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A creative blog by Arthur Kegerreis on The Whole 9

Arthur Kegerreis – aka Liberal Art, aka Himat Singh – is interested in way too many things, although curiosity has not killed this cat yet. In LA for 14 years now, he has lived in NYC; VT; Amherst, MA; Santa Fe; Madison, WI; and grew up on Long Island. Arthur has been a cabinetmaker, guitar maker, Kundalini Yoga Teacher, Pilates instructor, graphic designer, composer, and playwright, though he now spends most of his time taking photos, writing songs, making video art, and building websites. Having fought his night-owlish tendencies all his life, he is fascinated by the creative process, so jump in and talk shop into the wee hours…or not.

Rob’s Laughing Heart

After I graduated from boarding school, I joined a handful of tortured fellow graduates who had formed an artists’ colony in Brooklyn. This was the year that Bob Marley died, John Lennon and Reagan got shot, we lost the former and got stuck with the latter. I use the term artists colony loosely; these were a third and diagonally adjacent fourth floor apartment, connected by a well-trafficked fire escape. They became crash pads for a constant stream of high school alumni trying to figure out how long they could put off deciding what to do with their lives. There was a dead TV in the oven. The walls were half-painted. The broken beer bottles remained as evidence of the nightly parties. There was a deaf albino cat named Mingus. Of course, there were roaches. Think of the movie “Mimic” or Patricia Highsmith’s “Trouble at Jade Towers” (dig it up – it’s worth it), and you might have the picture.

I ran into a neighbor in the hall, an old Irish lady in a bathrobe, and struck up a conversation. “Ow many people ya got livin’ up there? 10? 15?” she inquired. “You should tell those girls they shouldna go sunbathin’ up on the roof,” she instructed me, then leaned over and nearly whispered, “Somebody ‘ll rape ‘em and throw ‘em off!” Then she toddled down the hall and slipped into her apartment, like a roach into a wall.

Ah, the roof.

Yes, the roof was our salon. There would be easels with painters at work. The owner of the deaf cat hadn’t yet discovered that he was color blind, and his arrogantly self-effacing paintings all exhibited a strange palette of hues, laying testament to our skewed but lively lifestyle. Jam sessions with a constant stream of visiting musicians fueled the creativity, and yes, the girls were strewn about sunbathing.

Rob Gillespie, photo by Pam Newell

One day I entered the apartment, and Rob, a cynical but funny guy with a long ponytail, clad in an iconoclastic anti-prep de-riguer torn tweed blazer, was sitting by the window with a prized new book. He proceeded to rave about the Strand bookstore in Greenwich village, how he’d looked all over town for this book by Charles Bukowski, nobody had it, but the Strand did. He insisted I had to visit the Strand. He was astonished I’d never heard of Bukowski.

As he drank a beer from a paper container cup from the Park House bar at the corner, smoking a camel straight, he quoted Bukowski voraciously. All I remember now is the passage, “I always take a new job with the knowledge that I will either quit or get fired.” I didn’t like the poetry much, but I admired Bukowski’s spirit and the gall with which he espoused his ramblings as poetry.

As the year wore on, Mingus’s owner and I pushed everyone else out, cleaned the apartment up, painted it, and made it a rather nice place to live. Rob and a few others moved to another apartment down the street, where a similar parade of inhabitants constantly streamed through.

One day Rob walked into that apartment, saw two new guys in the living room, said “Hi,” and walked into the bathroom. When he came out, he discovered they weren’t visiting, they were robbing the place. They tied Rob up, put him in the closet, and stole the only things of value in the apartment; a saxophone and a typewriter.

Seven years later, I emerged from a secret gathering of misfits on the upper west side, picked up a copy of Interview magazine, and perused a larger-than-life Herb Ritts photo of Bukowski’s hideous face. “God, I hope I never end up like that guy,” I thought, before boarding the subway and heading into a new chapter of my life.

As the years progressed, like that apartment, those of us who survived cleaned up our lives and went on to various colleges or careers. Rob and I had never been close friends, but I heard that he had moved to San Diego, and hooked up with Amber, another girl from our high school. They had a son together. He became a Buddhist. Following a recent visit to that city, I realized I had stayed with another friend only a block from Rob’s home, but we only exchanged facebook connections after that.

Last Monday would have been Rob’s 50th birthday, but our friends discovered that he had taken his own life a month earlier. Apparently he had been sober for 20+ years, but had gone back to the cycle of drinking and trying to stop, had lost his job, and ultimately, lost hope.

I think the first time I heard Tom Waits it may have been in Rob’s dorm room – it’s all a blur now – but the album was “Nighthawks at the Diner.” It has always remained the quintessential Waits album to me.

Several months ago, I went to an art gallery in Santa Monica to see a friend’s show, and discovered that she was sharing the bill with Tom Wait’s daughter. Caught off-guard, I found myself a bit star-struck, and watched from a distance as the healthy looking Tom Waits carried on a seemingly clear-headed jovial conversation with a crowd of people, obviously happy for his daughter’s success.

Waits and Bukowski seemed to find the beauty in the darkness, and I think that’s why they resonated with Rob. Thanks old guy, for turning me on to them, and may your spirit find the beauty and peace we all seek.

Tom Waits Reads Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart:”

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I didn’t know Rob…but reading this, I almost feel like I did. What a graceful trip you’ve taken through Rob’s life. Thanks for sharing.

Fabulous reminisce! I love “Nighthawks at the Diner”, the shaggy dog stories and the way Tom laughs and goes, “heh heh…” at the end of a line, or blurts out a little “ownhhh…” One of the first movies I worked on after moving out to LA and graduating from film school was “Barfly”. Mickey Rourke made a great Bukowski. I was familiar with the man from his Beat connections, but I hadn’t discovered Fante up until then. “Ask the Dust”; now there’s a quintessential down and dirty LA saga, in good company with “Day of the Locust” and “Force Majeure”. Rourke made Bukowski seem funny, even sexy, but those guys’ writing always makes me feel jumpy, itchy, same way I get watching “Goodfellas” or reading Stone’s “A Flag For Sunrise”, or with most of Hunter Thompson’s stuff. Too much booze and bad acid and broken dreams. No, being at the end of your rope’s a terrible, desperate place to be, as your friend Rob testified. Not glamorous. No, not glamorous at all.

