Iska Dhaaf “Dependency” – Video

I met musician, singer and songwriter and all-around beautiful human, Benjamin Verdoes over a decade ago while he was a member of the critically overlooked Seattle indie rock band, In Praise of Folly. I was writing and editing pieces for the now defunct, and featured his band a few times.

Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with Ben via Facebook.

A generous and genuine spirit, Ben always reached out via text message or call, with an invitation to come hang out and see his band, Mt. Saint Helens Vietnam Band whenever they happened to tour through San Diego.

I’ve relished watching him grow as an artist and person.

His latest project, Iska Dhaaf (Somali for “let it go”), is an NYC-based duo with guitarist and singer, Nathan Quiroga. The band released their album, Even the Sun Will Burn last year.

The video for the song “Dependency” is poignant and features singer Nathan Quiroga’s father, Armondo Quiroga.

While it is an extremely personal song, the theme is universal. Be it drug, substance or dependency on a person, “Dependency” addresses the faults and frailty of being a human in this world without casting aspersions or inhabiting some morally righteous high ground.

Algiers “Black Eunuch” – Video Single

These talented Atlanta cats are poised to drop their self-titled on Matador.

Definitely worthy of more than a cursory listen.

Can’t wait to hear the full LP.

Is Algiers a reference to Old Bull Lee’s LA. home? Or the the capital city of Algeria?

There’s some voodoo in this tune.

Keep an ear open for the ghost of Joan Vollmer.

Disappears – Halcyon Days (video)

Chicago band, Disappears have been sculpting moody and paranoid sonic compositions, altering the notion of structure on each subsequent release since forming in 2008. On the band’s latest, Irreal, they manage to ratchet up the tension with a minimalism that is calculating and precise. I appreciate their sonic aesthetic even more, now that the band seem to be moving toward the type of music they made on the 2013 12″, Kone. They’re delving into the IN BETWEEN space, creating music in an era where you can easily spend 90 minutes in a isolation chamber. Not to be confused with cold or isolating but fluid and viscous.

Some writer with more time and a better grasp of metaphor likened them to David Lynch.

Sure, Disappears make Lynchian-post kraut rock. Now it’s dark…

Disappears are accessing something unique. Getting farther and farther out. The use of repetition, recursive riffs and motifs paired with Brian Case’s monotone vocal delivery of haiku-like lyrics that often end in ellipses rather than declarative cliche, escape the velocity of rock pastiche.

They’re playing at the Casbah on April 3, 2015. The night after TV On the Radio plays the Observatory in North Park.

Another important distinction, Brian Case has an affinity for Taylor Swift, which I share so he and his band get top marks in my estimation.

Haiku 3/3/15

Twirling in the sun

A noose hung on cottonwood

Blade marks in the bark

– Tajomaru Thiret

Spectres – Where Flies Sleep

“Sleep is an uncompromising interruption of the theft of time from us by capitalism.”Jonathan Crary

Anxiety abounds in this tense and compressed new track from Bristol UK shoe-wave band, Spectres.

They made NME’s album of the week and it’s about time to commend the lads for their diligent and provocative sound. For a band that has been anchored to an island, hopefully, the extra attention will garner a tour. Maybe, if the black supermoon aligns, a tour US will follow and they can anoint us all with layers of fuzz, suburban ennui and melancholy for an atrophied diaspora of guitar-centric music.

Art and Dissent

Permit yourself to imagine.

Once accomplished, travel is unrestricted, borders nonexistent, walls breached.


  • Words
  • Spray paint
  • Lines of code
  • Guitar
  • Microphone
  • Objet trouvé
  • Dance
  • March
  • Screen print
  • Sculpture
  • Décollage
  • Sticker bomb
  • Banner drop
  • Tree-sit
  • Occupy
  • Slingshot
  • Molotov
  • Barricade
  • Arm-lock
  • Film
  • Gas mask
  • Antacid and water
  • Fiction

Dissent is fluid.

And the energy generated as it passes through a medium?

Consider the variables contained in oppression, impunity and greed.

Each element behaves like velocity, temperature and density and movement is inevitable.

Our expectations of art are disrupted—subverted.

Remember the Chilean arpilleras? A people’s history of tragedy, torture and Desaparecidos woven into tapestries by garment workers—Madres, Hermanas y Abuelas—under the brutal Pinochet regime.

