Jesus Christ! Superstar!
Har Mar superstar emerged from the exclusive bathroom in the deeply underground New York nightclub covered in what was most likely the love juice of several of Manhattan's most important media celebrities, lotion purloined from the sweet pink bedroom of brassy young starlet Kelly Osbourne, or nothing at all. A good look for someone who might well be spending Christmas in an Oklahoma jail.
It was at the invite-only Jane magazine party that Sean Tillmann was sporting such a look on another late night at a jam-packed CMJ music festival weekend. And jail time is apparently the price Tillmann, the Minneapolis-based artist who created and sometimes lives as Har Mar, is going to have to pay for a list of crimes so flagrant that they can barely be listed. Like being a white guy singing R&B. Like opening arena-sized shows for glamorous arena-rockers Incubus without the safety and cover of a backing rock band. Like ending every show in the not-so-tidy tighty-whities that American men are taught to hide under the cover of darkness, or at least matrimony. But having sex, or referencing sex, when you don't look like a silicone-and-collagen mutant is apparently lewd conduct in America today.
So is grabbing your crotch and inviting the crowd to eat your pussy.
That's what landed Tillmann in the holding cell in Oklahoma City's Ford Center.
"It was the same show we always do," Tillmann told me in an exclusive interview that was interrupted every eight seconds by a girl looking to paw the diminutive martyr. "With Incubus it's been a serious arena-rock tour, 6,000 to 16,000 people every night. Sometimes people are into it; sometimes they go insane and want to destroy you. In Jackson, Mississippi, I got hit with a lot of shit. Lighters. Shoes. Bottles. I had bruises all over. Somebody threw an umbrella, and I used that to shield myself from all the flying crap. At the end of the show there was $40 in change up there. When that happens, I keep adding songs to the set.
"They yell 'faggot' a lot. Thanks for perpetuating your stereotype, Mississippi. You guys are great. It's mainly dudes that go so berserk. Anyway, after the show there were cops waiting on the side of the stage, and I got thrown in a containment cell in my underwear."
Har Mar disrobes throughout the course of his show, engaging in a provocative anti-striptease, giving the crowd what it really doesn't want--namely, a person in Christina Aguilera-style near-nakedness who doesn't look like Christina Aguilera. Which, if you have the ability to think, results in a provocative critique of who looks and who can be looked at in sex in America today. Namely young, thin women in the style of Britney, Beyoncé, et al.; and black men, from Usher to Nelly. However, if you don't have the ability to think, the last-song sight of Har Mar in underwear apparently proves so upsetting that you're compelled to throw your shoes.
Or issue lewd-behavior tickets.
"How is it that what Britney Spears does is not lewd?" asks Har Mar, after satisfying yet another lusty lady interview-interrupter by pretending he remembers the last time they met. "Anyway, if you're facing 10,000 people yelling 'faggot' and 'you suck,' you have to do something about it, or you're a coward. So I told them to eat my pussy. I get offstage, and they threw me in this containment cell in the arena in my underwear, threatening me, and made me wait in there forever. They wouldn't give me a towel. The cops were so pissed off. It was like a personal vendetta with this one guy. You could practically see the smoke coming out of his eyes. Later, when they let me out of the cell, I put on my pants, and this one cop was like, 'Take off your pants unless you want to spend the night in jail. You can't do that in the Bible Belt.' I'm like, 'Dude, quit hiding behind the Bible and get a sense of humor. I don't have a pussy.'"
Tillmann paid a $750 fine that night.
Now he has to return to Oklahoma City for a pending court date, where he faces a possible $1,200 fine and six months in jail.
Which represents one of several things. Either it's the latest and most underreported flare-up in the continuing city vs. country American culture wars, which have taken as their unwitting soldiers artists as diverse as comedian Lenny Bruce and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Or it's the first shot across the bow in the newest wave of the avant-garde: playing with and subverting that most overamplified aspect of American life, namely "cool," and the thing it runs from, "uncool" and public humiliation. Or this Oklahoma travesty is a gift from God, given in His own and beloved Bible Belt, the gift of publicity, on the eve of the release of Har Mar's first major-label album, You Can Feel Me (Record Collection/Warner Bros.).
The record-release party is Thursday, November 7 at First Avenue, on a bill that includes critical darlings the Pattern; City Pages' Picked to Click winners the Soviettes (who also just received a record-deal offer from Green Day's Adeline Records), and local band Swiss Army. Could it be the show of the year? Why not? We all know how, from Sinclair Lewis to Charles Schulz, Minnesota prefers to support its favorite sons and daughters only once they're past needing it--but how about making an exception this week? Not only because Tillmann stars in the following paragraph, which is so star-studded it could choke Elizabeth Taylor: The last few months have seen Har Mar drinking Jameson with boxer Laila Ali at the Incubus tour-closing party, chatting with Reneé Zellweger when he was opening for the Strokes in Toronto, playing private Jane magazine parties in both L.A. and New York (just as former Jane anointee Stephen Malkmus once did), rolling around on the pink shag carpet of his MTV Music Awards date Kelly Osbourne's bedroom (look for the pictures inside the new album), and writing songs for J. Lo and the U.K.'s Zomba/Jive Records with local collaborators Nathan Grumdahl (my friend) and Eric Olsen. But more important than any celebrity, there's this: When one man can titillate both the staff of Jane and the staff of the Oklahoma City PD, attention should be paid.
Har Mar wrapped up his set at the Jane party in his underwear, writhing on a brass rail, and pumping his fist in the air to his signature slogan. Go to enough Har Mar concerts and the phrase tends to just wash over you, but listen closely and it begins to unpack like a stack of Russian dolls. It's not merely the most un-Minnesotan thing you could ever say, it's also the clearest articulation of everything American pop culture has been trying to say for the last decade. "Give it up for me, I'm fucking awesome!" he says, his pudgy belly ballooning over his everyman panties. And there, as vulnerable as a man can be, he looked out at a packed room of the sharpest women on earth, and they clapped. He retreated to the Jane bathroom to dress.
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