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story with us, one which resonates deeply within my own heart.

Thanks all. Danger, a friend of mine told me of a chaffeur who’d been hired to drive Bukowski to the set for the filming of Barfly. He showed up at Bukowski’s place as arranged, finding him asleep. After Buke pulled himself together, he instructed the driver that he didn’t want to go to the set yet, and instead they drove down to the south bay to a dive bar he liked. They spent most of the day getting soused there, and then eventually found their way to the set, to the amusement of the crew and director. I can barely remember that film anymore – I remember it being kind of depressing. But Rourke sure made an incredible career of those roles. Like “Spun.” Ah, poor Brittany. But yeah, a life of numbed pain isn’t glamorous at all.

Censorship, Ann Magnuson, Lisa Douglass, David DePalo and the KGB

I recently attended the WordPress conference in San Francisco, and amidst the barrage of tech info and blogging propaganda, I was unexpectedly moved by a young, amiable, barely intelligible man named Rinat Tuhvatshin. He runs a system of blogs in Kyrgyzstan, using the same software that The Whole 9 runs on. He seemed uncharacteristically jovial; my attention wandered, but the severity and reality of his story began to sink in, and I woke up. This was not a James Bond movie; this was real. Due to some simple blog posts, many people’s lives had been threatened.

Kloop Media Foundation offers the only vehicle for people to speak publicly about political views contradicting the reigning regime in the Kyrgyz Republic. During a recent election, one of his bloggers had spoken out about the party running for office. The blogger’s father was abducted by the KGB, and although the blogger escaped, he was warned that if he didn’t shut down his blog, his father’s life would be in danger. He shut down the blog. Not much later, the entire Kloop network was forced to shut down by the government, with death threats as well. A coup later overthrew the government, and the blogging victors were able to completely restore hundreds of blogs that voiced dissent, threatening the deposed party.

Frankly, I was embarrassed that although I’m rather well travelled, and was near his country during a summer vacation as a child, I still had absolutely no idea where it was.

I was also puzzled by his KGB references; I thought them an instrument of the former Soviet Communist party, no longer in existence. I gave my Russian friend Zoya a call, discovering that despite the existence of a new intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, many former Soviet citizens still disparagingly refer to it as the KGB. Kyrgyzstan is just south of Kazakhstan, the country made famous by the movie Borat, and it was hard not to imagine Sasha Cohen as I listened to the speaker’s less than humorous story. In reality, Kyrgyzstan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

In it, a national network of hundreds of blogs was built for a mere 70,000 Euros, offering a chance for both community and freedom of speech in the shadow of a government that sought to abolish both. As someone that’s always sought companionship among the most freakish and outlandish folks, the notion of censorship chills me to the bone, and the ability to “let my freak flag fly” has come to be something I pretty much take for granted.

Political censorship is a horrible thing, yet it’s pretty clear cut; you have an idea what the rules of behavior are. Personally, I’m starting to get rather bothered by the evolution of a newer form of commercial censorship that, while not life threatening, is completely arbitrary and hence exceptionally frustrating. Last month, actress Ann Magnuson’s Facebook page, which boasts well over a thousand fans, was shut down, without explanation. Musician and writer Lisa Douglass had a similar Facebook encounter last year, leaving nearly a thousand friends puzzled and perplexed. Another musician, David Depalo, had just proudly unveiled his new website online when he discovered that Google had deemed it potentially harmful to people’s computers. With one fell swoop, it was as though his site ceased to exist. Ironically, there was nothing threatening hosted on his site, even without his knowledge. In all these cases, the victims were able to get their sites back, but no explanation was ever given.


Ann Magnuson came across Sweet Apple’s visual recreation of the iconic Roxy Music album cover, below, and decided perhaps she better share her own earlier tribute to the album, the photo shoot pictured below.

Ann Magnuson’s Tribute to Roxy Music

In Ann’s case, it was surmised that her new profile picture, a recreation of a famous Roxy Music album cover, was deemed indecent by the Facebook clergy. I found this ironic as I’d had an advertisement for a call girl served up on the Facebook sidebar the night before, much to my surprise. Apparently Facebook finds it excusable to offer confidential personal information to advertisers as long as it has its clothes on.

I’m of that peculiarly American outlook that hopes people are innocent until proven guilty, and I believe both Google and Facebook have good intentions. I think people should be spared the indecency of visiting a website that could download harmful applications to their computer, and children shouldn’t be subjected to inappropriate sexual content, but I don’t think Facebook has made any effort to institute age appropriate security settings on their site, and arbitrary profile shut-downs are inexcusable, especially without subsequent explanation. Furthermore, the cases I mentioned were barely sexual in nature to begin with. Perhaps provocative, but there’s much more sexually explicit content all over Facebook. Google’s policy in China was commendable. Yet our public marketing and social personas now lie largely under the control of these commercial institutions, with no accountability to the public that relies upon them. The internet has grown from an information pipeline for military scientists into something as essential to social life as the telephone. (I could rant about the phone companies too, but that’s another post.)

Getting back to Russian “free trade,” one of my last surprising discoveries was that Putin had enlisted the efforts of Washington D.C. public relations giant Ketchum, Inc., to enable him to snag Time Magazine’s 2005 “Person of the Year,” ultimately hoping to bolster public support of his political policies because he ironically couldn’t achieve that from Russian efforts alone. The word from the capitalist Russian block is that it’s now the businessmen with the most money and influence who sway political decisions affecting whole countries like Kyrgystan, so ultimately, perhaps Google and Facebook aren’t that much different. When corporate interests dictate the rules for a society, online or not, the community’s best interests can ultimately not be served. Or can they? What do you think?

