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Tributes to Doug Knott (1943-2022) by S.A. Griffin, Bill Mohr, and Laurel Ann Bogen



Doug Knott, Riverboat Lawyer: A Remembrance


James Douglas Knott, Doug, was born in Richmond, Virginia into a succession of Southern lawyers and judges December 18, 1943. Doug attended both Harvard and Yale (1966), graduating from Harvard Law School in 1971. Inspired by Al Lowenstein, Doug marched at Selma. In 1964 Doug took a year off from his studies to hitchhike around the world via employment on a trans-Pacific Swedish freighter. During the middle of law school (1967-68) he received a Rotary scholarship to study in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he became fluent in Portuguese. Back in the states he made the pilgrimage to Woodstock and knew Richard Alpert (Ram Das). He lived a “hippie life” in Vermont and New Mexico before migrating to Berkeley in 1972 where he entered a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for six months, practicing law as a “new age lawyer” at a storefront in Berkeley, and later in Marin. He began playing rock ‘n roll, but lacking the “musical chops” was drawn to the spoken word and poetry movement in Los Angeles during the early 1980s. Much later in life Doug served as the President of the Board of Trustees at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center (2013-2019). After being in a relationship with Janet Sager for 13 years, Doug and Janet married in 2014. Doug and his truly beloved Janet relocating to their new home in Ojai a few years ago, remaining together until Doug’s passing December 23, 2022 at the age of 79 in Ojai, California.


I first met Doug Knott at the Wednesday night open readings at the Water Espresso Gallery sometime around 1982-83. The Water readings at the time were fairly sedate affairs attended by about 15-20 die-hards. However, those Wednesday nights would soon grow in numbers, blossoming into a wild and dynamic affair attended by the likes of Johnny Forever, Leah Really, Rod (Smear) Sphere, Fish Karma, Johnny Cool, Linda Sibio, Alan Pulner, Mike Maggio and Ben Downing. This was where Doug and I would also meet our other lifelong friends and cohorts in poetic mischief and performance mayhem: Michael Lane Bruner, Bobbo Staron and Mike M Mollett. Very sadly, the Water Gallery would close sometime around 1985, but not before Doug took over the hosting duties during those last months, at times sharing hosting duties with performance poet Leah Really.

The Water Espresso Gallery, which rested on the corner of Santa Monica and Hudson, was directly connected to the Lhasa Club and the Figtree Theatre, the entire complex part of a building owned by the artist Frederick Sauls who lived on the top floor.

Those were rich and rewarding years, the punk ethos penetrating everything at the time, co-existing with ska, reggae, new wave, mod, techno and performance art. But have no doubt, punk was king! There were few if any venues for us to ply our trade at the time and wanting to break down the walls of conformity and reach beyond the choir, Michael Lane Bruner, S.A. Griffin, Doug Knott and Mike Mollett conspired to become The Lost Tribe in the back of Mollett’s old VW bus. Beginning April 1, 1985, The Lost Tribe performed all over the state of California, but primarily in and around Southern California. There was no slam poetry at the time, not even a whisper.

Even though it may have been on the rise in Chicago, this was the era of phone booths and newspapers. When L.A. was a 24-hour town, long before the madness of 24-hour hamster news on a wheel and endless talking heads bobbing and babbling. There were no computers, no blogs, no texts or tweets, no emails and any calls outside of your immediate area code was long distance, and it wasn’t cheap.

Nobody knew of anything slam, nobody. And nobody at the time was doing anything like what we had concocted: a four-man well-rehearsed, highly choreographed crack poetry performance ensemble. An atomic fusion of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, a pinch of Busby Berkeley with a healthy dose of THC, Beat poetry and open verse (or worse). We were rock stars with air guitars; an immediate hit.

During this same time period, Doug launched his amazing and truly incomparable Doug Knott Presents (1985-87) at our ground zero, the iconic Lhasa Club, a performance series that often featured not only the Lost Tribe, but a staggering who’s who from the period that included such underground and alternative luminaries as Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Henry Rollins, Michael Blake, Dave Alvin, Chuck E. Weiss, Linda J. Albertano, Wanda Coleman, John Densmore, Nina Hagen, Texacala Jones, Keith Morris, The Holy Sisters of the Gaga Dada and Flea. Other highlights for the Tribe included winning the Gong Show with the lowest score ever recorded (8), getting married at Deborah Sweet’s fringe wonderland X=Art in West Hollywood (1986), being courted by Late Night with David Letterman at the Improv (for which only Bruner seems to have any memory), opening for Firesign Theater’s Peter Berman with our Slobs in Suits act and an original one act play-performance The Tribe Must Be Crazy (1988) directed by the late Scott Kelman for his Pipeline Theatre. The Lost Tribe were also the subject of a short film by John Leslie Foxx, The Lost Tribe, shot on either 8 or 16mm film at the D.A. Ward Studios in the glorious Rose St. building / art lofts, long ago razed and replaced by new world condos and townhouses. All things must pass, and in the present day there is virtually little or nothing left of a once thriving, vital, affordable and grandly symbiotic creative scene. Even in writing this I must remind myself that this all happened 40 years ago, nearly half a century. The mind and creative spirit are always willing, but the forward motion of the world wrapped in time, is not.

