ORL Interview: Ivan Stang

INTERVIEWING ONE’S CULTURAL HEROES IS one of the greatest thrills of a career in journalism — even of amateur journalism. Such was the position in which I found myself while working for Obscure Research Labs in the early-to-mid-1990s. It gave me an insider’s excuse to pester thinker and novelist Robert Anton Wilson, and granted equal access to Church of the SubGenius co-founder Ivan Stang. Herewith this interview, conducted through the mail and slightly edited for clarity and length, which first appeared in Far Corner v1n7, c. 1993. Kick back, slack off and enjoy this longest-by-far of The Metaphorager’s 800+ posts.


THE FAR CORNER INTERVIEW: IVAN STANG

To some people, the secretly-famous Ivan Stang is a complete unknown. To those in the know however, he is one of the guiding forces behind the enigmatic, shunned and oft-misunderstood Church of the SubGenius, a Dallas-based religious organization based on the teachings of the late J.R. “Bob” Dobbs (an ex-aluminum siding salesman who had a series of mystical visions back in 1953).”Bob’s” Word encompasses every religion, belief system and con game known to man-(or woman- or alien-)kind, taking the best and funniest parts from each and leaving the rest to rot gasping in the Light of Truth. (Send $1 to the SubGenius Foundation, PO Box 140306, Dallas, TX 75214 for more details.)

Although terminally busy (managing as he does a church, a family, and a few hundred film-making / recording / publishing ventures), the taciturn and uncommunicative Rev. Stang recently took a brief moment to answer a few questions…

What did you want to be when you grew up?

First I wanted to be a fireman … at age 2 I think. […] But by age 3 or 4 I had my heart set on becoming a paleontologist and digging up dinosaur bones. Around age 8, I caught on that the digging would be dull, and what I really liked was the dinosaurs in MOVIES. So I dedicated myself to to being a guy who would make amazing stop-motion dinosaurs in movies. I made dozens of crappy 8mm claymation and war movies. At age 15 I heard Zappa and Hendrix, and read a bunch of science fiction, and decided I wanted to be the SURREALIST version of a monster movie director. At age 16, after seeing Woodstock and Easy Rider, and suffering three really serious acid bummers, I switched over entirely and set my sights on doing powerful social-commentary feature films. I wanted to be the next Fellini, or at least some kind of super-cool underground artist like my heroes in The Firesign Theater, and underground comics. At age 17 I set myself the goal of, by age 26, becoming the next Orson Welles boy-genius by creating a feature film about the human condition so deep and profound that I would be hailed by all humanity forever (and thus finally to have to [sic] clout to make the ULTIMATE MONSTER MOVIE!!). […]

But, by age 26, I had failed all my other goals. Instead, I was desperately trying to support a family by slaving away in sweatshop business-film jobs in Dallas, a complete nobody on minimum wage. Luckily, Dobbs came along. I was SAVED, and under “Bob,” Philo [Drummond] and I created SUBGENIUS PAMPHLET #1. A year later I had (the way I figured it) at least achieved the sub-goal of being a super-cool underground artist (because I’d gotten supportive letters or whatnot from a lot of my super-cool underground artist heroes). I had gotten, um, ‘approval’ from my Mentors, and as disgusting as it is to admit, that took a load off my mind. It made me think I wasn’t crazy after all, even though my income from SubGenius suggested I was.

Now it’s 14 years later, and I’m still getting minimum wage, and I still haven’t gotten that great movie off the ground — but god damn it, I’m still working on it! I just have to get this new book and some kind of album finished, first.

What has been the impact (from your point of view) of SubGenius on the underground? Mainstream? (In other words, do you think it’s saved more folks’ sanity than it had provided more buzzwords for the cooler-than-thou?)

I’m not so sure the Church really attracts many of the ‘cooler than thou.’ The ‘cooler than thou’ are mainly just a particular stripe of Normals. It attracts a fair measure of ‘cooler-than-thou’ WANNA-BEs, insecure wimps who don’t have a clue and somehow think that the fact that they can identify some of our more obscure references MAKES them cool, but for the majority of SubGenii really are quite different from each other. They aren’t necessarily the ones you see at Devivals. The ones at Devivals are mostly young-uns who are more inclined to actually attend something at a nightclub, and with young people you can’t really judge… at age 20, a person still has plenty of potential to go either way, to zone out into some pocket or clique of normalcy, or to stay revved up and always open to new things.

It has definitely provided some buzz-words, though. We’ve begun to see and hear SubGenius jargon — words like “Pinks,” “bulldada,” “poebucker” and of course “Slack” in its cosmic sense — crop up in places completely out of any SubGenius context at all — not to mention all the “funny Bobs.” It’s strange to encounter these in mainstream magazines. [Paul] Mavrides recently heard some kids in SF [San Francisco] calling marijuana ‘Frop… he quizzed them and they’d never heard of the Church; they said that’s just a dope-term they’d heard a lot lately!

