The handful of people onstage in this tribal music show share at least one attribute: They’re all displaying their private parts. Even the guy in the neon-green-and-pink wheelchair is naked — well, except for his mismatched high-tops and bright yellow socks. His head is clean-shaven, and a microphone is wrapped around his ear so the audience can better hear him bellow like Chewbacca.
Others use anything they can to make noise. An attractive young brunette wearing only Tevas beats her pubic region with drumsticks. An older woman dressed in a provocatively tattered red dress escorts the drummer girl over to the guy in the wheelchair and sits her down atop him. She begins rocking slowly back and forth in his lap, while the other woman gently embraces her. The pace of the rocking steadily speeds up, until it is almost frantic. The woman in red meows like a cat. Meanwhile, the man getting all the attention lets loose his Wookiee-howl.
It’s a peculiar scene to say the least, and it’s not really, you know, entertaining. But there’s something seductive about it — mysterious even. The man in the wheelchair: what’s his deal? Can he actually feel the chick writhing on top of him? Can he get a boner? Is he being exploited? Does he even know what’s going on?
Not only does he know what’s going on, he’s the guy who orchestrated the whole thing. His name is Frank Moore, and he is a 56-year-old Berkeley artist with severe cerebral palsy that left him spastic, unable to walk or talk, and horny for attention. The performance, a two-hour-long affair titled “The Free Tribal Hot Skin Passion Music/Dance Jam” that Moore staged in New York City in September and later aired on his local cable-access TV program, is but one bullet on his thirteen-page résumé. The document also lists academic degrees that include a Master of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, dozens and dozens of published articles, feature-length videos he’s directed and starred in, teaching and music gigs, exhibits, plus his cable and Internet radio shows. It doesn’t even include anything about being a shaman or starting his own church.
During the span of Moore’s decades-long artistic career, he’s been described as the Stephen Hawking of performance art. He’s influenced the likes of porn-star theorist Annie Sprinkle and bass player Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s performed at New York’s Franklin Furnace, an avant-garde basement space that helped launch the careers of performance artists such as Karen Finley, notorious for her use of nudity and grocery items. Moore’s works have managed to offend everyone from former US Senator Jesse Helms to liberals on the Berkeley City Council.
Moore’s performances have been known to last 48 hours and usually feature nudity and improvised “erotic play” between he and whomever else wants to join in. They have been called “obscene,” “outrageous,” and “difficult.” People always ask him: “What do you say to those who might suggest you are using art as a means to get naked women to rub against you?” Moore has heard this one so often he refers to the query as “FAQ #5.” His standard answers:
1. They are jealous.
2. I don’t need to work this hard to get THAT.
Yes, Moore has a sense of humor. A wicked one. But behind the funny guy is an intense and serious man. A man who spent the first seventeen years of his life trapped inside his head and intensely isolated, unable to communicate with anyone outside his family or instructors. His erotic performances — and practically everything else he does — are triumphs over the isolation that so long kept him hostage. His disability is the driving force behind his creative urge. Although his work isn’t really about being disabled, it springs from his long experience as a disabled man — ignored, stared at, isolated, dismissed as a freak, and told what he couldn’t do. Ever since Moore has transcended that isolation, he’s made it his mission to inspire, cajole, heal, arouse, stimulate and, quite possibly, piss you off.
Moore’s performances need to be understood in the context of his early physical isolation. “My art is rooted in breaking out of isolation,” he explains in his autobiographical tale, Art of a Shaman. Evidence of Moore’s aversion to seclusion is everywhere in his West Berkeley house — the purple one with the “tie-dyed” SUV out front. A video camera is always running in the front room where Frank and his partner Linda Mac peck away at their computers, an image updated every thirty seconds on his Web site (www.eroplay.com). Because e-mail allows Moore to communicate like an ordinary person, he is an Internet junkie, hosting an online salon of more than one hundred members with whom he shares ideas. Their house also serves as the home of Moore’s radical Webcasting initiative, Love Underground Visionary Revolution (www.luver.com), a kind of low-rent KPFA.
