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Cable Access Firebrand Jim Spagg Dies

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Painter, philosopher, clown, politician, nudist, and cable access firebrand James Spagnola, much better known as Jim Spagg, died in his Portland home Saturday. Spagg's long-running late-night cable television show had a loyal cult following in Portland for years. Thousands of Portlanders of all types stumbled across intimate videotape of Spagg's genitalia while flipping through the channels late at night. His show also featured a never-ending supply of young women who danced naked while Spagg played air guitar on a piece of plywood in the rough shape of a guitar. Canned phrases such as "jumping geehorsey farts" and "yowza! wowza! bowza!" danced across the screen in random order and rainbow colors.

One of Spagg's most famous bits was a long-running feud with a neighbor. Spagg set up a camera in his living room which later captured video of Spagg being punched in the face by his neighbor in the front yard. Skeptics speculated that the feud was a ruse to get laughs, but other fans insisted that the assault was real.

Several times over the years, Spagg was taken off the air (and each time somehow returned) as community outrage and negative media publicity ebbed and flowed. His program was most recently suspended from Portland Cable Access Television after Spagg was found to have violated copyright laws on one of his programs. Some people, most of all Spagg himself, felt that he was really cancelled for airing an episode of his program that featured graphic video of Spagg defecating on-camera.

When I saw the program in question, I happened across the show and decided to stop and watch for a minute. Seeing a bowel movement on television left me both aghast and exhiliarated, laughing hysterically. After all, a dump is one of the most primal of all human activities, but also one of the most private. I remember relishing the thought of all the squares in Portland who happened to witness the same moment. Wouldn't they be outraged!

To his credit, Spagg warned his viewing audience several times that he was "going to take a sh*t on-camera" and repeatedly offered them the opportunity to change the channel before seeing the act.

Throughout the life of his show, Spagg displayed his home phone number on the television screen. He would collect voice mails from fans and foes alike and play the best ones on the air. He maintained an email list with an unknown number of recipients to whom he would periodically send copies of his computer artwork or his latest philosophical musings or diatribes.

Some thought Jim Spagg was a tedious hack and a shameless exhibitionist; others see him as a free speech pioneer. Regardless of opinion, Spagg pushed the limits of free speech and led many citizens to realize the existence and special value of local cable access programming. He proved how easy it could be to produce and air a television program using the costly cameras, production studios, broadcasting facilities, and volunteers of cable stations funded by cable subscribers as part of their monthly service fees.


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Two email notices of Jim Spagg's death received on Saturday, May 8, 2004:


From Q Madp:

It is with sadness that I announce that the infamous JIM SPAGG has died this morning. Jim Spagg was a pioneer in cable television when it comes to free speech. He truly believed in free speech and pushed lots of buttons during his time on local cable access. A tribute will be posted on his site in the near future. Funeral information will be posted once known at  http://www.JimSpagg.com


From P'town Ad Group:

Today between 8-9am, Jim Spagg died in his home.
The cause of his death is still unclear.

More information when available.

Happy doodles! 09.May.2004 04:45

haha

Jumpin' Gee horsey farts!

Tribute to a Video Artist 09.May.2004 05:10

Broken Crayon

I first saw the Jim Spagg show quite by accident. Just flipping through the channels late one Saturday during one of those sleepless times. I admit my first reaction was quite mainstream: "What the fuck is this?". But I was fascinated that Portland Cable Access would even have the nerve to put this on at any time. Never say the defication episode, though. Fine by me.

When I was lucky enough to see more of the show, I began to pick it apart. He showed the same 1970's nudist beach backgrounds over and over. It was as if they were more like an electronic stage background, an e-set than blatant porn.

The 1970's were a more sexually progressive time in American culture. And nudity was "natural". So he showed us what was natural and truthful. Performance artists have been "doing nude" for over 40 years. But in the controlled environmental space of a museum or galley. Spagg brought it to anyone with a TV remote control, and with a smile. Sexual hostility and aggesivemess were the antithesis of his work.

His production values were not always great, he was not always that funny. But he was true to himself and his work.

Too bad... 09.May.2004 08:51

Jamby

I can't say I was a big fan of Spagg's... But I still found myself unexpectedly saddened when reading the headline announcing his death. I'll miss the guy.

Aw, man. 09.May.2004 09:06

CatWoman

Say it ain't so.

NO OTHER MEDIA COVERAGE! 09.May.2004 12:56

Guy with a Spoon

That's fucked, a local hero died and none of the news stations have the balls to report it.