Where I mainly see SubGenius influence is in newer, hip-like magazines, in both the graphics and the writing styles. Of course the clip-art look has been just so “campy” and “artistic” for awhile now in things like greeting cards and magazine layout, but the last few years has seen a big increase in those kinds of graphics in TV commercials and network promos (primarily MTV and Nickelodeon). Certainly the Church was one of those early-80s influences on lots of art-school kids (though far from the only influence), and now those kids have design jobs in the Conspiracy.

There was a spate of Pink Bob characters in the media the last couple of years… the Nissan and Dorito ads, and Crystal hamburgers [sic] all had BOB campaigns. I don’t think the Church was any kind of DIRECT influence on those, more an indirect influence. The mutant presence of the true “Bob”, and the radiations off him, trickled down over the years to such an extent that Pinks have started to think ANY Bob is somehow FUNNY. You know, monkey-see, monkey do.

Sometimes I see my own trademark HOLLERING RANT-STYLE PUNCTUATION, with BIG COMIC-BOOK-LIKE CAPITAL LETTERS, and a breathless, snotty pace, used in prose like music reviews or whatever. Not that it’s totally original to me; I picked it up from comic books, Lovecraft and crackpot treatises. Sometimes, though, I wish there was some kind of royalty that one got for ‘influence.’

But all that’s just on the artistic side. Then there’s the religious side of the Church, which only works on certain people, but on them it works pretty well.

I’ve heard from dozens of folks who say that the Church actually changed their lives for the better, saved ’em from slow suicide, etc. This, of course, gratifies me; I was at the end of my tether once (or twice or three or four times), and sure could’ve used even the theory that there might be a non-peer group of my non-peers. On the other hand, I think for the bulk of the True SubGenii, it’s more like a good periodic PEP TALK, a bolstering of their hatred for the Conspiracy and their confidence in their own abnormality in general. Some have told me that the only thing that makes them capable of going in to work on Monday morning, is that they get to hear Hour of Slack on the radio on Sunday night. Perhaps they exaggerate.

Others, of course, say everything about the Church is burned out and washed up, but… FUCK ‘EM IF THEY CAN’T TAKE A JOKE. They’re just JEALOUS. I shall BRAG ON.

Of course, an IDEAL impact the Church might have would be if it were the ONE THING that, at some CRITICAL JUNCTURE of the person’s life, PREVENTED THE SUICIDE of someone who would then go on to create a cure for cancer, bring about world peace, or something like that. But I’m not holding my breath. […]

((There have been a few backfires, I’ll admit — loonies who thought they WERE “Bob” (aka, “werebobs”). There’s an idiot like that in Toronto, Bob Dean, who, thanks to a rich sugar-daddy, actually has a couple of damnable counterfeit Dobbs CDs out! BOYCOTT THESE!!!))

It’s had some beneficial impact on people’s love lives, sometimes by CAUSING DIVORCES. Say a couple aren’t really getting along… one becomes a SubGenius, and somehow that’s the LAST STRAW for the other, who leaves. The SubGenius then finds a new mate who is MUCH MORE FUN… they write in to thank Dobbs for wrecking their previous marriage. (Or relationship or whatever.) […]

All in all, from where I sit, the Church remains the same old blazing center of creativity it always was — a vortex that sucks in just as much in the way of amazing new concepts as ever. New, super-talented weirdos are cropping up all the time. The problem is, we only publish a new book, Stark Fist [newsletter], or video every year or so, so unless you get the weekly radio show you’d never know all this was going on. Plus, whereas I get to scan all the worst AND the best, many people’s only encounter with the Church is negative because they happened to have been exposed to it only through the medium of local, pathetic, slogan-spouting, fanboy-type Bobbie geeks. I wish there was an answer to the Bobbie problem… but hell, whose souls do [you] think we’ll be TRADING to the Xists? OURS??

What is your favorite food? Drink? Any recipes you’d like to share?

I like strange combinations of food, self-invented mixtures, usually combining various forms of junk food or canned food and intense spices, with lots of fresh, slightly cooked onions and garlic. It doesn’t so much matter to me what the food is, as how many kinds of hot sauces there are to go with it. Since we’re raising kids here, we have pretty healthy family meals, with lots of fresh vegetables and suchlike. Therefore, decadent junk food like Burger King and Jack-in-the-Box are kind of a treat for me. If only there were White Castle burger stands in Texas!! I go through a lot of frozen burritos for lunch and breakfast when I’m working at home.

I don’t drink alcohol, because I’m still hung over from the many years, many years ago, that I did drink. (Actually, I’ll premeditatedly climb carefully off the wagon every few months, like for a week or so, during vacations or suchlike, but nothing stronger than beer.) I drink a LOT of COFFEE, though. I was going through so much coffee, brewed so thick from fresh expresso [sic] beans, that I started getting chronic headaches, so I’ve had to cut back to more sane doses. At one point I was probably going through 20 cups a day of hard-core, fancy home-brewed high-caffeine MURK. What we call MANLY MURK.

