Downtown, and all around, Tom Murrin will be missed

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Tom Murrin performing on the streets, in India in the 1970s.

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  He was funny, sharp, prolific, unique and kind. He inspired others to create, innovate, provoke and entertain. He was loved, and he’ll be missed.

What more can you possibly say about a human being who’s no longer with us? Best to just expand on those laurels, and hope that the details provide some glimpse into what makes the loss of Thomas Lee Murrin (1939-2012) so deeply felt by his family and the Downtown arts community.

Surrounded by his wife Patricia and friends, the performance artist and writer known as Tom Murrin (aka the Alien Comic, aka Jack Bump) died on March 12, of complications from cancer. He was 73.

What a life.

In 2008, Tom was honored by Performance Space 122 at their annual Spring Gala. He received a plaque with the following quote:

“For wildly imaginative groundbreaking performance work that never hesitated to serve the creative impulse, the desire to entertain, and the belief that new forms of theatre were possible. For invaluable contributions to Performance Space 122 and the entire downtown performing community that, through a history of selfless generosity, helped make New York a place where continuing generations of artists can imagine and invent. Performance Space 122 is proud to honor Tom Murrin aka Alien Comic.”

To learn more about his achievements, visit Murrin’s website: thealiencomic.com. To help preserve his work, donations can be made payable to Alien Comic Fund and sent to: Alien Comic Fund, c/o PS122, 67 West Street, Suite 315, Brooklyn, NY 11222.

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Bowery Poetry Club, 2008: A workshop performance of “The Talking Show: The Magical Ridiculous Journey of Alien Comic.”

FAMILY, FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES REMEMBER TOM

Patsy Jedynak (Tom’s sister)
Hearts hold memories, and I have many good ones. I am one and a half years younger than Tom, and I am his only sibling. His show career began in grammar school with his magic act, when he was paid to perform at kid’s birthdays, friend’s parties, school and country club events.

I was his trusting assistant and helped him rehearse. He’d say, “Take a card, take a card, any card,” during his never-ending practices. He was a perfectionist, and made me take an oath of secrecy to never reveal his methods. I assisted Tom when he appeared on “Beat the Clock” (a TV show in the ’50s and ’60s). Young Tom supplemented his income by appearing on Jeopardy and other daytime quiz shows. Once, Tom was on “The Gong Show” with two friends and they were gonged as soon as they started because Tom was mooning the audience with a plastic butt.

As a kid, Tom loved our family vacations on Balboa Island. He never missed a family gathering, every summer up to 2009. Over the years I have loved getting Tom’s notes, letters and show bills in the mail. More recently, we emailed or talked on the phone almost daily.

The day before I left for New York, I received a letter from Tom. I haven’t been able to open it, because I know it’s the last — and I am not ready to let him go.

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From a 2010 performance of “The Talking Show,” at PS122.

Nicky Paraiso (director of programming, The Club at La MaMa)
In the mid-1980s, I met Tom Murrin when my friend and mentor Bill Hart took me to see my first Alien Comic Show. I remember Tom wearing layers of costumes from which he undressed while telling fantastical tales of where he had been that very day — including running socio-political commentary on the news of the day and laying out what seemed like hundreds of homemade and found props which he used and promptly discarded. At one or another of these Alien Comic Shows, I remember Tom laying out the three rules of performance art, which were, 1) get a gig, 2) send out your flyers and postcards to get the news out about your upcoming performance and 3) show-up for the performance!

I remember Tom taking his Alien Comic show to all the Downtown performance venues which proliferated in those days, many of which are gone now: the original Pyramid Club, 8BC, Limbo Lounge, Chandelier, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (now Niagara Bar), PS122, Dixon Place and, of course, La MaMa — his first performance home in New York. The Alien Comic was even an opening act for James Brown at Irving Plaza!

Later, I remember Tom’s legendary Full Moon Shows, which were evening-length extravaganzas (performed in homage to Lunamacaruna, the Goddess of the Full Moon), presented mostly at PS122 and La MaMa, which gathered together Tom’s extraordinary circle of artist colleagues and friends, including Lucy Sexton and Annie Iobst/Dancenoise, Jo Andres, Mimi Goese, Iris Rose, Salley May, Mike Iveson, Hapi Phace and a whole host of Full Moon Crew performers, choreographers and visual artists.  Tom also brought “Butt Crack Bingo” and “Dick Play” (written by Tom’s notorious alter-ego and “evil twin” Jack Bump) to The Club at La MaMa.

Tom is uniquely beloved in New York’s Downtown arts community. He would always encourage up-and-coming younger artists and cheer on the more established artists from the sidelines. We miss Tom, as we continue to miss those of Tom’s generation who are also no longer with us: Jim Neu, Bill Rice, Stuart Sherman, and also one of his best friends, theater director Bill Hart, as well as many others. I am immensely saddened by Tom’s passing, and salute his gallant, generous, irrepressibly anarchic spirit.

