There's something endearing about Jim O'Rourke's unbending, undeterred musical conviction. He's spent more than 20 years as an avant-garde sound experimentalist, utilizing various media -- bands, open mikes, warehouse parties -- to transcendent sonic effect. His latest endeavor is hosting "FRIGHT NIGHT," an installment of multimedia madness every Monday at Bodhisattva Social Club.
You would think that by now, O'Rourke would be stuck in momentary flashes of immediate genius or, as often happens, resigned flakily to ambitious regrets. But there's a simplicity to his purpose.
"I always felt like I wanted to do something that stylistically would include all of my biggest influences: '60s British Invasion, Frank Zappa, lyrically Dylan, Iggy Pop, The Cure," he says. "I've also tried to keep my music alive by continuing if a band would break up and moving on to a new project."
O'Rourke's name has become ubiquitous around Orlando's art and music circles. (Sometimes causing confusion, as there's a Windy City musical experimentalist also named Jim O'Rourke who hovers around the national Stereolab, smart-pop set.) O'Rourke notes that his drive comes from two different directions. "It's always been partially in reaction to what's not happening," he says, "and partially just doing what I like."
O'Rourke has long been the cutting-edge proponent of the populist open-mike night. He came to that role out of necessity.
The talented nomad got his start here in the late '70s in a punk outfit called The Mess. Citing a poor musical climate, the band migrated northward, achieving moderate success in Boston. In 1989, he returned to Orlando and immediately set to creating something new. Only he couldn't find many places to play.
"That was probably one of the reasons that spurred me on to start doing open-mike nights," he recalls. "We went to several venues that didn't have live music and we would talk them into doing rock shows. "The club owners -- `the places would` be dead during those nights, anyway -- would let us take over."
What started as a utilitarian gimmick fast became O'Rourke's alternate purpose. Having already led successful nights at Kelly's Cafe and Harpers Tavern, he was approached by the owners of the yet-to-open Yab Yum coffeehouse to take over their Thursday nights.
"It worked because people didn't have to be in a band," he says. "Plus, we also encouraged performance art and painting."
Meanwhile, O'Rourke immersed himself in what he calls the "Warehouse Years," 1993-97, fronting art-rockers The Shrubs and hosting warehouse events on the outskirts of downtown.
Eventually, the warehouses were bought out by Florida Hospital, and O'Rourke retreated into the more singular garage musings of his late '90s act, The Shut-Ins (mostly Shrubs survivors). The scene seemed to have had its time.
Until now. O'Rourke's "FRIGHT NIGHT" has resuscitated his open-mike ambitions, incorporating multimedia and stylistic variations (techno, acoustic, experimental). After only a few weeks, the grab-bag evening has become the talk of the town among the ever-expanding singer-songwriter set. And if that's not enough, O'Rourke has also jumped on board a reconstituted version of raunch & rollers Zoom!, offering the sometimes controversial act his guitar services. O'Rourke's vision doesn't seem to want to die.
"I think I've been doing this for so long," he says, "you just have to contend that if you like playing music, that's the main reason you're into it. Bringing people together and just having a blast."
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