Listen to the music of Pete Seeger. The power of protest is embodied in song.
 An iconic image of a working class man with an inscription in black text on his banjo, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

Image and text by Barbara Kruger. Appropriate. Borrow. Reconfigure. 
In a haunting piece by the artist we are presented with the cropped décolletage of a woman, her neck and chin exposed and the text: “We will not become what we mean to you.”

Lauren Poitras is an Oscar and Emmy nominated documentary filmmaker and journalist. She produced, “My Country, My Country,” a film that exposed the turmoil caused by the occupation of Iraq by the United States military and the effect it had on both Iraqis and American soldiers. Poitras is consistently harassed by the Department of Homeland Security. 
Detained upon entry each time she returns to the U.S. from traveling abroad.

Journalists, Filmmakers, Artists and 
truth seekers—add them to the no-fly list,
 confiscate their electronics,
 surveil all communications.

Detain them. Intimidate them.
 Harass them to death.
 To “suicide.”

Like digital activist “hacker” Aaron Swartz?

Look at Kevin Carter’s, “Famine.”

The image of a starving Sudanese child on the ground with a hooded vulture standing sentinel in the background, netted the photojournalist a Pulitzer.
 Some time later, Carter drove to a favorite overlook—blue horizon and meditative rushing river drone—taped a hose to the exhaust pipe of his vehicle.

He died of carbon monoxide poisoning at 33.

For those haunted by experience and an excess of empathy, suicide may be a final rebellion.

Recall Thich Quang Duc immolating himself in protest of the Vietnam War?

A burning rage against the machinery of apathy.

In India, a quarter of a million farmers protested seed patents through suicide by ingesting pesticide supplied to them by Monsanto.

But is that Art?

The 2011 arrest on a trumped up tax charge and subsequent, temporary disappearance of Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, had Western supporters mounting a full campaign for his immediate release.

#releaseaiweiwei trended on Twitter.

Soon after, inexplicably, numerous shattered dynastic vases and knock offs adorn the steps of historical Chinese landmarks and consulates in Western cities.

Dissent art is situational and represents the possibility of a crucial narrative, not new but suppressed.

We’ve been locked into a singular system, which serves official culture.

Flummoxed by alternative thinking, critical thought asphyxiates under the touch screen.

The forty-pixel finger navigating through a pop culture shock architecture, finds many connections and little substance.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the feminist punk group, Pussy Riot begins her two-year sentence for her participation in the bands February 2012 protest song and performance at Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

While at Penal Colony 14, Tolokno goes on hunger strike, citing the inhuman conditions and slave labor practices of the colony. She smuggles a letter, which is published later online, detailing her treatment. She is disappeared while in transit to a new prison camp in Siberia.

A single human brain is capable of processing 37 petaflops of data, rounding up, that makes one quadrillion calculations, give or take, per second.
 So, knowing the variables make it—art—difficult to quantify.

Emerging science suggests that within the next 18 months there will be a network of supercomputers capable of five times that amount of processing.

Art must penetrate this confounding and subvert the official narrative.

Open the between space.

Alyce Santoro articulated the role of Art recently in her “Manifesto for the Obvious International.” She writes: “Drawing on art’s infinite possibilities, system-defying agents are re-humanizing, de-commodifying, and debunking all manner of contrived contraries by creating barter systems, cooperative workspaces, soup kitchens, food forests, and street libraries. In societies based on an ever-intensifying quest not for peace, health, or contentment, but for “progress” (broadly defined as the drive toward maximization of personal convenience, or what social ecologist Murray Bookchin called “the fetishization of needs”)—strategies for existence that are participatory, inclusive and nonhierarchical, and that encourage the sharing of skills, ideas and resources (the maximization of meaning), are eminently subversive.”

Caveat emptor.

Temptations are everywhere.

We accept these little concessions without reading the service agreement and relinquish control for convenience—security for a sense of belonging.

In his latest collection of “quasi-essays and docufictions,“Revolutionary Brain” writer and critic Harold Jaffe offers, “Possibly the hardest factor for concerned younger artists to accept is that there will always be an incommensurateness between their imaginative efforts and results. The primary obligation is to not avert your eyes: to bear witness.”

