September 7th, 2012

Reverend Ivan Stang & the Church of the Sub Genius.

A friend of mine once told me that it was Reverend Ivan Stang who made it possible for him to marry a can of beer and become a pope in the same day and for a reasonable price. And our day in Cleveland, Ohio was truly a real treat, because we got to visit the home of Reverend Stang and his wife Princess Wei and explore the temple of Bob Dobbs that is their house.

Ivan Stang founded the Church of the SubGenius with Dr. Philo Drummond (who is now a DJ on the popular Berkeley radio show Puzzling Evidence) in 1980 with a satyrical pamphlet titled "SubGenius Pamphlet #1." What's formed in the 30 years following is an entire parody religion that, while no less real than any other religion, is thankfully only taken seriously to a dangerous level by a small chunk of people. Most followers of the Church of the SubGenius are such because of the humorous and lighthearted nature of the way it satirizes fanatic-based religion, conspiracy theories, and aliens.

The religion is based around one deity, a God of sorts by the name of Bob. Nobody knows exactly who Bob is or what exactly it is that he knows that we don't, but the playfulness of it all is somewhat of a relief in the world of thinking about religion and knowing those who take it and themselves too seriously. As Stang himself said, "Bob isn't interested in your sins, unless it's one he hasn't heard of yet." Stang's attitude towards the whole concept of religion is that it's his job and duty to piss off the fundamentalists, and it seems at this he's had tremendous success, if in nothing more than his devotion to the joke of it all. The big lesson we learned from the Reverend? "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."

Nowadays Stang is able to make a living promoting and "practicing" this comedic religion. Any Joe can walk up to their home and pay their $35 to become an ordained minister (or Sir, or Pope, or Princess, or pretty much anything you want) of the Church of the SubGenius. He markets his belief in the cause (or lackthereof) but with the lingering fear that some people in the world of religion take this stuff too far, and his greatest concern is of its potential transformation into a cult. Being that so many people in the world will eat whatever bullshit is spoonfed to them, Stang realizes that this concern is a legitimate one, but hopes that in the grand scheme of things, it can be used as a tool to help people to stop every once in a while and laugh at reality's joke that is organized religion.

Reverend Ivan Stang & the Church of the SubGenius.
Cleveland, Ohio.

Reposted from The New World Manifesto.

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Madison, Wisconsin: the Bizarro Burlington.

Welcome to Madison, Wisconsin. Here you can find basically everything you know and love in Burlington, Vermont, just… in bizarro version.

We hosted our second screening at the Madison Infoshop on lovely Williamson St., which so closely resembled Burlington's downtown that it gave us chills, but in a good way. The coffee shop, the restaurant, the co-op, the people; it all reminded us of home, which was incredibly refreshing (we miss you guys!). Madison was picturesque and our screening went great, complete with impromptu juggling and musical butcherings of a few Vermont Joy Parade songs, just for fun. There we met up with our friend Ivan Klipstein, who to simply call a Character of Characters would be a gross understatement.

Our first interview during our stay was with Norm Stockwell, who's the Staff Representative of 89.9 WORT FM and has worked as a journalist for thirty years. He told us a lot about the role of independent media and community supported radio "giving a voice to the unrepresented and underrepresented sectors of our society." Following our premiere we also spent some time with Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy, who's a lawyer working to expose ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which, in a few words, is an organization that has helped corporations to make that old idea of "government of the people" defunct by combining the forces of corporations with lobbyists and politicians. To learn more about ALEC, you can watch this video HERE or check out

While it wasn't exactly a "day off," Madison was a nice, homely relief for a lot of us. We stopped at Ella's Deli on our way out of town for a good ol' fashioned carousel ride, and soon found out that Madison is also home to the epicenter of children with ADD as a direct result of this restaurant. With no less than a million colorful things moving on tracks, bouncing up and down, popping out of the ceiling unexpectedly, and not to mention about twenty flavors of ice cream, I have to say, parents of Madison, Wisconsin… I do not blame your children for being, well, slightly overstimulated and distracted.

Thank you so very much to John Peck of the Madison Infoshop for letting us set up shop and give us a venue to show our work thus far, and also to 89.9 WORT for their feature on and support of our project. And let's also not forget our friend Ivan, for showing us a lovely time in Madison. We'll see you all again in the Burlington twilight zone someday soon!

Also, as I wrote this, Zelde was dosed by a child pedaling pot brownies outside a supermarket. Let's all pray for a speedy recovery, yes? Thank you.

Reposted from the New World Manifesto.

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Transcendental Meditation in Fairfield, Iowa.

We almost didn't stop. One wrong turn had lead us well out of our way and back in Illinois, and we figured with the hours we'd lost having to cross the Mississippi a third time would have surely caused us to miss Transcendental Meditation Happy Hour in the small town of Fairfield, Iowa. But lo and behold, I've discovered on this trip that when you're eight amazing people traveling the country in search of other amazing people, the amazing ones just seem to find you first. Even just a few minutes before midnight, immediately upon our exit from the bus, we were greeted by numerous people asking us who we were, to which we responded with our simple fact that we were just people who wanted to know who THEY were.

Fairfield, Iowa is a unique town, because it's home to the Maharishi University of Management, which from the sound of it makes me think of a bunch of hometown heroes educating themselves to become regional managers of fast food restaurants. But it's much more exciting than that. The University is essentially a liberal arts school that focuses on the practice of Transcendental Meditation, and practically everybody in the town of Fairfield is involved in some way. We ended up with a good mix of people who were nice enough to let us shine unfathomably bright lights in their faces and interview them on a random street corner at 1 in the morning. One was an older gent by the name of Tom who was a professor of music at the University, another was a younger girl, Stephanie, who was currently enrolled in her fourth year at the University and had been practicing TM since age 5, and we met a younger guy by the name of Mike, who years before had dropped out of the school due to problems with the curriculum and a general skepticism of the practice.

