Friday, April 10, 2009

It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz: Part Five: Cannons Break Loose: Secret Messages and Helpful Hints: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, and Filth and Flarn

Step back with me again through the Time Portal to April 1989. Place: DeKalb, Illinois, the campus and surrounding curtilage of Northern Illinois University.

Otis Ball was heading back to DeKalb, joining back up with The Chains, and bringing Madison's Kissyfish and a host of other supporting plate-spinners and cat-jugglers to play a benefit show for The Public Address System alternative newspaper in the basement of the Wesley Foundation. And the staff and friends of The Public Address System were as excited as a troop of electrified gibbons who have eaten nothing but three meals of Cap'n Crunch every day for a month. Washed down with bottomless cups of coffee at The Junction.

I think the technical term for what we did for the Otis Ball and the Chains show was we "promoted the everloving shit out of it." And here is the documentary evidence.

First up, here's the oversized 11-by-17-inch poster apparently produced by Otis's label, BarnOne, and customized by, judging from the handwriting, No Eraser Head:

Notable for its creative use of the words "FARTS" and "MASTURBAYSHUN," this is the tamest piece of promotion associated with this event. Also notable for mention of the acts Slut Kings and Dude, about which more will be revealed later.

The following item doesn't look salacious at first glance. Maybe a little weird -- featuring, as it does, the then-governor of Illinois, Big Jim Thompson, and the helpful suggestion on the left margin, "Grow morning glories and eat the seeds!" along with the radical political sentiment "Animal suffrage now!"

This one is also the work of No Eraser Head. Apparently we had stolen a "UP&A" stamp. (I don't remember what UP&A stood for, but it was the campus administrative organization that screened and approved things for posting on campus bulletin boards. We weren't an official campus group, so we couldn't have had UP&A privileges. At any rate, I think the statute of limitations has expired, so whoever is responsible for pilfering that stamp is probably safe from legal consequences.)

The Big Jim flyer also mentions an April 7 show at the Eagles Club, but neither Otis nor myself has any clear recollection of whether that show ever happened. Anyone who knows, clue us in, please.

Yeah ... the poster might look tame enough on the surface, but if you looked closely ... hidden and terrible messages emerged. This was accomplished by putting the flyers into the paper tray of the copiers at Kinko's and then copying a "secret messages" sheet onto them. Since the copier toner was slightly raised, if you looked at a certain angle, the black-on-black messages became visible. (Credit for this technique goes to the late, great John Rininger, who worked at Kinko's at the time -- this flyer, in fact, marks the first time I met John.)

Since you can't see the messages in the jpeg no matter how you twist your monitor around, here's a scan of the messages sheet itself:

For the jpeg-reading impaired, they are: "JUGHEAD," "DROP 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM," "LSD," "SATAN," "ACID," "BIG JIM'S GAY," and "INSERT PENIS HERE."

I think you can see the direction we're heading.

Not to be outdone, Loose Cannon Numero Dos, Squeaky, contributed his own effort to the hype-fest:

Yep, that's fan-favorite Charles Manson. It also contains a swipe at the music & entertainment columnist from the official campus paper (the name of which I refuse to type), Allen Roscoe, who was, predictably, offended (more on this, also, later). Subtle use of Nazi imagery in the background ... also, in case people weren't enticed enough by the promise of seeing Otis perform, they were sure to be roped in by "6 Hours of Family Sex."

But our Loose Cannons were just getting warmed up. And what good is a cold cannon anyway, really?

The way I remember what happened next happening is as follows.

I believe it was the Sunday after the Kissyfish/OB&C show up in Madison. Squeaky, NEH, The Stickler, and Mr. Newspaper were all hanging out late at night at Kishwaukee Hall -- tiny but beloved home of WKDI (93.5 FM on your cable radio dial, or Channel 8 on the dorm TV system).

For some reason, someone had dumped a large stack of promo posters for some movie -- I have no memory of what movie it was; pick any screwball comedy released around that time, and that could have been it -- in the lobby of Kish Hall. I have no idea what their intended purpose was -- it didn't seem likely that anyone at the radio station was going to put up a whole bunch of giant posterboard advertisements for some dumb motion picture.

Anyway, it doesn't matter what movie the posters were for. What's important is that, on the reverse side, the posters were blank.

Another thing strewn about that night in the lobby of Kish -- a whole bunch of El Marko®-brand marker pens. The large variety.

So ... you've got a big stack of giant blank posterboards, a bunch of magic markers, and two Loose Cannons. This, dear readers, is a recipe for Trouble. With a capital T, and that rhymes with B, and that stands for Bolles. (More on Bolles ... you guessed it ... later.)

Squeaky and NEH got a-goin' ... and a-goin' ... and a-goin'. With any two other people, I'd ascribe the fruits of their labors to marker fumes. But, with these guys, I think a classic "Russian Reversal" applies -- Loose Cannons make markers act goofy, not the other way 'round.

Yeah, I laughed. And I also told them I didn't think it was a good idea to put their artwork on display anywhere. NEH just looked at me like he would have looked at his mom if she'd have ever told him to stop playing with himself. Squeaky just giggled.

The Stickler and Mr. Newspaper retired to bed that night with vague but distinct feelings of unease. If they'd have known what awaited them the next morning, they never would have been able to fall asleep at all.

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