Writers, artists and activists must refute official narratives.

The artist/revolutionary creates new methods of engagement, informing the discourse with immediacy.

Artists are in a unique position to engage directly with the established value system, call it into question and mobilize against it.

If a distinction between commercial and activist art no longer exists, the medium(s) an artist uses no longer need be relegated to a single surface or conversation.

Subversion happens while viewing.

Walls disintegrate and become canvas.

The canvas extends beyond the inner city, barrio, border to the wild.

Courage of the imagining mind.

Everett Collection Library of Congress March 2010

RIP Wuornos, Serial Killer

Wournos, Aileen

Final Interview

October 8, 2002

Florida State Prison, Bradford County, Florida

I was benighted amidst the yellow birch, conifer and sugar maple in the forests of the Midwest.

There I ran with the squirrels. In my child’s voice the song of the Scarlet Tanager echoed, harbinger of spring, my bared toes massaged the loam under hemlock and black oak.

The sky was wide. It offered a seamless verticality.

When the sun hung above the horizon, I felt, in my child’s body, a tensing of muscles, as if I was lifting something heavy.

Dirt and asphalt cut black scars through the hills.

For me, life was a matter of straying from the shoulder of roads.

Soon the forest gave way to concrete and the broken skyline of cities.

There I met the gritted teeth of the world.

There is a dream memory of me, floating above my child’s body.

It haunts me at night when the alcohol wears off.

I am motionless and lying on black, star print sheets, staring through the popcorn ceiling, peering at a life lived rogue, and a future I can’t imagine.

No, can’t hardly think of me an old woman. Ain’t no getting old.

I heard the nauseating sound of a chord struck, like strings out of tune on an old Dobro guitar.

In the dream memory I can make out his hairline, blocking out the dim sixty-watt hanging from the fixture, his thumbs pressing into my wrists, smell of his stale cigarette and Schlitz breath and see that stars of Dixie tattooed on his neck—my mother’s father—and a bright white light erupted from above.

Not until I heard my grandfather was dead, did the pieces fall together.

And your Father?

[Father was a pedo. Hung hisself in the Pen.]

The grace of Jesus. That’s what I thought it was then, that’s what I call it now, waiting here to die.

The light was a signal and a map.

Codified in pain, I was tasked—me—with removing from the world eight demonic entities.

This was a quest I couldn’t comprehend nor deny.

If you asked me, I would tell you, in my own street talk way, that I shifted from child to woman.

Like a manual shift transmission.

Fast and smooth like that Camaro I boosted with Tracy when we was on the lam from that fucking piece of S.H.I.T. Jasper.

Pressed, I would foreswear my childhood.

That the shift never occurred—was imperceptible—and that I was born an angel, with womanly parts and disposition.

You had a child at fourteen you gave up for adoption?

Ain’t gonna talk about that, okay?

No prob.

Here, this is where we enter the world of the transaction.

Somewhere, inside me, a vacuum.

They said I was too immature to grasp the finality of death.

Prosecutor was a condescending prick. ‘Scuse me for sayin’ so.

But my awareness stemmed not from a lack of maturity but a diamond honed sense of survival.

To avoid pain and embrace the reptilian.

Escaping pain became centrifugal.

A damaged and primitive child, I slipped through the teeth of the world and bared my own.

When I was at County I met an Indian lady, looked me in the eye and told me I was a container.

F-ing Tupperware, I says to her?

No, she told me that I contained everything; anguish, loneliness, sadness, anger and love poured into the hollow point between my sternum and above my pubic bone.

Trippy right?

Please continue.


Learning eventually that the foundation would always shift but the center wouldn’t never change, you know?

I rode the road.

Offered myself.

And the in between plushness of death, extended to the men I encountered.

Under cypress and the smell of wet soil, diesel and aftershave, I absorbed them into mine.

Gave my tender love to Boys who later died under the oily umbrella of a Kuwaiti sky.

In the low-lying hitchhiker’s thumb of the continent, skirting gators in the glades, lessons in the secrets of the transaction were practiced.

Meanwhile, I looked for the signs and signals of the eight.

See, violence in America is idiosyncratic.

I was further enlightened with a pistol in my rectum.

Back of some bastard’s Buick Le Sabre.

