A retrospective look at ROX Season 3 after 25 years by T Black
A character had developed for me, T Black Anarchist Clown. Exchanging my first name for an initial was an aesthetic of the program. Black came from a mistaken identity by one of the news outlets confusing my name for the head of the Indiana Film Commission who had given ROX two awards for an episode in which I appeared during the previous season. Since I fancied myself a radical from the life choices I was making, I donned the anarchist label, and I had been working “professionally” as a circus clown for a couple years.
Most of my work that season was as a segment producer and less of an ensemble player, which is what I had been previously. For the first six episodes I produced five solid Anarchy Diary segments working mostly with a girlfriend at the time and a fellow actor from the local theater scene. I produced one failure of a themed episode segment for ROX #63, and participated as an ensemble cast member in two other episode segments, Pumpkins (ROX #64) and Hempfest (ROX #66).
Then I disappeared completely from the show as an active contributor for the next ten episodes/weeks, two and a half months total. I had been offered an “opportunity” to be the sole roadie/driver for a local band, The Smears, though I think my real job was to keep an eye on the infidelities for their boyfriends who were all staying behind. There was a plan to shoot content and ship the tapes back for the show.
But on the morning of departure my girlfriend refused to let me take her camera, the one we’d been using for all the other content I was creating for the show, and I was screwed. I had no time or money to solve the problem. The tour itself was a disaster. Our weed was left behind at a gas station two days into it, the band immediately started fighting each other and turning to me to mediate, we weren’t making any money, the van broke down completely, of course, along the west coast, we barely escaped a blizzard and the band broke up on the eve of their most important final show of the tour with the headline act from their own label... but not before asking me what I thought they should do first. Really???
I came home more broke than when I left and deeply depressed. Their boyfriends, I think, blamed me for not controlling the situation better and causing the breakup. I was feeling so isolated at this point and the girlfriend still wouldn’t fuck me... I took a job at a local kennel with her because I was desperate for money and trying to make something, anything, positive happen with the relationship. This was the reason for my disappearance.
My return really captured my state of mind at the time. A very angry Anarchy Diary segment for my band’s song GUN. Some stock live performance segments with an added direct threat to all federal law enforcement officers. Was starting to have trouble getting the band together....
My next two contributions to the show were a part of the same episode, “Love on the ROX” (ROX #78). This was the episode that spotlighted how I was being torn apart inside.
We were each assigned a segment to highlight our romantic relationships. I decided to make the getting a tattoo in honor of the girlfriend a centerpiece of my segment along with an improvised poem. Everyone advised me against it, but I was so fucked in the head by then I convinced myself that maybe, just maybe this would prove myself to her and she would finally... make up her damned mind??? She hated my lifestyle, did not trust any of my friends, and withheld sexual relations from me... but every time I wanted to break up, she’d freak out, scream and cry. The guilt of having done that to her is what kept me from escaping all the way. Told you I was fucked in the head. (It just occurred to me right now, as I write these words: she kept thinking she could “bring me around” while I was thinking the same about her. Disastrous.)
I also contributed what would be the final Anarchy Diary segment to ROX. It was a performance art piece by a group I called Borgnine. The concept of Borgnine was formed a couple years earlier, before I even got involved with ROX, I think. The struggle was finding the right piece and venue for this group to perform. Borgnine was a “super group” of the Bloomington music, theater and video scenes. I don’t remember what I did to prepare everyone for the performance. I cast it, scheduled the location and brought the camera. Otherwise, it was an entirely improvised piece mocking the concept of love. This piece was the culmination of everything I had been trying to achieve as a performance artist and everything I had wanted to accomplish as a theater/video producer.
“The Potable Gourmet” (ROX #80): In this episode I am back in the role I’d been missing from since ROX #66, that of an ensemble cast member. As a performer, this was my finest. The camaraderie, the humor (gawd I had missed the humor), the stories, the one-liners, this episode took me from the darkness and into the light. Everyone was at the top of their game during this episode. No one could have learned how to do this at any improv workshop. This came purely from the relationships we had built with each other from the earliest episodes. We are on a roll.
