Al Ridenour was born March 6, 1961, in Pasadena, California, and remained there until attending UCLA for college, where he graduated with honors with a degree in German and English. After graduating, Al married his first wife, and began work as a computer animator for Metrolight Studios, where he worked on 1990’s Total Recall film, including working on a sequence that won an Academy Award.
When his marriage ended, Al began looking for something to occupy his time. In a Los Angeles Mid-Wilshire coffee shop he discovered flyers advertising the Los Angeles Cacophony Society, likely left by either Michael Mikel, who had been printing and distributing flyers during a business trip (other Cacophony members had also been distributing flyers while on trips to Los Angeles, including during Zone Trips).
Al imagined an international society of Cacophony and assumed, of course, that there would be a significant presence in LA. He began to send ideas for events to the PO Box listed on the flier - a box manned by Mikel. After months of no responses, Mikel finally reached out to Al, impressed with some of the ideas and Al’s persistence.
Brian Doherty, in This is Burning Man, described the early days of the LA Cacophony branch, led by Al, using the nom de guerre “Rev. Al”:
They flyered a local UFO devotees’ convention, claiming to be the Brotherhood of Magnetic Light and promising a Space Brother landing at Dockweiler beach. [Watch Mikel describe the event here] In the air they concocted “a really sad little pathetic hot-air balloon…More like a laundry bag with candles hung under it” But on the ground they rolled out a two-hundred-foot aluminum-foil cross on the hillside and piled it with flowers and burning incense. “We created a magical Christ icon - a plaster Tijuana Jesus with a walkie-talkie shoved up his ass. When an acolyte would approach it with his walkie-talkie on, it would produce this interference squelching sound… I began speaking in tongues. Rich Polysorbate of course starts shooting fireworks into the air for no reason. Then [Mikel] came running up the hill in a silver suit babbling about how is spaceship had crashed.
Ridenour decided he’d take Cacophony in his own direction when he wearied of the “info packs Michael would send about how to run things, as if I’d become an Amway salesman. I did try to adhere to some of the principles and thoughts from the official propaganda. I did use some of their catchphrases as I saw fit. Some of it struck me as too fey, too much of a dancing-on-the-rooftops flavor.” Various SF Cacophonists describe Rev. Al’s new direction with almost awed respect, as edgier than the original.
Ridenour outlined a manifesto for the LACS, reprinted here.
In fall of 2000, however, Ridenour lost momentum. The LACS website grew stale and the activities petered out. The LA Times described the end of Ridenour’s involvement:
Then, in perhaps the ultimate cacophonist act, he turned the group's philosophy upon itself and pranked his fellow cacophonists. "I wanted it to go down in a fireball," Ridenour said. "I wanted it to end. I looked at cacophony as a big theatrical extravaganza, so I wanted a big end to it all." So, after the final night of the Museum of Mental Decay, the cacophonists' twisted version of a Halloween haunted house, in October 2000, Ridenour reported on the group's Web site the grisly death of a member in a drunk driving accident. (That member had actually moved to New Orleans.) Professing pain and spiritual confusion, he faked his own conversion to "Christian anarchy."
Some members fell for the prank; chaos ensued. "I heard him say more than once he wanted to do a prank that would make the group self-destruct," said 42-year-old Al Guerrero, a.k.a. Al Pastor, Al Qaeda or Al Fresco. "We felt it was an aggressive act, an act of desperation, an act of finality. It was like an internal time bomb."
Meanwhile, in the late 90s, Al began having articles published in LA Times, LA Weekly, and New Times Los Angeles. He also published his first book in 2000, Offbeat Food, Adventures in an Omnivorous World.
In 2003, Al married comedian Margaret Cho. They separated in 2014 and divorced the following year.
In May 2004, Al founded the Art of Bleeding, a performance theater troupe that provides faux first-aid and safety at clubs, galleries and art events. It stages shows from an ambulance, and include both scripted shows, and improvisational darkly comedic shows. Performers have included Brian Doherty and Margaret Cho.. [See AoB video here]
Al began to research Krampus (the dark companion of St. Nicholas) in 2012, and in 2013 traveled to Europe to see the festivities firsthand. In 2013, he, along with long-time friend Al Guerrero, founded LA’s annually ongoing Krampusfest. In 2016, Al published his second book The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil.
In April 2018, Al began his podcast Bone & Sickle, which he describes as the “intersection of horror, folklore, and history”.
In addition to his other projects, Al has done installation art, leveraging his experience making props for the Cacophony Society and the Art of Bleeding. He has also done video editing, and created short films, including films for the Art of Bleeding.