Anne McGuire, chanteuse, brings the chaos.

Essential SF: Anne McGuire

Sean Uyehara December 6, 2010

Anne McGuire moved to San Francisco in 1990 from the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant, Minnesota. She makes videos. She’s an avant-garde torch singer. She makes small works on paper. She’s a vital member of the Bay Area art scene. She stalked a baseball player.

I was able to speak with her a bit for this article, and she communicates an unusual and attractive combination of modesty and confidence. She’s smart, and she’ll help, but she’s not going to give anything away.

[Editor’s note: McGuire, who was a featured performer in 2009’s Cinema by the Bay, was honored in the same showcase in 2010 along with other Bay Area film luminaries and institutions via SF360 Presents Essential SF November 8 at the Lab. More at]

She began making videos while at the Kansas City Art Institute, and when she left to enroll at the San Francisco Art Institute, she continued, studying with many teachers she readily cites as influences—George Kuchar, Doug Hall, Tony Labatt. In those days, video was taught at SFAI in a department with a title describing McGuire’s work perfectly—Performance/Video. That’s her genre. Slash and all.

She became infamous when she made a video starring an unwitting participant, Joe DiMaggio. Well known as a North Beach fixture, DiMaggio was followed by McGuire, who sang songs about her devotion to him. This may sound touching. It isn’t. It’s disturbing and hilarious. The video presents a complex and concerning matrix of many of McGuire’s primary themes—fame, femininity, obsession, irrationality.

“I Am Crazy and You’re Not Wrong” follows a snappy jazzy tempo. “I am crazy and you’re not wrong, shoulda been listenin’ to you all along…Hey!” The lyrics are funny, unnerving, full of self-hate. McGuire sings them in her proto-Freddy (pronounced “Freedee”) persona. The video was included in San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s 75th Anniversary tribute to Bruce Conner. When McGuire is Freddy, she belts out the kind of tunes you would hear in any depressing lounge throughout the hinterlands of America. The songs and lyrics are fascinating, disastrous. Was there someone in Minnesota that McGuire models Freddy on? I don’t know. I didn’t ask.

When Anne is Freddy she wears heels, unless she kicks them off, as in the Anne McGuire Show at last year’s Cinema by the Bay. She usually courts disaster, but with the stage so rickety, she decided not to break a leg.   

When she sings that “I am crazy and you’re not wrong…” song, I get nervous. I remember all the fights and the times when it got to that point. The times when it wasn’t really about the fight. When it got strange. McGuire seems to know that moment and the stakes. She would beat you in a war of words. She seems to know what its like to strenuously deny losing.

At least Freddy does.

Anne McGuire doesn’t usually wear heels. She can’t too often. They hurt her feet.
She is small. She says so herself. She calls it, “my smallness.”

She spends many a day in a rock climbing gym, an activity that she fell in love with for its required concentration and graceful movements. She never considered herself athletic, but this is a sport where smallness pays off.  McGuire is elegant in her smallness. She is compact and powerful. I like that she wears flat shoes. That’s Anne to me.

Torsten Kretchzmar made a Freddy music video. “Lottery Ticket.” He is making another one too.

Freddy’s voice somehow mixes otherworldly ethereality with sharp, biting pain. As the kids say, it’s insane. When she performs live, it’s usually with Wobbly. He recycles sounds to provide accompaniment. Show tunes, commercials, buoys from the Bermuda Triangle. It’s what an academic would call pastiche, and musicians might call wild. Normal people usually say “noise.” He does it all improv. Often, Freddy and Wobbly appear to be in competition. He trips her up. It’s all in fun, mostly.

When McGuire went to school she studied with an array of compelling local artists still working in San Francisco. Cliff Hengst, Phil Ross, Jovial Schnell. She says that one of her favorite local performance artists was in her class, Ella Tideman. She says that Tideman’s gestures are profound. Not surprisingly, McGuire uses the words “crazy” and “beautiful” to describe her admiration.

McGuire grew up in the countryside. In the woods. I’ve got nothing too specific. She was somewhere else. She spent all of her childhood outside. The city was nothing but a place far away.  She’s done climbs in Yosemite that are rated 5.5’s and 5.6’s. She says climbers will know what that means. She doesn’t want to create a false impression about her aptitude.

Today, McGuire’s daily practice consists of making small paintings. She thinks about videos a lot. But, she doesn’t make one very often. She’s participating in an ad hoc local art shop created by Stephanie Syjuco, Shadowshop. Buy her stuff. Buy other local makers work too. Over 200 local artists. Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

McGuire was in a shipwreck in 1986. She looked backward and celebrated by reverse-ordering a movie about a shipwreck. She made a video of herself that reveals metal pins literally drilled into her arms. The result of a biking mishap. It’s called “When I Was a Monster.” I am not sure if she likes accidents. It seems like she does.

When McGuire recycled The Poseiden Adventure, she re-articulated something that she seems to always state—we are bound for disaster. No one here is gonna save you. Adventure Poseiden, The (Unsinking of My Ship) followed Strain Andromeda by about 15 years. And, all the while she’s been dodging bullets. Strain Andromeda runs in reverse, in a way. She parceled out the scenes and re-ordered them to play forward in reverse order. It re-defines suspense. We wonder what we can not know. It uses a strict logic to perform hyperrational chaos.

“I am crazy and you’re not wrong…”

She’s been taking Dodie Bellamy’s writing workshop for about four years. She has been building a reserve of writing. She will eventually publish the work. I asked if her I could read one of her short stories. She said, no.

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