Prayforming in the Park
August 2, 2007 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Wow. I applaud him for following his bliss. Or feel sorry for his mental condition, depending.

Also: What's under the loincloth? The glory of Ra?
posted by DU at 11:48 AM on August 2, 2007

I'm glad there are performers like this in the world. That said, this is not my cup of crazy. I prefer Hopelandic.
posted by everichon at 11:53 AM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

This documentary was in the special features of the Marjoe movie. Worth watching both of them.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:56 AM on August 2, 2007

pah, this is great. irrespectively if there is any "mental condition", it is brilliant and he seems to be having a great time. More than most non "mental conditions" have. The "America's got talent" link reminded me why I avoid those shows.
posted by edgeways at 11:59 AM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm confused as to why he bothered with "America's Got Talent" at all. I mean, I think his music is beautiful, but I'm not shocked that most people laughed at him. I'd be interested to hear his motivations for the audition. Props to Sharon Osbourne, though, for respectfully sitting and listening all the way through the song while her costars proved what overpaid children they are.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 12:00 PM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, and he has a website, where you can join his mailing list.
posted by dersins at 12:04 PM on August 2, 2007

i ran into him performing at central park a few years back. he is clearly very talented...he just channels all that talent into his own peculiar expression.
posted by gnutron at 12:05 PM on August 2, 2007

He is doing his own thing, bless 'im. I don't really LIKE it, but he has an amazing vocal range.
posted by chuckdarwin at 12:12 PM on August 2, 2007

Thoth is wonderful, original and a great performance artist. Also previously, which links to Thoth's website.

Also he performs at one of my favorite places on the planet, the Bethesda Fountain and the terrace. "Designed by Emma Stebbins, the centerpiece of the "Angel of the Waters" was the only sculpture commissioned as part of the original design of the Park naming her the first woman to receive a commission
for a major work of art in New York City."
posted by nickyskye at 12:15 PM on August 2, 2007

The Hoff is so obviously in need of attention. Oh, and he's a prick.
posted by itchylick at 12:22 PM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Absolutely amazing. I'd never heard of him before; thanks for this post. That 'America's Got Talent' video... oh hell, it speaks for itself. There's no room for a true performer in the "entertainment industry".
posted by Drexen at 12:22 PM on August 2, 2007

Vocals (&more) influenced by Meredith Monk, I'd say.
posted by progosk at 12:30 PM on August 2, 2007

Thoth is my favorite performer in the city, and I've seen him three times already this summer. My friend and I talked to him for a while after one of his performances, and he is far less "crazy" seeming one-on-one than his works and writing would imply. He can also do mirror writing; he writes with both hands at the same time, with his left hand producing a mirror image of what he's writing with his right.

I was surprised to learn that he is in his early to mid 50's when I did some research on him a few years back.
posted by kimdog at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2007

Fuck the Hoff, I thought that was cool.

And someone who can't stop themselves jumping out of their chair to laugh at someone else, because "look, they're so crazy! With the made up language and the headress!" should really take a long hard look at themselves.

When did ridicule become the new form of entertainment?
posted by djgh at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2007

Thoth's YouTube channel.
posted by ericb at 12:33 PM on August 2, 2007

I'm so happy I saw this! He really is quite mesmerizing. I would love to see him live. I can just imagine what it would be like to just happen upon one of his "pray-formances." People like him make me less pessimistic about the human race.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:39 PM on August 2, 2007

When did ridicule become the new form of entertainment?

Two words: William Hung. And the Star Wars Kid. And countless others. With 'reality' TV and the internet, this seems to be more and more where we're headed. Unfortunately.

Re Thoth - I've seen him a couple of times as well and am always torn between feeling happy for him that he's fulfilling his life's ambition and feeling sad for him that so many people are pointing and laughing. I guess if it's truly what you want to do with your life, you don't care what others' reactions are.
posted by widdershins at 12:41 PM on August 2, 2007

>>When did ridicule become the new form of entertainment?

Great question. About half the non-pr0n 'net would go away if ridicule wasn't so popular at present.
posted by SaintCynr at 12:44 PM on August 2, 2007

I can just imagine what it would be like to just happen upon one of his "pray-formances."

That's exactly how I first learned of his existence, some time (I think) in the summer of 2001 or so.

I was walking through Central Park and heard a violinist accompanying what sounded like two or three singers coming from the tunnel by the Bethesda fountain. It sounded pretty damn good, so I walked over to watch them.

Imagine my surprise at what I found.

Several hours later, I realized I was still watching him.

He really is the most amazing street performer I have ever seen.
posted by dersins at 12:44 PM on August 2, 2007

I learned of Thoth's existence when the executive director of the non-profit where I worked brought him to the office to perform. He told the staff there would be a surprise in the afternoon, but nothing else. We were surprised. Thoth is great.
posted by Mavri at 12:50 PM on August 2, 2007

I've seen Thoth perform in Central Park a bunch of times, and run into him on the subway in Queens. If he's "in character" when he performs, he's ALWAYS in character. He's an incredible performer, honestly, ab absolute blast to watch, or even just to talk to.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 12:52 PM on August 2, 2007

Brilliant! Obviously he has had some training on the violin - I think it's pretty.

I'll bet if you dressed Morphine up in goofy clothes and put feathers on them and asked them to do their thing you'd have just about the same act.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:53 PM on August 2, 2007

The clip in "most mesmerizing" really did move me and I wasn't at all prepared for that. Thanks dersins, I'll keep an eye out for Thoth the next time I go to NY.

And on what basis is Hasselhof judging a talent show?
posted by ooga_booga at 12:56 PM on August 2, 2007

I've known Thoth for a number of years. He's a really nice guy. Always comes over and dances for my dog, Tucker (who used to freak out, but now ignores him).
posted by MotherTucker at 1:06 PM on August 2, 2007

Yay, Thoth! Thanks for posting this, dersins.
posted by homunculus at 1:17 PM on August 2, 2007

[[feels sudden rush of nostalgia for NYC]] We ran into Thoth one day in the park, and were likewise mesmerized. Not really my cup of tea, but compared to the freakin' Naked Cowboy, or your average busker, some good entertainment.

(better than that damn pan-flute playing guy near Times Square).
posted by emjaybee at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2007

hey, it's that guy!

i've seen him around town but never knew what he was called. interesting to see he's been the subject of a documentary...

I like his music. however, I'm fairly omnivorous musically and have a pretty high tolerance for "crazy", so I can see why others might not find it very accessible.

When did ridicule become the new form of entertainment?

sadly, being nice isn't good for ratings. We love to watch a train wreck, as I'm sure the Hoff has realized firsthand.
posted by dubold at 1:26 PM on August 2, 2007

Why do I read YouTube comments?

i give him his props for being his own man. society is gay the way they ridicule anyone trying to be different.

Gay, indeed.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:27 PM on August 2, 2007

Hey MotherTucker, do you think I could buy Thoth a MeFi account?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:32 PM on August 2, 2007

During my mother's visit to NYC, I tried to take her and her friend to places off the beaten track, but they were more interested in going to the Empire State Building, filming the subway with their camcorder, and recognizing things they'd seen on TV.

It was incredibly depressing for me because I felt that she had been given an opportunity to understand why I moved here-- the kind of life that I could have that was impossible where I grew up-- and instead she was only seeing the parts that she could readily accept without being challenged in the least.

On the last day of her trip we went to Central Park, and happened upon Thoth in the middle of an incredibly long and energetic performance. My mother stopped dead in her tracks, watching with amusement at first, but then a sort of faraway look crept into her eyes and her mouth went sort of slack. Her friend snapped gum and watched through the eyepiece of her video camera, but my mom just stood there, completely transfixed in apprehension.

It took about ten minutes for him to finish; when he finished singing, the crowd applauded and began to offer donations. My mom just stood there, as if waking up. "Well," she said, "That was something." The rest of the trip went on as it had before, but I felt so much better after that-- for just a moment she had realized how much of the city was beyond her understanding, but attempted anyway, oblivious to the famous Angel statue that we had walked dozens of blocks to get to see.
posted by hermitosis at 1:40 PM on August 2, 2007 [10 favorites]

I remember this guy on the show! He was a trip.

Meanwhile, one of my friends is a top ten finalist.
posted by First Post at 1:44 PM on August 2, 2007

Can't let the "he must be mentally ill" comment slide -- Artists expressing themselves have always been susceptible to this comment. Isn't it clear that he is following a clear purpose? I don't know how much more sane he has to be.
His singing reminds me of Diamanda Galas a bit, only prettier. I wonder if he'd be willing to do a recording. If he did a recording, I suppose people would stop calling him crazy, because a recording is like some version of a polo shirt - A way of saying, I've got what you haven't got.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 1:48 PM on August 2, 2007

When did ridicule become the new form of entertainment?

