What new books by Chicken John and Reverend Billy have to say to the young occupiers in our streets
But it wasn't the politics of their books that struck me as much as their sense of possibility and the way they agitate for a new kind of world. Chicken didn't run for mayor to win or even to make a political statement. He ran because he sees San Francisco as a "city of art and innovation," and because then-Mayor Gavin Newsom was more focused on keeping the real estate market booming than keeping the city a fun and interesting place.
"No one was stepping up to challenge him, because no one could beat him. It was in the bag. But Gavin didn't represent San Francisco very well in a few key departments, and I wished that someone would provide a referendum on the values of the city. Or something. Whatever else it was, running for Mayor was an opportunity to bring my shtick to a bigger stage," Chicken wrote.
And Chicken's shtick was the show, his raison d'etre, the need to create culture that drove the various pursuits that he chronicles in his book, from his adventures with the Cacophony Society to his touring with Circus Redickuless and the hardcore punk Murder Junkies to piloting a fleet of boats built from garbage to hosting strange spectacles at his Odeon Bar.
"I mean it's all a show, of course. And all shows are just stories. And in the end, it's all the same story," Chicken wrote. And that story is about what it means to be human, to strive for something authentic and important in this mediocre, manufactured culture that corporations create for us, to reach so far for that truth that we fail — in the process touching the divine, or achieving what Chicken calls Severe Comedy — and then to start that process all over again.
"You can never really say you gave your all unless you fail," Chicken tells me, recognizing that same spirit in the Occupy Wall Street movement. "I think we're literally witnessing history in the making. This is the dawn of new ideas."
That same spirit has animated the work of Billy and Savitri, and their book tells stories from their many demonstrations and events from around the world, ping-ponging between their two perspectives on what happened. Some actions are well-planned and meticulously rehearsed, other more impromptu, like leading a group from a talk they gave in Barcelona to a nearby Starbucks to lick all the surfaces and take it into their bodies.
"Now! Now! Let your body tell you. Do you accept or reject this devil chain store? Will you allow the alien corporation Starbucks to come into your body, into your neighborhood, into your town? Do you accept the devil chain store?" Billy preached.
In reading their books, I got the sense that they didn't always know what they were doing, that they were just acting, trying to stay in motion, to just do something and figure out what it really means later. Chicken even confirmed the observation when we spoke: "I never have any clue what the fuck I'm doing."
But that's okay. Maybe a lot the kids on Wall Street and in front of Federal Reserve building in San Francisco don't know what the fuck they're doing either. But, in the face of the greed and corruption that plague our economic and political systems, at least they're doing something. And even if they fail — maybe especially if they fail big — we're a better and more interesting country because of their efforts.
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