“Follow me,” says the dark, strange, mustachioed man as he climbs into the musty cargo trailer parked in his backyard. This could be the start of a very bad slasher movie, I think as I follow him---or just another day at work. I am never entirely sure what John Lichtenstein has up his sleeve.
“I almost feel like a whaler from the old days,” he tells me as he drags a slab of weathered plywood from the trailer to inspect in the sunlight. “You know how they used every single part of the whale---like the blubber for lamp oil … I try to re-appropriate and re-use everything, make new things from recycled goods. You know---art.”
The world is John Lichtenstein’s weird oyster. Okay, no. Perhaps the world is John Lichtenstein’s whale carcass---and we’re just living in it.
Sarasotans have been trying to wrap their heads around Lichtenstein’s ever-evolving, chaos-beast of a project, The End of the Dial Tone Radical Experimental Collaborative Music Band Band, since it launched in 2010 to a screaming orchestral onslaught of amped-to-the-max guitar riffs, bass lines and thudding drums accompanied by live art demonstrations, a dizzying carousel of special effects and a continuous campaign of bizarre promotional gimmicks.“To honest, it always kind of surprises me that it’s not a train wreck,” Lichtenstein said of the project during a February interview with This Week in Sarasota. (Then again, in a town that often struggles to identify anything without a palm tree or a seashell stamped to it as "art," T.E.O.T.D.T.R.E.C.M.B.B. probably does come across as a bit of a train wreck to some.)
Over the past two years, T.E.O.T.D.T.R.E.C.M.B.B. has staged more than a dozen events at venues throughout Sarasota, including The Tavern on Main, Cock & Bull Pub, Gator Club, Growler’s Pub, Pastimes Pub, The Rusty Hook, Sarasota Vineyard and Shamrock Pub. Each Dial Tone event features several hours of unrelenting, improvisational, chaotic jams by a randomized group of local musicians, and the music is accompanied by various artistic media including art, poetry reading, film, photography and theatrical performances.
The result is a mind-melting sensory overload that feels a little like Disney’s Fantasia on PCP: a noisy, surreal and mesmerizing slew of haphazardly-organized creative chaos---a train wreck, so to speak.
But this month, T.E.O.T.D.T.R.E.C.M.B.B. will turn down the amps as it migrates from the bar to the art gallery for the project’s first retrospective art show, which opens at Clothesline Gallery & Boutique on Jan. 15.“It’s easy to get lost in the music and the chaos during the Dial Tones, but you can kind of snap back into it when the art is there to provide that balance. This is a chance to turn the spotlight on that aspect of the Dial Tones,” Lichtenstein said.
“It’s a show that gives recognition to the members of the art department who have put tremendous amounts of their time, their supplies and their effort to making every show as interactive as it can be,” he added.
The T.E.O.T.D.T.R.E.C.M.B.B. End of the Year Retrospective Art Show features a selection of artwork, creative writing, photographs and videos created at Dial Tone events over the last two years by a variety of the shows’ participating artists.
Like all things associated with the T.E.O.T.D.T.R.E.C.M.B.B., the format for the art show is anything but linear and ordinary, but instead arranged in a manner that highlights the Dial Tone’s rough-around-the-edges DIY mentality: The majority of art pieces for the show utilize discarded wood, cardboard and Plexi-Glass as a canvas, while a stack of “old shitty TVs” (Lichtenstein’s words, not ours) serve as a vehicle to showcase time lapses of the filming process for each promotional Dial Tone video. The show also includes a single book containing writings and observations from each Dial Tone performance.
“We initially wanted to make ‘zines as icing on the cake, but we realized that the cake is already so full, so we decided to scale back and simplify by making a sort of Necronomicon,” Lichtenstein said.“The idea is for it to be one really well-made book so that if you attended any of the Dial Tones, you could flip to a page and remember the moment that page was created,” Lichtenstein said.
Guests of T.E.O.T.D.T.R.E.C.M.B.B. End of the Year Retrospective Art Show are encouraged to bring their own T-shirts, as Clothesline will be printing an exclusive series of shirts transcribed with the letter written by Dial Tone detractor “Burt Young,” who famously (within the Dial Tone movement, at least) referred to Sarasota as a “lame fish bowl” full of “hacks” and “phonies.”
“There are so many myths, symbols and themes surrounding the past two years of the Dial Tone that it’s built a reputation as an underground movement of sorts, but we hope to open the content to a wider audience and make it more accessible,” said Clothesline Gallery manager Van Jazmin,
“We’re hoping the art retrospective will offer some insight and that we can open up some discussions that give artistic and cultural perspective to what the project really is. The bottom line, though, is that you don’t really need to know anything about the project to appreciate the art.”The art retrospective features live art by Jazmin, as well as fellow Sarasota artists Eric De Barros and April Doner; photography by Scott Braun, Gabriel Hernandez and Christina Ostrye; writing by Zach Skylab and video by Stephen McFadden. Rumor has it there will even be a Tube Dude present to make an artistic statement of his own.
“I think what really makes the Dial Tones so special is that they bring people together---people who might not otherwise spend time with each other---and those people make connections. The Dial Tones get talked about afterward, and they inspire people to go bigger with their own creative projects,” Lichtensten said.
The End of the Dial Tone Radical Experimental Collaborative Music Band Band Art Show Retrospective opens on Jan. 15 and runs until Feb. 13. Click here for more information and to RSVP to the show opening.