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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Oh yeah, I have a blog. Sometimes I forget about that.

Good night at work. I worked very hard, and I feel I did my job well. Its satisfying, that tired feeling after a day's work well done. Without going into too much detail, I realize that by doing my job well, as opposed to just doing the bare minimum that I *have* to do, I brought in (roughly) enough extra revenue to cover my own paycheck. That is a good feeling... knowing that I'm valuable, knowing that I'm not just an ass in a seat or a warm body on a line. And its nice knowing I work for people who see that and who tell me I'm valuable. This is a tooting of my own horn, no denial. I need to sometimes, or else my crippling self doubt and low self esteem take over, so please... allow me this.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Boy, I Wish I Could Draw Like You!"

          Sometimes, when I'm drawing in public, people come watch me and say, "I wish I could draw like you." Even though I know it is a compliment, it irritates me a little. You don't become good at art by wishing. You become good at art by making art, day in, day out for years. It is a skill that takes dedication and practice to hone, not some bit of magic or the benevolence of a djinn. I  personally don't even think its talent.

          "But, Carl! You have so much talent!" you readers may be saying out loud to your computer screens.I don't believe talent has anything to do with it, or at least I believe that talent isn't something you are born with- its something you cultivate. When you spend 12 hours straight doing nothing but drawing, you are cultivating that talent. When you draw, erase, draw, erase, draw, erase a line until its perfect or your burn a hole in the paper- you're cultivating that talent. When you dissect a drawing or painting that you love to understand how the artists who made it works and how he or she made that piece what it is, to the point of trying to copy it line for line or stroke for stroke- you're cultivating that talent. It takes hard work, dedication, deep thought and sacrifice to cultivate a talent.

         People believe, for some reason, that talent is something you are born with and you either have it or you don't. Calling an artist talented, while well meaning, is a bit like saying they are lucky. Its a bit like disregarding the thousands of hours they have dedicated to doing what they do. Before we go any further, I'd like you to ask yourself: "What things have I spent 3000 hours (or more) doing in my life?" Anything that you can think of that you can answer that question with is something you are probably pretty reasonably skilled at and you probably win a smidge of admiration from people who haven't spent the kind of time you have on it. That, my friend, is skill.  If nothing popped to mind, you are probably very good at watching television and sleeping.

     I guess all I'm really trying to say is that you should keep in mind that when you see an artist's work, you aren't just seeing a few hours of marks being made on a page or a canvas or a wall, augmented by some nebulous concept of talent or by a freak who won the genetic lottery for art skills. You are looking at the culmination of thousands upon thousands of hours of practice, self-education, dedication and sacrifice. So instead of wishing, get off of your ass and get drawing. How many sketchbooks have you filled up this year?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Frigoland Draco, Viscount Dracul" or "Vlad the Engraver"

    He was a liar, and I’ll always love him for it. He was trustworthy, noble, and brave, but at the beginning and end of everything, Frigoland Draco was a liar. The lies he told were beautiful, so beautiful that even if you knew you shouldn’t believe it, you wanted to. He was only in my life for a part of a summer, but he changed the way I looked at truth, life, and the art of storytelling. 

            It was July of 1994 when Frigoland Draco pulled into a parking spot in downtown Rapid City in a beaten old Chevrolet truck with a camper topper. I watched from a wobbly chair in front of my workplace, the Atomic Café, a doomed espresso bar that catered to disaffected youth, as he climbed out of the cab and shoved open the rusty hood, which released a cloud of white steam. I was only fifteen, and by no means a mechanic, but I lit a cigarette and walked over to see if I could help in some way. Before I could even muster a word to him, he boomed out to me in a thick eastern European accent, “It is fucked. Do not bother. Does this place have food? We are starving.” I enthusiastically led him over to the café.

             He was an absolute beast of a man. His hair was wild in long black frizzed curls that became at some point an equally frizzled black and white beard. He was almost as broad at the shoulders as the blue Chevy that hissed at him, or at least so it seemed. He was barrel chested, clad in filthy denim jeans and a long sleeve thermal shirt. He removed his sunglasses, looked into me with shocking blue grey eyes and shook my hand, his massive fist squeezing my young hand until I thought it would shatter, and introduced himself.

