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RIP DAVE BROCKIE AKA ODERUS URUNGUS OF GWAR

3 Apr

RIP-DaveBrockie-OderusUrungus

Cameron Pierce of Lazy Fascist Press in Portland, Oregon asked me to read with him at a tribute for the recently deceased Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus, controversial masked frontman for the intergalactic rock group GWAR.   I wasn’t sure what to say or what to read.  I dove into online research on Brockie and found a wealth of material. One particular thing I thoroughly enjoyed was discovering  Brockie’s autobiographical posts on RVA News (part 10 “Ian McKaye is a dick”  is especially entertaining).

Here’s what I read last night at his remembrance, a reading in Echo Park, Los Angeles at Stories Books with Jim Ruland,  Jeff Burk,
John Skipp, Marc Levinthal and Cameron Pierce.

Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus, the mastermind and frontman behind the force of nature known as GWAR will be remembered as fiercely intelligent, irreverent and charismatic.  He battled against censorship and the bible belt, challenging American puritanical mores with his elaborately costumed rock group GWAR: an alien army hellbent on destroying the human race.  Onstage their performances were like a monster truck rally meets a WWF free for all.  GWAR frequently sprayed the audience with fake blood, semen and other bodily fluids.  They decapitated and disgraced political figureheads, religious leaders and celebrities onstage.  They welcomed audience participation and this sometimes became confrontational or violent.

An excerpt from a Deadspin.com via Decibel Magazine article:

By the early ’90s, GWAR’s touring entourage-band, crew and Slaves-numbered 24 people. The stage shows were legendary. “About the time that we really went past the punk rock art-school kids who understood us to the crazy meathead crowd, we were playing 1,500- and 2,000-seaters, but we still didn’t have barricades,” says Gorman, who’s been a key Slave and GWAR’s resident historian since 1988. “And the whole GWAR show gets people so excited that there’s this suspension of disbelief, like, ‘They’re really killing people! This is awesome!’ So, people would get up there and fuck with us. By ’92, it turned into a wave of people getting onstage to try and steal props, to knock the guy in the dinosaur suit over, or whatever. Instead of us doing what normal people do-which is, you know, pay for barricades-we decided to fight ‘em. But really, we didn’t even know there was a choice. We thought it was our job to stop people, when in reality we could have paid for security. So, it was ugly. It was fights, every night, all night long. We didn’t get barricades until ’94.”

“We punched a lot of people,” adds Don Drakulich, the 6’4″ special-effects artist who has played (GWAR’s manager) Sleazy P. Martini since 1986. “Everyone in this band has punched a lot of people.”

gwar

Despite GWAR claiming to have declared war on the human race, the real Dave Brockie was fervently anti-war.  He had ongoing anti-war posts on his Tumblr account. Two stood out to me:

“Welcome to death. Welcome to agonizing pain. Welcome to the most pointless, expensive, and horrific activity in human history. Welcome to the latest chapter in my continuing photographic series on war.

More Bodies of People Who Died in Agonizing Fucking Pain

These types of images were carefully controlled during the war and only in the last couple of decades have the floodgates really opened regarding the forensic photography from it. If we had such images of our “War on Terror”, perhaps people would be a little less apt to do this to each other.

I won’t deny I have a ghoulish interest in death, chaos, and destruction in all of its forms. But war is the biggest train wreck ever, and I can’t stop looking at it. This is the bold and bare evidence of the true cost of war. The only war worth fighting is the one against it. Welcome back to my continuing series of horrific war photos, inspired by the hope that if people knew how awful war really was they would be less likely to send their children off to them. WAR NO MORE.”     – Dave Brockie

Besides graphic photos of death on his blog intended to spread the word about the horrors of war, he also recently posted images of civil unrest in Venezuela, hoping to bring the plight of Venezuelans into public consciousness.

Towards the end, the lines between Dave Brockie and Oderus Urungus began to blur a little.  This is how Oderus closed an interview on Soundwave TV while on tour in Brisbane, Australia recently:

“Solidarity to the people of Caracas, Venezuela, solidarity to the defenders of the Maiden in Kiev, we will throw these motherfuckers down, it’s just going to take a little while. But don’t be afraid, and don’t be fucking seduced by entertainment. To sit at home and watch your fucking TV , plug into social media and  tune the fuck out? No. We gotta go into the streets and we gotta fuck these motherfuckers up. And I’m down for life. Since I’ve never been able to kill myself, that’s forever. ”       – Oderus Urungus

The real Dave Brockie was humble and appreciative of being able to travel and tour. There are personal photos of GWAR’S most recent Japanese and Australian tours posted on his blog. One month ago, during GWAR’s Australian tour, Dave posted this:

Wow. What an amazing city. Sydney is maybe the best city I have ever seen…clean, beautiful, packed w/ happy people…spent the morning walking/ferry riding all over the place…can’t tell you guys how cool it is and how lucky I am to have this life…thank you :)

Photo credit: Dave Brockie (Riding a ferry in Sydney, Australia)

Photo credit: Dave Brockie (Riding a ferry in Sydney, Australia)

Now back to Dave’s alter ego Oderus Urungus: It’s hard to explain GWAR to folks who might not be familiar with them or their antics.  GWAR best represent themselves.  Here is their interview on Joan Rivers’ 1990s talk show.  Even Joan couldn’t escape their boundless charm and humor.

Joan Rivers: We are right in the middle of our 5 part series this week called rock on the wild side. And today we’re going to meet a band who had been described by their manager as cross between KISS, The Rocky Horror Picture show, the World Wrestling Foundation (sic) and the Simpsons. To me they look like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on LSD.   But their name is GWAR and wherever they perform thousands of kids flock to their concerts hoping to be dragged onstage and sprayed with blood, the whole thing, I don’t get it. Anyhow, they have a new videotape and an album out called Scumdogs of The Universe, thank God it’s out.   Will you please welcome GWAR…

(Oderus Urungus and Beefcake the mighty come onstage fully costumed.  Spikes protrude from shoulders, a massive helmet with stegosaurus spikes adorns Beefcake’s head.   Oderus raises his battleaxe in the air and Beefcake raises his sword.  Oderus gets on his hands and knees and bows to Joan Rivers showing his thonged buttcheeks.  They are barely able to sit down because of the bulk and girth of their GWAR alien outfits.  Oderus tells the crowd to “Stop, Stop right now” after they shower him with applause and raucous cheers. The talk show host has been laughing from the moment she introduced the band. Joan Rivers can barely contain herself.)

