Tag Archives: justine mara andersen

Art Of “What The Lions SAW”

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What The Lions SAW cover by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions SAW cover by Justine Mara Andersen

If you haven’t heard, The Matheson (Gainesville’s History Museum) and SAW (The Sequential Artists Worskhop, Gainesville’s comics art school) have teamed up to produce and create “What the Lions Saw,” a book illustrated by local artist and SAW teacher Justine Mara Andersen, hereby known as “me,” your friendly neighborhood narrator, and written by Mae Clark.

I chose to share the cover first just to set the stage, ’cause I don’t have much to say about the process of drawing it… why? Because I ditched most of my process, sat in front of a blank sheet of paper and a folder full of lion photos, and drew it. Usually I sketch and sketch and work out every detail in advance, and I’ll walk you through some of that shortly, but on this occasion, for some reason I took a deep breath and trusted that it was all going to manifest itself on the paper… and it did. Sometimes I think that like songs that are plucked out of the air by songwriters, drawings often exist in the fibers of the paper before anyone puts pencil to the paper. What is meant to manifest will manifest.

It started, of course, as a pencil drawing that I then inked. It’s important also share that I don’t really think in color when it comes to art, I think in line. To me, this image works in black and white all on its own, so even though when you see the book it will be in color, here is the only place you will be able to see the cover in all its original black and white glory! Sometimes I wish people did not have the idea that black and white equals cheap. How I would have loved to have simply gone with a black and white cover! But alas… what is is what is.

Ah… but there is still plenty of glorious black and white magic between the covers… and that sounds vaguely like a dirty joke between inkers.

What was so exciting about this illustration job was how rich with opportunity Gainesville’s history is. There were no shortage of picturesque possibilities, and while I aimed to get the historical elements visually right through research, I chose a timeless yet hundred year-old illustrative style that I combined with a romantic and universal viewpoint, as sadly, it seems history has become less and less romantic as more of the truth has surfaced. Well, dreadful as the truth of history may sometimes be, I am a firm believer that there is still room for romance, at least stylistically, and in the manner in which I chose to render the scenes. I chose to approach this more as a fairy tale than as cold hard history in that the style is evocative rather than literal, and the approach fanciful and free. I have to admit, I was worried at first about taking on this project, as it was rather huge from an illustration perspective, so I decided to go into the first meeting bold and declare, “Nothing kills creativity faster than a committee, I want creative control. Give me that and you’ll get me at my best,” and was surprised to see that the Matheson gang eagerly nodded. So, thanks to the wisdom of the Matheson crew, I was able to do exactly that, give you all my very best! It’s a rare client that has the insight to trust us creative professionals to do our jobs and actually be creative. So often the life is manipulated out of my work by overzealous micromanagement. It seems a lot of people want to see their ideas on paper without taking the time to learn how to draw.

I’d like to now walk you through a show-and tell of the process for one of the drawings, probably one of my very favorites, the first illustration.

This entire book was based on the illustrations of Russian artist Ivan Bilibin, his work I found very appealing, and I had hoped that by binding myself within the limitation of paying homage to Bilibin, that I would maintain a singularity of style, limit the variables, and keep my work wistful, romantic, and that I would have a template to work from wherein simplicity and details worked in a sweet harmony. In other words, I chose this style to not only limit the variables, but to learn something.

This concept came quite quickly, in fact, a lot of these images I had ideas for from the very first time I read the script, many of them came to me and I had to sketch them in the hour after I first looked the manuscript over. Rarely have I had ideas come so freely.

What The Lions Saw - thumbnail

What The Lions Saw – thumbnail

Looking back at the first sketch (seen above), I am surprised how close this one is to the final version, with some notable differences. For one, I hadn’t seen the actual lions that used to sit atop City Hall, so I just dropped a pair of lions in, and as I loved this concept and design for the scenes of “washing the lions,” I hoped like crazy the actual lions would fit into this composition.

They didn’t… we’ll get to that.

Also, I have to laugh at remembering why the image above is cropped so closely. On the original sheet of paper I drew that on, the sketch only took up about half the page. At some point I had called Tom Hart (SAW founder) to get his credit card number to pay off a bill the school has been taking care of, so, naturally, I wrote it in the margin of this handy piece of scrap paper.

Yeah… but I forgot that and handed the sketch over to Peggy McDonald so she could send out teasers for the upcoming book. It was my understanding that these sketches would be shared… which means… as you have just figured out no doubt, that I had potentially just sent Tom’s (my “boss”) credit card number out on the internet!

Oops!

No… seriously… OOPS!!! Fortunately, we caught the problem and cropped the image before anyone else ever saw it… oye!

Soon after I did a second sketch to try and work out the specifics, having still not seen the lions themselves.

What The Lions Saw - sketch work-up

What The Lions Saw – sketch work-up

The problem was, once I saw the real lion, I realized they were seated. OK, so here’s the rub, I chose throughout the book to play a little loose with such things, with reality, as the lions are drawn out of this position later (as though they come to life), and I had also made the decision to sometimes render them as the copper lions, while sometimes as magical live lions depending on what suited the illustration. The cover, which you have seen, I thought demanded to be rendered more like a literal lion than a copper lion. However, for this image, the specifics of the washing of these lions demanded I draw the lions as they are. Plus, this piece set the tone, and I wanted to introduce our lions as they are. The other problem I had was that the composition I had worked out for this drawing I really liked, but the seated lions no longer fit, so it occurred to me to simply place them on low tables, which gave me an opportunity to draw a Bilibinesque fabric detail to skirt the table. Other changes came later, but above is the second sketch I did before ever seeing the lions.

Note also the red border. Sometimes I draw a scene out, and then work out the precise cropping later. In this case I needed the cropping of the composition to evoke the delightful compositions of Ivan Bilibin.

Below you will see the final sketch, which is pretty close, actually, minus one major element, which you might spot as we roll down. By this point I had worked out the rhythm of Bilibin’s compositional style, a sort of designed and balanced perfection. I chose to enhance that sense of balance by placing the elements in waltz timing… count the arrangement of figures on each lion… 1 – – 2 – 3! I did the same with the buckets as well as other elements of the composition.

What The Lions Saw - final sketch

What The Lions Saw – final sketch

I think you will see in the completed pencils below, that only minimal changes had to be made.

Among the changes were elements of symbolism. Sometimes symbolism occurs to me as a natural part of the creative process, and the symbols I used here also added to not only the waltz timing (see the old man with his back turned), but created a sense of time itself. I teach my students that really great narrative illustration can act like a time machine, capturing not only a present moment in time, but can also evoke the past and the future. In this case the act of washing something is in itself a statement of time. The lions got dirty in the past, are being cleaned in the present, and will be clean for a new purpose in the future. To me, that is the mark really great illustrations hit, they are not mere polaroids snapping a frozen moment, but evoke narratives that span from the past into the present and propel the viewer into the future.

What The Lions Saw - final pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – final pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

Add to this that we not only see the people cleaning the lions in the here and now, but the old man with his back turned represents the past, Gainesville’s past, and the children (one with a good old-fashioned balloon, the other with a dreaded cell phone) represent the future. As for me… I hope we learn to become less obsessed with our phones and more obsessed with balloons.

