I have come to believe that people pray to God not because One exists, but because our Ego does. I believe Prayer works because it takes our most naturally destructive energies (intention, will, hope, judgement, etc.) and channels them outward, rather than back toward ourselves where they do the most damage.
During the mid to late 80’s I was in school full time for graphic arts, along with a permanent side track for Grateful Dead tour whenever possible. I was also one of those people who occasionally sold things in the parking lot at those Dead concerts. Sometimes I sold food, but more often than not I sold art-related things, shirts and posters mostly.
Back in the spring of 1988 I had started working on an idea for a t-shirt based off of a line in the song “The Eleven” by the Grateful Dead. The words as they are sung are, “Six proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow”. I absolutely love the imagery of those words. Robert Hunter was by far the biggest influence to my writing. He had a unique ability to invoke powerful imagery, yet somehow leave the images formless so that they must be completed by the imaginer. Upon his death I posted this small, simple haiku that reads so plainly as to escape detection for the art it is meant to be. It was my personal ode to my mentor, and a master wordsmith. Simple, honest words, polished like a golden bowl – the finest ever seen.
Back to the shirt… So, I conceived of a piece of art. It would be bordered on all sides by ivy. And then, coming from the back and arcing toward the front would be the rainbow, but like a bridge being traversed by the walkers themselves. Each walker would be carrying a hand bell, shouting their message to the rooftops. All but one walker, he alone carried the jingle bells. It was an homage to an old friend who himself had to leave this world just to be able to once again walk the jingle bell rainbow.
Now, about the walkers themselves… Since it was the 80’s I drew a lot of eyeballs, little eyeballs with arms and legs. Yep, that was my thing. Most of the eyeballs in this piece looked pretty much the same, except for two of them. One of those two stood out in the crowd, he leans on a cane and has donned an Uncle Sam hat. There he stands, one foot on his soapbox, preaching his word to all who will listen. Every parking lot had a few of these folks, spreading their philosophy like Vegemite. The remaining eyeball was my friend Ken, his pate wrapped snuggly in a bandana, hawking some t-shirt in the parking lot (in my mind, it was the very shirts I was drawing).
Having letters that spelled out “Six proud walkers on the jingle bell rainbow” were also a part of my concept. Done in 60’s concert poster style, the letters snake and intertwine, leading the eye to new places.
When I came up with the design, I didn’t have the ability to do multicolor screen prints, but I could create single color screens. So, using what I had I decided to make the art to be a black and white line-art base that I would screen print onto the shirts first, adding additional color on top later. You can’t have rainbows in black and white!
Eventually, what I ended up doing was to using my airbrush to individually spray each individual color into the piece. Each leaf in the ivy had to be sprayed in green. Each color of the rainbow had to be sprayed along the arc of my rainbow road, each in perspective, hopefully coming from smaller point and getting larger as I went. And while I was spraying all that color onto my rainbow, I wasn’t supposed to be spraying it all over those cute little eyeball dudes walking along my rainbow road. In order to get around that problem, I tried to fashion cutouts that I could place over each eyeball to protect them from getting painted as I sprayed away. It sort of worked with mixed results, but it was a huge pain.
I think I only ever made one or these two shirts that I was happy with. So, after giving up on that method of coloring the art, a tie dye artist friend named Chris created some rainbow dyed versions, which certainly was in keeping with the spirit of the rainbow. But, in the end I sold a lot of black and white versions of the shirt. And after I had drawn it and made the screen, the original art was put in a portfolio and forgotten about, never to see the light of day again for another 32 years. In fact, until recently when my friend Andy sent me an old picture of him wearing one of these shirts (below is a blurry, partial shot of Andy wearing the black and white version), I hadn’t seen the art in decades.
Well, I was recently on one of those covid lockdown tangents/projects when I came across the original artwork for the “six proud walkers” piece in that old portfolio. I decided to scan it in so I would at least have a digital copy finally.
And then I got to thinking… You know, aside from one or two shirts that probably disintegrated decades ago, I never had a finished copy of this piece to keep. So dammit, with the help of technology I am currently airbrushing the color on to my black and white art as it was originally conceived to be done (see below, again). But I am also trying to do it in a way where I can be shared with others, and that maybe it will give a few other people a smile, I hope.
Every time I see woodcocks do that funky little walk, I can hear Shakedown Street in my head. So, I made this video. My hope is that now you’ll hear it in your head every time too!
If you like this, share it. It you want to, go ahead and steal it. It if made you smile, pass it on. We need more smiles right now!
avoidance of death
bottom rung floor
loath to be found
some ‘thing’ is left
shattered and empty
a moment is dawning
mind clear, eyes honest
lurching for morning
back in the blue
myth are reforming
until again I descend
horizon is calming
I saw Bohemian Rhapsody recently with some friends, and I loved it. I’m also old enough to have been around for the first time around. Long before it seemed necessary to immortalize it on the big screen as its own story.
