The Exquisite Corpse

Dennis Kaplan’s beatification of Gary Warne (San Francisco Bay Guardian, Jan. 11, 1984) is claptrap, but does attest to Warne’s one talent: the ability to surround himself with a fawning following with even less autonomy and imagination than he had. Warne’s interest in cults was eminently practical. His idolators were people who liked to be told what to do even as they collectively confirmed each other’s illusory originality and distinctiveness. With their own willing complicity, Warne distracted his devotees from facing their sordid and subservient everyday lives, which neither he nor they would ever dream of challenging, with an impoverished version of “play” at once trivialized, tranquilizing and socially safe.

Endowed with all the charisma of a Cabbage Patch Kid, devoid of candor and courage, often childish but never childlike, greedy in grubby little ways, Warne was standoffish not only out of neurosis and snobbery but because he always had something to hide. To look him straight in the eye was always enough to make him squirm. Kaplan pretends (or maybe even believes) that Warne disdained to profit from his ploys, but it was not for lack of trying. He always panhandled for what he wanted while charging for what he had to purvey.

Warne was a parasite on the play-instinct, an indolent ideologue of work (for other people), the voyeur of scenes too animated for his own participation. (Once I encountered him among punks, whom he hated, at an afterhours venue: grimly standing by, doing his duty to keep up on the unusual.) He feared spontaneity and real play because he could never experience them and because they were outside his control. And Warne at all costs had to be in control, even if it meant loosing violence on the insubordinate.

Near the end, Gary Warne finally found himself. He became a cop. There is nothing else that needs to be said.

See the Gang of Fourier poster

Part IV: Other Vices