            He was Frigoland Draco, Viscount Dracul, Prince of Gypsies and Rightful Heir to Carpathian nobility. It seemed too much to believe at the time, and even today seems too fanciful, but the vigor and confidence with which he introduced himself made a person want to believe. Over the course of the next month, as he waited for the repairs on his truck, he regaled the patrons and staff of the Atomic Cafe with constant tales of his past. He spoke of things from his bloodline as a direct descendent of Vlad Tepes (the inspiration for Dracula) to escaping with his life after seeing his family murdered at the close of World War II. He told tales of traveling Europe while exiled from his home and his eventual migration to the USA. He told tales of love and danger, tragedies of devastating loss and hilarious tales of hi-jinx. When he would begin a story the cafe would fall silent, every ear ready to be entertained by a master storyteller.

             All of his stories were larger than life, but always a story from his own life. For example, he told the story of watching his parents, Romanian nobility, being murdered when the rebels crashed the family palace gates during the popular uprising that followed World War II. His sun worn face contorted to a devilish scowl as he barked out in Romanian, the threats of the soldiers who kept their guns trained on his family. Tears glistened in his beard, his clenched fists did not wipe them away, and he sobbed as he played the part of his own mother, begging for her life, and his hirsute fist slammed frighteningly hard on the coffee counter to punctuate the gunshot that ended her. His steel blue eyes lit with a half century of focused fury as he quietly, and tenderly told us how he lay on the floor with his entrails spread beneath him, as he watched the soldiers rape his older sister while he could do nothing to stop them. There was not a moment where his body and posture failed to tell the story just as much as his words.

              It didn’t take long for slight holes to start showing in his stories, though. Dates would change, the sequence of events would become disordered, and characters from one tale would suddenly become part of another story. A greedy schoolmaster from London would play a role in a later story as a hard-nosed trucking boss from New Orleans. And, of course, the most obvious give-away was that his accent began to change sometimes. In the middle of a story his eastern European drawl would make way for a few sentences of an Irish lilt. When these hiccups in the façade came often, others who listened to him frequently began to become disenchanted with his tales, but not me. Knowing that he was acting from the very moment he met me made the performance even greater in my eyes. The most fascinating thing to me was that anyone who had never heard the story would be just as enraptured as I had been. Many listeners, like me, would listen delightedly in spite of the inconsistencies.

          Everything he did seemed to both contradict and confirm his tales. Thick scars across his massive body showed clear evidence of his bloody battles, until the story where they were clear evidence of his near death in surgery. He moved slowly and deliberately, showing signs of arthritis and back problems, until he leapt nimbly to the defense of a young woman being assaulted in the alley; his limbs suddenly lithe as any athlete. He would clasp his hands and twist his face as the pain would stop him from rolling a joint, yet those same twisted and agonized hands would etch amazing works of art into the bathroom mirror before he left.

          I spent nearly every day watching, listening and talking to him in the cafe. I would drive him around town to do his shopping, and frequently I would stay out far past curfew to listen to his stories as we smoked in the graffiti covered alley. I would watch as he earned his money by engraving fantastic designs on glass and mirrors, intricate scrollwork laced with flowers and mythical creatures. While he did his glass engraving he would tell his current customer a secret tale of his adventures, and I would watch and listen. At one point I quite frankly and candidly asked him why his accent would change sometimes, to which he laughed heartily and said, “I have been all around this world, and have learned many accents. Do not think of it.” A sly look warned me not to press the issue further, but also let me know this was all part of the trade of storytelling.

          Every afternoon was spent smoking Lucky Strikes and listening to these stories from the alleged Viscount, until the day came when his truck was repaired, his debts were paid, and it was time for him to leave. That afternoon I gave him a token, a small glass mushroom that I had made myself while learning to blow glass, wrapped into a leather lanyard as a pendant. He made a show of being overwhelmed with gratitude and took me by the hand. He pulled a ring from one of his fingers, a massive sterling silver eagle, and placed it in my palm. “It is too big, now. You will wrap it with thread to fit your thumb, one day it will fit. I am prince of the gypsies, and today I make you my little brother. You too are a prince, every road belongs to you. Wear this and go, it is all your kingdom today.”

             He left in late August, with promises he would be back next year, but I never saw him again. He has stayed with me in many ways, though. He taught me the art of storytelling, and how important it is to never let the facts get in the way of entertaining those who lend you their ear. He showed every single tale, not just the ones he told, is but an elaborate lie stretched around a framework of truths. Frigoland gave to me a crown of lies, a fable of nobility to fuel my own stories, and a silver ring as an anchor to reality to prove that this was as true as lies can be.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blue Hawaii, Pink Elephants

             Many times throughout people’s lives they are offered advice on how to handle difficult situations and circumstances that cause them stress. This advice can come from friends, family, lovers, professional counselors or their clergy. Sometimes it comes from meditation, self- reflection or intense analysis of one’s own life. And, quite rarely, a person can experience a mind shattering intervention from a higher power. This is the story of how my own mind broke through a self -destructive fugue thanks to some words of encouragement from the ghost of Elvis Presley.

