Recently, long time friend and art compatriot Shane Watson reached out with me to share this video from Brazil. A YouTuber with a half million subscribers had created a nearly half hour video about the history of the Silverladder, including the early badscaryplace days where I first began correspondence with Shane. After years of writing back and forth and publishing an interview with Shane online I was once asked out of the blue if I’d be willing to take part in a sort of dada/surrealist interactive art project borrowing from Alternate Reality Game (ARG) culture. The catch? I’d be interacting with Shane’s alter ego as Shane would be dead “in the game.”
Codebreaking, steganography, interacting with “characters” from the bit of chaotic fiction we were taking part in were all big parts of the Silverladder experience but most important honestly were the connections we made, the genuine community that sprung up. After years of voice chat, emails and chat rooms it didn’t even seem that bizarre when several of us would meet in Phoenix to hang out with Shane for the weekend of November 11. (11/11 was one of several overarching “themes” that Silverladder played with).
As for exactly what Silverladder is, that’s a hard one to answer. This YouTuber actually does a pretty decent job, especially doing so from after the fact. Deconstructing the “internet mystery” as it were. I even show up briefly in some footage of the SL get together around a decade ago. If you want to check out the video below, you can click on closed captions, go to options and switch from Portugese to auto-translate and the auto-generated translation is pretty easy to understand from there. I’m also sharing here my interview with Shane below.
The following interview was conducted by freelance journalist and long-time Bad Scary Place fan Philip Fairbanks in 2004.
Philip Fairbanks: What was your inspiration for creating this? Don’t just tell me you liked Burroughs/Gysin cutups either. I’m talking about the elusive “theme,” which is quite well developed.
Shane Watson: The inspirations for the BSP are extremely varied. It began a few years back when my cousin Trey showed me a particularly surreal site on the internet. Trey has introduced me to lots of good things over the years, such as the bands Ween and Built To Spill, but I digress. He sat me down at a computer at my aunt’s house and said, “Here, check this out.” I started clicking. It was unlike anything I had seen on the internet, because up to that point, the sites I had dealt with were very straightforward and quite linear in nature. It made perfect sense to me, though.
In real life I can be a somewhat quirky, eclectic person. Although up to that point, my website hadn’t reflected that about me at all. While having *some* artistic flourishes and bizarre moments here and there, my site was pretty, well… normal. Whatever this odd site was, it got me thinking about what I hadn’t done with my site yet, and what parts of my ability to create hadn’t been unleashed on my site.
This soon mixed in with several other factors:
1. As a kid, I was a huge fan of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series, which you may or may not be familiar with. They give you options, and rather than being a linear (there we go with that word again) story, you come to certain pages where you get to make a choice. Based on which choice you select, you are instructed to turn to a particular page. Your choices then affect the outcome of the story.
2. While in high school, I picked up a CD called “Telecommunication Breakdown” by a losely-formed “band” (more of an art project, really) called EBN (“Emergency Broadcast Network”). The CD used a heavy amount of television samples within the music, including political speeches cut up and re-arranged in such a manner as to make it sound like people such as George Bush (Sr.) were saying things like “We will rock you.” The CD also came with some Quicktime movies that were quick-cut collages of all kinds of various TV broadcasts, movie clips, war footage, home shopping channels, self-help videos, etc. It was like a 200-channel assault of the emptiness of TV over an industrial music background. The album and the accompanying videos had a very big impact on me at the time. This group actually went on to produce the video walls for U2’s “Zoo TV” tour.
3. Other factors and influences may include game shows, the movie “Fight Club”, the movie “12 Monkeys”, Japanese pop culture, William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Las Vegas, televangelists, lucid dreaming, the constant bombardment of media from all directions, the evolution of people into consumers, psychedelia, advertising, cryptic shortwave radio broadcasts (“numbers stations”), police scanner transmissions, technology, disco balls, strobe lights, smoke machines, red wine, good beer, The “Mind’s Eye” animation series, conspiracy theories, abnormal psychology (that would be a big one), DADA, surrealism, M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali, and the music of Ween, Radiohead, David Sylvian, Holger Czukay, Robert Fripp, Trance Induction, Flaming Lips, Alice In Chains, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Air, Bjork, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and COUNTLESS jazz and ambient music artists.
Anyway, these (and other) influences all eventually converged in my mind and led me to start what was the precursor to the BSP. While I DID have Silver Ladder Studios up on the internet at the time, I decided to make this a side project site, not affiliated with SLS. Therefore, I went and opened a cheesy little Geocities site, with pop-ups and all. The original version of the BSP wasn’t even called the Bad Scary Place, in fact it didn’t have a title. It didn’t get very big, maybe 20-25 pages deep, before I started slacking on it and quit making progress. However, not long after, the e-mail address I had listed on the Geocities site (accessed by site visitors via a picture of a bomb and the text “send me threats”) started getting hit with e-mails from people who somehow had run across the site. It was strange because I hadn’t advertised the site or submitted it to search engines or anything. But these people were e-mailing and saying how much they liked the site. Making a long story longer, I soon scrapped the Geocities site and put a re-direct link up on the Geocities page to send people to the new site within Silver Ladder Studios. I trashed all of the original pages (which I now sometimes wish I had held on to) and started from scratch.
The name Bad Scary Place comes from the type of terminology that a child might use. The use of the words “bad” and “scary” (both being quite simple and somewhat similar) right after each other gives it this kind of wide-eyed innocent naive kind of sound. It’s really more of a reference to a closet with a monster in it or something frightening outside the window than it is an actual reference to the site being scary or something. It never really was intended to be flat-out scary or anything. Some people still fail to understand that. Even if it WAS scary, anything that is SUPPOSED to be frightening that refers to itself as such is just plain cheesy. Not my style. Little known fact: I have often entertained the idea of ditching the name Bad Scary Place and renaming the site “The Umbrella Graveyard.” However, now that the site has caught on so much and refers to itself in SO many places as the BSP, it’s a little too late now. Who knows though, the Umbrella Graveyard may very well become a subdimension of the BSP, just like Menthol Tunnels (ever been there?).
As far as the “theme,” well, you’re correct about there being an underlying “story” beneath the bizarre surface of the BSP. The story is first-person. YOU (whoever is clicking through the site) are the main character, though I never formally explain that because doing so would be tacky and clunky and corny. However, while you are the star, Morris the mailman is the catalyst. Morris the mailman was *originally* Morris the milkman, who came from an old 4-track song I did in high school. The song, “Charlie Jones” was on a little underground cassette release that I distributed within my school, and Charlie’s wife runs off with Morris the milkman in the song. Interestingly enough, the tape (“Underground Noise Museum” – referring to being PHYSICALLY underground, not referring to being “too cool” for the mainstream or some nonsense) had a liner-note booklet (on standard 8.5×11″ paper) that came with it… much of the artwork from those liner notes is now in the BSP (i.e. the black and white picture on this page, the picture of someone shooting up on this page, this image, which is the background for a BSP page, etc.). I can’t go too in-depth about the plot of the whole deal, but (as you may have discovered on a later page) it involves Morris slipping some kind of substance into your drink at a company party (held in a courtyard) and you waking up elsewhere. What else has happened in the mean time? What WILL happen coming up? That remains to be seen or may already be defined somewhere, somehow within the BSP. Some “chapters” of the story are much more literal than others. Some segments may be completely in metaphor and based in images rather than text.
Read the rest at Silverladder.