Here’s a great recipe. You take an envelope of herb-flavored stuffing mix, put it in a big bowl and mix in whatever water, milk or eggs are required for the stuffing. Then dump in about a cup or two of of grated sharp cheddar cheese. A couple of chopped onions and garlic… mix in another couple of eggs… and then dump in a can of smoked SQUID, or OYSTERS (I prefer squid). Oh yes, and a small can of chopped green chilis. Mix that all up real good and sprinkle a shitload of Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs on top — stick it all in the oven in a casserole dish at, oh, about 350 for half an hour or so… check it now and then to make sure it’s cooked all the way through.

It is INTENSE!!

Here’s a VERY simple pizza, but oh-so-yummy. You get you a Boboli(TM) precooked pizza dough base… slap you a whole LOT of banana peppers (“pickled,” from a jar) all over it… cover that with mozzarella cheese. Stick it in the oven on 350 for 10 minutes or so… when it comes out, sprinkle Bac-Os(TM) on it. That’s it. You’ll be AMAZED how mouth-watering it is!I got this recipe from Princess Wei R, Doe, Queen of ALL the UFOs.

In my squandered youth, I had this kind of stomach-scouring mix I used to eat to “cure” a hangover. It was a can of mushroom soup, with a whole onion and a bunch of garlic and hot jalapenos chopped up into it, and microwaved to bubbling… throw some Louisiana Hot Sauce into that and mmm-MMM!

Sometimes I would mix this with canned chili… but that made it look exactly like puke.

Who are your cultural heroes?

The people who made the early Warner Brothers cartoons… the 3 Stooges… Ray Harryhausen… James Whale (director of Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, a few other early monster classics)… H.G. Wells. Those [are] from my youth. Of course, there are many more folks in any of these categories, these are just the ones I can think of offhand, right this minute. There may be a much more complete list of RECOMMENDED BULLDADA in our new book. The minute I send you this, I’ll probably be slapping my head, going, “JESUS!!! HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN (insert famous hotshot name here)??”) Federico Fellini. Salvador Dali. Frank Zappa. Jimi Hendrix. A lot of the underground cartoonists: Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Justin Green, Robert Williams… that could become a long list. The Firesign Theater… Lenny Bruce… Gabriel Garcia Marquez in one of my favorite writers. H.P. Lovecraft was a big influence, though not necessarily a HEALTHY one. I really admire what Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were trying to do. Robert Anton Wilson’s stories were certainly a big influence, and Colin Wilson’s nonfiction about weird religion and the paranormal. (I sure hope I’m as sharp and healthy when I’m in my 70s as he is!) “Red” from the Tube Bar, of course. I admire Windsor McKay a lot, and Georges Melies, as mega-innovators. My two favorite bands in the 80’s (besides the SubGenius ones) were DEVO and Oingo Boingo. To tell the truth, some of my heroes are people I know. I’m in awe of some of the SubGenius collaborators; Paul Mavrides, Hal Robins, Janor Hypercleats, Michael Peppe, Puzzling Evidence, Ken DeVries… I could go on. I don’t know how they do what they do. Some of my heroes aren’t famous, they’re just ultra studly cool dudes in my book… close pals of mine like Dr. Philo Drummond, Dr. G. Gordon Gordon, Brother Cleve Dunkan and Pope Sternodox. Lemme think about TV… REN & STIMPY under Kricfalusi justified the invention of TV… THE PRISONER, corny as it is now, was just TOO COOL back in its time… I thought TWIN PEAKS was a real breakthrough in its own way. And Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

I have a lot of female heroines too, but I don’t think any of them would want to see their names in print anywhere near mine.

What’s the most-often asked question you hear through your ministry (at cons or over the phone / mail? The stupidest? Most unique? Funniest?

Most often: “Hey, can you, like, front me a big box full of SubGenius books and tapes and T-shirts and stuff, and after I sell it, I can send you the money?”

Stupidest: “Hey, can you, like, front me a big box full of SubGenius books and tapes and T-shirts and stuff, and after I sell it, I can send you the money?”

Second stupidest: “Hey, did you know… now get this… that “Bob” spelled backwards is still “Bob”?”

Most unique: I can’t think of any particularly unique questions. We do get some unique misunderstandings of the Church as a whole. Every now and then a wizened, earnest little elderly couple will show up at some Devival, expecting to see a regular Christian preacher. We usually try to discourage them (if we catch ’em at the door) because we’d hate to cause them heart attacks.

Funniest: “Hey, can you, like, front me a big box full of SubGenius books and tapes and T-shirts and stuff, and after I sell it, I can send you the money?”

Any advice for the would-be weirdo/freethinker/realist?

It ain’t what you know, it’s who you know.

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