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Extremely well laid out and insightful. Because the interests of a community are usually so different than that of a corporation (whose main goal typically is to make money), I don’t believe it’s easy for a community’s best interests to be served when corporate interests dictate the rules.

Those who have the money tend to make the rules, which is unfortunate because corruption is often the benefactor of money.

With money at the heart of a corporation, I find it tough to serve both the needs of the corp and the best interest of a community, although there are amiable community driven corporations they are few and far between. As they say money talks, and while what may be the best interests of a corporation may wreck havoc within a community.

Cellist Maya Beiser

Years ago, when performing with a choir called Musica Viva in NYC, we encircled the congregation and sang a work by Palestrina. When we finished, I saw an old man sobbing. It struck me that music really does have the ability to touch a person’s heart unlike anything else, and I have long wondered if maybe that isn’t God, or some form of spirit, in action. Last Thursday I attended an intimate concert by the fabulous cellist Maya Beiser, and was on the receiving end of that sort of transmission.

After a frenzied scramble to find the new arts complex, the Casitas Theatre in Atwater Village, which houses two theater companies and a small performing hall, I took a seat and tried to catch my breath and discard thoughts of the pressing matters on my desk at home.

Maya emerged, clad in her usual stunning low-cut black leather ensemble, and sat down to play. No sooner had she played three notes than I thought, “uh oh… she’s cracking my heart wide open…” The piece was Osvaldo Golijov’s “Mariel,” which has haunted me from the first hearing. I made my best effort to choke back tears, and eventually realized I wouldn’t be able to win the fight.

Golijov “Mariel”

As she finished the Golijov work, a Mr. Nazarian, whom I believe arrived with a stunning blonde on his arm (Kristin Cavallari?) presented a certificate of recognition from from the City of Los Angeles to Maya Beiser for crossing cultural boundaries and bringing cultures together. Beiser’s work has a consistently humanitarian context, often fueled by travels to meet and learn from musicians around the world, sometimes in troubled countries. She was born and raised on a kibbutz in Israel, later attended Yale, and helped found the renowned new music ensemble, “Bang on a Can All-Stars,” which held pioneering 24 hour a day performances for ear-opening weekends in NYC in the late 80’s.

I first stumbled upon Beiser on MySpace a few years ago, when I saw her name and thought it familiar, some sort of déjà vu connection. Transfixed by the sounds on her page, I dug up her website, and saw she was due for a concert that month at UC San Diego, and attempted to reserve tickets when I realized the calendar was a year old. I periodically checked the site, and last year got to see her at UCSD for the first time.

At that small show in a lounge at the UCSD student union, I felt I had slipped into a dream, transported to a large gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a large wall looms just above the eye of the viewer so that you can’t see out the glass wall beyond it. I felt I had levitated and observed the view through the window, descending back into my seat as the music stopped, unable to recall exactly what I had seen, but changed by the vision nonetheless.

Thursday’s LA concert accompanied the release of her new CD “Provenance,” which features music by contemporary composers from Armenia, Kurdish Iran, Israel, and the US.  The title means origins, referring to both Maya’s personal history and the intertwining cultural traditions that course through the disc.

It included pieces from her previous albums, among them a multitrack piece written for her by Steve Reich, “Cello Counterpoint.” Many of her works rely heavily on recordings of her playing several parts, often with electronic processing, and she acknowledged her sound engineer to be her accompanist. As she returned for an encore, she performed her wildly rousing version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” arranged by Evan Ziporyn. Here’s a terrible quality video link, but it gives you an idea of the style of the arrangement. The album is available on iTunes or from her website.

Maya Beiser’s performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”

http://mayabeiser.com/
http://bangonacan.org/all_stars

http://www.musicaviva.org/

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This is incredible music! Wasn’t familiar with Maya Beiser before. Thanks Arthur!

Maya has posted an “official” version of the Kashmir video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6KMcwR43FE

She’s scheduled to appear at the TED conference next week as well.

Visionary Art: Pavel Tchelitchew and Alex Grey

Considering how much time I spend trolling art openings and museums, it’s rather amusing that so little art actually evokes a visceral response from me. Many pieces are intellectually interesting, of course, but nothing really seizes my by the neck and shakes me to the bone. With a couple of exceptions…

One chilly dark night, years ago, I wandered through New York’s East Village, in an even darker mood. Nothing was going right in my life, it seemed, and somewhere between the avenues of self-pity and depression, I found my way into a small bookstore. On a table there, I began to page through a book of semi-psychedelic pseudo-medical illustrations, showing auric fields emanating from people, their chakras, and the typical veins and bones you’d expect to see in scientific illustrations — if the illustrations were copulating, praying, meditating, and wandering through outer space. Something began to change in my mood. I couldn’t explain it, but I began to realize there was a whole world beyond my clouded little problems. By the time I’d paged through to the end of the book, my whole attitude had been transformed. It was perhaps the first time I’d actually seen physical visualizations of the chakras and energy fields around our bodies, although I’d frequently heard them discussed. The artist was of course, Alex Grey. He’s not to some people’s liking, but I really felt an impact on my whole perspective just from reproductions in a book.

By sheer synchronicity, once I had relocated to LA, my good friends had arranged an exhibition of his work in their gallery. By the time of this opening, the impact of Grey’s paintings had diminished for me, but standing amidst them in the gallery, I was awestruck. Meeting the artist, I just found there wasn’t really anything I could say because I was so deeply moved. But I wanted to know more about him.

Grey has written a book on his artistic process, and recorded a tape of dialogues discussing the evolution of his work, entitled, “The Visionary Artist.”  He frequently gives artist’s workshops at Esalen and the Omega Institute. His work was spanned a wide gamut, from the dark photographic documentation of the decay of a dog he accidentally ran over to workshops designed to unite inner city kids in artistic collaboration. Psychedelic experiences play a large role in his life; he met his wife during an acid trip. While working as a medical illustrator in a morgue, he poured lead into the ear of a decapitated head (apparently a common procedure) and actually became haunted by the head’s spirit. This experience so deeply moved him that it opened up a whole realm of spirituality in his artwork. He’s a rather devout Buddhist.

