Jacki Apple: Terry Allen's "Bleeder"

Reprinted from Sound Bites, HIGH PERFORMANCE Magazine, Fall 1991.

It is only later, after someone dies that we gather up the pieces and try to assemble them into a comprehensive picture of the person so that we can understand what they were made of. The same may be said of a time, an era, a place. In his latest radio piece Bleeder, multimedia artist Terry Allen uses the easy intimacy of radio as both a storytelling and information medium to examine the way history, events, images, memory, and hallucination dissolve into each other, become reworked and mythologized. The recollections of one woman recounted in a distinctly Texan vernacular accompanied by a prairie wind, hymns, and songs evoking the 50s and 60s, paints a vivid portrait of a piece of America that walks with us in shadow. Through the fictional biography of one man, we can see it clearly in the mirror and it tells us something about who we are today.

The man was a hemophiliac who hated Dracula movies, "maybe because he spent his whole life living off other people's blood." He was a huckster, a politician, a possible gangster, a charlatan, a religious fanatic, a drunk, and a great storyteller, born of oil and married into cattle, and the "only person I ever knew who had no conscience". This is Lyndon Johnson's Texas. This is a parable of America letting blood. Cash through Christ, the Kennedys on the cross, blood money, faith betrayed.

Allen, himself a masterful storyteller, skillfully employs the color and phrasing of regional American language, to provide a deeply disturbing subtext of yearning and loss, in a landscape of hypocrisy, alienation, grand illusions and monstrous lies. Allen makes every lie reveal a deeper truth. His device is the telling of the story, which is an act of recollection, which is a revision of history. In making this piece for public broadcast, Allen also draws a parallel between this process of the human brain and what the media does. "Biography is a form of necrophilia", the now deceased subject is said to have said, by a woman who loves him in memory.