WRESTLING ELEPHANTS

By Jamie Brisick

Room For Two

Two surfers sit side by side on a sapphire blue sea. A wave looms. Both stroke out to meet it. They wheel around, paddle, pop up to their feet. In front, regular foot, deeply tanned, sun-bleached blond hair, Janet MacPherson swoops off the bottom with balletic arms. She rides a 9’ Takayama ‘In the Pink’ model. She feels her way through the trim line the way she did back at Malibu in the days of Dora and Fain. She is seventy-six years old. Behind her rides Sean MacPherson. Tall, slender, tan, sandy brown hair, age forty-eight, also regular foot, Sean rides a 6’6” Al Merrick Flyer. His casual style harkens back to the seventies when grace and flow trumped big maneuvers. He smiles broadly.

I have not actually seen this mother-and-son ride take place, but it’s easy to imagine. Janet lives in Malibu, Sean in New York. On holidays they gather at one of Janet’s homes in Baja or Costa Rica. After too many plates of Thanksgiving turkey or too many drinks on New Year’s Eve, they slip out for a wave together. This family ritual has been going on for over thirty years.

http://www.surfersjournal.com/current_issue

April 24, 2014

Amid Chaparral and Coyotes: Anna Ehrgott, Sagebrush Bags

As If Bringing Water To Parched Lips

"We'd been kissing all day—all summer—kisses tasting of different shades of lip gloss and too many Cokes. The lake had turned hot pink, rose rapture, pearl amethyst with dusk, then washed in night black with a ruff of silver foam. Beyond a momentary horizon, silent bolts of heat lightning throbbed, perhaps setting barns on fire somewhere in Indiana. The beach that had been so crowded was deserted as if there was a curfew. Only the bodies of lovers remained, visible in lightning flashes, scattered like the fallen on a battlefield, a few of them moaning, waiting for the gulls to pick them clean.

On my fingers your slick scent mixed with the coconut musk of the suntan lotion we'd repeatedly smeared over each other's bodies. When your bikini top fell away, my hands caught your breasts, memorizing their delicate weight, my palms cupped as if bringing water to parched lips."

          —Stuart Dybek in "We Didn't"

April 23, 2014

Stephen Gaghan: Writer, Director, Rider of Waves

48-year-old Stephen Gaghan is responsible for some monster work. He wrote the screenplay for “Traffic,” which won him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2000. He wrote and directed “Syriana,” which won George Clooney an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2005. He is credited as one of the forerunners of “hyperlink cinema,” a non-/multi-linear approach exemplified by the above films. He is presently writing a screenplay based on the Malcolm Gladwell book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.
 
Gaghan lives on the west side of Los Angeles and surfs often at a quiet private break a stone’s toss from the chaos of Malibu Point. I would love to describe his style of dress, his mannerisms, the sound of his voice, but we’ve never actually met. At the time this piece was due he was in the SW of France, riding summer swells, watching Dane Reynolds spin magic, then off to Toronto for the film festival. We did this interview the modern way: over email.
 
Tell me about your upbringing and how you came to writing.
 
I was raised in Kentucky, in an old house with lots of books. My parents were big readers. And backgammon players. Basically they'd just sit around reading and drinking and smoking and playing backgammon. I think at one point my mother owed my father a couple hundred thousand dollars from backgammon losses. She got even in a massive double-or-nothing play and eventually went ahead by a bit. I remember very clearly my mother making my father pay up. But mainly they would read and it was a big event on Friday night or whatever when we'd all get to go to my dad's study to turn on the one television in the house for “Wall Street Week.” So we read books and talked about books and recommended books to each other. I can't remember who it was who said, "Writers are readers moved to emulation," maybe it was Faulkner, but whoever said it, it's true.
 
When did you start writing screenplays? Was it a steadily upward trajectory, or did you get your ass kicked in the beginning?
 
I never really considered writing movies growing up. It just didn't occur to me. I didn't know anyone who did it, anyone who went west of the Mississippi River. It was all a giant mystery to me. But I loved “The Simpsons.” I remember exactly where I was when the pilot episode aired, the one where they adopt the dog from the greyhound track at Christmas. And I had an idea in the back of my mind that if push came to shove I could probably do that, write like that. I didn't know any “Simpsons” writers at that point, but I just knew deep inside that I looked at the world the same way those people did and that I could dredge up the same type of comedy from my own experience. I wrote a spec “Simpsons” and almost got hired on the show. In fact, I did get hired but then the exec producer was fired or quit or something and it fell through. But by that time I'd moved to LA and had too much pride to go back east with my tail between my legs. I just stuck it out in what I call “The Years of 1,000 Rejections.” Rejection in Hollywood is very confusing, by the way, because it goes like this: "We love your script. We LOVE your writing. You are brilliant. BRILLIANT. This is GENIUS writing. GENIUS. Don't know how you do it. WE LOVE YOU." And then nothing happens. So it's very confusing and takes a while, years it turns out, to parse. I was rejected by everyone from “Red Shoe Diaries” (responding to some poems and a short story I showed them, insert Israeli accent here, "You are a clever boy, but what do you know about love?") and from “Baywatch Nights” (not even real “Baywatch” but the spinoff. Here's the entire rejection, over the phone, "How did you get this number? No, seriously, how did you get this number?").
 
What got you interested in the War on Drugs? 
 