One regret I have about the piece is that I did not include an image of the person who actually did the hard work of cleaning and instead slid myself into the image… I’m the skirted barefoot girl right up front!

I also wanted to establish right from the very beginning of this book that my illustrations were not going to be literal. Yes, here I chose to show the “copper” lions as they actually are, though I break that later, what I wanted to establish was an abstracted and stylized background so the viewer would not be shocked when the images broke free from literalism. The older I get the less interest I have in being bound or limited… dear God… set me free!

And of course, as anyone who knows comics knows, the pencils have to be inked. I do all my inking with a brush and ink, I’m old fashioned that way. I’d like to add that the inking is my favorite part of the process, it’s where I’m most confident, and it seems to be where the actual magic happens, for some reason the pencilling is often more like work than magic.

What The Lions Saw - finished inks by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – finished inks by Justine Mara Andersen

Just to offer you guys all another couple of lovely teasers, below you will see one half of the two-page spread I had illustrated celebrating that “The Yearling” was written in this area (the yearling itself will be in the upcoming book). I’d like to point out that what you see in the below image is essentially the view out my studio window, where I often see wild turkeys and deer… all of whom make far better neighbors than humans. Also note the subtle reference to the Hindu Deity Shiva on the tree… like many illustrators of the past (Alphonse Mucha, even Bilibin), I chose to include some personal mysticism. That tree out my window I often stare into when I am meditating (it has an actual third-eye), so I have been going out and marking it with three horizontal lines in ash. So, there you go, a little personal insight you may have never noticed had I not pointed it out! As an life long illustrator I believe that illustration is the highest form of Art (with a capital “A”) as all our university intellectuals and snobs have it all wrong. Rembrandt was an illustrator, Sargent was an illustrator, the Cistine Chapel ceiling is an illustration. All this bluster about “high Art” and “low art” is, frankly, built on absurd and faulty logic. If you want to dismiss illustration as lowly, then you dismiss Rembrandt, da Vinci and Michelangelo.

What The Lions Saw - turkey pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – turkey pencils by Justine Mara Andersen

The final image I’d like to share I have little to say about it except that it is an exceptionally cool rendering of smoke and fire! And yes, you’ll learn more about this image when you read the upcoming book!

What The Lions Saw - Gainesville fire inks by Justine Mara Andersen

What The Lions Saw – Gainesville fire inks by Justine Mara Andersen

So, come on out December 14th and celebrate the launch of the locally written, illustrated and printed book,
“What the Lions Saw.”

I’ll be there… as will be the Lions!

For more, visit: barefootjustine.com
and sequentialartistsworkshop.org

Four Years Barefoot…

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Barefoot Justine's birthday bare feet 2016

Barefoot Justine’s birthday bare feet 2016

Yep, it’s rolled around again! That time of year (my birthday, Jan. 14th) when I reflect on what it means to have successfully navigated another year wholly and purely barefoot.

Well, to start, WOW!

It’s cold, as usual on my birthday, so I got dressed this morning in a pair of favorite bell bottoms, an undershirt and big cozy blue sweater covered in shiny stars. I, of course, wear my usual array of baubles, bells and bangles, and of course necklaces with Ganesh and Shiva on them, but also, around my ankles, anklets, and a pair of leg warmers, which do a lot to keep my feet warm. Lately at night it has gotten a little below freezing, but not much colder than the fifties during the day, days that are easier by far on bare feet than the winters I left in Ohio. Though I still hate the cold with as much weather-resentment as I dare hold on to now that I am in Florida. I was thankful that this is about as bad as it gets as I stepped out onto the cold bricks towards my car.

My first stop, the local Indian restaurant, the buffet has become an almost daily part of my diet. I have been learning to speak Hindi, so I start off my day chatting in Hindi with one of the waiters, who has taken it upon himself to let me practice my sloppy Hindi on him. Funny, a couple years back I was told customers had been complaining about my bare feet… moronic customers who not only cannot mind their own business, but are wholly ignorant of the laws. It took some convincing, but they eventually welcomed me back, and I have become more than a regular, a friend. I’m proud to say I have been close to many of the Indians who work there, and that we have not only enjoyed hanging out together, but have helped each other out quite a lot. This place is warm to me, friendly, and altogether my favorite place in Gainesville, apart from my home and SAW.

It’s cold in my little studio in the back of SAW (the comics school where I work), but my space heater makes it cozy within minutes, which is good as I have a lot of work to do. Soon my feet are warm and I am deep into the little Wind In the Willows and Winnie the Pooh type world I am creating for a proposed animation project that will help educate people, especially children, about the Florida Springs and our water. It’s a project that excites me, not merely because of the lovely theme and characters I am creating, but because it will get me in good graces with prominent environmentalists, good people, real good people. I am establishing strong and deep roots here, which I want, as this is the place I chose to call my home. This place, this town, this school, my room, are the only places I have ever chosen as my home. Finally, I am settling down.

All day students are wishing me a happy birthday as I ramble about the school, the chilly linoleum underfoot. It’s essential, to any hardcore barefooter, to find a job that will allow us to be authentic, so essential to me as I have designed my life around being barefoot, and I have been now, for far more than the last 4 years in which I really started counting. In fact, in the Hindu sense, in this manifestation, I have never worn shoes, nor am I merely a person who does not wear shoes, I am barefoot, and as we all learned in “Barfuss,” there is a difference.

Finally, the deadline met, I took off towards the bookstore to get a diary for my Hindi lessons, as I have been being tutored in Hindi and Urdu. As seems to happen more often than not these days, people don’t hassle me for being barefoot, perhaps it’s because I look them in the eye. After handling every diary and journal in two stores, the diary I chose had a Kay Nielsen cover.

Javed called as I was shopping (my student, Hindi tutor, and friend) to ask if I wanted to go out for ice cream for my birthday, but in classic Javed fashion, there were complications… fortunately, also in classic Javed fashion, the complications led to a better plan: to go shopping, make a spaghetti dinner, get tea for chai (made from scratch, of course), get cake, and watch a Bollywood movie. I stood in the kitchen and put together the meal, and then we enjoyed “Dedh Ishqiya…” stupendous film, by the way. And all in all, a fine birthday, as I had feared I was going to be spending it cakeless and alone.

Bollywood has become my latest passion. I’ve not only been going to a local theater here in town that actually runs Bollywood films, but I’ve been buying DVD’s as well. Dedh Ishqiya, which Javed and I just watched, what a film, I’d like to talk about it for a moment. On the surface the movie seems to be about a pair of criminals and conmen (very much in the style of Firefly), but soon it takes some turns and becomes a movie about women seeking release, and particularly about one woman seeking both a release and a return to who she is and not who the culture might force her to be. Madhuri Dixit is in the film, one of Bollywood’s best, an actress and dancer full of finesse and emotion. She is aging delightfully, though hardly old. Bollywood, a little like Hollywood, seems to prefer it’s women super young, so such a juicy role for Madhuri was a real delight. In the film she has become a rather formal aristocrat, rather like aging actresses become, but there is more to her. Due to her romantic interest, she is encouraged to dance… and what a glorious moment it is to see Madhuri being who she still is… a dancer, a beautiful woman! The camera zooms in close on her silky bare feet as she repeats the exact moves we had all seen in a famous dance scene from one of her earlier films… what a triumph! Madhuri’s character wants this, she wants out of this formal life, and wants to run free and return to her dancing, to her sense of self and not the sense of self derived from societies expectations that aging actors and artists become elderly statesmen. It was inspiring, especially in light of my own reflections on being a year older. In the end the film seemed rather like a tribute, a poem to Madhuri Dixit. My heart soared for her.

