Tuesday, June 21, 2011

In the Shaman's Den: Meeting Frank Moore

In a seeming other lifetime ago, while living in Boulder, Colorado, I enrolled in several writing classes at The Naropa Institue. Naropa is the first Buddhist-accredited college in the nation, and along with leading the edge of contemplative education, it is home to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
At the time I was taking classes at Naropa, I was working as a journalist, competing in cycling races and living with my upstanding husband in a lovely home not far from downtown. Life was great, really, but something inside I couldn't name was a bit restless. While I had always wrote and dabbled in art & music most of my life, I was pretty clueless about what it was to really be an artist, and how spirituality, however you practice, is part and parcel of that deal.
At Naropa; however, I was thrown into that world, if for only a few hours each week, where the messages of the unconscious were heeded and first thought was best thought. This was a school founded by Beat Poet leaders Alan Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. Seeing these committed and brave artists at the local coffeehouse, or in the grocery store, as well as in class and on stage showed me how the mundane could be, and was, sacred. My world view soon began to crack open a bit...and my life soon looked much different than the Boulder postcard I had created.
Now, years later, I count that time as hugely pivotal to leading me on the road to finding a voice and spiritual practices that support living both authentically and expressively. Even though I know this is a long road, I've been forgetting this.  It's easy for some of us to get lost in the ordinary.
But lo, a visit to  Frank Moore's Shaman's Den was added to the gig calendar some months back.  I did not know this would be the thing to jar me back awake to some of these hard-learned lessons. Ostensibly, my trip to the the Den was simply the performance of the week, a podcast taping for Frank's www.LUVeR.com radio where I'd perform a set of my songs along with guitarist Kwame Copeland. I've been doing a fair amount of this sort of thing, and while I'd prepared my set list and rehearsed, I hadn't done much research on Frank. I liked that LUVeR stood for Love. Underground. Visionary. Revolution., and I expected a groovy experience, but I got much more, including a well-timed shot of inspiration regarding what it means to take on your art...and live it.
Sunday was a gorgeous summer day, and we knew as soon as we pulled up to LUVeR headquarters on the Berkeley/Albany boarder that something special was going on. Several rainbow-painted vehicles were parked outside a well-tended garden, filled with avian statuary and glow-light peace sign, in front of a brightly painted house. Our sound engineer Mikee greeted us, assistant Linda offered us freshly brewed mint tea and we set up our guitars, noticing art on the walls, 'Frank Moore for President' T-shirts, as well as photos of a joyous looking man in a wheelchair.
This was Frank, who, despite having been born with cerebral palsy, which renders him unable to walk and talk, has written numerous books, a wealth of poetry, painted, acted, played in punk rock bands and busted probably every boundary there is as a performance artist exploring 'eroplay.' Annie Sprinkle counts him as a mentor; an NEA artist, Moore was among the artists Jesse Helms targeted as 'obscene.'
The facts of Frank's extensive body of work is pretty fucking amazing really, even if performance art isn't your thing, which dawned on me as the afternoon progressed. I was in the living room of someone who was the real deal in the bravery/edge-riding/originality department.
(Mostly) confined to a wheelchair, Frank greeted us with a smile and, 'speaking' with the help of a pretty nifty laser-operated painted 'keyboard. and Linda, hosted our Folk/Rock/Americana performance with grace and a very large heart. After we played, he proceeded to interview me about my work, asking about Buddhism, music, writing and travel. After explaining a bit about why I liked the more collectively minded perspective of India, he pulled out a poem he'd written for me to read about Tribal artistry, a visionary call to action. While Frank's performance work is, and can be, shocking for it's no holds barred exploration of human physicality and connection, his writings have been largely concerned with the possibilities in art and performance, and cultural subversion. Ultimately, they're calls to connection, and love, rather than isolation.
Buddhist guidance has led me to believe that our lives hardships often point us to our life's mission. Frank has clearly heeded his mission. Lucky me to cross his path.

"Being in a non-normal body has made it clear to me that life is a process of performance. My body and my attitudes toward life break taboos and change things even by my just sitting in a fancy restaurant. A sexy woman, Linda is feeding me, laughing, having a good time. Peas and beets and mashed potatoes are running down my matted beard. For me and Linda, it is just everyday life. But for the up-tight, high-class society lady at the next table, it is a terribly gross, disgusting attack on her neat clean reality. I cough, loud and long. A knife cuts the normal world. A young homely girl at another table thinks, "If he can have fun, why can't I?" In this way, I have always been a performer." — Franke Moore, Art of A Shaman

1 comment:

Bird in the Tree said...

Podcast here: http://www.luver.net/podcasts/deborahcrooks-audio.mp3