Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How I spent my summer vacation…
Or Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Hello and I’m back!

Sorry for the long hiatus, but I took some well deserved time off from work, and just sort of fell out of the notion of scanning any photos or sitting at the keyboard trying desperately to be amusing. I really should read up on blogging protocol; I’m sure I was supposed to put up a “Be Right Back…” or “Stay Tuned” PhotoShopped over Art Deco watercolor of a flapper, ala the Tonight Show circa 1974, but even that seemed too much.

I didn’t do anything but watched the X-Files (I’m almost finished with Season One), transferred all 16 of my Sammy Davis Jr. albums, got blind drunk and made a fool of myself on a weeknight (Oy!), wandered from room to room in my house sighing, and generally feeling the need to dust behind things and putting pants, that I’ll never fit into again, into bags. Oh, but I did manage to do something that I try to do every few years and that is visit the House on the Rock.

Now dear Readers if you haven’t heard been to the
House on the Rock, than you have not drunken from the chipped kitten cup of LIFE. I once boldly proclaimed that The House is where my soul lives; and every few years I feel that the least I can do for my soul is to visit once in a while.

In a nutshell, the HOTR is a 1970's orange shag carpeted house built on a rock filled with all the Matt Helm accouterments and a series of huge barns filled with every conceivable bit of bric-a-brac, flotsam, and nostalgic hoo-ha collected in one place. This is my forth time visiting, and 3rd time bringing people who hadn’t been there before. About a ¾ of the way through the tour I usually ask my HOTR guests "Is what you expected?" This time when I asked Steve, a woman overheard my question, “Who could expect this?” she moaned with a dazed look on her face. “Who could put this in words?” Who indeed?

(If you plan to go, SPOILERS AHEAD if you want to be surprised don’t read any further. Avert your eyes. Turn away.)

But I can’t imagine that any amount of words can describe the pure unrelenting expanse of it. Part museum, part art installation, part nightmarish thrift store. And an overwhelming sense of pure visual overload. This time was no different although I knew what was coming around each bend, and for the most part a lot of it isn’t dazzling or even exciting, it’s just strange and disconcerting. Starting with the house itself with its late 60's décor, the first thing you see is a sunken living room/kitchenette complete with glass walls and dilapidated plush couch. A Polish tour guide was excitedly pointing out the finer points of vintage American shag living room to her group.
“This must be cleaned with a special vacuum cleaner.” The interior design is a mish-mash of Oriental, Deco, and Sears Catalog; what could these Polish tourists have thought?

This time through the House was a different experience for me, if only because this time I had a digital camera. I discovered that the whole experience is one big photo opportunity; as if I was seeing the wooden carving of a demonic jester for the first time having passed it by three times before. The opportunity to take a photo of not one but two drunken clowns in a bathtub figurines, made me feel as if I was suddenly Richard Avelon and the House on the Rock was suddenly Audrey Hepburn or Vanessa Redgrave.
At House on the Rock everyone can be Andy Warhol.
My soul came to say ‘hello, here I am' as I snapped away at the collection of Lady Head Planters as the nickelodeons played insistently in the background. (And where else can you see a figurine of a naked buff clown.)

This time I went with Steve and Paul who are creative both with music, dance and theatre; They saw the whole experience as a big art project and could easily able to point out the tricks of the trade; Such as, the violins are not really playing and that things were just sort of pieced together. In fact, this was all confirmed by a friendly HOTR guide who pointed out in the carousel room that some of the figures on the platform where not original but pieced together out of several broken figures; Hence the mermaid with the wolf’s head. Soon after I saw a Virgin Mary statute wearing a wide brimmed hat.
How wonderful it is that this huge, expensive tourist trap in the middle of no where is ever so gently exposing the most middle of America to art. Never would tattooed biker parents and their shaggy-haired son have gone to the MCA to see an art installation, but they intently watched a room of mannequins play circus music while people dutifully pushed buttons around the room to make old jewelry displays turn on. Art is truly everywhere, especially in the mundane. And when the mundane is stored in airline hanger sized barns then it truly becomes almost spiritual.

If my soul truly does live in the House, and let me assure you it does, than I was disturbed by how many just sinister images reside there. In every nook held a hidden face or distressed sea nymph. So many faces… so many filled with pain. And again, so strange to seeing families pushing their children through hallways, down orange carpeted walls past these images. I’m sure that they faces are burned in the imaginations of every child who has ever passed this way.

Any artist who hasn’t been to House on the Rock needs to make a pilgrimage. Book your room at the Don Q Inn (I'm sorry to say it looks like they took down the balloon room), have dinner in the B-15 bomber, visit the mineral museum, and spend six hours learning the art of art, and how thin the line is between kitch and the sublime.

Hope I haven’t lost many of you… Happy summer…!!!

Note: I took all the photos except for the livingroom which I got from http://www.pbase.com/


David said...

I think I've been to a House on the Rock, but not this one. I would remember it.

BC said...

Glad you're back, Johnny!
That house looks GREAT. I'm so there.

dirk.mancuso said...

Did you catch both the Eugene Tooms episodes ("Squeeze" and "Tooms") yet?
Those are two of the greatest episodes of the series.

Johnny C said...

Dirk: I just finished watching Tooms last night... Yes, both really creepy.

Aaron said...

I have GOT to visit that house!

Anonymous said...

Welcome back and glad you had fun! Those knick knack heads gave me a nightmare ...memories of a spotless childhood dusting my mom's knick knacks!!

Miss Kat said...

I miss that place so much!!! I especially love it in the dead of winter. Thanks for rekindling the memories.