Barefoot Justine's birthday bare feet 2016

Barefoot Justine’s birthday bare feet 2016

So, 4 years barefoot. What does that mean? The same thing it means every year, that it’s possible to live barefoot, and there is no need to entertain the thought of conforming or submitting. It means we can live the life we create if we are bold enough to commit to it, if we are strong enough to say “NO” time and again to those who would deprive us of our true selves. I even navigated a situation with a surgeon who I thought was really going to give me a run for my money on this account, but he seems to have backed off. Yes, gang, I went through a surgery this year (involving my face.. it was a nightmare), and all barefoot. I didn’t think I was going to pull all that off, but did. When the surgeon gave me a hard time about it, I simply told him that I had survived cancer in Korea, and a near-drowning in Thailand, and that I had promised myself ever since that I would not conform or submit ever again… I WILL see my vision of my life through, and in that vision I am barefoot. He looked like he wanted to stand his ground, but he backed off, and seems rather content teasing me about it instead. Perhaps I have won him over. Perhaps he is wise as well as a gifted surgeon.

“Solitude scares me. It makes me think about love, death, and war. I need distraction from anxious, black thoughts.”
Brigitte Bardot

Why is it so important that I stay barefoot? There are many reasons, the main one simply being because it is important to me, and that is all the reason I really need. There are also reasonable explanations, and one being that I have a very busy mind, one that tends to chase rabbits into some pretty dark holes, but being barefoot grounds me, keeps my mind on the eternal now. When I am barefoot a part of me is experiencing the sensuality of the world, of my flesh, and of my very being, and all of that helps keep me out of my head… connected to life, to where the real stories are being told. My head is full of illusions, my feet forever in touch with life and living!

What were the highlights this year? I guess getting away with the surgery situation… I thought I had been up against my Waterloo on that one, especially when I had to enter that hospital. Ultimately that one won battle really only convinced me that I need have no fear that anyone can force me to do anything no matter the situation. The problem is, the machine is BIG, you know the machine, the one that tries to suck everyone into its monolithic vision of how things must be, the “THOU SHALTS” and “THOU SHALT NOTS” that are as set in stone as the tablets Moses brought down from the mountain, those blockages in people’s minds that convince them that this or that may not or cannot be done. The constructs of the culture… the bullshit and madness everyone else calls normalcy and reality, which I have learned is nothing more than a logjam of bullshit everyone protects as if civilization itself depends upon it. Hey, guys, break that logjam loose and watch how much more freely the water flows! But no, we are all too afraid that free flowing water will bury our constructs under a flood, a dangerous flood of new ideas and sensual experiences. We are all too afraid of not being protected from ourselves, from true freedom. Well I can tell you, I do not need the constructs of the culture protecting me, I need it to get the fuck out of my way.

But that is the culture’s job, isn’t it, to civilize the wild things… the wild women? Being barefoot is wild, and threatening to those who need society to create and demand submission to its constructs.

What else have I done? I had a nice trip to the Hindu Temple in Orlando. This was another of those lone roadtrips where I hopped barefoot into a car and took off. While the temple itself was great, and while it was magnificent to see Lord Ganesh in all his glory again, the rest of the experience was not so grand, still, barefoot roadtrips are fab. I had another one of those about a month back when I got into the car to go to Jacksonville with some friends (see more on that in a post I put up a few weeks ago).

I also attended the ballet I worked on. That was quite a delight, getting myself all dressed up and sitting in such a cultural moment stoned and barefoot… what a joy! Earlier this year I attended a similar event, a play, and noticed one woman scandalized, she stared at my feet then scurried off to get her husband so she could point to me and my feet… I mean, how weird is that? It’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is… pretty damn weird.

I think the big lesson this year was partially realized just last night, right on my birthday as we were watching our latest Bollywood movie, as my hand slid down over my toes, and as I enjoyed the sensuality of the feel of my own silky topsides and the warm fleshy underside of my toes, as well as the leathery flesh on my soles. This physical body can be a source of pleasure, a source of connection to this experience of being here now, that of being alive. It seems I sometimes forget that, sometimes take it all too much for granted. And in the end, isn’t that what being barefoot is all about? Being connected to my physicality, being sensually aware? I suppose this is a rather long-winded way of saying that being barefoot is the heartbeat of my own hedonism, and that sometimes I take it for granted. That’s really the thing, isn’t it… to learn not to take things for granted, to keep our favorite experiences fresh. And it’s not easy, keeping our joys fresh and our appreciation for them ever-flowing. It’s very easy to forget.

Barefoot Justine's feet at work in her studio in Florida.

Barefoot Justine’s feet at work in her studio in Florida.

I woke up this morning, the day after my birthday, and realized I still had a few things to say about this, so for a while I wrote a little of what you read above, all the while, thanks to the magic of DVD’s, Bardot was being her fabulous wild barefoot self in “And God Created Woman,” and I began to consider how easy it is to lose track of why I do this. The truth is… it’s a buzz… a sensual high, sure it distracts me from my busy mind, sure it’s who I am and what I’m about, but at the end of the day, what it’s really about is the titillation. Yep, that is the truth of the matter, and it’s why I am not on any of the barefoot lifestyle boards, because for me this is most definitely an extension and expression of my sexuality… much as it was for Bardot. Is it a fetish? Perhaps… but it doesn’t matter. It is life, it is a pleasure, and you can call it what you will.

There is one aspect of all this living barefoot that most people might not fully understand, the physiological. My feet have changed, even changed shape. The supple leathery hide of my soles being only the most obvious change. Now that they have been freed from the binding and malforming confines of shoes, they have spread out, particularly my toes. My toes have become not only much more spread out, but vaguely more rubbery. I’m not certain I’ve had a cold or flu since I started living this way. I’m not certain of the science of it, but I know I am stimulating pressure points, invigorating my circulation, and I know we absorb things through our soles. I believe I absorb inert viruses and my body fights them off, like flu vaccinations. The changes have all been for the better… just like the changes in my life. To be quite honest, I have gained far more than I have lost in being so honest and authentic about who I am and what I want. People respond more positively to me now, things happen more readily for me now, and I have become a tad superstitious. My life was not working back when I was conforming and submitting to so many expectations, now it works better, so like hell if I’m going to change, if I’m going to strap boards or bacteria incubators to my feet.

At the moment I am sitting in my studio, my belly full of veggie and shrimp tempura and veggie fried rice from my favorite Thai restaurant (Wahaha), another of those lovely places where I am welcome barefoot. Here now I am very aware of the sounds of Paul McCartney’s deep catalog work playing away in the background, my brave little space heater warming the place up, and of my ever bare feet, a lovely little chill dancing about my toes. And that’s what I want, to be… aware, aware of the music I play, aware of the pleasure of being barefoot… moreso, aware of the intense pleasure of truly being wholly barefoot, of not owning shoes, and of all the lovely adventures I’m going to continue having.

