The fungus still among us
When I moved to Portland, Ore., earlier this year, I was surprised to see "Keep Portland Weird" bumper stickers on so many beaters around town. It was a little dispiriting, to be perfectly honest, because it was the appearance of "Keep Austin Weird" bumper stickers in Texas 10 years ago that made me leave the "live music capital of the world" after being a proud Austinite for 16 years.
I gather there is a lot of back and forth traffic between Austin and Portland these days. Northwesterners get tired of waking up in February with moss growing on their legs, so they move to Travis County. Frat boys in Austin get tired of the heat and move to Multnomah County. The weirdness ebbs and flows.
Weirdness, as a cultivated civic characteristic, is not particularly attractive to me. In Austin, it was the legacy of a homeless Sixth Street alley alcoholic who lived in a huge cardboard Conestoga wagon of his own construction and wore fairly fetching drag outfits that made him look like a cross between Marlene Dietrich and George Carlin. In Portland, the weirdness seems to be the cumulative effect of pasty people in ill-fitting clothes who are being slowly developing blood poisoning from tattoo inks. But what do I know. I'm new here. Have you seen Grimm? It's a town full of elves.
There is one cultural weirdness I can never get enough of, and that's Pilobolus, an authentic national treasure, a dance company that has always been one of a kind, sui generis, without equal, and as unpredictable as life itself – a dance company so decidedly weird it should have come and gone as quickly as a dandelion in the desert. But it's weird how culture works. There's a process of natural selection that no one in the pop media or society-at-large can manipulate. That's what makes being an artist worth the risks it entails. And that process rewards only one thing: truth. It's that simple. And after 40 years, Pilobolus is still the fungus among us because it's told the truth. It is the truth! Weird's what that is.
To appreciate the staying power of Pilobolus, not just as a dance phenomenon but as an incomparable force in American cultural life, imagine that they are the fuckin' Rolling Stones. Imagine if the members of the Stones replaced themselves in the Eighties with younger players who were all as good as or better performers than the originals. Imagine if the replacement process continued every few years over the decades and the new performers wrote new songs in collaboration with the original Stones. Imagine that in 2011, you could go to a Rolling Stones show and see performers who are in their 20s, slamming out a show with brand-new songs and 40-year-old songs; and it all works perfectly, it's all of a piece, it's the fuckin' Rolling Stones and it doesn't matter that it's not Mick Jagger anymore. In fact, it's better that it's not Jagger.
That's what Pilobolus has managed to pull off. It has outsmarted time, and age, and the wear and tear of arthritis, broken bones, and ... death! Pilobolus has become immortal. It is, after all, a goddamn fungus! At the Paramount Theatre this week, you may see a classic Pilobolus piece like "Untitled," created in the mid-Seventies by the original six members of the commune, bumped up to "All Is Not Lost," its latest collaboration with OK Go, and it all works. It's all of a piece. It's all Pilobolus.
John Job was the original technical director of MOMIX, an offshoot of Pilobolus that formed in 1981.