“I can’t be modest,” a very naked Moore says through his interpreter and partner, Linda Mac, while getting ready for a Sunday night interview for his talk show, Shaman’s Den. Frank needs to go to the bathroom before his guest arrives, and for this he’ll need help from Linda and Mikee Labash, the third cog in their romantic troika.
Moore has invited me to watch him interview a woman he calls his “wacky neighbor,” Kathleen Stuart, a history professor at UC Davis. When Stuart arrives, she is polite but puzzled. “I have no idea what we’re gonna talk about,” she says while waiting for Frank. That’s okay; neither does Frank. As with his performances, he likes to improvise his interviews. It keeps things fun and mysterious.
After about five minutes, Frank emerges from the bathroom, dressed in his trademark tie-dyed shirt, mismatched sneakers, and thick, square glasses. His tongue seems to have a mind of its own, wiggling restlessly.
The mere act of having a “conversation” with Frank Moore is something out of this world. He uses a wand strapped to his head and points it painstakingly at letters and some basic words painted on a wooden board in front of him. Fortunately for the “wacky neighbor,” who is finding it hard to follow her interviewer, Linda is there to facilitate things. After more than 27 years of near-constant companionship, she often can anticipate what her partner is going to say and finish his sentences.
Linda reads aloud what Moore spells out on his board. If she guesses wrong when trying to finish his word or sentence, he shakes his head to let her know. “If … u … think … about it,” Linda says ever so slowly while following Moore’s joking question to his guest, “who … is … the … ‘w,’ ‘a’ — wacky neighbor?”
Moore met Linda, a former substitute teacher from Philadelphia who had dabbled in but become disenchanted with the personal growth movement, in 1975 while she was working at a Berkeley travel agency. When he rolled in looking to buy a plane ticket to New Mexico, she leaned over him to read his board — obviously not wearing a bra, to Frank’s delight. Inspired, he quickly suggested that she’d be perfect in a play he was working on. It eventually became clear that there really was no play, but Moore promised he’d create one if necessary.
Although initially taken aback by his appearance, Linda quickly found herself charmed. When Moore rolled into Don Travel, she had been waiting for a big change in her life. “I really knew on the spot that this was the breakthrough I had been anticipating,” she says. “I could feel it within minutes of meeting Frank. And somewhere in me I knew that if I didn’t take this opportunity, then I was full of shit in terms of wanting more in my life.”
They’ve been together ever since, with Linda serving as his caretaker, translator, lover, and artistic collaborator.
The wacky neighbor interview runs longer than two hours, and covers topics from macrobiotic foods, to the obscure case of a 16th-century cross-dresser Stuart is researching, to Frank’s upcoming performance series at UC Berkeley (he is a shameless self-promoter). It is an exercise in patience for all those involved — from interviewer to guest to listener.
Conducting my own face-to-face three-and-a-half-hour interview with Moore was like nothing I had ever experienced. My usual preparation techniques — scribbled notes suggesting key questions to ask — were almost futile, and Moore repeatedly teased me about how he didn’t need notes before conducting interviews. To “listen” to him, meanwhile, required me to stop taking notes and read his methodical letter-by-letter responses. If I got too wrapped up in my note-taking, Frank would kick me to let me know he wanted me to look at him while he was talking. I was in his world now and he wanted my direct fucking attention.
Some people find these challenges too extreme. Take the time when a listener tried to endure Moore’s archived audio interview of UC Berkeley Professor Peter Dale Scott, a well-known antiwar figure in academia. The listener, unaware of Moore’s disability, asked in an e-mail, “What’s with the really annoying, halting reading of questions to Peter Dale Scott? I wanted to listen to the interview but couldn’t stand it for more than a few minutes.”
“True, I’m no Larry King, but who wants Larry King?” Moore replied via e-mail. “I have cerebral palsy. I talk via a pointer and a communication board. I’m the voice of the suppressed that you may have not heard on the radio before. Try harder. Expand your listening beyond THEIR programming and training.”
