Jared McKinley insists he has been trying to go straight. Since his time as part of the founding team for Edible Baja Arizona last year, he has spent nearly every waking hour trying to fill the pages of the ever-expanding magazine.
But despite his efforts, he keeps being drawn back into the parties that Tucsonans so desperately crave ... and it's there that he stops being Jared and starts being a Kitty.
This weekend, McKinley will reprise his role as Kitty Quasar—the hair-obsessed, glam rock superbeing from Uranus—for the latest edition of Glitterball at the Rialto Theatre. There, the plan is for a revival of the rock dance parties that are dearly lacking in a world where "club bangerz" are the name of the dance-hall game these days.
"I hate Kanye West. I hate Kanye West, and I want rock 'n' roll to go on!" McKinley tells me, banging on the table as we sit outside the Loft Cinema. We had just watched a short film to promote this week's Glitterball and McKinley, to his credit, arrived for the screening in full Kitty Quasar garb: gold lamé pants, gold body paint, gold cape, platinum blond wig and gold nipple tassels.
McKinley tells me that Glitterball began because he hates club music and loves rock 'n' roll, drawing inspiration from videos in which the Who were playing live to the hipsters of the '60s. Soon, he began to throw those parties himself, in art lofts and warehouses around the city. "Then, Curtis McCrary from the Rialto called me and said 'Why don't you throw one of your parties here?' I thought he was crazy. 'Dude, a 1,400-person-capacity theater scares the fuck out of me. No way!'"
Soon after, he realized the possibilities of hosting a show in such a space, considering the stage, the lights, the sound system and the fact that he could create something new and weird, realizing that he could have American Bandstand meets Pee-wee's Playhouse meets Barbarella if he wanted. He got McCrary to agree to a six-month commitment, with one show a month, and they were off.
"Before the first party, I remember sitting in the green room in the back, and I thought, 'Why did I do this? No one's going to come to this shit,'" McKinley recalled. Then, he walked out to see nearly 700 people waiting for a '60s-'70s garage rock-themed party. From there, they took off.
Under the banner of Powhaus, then later MEOWmeow Productions, the good times began to roll with such hits as Yacht Rock, and the Underwear Party. The only hitch began when McKinley's work with Edible Baja Arizona began to take its toll.
A botanist at heart, McKinley's passion is plants. He spent years writing about gardening and locally focused foods for Tucson Urban Gardener and Arid Land Homesteaders League before he and Tucson Weekly co-founder Doug Biggers put together the first issue of Edible Baja Arizona.
"It's my life," he says. "I sell most of the ads, I'm involved in the layout and I'm one quarter of the editorial team." To add to that, Edible keeps growing; McKinley tells me that they're set to have more than 150 pages in their next issue. And despite being under the larger Edible Communities national umbrella, they're responsible for nearly all of their content. As associate publisher, that responsibility falls onto his shoulders.
While Edible has been a dream come true for McKinley, it has cut into his party time ... something that he says he isn't horribly upset about. "I hate it, but I love it," he says of the party planning. "It's funny because a lot of people think we make a lot of money off this. The honest truth is that we spend more than we make, and it's a pain in the ass."
But despite that continual ass pain, McKinley keeps doing it because he loves giving Tucson a chance to express itself. "I'm from New York originally, and all the things we've done in Tucson over the years would never happen there, because no one would allow us to do this," he says.
"Who would allow me to take over a 1,400-person venue in the heart of the city to do these fucking stupid things like an '80s workout party, a '70s punk rock party ... it's some stupid shit that would never have happened anywhere else, you know?"
It's that spirit (and countless letters begging for Glitterball's return) that inspired him to create a short film with local photographer and videographer Dominic Bonuccelli hyping the party.
Bonuccelli's experience documenting adventures abroad as part of the Lonely Planet series of travelogues was a tremendous help in following the Tucson adventures of Kitty Quasar and his concubine, Andromeda Katz (played by Katy Gierlach, Glitterball's assistant producer).
The shoot was, in essence, controlled chaos: After one production meeting five days earlier, Bonuccelli and McKinley shot the 17-minute film in one day "in a blind fury with no budget and no script."
According to Bonuccelli, the unknown is the best part of shooting in such chaotic conditions. "It's the serendipity," he says of a scene that took place at Thomas Curley's Downtown Barbershop. "We loosely schemed the idea that we wanted to do a barbershop scene, but we hadn't planned anything or organized anything ... we were driving past the Masonic temple and Curley was closing the door on his barbershop." Bonuccelli said they went to Curley with their idea of filming for a few minutes, and that Curley completely rolled with it. "I love doing something that's not planned," Bonuccelli says. "It's more creative and has more energy when you spring things like that."
You can feel that energy in the filmed interactions among McKinley, Gierlach and the denizens of Fourth Avenue. As Quasar and Katz roam the street in search of delicious hair—a shortage of nutritious hair on Uranus is the MacGuffin driving the film's plot, by the way—the best scene in the film takes place when Quasar has a genuinely hilarious, adorable interaction with a child in his parent's arms. It's a bizarrely sweet moment that underlines the purpose of Glitterball: pursuing happiness through fantastic silliness.
The work of throwing the parties stresses McKinley out, he says. "People think 'Oh, it's the guy that throws parties,' but it's a lot of stress to make sure everyone gets paid. The part of it I love is ... well, living your life with a bit of fantasy is the way to go."
"Life on its own is sucky. It's bullshit, and the only way to get through the day is to have a bit of fantasy to make life a bit more interesting. I feel like that's what I've been offering all these years: a bit of fantasy to give people a getaway from their real lives, where they can dress up as someone else for a while, and enjoy their lives."