Oderus: Well miss Rivers,the first thing I would like to do as Oderus Urungus, lead singer of Gwar, here with my friend Beefcake the mighty. Would like to heap lavish praise upon you.  Let’s hear it for the star, hip hip hooray!  Hip Hip hooray.  Let’s give her a hand.  Here you go…

(Oderus hands Joan Rivers a severed hand)

Oderus: Don’t you like it?

Joan: I’m going to make it into a lamp.  Let me ask you. What is going on, you throw blood at the audience, dismembered limbs, this all goes on during your concerts. What is the philosophy behind all this?

Oderus:  Basically we view the human race as scum, we are indeed from another planet you know, and human beings we see as food. Dogs, so much as to be destroyed onstage en masse.  They do not dislike this, rather, they throw themselves gleefully into the jaws of death.

Beefcake: It is sort of a microcosm of the entire human condition if you will.

Joan Rivers: I don’t know what the hell you are talkin’ about

Oderus Urungus:  Everywhere  you look nowadays you look on TV you see people being run over by tanks, people being beaten by the police, people starving, new sexual diseases, obviously the human race is in love with self destruction. We are only satisfying a consumer need.

Beefcake: Supply and demand

Joan Rivers: and you are supplying a consumer need, you are so popular, suddenly becoming huge. But what about the children coming to your shows. You throw blood…not real blood I hope?

Oderus:  of course it is real blood what are you talking about?

Joan: Seriously?

Oderus:  Seriously. Everyone who comes to our show is ground up, and after the show they are dragged under the stage and tiny robotic arms take the fillings out of their teeth, and the rest of their bodies are ground into GWAR dog food, not a drop is wasted.

Joan: What is GWAR by the way, that is the planet where you come from?  Or the name of the group or both?

Oderus: Beefcake, what planet are you from again?

Beefcake: I’m from the planet cholesterol.

Oderus: I am from the planet Scum Doggia in the center of the universe far past Uranus.  We were banished to this insignificant mudball planet earth because we were eating too many chili cheese burritos and generally making a mess of things . We were banished here to serve eternal penance until the day we are recalled to the stars to do whatever happens then.

Beefcake: It’s not much of a prison because obviously on this planet we can defy gravity and we are having fun, you know.

Oderus: Yes we can blow on our tongues and grow to 300 feet in the air.

Joan: You’ve probably already done that on Sally Jesse

(Oderus and Beefcake love the quip from Joan and laugh deeply)

Oderus: That razor sharp wit of yours Joan

Joan:  Let me ask you, do you worry about music at all?

Beefcake: Why worry, we are wonderful

Oderus:   We don’t even play guitars actually telekinetically we manipulate the fretboards with our minds.

Beefcake: Mind music

Joan:   Who writes your music? Do you write your own music, do you have any involvement in that at all?

Oderus: Indeed we created the word music, the whole concept of music. After we destroyed the dinosaurs, we stretched their gizzards across the Grand Canyon. And Beefcake composed the first song ever. I believe “I write the songs,” Barry Manilow stole that from us.

Beefcake: Every piece of music written was robbed from GWAR.

Oderus: Indeed, yes.

Joan: What about sex in your act?

Oderus:  (seductively) What about sex?

Joan: They say there’s a lot of sexual things going on in the act.  And that takes it to a whole different area. It makes 2 Live Crew look sweet.

Oderus: 2 Live who? I don’t watch much television, except for your show, we watch your show 24 hours a day.  Oh, I know who you are talking about… 2 Live Spew, those guys who say the F word a lot.  Well I for one am really glad they got off, know what I mean?

Joan: Are there a lot of sexual innuendos in your act?

Oderus: There’s no innuendos at all.  There’s a 15 foot long growing penis that spews digestive fluid everywhere.

Joan: You have that on stage?

Oderus: Not all of the time. It haunts us, it follows us from gig to gig.

Beefcake: It’s a nightmare.

Oderus: We’ve had some problems you understand.

Joan:  Weren’t you arrested?

Beefcake: Joan you really shouldn’t have (Oderus feigns tears)

Oderus:  (holding back the tears) Strength, strength, as my friend Lawrence Olivier would tell me.  Indeed, it is true, in the human suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina, (softly) thank you Beefcake for being here for me right now…  we have or, I use to have anyway, a growing object between my thighs we called the Cuttlefish of Cathulu. This aforementioned object was attached to my body you know.  The police, they came to the show and told me I was trying to simulate a human penis.   What an insult!

Joan: They arrested you?

Oderus:  Well they didn’t arrest me so much as bribe me, they took me back to the station and they said they wanted to do a bunch of confiscated crack with me, hey  I love to party you know…   Went back to the station house and the next thing I know I was totally unconscious, they had amputated the cuttlefish with a laser saw,  and buried it in a nuclear waste sludge pile.

Beefcake: Tragic

Oderus: The Charlotte police were holding the cuttlefish for some time , Tipper Gore was holding it for awhile but they made her give it back.

Beefcake:  She gave it up reluctantly

Joan: Let me ask, how far are you guys going to go?

Oderus:  Cleveland.

Joan:  Aren’t you worried that people don’t get that you’re very funny, that they are going to take you seriously.   Aren’t you frightened of the responsibility of that?

Oderus:  I think anyone who would think that is a very disturbed person to begin with.

Joan: I think you’re brilliant, I think you’re terrific but it worries me that someone would watch you guys and think, “OK this is what we should do.”

Oderus: Let them join the army or something, there’s plenty of outlets for them.

Beefcake: They can be policemen or something.

Joan: A pleasure talking to you, please come back anytime you’re in the neighborhood just drop in.

Oderus: We certainly will

Long live Dave Brockie and Oderus Urungus, interplanetary creatures who found the mainstream insufferable. Forces of nature who declared war on censorship.  They used humor as their weapon. By being absurd themselves, they showed that the real world was much more frightening.  They were galactic beings who put on a damn good rock show.  Long live Dave Brockie and Oderus Urungus.

John Stewart and Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers make mention of Oderus Urungus’ passing here

Fox News pays tribute to Oderus Urungus (a late night contributor) here:

 

 

 

 

Reading in Chicago 2/20 with Sam Pink & Cassandra Troyan

4 Feb

article-chicago-aerial

Hello Friends,

I will be returning to the fair city of Chicago, Illinois as I’m gainfully employed to sell dental supplies at the Chicago Midwinter dental convention. Thankfully I have an evening engagement on Thursday Feb. 20th at Uncharted Books in Logan Square.

