“Rev. Billy Vows to Levitate the de Young, a Museum on the Rise”

Performance artist and eco/anti-consumerist activist Reverend Billy Talen is getting ready to kick off the celebration for the release of The Earth Wants YOU, the Reverend’s manual for the earth-led revolution. Starting this Sunday, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir are hitting the road for a nationwide book and album release tour.

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Leah Garchik of The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with Reverend Billy about his upcoming stop in San Francisco, in which he plans to activate the city from the ground up … and up.

If you think nothing exciting ever happens around here, at high noon April 20, the Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping will levitate the de Young Museum.

This, he says, is to express his disapproval of the use of Roundup to control shrubbery around the museum. The concerns of the reverend, former San Franciscan and current Brooklynite Billy Talen, are both chemical and societal … and seem to have something to do with touting his book and CD, “The Earth Wants You.” He’ll be at City Lights that night.

But what’s levitation got to do it? “It’s an old shamanistic trick,” says the Rev. Billy, “to take people out of the traditional schedule of their perspective.” I tell him I’m picturing the museum rising from its foundation, tilting this way and that while connoisseurs of Oscar de la Renta frocks skitter across the polished wood floors. “That would be a good party,” says Rev. Billy. “For my congregation, I would say if former levitations are any indication, the tilting will be different for different people in the congregation. We’re not fundamentalists.”

As to the “virulent poison” to which the reverend refers while outlining what he sees as the problem, a maintenance agreement specifies that the grounds around the de Young are landscaped by Rec and Park. “We apply pesticides approximately once a year on problematic areas of surrounding hardscape under Department of Environment oversight,” says Rec and Park general manager Phil Ginsburg.

Revved up about demographics, the reverend notes that he preached about the same subject recently in front of New York’s Central Park Conservatory. “A spiritual scrubbing is what this band of  socialites needs,” he said. As to what San Francisco’s “band of socialites” has to do with weeds, he drifts off the conversational path, citing the de Young’s current exhibition of “Oscar de la Renta’s amazing gowns.” It’s time, he says, to get them “to disassociate from fossil fuels.” The spray, he says, is “being used for cosmetic reasons.”

Talen says Rec and Park staff cuts have resulted in “chemicalizing with this stuff,” but his levitation plans are directed at the “socially ascendant group of people that maintain that institution of high culture” rather than the park brass.

But Ginsburg, apparently inspired by the reverend’s religious fervor, wishes to “ask Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping to ask his cousins Rev. Charles of the Church of Clean Your Room and Rev. Sam of the Church of Put Your Phone Down to put in a good word with his boss on behalf of his teenage daughters and their parents.”

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After achieving this impossible feat, Reverend Billy will be appearing at City Lights that night at 7:00pm for the Bay Area book launch of The Earth Wants You as part of his 20-city nationwide tour. You can see his full event calendar here.

For the better part of the 21st century, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir have spread their message, from Occupy Wall Street to the St. Louis offices of Monsanto (and the police station in nearby Ferguson, Missouri) to the stage at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York, and out into arenas opening for Neil Young. Reverend Billy was the subject of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary What Would Jesus Buy? 

You can get a copy of The Earth Wants YOU! from the City Lights website right now, or at your local independent bookseller starting April 12. Learn more at Reverend Billy’s official website, http://www.revbilly.com/.

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