Rusty Blazenhoff is the Queen of Kitsch
The Alameda resident captures the zeitgeist of now—and back then.
Rusty’s Electric Dreams inbox magazine site is live. Check it out and subscribe at www.ElectricDreaming.com
Photos by Lane Hartwell
Rusty Blazenhoff of Alameda lives in the East End with her 10-year-old daughter in a bungalow tastefully decorated in midcentury furniture with a vintage Western motif. There’s a teepee in the living room, however, one of the first clues that this chick is a little funky. A handsome pair of mannequins show off some Western attire near the side window, and as you progress through the dining room with its hotel-sized Count Chocula and BooBerry cereal dispenser for breakfast time, passing curio cabinets stocked with pop kitsch, black velvet paintings vying with paint-by-numbers Western scenes on the walls, you might start to get it. By the time you step into her breakfast nook-office, with its red and yellow 1950s rooster motif and several types of toast novelty items, you really get it. Rusty is cool!
“I just like collecting things,” she says of her décor. “I didn’t know it was kitsch. I just liked what I liked.”
Rusty Blazenhoff isn’t her birth name—but it’s her real name “because I’ve named myself, and it’s who I get to be in the world.” And she does things differently. Why not?
She came to the Bay Area from Cape Cod in the mid-1990s, fascinated with computers and techno-culture. She wanted to be where the “cool people” were. That led her to Burning Man, where she made friends with far-seeing culturephiles like Stuart Mangrum and Scott Beale, early bloggers who encouraged her to write and dive into cutting-edge lifestyles, technology, and general weirdness. Of course, along the way, Blazenhoff ran into pushback from her family, who wanted her to stop playing and start acting like a grownup. She obligingly took a job in the tech sector and was miserable.
Eventually she found her way back to culture blogging, making a living that, first and foremost, supported her daughter. “I don’t think of myself as a writer—at all!” she said. Yet Blazenhoff was a key contributor and managing editor at the pop-culture website Laughing Squid for several years. She has edited the Burning Man newspaper and met enough quirky celebrities to anecdote her way through any gathering. For example, Blazenhoff has bonded with Susan Olsen, the former child star known as Cindy Brady, over their love of Marshmallow Fluff, of all things. Another close friend is Paul Reubens, also known as Pee-Wee Herman. They share the same kooky aesthetic and the same sense of humor. She works with him now on various projects but won’t say what. “You’ll see,” she said.
She has blogged for such companies as CNET, Adobe, Fest300, and General Motors, but, “I’ve made it my job to celebrate being different.” That has led her to start a new project, an inbox zine called “Rusty’s Electric Dreams”—full of fun tidbits about pop culture, funky finds, and quirky events. “I am finally self-aware enough to understand the beautiful dichotomy of who I am. I’ve gone through life thinking, ‘I look like everyone else,’ but knowing that I was very different on the inside. I’ve got this sweet and wholesome look but am totally subversive on the inside. I recently got called the ‘punk-rock June Cleaver,’ which may have offended me in the past. Now I embrace it fully.”
She sees herself as a “creative futurist” combined with a heavy dose of nostalgia. “I want to be sure that future generations of weirdoes, misfits, and freaks have a voice and that we’re celebrating what’s good about alternative cultures. That’s why I started my inbox zine. I want to be sure my daughter Scarlett knows that creating something is better than buying it and that it’s cool to live your passion. I’m like a congressperson for the alt-community.
“So many amazing things have happened culturally in the past 20 years here in the Bay Area, and I was involved in so much of it: the Cacophony Society, Burning Man, Laughing Squid, and, of course, the early digital communities. I feel lucky to have heard the call to move west in the mid-’90s to be part of the crazy San Francisco underground scene. I have never regretted skipping grad school for the adventure. Now I get to share it with my kid and, really, what could be better than that?”