I saw Cornel West in a Borders bookstore here in Santa Fe, New Mexico when I was about 15 or 16 years old. He was squatting down holding an open novel somewhere in either the A or B section of Fiction. I still wonder who he had open. Maya Angelou? Isabelle Allende? William S. Burroughs? Jane Austen? I would bet anything it was a new edition of a James Baldwin book. I was familiar with some of Cornel West's writing, which was included in a book of social theory I had recently purchased. I was too shy to approach him and tell him I was a fan of his work. I realize now that he would have appreciated my Native heritage and my interest in jazz music over the fact I had read an excerpt from Race Matters.
I eventually read Democracy Matters in August 2015. Around that same time, I read Race Matters in a single sitting at the Java Joe's on Siler Road. These books really spoke to me, West referenced John Coltrane, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.; the work was a cohesive summation of everything that spoke to me in the contributions of these great men. One of the most important influences West had on me, actually comes from his Christianity, after reading these books, I began to see a lot of the Satanism and occultist trappings of my friends in the heavy metal, electronic music, and art scenes as ignorant.
There is this strain of thought in so-called LaVeyan Satanism that claims Witchcraft is psychodrama and intended to have merely an aesthetic and psychological impact on the practitioner, as LaVeyan Satanists are essentially atheist. In reality, the beliefs are a crutch for people who are perpetual teenagers and falsely see themselves as strong individualists, which they often are not, seeing as how the majority of popular culture has embraced their symbols and affectations. You can see pentagrams and candles and horned dancers in hip-hop videos as well as on movie posters in Hollywood. West caused me to reflect on why occultism has gone so mainstream and my current stance is that we are desperate. Spells promise love, wealth, and power, and embracing witchcraft is a way to quiet the desperation inside all of us as Americans, something that West touches upon over and over again in Democracy Matters.
With the majority of people relying on horoscopes, tarot readings, numerology, and witchcraft to make decisions and plan their lives; those of us living in reality have no choice but to find truth within and without; studying, creating, and living while not being bogged down by occult semiology or superficial burnings of incense and ritual cleansing. In essence, it is all bullshit, and West is more rational and coherent than any practitioner of the occult could ever hope to be. West really freed my mind up aesthetically, freed my attitude and allowed me to walk away from the Luciferian identified, the Satanists, the goths, the 40 year old pagans with dreadlocks and incense and lava lamps; the perpetual teenagers of our cultural wasteland. Many of us feel hopeless when these trappings are stripped of us and it takes a strong person to sit down and confront that hopelessness as themselves, which is what West's books are about, that confrontation of hopelessness, honestly and realistically.
Thanks, Cornel West.
I bought my first David S. Ware record when I was 16 years old. It was a CD actually. It was the album called Go See The World. It was mind blowing, I think it had just been released and it featured Susie Ibarra on drums. I was too young to understand it but I now look back on this moment and realize that I was holding my first copy of an album by Coltrane's torchbearer. Ware was a Cecil Taylor-alumnus and it completely shows in not just his playing, but also in the detailed and complicated improvisations of Matthew Shipp.
I soon became acquainted with albums like Godspelized, Surrendered, and Renunciation. These were at odds with the proclivities and limited worldview of the death metal and goth/industrial crowds I ran with through the early 2000s, but I still enjoyed them and I loved them. I know there are metal heads (but probably zero goth kids) who could dig his music. He creates this intensity that is akin to the hardest shredding on the planet. There is often a multitude of notes contained within a flurry, within an outburst, but it is achieved by way of improvisation. The improvisation and the imperfections inherent in an improvisation are what make his music exciting. Right now, we live in an era where everybody is so used to having their thoughts, actions, and ideas logged by surveillance, they remain afraid of saying anything. Ware is a model for the transcendence of this state of fear.
Noise music has attempted to achieve what he did, but the so-called freedom and non-music of noise is actually just obscured by distortion, it's about obscuring the surveillance. Ware put himself on a limb and it is up to us as humans in this epoch of the 21st century to achieve a similar openness in terms of our art. If we can't, we might as well keep waiting tables, keep scrubbing floors, and keep paying off debt, because that is where we belong.
Below is a video of a David S. Ware performance and the first 20+ minutes are just mind blowing. It's so beautiful. Enjoy.
The first time I ever showed art, as far as I can remember, I showed a piece inspired by David Hammons. I was about 25 years old and it was part of the first Meow Wolf exhibition at the old Hopewell space. I made a sculpture out of dreadlocks I had cut off my head the year before (yes, I know---wack), I strung them from the ceiling and underneath was a flower pot in which I had placed dry ice and a strobe light, then filled with water. The piece was titled "Gloryhole", hopefully I get to recreate it one day. Anyways, it was a straight David Hammons rip-off and the RISD kids thought it was a waste of space.
