Hey, I just discovered that the article on Stang and the Church of the
SubGenius in the local Dallas paper TheMet, which I mentioned earlier
and was thinking about posting is, in fact, already online at TheMet's
own little web server!
The article itself is at: http://themet.computek.net/featurea525.html
and the cover page with "Bob"'s smiling visage is at:
For those of you without the capacity or initiative to go these URL's
yourself, here is the text of the article, copied directly from my web
After 15 years of preaching the SubGenius gospel, Dallas author Doug Smith is still a normal freak.
by T.A. Rogers
Doug Smith has a simple philosophy for dealing with people who don't think what he does is funny: "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." Except, of course, when it comes to the Secret Service. That's a different matter altogether.
"They called me up and said they were coming over to talk to me about this `SubGenius thing,' " Smith says, "and I was scared shitless."
This was a few years back, in 1981, right after Smith and a buddy, Philo Drummond, had published a "satirical" newsletter filled with spew and bullshatter about The Church of the SubGenius and J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and the Conspiracy. It seems that someone with an overly developed sense of humor had gotten ahold of the newsletter and was going around the Los Angeles airport doing a Hare Krishna number with it.
Problem was, a Concerned Citizen saw the newsletter and spotted a picture of The Fightin' Jesus machine-gunning a tentacled monster of the Conspiracy. On one of the tentacles was written "Reagan or any president." Also, the credits page said the newsletter came from Dallas, "Where We Teach 'Em to Shoot at Presidents and at People Who Shoot at Presidents." The Concerned Citizen tipped off the G-men, who showed up at Smith's house in suits and a black sedan.
"They were surprised there was no harem," Smith says. "They kind of looked over the stuff and basically said, `Well, we don't think it's very funny, but we can't tell you not to do this stuff. We just recommend that you don't use that picture that seems as if it were advocating assassinations.' "
Doug Smith answers the door and welcomes a visitor into his house, shooing away two dogs of indeterminate breed named Beast and Puddin'. A rubber band keeps his curly hair back in a ponytail, and he wears bluejeans and sneakers. In a Merit Ultra Light baritone, he offers his guest coffee and goes to the kitchen to grind fresh beans.
It turns out that the most shocking thing about Doug Smith, what you first notice after reading his books, is that he's "normal" (sort of). He lives in a comfortable two-story brick house in an upscale housing development near White Rock Lake. He's 41 years old and married to his high-school sweetheart, an elementary-school teacher. They are raising two bright, well-adjusted teenagers. We're talking a '60s television vision of wholesome. Nothing but a good, right-thinking American enjoying his slice of pie.
Admittedly, how he earns that pie may seem just a tad unorthodox. Sure, he adopts a hellfire-preaching persona known as Rev. Ivan Stang to rant at SubGenius Devivals across the country. (He has the human name "Doug Smith" because, "unfortunately, you have to have one.")
And yeah, maybe he writes strange books about this thing called The Church of the SubGenius: "A joke disguised as a religion? Or an actual, secretive religion, disguised as a joke disguised as a religion? Or, an incredibly complex joke, disguised as an extremely ambiguous religion, disguised as a joke disguised as a religion?"
Then there's the mail-order business, which offers, among other things, glow-in-the-dark boxer shorts and refrigerator magnets imprinted with the pipe-smoking head of "Bob," the Cosmic Salesman and Living Avatar of Slack. ("Bob" must always appear in quotes, for the Bob that can be named is not the true "Bob.") And he produces a mildly disturbing radio show called The Hour of Slack, which is broadcast on 15 independent and college stations across the United States and Canada.
But besides all that, or maybe because of it, Doug Smith is a wholesome, regular guy. Honest. His wife will testify to it.
"One of the things we enjoy is that people envision this really wild and crazy guy, but we work real, real hard to be as normal as we possibly can," she says. Mrs. Smith's Church name is "someone else." She prefers to keep her human name out of print.
"Doug's personal side with the family isn't really a secret," she says, "but unless somebody spent time with him, you would never, never, in a million years, believe that we have a nice house and a nice yard and all this other stuff.
"But I think Doug gets a kick out of it. He likes being the total opposite of what people expect."
"I just like being like `Bob,' " he adds.
The wonder years for Doug Smith, sacred scribe of "Bob," took place right here in Dallas, at his high-school alma mater.
