Thursday, February 16, 2023

Local Boys Make Good

In these hectic days of instant gratification where the only thing deader than yesterday’s newspaper is yesterday’s Facebook post, The Last Tango in Gainesville marches on, defying gravity only two+ months from its first birthday.  The 41-minute movie of the same name brought down the echoes on September 21st at the Central Florida Film Festival in sunny, vibrant Mount Dora, when a ravenous theater audience gasped as Anna Marie Kirkpatrick busted loose on stage at the Heartwood convalescent home in Gainesville, the only one of its genre that serves pot with your soup.  Film director Bob Simmons, basking in the shade of rainy San Francisco, couldn’t be there but his henchman Matt Clarke showed up to make sure Bill Killeen didn’t cuss someone out for scheduling the movie at the outrageous coffee hour of 10:00 a.m.  Will Thacker tootled over from Oviedo to provide comic relief and David Hammer was nice enough to photograph and video everything that happened.  After the ball was over, it was copacetic to hand the film over to YouTube, where another 1322 strangers have since watched it.  Either that or avid fan Renee Kidera viewed it 1322 times in a psychedelic trance in her little West Coast apartment, which is likelier than you think.

We have little experience with these modern theaters where they serve herbal popcorn, brioche and delicious Missouri wines, exemplified by Will’s determination to recline his cushy chair which was in the last row.  We were all in awe of the size of the film on the screen, where Danny Levine looked a gigantic five feet tall.  The sound was delightfully clear and you could hear every word of the songs, except for some of Paco Paco’s mystical incantations.  When it was over, the CFFF crew trotted us out to the red carpet for brunch and Aperol Spritzes.  Matt and Bill regaled the crowd with brief interviews, the former holding the microphone since Bill has a habit of turning it the wrong way, thus speaking only to unknown beings on the cliffs of Jupiter.

We should mention our first visit to a Waffle House in maybe twenty years, which came the morning of the film showing.  Our hefty waitress Valerie hovered over us like a mother hen, delivered an edible breakfast and gave Bill a 10% discount.  “What’s that for?” the nosy Siobhan wanted to know.  Valerie nodded her head sideways and said, “The hat.”  In her defense, it should be noted that Mr. K.’s Acadia National Park cap with its assorted pins could easily be misidentified as a veteran’s bonnet.  Siobhan, who sometimes doesn’t know when to keep quiet, pointed out the error.  Valerie looked at the hat again, shrugged her shoulders, grunted “What the hell….” and waddled off unfazed.  Anyway, next time you visit your friendly neighborhood Waffle House, bring along your Yellowstone cap and affix a few stars to the visor.  They might even throw in the hashbrowns.

All Hail The Telebob!

Alas and alack, the man most responsible for the crafty Tango movie, Bob Simmons, was missing from the festivities in Mount Dora.  Traveling under the secret identity of “Telebob,” Simmons is a very busy man with a gaggle of esoteric businesses scattered across the country.  Bob’s goat rental operation in Austin, Texas is one of the nation’s most successful caprine leasing services, his pepper fields near San Francisco are nothing to  sneeze at and his exotic free-ranging chicken herd on the Baja coast of Mexico has no equal.  “I make movies just for the fun of it,” says Simmons, “and to meet tall women with prominent cheekbones.”

Bob, looking not a smidge of his 81 years, flew into G’ville one bright May morning in 2022 with one mere film under his belt and put together a 41-minute movie that captured the atmosphere, the music and the euphoria in the air at the Subterranean Circus Grand Reunion, aka The Last Tango in Gainesville.  With his faithful Indian companion Matt Clarke, he conducted interviews, filmed the antics on the Heartwood stage and ran around taking pictures of the local scene despite having little prior knowledge of the area.  Then he jumped in the Teleplane and roared off to Texas to put it all together.

“Matt Clarke was a godsend,” reported Bob, “and the footage we got from Heartwood was excellent.  Patricia McKennee was a big help setting up the interview appointments, and my security detail—Gary and the Seven Rugby Girls—brooked no foolishness from thieves and autograph hunters.  I loved Gainesville and I would move there in a minute if the roosters could tolerate the heat and my girlfriend was more tolerant of large insects with teeth.”

Nonetheless, Bob will be back in late May to put camera to opening week at the Hogtown Opry, filming the action on stage, interviewing scores of audience members and telling the story of a fun-loving band of crazy old fools who refuse to go to the park and feed pigeons.  “I like the town,” says Bob, “it’s overloaded with unstable characters.  We movie people appreciate abnormality and Gainesville wins the prize for elder abuse.  Only in   this case, it’s the elders doing the abusing.”

There are strange things done in the midday sun by the men who moil for Gold(en Globes).


“Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!….”---T. Morse

The hills are alive with the sounds of music.  Also hammers and nails, microphone tests, carpet cleaners and ticket printing.  First Night of the Hogtown Opry is a fast-approaching May 20 and the stockings must all be hung by the fireplace with care.  Big Mike Boulware is recruiting the house band, Jeff Goldstein is wrestling with the lighting equipment, Anna Marie Kirkpatrick is learning how to swoon and Will Thacker is smoking a joint out back.  And now it can finally be told—Will killed the sheriff (and he has the badge to prove it) but he did not kill the deputy.  That’s what you get when you try to lock up his giant sunflower.

Anybody who thinks he or she knows what to expect from this new music palace is sadly underrating our level of madness.  Anything called an Opry will feature countryish fare, but our venue is unlimited in its deviltry.  Bob Simmons calls the music “Americana,” and that’s as good a moniker as any, so don’t be surprised if one day the Ferko String Band from Philadelphia shows up, banjos and kazoos in hand, and rattles off “Happy Days Are Here Again.”  We are showmen and this is our opportunity to provide thrills, chills and surprises.  If you are not thoroughly sated by the end of the evening you must be made of silly putty.  How often does Bill promise you something and not deliver?

The whole shebang will be recorded for posterity in our new movie, Big Night In Hogtown.  The prying eye of Bob Simmons’ cameras will sweep the hall, so if you are merrily nesting in the federal government’s Witness Protection Program, you might want to take a rain check.  Several audience members will be asked for reactions both before and after the shenanigans.  Our entire crew will be in the hall to meet and greet, help you find your seats and sell a ton of t-shirts.  Come by and say hi and feel free to bitch about the ticket prices.

There’s only one First Night for anything so by concert’s end you can expect to see laundry on the ceiling and dancing in the aisles.  Will Thacker will perform his famous Cobra Dance with nubile young maidens.  Mike Boulware will rassle an alligator.  Jeff Goldstein will kiss a hog.  Bill Killeen might even smile.  But most of the Grande Finale interest will be on Gina Hawkins, who you’ll recognize by the rose in her teeth.  She’s the loose-limbed lady in charge of the conga lines.

You might want to leave the kids at home.

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

Is it just me or is Will Thacker omnipresent?  You go to a concert, there he is, circling the stage.  You go to an art gallery, there he is again, hyping his new book.  You go to the post office, he’s behind the counter, you show up for poker night, he’s wiping the tables and serving the hors d’oeuvres.  What’s going on?

I used to think Thacker was Judi Cain in disguise, because she’s everywhere, too, but then I saw them together at the hospital visiting the sick, at the food pantry washing the dishes, at the farmers’ market taking photos of every booth, at The Depot, playing sax and slide trombone in Paco Paco’s band.  Maybe Will just got out of animal-poaching jail and is determined to live every minute until the clock strikes midnight and he turns into a pumpkin python.

Thacker has benefited from picking up a new tag-team partner.  Before Judi showed up he was hours late to all occasions, got into fracases with transients and refused to drive his little car in any direction but forward.  Will would not turn a corner, even if he was following you somewhere.  When I foolishly asked him why, he said “If I get lost, and I will, it’s much easier to find my way back.”  Hard to argue with that reasoning.

We thought you should know that Thacker will be back on the radio soon as one of the live broadcasting team at the Hogtown Opry.  New arrivals should know that there was a day long, long ago when Willy T., disguised as the witty Montana, floated high above Alachua County in his airship spinning tunes and mispronouncing advertisers’ products.  These days, he will still be floating above town, perhaps chemically enhanced, but without the airship.

There will, of course, be the usual problem with groupies.  Strange women who sometimes carry munitions are attracted to Will, often belligerently posting themselves at the stage door until he shows his face.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, we just wish they’d leave their anacondas in the car.  All of Will’s exciting adventures are summed up nicely in his new book, Otters On A Plane, now available from Amazon at a bargain price.  You’ll want to read about Thacker’s confrontations with the headhunters of New Guinea, the pirates of Penzance and the hog rustlers of Pukwana, South Dakota; paddle with him through the fearsome whitewater swells of British Columbia’s Klinaklini River; listen to his soliloquies which make maidens squeal and elephant seals clap in delight.  Learn how it feels to escape from a bear trap, outrun a rabid skunk, be captured by a posse of amazons and held as a slave boy for ten months of cruel and inhumane sex torture.  All this for a lousy $23 and a couple of Wink grapefruit soda bottlecaps.  Money fully refunded if you’re offended by the headhunters’ bathroom practices.  No animals were harmed in the making of this book, although a couple of seals came down with sexual arousal disorder.  Call your orders in now, our operators are standing by.

That's all, folks....except to mention the artwork above the Oprymania article was created by Lisa Marie Mercer.