Monthly Archives: August 2013

First Day At SAW

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At last, the first day at SAW. A sense of purpose. For me, as it turns out, the summer was a bit of a let down, even a drag. I tried to just relax, but I just ended up feeling like a slacker. Not so now, not so.

I had my first class at SAW Wednesday, and now I remember why I was so content all last year. I was teaching. I’m also looking forward to the other odd and more unexpected elements, like… are any of these students who I think they are now? I’m a bit shy off-stage or out of the classroom, so it takes me a while to get to know people. Then there’s the ever-present thrill of watching them “get it.” That’s the big one, the one that really fills my life with meaning… that moment when they really “get it.” But mostly it’s the act of passing along the things I know, the things my mentors taught me, all the things I learned the hard way, not to mention the act of giving over the best things that are in me. As a prior post I wrote revealed, I’m not drawing like I used to, so it feels good to hand it over… gang… you can take it all! Go do beautiful things with it!

Last year was so amazing for every single person involved, that for me it is exciting to know that all the magic we enjoyed last year is within our grasp. By Saraswati’s grace, what a great way to make a living.

(Please note, I’m really not making much of a living.)

Band On the Run, Concept Revealed:

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(The genesis of this piece bears explaining, first off, the whole notion that the concept of the album is one of motion came from a comment a friend of mine made, which, unbeknownst to me when I started writing this, was something he had read in a review. I have not read the review, and opted instead to take that idea and run with it in my own way.)

Tune into www.growradio.org for Barefoot Justine's show "Get On The Right Thing."

Tune into http://www.growradio.org for Barefoot Justine’s show “Get On The Right Thing – McCartney Reconsidered with Barefoot Justine.”

“Band On the Run is one of those rare albums that spans a magically self-contained world. From the unfolding promise of its title track – itself a pocket symphony of dawning optimism and thrilling new horizons – this is music that takes us places.” In his intro to the deluxe edition of Band On the Run Paul Du Noyer goes on to say, “Is it a ‘concept album’? Not exactly.” Ah, look closer Mr. Du Noyer.

Band on the Run is a concept album. This, of course, flies in the face of Paul McCartney’s phony assertion otherwise. The jig is up, Paul, at last we are on to you. And bandmate Denny Laine states as much himself when he says, “It’s not the tracks, it’s a concept album.” So who are we going to believe? NOT McCartney. He has an annoying way of self-mythologizing into a self-defeating malaise of ordinariness and fluffiness that betrays the depth and significance of his post-Beatle work, his fans, and ultimately undermines his credibility. When it comes to his being respected as an artist, Paul McCartney is his own worst enemy and has contributed more to the lack of respect he receives from the public than any critic. The undoing of his reputation as an artist is, at this point, solely of his own doing, but all of this is not the fault of the spectacular music he has always made… it is the fault of his often flippant and coy persona.

Let’s quickly set the stage, the Beatles had been over for about 3 or 4 years (Band On the Run was released in late ’73). This was to be his fifth solo album, two of those had been Wings albums, a 5 piece line-up. McCartney had become discouraged and at one point had allegedly told Linda, that if he didn’t get the magic back he was going to cut his throat. Unbeknownst to Paul, the magic had been there through all four of the albums that predated Band On the Run, but Paul McCartney, his fans, and the public had bought the assertion of the critics that his new music was no good. Critics are fools. It really is that simple. Anxious to “get the magic back,” he took off for Lagos. McCartney does not like to sit still as an artist, his first album was recorded by himself at home (quite a daring, dare I say “ballsy,” departure from the glorious Beatle approach heard on their swansong, Abbey Road), the second album (Ram) he recorded in New York, the first Wings album in 2 weeks, and the second Wings album was recorded under far more conventional circumstances. Over the years since McCartney has recorded albums on boats, in castles, improvisationally, and in New Orleans. It seems his creative juices are fueled by adventure. Well, not so for his bandmates. The evening before (an hour before according to some accounts) Wings were to fly to Lagos, two of the members quit. Unphased, a determined McCartney simply said, “I can play the lot myself.” Farewell to them all the same, Henry McCullough’s rotten attitude and sloppy uninspired playing were hardly an asset anyhow. McCullough, it seemed, believed, erroneously, that he was too hot a guitarist to play McCartney’s crafted melodic solos.

