Balloon Man Bill Morrison’s Perfect World
“It’s a marvelously gloriously great ghost of a life.” Bill Morrison
Somewhere in some recondite and under-explored wavelength of your television transmission (free cable), there’s a show with Promethean potential and diabolic disregard for the rules of entertainment that verges on Nietzschean hubris in aspiring to a new plateau of aesthetics, one that is verily “beyond good and mediocrity.” Is Bill “Balloonman” Morrison good at what he does? Resoundingly, and beyond any question, yes. He is a master at what he does. But what is it that he does? This is a question I would venture that even Mr. Morrison could not, or at least would not, answer (at least not intelligibly).
When Mr. Morrison faces the camera, his eyes do not seek refuge in self-justifying internal reassurance. He is a man beyond shame, and whatever it is he is doing, like Mitchum acting, he makes damn sure never to get caught doing it. Often inspired by his own free-associative virtuosity, but just as often not, he seems to care not a wit either way, and remains unflinching in his incoherence. But Mr. Morrison is also inspiring, most of all in his willingness to play the Ape of Thoth so consummately, and with so little regard for his own apishness. By such brazen nonchalance, Mr. Morrison at times transcends the self-imposed role of monkey and dimly, dimly, begins to resemble a god. A TV god, for sure, the deity of a petty domain, which is free cable after all, and not even a national network; but his confinement to so lowly a circle of US media hell reflects less upon Mr. Morrison’s talents—which appear to be prodigious beyond even his own (or especially his own) capacity to comprehend or fully harness—than it does upon a paltriness intrinsic to the medium itself. Mr. Morrison has opted to remain a very large fish, possibly even a shark, in a tiny pond.
Put bluntly, Mr. Morrison is the David Letterman for a brave new world that will never (we pray) come into being. For in such a world, one that Mr. Morrison’s demented armchair ravings obscurely and extremely indirectly herald—a world perfect in its total embracing of all imperfections—there would be no talk show hosts, no TV dinners, no TV at all, and so no Bill Morrison persona. Life would be far too interesting and bizarre to require such dubious means for killing time.
To be fair to him, Mr. Morrison’s solipsism is at times wearisome, to the viewer as much as it is (evidently) to Mr. Morrison himself. The “show,” if he’ll allow me to refer to it as such, would certainly benefit from a little structure, some kind of framework in which the host’s freewheeling poetry of molecular irrelevance and impotent grandeur would be able to come more fully into its own. Perhaps he should invite guests to inflict with his almost superhuman poise and irrationalism, the occasional straight man for him to loose his tongue upon? In a word, this man’s talents—it may even be a kind of genius, though it’s hard to say for sure—may never come fully to bloom (as both the man and the medium so sorely deserve) until they find the right soil—necessary context—in which to do so.
It’s too bad that Mr. Morrison’s giftedness is inseparable—even maybe contingent on—his obscurity. Neither Letterman nor Leno, nor any self-respecting high priest of the television airwaves, is ever going to have Mr. Morrison on their show. For obvious reasons. The moment Dave or Jay lets Bill on their show, it will be painfully plain to everyone watching that their ilk have been superseded, by a new and unstoppable mutant strain. Mr. Morrison may never be the talk show host he deserves to be, but if so that’s because, at heart, he is no host but a virus. The moment mainstream TV allowed him through its doors of perception and into the sleeping mind of the masses, it would spell the end of mainstream TV.
Until that time, Bill Morrison will remain perhaps what he most aspires to be: a marvelously, gloriously great ghost of a guy.
Jason Horsley, 2006.