Soon after I saw it, I found myself listening to an interview with Rami Malek as he discussed what it was like to attempt to portray Freddy Mercury, and it got me thinking. Imagine the process someone has to go through when they try to portray a primarily contemporary musical idol to their original audience, as well as a newer world. More than that, someone who was such an absolutely massive personality. I mean, Freddy Mercury was, if nothing else, a man with a huge presence in recent musical history. A personality that embodies, and maybe even defines the title of “lead singer in a rock and roll band”.
And, during this interview, Malek, begins to describe how to emulate a man who, when he was on stage, gave 120% at all times…
I stopped right there.
Ok, at so first my pedantic nature takes over and I think, “Ugh. I hate that crap. Per Cent. Per 100! If we are giving something our all, that all would be 100% of what we have to give, right?! I hate this crap. It’s just over-the-top Tony Robbins motivational blargspeak, and it makes my teeth itch. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought about why some people make us feel as though they can give beyond what we think they are capable of giving. Therefore, when they give it their all, we see that it’s in excess of what we expected to see from someone like that. And we label it as them having given 120%.
But, this is about art. My belief is that art is really spirit. Or, more specifically art comes out of the gaps in our spirit. It reaches itself out to, seeking the same in others. And art is the language they speak.
Art is spirituality manifested in some form that pleases/stimulates/connects with other people’s spirits, and it communicates entirely on its own plane. It comes into being when its creator creates it, or names it, or loves it, or even passionately hates it. Sculpture and music, painting or stagecraft, subway platforms or museum niches, art exists because we’re human. In the darkest of places, art is a blazing torch. Even in the mundane, art is the eyebrows* we put on that spreadsheet of dry numbers we give to our boss.
But what about the artist who doesn’t have cracks, or even gaps in their shell? What about those who are almost raw spirit under a thin human veneer, coming face to face with the world for the first time. They don’t create when they make their art, they become it. As they perform their art, they create an energy around them that is its own, higher form of art. This form we call ‘love’.
I don’t think artists like Freddy Mercury are capable of giving 20% more than everyone else. I think they are somehow able to transmit the love they helped create when their untethered spirit is finally allowed to fluently speak its native tongue. That’s what we call that ‘art’.
And the best we’ve come up with to describe this phenomenon is, ‘he gave 120%’?! No. No. No. We’re going to need to get an artist on this right away and change that.
barraging your ego
slow crust build
that candy shell
there you are
didn’t want to be
years of practice
appears to shrink
loss begets begin
same size again
The last few years has been a tough ride for me personally. I lost a brother to an overdose. I lost my mother to cancer. I lost one of my oldest friends, and the best man in my wedding, to Alzheimer’s. There’s also a handful of other major events that would take too long to explain in this particular post. When I look back at every one of those losses, there is a fairly large gap in my blog post history. Who knows why? I suppose it’s one of the ways I don’t deal with grief, by simply ignoring any decent coping mechanism I have for processing it.
A week ago today, I lost one of the most influential people I have ever had the privilege to know and collaborate with. This time the loss is directly relevant to my spiritual well-being, as well as what I write about.
Brian and I met over a decade ago, when he was hired by a friend of his, who was also my boss. A lucky break for me since the same guy had been telling me that I would probably get along really well with his friend Brian. A suggestion that sparked one of the most pivotal relationships in my life.
He was more than just a friend. He was a mentor in a number of areas for me. At other times, he preferred to be the student. It was one the purest definitions of friendship I have ever experienced. For myself, I believe that’s because we recognized ourselves in each other.
Over time, we created and authored a number of blogs that discussed a range of topics. He was one of the few people I can honestly say was able to deliver criticism to me in a way that completely bypassed my defenses, and the need to defend myself from the criticism. He could bypass my defenses and deliver information in a way that made it easy to see his point, simply removing my normal need to save face.
I don’t write because I want to. On most days, it’s more of a need. But, when my ego flairs, writing the type of stuff I do can be painful sometimes. Based on what I know, I suspect that Brian had to learn how to reduce his own ego before he could help anyone else with theirs. I am a far better person today for having known him.
I haven’t used his full name for a few reasons. The first of which is that I haven’t sought any sort of permission from his family to compose a written memorial. But also because I think I knew him well enough to know that, the idea of anyone trying to memorialize him in any way, would have given him the heebie jeebies.
Over the years he pushed me hard to get over myself, and to finally realize some of the projects I wanted to work on. But, like most people, most of it’s blocked by whatever bullshit excuse for a fear that I’d given myself. Each time that he pushed, he was careful to do so in a way that was always most helpful to others, and less likely to focus accolades back on us. In other words, Brian showed me what humility was, from the inside.
