Home on the Strange

Have your parents ever referred to you as being “a little different”? Do you believe that you’re from another planet? Are your friends (if you have any) keeping a good distance from you for fear of your spontaneous fire-breathing hobby? Do you like playing with dead pets and getting arrested for fun? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then you might just be a genius, or just another freak in a world gone mad… We take our hats off to the outcasts that have made the world we live in more interesting.


Growing up in Burbank, California, Tim Burton was a peculiar child who found it hard to connect with others. He spent most of his days painting, drawing and watching movies. As a teen, he made short films in his backyard using crude stop-motion animation techniques or shot them on 8mm with no sound. Now, as a prolific filmmaker, Tim is often the subject of much debate. With this year’s rather lacklustre Alice In Wonderland and some WTF productions in the past (Batman Returns, Planet Of The Apes, Mars Attacks!), the word is that the man who once added MTV coolness to goth and made Johnny Depp a household name has exhausted his creative (beetle)juices. But with projects booked up to 2014, including remakes of The Addams Family and Frankenweenie, it doesn’t look like Tim is going to stay at home and draw the curtains, no matter how appealing that sounds.

Freak-o-meter: 7/10
Recommended friends: Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson, Dr Seuss
And they should hang out at: The movies, carnivals, Johnny Depp’s house

If Sonic Youth turned noise into rock, then Ciplak have done the opposite. Not much is known about the no-wave trio and people who have seen them “perform” often don’t ask questions for fear of being burnt alive by one of the fire-breathing members. Often donning tudung and kebaya, jet-black S&M bondage suits and RELA uniforms, they’ve appeared in the Suleiman Brothers’ 15Malaysia short film Rojak as-you guessed it-honourable transvestites.

Freak-o-meter: 10/10
Where to catch them: Dingy art-show gigs and Jalan Chow Kit
Places they should avoid: Petrol pumps, Perkasa meetings, places of worship
Where they would feel at home: Bangkok and 70s art punk NY

They say that all good poets are usually hungry and badly dressed. While his attire might be DIY, street poet, visual artist, theatre activist and occasional nudist Rahmat Haron is definitely hungry for change. He can be seen hanging around at underground gigs and art installations across town, usually reciting lengthy satirical Malay poetry that touches on the human psyche, freedom and utter madness. A member of student-youth activist group University Bangsar Utama (UBU), this barefooted, dreadlocked bard also dabbles in music with acoustic act Sampah Masyarakat and has collaborated with equally insane, ex-ISA detainee Hishammuddin Rais on Teater Bukan Teater. Like his nail-biting unconventional prose, Rahmat’s stage presence has been the subject of many kopitiam discussions, especially after he performed stark naked in front of straight edge kids at the now-defunct Paul’s Place.

Freak-o-meter: 6/10
Recommended friends: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Nelson Mandela
Who should avoid him: Politicians, accountants, gymnophobics

Most intoxicated people reach a point when all they see is stars. Yayoi Kusama, on the other hand, sees polka dots-even when she’s sober. After experiencing hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts (often of a suicidal nature) throughout her childhood, Yayoi began channeling her psychological troubles into art, covering surfaces (1st walls, floors and canvases; then household objects and naked assistants) with the polka dots-or “infinity nets” as she calls them-from her hallucinations.

During the late 50s, Yayoi left Japan for NY at age 27. Although she was not commercially successful there, her work gained massive attention and was labeled as avant-garde, pop art, Art Brut and surrealist, and even gave Andy Warhol a run for his 15 minutes. She did performance art at public spots like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, often involving nudity while protesting against the Vietnam War. Despite recently selling a work of hers for US$5.1 million (setting the record for a living female artist) and receiving Japan’s prestigious Praemium Imperiale award, Yayoi still lives, by choice, in a mental hospital in Tokyo. “If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago,” Yayoi has said. Luckily, her studio is a short distance away from the hospital.

