|by Thom Fowler
Hollywood calls Ann “quirky”, a term she holds slightly farther away then arm’s distance to examine the necessity of being pigeonholed. “Hyphens are good,” says the actor-singer-writer. Magnuson is not just petite but netherworldly fey. Her small frame and soft mannerisms are the drum tight skin stretched over a gentle fierceness. With Panic Room just behind her and The United States of Leland with Kevin Spacey coming up, BIG MEDIA has a lot of reasons to pay attention. But there is the other side of Ann, one could say the “real” performer who is quietly wefting and warping inside the loom of her Hollywood career, smaller, more personal and thus, more interesting performances. She’s writing a column for Paper, she’s got a band, she’s thinking of doing a solo album and she’s tossing around the idea of turning her recent one woman show Rave Mom into a book all the while planning a wedding and contemplating being over 40.
Ann walked in off the street to meet me in the Casbah Cafe in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles wearing jeans and a t-shirt and stood in line to get a glass of water. She was not the blaze of glory I half expected but as I talked to her she opened up like a chinese puzzle box and became this amazing and dynamic women who’s life as person and performer is more like a system then a narration. We skipped around to this topic, that project and back again and along the way she indulged me with bits and pieces of her colorful life and career with the caveat that “the only thing anyone should be talking about is this war.”
Sometime in the late 60’s, her parents made her watch a special on television about the counter-culture, Hippies, Students for a Democratic Society, and War Protestors as a cautionary device. It had the exact opposite effect and fueled her passion. “We could do with a big dose of [Sixties era activisim]. We are being run by a military dicatatorship. Right now feels a a lot like it did back then.”
Through the 80’s she got sucked up in wanting the fame, the glamour, the *CA$H* but her idealism tugged away so I flat out asked her what she was doing in Hollywood. “I don’t know,” she says. "If you want to make a living as a performer, working in television and film is the way to go.” Ultimately, she’s out to satisfy herself and like all good folks, put food on the table. It all seems so simple, wholesome and well, groovy.
“The 70’s had a groovy, mellow, mushroomy vibe that careerism destroys. It’s better to just be in the moment” And as she’s saying this, she picks up on the latin beat in the background and moves her shoulders and arms with the music, enjoying herself immensely and demonstrating a subtle and astute sense of rhythm and timing and showing me what joy can be had by being part of wherever you are at that moment.
And in obedience of her ground rules (“we should just talk about this war”), the fire of 60’s era activism ignites again. “We are killing people and nobody is saying anything about it. America is imperial Rome. The most heinous crimes are being committed so we can drive SUV’s.” As an artist sensitive to the world around her, Magnuson was deeply affected by the events of September 11. Her one woman show, Rave Mom, opened in New York in October 2001. Magnuson didn’t think going to New York would be the thing to do in October but she went anyway. “Putting on a show was like a drug but after 9/11, the drug wasn’t working anymore.” Somewhat unsatisfied with the stage show, she is now considering writing a book called Rave Mom about her year she spent taking ecstasy, hanging out in the Rave Scene and going to Burning Man.
Rave Mom is about “ the irrational exuberance of the end of the 20th century”. Instead of the show being a celebration of hedonism it is a deconstruction of it. There is a spirituality to Rave Mom she wanted to bring to the forefront but ended being put in the background.
She wanted to get across that money, power and prestige will divert you from your spiritual goals, that distractions like drugs and raves and Burning Man are God substitutes.
When I think I understand where she’s at, she starts talking about mixing pentacostalism and psychedelia. Holy Rollers on Acid. She grew up with a sense of spirit and was always outside, in nature and liked shows about the metaphysical or things that were outside the norm, like the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and Star Trek. The mix of psychedelia and preaching was the heady, mondo bizarro soup that nourished Magunuson’s aesthetic sensibilities. She has also developed a faith that boils down to a spiritual aphorisim that has been the sustencance for the poor, downtrodden and oppressed: “The Lord Will Provide”.
“Growing up in the south, the Spirit hangs like fog in a holler,” she says. She currently attends a very liberal Episcopalean church. “Gay friendly, into leftist social causes,” she assures me.
Her brand of para-religiosity practically prevents her from becoming a stodgy moralist. She has been performing in a neo-burlesque show called Velvet Hamer, a tasteful, slightly erotic, cabaret that is all about joyful exuberance and ironic glee (translation – the girls wear pasties) as well as a frank celebration of sexuality. (The show even features a transexual). It’s an actual show and maybe a little X-rated but yards away from being about pole dancing and lap dances. “There is something toxic that hovers over [porn],” comments Magnuson. “It pollutes one’s sexuality, the way you see yourself as a sexual creature.”
Ann Magnuson is sitting at the crossroads of not only change in history but change in her life and those two things are intimately related. As a tuned in artist, she filters and refines whatever is happening right now for her audience. She is like a DJ or a curator. “There is always a bit of a political edge to my work,” she says and her more personal work is more like social commentary then pure spectacle. She wants to make you laugh and have a good time but she’s also saying her peace to the world. You can get an earful in her monthly column in Paper called “LA Woman.”
Right now, she’s not sure exactly what media she wants to use to say that peace. She says she is finding it harder to create and with so many open projects in front of her, she’s got to decide what should come next. “With a book, I’ll reach more people,” she tells me. Touring with her band and doing “super underground gigs” in Brooklyn under the name Dr.Mom has kept her out there in the belly of the beast, cast adrift in the floating world and firmly plugged into the stuff that drives our individual and collective lives.
And then she idly flips through a fashion magazine wondering about her wedding. Her shifting focus is not ambivalence, it’s a tightrope act, perhaps an acceptance of what comes with the territory and making the best life for herself. I hope she writes her book, if its got something to say to me, then it’s operating, like herself, on several levels at once.
Magnuson will be joining Julie Brown (Strip Mall) and The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin as judges for the Los Angeles Outfest 2002’s Home Video Gong Show. Contestants come in with their home videos and show them. I'll be in the front row.
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originally posted: 07/09/02 16:28:58
last updated: 07/11/02 05:22:55