Anti-Shopping Evangelist Hits East Village, Finds Willing Converts (if Briefly)

20061212billy.jpg
Billy and his Stop-Shopping Gospel Choir Sunday night. Photo: Iris Blasi


"I know I'm in a room of sinners tonight," the Reverend Billy declared onstage at Cooper Union Sunday evening, moments before selecting a young woman named Zoey as a candidate for exorcism. Zoey, you see, was guilty of having a credit card. Have card, will shop — and that's just the sin Reverend Billy is trying to prevent.

Backed by his Not-Buying-It Band and the 30-voice Stop-Shopping Gospel Choir, the reverend and his crew performed gospel-style songs with lyrics like "We're gonna put those Nikes down / and we'll stop shopping" as part of his "Stop the Shopacalypse" show. The event included a gift swap — audience members were instructed to bring a present found in the back of their closets for other showgoers to then use as gifts — and he also conferred sainthood on three members of "Good Ol' Lower East Side," a neighborhood conservation organization.

In a riff on both consumer culture and right-wing bible-thumpers, downtown performing artist Bill Talen slips into a priest costume — the white collar he wears around his neck was purchased at a religious-supply store — to create the Reverend Billy, a Jerry Falwell–esque televangelist. Talen was reborn as Billy about a decade ago, while he was living in Hell's Kitchen. Horrified by what he calls "the Disney-ification of Times Square," Talen hit the streets back then to denounce Mickey Mouse as the Antichrist. Today, his movement has grown to include events such as Buy-Nothing Day, considered by Talen to be "the high holy day" of his unique theological calendar. To celebrate last Buy-Nothing Day, a group protested in front of Macy's while a simultaneous "Traffic Jamming" session set up near the gridlocked traffic at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Sunday's East Village crowd was into it, all joining hands to direct their collective energy toward that exorcism. And for a moment, someplace, perhaps a cash register stopped ringing. —Iris Blasi

Church of Stop Shopping [RevBilly.com]