TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT October 1980

Terry Allen (on everything)

Art is the shortest distance between two question marks.
—Terry Allen

TERRY ALLEN’S WORK IS CONSTANTLY in the process of redefining itself. Each piece, each part of the “whole,” continually creates new ideas and new pieces in which the contradictions of love and death, battle and embrace, lyricism and madness coexist. The work takes the form of drawings, prints, books, environments, objects, events, sculpture, texts, videotapes, film and songs. (He’s made two records to date, Juarez, 1975, and the double album Lubbock (on everything), 1978.) No sooner is one cycle of pieces done than an aspect of it, past or future, suggests new combinations, permutations and excursions. When Allen was in high school he made a list of what he wanted to be. It was, in order: 1) artist 2) writer 3) musician. He’s ended up doing all three, but, as he puts it, the priorities change all the time. Consequently, the only truly descriptive answer to the often-asked question “What does he do?” is “Everything.”

Allen’s work has been described as narrative, autobiographical and regional. (He comes from Lubbock, in West Texas.) These descriptions are somewhat misleading, however, since while the work is full of images, characters and stories, its narrative is also nonlinear, nonliterary, and even nonverbal. The pieces seem autobiographical only in the sense that they use images and situations drawn from his own background and experience, but these themes are used primarily as catalysts, referring back to themselves to form a continually widening spiral of reference and meaning. The objects Allen uses (parts of letters, high-heeled shoes, birds, houses, a champagne glass, playing cards, the telephone, to name only a few), the situations he explores (murder, love, madness, betrayal), and the modes of transition, both physical and psychological, that he refers to (cars, motorcycles, trucks, mobile homes, motels) come from closely observed or felt realities, which are utilized to throw everything into question rather than to clarify what is “real.” (“THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE ‘REAL’ AND THE ‘IMAGINARY’,” he writes.) Nothing is stable and “everything” is what it isn’t.

In Allen’s work, as in Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano (one of Allen’s favorite books), the life of the protagonist reflects, without representing, the life of the author. The hero is also an anti-hero, an encapsulation of the social and cultural history of his time and of all time; as Stephen Spender describes him, “We also feel that he could have written the novel which describes his downfall . . . ”1 Lowry is “creating a character who is his own predicament,”2 a person whose feelings are profoundly ambivalent, reflecting a paradox at the center of the author’s life and the protagonist’s life, one which is at the same time central to the culture which they, and we, inhabit. There is, furthermore, a striking parallel between Allen’s work and that of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. Borges writes of the following: a man who dreams himself into existence; an infinite library which contains every possible permutation of every possible letter, syllable, word, phrase, sentence, plot, etc. that could ever be written; a man with a remarkable memory who spends an entire day remembering the events of an entire day. All are circular, self-referential situations.

Allen’s work is highly subjective; it does not describe an “objective” reality in formal or pictorial terms. In his work, as in that of Lowry and Borges, “the myths and symbols are not mysterious centres of a tradition which lies outside this time so much as usable devices, guides, signposts indicative of the times.”3

Allen’s two most recent pieces are “Juarez,” 1969–1975, a three-part work consisting of songs, prints, drawings and assemblages, and “RING,” 1976–1980, a monumental investigation consisting of four parts, The Evening Gorgeous George Died, Messages from Wrestlers in Hell (both installations), The Embrace . . . Advanced to Fury (a “theater occurrence” [his term]), and Fighters of the Darkness (a 16-part series of smaller pieces). The labyrinthian world he creates in them, as in all his work, is not about anything, but is the thing itself.

In “Juarez,” for example, the characters—Jabo, Chic, Sailor and Alice—are defined by what’s going on, a definition that is constantly changing. Allen explains:

I have never thought of the characters as actual ‘physical people’ . . . I always considered the characters to be more like ‘atmospheres’ . . . piles of information that evolved into specific ‘conditions’ with names . . . character as incident, geography, history, premonition, objects, etc. . . . WHEELS. There are no ‘people’ in the actual drawings . . . just allusions, hints, debris, after-the-facts and prior to, i.e., ‘characters of the what-happened, the what-will and the in-betweens’ . . . image spread. The music was the vehicle that moved them through their own geography . . . toward some pre-destined-to-have-already-happened kind of blank kinetic violence.4

In this sense, his work has no linear narrative. There’s no motive, no plot, no development, no denouement, no beginning and no end. “Juarez” is, in Allen’s words, “a circular event.” In it, the characters are archetypal personages, capable of changing gender and metamorphizing into other characters (both the man and the woman wrestler in the more recent Embrace, for instance) or into things. They become each other; they become us; they become the objects they possess; they become what they write. The “Juarez” characters move from place to place (each place capable of standing for another place, or even a state of mind) in a vehicle (“perhaps a Buick”) which is a different one at any given time. In Allen’s work, then, temporal and physical being—of people, places and objects—are in constant flux.

