From The Desk Of Kristian Hoffman: Why Why Why

Kristian Hoffman and Lance Loud met in high school back in the early ’70s in Santa Barbara, Calif. After starring in PBS cinéma-vérité documentary An American Family, they formed the Mumps, moved to New York and shared Max’s and CBGB stages with all the legends of the punk/new-wave explosion of 1976: Television, the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie. Hoffman and Loud also had front-row seats for the Mercer Arts Center incubation of the New York Dolls, before that. In our book, that grants you unlimited license to open the floodgates. Fop (Kayo), Hoffman’s latest solo album, is an ornate masterpiece of baroque pop, well worth your attention. Hoffman will be guest editing all week. Read our new Q&A with him.

Hoffman: As a weeper-adjacent article, loss and regret is almost as emotionally saturating as indulging in a good “weeper.” It may not be the most conventionally pleasant feeling, but in a world full of worse things to contemplate, mourning the loss of something dear can only be done if you’re the survivor. It’s a tiny Alice In Wonderland back door into the fun-house mirror of reflected optimism, really! You don’t buy that? Well, neither do I. Loss and regret may be merely the Quaalude of aesthetic mood enhancers vs. the heroin of a genuine “weeper” high.

But for some reason I used to love to peruse books like Lost New York, and the pictures of the criminally destroyed Pennsylvania Station, a monument externally based with fanciful Alma Tadema romance on the Caracalla Baths (girlfriend!), but inside revealing an industrial revolution cathedral of iron and skylight to rival the Crystal Palace of the 1851 Great Exhibition, were just a crazed gooseflesh buzz borne of this nos-no-no-you-can’tever-see-it-talgia.

I don’t know if it was sort of an architectural myth-making that drew me, a fairy tale drawn from real castles that now were so far from reach they weren’t even in the Maxfield Parrish air, or perhaps the grim poignance of Man’s seemingly incurable and relentless will to destroy his own few legitimately transcendent creations, or just that I’m a whiner at heart. But envisioning a world that once, and never again, might miraculously accomplish these artful leaps of imagination and craft into magical edifices of community and shared accomplishment was just, well, trippy. In a delightfully dolorous way.

So, of course, I’d collect ephemera like the souvenir program for the Universal Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis, Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 (so romantically, if diabolically, detailed in The Devil In The White City) and postcards of the Trylon and Perisphere from the NYC 1939 World’s Fair (so charmingly lamented in Aimee Mann’s “Fifty Years After The Fair” back when she was still able to charm and lament concurrently: “How beautiful it was: tomorrow!”). Luna Park in Coney Island? Check! Garden of Allah in Hollywood? Check! Bullock’s Wilshire? Check!

This game of cultural aching can be played small: late, lamented Hollywood treasure Tick Tock Restaurant’s turkey croquettes and champagne-sherbet palate cleanser in little Dixie cups that you could savor amongst the eclectic international collection of peculiar clocks, pendulums clicking away while the HO train circles the Xmas tree. Or this appropriated ache can toy with the blockbuster behemoth: the perfectly 21rst century willful destruction of the magnificent Buddhas of Bamiyan by a bunch of quasi-religious hooligan oafs who, between you and me, really aren’t doing that much to advance the culture of tolerance so sorely needed to save this sad earth.
But to me, if you really want to feel the pleasurable pangs of condescending disdain for humankind’s unforgivable lack of concern for its own most elevated achievements, then just research Mr. Potter’s Museum Of Curiosities. No, not Harry Potter. Walter Potter, a dedicated if somewhat talent-challenged taxidermist whose masterpiece was to create a diorama of “The Death And Burial Of Cock Robin” represented entirely by 98 cadavers of native British birds.

