By Bree Davies
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"I get that a fair amount," he says. "I'll be at a show and walk by someone who'll just hiss, 'You make me sick.' I've learned pretty well who I can mess with and who I can't. Cops, for instance, can't be messed with. But when someone criticizes me or hates me, I just take that as a sign that I'm doing something right. I always tell bands, 'When you get a negative reaction, that's a good thing. Don't worry about it, because you're in some very good company.'"
The sexually explicit, pro-gay aspect of maristhegreat.com has proved a flash point. Last year Murray Neill, a former Marine and leader of the band Drudgery, was the subject of Maris's rather aggressive online affections. At one point, Maris erected a digital shrine to the bald-headed, well-toned and wholly straight singer that featured zoom-in shots (many of which highlighted his groin area) alongside explicit explanations of what Maris would do with the singer if given the opportunity. Although many supported the campaign and cheered Maris on, a few visitors felt he'd crossed a line. Spirited debates regarding the "Maris Loves Murray" feature filled the site's guest book for months.
Maris's relationship with the gay community has been rocky at times, too. He was required to leave the 2001 Pridefest parade after five cops told him that organizers from the Colorado Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center didn't want him there. After Maris posted a diatribe about the incident on his Web site, the center was bombarded with letters from his supporters. Then-director Mike Smith called Maris to apologize, explaining that it had all been a mistake: The organization hadn't wanted him to leave, only to move away from a float of veterans who were sensitive about who marched near them.
Maristhegreat.com's Celery Girl presents SemiFreak, D.O.R.K. and P-Nuckle
8:30 p.m. Thursday, November 21
Sportsfield Roxxx, $4
"I accepted his explanation, but it still didn't sit well with me," Maris says. "I didn't go back to Pridefest this year. If I had been just a regular drag queen or a leather man, it wouldn't have been an issue, and that was my bone of contention. The gay scene likes to think that it's all about diversity and tolerance, and if you've got your little rainbow sticker, you're fine. But if you're doing something that's different, they get scared, just like anyone else.
"The gay community isn't my family; the music scene is," he adds. "I feel I'm the most openly out person in Colorado, and in a way, I'm doing more to break down barriers between the gay community and the straight community than anyone else. I've had a number of supposedly straight guys in bands, with very public girlfriends, confide in me that they think they might be gay. I'm all about the idea of coming out of the closet in every way -- not just in the sense of your sexuality. I want the outside of a person to match what's on the inside, to find out what everyone's issues are, and get together and talk it out over a beer.
"Everyone has secrets. Part of what I want to do is get to those secrets and bring them up to the surface. That's what gives something edge. That's what makes it real."
Maris the person has a few secrets of his own. Who he is, for example, and what he looks like. Where he comes from, how old he is, what he does for a living. Very few of the many people who know Maris the monster have ever encountered Maris the man, a late-thirty-something native of small-town Montana who moved to Denver roughly ten years ago. Only when communicating about a project, setting up a shoot or conducting an interview does he break character and speak in his natural voice. On the rare occasion that he ventures out in street clothes, Maris wears a mask to protect his identity.
"I don't let people see my face, and it messes with them, but it also intrigues them," he says. "If people saw me out doing laundry, it would diffuse the whole thing. It's like seeing Santa without the big red suit. And I want to mess with them. That's what gives the character its impact. But people will come up to me and be like, 'Oh, ha, ha. Nice makeup. So how long does it take to put it on?' They'll expect me to just break character and talk. Instead, I'll just growl at them: 'AAAARGH! I'm not wearing makeup!' They don't always know how to react."
As much as it might enhance his art, Maris's insistence on anonymity is a shame. Despite the cruelties of his character, Maris is articulate, funny, artistic and quick as a whip. During photo shoots, he exudes the exacting vision of a film director or a choreographer, fussing over a shot's composition, motivating his crew to find the right mood. (In fact, he's taken a shot at film directing: His two ten-minute features, Bite My Halloweenie and Thrilled to Death, co-produced with Matt Campbell, will be screened during the Halloween show at Sportsfield Roxxx.)
"Maris wouldn't want me to say this, but he's the biggest sweetheart I've ever met," says Cricket. "He knows what he wants, but he's really good at working with people to get there. He's one of the most interesting people I've ever worked with."