This can't be the place. Even in the darkness of 8 p.m., this is obviously a lovely two-story condo in Mesa, light blue with white trim, all the mod cons. This can't be the dwelling of a vampire, the home of one of the undead, the digs of a child of the night. Can it?
It is, in fact, where a man with the absolutely unhorrifying name of Doug Clark is currently residing, a man I have been told is a vampire. Or thinks he is a vampire. Or something. All I know is, I've had two brief telephone conversations with him to set up this evening meeting. I learned only that he "doesn't go out much in the daytime," something Clark said with no irony whatsoever.
I ring the bell, and the door immediately swings open as if someone had been waiting with his hand on the knob. And someone has. He is dressed in black brothel creepers, tight black pants, black shirt with billowing sleeves and lacy cuffs, velvet vest of dark purple. His face is a mask of white, accented with eyebrows plucked to arched perfection, a mustache as thin and deliberate as Little Richard's, and wavy, shoulder-length hair. Apart from a small patch of white blond just above the right ear (pierced with a silver hoop), every bit of hair is as black as a chunk of coal in a windowless torture chamber.
This, then, is Doug Clark.
He stands there, gesturing me in with the aplomb of a Spanish grandee. So in I go. For an innocuous condo in Mesa, the place has a certain creepy charm. A few small candelabra provide the only source of light, and, as I sink into the couch next to Clark, the bookcase reveals a collection of small skulls, a bottle of fake blood--nontoxic--and a severed head locked in a permanent scream. (I later find out that Clark used to sleep with it, as the thing made him "more comfortable" when he didn't have a girlfriend.)
He has five Marlboro Light cigarettes laid out on the table in front of us; Clark takes long, pregnant drags in between sentences.
Now what about this vampire business?
"No, I don't think I'm a vampire," he says slowly, deliberately, as if he's given this question careful thought. "I live a very similar existence--as many perceive a vampire; in the past 15 years, I've probably been in direct sunlight for one hour at the most. That's partially due to being extremely light-sensitive. . . . I've used that [image] as a vehicle in my music, with the underlying intent to erase and dispel a lot of the ignorance and fear in that realm of things, and replace it with the truth."
While Doug exhales Marlboro smoke, let me tell you that he was in a local, seminal punk/gothic band called Mighty Sphincter from '83 to '87. Sphincter never made it big, but it influenced groups like White Zombie and Gwar.
I wonder if this whole thing, this look and this Dark Shadows aesthetic, is really just a promo angle for his rock 'n' roll. I wonder if I've been taken for a ride. Doug slowly, deliberately assures me this is not the case.
"To me it wasn't a matter of getting into it; it's the way I've always been," he reveals. "All the people I've ever talked to that have a form of lycanthropy [according to the dictionary, this is "the magical ability to assume the form and characteristics of a wolf." But I don't butt in; Doug is on a roll] were all born that way.
"With me, ever since I was a small child, from like 3 to 7 [he's now 35], I had the same dream every night. It was a dream of being engulfed by darkness, and darkness finally took the form of a grim reaper, or a figure in a black cape that would chase me. By the time I was 7, I had become comfortable with the dark. Somehow, that came to be part of me.
"And it wasn't until years later that I learned what a vampire was."
But does he drink blood?
Doug sighs, fixes me in his hypnotic, David Copperfieldlike gaze. "I have, but I don't make a regular practice of it; it's not a necessity. One thing I find disturbing is that there has yet to be any kind of movie that portrays the vampire as one who is immortal, but does not need to drink blood. The truth lies more in that.
"I've learned this from years and years of study, and awareness; I've gone to great extents to understand it, so that I can understand more about myself," he offers. "I have always been this way, I have never been any different. I have never known any other pattern in life."
Self-revelation is all well and good, but I demand stories of plasma guzzling. "I've been arrested for drinking my own blood before. In public I dropped a Pepsi bottle and picked up a glass fragment, cut my arm and drank from it. Somehow this was construed as aggravated assault, even though no one got hurt," he tells me.
Why did he do it?
"I was thirsty."
In Doug Clark's breakfast nook, next to the maple syrup, there is an album by Anton LaVey (leader of the Church of Satan, and personal guru to the late Jayne Mansfield, in case you didn't know). There is a plastic gargoyle magnet on the fridge and a box of Uncle Ben's Instant Brown Rice by the sink.
This, however, is the only rice in the place. I inquire. "Oh, I have the utmost respect for Anne Rice, and I think she's done a wonderful job at capturing the pain and sorrow of living life in the darkness," Clark says of the Interview With the Vampire author. But that's where he pretty much draws the line with pop culture bloodsuckers. "I find too much fallacy in all vampire movies, so it's hard for me to truly enjoy them."
Yet he obviously favors Lugosi-esque trappings like "low light, a few skulls, candles, spider webs, the sound of rain constantly. I have tapes I put on." Doug's favorite artifact is a well-preserved bat that he keeps in a small, clear plastic coffin. It used to be his pet, then it died. Its name was Dalasa, his own invention. When I point out that Dalasa is "a salad" spelled backward, he laughs--a rare occurrence--and asks if I have any cigarettes.