paul and wings3

A three man band, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, and the ever loyal Denny Laine took off, determined to create an album the other 2 members of the band would forever regret walking out on. Quite quickly the whole experience became far more trying than he could have expected. While in Lagos the monsoons had hit, McCartney was taken aback at seeing corpses in the street, the studio was not yet built (in fact, contrary to the idea that Paul’s a bit of a dandy, he is not only a take charge kind of guy, but quite handy at real work, so he took hold of a saw and helped with the labor of getting the studio into a functional state), the McCartney’s were mugged at knife-point… their demo tapes lost to the muggers, he fell under suspicion by the local African musicians and had to allay their defensive and hostile reaction to his recording there, and finally McCartney himself collapsed and feared he was dying as he was being rushed to a hospital. Picture McCartney in an unfamiliar studio in Africa frightened to death, with half a band, and NO record of the songs he was about to record, the demo in the hands of muggers. This is the world in which Band On the Run was created.

Under the shadow of not knowing if he remembered the songs, McCartney stepped up to the drum kit and got to work.

For years, people studied the album to work out what the concept was. Eventually, everyone seemingly accepted defeat and regarded the album as a near-miss conceptually, though a tremendous achievement creatively. But here’s the rub, McCartney is a sly guy, a clever guy, a complicated man, a conflicted artist, and—as I said earlier, a piss-poor self-mythologizer—elusive to say the least. Even his anti-intellectual phoney-baloney claims to be “ordinary” are denied when you get to know him better as an artist. Take these quotes, which give his smoke screen of shallowness away: “What I have to say is all in the music. If I want to say anything, I write a song.” Indeed, and this: “I can’t deal with the press; I hate all those Beatles questions.” His messages are in his work, and he dislikes the press, so he takes the easy way out, turns off, phones in, and gives them nothing more than what they want–the umpteenth telling of how he met John. If we are going to get to the core of his work and unveil the meanings, we have to do it ourselves. So, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain (that man being the public persona of Paul McCartney), and let’s go…

“’Band On the Run’ itself sets the tone. It moves in and out of beats and genres, and just seems to work. That struck me about it. In fact it made me think, ‘We just didn’t give a damn back then!’” says Paul looking back on the album’s title track. The key word in there is “moves.”

John Conteh, who appeared on the cover, had this to say: “The best one I like about that was ‘Band On the Run.’ I think it’s uhm… the slowness of it at the beginning, and it seems to reach like a climax, an escape, and explosion… BAM! ‘BAND ON THE RUN! We head into the sun, and the first one said to the second one there, I hope you’re having fun,’ so there seems to be some kind of messages then, you know. Ones passing the message, they’ve got an experience, and they pass the message on to someone else, like, you know. So they’ve got all these people on the run, you know. And the run maybe being… of eh, you know, life itself, locked into this prison of self or whatever it is, or a problem whatever your problem, or an actual prison as well.”

And there’s the key, not to take it literally, to see the song and the album as metaphor or allegory. There is no central plot that drives the album as a coherent story, but there is a purpose, a meaning and a concept that everything intentionally revolves around. The meaning is, in a sense not only in McCartney’s life, but in all our lives. Paul McCartney has always been one to take his own experiences, tragedies, and such, and make them universal by in large part relying on fantasy and archetypes. Witness “Let It Be” which while on the surface seems to be about THE Mother Mary, it is actually quite cleverly about HIS mother Mary. There is a similar story about Hey Jude having originally been about Julian Lennon, but cleverly turned into something far more universal. The problem with this is that people like their messages preached rather than prosed. Lately he has been more autobiographical in a way most people would recognize, but if you follow McCartney you realize that one of his techniques is universalizing personal experiences so that anyone can relate to his work in some way or the other. Of course “Band On the Run” works nicely as an enigmatic little story, a fable of sorts, but it also applies to an adult need for rebirth, reinvention, release, and ultimately… freedom. As a song, it is for anyone who feels imprisoned by anything.

Thanks to my friend Ed McLaughlin’s summary of a review he recalled reading, I got started down the path of understanding what this album is all about. It’s about rebirth, release, re-invention, movement and freedom! The title track is in a very real sense McCartney releasing himself from the myth of the Beatles, having become tired of carrying that weight, he insisted that Wings be its own band, that they not rely on Beatles songs in concert, that they not play the same kind of music. It was a start from scratch… an escape from the prison of the megalithic success he had with the Beatles, a mythology that was seemingly impossible to live up to. Few would dare try.