Freak-o-meter: 9/10
Recommended hobbies: Archery, darts, spot-the-difference on Wii
Things to avoid: Indie kids and Alice In Wonderland 3D

Sensitive singer-songwriters are a whiny bunch of droolers. But not everyone with an acoustic and a sad song about their ex is an emo poser who should be put out of their misery. Bipolar Texan Daniel Johnston wanted nothing more than to be an artist (you can hear his side of the tale on the heart-wrenching Story Of An Artist). Alas, his manic depression got in the way of his career and he was institutionalized intermittently throughout his life. A cult comic book artist as well, Daniel started recording his songs on a US$59 Sony Boombox. But instead of duplicating copies of his early albums to sell, like sane people would, he recorded brand new takes each time for each cassette tape he produced. Still, his painfully direct songs filled with childish darkness have made fans out of like minded tortured artists such as Kurt Cobain, Sonic Youth and Beck. Today, at age 49, Daniel enjoys cult status as a touring indie artist after the 2006 documentary The Devil And Daniel Johnston catapulted his beloved eccentricities to the big screen.

Freak-o-meter: 6.5/10
Listen to: ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’ and ‘I Had Lost My Mind’
Things to avoid: Cockpits, steering wheels, LSD
Possible girlfriends: Tori Amos, Florence Welch, Lindsay Lohan

Prior to giving up their life of leisure to form the insane alt punk act known as Butthole Surfers, Texans (they sure are a crazy lot) Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary were respectable overachievers. Gibby, captain of his uni’s basketball team and its “Accountant Of The Year”, soon graduated to a position with a respected Texas accounting firm while Paul worked on his MBA degree. However, the pair’s weirdness and love for non-mainstream music led them on a path of destruction involving dingy tour vans, unscrupulous amounts of LSD and a naked dancer called Ta-Da the Sh!t Lady. Their music was indigestible with the exception of 1996’s Electriclarryland, their only gold record to date. Mixing elements of psychedelia, noise, punk rock and later, electronica, they made use of sound manipulation and tape editing with Gibby sometimes singing through a bullhorn. Their look was extremely freaky for the early 80s sideways Mohawks, dreadlocks and unnaturally coloured hair, not to mention the general detachment from reality. Live shows had strobe lights, smoke, burning cymbals and a variety of films projected behind them as they played, including images of gory accidents, nuclear explosions, meat processing, spiders and scorpions stalking prey, and penis reconstruction surgery.

Freak-o-meter: 9/10
Most likely to: Forget their touring dates
Least likely to: Forget their touring drugs

David Bowie might have started the whole spaceman rockstar oddity, but Klaus Nomi actually believed and sounded like he was from another universe. A classically trained opera singer, Klaus combined new wave music with his wide vocal range, resulting in synth-driven interpretations of classical music and covers of 60s pop standards. The German immigrant’s strange stage persona coupled with his trademark costumes and hairstyle (receding hairline be damned!) made for riveting theatrical live performances. Klaus would often show up for gigs, immediately play his set and then leave without talking to anyone, thus adding to the mystery. From the 80s avant-garde East Village scene, he became a minor celebrity in Japan and even backed up Bowie on Saturday Night Live for a performance of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ before his ill-fated death from AIDS.

Freak-o-meter: 7/10
Recommended holidays: Nebula, Uranus, Kampung Baru
People to avoid: GWAR
Places to avoid: Bathhouses

