Laugh Laugh*

Louis Theroux - The Call of the Weird: Travels in American SubculturesImagine seeing a band near the end of its run. And then nine years later, or so, they’re on a reunion tour. Or perhaps haven’t stopped touring. Nonetheless, you’ve not been aware of them all that much. Perhaps hearing a tune on the radio every now and then. And for some reason, you decide that you’re going to catch them live once again.

Chances are, the singer won’t be able to hit the notes. And the guitar player—facial contortions notwithstanding—has fingers that aren’t quite as flexible. The rhythm section is, well, tired. And all of them show the signs of gravity on their waistlines and on their follicles.

In effect, the band that you’d seen and the band you are seeing are really two different things. And the latter one is, simply, sad.

Which brings us to The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures by Louis Theroux (DaCapo Press; $24). You may recall Theroux from his 1994-95 gig on Michael Moore’s TV Nation, or perhaps saw his BBC series Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends (1998-2000), which essentially gave rise to this book, wherein he goes back, nine or so years later, on what he calls his “Reunion Tour,” to meet up with some of the people that he’d captured in his documentary footage. Once this was all somewhat funny. And now it is not. Nor is Theroux.

Consider this from a chapter on reacquainting himself with people in “the UFO community,” which he describes as “semi-anarchic, a wild frontier settled by adventurers, dreamers, and con artists.” Back in ’97 when he first visited, he met with people like “Thor Templar, Lord Commander of the Earth Protectorate.” He chronicles his attempts to revisit this whole terrain and its inhabitants. But it gives rise to this reflection, after having spent time with a man who, in effects, channels an alien: “Just because I wanted to know someone better didn’t mean they wanted to be known better. Because I myself am literal-minded and perhaps a little self-doubting, I assume other people are happy to examine their contractions. But it wasn’t so.” Not exactly the stuff of guffaws, that.

“In 2000, I’d spent ten days with Ike, filming a documentary that was never completed. I’d hoped the Reunion Tour would be a chance to see him again and sift through the wreckage of the project.” The Ike in question is Turner. And what could possibly be a rather amusing interlude, turns out to be one where he spends most of his time worrying about offending and irritating Ike.

Prostitutes, con artists, rappers, white separatists (including twin tween girls who have a band named Prussian Blue and do songs with titles including “Aryan Man, Awake”), and others are those whom Theroux revisits. And the effect is more like seeing the aged band than twisted tales that can evoke a smile and a shiver.

“Weirdness, as I understand the word, is a form of belief or a practice that isn’t outside the mainstream but is also in some way self-sabotaging,” he writes in the Epilogue. Exactly. That’s what The Call of the Weird is. He created the siren’s song and it has resulted in what can be considered self-sabotage.

* Beau Brummels, 1965

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