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Christmas 2012: Four Generations of Family, A Mummified Banana and the Promise of a Dry Diaper

January 2nd, 2013 by Jeff Simmermon

My family all loves each other, and gets along pretty well. Which means that my holidays are usually pretty great, but rarely make for much in the way of great material. Four generations of people that love and respect each other kind of puts me at a disadvantage for a career in the arts. I try to work around it, though.

What follows isn’t really a story with conflict and an arc and surprises and stuff. But this chapter in my family’s history is so magnificent that it needs to be recorded somewhere. So I’m annotating a series of photos that sum it all up.

In-law jokes were for hacks back in the ’60s. Everyone knows that. But one of the things that nobody ever tells you about getting married is that if you get lucky and pick it right, you actually get to join a whole new awesome family in addition to your own. And if yours sucks a little, you kind of get another shot.

I started the holidays with Maggie’s family in suburban Maryland – here we are, opening some gifts early. My soon-to-be father-in-law gave me the entire run of Battlestar Galactica, which I’ve actually never seen – pretty solid!


For those of you that don’t know, my aunt and uncle own and operate a Christmas store in Smithfield, Virginia. It’s open year-round, and it’s not one of those chintzy chain stores you see at your more pathetic shopping malls. Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Elaine have an entire wardrobe of Christmas-themed clothing, and wear this stuff all the time, like it’s completely normal. They also usually have a little glitter or fake snow from a shedding ornament stuck to their sweater, glasses or something the way that other people might wear cat hair.

Here are a few shots of the shop:

At Christmas:



At Halloween:

Christmas Store, Halloween
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Found Art Nostalgia: I Miss My Old Brain

November 26th, 2012 by Jeff Simmermon

I found this painting that I made in college on the wall at some old friends’ house in Richmond, VA this weekend. I haven’t seen it in years.

I actually got into writing and storytelling through visual art – when I was majoring in painting, I was obsessed with comics, Southern folk art and outsider art, Congolese power figures and sacred Voodoo and Santeria art. In voodoo and Santeria (as I understood it at the time), practitioners go into a trance and become the spirits they’re communicating with, and create altars in the home that are both doorways to a particular orisha and a living representation of the orisha itself, made from found objects.

I got really into writing stories on my work, making comic book pages out of junk I’d find in the woods and getting into a sort of trance-like state in the studio I had in my barn and letting whatever voice was talking take control of my hands until the thing was done. Eventually the words took up more and more of the the work and I just started writing. Then, telling a story wasn’t necessarily a craft so much as a thing that came out of a state, like a ship sliding out of a rip in the universe.

I think this was done on an old road sign that I found deep in George Washington National Forest. I know I got that image from an old comic, and I definitely recall writing all of this in one go, with a Sharpie. No drafts, no revising, crossing out, no wondering what the audience would think or trying to be likable. Just moving forward.

Here’s the piece:


The text reads:

“On that dark day when the Sun rises in the West and decides to set in the East, these gargantuan striped giants will appear suddenly from ??Elsewhere?? and set to the business of devouring the earth. Neither animal, vegetable, nor man-made machine, they are insatiable, and know no reason or moral code. They only know that they must perform the impossible: fill their ravenous GUTS.

The Fantastic Four and the entire Marvel Universe subscribe to the belief that GALACTUS is the eater of worlds, but I tell you with the straightest of all straight faces that GALACTUS is a mere DUST MITE compared to these black-and-white beasties.

We could, and probably will, head for the hills or lie screaming in storm cellars with paper sacks over our heads during that fateful time, but it will only make our moment of consumption more frenzied and embarrassing.

We may as well die picnicking as pleading to a recently discovered God. Mankind will finally realize what the insects knew all along: Nature knows no right or wrong.

Our constant struggle with good and evil set us apart from the animals, but on that day, we will finally be free from that boring struggle and I just hope that more people than just me have the sense to enjoy it.

This used to have two bicycle fenders painted to look like the creatures in question, glued to the top. They broke off pretty quickly, though. When I look at this, I feel a blast of nostalgia for a time when I could disappear into a barn for several hours, sure. But I also miss having that degree of concentration, and that practiced flow. It’s take me about 90 minutes to write this post, and half of it is simple transcription.