Reading with me will be Sam Pink and Cassandra Troyan.

Read an excerpt from Sam Pink’s new book “Witch Piss” here

Hear 4 poems by Cassandra Troyan here

RSVP on the Facebook event page here

Details:

Thurs. Feb. 20th 7pm

Uncharted Books

2630 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Chicago, IL 60647

Uncharted Books is across the street from the Logan Square Blue Line stop and near the 56, 76, and 82 bus lines. Paid street parking is available on Milwaukee Ave., and free street parking is sometimes available a short distance away on Logan Blvd. There is also a bike rack outside.

Uncharted Books is dog-friendly as long as your dog is store-friendly.

Sam Pink looks like this

Sam Pink looks like this

Cassandra Troyan looks like this

Cassandra Troyan looks like this

 

Sometimes I look like this

Sometimes I look like this

Little Armenian Prowler

8 Jan

armenia

I got home late and saw my girlfriend outside our bedroom window shining a flashlight around.

“Oh what now,” I thought.  My girlfriend is prone to hearing ghosts and noises and murderers.  She shouldn’t have been outside in her underwear in the middle of the night.

“What the hell are you doing,” I asked.

“Look,” she said.

There was a chair pulled up in the alley to give someone a perfect vantage point to look into a crack beneath the blinds on our bedroom window.

“There was a man sitting in that chair watching me,” she said. “And he was touching himself. The dog heard the noises and I looked out the blinds and he ran off. I heard the noises too,” she said.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

The next day we asked our neighbors about it and Jorge, one of the gay guys who lives upstairs, said that he saw a white guy about 6 feet tall, athletic build, leaving the driveway. Jorge was walking his dog and smoking a cigarette. He said that he had practiced reverse racism.

“Because the guy was white, I just assumed he was someone’s friend, just visiting somebody,” he said. “If the guy was black I would have known he was up to something. But the guy was white.”

I told our other neighbor Roberto what happened. He used to be a Sergeant in the Guatemalan army during the brutal civil war there. One night when he was drunk off Bud Lites he showed me a photo of his army days and told me that he had killed plenty of people during the war. His troops slept in the jungle and used giant palm fronds as umbrellas at night when it was raining.  I took him around the side of our apartment and showed him the chair the peeping tom had pulled up.

Hijo de la chingada,” he said.  He told me in Spanish that if the guy showed up again to call him. He would run out and help me beat the guy up. He muttered some more obscenities in Spanish and kicked the dirt in frustration.

I went to the hardware store and bought some things. I wanted to make some booby traps. I kept thinking, What would Kevin in Home Alone do?  What kind of booby traps did Kevin set up?  I bought some nails, some fishing wire and fishing bells, barbed wire, a few small cacti, a motion sensor light and even found an infrared camera that is triggered by movement and body heat.  It was $100 for the camera and I couldn’t afford it but I bought it anyway.  My money had almost completely run out but I had stuff to make booby traps.

Underneath some ivy in the alleyway I hid dozens of crushed aluminum cans. The noise would alert me to the prowler. I put a Louisville Slugger baseball bat by the side door and gave my girlfriend a can of mace to put on her bedside table.  I unscrewed a table leg and had it like a club on my bedside table in case I needed a second tool for bludgeoning.  Across the alley I put strands of taut fishing wire with bells attached.  I left the chair in the exact same place and hammered nails through the bottom so that they were barely visible above the surface of the seat cushion. If the peeping tom sat down again he would be in for a surprise.  I told my neighbor Roberto about my nail idea and he laughed hysterically slapping me on the back. He liked my nail idea.

I set up the infrared camera.  I tested it at night and then plugged it in and saw myself but I didn’t recognize myself. I looked like a blurry dark indistinguishable creature. The damn camera probably wouldn’t work.  I later used the camera to film some footage of my girlfriend and I having sex but I didn’t tell her about it. I watched it when she was at work and it wasn’t bad.

I was getting off track.  I came home from work and hauled the box of barbed wire to the side alley.  Our neighbor had put black plastic garbage bags full of extra gardening mulch all along the alley. No one could get by, they’d be stymied by gardening mulch.  Ah, fine with me. I got a beer from the store.

I began to look at everyone in my neighborhood as if they were the suspect. Was it the six foot tall white guy? Or was it a teenage Mexican kid?  Was it a slow walking Filipino guy with a moustache and a limp?  Was it one of the homeless black guys?  Was it a young Armenian man wearing Adidas? Was it one of the Thai delivery boys, coming back to peep in the window after he delivered food?  Was it a mentally deranged Hollywood street person? Was it one of our neighbors we knew?  Everyone was a suspect and through dark sunglasses I surveyed the street and took note of all of the faces. There were too many faces and too many people were weird and erratic and it could have been any of them.

At night if I heard a noise I’d throw the side door open and charge out with a baseball bat in my boxer shorts. I never saw anyone. My fishing line got broken but I wasn’t certain if it was the prowler who broke it.

We almost forgot about the whole thing and a couple of months later I was backing her car out. We were going somewhere and were arguing as usual. She was telling me not to scratch her car. I was annoyed as hell.  From around the back of the apartments I saw a guy walking out I didn’t recognize.  I pointed at him.

“Who’s he,” I said.  “Follow him!”

My girl followed him down the driveway and asked if he was visiting anyone.

“None of your business,” he growled.

“It is my business, I live here,” she said.

“I’m a tenant,” the stranger lied.

He matched Jorge’s description, white guy, 6 feet tall, normal looking.

We followed him slowly down the block in the car. He flipped us off.

“That’s it,” I said and jumped out of the car.  I started chasing the guy. He had a white mini van parked on Sunset next to the El Pollo Loco.

He got into the driver’s seat and closed the door. I motioned for him to roll down the window. He fired up the mini van and drove down Sunset Blvd. without looking at me.

“Son of a bitch,” I said to no one in particular.

I memorized his white mini-van’s license plate number. Then I repeated it aloud so many times that I was certain I got it wrong.  I had my girlfriend call the Hollywood Police Bureau. She got the answering machine. She called again and put a cop on speaker phone. He had a condescending tone as L.A. cops always do.

“You should have called 911,” the cop said. He sounded like a black cop, despondent that he had to work the phone shift instead of catching bad guys. You could tell he was an actual cop because he spoke the cop language, cop-ese.

