Lancaster, Pennsylvania: June 6, 1998
When Ken Durkin vanished on the 25th of August, 1997, so did Agony a Go-Go. It was as if a vital part of us had been swept away with him, our strength, our very will to crawl onwards. The then-scheduled Philadelphia Agony New Year's Party was cancelled, delivering a critical blow to the organization and its reputation. What had taken Durkin 5 years to rebuild was destroyed in an instant.
Through the vision and determination of Ken Durkin, we had rebuilt Agony a Go-Go from the ashes and dreams of the late Uruguay Gumz. We would do it again, we swore. If it should fall a thousand times, we would rebuild it a thousand times. So, from the splinters, slivers, and shards, again arose the facade of Agony a Go-Go. Contacts were re-established, dates reset, and the thorny and twisted ball of Agony began to roll once again. Even so, we held all projects at bay, to faithfully await the return of Ken Durkin.
As the 6th month passed, all seemed lost, until, just as he had gone, Ken Durkin walked in the front door, a gallon of milk in his left hand. At first, Durkin was uncharacteristically stoic, refusing to answer our questions or even to talk about his experience. Now, after months of rest, recuperation, and restoration, Ken Durkin is finally back, and he wants to talk about it.
The 4 of us(Anton Horn, Jeff Dyer, Kurt Komoda, and Sunny) caught up with Durkin in the subterranean levels of his Lancaster retreat. Durkin served us Japanese cold noodles and mochi. We talked as we ate:
Anton Horn: So, Ken, let me just get right to the point: where the hell have you been?
Ken Durkin: Who the hell turned off my music while I was gone, that's what I want to know! No, but seriously, folks. Eh, y'know. This thing...there was...oh, now, where do I start?
AH: Take your time, Ken, I'll keep the tape running.
KD: Well, let me just start by saying that I apologize for all the confusion and for not being around and all. Y'know, a lot of people got let down and stuff, but, y'know, hopefully they'll understand. I had to have some time to myself to take care of some things, and it was all for the better good of a brighter day.
I read the "Emergency Page" you guys had set up and I was quite amused. Some of the things on there were quite surprising, like the one about me in the cab. A lot of my travels were done by way of taxi, so it was quite possible that that person actually saw me.
That business with Diego Maya was all a misunderstanding. I did see him in Cleveland that night, but no fight actually occurred. They must've had the wrong man. I've already cleared things up with the Cleveland Police Department.
AH: But, Diego Maya IS missing. Have they questioned you about this?
KD: Yeah, I spoke with them once. The investigation is closed on my end. The Cleveland PD and I have....an understanding.
AH: I see, so tell us more about what happened. Why did you leave so suddenly?
KD: Some things just cannot be delayed. I went outside to get something from the toolshed, and, what can I say? I just kept walking. It was like I was being called. Did you ever hear of the Wendigo? The Wendigo, or Windigowak, are humans transformed into carnivorous spirits of ice, with hearts of ice. The Wendigo call to people, usually ones lost on snowy nights. They call their name, and it sounds like the wind, and the person cannot resist the call so long as they can hear it. It causes them to run after it, the voice in the wind, running with the icy air until the wind begins to carry them, faster and faster. The victim screams,"My burning feet! My burning feet of fire!" The wind carries them faster and faster, their bloody feet touching down further and further apart until the wind sweeps them up into the air where they are never seen again.
That's how it was, except there was no snow and I didn't hear my name. I didn't get dragged along or swept up into the air, either, so maybe it wasn't like that at all.
Sunny: But, you ARE saying that you felt drawn by an irresistible force to go do this "whatever?"
KD: Yeah, yeah! I felt that I was being lead away on this mission. It really had no specific aim, but I knew I had to take care of things myself.
AH: What kind of things?
KD: As you well know, there are many cults and secret sects involved with the whole Agony a Go-Go phenomenon. It has come to my attention that some of these societies have been branching off into, shall we say, more "diverse" areas of interest?
AH: Things which you felt contradicted the philosophies behind Agony?
KD: I'm not so sure that the philosophies behind Agony are so rigidly set so as to be contradicted, but there were definitely things that I found disagreeable on a personal level.
For example, I mean, right off the bat: Satanism. Now, I don't personally have anything against the Church of Satan or nothing like that, but these people were using the entire Agony mythology and twisting it to make it seem like all of the figures, such as the Agony Man, himself, were demons[Editor's note: the particular group in question had no affiliation with the Church of Satan]. Now, I'd probably take more offense if someone tried to turn this all into some sort of "Agony-Man-is-the-Messiah" type of thing, but I just think that these people missed the point.
Hey, the media is always so eager to take anything just a little bit dark that they don't understand and slap the ol'Satanism sticker on it. I mean, I remember I had this H.R. Giger book, and someone was looking at it, and immediately they said,"Man, this guy must do some serious drugs or worship Satan!" That's so typical. Am I the only one who saw Pink Floyd's The Wall, and claimed to understand it without the supposedly necessary use of drugs?
