I originally wrote this article for hubcap, a zine published by Jim Stoicheff in 1994. Notes that I have added for this version are shown in [brackets].
Let’s jump back to 1974 for a moment.
We’re in a seventh-grade classroom at Paxton Elementary in Missoula, Montana. It’s a rather nondescript group of thirty of so students (or “pupils,” back then), none of whom appears to be much different from the next. To spice things up, let’s interrupt this rather sedate and downright boring setting with an interesting what-if scenario.
What if there were a flash of light, a puff of smoke, and then a tall stranger standing where no one stood before. And what if this stranger put one question to the assembled crowd: Which of you will one day make a living by sticking a tube up your nose and pumping beer into your stomach?
|The earliest photo I have of Matt. See the note at the bottom of the page|
I’ll tell you what-if. Without the slightest hesitation, every single kid in that classroom would have pointed directly at Matt Crowley.
In the fall of 1974 I began my first school year in Montana, having been dragging there kicking and screaming from Ohio after my dad retired and the folks decided to move us to the great West. When I was unceremoniously tossed into a classroom full of unfamiliar faces, I bonded quickly with a bespeckled redhead named Matt because we learned that we shared a common passion: we liked to blow things up. Old toys, clumps of dirt, discarded fruit, you name it. If it was inanimate and in our vicinity, it was in constant danger of exploding.
A few months earlier, one of my Ohio friends told me that in Montana, “you only have to be 12 to buy dynamite… and they sell it in almost every store!” I was very disappointed to find this was not true, and Matt and I would have to find other ways to create our explosions. The easiest way, of course, was to simply purchase legal fireworks and use them for unintended purposes; we quickly learned that with a little retrofitting, even the “safest” of fireworks could be made to pack quite a wallop. After a couple seasons of this, however, I noticed a disturbing trend developing: Matt was turning into the biggest cheapskate in the world and I was funding the entirety of our research and development.
As I closed the purse strings on our exploits, our incendiary interests matured and took on a whole new form. We became fascinated with building and launching hot-air balloons. These consisted of large plastic bags with some sort of heat source carried aloft; launched at night, they created a steady, slowly moving light across the wide Montana sky. For kicks we’d occasionally rig a balloon to drop lit firecrackers; some habits are hard to break.
The fire bug had pretty much left us by the time high school was in full swing (except for on incident where we blew up a friend’s apartment, but that’s another story) and Matt’s energy started showing true artistic form. A segment of our filmmaking class dealt with direct-stock techniques, where you use pre-exposed film stock as the actual medium. Most of the students were content with drawing nice little animated stick figures on each frame of the film strip. Not so with Matt. He took the art form to an entirely new level by mutilating the film with tools, chemicals, and other foreign objects (the motto of the day was “anything’s game as long as the sprocket holes stay intact!”). The resulting images were chaotic, disturbing, and yet quite beautiful. They definitely revealed a mind that was operating outside normal boundaries.
I got my first hint of Matt’s future in performance art when he related a particularly interesting story to me in the high school cafeteria one morning. The previous night, he was listening to a Devo 8-track while lounging around in his room. His lounging turned into frantic pogoing when “Jocko Homo” came through the speakers and a bizarre primal urge engulfed his senses. Moving the 8-track player to the center of the floor, he began to pummel the deck with a baseball bat – mildly at first, then with increasingly steady abandonment. “Monkey men all, in business suits,” BLAM! “Teachers and critics, all dance the poot,” KAPOW! At the time this was the most utterly brilliant thing I had over heard of – reducing the 8-track player to a pile of rubble while Devo’s devolutionary anthem strained to get out. And there was something truly fitting in that it happened in solitude, without an audience. [Update: Matt has since told me that it was an axe, not a baseball bat. Either one works for me.]
I lost touch with Matt in the early 80s when I moved away for college, and I didn’t see him again until the summer of 1990. I learned that he was living in Seattle, so we got together for one of those somewhat awkward “gee, it’s great to see you again” meetings, during which I think we both realized that we had gone our separate ways and now had very little in common. He was working as a pharmacist in West Seattle. This career choice always struck me as somewhat sinister for him; not that I ever felt he would tamper with peoples’ prescriptions, it’s just that I can’t help but to recall our days of mixing assorted chemicals together to get the most effective smoke bombs.
That meeting was the last time I ever saw Matt. Shortly thereafter, he quit his job and joined the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Billing himself as “The Tube Monster,” Matt would delight and disgust audiences by inserting one end of a long, clear tube up a nostril, down his esophagus, and into his stomach. The other end of the tube was attached to a large plunger filled with a nasty concoction of beer, ketchup, and whatever else happened to be available. It was bad enough that he would pump this mixture into his stomach, but then he’d reverse the plunger and draw it back out again, happily pointing out the new bluish tinge supplied by his own stomach acids. [Matt toured the world with the Sideshow, hanging out with luminaries like Pearl Jam along the way.]
When the Sideshow went out on its latest tour, Matt was conspicuously absent. I had to wonder if he had hung up the tube to search for a new adventure, or if he had quietly returned to his life as a pharmacist. If this is the case, can you imagine being handed a prescription by someone you recognize as The Tube Monster?
© 1994 David Peterman
| About the photo of Matt: I know it’s not quite fair to put up old pictures of people, but in this case I thought it really helped with the story. Just to show you that I’m not being mean-spirited about this, here’s a picture of me from the same yearbook. Dig that crazy hair!
||And gee-whiz, since I have the book open and on the scanner, here’s a picture of wacky alternative artist/engineer Steve Albini, who also went to our school.|