The song opens with: “Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever.” The four walls are prison walls, but more specifically the four walls are the four Beatles, and of course McCartney’s pain and depression at losing them as well as his worries about how to follow them. McCartney had this to say about the origin of the verse: “It started off with ‘If I ever get out of here.’ That came from a remark George made at one point at one of the Apple meetings. He was saying that we are all prisoners in some way, some kind of remark like that.” He later adds, “… all put together ‘Band On the Run’–escaping, freedom, criminals. You name it, it’s there.”

“If I ever get out of here,
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get out of here.”

The autobiographical elements are coded, universalized, fictionalized, and turned into allegory so that we can each get out of it what we need, which, as I have said, is consistent with McCartney’s approach. Moreso, knowing that the above verse was taken from Harrison certainly suggests that we are not over-thinking this song, there are real clues to its meaning. It is, of course, simpler to dismiss the fanciful nature of the song and take the easy way out, falling back on a cynicism that has no patience with fantasy or romance. From the longing of the song’s intro, it launches into thunder, sun and NEW adventures. They have escaped from the past and into brave new worlds of sound and thought, a new decade, and new successes. But of course, they are being doggedly pursued, not merely by the “Jailor Man” and “Sailor Sam,” but by the legend of the Beatles and the expectations of the fans–not to mention McCartney’s expectation for himself.

Paul had this to say as well: “… the spirit was like ‘We’re all in this together.’ So anything about desperados or ‘on the run’ kind of united people against all authority. And, you know, we happened to be part of all that.” Keep in mind that this song was actually banned in Russia, it was found too subversive, they saw serious subtext in the songs disregard for authority. Subtext which was, as it turns out, truly there according to Paul. But before we go, let’s take note that the song’s theme is one of movement and release in pursuit of freedom, and there is a lot to talk about here as we notice that most of the songs are about the same thing.

This journey of finally understanding this album did not begin with Ed, no, it started with Tom Hart (founder of SAW, where I teach). This is something I have not often discussed on my blog, as it is part of Tom and Leela’s journey, but I think a little perspective may help, and their situation too, has gone from one of imprisonment to escape. See, Tom and Leela lost their child about 2 years ago, and they just had another. They had been living in a sort of prison, up until this new birth. Tom sent me this after the birth of their new baby girl: “@BarefootJustine should be interested to know the first song I heard after the birth was a McCartney song.” The song was… “Band On the Run.” Of course, of course. Tom also noted that the slow bits made him tear up. To this my friend Ed got the ball rolling by summarizing a review he had read: “The whole album was of hope and looking forward not back. The ‘running’, the rolling, ‘Let Me Roll It’, The flying, ‘Jet’, the future ’1985′ written in 1973, Bluebird, Helen Wheels etc. ‘If I ever get out of here.’” to which Ed added that even “Picasso’s Last Words” is the final movement, death. But McCartney doesn’t stop there thematically, no, he starts out the album very much in the past with a title track that opens full of regrets and pain with one imprisoned by his past, then the title track rushes into the present thematic core of the album with motion, with escape, rebirth, with reinvention, then on to death, and lastly even to the future with the closing song “Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five.” It’s heady stuff, and I think as you can see, this is too well planned and too conscious and consistent to be coincidence or wishful thinking. Ah, but wait, there’s more!

072511browimageThe thematic motion doesn’t stop here with the end of the title track, not with human legs running from the law. The motion, in fact, becomes jet propelled, literally with “Jet,” a roiling rollicking pop-rock song that has legs of its own as it rushes from the speakers, a song I used to hear as I kid. I knew nothing of McCartney, but this song painted pictures in my head, filled me with questions and flooded my head with possible stories, and the song had the same effect on me physically as caffeine. It made me want to move! So with “Band On the Run” and “Jet” we went from on the run to actual flight. Poetry: “Jet with the wind in your hair of a thousand laces, climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky.” “Wind of a thousand laces” was always a line that stirred me, still is. Look closer, there is poetry buried in Macca’s power-pop! Additionally, “Jet” is also, much like “Band On the Run” a song about escape from authority, in this case into the skies and love, well away from the regimented discipline of the “Sergent Major.” It is interesting to note that “Jet” was the name of one of Paul and Linda’s puppies… yet more motion and birth, even in its origin.

