In the year 2000 I went to Europe (and Scandanavia) for the first time. I was to show my newest movies SUPERSTARLET A.D. + ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES. I didn't want the event to go to waste as just any old film tour, so I created an image called POP KOP, culled from thrift store finds (Memphis Police Shirts), my tight Farah pants (a hold-over from the Vice Party Tour), 'beatle-boots, blues blocker shades, and an Elvis-Jesus belt buckle. Last, but not least, a Radio Shack megaphone in which to address the throng who turned out to see my movies. But what would be my message?
Elvis meets the Beatles intended premiere on Jesse's death day was postponed due to a technical glitch in the "Paul Is Dead" scene. This was a sign of things to come in the final year of the Memphis Underground Film Scene.
YOU WILL NOT KNOW HIM
At the Am Vets on Elvis Presley Blvd. I had perused a paperback, in fair-condition which detailed the attempt of saving Elvis' life even though the King was D.O.A at the Baptist Memorial Hospital that day on August 16th, 1977. The grisly, tabloid details outlined in the book struck me as symbolic of the state of American Pop Culture as we now lived it; that Elvis' was unknown to the interns in the ER, so bloated was he in death (akin to American Pop Culture of the time, akin to the disciple Peter refuting his god three times before the (Sun) rooster crowed. Imagine Elvis being unrecognizable as Elvis. The thought is horrible.
In a frantic attempt at saving Elvis' life which must have resembled a death dream, the doctor would cut Elvis from voice to birth (from adams apple to his belly button), in order to massage his 'arrhythmic” heart and return him from the dead. I would make these morbid details into something poetic for the people in Europe. Something akin to a Nuremburg speech, that I could deliver as the POP KOP. The title of that book, btw, has escaped me, but years later as a tour guide at Sun Studio, I shook hands with the man who massaged Elvis' heart, and he corraborated everything that I had remembered from the book and mythologized as a radio shacked, megaphone rant for the people of Europe and Scandanavia. Elvis had left his body, but his disciple had made it to Europe.
2000 MEMPHIS UNDERGROUND FILM SCENE R.I.P.
Some background: The Memphis I left behind for a mere three weeks was not the same when I returned. Perhaps I was just more clearheaded. Earlier in the year, on May 5th, at Last Place On Earth , the Memphis premier of SUPERSTARLET A.D. + ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES was the first time I had lost money on a show. It would be another four years before I would show BROAD DAYLIGHT and even that film required a same-day venue change.
I recall the early days at Barristers Pub downtown when I could recoup the entire cost of a feature film by taking money from 'lovable suckers' at the door. The eight-year run of five features and assorted videos was over (but it was a good run). The work that I, my wife Kim, and co-producer Darin Ipema (among other cohorts) basically aided in a film-scene (culture?) which would later be assimilated into the Indie Memphis Film Scene. Eventually, when the smoke machine cleared, Linn Sitler, the director of the Shelby County Film and Television Commission hailed me as 'the godfather of Memphis Independent Cinema”. A more accurate quote might be “Memphis Underground Cinema”. I'll leave that other title to the man who produced ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES; Indie king Craig Brewer.
I was a refugee from undergrond comix. Ha. Or was that 'alternative comix? Either way, my films made
no apologies for their psychedelic subtext, their pyscho-sexual content, their raw rock and roll soundtracks, or the brazen way that starlets held their sway above mere actors. I carved out spiritual statements on Elvis as autobiographical mythologies. And it was all a Memphis statement in the last decade of the American century. Indie films on the other hand seemed somehow calculated; low-budget for effect, scaled down visuals, non-genre and very mainstream in structure. Most good Indie films stress Story but are basically Hollywood films with no money.
Photo by Jonathan Postal for the MEMPHIS book.
With the advent of the internet, cheap video, and the establishing of “Indie” as the new hipster term for amateur film, the Memphis 'underground film scene' as I had known it (defined it?), was dead. As dead as Elvis. And I was no better for it. I had not been assimilated into the current of distribution and everything that might go with it. Jim Dickinson nailed it, whispering into my ear one night at a party, “You got skipped.” For that astute comment alone, I wanted to make Jim's only video for nothin'. And we did.
To make the message more obvious to my stubborn, punk rock sensibilities, at the third (and self-defining) Indie Memphis, SUPERSTARLET A.D lost to Craig Brewer's POOR & HUNGRY and our joint effort masterpiece ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES lost to Kaleo Quenzers short CENTRAL GARDENS. To be clear, these winning movies were incredibly worthy, but they did not represent the 'underground'. They were attempts at recreating a mainstream experience. At the time I did not understand the difference.