In some of the pieces, parts of stories or written dialogue are included as an aspect of the environment. “RING” includes a text about the shifting relationship between the main characters, HE and SHE:

SHE HATED HIS FANTASIES, BUT USED THEM WELL AS A MOTIVATION FOR HER OWN REALITY.
HE HATED HER REALITIES, BUT USED THEM WELL AS A MOTIVATION FOR HIS OWN FANTASY.
IT WAS ALL JUST TOO MUCH.

In The Embrace . . . Advanced to Fury, hidden voices discuss the circular nature of their own fictional narration:

SECRET READER/HE: Making a fiction occur that is based upon a fiction that has been previously made to occur . . .

SECRET READER/SHE: Which every fiction is.

SECRET READER/HE: . . . is the beginning, or first-occurrence of what is at present . . . erroneously or not . . . called . . .

SECRET READER/SHE: A fact.

SECRET READER/HE: This is even more so if the fiction that has already occurred . . .

SECRET READER/SHE: Such as the one on which this particular fiction is based.

SECRET READER/HE: . . . was itself based upon a fiction that has already occurred, or indeed . . . is still waiting to occur.

The result of such a looped fiction is that narration is used, even in the seemingly classical form of a play or drama, to distort reality rather than to represent it. As Alain Robbe-Grillet suggests in For a New Novel:

The real, the false, and illusion become more or less the subject of all modern works; . . . instead of claiming to be a piece of reality, [it] is developed as a reflection on reality (or on the dearth of reality, as Breton calls it). It no longer seeks to conceal its necessarily deceptive character by offering itself as a “real-life story.”5

Just as the characters in “Juarez” and “RING” are defined not by their own natures but by what’s going on, situations, objects and places alter their meaning as they appear in different contexts. Past and future are intertwined; parts and places become each other. Juarez (Mexico) and Cortez (Colorado) are the same, yet different; Mexico and L.A. have interchangeable parts. Border towns are scattered throughout the work, the border being a place of transition, people constantly coming and going, languages shifting, escape made palpable, dangerous, enticing. Juarez is a place in transition, as are the characters that haunt it. Even Paris, in some recent songs, becomes the equivalent of a border town because of Allen’s fascination with the bastardized language and customs of Americans in Paris, its exoticism, and its own specific kind of honky-tonk. (“Say la vee, It’s not Paree/ Say la guerre, Yeah but it don’t care. . . .”)

Just as time changes in Allen’s work, spaces change also, so that in Black House (one of the 16 smaller works that make up Fighters of the Darkness) miniature, seemingly innocuous environments suggest, and later become, actual police photographs of various anonymous rooms taken shortly after brutal crimes had been committed there. The superficial delicacy and appeal of the tiny environments in Black House become, unexpectedly, a vision of unspeakable terror in Blue Novena. Even vision itself changes in Allen’s work; a raven in (notations from) The Crossing is reflected in a small mirror behind it, but the reflected image is red rather than black; in Messages from Wrestlers in Hell a wedding-cake couple’s reflection is similarly black.

Allen has always been interested in the edges of things and events. Images are made to seem to be just appearing or disappearing from the sides of a picture. Drawers in the environments are half-opened. Texts are hung just too high or too low to be read comfortably. One framed text in Messages from Wrestlers in Hell consists of only a “punctuation drama,” providing narration which isn’t even dependent on words. In the environments, pastel lights bathe the ’50s furniture with an unearthly glow, which negates the sculptural quality of the images and objects, and plants them firmly in the realm of fantasy—if such a thing is possible. A version of The Embrace takes the miniature wrestling ring found in The Evening Gorgeous George Died, which, in the “theater occurrence,” is a real wrestling ring with a male and female wrestler from the “real” world, and makes of it a video environment with actual bleachers, a ring around the monitor, and brilliantly colored, spot-lit walls that are painted with black silhouettes. The ring is a story-cycle, a wedding ring, a circular form, a square form, an arena for combat, a way of dividing space and a system of equivalences all at once.