Even at that, McCartney is not finished with the theme of flight. No, next up, organic flight with “Bluebird.” An old friend of mine, Ed Fitch (who wrote Pagan literature in California) pointed out to me that this song was Shamanic. Indeed it is, full of magic and transformation from human to animal. “Touch your lips with a magic kiss, and you’ll be a bluebird too.” This is not simplistic nursery rhyme stuff, no, this is archetypal shamanic vision.

21255949d54ad91ff74081007d40203fThis concept is confirmed by a book I have been reading on the women Saints of India (“Daughters Of the Goddess” by Linda Johnsen). At one point she is talking to Anandi Ma who is trying to explain the incomprehensible experience of awakening ones kundalini. In the process of her attempt at explaining kundalini Anandi Ma speaks of the very strongest feeling she has had since childhood, that of becoming a bird and flying away, not attached to anything. And this, of course is what “Bluebird” is about, keeping in mind McCartney’s time in India and continued interest in a “mystical” spirituality, this is scarcely far-fetched. Indeed, the vision of becoming a bird and losing attachments to fly away into freedom is at the very core of “Bluebird.” It is not surprising in some ways that McCartney does not expound upon these things as they are better left known and experienced than explained–as with all spiritual matters. Recall earlier his quote, “What I have to say is all in the music. If I want to say anything, I write a song.” He will not say this openly, it is in the song, very much deep in this song. Freedom, release, magic, the release of attachments, and of course, more movement and reinvention in that they were once human but are now bluebirds. In a sense, McCartney was once a Beatle, but he is now a bluebird… in Wings. He is at last free and unattached. “If I ever get out of here,” was his cry, and with “Bluebird,” he has… gotten out of there.

Up next, “Mrs. Vandebilt,” a big song in Russia, and a big song to me. The lyrics are in a very real sense about letting go, but this time, of stress:

“When your light is on the blink
You never think of worrying
What’s the use of worrying?

When your bus has left the stop
You’d better drop your hurrying
What’s the use of hurrying?

Leave me alone Mrs. Vandebilt
I’ve got plenty of time of my own
What’s the use of worrying?
What’s the use of hurrying?
What’s the use of anything?

Yes, with Band On the Run, even the mundane can be let go of.

Of course, an album highlight comes up next, “Let Me Roll It,” which has often been mistaken for a song about, and in fact imitating, John Lennon. No. Heavy guitar riff-driven songs have always been part of McCartney’s makeup (still are), and the assertion that the so-called primal scream at the end is McCartney mimicking Lennon is utter rubbish… folks, that’s Denny Laine screaming, not McCartney. That alone puts a close to that theory, even though McCartney himself tried to wishy washy his way into playing into the Lennon imitation myth. But simply put, the song is also about motion, movement, keep things going, “Let me roll it to you,” keep this album on the run.

Next up, a major favorite of mine, a song that is about life, the movement of life, and just as water (rain water in particular) was used as a metaphor or at least a poetic device in “Band On the Run” so it is in “Mamunia.” Water is a symbol often returned to by McCartney, a symbol he uses well in lyrical moments of darkness as well as of lightness. And in keeping with the international flavor of Band On the Run (having been recorded on Lagos) “Mamunia” is an Arabic word meaning “safe haven.” Even the title of this song is far far from Britain.

“The rain comes falling from the sky
To fill the stream that fills the sea
And that’s where life began for you and me
So the next time you see rain it ain’t bad
Don’t complain it rains for you
The next time you see L.A. rainclouds
Don’t complain it rains for you and me”

And more:

“It might have been a bright blue day
But rainclouds had to come this way
They’re watering everything that they can see
A seed is waiting in the earth
For rain to come and give him birth
It’s all he really needs to set him free.

So the next time you see L.A. rainclouds
Don’t complain it rains for you
So lay down your umbrellas
Strip off your plastic macs
You’ve never felt the rain my friend
Till you’ve felt it running down your back

So the next time you see rain, it ain’t bad
Don’t complain it rains for you
The next time you see L.A. rainclouds
Don’t complain it rains for you and me”

Besides this being a classic acoustic McCartney song, it’s also pure Paul optimism. He’s never been one to let rain spoil his day, after all, rain is life. If it rains, strip off your rain gear and get wet! As a side note, that’s Ginger Baker of Cream fame playing shakers (gravel from outside the studio in a can).