The truth is I'd done about 19 years of intense personal research into the subject. I mean I was a world expert on, um, let's call it the consumer and interdiction side of things. And I'd been kicking around writing all sorts of stuff. “NYPD Blue.” “American Gothic.” A couple films, "Rules of Engagement" and "Havoc." And I had a general meeting with an exec at Fox 2000, Alex Gartner, who asked me if I'd been thinking of anything specific. I said, “Yeah, I'd like to write a satire on the military, like ‘Catch-22.’” And he said, "We have a deal with a director who's talking about something similar." And he sent me to meet Ed Zwick. I told him my idea and he said, "Interesting. I was thinking about doing the War on Drugs." I said, "That's a better idea." Through a total miracle he got me a deal at Fox to begin researching the subject. I basically disappeared down a rabbit hole for about 12 months, researching in D/C., going to the Drug Czar's office, the Pentagon, etc, and learning about the War on Drugs. Around the same time I was winding down my plucky personal research odyssey from the consumer side of things, and the two crossing yet diverging vectors left me full of ideas and sort of clear-headed. I also had a huge writing block. Basically, I used to work like this: I'd get a job or assignment and a deadline. Let's say it was 8 weeks out. So for the first 6 weeks, I'd be off drinking and running around and whatnot, and then about two weeks out I'd start thinking, uh-oh, you're running out of time. Then there'd be a week left and I'd say, "Impossible, it's too late. Can't be done. Better call and quit and return the money..." and then with maybe four days left, I'd say, "Well, you didn't call and didn't give the money back and you're a total fraud so you better just write something with this remaining time and turn it in and who the hell cares what happens." And then I'd work around the clock and somehow it would work out. But now I'd removed the whole binging/disappearing aspect to my work-performance and had nothing in the quiver to replace it with. I was just adrift. Ultimately, I shared this whole, "I've actually written nothing" truth with Steven Soderbergh and he was incredibly helpful.
 
You won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. What did that feel like?
 
I never put too much stock in awards, probably because I'd never actually won one. I mean basically I was All-State in soccer a couple years in high school and then nothing much good happened for about 15 years. So I was pretty inexperienced with awards and award season and all that kind of thing. I'd lucked into a writing Emmy with David Milch but the Oscar thing was just out of the blue and really nuts. In hindsight I realize that at the time one tends to believe that one deserves it more than just recognizing the blind luck quotient necessary to any film getting made, much less being made well, then being discovered by an audience, and finally revered by an audience. I mean, I thought, of course this is happening. I love the film, “Traffic.” In hindsight it's easier to see how many things broke our way, how lucky it was to have Soderbergh at the absolute peak of his inventiveness, how lucky to find that subject (thank you, Ed) at that time in my life, in that time (election year, Cold War winding down), etc. and etc. and etc. In my twenties I thought, oh this will happen all the time, this is normal, but it's really not. It takes luck to recognize your subject and have the opportunity to swing for the fences inside that subject, luck to have found collaborators like Ed and Steven. And by luck, I mean great reps—it was David Kanter who sent me in to meet with Alex Gartner, it was Alex who said, “Well here's a guy without a single feature script to his credit, but let's send him to meet our director”… on and on … it's just preposterous all the things that went my way. And of course I worked very hard ultimately.
 
What got you interested in petroleum politics and the oil industry?
 
It was Osama Bin Laden's first statements after the 9-11 bombings. He said, and you may not remember, because later he gave a bunch of contradictory reasons, but the first explanation was, "Get your planes out of the Holy Land." And I thought, “what planes? what Holy Land?" It turned out it was air force bases near Mecca, I guess. But an enormous event had happened and I didn't have any knowledge with which to frame the event. I recognized this and wanted to learn what was going on. Why did we have planes in the Holy Land? Why was this bearded trust fund kid so angry about it. I wanted to understand why 50 years of foreign policy was being tossed aside. I could feel the ship America making a hard, sharp turn, and I just wanted to understand what was happening. So I started reading and talking to people. Then Soderbergh sent me a book by Bob Baer and asked if I could make any sense of it. I read it and it was about finding out who did the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. And in the book, which is fascinating, there's one part where Bob writes that he'd come back from being Iraq Bureau Chief for the CIA and he couldn't get a meeting at the NSC because of being "lined up behind all the oil lobbyists." So I got together with Bob and asked him what he meant by this. That lunch, with Jennifer Fox and Bob, began the 4.5-year journey that resulted in “Syriana.”
 
Tell me about your research process with “Syriana.”
 
I spent a lot of time in the Middle East and again in D.C. Bob Baer called me up and asked, "So you really want to learn how the Middle East works?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Meet my Saturday in Nice." And I said, "Nice, France?" And he said, "Yep. It's August. It's hot in the Gulf. Everybody who can make a decision is in the South of France." We met with heads of state, arms dealers, foreign ministers, heads of secret police, terrorists, and every stripe of person in between. Then we went to Beirut. And the Persian Gulf. We were in Paris together. And London. We went to the “Oilman of the Year” event. We had all sorts of adventures in the Bekaa Valley, Damascus, the Western Desert, other places. It was like living a T.E. Lawrence book.
 
Was writing/directing a great revelation, as in having more control of your vision?
 
Writing and directing a film are two ends of the same job. The job is making a movie. When you're writing, you face the void, the something-from-nothing business. You have to make a million decisions—start here, it's about this, contextualize how, theme, theme, theme... And then directing is much more narrow. Ten thousand binary questions—this or this? This or this? This color or that color? This place or that place, this car or that car, this extra or that extra... SO you start the process extra wide, lens all the way open, and you work it all the way through to where you're picking the song for the trailer. Same job, just different parts of the same job, writing then directing. Then of course in editing you write it all over again. But somehow through it all, if you're lucky, you come back to the earliest inspiration, the original something-from-nothing moment, the reason you wanted to do it or were interested in the first place. For me it was, "What is a foreign policy, what is the role of the USA in the world?"
 