Standing in the midst of a tryptych at the gallery, I found myself speechless in the middle of a crowd. I had felt that deeply moved only once before, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. As I reached the end of the historical evolution of modern art on the second floor, before emerging into the lobby, a huge painting by Pavel Tchitichew, entitled “Hide and Seek,” loomed ominously. An enormous tree stretches into veiny arms, framing faces, and in its truck, a girl looks up into the trunk, a baby emrging between her legs. The painting is rather large, perhaps 6 feet square. Unlike Monet’s water lillies, there were no benches to sit on to try to digest the complexity of this overwhelming work. So I plopped down on the floor in front of it, transfixed, and probably stayed there a half an hour gaping. Then I returned again and again to the museum, to see it.


“Hide and Seek”

Hide and Seek was inspired by a tree Tchitchicew saw at an English estate during a visit in 1936, but it was nearly 6 years later that he began the painting, which took three years to complete. It is the second of a projected tryptych, following Phenomenon. The third was never completed. Phenomenon was ultimately gifted to a museum in Moscow, which apparently was rather non-plussed to receive it.


“Phenomenon”

Who was Thitchicew?  And how the heck do you pronounce his name? (“Chitch a’ Chef.”) A Russian painter, he emigrated to the US in the early 20th Century, and spent a good deal of time in Paris and Italy. He was friends with Gertrude Stein, who was a big supporter of his work. He was good friends with Balanchine and Diagalev, and painted portraits of them and contributed many of their stage sets. He was somewhat excluded from Getrude’s roundtable circle because of his homosexuality. The excuse given by curators for him not getting more attention is that they don’t know how to categorize him, or where he fits in the canon of modern art. MOMA apparently no longer exhibits Hide and Seek, following their renovation. The excuse is its large size and lack of context.

Hide and Seek is hallucinogenic. But there’s no mention of drug use in his history. Phenomenon isn’t nearly as psychedelic; in fact, it’s nearly a realistic montage. His other works vary enormously in style; some seem to be pale imitations of geometric constructivist photo illustrations by El Lizzetsky.

Check out MOMA Think Modern Lecture Podcast: “Brown Bag Lunch Lecture | Popular Favorites and Critical Disdain: From Pavel Tchelitchew’s Hide-and-Seek to Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World” on iTunes.

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Sometime in the mid 90’s, a couple old friends of mine who I’d stayed in touch with from the early Haight Ashbury days took me to a special event in NYC. It was a ‘full moon ceremony’ in a place called the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. That’s where I got turned on to, and blown away by, the amazing art of Alex Grey. In the small gallery/theater space while listening to improvised sufi dervish music performed by Terry Riley (on synthesizers and his vacuum cleaner-driven harmonium along with a couple members of the Kronos Quartet), I was transfixed by Grey’s large, electrifying paintings that literally glow off the walls. I felt all the angst and fatigue from a decade of career building hyper activity melt away and was filled with a serene, transcendent feeling I hadn’t felt in years. What Alex Grey captures and communicates is the awesome, mystical vision that can, under the right circumstances, be experienced during a psychedelic trip. It reawakened in me memories of the kind of cosmic oneness I hadn’t been much in touch with since those early days of dropping sunshine and ingesting psilocybin mushrooms. The times when I’d had the good fortune to experience such miracles as the incremental second by micro-second revelation of a world emerging from darkness, as witnessed over the course of a sunrise from the edge of Maui’s Haleakala crater or while meditating amidst the swirling mists atop Jamaica’s Blue Mountain.

I’ve read that at Harvard Med School, Grey spent several years studying anatomy and dissecting cadavars and you can see this in the intricate interior lines of his human figures. He also, like many of us at the time, engaged with the stronger, purer forms of lsd and mescaline that were available then (some of which was being manufactured by Harvard chemistry students). Although he’s part of that long history of visionary art which reaches from William Blake through Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Arik Brauer, Ernst Fuchs, Mati Klarwein (Santana’s Abraxis), Robert Venosa and many others, Grey’s work is unique. In fact he’s helped inspire a whole new wave of ‘psychedelic’ artists like Amanda Sage and Oleg A. Korolev. Many don’t realize that he’s not just a painter, but also a sculptor and creator of installations and performance art pieces as well.

Thanks Arthur for writing about him!

Pavel Tchelitchew has some things in common with Alex Grey, notably his anatomical depictions of the skinless human body. I remember when I first saw “Hide and Seek” as a child at MOMA. I was profoundly traumatized. It was the most viscerally terrifying image I’d ever seen and I had nightmares from it. Later in life I’ve come to appreciate the techinical and emotional complexity of this painting, but it still fills me with fear and dread. Maybe it’s the gaping expressions of the children or maybe the lurid, sickly green and red tonalities Tchelitchew prefers. Where I see Alex Grey presenting the human body as the container for a finely tuned, luminescent nervous system, Tchelitchew seems to revel in the primeval gush and goo of internal organs and fluids. For me, Grey expresses the transcendant oneness of life as pure, sentient energy in harmony with the universe. Tchelitchew, on the other hand, shows us the heaving, viscous decay of conscious flesh as it slips toward death. Maybe it was the horrors of war, or a certain surrealist perversity that took him in this direction. One thing’s for sure; there’s no doubting the power of his painting (which at one time was considered on par with Picasso, Chagall, Braque and Leger).

Thanks for your comments! I’ve wanted to visit Grey’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors for ages now, but haven’t had the chance. A friend said she went to a New Year’s Eve event there last winter. I had the impression it had only recently been completed, though. What is Terry Riley’s vacuum cleaner driven harmonium like? Does the vacuum make noise as part of it’s effect? Sounds like an amazing visit.

