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I wanna be a Woke Monster for the Earth!

BY REVEREND BILLY | This rave dedicated to Shanta Thake.

The famous Uptown buildings with the pillars and miles of glass are bleeding to death. The marketing departments of high culture can shout that “the people are returning,” but something isn’t coming back. The two strippers named “Aura and Mystique” followed Donald Trump to Florida. “Gravitas and Prestige” have retired to their country homes.

“Something isn’t coming back”… from what? …from COVID, from the desperate White Gaze, from dopamine-dealing little screens, from levels of violence sweeping across the world that make it hard to believe that high art matters at all. Where on planet Earth could high art be of assistance? …in a bomb crater? …in a sinking old boat? …in a city bursting into flames?

All the social movements leave the big institutions behind, of course. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery showed us how quickly 20 million Americans can hit the streets. But these big-money outfits say, “No morals please, we’re BIG!” Here, I’m keying on the largest museums and concert halls because they are the slowest and least engaged culture makers — but, full disclosure, we are acting like them. Each of us has a bit of New York big-time chauvinism inside of us. They may be Producers but we are dancing with them, we are Consumers…. We are Consumers with lots of I’M LARGE inertia.

For many years now, the Very Bigs have accepted the danger of climate change with up-to-the-minute buzzwords. But all the famous institutions in the U.S. are essentially deniers. Scraping the top of the barrel — like MoMA and the Guggenheim and the Met — they show official concern, as they did suddenly in 2020 about race and in 2017 about sexism… . Reputational consultants and lawyers maxed their deniability function. But when you’ve got 900 out-of-control Canada wildfires making it impossible for asthma sufferers in Brooklyn to open their windows, you can’t just send out a press release that screams, “I care!”

Lots of us in New York have the disease of the establishment culture in us. It is coded in our city identity. Lots of smaller institutions follow the lead of the Very Bigs — they think that they can rope-a-dope the angry Earth.

Lots of smaller institutions follow the lead of the Very Bigs – they think that they can rope-a-dope the angry Earth. Institutions make good individuals hesitate.Question: What can Downtown artists do? Don’t we practice the art of anti-institutionalism? If anyone can scream “Emergency! Emergency!” isn’t that us? Where are the Planet Criers anyway? Here? (I thought that AOC at the end of the Climate March last Sept. 17 had the intensity, a realistic response to the whirlwind we face. I’m remembering, “We have to stay angry enough and strange enough.”)

The job of artists who see the tsunami hovering above New York will have to be to make discoveries that completely change our language and supply city blocks of freshly politicized public space. The way that in 2017 @metoo and in 2020 with BLM we were stopped by new reality that took over our bodies. The way we started our work over… . The Earth wants us now, and it’s personal.

As the Gulf Stream current changes direction and the jet streams roll over — the breathtaking scale of this Sixth Extinction must be discovered by each of us, free of institutions, careers, grants, critics. Saving life on Earth is a Downtown project. It’s Coltrane and Ginsberg and Phoebe Legere and Annie Sprinkle and Bimbo Rivas and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and Vivian Bond (an avant enviro-person with her “Dendrophile” record)… . There is a long list of Villagers who accepted that — if they got affirmation of any kind — it would have to be an entirely new kind of status invented by the world they wanted to create.

Environmentalism would be a new thing for lots of New Yorkers. We think of the Earth as beyond the buildings. But then here comes the Earth in the flowers and trees and birds of spring, but then also AIDS, and Superstorm Sandy and COVID and Flaco… . Oh, yes, we’ve had a few whiffs of the funky eternity of nature. Now Earth is on this side of the buildings, in our bodies and souls. And how is it possible that the top carbon polluter Chase Bank operates branches Downtown, south of 23rd Street, with impunity?

It’s time for an ecstatic kind of environmentalism. Threatening, erotic, unembarrassable, dangerous, a radical evolution. It’s the Earth that is our establishment royalty now, our big fancy hall. I dreamed of thousands of Woke Monsters, emerging from Downtown and the boroughs, slouching toward the old, Uptown arts…for the Earth!

Reverend Billy (a.k.a. Bill Talen) and the Stop Shopping Choir hold forth Sundays at 5 p.m. at the Earthchxrch in Loisaida, 36 Avenue C. Performances are designed and directed by Savitri D. For more information, visit

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