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It was a memorable sight, like a Black Rock City version of the Saint Paddy’s Day parade: a 6-foot-8 redheaded man in a bright-green jump suit, like a leprechaun on steroids, with looping pedals belted around his waist. He’s playing a guitar, with a saxophone hanging behind his back. Improbably, he’s also on roller skates, lugging a portable amp in a child’s wagon, and by his side, a tiny woman in outrageous platforms, a green Afro and hot pants sings and shakes her pot of gold down Los Angeles Street. This parade of two call themselves MoJoW & the Vibration Army.
(Click to enlarge)
MoJoW is an amalgamation of their names. The “Mo” is for Moriah, “Jo,” for her husband, John, and the “W is for Whoolulurie, their official married surname, a fusion of their former ones (his Whooley, hers Lurie). You may have seen their roving show outside the presidential debates on Hollywood Boulevard, at antiwar rallies, at the downtown women’s shelter, while strolling Sunset Junction, or onstage at music festivals, bringing their homemade funkadelic grooves and spreading their positive, often-political messages.
“We really like to create music with a message,” says Moriah. “We like to entertain but also promote a spiritual, healthy lifestyle with respect to all things to make life better for everybody, whether that’s voting, spending more time with your family or turning off a light when you leave the room. But we’re not telling people what to do. We don’t think we’re above anybody. We just love each other so sincerely we try and let that shine through and encourage through our own example.”
Their love began with a bona fide whirlwind romance six years ago. Moriah was a practicing midwife in Arcadia, and John an accomplished musician and session player in Santa Cruz. They had twice run into each other, coincidentally, and Moriah took John’s number. There were no lightning bolts or earthquakes, or any other evidence of love at first sight, but a few months later Moriah decided to call John out of the blue and asked him to visit her. They spent 11 consecutive days together, and on the final day, they drove to San Francisco and got married.
The Vibration Army was essentially formed during those 11 days. The newlyweds moved to Joshua Tree, and after Moriah learned to play bass, they began writing songs together about human consciousness, spirituality and environmental responsibility. They didn’t get into politics until John was hired to perform at an after party for Dennis Kucinich, during the 2004 presidential race. Moriah tagged along and became an instant convert, driving the next day to the Kucinich headquarters in Cleveland to work for his campaign. Kucinich asked the Vibration Army to be his opening act, pumping up the crowd before he spoke. The Whooluluries went on a national tour with him, dressing in red, white and blue and performing original songs, including one Kucinich adopted as his campaign theme song, “Imagine the Dream.”
“It really shifted our perspective about the potential for honest democracy,” Moriah says. “But we try to be nonpartisan. People have to educate themselves and find what feels best for them.”
A year and a half ago, the couple moved to Los Angeles. They settled in Los Feliz, where they felt a strong sense of community, and came up with a game plan for infiltrating their new city — just show up. They searched for local happenings online and “just showed up” in full roaming show gear — matching outfits, platform shoes, dangling sax, wagon and all.
Eventually, word got out, and now the Vibration Army are invited to perform at everything from benefits and birthday parties to lectures and school assemblies, where they put on one of four different shows they’ve created for kids, on topics like bullying, recycling, healthy diet and exercise, and democracy. Though their shows continue to evolve, one constant is their flashy costumes.
“They really create a show,” says Moriah, who tailors them, like they do their songs, to the event. “And in a way, they remind people too that no matter who you are, there’s a superhero in everybody.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon