The Way Out World of Bruce Haack

As a little kid, I didn't have a basketball hoop above my garage like all those fancy rich kids. But when I was up for some hoops, I made do with a ball and a couple thick tree branches. I dribbled around on the grass and pretended I was the Denver Nuggets' Alex English and Calvin Natt playing against Utah's Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton. It was fun, thanks to my imagination. Plus, I always won.

Imaginations need to be kept active. Did you know your brain is more active dreaming than watching TV? Think about that next time you're on the couch, munching on pork rinds, and soaking in cathode rays from Suddenly Susan. Back in the '60s, musician Bruce Haack and Esther Nelson created the record label Dimension 5 (the dimension of imagination) to produce albums that would keep kids' minds abustle. Using synthesizers, loops, sound effects, and other instruments he put together himself, Bruce created some fun, yet bizarre, psychedelic-like music. Bruce and Miss Nelson’s spoken word lyrics took children on wild rides to all kinds of places, kinda like a crazed van-driving kidnapper on the run, but without the danger. Kids could dance around like they forgot their Ritalin and do some serious pretending. According to DJ Me DJ You member Ross Harris — who spearheaded the new Emperor Norton Records/Dimension 5 release Best of Dimension 5, Listen Compute Rock Home (he was also that little kid in Airplane!) — "the main thing about Bruce Haack is that he and Esther Nelson were just trying to get kids and their parents to realize there's all this amazing energy coming out of kids, and you can either stunt it or really direct it toward something cool that's gonna leave a mark in their head and to go on and do something with their life."

Ross first discovered Bruce's work back in '96 when someone gave him a tape while on tour. He soon managed to find a few more albums. He was inspired, as he found that he was using similar instruments, if not the same instruments, himself. Plus, he's got two kids running around at home. Ross had been wanting to do a benefit project, as one of his children has autism, and, "what could be a cooler thing than to get new artists to do Dimension 5 stuff?" So far, Stereolab, Cornelius, Takako Minekawa, and Fantastic Plastic Machine have contributed to a Bruce Haack tribute album. Money Mark, Beck, Beth Orton, and others are also working on tracks. The proceeds from the album will go toward autistic charities. It seems as if Bruce would like the new musicians. He was always trying new things. In the '80s, he even tried his hand at rap, working with Russell Simmons.

And as part of the Bruce Haack revival efforts, we at Backwash have tried to contact Bruce to ask him a few questions. Unfortunately, he died in 1988, so a simple phone call wouldn't suffice. I checked with Listen Compute Rock Home's publicist, Chandra Faulkner, about conducting a séance. She did a little internet surfing for a medium and (after being sidetracked by a paper clip auction on eBay — no wait, that was me) discovered Miss Angela — a clairvoyant pyschic who's been giving readings for over 20 years. This would be my first attempt to communicate with the dead. There sure is a lot I’d like to know about the afterlife. Like, is there one? Or do we just rot in boxes underground? Ross, on the other hand, used to do ouija boards all the time, "I had a roommate that was addicted to it. So it was a prerequisite of living with him — you had to communicate with the dead. When I was a kid I did a film out in Arizona and the woman who was supposed to be my teacher was highly psychic and told me all kinds of crazy stuff and it turned out to come to reality. Ever since then I was like, wow."

I emailed Miss Angela three questions to ask Bruce (the first two being mine, the third, Ross's): What is your imagination like in the afterlife? What would you like to say to DJ Me DJ You, given their efforts to revive your work? What is the significance of the "Black Hot Tub" in your Westchester room? Then, through her ability to communicate with the dead, this is what Bruce had to say:

His imagination is not working in death but he doesn't care whether it is or not. Death is nothing like he thought it would be. Of course it is difficult for us to comprend it but he feels death is the world's greatest treasure because there is no pain or stress. However, please do not take this to mean that I am advocating it as a better alternative to life. However, he wants to communicate this to you. When I asked him if he was happy that you and your friends want to revive an interest in his work he said that if he was still alive that would make him happy. But since he is dead he really doesn't have any feelings either way on the subject, but that if it makes you happy then continue with your efforts. In death, he does not have any desires or wants. Now when I asked him about the black hot tub at first he said that it had something to do with his life — something that occurred, but then he said that it was so insignificant that it was not that important to figure out. It is almost that I see him shrug and say, who would care about such a thing? He was most reluctant to continue our conversation. He is done with life and everything in it. I asked if he had anything to say to you and your friends and he didn't really. Yes, he can see that you are kindred spirits to him but he is reluctant to guide you — although perhaps he does guide you — he just doesn’t want you to think he is doing that. A most reluctant guide. Maybe because he is uncomfortable with being a leader — he is modest. I hope this sheds some light on the subject.
Sincerely, Angela,

Hmm. It seems like Bruce didn't feel like sharing too much with us silly living folks. Or perhaps he didn't want to answer any questions and told Miss Angela to answer them using her imagination. Although Ross confirmed that the black tub was insignificant. It was merely a big black tub in the middle of Bruce room, sunken in the ground, flush with the floor. Ross was just wondering what was up with that. Most people would.

So, can people really be reached from beyond? Ross thinks so, "I'm the kind of person, when the phone's ringing, I love to pick it up. I can't let it ring or let the machine get it. I'm ready to go. I think it depends on how much you liked the life you just lived. Maybe if you're ready to split from it you might not answer anymore calls concerning that one. But if you had a good time you might want to stay in touch regarding it." Maybe he’s right. We'll all know soon enough. Until then, we'll just have to use our imagination.

Visit Miss Angela at:

NOTE: Yes, Ross does watch gladiator movies, "in letterbox version. With the towel on."
ANOTHER NOTE: Ross Harris on the Ernie vs. Leatherface battle: " would have to put the money on Leatherface. Definitely. It just wouldn't fit into Ernie's tubby time schedule at all. Unless he could just completely bewilder Leatherface and get him to peel back the human skin mask or something and show his true side. But I don't see it happening."