French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne is credited with reminding humanity of its limitations. In one instance he writes, “No man is exempt from saying silly things; the mischief is to say them deliberately,” and in another, “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.” Missoula artist Dane Hansen embraces those sentiments in his photography, collage work and performance art. (He is a big fan of Montaigne.) As his alter-ego, Bad Naked, Hansen is deliberately silly and also literally aware of himself as a mere animal.
“We’re all these stupid primates with these sloppy, dumb bodies that we have for 70-some years and then we keel over and die,” he says. “There’s not much to it. You’re not going to become something better. At your base you’re just that.”
Bad Naked strums his hollowed-out bass guitar, “Big Betsy,” wearing nothing but a mask over his eyes and a pair of tight black underwear. He sings songs like “I Know What Dogs Like/Hot Dogs (For Everybody)” and “Spokane Arena/Dog Breeds” (he loves dogs), and even does a cover of “Come on-a My House,” which he renders in a much more belligerent fashion than Rosemary Clooney ever did.
Many of the Bad Naked shows are guerrilla-style, springing up seemingly impromptu for 10 minutes in a parking lot or at the backdoor of a venue in between sets by other bands. His fans and friends gather around him and yell out the songs with him, clap along and heckle. Bad Naked encourages onlookers to throw padded “failure” balls and sometimes there are food fights featuring hot dogs or, classically, tomatoes.
“Every Bad Naked song is a hook and a riff,” Hansen says. “It’s got to be so simple that I can find my way back to it if a tomato goes in my face.”
Bad Naked is arguably the most controversial act in the Missoula music scene. His detractors see a guy who hardly knows how to play an instrument and who breaks convention, but in a lazy way that doesn’t offer something valuable in its place. His supporters see him as an embodiment of true punk rockness, an artist who delivers a vibrant performance for pure fun. If you ask Hansen, he kind of admits both sides are right. “With Bad Naked it’s like if you went out for a hamburger and instead somebody gave you a pile of dirt on a bun,” he says. “But people eat dirt. It’s nutritious.”
He also admits that the origin of Bad Naked came when he got sick of being just a music promoter and wanted to get the spotlight for himself.
“I wanted some of that attention,” he says. “I didn’t want to be the guy on the sidelines. For me, [performing] is like being kissed by the gods for a second. It’s like someone opened up my brain and is rubbing sand or glass in there. It just makes me feel good.”
Suffice it to say he’s a strange cat. Hansen says he has tested positive for Asperger’s, and if you talk with him long enough you can see that the way he experiences the world is genuinely unusual. His live Bad Naked album, Shaq Show, for instance, was recorded at the now-defunct Lab, a house that hosted some of Missoula’s more memorable performances. You can hear the audience participation in the recording, but when Hansen talks about it he doesn’t differentiate between the things you can and can’t hear. “The audience pretty much just takes over the whole recording banging on things and shouting,” he says. “There’s a chiweenie that shows up. There are naked people. Penises show up in that recording. There’s somebody who sleeps through the entire recording in the corner. It’s a historical recording. They’ll dig it up someday and say, ‘Ah, this is how people used to be!’”
Initially, long before Bad Naked existed, Hansen focused on photography. He would set up his large-format camera to face some beautiful outdoor scene and he’d attempt to capture it just right. But as he started going to more rock shows, he began to experiment with point-and-shoots and late-night flash photos. Instead of landscape or cool band photos, he started looking for the less romanticized aspects of a rock show or a party.
Hansen’s upcoming First Friday show at Butterfly Herbs is called Bad Bad Super Saver Show No. 2 (the first Super Saver show was last August) and includes photographs and collage.
Hansen describes the photographs as things you might see out of the corner of your eye but would probably disregard. Some might say for good reason. “Things like dog butts,” he says, “or cats doing weird things around your house at night. Pieces of people’s bodies, things happening at parties, fragmentary pictures of human desire, strange rituals and games.”
Games are important to Hansen. He likes watching sports and he likes incorporating sports objects into his performances and art. (For instance, his collage at Butterfly will include some balls.) But he doesn’t care for rules.
“Games are all about deception and mischief,” he says. “Sports are a lot of fun to go watch if you don’t focus on the rules or specific [details of the game] but just watch the athleticism of people being dumb and throwing their bodies at each other and throwing things at each other. I like that part.”
Hansen isn’t just dawdling in chaos, he kind of has a yin and yang approach to life. He takes an orderly approach to curating his photographs and collage. As the director of music at KBGA college radio, he loves putting the music collection in order. He was recently accepted for a full-ride scholarship to the University of New Orleans to get his master’s in art and will leave Missoula in late June for that adventure. Bad Naked will go with him, of course, to provide his ordered world with just the right amount of off-kilter messiness. Sometime soon, a house party in the Big Easy will be in for a big surprise.
“People come to a party pretending that they wanted to see music but they are actually after pot, cute girls or boys, for the loose hookups and alcohol and sex—not the music,” he says. “Bad Naked is here to remind you of what you really came for.”
Dane Hansen’s Bad Bad Super Saver Show No. 2 opens Fri., May 2, with a reception at Butterfly Herbs from 4 to 8 PM.