Once upon a time (1987 to be exact), two young men who were old friends moved to San Francisco from the Midwest to take in all the big city had to offer. Like many 20-somethings, Eddie Lee "Sausage" and Mitchell "Mitch D" Deprey didn't have a lot of money and wound up living in a somewhat derelict apartment in the Lower Haight with a bright pink exterior they dubbed "the Pepto Bismol Palace." The paint was peeling and the walls were thin but the rent was cheap.
What Eddie and Mitch didn't count on was having Peter J. Haskett and Raymond Huffman as their neighbors. "You blind cocksucker. You wanna fuck with me? You try to touch me, and I will kill you in a fucking minute." "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up, little man!"
The insults, tantrum-throwing, and threats of violence (which sometimes crossed over into actual fisticuffs) coming from next door were constant. When they weren't drinking like fishes, Peter — acid-tongued, gay — and Ray — the more hotheaded of the two and an unrepentant homophobe — seemingly devoted their every waking hour to mercilessly tearing each other apart.
Weeks went by. Eddie and Mitch started to lose sleep. And after one failed attempt at complaining to Raymond's face (he threatened death), they started tape-recording Peter and Ray's endless geyser of vitriol — first, as possible future evidence — but also out of a growing voyeuristic fascination with these two seniors who had to be the world's oddest and angriest odd couple.
The rest is history. Mitch and Eddie started including snippets of Peter and Ray's bickering on mixtapes for friends. Somehow, the editor of the now-defunct SF noise music zine Bananafish heard a snippet and approached Mitch and Eddie about distributing compilations of the recordings to a large network of found sound fans. Gradually "Peter and Raymond" became known and much-beloved characters. Their warped repartee — frequently referred to using Raymond's favorite rejoinder, "Shut up, little man!," as shorthand — inspired several theatrical adaptations, short animated films, pages of comic book panels by artists such as Daniel Clowes, and even a one-off single from Devo side project the Wipeouters. SF Weekly did a cover story and there were reams of additional press. Hollywood types called wanting to know who owned the rights to Peter and Raymond. Things had gotten big.
"Shut Up Little Man has been an enchanted, messy cultural accident," reflects Sausage (he's kept the moniker) over a Skype conference call. "It was a personal obsession and a private joke that in a very curious way became an underground cultural phenomena." Sausage, a visual artist and musician who supports himself as a rare-book seller, remains, in his words, "the official custodian" of Shut Up Little Man's (SULM) legacy, which is copiously detailed on its website.
Deprey — who now works as an insurance agent in Wisconsin where he lives with his wife and teenage children — is also on the line. Although Sausage is doing most of the talking, he interjects from time to time to provide clarification. We are discussing Matthew Bate's documentary Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure — perhaps the squarest peg in Frameline 35's lineup. As much an attempt to comprehensively recount the above long, strange trip from start to finish, the film is also the newest chapter in the now 20-year saga of Peter, Raymond, Mitch, and Eddie.
Bate is a clever filmmaker who is able to translate a story that has primarily been told through sound into something visually compelling. Goofy animated interludes are woven between interviews with Clowes, Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, and the many other SULM fans who have created art inspired by Peter and Raymond. Sausage and Deprey also get plenty of screen time, and Bate goes so far as to have them play their 20-something selves in dramatized reenactments of their early days of interacting with and recording Peter and Raymond, who are played by actors. (Huffman died in 1992 of a heart attack brought on by colon cancer, pancreatitis, and alcoholism; Haskett died four years later of liver problems also due to alcoholism.)
Bate's film is less successful in presenting a clear account of Sausage and Deprey's 1994 controversial decision to copyright their recordings — which up to that point had been accompanied only by a note encouraging creative liberties and humbly asking for credit — going so far as to imply that this was an ideological about-face. As Sausage and Deprey tell it, they were simply doing the responsible, professional thing in the face of mounting disputes over who could or couldn't sell the rights (the current disclaimer on the SULM website notes that "permission and licensing is usually granted, but please ask first").
"Because this stuff was so viral and so innocuous, it wasn't clear who owned any of this, " explains Deprey, "We just didn't want people wrongfully charging other people to use it. And the truth is, we've never gotten a penny from any of the artists [featured in the film]."
Still, Deprey and Sausage have now become the semiofficial executors of Peter and Raymond's estate, even if it's a legacy composed of hours and hours of blue streaks captured on tape. No surviving relatives of either Huffman or Haskett have come forward in the time that their infamy has grown, underscoring the fact that these two men — despite the venom they constantly spewed at back and forth — really only had each other.
"In a very real way, I think it's a nontraditional love story," says Sausage. "There's a lot of passion and a lot of intimacy there. I mean, arguing is one of the most intimate things we can do as human beings."
Indeed, Peter and Raymond's highly dysfunctional Boston marriage might be the queerest onscreen relationship in the whole festival.
SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE
June 22, 9:30 p.m., $11
2961 16th St., SF
P.S. Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure was recently picked up by a distributor and will be released theatrically Aug. 26.