Ah, but there is a song about Lennon, the very next one, “No Words,” and as is always the case, no amount of rebirth and movement comes without some amount of looking back, pain, or regret:

“You say that love is everything
And what we need the most of
I wish you knew, that’s just how true
My love was.
No words for my love”

And more:

“You want to turn your head away
And someone’s thinking of you
I wish you’d see, it’s only me,
I love you.”

“No Words” is not a vague half-baked love song, it is instead a rather elegant, poignant and highly personal love song of an unconventional nature.

And now we are coming near the end, and by that I mean the very end, the final movement, the final release, death. In fact, the death of Picasso, a song inspired by Dustin Hoffman. He was initially impressed that McCartney was in Jamaica (where they met) for a very admirable reason, to research Reggae, says Hoffman, “I thought, Gee, he’s doing research like anybody does. He said he did that often. He would hear about a new music and no matter where it was in the world and he would go towards it.” Contrary to popular critical opinion, McCartney takes his work and art very seriously. Though the story from Hoffman is better told by him, the basic point was that he challenged Paul to write a song on the spot while they were having dinner. Hoffman, a Picasso fan, was just reading about his death, and told Paul about it in the hopes that he might write a song. When Hoffman finished, McCartney strummed his guitar and instantly had this song, an event that Hoffman, to this day, finds profound… a moment of “birth” as he puts it. So even Hoffman uses the word “birth,” and above talks of motion with, “he would go towards it.” The song itself, “Picasso’s Last Words,” production-wise was never a favorite. I never cared for the jarring jumpiness of it, the weird way things cut in and out in a seemingly clumsy way–very unlike Paul, and I realized years later that what I didn’t care for about the song is in a sense the same thing I dislike about Picasso’s work. McCartney intentionally set out to make the song “Cubist.” That explains the off-putting nature of the piece. But I do have to admire McCartney’s high-minded (and successful) effort to create a Cubist piece of music. Oddly, one of the things I love about McCartney is his experimental way of writing, often disregarding verse chorus verse chorus formula, but in this case, the flow seemed, as it turns out, appropriately disjointed.

And lastly, we come to “Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five,” which takes us beyond death and propels us (moves us) into the future. The lyrics do not tell a narrative of any kind. They are rather stream of consciousness, but that to me does not make the lyrics dismissable. They fit, flow, and sound exactly right in the context of the rhythm. I never considered McCartney’s lyrics weak, not at all, nor even stream of consciousness, no with McCartney the lyrics are too perfectly fit by far, and too evocative. His lyrics instead being more like “stream of collective unconscious,” as I like to say. More trippy and archetypal than nonsensical. And as another friend of mine says with snorting dismissal at the charges that McCartney’s lyrics aren’t any good: “Those are the lyrics to the song.” Yes, and McCartney knew that well enough to not fight the flow of words that came with the song. Beyond the words… the song propels the listener faster and deeper into an explosive big bang ending through McCartney’s brilliant piano work and the powerful orchestration. Dare I say… it’s rather apocalyptic. The final movement of the album, with Nineteen-Hundred and Eighty-Five is significant.

That would round out the album, except for one other song, that originally was sandwiched somewhere into the middle on the American version of the album (it never appeared on the British version), “Helen Wheels” a roadtrip song, and what says more about motion, movement, fast motion and freedom than a road song? Perhaps the only British road song. Additionally, this song was quite literally born of motion as “Helen Wheels” was the name of their land rover.

So that, in a nutshell, is Band On the Run, the concept finally explained, movement and reinvention, freedom and release, rebirth and an allegorical journey from the past right past death and straight through to the future; every single one of the songs perfectly lined up to propel this enigmatic if not complicated concept to fruition. As for me, albums don’t come much more conceptual than that. Take that, Major Tom!

(Note: If you see any factual inaccuracies or notice anything I have missed, I welcome contributions, comments and suggestions that are passed along in a friendly manner. I am better by far with concepts and ideas than with specifics of date, etc.)

I Pictured

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I Pictured (By Barefoot Justine)

Today while meditating,
I pictured my mother,
disapproving, worried and bothered,
At my many undoings.