The way the meditation works is by a series of mantras. There are around twelve different mantras that are assigned to different groups of people based on gender and age group. The practice consists of sitting and meditating on the mantra for about twenty minutes twice a day, and by doing so, they claim it brings them to a point where they "transcend" reality. An easier way for me to decipher it was by referencing a scene in I Heart Huckabees, where the two main characters experiencing "existential crises" sit at a picnic table and whack each other in the face with a giant inflatable ball until their minds essentially go blank and they become the earth and air that surrounds them, somewhat transcending the inevitable drama that they become so distracted by. At their constant request to "go back to the ball thing," their existential counselor reminds them not to call it "the ball thing," but "pure being." Fairfield's practitioners meet twice a day, once before breakfast and once before dinner, in two massive domes, one for men and one for women, and meditate together in giant groups, which they feel is more powerful than meditating alone.

There was a strange and special vibe about this town, and I felt it from the moment I stepped off the bus. Simultaneously to being greeted by a flock of friendly townspeople (prior we were under the impression we'd have to "search" for these folks, HAH!), we were greeted also by a praying mantis that followed us around for a few minutes and landed on everyone if only for a few seconds, which we took as a good sign. The town breathes a good energy, even if it could easily be taken as a placebo effect; most of the townspeople are practitioners and believe that with their daily group meditations, they are successfully sending out positive energy, not just to their town, but to other places in the world as well. Whether they're all avid believers of this concept or not depends on who you talk to, but most of them will vouch that practicing the meditation has helped them ground themselves and become generally more calm, peaceful, and aware individuals.

Afterwards we headed to the 24-hour grocery store because we were told of the magical milk that came out of Fairfield. Apparently singing to their cows causes them to produce incredibly creamy and sweet milk, unlike any milk we were sure to have tasted before in our lives. And apparently that was all the convincing we needed. What began with milk soon turned into magic cereal, magic songs, magic pictures, magic food stamps, magic bananas, and our magic life in this magic town on our magic bus.

You're a very, well... magical place, Fairfield. Thanks for making our search so easy; we didn't have such luck with the Amish or the Mormons...

Reposted from the New World Manifesto.

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We're not dead yet.

This is where we last spoke. Behind an offbeat gas station run by an obese feline in some Podunk town 500 miles outside of Denver, I somehow acquired enough Wifi to tell you the story of Fairfield, Iowa. And since then, there's been an entire universe between our story and the possibility of telling it.

The desert's gone on forever. We're dehydrated, irritable, weak and deteriorating. It's a school bus's seventh circle of Hell and the landscape is unforgiving and never seems to seize. We're holding ourselves together with a rapidly deteriorating supply of glue that feels like the last precious drops of water in our canteen. We're snapping; crumbling to pieces in the merciless heat, and just when I tried to keep my head above the ground and hydrate on the idea that it would all be alright, two have separated from our group of nine with the expression of a different intention, their actions proof of a separate interest. Whether we'll become nine again come New Orleans remains to be seen, but now we are seven.

For the last week and a half, our team has been off the grid. We booked it from Fairfield, Iowa to Denver, Colorado after scooping up an extra four en route to Burning Man, an intense festival of art, culture, and spirituality in the harsh Black Rock City desert of Nevada. There is so much to say about what has happened to the dynamic of our group and project in that time, but it can be somewhat summed up in a pillar we all expected to approach at some point in this trip: the point where we all lose our fucking minds. I assume it happens on every long tour that involves a slue of backgrounds and personalities, where the road seems to go on forever and the thought of listening to the same voice say anything from "You're wrong" to "I love bubbles" only makes you want to stab your eyeballs out with plastic kitchen utensils. The point where all the coffee tastes like sludge and the thought of jumping in another hot dumpster triggers your gag reflex. The point where true colors sneak to the surface and the hardest decisions show their ugly faces and demand addressing. And what better place for this to happen to any team than that unfathomably long stretch of the United States that is covered in desolation and nothingness? What better place than the God forsaken barren wasteland that is the desert?

The bus is being pushed to its limit, right alongside our sanity and will to continue, but we're pressing on. We're battling sickness, tears, loneliness, and confusion, with a little claustrophobia and agoraphobia thrown in, just to make things interesting. We're popping wellness pills and anxiety meds like candy and chugging watered down Gatorade with only our imaginations to chill it. Our boogers are dried out and our lips are chapped. But we approach the wetlands of the South with all the quickness we have, because we will not let this desert beat us.

There are still so many stories we want to show and tell to the world, and if nothing else, the vast emptiness that is this wretched desert trying to destroy us has made us realize even more so that this project is bigger than all of us. We've discovered the true intentions of those of us left and they are pure and unsullied, as well as entirely mutual within the group. So to the amazing people out there we're yet to find, keep looking up for that giant red school bus, because we're still looking for you. We may be a little sweaty, disoriented, and tired when we get to you, but we still want to tell your story. And to everyone else watching, wondering if maybe we drove the bus off the edge of the planet and into oblivion, fret not, because even though decompression and our return to civilization has knocked us on our asses, we're slowly picking ourselves up again and making our way back. So check back soon.

Reposted from the New World Manifesto.

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