In the editorials “Setting the Tone – Part 1” and “Part 2” Lady M and I introduced a somewhat enigmatic figure by the name of Tony Sokol, we highlighted, and were delighted by, the tales of his involvement in the modern living Vampyre culture among other things… well, following on from those two pieces we relentlessly pursued this reluctant, self-confessed, anti-hero through the highways, byways, backstreets and alleys of his favourite haunts until he relented and gave us a one-on-one interview, and how glad we are he did.
All rolled into one, the enigma, the wit, the irreverence, the off-the-wall, the insanely busy and ever changing creativity of Tony Sokol is something we can now, with great delight, present in his own words for our readers…
Perhaps you have chanced to browse through the editorials highlighting the work of Tony Sokol, perhaps you even went a little further and checked out the links to information on Tony that I left in the editorials, if so then you would no doubt have realised just how extensive and amazing a career he has had, and is still having.
From early beginnings in the NYC poetry readings in the mid-80s, through the experimental, anti-commercial music scene, performing at the Centerfield Coffee House and through to doing acoustic open mics at the Speakeasy in the West Village, the first vampire rituals at Centerfield and at Anarchist’s Switchboard, Folk City, The Bitter End, The Village Gate and on to the Vampyr Theatre, Tony’s career was, and has been a kaleidoscope of rubbing elbows with some of the leading figures in both the NYC entertainment scene and, whether naturally or not, with the leading figures of the NYC Real Vampire culture.
In his interview with AEA Zine Tony said;
“I believe in certain things the spirit can do. Things that the mind can do, but they don’t prove anything larger than what it actually is. Just because someone can bend a spoon with their mind, or bend a mind with a spoon, doesn’t prove there’s a god and it doesn’t prove there’s a heaven or an afterlife. We have to find the comfort in the worms because sooner or later, worms are god. We live until we die and then we spend most our time decomposing. I can believe in that.
I was almost raised Roman Catholic, that’s what everyone in my family was, and I did the CCD and got baptized and made communion, but somewhere between my first confession and confirmation it just seemed very absurd.”
So, how does an “almost Roman Catholic” go on to become one of the most important, and long time, voices in the underground of so many genres?
It is with great pleasure that we present a One-on-One interview with the man, dare I say, the legend, Mr. Tony Sokol.
TS: Hey, any day above ground is a day I can forget about my shovel.
RVL: There’s so much ground to cover here that, quite frankly, it was hard to know where to start. How does a lone interviewer get to grips with “a man for all seasons”, as it were?
TS: Well, if you get a tight grip around my throat I won’t be able to answer questions.
RVL: Okay, okay, I’ve got one… given your history and involvement with the modern Vampyre culture the $64,000 question has to be, “Do you, Tony Sokol, identify as a modern living vampire?”
TS: Does it have to be that? I barely identify as a modern living Tony Sokol. Do I still get the 64 thou?
RVL: We’re non-profit, even the staff don’t get paid ’round here…! Tell me, what’s one, of the many things, that stand out for you from those earliest days?
TS: The flashbacks from getting my drinks spiked at Communion. Watching the audience change and become vampires. When we first opened we used to offer a discount for anyone who came dressed like a vampire. After a while, the audience looked just as sharp as our actors, though Christ forbid you get a drop of blood on them. Had to seat them in the back, away from the splatter section. I also remember people wanting to sit in the splatter section. But watching those transformations stood out.
Most of the actors intermingled with the audience, some came in with them, which was one of the reasons we encouraged people to dress up. That way the actors wouldn’t stand out when they were waiting to be seated. I also got fairly close to the audience, especially as I was the guy who threw them up against the wall and searched them for some of the shows. For a long early part of the run we did it weekly, and a lot of people would come back a lot and all of a sudden a guy who usually came in jeans and a t-shirt or whatever would be decked out in in crushed velvet.
RVL: Now, you’ve worked alongside some of the people that are most familiar to those who know of the New York Vampire culture, people like Marie Bargas, Goddess Rosemary of Temple House Sahjaza and Madame X of House of The Dreaming, what were your earliest impressions of the modern Vampyre culture and how, if at all, have they changed over the years of your collaborations?
