By Tiger and Bear with illustrations by James Wilson.
An introduction: Dancing with Nietzsche is based on mythical events.
It is neither fact nor fiction; instead it is an account of two performance artists named Tiger and Bear, who had been influenced by the old Korean folk story of the same name. The myth of tiger and bear tells of the birth of Dangun and the founding of what we now call Korea, a geographically and politically divided nation. The “performances” in the following story hold little relation to this original folk story.
Act II: Backstage (Read Act I)
The town was a far cry from the Asian space-age metropolises of comic books and science fiction films that I had spent too many adolescent nights pawing over. Yet at the same time it was not exactly a traditional Korean village. Darkened streets, soju houses and makgeolli huts, slackened ties and discarded cocktail dresses in the private karaoke rooms, fluorescent signs popping and fizzing, painting the occasional soju causality with a lurid glow.
We had left the taxi driver back at the station, wandering through the streets in search of some direction and means to get to the festival. Yet as we rounded a corner I stopped dead. I grabbed Bear’s forearm. Before us were a group of men dressed in white shirts and black ties. My mind raced and made a connection through the soju haze—the Mormons from the bus station!
We had originally planned to catch a coach, yet I had become embroiled in an altercation with a gang of Mormon missionaries whilst waiting for Bear. The white shirts suddenly became canvases for blooming patches of hemoglobin; high fives exchanged for clenched fists. We had left the bus station running, hurling soju bottles behind us, fending off the Christian soldiers who were baying for our very blood, piling into the taxi and speeding away.
I wheeled around and started to sprint in the opposite direction, both hands clutching my satchel to my chest. I stole a glance over my shoulder as a soju bottle tumbled out of my satchel and exploded against the pavement, showering broken glass and alcohol everywhere.
Bear wasn’t running. Instead he was just standing there with his rucksack between his feet. Incredibly the Mormons neared and then passed him by without incidence. I stopped and I peered through the gloom as I tried to catch my breath. I slowly came to realize that the Mormons were in fact Korean high school students. I walked past them briskly and back to Bear, staring at the ground the whole time.
Soon we found ourselves in another taxi, travelling down snaking roads and round the edges of the mountains. Through the dark trees we could see search lights cutting into the clear night sky. Soon the taxi driver dropped us off where crowds were gathering and we followed the flow of people through a huge wooden gate with “JAMESER” embossed along the top. As we walked along the path we found that we were descending into a valley and at the bottom we could make out a stage. Explosions of sound rumbled from the towering PA stacks on either side of a huge video that was projecting 40 foot high images of the performers. A sudden burst of adrenaline; the prospect of being blasted into the retinas of thousands of people, this was bound to be the big break. I started to briskly walk down the path. Yet soon I realized I was walking alone and looked back to find that Bear had stopped in his tracks. He was staring fixedly at the scene in the valley below, his eyes wide. I walked back up the path towards and as I got closer I saw that his bottom lip was trembling ever so slightly. He spoke slowly,
“Tiger… this is a bit scary…I’ve never been on a stage like that before”
He wiped one shaky hand across his brow inside the Bear head,
“Look, don’t worry” I snapped, “Drink some more soju. You only think you’re afraid. Remember; MTV! ”
I continued down the path, soon reaching the stage. Bear jogged up along side just as I reached the crowed barrier by the stage side. A 30-something Korean woman in a pair of Blues Brothers sunglasses and a white t-shirt approached us, the ID card hanging around her neck clearly read “Stage Manager.”
I nudged Bear and he cleared his throat, momentarily closing his eyes as if uttering a prayer of some sort.
“Anyong haseyo, ho rang hago gom im needa…ji geum it seo yo..?” Bear said nervously.
The stage manager looked confused. Bear paused again and then said,
“Oori yo gi yo…erm…performance with-er…” he turned to me and whispered, “What are they called?”
“Pogo Planet,” I chimed in.
The stage manager’s face lit up.
“Oh, Pogo Planet! Tiger and Bear! Yes, OK! You are handsome! Very handsome,” she said in passable English.