"St. Mark's really was a nutty damn place," he says. "That's probably where I developed my tolerance for eccentricity. Drug use at St. Mark's was unbelievably rampant. [As a preacher, and a Texan, he often speaks in heavily accented italics.] In 1971, the people running that school didn't have the slightest idea of what was going on. It was criminal how dumb they were about it. Strangely enough, I was the straight guy. I was so weird that I didn't want to touch any of that stuff. But everybody else was doing acid and taking exams, going to football practice tripping. And yet, because I had longer hair than anybody there, the headmaster thought I was a drug pusher. Plus, I deliberately acted weird. They chalked it all up to, `That must be what drugs do.' "
Smith was invited back to St. Mark's a few years ago to speak - the semifamous author and performer giving the kiddos something to aspire to. He told them: "You shouldn't hate St. Mark's because it's an ivory tower fortress against the real world for the neurotic children of the rich. You should hate it 'cause there's no girls here!" The student who arranged the lecture almost got expelled, and Smith hasn't been invited back.
If they can't take a joke...
After graduating from St. Mark's, Smith went to the University of Texas at Austin. That really didn't work out, so, after a year, he transferred to Southern Methodist University, which also fell well short of his expectations. Let's just say Doug Smith wasn't a big fan of structured environments.
Then he got married, lived on an Indian reservation while shooting documentary films for two years in South Dakota, came back to Dallas, and had a kid. To non-SubGenii, his life may have seemed to be going nowhere, which, of course, it was. But it was going toward a very important Nowhere: Philo Drummond and The Church.
"Dr. Philo Drummond was really the guy who recruited me into it," Smith says. "I guess he and Dobbs knew I was desperate enough at the time. And I sure as hell was. Philo had been told by `Bob' that they needed some sucker to take on the PR stuff. So I started doing it. One of the reasons I was elected to be the Sacred Scribe was I had a big collection of kook material, and I could quote monster movies and comic books chapter and verse."
To make ends meet, Smith supplemented his income from freelance film editing and writing for business films and documentaries by working for a brief period as a mime. He recently recounted this painful (yet formative) period of his life for readers of the Internet's alt.slack newsgroup:
"I was 26, a new dad and jobless. It got so bad that I answered a want ad and ended up delivering balloons to sick and old people, in a tuxedo I had to buy, in white-face, with `+' marks under my eyes, sweating horribly in the 100-degree Texas weather. And they said that not only could I not talk, I couldn't even wear my glasses. So I was both dumb and half-blind, practically feeling my way through old folks' homes with my balloons clutched in my hands, thinking all the while, this is it. This is as low as I can get - I'm a fucking mime, rendered speechless and blind, for $5 a delivery....
"I had just written SubGenius Pamphlet No. 1 and spent my life savings of $60 printing it up, and sending it to every publisher in the world, and getting rejections from all of them.... But you know what? The whole time, driving from rest home to hospital, I recorded some of my best rants on tapes. Those rants ended up being woven into The Book of the SubGenius and Revelation X and a zillion `Hour of Slack' shows. And the moral of the story is, if you keep banging your head against that brick wall long enough, a brick might come loose, and you might end up making as much as $1,000 a year off your frustration."
Now, 15 years after Doug Smith first found "Bob," after four books and even an appearance on The Jon Stewart Show, he's famous and wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. Well, not really. But at least he's busy.
In his house, up in the attic office/ warehouse/recording studio that serves as the World Headquarters of The Church of SubGenius, salesman Smith does business and deals with everyday problems.
"Damn it!" he yells in the middle of a tour of the facilities. "If I don't get another shipment of those fucking mugs and more T-shirts by tomorrow, I'm going to be up shit creek!"
What? This from the man who preaches Slack? Who has written of "floating down the Path of Least Resistance - `greasing the skids' and EXPLOITING your MISTAKES"? Who tells us to "negate effort by not trying, by not even doing... by merely `letting' "?
Yes, that cursing salesman is the normal Doug Smith, the workaholic. The family man who oversees a multimedia business with hundreds of field operatives.
"Instead of having to work nine hours a day," he says, "I have to work 16 hours a day. I'm always complaining about all this. It's like, `Wait a minute, I'm supposed to be gettin' Slack, damn it.' My friends on the Internet are always telling me to take it easy for one day."
