Loving The Alien: Getting Down to Earth With Tory Z. Starbuck: pt3

First, he became a born-again Christian for a short time—and a drug informer.


“It was the manifesto of futurism, which came before dada, which came before surrealism,” said Tory. “We ended up getting on this television show every weekend. There was a guy named Andre Courtois, he was a surrealist artist…and he owned a vacuum shop.” He laughs. “He had a business card that said Andre Courtois, Surrealist Artist. Then you turned it around and it said Andre’s Vac ’n’ Sew. They were on the same card! He had this show on Double Helix called Andre’s Pit. He sort of found us fascinating, and he put us on his show. That went on from ’87 to ’88.”

Although things appeared to be looking up for Tory musically, he unexpectedly relates the story of a couple of bizarre turns that his life took in the mid-’80s due to some unsettling circumstances. First, he became a born-again Christian for a short time—and a drug informer. How’s that, you ask?

“It was because I was tired of people who’d look at me and think I was a gay, drug-addicted Satanist or something,” he said. “So it was my job to prove them wrong, and I became even more against the whole drug scene. I got tired of getting beat up, and I needed protection from police officers, especially when I was going to hair school. I’d go out to my car, and I noticed the guys that were beating me up…were the ones selling the drugs. And they were selling ’em to kids! So I went to the police and I said ‘Hey, I have all these license plate numbers, and I’ll happily give them to you, but would you please have someone escort me to Wentzville when I go in and when I leave?’ So I was basically an informant. I didn’t like drug dealers. I thought they were the very reason that musicians were killing themselves, because they’re the ones that make themselves available backstage. This went on until I started hanging out with more people who were doing drugs, because then I felt it would have been two-faced. But I started meeting people that actually seemed intelligent…that were into psychedelics. And I thought, well, this is a completely different world than the people I knew who would get drunk and smoke pot and start fights. These were people who were, at least on the surface, intellectuals. They would be tripping their brains out, yet they’d have books by Timothy Leary, and be talking about philosophy and religion.”

Nothing could have prepared Tory for an event that occurred in 1985, however—one of those random statistical things that we hear about on the news.

“Even though I like life a lot, something happened that really made me bitter, and made my attitude change,” he said. “I was kidnapped at gunpoint from a rest area in Wright City. I was 23, I think. I had my car packed up with all my stuff, ’cause I was going to Kansas City for vacation. And I had a habit of keeping my stereo on when I’d go to the restroom. Even though I’d lock my doors, I’d have my stereo going. And I guess that attracted these two guys to my car. So they went, ‘Hey man, what’s happening?’ I guess they thought I had a lot of money, cause I was all dressed up and stuff. They just kept talking to me, and said they needed a ride to East St. Louis. I was going west, and I kept telling them, I’m going west. They said, ‘We don’t have any way of getting back to East St. Louis.’ That’s when one of them got closer and put a gun up to me and said ‘We need a ride to East St. Louis.’ From there on, I was in shock.

“To leave the rest area, you can’t go east. You have to go west; that’s the only option. But they kept poking me, and I had to make a U-turn at one of those little turns that are just for the highway patrol. That’s when I started getting scared. When I was making that turn, that’s when I knew this is not going to be a normal weekend at all. At first, they were being cool. I mean, they weren’t making fun of me or anything. It was sorta like, all of a sudden I was their entertainment and guide. It went on until 4:30 in the morning. And since they went over the state line, it’s considered kidnapping. So then they told me to park in an alley. I thought they were gonna leave, and I was like, ‘Oh God, I can’t wait for them to leave.’ But then they started taking stuff out of my car. And that’s when I was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t cool.’ They were taking all my equipment and stuff. And that’s when I started getting beat up. They put a needle in my arm; I think it was Darvon, or Valium. From then on, everything was just…slow. I lost track of the time. The police found me on the Poplar Street Bridge…I was going to jump off. I still had my bandolero with bullets on. I had been crying, and the makeup was running down my face. The police thought I was a gay prostitute or something. Later on, the FBI had to take me around, and they were asking me questions about where things happened. And some of it was really hard to remember…Anyway, that’s when my music started getting darker. I didn’t become racist over it, though. I’m glad those guys were black, ’cause if they’d been white, they would’ve killed me.”

The culprits were never caught, sadly. Such a traumatic event is hardly something one just takes in stride, and it was clear from talking with Tory that it had a big impact. He doesn’t elaborate on the specifics of how his music changed, but obviously it did. After Futurist Manifesto came a band called Ultraviolet Renaissance, which Tory and his friend Sasha formed.

“I started getting more into performance art,” said Tory. “I started playing violin; I went and bought this pickup, and I would run it through delay and flange and all these effects. I’d be doing these sitar and violin things—it’s close to what Eno and Fripp were doing on No Pussyfooting.”

Perhaps the biggest impact of Tory’s many groups was made by Next Radio, a band that included Perry Emge (of Icon Studios) and lasted for eight years. They produced funky, mesmerizing songs like “Television Sky and the Girl,” a performance of which was taped in the studio of a cable show called Mind Over Television.

Another song called “Balance Beams” earned a spot as an MTV Buzz Clip. Tory was also interviewed several times by NBC reporter Jennifer Blome in conjunction with the band. And they were featured in a locally produced film called Cover Story, directed by St. Louisan Greg Smith.

“Next Radio’s intent was to combine the darkness of goth, the concept of ‘music concrete,’ ambient music, and my voice,” said Tory. “We made 47 album-length projects. We kept sending out tapes, and people just weren’t interested.”

Next Radio did generate some interest, and were actually signed to a Chicago-based label called Shadow Records. But things didn’t go very far, Tory said. Turns out that “Shadow” was an apt name for the label.

“We weren’t like the other bands on the label, which were mostly ska bands. This guy named Keith Pinkston signed us, and we did an album. The RFT and Spotlight magazine ran articles on us. People were waiting for the CD. And Keith just took off with it. For some reason, he was just sitting on these boxes of pressed CDs. We kept going ‘Hey, where’s our CD?’ It took a year for it to come out. By then, the momentum was totally lost. Grunge was in, and we…became the most unpopular band. People didn’t want to see the theatrical, glam thing anymore. Next Radio dissolved by 1998. I had already wanted to pursue a solo thing by that point. I needed the power of calling the shots. In NR, we let everyone have a say in things, which was fine but…it was time to move on.”

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