You never know, as a young person, which of your acquaintances might wind up famous. One of my college friends, who was anything but a liberal at the time, went into politics a couple of decades later and served two terms as a liberal governor of of a western state. He is running for office again this year. Another friend–junior high school, this time, in South Dakota–survived a lot of ups and downs and has become sort-of-famous as a performance artist and left-wing rabble rouser.
His name is Bill Talen–William C. Talen, Jr.–and his family lived in my home town in South Dakota for a few years before moving to Wisconsin. His parents were, and his father still is, close friends with my parents. The family owns banks. Billy Talen has become well-known in recent years as a street-theater performance artist, Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. He and his street theater troupe migrated to St. Paul for the Republican convention in 2008, and the Wall Street Journal ran an article about the “Reverend Billy.”
Yesterday’s New York Times theater section had a long article about the Reverend Billy and a new musical that just opened in Amsterdam, celebrating his achievements. Or something:
Two weeks ago Reverend Billy, the performance artist and activist best known as the leader of the Church of Stop Shopping, was plying his trade, public proselytizing. He and 15 members of the church’s choir traveled from New York to Washington to stage a protest as part of Appalachia Rising, a campaign to end mountaintop-removal coal mining. They gathered around a mound of symbolic dirt in the lobby of a bank that they say finances mountaintop removal, shouted “Hallelujah!” and sang folk songs. Reverend Billy was arrested for what his wife and performance partner, Savitri D, guessed was the 50th time.
Standard stuff for the Reverend and his crew of satiric rabble-rousers, who have built their lives around preaching an anti-consumerist, pro-environment gospel. …
The Amsterdam show is well-financed and apparently a big deal in the Netherlands:
It didn’t hurt that Reverend Billy already had a sense of the exuberant; they borrowed liberally from his staging — for example, when he goes into the audience and enacts a televangelist-style “exorcism” of credit cards.
“He takes the credit cards and falls down — we use that exactly in the show,” Mr. van der Meyden said. “It’s a great success because people have never seen that in Holland.”
The Dutch Reverend Billy, called Domini Bob, also bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Talen, down to his white suit.
Here is the real Reverend Billy:
The Times’ theater critic reports that Billy and his wife, Savitri D, were a little disappointed that the Amsterdam musical wasn’t more political. At the end, in fact, theater-goers are presented with gift bags, more or less the antithesis of the Church of Stop Shopping. I wonder, though, how many of the Reverend Billy’s street followers know about his trust fund. I’m guessing, not many. Life is funny, and highly unpredictable.