I was given a souvenir booklet describing this wondrous establishment by one Mr, James Spinx, part of the St. Petersburg, Fla., contingent of the no-wave scene that included Beirut Slump’s Elizabeth and Bobby Swope and Mirielle Cervenka and who used to run a secondhand shop near St. Mark’s Place and Avenue B wherein I reserved an uber-rare 12-inch lenticular of Satanic Majesties. But James never delivered, and I still cringe to this day at the oversight. In any case, I was never able to visit said museum in person. However, the little crumpled pamphlet was on my desk for years as “next bucket list destination or die.”

The wonders even in the tiny poorly reproduced pamphlet were a glittering triumph of taking the epidermis of poor deceased creatures and adding the prefix “taxi!” The athletic toads engaged in hysterical gymnastery! The Guinea Pig’s cricket match, complete with Sousa-styled brass band! The kitten’s tea-and-croquet party! There was no end to the fanciful conceptions of Mr. Potter’s sawdust imaginings!

There were the accompanying protestations of charity in the rescuing of these abstractedly reconfigured membranes. According to the booklet, Potter’s Museum existed right next door to a veterinarian hospital where, after dutifully searching for a welcoming home, unwanted creatures were regularly euthanized in the most humane of conditions. So Potter claimed that he only collected the discarded outer vessels of animal souls long since gone to commune with Thomasina in the animal afterlife. No reluctant beacons of “cute” were slain in the making of these panoramic displays, not even his final masterwork, “The Kitten’s Wedding,” a tableaux of lace and jewel-encrusted felinia, replete with preacher, best man(x) and a plethora of bridesmaids mewling from the great beyond.

So, after years of planning to make the trek to this mecca of totemic repurposing, it was revealed to me that in 2003 some cultural demon decided to disband the 143-year-old collection at auction rather than accepting a million pound(!) offer to keep it intact. No government agency stepped in. No billionaire Bill Gates or even a minor-league David Geffen stepped in to champion the integrity of this penultimate bastion of Victorian whimsy made flesh through, um, flesh. No government grant waylaid the wanton dissemination of this consummate company of curios. If you aspire to the high of loss and regret, then this is your China White, your Original Kush; this is the tragedy of gargantuan proportions. Something so simple to preserve, with a donor in place, lost in the cruel perfect storm of indifference and acquisitiveness.

It’s not a new story, but it’s a telling one. From the mightiest monuments to the most arcane peculiarities, Man loves to reduce paradise to a desert, to abandon his own and to level his own achievements through ignorance, testosterone or glib denial. Disclaimer: My grandfather was what was once known in Hollywood jargon as a “Great White Hunter.” The main room in his Edgewick Drive clinker-brick manse was festooned with the detritus of his many “kills”: a leopard skin, a cheetah skin, a tiger skin, a lion skin, a few dik-dik heads, a water buffalo head, elephant tusks, a rhinocerous head, you name it! In fact, it was oddly enervating to realize that if my grandfather hadn’t subscribed to this Hollywood Tarzan-era pursuit, there would be no Kenya Waterhole exhibit at the local museum. I still have an umbrella stand that I inherited that is made out of a (cringe) elephant’s foot, complete with coarse hair. They used to pay a designer to decorate the “trophies” with paper crowns and tinsel every Christmas. I was actually scared to go in that room by myself as a child; it was the Psycho Bates Motel lobby squared.

Then, of course, The Addams Family appeared on television during my impressionable tweener years. Suddenly, a huge taxidermy polar bear was a thing of wonder and camp hilarity and not just a ghoulish reminder that we are as a species are hopelessly, deliberately cruel. It made the art of the undertaker fab! I’m not really apologizing; I’m just trying to add context. I want a cigarette humidor made out of a wildebeest hoof. I don’t know why. Blame it on my upbringing! I want a stuffed bobcat, frozen in “pounce” position, ever lurking on my pianoforte like an escapee from the puma-infested Pines Café at the top of the Palm Springs tramway.

So I’m liable, too. But for some reason, when you mix the umber colors of my various pathologies together and allow for my untoward prejudices, the disassembly of Potter’s Museum Of Curiosities still ranks as one of man’s greater crimes against himself. If you can let sleeping dogs lie, why can’t you let stuffed corpses inspire?