The listener responded with understandable embarrassment and contrition: “I had no idea. I thought the questions were coming across a slow electronic connection.”
Count yet another person for whom Frank Moore had “expanded the frame,” as he likes to put it. According to the rules of polite society, people who don’t talk can’t host a talk show. But Moore does; it’s just one of the ways he fucks with the frame.
If Moore was offended by his listener’s comment, he certainly didn’t show it. “I didn’t get where I am by having thin skin,” he says. If he did, he’d probably be dead and long forgotten.
Doctors didn’t give Frank Moore much chance of having a life. His severe cerebral palsy prevented him from walking or talking. As Moore tells the story in Art of a Shaman, “When I was born, doctors told my parents that I had no intelligence, that I had no future, that I would be best put into an institution and be forgotten.” His parents refused to discard their first-born son, thank you, and Moore is convinced that had they fallen for the doctors’ pessimistic assessment he would have died long ago.
He was born during the postwar baby boom and lived the transient life of a military brat. His father was a master sergeant in the Air Force, his mom a housewife. His mother used to “spell him out,” reciting letters of the alphabet until Frank gave her some kind of recognition. But he spent the first seventeen years of his life unable to communicate with anyone outside of his family or the people he encountered in a series of generally unwelcoming classrooms.
Moore is not paraplegic or quadriplegic, a mistake people often make when describing him. Nor is he paralyzed. He can move his arms and legs (and yes, he can get a hard-on), but the movement is limited because he’s spastic. His head is more steady, which is why he uses a head-pointer to communicate and operate a computer. At age seventeen, Moore devised his communication board and head-pointer, which first enabled him to begin his break from isolation. He also took up painting, using a brush attached to a hardhat. Because of his limited range of motion he could only reach a quarter of the canvas at a time, so he was forced to learn to paint sideways and upside down.
In high school, he showed overt signs of an antiauthoritarian streak when he debated a GI about the war in Vietnam, which Moore opposed. Afterward, Moore recalls, his teacher took him aside and warned him that if he was too political he would “ruin it” for all the disabled people who followed him. Moore recalls looking at the situation rather differently: “If I was not political, that would be limiting it for those who followed.”
At Cal State San Bernardino, Moore began playing pranks such as rolling into the Marines’ recruiting office and asking to join because he wanted to “push the button.” He also began thinking about doing an all-nude play. To his surprise, school officials gave permission, but he couldn’t find any actors. Perhaps people didn’t want to expose their bodies in public or paint themselves with baby food.
Although his communication board had enabled him to interact with people outside his family, Moore still felt like an ugly freak. He bought into the idea that doctors and society had pounded into his head since birth — the “frame,” as he would later call it — that he was an “ugly cripple, a burden no woman would want.” But one day in his late twenties he had an epiphany: He turned off all the negative voices in his head and decided to view himself as beautiful. He also stubbornly chose to remain independent as possible, henceforth relying on loved ones to do the dirty work of feeding and clothing him.
In the early ’70s, Moore headed east and moved into a 300-person commune in Massachusetts known as the Brotherhood of the Spirit. There he met his first wife, Debbie, who later went on to form her own nude performance troupe called the X-Plicit Players. Debbie had come to the commune after dropping out of Princeton. One day while walking through the hallway she passed Frank, who got her attention by pointing frantically at his board. After a while, she figured out he was asking her, “Would you look into my ear?” It may have been an excuse to get her attention, but nonetheless they went on a hunt for Q-Tips.
“The first time I saw Frank I felt curious about him because his body seemed so different and I love different bodies,” Debbie recalls. Still, says Frank, he had to chase her for a good while before she finally fell for his charms. “He had an intense ability to listen,” she says. “I fell in love with the quality of communication we were able to have.” When they decided to get married, Moore wrote in a poem, his future mother-in-law was not pleased with her daughter’s choice, suggesting that she “marry somebody else … and adopt Frank.”