I'm sidetracking here, but it has always irritated me: this cultural blindness. This tendency to take what confuses you, and therefore intimidates you or somehow makes you think you're a smaller person in a larger world, and immediately belittle it by making it something "evil" or the result of mind altering substances. People seem to want to believe that God, or whatever, made everything normal for them so they could live their normal, righteous lives. It stands to reason, then, that the Devil, or whatever, made everything else. I dunno.
AH: There was more, though. Before, when we talked on the phone, you mentioned something about a cult that peeled their skins off?
KD: Yes, there was that. It was in Tulsa[Oklahoma], that I came to an organization of men and women that felt that the burdens of society were theirs, and like the Agony Man before them, they chose to bear the burdens by way of self-mutilation. This is a slight perversion of the original legend, wherein the Agony Man, then a social figurehead of some sort--
Sunny: He was the provincial leader. Basically, a governor with virtually uncontested authority in the areas of land usage, provincial law, and resource management.
KD: --yeah, his people were dying from plague so he supposedly made a deal with the devil to end the torment by accepting his people's suffering as his own.
Now, these people in Tulsa were skinning themselves with razorblades in their basements at night. They all had these bandages all over their arms and legs, underneath which would be these rows of 1" wide strips of flesh sliced and peeled off, all the way down the limb. Now, these people weren't surgeons, so there wasn't any degree of precision involved here. It was a relatively new ritual for these people, so I caught it early, but a lot of damage had already been done. I sat down with their group leader and discussed possible revisions to their belief system. Call it "corrective enlightenment." In the end, I think we agreed that perhaps long pilgrimages out into the countryside might be a better alternative.
AH: So, you think that this was your mission? To set people straight about Agony?
KD: No, I'm not saying that it was my mission, but it was definitely a big part of it. I can't go around telling people how to see things or that there is even a way that they're "supposed" to do it, or nothing like that. I'm still trying to piece it all together myself.
Kurt Komoda: Ken, how exactly did you survive on the road? What did you do for food and shelter?
KD: Well, y'know, at first it was real hard, 'cause after, I guess, the first 12 hours or so, I suddenly realized that, y'know, here I was. I had some money on me, so that worked for the first week or so. I think I stayed in two hotels over the first 5 or six days. I walked most of the time. After that, I said, ah, to hell with it, and I just stayed outdoors from then on. It was always warm out, and I didn't mind the rain. When I was growing up, Uruguay(Gumz) showed me a lot of his survivalist techniques. I knew how to collect water, where to find shelter, which plants to eat: all that stuff.
I made myself a pretty good walking stick.(Ken shows us a 6' long staff with fine decorative carvings near the top) I carved it as I went and I had it stained when I was in Colorado. I keep it hanging on my wall now. Kind of a neat token.
Oh, I was gonna say, that webpage you put up about me missing really helped out in some weird ways. Some people came up and gave me money, others let me stay in their houses. I didn't know that so many people knew or cared.
AH: So, Ken, why the silence? Why didn't you call and let us know you were okay? You left a lot of people hanging.
KD: I knew I had to take care of this journey on my own. The people I met along the way kept their word and kept quiet about seeing me. Reports of me came up here and there- like that thing with Maya, but I was able to disappear afterwards. The quest into Agony is a quest into one's self, and it's something that must be done alone. This journey was really one of self-exploration; I needed to really put myself out on a limb and pick myself apart. I needed to carry the weight of my life upon my back, without the help of modern conveniences, outside funding, or even friends. The times I allowed myself to accept the aid of others was only to make contact with these people that found such fascination in what I do and what I stand for. Being with them was a part of exploring me. It sounds all new-agey and crap, but it's really given me a whole new perspective.
When I first started, or maybe I should say "restarted," Agony a Go-Go, there was all this pressure. Pressure from people and forces I didn't even know about. The pressure from my late friend and father figure, Uruguay Gumz, was overwhelming. He never sat me down and said,"Ken, you have to take over for me," but I knew from the start, that that's where it was headed. I couldn't let him down.
I took on the role as head of Agony Int'l blindly, without thinking. I opened a brighter, fresher era to the Agony Movement, but I could never fully appreciate it myself. I never really felt fit to take on such a responsibility. Here it is, this huge underground artistic movement, and I can't even draw a stick figure or write one line of non-vomit-inducing poetry. It took this journey, where I actually met some of the driving forces behind today's Movement, for me to actually see why I mattered.
AH: And what was it that you saw?