Trav S.D. (Chelsea Now, The Villager, Downtown Express theater columnist)
Tom blazed many a trail upon which I and a thousand others have subsequently trodden and taken for granted. In the mid-’90s, in addition to all his performance and theatre work, he began writing for Paper magazine. This was the capacity in which I knew him best and encountered him most. That he could simultaneously hang on to his identity as a performance artist AND be an arts journalist at the same time was inspirational to me. Over the years he was very generous to me and my various theatrical exploits. I spoke to him most recently a little over two years ago, when he interviewed me about my show “Willy Nilly.”

He was a mighty nice guy, and like I said, a trailblazer. There is something about his passing that reminds me of the desolate feeling I get when I walk around St. Marks Place, or the area around Ludlow and Orchard Streets nowadays. It’s a feeling you don’t experience until you hit a certain age, that feeling of, “There was once something ELSE here….”

The staff of Paper magazine
For over 20 years, Tom was committed to covering the way Off-Broadway world of Downtown performance art for Paper, a world in which he was very much at home, being a much-loved, award-winning writer and performer, himself. Off-stage he was just about the nicest person any of us had ever met.

It made our day when Tom would stop by the office and gush about a new theatrical discovery or regale us with an anecdote of his Hollywood upbringing — like the time he accompanied Ava Gardner to the premiere of John Huston’s “The Bible,” along with Mr. and Mrs. John Steinbeck. He will be remembered for creating crazy, amazing and downright jaw-dropping characters like Alien Comic and the evil Jack Bump, but mostly we’ll remember him as a beloved member of our zany Paper family.

Francis Hall (aka Faceboy, of Bowery Poetry Club’s “Faceboyz Folliez”)
Tom Murrin is one of the most inspiring and giving artists I have ever known. Though we are so deeply saddened by the loss of his physical presence, there is truth and beauty in writing, “Tom Murrin is…” for the myriad ways he inspires and all that he has given will always be with us.

However, some past tense usage must be applied here. Tom exemplified the risk-taking performance artist. I first had the pleasure of meeting him in the mid-1990s, at Robert Prichard’s performance lab/theater, Surf Reality.

Venturing into what was then some of the sketchiest neighborhoods, he created and performed sketches even more daring than the journey through the streets one took to see them. As a print journalist, we had Tom to chronicle the scene in Paper magazine. It is rare and extraordinarily giving for an artist to promote others whose work is similar in genre to their own. He was one the first columnists to cover my stage work as well as that of my BFF Rev. Jen. He did this for so many of the unknowns and marginally known writers, risk takers and rabble-rousers. In time, we became friends.

Neither ego nor competitiveness ever seemed to come into play when he wrote about those who worked in similar fashions to his. It seemed he saw that part of his long and eclectic career as an opportunity to help other artists rather than rip them apart, as so many writers tend to do.

Thinking now of the times I visited him, and knowing that I no longer can, I’m crying. Yet in those tears, joy glistens in knowing how lucky I am to have had his friendship.

Michael C. Haenel (Tom’s nephew and godson)
Grateful for Uncle Tommy…I admired Tommy’s magical talents, quick wit, masterful storytelling ability and his willingness to live life as an artist.

Tommy lived life filled with love, humility, grace and peace. God bless Uncle Tommy.

Vallejo Gantner (artistic director of PS122)
While making his own work at PS122, for decades, Tom opened doors and created space for others to move freely in, building a community of artists around him who simply wouldn’t be the same without him. Tom Murrin reminds us that what we do is important. He made PS122 wackier, stronger, smarter — more importantly perhaps is the fact that he continues to make the world wackier, stronger and smarter.

Robert Prichard (co-founder, Surf Reality)
Damn. This hurts.

Tom Murrin was not only a great performing artist, he was also our champion. He was our friend. Tom personified everything that’s cool about Downtown theater. I cannot recall him without thinking about his infectious energy, his generosity, his incredible wit and his unqualified love for the Downtown scene.

Every interaction I ever had with Tom was leavened with his kindness, his generosity and his compassion. As a performer, he was fearless and crazy ingenious.

Back when Surf Reality shared the building with a brothel and a crack deli, there was Tom performing his one-man show on our small stage — conjuring aliens, evil twins, elemental energies and on point satire of the culture at large. It was like watching a force of nature. He acted like our little hole in the wall performance loft was the center of the creative universe and the most important place to be in the world, and inevitably the magic he wrought would kick in and then his audiences would believe it too.

Up until now, he always left us laughing. I hope he forgives me for being sad about this one final exit.

Ellie Covan (founder and artistic director of Dixon Place)
I had several dreams about him in the days before his passing. Nothing bizarre or mysterious. Just hanging out with him.

Anything I say isn’t adequate. He was part of what made Dixon Place, Dixon Place. He was the first performance artist to appear at DP (on East 1st Street) in 1986. He performed his groundbreaking work often, at all of our spaces.

Every artist has their own unique process, and Tommy’s was, well, funny. Before his show, he meticulously set up all the props and costumes. If you interrupted him, if you said anything, or even walked near his things, he would fly into a rage. At first, it startled me, and then I just thought he was an asshole. But after getting to know him, I totally looked forward to his arriving at the theater (and of course I made sure nothing disturbed him).

I feel so honored to have worked with him — he made a difference in so many lives, both as an artist and as an exceptionally kind and generous person. His last performance was at DP, making me at once very happy, very sad and very proud. His spirit is deeply imbedded in my heart and my living room.

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