“Sir, you could have been in danger. We could have called a helicopter and apprehended the perpetrator.”

“A helicopter,” I mouthed the word helicopter to my girlfriend without making any noise. She covered her mouth so the cop on speaker phone wouldn’t hear her laughing.

“Well, okay, but we’re calling you now, is it okay if we report the guy and give you his license plate number, I asked.

“Sir, again I would like to reiterate. You could have been in danger and you should have called 911 immediately. For all we know he could have been in police custody and we wouldn’t have to have this conversation.”

“Do you want the license plate number,” I asked again, out of frustration.

“Go ahead and give me the plate number, but be mindful that there is a very low chance we can find him at this given time because you didn’t dial 911 immediately.”

I gave the cop the license plate number, said thank you then hung up.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.   Then we got rear-ended by some Latina party girls wearing hair extensions and high heels.  There wasn’t any damage besides a scratch so we didn’t bother to call the insurance people and certainly not LAPD. They’d tell us we should have called 911 so that they could get a helicopter to see if anyone was fleeing the scene of the accident. Then they could radio a squad car and they could open fire on the perpetrator and then unleash a canine on the victim to bite him as he lay bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds.  True story. I didn’t make that up. They did that to somebody.

A few weeks later my girlfriend was out to a work dinner and I was enjoying sitting in my underwear eating Thai Food delivery out of the box.

I got a phone call from my neighbor Jorge, the out of work gay actor who lives upstairs with his husband, another actor.

“Could you do me a big favor,” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Would you mind staying in your living room?”

“No, not at all, I said.”

“I’ll explain later, well, we have this house guest and he’s going crazy and I have to throw him out,” he said.

“No problem,” I said, flicking on the living room lights and the front porch light.

I saw a man with an umbrella and a duffel bag leaving and heard my neighbor’s door slam shut. I heard the man with the umbrella say, “Fuck fuck fuck fuck.”

A few moments later there was a knock on my back door. It was Jorge.

“Come in,” I said. “Do you want any water or juice?” We didn’t have anything besides water, juice and milk and I didn’t think he would want any milk.

“No thank you,” he said, sitting down at our dining room table. He was wearing a black leather jacket, a new-ish one, and had hair gel in his hair. Gay guys are always so well put together. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, mismatched socks and a dirty pair of blue jeans with burrito stains that I hastily pulled on.

Jorge began to tell me the story, “We have a houseguest.  He was in a play with my husband Francis last year.  He seemed normal and we heard he was living on the street in Hollywood so we said he could stay over for a little while.”

He showed me a photo of the crazy guy. The crazy guy looked very gay. He had a big femmy smile and a lot of hair gel. I think they call this kind of gay guy a “twink,” even though I don’t really know what a twink is or what that classification of gay really constitutes.

Jorge continued.

“On the couch he’ll just sit there staring straight ahead. Even if we talk to him he just stares straight ahead. At night we lock our bedroom door.”

He rubbed his hands together out of nervousness or lack of warmth.

“We went to the grocery store and there was this pretty girl working at one of the cashiers. He went up to her all close and starting hitting on her. She clearly didn’t want anything to do with him. I said, ‘Joe, come on.’  And he didn’t listen. I walked over to him and he said, ‘I just got out of jail, I haven’t had a woman in a long time, leave me alone.’

Oh MY God,’ I thought, Jorge said in an affected way that made him sound like a teenage girl.

“So we walked back and he started yelling, ‘Fuck fuck, you fucked it up. You fucked it up. Since Francis and I are from Chicago we hide knives all over the house for protection. Just in case, I mean this is L.A. I found one of the knives and put it in my jacket pocket.”

He pulled the knife out of the inside breast pocket of his newish black leather jacket. It was one of those military style hunting knives that’s in a black leather sheath. My dad used to have one like that with a compass screwed on the end of the shallow handle. It was called a survival knife I think. It had a snakebite kit inside the handle along with some other basic survival tools. I remember hoping that I wouldn’t get bit by a rattlesnake. My dad said he knew how to cut an X on the snakebite and suck out the venom but I didn’t believe him.

I found my mind wandering and Jorge was still telling his story.

“So I got his duffel bag and put it outside.  He left and took his umbrella which he always carries around for some reason and a suitcase. I don’t know where he got the suitcase or what he has inside of it.  I don’t know if he’s shooting up or on drugs or what.  Anyway I can’t have him in our house around our dogs.  So if he comes back, don’t let him in.”

Jorge went out the back door. I drank a beer and let the dog out to go to the bathroom and then watched a documentary in bed. I was drifting off, so I shut it off and went to sleep.  A few hours later my girlfriend stumbled in reeking of vodka tonic. She woke me up and told me that a man had tried to kiss her in an elevator. When she pushed him away he bit her on the nose.

“What,” I said. “Where was the can of mace I bought you? You should have kneed him in the balls,” I said.

“I know, but all I could think of doing was to push him away. He tried to put his tongue in my mouth. He was calling me a prick tease and I said I didn’t know what he was talking about, I didn’t know him or recognize him. There was an old man in the elevator too.”

“And the old man didn’t do anything,” I asked.

“No he just asked the guy what he was doing. And then the elevator got to the bottom floor and I ran.”

“Why didn’t you complain about the guy to the restaurant,” I said. “They might have cameras in the lobby there, you could have pointed out the guy.”

“I know, I’ll call them tomorrow,” she said.

I twisted and turned in bed angrily.  There is never a dull moment in Little Armenia.

PORTLAND & SEATTLE – COMIN’ FOR YA!

7 Jan

Hello Great Pacific Northwest Friends,

I have a reading and a couple rock n roll shows with my band LA DRUGZ in your fair cities of Portland and Seattle this weekend. I hope to see you in the flesh.

Big Hugs,

Justin

Thurs Jan. 9th Portland, OR @ Slabtown – Reading with Cari Luna, Kevin Sampsell, Dena Rash Guzman – 7pm sharp. Free.

slabtown poster

Thurs Jan 9th Portland, OR @ Slabtown with Lunch, Wounds, Dark/Light.  All Ages. $5. 8pm

Fri Jan 10th Portland, OR @ Star Theater – Hovercraft Records Showcase. $5. 8pm

Sat Jan 11th Seattle, WA @ Highline with The Pharmacy, Brain Drain, Bad Future, Nervous Talk, Mythological Horses.  $10. 8pm.

slab2 HC1 Seattle

How To Be More Resilient in 2014

31 Dec

Lurie1

 

“You need to be more resilient,” my girlfriend says to me, in bed.