This multidimensionality of meaning and context extends to the very structure of Allen’s work, both in its component parts and in its entirety. His fascination with every possible mode of transition—formal, perceptual, physical, emotional, intellectual and psychological—relates the work more to film than to painting or sculpture. (Even here, however, it is closer in feeling to, say, Alain Resnais’ Muriel than to John Ford’s Fort Apache.) Given the diversity of the means used to tell a story, what happens according to Allen is that “. . . intentionally or not, the work ends up questioning the whole idea of the means themselves, no matter what the piece is about.”6

The work’s “regionalism,” a sprinkling of West Texas flavor, is most prevalent in his songs and music, which have a kind of country/western, Cajun, blues feeling. Especially in Lubbock (on everything), made in Texas with The Panhandle Mystery Band—(many of whose members Allen has known for years), the images of flatland, endless highway, Pearl and Lone Star beer, Cadillacs, pick-up trucks, places like The Paradise Motel Lounge, Pinkie’s Liquor Store or the Hi-D-Ho, and women with teased wigs, painted faces and “too much rouge, too much booze/ Too many movie magazines” are indigenous to the area. On the other hand, in all of Allen’s work, geography itself is suspect. Lubbock (on everything) was originally a watercolor map of the world with “everything I could remember—incidents and things—about Lubbock on it.” Texas Goes to Europe, a print, shows all the towns in Europe replaced by Texas ones. In a recent series of drawings, the silhouette of Mexico becomes that of a shoe. The songs and pieces use specific locales as points of reference, but highlight the ability of a place (or time, or event) to mean more than itself. There is a zany logic to these impossible juxtapositions, and you don’t have to be from Lubbock to understand a song like “The Great Joe Bob (a regional tragedy)”:

He was the pride of the backfield
Ahhh the hero of his day
Yeah he carried the ball for the red an blue
They won District triple-A
An his name made all the papers
As the best they ever had
Yeah so nobody understood it
When the great Joe Bob went bad.

© Green Shoes Publishing Co.

It is one of Allen’s particular abilities to use something in order to get away from it; several of the songs on the Lubbock album, for instance, are outrageous spoofs of the art world’s narrow system of reference. “A Truckload of Art” makes the New York/California Art Dichotomy and Competition seem pompous by placing it in the tragic context of a fatal accident; “OUI (a French song)” is brief discourse on the absurdity of trying to juxtapose art and “real life.” “The Beautiful Waitress,” a song about love and chili, ends with the following spoken recitation:

A waitress asked me what I did.
I told her I tried (to make art).
She asked me if I made any money.
I said no . . . I have to ‘teach’ to do that.
She asked me what I taught and where.
I told her.
She told me she liked art, but that she couldn’t draw a straight line.
I told her if she could reach for something and pick it up, she could draw a line that
was straight enough.
She said she wasn’t interested in that kind
of drawing . . . but had always liked horses.
I said I did too, but they are hard to draw.
She said yes that was very true . . . said she could do the body okay, but never get the
head, tail or legs.
I told her she was drawing sausages . . . not horses.
She said no . . . they were horses.

© Green Shoes Publishing Co.

When Terry Allen’s art seems to be about art, it is actually about life. On the other hand, when it seems to be about life, we end up with art—with the wonders, mysteries, complexities, paradoxes and illusions of such topics as sex, writing, death or wrestling (these appearing, run-on, in the announcement for The Embrace . . . Advanced to Fury).

If it were possible to isolate a major subject in the work other than the nature of existence itself, it might be love, which is saying a lot, because in this case, love includes jealousy, pain, sex, secrecy, loneliness, passion, betrayal, tenderness, murder, revenge, intimacy, ambition and tragedy. Each love relationship is explored in a new way. The characters in “Juarez” play out their game with exuberance and despair, ultimately leading to murder, in a world of shifting, exterior landscapes. On the other hand, in The Embrace, HE and SHE (who are also the wrestlers) battle in an interior, domestic world of bedrooms and bars. HE and SHE are trying to keep one step ahead of each other in their need to discover each other’s secrets, avenge themselves, and tear off each other’s masks, revealing the “truth”—which lies more, it seems, in the mask itself than in what lies behind it. According to the text:

Anticipating the wrongs
They knew
They would do
To one another
Each of them
Paid the other one back
In advance.

