Photo by Jack GouldIf you haven't heard of Squelch, surely you've heard of his genitals. Like him, they've been named Best Performance Artist(s) in the county—by this very paper! And when he makes an appearance, they make an appearance—sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally, sometimes only by subtle artistic allusion. Guided by his gentle hand, they transcend mere sexual and excretory functions. They are some really special genitals. But they would be nothing without Squelch himself.
See, Squelch isn't just another pretty face sitting naked on chilly concrete with an armful of bananas and some KY Jelly—though you might call him pretty, if you're into that sort of thing. There's a method to his homegrown brand of madness (he didn't go to art school for nothing), and this weekend marks the conclusion of his first performance since returning from LA to his native Orange County. Yes, open-mic nights beware: Squelch is back in town.
"When it comes down to what I actually do, it's kind of broad," Squelch says, which is being generous. It's also kind of messy, or kind of loud, or kind of scary, or even kind of beautiful. It's performance art and politics and even poetry. If it's any help, it sometimes makes his mother nervous. And it has a lot to do with the way he sees an increasingly homogenized and corporatized world, he says, and with being a kid who didn't really fit in anywhere—and who still doesn't. And it started with punk.
"When I listened to punk rock, I heard freedom," Squelch remembers. He'd rent videos like DOA (documenting the Sex Pistols' tour through the dirty South) and sit in front of the TV set with a boom box, taping the songs off the television speaker. He was still in elementary school. Talk to him about punk rock now, and you can tell how three chords and a lot of spite permanently rewired his brain—and how the Squelch we know and love started to take form.
"I was in my room all the time, putting on different costumes and lip-synching, feeling that music and feeling that power," he says. "But there was no one there for me to really connect with, to be in a band and all that. I always find myself on the outside of all these subcultures, just getting pushed around."
Sure, he was the first singer for seminal SoCal peace-punk band Resist and Exist (still around, by the way), but he slipped out of that over . . . well, we'll call it creative differences. It was 1993, and he'd basically punked himself out of punk. Time for a rebirth.
"That's when I just said, 'Fuck it,'" he says, "and I started doing Squelch."
Local open-mic nights were never the same again. He was performing at least four nights per week all over the county. There were the earliest, semiprivate performances in his bedroom, like the time he made sweet, sweet love to a bicycle frame. "It was an almost homoerotic performance piece," he says, "but not really because it was just me lusting over a bicycle."
Then there were the nowhere-to-hide public performances at Koo's, the Gypsy Den and the Hub—or even places like "anonymous warehouse," "vacant lot," "anonymous house party" and "various guerrilla performances," all of which dot his rsum. (Yes, he has a rsum, thank you.) Some were more, er, informal than others. Friends remember the time he smeared himself with ice cream at a party, and after slithering around for a bit, he suddenly went slack. After interminable minutes, someone had the guts to break the fourth wall and give him a gentle kick. "You can leave," they reported. "He's passed out."
But one of his favorite performances was when he donned a dapper suit and tie and jitterbugged to some '20s jazz, dancing with a knife against his throat and pulling the tie tighter and tighter. "A lot of symbols we can all relate to," he says.
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See, some people said what they needed to say with guitars or manifestos or Molotov cocktails—Squelch has to say it with, well, Squelch. Art school and a stint in LA have left him a bit older and wiser. At his opening a few weeks ago, he had an American flag attached to a cord coming out of his groin and Britney Spears cranked on the CD player, but he's honing his edge for the big time.
"My goal is to have a performance that has the same subject matter and points of view of my early performances—but crafted in a way that I can perform at the Orange County Fair," he says. "I want whole families to appreciate what I do."
His genitals could not be reached for comment, but we'll pray that they sit that one out.
Squelch's "Reaching for the Stars" closing reception with the Makeout Party and the Alleged Gunmen at the Pece-Jones Gallery, Santora Arts Complex, 207 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 639-8524. Fri., 8 p.m. Free. All ages.