10 Quick Questions with Ann Magnuson

by Dakin Hardwick on January 20, 2012

Ann Magnuson is a cult hero that has been involved in nearly every artistic movement of the last 30 years. She has been a part of the punk world, the rave movement, starred in network sitcoms, and has done pretty much everything. She is debuting her latest show,  The Drawing Room Apocalypse at Yoshi’s in Oakland on Tuesday, January 24th and Wednesday, January 25th as part of San Francisco’s Sketchfest. Tickets are available here! Spinning Platters had a chance to talk to talk to her about her many projects.

It seems as if every cult band from 80’s and 90’s has gotten offers to reunite. Has Bongwater gotten any types of offers like these?

Not that I’ve heard of. Doubtful that will ever occur. However, if we got offered even a fraction of Led Zeppelin money it might. The original guitarist Dave Rick and I have played together and had a rip-roaring time but I think that is far as any reunion will get.

Do you feel that the apocalypse is actually looming?

I tend to agree with the artist Jim Shaw who believes we’ve been in the apocalypse for several decades now. Just reading the morning paper you can see an Apocalypse is happening Now for someone somewhere. We’re all just one phone call away from an emotional apocalypse. The death of a parent changes one’s life completely, as does any romantic Armageddon- which popular songs and movies thrive on. The Vedas say were moving into an enlightened age – which won’t be fulfilled for another 5,000 years or so. But at least we are moving towards it. I hope. That would be the Vedic/Darwinian optimistic view that the cosmos is constantly moving towards evolution. That must be partially true or how else can you explain that none of the upteen nuclear missiles that still cover the planet have been launched – either accidentally or on purpose? The Mayan calendar predicts the end of a cycle come this December. Whether that will occur with a bang or whimper, who knows? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Quetzalcoatl DID show up? Of course, for people going on shamanistic tours to the Amazon (or taking Ahuyasca brews in home grown ceremonies that seem to be all the rage), these kinds of visions are already occurring. Me, I just wait to see what appears in my dreams every night – because I can count on something apocalyptic happening nightly thanks to just an overabundant and wholly natural secretion of DMT.

You seemed to have dabbled in nearly every artistic medium known to mankind, but you always seem to come back to performance art. What is it about the medium that keeps pulling you in?

Freedom. It’s a medium that gives it’s practitioner total creative freedom. And once you’ve tasted that drug, you’re addicted for life.

Is there any songwriter that you do not feel should be re-interpreted?

I don’t think so. I mean, people write songs in order to communicate and the more the merrier, in whatever form. I don’t think there is a songwriter alive who wouldn’t want their songs covered – and reinterpreted ad infinitum, all the more so to breathe new life into them. Back in the Victorian/Edwardian/Tin Pan Alley days songwriters banked on sheet music sales as nearly every home had a ‘drawing room’ or parlor with a piano. It was about selling the song, not the performance. The performance was in the hands of the person holding the sheet music.

How would you describe “Victorian Drawing Room Entertainment”?

These were “musical soirees”, cultivated entertainments that featured song, poetry, readings from literature and often tableaux vivants (usually reenacting allegorical or historical scenes).

They were meant to be edifying –to teach a moral lesson, to be what was called “rational amusement”.

We plan to do the same but as an ‘irrational amusement’. The Drawing Room Entertainment was an intimate affair and since it’s just me and a piano (and some percussion) and my own wild imaginings in song and spoken word, it seemed appropriate.
I especially like this idea of a ‘musical soiree’ – a musical party, but ours shall be far more surreal than it’s Victorian counterpart.

Plus I had been watching so many British historical TV shows from the early 70s like “Upstairs,  Downstairs’ and the Brit series on Lily Langtry and Edward VII (and all the monarchs starting with the wondrous Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth R) that I couldn’t help but want to recreate some of what I’d seen, to plunge in as deep as those Victorian necklines.

I was also intrigued by accounts of the American tours of Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde and Lily Langtry who performed in many opera houses in the west – and San Francisco and Oakland possess such a rich history connected to that era…well, you add all the Mayan brouhaha about 2012 ushering in the End Times, the year Quetzalcoatl returns and it all coalesced into The Drawing Room Apocalypse.

What contemporary performers do you follow?

Well, I mostly follow the people I know – Heather Woodbury who is  remarkable, the crowd who plays regularly at Casita Del Campos (a tiny theater under a Mexican restaurant here in Silver Lake which is SOOOO much like Club 57) who include are Robbie D (a true musical genius- we listen to his CD “Borderline Deformity” all the time), Selena Luna, Jackie Beat, Nadya Ginsburg… and other LA based performers like Prince Poppycock, Timur & The Dime Museum.

Out in Joshua Tree I love Shari Elf and her band The Kittens as well as Ted Quinn and the folks who play regularly at Pappy & Harriets. I love the performance troupe MY BARBARIAN> They are so sharp and funny. There is an acting group here called POOR DOG.   I always keep abreast of what my NY peeps are up to – Joey Arias, Antony & The Johnsons, Penny Arcade, Justin Vivian Bond, Kembra Phaler, Gen P. Orridge…Lord, the list is endless.

LOVE Marnie Weber –Mike Kelly when he performs,  Vaginal Davis when she’s in from Berlin…

I’m always interested in what Alex Ebert is doing (he was in IMAROBOT and this Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes although I haven’t paid much attention since they became successful…I just too busy with all my projects).