“J&B Eat Garlic” (ROX #83) ties in to the very first contribution I ever made to ROX. My time in Bloomington also helped me finally shed the remnants of the Christian religion’s influence over my life, a difficult task having grown up a small-town country Hoosier boy. In this episode I burn the bible I had embraced during the peak of my adult Christian life while reciting scriptures about sin. Though technically labeled an Anarchy Diary segment, I have revisioned it as a sequel to the Erotic Video I presented in Season One, both shot and edited by B. The Erotic Video was a fetishized version of the ancient Christian/Jewish tradition of the washing of feet to the recitation of scripture condemning lust. See how one is a sequel to the other? A suitable last solo performance for our “final” season.
Then comes “A Virtual Vacation” (ROX #84). This episode is my favorite one of the whole series. Absolute favorite, number one. A playful ensemble piece framed by a simple journey, going back home. There is plenty of social commentary but without all the serious conflict and anger that peppered previous issues. It is the most melancholy episode of the series because we learned that you can’t ever really go back. What was there is gone and the growth and changes that are happening all around can’t really be controlled or stopped. Not beyond what you can do in your own personal life anyways. The buzzards are always circling to pick up the pieces and the clouds keep floating by unable to be captured in hand or by time... Though the next episode was our launch into the future, this episode was the “final one” in my eyes.
ROX #85: This was to be the episode that launched ourselves into the dotcom boom, not unlike “Baked” which launched us into international notoriety. We had gone analogue(ly) global, now we were hoping to go digitally global. I see us... me... struggling to explain what was happening or going to happen when I couldn’t really grasp it myself. There was still a love/hate, trust/suspicion to the whole idea. I just couldn’t make up my mind how I felt about it. I had just gotten the hang of public access, I was quite lost when it came to internet access. I didn’t know the first thing about operating a computer and was completely lost when I attempted a class in HTML programming. Now, I embrace Facebook and file sharing and YouTube and can navigate my way around the web at lightning speed down never-ending rabbit holes. All the things I imagined we would be doing with ROX right out of the gate... but in 1995 it was more like HELLO... Hello... hello... h e l l o... h... e... l... l... o... and worse, though I grasped the potential that punk rock for the information age might have with Qernie’s soundbite-sized repertoire, the band was falling apart. The final appearance on ROX was the song F.U.C.K. It included an intro segment with Qernie, some live performance footage and some random F.U. stock footage I had shot between seasons one and two. The guitarist refused to contribute to the music video and any further performances. He was one of the former Smear’s boyfriends and was still angry with me.
Season Three (S03) sums up everything I had endured and everything I had hoped to achieve as a creative being in Bloomington, Indiana. I had come to Bloomington to do exactly that in 1990. When I got laid off of my “career job,” I had the choice of developing more marketable skills or developing my creative potential. I knew Bloomington was the place to be if I really wanted to cultivate that creativity and the timing was perfect. B-ton was going through a renaissance on all fronts as a community. I am so grateful I made that choice at that time in my life.
But... what came after S03? A return to the “same shit” show. I made a huge mistake believing an external reward was on the way for my/our efforts. When what we thought might be coming didn’t, it sent me spiraling back into deep depression. I had turned what really had become my career-validating, life-crowning achievement into a failure by societies standards. The “business failure” overshadowed the creative victories. Those social norms and goals and expectations had been burned deep into my psyche and I let them ruin what had been the greatest time in my life...
Until ROX #100.
I really hope that episode and this anniversary encourages us to keep at it. Especially now that we have, and more fully understand, the amazing technological tools we were completely clueless about, unable to adapt to use, and which frankly hadn’t quite been perfected yet... back when we became the first television show on the internet.