John Roecker recalls the first time he met his idols, X, at a bus stop on Hollywood Boulevard. “I can still close my eyes and see the bus door open and John Doe and Exene coming out of it,” says the controversial first-time filmmaker. “She was in this beautiful li’l polka-dot dress with the little socks and little shoes and him with the chain wallet. It was just like the coolest sight ever walking toward me and I couldn’t believe it. There was like this orange sky behind them and it was so poetic, like a Raymond Chandler novel. These people just did not fit in with the whole sea of polyester around them.”
Roecker sure is a romantic about certain things, like art and music, though you might not know it from watching Live Freaky! Die Freaky!, his claymation musical retelling of the Helter Skelter Charlie Manson saga. The movie viciously and gleefully rips on religion, homosexuality, hippies, Hollywood, rich people, poor people, drug users and the Beatles. (Now that’s blasphemy!) Plus, it’s packed with more blood, foul language and weird sex than Tarantino, Lynch and South Park’s Parker and Stone’s stuff combined. But the guy is really a softy when you get to know him. A softy with a tongue that can slice like a sushi knife, but a softy nonetheless.
I gotta admit, I didn’t always feel this way. I met Roecker during his reign behind the counter of You’ve Got Bad Taste, the “apocalyptic general store” in Silver Lake that he ran from 1995 to 1999 with his idol-turned-friend Exene Cervenka. Exene was the punk legend, but it was Roecker who was scary. This was a guy who seemed to have no internal censors or sense of appropriateness. I thought he was magnetic and intimidating and hilarious all at the same time.
And his wicked humor was all over that damn store, too. Bad Taste hawked everything from Patty Hearst’s “Wanted By the FBI” rap sheet (framed) to paintings by John Wayne Gacy to a books-on-tape version of the Unabomber’s manifesto (edited for “just the good stuff”). Its infamous window displays, one parodying a Scientology E-meter deprogramming and another depicting the bizarre Heaven’s Gate mass suicide (complete with Nike-wearing mannequins in beds covered in purple blankets), raised the eyebrows of even Silver Lake’s most open-minded scenesters.
A decade later, at Roecker’s memorabilia-filled Los Feliz home, it’s clear his subversive tastes haven’t changed much since then. Every room is filled with cool collectibles and rare entertainment knickknacks. One room is crammed with ’60s and ’70s action figures, miscellaneous toys and, yes, some puppets, though none of them have the eerie devil-doll look of the Freaky figs (Charlie brings to mind the creepy Zuni warrior doll from Trilogy of Terror), which are put away in storage. He has been taking the little guys out for occasional photo shoots, though, now that Wellspring (the company that put out provocative works such as Vincent Gallo’s Brown Bunny and Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation) has just released Freaky andmade itavailable in video stores. Unfortunately, at press time, he was having trouble getting stores to actually carry the movie, but you can get it at Amoeba and Virgin Megastore here in L.A.
“I wanted to push the envelope, and I wanted to go so far as to actually offend both the liberals and the right,” Roecker says proudly. “I think I have succeeded.”
Odious art is all well and good. But here’s the thing: His movie would have probably never gotten the attention it has thus far (in mags like Rolling Stone and Kerrang! and tons of music-related blogs) if it weren’t for its unbelievable, star-studded cast, a who’s who of seminal punks and nouveau rockers that includes Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong in the lead role as Charlie “Hanson,” Rancid’s Tim Armstrong (who also produced the flick through Hellcat Films, a new division of his record label) as narrator and the likes of Travis Barker, AFI’s Davey Havok, Good Charlotte’s Benji and Joel Madden, John Doe, actress Asia Argento and Go-Go Jane Wiedlin, to name a few. Not to mention a gal under the not-so-disguised alias of Nelly Posbourne as lead character Sharon “Hate.” (Coincidence that her character is a mama-to-be named Sharon? I think not.)
Live Freaky is, in fact, one fucked up piece of celluloid. Forget the fact that it shows full-on clay-genital penetration shots or that it re-enacts the Manson family slayings in vibrant, red-splattered Kill Bill fashion. To many, what’s most distasteful about this Disney-Small-World-gone-demented yarn is what spews from the characters’ tiny sculpted mouths. One review noted, “Every word is calculated to offend.”
“No one who lent their voices to this thing cares if there’s controversy,” says John Doe, who voices the character of Tex, the Charlie follower who does most of the killing. “We all embrace it.”