Today while meditating,
I pictured myself,
disapproving, worried and bothered,
At my undoings.

Today, while meditating,
I pictured black bile,
A stream of it tar and oil,
So many years polluting.

Today while meditating,
I pictured black bile,
A stream of it tar and oil,
Decades streaming.

Today while meditating,
I pictured black bile,
Rolling towards Shiva’s feet,
Decades Streaming.

Today while meditating,
I pictured clear water,
Flowing from the black bile,
Purified by Lord Shiva.

Today while meditating,
I pictured my mother a child,
The poor thing, so sad,
And I love her more.

Today while meditating,
I let go,
Attached no more,
I can love us both more freely.

(I just wrote this in one dash, no revisions or anything, will tweak it later, Justine)
Om-symbol-purple

Why Justine Doesn’t Draw Anymore

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I have this piece of paper on my door, it’s got a few circles on it, and the words on it are drawn rather than written, big and purple, and they say “YOU ARE THE BEST.” I see it every day. I see it every single time I look in the mirror (OK, I know, far far more often than I should), every time I go out or come in… all the time. That simple purple offering roots me in the now.

I have these books on my shelf, books I dedicated myself to for 15 years, published work, stuff I slaved over and sacrificed for, my life, my marriage, myself, my family, money all gone for my personal projects… these books. I never look at them.

I never could look at them, not even when they had just been released. All I could see in those pages and pages of obsessively drawn art was that the elbow was too low here, the eyes didn’t line up there, those feet and toes were ugly, God, I never got that expression right. And now I can’t look at them for all those reasons and several dozen more.

I used to draw, I mean, that was what I was… I WAS drawing. I was drawing. I don’t mean that as an action, I mean who I was was drawing! Drawing was my name. Now, no. Sure, I’ll draw with delicious delight if I’m getting paid, I might draw frequent sketches, but to sit down and work on a project, an engaging project that has profound meaning to me, something that has an uncertain future, something that I will have to finish in a vacuum through which all life and hope has been sucked, sucked into a black hole. No, I won’t do that. Then I’d have to send that project out to publishers publishing tons of books far less accomplished and honest than mine. I’d have to read all these enraging rejection letters. Then someone would finally publish it, and I’d have to see my work ignored while other work is praised and celebrated. I’d have to read snotty comments and criticisms of my work. No, I’m not doing that anymore. See, but this is not hopelessness that should infect my students. OK, yes, I had accomplished a lot as an artist, make no mistake, but I had failed to embrace changing trends and remained instead fixed on a sort of art and storytelling that had become painfully out of fashion. In addition to that I had devoted myself to a highly illogical project that was so personally coded that looking back it reads like the work of a crazy person. My career as a freelancer didn’t fail so much as I set out and made a bee-line for failure… not due to my skills or talents, but because of my choices. All of my students are far too smart and open to make the same mistakes. My failures will not infect them. All of them will have the wisdom to add what I teach to their toolboxes, but they will know to temper it with modernity. Tom will see to that. Fortunately, at SAW, Tom is right up to the moment, so in this case my tastes and tendencies are actually a benefit and not a hindrance… for the first time ever. Every school needs one old lady to pass the flame and remind the “kids” that sometimes it’s good to look back. Just don’t spend as much time doing it as I have. Listen to Tom, too.

No, I don’t draw anymore. The very act is tainted. First it was tainted by my own perfectionism, by my neurotic and abusive eyes, eyes that saw only the ugly things, never the beauty. Then my work became tainted by money, business and marketing. Then the act of drawing became tainted by failure, my failures and the failures of the world at large to recognize the incomprehensible pearls I had cast before them. Then, at last, tainted by the worst of things… tainted by all that run cold, and all that run cold turned into bitterness.

“Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues
And I explained that I had overpaid them.”
Sixto Rodriguez

I don’t have the temperament to keep at this anymore. I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, all my bones are set to disappointment. I can’t bear watching my work undersell projects that I KNOW (even for all the faults I saw in my work) were far (and I mean FAR) inferior to mine. And I don’t have the stomach for being rejected, I don’t have that fire in my belly that forces others on, to keep pushing. Others have those skills, those fires. And I definitely do not have the desire to do the work for myself. Artists should be paid for their work.

Artists should be paid for their work.

