Hail The White Rhinoceros Part One (of Three): Shaun Partridge

Posted by on February 21st, 2011 at 12:01 AM


BURNS: When did you move to Portland, exactly?

PARTRIDGE: I moved to Portland in ’95. I always knew I was going to move here since I was 17. A friend from Portland one day told me about it, and I just had this weird feeling I had to move here.

BURNS: What’s the appeal there?

PARTRIDGE: Well, actually, I’ve never lived in a city that I love so much and hate so much. Me and Kaleidoscope want to move away from here, but it’s just the perfect city. It’s inexpensive, it’s beautiful, it’s just absolutely gorgeous here. It’s easy to get around. It’s like a small European city. You just walk everywhere. There’s incredibly great food, really inexpensive. There’s food carts now everywhere. It’s just kind of this magical little dream world. Unfortunately there’s this sort of Berkeley kind of vibe. You know, People’s Park. It’s strange, but it’s the way the world is. What are you going to do? We also love Seattle, we were going to move to Seattle too, but it’s too expensive. People from Seattle move into Portland.

BURNS: So in ’99, this would have been four-odd years after you moved there, you decided to run for mayor of Portland. Some of your platform included employing the city’s homeless at McDonald’s, playing easy-listening music throughout the downtown area [laughs], hiring only Irish cops and destroying buildings built after 1973. Talk about what actually made you decide to start this process.

PARTRIDGE: Well, a few years before I realized I was the mayor. I had this really amazing mayor outfit. I used to wear a T-shirt wrapped around my head and this top hat. I had this really old black, long frock coat I’d wear — maybe not a frock coat. Looked like something from the turn of the last century. And I just started saying I was the mayor, it was this kind of character trip I would do. I would wander around, and I was the mayor of Portland. I would get into character. I had a friend who would actually act like my bodyguard, and we’d go around, all over the place, and people didn’t know what to do. ’Cause I’d be really sincere, y’know [adopts warm camp voice], “I’m the mayor!” [Burns laughs.] And my friend who would work with me, he was really great. He’d be, “Ok Mr. Mayor, Ok. Can I get his coffee?” And he gets my coffee for me. People didn’t know what — they’d just stare at us. And he’d say things like, “You know, that’s the mayor?”

And they’d be like, “Uh-huh.”

And he goes, “He invented mustard in 1919.”

And I’d yell, “I invented mustard! That’s right!”

We’d go out and do these things, I wish I’d videotaped them, because they were really funny. I would talk to everyone. I would never break character. And that’s kind of how it started. Then a few years later the campaign started up and someone was like, “You should run for mayor.” And I go, “You know what, that’s true. I am the mayor. I should actually do that.” I got a bunch of votes actually.

BURNS: Yeah, I read 800.

PARTRIDGE: And I did an actual speech. I met at a church with the actual mayor and these other candidates. And it was amazing. When I started talking everyone just got quite and kind of turned away. They didn’t want to listed to anything I was saying. And I was just kind of explaining how life was magic and I was talking about the Gnostic god Abraxas, and all this stuff and The Partridge Family, and it was great. It was pretty funny.

BURNS: Do you consider that run more of a performance than an actual campaign?

PARTRIDGE: Well I think it’s entertaining, but I really still think I am the mayor. I think I should’ve, at the time, I wish I’d taken it further. But I didn’t have much time to do it.

(From left to right: The Mayor of Living Island, The Mayor of Albuquerque, K is for Kaleidoscope. Photo taken by The Second Coming of Keith Partridge.)

BURNS: So explain more about the platform that you ran. Do you still believe in those things? Not necessarily believe those things, but you would push them forward?

PARTRIDGE: Oh I still think we should have Irish cops, yeah. I think that we should tear down architecture … I might say the late ’70s now. And I still think it would be good to have speakers all over the city playing really peaceful music to calm people down.

BURNS: I understand the easy-listening music, but what about the Irish cops, and the destroying buildings: how do you see that helping people?