            I cannot ever recall, ever in my life, feeling as though my brain was operating in the same reality as the rest of the world. As a child I was often described as “imaginative,” but where other children’s standard issue imaginations would stop at fabricating imaginary friends, mine would fabricate entire worlds. I would conjure up anything from elaborate clockwork dimensions populated with mechanical men and monsters, to brilliant lands of classic fantasy to nightmarish hells so terrifying I wouldn’t sleep for days. My mind seemed more intent on creating a new reality than participating in the one I shared with the rest of the world. I was of this world, but not in it.

           As I entered adolescence, it became increasingly difficult to relate to my peers. While they outgrew their imaginations and took to the serious business of faux adulthood, my daydreams seemed only to grow deeper. I was different, thus I was pushed to the edges of society, and became chronically alone and hopelessly depressed. With bitter spite, I embraced my status as a pariah. I assumed the uniform of outlandish dress, a taste for shitty music, and a penchant for substance abuse. Before long, I had dropped out of school and was hitchhiking, penniless and alone, across the country. From the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest, I relished in my position as an outsider, teaching myself to distrust everyone. I had only one friend, inebriation, and anyone else I let into my dismal life was nothing more than a friend of that friend.

       No matter where I would go, the same old problems would find and plague me. Strangers would interpret my self imposed separation as an attitude problem. Too many times I found drunken fist fights where I could have found new friends. I would work whatever jobs I could find just long enough to learn something, and then quit them before I could accidentally make a connection with any of my co-workers. The alcohol always flowed freely, and with it came powders, pills and every mind altering substance you could name. I was living in the fantasy worlds that my mind created, and with each day that passed I would find the real world progressively more unbearable. Talking to strangers was torturous, I would have rather sat quietly in the dark shadows and observed while strangers connected with each other. I took more joy in my misanthropic voyeurism than I ever experienced as a grudging participant. But, I was always alone.

            I took to drinking in seedy bars, places populated with smoke and puke and people who seemed to feel as out of place as I did. Friendly faces were the minority in these places. The patrons would generally be perfectly content with watching the ice melt in their whiskey as the preferable choice over introducing themselves and starting a conversation. Birthdays passed as just another hazy day of drinking until I had to consult a calendar if pressed calculate my own age. Holidays were spent, not with family and friends, but in a lonely crowd of sleazy strangers, listening to worn out rock and roll that invoked a pale nostalgia for some day when someone’s life was somehow better. I would recede into yearning for a life I never had, the threads of my over charged imagination weaving tapestries of a world where these songs that bled through the smoke and the darkness somehow meant something to me.

            It was in one of these squalid lounges I found myself one Thanksgiving Day. It was an unremarkable watering hole in an unremarkable Midwestern town that had likely seen its heyday a full decade before I was even born. I couldn’t care less for the pot luck that the other alcoholics had arranged; in fact I actively despised their drunken efforts to make me feel included. I wanted to be included, but I reflexively resented the intrusion. I had a reputation, or at least I told myself that I did, of being the quiet stranger; the dark loner. Thanksgiving was a time for families, a time for jubilant cheering of sporting events, a time for being thankful. I had no interest in or gratitude for any of these things. I did have an interest in drinking cheap scotch, alone, in my tiny basement apartment.  

Unable to cope with the forced interaction, I gathered my black leather jacket and set out for home. The air was chill enough to blush my bearded cheeks, which I found more than adequate excuse for taking pulls from the worn silver flask of peppermint schnapps I liked to keep in my breast pocket. The streets were empty, and my imagination soon had me wandering through a blissful post apocalypse. I could see myself as the last man on Earth; happily wandering home through ruined neighborhoods filled with shelled buildings and burnt cars instead of happy homes surrounded by the vehicles of visiting relatives. I even relieved myself on some strangers lawn, knowing that in MY world there could be no repercussions.   

Reality snapped uncomfortably into place as I fumbled with my keys and stumbled ferociously into my single room apartment. It was colder inside than it was outside; I had neglected to pay the gas bill that month in favor of another bottle or two of liquor or a chance at some hallucinogenic mushrooms. I crawled under a threadbare blanket on the only furniture I had, a stained black futon mattress on the beer can littered floor, and turned on the television to see what wonders my stolen cable could deliver to me. I uncorked another bottle of cheap scotch and flipped through channels until I found the digital equivalent of my chosen land: an all-day Elvis Presley movie marathon. 