I have to be honest and say I don’t buy much new music. I think the last thing that really knocked my socks
off was GRACE by Jeff Buckley. I know that was an awfully long time ago but no one has come along to match that. Oh I do dig some of the Black Keys.

Honestly, I listen to more classical music than anything contemporary. Love Baroque especially. And my husband and I are obsessed with Russian ballet. That is what we follow more than anything right now. We’ve been lucky to see a few of the stars from the Kirov and Bolshoi (and other Russian companies) when they swing thru SoCal on tour – Ivan Vasiliev blew our minds recently. Ditto Diana Vishneva.

We also like to see the LA Phil. John (hubby) took me to Disney Concert Hall as a surprise for my birthday a few years ago and it happened to be the debut of this young Venezuelan conductor no one had heard of – Gustavo Dudamel. Well, let me tell you, that was one of the most exciting nights of my life – that I’ve had in ANY theater. I’m lucky I saw him when no one knew who he was because it’s practically impossible to get tickets now!

Will you be taking the The Drawing Room Apocalypse on the road, or is this exclusive to Sketchfest?

It was created exclusively for Sketchfest but we’ve already gotten booking inquiries from the Steve Allen Theater in LA (most likely for late February) and I’m having so much fun at rehearsals that I’d like to travel with this show. Given the set up, it’s easier to travel with than a band and Lord knows there are a heck of a lot of Victorian drawing rooms and fabulous little opera houses all over the country that would be a perfect fit! We just gotta get a move on it before that danged winged serpant shows up!

How did you get involved in Sketchfest?

David Lloyd at YOSHI’S connected us.

Do you think that there is room in the world for another Club 57? Could an eclectic underground performance space work for more than a few years in an urban setting? What advise do you have for anybody attempting to create a venue inspired by Club 57?

Oh yes absolutely! But I don’t think any “eclectic underground performance space” can work for more than a few years in an urban or any setting. You get a lot of eclectic personalities together and eclectic people being eclectic people, well, the life span of a real artsy hoe-down is only a few years before everyone gets burned out on each other. Clearly theater companies and museums can go on and on and on but they are in the “business” of art. Club 57 rejected “business” and Careerism outright. The kind of energy and madness that was Club 57 always has a shelf life. You eventually have to ‘grow up’, as it were.

Plus the aesthetics of that scene grew out of the economic situation in NYC at the time and embracing the recession – actually not knowing or expecting anything else- and no one having or really wanting money. We just wanted enough to get by. So much of it was informed by Punk Rock and the hippie counterculture that came before. To be ‘successful’ was the most uncool thing on the planet. You didn’t want to be embraced or validated by ‘the establishment’,  by ‘The Man’. That’s something you gave the big FUCK OFF too.

Wanting to be a ‘star’ was something squares did. Until Jean Michel Basquiat started making loads of money and Keith Haring and then…well, Reagan’s second term began and the cult of celebrity/fame and money was fertilized by MTV and it was all over.

Also, most of us at Club 57 were in our early 20s and some still in art school –a few mere teenagers-and well… need I say more?

But since we are now in a second recession and the good ole U.S. of A. is quickly becoming Czarist Russia (there are the Romonovs and everyone else) there is no better time than now for young (or middle aged or old) people to create their own collectives, their own Club 57s. And I know they are…I think mostly in Detroit, right? And Oakland. Heck, the Occupy Movement is very much in that spirit.  Do It Yourself Baby, DIY!

What is next on the horizon?

Performing and hopefully touring this show. Making visual art (I had my first art show at ART QUEEN in Joshua Tree back in 2009 – my husband and I have a place out there where we retreat to frequently-  and I love painting but mostly making these conceptual pieces, mostly sculptural assemblages and installations).

Kristian Hoffman and I are in the midst of completing a recording of THE JOBRIATH MEDLEY which is our 20+ minute opus telling the story of ill- fated glam rock fairy Jobriath using his songs and my monologue about him. (Kristin and I are both ‘talking heads’ in this new documentary about Jobriath called JOBRIATH A.D.).

I star in an indie film called WOMAN’S PICTURE made by Brian Pera, an VERY independent filmmaker living in Memphis (and creating an internet universe connected to the project – in a very Club 57 DIY style-in fact, he’s said what we were doing at 57 in NYC inspired him). More info and trailer here: http://evelynavenue.com/womanspicture/
I think I do the best acting work of my career in this film. Only becaue Brian gave me the opportunities Hollywood usually only gives to Meryl Streep –a role with huge acting range, certainly the most I’ve ever been given.

I rarely go on auditions as I find them a waste of time but happy to report I have a very good role in Allison Anders next film which should be shooting this spring. It’s an acting role but I also sing (a Scott Walker song that I performed when Allison was in the audience one night and was inspired to write the script based on this wonderfully bizarre Scott Walker tune).

I also have another new performance piece I am writing called “UNDER DATURA” inspired by my DMT drenched dreams and the Datura plant in my back yard – it’s going to be a VERY psychedelic and a hopefully spiritually intergalactic experience.

I also have a percolating internet project I am doing with Jonathon Stearns ( an LA based filmmaker and musican) that will be like Club 57 on the web….where I can put all this stuff in one place.

So you see, I’m too damned busy for a Bongwater reunion.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike Rich January 21, 2012 at 7:08 pm

A light in the desert, talent in a vast wasteland of the banal…that is Ann Magnuson!


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