PARTRIDGE: It would help me. [Laughter.] Again, I think Walt Disney is who you should seek to be like, and I think everyone wants to create their own magic kingdom. So that would be my magic kingdom, you know Irish cops and beautiful buildings. When I was a kid, the first thing that made me realize something was shifting, and I was a little kid so I was confused by it, was cars. Cars were getting uglier in the late ’70s. And I was confused because I would look at those cars and a ’50s or ’60s car would drive by, and I was like, “Why would we change?” Why. I didn’t understand why. And then of course Saturday morning cartoons started shifting. Every year we’d get this TV Fall lineup, and cartoons were getting more and more dreary and boring, and I was just, “What happened to this magical world that used to exist?” And it was like the world became browner and more dreary, and just a drag session. I was just talking to my friend Boyd actually, and we were saying how you watch Mad Men, you watch the Kurt Russell movie, The Computer Wore Sneakers. I go, “The world was just such a magical place before. The only good thing about the future really is high-speed dial-up so you can get YouTube and watch all these old things!”

And he goes, “Yeah, what do we do? The future is watching things from the past.”

BURNS: A big loop.

PARTRIDGE: Yeah. Obviously there’s still groovy things going on, it’s just … I like the idea that everything looked great, you know the ’60s and ’20s, there’s nothing bad, you know? Everything was just kind of magical, there was all this great detail to things, and of course, you know the ’60s and early ’70s were just so pop-oriented. Everything was bright colors, unbelievable. I mean, gosh just amazing.

BURNS: In some of your other performances that you’ve done in public, they have a pretty riotous reputation. Can you explain why that is and maybe give some examples of performances that may have gotten out of hand?

PARTRIDGE: Well, I was doing these things that were just made out of fun. The whole trip was, before I got back into art, because I was really into art my whole life, I developed this absolute hatred of art. And I decided that you should just live in the now and have fun, and so I started doing these weird performances. I had these friends, this punk band that was really apolitical and loved to upset people. They’d have me do weird performances with them, and it was just fun. They were entertaining. What interests me was how people would be pissed off by some of the stuff I did, but they still liked the things that I was also influenced by. Like a huge influence were The Stooges. Here’s a band, they wear Nazi uniforms, they come on stage, piss people off, create all this chaos. Everyone loved The Stooges. But then I would do things that in my mind were similar, and it was, “Aw that’s fucked up! That’s just uncool!”

And I found no difference, you know? So that trip was weird. And then also when I and my sister moved to Portland, we got a bad reputation because Portland is, you know, this hipster scene, and it even was when I moved here. And I’d never lived in a city where people would sneer at you constantly and insult you [Burns laughs]. And so, me and my sister, we’re not like that. We’re like … if you’re glaring at someone we’d go, “Whad you fuckin’ say? Let’s go outside right now. I’mna fuckin’ smash your head open.”

Of course we weren’t going to do it, but it was just sort of like, “Why are you … ?” You know what I mean? Because I was shocked: I’d be walkin’ down the street having a good day and these people would be like, “Hehehehee!”

People would snicker and point at you. I was like, “What the heck?”

BURNS: You’re not wearing a wool cap in the summertime, what is wrong with you?

PARTRIDGE: We would be obnoxious, we’d go out and have fun, just yell and have fun. I think that people, when you look at things, you really can’t blame people. You have people who worship The Partridge Family, who are dressed psychedelic and they’re yelling obnoxious stuff and slogans, just not caring about anything but having fun, and people just flip out. If it was like punk rockers or skinheads or bikers it would make more sense, but if you have people dressed psychedelic who worship television, then it makes good copy, so I really can’t blame people for not understanding it or that whole session.


(Take Bus Line Number 11 by The Partridge in the Pear Tree.)

BURNS: Describe what Un-Pop is and how that began.

PARTRIDGE: I was interested in this ugly stuff. Because the whole thing with my trip is, when I was a kid I would look at all this nice stuff, and then I’d go well what is all this ugly dark stuff? And then after being a Christian, I finally kind of felt like, “OK. I have to explore this. There’s this other half to the world, and it’s always there. It’s created, it’s supposed to be. I have to turn on to this.”