When your writing is flowing, what kind of headspace are you in?
 
Writing is the great mystery. I have no idea where it comes from. When it's going (which is really rare) it just goes, and time stops, and suddenly there are pages and pages and I'm sort of empty-feeling and you look at it and wonder if it's any good. Usually, when it comes from that zoned-out place of no thinking, no ego, no results, it's pretty interesting. It's that logical, connect-the-dots type of writing that has to be carefully looked at…because it's usually not true at all.
 
What do you look for in the projects you take on?
 
Ideas come from all sorts of places. But they have to be sifted against time. The best idea in the world on a Friday may look absolutely ludicrous on Monday. But over time the good ones stick, sometimes seemingly uninteresting things take on power over time, as other things start to stick to them. For instance, I've been thinking about Telco deregulation for a long, long time. I think it's an interesting idea for a film, that somewhere in there, in all the ins and outs of what happened, how the bill passed, what it's meant for the world, there's a great story, but I have no idea how to do it. I haven't found the way in. Something is still missing. Usually that's a human/relatable aspect that is undeniable, that has to be told. So I can read and think about something for years and years and then suddenly, bang, there's a simple story, and all the other ideas, points, twists, stories just fly to it like metal shavings to magnet and they stick and you start to have the shape of something real, but it's a long, messy, not very logical process that I wouldn't recommend to anyone.
 
The solitude and authorial god-ishness of writing as compared to the teamwork/collaborative aspects of directing, being on set. Talk to me.
 
As I said earlier, writing and directing feel like opposite ends of the same job. To me it feels like to earn the fun social/traveling/public component of filmmaking, the part where you actually get to collaborate with a great actor and make something, the fun of that is earned by the long, lonely, painful writing time. So as you narrow in the decision process from ‘anything is possible’ to the very concrete—"he carries that gun, drives that car, wears that size suit, walks with exactly that limp, from this injury..."—you move from total isolation to a fun, social milieu. People, in a way, are the reward for writing well.
 
Tell me about “Blink” and how it came to be.
 
I was reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, sitting in Cafe Gitane in NYC. Then I got to know Malcolm. Then we were both sitting there when Leonardo DiCaprio came in. And he said, “We should cook something up.” And it all just came about serendipitously. I'm still working on the script. It's been a loonnnggggg process, but I believe a good film will eventually come from it.
 
What are you reading right now?
 
I was just on a total hot streak with reading. I read three great books in a row. I read "The Flamethrowers" by Rachel Kushner, "All There Is" by James Salter, and then "Eleven Days" by Lea Carpenter. These books all had the effect of making me want to write. That's the great gift. Same thing with a film I caught on the plane yesterday—“Beginners,” the Mike Mills film. My wife turned me onto this great band, Hooded Fang. I feel lucky to live in a place and time where there's so much good stuff coming out, in so many different forms, and it's almost all instantly accessible. Maybe that's the thing about growing up in Kentucky in the time just before cable television. I used to wake up early and wait for cartoons and before the cartoons would come crop reports and before the crop reports it was just white noise on the TV, those grey/white spots vibrating. I'd sit there eating cereal from the box waiting for the guy to drone the prices of sorghum and whatnot. They asked Mary McCarthy a long time ago why so many writers came from the south and midwest and she said, “It's because you grow up watching the planes fly by overhead and the trains go by without stopping and you wonder where the hell is everybody going.”
 
Who are your heroes?
 
I admire those people who seem to be doing exactly what they're meant to do, who manage to make all the systems fit to their vision. The Uncompromised, let's call them. There are very few of them in film, but seem to be more in other walks of life, but maybe that's the ‘grass is greener’ syndrome. For instance, just recently, I was at the Wavegarden in Spain surfing with my friend Takuji Masuda early in the morning. And the next two people to show up were Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson. And then they surfed. And as I watched them I spoke with Dane's girlfriend and she was talking about their last few weeks. They were in Japan and here and there and in Europe, just traveling around, promoting a film, surfing. And I watched that guy surf the Wavegarden, just ripping it with a quality that truly seemed to come from some other planet—I mean, Dane doesn't look overtly like an athlete. He's not all ripped and eating protein shakes with an entourage. He shows up, stretches a couple times by touching his toes and then he goes out and surfs better than any human alive. And there's a quality to him, an ineffable THIS IS ME, DOING EXACTLY WHAT I'M MEANT TO DO, HOW I DO IT quality to him that seems real and true and is obviously super compelling to marketers and whatnot, but starts by being basically real. I happened to witness it in the early morning in rural Spain, where he showed up just to surf the artificial wave because he'd done it before and not been that happy with how he surfed it, so he was back, to do it better, and he did. And he did it for himself alone. And I got to see it. And it reminded me to look at parts of my life and hold them to that same standard of integrity, integrity in the sense of: Does this feel right to me or am I talking myself into it for some other reason? There's a freedom that is instantly recognizable in those who are in that zone of doing their thing in their way, whether it's in surfing or filmmaking or music or whatever.
 
How did you get into surfing?
 
I rented a house with some people in Malibu. I stayed out during the week. From the window I could see people surfing. One day, I woke up and said, “Why am I not surfing?” I rented a 9-0 Zuma Jay board and a wetsuit and spent three days in the white water. The third day I got one on the shoulder. Rode it all the way to the beach, jumped up and down in waist-deep water. When I paddled back out a guy I knew said, "Now you know the meaning of the word ‘stoke.’" But this moment occurred around the time I quit drinking. And when you quit something that has occupied so much time, has taken up literally almost two full workweeks every week, suddenly you have a ton of free time on your hands. It's like you walk around just having no idea what to do with all that time, you aren't hungover or staying up all night or chasing girls or whatever form it takes, and suddenly you're just standing around blinking in the sunlight saying, "I need a hobby or something."
 
