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Kenny has also ingratiated himself with the staff of the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art. Kara Walker-Tomè, the institute's education director, has tapped into Kenny's eccentricity for several projects. Last year, Kenny 5 joined her for an audio-visual project that involved teaching kids how to use simple video and sound equipment.
"I was blown away by what he got these kids to produce," she says. "And the kids were so blown away by him, of course. Just physically as a person and his personality and his character, and he's so... the kids just loved him immediately. He's so enthusiastic, and his passion for what he's doing is just so all over him."
At first, Walker-Tomè says, the kids weren't sure what this project was all about: "You mean you want us to put an object in front of the camera and make a funny sound?" But since everything was connected to a computer monitor, the kids could view the results of their amateur artistry immediately. When they saw the collages they'd assembled with Kenny's help, they were ecstatic, and a blast of kid creativity followed.
The video/sound pieces "were just so cool!" Walker-Tomè enthuses. "They were very simply done in terms of technique and material, but Kenny's unbelievable imagination made the workshop so successful. Everyone was so impressed, especially the kids who aren't exposed to this at all. It totally blew their minds." Walker-Tomè would like to enlist Kenny to help develop a new media project and give him artist-in-residence status at the museum. Additionally, Kenny has asked the institute for several thousand dollars of grant money to continue working with kids at Congress Middle School, bringing his digital video experiments to the curriculum while representing PBICA. "I'd be going there once a week and turning the room upside down," he envisions.
With an attention deficit disorder approach to his work, Kenny floats and flits among a lot of different media, quickly tiring of one and moving to another. His productions blur the lines among sound, vision, music, painting, and other disciplines, making a nonlinear collage from them all.
Is Kenny 5 like a crazy pied piper of Lake Worth, leading respectable artists down a path strewn with low-brow kitsch and avant-garde uselessness? Walker-Tomè laughs. "I also see it in the reverse," she says. "Our professional relationship is also a lot about trying to bring what he does into less of the fringe. I see us as trying to meet in the middle."
These days, Kenny 5 lives the quintessential good life in a gorgeous, white stucco, Old Florida home in downtown Lake Worth. The massive oak front door swings out, revealing a carpeted living room where svelte blond Kay and seven-month-old Echo sit in the dark. Stretching out in her baby swing, redheaded Echo gives Kenny a toothless smile and a visitor a bashful gurgle. An hour after the lights went out in Lake Worth, there's still no explanation for the power outage, which leaves the 1920s-era cottage eerily quiet. On one wall is a photograph of a dreadlocked Kenny in the early days. The old wood floors have been refinished. The ceiling in the living room is covered in outrageously scalloped stucco, all puffy like upside-down meringue.
Kenny's back-bedroom studio is almost pitch-black this afternoon. Only a shard of sunlight enters through a window hidden behind a bookshelf. Like old battle axes, his electric surfboard, electric grease pan, and auto flywheel hang high on one wall. His A/V setup, with a computer, video camera, and DVD burner, are tucked into a corner. Counterculture encyclopedias like Modern Primitivesand Industrial Culture Handbook are stacked next to a well-read copy of Your Baby's First Year.
With his sister-in-law Lisa Kramer, Kenny is a partner in another Lake Worth record store, Purple Haze. Located in the city's western outskirts, the shop has continued the tradition (and the stock) of Downtown Books, which closed in 2001 following the death of its owner, Frank Ferrara. It affords him a decent living, Kenny says. He's well aware that if he'd stayed in Michigan, he could have easily positioned himself under the steady stream of Eminem's money hose. Kenny, however, sounds happy with his tradeoff.
"I have regrets," he acknowledges, "but why look back? I get more out of working with kids or doing a film with [Klein] than anything I'd get out of putting my name on an Eminem video." Pushing regrets aside, Kenny is planning to reunite with Brainerd and Defever for the first time in five years here in South Florida. In fact, Kenny's old haunted house-cum-Haunted Tube has become annual Halloween fare back in Detroit.
"Kenny came up with this whole shtick," Brainerd recalls with a chuckle. "For a while, he had this thing about Abraham Lincoln. He'd go on and on about how Abraham Lincoln was the first guy to ever make a haunted tube. He would always talk about UFOs and Tesla coils as he'd be leading the kids into the tube. It was so funny, the first time I ever heard Kenny say it -- he just kept saying over and over again into the microphone with this crazy costume on, 'Do Not Enter the Haunted Tube!'And he's leading people in, even as he's telling them not to!"