Freaks and Geeks
It's barely noon on a Tuesday, and Bob Judd is wearing lipstick. And a sarong. That might seem awfully dressy for a guy who works at home, but it makes sense when you learn that Judd is the Web master (actually, he prefers the title "misteress") for www.thecockettes.org, an official site of the Cockettes, the 1960s/'70s drag queen commune whose most famous featured performer was the late Divine.
Judd pads barefoot to a back bedroom that holds his enormous computer and drawers overflowing with incense and electrical cords. At first, it looks like a typical messy home office, 'til you notice that a framed snapshot on the bookshelf is of a guy waist down, holding open the fly of his blue jeans to expose himself. Every surface is covered with some kind of pornography, except where it's covered with newspaper for Judd's parrot, Poky. Poky is locked in the bathroom, Judd explains, because she's jealous of other women. Her smell lingers under the incense and cigarette smoke. Judd's dogs, Cosmo and Butch, crowd into the room, an English bulldog and Havanese, respectively. There's barely space to turn around, and Judd promptly knocks over a pile of Cockette photographs. He picks up the photographs, sort of, and settles in at the computer to show off his latest work.
Along with the Cockettes, Judd has several other clients -- if you can call them that, since no one pays. But in Bob Judd's world, the cachet of including feminist performance artist Lydia Lunch or queerpunkpagan icon Scott Treleaven of The Salivation Army on your collaboration list is priceless. Judd pulls up images for a page he's designed that will coincide with the release of Asia Argento's new film, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, about a very young boy whose mother dresses him in girls' clothes and forces him to work as a prostitute. Lunch has a role in the film, and so far she's traded Judd an autographed book for the work he's done on the site. He's excited because Marilyn Manson is also in the movie, which premièred at the Cannes Film Festival; years ago, Judd shot photographs of Manson during production of one of the creepy-eyed rock star's music videos.
Judd is the multitasker of the underground, the groupie of the weird. When Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point, about how "super connectors" bring members of a community together, he probably didn't have this guy in mind. But Judd fits the profile exactly. He's not really a starfucker -- he confides that he and Kreemah Ritz, one of the surviving members of the Cockettes, had a falling out years ago because Judd refused Ritz's advances -- but he does collect his friendships with the likes of Vaginal Cream Davis, the outrageous black 6-foot-6 drag queen, like notches on his belt. And he likes nothing more than hooking his friends up with one another.
The Web work is relatively new for Judd, who at 41 has worked a lot of jobs. But he's really a filmmaker. Davis starred as a talking penis in Jesse Helms Is Cleaning Up America, but Judd is better known deep in the underground for Bovine Vendetta, which features a talking cow who channels Charles Manson's voice. Both took honors in the experimental category at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in the late '90s.
So what is a guy like Bob Judd doing in a place like Phoenix?
The same as the rest of us -- taking advantage of the low cost of living. For Judd, it's extra low, because his parents lured him here with the promise of free rent in a house they own in Tempe. After years in San Francisco, where he hustled and eventually kicked a heroin habit, and a stint in L.A., where he worked as a lip-synch animator for South Park (good work, lousy pay), Judd has found himself here. The temptation to make Phoenix just a little bit weirder is too much for Judd, who has been trying, with very limited success, to bring some of his favorite freaks to town. He did help pull off an event at the Icehouse in downtown Phoenix earlier this year that featured burlesque performer Kitty Diggins and included a showing of a recent documentary about the Cockettes, but the turnout wasn't really what he'd hoped for.
