Archive for September 9th, 2011

September 9, 2011

Tom Tenney: DIY-ography

by Tom Tenney

Hey everyone,

Since I seem to be the “old dude” in the class, it’s hard to write a biography of my life and/or DIY involvement without writing a novella which would no doubt bore you beyond tears.  Therefore, I’m going to limit this to a quick summary plus a timeline with supporting materials where appropriate.  I guess my interest in DIY began with my involvement in the punk rock scene in Boston in the late 70’s-early 80’s, which embraced the DIY ethos in just about everything.  People who couldn’t play started bands (including me – I was the bass player for ‘The Ethnic Slurs‘) and the guiding principle was “don’t wait around for someone to tell you what you can or can’t do – just f’ing do it”.  So when I had had enough of public education, I dropped out at age 16 in search of something better, which I found a year later in the form a rural, arts-oriented high school.  I also dropped out of the theatre program at NYU four years later, opting to instead travel the world as part of Robert Wilson’s touring company – after which I returned to Boston and started my first theatre company, Ikaros, which was the real beginning of my DIY adventures.  The timeline since then is roughly:

1991-93:   Lived in LA and produced several underground theatre pieces in church basements and coffee shops

1993:  Left LA and attended Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College

1993-1995: Produced & directed several small theatre productions in Chicago while managing the Chicago Improv comedy club and running my own small comedy booking business.

1996: Started the ‘Comedy Asylum’ – Chicago’s first weekly ‘alternative comedy’ showcase, at the Subterranean Bar in Wicker Park.

1997: Left Chicago and returned to NYC where I started hanging out with a downtown DIY performance crowd who called themselves ‘Art Stars‘ – with them I began a weekly burlesque/comedy show called “Grindhouse: Alternative Burlesque” at the now-defunct Tonic on Norfolk Street.  For this show, I wrote a manifesto that relied on my still-intact punk rock DIY values.

1999-2002: I moved Grindhouse over to Surf Reality’s Urban Savages, where I was a resident producer, and changed the format to dirty musicals written and performed weekly at midnight, and the name of the show to “Grindhouse-A-Go-Go!”  This show became hugely popular, largely due to the party atmosphere, the nudity, and the free beer you got at the door.  Here’s a montage of some Grindhouse-A-Go-Go!  shows during that era.

WARNING: This video is NOT safe for work, nor for delicate sensibilities.  If you are offended by nudity, salty language, and/or some appallingly un-PC behavior – DO NOT WATCH THIS VID!

2002: Started my own underground performance space, called SPACE, on the corner of 14th St. and Avenue B. We closed a year later when we fell afoul of certain city ordinances.

2008: I went back to school to finally get my bachelor’s at The New School.  This really has re-ignited the creative spark, and I’ve started playing around quite a bit with sound.  Here is a link to a radio pieceI did last summer on three of the aforementioned ‘Art Stars.’

2010-2011:  I started the RE/Mixed Media Festival as a way for artists to have a voice in the ongoing conversation about remix, mashups, copyright reform, and free culture.  Here’s a video of me talking about it in an interview I did last summer with Intelligent Television.  This one isn’t nearly as salty.  Apparently I’ve grown up a bit…

This is the list I sent Nitan last weeks of additional stuff I thought would be interesting in the context of this class.  Also, at the end is a link to an online project I did while still an undergrad on “culture jammers,” and focuses on: Joey Skaggs, The Yes Men, and Billboard Liberation Front.

Elf Girl by Reverend Jen (memoirs of somone who has truly lived the DIY life – to be released on 10/25)

The Pirate’s Dilemma by Matt Mason (really good overview of DIY and youth culture today, and how it is changing everyone’s lives)

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century by Greil Marcus (places punk rock in social/historic context)

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk(stories for the 70’s NY punk scene)

Pranks! (RE/Search, No. 11) An incredible collection of interviews with DIY artists and culture jammers including: Jello Biafra, Abbie Hoffman, Joey Skaggs, John Waters, and many others. Out of print but I can scan particular interviews of people want to read them.

I haven’t read but look great

Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America

Micro-bionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder 

Finally, here’s a link to the ‘Culture Jamming’ project, which seems pretty relevant to the stuff we’re talking about in this class.