David Franks!!

The way I remember this is that after David Franks died, in 2010, I was asked by a BalTimOre writer to contribute to a memorial about him to be published. I then wrote this. A highly edited one or 2 paragraphs were all that made the cut - anything controversial about David was removed.

However, given that this is dated 2004, it must've been written while David was still alive. I have a very vague memory that he'd just gotten out of the hospital from something serious & that the person who asked me for the piece probably wanted testimonials that would cheer David.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm a person who liked David & his work very much. To me, removing the controversy is like reducing him to an idiotic stereotype - something he wasn't.


As a young experimental writer in the early '70s,

I ventured into Baltimore searching for something

I wasn't likely to find much of. At the Theater Project there

were open readings. I was disastisified w/ them for much

the same reason I wd be now. They were more group therapy

sessions than they were environments for language to thrive in.

Too many confessions of sex & coffee & booze & cigarettes

& too little thought about other uses words cd be put to.


Then I heard (or heard about) David Franks. He read the mistakes

from those correction tapes that were used in typewriters.

You'd backspace to your mistake, put the tape w/ white ink

over it, retype the mistake to replace the red or black w/ white,

backspace again, remove the tape & type what you wanted there instead.

Wonderful! David let the erratum speak for themselves.


He taught English Lit at the Maryland Institute of Art.

I wasn't a student there (& didn't want to be) but I attended

his class twice. He noted my unpaying presence & okayed it.

We talked about a project of mine that involved people

in different places performing the same actions at the same times:

"Attempting 2 Score Sum Action 4 Daily Living".

He asked if I documented it & I sd I didn't want to. He asked if

that was for spiritual reasons. No. That's when we started getting

to know each other. I was a harsh judge: When David cdn't

remember the word "palindrome", I stopped attending his class.

He was eventually "let go" from there. I'm sure he was one of

the best teachers they ever had - but too controversial, eh?

I mean, I hear he even broke glass in the classroom.

Better than the breaking gas from the mouths of many teachers.


One of my favorite stories about him is about a performance

he gave in an auditorium somewhere in Southern Maryland.

He came out in front of the audience in a wheelchair w/

a blanket over his lap - after we'd had to wait a bit.

In a pathetic voice he explained that he was late because his mother

had just attempted suicide (this was based on a traumatic incident

in his childhood) & because of other miseries. He'd planted

Bonnie Bonnell & Jayne DeSesa posing as 'lesbian hecklers'

in the audience. They started harrassing him w/ things like:

"Who gives a fuck about your problems, asshole!" He pulled

out a blank gun from under the blanket & pretended to shoot them.

They 'died' somewhat unconvincingly. Then he put the gun

to his head. As David told me at the time, he didn't realize

that blank guns shoot wads of paper. At close range to his temple,

the fired wad stunned him & blood started to flow. His recently

estranged ex-girlfriend was in the audience. Some people

saw this act as a ploy to get her sympathy. It may've even

worked. It was VERY DRAMATIC (in a uniquely imaginative

sort of way). People flocked to David's aid & he was rushed

to the hospital. Many were extremely angry & repulsed by

this apparent abuse of their emotional sensitivity. I thought it

was fantastic! One of the best performances I'd ever seen!


After that, David told me over the phone that he'd suffered

from synesthesia as a result of the head wound. Hearing colors,

seeing sounds. I don't think he was happy about this. It was

a bit much. But what a way to get there!


David wd call me anonymously & talk about migrating

off-planet. I recognized his voice. Getting anonymous phone calls

at the time was somewhat of a norm in my life. I was co-running

the TESTES-3 phone stn. He asked whether I'd want to be selective

about who cd join our space colony. I voted for leaving it open.

He wanted selectivity - specifically Julie Newmar (a voluptuous

actress who played a robot on a tv show). He lusted for her.

These were fascinating conversations.


I've always liked David's work because he's managed to pack

emotionally difficult material into formally clever presentations

that often transcend simple expressiveness. He composed a piece

to be played by foghorns on tugboats in the Baltimore harbor.

He snuck into the Social Security Complex in Woodlawn (world's

largest group of government bldgs?) back in the day when only such

places had photocopiers & fucked the glass of one of them until

he came. Photocopying merrily away all the while. My kind of guy.


We collaborated on "Hairballs, Wigs, & Weaves for Skinheads"

in 1990 - our parody of misunderstood white supremacists.

The organizers of the anti-racist rally we presented it at were

a bit afraid of what we might say - we might be, heaven forbid!,

POLITICALLY INCORRECT. Professor "Footlong" Franks'

sound-byte made it to the tv news.


Even little incidents w/ David are memorable to me. I remember

a time when we were in a bar in Fells Point & some friend

probably asked him to get a drink for them. Immediately

getting into the role of high-priced waiter, he draped

a cloth napkin over his arm & bowed before getting to the task.

Performative panache.


My friend Joan Lobell once told me about David & her being

in Fells Point & about his entangling her in a drama when they

invaded an apartment where someone had just overdosed.

David wanted Joan to film the ODed girl's friends' attempts

to rouse her naked in the shower - or something like that.

He just plunged right in. The friends were not pleased.


David & Paul Sharits were buddies. David's the guy in Sharits' 16mm film

"T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G" who flirts w/ threatening his own tongue w/ removal

by scissors. Both Sharits & Franks have treaded a thin line between

self-destruction & intensively urbane commentary. Franks even toured w/

Root Boy Slim & his Sex Change Band (who had the 'hit' "Boogie 'til you

Puke") to be "beat up on stage" (whatever that meant).


In 1992, David made a Philosopher's Union Member's Mouthpiece

that I shot as part of a series that I was making w/ the PXL-2000

Pixelvision camcorder. His was the 70th. His subject?

Temperance. Apparently drinking was getting him into

trouble so he stopped. His text is a thoughtful monolog.


Don't misunderstand me, not all of David's work & life is

sensationalist &/or morbid thrills. He has a CD published by Pyramid

Atlantic called "Musical Words" that many wd find pleasant

& non-confrontational. David's far from being a one-trick-pony.

If you're looking for someone w/ ideas & unique & poetic

ways of presenting them to you, look to David Franks.


- tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE; December 9, 2004E.V.




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