Andy the Doorbum
June 27, 2014
"Please turn off your phones. I don't mean put them on vibrate, I mean turn them off." As an overly paranoid mother, this is not a request I ever comply with. Not when it comes from a flight attendant, my boss at work or even a judge. But when Jonathan Hughes, owner of the Milestone, spoke these words on Friday night I listened.
Hughes was hosting Andy the Doorbum's sold out event "A Ceremonial Procession of the Fool," which 100 of us were packed into a Southend warehouse to witness. The air in there was serious and anticipation buzzed throughout because no one was sure exactly what to expect, but we were all confident it was going to be something special.
I decided turning my phone off was warranted to give this production the respect it seem to be demanding with its limited tickets, official programs, elaborate staging and host dressed in formal attire. Plus, it would help me resist the temptation to secretly snap photos, which we'd been asked not to do.
Andy the Doorbum is a poet, visual artist and musician whose new record is called The Fool and what unfolded in the warehouse was something of a dramatic interpretation of the album, as Andy sang it live, with no instruments visible. The Fool is the person who continues to fall in love despite the pain it causes when it falls apart, and Andy's performance as the Fool was nothing short of incredible.
As the show began, he stood perched high on a platform, surrounded by columns made of ceramic heads stacked on top of each other, and hand-painted signage bearing his Alien Native Movement logo. Dressed in full white body paint, with a white wig and black mask, he powerfully growled out each song in his distinctive voice, which sometimes trembled with emotion. Sometimes it was his body that trembled and there were instances in which tears were visible on his face.
If this was all an act, for the love of God, give him an Oscar. More than a performance, this was a man bearing his soul in bright spotlights for 100 of his friends and fans to witness, many of whom I observed shedding tears as well.
His small cast of supporting characters didn't fall short of the high bar Andy was setting either, particularly Jon Prichard who jerked and lurched around the stage so creepily on "A Prayer to Ghosts" I struggled to keep my fight or flight response in check when he inched toward my front row seat and I silently begged him not to make eye contact with me. It was uncomfortable, but that was exactly the point.
After singing each profound, brilliantly-written song, Andy removed an element of his costume until in the end, there was nothing left but the man himself, covered in blood he'd poured over his body, crawling through a tunnel of light.
Author Rainbow Rowell once said "art isn't supposed to looks nice, it's supposed to make you feel something." I was grateful I had turned off my phone, and thus, my connection to the outside world during this performance. I was fully present, feeling with Andy and the rest of the audience the full range of agony, self-doubt, loneliness and insanity exuding from the stage.
This was art at its most intense. In other major cities, it might win some sort of award. In Charlotte, it won the respect and bewilderment of 100 people, who clutched their vinyl copy of "The Fool" that came free with admission as if it were a newborn child as they exited the building.