Michael Simmons on
THE ONE, THE ONLY, BUDGE THRELKELD
THE ONE, THE ONLY, BUDGE THRELKELD
Funny man Budge Threlkeld’s death in 2005 was heartbreaking but historically appropriate. Few could match his charisma, innate kindness, and epic wit. He could endear himself to Republican tourists at a Disney World comedy club as effortlessly as if they were a gang of stoned malcontents in a smoke-filled basement in New York City. But the 21st Century has been inhospitable — downright hostile, in fact — to those who think freely and conform not. Despite his ability to connect with folks of opposite sensibilities through humor and humanity, like many of his friends, he just wasn’t made for these times. He kicked the bucket in the middle of Shrubya’s reign of terror and the concomitant meek acquiescence of Good Americans, too busy wallowing in a culture of crap to notice we may be war criminals.
Budge rarely complained about financial insecurity and the lack of peer recognition and he had a survivor’s knack for cracking wise amidst mediocrity and worse. But he was as aware and sensitive and smart as anyone I’ve ever known, and it didn’t escape him that the deterioration of his physical health mirrored the decay of an America that he and members of our generation once believed was on a path to transcendence. However naïve and idealistic, we expected justice to rear its rarely seen face, allowing everyone equal access to a hell of a party. And yet despite our shared despair at the failing American experiment, he never lost his considerable ability to nail the absurdity of it all. If anything, one could say that failure was his ammunition, the underlying theme through which he based his art, from his film appearance in Two Idiots In Hollywood to his team-up with Bill Frenzer as The Bitter Brothers.
I say “art” because while Budge was an actor, a stand-up comedian, and writer, he was also an artist in the purest (though never purist) sense. As his bank statement could attest, the man wasn’t in show biz for fortune, but because he was constantly creating and required a profession that allowed him free expression for that creativity. He was an “actor” in that he performed on a stage or before a camera, yet there was little difference between Budge on and offstage. Even when playing a character against type, it was as if he was sitting in a bar riffing about a particular human he’d met, all the while perfectly capturing that person’s personality. He embodied the Bard’s all-the-world’s-a-stage trip/trope. He was a “Life Actor,” as the anarcho-hippie Diggers defined it.
There are individuals who continue to live similarly, sometimes by their lonesomes, sometimes amidst small pockets of resistance to the price-tagging of America. But they are fewer and fewer in number as time steals them away from us unreplaced and too few can match the wise precision and ebullient noise of history’s best troublemakers. When Budge passed, we lost one more hippie genius. While his name recognition wasn’t equal to that of Carlin or Kesey or Lennon, his talent was. Couched in his slyly transgressive persona, Budge Threlkeld contributed abundances of integrity, intelligence, dissent, creativity, empathy and laughter to the human race during his short gig on the planet. He’d want the rest of us who are still breathing to do the same.
Michael Simmons is a journalist, filmmaker, musician, activist, and troublemaker. He was dubbed “The Father Of Country Punk” by Creem magazine in the 1970s, edited the National Lampoon in the ’80s, and won the LA Press Club Award in the ’90s. He’s written for the LA Weekly, LA Times, Rolling Stone, Penthouse, High Times, Arthur, Mojo, Artillery, The Progressive and is a contributing editor of Smoke Signals. He and Tyler Hubby are currently shooting a documentary on the Yippies. Michael’s blog at the Huffington Post can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-simmons/ and his blog at the LA Weekly can be found at http://www.laweekly.com/authors/michael-simmons. He can be reached at email@example.com
1. Personal Reminiscence of Budge-- Al Franken --