Around the time … I wasn’t into art anymore. I hated art. And I started becoming interested in race. I had this vision. The whole racial thing started when I was 20. I was in front of a coffee house, and I was just drinking coffee in Boulder, Colorado, and I was kind of wondering, “Why is the world this way? Why is there all this violence and war? Why is there racism?” And also I had this weird vision. It was almost like this gigantic Petri dish or something. I saw these gigantic amoeba globs, and they were different colors. And they were just smashing into each other and warring with each other. And the bigger ones would eat the smaller ones. Certain ones got bigger and certain ones got smaller. I came out of the vision and I go, “That’s life”: this simple state of conflict and war. Of course, when you come down to this world, it becomes really subtle and more focused with personal people and lives and people getting caught up in the struggle, but from a bird’s eye view it’s just kind of this disgusting weird battle: this war of insect organisms, or something like that. So I became interested in that, and so I started collecting racial literature, ’cause also I was listening to rap music a lot.

You start listening to rap music, like Public Enemy, all this racial stuff started happening. This was when Public Enemy, remember when Professor Griff was saying that the Jews, and Jewry, and all this controversy. I was at a party listening to Public Enemy and these guys threw me up against the wall and said that Public Enemy were racist and hated whitey and how could I listen to music like this. They were going to beat me up for listening to Public Enemy. So I just became interested in racism. I started reading stuff and listening to people. I was looking at the racial literature; I started to notice people would draw stuff. One day I looked and I go, “Whoa. That person is a good artist.” They drew this horrible thing of like lynching some black cat, but he’s a good artist. And I start thinking that’s weird, because people wouldn’t think of that as art. You look at the stuff: you dismiss it, “Oh that’s just racial asshole-ism.” But I go, “This person’s a good artist, and he chose to draw horrible pictures.” You know what I mean? And I go, “That’s the next step for art,” I remember thinking, “There should be galleries with these things, these weird little black-and-white drawings silk-screened really big and hung in galleries. That’s the next step. The art world is so boring nowadays, this would be really interesting.”

And that was like seven years before I got back into art. So when I started getting back into art that was kind of the idea. I would take all of these unpleasant things and paint them. So Un-Pop started. It was a romantic idea: a new and improved art movement. But at the same time I was going through this period where I was getting more and more into Mr. and Mrs. God and Plisskin Power and meditation and alchemy. My paintings were sort of symbolic and an advertisement for the God trip. And I just kind of felt like … I didn’t like being involved anymore. It wasn’t my trip anymore. So Un-Pop now isn’t an art movement. It’s like an archive. What we realized, the best stuff on Un-Pop was not so much the art works we did, but the stuff you find in the real world. The ready-mades. Those are the best things. The weird things that happened in Korea, weird dolls they made. Another example is the toys of the twin towers. Like, “Huh?!?” And that stuff became better. So we’re re-launching it now, but it’s not technically an art movement anymore. It’s like an archive that will always be updated. I’ve taken my paintings off it because I don’t think they’re Un-Pop at all. I think there just totally turned on, psychedelic advertisements for, like I said, the God scene.

(They Call Her Pine Cone (Fisher-Price 1970) by The Partridge in the Pear Tree.)

BURNS: What were some of those pieces that you’ve removed now?

PARTRIDGE: I’ve taken my Anne Franks off, my JonBenet Ramseys, the “N” head, which I’ve been into for years. When I first became interested in racial things I found that image, and I liked it because it’s such a disturbingly crude image of a black person. It’s not like the others which are more stylistically turned on. This thing’s crude. I remember when I first saw it I thought, “I can’t imagine living back in those days being a black person, going into a store and seeing this crude image of you on oven cleaner.” What a weird feeling that would be, like to be a black kid and walk in and go, “What a weird world I live in.”

(Smile, You’re On God TV by The Partridge in the Pear Tree)

I think if there’s one word that would sum up and describe racism, it’s “claustrophobic.” I think that’s the way I look at it. Every book, by different authors about their life experiences, it’s claustrophobic: this kind of tension constantly. So I loved that face. And I still love that face. Other people, like Gidget Gein were doing this “Blackie” artwork. The “N” head to me is like a magical head. He’s smiling, he’s the beginning. He’s like the beginning of the great work in alchemy. He represents the Nigredo, the black stage. And they say the beginning is the end, and I think that’s why he’s smiling. That face was like a self-portrait I loved that face so much. So I didn’t want that on there anymore, because I think people that look at Un-Pop think, “Oh it’s just some shock trip,” you know what I mean?

And it really isn’t meant to be that way. People have this idea that, “Oh, they’re just trying to be shocking.”