TS: I only actually collaborated with Goddess Rosemary during the early part of it. I didn’t meet Madame X until a few years in, and I apparently avoided Marie Bargas in the 90s. She was in LA, so it was pretty easy. I wrote some music for Goddess Rosemary, but also wrote a series of short stories, some erotic Twilight Zone-like scenes and rituals. The collaborations weren’t like we sat down and wrote anything together eyeball to eyeball, that I do with Marie Bargas, right now. We collaborate on a magazine called Entertainment 2morrow, we co-host a radio show called Magick Lab on SOC Radio, and we’ve written a few articles together. But the most fun collaboration I had with her was co-writing the beginning of a screenplay on google docs. We would each be a scene or a conversation away from each other and then would go back and touch up the sections the other one did, while skype chatting in headphones. That was a blast, even though funding fell through and we never finished it. We also collaborated on magical things.
With Rosemary, it was more of a hanging out. I went to the Z/n celebrations, rituals and gatherings. I watched how people reacted to her. But we also hung out at her place on 14th Street a lot. She had a few magical items around. One was a piece of art that cursed whoever touched it with at least a little blood. Within 24 hours of touching it, she said, the person would get wounded. The severity wasn’t consistent. So I asked if that meant I might just get a scraped knee, and reached out to touch it, but she stopped me and said, in my case not to risk it. She also had an oil that she said made people tell the truth, and she used it on me, but to tell you the truth, I don’t know how much of that is suggestion.
Goddess Rosemary asked me to write the rituals when I told her I played with automatic writing for one of the Vampyr Theatre scripts. I think that was called Dark Night of the Soul when we put it up, but only because the theater we were in really objected to the title, which I either don’t remember or repressed. I did a lot of research for that one, and Rosemary gave me some books she wanted me to use for reference, including This Tree Grows Out of Hell. I think I wrote eight. I remember I used Black Masses from Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter and The Satanist for structure. I filled in some gaps, like the bitter herbs he mentioned, and wrote and recorded some discordant music. I bought and taught myself trombone for that, I remember, and swapped one of the pieces into the music I wrote for a production of No Exit. But I wrote mass, hymnals, prayers, invocations, homona-homona homilies, a sacrament presentation, creed and gospel. I didn’t reverse it, so much as do it sideways. I didn’t do it as satire, like the Vampyr Theatre rituals. They were written as dark celebrations, very underhanded, subversive and subliminal, but fun and sexy. Goddess Rosemary said people went into altered states and used them as part of the foundation of Sahjaza.
RVL: If we can turn our attention to some of your own writing work, can you give us a *cough* brief rundown, if possible, on how your own commercial writing career began and the writing you have done to date?
TS: I got some poems and a short horror story about a bunch of eight year olds walking home at night published while I was in high school, but they were beat out by thousands of rejection letters from all of the horror and science fiction magazines that were around. Also, I never got to be one of the usual gang of idiots who worked at MAD magazine, even though I sent them stuff. I got quite a few things published while I was at Fordham, not so much at the college, but starting in local outlets in the Bronx, and then in Manhattan. But I also put together a weird semi-musical radio play called The Excommunication of Christ performed at SUNY-Rochester’s radio station. That had some gospel-style stuff in it, but I think it’s the only musical that includes an atonal piece, well, twelve-tone. But I also sold some jokes to comedians, they would have stolen them anyway, and a couple comedy skits to troupes. I was a staff writer, columnist and product reviewer at 1,001 Home Ideas, a major glossy, about a year out of college. Then I started working on and writing comedy for Young, Gifted and Broke, a Manhattan Public Access show, and also wrote skits or gags and performed on some other shows because we’d meet in the editing rooms or whatever.
Rosalie Triana, who would go on to be Vampyr Theatre’s first director, asked me to rewrite a musical stage play about the summer of love, which I changed so much I had to set it a year after and call it The Summer After. I wrote seven or eight songs for that too. When I was finally ready to put Vampyr Theatre up, she was the first person I called.