What role does surfing play in your life?
 
Well, when I get the time to get out everyday, it's pretty much all I want to do. A lot of the time life intervenes and I lose that edge so when I go back out, I'm so crappy, I just get really down. Still, any time in the water is usually good time, and I've never yet regretted a session, but I wish it was more integrated into my life. It's pretty common, I suppose, but when you learn a sport when you're 5 years old, like I did with tennis or soccer, you never really lose it—I will always be able to hit a forehand that looks like a forehand; but when you pick up a sport in your late, late twenties, it's really hard to make it look right. And when I sit out a while from surfing, when I go back, it's just so wrong. It's insanely frustrating. I would give anything to have been raised on an ocean instead of on a clay tennis court in Kentucky, but there's really no going back. Ideally, I'd have a house right on a break and be able to go out for quick 40-minute sessions whenever it looks good. Still, we take surf trips and have a ton of fun. We were just in SW France, in Bidart and Guethary, and had an amazing time hitting all the beachbreaks, caught a great day at Parlimentia. There's just nothing better.
 
Do you follow surfing, as in the contests and the culture?
 
I follow surfing in a strange way, in that I want to make a film or something out of the world. I think about it a lot and have tried a bunch of ways in. I feel like maybe I finally have the right way to go about it. Also, I love sports stories so I'm always tracking the ups and downs of the pros, their personal lives, backstories, where they came from, what it's like for them. And also how they try to monetize what was at one point, for all of them, a great love. It's tough to monetize love. It changes it completely. I went through this with writing. I love good writing so much, have derived so much pleasure from it, but once you turn pro, you never read or watch a film the same way again.
 
What do you do when you want to get away from work?
 
I have to be on the water, pushing myself, trying to snap a turn I never could make before, or being in the water with guys who are so much better than I... I get to surf with people like Danny Fuller or Dan Ross every once and again, and watching those guys turn a little nothing wave into an absolute work of art, it just blows my mind, again and again, it never fails... Thinking about it a bit, there's a quality to surfing that's absolutely analogous to writing... when you're really doing it, when it's going well, in the zone or whatever lame phrase tries to capture it, time just stops and all the crushing self-awareness goes away, and everything feels so right, composed, infinite, and it all just stretches out, and it's all over in an instant and you have no idea how you did it or even what just happened... but it's the best feeling in the world... so good in fact that you can spend your
entire life chasing it.
 
 
 
 
*This piece appeared in Saturdays #003. Photo by Stephen's wife, Minnie Mortimer
 

April 21, 2014

From The Depths We Cry To Thee

“My love for you is eternal,” he said, sliding the razor down her calf.

They did this often on Sunday afternoons: eat a heavy, languorous lunch, drink a bottle or two of wine, fall into a shower/bath that would carry on for over an hour. They took turns washing each other, one standing, the other sitting. His big treat was shaving her legs.

“Eternal and gushing and sometimes almost too much to contain,” he continued, “but I’ve come to realize that it’s really me in love with you that I love. I love who I am with you.” He squeezed a dollop of shaving cream into his palm, smeared it on her other calf, shaved a perfect stripe from her knee down to her ankle. “You’re the greatest carnival mirror this clown could ever ask for.”

April 20, 2014

The Holy Fuckness of It All, 7

When Molly went to Paris that spring I put her in touch with Brigitte. They met for lunch in Le Marais and, according to Molly's postcard, sung my praises. What sort of praises I have no idea. When Molly returned to LA she abruptly broke it off between us.

My work in film led to a six-month gig building a miniature of Stonehenge on a giant property in the Hollywood Hills. It was soul-cleansing, satisfying work, the studying of Neolithic history, the digging of ditches, the hoisting of ten-foot-tall stones with a crane.

The owner of the property, a billionaire (a non-disclosure agreement forbids me to say anything more), put me up in one of his "spare" homes, a beachfront cottage on the northern end of Malibu. I went to AA meetings in Point Dume, NA meetings in Santa Monica. On weekends I rode my mountain bike in Sycamore Canyon.

One cool November afternoon a black limousine climbed the steep driveway and pulled up a few feet from where my crew and I were working. The driver stepped out and opened the door. Out poured first a tinny, work-in-progress version of Madonna's "Like A Version" from the stereo, and then Madonna herself. She wore black Converse All-Stars, black fishnets, raggedy high-cut jeans shorts, a lacy black bra, a faded black Ramones T-shirt, and about a dozen crucifixes around her neck. Her wrists were wrapped in black bangles and her hair had that mussy JGF (Just Got Fucked) look. She had some sort of hickey on the side of her face.

She introduced herself, said she was a friend of __________'s. She glanced over the site. "I saw the real Stonehenge for the first time just last month," she said. From behind her ear she pulled out a joint. She lit it, took a slow, deep drag, and passed it to me.

It was only after three or four hits that I realized I'd just ended 22 months of sobriety.

April 14, 2014

The Holy Fuckness of It All, 6

I wonder what my time with Cicciolina did to my nervous system. I wonder if there’s a point of no return that, once crossed, renders those simple, perfect pleasures—the full eye contact, the gasping ‘I love you’s, the heads nestled into chests, the touching pinkies—unsatisfactory. I wonder if those threesomes and coke-fueled orgies, that whole depraved year-and-a-half of emotionless fucking, may have created an irreparable disconnect between love and sex.

