an absurd premise with sudden breaks in logic and/or civility. The calls seem to have been recorded in the late 70′s/early 80′s in New Jersey and California, and feature a shifting cast of characters, heavy use of synthesizer and processor electronics plugged directly into the phone, and meme-like modular repetition of material, phrases, and premises, which get explored in a broad permutational surrealism*—much like Ackerman’s work.

In the call in question, Trubee calls a young woman and asks “Mrs. R. J. Smith, did you know that polar bears from the South Pole are being found to have leukemia from atomic tests?” When the woman reacts with understandable confusion, Trubee ultimately confronts her with “Get it together, baby!”, a statement so out of context and insolent that it audibly fries the woman’s brain. Ackerman loved this an appropriated it for his own, using it frequently in conversation and also in a few artworks.

 

*Trubee’s prank calls are published on tapes and also to a small extent on the LPs of his longtime band, The Ugly Janitors of America.


No Comments

February 10, 2014

“You Boys Are… Bad Boys!”

bad_boysOr, “You Boys Are The Best Damn Boys in Baltinore.”

Relatively interchangeable, and delivered always with the same moronic aging hillbilly cadence.

The first version came from when Ackerman and a young friend were riding the bus as kids. As a joke, for hours they were talking loudly and excitedly about killing people (made up stories). Eventually, an old man in the seat in front of them turned around and said “You boys are bad boys!” with a tinge of absolute horror. For some reason, that gratified Ackerman beyond belief.

The second version was a modification of the first. I had told Ackerman the story that as a teenager, I and my best friend friend were both involved with a somewhat off-kilter older woman around the same time (a sort of love triangle). One day she spontaneously and awkwardly expressed her enthusiasm for both of us thusly: “You boys are the best damn boys in Baltimore.” In Ackerman’s perverse mindset, this was hilarious. He also knew this woman (20 years later) and thought she was a nut-job, which probably made it funnier for him to imagine.

Of course, as memes, these two statements, with opposing meanings, had broad application to everything.


No Comments

February 10, 2014

“The Wind is My Enemy!”

god_of_windA Walk Down The Street As Potentially Lethal Obstacle Course

In the last few years of his life, when Al Ackerman was living with us, he had become very frail. A combination of a foot injury from a decade before that never quite healed, along with declining strength and high blood pressure, increasingly made very minor tasks difficult. A walk up the street (3 blocks) from our house in Charles Village to Eddies Super Market on a blustery day was an incredible task for him, and sometimes Ackerman could be seen holding onto a tree or street sign for dear life. In other words, a very trying time for him, as he slowly lost mobility and the ability to keep his usual routines.

During this period, Ackerman processed the experience with characteristic black humor. Almost every day I would come home and see him, and at some point in the conversation he would say, usually more than once, “John, you know, the wind is my enemy.” Always chuckling to himself–as if the joke was on him. This became a kind of repetitive mantra of those last years in Baltimore—a time when he probably should have had additional assistance to do his shopping, though he insisted on doing most things himself up till the very last days in Baltimore.

The wind, on the other hand, never had a feeling about it.


No Comments

February 10, 2014

“That boy’s moving his bowels pretty good.”

dog_poopFor The Love of Canine Effluvia

For a epicurean of Ackerman memes, there is, of course, a taxonomic issue, since Ackerman’s “official” literary output was often rife the repetition of oddball fragments that were not strictly “memes” as they were encapsulated in a single artwork. Once such “border case” is the one in question: “That boy’s moving his bowels pretty good.”

This phrase is uttered in a story of Ackerman’s (unpublished, and I’ve been unable to find the story yet), but I could swear I heard him say it 3 or 4 times about my dog (who happens to be female) when we lived together. Further, hearing Ackerman read this story got my friend Kevin* excited about this meme, who continued to drop it into conversations for years after, and who considers it a “true meme.” The trick is with this one is to deliver it like you are a very old man, rather world-weary, but with a fixation.