Eventually the couple left the commune and moved to Santa Fe. They paired up with a man and a woman and started a four-way marriage, which ultimately grew larger, and included Linda Mac. Although a side effect from a bladder operation in college left Moore unable to father children, the communal family, which unraveled years later, produced two boys who consider him to be one of their parents. “When my kids were being born,” Moore recalls, “we found out that the hospital wouldn’t even let me on the ward. A crip would upset the other mothers!” A midwife friend of Frank’s came to the rescue and delivered the two babies at home as he watched.
The defining spark of Moore’s artistic vision was kindled during the Santa Fe years, when he painted a nude commissioned by a local rich woman. The experience made him realize that art gave people permission to do what is usually forbidden. So he began seeking out strangers on the street to pose nude for his paintings. Eventually, however, he came to consider painting too static; he wanted something more direct, more engaging. He literally wanted to touch people. Moore experimented with what he called “nonfilms,” a series of private performances in which he and his artistic subjects “played” with each other. Still, there was something missing in these private duets. Moore wanted to do things on a grander scale; he wanted to take his act public. And what better place to do it than the anything-goes Bay Area?
What he did when he got here even shocked the country’s most open-minded region.
Bay Area rock promoter Dirk Dirksen still remembers the day he met Moore. Frank and his partner Linda rolled up and asked him if they could stage a production at the San Francisco club for which he served as producer, the Mabuhay Gardens. The Fab Mab, as it was known, was best known as a pioneering venue for punk rock acts such as the Dead Kennedys. But Dirksen considered his club a creative breeding ground for all kinds of artistic misfits, and he agreed to give Frank a chance.
One of Frank’s ideas was to stage a spoof beauty contest using his troupe of misfits. What was supposed to be a one-night performance turned into a three-year run. It was called the Outrageous Beauty Revue, a freaky variety show that attracted lots of press attention and, well, a few perverts. “Frank has a fond spot in his heart for scantily clad maidens,” Dirksen recalls. “There would be a lot of old leches sitting there wearing raincoats.”
Nudity wasn’t the only part of the show that created a buzz. It was, as the title promised, outrageous. A dominatrix preyed on a wheelchair-bound paraplegic man. Frank and Linda did a duet of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe,” with Frank bellowing his parts.
One particularly gruesome skit made a deep impression on a young musician by the name of Flea, who would go on to fame and fortune as the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As Dirksen tells the story, Flea came early one night to the Fab Mab to play a gig with the punk band Fear, and wound up with a front-row seat for the opening act, Moore’s Outrageous Beauty Revue, while tripping on acid. Flea happened to catch the notorious “meat act,” which began with Frank singing “Sympathy for the Devil.” Also onstage were two vamps wearing scary face paint. The vamps pulled a pregnant woman from the audience — actually an actress Moore had planted — brought her onstage and appeared to cut her open, pulling out intestines and a bloody baby doll. The “meat act” usually grossed out all the tourists, Dirksen recalls, but the musician loved its over-the-top showbiz flair. “Flea just thought it was the greatest,” he says.
Moore insists his intent wasn’t — and isn’t — to shock people. “If I did it to shock and offend, that would not be good art,” he says. To Moore, the Beauty Revue was an extension of his private performances. They were playing, having fun. All too often, he says, artists think they have to suffer. Artists should have more fun, he says. After the Outrageous Beauty Revue finished its run, Moore moved away from the cabaret format, in spite of his success with it. He wanted to do something more intimate, and the variety show wasn’t that kind of medium. He returned to the ideas he developed in his private “nonfilms,” but now he called his naked public group encounters “erotic play” — “eroplay” for short. Moore stresses that there is no sex in his shows, just consenting adults playfully exploring each other’s bodies. Performers might get turned on, but they don’t per se have sex, Moore says.