I’ve been very interested to see him work in 3D animation; he’s mentioned that he’s experimented a bit with CG animators, but just beginning to explore that field.

And, yes, Pavel’s paintings frequently seem to have a disturbing quality to them – even the ones that at first appear joyful and frivolous.

Not 90’s; my mistake making revisions to a previous version of the comment, should have said mid 2000s, think it was 2005). I believe the original chapel was open for a number of years in NYC but was moved in 2009 to a retreat area somewhere north of the city. The vacuum cleaner motor sucks air through the reeds rather than the player pumping air by using foot pedals attached to bellows. The motor is built into the harmonium (there wasn’t a separate, stand- alone vacuum cleaner, although that would be kind of fun). I don’t recall it making much noise beyond a bit of electrical whirr, quickly lost in the room full of sound and echoes. I believe the motor does allow you to play the keys faster and with less effort, but I’m no expert in the mechanics of harmoniums.

“I have this great idea for a piece, but I haven’t started it yet.”

“I think I just threw up a little in my throat,” I confessed. “Perhaps you’re having a physical response to the question?” the man sitting with the clipboard suggested. He hadn’t asked me to tell him about my mother, but had inquired about a stymied musical project that really meant a little too much to me to actually work on. Julia Cameron says the need to make perfect art makes it impossible to make any art at all, and I think that was the factor at play.

When we have a project and it’s stuck, she says it’s easy to give in to the internal voices that claim we’re lazy. Procrastination isn’t laziness, but fear, she suggests; often somewhere along the line the fear that we’ll be abandoned if we finish something. Not sure what I think about that, but it’s food for thought, and certainly a common concern for writers. An actress friend of mine has a great sweatshirt that proclaims, “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” Thanks for the warning.

So how do you get past a block? Cameron’s cure is simple in concept, but harder to put into action; list all your fears about the project and anyone connected with it, list all your resentments about it, any and all lingering fears and resentments after you’ve listed those, and then really ask yourself, “what do you stand to gain by NOT doing the work?“(Chew on that one for a while!)  She calls this “Blasting Through Blocks” and guarantees it’ll do fatal damage to any creative block. Somehow I find this does tend to start eroding the walls when they come up. The next step is just to sit down and actually start doing the work, which is often the hardest part of the process. Somebody said Mencken was asked if he only wrote when he was inspired, and he responded, “yes, but for me, fortunately that inspiration comes when I sit down to write.”

One of my most memorable music composition classes had very little to do with actual musical technique. A student said (and this was a grad seminar, mind you) “I have this great idea for a piece, but I haven’t started it yet.” The teacher opened his mouth to say something, caught himself, then smiled, and nodded his head. All the students turned and looked at each other in a mixture of knowing and arrogant scorn.

The challenge of any creative field is that of actually creating the product, turning the idea into something tangible. Until we do that, an idea is just an idea, like that imaginary screenplay your barista is working on. Last I checked there isn’t an academy award for “best idea for a screenplay.” Even conceptual artists need to give form to their ideas to communicate them. But the ego loves to both gloat and complain about product, and is often our least helpful ally. I think blocks all boil down to ego. It’s not until we dive into the creative water that we can experience the joys of our artful swim. Get wet. That’s where the fun is. Chick Corea wrote a little book that is nothing but a reminder that music should be play – that’s why we play music. I think that holds true in any creative field.

Do you get blocked? What gets you past it?

Echoes of a Nervous Breakdown: Music and Spoken Word

Just back from a great performance at “the Echo” club in Echo Park. I’ve never considered myself a big fan of spoken word performance, but lately find myself repeatedly wowed by performers in this genre – and it’s “National Poetry Month.” If you inexplicably find yourself speaking in rhyme, you’ll know why. Mention of  poetry brings something like Emily Dickenson to mind; NOT my speed, even if I used to hang out near her museum-home and party on the lawn.


Rich Ferguson
is the antidote to every silly fluffy rhyme in poetry. Rich is like the energy that rushes through you when you get off the bus at Port Authority in NYC and find yourself running down the sidewalk barely noticing all the grime and dirt around you, wondering if the guy at the corner up ahead is gonna mug you, and then you look up and notice there are palm trees and you’re in LA; there are gang-bangers on one side of you, a police car on the other side, you’re not sure which to look out for, and suddenly in the midst of that, it suddenly occurs to you what a dazzlingly beautiful day it is. His sidemen were the perfect complement to his high energy trance-like rants; his drummer Butch, currently playing with Lucinda Williams and co-founder of the Eels, knocked out some solid kick-butt grooves and carried another number off with a small hand drum that he played almost like a tabla; the keyboardist Edan Mason created some amazing soundscapes with a bunch of small boxes and vocal controllers, at times evoking pitched digeridoo sounds from his keyboard. Collectively, the group is called “Qualia.” Wikipedia reports: “Believers in qualia are known as qualophiles; non-believers as qualophobes.”

1 Giant Leap: Bombardment Excerpt

Rich first came to my attention in the amazing “What About Me? 1 Giant Leap” project. English musicians Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman recorded a bunch of tracks on a laptop computer, and travelled the globe adding the talents of a variety of musicians in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, India, Nepal, Sikkim, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Among the artists were Dennis Hopper, Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Stipe, Robbie Williams, Eddi Reader, Tom Robbins, Brian Eno, Baaba Maal, Speech, Asha Bhosle, Neneh Cherry, Anita Roddick, Michael Franti, and Zap Mama.

Musical tracks were intercut with interviews about life and spirituality in all the cultures they visited; the theme was “Unity Through Diversity.” The seamless audio-visual montage was breathtaking and inspiring. People call it a documentary, but it’s more progressive than most films in that genre. At a screening in Topanga Canyon, Rich performed and I first met him there.

Here’s one of the tracks from that show:
RichFerguson: Los Angeles Book of the Dead

The Echo Park show was presented by “The Nervous Breakdown,” an online culture magazine featuring the work of writers and artists from around the world.

