RISK! Live, November 2017

I was honored to be invited to tell a story at the RISK! podcast live show in Baltimore at the Creative Alliance on November 3rd, 2017. I’ve been a big fan of the open, wild, freewheeling storytelling style of RISK! for a while now, which spares no sensibilities in telling things just exactly as they are.

I got to share the stage again with the fantastic KL Parr, who I had the pleasure to meet at my second outing with Baltimore’s own Stoop Storytelling series in February, 2017, as well as Rachel Hinton, Shamyla Tareen, and the illustrious host of the RISK! podcast, Kevin Allison. Three of our stories were featured in the podcast of that evening’s storytelling, available at the RISK! site, and here’s a brief excerpt from mine, in which I describe my failed aspiration to badass status and my infinitesimally short career in the eighties as a fake-smoking male stripper who’d learned to dance by watching Twyla Tharp and Bob Fosse and providing accompaniment by Harry Partch (it did not go well).


© 2017 Joe Belknap Wall


A couple backroads stories.

Joe Wall @ Northeast Electro-Music 2017 from Steve Mokris on Vimeo.

The video from my performance at Northeastern Electro-Music 2017.

Stories from the back roads, with live improvised soundtrack for controllers and iOS instruments. I have no phone connected to my land line, but I still pay the bill.

[Thanks to Steve Mokris for the video and video editing, and to Laura Woodswalker for the interpretive projection work]

Shirtfamous at Northeastern Electro-Music 2017

Performed a couple stories last weekend with live electronic accompaniment (using the smallest rig I’ve used to date for a minimalist invocation of mood) at the Center For The Arts in Homer, New York, as a participant in a two-day festival of electronic, electro-acoustic, and experimental music. I’m always honored to share a bill with so many amazing artists, and this year’s festival was my first outside of the previous venue in Huguenot, NY.


[music and story © 2017 Joe Belknap Wall]

Some stories from outside.

Joe Belknap Wall telling stories

I’ve been experimenting with ways of telling stories on stage. I’m drifting away from the scripted, the cut-and-dried, and the composed in favor of the kind of stories you tell around the campfire or in a bar, surrounded by new friends and old. I’m using improvisational electronics to score these stories and stepping up on stage with just a single index card with a collection of waypoints to remind myself where I am in case I drift off the subject, and I’m increasingly happy to work in this loose and natural mode. Stories come in and out of focus, I find the point, lose it again, and work my way back. It feels like the kind of thing I’ve been trying to do ever since the first time I set foot on a stage with a synthesizer and a microphone, nearly thirty years ago.

This time around, I was thinking about stories from outside, from just off the beaten path, just beyond the edge of the highway, where we find meaning in unexpected places.

This is the live-from-the-mixing-board recording from my performance on Sunday, August 6, 2017 as part of the 13th Annual Electro-Music Festival, at the Irving Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana.


[photo © 2017 Elaine Marschik]

The pay envelope.

The first purchase I ever made as a member of the working public was a cassette player.It was 1983, I was just about to turn fifteen, and I had a little brown envelope containing seventy-three dollars in cash that Carlo Petrucci handed me after my first week working at Pal Jack’s Pizza in Laurel. I was in Baltimore, visiting my grandmother, and we climbed into her turquoise Barracuda with sticky clear plastic seat covers embossed with little flowers that did absolutely nothing to stop those seat covers from clinging to your thighs like duct tape and headed up the street to Luskins.


Continue reading The pay envelope.

The Beastly Conveyance.

In 2010, I sold my Citroën. It’d taken me about eight years to come to grips with letting it ago, and if that says something about me, so be it. I’d put eighty thousand joyous, cantankerous miles on it, all up and down the eastern seaboard, from spending four hours stuck in a solid traffic jam on the Cross Bronx Expressway with the ARRET! light falsely warning me that the car was about to overheat to moments on Route 301 in South Carolina where I did the little mental arithmetic to translate kilometers to miles to confirm that I was indeed doing over a hundred on a lazy old trunk road. I’d lived out a French fever dream, but I went broke, the car developed a few faults beyond my means or technical ability to correct, and I fell into a premature middle age fugue state where I thought maybe, just maybe, I needed to grow up and stop living like a cantankerous continental eccentric.

I drove a practical four door economy sedan for eight years.

Continue reading The Beastly Conveyance.

Having written

© 2015 Joe Belknap Wall
(originally posted to medium.com)

Karen Black set my house on fire.

I was bumbling aimlessly in the finished basement of my friend’s house, noting that he, like almost everyone I knew, had an air hockey table there, while I lived in an old log house with a basement that looked more like, well, a basement, when he and several of our friends gathered around the console TV that presided over the room. They sat in thrall on the tangled mass of the gold and rust-colored shag carpet, watching something.

“What’s that?” I asked, standing behind the group.

