Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Written by Shade Rupe
Published by Headpress
Beneath the layer of media we call ‘pop culture’ there has long existed a sub-layer. An underbelly, if you will. Personalities exist there that sometimes defy simple categorization. Some are writers, actors, musicians, artists, but those terms rarely completely capture their being. Entertainer, blasphemer, freak, pervert…one could go on for some time and not successfully label them.
Author and journalist Shade Rupe has spent many years tracking down these characters and interviewing them, as well as reviewing their work, for many different publications. Dark Stars Rising is a compilation of those interviews and reviews, laid out with rare photos and archival media for each entry in this catalog of deviants.
The interviews cover many years, beginning with a conversation with Divine, the late muse of John Waters, upon the release of his first film where he played a man. Shade was just a teenager at the time of this interview in 1986. By the time the book is finished, we’re well into the 2000s interviewing such modern transgressives as Gaspar Noe and Crispin Glover.
The quality of a book like this is sort of like an algebraic formula. You have to factor the interview subjects vs. the rarity of their interviews against the quality of the interviews, all multiplied by the number of interviews. It’s tricky.
I can say without doubt that most of the interviews are interesting and solid. As Rupe states in his introduction, many of these have been published before, but incompletely. These are ‘directors cuts’ more or less, and just as in film, sometimes those cuts can be for the better. Some of the interviews ramble a bit, or focus on less interesting facts for part of their length. Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch is a good example of this. Nitsch’s ‘Actions’ should provide plenty of fodder for interesting conversation, but we seem to spend quite a lot of words on minutiae of his life, such as dates of specific Actions, dates of events in the life of Nitsch, etc. Much of it reads like a background check on him rather than a conversation of his work.
There are definitely times that longer pieces pay off, however. Teller (the silent half of Penn & Teller) goes into a great deal of depth during his several-page interview both about himself and his partnership and history with Penn Jillette. Actress and model Tura Satana spends the extra word space detailing her history in the internment camps of WWII-era America as a child. In both cases, we get to see far more of obscure, ‘dark underbelly’ celebrities than we have before.
The selection of subjects is also a bit off, in my eyes. I think sometimes Rupe’s own personal interests outweighed his journalistic logic of who the public would be interested in reading about. Some of the entries, such as Buddy Giovinazzo (director of 1986’s ‘Combat Shock’) are so obscure you wouldn’t be faulted for consulting Wikipedia before reading the interview to have some idea who we’re discussing. Relevance is a very iffy term when it comes to the pop-subculture personalities on review here, but I think Rupe tests the edges of that just a bit.
Offensive is another word that’s tricky to use when it comes to a tome like this, but yes, I have to go there. This is not a book for the lighthearted. Rupe includes many photographs, some full-color, that are extremely graphic. I don’t have a problem with this, but between graphic nudity and images involving animal parts and carcasses, there’s much here that some could have issues with.
The subject matter is also in question. Many would be offended by the inclusion of people like Nitsch, who slaughters animals as part of his artistic performances. I’m nearly impossible to offend, but the inclusion of people like Peter Sotos and the content included along with his interview definitely hit some nerves.
Sotos is a writer of virtually no merit or recognition whose primary ‘achievement’ seems to be the self-publishing of a poor quality ‘zine’ that lasted two issues. The contents were almost exclusively stories (fiction and non-fiction) with graphic details of child molestation, rape, and murder. The series stopped at the second issue because Sotos used a pornographic image of a child on the cover, which lead to jail time. Rupe clearly does not hold Sotos in the same esteem that I do, based on his questions and preface to the interview, but I admit I’m still baffled as to how he wound up in this volume. Considering the interview reveals little about Sotos, and Rupe is clearly a sympathetic ear, I fail to see the point. And yes, I’m offended by it, if you’ll allow me to rant for a moment. I think it glorifies someone who has told the world that he has not become a criminal only because of fear of prosecution. His fantasies don’t just involve children, they involve hurting and killing children, and experiencing sexual release from both the act and taunting the family of the victims after. It’s clear based on his writing and his thinking that he’s a danger hiding behind the shelter of ‘free speech’. One wonders how that shelter will protect him (or our consciences) when he acts out on his compulsions and takes his first victim. Sorry, ::rant off::.
If you can get past these issues, however, you’re in for a treat. This is a gorgeous book and a great deal of bang for the buck. Clocking in at almost 600 pages and including many full-color photos, you can excuse not caring about even 1/3 of the subjects and still get a great value when buying the book. A sample of Rupe’s reviews are included at the end of the book and reveal an interesting and entertaining critic.
You simply aren’t going to find interviews with this group of people with this amount of detail in one place, ever. Period. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind book. As long as you’re willing to wade through a few over-long interviews and cope with some extreme content, you should enjoy this book immensely as long as you have some interest in the seedier side of pop-culture.
3 1/2 out of 5
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