Love has its artifacts, icons and postures, some of which are overtly symbolic (like the wedding ring which becomes a wrestling ring), some simply suggestive (like a champagne glass or high-heeled fancy shoe) and some sleazy or literal (like the condom that appears in both “Juarez” and “RING”). The wrestling holds in The Embrace are suggestive of—and analogous to—the positions taken by Jabo and Chic making love in the Juarez desert. Residue and personal debris, especially the crumpled secret writings of the characters in “RING,” include the remains of sex, booze, food and sleep—the basics. Broken objects, glass, the spilled contents of a purse or drawer, are the physical remnants of a fleeting act, but they are also repositories of meaning. Only the objects remain to suggest what has happened, what is happening, what will, or might, or might not happen. Among the many artifacts of romantic love are photographs (giving partial and misleading information, freezing the past in two dimensions), playing cards (indicating infinite possibilities and combinations of events), and cars (serving not only as vehicles to get from one place to another, but also as arenas for momentary and often sordid encounters). Similarly, Allen’s settings—bars, hotels, motels, mobile homes—are transitional places where startling and extraordinary events take place without much effect on their surroundings. These events themselves become shifting realities; the changes wrought by violence, passion, greed—and tenderness as well—are internal and private, leaving only elusive, mysterious traces. At the same time, they have become public documents, photographs from police files, or even what they actually are, works of art to be seen in public spaces.

Even when Allen’s work follows a clearly theatrical form, he uses every possible mode of presentation at once, so that the “occurrence” takes place both inside and outside the arena in which it actually happens. When it becomes impossible to separate the space of the activity from the space of our own lives, we become, as viewers, actors. The environment in which The Embrace is situated (both in the performed version for Houston’s Contemporary Art Museum and in the video installation shown last year at The Detroit Institute of the Arts) has much in common with the Räume (alternative, environmental dramatic spaces) which have become prevalent in avant-garde German theater. While the authors of Räume recognize a debt to artists like Joseph Beuys and Paul Thek, they have nonetheless accomplished a somewhat different, often startling symbiosis between contemporary theater and “pure” visual arts. The richness, intimacy and violence of their images, in the words of one critic, “no longer provided a background for the action, it determined the action; it no longer subtly supported the director’s interpretation, it interpreted the text itself.”7

The Embrace constitutes a similar hybrid, in which the wrestling ring and the act of wrestling provide the context for a public view of the private aspects of a relationship. The very nature of wrestling as “the last public theater,” as Allen describes it, is in itself one subject of the piece. The late Roland Barthes, a writer whom Allen admires, suggested that what makes wrestling different from any other spectator sport is its immediacy, its focus on the transient image and on the instantaneous reading of juxtaposed meanings. The outcome of the contest is less important than the “sum of spectacles.”8 Barthes compared wrestling to ancient theater, with its unabashed display of emotions in a tragic mode. “Each sign in wrestling,” he wrote, is “endowed with an absolute clarity,” and later, “nothing exists except in the absolute, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively.”9

In the conflict between HE and SHE—the reflected embrace and combat of the masked wrestlers, the text read by two off-stage voices (the SECRET READERS), and the projected text and images on a large screen behind the ring—we see Barthes’ “sum of spectacles” which eludes any literal understanding, but in which the meaning of the piece resides.

Even the language Allen uses turns back on itself. The text for “RING,” Part I (The Evening Gorgeous George Died), concludes by creating itself:

HER GRANDFATHER DIED ON THE SAME DAY AND ON THE THIRD PAGE OF THE SPORTS SECTION IN THE TIMES, A SMALL COLUMN MENTIONED THE SAD DEATH OF GORGEOUS GEORGE IN A DERELICT’S HOTEL. YEARS LATER, SHE WROTE A STORY CALLED ‘THE EVENING GORGEOUS GEORGE DIED’. IT WAS SERIALIZED IN A WELL-KNOWN WOMEN’S MAGAZINE AND LATER MADE INTO A MOVIE FOR TELEVISION. IT RECEIVED A NOMINATION FOR AN EMMY.