Hell fire of rubbing alcohol to wash away the evidence, his sin.

He was my first and when the hammer hit the firing pin, I shot true, relieving the world of the first of eight demons.

This was in?

Must have been ’round Thanksgiving, ’89.

Then it was the principle. The deputy. The businessman. The pastor.

You got any cigarettes?


Sure. Here.


Thanks [shrugs and motions towards her restraints].




That upon leaving this world I would be met by the holy trinity.

Those spirits would bear the names: sodium thiopental; Pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.


What about the other homicides?

When I met them, each of them, my muscles tensed, mouth filled up with hot spit like when you’re about to puke. I’d hear with clarity the strumming of a badly out of tune guitar.

The notes, was always sour.

But it’s how I knew.

The dance I had to perform with them was always terribly painful and violent.

Getting punched in the mouth. Raped in the, you know, in the rear…

But I had faith.

With God. My Jesus was by my side, guiding my hand, sending those demons back to hell.


The used-car salesman. Unemployed high-school coach. Tax preparer. Bar tender from Pensacola.

Before I killed them, they asked me my secret.

What is your secret?

Call me Lee…

Let Some Birds Fly to Catch the Worm – On Writing

Good friend and collaborator John O’Hara told me to focus on getting CS done. “Let some birds fly to catch the worm,” he said. Those little gems folks pass on fill the sails.

I haven’t sent an update to the CS Kickstarters in a while. I’m not thrilled that the project has taken so long to get done. So instead of updating I’m waiting until I have something tangible to share. That should be very soon. Possibly next week.

Now, on to a random firing of neurons manifesting in black marks on a white background.

I think about when I started this project, nearly eight years ago, writing feverishly on the Trolley on the way to work, early in the morning, smell of stale beer and old ciggy-refries from the can collector on his way to the El Cajon Recyc Center, sound of Manu Chau “Welcome to Tijuna” in my headphones, feeling inspired and writing as fast as my hand could dictate the ideas in my head on a semi-fresh Moleskin with a black ink Signo Uni-ball.

That morning, the character of the Alchemist appeared, near fully formed in my head.

Rodia Grigoryevitch Zaytsev, AKA The Alchemist (El Paraguas – The Umbrella)

Owner of The InterZone, COO of Arnelle Liquidation Associates.

The Alchemist is a tall, barrel chested man who is balding with a large beard that rests on his chest, full lips, deep-set eyes and aquiline nose with a prominent bridge. He has double-zero gauge ear lobe plugs and is usually pictured wearing a rubber apron with large black rubber gloves, he is also sometimes seen in a meticulously tailored three piece suit. He smokes cigars. Drinks mescal. He is hacked into the Agility DAS Surveillance network and can watch things happening all around the city.

He was refined over time but the basic concept remained. From there Anton and Xispa and Arellano manifested and the initial treatment for Caustic Soda was totally different from what I have now but I loved every aspect of creating the world of these characters.

The real thrill of writing is the doing. Getting it out. Working it out. Finding that rhythm that happens when the story is hot on the brain pan and you can’t stop thinking about what happens next. How your characters will react and what will become of them in the fictional sequence of events unraveling from wherever they are conjured.

I’ve had interactions with writers. “Writers.” Man, they’ll tell you all about the idea for the story they’re planning on writing. Bragtalk about the vintage typewriter they set up in their cloistered space, where they machete narratives from the tangled jungle of ideas. There are those who’ll try and convince you that writing is something “they love to do.” They love writers and the writerly things they do. Drinking scotch, staying up late, speaking like Old Bull or Bukowski. Name dropping. Smoking cigarettes. Listening to Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Random sex. Bad relationships. Heartbreak. Pain. Whatever helps you get the words out, indulge those impulses but not at the expense of the work. The work is what matters. Words, rather.

My grandfather, survivor of a few bypasses, was diagnosed with ALS in his nineties. Just recently he found out he has terminal cancer on top of his terminal ALS. Unable to communicate, he wrote “I wish I had more time to do everything.” At 92, even 100 years of life seems insufficiently short.

Paycheck is a real drag though, man. Writing takes time and effort. Time is in short supply. The economies of art making are asymmetrical. My mentor and friend, Harold Jaffe writes, “Possibly the hardest factor for concerned younger artists to accept is that there will always be an incommensurateness between their imaginative efforts and results. The primary obligation is to not avert your eyes: to bear witness.”

