Kickstarter for Joybubbles: the documentary

posted: 07 November, 2014

One of the most genuinely interesting things I have ever been part of is getting some renewed attention thanks to filmmaker Rachael Morrison, whose documentary on Joybubbles has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds needed to finish the film. If you donate $35 you'll get a reissued copy of my zine, Used To #1, which Dan Goldberg and I published in 1998.

Joybubbles is fascinating, of course, and it's about time someone finally made a film about him. You can peruse his Wikipedia entry rather than hear a re-cap from me (or wait for the film, I guess). I wrote about him before on this blog, back in 2008, but I like repeating myself, so ....

I worked at the University of Pittsburgh Information Sciences library as a summer job in 1998, when I was 18. Joybubbles spent that summer listening to every episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood ever made (as that library was the official archive for the programme). He had saved up money for years to have his dream holiday in Pittsburgh, with Mr. Rogers who was his personal hero. He worked as an expert smelling hogshit for chemical companies doing tests, using his enhanced sense of smell to his advantage. I found out that this strange blind man who claimed he was 5 years old was once a famous phone phreaker known as The Whistler, who is chronicled in any book about computer hacking worth a damn. The Whistler was famous for being able to whistle a perfect 2600hz tone, and had since turned into the bizarre, beautiful person that was Joybubbles.

I helped change tapes for him all summer. He would sit under a big blanket that covered him and the TV, listening to each episode with headphones on. Eventually I asked him if I could interview him, and one night Chris Strunk and I went to his temporary flat on Melwood Avenue and sat (in the dark, since none of his lights worked and he didn't care) for a lengthy interview. Afterwards,  took a simple touchtone phone and ran his fingers over the buttons in a dazzling manner, sending secret codes to the exchanges and causing all sorts of weird clicking sounds and internal phone company messages to play. I still remember that he asked me if I knew anyone that had a phone number starting with 521- that he could meet, because those exchanges were made by Siemens and they were extremely interesting to him.

That autumn, Dan Goldberg, who I was living with, published a zine with me, combining the complete Joybubbles interview, the summer tour diary from his band Pressgang, and some bizarre drawings I had made in high school with my friend. We named the zine Used To, after the song by Wire, because we had to name it something and it was a last minute decision. I actually love that name, like I love the song ('Does the pain remain when the head is turned? And the body walks away...'= genius). Dan drew the cover which was pretty simple - a drawing of Joybubbles, and a drawing of his band on tour. That was it. This was (I think) the final zine I ever made, after a slew of personal ramblings in high school (Soon to be Defunct, Dromedary Observer and Analgesic Handle to give you some idea of what kind of kid I was).

We printed 100 copies and took them around to local stores. I probably sent one to Factsheet Five if it was still even being published then. No one cared much locally - I remember the record store Brave New World took 10 copies on consignment and only my friend Josh Tanzer bought one; years later, there were still 9 on the shelf. But that's okay - I just wanted to get it out there.

Somehow it made its way out of Pittsburgh. Harper's magazine contacted me asking for a review copy. I dreamt of having an excerpt in Harper's as my father subscribed and the 'Readings' section was a favourite of mine each month. But nothing came of it. I did hear from Jen Angel, who was a leader of sorts for the "new" zine movement (a new wave that grew out of the punk/hardcore scene which had no real connection to the legendary 80s zines like Murder Can Be Fun, Answer Me!, etc. that so inspired me as a youth). She published an excerpt in her collection The Zine Yearbook Volume 3 which is still available on Amazon (though I wouldn't recommend paying $55, the going price, for it).

And that's it, but Joybubbles keeps popping up in my life from year to year. I phoned him a few times after he went back to Minneapolis but eventually fell out of touch. When he passed away in 2007 I was contacted by a few people about my interview, which I have kept available online, in full. And now this Kickstarter is getting some people interested again, so please help out (and please ignore my usual rants about peer financing models being dangerous to grassroots culture blah blah blah). Donating will get you a photostat'd version of the original (I only have one copy left myself, and the staples are rusty) which means that I've had a zine reissued before any of my music or other projects have. (And it also raises the possibility that I peaked, in terms of interesting involvements with culture, when I was 18).

Used To never made it to a second issue. I had some vague concept to do a zine about the way the Internet was changing the way we used language, or something like that, which sounded profound in 1998 and today is a giant 'duh'. Actually,I never made another zine but I did run a workshop on them for some art academy students here in Helsinki a few years ago, and I brought in my collection as Exhibit A, which is the only time I could proudly display my shitty high school zines alongside Forced Exposure and Answer Me!.

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