Porn-star-cum-performance-artist Annie Sprinkle — who credits Moore as “one of my early guides into art” — remembers participating in one such show in New York City in the mid-’80s. In that piece, one of his “rocking and wrapping” performances, Sprinkle recalls that Moore wrapped himself, the audience, and a woman rocking on his lap in toilet paper. “He’s certainly showing people can be in wheelchairs and still be interested in sex, nudity, and eroticism,” Sprinkle says.
Yes, but is it art?
Outside of perhaps mime, performance art alienates, irritates, and bores people more dependably than any other creative medium. Performance art doesn’t so much entertain, as it confuses and provokes. You mean to say that rolling around naked in honey is art? As radio commentator and author David Sedaris put it in a story poking fun at artistic pretension, “It occurred to me that a performance piece was something like a play — a play without a story, dialogue or any discernible characters. That kind of a play.”
The performance artists who have pierced the consciousness of the mainstream public — such as Karen Finley, Spalding Gray, and Eric Bogosian — tend to do glorified monologues or stand-up routines. Finley, of course, will always be remembered for doing her shtick in the nude and smearing chocolate all over her body. But she also has a gift for making audiences laugh during one of her extended rants, as she did during her critically panned show earlier this month at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.
Since he can’t talk, monologues aren’t really an option for Moore, although if dared he might do one just to prove that he could. Still, it’s a moot issue, since he dismisses monologues as boring and safe. But even within this already inaccessible medium, Moore’s work can be harder to swallow than liver doused in radiator coolant. At his shows, sometimes there are more people in the cast than in the audience. That doesn’t seem to bother him. If only one person came to a show, Moore would be happy to have a chance to expand that person’s frame.
To the untrained eye, Moore’s eroplay and ritual performances don’t resemble art so much as they resemble an orgy after a Grateful Dead show. In 1990, when Jesse Helms launched his attack on the National Endowment for the Arts for funding “obscene” work, Moore’s work came under scrutiny. Moore had received a performance grant from the NEA in 1985. Following an order from Helms, the General Accounting Office asked the director of New York’s Franklin Furnace for information on artists such as Moore and Finley who had performed there in the ’80s. In a report titled “The National Endowment for the Arts: Misusing Taxpayer Money,” the conservative Heritage Foundation indignantly described a Moore performance at the Franklin Furnace: “In his show Intimate Cave, audience members are invited to shed their clothes and pair up to touch one another’s bodies under his guidance.”
In spite of the unwanted scrutiny, Moore’s work proceeded unabated without any renewed threats of censorship for more than a decade. Meanwhile Finley, who had a grant pending, had her funding yanked, along with that of three other artists — they later became known as the NEA Four.
Then Moore’s work got some unwanted attention again, this time in the unlikeliest of places.
A couple of years ago Moore decided to start airing what he describes as a weekly two-and-a-half-hour variety show on B-TV, Berkeley’s public-access cable television station. With his video library bulging with footage of his performances and public appearances; episodes of his Internet show; plus a handful of films he’d written, directed, and starred in, Moore had plenty of material to use. He dubbed the show Frank Moore’s Unlimited Possibilities.
Then reports surfaced of upset Berkeley parents complaining about their kids seeing sexually explicit material on Moore’s show or another explicit public-access program, the Dr. Susan Block Show. Some of those offended viewers found sympathetic allies on the city council.
“When they bring a camera close to a women’s crotch and try to insert a disabled man’s penis into a vagina — if you don’t call that bad taste, I don’t know what is,” Councilwoman Betty Olds told the Berkeley Daily Planet last September. Not all of Olds’ colleagues felt the same way. Councilman Kriss Worthington watched a videotape sent to him by a constituent showing a purportedly “obscene” shot of nude women wriggling on Frank’s lap and concluded, “It looked pretty boring to me. … To me, it was more like performance art than pornography.” Moore himself says he wasn’t sure what Olds was talking about, insisting that he hadn’t ever shown himself going all the way on the show, although the programming certainly leaves little to the imagination.