“I think in my life I have been pretty Goddamn resilient,” I snarl.  And Goddamn resilient in this relationship too,” I add.

We argued before bed which is never a good thing.  She went to sleep on the futon then on the couch and I followed her out there.

“If I’m the one being punished, then I’ll stay on the couch,” I said.

“You always think you’re the victim,” she said.

We went to bed together. Not on the best of terms, but at least we listened to each other a little bit. Sort of.

Relationships are hard. And life is hard. And years are hard.

The Buddhists say “All Life Is Suffering.”  I have thought about this a lot.

They also say, “When you realize that you will never know, and accept it, that is enlightenment.”

I’m no expert on Buddhism or Eastern Philosophy.  But I do know that all life is suffering. I do know that I will never know everything (or debatably anything).

My problem is that I can’t accept that my life is full of suffering. I want jubilance and joy and adventure and peace and harmony and endless sexual favors.  But this isn’t really possible all of the time.  I have to be equally at peace when things are chaotic. Equally at peace when things are tranquil. Equally at peace when things are boring and lifeless.

And this is hard.

It’s hard to be me. And it’s hard to be you. And it’s hard to be that homeless guy sleeping on a cardboard box on the street.  We don’t give ourselves enough credit and we don’t give other people, let me use the word again – RESILIENT – people, folks much stronger than us, enough credit.

So 2013 has come and gone. Today is the last day of the year.

I did a lot of stuff this year and I wanted to brag to all of you, but something about bragging didn’t sit right with me.  If I am satisfied with who I am and what I have done then why do I need other people to pat me on the back?

I guess we all need encouragement. And life is hard.  A lot of people died this year. And a lot of people were born.

And we all died and were born then died again.  We’re like that snake eating its own tail. We’re always shedding our skin and growing new skin then shedding again.

All of the shedding and it’s a painful thing to do and it’s hard.

Film critic and human being Robert Ebert died this year, and his quote about happiness really resonated with me:

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.” – Roger Ebert

Damn that’s beautiful.

Here’s another one I like. From D.H. Lawrence, from a few years back.

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”  – D.H. Lawrence

So take these two quotes in and breathe.

Breathe.

Because 2014 is coming in a few hours.

It’s not always going to be easy.

But we can do it.

- Justin Maurer, Los Angeles, Calif. 12/31/13

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Jimmy Kimmel Live

12 Dec

Hello Friends,

I was honored to be a guest on Jimmy Kimmel live last night as a “sign language consultant” concerning the impostor sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Life throws some curve balls sometimes.

For the record, I am fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and grew up in an ASL household.  My mom and aunt are Deaf.  I worked full time for a few years as a freelance American Sign Language Interpreter in Southern California.  I’m not fluent in South African Sign Language (SASL), but it was proven by a number of sign language experts that the man interpreting at Nelson Mandela’s funeral wasn’t using SASL, Afrikaans, a tribal dialect, International Sign, or ASL.   So I’m interpreting as if the man was signing ASL which of course comes across as total gibberish.  There lies the comedy.  Jimmy Kimmel’s staff were aware of the ASL/SASL difference and wanted to be sensitive to the issues of the international Deaf community and interpreters as well.  That said, this is meant to be funny.  Enjoy.

Hugs everyone and happy holidays!

xo

Justin

Thank You New York

5 Dec
The view from Brooklyn

The view from Brooklyn

It was great to read in NYC with 2 of my favorite writers and human beings Sean H. Doyle and Cassie J. Sneider

Love the town and love the people. Viva!

Writer Sean H. Doyle in his natural habitat of Brooklyn

Writer Sean H. Doyle in his natural habitat of Brooklyn

Read Sean H. Doyle’s writing Here (And in his excellent hard-hitting new chapbook “The Day Walt Disney Died”)

Cassie J. Sneider reading with me at Bluestockings Books in the Lower East Side

Cassie J. Sneider reading with me at Bluestockings Books in the Lower East Side

Read Cassie J. Sneider’s writing Here (Also in the new issue of Razorcake Magazine. See her new illustrated coloring book “There’s a weird dude in my bed.” Hilarious and well worth picking up)

3 writers who will kick you in the face with words

3 writers who will kick you in the face with words

Sean H. Doyle reading with me at Bluestockings Books

Sean H. Doyle reading with me at Bluestockings Books

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nyc

Reading in New Orleans!

25 Oct

new-orleans-postcard_large_image

Hello Ladies & Germs,

After a long few months of rat racing and L.A traffic I am finally busting out of here and heading to the Big Easy. I’ll be masquerading as a sales crony at the dental convention and sneaking away at night for my reading with Peter Orr and Utahna Faith on Friday Nov 1st.

New Orleans writer Utahna Faith

New Orleans writer Utahna Faith

I have been to New Orleans a couple of times playing with Clorox Girls at clubs like The Dixie Tavern & The Circle Bar, but it’s been a few years and I’m looking forward to my trip down South!

Circle Bar New Orleans

Circle Bar New Orleans

I can think of two guys I know who live in Nawlins, King Louie and Matt Muscle, if anybody knows how to get ahold of them, let me know!   Also, what’s shaking on Halloween?

Justin enjoying an ice cold frosty dog

Justin enjoying an ice cold frosty dog

See you soon NOLA!

New Orleans writer and musician Peter Orr

New Orleans writer and musician Peter Orr

Friday, November 1, 6pm. Route 66 Going Down (reading with Justin Maurer, Peter Orr, Utahna Faith)

Exile 404, 2404 St Claude Avenue, New Orleans

2404 Saint Claude Avenue: The red building next to Shadowbox Theatre, St Claude at St Roch.
FREE OR BY DONATION.

Route 66 Going Down Event Page

old-new-orleans-louisiana--vintage-peter-art-print-poster-gallery

Aberdeen Skins Never Say Die (Vol. 1 Brooklyn)

9 Oct

(View on Vol. 1 Brooklyn Here )

Aberdeen Skins Never Say Die

Photo by Dan Halligan, 1998

Photo by Dan Halligan, 1998

“Awww put your clothes back on, faggot!”

A handful of skinheads swirled around the pit, shielding their eyes from my nakedness. For some reason we were playing in Aberdeen, Washington. The promoter was a chubby kid with a floppy green Mohawk named Phil. Phil seemed to have mild Down’s syndrome and he spoke with a stutter.