Hammons once noted that he wished he could create art like James Turrell's light sculptures, but do it in a distinctly black way. I think he has, not necessarily with light, but he has achieved this minimalist effect with materials that are about the African American experience, items like the shovel, the saxophone, liquor bottles, hair, grease, broken objects, and refuse. His work is the African American answer to minimalism, I read a commentary on him that noted that he takes one object and does one thing to it, and that is basically what his art is about. I think that's accurate in many instances, although he has certainly made some detailed work.
David Hammons has been immensely influential at different moments in my career, or journey as an artist. There was that initial showing with Meow Wolf, then there was the second show we did, Indoor Winter Activities, I had created 40 tissue roses (the kind guys make for their girls in jail on Valentine's Day), and then placed them inside this old beat up bass amp. I had set a Discman on top to play a cd of this really gentle ambient music that I made by time stretching music to about 400%. Much later, in 2015, I made paper collages and drawings using grease, kool aid, old magazines, comic books, and dirt, which reminded my Uncle of that part from Art School Confidential where they call that kind of work "Cy Twombly shit". From 2016 to 2018, I created a couple assemblages out of garbage, old porno flyers, scrapwood, dirt, oil paint, spray paint, acrylic, nails, screws, and old speakers, and electronics parts. Right now, I am creating things from nothing but scrap wood, trying to get at the minimalist wisdom of David Hammons himself. It's really difficult for me, if you have seen my other work, you will know what I mean.
Hammons was important because he taught me to make art with whatever I had available. I don't think he ever bought paints or bought paper or anything like that. A lot of the work of his I am familiar with was constructed from glue, bottles, wire, hair, or created by bouncing dirty basketballs across a surface. He truly is a genius. I am trying to get back to the essence of Hammons in my work at the moment. It's cultural but not really about accepting stereotypes or rejecting stereotypes, it exists somewhere in between or outside, which is what jazz was about. The underground, the cracks in the scales, or beginning phrases on the offbeats. His work is not perfectly measure or metered and it often is constructed from materials that have been degraded. It's truly remarkable. While I don't feel that he is as much of a hero to me as he seemed to be to my father, he still is an influence and he always will be.
When I first heard Drexciya, what I loved was how absent but also ever present identity was from their music. I never really thought of Gerald Donald, James Stinson and DJ Stingray as being African-American. After looking under the hood of their music, noting the funk influences and the mythology, which has been labeled a sort of "Afrofuturism", I became fascinated with the power of Detroit underground in general. The minimalist aesthetic of their albums and music and relative anonymity of their press releases are classic and iconic representations of what techno music originally was, something that was intended to be anti-celebrity and anti-corporate.
I see these pioneers of Detroit techno as being kindred spirits, embracing instruments that were British, European, and Japanese in origin (i.e. Roland, Oberheim, Korg etc), abandoning the norms of other Detroit music (guitars, organs, acoustic drums). I relate this experience, being Native American and having defied the expectations of my Navajo and Pima family, embracing influences along the lines of Nietzsche and Bataille as much as I have rejected the water drum and the sweat lodge.
Drexciya's inclusion of a personal mythology makes the music that much more special and fascinating as a whole. Many of their records have these aquatic references and underwater themes, I think this particular type of personal reinvention is essential for negotiating these times we live in, where an emphasis on identity has been taken to the levels of toxic pride, group think, and collective narcissism; all fueled by semiocapitalist marketing tactics and memes. Identifying as an individual and building a world up inside oneself is more important than ever. Drexciya developed this personal myth about an underwater species and their albums revolved around that mythology. It's a sublime metaphor for what Drexciya may have wished for themselves and for what they actually were, a pair unique underground musicians.
James Stinson died in 2002.
I've included this link to a great mini-documentary on the Detroit scene.
two I am trying to recall the first Eric Dolphy LP I purchased, I am certain it was from Ear Shot records on Montezuma in Santa Fe, NM. I am not entirely sure but I think it was Vintage Dolphy. It has that awesome, iconic picture of him on the cover, where he looks like a Pharoah or wizard. There are always a number of individuals where you say to yourself, "What if he had lived?"
Eric Dolphy is one of those few, like what if Hendrix lived? Or Charlie Parker? Or Ritchie Valens? Dolphy is like that, too. Dolphy laid the foundation for many alto saxophonists that followed. I see Dolphy as an important influence on both Anthony Braxton and John Zorn, artists who have diverged and converged multiple times over a period of 40 some years. I can only imagine what Dolphy might have worked on had he lived through the 70s and 80s. His death was unexpected and early, the victim of a heart attack brought on by diabetes.