Below… that’s me, smiling away in my studio…

Barefoot Justine in her studio the day after her birthday

Barefoot Justine in her studio the day after her birthday

So, here’s to years of pleasure, of adventures, hope, joy, and hopefully this will be the year the right man comes along. Well… hope springs eternal.

Lemonade

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I was napping. It was raining… and the power was out. The power had been out for some time already. Joe Courter knocked at the door and I thought he’d said he was going to sit in my patio–which isn’t a proper patio at all, it’s some lawn furniture under the exposed hallway that stretches from my room out at the edge of the woods to the rest of the house. It’s quite lovely, as something as simple as going to the kitchen for more water is an adventure like camping because, though there is an overhang, the hallway isn’t so much exposed as outdoors. Some nights I am greeted by choruses of frogs from the lake, other nights owls from the trees.

I got up and was surprised to find Joe sitting on my patio, I guess that part of me that was awake enough to hear him calling in from out my door hadn’t worked out that his announcement that he was going to be sitting on my patio meant he would be sitting on my patio in one of my green chairs. I sat with him and tried not to complain about how long the power had been out. It was dinner time and I was hoping to use the toaster oven. “Well,” I announced, getting up, “I’m making a turkey sandwich.” When I got to the kitchen I leaned out and asked if he wanted one. He did, I told him to sit tight, relax, I’d take care of it. I’m a tad old fashioned, and as unpopular as it may be, I enjoy cooking for the men in my life. To round out the orgy of self-realized sexist cliches… I was of course… barefoot.

But the power was out, which meant I had to get in and out of the fridge in one quick swoop… wheat bread, smoked turkey, pepper cheese, mayo, green pepper, spinach, onion, tomato, and no doubt a few things I had forgotten. I grilled the meat, peppers and onions under cheese, then put mayo, tomato, and spinach on the sandwich, cutting it attractively in that angular manner that always seemed a little uppity in the house where I grew up. A few sea salt and vinegar chips, and a small bowl of pineapple for desert. I have to say the sandwiches turned out fab, and as it turned out, thanks to the power outage, we were now sitting together and enjoying dinner on my patio. Something about the combination of melted pepper cheese over smoked turkey breast always excites me once I start eating it. It tasted even better out there overlooking the lake and listening to all the wildlife.

Finished, Joe suggested we go out on the lake in the kayaks, after all, there was no power, so there was no TV, no Facebook, no needless checks in on email. It sounded like a great idea.

It was perfect out on the lake, cooler by far than it has been, the moisture in the air was cooling rather than suffocating. As we paddled along we marveled at the mist hovering over the water along the shore like you might see in a photography print at an art fair. The lake was hot, hotter than the air, perhaps even hotter than my body temperature, and shallow too, it hasn’t rained much this year. I laid down in the boat to take a nap, or at least to rest.

A few moments into it and I realized that I hadn’t felt that relaxed in weeks! All that tension I had been carrying around was dissipating into the mist, hovering away, or vanishing into the air. Soon the distant traffic noises caught my ear. Seemingly they were a lot louder closer to the surface of the water, as I hadn’t noticed them when I was sitting up. Just as the sound was about to spoil it for me I smiled and felt thankful that I wasn’t out there on the road in some car going to pick up something as essential and unromantic as undergarments. Yes, things were good. We’d had a lovely meal, and now I was floating around on a lake realizing that there was nowhere I’d rather have been… especially in my room on my computer looking at nonsense on the internet. Maybe power outages aren’t all that bad after all. Well, this one wasn’t.

This Guy I Know

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This Guy I Know
Justine Mara Andersen

This guy I know,
He puts me to bed,
Every night,
I sleep alone.

This guy I know,
Twice a week,
We dine together,
I cook for one.

With this guy,
I hear many stories,
And tell a few,
Each lonely night.

With this guy,
I share my tears,
But there is no shoulder,
And none to hold.

This guy I know,
He laughs me off,
Such silly notions,
Even I don’t know.

A friend to me,
This guy I know,
A friend to me,
And nothing more.

A friend to me,
So he says,
A friend to me,
And nothing more.

This guy I know,
He’s farther now,
And won’t return,
He’s going home.

This guy I know,
Is in every song,
And everything,
I love and know.

This guy I know,
Has flown away,
Nested home,
I sleep alone.

A friend to me,
This guy I know,
A friend to me,
And nothing more.

A friend to me,
So he says,
A friend to me,
And nothing more.

With a hollow ache,
Each eve will pass,
A friend to me,
And never more.

How To Be a Passionate Artist & a Pro

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So, how is it done? How does one balance the heat of art-making, the heady personality of the artist, the neurosis inherent in the heart of the artist… and yet behave like a cool calm professional?

OK… here’s the rub… I have no fucking idea. I’ve been at this for the majority of my adult life, and I still have no idea how to be the dedicated true believer I am as an artist, and yet how to balance that with being a pro at meetings, coping with senseless intrusions from clients, and then ultimately dealing with disappointment when the final results are damaged by incompetency at the printers, or whoever.

Being an artist can be soul crushing every step of the way, from the struggle to learn and ultimately master your craft, to the uncertainties involved in “making it,” to dealing with the bullshit of having “made it.” Worse yet, however much I have “made it” in the eyes of others… the sad truth is (psst… don’t tell my students) most of us never make it, certainly nearly all of us feel like that whole “I’ve finally made it” stage is still eluding us. Shit happens, your favorite art director gets laid off, entire industries can go under, books and magazines can be cancelled mid-project. It’s a bitch.

No, really, it’s a bitch!

And what is “making it” anyway? I mean, lots of shitty artists make it. It didn’t matter how many BIG companies I worked for, for me “making it” often depended even more on more personal criteria. How in the hell could I ever consider myself as having “made it” with artists like Hal Foster, Jeff Jones and Wally Wood having set the bar so high? There is “making it” in the business and publishing sense, then there’s “making it” in your own eyes, which also includes the whole concept of “making it” in comparison to the Masters. This whole “making it” bit is elusive to say the least.

So, take all that, all that uncertainty, all that self doubt, and add the simple truth that more often than not, the sorts of minds that make art and make good artists also make neurotics. For me, the real catch is that the very forces, emotional and psychological, that pushed me on and kept me striving to greater heights are the very emotions and passions that often seem to undo me as a professional. I could never have learned to draw the way I do if I wasn’t so obsessive, so in need of approbation. I often think I create work to boost my self-esteem, to prove to a world that has bullied me and banged the hell out of my self worth, that I am worthwhile, that I can contribute something, that I am exceptional. Sometimes I think I make work to ease the loneliness, I create work to be loved. Pathetic? Perhaps, but I don’t think it’s all that unusual. Honestly, I think I’m still in the “look what I can do” phase as an artist.