1970's? 09.May.2004 15:49

Peter

I think that the "1970's nudist beach" clips that you are talking about were more recent than that, and from Rooster Rock(or Sauvie Island?)- which both still have nude beaches.
Can't say I'll really miss Spragg, but he was a pioneer. God bless him and cable TV.

RIP, brave warrior 09.May.2004 15:51

Born Naked

Spaggs was a REAL hero who actually did fight for freedom of speech and freedom of expression in this country.

Back when I used to watch TV 09.May.2004 15:57

PHH

I was flipping through the channels and saw him doing his dumb dance in front of a bedsheet used to project a nudist beach. I thought what the hell is going on? Had this guy somehow taken control of the TV station? I watched for a while, expecting every second to see the police come onto the scene and grab him.

"Come on, bubby. It's all over, let's go. You viewers out there! Move along, flip that channel, move along! There's nothing to see here."

Jim Spagg was certainly a free thinker. It makes me sad to know that he is gone.

local 09.May.2004 16:17

native

any word on what he died of?? I'm glad it's getting coverage love him or hate him he definatly was noteworthy and still is.

Sprite doused 09.May.2004 16:21

Foo

I saw a great Jim Spagg video he shot - I think mostly alone at his home - about a series of confrontations with his neighbor. Both were crazy, Jim had a camera and wasn't afraid to use it, and the guy next door had fists and was about as versatile with them as Jim was with his PCA camera. This was several years ago. They were yelling over the fence and throwing shit back and forth. Jim would come in the house and huddle with the camera and fume. It was chaotic. People would come and go. Jim would try to get them involved with the feud but the visitors would slide off nicely. They liked the naked guy, not the pissed off guy.

Finally, about the last scene, Jim's in his kitchen and staring into the mouthpiece of the camera, wide-angled and goofy, but dead serious, he said something like, "shit man I hoped it wouldn't have to come to this but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." And then, "I'm going to leave you in here this time." He clunked the machine on the table and the screen winked off to black for a moment.

Then Jim was back again, huffing in the lens, hair askew and blood running from his nose. "Well, that didn't go very well... "

So long Jim. You were funny and free. See you in hell.

"Leaping furburgers!" 09.May.2004 17:02

GRINGO STARS

Spagg has left the planet. Bye, Jim.

Bye Jim. 09.May.2004 17:31

willi

The only time I say Jim was on the telly, in the wee-early hours several years ago. The first shot (the one that made me balk) was Jim jumping around nude. Then there was the stripper dancing to Billy Idol...Can't say I dig the stripper-action, and I can only hope he wasn't taking advantage of anyone. But I gotta give props to Jim for pushing the limits and making people talk about stuff that makes them squirm.
Good luck to ya on d udda side!

Jim Spaggs 09.May.2004 17:48

Hey Joe

I knew a different side of Jim when he used to sell me used cds or lps at my store at SE Hawthorne Blvd. Low key and polite, we had many conversations about politics and he did express a more left opinion about most programs that were in existance or should be. We never discussed his exhibitionist ventures only the legalization of pot or decent housing for the victims of the capitalistic system. I really had no interest in his television pursuits other than a cross-the-board approval against any kind of censorship. I thought Jim was at his best when he talked about freedom and not diarrhea.

Spaggs on DVD? 10.May.2004 07:41

Marquis Cha-Cha

It would be wonderful if Jim's shows could be edited for a "best of" DVD and some of the proceeds go to support cable access and orgs protecting freedom of speech.

Spagg died of leukemia 10.May.2004 15:29

orca

Or at least, so claims the article in the Sunday Oregonian.

LAME 11.May.2004 00:51

Happy Doodles!

That's too bad. I was looking forward to his Mayoral campaign. It's the end of an era. Sad.....

holly molly garonzoli, someone ran off with sromboli 11.May.2004 01:50

myself

Fuck thats depressing news. I hope someone viddied the shows!

R.I.P. Jim 11.May.2004 03:25

Randal Schwartz merlyn@stonehenge.com

I worked with Jim on a show at PCA in the early 90s when he was just crewing, rather than being in front of the camera. Because I was heavily involved in Cable Access at the time, and a strong First Amendment supporter, I had a good long chat with him about why he was producing his show. My impression was that he was actually just a nice old guy who wanted to get people to wake up a bit about their own limits and stuffiness, and of course Cable Access was a great way to shove that message down people's throats. Even though many will carry only the memory (perhaps regrettably {grin}) of "Jim the Performer", I will always remember "Jim the nice old guy", and for that I'm grateful.