CS is an action sci-fi western. Peripherally, it is an examination of technology, surveillance and power. A look at the drug war, mediated and filtered through graphic narrative.

It’s real and its unreal.

Imaginings of an ideal. Point is, you have to get the work out. Find writers who write and want to share their work. Writers who talk about writing are full of shit. Myself included.

I try to be less full of shit everyday.

Embrace being one of the unrehearsed.

With CS, at least in the beginning, I was working from my gut. Punk rock graphic narrative. My script for Issue 1 was a mess to navigate. No wonder it took two years for Dan to illustrate it. I sent him 5 or 6 versions over the course of two years.

Of interest is a recent quote from Scott McCloud on Tatsumi [read full post on AV Club]:

And then gradually [Tatsumi’s] artistic convictions began to overtake his survival instincts until finally he was able to do something that was more meaningful in the long run to him and more aesthetically adventurous. But there’s still that sense that you are as an artist, this is your job and you’re part of a society that only values you to the extent that you can give society what it’s looking for, what it wants. And that determines the shape of that career, and so you can feel a bit like a pinball just going from bumper to bumper trying to make your way in that life. But in the end, those artistic convictions did carry Tatsumi through it all. And without some kind of coherent aesthetic desire or sense of mission, one can just get rolled over by the day-to-day needs. And I see a lot of artists suspended in the present. I see artists just trying to work to do what they think everybody wants to see, and I feel as if I can already see how it’s going to end up. Even if they’re talented, even if they’re getting some success, if they’re not stretching beyond that, then it may not end happily for them. Fortunately, Tatsumi did transcend that day-to-day struggle.

Getting space to create. That is the struggle. Time as well. Those two are like twin helix, space and time.

Back to CS. Rodia, the Alchemist, doesn’t suffer fools. He’s a killer and a poet. Foil to Anton Nevona. I imagined him as a modern day Raskolnikov (his name “Rodia” is Raskolnikov’s patronym) minus the conflicts of conscious or propensity for being a bumbling fuck up.  I saved the bumbling fuck up character for Anton–modeled him after someone I know intimately, the cowardice and the desire to not be exposed as a coward. But The Alchemist was also born of my impression of “K” from The Trail if he were instead a functionary of the state rather than a man trapped in the absurd spiral of prosecution and bureaucracy. A killer and an accomplice. A realist. Someone to build a better mousetrap. A guy who will always fail better.

Putting together a 3 issue mini-series on a DIY budget is a big accomplishment. Getting the words to appear as illustrations by a capable and talented artist is an accomplishment. Convincing people that the vision and the story are worth supporting is an accomplishment. I have no idea if anyone will “like it.”

Writers, they’ll tell you that the work they do is solitary. Lonely. That writing is therapeutic. Cathartic. Sure those things are true. But anyone who identifies as a writer cannot possibly be a writer without readers.

Over the summer I was approached by a gentleman who wanted to make CS into a film. I put together a synopsis. Sent it out. Tried to follow up. Tried to connect. Nothing doing. Did I dream momentarily of going “pro”? Yeah. I did. I reached out and made some connection but it wasn’t quite enough. Did I take it personally? Yeah. It takes so much energy to make a movie.

How the fuck do so many shitty movies get made? A friend who works in the movie biz agreed to look at my pages and he was incredibly generous and helped me refine the piece. If there were more of this type of dude helping young writers/artists navigate the sea of bullshit, maybe less shitty movies would get made. But he’s just one fella. I owe him a debt. No bullshit goes a long way. Really, it does. That goes for those folks in your inner circle. You know the ones who always encourage you despite the chorus of disapproval in your head, telling you it can’t be done. Hold those people dear.

Getting discouraged by rejection can be kryptonite to any creator. Any creator worth a shit will plug their ears and keep hacking away at that jungle until they clear a semi-coherent path to the gooey center.

Fail better. Always.

This post is a fail better post. Somewhat random and incoherent, loosely tied together with string, barely wrapped for your delectation.

Within the next few months, Caustic Soda Hello, the War is Here will be done. Nearly 80 pages of a graphic narrative about a guy bumbling his way through a dangerous and indifferent world.