Is David Woodard's Life His Art?

Or is his art his life?
Or is he just scamming us?

People straggled in as "Centerfield" and "Boys of Summer" and "Fat Bottomed Girls" played over the PA. It wasn't hard to spot Woodard. He stood out in another of Daddy's suits among the hard-bitten baseball types who not only knew enough to bring blankets but also came with their own propane-powered heaters.

He sat with me. I told him I had looked up his website and was surprised at what I found, not the least of which was an image of Woodard and Burroughs, faces aglow, standing in front of a dream machine with DAVID WOODARD, SUPREME RULER OF THE UNIVERSE flashing above in red letters.

"Oh, that's done by a 13-year-old from Virginia I've never met," he said, adding that he was considering having the whole thing changed because "it now strikes me as being overly silly."

Yeah, I said, like something a 13-year-old would come up with. He laughed.

So, I said, the 13-year-old came up with the Supreme Ruler of the Universe?

"No," he said. "That comes from a 14-year-old I have met."

I was already feeling tired again, and I began to wish that he would go away and prepare for his performance. When the time came, he excused himself and began to set up his pump organ at home plate as two field workers held the giant number 56 he had constructed out of masking tape. Woodard sat before his beaten organ with the cheesy wood veneer as the announcer went through a list of promotions and announcements, the last of which was that beer sales would end in the seventh inning.

Then he announced Woodard, "director of the Long Beach Chamber Players." It was a title and organization that in our several conversations he had never mentioned. The players in both dugouts stood at attention. The people in the stands didn't, though it got very quiet except for a hushed, "Oh, I think it's nice that they're doing this."

Let me just say that I am not the kind of person who believes things in life suddenly come together in an instant of clarity. And I can't stand cheap dramatic devices that would lead you to believe they do by having characters say, "At that moment . . ."

But, at that moment, just before Woodard's fingers hit those keys—seemingly every key at once—I realized I had been taken. The phone and restaurant conversations; the Supreme Ruler of the Universe; the website list of marches and fanfares for sale that included "God Bring Ye Thy Fire Down Upon Thy Sheep" and "To Dominate and Devour the Universe" and "Plecidic Fanfare for the Blood Empire"; the very pale people dressed in what appeared to be wizard clothes and fake beards scurrying through the aisles.

Everything that was about to happen seemed inevitable, yet I hadn't seen it coming until now. Something about him had diverted me, and now I sat here with the rest of them and listened to what was, as the Press-Telegram reporter put it, music, if you can call it that. Woodard would later describe it as "ethereal dissonance." I would say merely dissonance.

"What is this?" someone asked audibly. People began to mutter. Not wanting to seem disrespectful or unsophisticated, they had waited for a minute or two to start asking: Was this art? Was this a kind of Special Olympics thing? Should we all just be happy that this mental case made the effort?

"Is it supposed to be smoking?"

Smoke began to pour from the pump organ as if we were at a Styx concert. As the music—the sounds—went on, so did the debate among the spectators.

"Does he know what he's doing?"

"Does he know how to play?"

"I think he's warming up."

Then the music suddenly segued into something melodic and recognizable: "Take Me out to the Ball Game." There came audible sighs of recognition, but just as suddenly, there grew an audible grouse as Woodard descended back into the previous clatter. The crowd now knew that he knew how to play the organ; the pass they were willing to give the mentally deficient they were not willing to extend to some artsy type who gets his kicks messing with Middle America.

"What the hell is this?" asked one man angrily.

"When is this going to be over?" whined a child.

When it did end, there were pockets of polite applause.

"Goodness," said the woman behind me.

"I smell peppermint schnapps," said the man next to her.

Woodard came up and sat with me again. He said that he was happy with the way things had gone. The version we heard was actually shortened.

"The real piece is more than seven minutes long, but I shortened this to five minutes. Well, actually, I shortened it between five and six minutes to get the 5-6 thing—you know, 56."

Right. I was not talking much.

We sat and watched the game. I asked him if he had ever played baseball.

"I was a second baseman, and I was out at my position," he replied. "I was 8. And a player hit a ball, and it hit me in the forehead and knocked me out. The ball came right for my head. To be honest, I couldn't see it, the ball, because it was coming so fast and right at me. It was like this dot that just kept getting bigger—there was no way I could get out of the way of it. All I remember is the moment before the ball hit me and then lying on the ground, being surrounded by my teammates, many of whom were laughing uncontrollably. They were 8-year-old boys, but still it strikes me as a strange circumstance to be laughing uncontrollably. They called my parents, and my mother treated me. My mother's an anesthesiologist, and she gave me a mild anesthetic. She knew how much I didn't like needles, so she let me insert the needle. It made me feel better, but it also produced mild hallucinations. So that was my first experience with hallucinations. It was quite a surprise."

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