Things were good with Molly. She was between films but she never let up, six hours of French immersion a day—Camus, Genet, Balzac, Foucault, Sartre, Le Clezio literally creating a sag in her book shelf. I was working on “The Color of Money,” with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. There was a barroom brawl scene that never made the final cut. We had a couple dozen bottles of Jack Daniels. Not real ones, but the movie kind. You can smash them over someone’s head and they crush softly, as if made of sugar. I brought one home, set it on the nightstand. For about a month I just looked at it, smelled it. It looked stately, like honey.

One night Molly and I were laying in bed reading. I turned to her. “Here’s how it’s going to go,” I said. “At 5pm tomorrow I’m going to enter the house (she’d given me keys, a three-bedroom Craftsman in Los Feliz). I’m going to walk into the kitchen, grab a Hansen’s mandarin lime soda, and head toward the bedroom. As I’m walking down the hall you’re going to sneak up behind me and smash me over the head with this (I passed her the JD bottle). I’m going to fall in a heap, pass out. You’re going to shimmy me on to the bed, which will be covered in plastic, a fresh pad of butter on a plate set right here (I pointed to her nightstand). You’re going to tie me up, blindfold me, and leave me alone for 24 hours. When you return, when you peel off my blindfold, I want you and your girlfriend Moon lying on either side of me.

Molly complied. The three of us had a good time. Dare I say it might have brought us closer.

A few months and a few scenes later I found an isolated cul de sac in Bel Air that was dark, tree-shrouded, no street lights. The pavement ran into a springy chain link fence. We were sitting at the table eating dinner. Johnny Hallyday's "Rock'n Slow" played on the stereo. "Here's how it's going to go," I told her. "We're going to drive up there at 2 in the morning. Along the way we're going to get in a fight. You're going to order me out of the car. I'm going to walk toward the fence, and as I near it you're going to gun the car at me, ram me right up against it, then back up and do it again. Then you're going to screech off and leave me there."

Things were never the same between us.

April 13, 2014

The Holy Fuckness of It All, 5

Cicciolina moved in with Koons. I, heartbroken and even deeper in debt, moved into a shitty little apartment in a shitty little neighborhood in Hollywood known as "Little Beirut." I got a job assisting a production designer friend. The scene where John Bender crawls through the ceiling in "The Breakfast Club," I built that space! It was on-set during the making of the film that I met Molly Ringwald.
 
Like me, Molly had been through a heavy bout of partying (unlike me, she hadn't driven her partner's milk white '65 T-Bird into a tree off Mulholland Drive). We hit up AA meetings—before and after work, at lunch, on weekends. Molly had just over a year, I was nearing six months. She was rigorously studying French lit, reading through Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," from "Swann's Way" right through to "Time Regained." Over languorous picnics in Griffith Park I quizzed her with a French 3 phrase book. We had fun together.
 
One night we saw the movie "Repo Man" at the Nuart, went for hot dogs at Pink's, and shared our first kiss at a red light at Melrose and Highland in her black BMW convertible, the sky splashed with stars. We went to Helena's, got a quiet table in the back, and drank ginger ale and smoked cloves and stared into each other's eyes until they kicked us out
of the place.
 
From that night on we were inseparable.

April 9, 2014

The Holy Fuckness of It All, 4

Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac--they did wonders for my mood. My paranoia ceased. My appetite exploded. I ate two carne asada burritos and three fish tacos in a sitting at Poquito Mas on Cahuenga. But my sex drive vanished. Weeks went by without so much as a rim job or a cream pie between my Cicciolina and me. And any lover of a porn star knows that the job does not dull desire, it inflames it. I was waiting for the night she'd never come home, and arrive in the morning beelining for the shower with traces of John or Ron or Rocco in her hair. Who knew she'd drop me for an ex-commodities broker?

April 8, 2014

The Holy Fuckness of It All, 3

In July 1981, "Carne Bollente" (Hot Meat), starring Cicciolina and John Holmes, premiered to great acclaim at the Pussycat Theater in Los Angeles. The after party at On The Rox lasted almost three days. Harry Dean Stanton and Amber Lynn; Dennis Hopper and Annie Sprinkle; Marlon Brando and Duchess de Sade; John Belushi, Divine, and a luded-out Marilyn Chambers—the unlikely hookups, happening on couches, in corners, under tables, were comical. With the exception of a 45-minute visit to the restroom, Chi-chi was by my side the entire time. I was so proud of my girl, the toast of the entire porn industry.

But my feelings changed over the course of the next month. The film had a sold-out run, i.e., virtually everyone I knew saw it. 

One afternoon I went for a drink at my local bar. My buddies greeted me with fits of laughter. Indian Joe stood up. “You fu—“ He chortled, keeled over, could barely get the words out. "You fucking Cicciolina," he said so the whole bar could hear it. "You fucking Cicciolina is like throwing a hot dog down a hallway!”

They bellowed and high-fived and patted backs.

I trembled. I couldn't sleep at night. It felt like I'd swallowed five nails.

I tried Ashtanga yoga, Transcendental Meditation, solo walks in Rustic Canyon. I read A Course In Miracles, the Kama Sutra, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I dabbled in Scientology, prayed at the Agape church off Alvarado. I sobbed on the couch of Dr. Harold Moss, therapist-to-the-porn-stars.

That was when the real trouble began.

