Gonzo Sangfroid in Aughts Philly

One quirk which made Aughts Philly interesting is that most of the Philadelphia Renaissance players displayed a penchant for exhibitionistic behaviors, postures, and attitudes. The immediate mea culpa is branded right on my "I am as wayward as Shelley" tee-shirt, made for me by my second wife Melissa in early '01. This contradiction— a flair we all had for dramatic self-presentation, while also maintaining a stubbornly independent streak which made it seem a sell-out to us to appeal to the press to legitimize our work— fueled the collective fire of Aughts Philly, towards greater and greater demonstrations of gonzo sangfroid. Mike and I got lucky at/with the Highwire Gallery, who helped us take our PFS shows there to the highest possible level of gonzo extremity; as long as we provided the booze (including, owing to our outrageous desire to get Philly Free School audiences off, not only wine and beer but bottles of whiskey and vodka), the Highwire curators brought treats for us— twice, a functioning nitrous tank, and once, hash brownies.

Under this aegis, everyone brought their own gonzo predilections to the table— with Nick Gruberg, it had to do with a nuanced, broadly philosophical drunken professor role he liked to play. With Gruberg plumbing (or spelunking) deep into his cups, out poured discursive ramblings (Nick, remember, graduated with honors from U of Chicago) meant to establish his complete and total intellectual superiority to you, whoever you thought you were or might be. And let it not be said that Nick and Mike Land did not perform what seemed to be, after a fashion, rote routines— Nick abuses Mike; Mike knocks back a bunch of shots and leaves the table, exasperated (this often happened at McGlinchey's); Mike returns to the table, and Nick begins abusing Mike again; they both slam back more shots; Jeremy finds a way of annoying both of them, and they begin abusing him; Jeremy plays pater familias, and does his "now, now, children..." routine, which they pointedly ignore, exasperating Jeremy; by the time we hit 15th Street again, we would be so comically rambunctious that no one could remember who was abusing who, or why; then, off we'd go to somebody's house party, and more variations of the same.

Abby and Mary were rambunctious on a different level— when Mary wanted to make an impression, which she usually did, her moves were often Grace Kelly moves; its just that Mary and I were often all over each other in public, because this was Aughts Philly and that's just the way we rolled, babes. As has been said before, but bears repeating, Mary had it, where sexual magnetism was concerned— when she entered a room, gallery opening or not, she reached out to find everyone's sex buttons, and pressed them, then waited for the fireworks to start. They usually would, and did. Mary was volatile in other ways, too. Poor Abs was gorgeous, but tiny, and couldn't always keep up; yet few of us were unfamiliar with the sight of Abs moving in for the kill, with the right kinds of girls and boys; including me. As predicted, Mary did find my early '05 affair with Abs outrageous— but it was karma she earned. That's why, when I saw the movie "Closer," I laughed— welcome to Maryland. Was she also a complex character beyond all the seductiveness? Yes she was— or Abs and I wouldn't have bothered to endure all her shit. As for Nick Gruberg's garbage, that's one split which, by the end of the Aughts and for most of us, was unavoidable— though I know "gonzo" wasn't his whole life (he started grad school for linguistics roughly when I began with my University Fellowship at Temple), that is all, after a certain point, he would condescend to show us Aughts Philly stalwarts. Hannah Miller, who started with Nick and migrated to me, was an exhibitionist about politics, and an ardent proselytizer for causes, with a sybaritic streak only half-hidden

In retrospect, what was gonzo about Aughts Philly in general was how individualistic all of us were— a bunch of forces coalesced and made it possible for us to write our own rule-books and define ourselves and our self-mythologies any way we damn well pleased. We had more real freedom than any other group of artists in American history— some of it we had to fight for, some we did not. One of our freedoms was the right to be extreme, and to live dangerously— and we did both with aplomb. We were also free to embrace or not embrace formality in art in any way we desired. Had we been exposed to public-exposure fangs at a young age, much of this freedom would've been taken from us, and replaced with bogus imperatives and pointless restrictions. I am very glad and grateful Aughts Philly and Neo-Romanticism did not happen this way; as the slow-burn towards all that media biz begins now. As a final note: the affixed pic was taken at a cafe on Avenue A in Manhattan's East Village in October '05 by Amy King, the month I established P.F.S. Post (Philly Free School Post) online.