This is all far more complicated by a number of factors, for one, we live in a culture that demands that people who give more, do more, and excel, also learn to smile good naturedly and accept that incompetent boobs and morons will screw up their work at some point, either through heavy handed editing and art directing of incompetent printing. As Jeffrey Catherine Jones once told me, when she and Wrightson and Kaluta and the rest of them got together they would joke that their work always came back from the printer smeared with bananas. If you don’t get that, let me explain… basically artists learn quickly that once our work is out of our hands it goes into the hands of the baboons at the printers. This, group, is why it is so important to leave borders around your work so the artwork (image area) is not manhandled. This is why I get so exasperated when my students draw all the way to the edge of their papers. Here’s what I’m telling you, that art teacher in school you loved so much, you know, the one that told you to draw all the way to the edge of the paper… didn’t know his (or her) ass from a hole in the ground. That border around your work is where the coffee spills, fingerprints and abuse goes.

Let’s just lay out my latest mistake… or perfectly justifiable frustration… depending on whose side your on here. It’s just about April now, and before Christmas I started working on a major project, taking about 80% of the project on myself (regarding the illustration chores only). This project was 4 full pages of comic strips, each one drawn in the style of a classic Master of the form. I had to learn to draw like Bill Watterson in one strip, then Hal Foster in another; Charles Schulz in one strip and Windsor McKay in another. This work was created with dedication, delight, and the utmost precision. When copying the style of a master the difference between success and failure can be measured in millimeters. You know what I’m talking about, we all know when a drawing of Charlie Brown was done by Schulz, and when it was done by a lesser artist. And let me tell you, sometimes the differences are so subtle as to be maddening… millimeters. Bend a shape by a couple millimeters… and suddenly it looks like the same boob who drew those pissing Calvins we all see on the back of Ford and Chevy trucks drew that Charlie Brown as well. Copying the style of a master requires not only an understanding of their style, but undoubtedly years of mastering drawing yourself, years of observation, years of noticing the minutia, years of discerning patterns and proportions that are invisible to the eye of the average viewer, or indeed most artists. What I really was not ready for was realizing that in order to finish this latest project I had to entirely relearn whole languages of line with each artist. The lines that Chester Gould used might look a little like the lines that Walt Kelly used… but they arent’ not at all. In other words, being a good inker isn’t good enough, you have to be a discerning inker that deals with lines that are perfect down to millimeters. I likened it to code breaking. Each artist had a code of line rather than language. This project I have worked on has been a delight, a torture, rewarding, maddening, embarrassing and worthy of great pride. In other words, a world of conflict.

I am a conflicted person, a complicated person, a person with high emotions and higher standards. The problem is, I hold the world to my standards, and while once upon a time we expected people to master things, to reach higher and set higher standards, we now, instead, expect the person with high standards to just relax and let the baboons drag their work down… and we’re supposed to smile about it, too.

So, I did my job, I did all I could and gave all I had… and in the end, what did I get… my work came back with bananas (and I swear I smelled a little fesces) smeared all over it. Someone at the printer decided that the margins were too wide (or something), so naturally, the solution someone at the printer came up with was to set down the banana, stop scratching himself, and stretch my work out to better fill out the page.

Remember what I said about millimeters? Blown, blown to hell. The worst part was having to listen to everyone tell me “it’s alright… no one will notice… it was only stretched a little.”

“Only stretched a little.” There’s no such thing as “only stretched a little,” it’s either stretched or it ain’t. This is one of those black and white right or wrong things. Not only did I have to witness the distortion of my work (to the tune of 34,000 printed copies), but I had to listen to person after person tell me that the work looked fine distorted… in other words, that I was wrong and my emotions invalid. It seems that everyone is an expert, everyone but me knew how my art should look. I, evidently, am the one person who is not qualified to decide whether or not my work looks good stretched and distorted. I guess everyone else knows a lot more about how my work should be presented than I do. In other words, not only did I have to look at my work horribly disfigured, I had to listen to everyone tell me there was nothing wrong with it that way, and that I was just being silly for being upset about it.

Here’s where we really get pushed and pulled. Clients expect us to be passionate and innovative, meticulous and wholly engaged in the work, in other words they expect us to be artists through and through… until we have to sit down in the board room. Admittedly, I challenge this, I go to all my meeting barefoot, and usually in short shorts, not to make a point, but because I am not playing their game. If I had wanted to play their game and wear business casual clothes, I would have played their game. I chose to be an artist because I have no interest in wearing a ladies pants suit. Now, here’s where we really get put to the test, the client will change this, change that, demand perfection, then drop illos, make senseless changes, and be OK with it when the printer fucks it all up. Then, they expect us, the artists, to be OK with that, to be cool, calm and professional. In other words, that passionate engaged and innovative person that drew the work and conceived of the project, the very artist they relied on to be creative and “artistic,” they now expect to behave like a banker. It’s an impossible situation to be in. And why is it that everything has to be “professional” anyway? Why are we so afraid of emotions? Why can’t honesty and emotions play a part in these business transactions? They certainly liked it when honesty and emotions played a part in the art making! We, as artists, are expected to balance ourselves on a scale that is impossibly tipped out of our favor.

So here’s where it all comes together, remember what I said about artits being passionate, neurotic, emotional, obsessive… well, when I knew my work had come back from the printers stretched, that didn’t sit well with me. When I heard about it I began to vibrate, to fucking vibrate with emotion. It was uncontrollable. Imagine shaking a bottle of Pepsi (or Coke… I don’t care which you prefer, but no Shasta), then expecting that emotional soda wouldn’t blow out and spray everywhere. The point is, I’m full of fizziness, that’s what makes me go… that’s what makes me so much fun to drink… but shake me up and what do you think is going to happen? All that fizziness and emotion we all admire and enjoy is suddenly spraying out all over someone’s face.

Unfortunately, sometimes it sprays all over the client’s face.

That’s the unprofessional part, so I’m told. Personally, I think it’s unprofessional that clients don’t treat artists like artists and don’t let artist be artists.

If I’ve learned anything from my life as an illustrator, right up to this particular project, the take home lesson would be: expect more from yourself and less from the culture. In other words, an artist needs to strive to master the difficult stuff, they need to do their homework even though the culture doesn’t know the difference between Hal Foster and Lynda Barry. And even if you can draw like Foster (and no one does), the printers and publishers will screw it up anyway. No, there isn’t much reward for expecting more from yourself… but you should do it anyway, at least that’s what I tell my students.

Sometimes I hope most of my students ignore me, it will certainly make their lives a lot easier, ’cause no one out there can see the difference. After all, everything’s beautiful no matter how half-assed or poorly conceived or poorly printed it is… right?

Three Years Barefoot

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Barefoot Justine At Home

Barefoot Justine At Home

“You’re ill at ease. Adventurous people are always a little ill at ease. They’re shy. They aren’t bold the way people think they are. They go stumbling around breaking things, being scolded, always looking for a place where they feel they belong, they have that crooked look… of not really matching anything.”

Lilith (from the 1964 film, “Lilith”)

I haven’t been blogging much lately, to tell the truth, it started feeling rather pointless. Yeah, sure, guys come in droves to look at my pics, but I’ve realized how utterly hollow that is. Stared at and lonely, it’s not an inspiring state of affairs. But, all the same, each year I have marked the anniversary of my dedication to hardcore barefoot living, but this year, the anniversary (January 14th–my birthday) slipped past me, it’s nearly the end of February now. All the same, this blog entry has become something of a tradition with me, so I thought I oughta muster up the enthusiasm to keep it up, after all, I’m a believer in tradition.

