Brothers and Sisters… this errant one, whose feet have trod along Hollywood’s golden starred paths of sin, and whose lips have tasted the many bitter fruits of lasciviousness so common to my City of Lust Angeles… this willfully disobedient soul has had an epiphany!
Ah yes! I was walking in the desolate wilderness of the San Fernando Valley, plodding along one of the ugliest streets in all creation, cast down by billboards that assailed me with wicked images of corporate death cheeseburgers and loathsome CGI action movies - all the works of the Devil - when the divine truth was revealed to me.
I was standing on the forsaken neon boulevard with thorn-pierced feet, when a palm tree - thousands of rusty nails and staples fastening cheap advertising flyers to its trunk - suddenly burst into flames before me! A great stillness came upon the land; I could no longer hear the gangsta rap blaring from passing cars; I could no longer see the buses - filled with unhappy people and covered with gigantic advertisements for Desperate Housewives - barreling down the street; there was only the burning palm ablaze with a mighty spiritual fire. The tree spoke, its voice a gentle benediction, like the wind in a vast wild place; the fiery palm whispered…
“The good Rev. Billy & the Triple Goddess Gospel Singers will appear with Sister Exene Cervenka at The Echo in the downtown Echo Park district of Lost Angeles. Go forth in righteousness and spread the blessed truth to the teeming masses. Shun the path of synthetic pop stars and their killer drones; turn away from the creeping virtual meatball’s race towards bigger and better flat-screen televisions. Remember - Rev. Billy, Exene, The Echo, Sunday, 2:00 pm. March 3, 2013. Be there or be an apostate Republocrate.“
Rev. Billy & the Triple Goddess Gospel Singers
with Sister Exene Cervenka at The Echo in Los Angeles, March 3, 2013.
Cries of “Earthaluya!” shook the rafters when Reverend Billy of The Church of Stop Shopping preached from the stage at The Echo.
A small crowd of sinners had gathered to hear the good Reverend’s sermon, and they yelped in spiritual joy as Rev. Billy spoke in tongues; the messianic leader punched the air with his fists and danced in jubilation as he spoke against the sins of apathy, complacency and mindless consumerism.
Demons of materialism were exorcised from the hearts of those gathered at The Echo revival meeting.
It was a fortuitous and historic occasion, given that just around the corner the Angelus Temple could be found - the very place where evangelical sensation Aimee Semple McPherson (”Sister Aimee”), used to preach to the sinners of Lost Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s! My own mother visited the Angelus Temple as a young girl. Sister Aimee was the first mass media preacher and the first woman to receive a broadcasting license for religious programming on the radio. For all of today’s televangelical “false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are savage wolves” (Matthew 7:15), it is the Reverend Billy that truly stands with the poor and the meek against the greed and violent cruelty of the powerful - and here I do not blaspheme.
The faith healing event opened with an old spiritual sung by Sister Exene Cervenka and the Triple Goddess Gospel Singers. The members of the group found one other in the Devil’s playground of Lost Angeles, and they only came together as a gospel choir to support Rev. Billy’s visit to the Sodom of the West Coast. The evangelical song sparrows performed a total of three rousing gospel numbers during the revival, two of which I caught on video. My favorite song by the Goddess Gospel Singers was a cover of the late 1950s song, Mean Old World, by Marion Williams & the Stars of Faith.
When not singing with the Triple Goddess Gospel Singers, Sister Exene took to the pulpit to do a bit of evangelizing on her own, proving herself to be a formidable new voice in The Church of Stop Shopping. She sermonized that the faithful should turn their backs on Beyoncé, Lady GaGa, Nicki Minaj and others of the Jezebel spirit for serving power and the Golden Calf; called for people to smash their televisions; and preached that parents should “dress their children in corduroy pants, give them bowl haircuts, and teach them carpentry, soldering, or gardening” instead of allowing them to become consumer society trendoids.
Sister Exene took on an apocalyptic tone as she reminded the flock of how the U.S. Constitution has been eroded since 9/11, with government security forces now able to watch Americans via domestic Predator drones, or even by sending hummingbird-shaped and sized surveillance drones through your open front door. Citing Sandy Hook as a pretext, she prophesized that the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens would be limited even further in days to come.
Sister Exene confessed having been seduced by promises of deliverance made by the false prophets of the Democratic Party, but as a born-again acolyte of The Church of Stop Shopping, she has seen the light - Praise Be! - and now warns the faithful against believing the words of Follyticians. It was all fire and brimstone from Sister Exene, but she was just warming up the congregation.
Reverend Billy took the stage and speechified on how war is crucial to consumerism, while inveighing against those who reap the super profits:
“No wonder they are so powerful! The shopping is evolving us into a single personality! The constant monetizing… we’re suffering from thousands of advertising events every day. Increasingly were getting militarized advertisements. I just refer you to the Super Bowl. When you have that experience, you’re watching the game - the slow motion, the projectiles, the armoring - and then you go to a video game and… it’s the same thing. And then you go to a Be All That You Can Be Army ad, and… it’s the same thing. And then you’re back in the football game and… it’s the same thing.
Militarism and consumerism are utterly enmeshed at this point. That was always the plan. Professors call it a ‘totalizing’ system… they are trying to get into every nook and cranny of our lives. If there is any part of our lives that is still outside of the impact of their commodification, of their making us that one personality - anything dark, anything far-way from that apparatus - they’ll find you there!”
The day after Rev. Billy’s fiery sermon, it was reported that President Obama had nominated the head of the Wal-Mart Foundation, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, as the new director for his Office of Management and Budget (OMB); Burwell will assist the president in making budgetary decisions. That Wal-Mart now has a new big box store called the White House will no doubt weigh heavily upon the good Reverend’s mind. At one point during his sermon Rev. Billy intoned; “Is Obama the best we can do? Forget about gun control, we need some Drone control!”
Reverend Billy is not just the messianic evangelical leader of The Church of Stop Shopping, in actuality he is a character created and performed by actor Bill Talen. But Talen’s shtick is much more than satiric performance art or quirky activism, he answers an age old calling - that of Holy Fool. Much of this is evident in his just released book, The End of the World, a minuscule paperback filled with big ideas, apocalyptic visions, and achingly beautiful humanistic thought.
Talen’s love of humanity, the earth, justice, and beauty, finds expression not in dry political discourse but in artful burlesque; he speaks a language community organizers are by and large unfamiliar with, or willfully disdainful of - the vernacular of art. The conformist machine society is equally non-aesthetic, so, the Reverend Billy Talen provides us with a revelation - art and action leads to salvation!