ODB was the secret weapon of legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan. He was humorous, dirty and delivered free associative rhymes that made very little sense at times (“Just dance! If you caught up in the holy ghost trance/If you stop! I’m gonna put the killer ants in your pants). And way before Kanye’s VMA moment, ODB had his at the Grammy’s when he hijacked Shawn Colvin’s spotlight to go on a short rant about Puff Daddy being just “good” whereas Wu-Tang was for “the kids”. An avid kung fu movie fan, his aliases were Dirt McGirt, ODB, Osirus, Big Baby Jesus, Dirt Dog, Ason Jones, Ason Unique and Ol’ Dirty Chinese Restaurant. Like a true gangsta rapper, ODB’s life was plagued by the mo’ money, mo’ problems syndrome, which manifested in arrests for assault, robbery and failure to pay child support for 3 of his 13 children, gunfights with rival rappers, shoplifting and drug possession. At one point he spent a month as a fugitive on the run, during which time he recorded with cousin RZA and appeared onstage with the Wu-Tang Clan for their album launch party before finally getting arrested outside a McDonald’s when he drew a crowd while signing autographs. ODB died of an accidental drug overdose 2 days before his 36th birthday. It’s still unsure if his wild behaviour was the result of serious drug problems or

genuine mental instability.

Freak-o-meter: 9/10
Recommended friends: Charles Manson and Bill Clinton
Recommended aliases: Quik Dough, Muggie, Where’s Mah Wallet?

The Panda Head Curry? (yes, that question mark is there on purpose) are self-professed geniuses and transcendental beings of pure light. The satirical comedy trio consists of My Lord Panda, Baby Panda Cat and General Panda, The (that comma’s meant to be there too). Making the obvious choice of siding with the winning team, they are an ultra-conservative, pro-NEP, anti-environmental, hippie-hating folk punk act responsible for such internet hits like ‘Singapore Belongs To Malaysia’, ‘Yahudi Hey’, ‘Samy’, ‘Projek Khinzir Raksaksa’, ‘Lim Guan Eng, Emperor Of Penang’ and ‘Gator Farm’. As outrageous as it sounds, they have performed with the formerly deceased Nico (of the Velvet Underground), died (and travelled to the future to revive themselves) while rescuing wretched orphans from a fire in Balakong and held a really exciting competition where the winner won 6 packets of Maggi Assam Laksa. Confused? You’d better be.

Freak-o-meter: 11/10
Are they really geniuses? Not really
Are they really funny? Depends on how drunk and pissed off they are when you see them.

It’s amazing what freaks you can make out of clay and a stop-motion video camera. Decades before The Nightmare Before Christmas, Wallace And Gromit and Robot Chicken, this rather flat, green humanoid character graced the screens of televisions everywhere and won the hearts of the kids. Of course, those were simpler times. Back then there was nothing wrong with spending your Saturday morning with Gumby and his claymation sidekicks. Now, if Gumby ever made a comeback, he’d be stomped on by the bratty offspring of Gen Xers who care less about love and morals, and more about iPods and makeup.

Freak-o-meter: 5/10
He should avoid: Using rubber

The Godfather of shock rock, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was often described as a black Vincent Price. He shocked, rattled and rolled audiences with his voodoo witch doctor stage persona, complete with eerie props like coffins and a skull named Henry. This was pretty freaky sh!t back in the 50s. Although his original goal was to become an opera singer, Jalacy-as his mum calls him-soon switched to R&B. His dynamic vocal range and piano mastery enabled him to create such classics as ‘I Put A Spell On You’ and ‘Constipation Blues’. By the time of his death at age 70, he had left behind over 70 offspring with various groupies, proving once and for all that scary is sexy.

Freak-o-meter: 7/10
The person to see if: You need alternate remedies to your digestion problems
He’d make good pals with: Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, GWAR

Out of all the famous drug fiends, none are more irreverent and respected than journalist-cum-author Hunter S Thompson. Between weekend drug romps to Las Vegas, exposing political scams and hanging with the most notorious biker gang at the time (The Hell’s Angels), Hunter pioneered a new style of writing known as Gonzo journalism whereby the author involves himself in the action to such a degree that he becomes a pivotal part of the story. A total gun nut and paranoid android, Hunter lived in a fortified compound known as “Owl Farm” in Woody Creek, Colorado up to his death. He committed suicide by blowing out his brains after leaving behind this note for his wife: “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always b!tchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.”

Freak-o-meter: 10/10
Memorable quote: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”