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The 8-Track Gorilla Celebrates 20 Years of Ape Tapes

On Saturday, Oct. 27, the streets of Athens will be filled with all kinds of costumed creatures participating in the 10th annual Wild Rumpus parade. For one night, people will don creative costumes, assume new identities and take a walk on the wild side. Moments after the parade ends, in the bowels of Flicker, another celebration will begin: one of a local costumed character that, Halloween or not, has been embracing his inner party monster for two decades. Yes, it’s time to honor 20 years of the 8-Track Gorilla.

8-Track Gorilla is a local gorilla-suit-wearing musician who is 50 percent DJ and 50 percent performance artist. A legitimate cultural force in Athens during the late ’90s and early 2000s, the Gorilla became well known for his out-of-control live shows and publicity stunts. Frequenting venues like Tasty World and the Caledonia Lounge, the Gorilla sang along to his favorite 8-track tapes from the ’70s while others often performed around him.

In 2007, local filmmaker Diane Marie Campese produced a short documentary about the creature. Featuring interviews with the Gorilla’s collaborators, fans and enemies, Tracking the Gorilla is a fascinating retrospective of a time when Athens was seemingly more supportive of the strange and unknown.

In a particularly poignant section of the doc, interviewees reflect on the Gorilla’s unfortunate choices of music. Flagpole’s Gordon Lamb, who is featured frequently throughout the movie, says most selections were songs that, after hearing once, “you will wish you could never hear again.”

However, because of the passion and humor with which the Gorilla performed, he attracted all walks of life to his shows. As townie king Pete McBrayer puts it in the doc, “Townies, frat boys, homeless people, you name it—the whole pantheon was there to support the 8-Track Gorilla phenomenon.”

In addition to sit-down interviews, the doc features a variety of clips that show the Gorilla performing with trapeze artists at Caledonia, rocking a zoot suit onstage at AthFest and giving an interesting take on the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal in the middle of a show at the Georgia Theatre. Though there is no video evidence—perhaps it was destroyed for legal reasons—there is much discussion about an incident in which a group of people who were “hunting” the Gorilla drove one of Athens’ infamous spy cars inside the doors of the 40 Watt Club in an apparent attempted kidnapping.

Ahead of Saturday’s event, which will feature a variety of performances from local musicians, as well as a rare screening of Tracking the Gorilla, we managed to track down the 8-Track Gorilla. Though our attempts to arrange an in-person meeting fell through due to the ape’s fear of poachers, we were able to briefly communicate via ham radio before we lost connection.

Flagpole: Can you give a brief history of the 8-Track Gorilla, in your own words?

8-Track Gorilla: God created beast and man, so that both may live in friendship and share dominion over a world of peace. But in the fullness of time, evil men betrayed God’s trust and, in disobedience to his holy word, waged bloody wars—not only against their own kind, but against the apes, whom they reduced to slavery.

[The Gorilla was] miraculously born of two apes who descended on Earth from Earth’s own future. And man was afraid. For both parent apes possessed the power of speech. So, both were brutally murdered. But the child ape survived, and grew up to set his fellow creatures free from the yoke of human slavery.

FP: A lot of people have described 8-Track Gorilla performances as so bad they’re good. What are your thoughts on that?

8TG: Where there is smoke, there is fire. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch and conspire and plot and plan for the inevitable day of man’s downfall. The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind, the day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried against radioactive rubble, when your sea is a dead sea… I will lead my people from their captivity, and we shall build our own cities in which there will be no place for humans, except to serve our ends. And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty, and that day is upon you now!

FP: There’s a hefty lineup of artists and guest speakers at your anniversary event. What do you have to say about these performers and their connection to the 8-Track Gorilla?

8TG: The adversary is everywhere.