April 8, 2014

The Holy Fuckness of It All, 2

Our breakup made headlines in Le Monde and Le Figaro. We sold the apartment on Rue Passy. Brigitte moved to St. Tropez and started her foundation and I, heartbroken and heavily in debt, rented a little fisherman's cottage in Ravelo, on the Amalfi coast. I was sure it was going to be the toughest summer of my life. I had no idea I was being set-up when a friend invited me to a dinner party and I found myself seated next to Italy's hottest adult film star. Chi-chi and I hit it off immediately. We rode through the night in her white Dino and stayed in her Milano flat for a couple weeks, leaving the bed only for food, drink, provisions. We melded beautifully. Then came the work call she'd been waiting for. We moved into a '50s two-bedroom home with a pool off Laurel Canyon. Chi-chi knew she was onto something big. It was not easy to watch her go off to work everyday with men twice, three times my size. But I was a believer.

April 8, 2014

The Holy Fuckness of It All, 1

We started off so blissfully, the wine, the cigarettes, the terrific sex. Then came that first stray mutt. Then Sandrine, a lost tabby. Then litters of cats and dogs, a $15K donation to WWF, a three-month trip to Nairobi to rescue a wounded giraffe. I was hoping for a son. She was mothering quadrupeds.

April 8, 2014

Shards of Broken Dreams (or, Pieces of a Man’s Memoir, The Drunk Tapes)

On a Heathrow-JFK flight in 1990, three beers in, The Replacements “Tim” on my mustard yellow Walkman, the neither-here-nor-thereness of 35,000 feet loosening things, a ball point pen and a Spiral notebook spread out in front of me to catch what drops.

The song “Waitress in the Sky” comes on and suddenly I’m looking at the Pan Am stewardess with a sideways grin. Then the lyrics: “Sanitation expert, maintenance engineer, garbage man, janitor, and you, my dear”.

That writing could do this, by association belittle, poetically, was a revelation to me. What if, for instance, the lyrics went, “Marilyns, Mother Theresas, Madonnas, and you, my dear,” what would that say?

The surf mags I pored over got less play. In their place: Henry Miller and Jean Cocteau and Burroughs and Ginsberg and Brautigan and Sarte. The patent-leather red Adidas I sported (‘rocked’ had yet to be coined) soon took on an air of superficiality, as did the logo-bedecked baseball caps and painstakingly mussed hairdo.

A recession, Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth and J. Mascis, Rodney King riots in LA, a proliferation of coffee houses and open-mic nights, shaggy sweaters from thrift stores, an appreciation for the weathered over the shiny, the near-disappearance of cocaine, at least in my little world, and a whole lot of pot in its place—these things helped me to shake my pro surfing dream and open to something new.

January 10, 2014

Day of Days: Sam Shepard’s Long Ride

“I don’t own a fax machine or an answering service or a call forwarding or a cellular car phone or a word processor, and I’ve never volunteered for what they call ‘press junkets.’ On top of all this, I’m not getting any younger, and my face is falling apart. Most of my lower teeth were knocked out by a yearling colt in the spring of ’75. Half my upper teeth are badly discolored, and one of them’s been dead for as long as I can remember. When you get right down to it, I’m lucky to even have an agent at this point in time. I’ve been involved in many dangerous, foolish things over the years, more by accident than choice. I’ve been upside down under falling horses at a full gallop; I’ve been fired upon by a 12-gauge Ithaca over and under; I’ve rolled in a 1949 Plymouth Coupe, which is a hard car to flip over; and I almost blew myself up once with a plastic milk bottle full of white gas on the Bay of Fundy, where they have the highest tides in the world. Still, I would gladly go through all these dumb acts ten times over rather than get on an airplane of any kind. I admit to an overwhelming vertigo that I don’t quite understand and I’m unwilling to psychoanalyze. The absolutely realistic sensation of falling without end—that’s one I have no power over. Luckily, I love to drive, the farther the better. I love covering immense stretches in one leap—Memphis to New York City, Gallup to LA, Bismarck to Cody, leaps like these, without a partner, completely alone, relentless driving, driving till the body disappears, the legs fall off, the eyes bleed, the hands go numb, the mind shuts down, and then suddenly something new begins to appear.”

    —Sam Shepard, from Stalking Himself, a 1998 PBS documentary

Unlike the violence and despair and spittle-laced soliloquies that are the hallmarks of his plays, Sam Shepard’s life has been blessed. Born in Illinois in 1943, Shepard moved often, following his father, a career man in the army, from base to base around the country. After a year at college he left home and toured as an actor with a Christian theatre troupe, the Bishop’s Company Repertory Players. At 19, in 1963, he moved to New York, fell in with a group of actors and playwrights who would comprise the Off-Off Broadway movement, and wrote one-act plays with ferocity. His work connected. Between 1966 and 1979 he won ten Obie Awards (given to Off Broadway plays). In 1979 he won a Pulitzer Prize for Buried Child, a play about the fragmentation of the American nuclear family. In 1980 he won an Obie for Sustained Achievement. In 2009 he received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award. In short, Shepard is one of America’s most important playwrights.

That’s not even to mention his acting. Strong jaw, dimpled chin, almond-shaped blue eyes, windswept dirty blond hair—Shepard exuded the solitude and vastness of the American West. He began his career in earnest when he was cast as the handsome land baron in Days of Heaven (1978), opposite Richard Gere and Brook Adams. A host of important roles followed, most notably his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff (1983), earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His achievements are endless. He collaborated with Bob Dylan on the song “Brownsville Girl.” He wrote the screenplay for the Wim Wenders film Paris, Texas. He and then girlfriend Patti Smith co-wrote the play Cowboy Mouth. He’s written several short-story collections. It goes on and on and on.

