“Exercise in Revolution” is the eighth and last song on Bachelors Anonymous’ unreleased third album, The Big Picture, remastered and released digitally. The Bachelors and Zack tell the story behind the song.
“Exercise in Revolution” is an adaptation of an adaptation taken from Bachelors Anonymous’s score for Zack’s production of Home or Future Soap by Megan Terry at UCLA Theater Arts in 1987. (See “Salt Doll” for more about the play.)
After the play had its performances at UCLA, we decided to produce a May Day variety event at Club Lingerie in Hollywood. (We’d already worked with various artists on the La Brea Circus variety troupe that had played L.A. and San Francisco in 1985, about which more later.) International Workers Day, May 1, began as a commemoration of the general strike that started that day in 1886 in support of the eight-hour day, which culminated in the Haymarket incident in Chicago on May 5. May Day is celebrated around the world, but barely observed here. Unwittingly we were commemorating the Haymarket affair on its 101st anniversary.
Not sure why we decided to celebrate May Day that year. “Maybe it was seeing Love Machine,” Bachelor David Hughes recalls. “I was sold. The projections in their act included a ‘dancing’ Venus of Willendorf.” David talked with Love Machine’s Leslie Belt about the concept. “She was concerned that we were lampooning labor, socialism, etc. I assured her that we revered the day itself but wanted to have some fun as well. I think it was then that Leslie told me she did standup, so we added her to the bill.” The roster also included Philip Littell. “Su Knill was emcee,” David remembers. “She fashioned a large hammer-and-sickle for the stage’s back wall, with the hammer replaced by a martini glass. Love Machine came on wearing denim overalls, maybe with sledgehammers in hand.” (Neither Philip nor the Bachelors remember what they did that night.)
The poster, designed by Victor Bowman (from an original idea by the Bachelorburo), declared:
Think Pink [the Soviet and Chinese red was fading; pinko; and, well…, pink]
Nothing’s Gonna Change Our World [John Lennon’s double-edged line from “Across the Universe”]
Zack recalls the following about Megan Terry’s Home and his adaptation for May Day:
The play depicted a day in the life of a “family” unit of nine that lived in an underground cell. The “Exercise” segment basically had the nine actors lined up in a grid and performing isolation exercises (moving only one part of the body at a time) in unison. In the play, each character had moments where they would stop exercising and, lit by a spotlight that lifted them out of the mass, revealed their inner monologue as they moved contemplatively in slow motion, turning in a circle that contrasted nicely with the mechanical and grid-aligned activity of the other performers. For the evening at Club Lingerie, we kept the basic movement structure but replaced the inner monologue lines with quotations from Julian Beck (co-founder of The Living Theatre) about revolution, given that the theme was May Day/Workers of the World Unite.
For May Day Zack cannily employed—curated—the musings of an artist on the nature of revolution. Julian Beck had collected them in The Life of the Theatre: The Relation of the Artist to the Struggle of the People, originally published by City Lights in 1972. We contacted the present publisher last year through its query interface and heard nothing for seven months. After emailing the imprint’s rights manager directly we were told permission could be granted only by Beck’s heirs, Garrick and Isha, his children with Judith Malina, cofounder of The Living Theatre. Fortunately David was able to track down Garrick, who remarked that there appeared to be “synergy” afoot because he’d been working on a stage adaptation of Julian’s book, suspended due to Covid-19. We obtained the permission and happily scrapped our Plan B (use of a public-domain text such as Edward Carpenter’s “A Mightier than Mammon” from his masterwork Towards Democracy).
Skimming Beck’s book to validate the passages we needed, we were struck by how the author was as likely to cite Breton as he was Bakunin, Ramakrishna as Wilhelm Reich, Judith Malina as Jean Genet.
The only complete version of “Exercise” we had was on an audiocassette—in mono. Even if it were pristine, Zack’s voice dropped out in spots. We also had a four-track reel that consisted of: Drums, Bass, Tin Marimba, and Percussion FX. At a length of 6:06 it might have been fine for the stage, but not for listening; the narration needed less space. Using his digital scalpel, Bachelor Rob Berg trimmed it to 4:41. He added some lush synth to build more tension and doubled some of the existing staccato lines. All but a couple of the effect-y bits were in the original recording.
When Rob finished, David did a scratch narration as a guide for a third-party voice artist, but in the end we preferred David’s rendition. “I am rebelling” was a welcome accidental overdub, which Scott Fraser fine-tuned during mixing at his studio, Architecture.
The first work of the revolutionary: to keep his own mind free.
after the revolution
there will be wine under the trees
bread will be scarce and everyone will eat it
when the revolution comes
romance will be finished
but what is begun
when the revolution comes
you will be standing at the prow and the salt wind blows in your face
for hundreds of years you dreamt of the ocean
now you are wet
Cocteau has said that the revolutionary artist is first ignored, then scorned, and when these things do not work they try to suppress you by loading you down with honors.
[T]he forces of repression can tolerate changes in lifestyle: the history of art, for instance, is the history of revolutions in style that are first rejected and then accepted.
The fundamental revolution of culture is the liberation of the sexual pattern: the work of freeing ourselves from our enslavement to our masochistic-sadistic character.
Only an alternative that is more effective than violence can achieve what the revolution is really all about.
Violent action, violent revolution, changes things, but people remain what they are.
If, as Gandhi says, capital engenders greediness and competitiveness as character traits, might anarcho-communism engender generosity and cooperation? The theory of the revolution is not based on the idea that human character is “good,” but that if we change the conditions in which we function, our character will change.
Permanent Revolution! The turning of the wheel! The discovery of the wheel being the mechanical conquest of space, and the turning of the wheel, chakra, in the mind, in the spirit, being the psycho-conscious-mechanical conquest of stagnation.
In the work I am doing now I am rebelling even against myself.
Text taken from Julian Beck, The Life of the Theatre: The Relation of the Artist to the Struggle of the People (New York: Limelight Editions, 1986 [San Francisco: City Lights, 1972]), reprinted by permission.
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