Maybe it's because I'm from the US, but when wasn't it?
posted by davejay at 1:52 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

that America's Got Talent clip was so depressing. There was simply no possibility of communication, and it was a bizarre crossroads where Thoth presented a strangely open, spiritually personal, generous but unfocused expression, and the judges looked for a well choreographed routine with lots of smiles. They just didn't understand each other at all.

The judges didn't care that this was meaningful to him, that was expressing something real or emotive, and they certainly weren't going to give it a moment to see if it would affect them. All that would matter was that it reference something familiar, fit together neatly, build into a nice finale, and end with a big smile: if it did those things, it could be "good" despite (because of?) the utter blankness of the one bringing those elements together...

I'm not saying I thought thoth was brilliant - I found it intriguing, and he was beautiful, but at some point there would have to be something more for me to maintain interest. But the response of AGT was just one of those weird cultural misfires that make me feel like a gothy teenager again, and question if I even belong to the same species as david hasselhoff.
posted by mdn at 1:52 PM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Okay, I made that snarky comment, then I actually thought aboout the question a bit more, and I can answer it properly, assuming it's meant as "when did ridicule become the new form of television/radio entertainment?"

The answer is "as soon as television and radio became focused on making money at any cost instead of making money while also serving the public good."

It was a long, long time ago that this happened -- for example, technically "Let's Make A Deal" and "The Gong Show" were about laughing-at as much as laughing-with -- but it accelerated when reality television took off.

The driver for this is simple: what do people, in their most prurient and childish moments, find entertaining? Farts. Belches. Mocking the oddball. Feeling superior. Watching someone get kicked in the crotch.

Prior to the reality television wave, we all found this stuff entertaining in real life, but radio and television were not generally a reflection of real life. Reality television changed that; suddenly, executives saw that people being people (even if actually scripted) is as entertaining to folks as it is in real life.

When the ratings came in, all bets were off.

Arguably, this is why YouTube and similar are so popular as well; it's mostly people being people, but with even less of a "let's add some dignity and respectability to this" filter applied.
posted by davejay at 1:57 PM on August 2, 2007

This is exactly what I needed on an exhausting Thursday afternoon.
posted by mrmojoflying at 2:00 PM on August 2, 2007

I love street performers. This is something I would love to be able to see live. Busking is an art form I love a great deal. Anyone in the right place and time can stumble upon some very special moments this way. Street perfromance is a very honest , but it can also be magic if you're in the right frame of mind. Two of my favorite from New Orleans are Grampa Elliot and Stony B
posted by nola at 2:07 PM on August 2, 2007

Well , wait that ain't Stony , but it is Grampa. I don't know the fella on guitar, but still.
posted by nola at 2:09 PM on August 2, 2007

Man, that AGT clip is depressing. Those imbeciles would rather hear some fiddy cent track with a badly sampled 70's pop song looped over and over while a monotonous ignorant no-talent hack drones about bitches and money. Let them have it, I say. Let them have their war dead, their hopeless lives, their environmental decay and every other bad thing- they deserve it. I'm reminded at times why I drift into the mindset of "Fuck my christian upbringing: the highest calling of my own life is to get rich, fuck a lot of pretty women while treating them like crap, and then make sure that I leave behind a world far worse than I found it, where most people suffer more than they did before I got here". I really, really, really hate humankind at times, because they- we- are such monstrous despicable creatures. We really do all need to be killed, Bill Hicks was right...

The "most mesmerizing" clip was very good: musical, good beat, really intriguing vocals and overall made for a quasi-spiritual piece. I guess the idiocracy of America can't handle this kind of music: it reminds me of devotional music from other cultures, or of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or of something very Dead Can Dance- and in general, of something very middle eastern. Our country likes going to war with those cultures, so no surprise they'd boo, replete with big arm-X's, music that isn't some bubblegum smiley face pop.
posted by hincandenza at 2:19 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think he's amazing. I really like what he's doing. He's following his own muse, and I personally like his singing style.

And, yes, the crowd (and two of the judges) on America's Got Talent are douchebags.

Thoth is my new favorite street performer.
posted by MythMaker at 2:55 PM on August 2, 2007

Wow, he displays more creativity, originality and expression in one minute than the Hoff could hope for in his entire career.
posted by gallois at 3:16 PM on August 2, 2007

Having watched the TV performance:

He really, really doesn't come across on TV the way he does in person (big surprise). Not by 1000%. It's an unfortunate appearance, clearly set up for entertainment (you know, stuck in amongst the bits of more "serious" entertainment).

I can't tell whether he's in on the joke and along for the ride, but if not, I think really it must seem well worthwhile for him to take even a long shot at a million bucks. What did this appearance cost him? Nothing.

