I never knew Bruce Conner. But I did know a guy named Bruce who hung out at the Mabuhay Gardens in North Beach in 1978, taking pictures. I’d just arrived in San Francisco from Kansas, and the Mabuhay was the place to be. It was a quiet Filipino family restaurant by day and a blasted out punk club every night after midnight, where the Dead Kennedys, the Mutants, the Avengers, the Sleepers, Negative Trend, and U.X.A. took the stage, introduced by a passive-aggressive little man named Dirk Dirksen, who looked and sounded like an aggrieved vacuum cleaner salesman. The scene was fueled mostly by beer, cocaine, Mexican heroin, and a sincere desire for oblivion. It was also extremely physical, involving a lot of breakage of furniture and bones. Dirk was the long-suffering parent, trying to keep the kids from hurting or killing themselves. He failed.
I knew who the artist Bruce Conner was by then, a little. I’d seen A Movie and Report and Crossroads, and I was about to see Valse Triste, Take the 5:10 to Dreamland, and Mongoloid at the SF Cinematheque. I’d seen some reproductions of his collages and assemblages in books, and I think I’d even seen some exquisite Angels. But I didn’t connect the artist Bruce Conner with the guy in shades, flashing out of the shadows every night at the Mabuhay. That guy was reserved but not standoffish, and he didn’t act like he was above it all. At 45, he was certainly the oldest person in the room, but we got the sense that he understood what we were doing there. Disintegration of the ego, pre-emption of the apocalypse, turn it up. We didn’t have any answers, but at least we weren’t under Control.
Bruce was on the scene, but not of it. He was drunk and stoned, but on, like the war photographer Hopper played in Apocalypse Now, only quiet, collecting data on the decline of Western Civilization. Twenty-five years later, after I’d moved to New York, I saw Bruce’s photographs from the Mabuhay in a show at Curt Marcus Gallery in Soho. It was called “Dead Punks and Ashes.”
In November 1978, at the height of the Mabuhay period, Connor wrote a letter to his friend Freude Bartlett in which he said, “I don’t have no biography anymore. Used it all up.” It was signed “Born again, Bruce X.”
ContributorDavid Levi Strauss
David Levi Strauss is an American poet, essayist, art and cultural critic, and educator. He is a consulting editor at the Rail.
BRUCE CONNER & JAY DEFEO:
By Jessica Holmes
(“we are not what we seem”)
OCT 2021 | ArtSeen
Bruce Conner & Jay DeFeo (we are not what we seem) is a testament to the singular relationship, cultivated over decades, between these two stalwarts of the post-war San Francisco cultural scene.
Bruce Naumans Spatial EncountersBy Charlie M. Schultz
DEC 21-JAN 22 | Art Books
A work of art is what it is, obviously, but it is also what it could be. In other words, it is more than itself, but how much more? And through what means does an audience recognize the multifariousness of its being? This is the question that gives gravity to the astute essays of Constance M. Lewallen, Dore Bowen, and Ted Mann in the remarkable book Bruce Nauman: Spatial Encounters.
Bruce’s Beachby Roger Q. Mason, illustration by Brian Vincent Rhodes
JUL-AUG 2022 | Theater
Kiki, 16–18, a Black girl, speaks her truth to us.
Farewell to the F-Word?
By Paul Mattick
Bruce Kuklick's Fascism Comes to America
MARCH 2023 | Field Notes
As part of an early stage of these developments, fascism still seems useful to learn about, though Kuklick may be right to urge us to commit the F-word to the historical dustbin. Even he seems to understand why his advice is unlikely to be taken.