Judd's coup de grâce was going to be a multimedia festival at the Icehouse this October. Go to www.theesecondcouming.com, and you can still see the vestiges of the planning for Thee Second Couming: The Rising Phoenix of Artistic Freedom, planned by Judd's close friend, surrogate mother and former associate of Timothy Leary's, Iona Miller, and Bobbee Precious (a.k.a. Judd). The show was to include Judd's pals Laurence Gartel, a digital artist (GARTEL: The Art of Fetish), and DJ Don Bolles, former drummer for The Germs. But the biggest star would have been Genesis P-Orridge. P-Orridge -- of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV fame -- is foremost a musician, but is also a performance artist. He and his wife are currently undergoing surgery to transform themselves into the same person. So far, P-Orridge has had breast implants, and recently, Judd says, he had copies of all of his wife's moles tattooed on his body. (Judd also confides that P-Orridge and his ex-wife are not getting along.) Judd struck up a friendship with P-Orridge online -- he's been a huge fan for years -- and invited him to play in Phoenix. The deal ultimately fell through, but P-Orridge was really interested in learning more about the Cockettes, and also introduced Judd to Scott Treleaven of The Salivation Army.
Newfound friendship aside, P-Orridge gets as much as $10,000 a show, and that just isn't going to happen in Phoenix. Weeks later, Judd is still devastated.
"Phoenix is so gentrified," he says. "There's really no cultural scene here. It's so spread out. You know how no one walks in L.A.? Well, even fewer people walk in Phoenix. . . . We've gotta get past all this Copper Square bullcrap."
He vows to persevere.
"I like to surround myself with really interesting people, and I've done that all my life."
So what if, even when those interesting people do make it to town, they have to tone it down? (Way down.) Judd recalls Vaginal Davis' tour through Phoenix last year. She opened for Margaret Cho. In other cities, as part of her regular show, Davis would "grab guys and take their penis out and give them fellatio right there in the club," according to Judd. Here in Phoenix, she brought a boy onstage, took off his shoe and sucked whipped cream off his toe.
"That's all she did. There was a little song that went with it," Judd says. (Davis seemed to have an okay time. On her blog at www.vaginaldavis.com, she details her post-show evening, which included going out drinking with Judd and then going home with a luscious Latin lad.)
Judd's onto his next project. He explains that Don Bolles' girlfriend called recently, to let him know that a guy named Count Smokula is coming to town for three weeks. Count Smokula dresses in a leopard fez, cape and whiteface, plus plays the accordion. He's got a small but eager cult following in Los Angeles and his own public access cable show. Turns out, Count Smokula's an older Jewish guy named Bob Miles. Miles got a gig demonstrating guitars at Costcos around Phoenix, so could Judd show him around? Of course. Judd even offers to shoot a music video for Count Smokula. He figures he'll do it at the Icehouse, and immediately fires off an e-mail, looking to attract a crowd.
At the moment, Judd's fumbling with his computer, trying to play an example of Count Smokula's accordion stylings. Butch lazily humps Cosmo, who's got his nose up a visitor's skirt. Judd glances over and halfheartedly tells Butch to stop. Suddenly, bad polka music blasts into the room from enormous speakers buried under piles of paper. Butch speeds up.
Judd sits back and smiles. "When he plays accordion," he says of the Count, "it's magic!"
As hard as it is to imagine Bob Judd living in Phoenix as an adult, it's that much tougher to picture his childhood, spent in small Southwestern mining towns. His father, Leonard, worked his way up the ladder at Phelps Dodge, eventually becoming president and chief operating officer. Bob -- who is the second of four kids, the rest girls -- was born in Douglas. He was popular in Morenci, where he spent his early high school years, because he introduced some kids to punk rock. Someone even wrote "Bob Judd Lives" on a wall after he left. But he didn't do as well in Douglas, where he spent his senior year of high school.
"That was the worst year of my life. Everyone hated me." He got beat up every day. "I'd usually just huddle in the fetal position and laugh."
This is clearly a guy who today doesn't much care what people think about him. He's shown up for an early morning coffee date at the Starbucks at Rural and Baseline in Tempe accessorized to stand out among the cell-phoned white guys and Whole Foods-bound soccer moms. Bob is dressed in a tee shirt, shorts and Vans, along with a necklace of tusks and skulls, another with a heavy key and a cute woven hat pinned with a large, jewel-encrusted pin that reads "Jesus" in cursive writing. Among the pearls and beads wrapped around his wrists is a wide leather band attached with a small charm of a monkey climbing a penis. And he's wearing a large cocktail ring on his pinkie.
