John Vernon Forbes is best known around Chicago for growling out blues-boogie narratives as the bandleader of hillbilly trance outfit Tijuana Hercules, but that’s only part of the story. He’s also an accomplished graphic and video artist with a knack for envisioning a universe of bizarre and absurdist creatures, rendered with vibrant colors and droll expressions. Problem is, it’s been a challenge for him to dream up the best of both worlds, a way to share all his talents under one roof.
That changes as he curates his first joint musical performance and art show at Electric Jungle in Rogers Park. According to Forbes, “The Filthy Mysteries: A Multimedia Show” is all about having a good time.
“I’ve done a few animations to Tijuana Hercules music,” he says, “but not something like this show. With this, well, now you’re talking,” he says, a wide smile and a dazzle in his eyes. “This is the sort of shit that seems like a good time to me.”
Folks planning to attend best check expectations of a traditional art show at the door. “Filthy Mysteries” is designed “for everyone who’s anyone—and anybody who’s not like everybody else.
“It’ll be more of a festive situation,” Forbes says. “People can mingle and shoot the breeze. Tijuana Hercules will play a slew of swampy songs. DJs will be spinning records. There will be top-shelf refreshments,” he says. “And at the heart of it all, plenty to look at.”
Forbes has prepared sixteen vibrant watercolor works, twenty-eight screen prints, a handful of animations, and even some cartoons that he’ll project onto an Electric Jungle wall. He also plans to populate the shop’s front windows with his twisted figures, “like the old window-sign paintings.”
It’s a show that’s going to be right at home in the Electric Jungle setting, says owner John Ciba. “This place is custom-made for people who like their music and art regional, eccentric and raw. We’re a living tribute to the forgotten misfits of the record industry. We’ve had huge Northern Soul parties with fifty British travelers, photo shows from activist-Heartland Cafe founder Michael James, an annual Mardi Gras party, live music from Southern blues singers, fingerpicking hair farmers and even a Jerry Garcia tribute party. I can’t think of a better place for this show to be.”
“Electric Jungle is a cool place,” Forbes says. “But more importantly—in the vibe sense—to put it plainly, it is.”
This isn’t Ciba’s first twist on turntable staples: he previously operated popular Logan Square record store Logan Hardware.
“Electric Jungle is the last frontier in record retail,” Ciba says, describing it as “a casual but serious spot.” There’s “no Record Store Day [promotions], no thirty-dollar 180g reissues, no Third Man bus, you’ve got to want to dig to thrive here,” he says, citing his aversion to modern-day record-store trends. Not to suggest they don’t have bona fide bragging rights: Electric Jungle lays claim to stocking “the most forty-fives on the North Side of Chicago.”
That ties right into the accompanying DJ sets at “Filthy Mysteries.” Jivan Ivan, King James Porter, Gentleman John Battles, and José Bernal will all take a spin at the turntables when Tijuana Hercules isn’t causing a ruckus in the corner.
“Filthy Mysteries” is just the latest in a long stretch of Windy City adventures for Forbes, who likens Chicago to “a well-manicured man’s hand with a dirty fingernail.” It’s no doubt an endearing observation, given Forbes’ lengthy stay here.
And about the show’s title: it’s all part of his plans for an unforgettable event.
“In Catholicism,” Forbes says, “there’s a phrase used to describe people’s inability to grasp an idea that transcends reason… the mystery of faith. I think about the (heavy) issues: Is there life after death? Is there any purpose for me being here?” Then he snaps out of it. “But filthiness can be so doggone fun!”
And that suits Junglemeister Ciba just fine. “We’re always trying to tap into local artists, freaks and weirdos,” he says. “So you never know who or what you’re going to run into over here.”
February 29, 7pm, Electric Jungle, 1768 West Greenleaf, electricjunglechicago.com, free.
Bill Furbee is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Cincinnati CityBeat, Detroit Metro Times, Ghettoblaster, Strength, American Libraries magazine and other publications. He’s also a frequent contributor to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and a board member of the Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation, and enjoys repairing pinball machines in his time off.