And a lot of the people that say this are huge fans of John Waters, which at one point, his scene was referred to as the Hate Generation. And a lot of the stuff that I do, I don’t think it’s shocking at all. I think it’s perfectly just groovy and magical. Because there is stuff before when I was younger that was meant to get a response that I would consider more shocking, but people have this idea … We listened to a podcast, and they were critiquing The White Rhino and they were like, “This is just for shock value,” and me and Josh just laughed because this comic really isn’t about that at all.

BURNS: That’s interesting. I tried to find something negative, like a negative review just to get a balance, but I could not find a fuckin’ thing.

PARTRIDGE: Maybe as the comic comes out more people will be turned off by it. One thing me and Josh discussed was, “Oh, maybe people will think maybe I’m an asshole.” because I’ve written a lot of obnoxious things. To me it’s just comedy. I’ve always been confused, because everything I’ve done is about comedy, and I don’t think people understand this and a person like Goad is a comedian, Boyd Rice is a comedian. They just think they’re assholes. But it’s always been about comedy. For me it’s completely about tapping into Comic Consciousness. I think that people just don’t get that. So I get confused because then I turn on Dave Chappelle or Little Britain, you know, The IT Crowd, South Park, all these things are dealing with the same stuff I love. Or Phil Hendrie. Do you know who Phil Hendrie is?

BURNS: I don’t.

PARTRIDGE: You gotta find his podcasts. I just listened to him last night. He’s this guy in California. He’s a comic genius. He does a radio show where he interviews people, but the people he interviews are himself. He’s a man of many voices. And he is so good. Sometimes he’ll be interviewing two people that are him, and he has reoccurring characters. He takes calls from real people, and people believe that these people are on there. And it is so insane. He’s one of the funniest guys on the planet. He plays the computer in Team America. I listened to one last night. It was great. It was a black guy saying that the NBA and NBC were racist. Basically the entire time he was like, “You’re a racist! You’re a racist! That’s racist!” [Laughter.] It didn’t make any sense. A black lady called in going, “What are you talking about?” “You’re a racist!”

“How am I a racist, I’m black?”

“Because you’re siding with the White Man!”

It went on and on and on, he was just great. He had a great one where he plays this one guy where you have to go to Disneyland and light incense at the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse because we owe Walt Disney. He invented soft shoes to walk with, he invented color film because there was no color film and how could you take pictures of Disneyland? Just all these weird things. And people got really angry, they’d call in going, “I don’t owe Disney anything! What I owe to Disney I pay my $70 to get in there! How dare you say that I owe him more money!”

BURNS: Jesus.

PARTRIDGE: If you listen to this guy you will laugh FOREVER.

BURNS: But some people can accept some things and not others.

PARTRIDGE: Yeah it’s funny. I bring up certain things around people I talk to and they would freak out, but if you bring up those things and you’re like, “But it’s from South Park.” Then it’s like, “Oh that’s cool,” ’cause that’s an established comedy trip. So that’s strange. Josh had some weird session where some guy got angry at him in L.A.

BURNS: Yeah we talked about that a little bit. Is Boyd still a part of the Un-Pop movement, the re-launch?

PARTRIDGE: No, he says, “This doesn’t define me.” I think we all kind of realized … He does these abstract paintings. He gave me one, it’s really cool. It’s a bunch of people that are like in their own trip, all these weird individualistic, in a way, people. There’s people who were really into it, and there’s people who just didn’t really care and just put their stuff up there. I think it’s a better archive now. And also because, to me, Un-Pop is a specific word I came up with, and now I don’t use that word because if you have other people involved, you can’t speak for everyone and say that Un-Pop is alchemical, mystical, you know? For me it is. Boyd’s into the same stuff. He’s really into alchemy and mysticism and the occult. But other artists were not, or atheists. So you can’t really speak for them. It became this kind of weird trip where I felt like my hands were tied.

BURNS: One specific piece I wanted to talk about from the old Un-Pop was As In the Attic, So In the Bunker. I don’t know if you actually used that title, but those were the Anne Frank pictures?

PARTRIDGE: Yeah, because of the alchemical saying, “As Above, So Below.”

BURNS: Yeah.

