One of the hardest aspects to understand about any phenomenon is why it is the way it is.
Take, for example, the United States. It’s commonly held that this is a country which values individualism. As opposed to celebrating the person who dutifully does what his family or community says and wants, as some cultures do, we hail the white guy—it’s typically a white guy, right—who “bucks the trend,” “goes against the grain,” takes the path less chosen,” “innovates.”
The Iconoclast. The Rebel. In some societies, these are figures of outrage. But, here, they are seen as absolutely, quintessentially American.
But, two years ago, after 828 posts, I just felt I’d run out of things to say. So I stopped blogging.
I knew it would not be forever. I knew I’d be back when I had a different, more compelling way to express myself: Something interrogative, more varied, deeper.
As well, I knew I wanted to confront the state of hip-hop culture, above. I didn’t want to just talk about it. I wanted to mount actual projects, and use the blog as a central location for drawing visibility and help to those efforts.
We’re at a real inflection point. Hip-hop is bigger than ever, right. There’s more opportunity than ever. There are more ways than ever for artists to truly get their grind on: To reach audiences and to profit from what they make. This, even as the music business changes radically.
One thing that will never change, however, is that knowledge equals power. It’s one thing to work hard. That’s grinding. It’s another thing to work smart. That’s design. The most successful people effectively blend the two.
That’s why, for the first time, I’ve decided to not only share what I know, but who I know.
Harvey Pekar, above, the renowned comics writer whose life’s own banalities formed his narratives, died from prostate cancer, Monday, at the age of 70.
A mainstay and elder of the underground comics movement, Pekar was an oft and early collaborator with artist Robert Crumb. Yet the Ohio native worked as a Veterans Administration hospital file clerk most, if not all, of his adult life.
It was only after retiring in 2001, that his American Splendor series—turned into a 2003 film starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar—brought him mainstream fame and acclamation.
The late Harvey Pekar, and Michael Malice, are the guests today on this rebroadcasted edition of my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, July 16th, at 2 pm ET.
You can hear their ideas by tuning in at 2 pm ET. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our live stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.
Washington vs. Tiger, above, is a digital painting by artist Jason Heuser, aka SharpWriter. It imagines our first president defiantly battling a ferocious Bengal beast from the aft of a disintegrating boat…in the middle of what must be a Category 5 hurricane.
Right. If this doesn’t say everything you need to know about the United States of America, I don’t know what does.
That’s the title of a presentation I’ve been giving at schools around the country. In it, I show some of the photographs I made in the early 1980s, before I started writing. These images—of Chuck D, Flavor-Flav, Bomb Squad leader Hank, above, and Keith Shocklee, as well as others—were created several years before Public Enemy existed, and long before their place in music history was assured. So, they’re a real insight into an important part of music history in its raw, unformed state.
(In the image, above, Shocklee briefly looks up from twiddling knobs at a fraternity party at Hofstra U. in Long Island. It was the kind of event Spectrum City mobile d.j.s, Hank & Chuck’s crew, hosted fairly often during their so-called “salad days.”)
When giving the talk, I speak about getting involved in photography; meeting Chuck D and the rest at Adelphi U.; and growing in hip-hop with them—my education at the feet of, arguably, some of the culture’s most potent masters.
Audiences who’ve seen the images—whether at my original Eyejammie Fine Arts exhibition in 2007, or at these lecture events—recount the innocence and freshness of the images, their humor, and how black & white pictures, which we see less and less these days, project a sharp, visceral quality.
I’ll be speaking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tomorrow, March 23rd, as a guest of the Department of Afro-American Studies, led by chair Dr. Craig Werner (Higher Ground;A Change Is Gonna Come).
Then, next week, I’ll be returning to the University of Iowa for the knockout: A museum show featuring twenty-six of my photographic prints, then Shooting the Enemy with Chuck, Hank, and Keith, directly followed by a panel with them on the making of P.E.’s Fear of a Black Planet, celebrating its 20th anniversary April 10th. (More on this in a week!)
If you go to, or are associated with, a university that would welcome this cultural-history-discussion-with-pictures, please get at me. Or, if you’re a scholar or programmer who values primary voices, and would like to have me present at your school or in concert with your department, this year or next year, please let me know: Drop me a note at HAllen@HarryAllen.info, or tweet me @HarryAllen, and, as Chuck D says, let’s get it on.
I became aware of artist Vicki Berndt‘s gifted hand upon seeing her cover for the Clipse’s 2002 release, Lord Willin’, right. In the dreamlike vision, rappers Malice and Pusha T drive a JFK-style droptop, with a Black Jesus riding shotgun in the back seat. Delicately radiating the sobering hues of Virginia Beach dilapidation via magic realism, the work is one of my all-time favorite album covers, hip-hop or otherwise.
Born in El Centro CA in 1961, Berndt painted and took pictures of her favorite rock stars in school, printed fanzines, and even joined a punk band, the Maggots, as their lead singer. Later, she took photos of friends’ groups, eventually working for magazines.
However, she never stopped slathering the canvas, and paints full-time today, selling both reproductions and her original creations. Her series of works besainting musicians, like Little St. Richard (18 x 24 ins.), above, range from about $1,000 to about $1,600 and more, when not quickly snatched up, first. However, less costly pieces are also available, and highly desirable.
For example, check out The Keene Supremes, her three-candle set, above. The 6 x 3-inch pieces, each featuring one of the Supremes’ likenesses done in the style of Margaret Keane‘s “big-eyed children” paintings, can all be picked up for a mere $40. Why not grab an armful? If it were up to me, Berndt, like the saints and sinners she renders, would definitely be counted among pop’s true icons.
At its most basic, quarantine is a strategy of separation and containment—the creation of a hygienic boundary between two or more things, for the purpose of protecting one from exposure to the other. It is a spatial response to suspicion, threat, and uncertainty. From Chernobyl’s Zone of Exclusion and the artificial quarantine islands of the New York archipelago to camp beds set up to house HIV-positive Haitian refugees detained at Guantánamo and the modified Airstream trailer from within which Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins once waved at President Nixon [above], the landscapes of quarantine are various, mutable, and often unexpected.
Geoff Manaugh is a contributing editor at Wired UK and former senior editor of Dwell magazine. He’s also the guest today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, March 5, at 2 pm ET.
You can hear this provocative ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our live stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.