What it was, at least on the surface, was a rerun of the 1975 made-for-television horror anthology, Trilogy of Terror, though it was more precisely the single most traumatic thing I would see in my young life until I later found my sister’s worn copy of Hollywood Babylon II and read about the Black Dahlia murder. It was more or less a singly ridiculous scene in which a wildly over-emoting Karen Black is menaced by a hyperactive magical Zuni fetish doll with a steak knife, and as I stood there behind the other boys with my hand on my hip, I was on the path to several years of sleepless nights.

“What’s that doll?” I asked, and was shushed by the group.

“It’s a magic doll from Africa,” snapped Kurt, a doughy, haughty kid who’d managed to see most films before we ever heard of them and have a well-developed opinion and spoilers to share. “Watch what happens.”

I did, and what happened was that Karen Black, playing “Amelia,” was alone in her apartment, having an endless phone call, then was in her bathrobe, and the magical chain slipped off the magic doll from Africa, and then—

“Turn it off!” I said, my eyebrows raised as the tiny doll started to chase Amelia around her apartment, sawing at her ankles with the steak knife. “Can we watch something else?”

“Shut up, Joe. This is cool!

Like someone being electrocuted, I was rigid with fear, unable to look away from the TV or break that jittery current of fright that held me transfixed. With a bit of forethought, I might have recognized the camp elements of the piece, but I was nine and it was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen.

“Please, Scott, will you just turn it off?”

“You can go home if you want, dork.”

I did not do this. I watched it all, standing behind my friends, with a hand over my mouth and occasionally over my eyes.

Back home, I could not shake the thought of that little chattering doll with the steak knife. I assumed that it would be confined to the floor, being little, so I tried to stay off the floor whenever possible. I had a desk and a bunk bed, and I became a circus athlete, leaping across the room from my bed to the top of my desk when I needed something. My mother would hear the thump of my landings and would come into the room.

“Joseph, it’s after eleven o’clock and you need to be in bed, not crashing around the room. Get back in bed and sleep, will you?”

I hopped down from the desk, deftly bounding from the ball of one foot onto the ladder to my bunk bed, limiting the possibility of doll attack, and climbed into bed. My mother switched off the light and I protested.

“Ma, don’t turn the light off, please! I want to read.”

“It’s too late for reading. Just go to sleep.”

The light went out, and she closed the door behind her. The doll roamed below, gibbering and waving his knife. Sleep became something I experienced as the result of nervous exhaustion well after midnight, and I did not sleep soundly for months, until I worked out that I could use the protective rail that kept me from falling out of my bunk bed as a remote control.

I’d pick up the rail, which was essentially just a long, skinny board, and would lean out over the void beyond the bunk bed, steadying myself by wedging both feet between the mattress and the wall, and hold the rail out in the darkness, my upper body in agony from the strain of leverage, and swing it against the wall until I hit the light switch and bathed myself in the security of full illumination. As a working strategy, it let me sleep properly at last, free of the magic doll from Africa, until one troublesome night.

I lifted the rail, got in position, swung it towards the switch in the dark, and my feet slipped free from where I’d wedged them in. The rail lurched forward, hitting the light switch like a hammer, and there was a brief flash of light, then a buzzing, crackling noise from the wall. In the darkness, I could see the flickers of sparks across the room, and I smelled smoke.

“Dad!” I yelled. “Dad! Dad! Fire! The house is on fire!”

I heard a thump from my parents’ room, then stomping footprints and my door swinging open. My dad reached for the light switch and found it in ruins.

“What the—Goddammit, Joe-B, what did you do?”

“I was trying to turn the light on and I slipped and now the house is on fire!”

“The house isn’t on fire—it’s just sparks.” He fumbled around on my desk, found the lamp there, and switched it on. “How the hell did you manage to do that?” he asked. The switch plate and the switch were smashed, and the rail to my bed was on the floor.

“I was turning the light on and I slipped and broke it.”

“What were you turning it on with?”

“The rail from my bed.”

“Why on earth were you turning it on with the rail from your bed?”

“I didn’t want to step on the floor.”


“I didn’t want to step on the floor.”

It’s not my fault. It’s that damn doll and Karen Black that did it.

“Kiddo, you are a piece of work,” he said, and went out to the garage to get tools and a replacement light switch. He installed it without shutting off the circuit breaker, taking care not to ground himself, screwed the assembly in, and cautioned me.

“I don’t have a switch plate, so be careful with this until I can go to the hardware store tomorrow. What’s on the floor, anyway?”

“It’s from that movie.”

He rolled his eyes, ever so subtly.

“You could have left, you know. No one made you watch that dumb thing.”

“I know, but I just couldn’t.”

“Like driving past an accident, I guess.”


“Get to sleep, Joe-B.”

“Would you leave the light on?”

He rolled his eyes, left the light on, and closed the door.

I leaned out, over the edge of the bed, scanned the room for dolls, and retreated to the safe harbor of my blanket, secure for at least one more night.

© 2013 Joe Belknap Wall