Person 2 Person...
The Internet is the newest tool of The Church, a way for its roughly 8,000 dues-paying members (mail $30 to P.O. Box 140306, Dallas, TX 75214) and minions of preachers and contributors to keep in touch. Besides the several unofficial Web sites devoted to The Church, there is the newsgroup alt.slack, which Smith reads every day and which gets about 1,000 posts of Weirdness a week (everything from directions on how to "Butcher the Human Carcass for Consumption" to a debate over whether David Lynch is a SubGenius or a Pink Boy to an engaging 1,000-word essay about a box of Multi-Grain Cheerios).
One of the busier field operatives whom Smith works with lives in North Carolina. David McConville is a multimedia developer for Sunsite, an R & D outfit affiliated with Sun Microsystems Corp. and the University of North Carolina. The folks at Sunsite had one of the first Web servers in the United States and worked with the White House before it decided to get its own server. McConville and his team (including well-known graphic artist Paul Mavrides of San Francisco) are working with Smith to create the ultimate Web homepage. It already exists in a larval stage at http://www.subgenius.com, but the SubGenii at Sunsite are improving it at this very moment with technology that would even impress "Bob": Dynamically Generated Documents.
"They're not just pages you pull up that are on a hard drive somewhere," McConville says. "When you send a request for a page, it actually runs a small program that will generate a new page, so it'll look different every time you visit. It'll be set up like a maze or a big castle or a large intestine - no analogies apply.
"And with the ability to hyperlink things, I just don't see people abusing that as much as they should," McConville says. "It's amazing, with The Church of the SubGenius, because just about every four words or so, I can link into something that's on the Net. You look for key words like `demon goddess,' and you can find this amazing stuff to link it to."
Salesman Smith also uses the Internet to communicate with the hundreds of SubGenii field operatives who help write the books. "There's Rev. Susie the Floozie in Atlanta," he says, "and St. Janor Hypercleats in Arkansas and Pope Sternodox Keckhaver, also in Arkansas. You never know who's suddenly going to run into `Bob' and get some new choice chunk or a quote or something. If you look at the credits page of the books, there are, like, 100 names on each one. They're all real. To pay people properly, I had to actually mathematically calculate how much of Revelation X was contributed by each person, by percentages, down to the line."
Not the least of salesman Smith's troubles, he must deal with cheap imitators. "There's a guy in Canada who says he's `Bob' Dobbs. He's even put out a CD. I would love to sue his ass." He breaks into the Ivan Stang preacher voice: "If somebody says he's `Bob,' it's real simple: You just kill 'em. If they come back to life, then it was only `Bob,' and he doesn't give a shit. If they don't, then good riddance; it's just another False Bob. `Your Honor, he said he was "Bob." ' `Well, did you kill him?' `Yeah, sure we did.' `Case dismissed. Praise "Bob." ' "
But salesman Smith has a retirement plan to be envied. One day, Slack will be his. "Once the snowball gets big enough," he says, "then I'll be able to retire like William Burroughs. They can wheel me out in a wheelchair, in front of a bunch of college students, and I can go, `Repent. Quit your jobs. Slack off.' They'll applaud and they'll give me a check for $5,000 and I'll go home."
Doug Smith is chopping onions. It is 4 o'clock, and that means the family will be home soon, so he's sautéing ground beef in a heavy iron skillet and dicing garlic for a chicken gumbo recipe. Only, he's not using chicken. It's that sort of shocking culinary improvisation that shows just how crazy he can get.
This clinches it. Doug Smith really is a normal guy who has, with the help of some creative friends, invented an amusing and elaborate satire that shouldn't be taken literally. The man cooks dinner for his family, after all. Hell, he's practically a homemaker! The Rev. Ivan Stang and "Bob" and the SubGenius and the whole bit - it's all just an act. Right?
"What kind of question is that?" he booms in his best hellfire voice. "That's like going to the pro-wrestling guys and saying, `Come on, these things are all just rehearsed and planned ahead of time, aren't they?' No, this is your soul we're talking about, son. The fate of the planet. You can't take it too seriously."
Copyright 1995 The Met, all rights reserved. --Revised May 25, 1995--
From: Ain-Soph <Ricky@nerix.nerdc.ufl.edu>
I hope "Stang" didn't write this. If Bob Black ever finds out then there's gonna be...
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