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The first time I heard about Tom Murrin, I was a kid in Southern California and my parents told me about their friend who had been a lawyer and quit the law and ran off to New York to become a performance artist. I thought he sounded fantastic. In my twenties, I moved to New York City and Tom welcomed me. We had lunch at Veselka Diner and Philip Glass walked by and the two of them exchanged hellos. I thought, oh my, this is the NYC of my dreams. “How do you know him?” I said. “Oh, just from around,” said Tom. And he really did know almost everyone from around. Tom went to see everything, wrote about everything, and loved to meet new people and learn about what they were doing. He had a genuine curiosity about people and an incredible generosity towards them. Tom gave great advice. I moved to East 3rd Street and he said, “Perfect! That’s where all the theater is.” When I started making theater, he said, “Keep going. Make a show a year.”
The first time I saw him perform as Jack Bump, I was truly frightened. Here was this beautiful Irish Catholic Southern California man, same age as my mom and dad, and he was spitting out little plastic baby dolls and pantomiming sexual acts while dressed like a priest. With plays like Butt Crack Bingo and Sport Fuckers, Tom was not afraid of the dark side, and he loved pushing us, while laughing, to the edge of our comfort zone. But the performance side of Tom that I knew the best was his Alien Comic self. In those shows, he made costumes and masks out of discarded items—cardboard, pantyhose, plastic spoons—and he told stories, jokes, and performed magic tricks. He arranged all of his props and masks in a circle around him on the floor. He liked to have that circle because, as he worked his way around the masks and props, the audience knew exactly where they were in the performance and how much time was left. He also usually started those shows wearing many, many layers of clothes, and as the show went on, the layers came off. He might emerge in a gingham dress, painted cardboard mask and glitter boots, then T-shirt after T-shirt, then finally a vintage lady’s bathing suit and sweat. He also performed a full moon show every full moon for 35 years, on street corners, mountaintops, and theaters. I think this made him an honorary woman because he was always physically aware of each lunar cycle. He marked each passing month with a ritual.
For Paper magazine, he always wrote about the shows he liked. He made an active choice not to be a critic but to choose to support the work he found interesting. “There’s enough criticism out there,” he said. He promoted artists that were not afraid to provoke, frighten, and expose. In the last several years of his life, he gave us the The Talking Show, under the beautiful direction of Lucy Sexton, in which we got to hear about his ephemeral street performances around the world, a funeral for a fish outside the Plaza Hotel, and making magic shows with his sister Patsy in his parents’ backyard. He loved his wife, Patricia Sullivan, and loved her photographs of herself in wolf masks and dressed as Abraham Lincoln. He loved his friends and family.
The one night that he could not perform a full moon show because he was in a hospital bed, his friends and family and fans made full moon shows all around the world. We wore masks, we waved lunar receptors at the moon and lit flash paper, we made note of the time passing, we stripped off our clothes, and by handing his last full moon performance over to us, he showed us how to go on.
Editor’s note: Those who knew and loved Tom are welcome to share their memories below in the comments section. We’d love to hear your stories.
Also, the Alien Comic Fund has been established for the preservation of Tom’s work and the resolution of his estate. If you wish to donate, checks can be made payable to the Alien Comic Fund and sent to Alien Comic Fund, c/o PS 122, 67 West Street, Suite 315, Brooklyn, NY 11222. An informal wake will take place on Sunday, March 18 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the garden of St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery, in the East Village. A larger memorial is apparently being planned for the full moon in either May or June, in honor of Tom’s Full Moon shows. More info will be available at this Facebook page.