Too bad there are no fireflies in Elliot Park, I think as I look up at the night sky. Nothing short of a spontaneous Kundalini awakening caps off a memorable night like those little fools and their tactful luminescence. If only I could find a way to get mosquitoes to carry little flashlights. It's just like I was saying an hour ago...
Wait. It can't possibly be an hour later already. I'm standing alone in the parking lot outside Outsiders and Others gallery, where local musicians have gathered to display their paintings, sculptures, and fashions for an exhibit called "The Art of Rock." Just a few minutes ago, Grant Hart finished his most flawless impromptu rendition of Al Jolson's 1935 hit "Latin from Manhattan" with only my frenzied wet-fish hand drumming as accompaniment. I was trying to figure out what was missing from Hart's performance when I suddenly lost track of time.
Time and space seem preternaturally elastic when you're hanging out with Hart. The former Hüsker Dü drummer turned singer-songwriter, poet, and visual artist's lyrics sometimes lead him all the way back to the last days of Pompeii with Wernher von Braun in tow. Offstage, it's even harder to follow him around: The man can make a phone booth seem like the labyrinth of Minos and yesterday seem like the year 1066. That sense of disorientation tends to rub off on me, too, which is why this story starts at the end of the night. Still, the laws of linearity can only be trampled so much. Let us press "restart" and slide back into the beginning while we still can.
The sun is just beginning to set as Grant Hart paces around the secluded side of Outsiders and Others' wraparound terrace. Wearing a red and black Chinese silk shirt and a black suede overblouse, his shoulder-length hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, he's the perfect picture of bohemian opulence this evening. "I can't remember a time when I haven't been both a musician and a visual artist," he says.
He's not alone. Inside, the gallery holds a variety of locally based, musician-generated art, much of which we haven't seen yet because Hart has been busy playing the raconteur. As we venture indoors, he's already covered the Catholic Church's ambivalence toward homosexuality, the differences between Beat, punk, and hippie interviewing styles, various secrets of the Knights Templar, and the story of how Eddie Rickenbacker came to be a flying ace.
Hart claims that he's a spiritual descendant of Groucho Marx, but I think he may be closer kin to Superman's transdimensional nemesis Mr. Mxyzptlk, who always vanishes and reappears at will. "I'll be right back," he says as I approach a pen-and-ink diptych by All the Pretty Horses frontperson Venus. The transgendered singer is best known for playing the glam/Goth god(dess) to the spread-eagled hilt, mixing femme swish and stripper swagger with a decidedly butch vocal style that recalls Jim Morrison and Ian Astbury. To paraphrase Prince, s(he) is neither woman nor man, but a self-created entity that transcends understanding--at least for the middle-aged fellow in a blue button-down who ambles up alongside me while I study Venus's Two Figures with Octopus. In the two underwater scenes, near-identical androgynes appear with octopi on their heads.
"Do you have any idea of what this means?" my business-casual compatriot asks. "I'm afraid it leaves me completely bewildered."
Slapping on my best makeshift mortarboard, I explain that, like the rest of Venus's output, the drawing is best experienced first and understood later. "It's definitely autobiographical," I add. "Notice that both figures have boobs and weenies?"
Unfortunately, my interrogator wanders off just as Hart pops back in from the universe next door. "I see a heavy death and rebirth thing," he notes of Two Figures, which, like the rest of Venus's drawings, seems to partake of influences ranging from the late 19th-century Symbolist movement to contemporary Marvel comics. "The drawings themselves are cut into coffin shapes, but arranged like butterfly wings." Hart turns to exhibition curator Yuri Arajs, who is passing by in the midst of the evening's hustle. "Wouldn't you say these drawings are just one manifestation of Venus, Inc.?" Hart asks the goateed gallery owner.
"Absolutely!" Arajs replies, raising an eyebrow.
"I'll be right back," Grant says again. As he disappears, you can almost see a puff of lavender smoke billowing around him.
When I find him again, he's by the building's front entrance, serenading the just-arrived subject of our conversation with a perfect rendition of Frankie Avalon's "Venus." It's not easy to make a busty androgyne in a black corset and garters blush, but by the time Hart croons the final "Oh Veeee-nus, make my dreams come true," (s)he is doing just that. The rosy color coordinates perfectly with her mauve-makeup raccoon mask.
When Hart is finished singing, I'm the one who disappears. Venturing back inside, I search for Eric Lunde's work. An old-school noise baron with a neo-Dada streak as wide as I-94, he's far more likely to make rock music with actual rocks than with guitars. Lunde's visual art portrays a single object simply, almost childishly, rendered in house paint on paper with a brief caption that adds both tension and mystery. "Go ahead and make up a reason," says the text on Chapter 3: Gun. While the titles of his paintings, all of which begin with "Chapter," imply a broader (and unmanifest) narrative, each is a story in itself. "I could spend a lot of time with this work," comments Hart, who has suddenly reappeared next to me. I think about buying one of Lunde's paintings to use as a Hart magnet.