“You can be barefoot and still have worries.”

Brigitte Bardot

Yep, a tradition is a tradition, but these exhibitionistic blog entries have begun to seem more and more like a spotlight on each lonely weekend. Men! Perhaps I’m too picky, but it seems every man I meet is prowling around looking for a plaything to shoehorn in around their more important activities. Guys, here’s a tip, maybe you should wait to ask a girl how she feels about anal sex until AFTER the first date. So where’s the enthusiasm, where’s that patented Barefoot Justine smile? Well, group, its in there, but it takes a while sometimes for it to grace my face, and part of coaxing up that smile is hard work, the hard personal work of celebrating the good things, of which there are plenty. The hard work I persist in doing. That’s what this blog entry really is, an attempt to purge the bile and look on the sunny side, to remind myself how good things are even when I am at my loneliest and most detached.

There are two wolves at my door, the one snarls and bares its teeth, it is loneliness, fear and sometimes even jealousy. There is a second wolf, and that one is the source of my strength, my passion, and my joy and inspiration. You know the old saying, and it is true… the wolf that wins is the one you feed. Here I am, forever remembering to feed the right wolf, but often forgetting and fattening up the horrid one.

So what has 3 years barefoot meant, anyways?

Well, it’s meant a lot. For one, it means that it can be done. What do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is that it is possible to live wholly without shoes, socks, slippers, sandals, anything! Yep, even in the winter. And, nope, there’s not a single thing in my home that would cover, warm or protect my feet. It’s been skin on the ground for 3 solid years now (and pretty much the same for years before that as well, I just hadn’t had the courage to burn my shoes once and for all up until 3 years ago). It can all be done barefoot, every aspect of my life, from doctor visits, to shopping, from work to visits to the courthouse, and from restaurants to business meetings. What it really means, 3 years barefoot, is that a person can live the life they want to live… so long as they have the courage and determination to make it so.

So long as they are willing to make the sacrifices… and more importantly, capable of reminding themselves of of how grand it is to live a self-actualized life even in the muggy air of a culture that works very hard to strangle that free spirit out of us.

Barefoot Justine Mara Andersen, dirty leathery soles

Barefoot Justine Mara Andersen, dirty leathery soles

“‘Reality’ is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creaties its own special reality having nothing to do with the average ‘reality’ perceived by the communal eye.”

Kinbote (Pale Fire)

We can make lots of things so, but sadly many of us never figure out that we have that power. More to the point, most of us are not up to the challenges of conjuring our daydreams into realities, whatever “reality” is. “Reality,” as any good Hindu knows, is a construct, most usually kept in place by the average man, and it takes extraordinary people to step outside of that reality, extraordinary people who can turn their backs on the petty expectations of a world of people who aggressively believe in the big shared construct… but that’s all it is, a construct. Living barefoot for 3 years is essentially a rejection of that construct. And boy does it rub some people the wrong way. Those people will work to stop you, to brainwash you, to force you back into line with the accepted construct they all have silently and unwittingly agreed to call “reality.” You know, that ever so “real” world in which sports actually seem important, that world in which people actually watch all the crap that’s on TV, that world in which Americans actually believe that the solution to gun violence is more guns (like say in schools, for example). It’s madness, folks, look around you, it’s madness! Yes, Virginia, the lunatics have taken over the asylum, but there’s no need to stay in the asylum with them, it is, after all, only a house of cards.

“‘Reality,’ (one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes)…”

Nabakov

And I am seen as mad for being barefoot? Madness and sanity are not democratic states of being, whole societies can be mad, and their constructs are created to make those of us who see the madness for what it is seem like the mad ones. One thing history, myth and religion teaches us is that “they” crucify those “madmen” and burn those “madwomen” who challenge the constructs, the collective notions, of “reality.” Sometimes I think “reality” is nothing more than the sneakiest and most subtle and insidious of propagandas.

I walk barefoot for a number of reasons, and one reason is that I have renounced the madness, that construct, to create a life, construct and reality that is highly personal. I know, many may find all this hard to accept, but trust me, it can be accepted. Some of us have to experience real trauma to be able to find ourselves and make that painful break from the construct the average man mistakes for reality.

Yeah, I know, I show a picture of my dirty leathery soles and then get all existential on y’all. But that’s what it’s all about, this journey. You can choose which wolf to feed, but you can also choose between getting in line, boarding the bus and going where everyone else is going, or you can take off and explore your own life from the driver’s seat. Face it, most of the people out there have taken the passenger seat in their own lives. Simply put, you can either be who they want and tell you to be, or you can be who you want to be. Frankly, it’s easier to board the bus and sit in the passenger seats with everyone else.

“Campbell: …A dream is a personal experience of that deep dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.

Moyers: So if my private dreams are in accord with the public mythology, I’m more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public–

Campbell: –you’ll be in trouble. If you’re forced to live in that system, you’ll be a neurotic.

Moyers: But aren’t many visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism?

Campbell: Yes, they are.

Moyers: How do you explain that?

Campbell: They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it, or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience–that’s the hero’s deed.”

Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, (The Power Of Myth)

Either you can take it, or you can’t, honestly, sometimes I can take it, and sometimes I can’t.

“I will not conform and I will not submit,” that’s my motto regardless. I thought it always had been, but it wasn’t, not until after I’d faced my own mortality twice, after I had lost my home and gone bankrupt, not until I realized I had nothing to lose. It was then that I really had the courage to find out what it really means to not conform and to not submit. But here’s the funny part, group, back when I played the game and rode on that bus, I got nothing back in return for my forfeit, whereas now, when I have accepted my path and have individuated, now that I am stubbornly barefoot, living as an artist, and following my bliss, I am finding that things are working out a lot better. People give me more work, they respond better to me than they did before. I see no reason to get back on that bus. Actually, I’m rather superstitious about it all. Things are so much better for me now that I am afraid of any compromise when it comes to my vision of who I am, and I am barefoot. No, I won’t put shoes on just for this one thing… that, my friends, is a slippery slope.

Barefoot Justine Mara Andersen's bejeweled feet

Barefoot Justine Mara Andersen’s bejeweled feet

Yep, another year barefoot, and I have done it all, gone shopping, gone out to eat, gone to the doctor, travelled, you know, I’ve done all those things barefoot that everyone thinks is impossible. How many times I have heard people lament that they’d go barefoot all the time if only they could get into restaurants and grocery stores… well… you can get into restaurants and grocery stores barefoot, the catch is, you actually have to want it enough to see it through. Oh yes, there are excuses, cop-outs, but that’s all they are. I wanted it, I won’t cop-out, and here’s how I do it:

Smile, look people in the eye, wear bell bottoms or a skirt, be discreet, and go about your business as if it’s the most natural thing in the world for you to be barefoot. Sure, there will always be busy-bodies who think it’s their job (which it isn’t) to make sure all the rules of their fragile little construct are obeyed… but those boneheads are surprisingly few and far between. Wanna go barefoot all the time?… be charming! Charm them, they’ll leave you alone… except for the real bitches and assholes… some people you just can’t work with, they are too far gone, too deep in the tar of the average man’s construct. Some of them you can defeat, but many of them have rooted their concrete so deep into the illusion that they just won’t budge. I should feel sorry for those people, but I don’t, fuck ’em! Fuck ’em!