Naturally, Indie Films win at Indie festivals. And this festival was called Indie Memphis. There has never been a Memphis Underground Film Festival, except of course, any night my starlet wife Kim and I strode into a bar and plugged in a video projector. Out of the ashes comes something new, this is as it should be. But this movie maker must be 'flame-retarded'.
What person in their right mind drops out of grad school and continues to make underground art with a wife, child, and house payment – then goes to Europe with a megaphone to promote his latest and greatest irony? A film about a cultural apocalypse in Memphis. Time wounds all heels, but deep heels never wound. Truly, I went to Europe to get my heart massaged as much as anything else. After all, it had been ripped open in Memphis. And if I was 'dead on arrival', then so was Amerian pop culture.
Showing movies in bars as a trend, as a first wave of something outrageous and hip, even dangerous to do, had ended in Memphis in the year 2000, but not in Europe. Europe and Scandanavia (not to forget Japan) take the American Underground and keep it alive in their hearts. In some small towns, Gene Vincent never crashed a motorcyle. Jerry Lee and Myra Gail came over and never left – and Elvis never got older than twenty-one.
What follows are names I cannot all remember, but memories I cannot forget.
“YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR CRIMES AGAINST AMERICAN POP CULTURE!”
The EURO-SCANDO POP KOP TOUR!
Taken in Nicholas Deathray's bedroom by Darin Ipema for publication in Psychotronic Magazine.
NORWAY: When I got to the KLM section of the Memphis airport to depart for Norway, it was as if all Aryan peoples were on the same flight! Suddenly I was surrounded by a starlet role call of square jawed, teutonic lasses. I had arrived without leaving. I reminded myself that this was Morton Henriksen's idea. He had a band called THE YUMS YUMS and had originally contacted me to play my film during his ROCK MOT FOOTBALL ( a rock & roll and cinema protest against rabid sports worship in Oslo.) It was Morton who purchased my round trip tickets and made the POP KOP tour possible. So my first trip to Europe was really to Scandanavia, a place overrun with cavemen and beautiful women. The perfect place to show my SUPERSTARLET A.D..
COPENHAGEN: I stayed with promotional masterminds Brock and Rikke Sternberg in Copenhagen. I had met them on the Vice Party Tour in Alberquerque, New Mexico because of their ties to THE DRAGS. One of my favorite memories is listening to THE KINKS "Something Else" LP in their oaken living room. Brock published DEADBEAT fanzine (formerly "SLUT") which ran a great SORE LOSERS interview with me and Emmy Collins back in 1997. I drew GUITAR WOLF and the VICE PARTY motif for the wraparound front cover.
SWEDEN: Thomas and Martin Hildebrand of SAVAGE magazine promoted our Deatthday show in Stockholm. At one of the shows in Sweden, a rocker paid his admission, stated he loved THE SORE LOSERS, and asked if I could do his bands video. When I asked who he was, he said, "Howlin' Pelle Almqvist! ...And my band is THE HIVES!" I told him "Sure, I'll make your video!" So the very next year, THE HIVES signed with Interscope Records and hit the charts. They finally toured Memphis in 2004 and H.G Ray and I shot two videos in 6 hours. You can see them at guerrilla monster.
Conceptual Art by JMM
BERLIN: Back in 1997, Marcus Lehr, from "Incredibly Strange Films" had bought the rights to THE SORE LOSERS for five years. As I understand it, the movie quite a bit on VIVA TV. This sale allowed me to save the negative from being destroyed by an overzealous print house in Gnashville. Hoping on a train, and with 24 hour to spare, I visited Marcus, got a vibe for the city that had produced World War 2, Bowie and Iggy's finest work. We visited a dark rockabilly club lost to time and space with a beautiful bartendress. I had a great nights sleep followed by a wonderful breakfast. Marcus taught me that Berliners do not take home 'leftovers'. We ate pizza then went back to his apartment with friends and watched my movies. I believe this was my introduction to Taschen publications as I bought a big old book on artist ERIC STANTON at sunny Berlin Flea Market.
HAMBURG: The Norwegian train was loaded into the cargo hold of a mighty ship which sailed for Germany. As was the custom, whenever I arrived at a european train station, some loyal supporter of the cause would have a sign hoisted that read "Pop Kop" or "JMM" (any incarnation would do) but in Hamburg there was no one waiting for me. I sat in the grimey station for some time until finally I made a few phone calls in a Chinese restaurant and caught a cab, momentarily stopping in the Molotov Klub on my way to a place whose name I can't remember. Everything turned out great. While I was there I shot super-8 film of four beautiful Hamburg starlets doing striptease. This film was lost for years but uncovered in Emmy Collins shed in the Mohave desert. Once processed and transferred, it looks gorgeous. I have named these German stag loops the "STALAG STAGS". They remain unreleased.
