March 13th, 2009 | Interviews

paul rodriguez

Within Heaven’s Earshot opens Friday, March 13th, and closes Easter Sunday, a set of dates providing perfect bookends for an art show exploring the world of religious album covers. Curator Kieran Sala and helpful collectors like Don Bolles combed through the archives for several categories and sub-categories of records designed to stave off eternal punishment. Sala speaks now before the show goes up on the wall at Synchronicity Gallery on Melrose. This interview by Drew Denny.

Where did you find all the records? Did you meet any friendly record collectors in this process?
Kieran Sala: The records are coming from several collectors. Don Bolles, Mitchell Brown, Edward Colver and myself.
How are you grouping the albums? What sort of organizational method are you using?
There are two major categories: children’s records and everything else! The children’s category has puppets, pirates and ventriloquists. The general category has many subgenres. ‘Not Square!’ As in the ersatz hippie trend—the producers of Christian records realized that they better emulate the hippies or no one would buy the records. I’m not sure this scheme worked. Come and see for yourself! Another category is ‘Armageddon.’ A pretty self-explanatory area. One of my favorite categories is ‘Made Whole’—blind, burned orphaned and paralyzed folks can still make records.
What was your criteria to determine whether or not an album cover was religious? Were there any that left you feeling uncertain?
The criteria was simple: is the objective of this record to save souls? There are some examples of borderline categories. Elvis did a sacred album. I wouldn’t necessarily include that. He was expanding his demographic, not recruiting new Christians. However Little Richard—who is currently a preacher—recorded some gospel albums. That would qualify. But the true test is how great is the cover?
How did you stumble upon this project?
Funny you should say stumbled cause that’s exactly what it’s like—you know the tour? The L.A. Conservancy is putting on a tour called, ‘City of Seekers: L.A.’s Unique Spiritual Legacy.’ I’m in the Modern Committee part of the Conservancy with Chris Nichols and Jay Lopez, and I thought, ‘Gee it’d be great if I could get my record collection on display on this tour!’ And Chris said, ‘Here’s Jay, head of the Silverlake gallery commission.’ And Jay says, ‘Great idea, I can find someone!’ That was in October or November—by December we had a gallery. To make this good, I couldn’t just use my record collection—I only have like 70 records. There are people who have more religious records than I have records!
How did you find record collectors who had religiously themed albums?
It turned out I knew people who collected this stuff! I just went to their houses—it was very eye-opening. So much insane stuff! The scope of it’s pretty amazing—especially the children’s records. It’s out of control!
Does Don Bolles have a secret stash of kiddie records?
It’s not a secret! Definitely not! He used to have a radio show—there was a lot of religious stuff and lots of children’s records.
What does the L.A. Conservancy do?
We rescue endangered buildings—gems of architecture that might be swallowed up by developers. I’m in the Modern Committee, so we focus on mid-century buildings. We’re architectural preservationists. It’s actually strictly voluntary. No pay at all! I’m an actor. And a substitute teacher. I’ve been involved for 8 years but only got elected into office this year.
What’s the site tour all about? Where are they going?
We’ll be visiting five sites: the Philosophical Research Society, the Angelus Temple, the Ann Ree Colton Chapel of the Jesus Ethic, the Self-Realization Fellowship—one of the birthplaces of yoga in the west, really—and the Bonnie Brae House—the birthplace of Pentecostalism, actually. I had always thought of Pentecostalism as a Southern thing, but I guess it got its start here in L.A.!
Which one is your favorite?
I’ve only been to three so I can’t really say, but I love the Ann Ree Colton building. So modern! The Philosophical Research Society is fantastic, too. That’s where Manly P. Hall had his empire—he was a character! He had a very Manson-like stare. He was a mystic and claimed he could read minds. Very enigmatic. These kind of people thrive in L.A. His legitimacy as a philosopher is debated, but he really was a character. Larger than life.
Are you a religious man?
I’m very spiritual. I’d love to find a church that fits me—maybe I’ll find it on the tour! What I need is a cult! I’ve got nothing to eat right now—if I had a cult, I wouldn’t have to worry about that.
Which came first—the bus tour or the art show? How are you working together?
The City of the Seekers tour came first. We are working together schedule-wise. My opening is Friday, March 13th, in the evening. The tour—a self-guided driving tour by the way—happens Saturday the 14th from 10 am to 4 pm, and then we are showing some movies at the gallery that same evening. There will be a lecture called ‘Visionary State’ on Sunday. It will be an exciting weekend. Then on Tuesday, there will be night of movies called ‘Occult L.A.: Esoteric Cinema in the Southland’ at the Silent Movie Theatre. There will be many events during the run of the show. Most Saturday nights we will screen some films. We plan a book signing, and an auction of religious collectibles. That will be held on Good Friday—April 10th. Anybody can bring something to auction! The gallery will take a percentage. Saturday, March 14, we will screen The Hands of God—this film is about a Christian camp that trains puppeteers. That same evening, we will show Never Too Old For God—this features Ezra. He is the ventriloquist dummy half of Gail and Ezra. He decides to become a big Hollywood star, but learns that everybody needs Jesus. On March 21st, we will screen God’s Angry Man—the short Werner Herzog film about Dr. Gene Scott. We also want to screen Black Friday. Significant because Manly P. Hall—the founder of Philosophical Research Society—hypnotized Bela Lugosi for the film. March 28th we’re hosting the L.A. premier of God’s Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack T. Chick. He is the author and artist of those little Christian comics that everyone loves to hate. And on April 4th The Light of the World—Jack T. Chick directs this film. This film is ‘the biblical account of why Christ came to the Earth and how He dealt with the sin issue once and for all.’ The film consists of beautiful paintings by Fred Carter.
After all this, what will you do next?
For my next show, I think I might want to feature a gallery full of dolls!