Shade Rupe, Renaissance Diner, Hell’s Kitchen, New York City,
th May 2012

Text: Rokko / Photos: Shade Rupe


In 2011, I went to the MoMA PS1 in NYC to one of the best exhibitions I had ever seen: “A Story of Deception” by Francis Alÿs. He takes art seriously and puts himself in real danger – no ironic bullshit here. With my mind still blown by this, I was browsing through the museum shop when out of nowhere the book “Dark Stars Rising” (Headpress Publishing) by Shade Rupe appeared, covering interviews with Divine, Crispin Glover, Tura Satana, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Johann Went, Peter Sotos and many more.

Time for a chat:

Shade Rupe with the only pope you need, John Waters © Shade Rupe

Let’s start at the beginning. You were born at the end of the ’60s, in California.

That’s right, I was born in Fullerton, California, where Philip K. Dick lived for a while, from ’72-76, where he wrote “A Scanner Darkly”.

And you conducted interviews back when you were a teenager.

When I was ten, we had an assignment to write our favourite author. I wrote Stephen King – and he wrote me back. And that told me that it’s possible to make contact somehow with creative people, with artists that you like.

Later, I worked at a video store and that really changed my life. I was getting good grades until then, I knew how to do school. But once I got to take home six movies a night, I just stayed up all night long, watching one after the other… I missed a lot of school which isn’t great. I actually regret not learning, I wish I knew a lot of basic things now. But I learned a lot about movies.

Did you finish school?

Yeah, I did graduate, amazingly! It was just really difficult to pay attention to because I did start doing my career really early. Through a junior high school friend, I went to a preview of the movie “Footloose”. After the screening, they had a promotional event with cheerleaders doing routines on stage. At that time, I had a long black trench coat and I bleached my hair red and yellow with hydrogen peroxide. I was talking to several people there and apparently a PR person asked the adults who I was, talked to my school principal, and it turned out Universal was having a press junket for “Sixteen Candles”. They flew two teenagers from each state to Chicago to interview Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall and John Hughes. I’m 14 years old, freshman year of high school, going on an airplane to Chicago to interview one of the writers from National Lampoon. That was pretty great.

Then when I came back, I went to The Screening Room, and Jerry Keen, the guy who ran it, said: “You know, there’s this guy, Stu Goldman, he wants somebody to write for his magazine.” And that magazine was called “Fun Magazine”. He wasn’t paying, but as a teenager, I interviewed Dennis Hopper, Sidney Lumet, Peter Coyote, Bobby Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Cary Elwes, Divine, and many more.

I lived in Seattle until 1992 and worked on “Twin Peaks. Fire Walk with Me”. That’s when I first met David Lynch and got to meet David Bowie.

What exactly did you do?

I was a grip. Electricians make light and the grips block out the light. One of my jobs was to put this plastic material called an ND filter on the windows in the Pittsburgh FBI office to block out the light when they shoot so the view out the window doesn’t blow out. I was in the empty room digging on the little file cabinet labels that said weird things like “Baby’s Butt”. I started to put the material on the windows and looked in the reflection as these two guys walked in, and it was Lynch and Bowie! It was hard to stay steady realizing I was in a room alone with those two guys, but it turned out well.

I moved to New York in 1992, it was still very organic, very alive. There were prostitutes and drug dealers everywhere – and movie theatres all over the place. It was still that city known as New York.

Were you involved with the Cinema of Transgression?

Well, Nick Zedd was doing stuff, I interviewed Richard Kern in 1993, Todd Phillips started the New York Underground Film Festival. He had made a movie on 16mm about GG Allin, “Hated”. It was all punk rock. I had a short film, “Self-Immomulsion”, in the first year and Jim Van Bebber had his short film “My Sweet Satan”. After the “My Sweet Satan” screening, both John Waters and Paul Bartel showed up. This was typical for New York at that time. Andy Warhol would go to art events, Debbie Harry would go to art events, Joey Ramone would go to shows. It is very, very different now. You don’t see that participation as much today. I’ll see Foetus around town once in a while, but you don’t see this much today. There was more of a viral artist feeling then… I don’t even really know if there is an underground anymore, ’cause as soon as anybody does anything it goes up on Facebook. That’s not underground, you know?!

When we had a warehouse called “Incubator” in Seattle, where we did all kinds of weird art, we painted the windows black and took out all the clocks so we would never know whether it was daylight, we would never know what time it was. It was called “Incubator” for a reason! We really wanted to destroy all previous life patterns, we wanted to rebirth ourselves.