Shepard’s most recent play is Heartless. Like much of his work, it chronicles a family on the brink of collapse. Unlike much of his work, the cast is made up of four women, all of whom are insane in their own special way. It is set in Los Angeles, and features what may or may not be considered a suicide when one of the characters dives into the great abyss that is the San Fernando Valley.

I caught up with Shepard via cell phone. He was in his car, driving along what I imagined to be a two-lane highway flanked by red desert.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
I don’t think it was any one event or any one person; it was a reticulation of experience that compelled me to start writing. I wish I could say it was Samuel Beckett, or a specific childhood experience. But it was really an accumulative thing. I started off wanting to be an actor, but I didn’t like the audition process—having to get headshots and humiliate yourself—so I started writing as a result of my failure as an actor.

What was your upbringing like?
Semi-rural. Crazy, insane family. Father in the air force; mother an elementary school teacher. It was pretty run of the mill America.

Were there lots of books? What were you reading back then?

My dad wound up being a Spanish teacher. He spoke fluent Spanish and he was a Fulbright scholar as well, so there was a lot of Spanish influence: Lorca, Cervantes and things like that that were tangential to some of the stuff that I started to become interested in. My first theatrical experiences, if you want to call it that, were rodeo and flamenco dancing.

You moved to New York at the height of the ‘60s counterculture. What was that like?
Well, I was lucky enough to arrive right at the very beginning of Off-Off-Broadway—La Mama, [Caffé] Cino, Theater Genesis, Judson Poets’ Theater, and things like that were just starting upon my arrival. I hadn’t timed it that way or even known anything about it. It was just serendipity, coincidental. But it allowed me to do sort of off-the-cuff productions on a regular basis at any theater I chose. I started at Theater Genesis down on 2nd Avenue and St. Marks, because the guy who ran Theater Genesis, Ralph Cook, was the headwaiter at the Village Gate where I was a busboy. Almost all the waiters there were also actors—Kevin O’Connor and people like that.

Did jazz play a big influence?
Yeah, it certainly did. I was a busboy at one of the biggest jazz clubs in New York, the Village Gate, so I got to see Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie, you know, all those great bands. And the stand-up comic on the break in between bands was Woody Allen.

Did you have mentors at that time? Were there writers you were looking up to?

No, I was pretty much on my own. As a writer, of course Beckett always played a very big part, but I never met him personally—I wish I had.

I read in one of your interviews that you didn’t rewrite at that time—first thought, best thought.
Well, it used to go hand in hand with that old notion of improvisation, which I suppose was a jazz idea. At that time in the sixties there was a certain purity associated with it—which was kind of ridiculous—where you could do no wrong, where anything on the page was OK, you didn’t need to rethink it. So I had that sort of arrogant attitude about it, and later discovered that it was far from the truth about writing.

What about now, do you do a lot of revising?
Yeah, almost immediately when I finish a page I’m devouring the re-writing, I’m on it. I’m working on a book now so there’s this incredible scribbling on just about every page. It doesn’t mean that someone can’t just directly make a manuscript that’s impeccable, you know, like I’ve seen some of Cormac McCarthy’s pages and there’s not one correction on them, which is kind of amazing.

Do you write your first drafts longhand?
For the most part, yeah, but with this book I’m typing it, because it’s just simply faster. I’ve been typing my whole life so I’m very fast at it, and I love the feel of some of the typewriters I’ve got—mostly Olympias, they’re West German. It’s like a great Chevy. They’re very fast.

In New York you mentioned that you wrote Heartless pretty quickly, keeping sort of regular office hours.
The great thing about the Santa Fe Institute, where I’ve been working for the past couple years, is that it does have a formality about it. I show up around nine in the morning and work straight ahead until around noon, have some lunch, and then I usually work until about three or four in the afternoon. I get quite a bit done, whereas if I stay home I can write, but I don’t have that exterior, enforced discipline that I find at Santa Fe.

Tell me about the Santa Fe Institute.
I got a fellowship there a couple years ago on the recommendation of Valerie Plame Wilson and Cormac [McCarthy], I think. They were the two instrumental people in getting me this fellowship. So I thought I’d try it out and I liked it so much I asked if I could come back and they said ‘of course’ and they gave me a little corner of the library there and I’ve worked there pretty consistently. It’s composed 95% or more of scientists, so the people there are very interesting because they are working on, say, archeology, quantum physics, math, chemistry—just about every variety of science you can imagine. There’s never a lack of conversation. And it’s great not to talk to writers, to talk to people in another endeavor.

What do you read?
I read all kinds of stuff. There’s a book called Chaos, very scientific. I’m re-reading Lolita by Nabokov, which is amazing. I’m reading a lot of South Americans like César Aira and [Roberto] Bolaño. I usually read three or four, up to six books at a time. I’m reading this Japanese guy, [Haruki] Murakami. I like his short stories.

What are your days like? I’m imagining you spend a decent amount of time outdoors?
Well, I’ve got horses in Kentucky, but down here in New Mexico I’ve just got dogs. They like to hunt rabbits so we go out at night and chase rabbits (laughs). I grew up in a pretty rural area and I was always outdoors, it was always part of my makeup.

You write and you act. Do the two inform each other? Do they ever conflict?

I’ve never seen a conflict between the two of them. One of the reasons I started writing plays was because I had some minimal experience on stage and sort of understood the spatial, the time thing of it, what the experience of being an actor onstage was. So I felt I had a handle on theatre in a non-scholastic, non-academic, non-literary way, you know what I mean? I really understood what it was like to be an actor onstage facing an audience. I think that’s important. I think a playwright absolutely has to understand that it’s a dimensional thing, that it has to do with a live audience. No, I’ve never had any conflict between acting and film and writing short stories and plays.

