DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Okie Troglodytes

Still from "The Silo", 1988, video by Fred Hatt

In the mid-1980’s I was living in my home town of Enid, Oklahoma, working as a video producer for a local ad agency.  I had access to industrial video gear (a Sony DXC-M3 camera and portable U-matic deck), a romantic identification with stone age cave painters, and some unembarrassable friends, one of whom lived on a farm with an abandoned grain silo.  So naturally we decided to do some cave painting in the silo and make a video about it.

The young guy seen playing saxophone and recorder is my younger brother Frank, previously seen on this blog in another old video, Subway Sax.  Frank is now living in Western Massachusetts, where he still practices improvisational  music and dance.

Frank, still from "The Silo", 1988, video by Fred Hatt

The guy who’s driving the pickup truck at the beginning of the video is our friend John, one of my favorite people from my Enid days.  He was from a well-to-do family who owned local office supply and farm implement businesses.  John was a naturalist and an adventurer in the Victorian tradition, and an out gay man long before it was common in Oklahoma.  He had traveled the world, making a living writing adventure journalism about drug smugglers and the like for Hustler and other men’s magazines.  He’d been living in California with a partner who was the leading expert on the California condor.  After John’s partner died of AIDS, and John knew he was positive himself, he’d returned to Enid.

John, still from "The Silo", 1988, video by Fred Hatt

I got to know John because he was in the local writers’ club with my wife and me.  John was writing a hilarious, sexually graphic and scathingly satirical account of a gay coming of age in Oklahoma.  John lived in a little stone outbuilding on a farm outside town.  His place was a regular natural history museum, with an amazing collection of specimens and artifacts including a giant anaconda skin and a Tibetan ritual cup made from a real human skull.  Sitting on a coffee table was an elegant curved bone that everyone who entered his home felt attracted to pick up and caress.  It was a walrus’s penis bone.

Outside the stone house, John had built a large pen and coop to keep his pet exotic chickens.  I never knew chickens had been bred into as many variations as dogs!  John used to take us on nature walks, where he’d make us wade through waist-deep swamps and crawl through brambles.  He could spot all sorts of things I’d never have noticed, including dry owl vomit containing mouse skulls, ancient bison bones in the banks of creeks, and the nests of packrats and possums.

John was an inspiration to me because coming from a small, conservative city never made him think he couldn’t live large.  He gave me courage.  A year after I shot this video, I was living in New York City, working at the media arts center Film/Video Arts, where I edited the piece.  On one of my first visits back to Enid, I was devastated to see John wasting away in the hospital.  I present this video to the world in tribute to John, because, slightly silly though the video may be, it’s all I have.  And after all, isn’t it kind of fun, and doesn’t it have moments of beauty?

The Silo from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

Some of the fragments of music in the video are what was playing on our boom box during the event.  I believe the breathy brass is from Jon Hassell’s Earthquake Island, and the polyrhythms are from Rhythm Devils Play River Music, by Mickey Hart, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, and others.

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