Rest In Peace, Jim


COME ON NOW...DONT BE DOWN 11.May.2004 07:50

walks with problems

which one of you brave nudie souls are gonna carry on this tradition of ethical- moralism, dont let it die! YOU OWE IT TO SPAGG!!

Jim's last wishes 12.May.2004 03:42

Vortex

I had known Jim Spagg since he arrived in portland at TCI studios. He drove up in an old beat up station wagon that contained video tapes and various items. I was shooting
a quick piece about the studio that was about to be shut down and I decided to shoot some footage of Jim talking about his plans for his shows. This later became a 30min documentary called "Is it Art?" that was broadcast on the cable access channels. Anyhow I kept in touch with him off and on after that and he called me soon after he returned from Prison in Georga.

The last time I spoke with him he came to my studio in SE Portland and told me he had heart trouble and he didn't expect to live much longer. I didn't know what to think as he looked
fine to me. During this visit he gave me 3 video tapes of some of the Best of material he had edited as well as some written material he created for a Science Fiction Film concept he
came up with. Before he left he expressed his wish to will me his entire lifes work of over 300 video tapes, with the desire that If I were to edit something down that I could sell the material and give 1/4th of the profits to his family. I didn't know what to think about this as I didn't belive he would pass away anytime soon. I am going to find out tommarow what the fate of this material is and if I can fufill his final wish I will do so out of respect for him as a friend, and fellow artist and video producer. Jim may of created some material that made people turn away but, like GG Allen he was a true Artist, because not only did he provoke people into thinking, but he did what he wanted to do. I will miss him, he was a good person.

Please feel free to contact me If you wish.
Mark Landers / Vortex
Media Blitz Productions


Nutsy Wutsy Damage Control 23.May.2004 21:31

Bill Dudley uncledudley66@hotmail.com

I watched Spagg for years. Not only did I find him entertaining...I found him to be "real". Like him or not,he was a true original!!! However...the best thing about Spagg,is that all the bible-thumpers and right-wing bigots HATED him.They thought him to be "DAMAGING" and "DANGEROUS".........But, the best part is....THEY COULDN'T CONTROL HIM ! I found it hysterical,that he was a thorn in their side for so many years.Those pious "holier than thou" types that attempt to control the minds,hearts,and ballot-boxes of all of Oregon.Those people do more "DAMAGE" in one day,than Spagg did in a lifetime !!!
I am presently in LA,working on-air for a large entertainment company.......I have showed many of my co-workers the old Spagg tapes,(the few I have)....Everyone says they are some of the funniest stuff they have ever seen.....Far better than anything we have down here on Cable Access...(or network for that matter).If Mark Landers,or anyone else ever assembles them for sale...I WANT THEM !!!! (minus the crapper episode ,of course) I guess I'm just "Nutsy Wutsy over Spagg" Bill Dudley

go jim 26.May.2004 05:04

sara

This is the kind of stuff that makes mothers embarassed to be liberal.
Leftie jounalist Virginia Smith: Just because the Constitution gives us the right to express anything doesn't mean we have to.
As an artist, neurotic exhibitionism degrades my profession. The public already thinks art is free, and that all artists do is play all day. The right has co-opted concepts like 'family'. Oh good- let's give them more fuel for the fire.
Best wishes to Jim, wherever he is.

I want to carry on his message 31.Jul.2004 16:32

Doodster

I met Jim a few years ago when I configured his computer to access the Internet. At that time, I was amazed at how gentle, and old he looked. I had seen him on TV, and thought he was a pioneer in freedom. I am a nudist, and very in favor of personal freedoms, yet I never let him know that. So, for the next coming months, I'm going to run to be the next 'SPAGG'! hehe.... watch for me...

NoodDoodster

TRIBUTE 05.Jun.2005 16:05

FRIENDS Winter2us@aol.com

A few years ago Spaggy *drug* us to the ROSE FESTIVAL for the Pre-Parade to promote his website and practiced his right to his crazy public acts.

THIS Saturday, June 11, 2005
A TRIBUTE TO JIM SPAGGS
We will be constructing a FLOAT ~~A Tandom Bike~ Honking for Happy Doodles!

If any of you Hoppin Muffdivers wanna join along...or if you know how to get a hold of the large signs we held up for the pre-parade EMAIL IS:
 Winter2US@AOL.COM

JIM SPAGGS FLOAT JIM SPAGGS FLOAT JIM SPAGGS FLOAT...Wee All Float!

Jim Spaggs Float For the Rose Festival Parade 05.Jun.2005 16:08

Friends winter2us@aol.com

LONG LIVE JIM SPAGGS!

P.S.
The sidekick with us, "jake cameraman" (??) Email us!