Bear seemed a bit surprised at this development and I sensed a tad relieved on account of not having to speak in Korean any more.
“Please follow me,” the stage manager said.
While the façade of the stage had all the glitz and glamour you could ever hope for the back stage area was nothing more than a few crates and boxes in front of a low toilet block. The stage manger was off on a monologue of apologies and directions, shouting to be heard above the behemoth PA speakers.
“Now you’ll go on after the next band, sorry. With PoGo Planet. Sorry, do you have your passports?”
Bear stopped, suddenly looking altogether quite anxious.
“After the next band?!” he squealed.
The stage manager stopped and turned, offering Bear an apologetic smile. She began to say something but stopped as her expression suddenly changed, as if all the blood was draining from her face turning it to stone. Her hand crept up to her face and she took off her sunglasses hurriedly, revealing a pair of large dark eyes that were staring fixedly at Bear’s hand and the soju bottle held in it.
“Have you been drinking?” She whispered in a voice soaked in spite and battery acid.
We both smelt like an experiment at a distillery gone wrong. What’s more, it was plain to see that the booze was causing the messages from our brains to our bodies to become somewhat intermittent, our shambled walking being evidence enough.
“Of course not…” I said trying to sound sober.
Her eyes now lifted to me and seemingly stared straight into my soul.
“Do not drink too much!” The words shot from her mouth like factory fresh razor blades.
She then stared at me as if trying to use some kind of arcane telekinesis to melt my face.
“We…won’t…” I said in what I thought sounded like a sincere tone.
She replaced the sunglasses back over her eyes.
“OK, sorry, follow me…sorry.”
The stage manager led us to our collaborators, PoGo Planet, who were sitting on a pile of crates outside the back stage toilet block. The band were a motley collection of bizarre personalities: a pint sized court jester attired in psychedelic/rockabilly fashion who carried a cane that he habitually spun around , flanked by a technicoloured lollipop harlequin and a droog straight out of a Korean adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.
There was a strange look in each of their eyes, a kind of vacancy usually found in the eyes of soldiers who’ve retuned from nightmarish conflicts in some God forsaken jungle at the world’s end. When we spoke to them they responded but looked as if they were some where else, almost speaking to themselves, constantly staring off into the distance.
Bear tried to talk to them in Korean about a song from their debut album,
“Nee-cha…norae…ju why yo…”
Blank stares. Silence. Bear tried again in English,
“I really like your song about dancing with Nietzsche…”
The lead singer looked to Bear as if he had been shaken out of a deep sleep,
Bear looked to me with an uncertain expression and said again,
“One of your songs… you sing about dancing with Nietzsche?”
The stage manager leaned over and interrupted,
“Sorry, so what will you perform on stage then?”
Both Bear and I shot glances at each other.
Bear’s idea had been for us to drop trowel in unison, defecate into our hands and cover ourselves in our own excrement, thus turning ourselves into shamans of shit and then proceed to sling some of it into the crowd. The screams, the anguish, the disgust, the tears of rage. Businessman with crew cuts and shit on their best shiny suits, howling for our blood, ready to put their military training into practice while their wives blubbered as they attempted to come to terms with the prospect of getting human excrement out of their favorite floral dress ,dry cleaning bills totaling hundreds of thousands of won.
The headlines the following Monday would undoubtedly read along the lines of “Tiger and Bear Make a Mess at JAMESER” accompanied by colour photographs of the two of us dripping with filth. A rabble of sensationalist journalists would fabricate quotes describing how the whole time we’d been on the payroll of North Korea or else were part of an aborted military experiment, servants of the devil and cohorts of Kilroy Silk, Glenn Beck or some other soulless pervert.
They would call for a public hanging in revenge for our acts of rectal terrorism and cultural sabotage.
Yet in the end the thing that had persuaded against the idea was the member of PoGo Planet who was at present nowhere to be seen. If one speck of excrement landed anywhere near him we were quite certain something unpleasant would happen; mutant clone warriors sailing crossbow bolts from the ridges above; savaged by a pack of double headed wolverines falling from the sky. Instead the safe bet was to play it Bez with our own signature move, the ‘John Claude van Damme-Looking-Casual’. We’d even prepared cardboard maracas for the occasion.