You painted the windows black so nobody could see inside, and now everybody puts everything on display.

Yeah! I know how to use Facebook, but it’s just odd to me what people do there. People think: “If I put it on Facebook, everyone will know about it.” It’s really changed the way of communicating.

Like, Hooper’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was just one, big, giant accident. It was an accident – and it was fucking amazing! If they sat down and actually tried to make that and they got Marilyn Manson to make the music score and Lady Gaga to play one of the roles – what the fuck is that?! Then they make a videogame out of it, a Facebook “Like” page! And that’s what everyone thinks you have to do. Movies are no longer art, that’s way over. Movies are marketing. They are not something you go and feel, they’re there to be part of a marketing campaign. That happens even in the independent world.

That’s why I really appreciate someone like Crispin Glover. He makes his movies. And they are his vision. And they have nothing to do with any marketing beyond his own fanbase that’s accumulated through his film roles. He luckily has performed in films that have gotten attention to him, that there are enough people to follow him. He can go work on a Hollywood movie and use the money to finance his films. His first movie is completely different from his next movie is completely different from his CD is completely different than his books is completely different from his performances. I mean: He is an artist!

Yeah, I love his beautiful books.


Some of them work more like sculptures than books.

Exactly, exactly! I’m also really glad that Johanna Went is in my book “Dark Stars Rising”. Performance art isn’t something consumable outside of the event. It occurs at a time and if you are in the audience you are part of the event – that’s it, that’s the only way to experience it.

The stuff that Johanna and Tom Murrin were doing, getting in a bus, going to some other city, stopping on the sidewalk and acting crazy… that’s so not available today! Cops would come over and the sensibility is not there for them to enjoy something like that. People really want it prepared and understood. People wanna know exactly what they’re gonna get: if it is a comedy, a horror movie or a psychological thriller. Me, I don’t watch movie trailers, I don’t wanna know.

I understand, I totally agree. I’m always looking for surprises. Last year when I was in New York, I went to the PS1 and there were two exhibitions that totally surprised me: Francis Alÿs, whose work was really inspiring, and Laurel Nakadate, half of whose exhibition I really appreciated, but the other half I found ridiculous. And then I was going to the museum shop and saw your book which was the next surprise for me on that one day.

Oh, cool! That’s great! I just did these interviews throughout the years because I wanted to meet those people. With Peter Sotos… I remember writing a letter to him and this guy at the post office saw his name on the envelope I was mailing. It turned out he was friends with Peter.

Shade Rupe with controversial writer and long-time Whitehouse member
Peter Sotos © Shade Rupe

I reached out to people that I was interested in. I have a real reason to go out and interview people. The only interview I did as a job was Genesis P-Orridge, but everybody else I approached out of interest. Every now and then I was paid for the interviews, but for the most part I did them for free. If I’d waited to get paid I wouldn’t have all that! What was more important to me was that this was how I wanted to live. I worked in offices until 1993 and sometimes I still do, and I was almost earning six figures that year and I used that money to finance the transcriptions and proofreading.

Is doing interviews a form of art for you?

I wasn’t aware that I was doing anything different – until the book came out. Reading the reviews since the book has come out has made me realize I was performing interviews in a different way than others do. I really hate reading an interview and the interviewer needs to let the reader know how smart they are or they’re attacking their subject. What’s the point of that? That’s not what I read interviews for.

Did you ever had an interview that went terribly wrong or where you couldn’t find the right approach?

That’s an interesting question. No… with Richard Kern, I maybe asked him one or two stupid questions, but I left them in the printed interview. “Is this what you wanna be doing, photographing nude models?” And he said: “What do you think?”

Dennis Hopper… my recorder dropped out of my pocket on the way, right as I was entering the hotel, got broken, it wouldn’t work. And while I was doing my interview, he actually got up and went to the bathroom with the door open and took a piss. And I don’t know if this was Dennis Hopper telling me something or if it was just Dennis Hopper. Probably it was just Dennis Hopper. [laughs] I took one picture of him that didn’t even turn out very well. The flash caught the shutter opening.

If I’m gonna interview somebody I spend my time on learning who they are, what they do, try to watch everything they’ve done, I try to learn as much as I can.


Transgressive performance artist Johanna Went taking care of sausages
© Shade Rupe

Is there anybody in particular you’d still like to interview?