Listening to the audience boo him was like watching the mean girls hate on Carrie. Too bad he didn't respond to Hoff's imaginary arrow with a real one.
posted by hermitosis at 3:29 PM on August 2, 2007

Mean girls hating on Carrie. Funny, I use that expression too.

As many others have said have said: what a shock to go from his rapturous Central Park performance (the outdoors and those big echoey acoustics are so perfect for his presence and voice) to the TV jackals. How moving, too, because in a room full of hateful boos and mugging he didn't crumple in a ball and cry (the Carrie method, and probably mine if it were ever to happen to me), or return it in kind, or do a damn thing but carry on singing, speak civilly, and maintain calm. I'll have to see that documentary now because damn, that man being on television and on the toughest live stage I know, NYC, in such a fragile state -- half-naked, playing violin, singing soprano, in a state of prayer -- is one of the most courageous and raw things I have ever seen a performer do, anywhere, ever. Thanks, dersins.
posted by melissa may at 4:54 PM on August 2, 2007

Yeah, I thought his performance on America's Got Talent could have been intended as another brilliant piece of performance art by placing something real and meaningful in the middle of a vacuous TV show. The thing that made it so depressing was that he looked completely sincere and hopeful.

Idiocracy is absolutely the word for it. It's impossible to watch TV like this anymore without thinking of that movie.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:53 PM on August 2, 2007

The judges didn't care that this was meaningful to him, that was expressing something real or emotive, and they certainly weren't going to give it a moment to see if it would affect them.

That kinda works both ways though, doesn't it? The whole point of these shows is an attempt to appeal to the Lowest Common Denominator, and we expect the performers to understand that as well as the judges.

In light of that, why would Thoth expect an outcome that was any different to the one that he actually got? He obviously knows that what he does isn't in that category, so he's trading his dignity for the opportunity to appear on the boob-tube.

You pays your money...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:17 PM on August 2, 2007

This reminded me of Stimmhorn - I had the same kind of reaction of amusement and wondering if it's a joke, then realising I actually like the music.
posted by Stove at 6:27 PM on August 2, 2007

America's Got Talent is a show designed to capture the eyeballs of retards who haven't better things to do with their time than vegetate in front of the tube waiting for an opportunity to inflate ego by putting down someone else.

Anyhoo, Thoth's work reminds me of some of the performance work in Laurie Anderson's US Live. And that means it's damn good.

Also, it appears that Hoff has taken to shaving his chest. What a tool.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:41 PM on August 2, 2007

I first met him what must be like 15 years ago. He used to play at th 24th st. BART station in here in SF. I ran into him a couple of times at the Anon Salon in the mid 90's.
I remember talking to him about making extra $ and his recent gig as a nude model at a local art school, and how he nearly passed out during a particularly strenuous pose.
In performance far out and genuinely committed, in conversation, very understated, sweet and intelligent.

When I saw the academy awards that year that he was there, I had one of those very small world moments...
posted by asavage at 6:46 PM on August 2, 2007

Totally cool! I've seen him perform at parties in New York, most notably the underground Rubulad (email me, there's one on Friday) -- he's good amplified but not nearly as good as he is in these videos.

For those of you who mock real performers like this -- take a look at your own life -- how much less ridiculous is yours than Thoth's?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:39 PM on August 2, 2007

Okay, so now I have a mental picture of everything suddenly turning slow motion and lit blood red as the studio doors slam in the America's Got Talent soundstage... Thoth hears a voice chanting "They're all going to laugh at you!"... and everything erupts in flames and explosions and a water hose shoots Piers Morgan smack in the face as David Hasselhoff is electrecuted by his microphone cord and poor Sharon, she tried to be nice but she's sliced in half by a ceiling beam anyhow.

They should've been nicer to Thoth.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:52 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I get back to NYC, I know who I am visiting: Thoth.

Living here in Key West, home of the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration, I have seen all the standard street performers ie unicyclists, fire jugglers, cat trainers, et al. But the difference is that Thoth is genuine.

Once long ago, I stood on street corners, completely frozen, next to a sign that read, "FREE HUGS." I would only move when someone would come up for a hug. (I was inspired by a performance artist I saw in Montreal.) Even now, people call me Key West Hug Man. And it was the best. Giving hugs is the best.

BTW? Thanks, dersins.
posted by humannaire at 8:03 PM on August 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

thanks, dersins.

i look at people like Thoth, and, god, i burn with envy. i wish i were brave enough to do my own thing like that. he's a strong and beautiful person. we need many, many more like him.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:23 PM on August 2, 2007

There's precious little reward in sharing a truly unique artistic vision. Thankfully, there is something that compels people like our ibis-headed friend to do so.