“Ther…ther… ther…are no real skinheads in America. The… the only real skinheads are in England.”

The Aberdeen skinhead crew didn’t take kindly to Phil’s remark and piled on him throwing wild punches. A couple security guards pulled the cueballs off of Phil.  He rose and dusted himself off.

“You…you guys hit like a bunch of girls,” he smirked. A few of the skins charged again and the security guards chucked them out of the front door.

About half the skins were outside and half were still inside the hardwood floored community hall. I went up to Phil and asked him if he was okay.  The remaining skins began eying me and sizing me up. I was a teenage beanpole with a footlong green liberty spike Mohawk. For the occasion, I had donned my sleeveless denim punk vest, my mom’s old Gap jean jacket that I hacked the sleeves off of. My Grandma sewed on some patches of local punk bands like Bristle and The Rickets. All the kids from my town who were into cool music wore high top Chuck Taylor’s and mine were navy blue.

My high school punk band was playing with The River Rats, a greasy garage punk band from Seattle and The Turn Offs, a surfy-garage band from Eastern Washington.  Their reverb-soaked hit was called “Taking the Impala to Walla Walla.”

It was our turn to take the stage. We tuned up and I instantly tore into the skinheads. I taunted them from the mic.

“You guys are real tough jumping a guy 10 to 1. You’re real big men.”

Some middle fingers went in the air and like a mound of red ants they began to swirl around a little bit.

“Why don’t you guys come up front? If you don’t get up here, I’m gonna get naked.”

I don’t know why, but at the time my thing was stripping down to my boxer shorts or completely naked. I knew it would piss off the homophobic skinheads.

The skins weren’t into our music and I followed through with my threat, stripping down nude.

“Awww, fuckin’ faggot,” the skinheads yelled.

One of them threw a bottle and like a skilled English footballer I butted it with my head. The glass bottle shattered on the floor and the security guards threw the remaining skinheads out of the show.

Someone warned me that the skinheads were waiting for me outside.

“We’re gonna kill the naked guy,” was the apparent threat.

The older Seattle greaser punks told me, “We got your back Mo Cheeks.”

My nickname at the time was “Mo Cheeks,” a pseudonym I had borrowed from a 70s basketball player, Maurice Cheeks of the Philly 76ers who was a teammate of legendary star forward Dr. J. Along with the Doctor, I was a fan of classic basketball stars like Pistol Pete Maravich and Magic Johnson.  At the time the Seattle Supersonics reigned with their triple All Star lineup of Sean Kemp, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf. It wasn’t very punk to like basketball, so I kept my fanaticism for the Seattle Supersonics under wraps, at least around suave older punks.

As we loaded up I had leather jacketed, slicked-back-hair Fonzie lookalikes around me sporting cymbal stands and hard shell guitar cases as weapons. “Let’s roll, Mo Cheeks,” they said.

My heart pounded as we carried the gear down the stairs ready to fight. Waiting outside the hall was the skinheads, dressed identically in their uniforms of thin red suspenders, rolled up faded jeans and Doc Martens. There was about ten of us and twenty of them.

They didn’t seem to recognize me even though I had a foot long green liberty spike Mohawk. I heard them muttering about “the naked guy.” One of the greasers patted me on the back and chuckled.  We had outsmarted them without even trying.

It began to rain and we packed all of the gear haphazardly into the River Rats van.  My band climbed into our bassist’s beat-up baby blue ’66 Ford Mustang. Strewn on the ripped-up leather of the back seat were hamburger wrappers, cans of purple Aquanet Hairspray and a half rack of warm beer. We cracked some cans of Ranier in celebration. As the sun set and the rain pounded down on the roof of the Thunderbird we made our way to the house where we were all sleeping.

Between towering cedar trees was our Bates Motel. It was a dilapidated two-story house on a heavily forested rural side street.  We drank cans of Olympia Beer and the older boys teased each other about some girls they had slept with.  I was still a virgin at 15, but I laughed along as if I knew exactly what they were talking about. We staked out sleeping spots and threw sleeping bags into dark rooms.

And in walked three skinheads.

 

Sam Rodia’s Watts Towers

1 Oct
Sabato "Sam" Rodia, creator of Watts Towers

Sabato “Sam” Rodia, creator of Watts Towers

“I was going to do something big, and I did…You have to be good good or bad bad to be remembered.”

- Sabato “Sam” Rodia, 1952

On a sunny Sunday afternoon I convinced my girlfriend to head down to South Central L.A. with me to check out Watts Towers. Growing up in a gang-rife Los Angeles of the 1980s and early 90s where Crips and Bloods reigned supreme, children were taught to be afraid of South L.A.  South Central was especially dangerous and anywhere south of the 10 Freeway was to be avoided at all costs.  In the films and television of the 80s and 90s, “Don’t go south of the 10 (Freeway),” was a common repeated phrase.

Watts riots, South Central Los Angeles, 1965. Over 100 square blocks torched.

Watts riots, South Central Los Angeles, 1965. Over 100 square blocks torched.

Riot Torn Watts, 1965. Photo by Harold Filan/Associated Press

Riot torn Watts, 1965. Photo by Harold Filan/Associated Press

Fortunately we disregarded the advice of my childhood and decided to pay a visit to Sabato “Sam” Rodia’s Watt’s Towers, a one-man 30 year creation spanning from 1921 to 1954.  Visiting the towers really touched me. I wanted to get a feel for the human heart behind this intense labor of love.

Photo By Marina Plentl

Photo By Marina Plentl

Photo By Marina Plentl

Underside of the main Tower. Photo By Marina Plentl

Coincidentally the Watts Jazz Festival was in full swing on the Sunday afternoon when we made the trip down to South Central Los Angeles.  Watts has a history of defiance, notably the Watts Riots of 1965, the L.A. Riots of 1992, and in a historically defiant work of outsider art, Watts Towers. The Towers have stood the test of time, a veritable fist in the sky against naysayers, vandals and multiple city demolition attempts.

Charles Mingus, 1976, Watts' finest Jazzman

Charles Mingus, 1976, Watts’ finest Jazzman

On the Watts Jazz Festival’s stage a charismatic M.C. declared into the mike, “Don’t let the city officials fool you. We put this together ourselves without their help. We raised the money. We put this together for the people of Watts without help or assistance from the City of Los Angeles.”  The attitude of the M.C. seemed directly reflective of Rodia and his Towers.  Rodia worked alone and completed his masterpiece without the help or money of outsiders. It was his personal gift to South Central Los Angeles and the world.