Public-access cable TV plays by a unique set of rules. As part of their franchise agreements with cable operators, cities such as Berkeley require cable companies to provide residents with television production equipment, training, and airtime. Initially, the populist principle behind cable access was to provide unique “community-oriented” programming. (Of course, some people also thought the Internet would be an educational tool and not a worldwide community of porn enthusiasts.) Local cable-access programmers steadily tested the limits with increasingly hard-core sexually explicit material. To deal with the boom in “adult-oriented” programming, Congress has tried to either ban such shows or restrict them. The US Supreme Court, however, ruled in 1996 that public-access programs were protected by the Constitution as long as they didn’t cross the line into obscenity, the definition of which was left up to local communities. The Federal Communications Commission subsequently recommended that local cable operators air adult-themed shows between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Moore’s show already was on after 10 p.m. But after getting complaints, Berkeley Community Media’s board of directors rescheduled Moore’s and Block’s shows early last year to 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. Moore fought back, arguing that no one would watch the show at such a late hour. “This is censorship, pure and simple,” he wrote the board. “This is keeping the programming from the people who are watching, who find the programs valuable. This is punishing these programs because some people find some of the contents challenging! It is also reactionary. Berkeley is not reactionary.”
Olds and other councilmembers, however, wouldn’t let the issue die. Last May, the council voted 7-1 to have the city attorney draft a law limiting “sexually explicit” programming to between midnight and 6 a.m. But by September, when the draft ordinance was ready, all the publicity had caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. An ACLU lawyer warned the council that rescheduling the shows so late would deny adult viewers “access to constitutionally protected programming.” In response to the legal threat from the ACLU, the council backed off of its proposal to banish Moore’s show to the wee hours — at least for now. Olds says she may resurrect the issue. But she’ll have to deal with dozens of Moore supporters who groused about the council’s attempt to infringe on the artist’s First Amendment right to free speech — and even freedom of religion.
During the imbroglio, Reverend Tom Sanders wrote the Daily Planet that his pal “Reverend Frank Moore” shouldn’t have his religious rights infringed upon by the city council. Moore says of Sanders’ missive: “I will kill him for that.” After all, Moore notes, he isn’t even a reverend. He is a shaman.
Even after Moore escaped his physical isolation as a teenager, he didn’t feel comfortable in his body. After all, he was still a freak in the eyes of uptight Western society. His breakthrough came after meeting a woman, Louise Scott, who helped Moore see his body as a gift — one that could actually help others.
With Scott’s encouragement, Moore began to recast himself and others in his world. The role he wrote for himself was that of the “deformed shaman,” the wounded healer. “Primitive tribes believed that if a cripple could survive childhood, he was blessed by the gods,” Moore writes in Art of a Shaman. “He was special. He was not really from this physical world. He belonged to the spiritual world, with an inside channel to the gods. He was not suited for the normal activities of living, such as hunting and fighting. But everything he did or said were omens from gods. He was taken care of by the tribe and lived in freedom.”
For Moore, tribalism is a way of life — from his communal lifestyle to the group rituals of his performance art. It makes a lot of sense for a man who is so obviously dependent on others for his survival. To critics who say he’s stuck in a hippie time warp, Moore jokes that he’s really a throwback to the days of the cave. Many of his performance spaces are referred to as “caves” where “magical” things happen transcending taboos and societal preconceptions. Moore, with his crippled body, is the conduit to that magic.
Shortly after moving to Berkeley in 1975, he and his partners officially incorporated the Church of Inter-Relations with the secretary of state: “The specific and primary purposes are to promote and develop the religious principles and philosophy of ‘human melting’ … based on a core of oneness found in each spirit,” the articles of incorporation state.
Although the idea of “human melting” sounds like a dated ’60s ideal, spend a few minutes with Moore and Linda and the concept seems not only workable but necessary. At times they seem to be engaged in something akin to Star Trek‘s Vulcan mind-meld, with Linda finishing Frank’s sentences for him, and sometimes needing only a look from Frank to know what he wants.