“Er, our performance will be sort of…a…erm…traditional English dance.” I mumbled.
The stage manager nodded enthusiastically and then looked at her watch,
“OK, sorry, go get ready! Sorry!”
She motioned towards the toilet block. We stumbled through the door and delved into the pre-show preparatory process of make up, hair maintenance and soju shots.
“I still don’t feel good…” Bear grumbled. I was looking into the wall length mirror behind the bank of sinks which Bear was leaning up against.
“Shut up,” I muttered as I caked eye shadow over the bags under my bloodshot sclera.
Bear slouched forward, his arms hanging by his side, sighing slightly.
Outside the night was hot and sweaty, bugs warbling in the dark woods above on the mountains, huge moths fluttering through the zeppelin like search lights as they blasted away into the heavens. A Korean rockabilly band was frolicking around on the stage doing Chuck Berry covers for the pleasure of the huge audience who were for the most part seated, politely clapping along, while a few brave souls waltzed around in front of the stage.
Make up and soju complete we ambled out of the toilet block and found a spot by some trees at the foot of the hills that stretched high above. We watched the stage hands and technicians scurrying back and forth, reality reeling as the soju’s effect took their gruesome toll. I was stalled somewhere between wanting to vomit and reach and touch the world to make sure it was real.
I unscrewed the cap on another bottle as I turned away from the blurry scene on the stage and hurled it into the darkness. Yet something caught my eye, out there, stirring in the night. Out of the hills, out of the trees, out of the darkness, it came rapidly from the shadows and into the light. I shrieked and dropped the soju bottle, which impacted on the pavement below and exploded like a hand grenade filled with glittering green glass. . PoGo Planet’s fourth member had arrived.
He didn’t speak. He showed no expression on account of his face being plastered with heavy white make up like a Victorian porcelain doll found in the back of some abandoned antiques shop. A mop of dark hair fell down to his eyes, as black as a moonless night. He stood and watched us, the colored stage lights painting his blank canvas of a face.
The strength drained out of my legs and I fell to my knees. The end of Tiger and Bear was nigh. I had never been so certain of anything else as I felt the soju from the broken bottle soak into the knees of my trousers. He motioned as if he was going to come at us, leaning forward just the fraction of a millimeter with the possibility of his brothel creeper clad foot lifting off the ground. My heart ceased beating.
Just then a pair of preppy girls wearing the yellow festival helper t-shirts came skipping out of the crowd towards the backstage. Those few seconds lingered for what seemed like a century or more. He slowly took a step backwards, followed by another. With that he disappeared into the darkness from where he had come.
Slowly I got to my feet and helped Bear pick him self up.
Bear slowly shook his head. The dryness in the back of my throat was excruciating. I spoke, but it sounded as if my voice was coming from elsewhere altogether.
“Yeah…I don’t know about this, there’s selling your soul to the devil, but…”
I suddenly felt incredibly sober. Taking a big gulp I continued,
“Look…erm…maybe MTV won’t be here after all, I mean we could just catch a taxi back to the town and find a bar…I mean there’s still time to…”
Bear stared off into space as if contemplating the greatest question in the Universe. He slowly shook his head and plodded back towards the crowds of people amassed before the stage. I followed without much thought, daring to seal a glance over my shoulder into the darkness. When I looked back I discovered that Bear had stopped.
“This is our time, we can’t back out.” he said sternly, without turning.
He was right, we couldn’t back out. Even in the face of oblivion.
Bear cracked the seal on another bottle of soju.
Part 3 coming soon at 3WM.
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James Wilson Bio
James Wilson is an illustrator working in Bristol, England. He is inspired and influenced by album art, underground comics, heavy metal, the 80’s, t shirt design, hand drawn type and beards. To view more of his work go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilzon/ and to follow him on Twitter… http://twitter.com/#!/wilzon1 . He is available for commissions, so get in touch!