The conversation is equally colorful.
"If the world had to have an enema, Douglas would be the point of insertion. You can quote me on that. Actually, it's a quote of my dad's."
That makes it sound like Bob and his dad are kindred spirits, which is far from true, according to Bob. He says he grew up in a very religious household, and that when he discovered, at age 8, that he was gay, he vowed that if he was still gay at 20, he'd commit suicide. He came close, he says, even climbed to the top of a building in downtown Phoenix (he doesn't recall which one) when he was 19, but couldn't do it. Eventually, he made peace with himself and his parents. They have a strict "don't ask, don't tell" policy that goes both ways.
"My parents love me unconditionally," he says, but in the next breath explains that when the family comes over, "I have to redecorate the house really quick. . . . I de-pornify it, I de-fagify it. I de-everything it."
And they've never watched his films.
Bob gets along best with his sister Christy, who is studying to be an osteopath and is into alternative therapies.
After high school, Bob enrolled at Arizona State University, where he befriended a group of like-minded boys -- "the radical fairies of Phoenix" -- all of whom are now dead, mostly suicides and overdoses. Eventually, he moved to San Francisco, where one of those boys, his soul mate, Butch (Judd got the namesake dog just after Butch OD'd and died in the late '90s), had just discovered something called crystal meth. Judd liked it, but he preferred heroin, and he spent much of the next decade in a haze. He holds up his arm, showing off a collapsed vein. Even then, Judd continued to collect interesting friends, like Cockette Kreemah Ritz, who has a slightly different recollection of events back then than Judd does.
"I liked him because he had blue hair, but he was a flaky junkie and I dismissed him fairly quickly," Ritz e-mails back in response to a question about their relationship at the time.
Judd was a guest at several residential treatment programs, including one in Sonoma that Grace Slick went to, he says, although not at the same time.
Eventually, Judd kicked his heroin and booze habits, moved to Phoenix and finally graduated from ASU. He made his movies, then moved to Los Angeles to work for South Park. Aside from some images on his demo reel, the few souvenirs Judd has from that time are scattered around his dusty house -- a stuffed Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo tucked in a corner, a lipstick-covered South Park mug next to his computer. He says he loved working with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show's creators, who threw parties with margarita and sushi bars. But he says Comedy Central treated him poorly, only paying him $15 an hour (he started at $8) to work on what became a smash hit show. That's when he needed a union, Judd muses -- a strong statement for a guy who hates them. He watched his father get screwed around by the unions while he was at Phelps Dodge, Judd says, and while he himself was delivering papers for the San Francisco Chronicle, they went out on strike and it only hurt him.
That's about the only conservative political position Bob Judd seems to hold. He's way to the left of the mainstream left in America, busy taping copies of Outfoxed and handing them around -- although he had no idea during an interview that it was election day, the day of the primary earlier this month. He says he can't run for office himself because of some felony convictions for drug possession and prostitution he got during the San Francisco years, but he's glib enough to stand up against just about anyone in public office today -- he even repeats his sound bites ad nauseam, in the manner of the classic candidate.
"America is the ultimate terrorist," he says -- several times. "We're the bullies of the freaking planet."
Two years ago, he says (although it must have been four), Judd was the southwestern chairman of the Unabomber for President campaign -- an effort designed to cast votes in protest of the existing hierarchy and its potential replacement.
Mostly, Judd tries to do his political persuading through his art, like Jesse Helms Is Cleaning Up America, which features images of Helms inside a glass jar that, at the end of the film, is graphically filled with urine, à la Piss Christ -- one of the images that prompted Helms to try to do away with the National Endowment for the Arts. (Judd used his own lips for the film, but hired a model for the penis shots.) The funniest and most effective part of the movie, actually, comes at the end of the credits, when the message "This project was made possible with a generous grant from the NEA" flashes on the screen.
