America’s Guesstimation part 2: Chez Imbecile to Catal Huyuk
By Alex Wukman
Randle described one private New Year’s Eve party at Chez Imbecile by writing that, “it was lovely affair with Malcolm as host; one of those magical nights in downtown Houston on Buffalo Bayou where the ghosts are more palpable than rats of all kinds. I was young and felt rather privileged to be included in, what seemed to be, the cognoscenti of the Houston arts underbelly.”
Will Turner, another long time resident of Malcolm’s social circle, reminisced about one of the “improbably convoluted” Chez Imbecile shows from the late 1980s by writing that, “it was someone’s brilliant idea to allow Malcolm to be in charge of providing the refreshments.” He explains that those in attendance later summarized that the reason Malcolm was allowed to provide refreshments was because “he was in possession of certain, unnamed, insidious blackmail evidence, successfully used as leverage against CSAW’s Den Mother Deborah Moore.”
Turner goes on to state that Malcolm “rose to the occasion with a magnificently huge emerald green pudding cake, and somehow he convinced almost everyone present to try some. What we all so quickly discovered was that Sir Malcolm, to create the unnaturally rich and vibrant jade hue, had emptied eight very large bottles of green food coloring into the cake mix.” Turner goes on to recount how “the crowd rapidly started turning green. Many people got sick, and there were ‘credible rumors’ floating through the dozen or so present of possible death from chemical poisoning.”
He ruefully states that, “when Malcolm finally resurfaced, days later, he explained the entire incident away as one of his ‘experiments,’ wherein he hoped to turn everyone’s poop green for a day or two. While such reckless and dangerous behavior is difficult to justify, it does tend to help establish Malcolm as a legitimate artist, and places him correctly within the Situationists Prankster Movement of which he would often expound.”
Trying to arrange the events of Malcolm’s life into a historical or chronological order is like to trying to define the color, shape or texture of memory—impossible, because they are inexorably intertwined. There are moments that stick out in people’s minds that come tumbling out with no frame of reference, like when Leila Rodgers writes that in 1987 she, “spent 4 hours in a closet in the middle of the night with Malcolm drinking whiskey and eating wintergreen mints to watch our mouths spark up,” or Al Pennison’s description of a late night rendition of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
“After a wonderful night drinking and carousing, two cavalier young poets made their way back to whomever’s house was Malcolm’s current residence,” writes Pennison. “A lawn chair, covered with foam padding and blankets, was provided for me to rest my weary and inebriated bones; while his holiness took the couch. As we lay there he began to recite ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ I will never again experience that poem the way I did that night. It was a moment of pure poetical perfection, never to be forgotten.”
For Malcolm poetry was, and remains, one of life’s greatest pursuits. Throughout the years he has been involved in multiple variations on open mic poetry nights. He also hosted the first regular poetry slam in Houston in 1992 at the now mostly forgotten venue Catal Huyuk. Catal Huyuk, which took its name from the oldest human city ever discovered, was one of many venues at the time that hosted underground performance and video art, like Mark Flood’s 1993 exhibition “100 viewings of the Rodney King beating.”
The club was also known for booking acts that almost no one else wanted to touch, for a variety of reasons. It hosted a screening of “Acid is Groovy Kill the Pigs” by Dallas based shock artist Joe Christ, and his surfabilly band The Healing Faith, that was initially canceled because HPD threatened club owner Duane Hix. Catal Huyuk was also one of the locations featured in G.G. Allin and the Murder Junkies’ home video release “Terror in America Vol. 3.”
In this milieu of art, that was considered not just outsider but beyond the pale, Malcolm began the weekly Dearly Departed Poetry Slam. As Mistress of Ceremonies he was known for, as former Public News Music Editor Kevin White wrote, “tearing every poet a new one” and, as Randle delicately put it, “sucking the dicks of passed out young men.” However, it all came to a crashing end that Brad Tyer documented in December 1993 when he wrote how a dispute over $5 of door money led Malcolm to “free willy and strut around the club’s front room pissing on anyone and anything in his trajectory.”
Malcolm’s erratic behavior only increased as the years went by; leading some, like White, to try to find something to pin the blame on. White looked to Malcolm’s trust fund, which he wrote “was once a vast treasure that allowed him to live like the Duchess of Montrose…over the years it dwindled to a mere trickle. But man, on Check Day, everyone all over Montrose drank for free on Malcolm’s magic dime. Cigs fell like rain and every mirror in every house was dusty and smeared. Money just poured out of his pocket.”
White goes on to say that for all the good will and good times the trust fund created, he thinks it may have harmed Malcolm more than anyone would care to admit. “I think the free money caused the trouble; a sort of arrested development in Malcolm. Malcolm, despite all the antics, the poetry, the wit, the culture, and the magic, Malcolm has always been a boy when he could have been so much more,” states White.
However, not everyone is so quick to pin the blame on Malcolm’s trust fund. Tomcala says that he “remembers [Malcolm] getting access to the trust fund that is alleged to have created the monstrous side of our friend. It’s easy to mark that as the lynch pin, it was not.” Tomcala goes on to state that Malcolm’s bad behavior “started much earlier” and that it’s completely possible that it stems from some kind of family trauma. “The little I know about his family always dismayed me and I made a mental allowance for the quirks he displayed even then,” writes Tomcala.
Randle describes Malcolm, flush with trust fund cash, as someone who “was dapper, charming, well-dressed and smelled wonderfully” who would “make last minute runs to [Niemen Marcus] to purchase Guerlain Vetiver,” a perfume that retails for $20 an ounce.
To be continued…
[Photo Credit - R. John Powers]