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Although the Towers and the surrounding park are on the map, as far as city officials are concerned, the people of South Central L.A. are a low priority, off the radar of city government. South LA residents’ marginalization in the past led to drug addiction, gang violence, riots and turmoil. The mostly middle-aged black attendees of the Watts Jazz Festival have survived living in a place that at times resembled a war zone. They continue to have a sense of quiet yet defiant pride. The Watts festival attendees seem to prove that holding your head high and holding your culture close is one of the only ways to overcome decades of adversity. What better way to show this sentiment then throwing a free Jazz Festival in the park, run by the people for the people.  This idea seemed to go back to the Wattstax Festival of 1972 where admission was $1. They kept the admission cost low so that everyone who suffered the Watts riots 7 years earlier could afford to partake in the festivities.

Simon “Sam” Rodia was an Italian immigrant who began his new life in Pennsylvania in 1895.  When his brother died in a coal mining accident, he moved west, living in Seattle and Oakland, where he and his wife had 3 children. A tiny man, at 4’11″, he worked with his hands as a tiler, logger and construction worker as well as finding work in railroad camps and rock quarries. Many of the skills he learned in his varied manual labor occupations would later facilitate the creation of his masterpiece.

When he divorced his wife around 1909, he left his family in Oakland, moving south to Long Beach. After a few years of living and working (including relationships with 2 women), he heard about a reasonably priced small plot of land for sale in Watts. At the time, Watts was not a desirable location to live because of its proximity to both rail road tracks and the light rail tracks for the Red Car, a street car which connected downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach.  The street car and the railroad produced quite a bit of noise which made the nearby lot a difficult sell.

Rodia’s romantic relations with a woman named Benita dissolved and in 1921 he decided to buy the triangular plot located at 1761-1765 107th Street in South Los Angeles. He built a small house for himself on one side of the lot and feverishly began construction on his vision of 3 towers on the other. In the 20s he lived with a woman named Carmen. After she left him in 1927, he would remain alone for the rest of his life, dedicated to creating something great.

simon_rodiaD

Rodia’s heroes were highly regarded Italians like Galileo, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus and Michelangelo. He admired the Leaning Tower of Pisa and other noteworthy Italian architecture. He was determined to create something that matched the accomplishments of his idols. It was also rumored that he drank heavily after leaving his wife, and he felt the need of a monumental project to avoid a plunge into heavy drinking.  Rodia came up with an idea to create a giant sculpture resembling one of Marco Polo’s ships.

He built his Towers using a mixture of concrete, steel and wire mesh. He would bend steel using the nearby railroad tracks to anchor a makeshift vise. His basic masonry tools and his bare hands were his instruments to build. He decorated his towers and the walls surrounding the Towers with his neighbors’ discarded trash: glass bottles, broken kitchen platters, ceramic pottery and seashells from the beach 20 miles away. He constructed a stone oven where he baked bread as well as melted ceramic and glass items for decoration and construction of the Towers. His sense of humor is seen in his offbeat touches including a cement cowboy booted foot and teapot spouts jutting out of walls.

mosaic

Rodia would also pay neighborhood kids in cookies or pennies for pieces of broken pottery and kitchenware.  He was known to the children as the “3 Musketeers Man,” because at the time, a full-sized 3 Musketeers chocolate bar cost a nickel. If the kids brought him enough ceramic pieces, he would sometimes reward them with a nickel.

the-watts-towers-nuestro-pueblo-by-simon-rodia-1337871721_b

Rodia worked full time in a ceramics factory, the Malibu Tile Company in Santa Monica, and would collect ideal pieces to decorate his massive sculpture. He was fired from Malibu Tile when they discovered he was stealing such a large amount of supplies. He quickly lined up other work in the area in tiling, as a security guard and as a telephone line repairman. He diligently attended work full time and remained obsessed with his project during every free moment day or night for 30 years.

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To make his commute to work quicker, he placed a circular police siren on top of his car. After successfully navigating South L.A.’s streets in an imposter squad car, someone reported him.  The police came to investigate and he told the officers that he had never owned a car.  The rumor was that he buried his car to avoid prosecution.  It remained a rumor until it was confirmed in the 1990s, when the shell of a car was found buried behind one of his walls.

Despite his popularity with certain neighborhood children, he was often mocked by locals, dismissing his project as crazy or an eyesore.

Shrugging off the frequent ridicule, Rodia remained focused.

“Some of the people they say what is he doing? Some of the people were thinkin’ I was crazy, and some other people they say he’s gonna do something.”

- Sam Rodia

He would frequently walk the entirety of the railroad tracks from Watts to the rail road depot in Wilmington (about 15 miles one way), to collect broken bottles and other useful items on the side of the tracks. He used bottles of popular beverages such as 7-Up for green glass and Milk of Magnesia for blue glass.

His name was misspelled in a 1937 LA Times article calling him “Simon Rodilla.” History would correct his last name (Rodia), but unfortunately his incorrect first name (Simon) remained. He went by the nickname “Sam,” although his Italian given name was Sabato.

As Rodia’s project reached new monumental heights (his tallest Tower 99 1/2 feet tall) he ordained himself a minister and began orchestrating weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies in front of his towers. His ceremony had an unmarried couple entering the compound from one divided door frame and leaving simultaneously through one door. The ceremonies he performed were not recognized by the church or the State of California, but he drummed up a steady flow of marriages and baptisms nonetheless. On Sundays he would give sermons from a podium to any who would listen. Rodia built two fountains that spurted water. As the overflow of liquid seeped into his designs imprinted on the ground, it gave them an otherworldly feel.

watts-towers

According to our tour guide at Watts Towers, Rodia worked with his hands so frequently that his fingerprints were completely rubbed off. He bathed once a month in rubbing alcohol to get all of the building material off of his skin.  He used a window washer’s belt and harness to climb the towers, and in his old age fell off one of the Towers in the 50s, breaking one of his hips. He remained committed and finished his project which he compared to “Marco Polo’s ship.”