The Lost Tribe folded in late 1988. In August 1989 we reformed as The Carma Bums with Michael Lane Bruner, Doug Knott, S.A. Griffin, Bobbo Staron and Scott Wannberg as the founding members. Ellyn Maybe was added as an opening act. The following year Bobbo dropped out (and back in a few times) replaced by Mike M Mollett. The Carma Bums was the antithesis of the Lost Tribe, a no-holds barred improvisation swirling around set poetry pieces, described by those who saw us as a “happening”, something akin to the infamous Living Theatre. Once again, with no slam influence at all, we were breaking barriers. Nothing we did was ever done as competition or reward, only as performance in process. For the most part, the Bums toured the U.S. and Canada in my 1959 Cadillac Sedan de Ville Farther. In 1994, The Summer of Natural Born Killers we spent a week at the University of Washington at Seattle to create what was considered the very first poetry website of its kind The Carma Bums International Superhighway Tour of Words, complete with original text and graphics, sound files and hyperlinks. In 1996 we were the subject of a feature length documentary The Luxurious Tigers of Obnoxious Agreement directed by R. Bruce Dickson.

Doug produced hundreds of amazing shows and readings during his lifetime. And as it is said, you can’t keep a good man down. Soon after his run at the Lhasa in 1987, together with his partner Shari Famous, he launched another performance series the Famous/Knott Salon, where once again, he tapped into the underground and alternative glitterati entertaining atop the thin edge featuring such incredible acts as the Del Rubio Triplets, counter culture giant Paul Krassner, performance artist Sandra Tsing Loh, NEA 4 superstar John Fleck, and Detective Supremo poet and national treasure Laurel Ann Bogen.


Doug’s original one man play Last of the Knotts received critical praise for Doug as both author and actor in a successful run as part of the 2011 Hollywood Fringe Festival, enjoying continued success via an extended four year tour which included performances in New York, Winnipeg, West Palm Beach and San Francisco. As an actor, Doug was one of the stars of Bad Day directed by Modi Frank (1986), a comic western shot by Exene Cervenka and co-written by Modi and Exene. The twenty-minute film’s stars include Kevin Costner as the town drunk, John Doe as the “tripped-out cowboy priest” and Dave Alvin as the narrator-troubadour. Doug also starred in his own award-winning poetry videos, like his psychedelic, tantric swing through Tinseltown, Sunset Strip Self Improvement Affirmations directed by Joseph Culp.


Doug’s first publication, Sharktalk (Rose of Sharon Press, 1988) was followed by Small Dogs Bark Cartoons (Seven Wolves Press, 1991). Other publications include Saved by the Oil Fire (Laguna Poets Series #62, 1997) and Holding Pattern (Laguna Poet Series #122, 1999). Publications with the Carma Bums include Twisted Cadillac (Sacred Beverage Press, 1996) and Armageddon Outta Here! (Rose of Sharon Press, 2004).

Doug’s poetry may also be found in Grand Passion: The Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (Red Wind Books, 1995), The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999), Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond (Pacific Coast Poetry Series, 2015) and Beat Not Beat (Moon Tide Press, 2022).


After the passing of our dear brother the electric Scott Wannberg in 2011, marking the end of the Carma Bums, Bruner, Griffin, Knott and Mollett became The Lost Bums creating The Hideous Bible (Rose of Sharon Press, 2015) and a CD Ozark Revelations (Rose of Sharon, 2015). And now, with Doug’s passing, we are simply, The Bums.


Doug was more than just a friend; he was my brother. Together as performance partners and poets with our other lost brothers, we suffered the lowest of lows and celebrated the highest of highs travelling thousands upon thousands of miles of discovery together over the decades. A gifted creative, Doug remains one of the most well read, well-traveled and intelligent individuals I will ever meet.

In closing, I leave you with this, the lyrics to a smoking song I wrote for Doug as part of our International Superhighway Tour of Words. I have it on good authority, his wife Janet, that Doug loved this little ditty:


Doug Knott

Doug Knott

Doug Knott riverboat lawyer!


Doug Knott riverboat

Doug Knott riverboat

Doug Knott riverboat lawyer!!


D-O-U-G-K-N-O-T-T...


Doug Knott... DOUG KNOTT!!!!


