Remember mp3.com? In the pre-YouTube, early Napster world of the internet, it was how the masses legally downloaded songs and videos. And in the year 2000, before Google was a verb, a video was uploaded to mp3.com of a young red-haired kid named Jamie DeWolf performing a slam poem about his great-grandfather, Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, in front of about 50 people.
Within a week, Scientologists had seen the video and were tracking DeWolf in his hometown.
"They were literally running me down," says DeWolf. "I had private investigators following me, they showed up at my house. They had this whole cover story that they were promoters putting on a show with me."
DeWolf's mother, who had seen Scientology consume and destroy her father and grandfather, eventually clued him in to the intent of these mysterious people. "She recognized them immediately just by their general demeanor and how they were asking questions about me, and tried to identify who they were. She ended up kicking them off the porch."
Everyone's got their own take on religion, but for DeWolf, the subject is particularly vexing. "It's really, really difficult growing up as a Christian when your great-grandfather was a cult leader who basically made himself a god, sort of, in our lifetime, for me to do anything without just a complete view of skepticism," he says on the phone from his home in Oakland.
DeWolf's conflicted upbringing fuels his writing and performance, which has made the 35-year-old a buzzed-about name in the East Bay hotbed of slam poetry. DeWolf is the featured poet at the monthly North Bay Poetry Slam (NBPS) at Sebastopol's Hopmonk Tavern on March 10, where fellow Oakland slammer Joyce Lee was featured last month. NBPS host and creator Brianna Sage calls DeWolf "the most well-known performer" the NBPS has hosted, and "possibly the person I look up to the most as a performer."
DeWolf grew up as a Baptist Christian, and his youthful belief was so fervent that he passed out pamphlets on the impending apocalypse. But now he checks "athiesm" on survey boxes. "I refuse to waste another day speculating on somebody else's theology that they're going to pre-package and hand to me," he says.
As the creator and host of the slam poetry vaudeville show Tourettes Without Regrets, which attracts over 400 attendees each month at the Oakland Metro Operahouse, DeWolf has plenty to keep himself occupied. But lately he's been taking on even more projects, like the full-length film Smoked, about a botched cannabis-club robbery, which he starred in, wrote, produced and directed. He's also made several short films based on his poems, and teaches creative writing classes.
Slam poetry isn't for everyone, but it can be a perfect creative outlet for those seeking release. "A poetry slam is a place for people to share their voices, the things they thought nobody would ever want to hear," says Sage. Part written word, part performance art, slam poetry is controversial, emotional and often angry. Poems are more in the style of Chuck D than T. S. Eliot. This fits DeWolf like a tailored sheepskin suit, allowing him to walk around unnoticed in everyday life until he reveals his sharp teeth onstage with violent tirades, brutal honesty, intense vulnerability and Ginsu-like sarcasm.
But no matter how much everyday invisibility may be an asset to DeWolf, the giant eye of Scientology is always keeping watch.