PARTRIDGE: We used to have this band, it used to be called The Un-Pop Sound, but we changed the name to The All-Is-Flowing Band. And our Brother in Shirley who lives in San Francisco, he does the music. We record here in Portland with our friend, Mr. Jones. The first record’s about to come out, and it’s about Ian Brady. And Ian Brady actually has given us our blessings. But it’s totally psychedelic, and we told Ian Brady, I don’t know if you know of Ian Brady, he was a mod existentialist?

BURNS: Yeah, yeah.

PARTRIDGE: My girlfriend became pen pals with him and it was kind of strange, she’s not really into that stuff.   She became pen pals and we decided, “Hey, for the first record let it be lead, the dark Saturn.” So we said, “We’d like to do a psychedelic record about you, but we want to merge you with C.S. Lewis and Narnia and mysticism, is that cool?” Because he’s like an atheist.

And he said, “That’s wonderful.” [Laughter.] So the last thing I thought I would ever work on was a psychedelic, spiritual record about Ian Brady. So it’s really weird. But the first stuff we did, we were working on the Anne Frank record before this, and it was called As In the Attic, So In the Bunker, and we’re still going to do the Anne Frank record but the name is going to be changed.

BURNS: So that was a record, not your portraits.

PARTRIDGE: No, no, no. That was like Anne Frankincense and Anne Frankenstein and “Can I be Anne Frank with you?” and stuff like that [Burns laughs]. Anne Frank is a major part of my life.

BURNS: Yeah. Talk about the dream you had with Anne Frank.

PARTRIDGE: Yeah, there was this one where I was in this bedroom, and I got up and went to the sink. It wasn’t me, but you know you’re inside the body when you’re watching. It was Anne Frank, and she put water on and looked at herself, and she had Hitler’s mustache. And she was really freaked out. And then she shaved it off with one of those old-time razors, and then the mustache came back again. Then I woke up. It was almost like a nightmare.

I thought, “What a perfect example.” There’s this dark side, this side of us you have to deal with that you can’t just sweep away or cut off. And she’s so sacred, Anne Frank. It’s like people don’t want to think about that. And I think that, again, everything ugly has a silver lining, I believe. So you can look at Anne Frank, I mean to me Anne Frank is so symbolic. I mean, to me Anne Frank is almost my main religion nowadays. She is the third eye. She’s in the attic. She is everywhere. She is total Awareness. She dwells in God behind the bookcase, behind knowledge. She is the hidden spirit. She’s just a beautiful turned-on chick. I absolutely love Anne Frank. And she’s honesty. That’s the “Can I be Anne Frank with you?” I believe she is at war with the Brown Goblins. And Brown Goblins represent the heavy matter scene of this world. The ugly slowness.

BURNS: And she’s forever tied to the ugliness. I mean what person in this world can think about Anne Frank and not think about the Holocaust? Y’know? She’s forever tied to that, and in a way they’re the same thing.

PARTRIDGE: Yeah, how weird is that? The two most famous people from the Third Reich trip are Hitler and Anne Frank, and they both wrote a book. So it’s really weird. Again, God is the author of all things. It’s all planned out perfectly. It’s really strange. And that’s the other thing too. I did one Hitler painting when Un-Pop started. People were like, “Oh! Hitler! It’s Hitler! It’s Hitler!”

And so then people just started putting famous people’s heads on a Nazi uniform and called it Unpop. And I was like, “Ah here we go. It’s already redundant and dead.” And I don’t mean The Grateful Dead, because that would be a good thing. For me, Anne Frank is one of my best friends. I think she’s just a positive symbol. Some people think it’s a Jewish thing. It’s not Jewish. I identified with Anne Frank when I was a kid. I think all kids do. Who wouldn’t understand what a drag it is to be stuck up in an attic with these assholes trying to kill you? Anyone can relate to that.

I always associated The Diary of Anne Frank with the Judy Blume books. They kind of merged together. Because I’d read Judy Blume books when I was a kid to find out about girls: bcause every book, except for one, was about girls. That was my way, in elementary school, of reading about girls. Like, “Oooo they’re having they’re period!” [Burns laughs.] The Diary of Anne Frank was the same thing, like, “I’m hanging out with Anne Frank in the attic, how close can you get?” So it was a very personal thing. So I loved Judy Blume. She had a huge influence on me when I was a kid. I’m writing a book right now, it’s called The Electric Diary, and it’s the chapters that were lost in The Diary of Anne Frank. And I did an Un-Pop newsletter that had one of the chapters from there, but basically it’s all the lost chapters. And in it, Anne Frank keeps having out-of-attic experiences. Instead of Nazis they’re brown goblins, and they just kind of surround her house and they’re everywhere and her family’s hiding and so she has these really far-out experiences when she pops out of the attic. It’s based on out-of-body experiences.