All of which reminds me of the time Ackerman read his famous “Not Ideas About The Gobbling, But The Gobbling Itself” at an African-American “Father’s Day Poetry Throwdown” night. This monumental text repeats the word “gobbling” hundreds of time, and is classic Ackerman “Language Writing to A Bad End.” In other words, fascinating, embarrassing gibberish.

Ackerman had been asked to “read” at this event by our very nice neighbor Linda Thompson, who new him as a nice old man and didn’t really understand the nature of his work. Al then asked me to accompany as his “bodyguard,” which I did–resulting in one of the most squirm-inducing experiences in my life.

Going on fourth (after three very earnest and stereotypically “bad poetry slam style” African-American men had thrown down), it was finally Al’s turn. He began by saying, “since today is father’s day, I thought I’d read a nice poem about Thanksgiving,” and proceeded to plow through 20 minutes of gobbling, gobbling, and more gobbling. There are times when people are offended or put off and there are times when the people are so overwhelmed by concerted disrespect to their context that nothing can even be expressed or brought up—where people look down and shake their head, defeated by a superior insanity.  This was one of those times. I was amazed we got out alive, and payed no vast social consequences for something so deeply ill-advised. Ackerman said to me, as we were leaving, “John, I’m glad they didn’t come at us an try to hurt our back!”

What does this have to do with the dog turd meme? Ackerman’s own father was schizophrenic, white, and very very wealthy–though his mental illness cost him his freedom. And, to my knowledge… he also never had a dog. End of story.

* Incidentally, Kevin doesn’t believe that Blaster was particularly concerned with the intestinal regularity of the canines he would single-out for praise, but rather wanted to revel in the anticipation of the fact that soon the pet’s owner will be bending down to scoop hot dog shit into a plastic bag—something he found intrinsically funny.


No Comments

February 10, 2014

“Bitches Be Peepin’!”

FatBlackGuyEatingA Baltimore Meme

This one came out of nowhere and was active for a year or so. Apparently Ackerman got it walking down the street on Greenmount avenue on a sunny day. Two guys hustling in front of him and one says to the other “Yo, man, you KNOW bitches always be peepin’”

This turned out to have wide applications.


No Comments

February 9, 2014

“White Man No Go That Part of Forest.”

tarzan_jane-e1364156533769Those Golden Glory Days!

A little known fact about Al Ackerman was how much he loved the Tarzan TV shows and movies from before the 50′s and watched them whenever he got the chance. Right up there with W.C. Fields in “The Bank Dick” and other Fields movies, Ackerman simply couldn’t get enough of this inanity from his childhood. He loved the fact that Cheetah was so badly mis-named, being a monkey.  He loved everything about them.

Maybe that all had something to do with why he would occasionally meme out with  “White Man No Go That Part of Forest”–usually to mean, watch out, don’t do that, or get involved in that or those people. In other words, to show his categorical distaste for a whole situation or group of people.


No Comments

February 9, 2014

“Technocrats for Steiner!”

space_art A Neoiste and His Boxers

This meme would have never come to pass if Ackerman had not met Florian “The Neoiste” Cramer. Florian was, other than myself and Graf Haufen, probably the youngest person involved with that great cosmic fiasco known as Neoism (at least at the time)–and he was a real go-getter. If anyone in Neoism was actually “learned,” it was probably Florian (now a full professor in Rotterdam)–who at the time struck the figure of a handsome, suit-jacketed, possibly brilliant, definitely a little nervous young man, and was well kept in the German fashion.

You must imagine that he strode into Ackerman’s inward bookstore ecosystem in the mid-90′s and charmed Ackerman (and a few female members of the scene) pumping hands and smiling with his mastery of off-kilter theatrics and deliberately obscure intellectual gambits. It was a week that left an impression on us all, and Baltimore left an impression on Cramer, too.

