an experiment in tweaking society, 1991-1994
What a blast. Almost killed us. Where do you start to tell the story of the Betapunks? Not about what got done. But what we thought we'd try to do. Miserable failure is the funnest trip of all. For proof of this all you have to do is spend 15 minutes talking to some plump fatcat who thinks he's successful because his wallet's thick, and the moron hasn't noticed yet that his ankles and heart are calcifying into anchors sunk deep into routine and possession, from which the only escape is sudden death. The Betapunks and their hidden agenda, the eco-yuppie info bureau Ecomedia, were a spectacular flameout, so they're still alive, unlike the fatcats with the arthritic heart and ankle.
(foto credits unknown)
The following transcript comes from Blue's audio CD, "My Life With the Betapunks & Other Strange Tales of Working & Playing in the Underground of the Imperial City." The CD will be released in the Fall of 2013.
Yesterday, I was sitting on the steps of some old building on 14th Street eating a sandwich with Freddie S. and we're talking about the Betapunks and the warehouse on 9th Street, and I tell him “I had this incredible thing happen to me where we had this underground scene going when a reporter comes over from the weekly newspaper to do a story, says it’s going to be on the cover. Reporter spend a week hanging out with us and files his story, and then tells me that the editor of the City Paper says, 'There's no way we're putting the Betapunks and that guy Sean, a liar and a thief, on the cover,' and he killed the story. This very nice guy who was a reporter at Yale University who's now become one of the preeminent historical writers in America, he puts up a good fight for us: 'No, this is a good story. This is a good story. This is a good story.' And then all of a sudden Bill Clinton won the election, right? And the editor of the City Paper had to put a feel-good story for all the new democrats coming to town on the cover of his magazine. So they all sat there and they looked at all the different stories that they had and one after another, 'Nope, that's no good, that's no good,' until finally the last story was the Betapunks and he just buried his face and said 'I can't believe I got to do that!' So here we are in the most widely circulated edition of the Washington City Paper and what happens, that week I get a job looking after the musicians as they come to town to play at all these parties for the inauguration for Bill Clinton and who are my charges? Los Lobos, okay? So I am babysitting Los Lobos , making sure they get into cool restaurants and funky neighborhoods, and their main man David Hidalgo everywhere we go is saying: 'Hey, don't talk to us. Talk to him. He's on the cover of the newspaper.' And everyone is, like, I've seen this guy before. And there were the guys from Los Lobos, holding up the City Paper, spread like confetti all over the city and there's my face staring at me and Los Lobos are saying, ‘Stop staring at me’ every time we pass the City Paper dispenser boxes.
They had this gig at the 930 club. And Sandie and I were there and I'm talking to Flaco Jimenez and Flaco is a legendary guy, the top Tex-Mex accordion player in the world, and the guy's out of control, missing his teeth, bad breath, looks like a really bad version of Clark Gable, and he's sitting there saying to me in a low voice, like a lizard, to me and Sandie: ‘I wanna be in your movie, all I need is a break. You put me in your movie and that will be my break.' And Los Lobos is calling from the stage and going, 'Flaco, it's your fucking solo! Get over here.' And he says, 'Yes, fuck you, these guys gonna put me in a movie,' and he's got this gravelly voice and I notice the whole band is stopping this song and somebody swearing grabs Flacio by the collar and literally pulls him out on stage and Sandie and I are sitting there at the edge of the stage and they launch into the song 'Volver, Volver' and the whole time he's whaling the accordion he's looking at me and mouthing the words 'I just need a break.'
In his City Paper cover story about the Betapunks, historian and writer Scott Saul called Blue the "ballyhooligan" of the group. At the heart of the entire scene's whirlwind ambitions was the need to push boundaries artistically, and this meant going beyond good taste on many occasions. In the video below, Blue talks about his urges to create and likens them to the sidewalk droppings of his friends' pets. The video is several minutes long:
Big Village, above left, performs at the Warehouse. Betapunks co-founder Mikey Cormier sits in front of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve signpost, on the last real Betapunks project in 1999: a traverse of southern Africa with Blue and Ron Avey. Deborah Ash shows off a Betapunks message, "Fuck the Beach," in Ocean City in 1997. And in the rightmost image, members of the Betapunks dance in costume inside the marquee at the Biograph Theatre during the run of "Uncle Paddy's Wake."