Again, ARTISTS SHOULD BE PAID FOR THEIR WORK. Bottom line. I’m not working for free.

But none of that is why I don’t draw like I used to… oh, I draw just as well, and when I do draw I truly LOVE it. But I am not “Drawing” anymore. Of course I felt and sometimes feel lost, because if I defined myself as “Drawing,” what am I when I’m not drawing? Nothing, seemingly.

A little over a year ago I walked in off the street into SAW for the first time, having no idea that my life was about to change. I had expected the pattern of rejection to simply continue. I had no frame of reference to expect otherwise, not lately I haven’t. I was obsolete, and here was another person to make certain I knew that, or at least that was what I carried with me when I met with Tom.

But it didn’t happen that way. Tom Hart was wiser than that. He saw in this “crazy barefoot woman walking in off the street,” to be more to the point, he saw in my portfolio that I was good, had mastered a few things, and had obviously paid my dues and lived a disciplined life as a dedicated artist. He saw also in my art the great value of my pedigree and lineage (which traces back to Wally Wood). Tom Hart saw what everyone else had missed. Tom saw that I could draw, I could really draw… ah… but could I teach? As it turns out, HELL YES I CAN FUCKING TEACH!!

Being who he is, he offered to let me launch an evening class just to help refill my coffers and keep me going for another month or so, and that was when I found salvation and hope. Tom attended my class and asked me (dare I say “begged” me… he may deny it now, but that email was enthusiastic and he did use the word “beg”) to sign on and be a teacher for the year-long.

Finally! Finally someone who saw what an asset I could be. At last someone was wise enough to see what no one else had EVER seen. Tom saw that I had a lot to offer. For so many years I had been turned away because my work was “too Victorian” or because it wasn’t digital. Not Tom, he was too wise by far to see my work in such ludicrous terms. And that was really when things turned around.

What has SAW meant to me? Hope. And let me tell you, there is nothing more powerful to a bitter, burned out, and hopeless person than hope. Nothing turns bitterness to sweetness more than hope. Nothing purifies a smile and spirit like hope. Nothing gives a person a reason to get out of bed and keep going like hope.

But wait… there’s more! There was Gainesville, the people of Gainesville, and our fabulous students. For the first time I was surrounded by people who respected me for all the things the comics industry had dismissed me for. These students wanted to better themselves, they did not want to take the easy way out. Not only was I teaching, I was having an amazing time. I felt like I did when I’d first started working in comics, I was full of energy and dedication. I wanted my classes to be as good as my art. I put all of myself into those classes. I put my efforts into OTHER people rather than into self-absorbed work. That is what I do now, I give rather than stare into my navel.

I don’t draw like I used to, but most people who have seen my work realize why, I was prolific, had created pounds and pounds of illustrations, they all can see why I burned out… I’d done it all. And here is what SAW really did for me, it gave me the chance to stop wasting all the things I’d learned from my years of obsessive drawing. SAW gave me the chance to take all the things I’d learned from my mentors, teachers, and acquaintances (P. Craig Russell, Val Mayerik, Dan Adkins, Jim Steranko, Frank Thorne, John Workman, Jeffery Catherine Jones) and pass them along. For a few years I had felt guilty that I had all this talent and had learned so much from so many legendary figures… and here I was doing nothing with it. SAW has given me the opportunity to keep those lessons alive! SAW has given me the opportunity to teach to my students the lessons Jeffrey Catherine Jones taught to me–and who she will never teach to another soul. SAW has given me the chance to take the very best things that are in me and keep them alive in others. Thanks to SAW my talents, work, lessons, and ideals are not being wasted. Through SAW I am able to say, “I know I don’t draw draw as often as I used to, I know I don’t care about being published, but here, you guys take all I’ve learned and all I am and do something with it. It’s yours now, keep us alive, keep us vibrant and moving forever into the future.” No, I’m not doing anything with it personally, but for me giving it to others who do have the desire and will to use all I know and all I’ve learned is in the end far more rewarding than getting published ever was.

Thanks to SAW the wisdom of not only myself, but of P. Craig Russell, Val Mayerik, Dan Adkins, Jim Steranko, Frank Thorne, John Workman, and Jeffery Catherine Jones is not being wasted, and what more could a small non-profit art school do than that? Not much, not much.