KD: It's weird, 'cause every thinks that I know something, that I have some secret as to how to run Agony a Go-Go. They think that I'm privy to some mysterious code or that a monolith dropped and implanted instructions on how to do it. Truth is, I don't know- or, rather, I DIDN'T know. I didn't have a clue on how to set things up or how it would work out. It all just kind of came together after I told some people that I would do it. They think that without me, the whole thing would never have happened again. Even you guys came to a standstill when I left. In this, I think I saw that I represented something. I think that I am the "link." I don't know what else to call it. I think that people, whether they know it or not, see me as a symbol of continuity.
I know I let a lot of folks down by leaving, but I needed this. Agony needed this. From here we will forge on like we always have, and I will be here for the club, the people, the whole Movement, as much as possible. I really believe in it.
Jeff Dyer: As Mr. Uruguay Gumz's secretary for 15 years, I can tell you that he went through the same doubts as you did, Ken. 'Til the day he dies, he often doubted whether or not he did enough. I would save you that suffering by telling you right now that both you and he have done wonders for the Movement.
KK: Your father was an artist in the Movement, right?
JD: Yeah, that's how he and Uruguay met. I think it was in San Francisco, that they first met, but it wasn't until Agony a Go-Go London 4, in '61, that they actually hit it off.
KD: They were really good friends. They always went off on those weird trips when we were kids. They'd come back smelling like gasoline with mud on their boots. We never did figure that out.
JD: No, that was a odd thing, those trips. Remember that time they came back with that ugly fish?
KD: Man, I don't even wanna remember that!(laughs)
Sunny: What ugly fish?
JD: Trust me, you don't want to know about this one!
AH: Ur-hem, getting back onto the subject, Ken, what lies in the future for the newly resurrected AaGG?
KD: Mmm, big question. Well, I'm holding off on opening a permanent site- I know there's been a lot of talk about that lately. I WAS looking into site's in New York City and Philadelphia, but there are a lot of complicating factors in both cities. Not that we've been running astray of the legal system until now, but opening a regular night is kinda like going straight. We can get away with a lot for just one night. We wouldn't want to put it into an existing club establishment, so that's a whole 'nother bag of problems. There's this great site just north of New York City, off of the Deegan Expressway- man, it's beautiful, but we'd never get a capacity crowd to come up there. All the great industrial sites are way out in the Boonies.
So, besides that, with that on hold, the next big question is, y'know, where next? The next AaGG is coming up in New York. We're gonna go all out with this one, to make up for all the lost time. I can't fill in any details just yet.
AH: Yes, but, what do you foresee for Agony in the long-term? Any plans?
KD: Let's start with what I don't want to see. I don't want to see AaGG marketed. What I mean is, Joe Public just isn't ready for it, and we certainly aren't ready for Joe Public. I don't want to ever see a commercial during the Superbowl, with the Agony Man holding a can of Coca-Cola. Actually, that would be kind of funny, but I digress: AaGG is not a mass-market product. It's very dangerous, because it could be- but in a really bad kind of way. I mean, there's always a humorous side of me that would love to see a Ken Durkin doll with rocket launchers and Kung-Fu Grip, but, in the end, no. It would be bad.
KK: A beanie-Agony Man would be kinda cool.
KD: Yeah, that would be cool. Remember when we were gonna do the Beanie-Goths and the Pocket Goths?
Sunny: Oh, no! What's this?
KK: Yeah, we were gonna do these little Pocket Goth thingies. Basically, it's this little white plush head with big black dot eyes and real hair- black, of course, and a little hanky-like black cape coming off of it out of the neck. It would look a lot like those Halloween lollipop and napkin ghosts that people make- y'know, with the rubberband? We were also gonna do the "Goth Larva" plush doll. You know all those little teenage Goth-Chicks that look like they come from the same mold with their parted black hair and the same make-up? Well, it's basically their heads on these little, carrot-shaped maggot bodies. I don't know how many people would get it, much less buy it.
KD: You should still do it, but it's important to point out that "Goth" is only a part of what AaGG is. I mean, it's a big part of it all, but we've got a pretty well-mixed crowd. Somehow it all works together. One of the strengths behind Agony is how it brings all these different subcultures, whether they be art subcultures or club subcultures or whatever, it brings them all together. I'm proud to be a part of that.
We've got a book coming up- sort of a compilation of all the things that have gone into Agony over the past years. Y'know, the people, the artwork, the clubs, all that. There's even going to be a chapter about the disastrous attempt to make the "Agony a Go-Go" documentary.
AH: The one directed by Dave Sklar?
KD: Yeah, that's the one. So, besides that, um, we've got all sorts of things in the works. I want to see more people putting into AaGG. I like receiving all the artwork and stuff, y'know, drawings and paintings of the Agony Man. So many people are inspired by the Agony concept, and like to see more of the products of that inspiration. That's what it's all about.
So, who's up for some Amish food?
Sunny: Sounds like fun.
AH: Yeah, sure. Who's driving?
JD: I'll drive. Ken, you buying?
KD: Yeah, s'cool, s'cool. No problem at all.
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