Okay, so now after having written all of that nice stuff, it also appears that I have also acquired my own glasses-wearing, mustachioed Obi Wan-ghost, wandering around and bugging me that I’ve still got work to do.
You see, I am not trying to memorialize Brian so much as I am trying to write about the passing of a close friend as a way to exercise my own demons. And also to let people know that I plan to change directions with this blog for a little while, if that’s okay (and even if it’s not). This blog was never meant to be a political bitch session. That’s purely a side effect of our current political climate.
I have been working on a series of essays that discuss the current and ongoing change in status that cannabis is experiencing as medicine, as well as how that might affect people in recovery for things like alcoholism.
Because of some of the training I have, both personally and professionally, this is a topic of great personal importance to me. It’s also one that few seem willing to tackle. And it’s here that Brian recently applied his gentle pressure, for me to continue to explore the subject, so that we could continue to help others in whatever way works for them.
My secondary reason for this post is to ask help from the readers: If you know anyone who can be helped by this information, please share it with them, this topic must be a give and take. Like much of our political discourse these days, the medical benefits of things like cannabis are subject to media favoritism. And the popularity of certain methods and medicines, ebbs and flows on public perception. A perception that is largely informed by backdoor deals and lobbying efforts, usually designed to enrich someone else, somewhere else.
What we really should be doing is using the technology we passively browse, and instead push it to increase our own access to information. We need it to help us expand our knowledge of the truth, and about the real efficacy of our medicines, and our politics. And for many who are trying to recover from addiction, helping them to increase the quality of their own internal lives.
Having said all of that, I want to once more thank Brian for everything he was able to teach me (not always such an easy task). And to also let him know that I miss him, and that I love him. Something I’m sure he knew, but I don’t think I got to say out loud.
Between yesterday and today, thousands of Americans have considered switching political affiliations.
First, we have a massive hurricane making landfall in the Carolinas. There are also scores of houses burning in Massachusetts due to a gas line issue.
It’s for these reasons that thousands and thousands of conservative, self-sufficient, pull-themselves-up-by-their-bootstraps kind of folks will suddenly decide that Socialism ain’t so bad after all. It’s a common conversion that happens when your house is on fire, or you need to be rescued from the roof of your flooded home.
When it comes to paying taxes, they’re a fiscal conservative/capitalist who is more than willing to fight the good fight based on the “It ain’t right, because the 16th Amendment” argument. But once their house is burning or floating, they are happy to proclaim their status as Americans, shouting, “But, I’m a taxpayer!” as their expectations of public services suddenly exceeds their demonstrations of individuality.
When the shit hits the fan and you have to do the unthinkable and ask for help, it’s because your ego has finally fallen from its lofty perch long enough for your spirit to recognize that we are all actually in this together. And just for the briefest of moments, we are all on the same side. Even them liberals, and non-whites.
At the moment, I think the most glaring resentment I have against the *president is that he has single-handedly remind me of the fact that Jeff Sessions is human, and deserving of compassion.
I may not like the AG’s politics, or his views on race, or a whole bunch of other crap the man espouses, but he is still human. And more than most, he needs compassion. It’s clear how much he does!
He has embraced racism his whole life. And anyone who can sit in judgement of another person, solely because based on their culture or the color of their skin, is a person who lives in hell. A man who dwells in a never ending labyrinth of nameless fears.
And in his own way, Sessions has decided that his job is to remain between the most autocratic *president the country has ever had, and the investigation that will most undoubtedly bring him down. And yet, Sessions is there, protecting Americans by blocking the *president, even if just for a little while.
A few days ago the *president blasted his AG again. But this time it was for enforcing the law. You’d never have believed it even a couple of years ago, but the reason the *president attacked his Attorney General is because he did not protect a couple of loyal henchmen, ultimately allowing them to be charged with crimes.
Worse yet, there appears to be no evidence that the *president actually understands the finer points of guilt and innocence. He only sees friends and enemies. Period. And Sessions just allowed two friends to be locked away.
Despite everything I know about the Attorney General, and everything I know he fights for, he is still a person. And each person is worthy of compassion. Maybe it will make him think twice about the impunity with which the *president tossed him away. And even more about the sudden support he’s getting from the resistance. You never know…
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a shower.
So, news reports have said that members of the Trump administration have been denied service in, and chased out of, businesses they thought they had the right to frequent as a normal customer. It’s completely unfair.
And I hear they’re also having trouble finding dates, or keeping them when they do. People are just walking out in the middle of dates when they find out someone works for the administration. It’s just rude.
No one likes to be judged by others. Especially not before they even get a chance to know you. And something personal, like where you work or what you believe in, shouldn’t affect what restaurant you’re allowed to eat in… Right?