Such self-referential systems are both macrocosms and microcosms; puns and double entendres are scattered liberally through the work, part of Allen’s attempt to “deal with an object the way you’d deal with a word, and a word the way you’d deal with an object.” One visual pun, for example, is a drawing with a lot of little ZZZZZZZZZZZs in the middle of it, titled Saturday night with the one you love. There are also rhymes (“footloose and self-abuse”), homonyms (“foul sweets fowl suites” from “Study Drawings for Object/ Drama . . . Whisper”) and several different ways of interpreting sung words (like “vacancy/vacant sea/vacant see” in Juarez). Especially in the titles for the “Study Drawings,” the nature of literary and theatrical conventions themselves becomes a hilarious commentary on cultural and domestic ones. One drawing is called THE MODERN ERA AS A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION FOR THE MODERN ERROR. Another—containing silhouette images of a woman attacking a man with an object, and pages from a notebook scattered over a table, the floor and the entire surface of the drawing itself—is titled LIGHT WIND AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AS A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION FOR MODERN LITERATURE.

Allen’s own background has been a musical one as much as anything else; his mother was a ragtime pianist, and his father was a baseball player later turned entrepreneur, who brought Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and many others to play in Lubbock; over the years, his father leased buildings to hold ethnic dances, wrestling matches and country music and blues concerts. Allen himself began playing the piano professionally in 1966, with a band called The Blackwall Blues Quintet. He wrote songs in high school, but the first one that he felt was more than “just a provocation” was “Red Bird,” done in 1964. “Rock-’n’-Roll,” Allen feels, “has probably been the greatest influence on contemporary art. It’s the first thing that was really yours, with no history for it, no social conventions from another time. Presley’s ”Blue Suede Shoes“ addressed you, not your parents or school or country.”

Even in Terry Allen’s music, which seems to be the most straightforward aspect of his work, puns abound. A melodic interval can be made to palpably reproduce, in the listener’s experience, a temporal and spatial dimension that is unique, and often very funny. In a song called “The Girl who Danced Oklahoma,” about a woman who “tried to live on the inside,” within conventions requiring her to “get a house . . . an make a home,” there is a seemingly endless, repetitive break in the music. The series of notes, continuing much too long for us to assume anything but a scratch in the record, finally stops with the words, “And ten years later. . . .” Even pieces which ostensibly have nothing to do with music are full of sounds—sighs, whispers, screams, moans, mutterings—and lend the work a resonance not ordinarily found in purely pictorial systems. For Allen, musical space, “a space of relationships,”10 is a perfect vehicle for the exploration of shifting human dramas.

Allen’s newest projects (which are ideas based on earlier works or on new ways of thinking about something which has always interested him) include “Dugout,” a reference to his father’s career as a baseball player and the fact that his mother was born in a dugout, or sod shelter built into the side of a hill; the possibility of doing Juarez as a video and/or film; and Futurism in Reverse, a theater piece adapted from Boccioni’s 1916 sintesi, Genius and Culture. In it, Allen anticipates, everyone will have their clothes on backwards, the furniture will face the wall, tables will be upside down and chandeliers will stick up from the floor. A futurist reversal perfectly expresses Allen’s early statement (from REGARDING ART: a sermonette) that “you can never NOT look back . . . looking forward is looking back; frontward and backward are just the same view at different times happening at once.”

Futurist drama itself is very close to Allen’s sensibility; its combination of every possible mode of presentation, the dissolution of the psychological and physical distance between audience and actor, and an emphasis on experiencing something for its own sake rather than as a reference to something else,11 make it a perfect vehicle for his own investigation.

The multidimensionality which characterizes Terry Allen’s work, its self-referential, circular quality, its ability to expand and contract meaning indefinitely, the range of implication from the mundane to the profound, and its insistence on dissolving categories, definitions and fixed systems, mean that the work perhaps has more to do with the isomorphisms of advanced science, computer technology, higher mathematics, canons and fugues, Zen koans and recent literature and film than with the world of fine arts as we know it. In one of his private notebooks, Allen comments:

I always have the feeling that real art is happening somewhere else—outside of any visible cultural zone that is openly attended to and available. (Perhaps I just want it to be out there because I feel more and more that I am out there myself.)

This is perhaps one of the reasons that Allen’s work, when it was first seen in New York in 1973,12 was confusing to an audience who insisted on knowing whether he was a songwriter or an artist; only a few people seemed to notice, or care, that the characters and incidents in the songs and drawings were related.

In Terry Allen’s work, where two, three and four dimensions are combined and juxtaposed to make images that are both specific and general, past and present, finite and infinite, paradox results. “Nothing is obvious,” he says, “so why try to make it that way?” Because he isn’t interested in anything that can be known or defined, his work is continuously poised on the edges of possibility. The last of the 16 smaller works which make up Fighters of the Darkness (Part IV of “RING”) contains a drawing which lists all the titles of the piece of which it is a part, and is called Fighters of the Darkness: The End; an aside in one of his notebooks says that “the piece must begin and end with itself.”