SAW taught me that sometimes we don’t get what we want or expect, but sometimes, just sometimes, if we cross paths with a wise person, things might just work out better than expected or wanted. This, for me, my friends, is far better than getting published… after all, I’m getting paid to share the best things that are in me. I am getting paid to enrich lives and make dreams come true!

Yeah, I’ve got some of my published books on the shelf. I never look at them. Also in my room I have a few pieces, thank you’s from my students from SAW, that I see everyday. I treasure them. And on my door I have a simple drawing I see dozens of times a day, a few circles and carefully drawn purple words that a child I was teaching art to this Summer at the Doris had given me. It says, “YOU ARE THE BEST.”

That is why I don’t draw anymore, not like I used to.

(UPDATE: At this moment, many months later, I am drawing like a demon… but, it is because I finally have good work on my table that will be published, paid for, and seen! It’s good to be back at it again.)

New Baby (& Macca Tune)

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tumblr_m03m4xQEuZ1qizhaoo1_500Got this tweet from Tom Hart today:

“@BarefootJustine should be interested to know the first song I heard after the birth was a McCartney song”

It’s quite auspicious, this sort of thing. And for those of you not in our circle, the birth of this baby is of great significance and is a huge sigh of relief for Tom, Leela, and all of Gainesville!

Attachments & My Altar

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Lord Shiva on Barefoot Justine's altar

Lord Shiva on Barefoot Justine’s altar

I began work on letting go of a difficult attachment last week. As of yet I have been cowardly about letting go of attachments in general. As I am not up to renouncing, I thought I would at the very least start off easy and start letting go of attachments that bring me pain, anxiety or anger. As I have been afraid to start letting go of ego attachments, this seemed like the most sensible way to begin walking past that obstacle.

I was surprised, once I laid the strong emotions I had been clinging to at Shiva’s feet, how hard it was to let go and leave them there. Now, a week later… I feel lighter! In fact I feel more like I did when I first discovered the Hindu Temple in Cleveland. Lighter, less… well… attached. Less attached to anxieties and hurt.

So well has this gone that I have taken to keeping an attachment journal, which I keep at my altar, and today I went so far as to do a spirit drawing, just letting my hand move with love and quiet and not bothering to worry about the anatomy or end result. It was the process that counted, and I will not share these drawings, that is not what they are for.

The next attachment I am working on is politics, the foolish world of politics. I want rid of anxiety over it, rid of the alienation I feel from both sides, rid of ALL emotional reaction to politics, release from the endless, relentless, self-righteous barrage of hypocritical knee-jerk party-line political crap surrounding all of us, engulfing all of us. There are no real solutions or significance in any of this. It is madness… complete madness on all sides. And I want no part of it. Our culture has become sick with it, obsessed with it, 24 hour a day news channels, perpetual information on the internet, statements, comments, arguments, delusions… madness. Madness and utter and complete bullshit. I wish people would just watch the 6:00 news and shut the hell up about it after 6:30… like they used to… and I would like to thank Joe Blue Sky for that observation.

I think you can see by the above paragraph that I have a long long way to go before I will be free of this jumble of venom and toxins. It seems I have been infected with this malady myself. And as much as I have perhaps been too strong in the above paragraph, I think the recoiling I am experiencing, the reactionary revulsion to politics, is merely that… a reaction to the relentlessness of it all. The topic has grown too big by far, and is ravaging us at every moment… but only ravaging those who let it. I have let it. I won’t let it.

And why do I think it’s OK and a perfectly responsible thing to walk away from politics? BECAUSE THEY DON’T NEED ME out there adding to the shouting, the noise, the clamor, and yes… the madness. There are too many people far too fixated on this insanity… they do not need me. I renounce. And I think that the problem now is not apathy, it’s the opposite… far too many people are far too angrily fixated on politics… it’s like a disease. And get this… I actually believe we’d all be better off and there’d be less gridlock if far fewer people were so fixated on all this, and instead took their hands out of it, and busied themselves with other things. Maybe it’s just me after all… which is another reason to renounce. And perhaps most importantly, the world needs more people who really don’t care what side you’re on. I renounce.

And by Lord Shiva, I will not be shamed, argued, or scolded by myself or others into participating in this illusion. If this makes me apathetic… it is either apathy or anger, rage, and anxiety. Given the choice…

By Lord Shiva’s grace, I for one will be free.