Author Janet Fitch, best known for “White Oleander,” read from a punk rock novel set in Echo Park in 1980. Steve Abee, a poet and local teacher, recited a piercing intonation of a selection from his book of poems, “Great Balls of Flowers,” inspired by a student whose parents had both committed suicide. Poet Ellyn Maybe – whose name originated because she was shy at poetry readings and often wrote “maybe reading” next to her name – presented a work from her “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.” Each reading closed with a series of questions from the co-hosts Milo Martin and Lenore Zion such as, “Toilet paper: folded or scrunched up?” (“Never have time to fold it. Scrunched definitely.”)  The co-hosts also presented some ruminations regarding genetic capability in asparagus urine odor detection. The show opened and closed with performances by “50 Cent Haircut” – a blues/rock/country hybrid with some great guitar players.

Tongue and Groove at the Hotel Cafe
If spoken word events are your cup of tea, you definitely want to check out Conrad Romo’s monthly “Tongue and Groove” event at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. Past events have featured a bevy of exceptionally moving talented authors and musicians.
The next one is apparently April 25th, from 6-7:30PM, featuring PEN Emerging writers Monica Carter, Natashia Deon, Lorene Garrett, Simone Kang, and Bev Margennis. Check with the Hotel Café before attending though; some of the website postings are out-of-date and the café calendar stops on the 24th. Or call Conrad: 323.937.0136.

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just read patti smith’s book ‘just kids.’ really awonderful read. she got her start reciting poetry.

Miracles and Everyday Life

“There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Miracles abound in everyday life. Sometimes we just don’t want to admit it. We call it luck, synchronicity, chance, and even fate. From things as seemingly minor as finding a parking spot when we’re late to an appointment and the streets are full, to the recovery of a loved one from a seemingly terminal disease, the miraculous permeates our lives.

In 2001, in the wake of 9/11, I boarded a New York-bound plane carrying my bass, en route to my father’s hospice in a terminal cancer hospital in the Bronx. I’d been told he had less than a week to live. The steward on the America West plane didn’t seem to think I should be allowed to store my bass in the overhead bin, and I gave him a piece of my mind, getting me kicked off the plane. An overnight stay in Phoenix wasn’t my idea of a good time, but I was travelling on one hour of sleep after the short-notice departure, and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Well rested, I was given a first-class ticket, and a complimentary “free flight” from the airline (which I chose to sell, as I’d never take the airline again.) The evening’s rest gave me time to reflect on the gifts my father had given me over the years, and when I finally saw him, I was able to share these thoughts with him. He rallied and lived another 4-1/2 months, a painful time I was able to share with him in the hospital. My mom and I were both with him when he finally passed away. During those 4-1/2 months an endless stream of miraculous synchronicities occurred; among them, one of my closest friends was losing his mother to cancer in NYC at the same time, I was serving as an example to another friend who needed to make some life changes beyond his realm of comprehension, and lots of small “treats” occurred; encounters with celebrities, concert attendances, museum visits — experiences of the beauty of life around me.

Miracles are, at a simple level, just events that happen beyond our realm of comprehension and belief. I think I heard that from yoga teacher Guru Singh, and he probably got it from Yogi Bhajan. If you read “The Autobiography of a Yogi,” you’ll find endless accounts of miraculous stories, many similar to the miracles that Jesus was reported to perform. Miracles happen whether we accept and believe them or not. Sometimes we’ll get stuck in traffic, thinking the worst luck has struck us, and then later discover that if we’d gotten on the freeway minutes earlier, we might have been in the traffic-stopping accident ourselves. The stories of those who for some unknown reason didn’t make it to work at the WTC on 9/11 come to mind.

There’s a zen story of a poor farmer with only one horse; the horse escapes and runs away. The neighbors attempt to console him, to which he replies, “maybe good, maybe bad. Who knows?” The horse returns with a herd of wild horses, making him the richest man in the region. The neighbors again remark on his good luck. “Maybe good, maybe bad,” he responds. His son goes riding on the horse, falls and breaks both his legs. The neighbors attempt to console him again; “maybe good, maybe bad,” he says again. Then all the young men in the region are drafted to go to war – except his son with the broken legs, and they all die in battle. “Maybe good, maybe bad.”

Where are the miracles in your life today? What amazing things happened in your life yesterday without any effort on your part? Once you begin looking, you may find them everywhere.

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What a wonderful perspective, I myself have lost many in my life and it really does come down to realizing that life itself is a miracle.
Even my own life is a miracle, events beyond my control have taught me something each day, sometimes when we get frustrated and take a moment to breathe and rest we realize life works out and as you said miracles abound we just have to take the time to be still.

haha. your farmer and the runaway horse story reminds me of that barber bit in the old show heehaw where the barber tells a story and the patron says either ‘well that’s good’ or ‘well that’s bad.’ always the opposite. contradiction. and a great blog. love the stuff about your dad.

Veronika Krausas / LA Sonic Odyssey

“I have a ping-pong ball in my stomach,” declared the young girl. Her sister responded, “I ate my gerbil floating in the Atlantic.” They giggled, and noticed me eavesdropping. “We’re making random sentences,” they explained. Their father laughed along with them as we waited for the intermission to end. They had just finished enthusiastic air-drumming performances inspired by the drummer who had finished a performance by thrusting his drum stick through the head of his drum. The concert wasn’t a Who revival, but a performance of the works of composer Veronika Krausas at USC.

University faculty performances are, in my opinion, the hidden secret of the music world. The caliber of the music aside, where else in LA can you see men in tweed jackets and red bow ties who aren’t playing a role in a period movie?  Many of LA’s top contemporary musicians were in attendance at this performance, which partnered the musicians with projected photography, actors, and gymnasts.

Many of the works had Canadian themes, reflecting the composer’s birthplace. Four of the works were set to texts by Canadian writer Andre Alexis. Photography by Canadian Thaddeus Holownia and American James Jacobson accompanied two of the works.