Mostly, I miss my old brain: the one that knew when to think and when to get out of the way and let the art fall out.

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That Old Black Hole: I Get It Everywhere

May 31st, 2012 by Jeff Simmermon

I bought the best painting on earth in a vintage store in Nashville this weekend:


There is a toy ambulance glued to the top and a plastic dog glued to the bottom and it reads:

Elvis did CPR on a dog to save his life.

My Uncle Jimmy used to own the world’s biggest Baby Ruth bar, one of the first Asteroids machines and a whole bunch of antique cans full of antique lard and sprinkled with Fillmore-era psychedelic rock posters. I used to help him haul the contents of dead people’s houses back to his auction house and hoist up WWII antiques, old metal trucks and ’60s board games up and down the aisles in the back of the store he and my aunt owned while the whole town of Smithfield bid on them to his spitfire gravel drawl.

The weird seeds planted in me early and grew real big. I’ve got a zombified Elvis karaoke robot with its rubber face torn off and a giant painting of King Kong made out of roofing tar in my house, and I can’t stop dragging stuff home like an ant with psychedelic antiques hoisted over its head.

The queen of my nest is not always impressed. She says I need to throw stuff out before bringing more in, but look.

Are you going to stop taking communion just because you’re on a low-carb diet?
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Cool Guys, 1992

April 5th, 2012 by Jeff Simmermon

Somewhere around the spring of 1991, my friend Frank Benson played the Cramps for me for the first time. He said “hey, check these guys out, I’m going to take a shower real quick.” By the time he came out of the bathroom, my head was full all kinds of sweet and rotten mutant fruits.

A year later, his mom took me and him and a date to see the Ramones at the Boathouse in Norfolk, VA and nothing was ever the same again. My glasses got knocked off and ground back into sand during the first 5 minutes of the show, and I took a boot to the face by the second set. The next day, I was half-deaf and limping around the house, clutching the walls to feel my way to my bedroom and all I wanted to do was get up on a stage and be Joey Ramone.

A week after that I quit the rec league soccer team by throwing my shirt in the coach’s face. During a game.

Something didn’t add up, though. Me and Frank were scoring acid from drag queens at the Rocky Horror Picture Show and had a direct line to all the best music this new burning world had to offer. With all this newfound punk rock swagger and the confidence of finally being down with the coolest guys in school, we figured girls would finally start paying attention.

Cool Guys, 1992

As it turns out, it took a little while. We had no idea why.

Frank Benson has hit his stride by now, and I guess I’m okay, too.

Anyone who tells a teenager that “these are the best years of your life” is only telling half of the truth. In my experience, we got to taste the potential that the world had — but actually feeling it fall into place day by day and year by year is even better. Frank and I hang out now. We both live in Brooklyn, but we’re both busting ass on our own art careers.

We don’t see each other as often as people who live three miles away from each other might. But every time we do hang out, one of is getting the other one really excited about some cool new stuff. We’re still kicking each others’ doors wide open.

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Telling Stories at the Slip/Lovitt Day Party Featuring Sleepytime Trio Reunion at SXSW

March 2nd, 2012 by Jeff Simmermon

I’ve got a real love/hate relationship with Virginia’s post-punk and hardcore scene. When I look back on it, I find the scene as a whole creatively constrained and kind of stifling — it was this kind of styleized suburban orthodox dudefest of screamed vocals and far-left political statements set to guitar feedback and complicated drums.

But look, man: if you hated sports a little and frat-culture a lot in the late ’80s and early ’90s, what else were you going to do? Punk and hardcore had a low barrier to entry then – just get yourself a guitar, a garage and couple other guys and add a few metric apeloads of sweat and willpower. You could turn a pizza parlor, VFW hall or urine-soaked living room into a mothership full of people that were just ROCKING THE FUCK OUT with you at the helm.

My musical efforts at that time were stranger and less accessible.

I met almost all of my best, tightest, life-long friends at these shows. We made bands, made tapes, played records, took road trips to the Black Cat in DC and Twister’s in Richmond together, and ate a WHOLE lot of hash browns at truckstops in the middle of the night together. I went to a lot of weddings and I’ll go to a lot of funerals because of the people I met back then. We shepherded each other along the messy, complicated path into adult life, and I plan to return the favors on the way out.

