Last Saturday, 08/20/11, I attended a Birthday Party/Roast for cosmic horror author, H.P. Lovecraft. Were he still alive, he would have been 121 years old. Instead, he was channeled through a medium, performance artist Kevin Flanagan, in a mock ritual perpetrated by Mr. Flanagan and cohort Ashley Naftule. Kevin and Ash (who, for the sake of disclosure, are also personal friends of mine) are part of an ensemble called the Cult of the Yellow Sign, who are described on the event poster as an “equal opportunity cult that incorporates H.P.’s ideas for the modern man/inhuman’s spiritual needs” . Basically, they dress in dark robes and improvise comedic sketches that incorporate references to Lovecraftian mythology and general esoterica and weirdness.
That night a ritual was done which consisted of chants from the De Vermis Mysteriis (created by Robert Bloch –of Psycho fame-, and like Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a dark grimoire associated with the Cthulhu Mythos) and a general clamor created by bongo drums, a chain scraped on electric guitar strings and …party favors. Actually, noise makers given out as party favors which were parts of the goodie bags (decorated with arcane occult insignias and replete with rubber spiders, severed fingers, and brochures for the Cult of the Yellow Sign) which were available to everyone who attended and kept over by the “Pin the Tail On the Shoggoth” pin up. For the uninitiated, a shoggoths are “massive amoeba-like creatures looking like they are made out of tar, with multiple eyes “floating” on the surface. They are described as “protoplasmic”, lacking any default body shape and instead being able to form limbs and organs at will. An average shoggoth measured fifteen feet across when a sphere, though the story mentions ones of much greater size.” [Elements of Cthulhu Mythos, Non Human Species: Shoggoth retrieved August 26th, 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoggoth] The story mentioned in this description is “At the Mountains of Madness”, first published in 1936.
Once Mr. Lovecraft had arrived, and was debriefed on what had just happened to him, the show began. The first guest was Archbishop Jason Polland, an apparent scholar on H.P.L. who gave a lecture on the writer’s personal life. Occasionally, Mr. Lovecraft himself would interject and comment on certain points and makes faces if he didn’t agree with what was being said about him. This was informative albeit a little dry.
Next up were the poets, starting with Neil Gearns and Richard Bledsoe, respectively. I was beginning to feel a bit nervous by this point so I spent most of this time fretting about my set. I believe Mr. Gearns’ poem was meant to be a little comical, but I went in one ear and out of the other for me. Mr. Bledsoe mentioned something about Lovecraft’s youth, but again I was dealing with pre-show jitters and didn’t pay him much mind.
You see, when I first arrived at the venue I was told by Ash that the poets would only be able to read 2 poems a piece so I had to cut my planned program, which I had been rehearsing all day at home that consisted of around 4 poems plus stage banter. When I was finally called to the stage, I chose to read the poem I wrote for the occasion, “HPL RIP”, and the prose vignette “Gargoyle” (the old Dark Young nugget). About halfway into “Gargoyle”, I had problem seeing my papers in the poor lighting and lost my place. I froze and had to excuse myself while I adjusted the music stand I was using as a podium. When I eventually finished the piece it was so silent you could hear a fly fart. I just mumbled “okay then” and went on to read my second piece. I walked off afterward and went to my seat and stressed for the rest of the show.
Immediately upon returning to my seat a guy behind me with a blackberry asked me how to spell my name and asked about the tribute piece, so I gave him my copy of it and my contact info on a flier. He explained that he was collecting info for a Lovecraft website, so I assume it will feature the events of the show at some point. He took several photos that night, although I am not sure whether he got one of me.
Still stressing, I got up to buy a bottle of water, which was given to me on the house (thank you trunk Space) and began to pace behind the back row when a girl asked me to sign her copy of the Necronomicon, but I was so upset over my botched set all I could muster to inscribe was “Happy Birthday Howard Phillips” and my usual smiley face:
Taking my seat again I continued to agonize whilst the fourth poet, the renowned Klute, ranted about some gastronomical event with Mythos allusions, which was well-received, by the audience, whom I was later informed found it clever…but I missed most of it. Following the poets was the Arcana Collective, listed on the event poster as an “Interdisciplinary Theater group that blends music, dance, story and absurdity into elaborate spectacles!” They did a mock ritual, which was entertaining save for an extended detour into an acoustic performance by one of the female players of the old Beatles song “Happiness is a Warm Gun”. This would have been amusing if she had kept it to a brief quote, but she played the whole song, which took one out of the moment and it was not the best rendition either.
At the end of the show, a birthday cake was presented to Lovecraft with candles, tentacles and Happy 121st Birthday written on it, which apparently raised some eyebrows at the Basha’s from which it was purchased. Ash then asked old Howard Philips (Mr. Flanagan) what he thought of it all. He said he enjoyed it, especially the poetry since he had originally considered himself a poet first and foremost. Ash then offered him a chance to read some of his own work, but when he began to read a rare poem of his which was rife with racial slurs he was cut off and tricked into going back to the Underworld by Ash, after receiving an okay via cell phone. Ash had explained to his boss that H.P.L. was a “p.r. nightmare” and not p.c. enough for this time period and thus should be sent back. This was accomplished using another noisemaker, this time a wind tube, which was spun I his direction.
After the show was over, and the clean up began, several people came up to me and asked me about “Gargoyle” and said they were so into the poem that they neglected to clap, hence the silence. Also, the break in the middle threw them off a bit so they weren’t sure whether I had finished or not when I jumped into the next poem. I gave out some more fliers then and shook many hands. When all was set back to right, my friends asked me to come have a drink with them and some theater friends. To make a long story short, I made such an impression on everyone that they all want me to read again and join their performance group. They recommend that I start small via open mike nights and they are going to sign me up for something called “7 Minutes in Hell”, in October, where one is allowed to do whatever one pleases on stage for 7 minutes straight. They feel my Gothic themes would go over really well at such a gig. I am very excited at the prospect of getting back on stage and getting my work out to the general public. I must plan new sets and maybe get a couple of new threads as well. We shall see…