By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
JoJo Lash sits in the front seat of his girlfriend's car in a parking lot in downtown Minneapolis. His girlfriend's Christian name is Aimee but her religion is now Wookie and so she goes by—what else?—Butterfly Bliss. When she saunters up to the car and pops the back hatch to get a cold Lake Superior ale out of a plastic bag, the muggy summer air coagulates with the car's smell of patchouli and days-old laundry. It's near midnight, and the city is tripping to its usual beat of desire, competition, danger.
Lash cuts a striking figure—a man of inner and outer peace in a time of war—even while sitting dormant in the passenger seat. His eyes are wild, though not with the kind of dislocation common to the homeless and other margin-dwellers. This is a man who knows where he is, and where he's going. By the same token, he doesn't give off the air of a cult leader, even though he possesses the sort of persona around which such things ferment.
Indeed, instead of talking about himself, Lash invites his visitor to sit in the driver's seat and talk about so-called "butterfly philosopher" Chuang Tzu, writer/psychologist/philosopher Joseph Campbell, and the 13th-century Islamic poet and mystic Rumi, who once said, "Out beyond all ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field. I'll meet you there."
Lash, an Army brat, and his friend Mark Murphy, whose family traveled throughout South America with Catholic Charities, have been meeting in that proverbial field since they hooked up 20 years ago in Oregon. There, they bought a sailboat together and launched a digital recording studio. They call their band/movement WookieFoot, and in the great American tradition of jam bands, its fans consider it something like a way of life.
"We're almost like psychedelic Taoists," says Nash. "We fell in love early in life with Chuang Tzu, who became dubbed as an early Taoist teacher. But for the most part he was a hermit, and he made observations about daily life. He had a really good sense of the follies and footfalls of man. We try to stay away from concepts of good and bad; we really tread the middle, because we know we're living in a dualistic society. The folly of the human animal has to be comedy for us."
As such, WookieFoot has taken part in a 3,000-person om chant, and has been responsible for such pointed play-dates as invading the state Capitol during the Ku Klux Klan rally a few years ago. Thirty or so Wookies brandished signs ("I Need to Poop"), danced, sang, chanted, and burned money in the streets. To what end?
"Never underestimate," notes Lash, "how dispelling it is to chant `we love you' to a group whose only intention is to piss everyone off and feed off the hate."
For years, WookieFoot set up shop in the Playhouse, the semi-legendary underground collective on W 32nd Street in Minneapolis's Uptown. In the '60s, it was a speakeasy and artistic commune, and WookieFoot and others (including American Head Charge and Omaur Bliss) carried the tradition into the '90s and '00s. Fourteen roommates had been sharing the space when it burned down on May 28.
"It's really become what we call `Make Belief,' which is all of us, pretty ordinary people, just supporting us in our play to become something extraordinary," says Lash. "It's not a new philosophy. It's been done a lot in the '60s with [Ken] Kesey and the [Merry] Prankster movement. If you were to compare our movement to anything, it would be to the Kool-Aid Acid Test"—the '60s community built on euphoria and free love—"only theirs was motivated by drugs, and ours has been motivated primarily by play."
Play. It's a word forgotten even by musicians who presumably play—not just make, or make work out of—music. And at the moment, it's been left to left-of-everything cultural tricksters such as WookieFoot to point out the need for it. To be sure, many philosophers over the centuries have extolled the virtues of play, including marathoner George Sheehan, who, in his landmark book Running and Being wrote:
Play is our first act. If we are lucky, it will be our last. "The child's toys and the old man's reasons," wrote Blake, "are the products of the two seasons." We begin in play, and in our wisdom return to it. Play is the taste of paradise from which we came; a foretaste of the paradise we will enter... Play is a peak experience, the feeling of 'that which was, is, and ever shall be.'"
The Playhouse was at the heart of the WookieFoot collective, or, as Lash calls its 300-plus festival performers—including fire-spinners, belly-dancers, chi-swayers, drummers, and stilt-walkers—"a ghetto Cirque de Soleil." It is at the core of a movement that now raises money for environmental, spiritual, and political charities. JoJo and Mark spent the better part of the winter traveling in Central America and southeast Asia, identifying smaller projects and causes that could thrive with new support.