Until we meet again hitchhiking through time... we are, and always will be, dreams and words without end.


High cool. Start from zero.


Love,

S.A.


August 5, 2023

Los Angeles, California




How I Knew Doug Knott by Laurel Ann Bogen


He was the older brother I never had, but always wanted.


He had more and wilder stories than anyone—a seeker and international

Man of Mystery.


He gave up a career in law and degrees from Yale and Harvard

to be a poet.


He was born on the same day and year as Rolling Stone(r) Keith

Richards.


In younger days, if you squinted your eyes, he could be mistaken

for Jack Nicholson.


We shared a mutual creative rivalry, however he scored major points

and surged ahead when his friend, Michael Blake, received an

Oscar for the screenplay of Dances with Wolves. On the stage, watched

by millions, Blake called out Doug and Exene Cervenka (from the

band X) as his true heroes for never selling out.


He was a Renaissance Man and a fellow traveler. But most of all,

he was my friend. For many years, I struggled with mental illness

and I knew that if I needed to go to The Bin—as I called it—Doug

would drive me there. No questions asked.


It was an honor to have seen him at his happiest: the day that Doug and Janet

married. Doug wore a suit and they both beamed.





The Cabaret Confidence of Doug Knott, (Ensemble) Poet and (Singular) Actor

Longstanding L.A. poets tend to be literary activists who are curious not just about the way a poem they read might resound in their own “theater of the ear” but how the poem’s rhythms might play out on an often-improvised stage. In organizing reading series, these poets tend to gravitate toward venues outside the typical institutional setting. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the first time I probably ran across Doug Knott’s name was in a feature-length article in the L.A Reader in the mid-1980s by the poet Lynn McGee. Her survey of reading series, “Poetry in Motion,” featured the poets who specialized in curating events at places such Be-Bop-Records or McCabe’s Guitar Shop or the Dogstar Theater.. Doug Knott’s preference was the Lhasa Club, which was first known for presenting the bands that emerged in the years after the first wave of punk music had reverberated throughout Los Angeles, from Hollywood to East L.A. and all the way down to San Pedro and the hinterlands of Orange County. In many ways the “outsider” energy of that eclectic music scene was an outgrowth of the so-called underground poetry scenes in Los Angeles in the 1970s, and quite understandably the poets in the city wanted to perform their work with kindred spirits. In citing the Lhasa Club and Doug Knott, McGee specifically mentions how he arranged for the poet and songwriter Dave Alvin to read his poetry at the Lhasa Club.

As is the case with most journalistic surveys, there was little space to provide much contextual background for the poets who were doing this cultural labor, so no reader could realize how much work Doug Knott had already done in order to be in a position to set up readings at the Lhasa Club. The best summary of this apprenticeship appears in an article by Michael Lane Bruner, who was a member of the Lost Tribe and Carma Bums. In recounting his own youth as a poet, Bruner acknowledges Knott’s charismatic sense of timing at the Water Gallery, where he ran endless nights of open mic: “Knott was simply a great poet with a genuine cabaret confidence.” What goes unsaid in Bruner’s memoir is that Knott’s confidence was more than the usual ambition for one’s own work, but a source of energy that inspired others to also give themselves permission to take risks with language and ensemble performance.

As much, however, as Doug Knott was identified as a member of the Lost Tribe and Carma Bums, it is also the case that he more than willing to perform by himself, though it’s worth noting that even in these instances, Knott was careful to align himself with those who possessed a sardonic edge. In going through my archives recently, in fact, I found a flyer for an event at a bar not far from where I worked in those days at a trade newspaper called Radio & Records. The featured duo was Don Waller, one of the period’s leading rock journalists, who worked at that newspaper as an editor, and Doug Knott. That bar doesn’t exist anymore, of course, any more than any of the venues that were mentioned in McGee’s article. A city is a mechanism by which that which is enduring gets sifted from the ephemeral, and almost all of our lives are the distillations of illusion. Yet the paradox of a prolonged, convoluted evanescence must be endured to train oneself to attain that culmination that others will remember you for. When the afterglow reveals that the source of the original ignition is still present, in an ever-cantilevering future, then one knows that the feral majesty of the imagination has bestowed on one of its most devout practitioners a place of honor and respect in the memory of those who took similar risks

Bob Dylan once commented that perhaps all he had done was nothing more than an instance of gallantry, but he was quick to add, “that’s no small thing.” Indeed, a lingering gallantry is the quality Doug strived for as a poet and actor, and if he brought a jaunty cabaret confidence to his title role as court jester to the fantasy of family genealogy, it was only in service to that virtue, which can’t redeem the unavoidable losses in life, but which gives them a poignancy worthy of their invocation.

Bill Mohr

Long Beach, CA

August 30, 2023

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