(The Anne Frank Diaries (Fridays at 8 p.m. on CBS) by The Partridge in the Pear Tree)

Serial Killers Redux

BURNS: So your girlfriend was a pen pal with Ian Brady. What was the fascination with him on your end and your band’s end to make an album around him?

PARTRIDGE: Well that’s the thing. I think serial killers are basically like a class that everyone has to take. My first early memory of serial killers was Ted Bundy having just escaped from the jail in Aspen, Colorado and apparently he came through Golden, Colorado. I remember I was downstairs in the basement in Golden, Colorado and my mom started screaming, “Bundy’s on the loose! Bundy’s on the loose!” And as a little kid I came upstairs.

At the foot of the stairs, my mom was yelling, I go “Who’s Bundy?” She goes “Bundy, Ted Bundy’s on the loose, he’s coming, he’s coming!”

And she was spinning around. And I was terrified. I didn’t know how a human being could be that powerful. The only thing I could associate it with was Godzilla was coming, like a monster was coming. And I was terrified. So that was my early trip.

But later when I got into serial killer stuff … again, it’s like a class that we have to take. Ian Brady, of course, the cream rises to the top. There are certain ones that are just interesting that just stay a part of your life. Charles Manson obviously is very interesting, very ’60s and freaky and fun, and then Carl Panzram is really interesting. He’s like a modern-day Frankenstein.

And then there’s Ian Brady. My girlfriend was saying, there’s people who’ve done worse things in England, but Ian Brady is the most hated, and it’s because he did it right. There’s people who have killed more people and are more sadistic than Ian Brady, but his story is so good. I mean, here’s someone who’s into the Marquis de Sade and Ray Coniff. They would bury the kids and have sex on their graves and drink wine and stuff like that. I mean, who can make this stuff up? Without this stuff there wouldn’t be books to read or movies to watch. The whole story is very cinematic. But the weird thing is, God allowed this to happen. That’s what blows my mind. They hate him so much in England.

For me, at that time I thought he was very interesting. I was going through a period where I was really anti-human or whatever, so he just kind of made sense to me. But then I just got out of him and wasn’t really interested in that scene anymore. And then, out of the blue, my girlfriend became interested in the whole Brady Trip. And I think that everyone has that light and dark side. My girlfriend is one of the sweetest people on the planet, but she became interested in his story and started writing to him. And what she does, she just writes normal letters to him. And I think he really likes that. I think deep down he has … whose that guy Yogananda, that famous guru guy?

BURNS: Oh, [Paramahansa] Yogananda?

PARTRIDGE: Yeah. He said everyone has gold in them. If the gold’s been dropped in mud, just remember that if you wash the mud away there’s gold. I think that’s true with people. So I think someone like Ian Brady who did these horrible things … we don’t know his soul. His soul could be gold, y’know? Something could be very good in there. They just talk about really friendly things. She turned him onto Mad Men, which was great.

He was like, “I saw a few episodes and didn’t care much for it.”

She said, “No you HAVE to continue watching it. It’s great. Just give it another chance.”

He replied back and said, “I now see what you mean.”

So it’s just weird to have this correspondence about Mad Men. He enjoys Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras and Little Britain. He’s really into film noir movies. They exchange film noir movies. So it’s just interesting to see the human side of someone. Because I think some people that are evil and violent there’s no redeeming value sometimes. There just kind of brutish. And yet, [Ian Brady’s] an intelligent fellow and he did his thing. I think he regrets doing his thing. He’s just stuck in prison. But it’s folklore.

Tomorrow: Shaun Partridge on the origins of The White Rhinoceros.

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One Response to “Hail The White Rhinoceros Part One (of Three): Shaun Partridge”

  1. vollsticks says:

    “Ian Brady the mod existentialist”. Oh you crazy American, you!