Back in his living room, post-coffee, Judd screens the films as workmen wander in and out of his master bathroom, where they're replacing the tile. The Charles Manson-narrated Bovine Vendetta was ultimately sold to the Sci-Fi Channel. Judd explains that he called the people who produce Geraldo Rivera's show, where the Manson interview originally aired, to ask for permission.
"They said no, and I did it anyhow," Judd says over the Manson-voiced talking cow, who says, "Satan to me would be God."
The cow had been pictured as the 4-H winner at the 1996 Arizona State Fair.
Phoenix has been good to Bob Judd. He befriended Lydia Lunch when she came to town for an opening of her work last year at Perihelion Arts, the book shop/gallery on Grand Avenue that is as close to a freak headquarters as the city has.
Amy Young, co-owner of Perihelion, knows and adores Judd.
"Loving Bobbee Precious, for me, comes in three parts," she says, "one, because there is absolutely no one else like him in Phoenix; two, because he is absolutely very caring and generous; and three, because he doesn't give a fuck what anyone thinks and he just goes for it; totally puts himself out there with his completely unique style, from personality to fashion. He's got a true love of the subculture, and he celebrates it on many levels. He's a true fan who takes that one step beyond by developing working relationships with artistic minds and weirdoes that he admires, taking an admiration to a mutual peer relation. And he does enough creative work to generate his own fans as well. He's a beautiful freak show. He's Hollywood Boulevard and what used to be Times Square all rolled into one."
Of course, bringing Hollywood Boulevard and what used to be Times Square to Phoenix is tough, even if you're Bob Judd. He couldn't even manage to get Count Smokula's video shot. It rained hard the evening Judd had arranged to tape the video at the Icehouse, and although it cleared up by 8 p.m., Judd couldn't get ahold of the Icehouse folks to go ahead and make it happen. (He rolls his eyes at the mention of Helen Hestenes, owner of the Icehouse; she rolls her eyes at the mention of Judd.) Subsequent attempts to reschedule failed as well.
Such is life. Judd says he'll just plan to shoot the video in Los Angeles next month, when he goes over to see Genesis P-Orridge's show.
En route back to Los Angeles, Count Smokula calls. He doesn't mind at all that the video shoot had to be postponed. He's so delighted with his new friend, he even drops the phony Smoksylvania accent (think Dracula, but from Brooklyn) to call Judd a "genuine avant-garde genius. . . . He knows everything and everybody."
Turns out that Bob "Count Smokula" Miles is not only Princeton-educated (some class notes from several years ago on the Princeton University alumni Web site revealed his name), he's also an accomplished musician who once played with Bob Dylan. And he plays a mean ukulele, if he says so himself.
Miles loved his three weeks in Bob Judd's Phoenix, says he can't wait to return, even if he didn't have such a huge turnout at his show at the Trunk Space.
Perhaps it's best if Judd lays off the event-planning for a while. The non-paying clients are getting restless. Kreemah Ritz complains that since February, Judd hasn't done what he promised to do on the Cockettes' Web site. "Bobbee tends to drag his heals [sic] and make lame excuses as to why nothing has been posted in eihjt [sic] months. He talks the talk but can't walk the walk," Ritz writes.
(Take that with a shaker of salt. In the 2002 Cockettes documentary, Ritz makes lots of nasty cracks. He bitches that artist Robert Rauschenberg once gave the Cockettes $1,000 -- when he could have afforded $10,000.)
Judd admits he's happiest behind the computer, anyway.
"That's my connection to the outside world," he says. "If I didn't have my computer, I'd probably be a homicidal maniac."
What does it mean, having Bob Judd in town? Count Smokula slips back into character.
"It makes Phoenix the hippest city in America, vhat can I tell you? I don't know very many filmmakers valking around in a skirt."
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