To this day, Moore continues to hold private shamanistic art workshops. And even though the hippies are long gone, he still attracts wounded, searching souls. Take Jennifer Wilson, a young film student from Canada who stumbled across Frank after plugging the words “Toronto shaman” into a search engine. Moore coincidentally had just done his marathon erotic 48-hour Toronto performance, Dying Is Sexy.
Wilson had been unhappily working at a bank, reading Timothy Leary, and going to raves. She concedes she was “looking for something.” She eventually signed up for a five-day intensive workshop with Moore at his Berkeley home. At her first session, she says in her testimonial on Moore’s Web site, “I did some silly things. Some sexy things. It’s like I was tight and Frank was loosening me up. I read one of his poems and started to cry.” She later performed at Moore’s New York City show in September, beating her pubic region with drumsticks, something she first tried at Moore’s house. “I can say that I have begun to feel more comfortable with myself and the world,” she writes months later.
And then there’s Teresa Cochran, a 38-year-old blind musician whom Frank and Linda met at a block party a couple of years ago. Cochran, who distributes underground zines, now lives down the street from Moore with two of his apprentices and proudly calls herself one of his students, appearing in many of his performances. Often, she relies on Linda to translate what Frank is telling her. Other times, they just communicate by touching each other. “Before I started working with Frank, I constantly and unthinkingly put myself down, placing all kinds of limits on myself,” she says via e-mail. “I deprived myself of what I really wanted and needed in life, thinking I was a ‘loner’ and that I would never express myself through poetry and other art. But now, I’m doing things that I never would have dreamed of.”
Suffice it to say that dealing with Frank Moore is powerful. His is an empathy that engulfs us because we know by seeing his pain we’ve seen one really greater than ours. As Cochran simply puts it when explaining why she chose Moore as her muse: “He is joyous, and that is an irresistible way to live.”
In his autobiographical poem, “tortures,” Frank Moore describes all the humiliation and pain he’s endured at the hand of others: His mom’s friends asking her why she hangs onto her freakish boy; his father, unwilling to “hit a crip,” beats and yells at Frank’s younger brother instead; overhearing nurses comment that “no woman would make love with him” following an operation at age thirteen on his testicles; the daily exercises in which nurses bent his fingers, arms, and legs into painfully unnatural positions; how his high school teacher made him eat breath mints because his breath stunk so bad; his first French kiss — from a guy who then tried to rape him.
At the end of the poem, Moore deadpans, “but all in all, life has been good!”
And the thing is, he’s not just saying that. Life is good for Frank Moore. Not only did he defy the odds and survive this long, he did so without going comatose like so many “normal” people — content to spend evenings on a couch hypnotized by the TV, ignoring their spouses and kids. Moore, the man, is an inspiration for us all.
Whether his art inspires is hard to say. It obviously does inspire some. To critics who suggest he’s stuck in a hippie time warp and should move on already, Moore stands — er — sits, defiant. Eroplay and ritual performance are the manifestation of his vision, and a real artist can’t deny his vision, he reasons. Because of his stubborn loyalty to that vision, he arguably will never enjoy the acclaim of some of his peers such as Karen Finley. But Moore says he doesn’t want to be famous anyway. In fact, he says he’s always fought the fame-temptation, because fame, he believes, is the enemy of creativity and takes control away from the artist. Indeed, Moore has chosen to operate in mediums without commercial constraints: Performance art, cable access, and the Internet. “I have a large audience without the fame,” he brags.
By Moore’s estimate, he has directly reached more than twenty million people over the years through his performances, published articles, movie cameos, cable and Internet shows, and stories about his work.
After spending his entire childhood in near-solitary confinement, Frank Moore is out of isolation. He’s here with the rest of us, touching us, touching our private parts.
To find out more about Frank Moore and his work, visit his Web site, www.eroplay.com. On January 31 Moore begins a new biweekly performance series, “Exploring the Possibilities of Passion,” at 120 Kroeber Hall at UC Berkeley.