Some of my best friends in college – the kindest, strangest, funniest guys in the world – formed the Sleepytime Trio. And when they played in our tiny living room in Harrisonburg, VA, the energy was Thor banging his hammer on the ground. Lightning bolts connected everybody and people dove off the mantle and jumped out the windows … before opening them.

Everytime they played, something got broken, someone got hurt and everyone in the room took a malt-liquor shower together and we smiled about it real hard, too. Because we all knew that nothing this awesome was happening for hundreds of miles around this tiny little mountain town and we all made it together.

Here’s the Sleepytime Trio playing at ABC No Rio back in the late ’90s. This looks and sounds a LOT like my living room did when I was in college.

So I’m really, really honored and exceptionally stoked to be MC-ing the Slip/Lovitt Party at SXSW on March 15th — featuring a rare and raw Sleepytime Trio reunion. There are 8 bands, and I’ll be telling stories between all of them. You don’t need a badge or anything, just earplugs. And maybe some extra deodorant.

Slip/Lovitt Party at SXSW

See, that love/hate thing – it’s not really hate. It’s the natural flipside of a nurturing relationship. You will always resent the thing that makes you just enough to get out on your own. It’s scary out there, and if you didn’t push yourself away, you’d still live in your mom’s attic.

For me, this thing’s like coming home for Christmas. We’re all grown up, and we’re all going to rock this thing as hard as we know how.

For the rest of you, the show ought to be really fun, especially if you like hanging out with dudes in cargo shorts who still buy 7″ records. Hope you can make it.

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Beauty is Embarrassing : Wayne White Documentary

February 3rd, 2012 by D.Billy

Sweet jumping Jeebus, I love me some Wayne White.

He makes beautiful, funny typographic additions to found oil paintings, he designed sets and puppets for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, he art-directed the Smashing Pumpkins’ gorgeous, Georges Méliès-inspired “Tonight, Tonight” video, and he generally embodies the kind of artist that I want to be.

And now Wayne White is the subject of a documentary entitled “Beauty is Embarrassing”, which is premiering at SXSW 2012. Here’s the trailer:

I want to watch this film with all of my heart and soul. (And also my eyeballs.)

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Hot Chicks and Human Heads: Welcome to Nagaland

December 8th, 2011 by Cyndi Freeman

In 1944, right in the thick of WWII, my cousin Jimmy’s plane went down while flying from India to China. Everyone else in the crew died but him. He was rescued by a tribe of folks called the Naga and lived with them for 3 months. Today Nagaland is an eco-tourist hotspot, but in 1944 the locals were head hunters and and Jimmy was carried into a village that was surrounded by dismembered heads on spikes.

Despite the fierceness of their culture, they were quite kind to him. According to Wikipedia, the people of Nagaland were known for their hospitality to strangers. My cousin did not know this at the time, but head trophies were taken only during battle and since he was not waging a war with them, he was safe. He was treated as a friend in need. In fact they liked him so much they tried to find him a wife.

You can hear my story at our live show AND I AM NOT LYING LIVE this Saturday. But in the meantime here are some images and links to video. Look now or come back and learn more after hearing me tell this truly amazing family story!

Want to buy this? This photo is from a tribal art site and is selling Naga human skull trophy arts.

I think it looked like this kid before it was “harvested”:

Jimmy claimed the girls were constantly dancing for him and that the chief encouraged him to enjoy his wife. But Jimmy “…had a girl waiting for me in New Jersey! Besides what if I got someone jealous? Someone like the chief? Next thing I’d have my head on a spike! Nope, I was having none of that!”

I’m not sure I believe him – here is Youtube video of a present day Naga girl showing off her shimmy.

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Black Centipede In A Blue Velvet Closet: Live at Union Hall

October 26th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

There’s a lot of talk about stopping childhood bullying online and on TV these days. Good, I say. I got bullied pretty badly when I was a kid, and I’m glad to hear that people want to put a stop to that kind of a thing. But on the other hand, you can’t stop rampant assholery. It’s a big brown glacier that just creeps across humanity, and it’s going to come out and express itself in some other weird way.

At least you’re allowed to punch a bully right in the face.