For the entire afternoon I drank deeply and reveled in the smooth moves of the King of Rock and Roll. I saw him find the girls, lose the girls, fight the good fight and win the girls back again. He was an amazing being, a hero in a world of fantasies. He was everything I wanted to be, but could never rise to become outside of my own fantasy worlds. I was nearly finished with my bottle of Clan McGregor, halfway through the movie “Blue Hawaii,” when the action stopped, and Elvis Presley turned sharply to the camera, looked me in the eyes, and spoke directly to me. “Carl,” he said in his signature Mississippi drawl, “you think about things way too much, you know what I’m saying? You’re all caught up in thinking about what other people think about you, man, and that’s no good. You’re a pretty cool dude, Carl. People like you. You just gotta give yourself a chance to like them, too. Quit feeling so bad, man, go out there and live. You only got so much time on this rock, gotta enjoy it while you can. “

         I was stunned. I was accustomed to flights of fancy, daydreaming, even the occasional chemical hallucination, but this was more than I had ever experienced before. I couldn’t focus on the movie, I sat in awe, thinking about what had just transpired, what Elvis said and what it meant. I had heard of the “pink elephants,” hallucinations brought on by overconsumption of alcohol, but I never expected them to be so vivid. There was no line I could discern where reality stopped and a world where Elvis could talk to me through my television began. I wrote down his words, chicken scratch in a spiral bound notebook, turned off my apparently magical seventeen inch Magnavox, and lay down to sleep off my altered state. ;

        The next day, despite my throbbing head and churning bowels, I returned to the words I has scrawled illegibly on that paper. I realized they were, of course, not the words of Elvis Presley’s spirit returning from the grave, but the words of my own mind. It was advice given freely to myself, from the part of my psyche that I had neglected while I thought my rightful place was on the fringes of society. The power of one’s own self-preservation is incredible. My subconscious had managed to find a crack in the misanthropic walls I had built throughout my life; a crack through which to whisper to me that I needed to become social or die alone. 

        I had found a way to warn myself of the changes I needed to make. I took heed, though the changes didn’t happen overnight. And the changes aren’t done happening to this day. I slowly cut back on my alcohol intake, and increased my time engaged in conversation with others around me. I learned that despite everything I had told myself for so long, other people actually did find me interesting. And, shockingly, I found them interesting, as well. I began to learn that there were people who considered me their friend. I wasn’t alone anymore, in fact, I really never was. Through the voice of a hallucinatory Elvis, I transformed my social anxiety into quiet confidence. I learned that the human mind has the incredible power to pick you up and dust you off, even if you didn’t realize you had fallen down. Now that I am standing up, I intend to enjoy my time on this rock while I can.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ROCK AND ROLL! Guitar Wolf (Videos)

Last night I saw Guitar Wolf. It was AMAZING. The kind of amazing that makes you wish people didn't use the word amazing for things that are not this amazing. They were the absolute definition of non-stop face melting punk rock, and this is one of those shows that is going to go down in my book as one of the best evar. 

The strange thing to me, though, is how small the crowd was. This is an international giant of booze-and-punk-filled-motorcycle-rebellion, a band that sells out all across the world. I think Rapid City really didn't know what it had last night. 

Here are some videos of Guitar Wolf in action. They are hard to record, because unlike other bands, you don't really know when to stop, or want to stop. They played non stop, balls to the wall, dripping with sweat and spitting beer all over, for over an hour. You can see our Rapid City circle pit alive and well in silhouette in front of the stage, and the band even wore the pit out. By the end of the set the moshers were only circling for a couple bars before stopping to rest. 

Also of note, guitar wolf's manager and the guys from The Transistors seemed really entertained by the way we dance here. I couldn't tell if they were just intrigued and amused or actively mocking us, but a few times I saw them try to do some of the kick-step-skanking back by the sound board. They never entered the pit, though. The only ones who did that were Guitar Wolf and their merch/roadie guy. 

Here is Seiji performing a second encore. I was the only one in front of the stage when he started up. I just stood there drinking it up for a minute, but then thought to myself "I should probably record this" and I'm glad I did.

Super Jet Rock and Roll thank you to Guitar Wolf for melting my face last night. 
Damn that was a great show.