Totem of the Depraved – Review

Totem of the Depraved

by Nick Zedd
by William Ham

They Eat Scum. War is Menstrual Envy. Whorgasm. Geek Maggot Bingo. Without question, these are some of the greatest movie titles of all time, and it would be a major disappointment indeed if the man responsible for these masterworks of Lower East Side no-budget cinemuck weren’t possessed of a special strain of visionary purity. And yes, babies, Nick Zedd is every bit the Super 8 übermensch his titles suggest he is. Now you don’t even hafta shake down your local vid-retailer to find out (but go ahead, I dare ya – see if he doesn’t carry a shotgun under the counter to thwart late-fee scofflaws), you can suck his philosophy straight from the page with the world premiere of his autobiography,Totem of the Depraved (itself an unused film title he just couldn’t let die). Here, for the brave of heart and the jade of soul, you will find the tale of a man who lives a life every bit as outrageous and horrifying as the perverse nightmares he smears onto celluloid, a film bio that makes John Waters’Shock Value look like The Julie Andrews Story. Devotees of the slimy underbelly of popular (ha!) culture will recognize many of the characters that pass through these dank portals – Lydia Lunch, Lung Leg, Richard Kern (who Zedd refers to, not entirely affectionately I suspect, as Nazi Dick) – with an additional cast of what seems like thousands of freaks, malcontents, and drug-rattled crazies. Zedd is a man who broaches no compromise in his work, and it’s fucked up his life – the pages run thick with stories of abject poverty and squalor, struggles with authorities of many lands merely to get his pictures screened, and a variety of sick romantic entanglements that read like the erotic memoirs of a gutter-born Henry Miller.

Yet the most astounding aspect of Totem is the copious evidence that this man, at bottom, has the soul of a true romantic. His sexual exploits are explicit and often perverse, but carry with them what friend and Zedd performer Richard Hell nails as “a kind of resigned, Christ-like vulnerability to love.” In a chapter on the late (great?) G.G. Allin, he excoriates the man’s imbecility with a mixture of disgust and piteous awe before concluding with an assertion that actually brought a tear to my eye:

“(G.G.’s) biggest flaw was his inability to see anything better in anyone else – to recognize something unique and beautiful in others – in short, to transcend himself, the ultimate act of transgression by which one stops being a victim or victimizer. To love is the most revolutionary act, for it brings us outside of ourselves. To turn yourself inside out is the hardest thing to do in a world of corruption and pain, betrayal and lies. It involves an act of faith in yourself that few of us get a chance to do nowadays. Maybe G.G. experienced this. But his whole life was dedicated to making us think he didn’t.”

There you have it, embodied in a eulogy for a man who seemingly never deserved it, the core of beauty and sensitivity beneath the anger and revulsion that separates Zedd from the vast majority of so-called “creative” folk. Ladies and gentlemen, a true artist. Long may he chafe.