AMSTERDAM: I was picked up by a guy named Minno who drove a bicycle cart with a wagon in the back. I sat in the wagon with my luggage and he handed me a huge joint. I dimly recall him asking a policeman to light it for me. Minno and his friends were squatting in a beautiful old building on the river that was to be torn down soon. Minno's band DEXTER played the next night out front of the old building. FRITZ the CAT was the opener followed by my movies. One of the scariest moments occurred as I, wobbly from nerves and beatle-boots, was addressing the "drive-in" crowd, on the very edge of the building - and almost fell to my death.
Photograph by Victoria Renhard © 1998
Pop Kop & Erin Hegee, Chicago 1997
In 2000, I was mixing Elvis with films in much the same way Warhol mixed black with his primary colors. The Elvis that shakes hands with Nixon (same birthday) is a king of a rock and roll southern confederacy and the true “pres” of pop. Elvis more popular than Nixon would ever be. And Presley hadn't died, he would have been president. With all this in my head, and most of it scribbled in my sketchbook, I made ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES.
A note from my sketchook that year “The secret message of SUPERSTARLET A.D. Is that of the blonde and brunette struggle of Elvis WITHIN HIMSELF!
“Elvisceral” is a picture of Elvis rolling around on the floor in 1956, just as punk as Iggy Pop amidst a sea of meat, rubbing himself down with peanut butter (crunchy or creamy?). 21 years later, a picture of Elvis laying on the floor in 1977, near-death by drug abuse but still performing, again just as shocking as Sid Vicious carving “I need a fix” into his chest.
Photograph by Wheat Buckley, Chicago Underground Film Fest, 2000
I was the POP KOP for screenings at the LAS VEGAS UNDERGROUND where we met Aviva Wishnow! The breathtaking Ms. Wishnow was instrumental in getting SUPERSTARLET A.D. signed with Troma. One of the best screenings was at the Mill Valley Film Festival (where Charles Manson is incarcerated right over the hill). Will Viharo was a gracious host to our entourage at the Oakland Parkway Theater. That night, in the crowd, my performance was videotaped by AFRO-THORPE. It's the only taped performance of the POP KOP and I'm not even sure it was the best.
I would always walk down from the back aisle, siren blazing on the megaphone, do my damnedest to make people entertained, and introduce the films. The speeches that got the best response was the Chicago Underground Fest and Mill Valley. The worst show was Brooklyn, New York at the Stinger Club. The New Yorkers didn't like the near proximity of the bull horn nor the crypticism of the message. Of course, the MINK LUNGS were quite good. Ultimately I would be the Pop Kop for that year's tours and when it was over, it was time to retire the image, to make way for another rhyming named persona. Soon I would don a cape and become SUPER TUPELO and then even later I would become LATE GREAT. With that, the cycle of glam names came to an end.
Lots of grown men with shorts: Director of Photography Steven Oatley, Producer Mike Miller (and owner of Delilahs), the POP KOP, a mysterious Chicago pop artist, and musician Poli Sci Clone...on the eve of the Chicago Underground Film Festival, 2000. Photo by Bruce Saltmarsh.
Sunday 9/3/2000: “...Hanna counted “5-6” after my “3-4” yesterday. Her cognizance is incredible. Maybe that's the way all 19 month olds are. She tells inanimate objects 'goodbye'. Tonight we took pictures of her leaving home for the first time, but she only got as far as the front tire (which I blew today). Fixed for $10 to a fellow brother in the class struggle named Charlie.”
Photograph by Wheat Buckley, Chicago Underground Film Fest, 2000
“IN THE FUTURE EVERYONE WILL MAKE A MOVIE.” JMM, 2000
My post-Europe prayer to Jesse Presley...
Oh God I'm sorry.
Days of our Lives interrupted
by something that happened
100 miles ago.
I was only fourteen!
How could I know him beyond
Some TV movie.
It's taken 24 years to know Him
And his Brother
As a brother.
Buried in an unmarked baby tomb
In Tupelo, Mississippi
That I have stood over
And asked for things.
But you don't ask for money or fame
When you're astraddle the Grave
of a stilborn Twin baby
Who was buried in a Shoebox.
I merely ask “Can I please please
don't want to understand
Why I create -
Just gimme some good ideas, will 'ya?
So I ask this of an Unpopular Son
And then wonder.
copyright 2000, 2012 by Mike McCarthy
Page design Ronnie Harris