Though Doug Clark may not look like a traditional Dracula, his appearance does suggest a hip, well-coifed, stylish corpse. "This is my everyday look, the way I meet and greet people," he insists. "It's not something I can get away from." And if you think Clark pays a price for his noir fashion sense, you are correct. Just listen:
"Me and a female friend were driving my car back from New Orleans last December, and we got pulled over very early in the morning in a place called Kimball County in Texas. We had bought a few witchcraft trinkets, a few voodoo trinkets and a few other things. We were dressed in our normal black, wearing pentagrams and casket necklaces and whatnot. We didn't think much of it, leaving New Orleans.
"When we got pulled over, these two cops were terribly, terribly frightened; they didn't know what to do. They were asking us if we were humans, and we didn't know how to respond to that. They had guns, and we were in the middle of the desert; we were afraid because they were afraid. They didn't want to touch us, they didn't check for weapons, they didn't check to see if the car was stolen or the insurance was good or anything. They looked in my briefcase and saw some photographs that I had of me and some friends in a macabre atmosphere in New Orleans; they told me that was enough for me to get life in prison in Kimball County.
"They were getting really pissed at us at this point. They told me the casket necklace I was wearing was [drug] paraphernalia, which it wasn't, and one of them turned to me and said, 'Just what in the hell are you?'
"I said, 'I'm a musician.' He said, 'Bullshit! You're a goddamn devil worshiper!' They kept calling us that, and neither of us are devil worshipers, so we kind of took offense to that. They proceeded to just let us go in fear that, I don't know, we would make them spontaneously combust or something.
"Right before we drove off, the guy got two inches from my face--like Sergeant Carter--and pointed to the little clay casket necklace and said, 'This can get you three days and a $500 fine in Kimball County. Now you get your goat-smellin' heinie out of Kimball County, and don't you ever come back!'
"Things like that have happened to me all my life."
Doug does not kid around with ambiance. His small bedroom is upstairs (Clark has a roommate whose passion is serial killers). decorated in a strong but tasteful style of postmedieval decay. What passes for light emits from two gallery bulbs in the ceiling, one white, one green, both about 20 watts. There are thick drapes of cobwebs hanging down, more skulls and candles, a totemistic alligator's foot ("I like alligators"), stacks of occult literature and poetry. His guitar and massive amp stack stand dark against the wall, like Frankenstein's monster.
But this is nothing compared to some of his previous arrangements. "I'm not really comfortable here. I don't have it set up the way I do when I have my own place," he says, apoligizing. Those places have included unique sleeping furniture. And I don't mean a water bed.
"Throughout my life, I've slept on and off in caskets," he says wistfully. "I feel close with death, and I feel comfortable looking at the world from the valley of the Shadows."
I am, at this point, somewhat curious as to what scares a man who feels at ease dozing in a coffin. Doug knits his arched brows, really thinks about this one.
"Model apartments. Anytime I'm not ina dark, macabre atmosphere, anytime I leave someplace like that. I'm approaching what frightens me, and the more I get in that, the more uncomfortable I feel.
"When I had my home set up in here [he now spends most of his time in vampire-friendly New Orleans], I had a lot of close friends, but not many of them could sit in my house for very long. The atmosphere was a bit too intense, with altars and caskets and spider webs, no natural light, just candles," says Clark.
"So in order for my friends to come over to my house, I'd have to come over to their house and watch a cheesy TV show, eat a TV dinner, sit in a new apartment with new furniture, drink beer. That's terrifying to me."
Guess what Doug's favorite day of the year is? That's right-Easter! Not really, it's Halloween. This year, he's going to be the Spirit of Death. "His name is Ezreal; I will be the Angel of Darkness." I don't think they sell that one at Walgreens, but Doug tells me he's got a black shroud, custom made, ready to go. What, is that it?
For the first time all night, he really cracks up, into a screaming grin breaking the composed deathmask countenance. "Isn't a black shroud enough?! Does this face look like it needs a mask??"
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At this stage, Clark says he makes most his his living from music. He's got a new project, a band called Chapel d'Amour, and the lead singer is a kindred soul, "someone who projects vampirism through his art and music and poetry. He lives in Oregon, and his name is Elad Draner." Which is Dale Renard backward. Elad sounds like a dedicated individual; Doug reveals he has even "had medical problems in the past from consuming blood and alcohol."
Clark has also just released a Mighty Sphincter EP, House of No Return, on his own Ghoul Agency label, with three original compositions. To those unfamiliar with the moody goth rock of the band, the name alone may be a turnoff, a teenage joke. No way.
"It actually has a deep meaning," confides Doug. "The sphincter is a valve that opens and closes, and we are that in the essence, in that we feel we can open up the gates of life and death like a mighty sphincter that opens and closes. So that a person who can't normally see the world of the dead, the world of darkness--we can open it up so they can see it."
Well, I've seen plenty, and, yeah, though I have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Doug Clark's condo in Mesa, I fear no evil. He is a benign spirit. "I feel whatever one does or enjoys while they're in this short life to make themselves happy, more power to them," says Doug, "as long as they don't hurt someone else." I shake his hand before departing, his skin is warm, his grip is firm. Just like a real human.--Gilstrap