The extraordinary degree of intellectual and emotional speculation provided by this circularity, and by the richness, humor and intensity of the images themselves, make the experience of any of Terry Allen’s work wonderfully complex. And (in the words of one of his songs) “that’s a damned good way/ To spend a God damned day.” ♧

—————————

text for “RING”

HE WAS A WRITER.
HE CAME FROM A FAMILY OF SPORTS PROMOTERS.

SHE WAS WITH HIM.

THEY CAME TO THE CITY TO SUCCEED.
IT DIDN’T WORK OUT AS EXPECTED.
AFTER THEY WERE MARRIED,
HE STARTED DRINKING AND PLAYING CARDS.

SHE HAD ALWAYS BEEN VERY SENSITIVE AND PARANOID.
SHE ACCUSED HIM CONSTANTLY.

HE DEFENDED HIMSELF CONSTANTLY.
HE DID THIS BY ACCUSING HER.

THEY UNDERSTOOD EACH OTHER COMPLETELY.
NEITHER WOULD ADMIT IT.
THAT WAS THE PROBLEM.

(THEY HAD NO CHILDREN)

SHE STARTED ACCUSING HIM OF AFFAIRS THAT, SECRETLY, SHE WANTED
TO HAVE.
SECRETLY, HE STARTED HAVING THEM.

LATER, WHEN SHE FOUND OUT, SHE WAS SHOCKED.
SO WAS HE.
SHE WAS ALSO RELIEVED.

(HER ACCUSATIONS WERE FINALLY NOT JUST HOT AIR)

SO SHE STARTED HAVING AFFAIRS.
SHE SAID IT WAS TO GET EVEN.

(IT WAS ALSO MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME)

HE CALLED HER A DIRTY HYPOCRITE-AMONG-OTHER-THINGS.
HE SAID SHE HAD BEEN HAVING AFFAIRS ALL ALONG.

SHE CRIED OFTEN, BUT REFUSED TO DISCUSS ANYTHING SHORT
OF RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION.

HE WASN’T SO LUCKY.
HE BLAMED HIMSELF EVEN MORE THAN SHE BLAMED HIM.

(THIS WAS NOTHING NEW. HE ALWAYS FELT GUILTY. HE SAID IT HAD
SOMETHING TO DO WITH HIS FAMILY’S INVOLVEMENT WITH WRESTLING.
HIS PARENTS WOULD NEVER ADMIT TO IT BEING FAKE.)

HE DRANK MORE THAN EVER.
OF COURSE, SOME OF IT WAS AN ACT . . . A PLEA FOR PITY.

IT PARTIALLY WORKED.
SHE DID FEEL SORRY FOR HIM, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO GIVE UP A GOOD THING.
SHE HAD THE UPPER HAND.

PRETTY SOON HE STOPPED WRITING ANYTHING.
HE JUST PLAYED CARDS AND GOT DRUNK.

SHE WOULD SNEAK INTO HIS DUSTY STUDY AND READ THROUGH HIS
NOTEBOOKS WHILE HE WAS OUT ON THE COUCH.

HE OFTEN RECORDED HIS FANTASIES.
THIS WAS A MISTAKE.

HIS FANTASIES ONLY FURTHER SERVED TO JUSTIFY HER REALITIES.

SHE STARTED WRITING.
SHE STARTED KEEPING HER OWN NOTE BOOKS AND HIDING THEM.
SHE CALLED THEM ‘DIARYS’.

(‘DIARYS’ ARE ALWAYS TRUE)

HE SUSPECTED HER.
WHEN SHE WAS NOT AT HOME, HE RIFLED HER DRAWERS LOOKING FOR OBJECTS
HE COULD NOT RECOGNIZE, ODD NEW UNDERWEAR, PHONE NUMBERS, MATCHBOOKS, ETC.
ONE AFTERNOON HE FOUND HER ‘DIARYS’ WHILE SHE WAS OFF TO THE GROCERY STORE.
QUITE QUICKLY HE BECAME MORE SENSITIVE AND PARANOID THAN SHE EVER WAS.

HE ACCUSED HER OF HAVING AFFAIRS HE HAD ALREADY FINISHED.
IN RETURN, SHE ACCUSED HIM OF HAVING AFFAIRS SHE WAS STILL JUST PLANNING.