Vampyr Theatre led to a lot of paid work. A lot of my plays got put up by small troupes, but I also was a co-editor and reviewer at Andre Scheluchin’s Wycked Mystic, which was the second largest, except for the year it hit number one, independent short-story horror magazine in the 90s.
RVL: In particular I’d like to ask about the Vampyre Rituals that you composed, how did they come into being and where have they been used?
TS: It came from a sense of absurdity at first. I did a lot more research after I wrote the rituals for Goddess Rosemary’s Z/n Society, which is now Sahjaza. Vampires are dead and they’re not dead. Kinda like Jesus, but without the sanctimonious debris. I wanted to celebrate glorious decay. I’m a nihilist, even wrote a nihilist spiritual. We used to play Tom Waits’ “Dirt in the ground” as part of the pre-show music before Let Us Prey. We’re all gonna be dirt in the ground. Zeena taught me I should think of it as an emptiness to be filled, but at the time I filled it with dirt. My grandfather was a gravedigger and I had no problems in cemeteries, even got a copy of Coven’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls album from one when I was six. I’m not a Satanist, in spite of what Peter Gilmore may have giggled. I wrote “God can kiss my and Satan can suck my cock” for Troy Acree to say in Dances from a Shallow Grave.
If vampires didn’t die, cos they’d been there, done that, already, then any concept of a promised afterlife was a joke. Crosses and holy water were toys. I created a vampire slang using blasphemy. From the very first “Hail Mary full of shit,” in the third play To Avenge, Divine, to the full on assault I got to do for the full ritual Let Us Prey in 94, I got immediate blowback. We had walkouts. People yelled at me while I mopped up blood. Someone called the NYPD’s Cult Awareness Task Force. I actually did pull back a bit and cut most of Jihad of the Infidel and only used a section of it in Just Us Served.
RVL: From the days of the Vampyr Theatre what other collaborations have you had in similar directions?
TS: The band that wrote the music for the plays I also called Vampyr Theatre. We were three composer, Bob Sushko, Ted Dailey and myself. We’ve played with each other since. We’ve played with ourselves since. I was in a long time jam band with Ted for years after Vampyr Theatre. He and I also wrote music for some vampire film that, again, lost funding three-quarters of the way through. But we got some played on the radio. Most of my collaborations are in music. I write the plays, skits and short stories alone. Sometimes I’ve collaborated with directors on how plays are presented, but usually that’s their job and I stay out of the way. Oh, but I collaborated with the makeup artists, Chris Davis, Rick Crane and Tony Knighthawk to the extent that I explained what I wanted. Though my father built the retractable stake I designed for Blood is Thicker Than Water.
RVL: I’d like to delve, then, a little into your current perceptions and collaborations… what are you currently involved in with regard to the modern Vampire culture?
TS: …I’m answering these questions.
RVL: *firmly in place now…!* You mentioned, in the AEA Zine, that you grew up on a diet of I grew up on gangster movies and vampire movies. That you had a lobby card that your father… “borrowed”… for you from the movie ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, that you had some music posters, mainly Beatles and a still from Dracula along with a huge poster of Vlad the Impaler. You also mentioned that the vampire mystique seemed spiritual to you in the way of a religion. Did this mystique, even, dare I say it, this romanticism hold sway with you for long?
TS: Oh yeah, vampires are sexy. I don’t go for the trendy face transformations that are now corny clichés to me. I know Dracula could change into a wolf or a bat or mist, but when he puts the bite on you, it’s as good old Vlad the Impaler. I don’t know why, but I always root for the bad guys in movies. In reviews I call heroes anti-villains. I root for the criminal over the cop, the monster over the burgermeister, the shark over the kid in the raft, and the kid in the raft over easy. A vampire’s spirituality should be completely irreverent. It should be wholly unholy. It should offend anyone who breathes. Vampires don’t, though you always see them smoking in movies, even on Buffy. Vampires are undead. They got the dead part over with and can mock the afflicted. Our call and response in the mass was “Who the fuck cares? We’re gonna outlive them anyway.” We worship worms, dirt, decay. You want romance? Knock out the sides of vampire lovers’ coffins so they can decompose into each other. That’s togetherness.
