Backstage with +quot;Bob+quot;; is the Church of the SubGenius the ultimate cult? (J.R. 'B

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Backstage with "Bob"; is the Church of the SubGenius the ultimate cult? (J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs) Kinney, Jay Backstage with "BOB" It's 9:30 or so, backstage at the Stone, a nightclub on Broadway in San Francisco. Guy Deuel, the ex-cattle rancher from Bolivia with the artificial septum, is fondling an Uzi, the Israeli automatic weapon favored by death squads in Central America. The Uzi -- like the ridge between Deuel's nostils -- is plastic. Deuel, who is an imposing fortyish figure in a tan trenchcoat, looks uncannily like G. Gordon Liddy and has the air of a man who is no stranger to life and death situations. Deuel is a SubGenius. Out from on stage, Janor Hypercleats is stalking back and forth across the stage delivering a hell-raising sermon to an audience of several hundred souls. Janor mows lawns for a living in Little Rock, Arkansas, and cuts an odd figure in his garish orange and green pants, looking like the penultimate hick come to the big city. It is not totally clear just what Janor is raving about in his Little Rock twang -- something to do with "Launching the Head," golfing, "BOB," Heaven, and his sex life or lack thereof. But that hardly seems to matter. Janor is a SubGenius. What has brought both Guy and Janor to San Francisco in the damp chill of November, 1985, is the chance to participate in the SubGenius Devival, a one-night-only extravaganza offered to both the general public and to devoted members of the Church of the SubGenius. There are bands from San Francisco, singers and preachers from Dallas, an intense character in shades from back East who calls himself "the Pope of All New York" and a smattering of artists, go-fers, and borderline basketcases. In an era of designer jeans, designer drugs, and designer cigarettes, it was probably inevitable that someone would establish a designer Cult -- in this case one whose members keep redesigning its contours on an almost daily basis. SubGenii may be brainwashed -- one need only listen to an hour of droll-flecked conversation about X-ists and "BOB" and Wotan to arrive at that conclusion -- but contrary to every other cult on the horizon the SubGenii are busily washing their own brains. If there is a "Mister Big" pulling strings from behind the scenes he stays very well hidden indeed. Of course, there is the nagging question of cult-founder J.R. "BOB" Dobbs -- a shadowy figure in the tradition of L. Ron Hubbard and Howard Hughes -- but Dobbs' death in early 1985 brought a halt to any efforts to centralize control of cultmembers within a rigid hierarchy. What remains may be scary or at least nauseating -- the best estimates of SubGenius membership place the cult at approximately the same size as the forces of Lyndon LaRouche -- but it is a decentralized phenomenon. As police departments around the country have learned, the threat that the average SubGenius represents is the danger of the lone berserker run amok, not the threat of lockstep fascism. SubGenii are not interested in selling you flowers at airports. That is not SubGenius style. They are far more likely to sidle up to you in a public lavatory and pee on your shoes. That is SubGenius style. The origins of the Church of the SubGenius are hazy at best. The earliest known nationally circulated Church literature bears copyrights dating no eafrlier than the late 1970s. But Church old-timers like Rev. Ivan Stang of Dallas date their involvement in the cult back to the late 50s. At that time the Church was a local Dallas-based group numbering no more than a couple of dozen members. Like other obscure fringe groups of that era such as the Science of Mentalphysics group in Yucca Valley, California, or the Mark-Age saucer-contactee bunch in Florida, the SubGenius Foundation, as it was then known, was a self-perpetuating organization clustered around a charismatic J.R. Dobbs (usually referred to as "BOB" by cult-members) founded the group following a speckled career as a bit-actor in C-movies and an extended stint as an aluminum siding salesman. Dobbs' success as a salesman enabled him to build up a sizeable nest-egg and put him on sure footing for convincing others of his sincerity. When Dobbs began to hear voices in the mid-1950s -- voices he identified alternately as aliens (X-ists) and as a so-called Space God (Jehovah-1) -- he wasted little time in developing a small but devoted following. According to Stang, early SubGenius emphasis was on self-development (hence the group's name) and on Dobbs' eccentric political philosophy, which share many elements with the far right ideology of Robert Welch's