THEY TOOK SEPARATE BEDROOMS.

(SOMEWHERE IN ALL THIS, YEARS PASSED)

SHE HATED HIS FANTASIES, BUT USED THEM WELL AS A MOTIVATION FOR HER OWN REALITY.
HE HATED HER REALITIES, BUT USED THEM WELL AS A MOTIVATION FOR HIS OWN FANTASY

IT WAS ALL JUST TOO MUCH.

(THEY WERE ALWAYS BROKE)

SOMETHING HAD TO HAPPEN.
IT DID.
SHE GOT PUBLISHED.

HE NEVER DID.

HE STARTED DISAPPEARING FOR DAYS AT A TIME.
HER PARENTS WOULD COME FROM VERY FAR OUT OF THEIR WAY TO VISIT.
THEY ADVISED HER TO CALL IT QUITS.
HE CONSIDERED THE ADVICE DERISIVE AND UN-WISE.
HE WROTE LONG AND ELABORATE LETTERS TO THEM EXPLAINING EXISTENTIALISM.
THEY WERE CHILDREN DURING THE DEPRESSION AND WOULD NOT REPLY.

SHE STARTED WRITING FOR TV.
COMMERCIALS.
SHE STARTED MAKING LOTS OF MONEY.

(SHE REFUSED TO TAUNT HIM WITH HER SUCCESS)

HE HAD ARRIVED AT HIS ULTIMATE BOTTOM.

FOR THE FIRST TIME, HE ORDERED MIXED DRINKS.

THEY MOVED TO POSHER LODGINGS.
THEY MOVED IN POSHER CROWDS.

HIS GAMBLING DEBTS SOARED.
HE OWED VEGAS NOW.
FRIENDS WERE NOTHING.

SHE HAD A MAID.
THE WOMAN WAS VERY ELDERLY ON PURPOSE.

HE HUNG OUT FOR WEEKS IN MEXICO.
HE SENT THOUSANDS OF SARCASTIC TELEGRAMS TO HER IN NEW YORK AND LONDON.
SHE WENT ON BUSINESS.
HE BECAME SOMEWHAT OF A CHARACTER.
THE GOSSIP WAS GLORIOUS.

THEN IT BECAME DULL.

HE SHOT HIMSELF ON CINCO DEMAYO, BUT SURVIVED.
THE BULLET ONLY DAMAGED HIS EAR.

SHE ACCUSED HIM OF BEING OVERLY DRAMATIC AND TRYING TO WORRY HER NEEDLESSLY.
SHE MOVED INTO A SEPARATE APARTMENT, BUT AVOIDED ANY PROCEEDINGS OF A LEGAL NATURE.

HE HEARD BIRDS ON ONE SIDE OF HIS HEAD.

(“WRITERS NEED GOOD EARS” . . . HE WOULD WRITE CONSTANTLY ON PAPER NAPKINS IN BARS)

HE TRIED ONE MONTH LATER IN A TWO CAR GARAGE AND SUCCEEDED.

HER GRANDFATHER DIED ON THE SAME DAY AND ON THE THIRD PAGE OF THE SPORTS SECTION IN THE TIMES, A SMALL COLUMN MENTIONED THE SAD DEATH OF GORGEOUS GEORGE IN A DERELICTS’ HOTEL.

YEARS LATER, SHE WROTE A STORY CALLED ‘THE EVENING GORGEOUS GEORGE DIED’.
IT WAS SERIALIZED IN A WELL-KNOWN WOMEN’S MAGAZINE AND LATER MADE INTO A MOVIE FOR TELEVISION.
IT RECEIVED A NOMINATION FOR AN EMMY.

EVENTUALLY SHE REMARRIED.
HE WAS A NETWORK EXECUTIVE AND HAD TWO CHILDREN FROM A PREVIOUS MARRIAGE.
©Terry Allen, 1976

♡ ♤ ♧ ♢

TRUCKLOAD OF ART

Recitation:
Once upon a time . . .
Sometime ago back on the East Coast
In New York City, to be exact . . .
A bunch of artists and painters and
sculptors and musicians and
poets and writers and dancers
and architects
Started feeling real superior
To their ego-counter-parts
Out on the West Coast . . . so
They all got together and decided
They would show those snotty surfer upstarts
A thing or two about the Big Apple
And . . . they hired themselves a truck.