The mystique is spiritual and romantic. When you look into the dead eyes of a vampire, your soul is engulfed in a blissful abyss. It’s an abysmal mess and that’s pretty religious.
RVL: Have you collaborated, or been involved with, the Vampyre culture outside of NYC? And, if so, what differences have you noticed between locations?
TS: The vampire community in DC in the 90s was hopping. I took the train out there to sit for a documentary, I asked them to shoot my interview on the stairs where Regan threw down the priest in The Exorcist. The filmmakers took me to a club that had a vampire night. It was mainly dancing, drinking and whatever else we found lying around. I looked for it in Boston, and the towns around Salem, Massachusetts, but the closest was some goth clubs. I did find a club and an occult group in New Orleans when I was there. But the most interesting vampire I met there was a dancer named Roxy, who made a passer-by give her his bracelet just by saying she liked it. She also went on about cannibalism, but I didn’t bite.
RVL: This is going to be a little controversial but I want to ask, what are your impressions of our “information age” Vampire culture as opposed to the early, offline, scene?
TS: Anybody can say anything on the internet. I mean, they can in real life too, and usually do, but it doesn’t reach as many people to take things as truth. The scenes I saw were different, because the first ones I was exposed to were the occult groups, and there was an element of violence at the time. There was a disconnect between
RVL: …and as a closely involved ‘mover and shaker’, have you got any words of wisdom for us modern living vamps?
TS: Stay alive. Death sucks. And if you get caught by self-anointed vampire hunters, remember, they usually bury you upside down. You could be digging for days before you figure that out.
RVL: Now, here’s one for you… we have been guiding Real Vampire Life, the E-Zine, through the often choppy waters of the modern culture for somewhere around seven years now… where have you been all our lives?
TS: I was right over there.
RVL: Oh, by the bar, yeah…and since we found each other now, what do you think of our humble little rag? Be a little kind please… if possible…
TS: I think it’s great. It has a unique voice that’s heard by unique ears.
RVL: If it hadn’t been for your meeting with Goddess Rosemary do you think you would still have pursued an interest in the modern culture?
TS: I met Goddess Rosemary while I was already doing Vampyr Theatre, while the vampires who came forward were from a more occult underground community. There was a violence in a part of the groups I was first introduced to. But people introduced themselves to me after I’d done the first ritual performances at Centrefold. I was interested in it already, she certainly introduced me to a lot of people, and I love her and what we’re doing with Sahjaza and what we were doing then. She probably kept me closer to it through the years after Vampyr Theatre than I might have been. But her group, also, isn’t quite what you think when you hear modern vampire culture. It’s steeped in occult wisdom that’s pre-postmodern and beyond.
RVL: So, what’s happening right now with Tony Sokol and where are you headed from here?
TS: I’m contributing editor at Den of Geek where I cover gangster, horror, science fiction, and cult movies and a little bit of music. We did some mini-documentaries on the bands that were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. HBO got me tickets. Chris Longo was my date. I’ll also be writing regularly for Entertainment Voice. I run the online magazine Live and Undead , and am Editor-in-Chief at Entertainment 2morrow with Marie Bargas, who’s the managing editor. I’m also her co-host on Magick Lab Academy on SOC Radio on Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
RVL: …any other pearls of wisdom, oh great guru, that you would like to leave with our readers tonight?
TS: Some things are too important to be taken seriously. Chaos will always prevail.
RVL: It has been an inestimable pleasure chewin’ the fat with you Tony, and a great honour for us, thank you again… we’d like to stay in contact and maybe we can touch base and chat again some time to see what’s what?
TS: More than maybe. I never know what’s what or when it was wherever it was.
I really don’t think that there is anything else that I could possibly say or write at this point, except that I hope you had as much fun reading that as I had creating it… Hail ‘The Tonester’…
Copyright RVL and Tony Sokol 2017 – All images courtesy of Tony Sokol.
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