"Nuestro Pueblo" inscription, photo by Sarah Janet

“Nuestro Pueblo” inscription, photo by Sarah Janet

On the side of the main tower is inscribed “Nuestro Pueblo” – “Our Town” in Spanish. He was fluent in Spanish and his Mexican neighbors thought that he was of Latino origin. He attended Italo-American society meetings in downtown Los Angeles so he managed to retain his Italian identity. It is curious that he named his creation “Nuestro Pueblo,” in Spanish instead of Italian. The Italian would have been “Nostra Città.” Simon Rodia was illiterate, dropping out of school at the age of 12 when he began working, so perhaps he became more accustomed to Spanish after his 50 years in the states or maybe he knew that more locals were familiar with Spanish. Perhaps it was a nod to the region’s Latino history or the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument on Olvera Street, the most historic street in downtown Los Angeles.

simon-1

When completed, within the walls of Rodia’s Towers are 17 structures including 3 towers, a baptismal font, fountains and the four walls that surround the Towers. A city ordinance forbade a building taller than 100 feet so his tallest tower is 99 1/2 feet tall. The inner and outer walls as well as the ground are covered in Rodia’s personalized imprints – using a garden hose faucet to depict flowers, the metal backings of chairs and headboards to create intricate imprints and also hand-placed sea shells, glass bottles and tiles. Heart designs also feature prominently. When asked about the significance of the hearts, he replied, “You know.”

During WWII, in step with Japanese internment and widespread anxiety and paranoia, it was rumored that his creation was a clandestine radio tower used to communicate with the enemy.

After 31 years of labor, in 1948 his Towers were complete, ornately decorated and solid.  Allegedly he frequently bickered with his neighbors, and some of the locals would even vandalize his project.

Finishing his masterpiece well into his 70s, he decided to relocate to Martinez, California (near his former home of Oakland) to be closer to his family. In 1954, he gave the plot of land to a neighbor, Luis Sauceda, and left his beloved Towers forever. One year later Sauceda sold the land to Joseph Montoya who wanted to convert the property into a taco stand that prominently featured the Towers, but this project never came to fruition.

Photo by Marina Plentl

Photo by Marina Plentl

In 1959 the Towers were condemned and slated for demolition, deemed “hazardous” by the City of Los Angeles. A few art advocates spearheaded by William and Carol Cartwright and Nicolas King, managed to raise $3000 to purchase the Towers.  They orchestrated engineers to conduct a safety test. A crane was attached by rope to the main tower. It was decided that if the tower fell, then the Towers were unsafe. If the tower was left to withstand the intense force of the crane, then it would stay.  Rodia’s Towers past the strength test with flying colors as the wheels from the crane were lifted off of the ground and the rope eventually broken with no damage to the tower besides a slight lean.  His tower was jokingly dubbed, “The leaning tower of Watts.”

Sam Rodia happily conducted a few interviews with journalists and filmmakers about his Towers as they began to attract international attention in the 50s.

“I was going to do something big, and I did…You have to be good good or bad bad to be remembered.”

- Sabato “Sam” Rodia, 1952

Rodia attended a conference about the towers at UC Berkeley in 1961 and appeared satisfied about finally receiving some recognition although he never visited his Towers again after leaving Watts in 1954. Sabato “Sam” Rodia died July 16, 1965 about one month before the Watts Riots violently erupted.

Demonstrators push against a police car after rioting erupted in a crowd of 1,500 in the Los Angeles area of Watts.  14,000 national guardsmen were called in to disperse the rioting and over 100 square blocks were destroyed by arson.

Demonstrators push against a police car after rioting erupted in a crowd of 1,500 in the Los Angeles area of Watts. 14,000 national guardsmen were called in to disperse the rioting and over 100 square blocks were destroyed by arson over a 6-7 day period in August of 1965.

Two years later, a photo of  Rodia was included on the iconic album cover of the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in ’67  (Rodia is on the top row, far right, to the immediate left of Bob Dylan). Jann Haworth, the co-designer of the album cover was a native Angeleno, she included Simon Rodia as one of her personal contributions to the inspirational or historic figures included in the artwork.

Simon Rodia's face is on the top row, far right, to the immediate left of Bob Dylan

Simon Rodia’s face is on the top row, far right, to the immediate left of Bob Dylan

Since the towers were proven safe, in 1975 the City of Los Angeles and the State of California took over the maintenance and conservation of the towers and they became a public heritage site. The immediate surrounding area became a park and arts center.

“Through the sheer force of the creative intelligence they manifest, the towers uplift the Watts community. They serve as an urban oasis…”

- American National Biography, A.N.B.

Photo by Marina Plentl

Photo by Marina Plentl

I thought about Simon Rodia and how his tenacity, character and personality reminded me of the way Italian-American writer John Fante, also an L.A. writer, described his own father, Nicola “Nick” Fante in his books.  His father was a brick layer, often out of work during long winter months in Colorado. He drank plenty of “Dago Red” wine and was very proud at his intermittent accomplishments, constructing many prominent buildings in the Denver area. Many of Nicola Fante’s schools and churches still stand today in Northern California and Colorado.

In Dan Fante’s memoir about his family “Fante,” he recounts a tale of his Grandpa Nick in a bar fight with two Irishmen after they humiliated him. He smashed a bottle over one of the Irishmen’s head and bit the ear off another. He couldn’t handle being slighted or humiliated.

John Fante, Italian-American author and screenwriter. His father was a stubborn stonemason - Nicola Fante, and his son Dan Fante, another iconic Los Angeles writer - also ferociously stubborn, it runs in the family...

John Fante, Italian-American author and screenwriter. His father was a stubborn stonemason – Nicola Fante, and his son Dan Fante, another iconic Los Angeles writer – also incredibly stubborn, it runs in the family…

In John Fante’s book, “Full of Life,” he writes about his ferociously stubborn Italian father, who moves in with his son’s family in Los Angeles to help renovate their house when it became infested with termites.

“I felt his hot tears and the loneliness of man and the sweetness of all men and the aching haunting beauty of the living” 

- John Fante, Full of Life

The ornery tenacity of Italian-American laborers like Nicola Fante and Sam Rodia has disappeared from today’s milk toast American society.  Sam Rodia’s Watts Towers still stand, now respected but only after years of being considered the work of a crazy recluse. Rodia put up with the humiliation of being considered a laughingstock but remained ferociously dedicated to his art.  After he was forsaken from his family, Rodia had a singular focus, building something he would be remembered for.  In the still struggling South Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, his Towers remain a testament. They reveal the resilience of the human condition. They show that a neighborhood can survive racism, poverty, police brutality and riots.  They show that a simple man can create, even a man with a broken heart.

rodiamartinez

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