Dolphy got up early every morning so he could log in several hours of practice before his day began. Dolphy comes from a generation where abilities were valued over possessions and materialism. Dolphy was not materially wealthy, but his spirit and his art was rich. For every consumer who ignores his work, there are hundreds who create themselves and happen to love his work. Those of us who have retained that drive to rise early and practice, relate to his work ethic. Some people learned to lie at a young age and logged in 10,000 hours of lying to their parents, maybe they are CEOs now, maybe they are in prison. Dolphy logged in 10,000 hours of experience on the flute, the bass clarinet, and the alto saxophone. And his work has lived on into the 21st century and he is a respected heir to the likes of Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus.
I always earn admiration for someone who recognizes Dolphy's image without consulting Google, or without asking anyone who that is, because it shows a true appreciation for art and for true music. I think jazz music was the first truly underground music and whether or not someone appreciates underground hip-hop or indie rock or whatever, just ask them about the Beatles and the Stones and Dolphy and Mingus, the way they guide the conversation will reveal everything about their understanding of American culture. All of these artists were working in the same epoch, but Dolphy and Mingus were not actively promoted by mainstream recording companies.
Afterall, am I fucking British? Or am I fucking American?
Making Universal Raw Shit. MURS.
Making Underground Real Shit. MURS.
I saw MURS live in 2010 at the Bluebird in Denver. Sick Jacken opened. My girlfriend was crazy about MURS and said to me, "I'd fuck MURS." It was hilarious. As it turned out, she'd fuck anybody, but that is a different blog post altogether. MURS spit a rhyme dissing somebody and pointed his fingers at me when he delivered it. It was pretty intense. Fuck. I got dissed by MURS.
I love his music. God's Work. After Hours (fuck Anticon). Lookin' Fly. His music is inspiring to be honest. I also really dig his project The White Mandigos. It is the best fucking punk rock I have ever heard. His collabs with Tech N9ne are just legendary. He's one of my favorite emcees.
My favorite project of his was his collaboration with Terrence Martin and ironically, he mentioned in an interview it was his favorite album he did, but nobody liked it. I got dissed by MURS. It's No Surprise is my favorite song. I dropped that anthem at a Zozobra party in Santa Fe that I was dj'ing back when I was doing things with Meow Wolf and that track killed the club. It just drew people onto the dance floor and then they stayed there. Thank you, MURS.
I got dissed by MURS. Oh, and he's sick because he mentioned that he reads and prefers biographies, nonfiction, novels, and lots of newspapers, and one comic a day. I thought that was one of the dopest admissions in rap music. I hate the thug and baller mentality and the thrift store expensive aesthetic of MURS is truly extensive. Thank you, MURS.
I was exposed to Basquiat's work very early on in my life. As a child, my father told me about him, comparing the way I drew Universal Monsters characters to Basquiat's drawings, explaining that the artist often left drawings laying all over his studio and just walked over them, leaving tell-tale smudges and grime on their surface. Through high school, I read about him and developed my own obsessions with a number of his heroes: Max Roach. Charlie Parker. Dizzy Gilespie. Miles Davis. Learning their licks and themes and improvising over the progressions from their compositions.
I think my familiarity with Basquiat's art made it an easy transition towards studying jazz guitar. As an influential figure in art, Basquiat is arguably the greatest American artist who ever lived, often appearing in discussions of art alongside Caucasians like Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Keith Haring, and Jackson Pollock. His work can be read so many different ways, as a massive critique of high culture and elitism, a sweeping dismissal of capitalism and the 80s as a whole, as the struggle of a black man who has grown up in a society that accepted the beatings of African Americans, as an artist who was functioning on the cusp of the end of a golden era and the beginning of cultural decline and eventual collapse.
His paintings are provocative and often confront racism directly. I've often insensitively joked that his short career can be divided into three stylistic periods: cocaine, heroin, and speed balls, respectively corresponding to his early period (child-like raw expressionist canvases with no text), his middle period (intricate text and collage alongside his distinct figures), and his late-period (which was very sparse in comparison to his earlier work, and includes the Eroica paintings).
I've included a number of links to quite a bit of content. He was incredibly influential when I began working and I purposely imitated him as best as I could when I began painting. It was how I learned. I caught a lot of flack for it, but I knew I had to do it as I had no other role models as an artist and his outsider status was very relatable to my own (self-taught, disabled, bisexual, arrest record). I made my last Basquiat inspired canvas in September or October of 2016 and I learned a lot from imitating his work, particularly basic skills like working with oil stick, acrylics, brush selection, spray paint, collage, gesso, raw canvas, and so forth. He's important and if he is not the greatest American artist who ever lived, he is at least the most important artist to have worked in the last 40 years. There is a good reason why his art sells for so much, each painting is completely one of a kind and there can never be any others like his.
Composer, Artist, Writer