Let me say this, if you don’t go barefoot, and you wish you could, it’s not THEM, it’s not the stores, the restaurants or the social pressures that are stopping you… it is YOU that is stopping you. If you want something, you have to get off that damn bus.

Yep, 3 years uncompromisingly barefoot, and my feet are fine! I’m fine! My soles are leathery, I have no callouses (those just crack and hurt–sorry foot-community, callouses are NOT good, buff ’em off!) My feet are no longer deformed by those little bacteria incubators everyone calls shoes. My toes have a healthy spread, they’re not all cramped together like the lotus feet of some victim of Chinese foot-binding. Shoes are a cultural aberration.

“So, Justine, where’s the fun? This blog entry seems rather dark,” you might be thinking, well, the fun is coming. In the words of the Pythons… “Wait for it!”

What does 3 years barefoot really prove? For a start it means that I’ve proven I’m not fooling around. It proves not only that it can be done, but that it can be done well. Sure, it’s risky at times, but so is bicycling, playing soccer, and sitting around too long in front of a computer. Nope, what I am doing is no more dangerous than skiing, texting and driving, or bags of Cheetos, things most people don’t consider all that unthinkable. Ever notice how people will celebrate boxers but look at a barefoot person like they’re nuts? Ever notice how we celebrate skatboarding and mountain biking, but find going barefoot entirely too risky? See… y’all see what I mean by the construct and how fragile it is? For example, you can break your neck skiing… yet people are horrified at the possibility of getting a sliver of glass in their foot. My brother got a compound fracture in his leg from playing soccer, his bones punctured the skin of his leg… yet my parent’s forbade me from going barefoot because I might catch a cold! Crazy, right? And by the way, you can’t catch a cold by going barefoot.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen's feet with concert ticket and souvenir...

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen’s feet with concert ticket and souvenir…

What were the highlights of my barefoot adventures this year? Well, quite readily, my outing to the Cheap Trick concert (which I wrote about at length in this same blog) was spectacular. It was thrilling, and took me back to those wild-child days. I mean what could be more perfect than being stoned, barefoot, and clad skimpily in bleached cut-off shorts at a Cheap Trick concert? Not much. The grass was lush and moist as I danced and danced until the grass and dirt had compacted into a delicious green clay-soft pad under my soles. I had left the house lamenting that I was single and going alone, but as soon as the band took the stage, as soon as they started playing I was reduced to tears and trembles, and realized that this was a moment I needed to indulge in, a moment where my solitude was a blessing.

Of course there were my many adventures with my dear friend Joseph Blue Sky (see pic below taken by Joe during his last visit–no feet, but it’s a cute shot!). We have such fun together. And we have adventures, plenty of stumbling about laughing and, on my end, wishing we could live like that every day. He lives in Ohio, by far too far from my swampy home. But earlier this year I traversed (alone) from Florida to Ohio in a rental car to see him as well. And again encountered snow under my feet in West Virginia!

Barefoot Justine in the forest with Joe B. Sky (taking pic)

Barefoot Justine in the forest with Joe B. Sky (taking pic)

Of course I went to numerous meetings and met with clients barefoot, something that throws them off until they start working with me and realize just how dedicated and inspired an illustrator I am. Still, there’s something ticklishly subversive about standing around barefoot in a room full of people with ties and business casual clothing on. I mean, really, who goes to meetings barefoot? Yep, it is very possible to live a professional life barefoot. The trick is that you have to be damn good at what you do (in my case, illustrating and even animating), and you have to be committed without apology to the decision to live barefoot. If you mean it, they’ll go along with it, and usually with a genuinely interested smile, yep, I’m forever answering questions about my feet, especially in winter (which in North Central Florida can still be cold enough to be annoying).

Mostly, there’s the simply pleasure of living in a town where people are more open to eccentricity and individuality. There is support here, for my self actualization. They dig that here, where I live. Mostly there’s the rich life I lead at home, surrounded by growling alligators, soaring eagles, deer, armadillos, and even the occasional otter. I have forest land to explore in my savage state of half-nakedness.

Barefoot Justine Mara Andersen wild in the forest

Barefoot Justine Mara Andersen wild in the forest

Yep, that’s me up there in that pic, running around topless and barefoot in the woods. Fortunately I’ve never been busted for it, though I’ve had to turn tail a number of times. Being something of a hermit, it’s lovely to have all this land to play on. Getting back to nature, that’s one of the biggest pleasures of my life. The ground here is unfortunately challenging, we have ticks, chiggers, and horrid little spiny things and thorns everywhere, but that’s all just part of the fun, isn’t it? There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Basically what 3 years barefoot mean is that I’ve done it! I made a decision, a challenging decision (to never wear shoes), and as afraid as I was that it wouldn’t work out… I’ve made it work! Of course I have had to live and accept a different life. Instead of enslaving myself to the American Delusion (or “American Dream” as it is generally known), I chose to leave that illusion to mom and dad. My ambition was to live barefoot, and as part of that to live a sustainable life. For years and years I dreamt of the day I would shed not only my shoes and socks, but my mortgage, cable bill, and all the expectations of “THEIR” reality. I wanted to live cheaply out in the woods, a smaller and simpler life with a view, and here I am 3 years later living in my little cottage-room in the woods, barefoot and low-budget. Sometimes all it takes to live the life you daydream about is a drastic change in expectations. Maybe, after all, some of our dreams may not be so unattainable, maybe it’s our expectations that are holding us back. Maybe before we even try living our dreams we have to let go of everyone else’s.

“Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Dr. Timothy Leary

“The Latest” Cheap Trick

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(Barefoot) Justine's review of Cheap Trick's "The Latest"

(Barefoot) Justine’s review of Cheap Trick’s “The Latest”

Above… that’s pretty much my review of “The Latest” from Cheap Trick, their 2009 album.

Like opening your window for the first time in the spring, “The Latest” is a breezy blessing. With “The Latest,” Cheap Trick really lets their Beatle flag fly… though at half mast. The album is peppered with subtle evocations of George Harrison. It seems the lads were reeling from his loss. Of course, Lennon’s spirit pops up more than once, and I am hoping they catch up and recognize McCartney’s influence and brilliance before they have to do it posthumously–though McCartney’s immortal… right?

“Breezy” I say? Yep, breezy (but never shallow). The stuff has a sweeping Wilbury sound at moments, full of life, more than a hint of loss, and a lot of fun. Nope, this isn’t growling metallic Pop peppered with Punk, not by a long shot, but if you don’t need to impose the limitation of your expectations on Cheap Trick, and if you are willing to take the band on their own terms… and if you simply love heartfelt and sincere songs… then this album won’t disappoint.