Krausas is a pre-concert lecturer for the LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall, and she interviews composers before the consistently astounding “Green Umbrella” contemporary music series there. She is on the composition faculty at USC.

The opening work, “from easter,” was purportedly structured as an English mass – but described as a rural Ontario community that sacrifices children to ensure a good harvest! It began with a percussionist Nick Terry smashing glasses into a trash can, transitioned into textural vibraphone and woodblock ostinatos melded together with french horn and bass, and featured an operatic interpretation by mezzo soprano Debra Penberthy. Marc Lowenstein conducted the ensembles throughout the evening.

In “wilderness,” an actor in a lumberjack-like costume performed texts describing  a woman’s dreams; immigrating to Canada and being required to wear a porcupine if she wished to enter the country and didn’t have her papers (“an erotic dream”). It Featured a remarkable performance by Kristy Morrell on french horn, whom I later discovered to be related to the children I met at intermission.

“Five intermezzi for Snaredrum,” opened with the performer reciting poems while playing his drum, calling to mind a piece for solo double bass called “Failing,” in which the performer’s talent is taxed to the breaking point, requiring virtuoso playing and attention to the simultaneous spoken text; in “Failing” the expectation is that the bassist will fail to perform what is asked of him, and although that intention wasn’t an element here, the challenge still was. The recited poems included works by Kandinsky, ee cummings, Gwendolyn MacEwan, and Robert Lax. In the middle section of 5 intermezzi, the drummer performed an air drum solo as he vocalized the sounds of the drums. His final thrilling solo, again with recitation, used the real snare drum again and ended as he pierced the head of the drum with a drum stick, rousing the classical audience with hoots, hollers, and applause – and inspiring imitation by the children and adults in the audience during intermission.

“Stone,” followed the intermission, with gymnast Colin Follenweider, dancer Bianca Sapetto, narration by author André Alexis, and beret-clad acoustic-bassist-supreme Dennis Trembly. The stage was filled with strings of lights suspended by helium balloons. As the performers danced with the balloons, their movement mimicked the sliding plucked glissandos of the bassist, as the balloons lifted the strings of lights up into the air. The bassist transitioned into a long bowed solo, heralding an implied distant threat, (bringing to mind Tom Waits comment of his own bassist, “somebody’s been keeping him chained up somewhere…”) and lead into poetic commentary, awe-inspiring inverted splits by the dancers, and final percussive punctuations of the balloons being popped by the dancers.

Krausas has composed many works featuring under-appreciated members of the orchestral family. Her solo CD includes a work for the frequent object of musicians jokes, the viola, and another work featuring bassoon. Her writing for the bass was virtuosic, and Trembly rose to the challenge.

The final piece, “mnemosyne,” was for clarinet/bass clarinet, percussion, horn, and acoustic bass, and included projected images of toys, food, and text. At this point I began to wonder if the children ahead of me had written the text; “We have not seen earth in so long our constitutions were changing” “In January, father was poisoned.” “In March we ate our dog.” Then the less poetic, “DVD Player has encountered an error it cannot recover from.” The tech team did their best to bring the visuals back to life before the piece ended while the audience’s attention became completely focused on the musicians. A driving duet between the bass and drums ensued, amidst noises of crinkled sheet music, whispers, and intermittent recitations of the same texts by the performers.

Composer Morton Subotnick and choreographer Christine Lawson have complained that in many cases multimedia performances suffer from an imbalance; one element is a complete work and the other is simply layered onto the perfected composition, but Krausas seemed to achieve a well integrated and balanced partnership between all the elements of her works.

I passed through audience members waiting in the lobby to greet and praise the performers, emerging from the Newman Concert hall onto the sparsely populated Sunday evening USC campus, spectacularly lit by a full moon. The horn player emerged and warmly greeted the children and father I’d befriended, then I bid them adieu and headed home. Krausas is a composer to look out for.

http://www.veronikakrausas.com/
http://www.catalysisprojects.com/

An interesting interview with the composer is featured on Dorka Keehn’s wonderful “Keehn on Art” podcasts. It discusses a composition she wrote based upon the numerical codes used by perfumers to identify fragrances.

Recordings:
www.cdbaby.com/Artist/VeronikaKrausas

Mnemosyne:
http://www.musiccentre.ca/apps/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspItemDetails&buyItemsID=670

LA Sonic Odyssey
For those of you who are interested in electronic music, tonight and tomorrow LA Sonic Odyssey is presenting a concert of works at 8:00 PM at Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, 301 Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91103 ($20) These concerts feature rarely heard electronic music composers, exceptional musicians, and a multi-channel live mix. The exceptional pianist Mike Lang will be performing at these shows, which include works by founder Jennifer Logan, Curtis Roads, Christian Eloy, and Carl Stone

Here’s the story of a place called MOCA…

Here’s the story of a place called MOCA
That was struggling to get by on it’s own
It’s budget wasn’t gold, like the Getty
Here’s how things unfurled…

Almost every Angeleno knows MOCA has been going through substantial financial struggles over the last year, and they’re in the news once again. Perhaps as they say, there’s no such thing as bad press to gain attention. So Christopher Knight has a small farm animal up his tuckus about some recent developments there. No, that’s not the Christopher Knight who played Peter Brady in The Brady Bunch TV show; he’s the LA Times Art critic who’s had a long relationship with MOCA.

Lately Knight has reported the dirt about MOCA’s upcoming director, the leading NY-based contemporary art dealer Jeffrey Deitch. The controversy regards the fact that Deitch has announced he will still continue to sell art after taking the reins at MOCA. This is a practice the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors forbid. Museum sales can be manna from heaven for galleries, and the position’s responsibilities pose a conflict of interest. This is admittedly news-worthy information.

