"Pranks!" is an overdose of serious, twisted fun from RE/Search regulars Henry Rollins, Mark Pauline, Monte Cazazza, Joe Coleman, as well as Earth First!, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner, Jeffrey Vallance, Mark McCloud, Jello Biafra, Robert Delford Brown, John Giorno, Carlo McCormick, Harry Kipper, Karen Finley, and more. Accounts of pranks great and small, plus essays on the significance of pranking for better cultural health.
Pranks serve as the ideal monkey wrench in the works of the dominant cultural machinery. Pranks can disrupt the fabric of reality or the bored predictability of everyday living. They can twist and destroy the usual meaning of language and interpretation. Since everyone has played pranks of some kind (prank phone calls) these tales are easy to identify with. With diverse goals, pranks can work in oblique, subversive ways or be directly confrontational.
"Pranks!" covers the spectrum of practical jokes from the cleverest prank calls you've ever heard of to the classic counterculture pranks of the Yippies, et al; to pranks played by master tricksters like Leary and Boyd Rice. Also, many of those interviewed recall pranks played on them by "ordinary" people, like their garbage men...
1987, 240 pp., 164 photos, $17
20 Romolo St., #B
San Francisco, CA 94133
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Pranks!:
Jeffrey Vallance, wanted to show at an L.A. museum, but got no response. "So, I bought a number of wall sockets and painted stupid little scientific scenes on them, like microscopes and dinosaurs and cows and slabs of butter." Dressed as a janitor, he went around the museum replacing them, occasionally moving furniture or displacing viewers. "I sent out a bunch of invitations, just like it was a real show, and people came down."
Alan Abel is a comedian. Some of his pranks include making a fool of the press by staging a wedding for Idi Amin at the Plaza Hotel in New York, running a "School for Panhandlers," staging a press conference with Watergate's "Deep Throat," and having his 4 year-old daughter appeal to his lawyers to lower their fees. He says that if he starts to eat his lunch in a bank when there's a line (to avoid wasting his lunch hour) the bank manager will often come over to handle his business personally.
Boyd Rice realized early on that (1) most people follow whatever authority exists, no matter how arbitrary or pointless (2) even if you ruin someone's day with a prank, at least you provide them with a different experience (3) even if you are caught, "getting in trouble" rarely means anything - how can you punish someone for putting up eggplants on a row of stakes at a shopping center? While authority is often arbitrary (punishing people for being in the wrong place at the wrong time) you can take advantage of this by doing things that don't make any sense at all and confusing them. Some Boyd Rice pranks:
He worked at a Taco Bell when he was 16. He made up a fake dish called called a "Bean Qhrqwhqhr," which he would make out of old tortillas, lettuce and beans with a huge amount of salt in them. People would finish eating them despite the pain, because they were such a "good deal." He had great fun listening to them trying to pronounce the nonsense word: "Qhrqwhqhr."
Once, he faked a voice of nonsensical authority: from a friend's window with a megaphone, he would command a driver, "PULL YOUR VEHICLE TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND STOP YOUR ENGINE." After letting him sit for a while, "YOU MAY NOW PROCEED."
"School was basically just a place with hundreds of people to play games with." He and friends creatively re-did the displays in trophy cases at school, using yarn and construction-paper letters to make them look authentic - one said, "SENIORS! You must have your Senior Dummy Cakes if you want to graduate! If you haven't gotten them yet, go to your counselor. This is your last chance!" For his shop class, he build a 6 by 9 foot wooden cross, which he then had to drag on his back out of school.