There’s a distinctly modern freshness to the production. It’s a big and lively sound, and full of enchanting melodies, classic harmonies and sweet punchy riffs, like the very best of ultra-modern retro pop. In fact, upon second listening, it might be one of the very best examples of ultra-modern retro-pop I’ve ever heard. No, it doesn’t sound like classic Cheap Trick… thank God. Oh… don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Cheap Trick’s old stuff, but I’m just as excited to hear them spread their wings and fly into this territory as well. It’s nice to watch artists age and maintain their energy as well as maintain their playfulness. “The Latest” is an album that is not only looking for something fresh… but has ultimately managed to find it.

Face it, they’re older, which doesn’t mean the guys can’t still tear it up (I just saw them live at Silver Springs… heavy and loud as ever), but this album reflects a very mature in-the-NOW attitude that I found easy to embrace.

I’ve only made it through the album twice so far, so my commentary is rather more a first impression than an in-depth analysis, but so far the songs that grabbed me right away have been, “Miss Tomorrow,” “California Girl, and “Everybody Knows.” The third track, “Miss Tomorrow” delighted me immediately, it was love at first sight, and the best part was that as I listened to the rest of the album… the promises made by “Miss Tomorrow” were paid off in full.

As I finished listening to this album I realized how much I’d love to be invited to the next band picnic. I don’t know if Cheap Trick have picnics (ever been to a band picnic? I have, they’re a blast!), but if they did, I can imagine the cloudless Florida sky, plenty of shade, and the food and laughs would be warm and lovely. And what a blast it would be to toss a frisbee while this album blared away from the picnic shelter… and I don’t know why… but I have this strange feeling Robin Zander might just be one helluva softball player. Alas (sigh), until the band invites me to their next picnic… I guess I’ll just have to open my windows, let the breeze in, and let some of this music out while I daydream.

All in all the album is life affirming and joyful. I am so delighted these guys haven’t sunk to going “darker,” because, frankly, right now, the last thing I or anyone needs is more of that shit. I’d just like to say, good job, guys, you made it for me, right there under the reigning Gods, the Beatles, Wings and Badfinger, I’m gonna save a place for Cheap Trick!

“The Latest” won’t take you back to 1977… but it sure as heck takes the sting out of 2014 (and took the sting out of 2009 as well).

Inane Insane

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(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen… barefoot outlaw!

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen… barefoot outlaw!

Yep, it happened again, and under the usual circumstances, and from the usual sort of person. I was at Walmart (I know… shame on me… but if I want waffle batter, carpet tacks and the first season of Happy Days on DVD where else am I gonna go?), carefree in my bare feet thanks to my former victory there. See, last year I had been kicked out of a Walmart for being barefoot, so I called Corporate, because I knew Walmart didn’t have a “no bare feet” policy, unfortunately most of their employees are ignorant. It was confirmed by corporate that I was within my rights to live my life as I choose, so they called the manager and assistant manager, and I was called by both… and they apologized on behalf of the idiot security guard that had kicked me out. I, of course, took names, so that the next time I was kicked out I would be able to say: “Speak to manager so-and-so.” Problem solved… uh… unless you’re in a different Walmart.

The main reason I shop at Walmart (beside the fact that–thanks to Obamacare–I have NO insurance and my prescriptions are less than half what they would be anywhere else, and besides the fact that I am not traveling all over Florida looking for three different non-corporate shops just to pick up three items I could have just as easily found at Walmart, and besides the fact that a friend of mine once chastised me for bitching him out for shopping at Walmart by saying “It’s not the fault of poor people that they shop where the prices are lowest–and sister… am I ever poor!), but I digress, the main reason I shop at Walmart is because the freedom and right to go barefoot wherever I please is very important to me, and I prefer to shop in stores and visit restaurants that respect my right to choose.

The right to shoes, the right to choose, I choose barefoot!

But, as I was saying before, I had won this battle once at one Walmart, but I was now across town in the safer Walmart, minding my own business, shopping in my freshly cleaned and perfumed bare feet (see photo form today above) when a foul little troll of a woman in a blue vest came along with her very best Seven-Dwarves Grumpy face on and started with “Ma’am… you can’t be in here barefoot.” I told her that I could indeed, that I didn’t have to leave, and that I have called corporate about this once already, and Walmart has no policy regarding bare feet.

Well, not being willing to let it go at that she walked off bitching about how they have food at Walmart.

OK… see… now this is the part that set me off, and for many reasons. Firstly, she’s dead wrong, no matter of opinion here at all. I was 100% right and within my rights. There are NO codes with the Florida Department Of Health, nor with the DBPR, see quote below:

“Good day ,

Regarding your inquiry DBPR- Division of Hotels & Restaurants does not have any regulations regarding barefoot patrons at an establishment.

Best Regards,

Roger Xxxxx
Regulatory Consultant
Division of Hotels and Restaurants
Bureau of Sanitation and Safety Inspections”

Also, here is the letter from the Health Dept. stating that it is NOT a violation:
FL2009.pdf

So as she walked off continuing to bitch me out under her breath, I shouted back “And it is NOT against health code regulations, and it is in fact against the law to state and enforce laws that do not exist. You need to learn your company policies and do your research!” And that was that. I told her off, and frankly, felt pretty damn good about it, too. It’s about time I start coming out on top in these ridiculous situations.

But let’s leave the legalities aside and talk common sense about the absurd notion that somehow my bare feet are going to contaminate her can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli.

Let’s start with simple science (or, rather, basic common sense), how in any way are my feet going to spoil or contaminate anyone’s food? Are these people eating off the floor like dogs? Though I realize many of them are functioning at about the same intellectual level as a schnauzer, I doubt they actually are eating off the floor at Walmart. Besides that… any dirt on my feet is already on the floor in spades! Additionally, isn’t it obvious by any but the most pea-brained among us that shoes are not only no cleaner than bare feet… but far far filthier! Let’s face it, most foot-infecting bacteria worsen or are even caused by those little bacteria incubators we call shoes. Additionally, I had just walked out of the shower and gone shopping, my feet freshly cleaned. When was the last time you washed, scrubbed, exfoliated and perfumed your foul stinky shoes? Never… so, I ask… which are filthier… feet or shoes?

Let’s add to this that I, in my bare feet, have NOT been out back by the Dumpster, nor have I tread over the deli floor, nor the loading docks and trucks… I ask you again… are my feet or were her shoes filthier? See what I mean… there is NO logic to the concept that my feet are going to contaminate food (and shoes are not!)

Additionally, as this Walmart didn’t even carry produce… how in the fucking hell were my feet going to infect her or anyone’s sealed can of pumpkin spice Pringles? The whole idea is, at it’s core… utterly absurd. beyond the realization that these people are ignorant of their own policies and health codes, what they fear is so absurd as to be surreal. I can’t even wrap my head around how anyone would believe that my feet are a greater danger to their prepackaged foods anymore than I can figure out how they think my feet, as opposed to shoes, stand a greater chance of infecting a bag of EXtreme Cool Ranch Doritos?

It’s insane people, simply insane.

But, in the end, this little lamb scared off the troll, I bought my stuff and came home, and now I am sitting smugly in my room for having beaten the bullshit back for one more day.

“Justine… fighting for truth, justice… and (reluctantly) the American way!”