What I find a little more questionable are his complaints regarding tonight’s MOCA Contemporaries membership event at Blum & Poe in Culver City.
(MOCA shouldn’t be fundraising at a gallery, March 16, 2010)

Blum & Poe, the seminal Culver City gallery that paved the way for the new arts district 7 years ago, represents a number of artists who have had solo shows at MOCA, and played a substantial role in gaining Murakami’s US recognition, leading to a successful show for him at MOCA. The Contemporaries group doesn’t play a curatorial role for the museum, they are holding a membership event fundraiser; a fashion designer showcase, at Blum & Poe’s new 21,000 square foot space in Culver City tonight at 7PM.

The describe their mission: “MOCA Contemporaries is one of the Southland’s premier cultural support organizations that provides financial support for The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles through a variety of fundraising programs, and cultivates future leadership for the museum by nurturing the next generation of art collectors and community leaders.

MOCA Contemporaries events are usually quite well attended. At a recent event at Rush Street in Culver City, I exchanged cards with a young graphic designer, looked up her work online, and discovered that she actually WAS one of the Brady Bunch; she had played Cindy Brady and gone on to a successful design career. Tonight’s event promises to be worth checking out, and since it overlaps Gallery 9’s wine-tasting event at 6PM, you might really want to consider attending both!

MOCA Contemporaries BEST & BIGGEST membership event of the year…
Art Merges with Fashion
• A unique and amazing opportunity to join the Contemporaries with the chance to win eight men’s and women’s fashion designer items, each worth $400.
• Cocktails, appetizers, DJ, designer showcase raffle, wonderful exhibit at Blum and Poe’s new stunning space and of course a fab, fun crowd.

Blum and Poe
2727 S. La Cienega Blvd LA, CA
Thursday, March 25, 2010, 7:00pm – 10:00pm

and don’t forget Gallery 9’s event too:

Uncork the many faces of wine…
…with us as Whole 9 blogger and sommelier Allison Arbuthnot reveals five of her favorites. From a Zonin Lambrusco dell’emilia with just a bit of frizzante to a sweet and crisp Chateau St. Michelle Riesling, these wines of character are a perfect way to welcome spring.

They’re also a perfect complement to our Faces exhibit which you can wander through while you mingle with other creatives from The Whole 9 community and beyond.

Thursday, March 25, 2010
6:00pm – 9:30pm
$15 members/$20 non-members

Gallery 9
6101 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA

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Apparently there’s no such thing as bad press. After the LA Times article, the RSVPs for the Blum & Poe event jumped from 150 to over 1000, when MOCA Contemporaries had to close off the list.

Well said Arthur!

It’s saddens me that someone with a bone to pick decided it was a good idea to shoot the twice removed mother’s brother’s adopted volunteer stepchild who only visits on weekends to try and get his point across. This town needs more than one art critic.

I’m proud to say that the event was better for it though, thank you Arthur and to all of those who truely do their part to proactively support contemporary art and the community in positive ways that give with pure intention and allow others to learn and grow, not back door malaligned self serving politicing.

Chuck E. Weiss and the God Damn Liars

On the patio behind the Piano Bar in downtown Hollywood, people stood huddled under umbrellas in the drizzling rain. “This band is pretty good,” a young man exclaimed. He turned out to be returning from Hemp Con, ran a prescription Marijuana Shop in Orange County, and was a recording engineer. I mentioned I’d always heard about the band, knew the leader from Rickie Lee Jones’ song, “Chuck E’s in Love,” and was thrilled to finally see them. “Who’s Rickie Lee Jones?” he asked. I realized he was born around the time the song was released – and was now actually of legal drinking age. I began to feel… “more mature.”

Chuck E. Weiss seems to have legendary status as one of LA’s veteran musicians, and for years his band “Chuck E. Weiss and the God Damn Liars” had a regular gig at the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip. Eventually one of his musicians, Spider, relapsed from prolonged clean-time and died of a heroin overdose. The band rallied, but hasn’t been heard from on a regular basis for some time.

The free show at the Piano Bar drew a packed house on a Friday night, despite the downpour outside, and the band was in fine form. As I stood by the bathroom, a perch that offered an unobstructed view, a weathered looking man with a scarf thrown around his neck brushed by, and I thought him rather flamboyant amid the Hollywood crowd. Then after the break he joined the band on stage with his guitar, and a girl climbed atop the railing next to me, asking me to support her while she took a picture with her cel phone. “Who IS that?” I asked her. “It’s George Thorogood!” she exclaimed, stunned I didn’t recognize him. I broke into a wide smile.

George joined the band for two numbers, and then insisted on playing another one, although Chuck E. didn’t looked thrilled as he was upstaged again. Carlos Guitarlos also joined them onstage. As George returned to a bench in the corner of the bar, flanked by his wife and the girl photographer, the band really took off. Saxman Jimmy Roberts was the one who really impressed me. Finally, Chuck told the audience that since they’d been such a great audience, he was going to take everyone out to breakfast after the show, and they launched into the song, “You’re a God-damn liar.”

After the show, I stood in front of the bar on the street talking with the piano player. Chuck came out to pay him, and announced that the Piano Bar wanted to feature them on a regular basis as they discussed potentially good nights. Thorogood walked out of the bar with his wife and bid them good night. As he crossed the street, the pianist confided, “George stole Chuck’s wife. That’s her with him.” I watched them cross into the parking lot and realized there must’ve been quite a subtext to the performance.

Chuck E. Weiss and the G-d Damn Liars are returning to The Piano Bar on Saturday March 27 for 2 shows: 10pm-11pm & 11:30pm-1am
The Piano Bar, 6429 Selma Avenue in Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 466-2750

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Perhaps that’s why they’re called George Thorogood and the Destroyers ;)

Poor Chuck…always the bridesmaid and never the bride. ;)

He has a loyal following similar to that of Billy Vera and the Beaters, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack and Venice. Back when I was playing the clubs these guys were headlining up and down the strip. Talented bands that never got that huge break although Billy Vera did score a big hit and some cameo movie appearances.

Thanks for the club info~

R~