I think the greatest art is the art that leaves you mystified, a little unsettled, and forever changed for the experience. It requires not only that the observers make the effort to understand, but that they sometimes allow themselves to be confronted by the uncomfortable. Unfortunately, most people prefer to think of art as something that entertains, rather than something that provokes.
posted by malocchio at 8:28 PM on August 2, 2007

i wish i were brave enough to do my own thing like that.

You should just get up and do it. Really, it's much easier than it seems to play to the people who care about you and ignore the rest once you jump off that diving board. I've certainly done shows where the audience talked over them, drifted away or didn't even show up in the first place -- you get used to it really fast and it's all worth it when one person gets it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:30 PM on August 2, 2007

You're reminding me of something... I need to be singing more. If this guy can keep plugging away at his music so fearlessly, well I'm just being lazy and I have no excuses.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:36 PM on August 2, 2007

Has David Hasselhoff had a stroke?
posted by stavrogin at 9:14 PM on August 2, 2007

Street performers, even unicyclists and fire eaters, are terribly under-appreciated. It is free entertainment, and often high quality. Yeah sometimes they suck, but what have you lost? 20 seconds? I've never been to NYC but sometimes even in Nashville you will happen upon a guy with a guitar just standing on the sidewalk, hoping that somebody, anybody, will listen to them. Most people have no idea what to do, and just walk past like they are the cartoon characters at Disneyworld.

Hell, I would love to see a real honest-to-god mime. Not someone being ironic, but a real person sincerely doing pantomime.

humannaire: that is awesome. Do you mind saying when and why you quit?
posted by Ynoxas at 10:03 PM on August 2, 2007

I'll take a loincloth-wearing violinist over a washed-up drunk asshole piece of shit like David fucking Hasselhoff any day.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:22 PM on August 2, 2007

His mesoamerican getup, the ethereal voices he channels, the rituals, the violin and the dancing - all of this makes for very compelling watching.

Great post dersins.
posted by JaySunSee at 2:57 AM on August 3, 2007

I watched the mesmerizing clip 3 times in a row - absolutely beautiful. Great post. Thanks!
posted by debralee at 4:27 AM on August 3, 2007

Very captivating. But I don't think this kind of performance fits with TV or stage. He's better off avoiding those venues. As described in a couple of comments above, he is best discovered, hearing these unexpected and haunting melodies off in the distance, following it and finding yourself enthralled.

And sung in his own language? Perfect. It totally fits with the impression I get from his art: stripping away the tarnish of thousands of years of civilization to reveal the primal power of song and dance.

Thanks for the post, dersins.
posted by effwerd at 5:50 AM on August 3, 2007


lupus_yonderboy, those are still going on? Still in the same place that feels like a tragic Post headline waiting to happen? (as in happyland social club type tragedy...)
posted by dersins at 7:57 AM on August 3, 2007

And sung in his own language? Perfect. It totally fits with the impression I get from his art: stripping away the tarnish of thousands of years of civilization to reveal the primal power of song and dance.

The violin has a few thousand years of civilization behind it, though!
The impression I get is that his performance implies the existence of a culture he has invented, rather like Tlön or Uqbar. While watching him perform, one can imagine, or possibly even believe on some subconscious level, that the civilization/culture he is depicting really exists somewhere out there.
posted by Stove at 10:16 AM on August 3, 2007

I didn't see anyone else note this - in the "mesmerizing" clip, he plays the violin right- and left-handed, and does a fine job in both configurations. That alone should get the asshat judges and audience members on AGT off his back.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:38 AM on August 3, 2007


Don't flipout too much about the mirror writing thing. My folks discovered I could do that when I was five years old. Still can.
posted by waltb555 at 1:17 PM on August 3, 2007

The impression I get is that his performance implies the existence of a culture he has invented, rather like Tlön or Uqbar.

Yeah, you nailed it. His performances are tied into a mythical place called The Festad and tell the life story of a sort of hermaphroditic messiah who ushers in a new world-cycle. It's some pretty fascinating shit, mythologically speaking, and yes, he does have CDs out.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:46 PM on August 3, 2007

Another one of my favorite performances of this kind of otherworldly "world" music is Soriah, who does throat-singing. On his first CD, he accompanies himself on a massive historical church organ, which doesn't really lend itself to street performances, but he's played in plenty of unique locations, like the tunnel network underneath Portland.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:54 PM on August 3, 2007

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