Thursday, April 21, 2011

When I was a young girl, I had me a spaceman

There's a Bonnie Raitt song going thru my head- "Angel From Montgomery"- great song- go listen. I'm on the road again, between NY and New Mexico. Last year at this time I was packing up in Santa Fe to drive back. Anyway, when I was 19, I had me a spaceman. The first real love I had was with a man about a decade older than me- an artist. I was thinking about him a lot today. He was "a free ramblin' man" as the song says. We rambled around the country together that summer, in an old VW van of course- it was 1971. He was one of the early video artists, and was also a great observer and appreciator of rural America, its people and their peculiarities. Ace Space Company was the name of his artistic venture. He spent his too short life telling stories about his travels in a brilliant piece of audio/visual performance art called "Next Exit". He graduated from the VW camper to a Dodge van, and moved on to a series of larger and larger RVs that housed his recording and performance equipment, his guitars,and whichever of his friends were sharing the adventure with him just then. For awhile he did a Video Postcard segment for some national TV weekend show- where he'd do "postcards" on alligator wrestlers, people who built their house-castles out of bottle caps, or an old southern guy who was sure if he braided his beard just right...and pulled it up onto his head just soooo...that he could levitate. (He was still perfecting his technique). Ace could listen to these people, and draw their stories out of them with total seriousness and respect. As a result- he had the most wonderful, bizarre, unique friends all over the country.
Anyway, I was driving west today, and there in the sky above me were crossed jet streams- a big X. That'd be Ace saying "The I love the road." and winking at me- relaxing me for the next 2000 miles of road ahead. Why the X? Back in 1971 a Canadian (I think) artist wanted to do a piece involving correspondence art- then a big thing. He wrote to many artist friends, and asked them to send in a B&W contact sheet (remember 35 mm film?). They would all go into a book he would publish. Whether we were supposed to use an X somewhere, or whether that was Ace's idea I don't remember. Ace had background in graphics and book design (MFA Yale) so he meticulously planned out every shot on the contact sheet ahead of time- who would be in it, where, order of shots, etc. We cut out a 3' tall X out of canvas....the birth of The Amazing X. It appeared in many subsequent pieces and conversations over the decades. We took it around the then tiny, sleepy town of Crested Butte, CO. where Ace owned an old house, and photographed the X nailed to the side of the great breakfast joint in town- with the cook next to it, and at the leatherworker's, and with this person and that. I climbed over barbed wire into a field so he could photograph it with the cows. I photographed him at the town highway dept.- sitting in a front end loader- payload up- with the X limp across a heap of gravel. The contact sheet was brilliant. Ace did just the right amount of careful prep- but was willing to totally wing it if a better opportunity presented itself. He had good instincts for turning down the road less traveled when the planned road wasn't too interesting.
Me? I decided to spend the first night on the road about 10 miles off the interstate, in a sleepy little town. I admit- I have the misguided tendency to think that west of the NY/NJ metro area is...well, Kansas. This turned out to be a tiny town, all lush with spring, and too many churches to count. It also has the largest high end Outlet center I've ever seen. So much for this road less traveled! But the day was full of wonderful memories and an old friend smiling in his rear view mirror in the sky.