Oh yeah! David Tibet of Current 93. I love Current 93. Steven Stapleton. I’m very, very sad I never got to interview Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, although I met him. Jhonn Balance. You know, I just started reading of a guy today that I’m already in love with, Elbert Hubbard, he wrote a very famous piece called “Jesus was an Anarchist” in 1910. He’s somebody I’d love to interview! Anton LaVey, too. People that have an awareness on how to manipulate words, text, music and sound in order to create a new space. Lars von Trier would be interesting, but I think he shut down on interviews since all the problems in Cannes.

That was so ridiculous.

Ridiculous! I can’t believe anyone bothered to care, he was giggling the whole time.

People reacted stupidly, but his performance was also just silly.

I would also like to find more interesting performance artists. As famous as Hermann Nitsch is, there are not many books in English about him and it’s very hard to see his videos. Although I know, in Vienna he’s as popular as Mickey Mouse. [laughs]

Yeah, that’s true. Even the conservative party that was so strongly opposed to him in the sixties now hold their political conventions in the Nitsch Museum! He’s like a formal representative of Austria now.

Isn’t that funny! “Let’s absorb him then!”

Coming after all these people and their work – be it Hermann Nitsch, Peter Sotos, Adam Parfrey or Crispin Glover – how is it still possible to be transgressive, to do something relevant? I mean, I love art, but I hate most of it.

I think you really just have to get out of anything that’s very established. Through doing work on a film my friend Si Litvinoff produced I’ve found a performer named Zackary Drucker that I’m having fun with. I love lo-fi artists, artists that aren’t marketers, but people who make art. I love the latest Gaspar Noé video for “Love in Motion” that he did with one of my favourite producers Mike S. Ryan. It’s simple, lo-fi, transgressive, cool. Peter Sotos’ newest book is a bunch of transcriptions of Jamie Gillis’ last video films. I get much, much more out of amateur porn on xtube than I do out of most artwork being made today. xtube really is performance art. Taking a 12” thick black cock down your throat on video, usually anonymously, is really something. It’s endurance, it’s stretching possibilities, it’s little seen, maybe even seldom experienced. These people actually have to find each other.

I really love what my own publisher, Headpress, is doing. David Kerekes is finally readying a new edition of his “Killing for Culture” book.

I feel reinvestigating some masters is a good idea, opening up issues of “Avant Garde” magazine, issues of “nest” magazine, checking out music by one of my favourite composers Krzysztof Penderecki, especially that gorgeous record he created with Jonny Greenwood, there’s still so much that has been created that’s bypassed us in the past that is there for the taking today. I don’t feel everything has to be “new” to be forward. I see no problem at all in opening up a book from hundred years ago and being turned on by it. I just watched “The Man Who Fell to Earth” on Blu-ray. Nobody is doing anything near that today. I really liked “We Need to Talk About Kevin”, but unless it’s something that everybody else is talking about, it’s most likely not going to be noticed. We are now in the greatest age of conformity ever. At least people pretended to be different before.

You interviewed Divine back when you were a teenager. Did you talk to any other of the Dreamlanders?

I’ve met and said hello with Mink Stole a couple times. She was at a horror show in the Northeast, and in 1997 she joined John Waters at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and I saw in her in a play in New York. I first met John Waters at least 20 years ago. I gave him a copy of “Essential Cinema” which had interviews with the Kuchars, Richard Kern, articles by Jack Stevenson, and he sent me a nice handwritten postcard thanking me for the magazine “with all his favourite filmmakers”.

I love John.

Transgressive performance artist Johanna Went in action © Shade Rupe

It was very interesting to read about Johanna Went in your book. Can you tell me something about her?

She’s like the poster girl for “Shade’s Favourite Women”. She just totally got up and crawled out and met up with Tom Murrin and went out and lived life and never looked back. She’s not doing performances as much these days but is still interested in art, following what’s happening, and also playing with her dogs. When Johanna Went sits around or does her work, she has like this secondary voice that comes out of her throat. It’s almost like there is this possession going on: “Uahuahuhahhhuuuu.” It took me a while to realize it was not my stereo, but it was her! I haven’t talked to her about that but just her very being is art. Her whole life is being surrounded by artists. Her husband makes movies, her best friend was performance artist Tom Murrin, aka Tom Trash, aka The Alien Comic, who quite sadly just passed away in March. Johanna and her friends just live lives of art. It’s so much more than just wearing some clothes or acting funny.

I’m a very nice guy, and I’ll tell you one thing: people think all sorts of things are a waste of being successful, but I think being nice is probably 200% of it. Just being a nice person: calling people back, e-mailing them back, taking things to the post office. If you feel like losing your temper – walk away. Go lose your temper and come back. And also, just showing up. You know, Woody Allen’s quote: 80% of success is showing up.