It was a big, spanking new white-shiny
Chrome-plated cab-over
Peterbilt . . .
With mudflaps, stereo, tv, AM & FM radio,
Leather seats and a naugahide sleeper . . .
All fresh
With new American Flag decals and ‘ART ARK’
Printed on the side of the door
With solid 24 karat gold leaf type . . .

And they filled up this truck
With the most significant piles
And influential heaps of Art Work
To ever be assembled in Modern Times,
And sent it West . . . to chide,
Cajole, humble and humiliate . . . the Golden Bear.
And this is the true story of that truck . . .

A Truckload of Art
From New York City
Came rollin down the road
Yeah the driver was singing
And the sunset was pretty
But the truck turned over
And she rolled off the road

Yeah a Truckload of Art
Is burning near the highway
Precious objects are scattered
All over the ground
And it’s a terrible sight
If a person were to see it
But there weren’t nobody around

Yodel

Yeah the driver went sailing
High in the sky
Landing in the gold lap of the Lord
Who smiled and then said
‘Son, you’re better off dead
Than haulin a truckload
full of hot avant garde’

(chorus)

Yes . . . an important artwork
Was thrown burning to the ground
Tragically . . . landing in the weeds
And the smoke could be seen
Ahhh for miles all around
Yeah but nobody . . . knows what it means

Yes . . . a Truckload of Art
Is burning near the highway
And it’s a tough job for the highway patrol
Ahhh they’ll soon see the smoke
An come a’runnin to poke
Then dig a deep ditch
And throw the arts in a hole

Yodel

Yeah a Truckload of Art
Is burning near the highway
And it’s raging far-out of control
And what the critics have cheered
Is now shattered and queered
And their noble reviews
Have been stewed on the road

(chorus)

Terry Allen, 1978
©Green Shoes Publishing Co.

♡ ♤ ♧ ♢
“Seeing is believing” is
perhaps only seeing that
believing is not enough.
—Terry Allen

♡ ♤ ♧ ♢

OUI (a french song)
OOOOOOO UI
OOOOOOO UI
OOOOOOO UI
OOOOOOO UI

Well I give up all my sculpturing
Cause my life had gone all sad
An I went to work down at the factory
It weren’t art . . . but it weren’t bad
So
They put me on the assembly line
Puttin plastic leaves on the plaster palms
Then they shipped them off to Los Angeles
Yeah it weren’t art . . . but it weren’t wrong

Now some say it’s pathetic
When you give up your aesthetic
For a blue collar job in the factory
But all that exhibiting
Was just too damned inhibiting
For a beer drinking
Regular guy . . . like me

OOOOOOO UI
OOOOOOO UI
OOOOOOO UI
OOOOOOO WE
me

Terry Allen, 1978
©Green Shoes Publishing Co.

If you’re an artist, you’re usually only interested in what you don’t know and can’t find out. You usually have an ugly car.
—Terry Allen

What is actually physically seenis only half of all of it, or less . . . Yet it is usually taken for granted that that is all there is.
—Terry Allen

Marcia Tucker, Director of The New Museum, has written extensively. Among the publications are monographs on Al Held, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Tuttle.

Many thanks to Joe Erdelac, who made it possible for me to visit Terry Allen in Fresno just before this article was written.

—————————

NOTES

1. Malcolm Lowry, Under The Volcano (New York: New American Library, 1947), introduction by Stephen Spender, p. XIII.

2. Ibid., p. XXI.

3. Ibid., p. XVII.

4. Terry Allen, in an unpublished letter to Joan Tewksbury, 1980. All other quotes by the artist, unless so indicated, are from conversations with the author or from Allen’s personal notebooks, which he was kind enough to allow me to look at.

5. Alain Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1965), p. 150.

6. Claire Copley, “The Art of Terry Allen: A Personal Evaluation,” JOURNAL, The Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (October-November 1976), p. 15.

7. Richard Riddell, “The German Raum,” The Drama Review, (March 1980), p. 41.

8. Roland Barthes, Mythologies (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957, trans. 1972), p. 16.

9. Ibid., p. 16. pp. 24–25.

10. Robert P. Morgan, “Musical Time/Musical Space,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 6, #3 (Spring 1980), p. 529.

11. Michael Kirby, Futurist Performance (New York: E.P. Dutton 8 Co., 1971), p. 20.

12. One small piece from “Juarez” was shown in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial of that year. The following year, Michael Walls’ Gallery presented a chapter from the series, consisting of drawings and an evening of songs.