John Birch Society. Things might have stayed that way -- just another small fringe group in a western state -- except for a few unexpected twists in the SubGenius path. The first twist was Dobbs' serious extended love affair with LSD in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During this period the Foundation evolved into a Church and Dobbs' cluster of SubGenii went through an unsavory spell where experimentation with sex and drugs was di riguer. The second twist was the arrival of Dr. Philo Drummond in the late 1970s. Drummond, who had prior experience in the public relations field and was a graduate of est, apparently saw much potential in the tiny Church and rapidly worked his way to a position of power second only to Dobbs himself. In league with Stang, who was now No. 3 in the cult, Drummond introduced the use of "BOB"'s face on Church flyers and instituted a policy of heavy new-member recruitment. Public meetings in Dallas were publicized and began to draw sizeable crowds. Branches of the Church (called "clenches" in SubGenius parlance) spread to Little Rock and Austin. And perhaps most innovative of all, Drummond and Stang pushed for a policy of clench autonomy, both theologically and organizationally. As SubGenii proliferated, so did the gods and demons in the SubGenii pantheon. What had started as a monotheistic neo-UFO cult in the 1950s had transmogrified into a polytheistic grab-bag in the 1980s. One indication of the new regime instituted by Drummond was the extensive use of false Church names in place of members' real names. Though Stang and Drummond's names were authentic enough, most post-1979 Sub Genii took assumed names as part of their initiation into the cult. Janor Hypercleats and Sterno Keckhaver (both from Little Rock), Tentatively A. Convenience (of Baltimore), Pastor Buck Naked (of Dallas), Puzzling Evidence (of Oakland), Lies (of San Francisco), St. Byron Werner (of L.A.) -- all sported transparently ridiculous monickers. This, in combination with the policy of making every cult-member a de facto minister, brought a surreal air of unreality to Church proceedings with Popes, Saints, and Reverends all competing for positions of power over each other. It also brought the Church to the attention of the FBI and IRS who were concerned that a new outbreak of mail-order ordinations, all claiming tax-exempt status, might lend further momentum to the growing ranks of the tax-revolt. The SubGenius Devival is still going strong as the clock at the Stone hits midnight. Pastor Buck Naked has come and gone with his auto-harp songs about electrical devices embedded in his brain. Rev. Ivan Stang has stirred up the crowd with a ritual demonstration of Time Control consisting of sledge-hammering to smithereens the wristwatch of a trusting volunteer from the audience. Janor and Sterno have "Launched the Head." The Band That Dare Not Speak Its Name, a local aggregation of anti-musicians, has gotten the faithful to their feet with stinging anti-songs about "BOB." And now the evening is reaching a frenzied climax with the arrival of Rev. Meyer, "the Pope of All New York." As a dry-ice mist rises from the stage, Meyer, accompanied by two armed bodyguards, stalks out to the podium and delievers a bellowing tirade against "pinks," MTV, Yuppies, personalized license plates, and "the Conspiracy." Meyer possesses an uncanny and disquieting charisma that local commentators have likened to that of the late Rev. Jim JoneS. Back on his own ground in New York he has filled the trendy Danceteria to overflowing with several public SubGenius rallies. But here in San Francisco, a few doors down from Carol Doda's topless act at the Condor and across the street from the fourth generation mohawks at the Mabuhay Gardens, Meyer is just another late night act. Or so it seems to Meyer, who cuts his speech back to a mere twenty minutes and stalks off stage abruptly to a final explosion of applause, cheers, and weary table-thumping. The Devival is devolving and will shortly taper off into canned DEVO music and dancing. Perhaps the Church of the SubGenius is merely a harmless eccentric sect sprung from the same sun-baked environment that Jack Ruby and Lyndon Johnson both called home. Texas is the home of broad gestures and the SubGenii may be one of the broadest yet. Yet one need only watch the glint in Guy Deuel's eyes as he cocks the Uzi in the dressing room and talks about "showing those pinkboys a thing or two" to realize that one man's meat may be another man's poison. The Church of the SubGenius has long since outgrown its humble roots and is stalking bigger game. Consider it all a joke at your own risk. COPYRIGHT Whole Earth Review 1986


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