When my family lived in the DC suburbs in the early ’80s, it was pretty bad. I got beat up a lot and I was pretty scared to leave my house. My family was tremendously loving, and I had a dog that was my best friend in the world. But once I left the yard it was like a movie about Vietnam directed by Todd Solondz.

Nobody ever talks about this, though: a lot of times, the kids that are getting bullied get pretty mean, too. Being and underdog and a good guy are not the same thing.

I told this story at the And I Am Not Lying live show at Union Hall back on October 5th. It goes long, but I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. I tried to compress it to a tight 5 minutes for a Moth Grand Slam last week and it was a stunning failure. I got more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life, skipped parts and just blacked out completely on my feet. It wasn’t booze-related, just flop-terror. I came to a few seconds later, literally standing in front of several hundred people who were looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to say something intelligible into a microphone.

A lot of people have that experience as a nightmare.

I hope you guys enjoy my telling of this story more than I did teliing it the other night, anyway.

I’m also obliged to mention that I’m coming to DC on November 2nd and Philadelphia on November 6th with Brad Lawrence, Cyndi Freeman, and Runaround Sue. You can get tickets for the DC show here: And I Am Not Lying: A Night of Storytelling, Comedy, & Burlesque.

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Hogan’s Heroes – Revenge by Sitcom

April 1st, 2011 by Cyndi Freeman

My fascination with Wonder Woman started when I was a kid. Wonder Woman’s first season was set during WWII and she was a brunette just like me and kicking Nazi ass. This was the same year that I was learning about the Holocaust in Hebrew school

My other favorite show was Hogan’s Heroes.

There was no chick who looked just like me, but they were cool guys thwarting Nazis. This prompted me and a friend from Hebrew school named Janet to write our own script entitled Wonder Woman Meets Hogan’s Heroes. Alas, I do not have any documentation of this fine work of art. But for months we acted out the scenes that we crafted in her basement.

So while doing my research on my Wonder Woman show, I did a look into Hogan’s heroes and discovered. Almost all the Nazi characters were played by Jewish actors, many of whom had lost their families at the hands of the Nazis. There is a tribute site that has been set up for them – Hogan’s Jews - It is an informative and entertaining read.

But, here are some other things I’d like to share. Now the show has always had its critics and I have always disagreed with them.

Several years back The Boston Globe printed an article written by reporter Renee Graham, she had this to say about the show,

“Call this political correctness if you like, but under no circumstances should a film of `Hogan’s Heroes’ be made. For those who don’t remember, this was the 1960′s World War II comedy starring Bob Crane, Werner Klemperer and John Banner that presented the Nazis as the biggest cutups since the Keystone Kops. Let’s be clear here: Nazis are never, ever funny. Ever. So it’s with great joy that I report that the film version of `Hogan’ is on ice, at least for now.”

Where I respect her disdain of Nazis (yick!) I accept her outrage but counter it with this:

“I was never crazy about Hitler,” says Mel Brooks. Who was? But even now, more than 50 years after the fall of the Third Reich, the man who masterminded the extermination of more than 7 million people is still handled with care, as if the magnitude of his crime demands no less. Brooks had the guts, and gall, to realize that the simplest way to demolish Hitler was to mock him.

“If you stand on a soapbox and trade rhetoric with a dictator you never win,” says Brooks, 75. “That’s what they do so well; they seduce people. But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter–they can’t win. You show how crazy they are.”

Hogan’s Heroes was revenge through sitcom.
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Wonder Woman: A How-To Guide for Little Jewish Girls

January 28th, 2011 by Jeff Simmermon

Cyndi’s taking a bit of a break from blogging here to do something a lot more intense, personal, gratifying and fantastic.

You may know her from the NYC burlesque scene as the fabulous Cherry Pitz — she does a spectacular routine with Vincent Price’s disembodied voice. (Link goes to video that may be considered unsafe for work, but inarguably awesome.)

Now she’s working on a one-woman show show that traces her journey from a little suburban Jewish girl obsessed with Wonder Woman to a fabulous burlesque Queen in NYC.

The show’s called Wonder Woman: A How-To Guide for Little Jewish Girls.

Wonder Woman - A How-To Guide for LIttle Jewish Girls
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