Shortly after his visit, Cramer produced an issue of SMILE, the Neoist zine of multiple origins, and sent it to Ackerman. It contained a fake academic paper that proved that all of Neoism had been based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy — Steiner, who could “see little winged things crawling on the legs and arms of his loved ones” with his second sight.

Ackerman, a hater of technology and true Luddite, immediately began cooking up his “Technocrats for Steiner” mail art, and may have sent the first pieces to Florian the Neoiste, as he called him. Most Ackermemes gave Cramer, who hadn’t been familiar with their origins and context, a lot to puzzle over, but this here was an easy one.

Another departure: I made the mistake of telling Ackerman, several years after Cramer’s visit, that Cramer was involved in a radio show that was at least partially about boxing (a side interest of his; at that time, he was a fan of Roy Jones jr. and his Berlin local hero, super middle weight champ Graciano Rocchigiani. I don’t think he ever boxed himself, though I like the image). Although this was a short-lived project for Cramer, for a decade after, Ackerman would frequently bring up Cramer and ask, “Now John… is Florian still doing that radio show about boxing?” and then sort of chuckle to himself for a minute or two. It never mattered how I responded—my response was utterly unimportant.

I guess you could say Technocrats for Steiner had won.

 


No Comments

February 9, 2014

“…come at me and try to hurt my back.”

backyard-wrestlingVirtual Threat?

Al Ackerman said this in my presence at least a hundred times, usually as a question about a performance or lecture. “At the end of the lecture, did anyone come up to you and try to hurt your back, John?” etc. No one seems to know where this one came from—perhaps Blaster just liked the idea of an irate audience purposely trying to hurt someones back.

A little too much detail, eh?


No Comments

February 9, 2014

“Did you steal my watch?”

sutherlandJust Asking

Another great Al Ackerman multi-pupose meme–Did you Steal My Watch?–insertable anywhere, always out of context.One never knew where this one would pop up, hermia-like, to suck the narrative momentum out of any conversation or text.

For instance, consider the impact of the meme in a context like this and you will get the full flavor:

“And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
DID YOU STEAL MY WATCH?
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm”

You get the picture of the wide ranging utility of this utterance. And by the way, Ackerman told me Emily Dickinson was A MAN.


No Comments

February 9, 2014

“Have you ever eaten a robin?”

robin_0346sPublic Service

In the 80′s, Al Ackerman worked in San Antonio from time to time as a census worker (other rag-tag occupations: mail artist, shoplifter, painter of cat portraits). To those who knew him well, this is a queasy and inherently humorous setup—the prolonged and formal interaction of Doctor Ackerman with the general public IN THEIR HOMES.

Its actually very hard to imagine him following through with it, given his general orientation, but at some point, the rent-man must be paid. The boredom was life-threatening, apparently. That’s why, after some months, Ackerman starter to improvise questions as he helped people fill out the census forms.

At times this would take the form of asking questions like “Have you ever lived in a special dwelling—like a tree house or a covered ditch?” These sorts of questions could be added in such a way that they didn’t derail the conversation but rather just opened up a slightly broader vista, and gave Ackerman a chuckle. But sometimes, stronger medicine was needed. The intense boredom of slow-moving conversations with census constituents would leave Al in such a state of horror that he felt compelled to “slip in” the ultimate question: “Have you ever eaten a robin?”

Usually this question would cause the person to suddenly come jerk up and alert on their couch—”ah, um, what, what did you say?!?” Ackerman would then respond with a regular question, as if nothing had happened. A subtle erosion of business-as-usual that might leave a creepy memory.


No Comments

“Get It Together, Baby!”
“You Boys Are… Bad Boys!”
“The Wind is My Enemy!”
“That boy’s moving his bowels pretty good.”
“Bitches Be Peepin’!”
“White Man No Go That Part of Forest.”
“Technocrats for Steiner!”
“…come at me and try to hurt my back.”
“Did you steal my watch?”
“Have you ever eaten a robin?”