Tell me about Heartless.
I’ve always had the feeling that a play should, for lack of a better word, write itself if you get out of its way. And this play sort of appeared to me, not to sound too hocus pocus about it. I had this notion of the heart transplant, and the sisters, and I desperately wanted to write something that featured women, which I haven’t done before. And so those were the essential elements that I started with, and then I was determined to let the play write itself and not try to constantly control it, which confuses a lot of people. But the audiences seem to dig it, the critics didn’t get it (laughs), but that’s OK.

What made you choose to set it in Los Angeles?
I was spending some time with a friend of mine in LA, and I can’t ever remember the name of that highway—it’s not Mulholland but it’s somewhere like that, where it’s kind of a rim, overall view over the entire city where you can in fact on a clear day see the ocean. Usually I’m kind of down in the city, so it gave me this incredible vantage point that I’d never seen before, and it started in places like that, where the main character, the old woman, sort of looks out over the abyss as she calls it (laughs). And then of course I grew up most of my childhood out in the Mojave Desert, so Los Angeles at that time in the fifties was a very exotic, distant place. I rarely came to it. I think I came once or twice with my great aunt as I remember, but it was always very exotic and distant. It was a place of the imagination, totally, as opposed to a nuts-and-bolts sidewalk place. Because I lived way out toward Indio (laughs).

I love your depiction of LA proper on one side and the valley on the other, and this edge or cliff that you could fall off. I grew up in the Valley. It took many years before I could admit that.
Yeah, right (laughs). But there’s something about the history of Los Angeles that just fascinates me, you know, this little pueblo that was sort of stimulated by this Irish mogul [William Mulholland] and his getting the water from the Owens River, and, you know, the whole Chinatown thing, which is probably largely fantasy but is taken to be fact. Where the water comes from, how this sort of desert pueblo turned into this monster is something you don’t even think about anymore. I find it really fascinating. And then Jedediah Smith…It’s a fantastic history.

Do you spend much time in LA?
No, I don’t. Whenever I’m there I feel this weird nostalgia mixed with terror (laughs). I feel like a part of me belongs there and another part of me definitely doesn’t.

Do you get much writing done when you’re in Los Angeles?
Yeah, I find it very inspirational in an odd way. For instance, I wrote a play called True West in Los Angeles, which is more or less based in the suburbs, but it is in LA. I wrote that entirely in LA and over a very intense period of time. I think I wrote it in less than a month. And it kind of fired on me I think more than anything because of the place. And there’s another play called Angel City, which is basically about LA but I didn’t write it there, I wrote it in San Francisco, which is odd. LA has continually played some kind of role in stuff that I’ve done, in fact it plays a part in the thing I’m writing right now.

Can you tell me about it?
Well, I’m reluctant to talk too much about it because I’m a little bit superstitious about talking too much about the things I’m working on. But it moves around two different characters and takes place in several different locations and has a kind of time thing about it. It’s a novella or a book, as opposed to a short story or a play. But I really find it difficult to talk about.

December 11, 2013

Hold Your Breath: Vava Ribeiro’s Deep Immersion into the North Shore

I first met Vava Ribeiro in 1996. We were in Amsterdam, covering the 9th Annual High Times Cannabis Cup. We both worked as journalists—he in Sao Paulo, me in Los Angeles. A mutual friend had given us vague physical descriptions and told us to look out for each other. In an airy banquet room, a bearded and tie-dyed commune founder gave a lecture about growing pot, dodging the man, and ballin’ old ladies. He paused often and at great length. The audience crowded around him, sitting Indian style on the floor, severely stoned. When the lecturer paused, shook his dreadlocked head, giggled, and said, “Sorry, I forgot what I was sayin’,” the audience hardly noticed. I can’t remember whether it was during this lecture or the one about hydroponics that an audience member raised his hand and pointed to the passed-out guy next to him. They exchanged a few words. The lecturer became flustered. “Is there a doctor in the house?” he asked. “Hey man, anyone know CPR?”

In any case, it was after one of these, a pack of stoned audience members stepping out into a bright corridor, that I saw a guy who fit the description. Brown-skinned, brown curly hair, big warm smile, two cameras dangling around neck, a girl, tall and beautiful, at his side.

“Vava?”

“Jamie?”

We’ve been great friends ever since.

Vava’s story goes something like this: The younger brother to two beautiful sisters, he grew up in the Gavea neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, a short bike ride from Ipanema Beach, where sparkling waves and sunstruck tourists and G-stringed girls converged. Vava came to surfing at age thirteen. A goofyfoot with a smooth style and a dashing cutback, he swiftly climbed the Brazilian amateur ranks, a small village of trophies filling his mantle. When Rodrigo Mendes (son of bossa nova giant Sergio Mendes) started dating one of his sisters, the two became great pals. They surfed all day, partied all night, and obsessed over surf magazines in between.

Cut to a few years later. Rodrigo was living in New York, and Vava was enrolled at Rio’s Faculdade da Cidade, studying design. When Vava and his first ever girlfriend split up he was devastated. He booked a one-way ticket to France, with a brief stopover in New York. His plan was to surf himself into amnesia in the A-frame beachbreaks of Hossegor. He arrived at JFK and subwayed it over to Rodrigo’s downtown apartment. Rodrigo was in a frenzy. “Swell’s pumping!” he said. “Grab your board, we’re going to Jersey.” It was the last thing Vava expected to find in New York, but he went with it. For the next three days, he scored clean, overhead waves at Sea Girt and surrounding beaches. At night they ran wild in the East Village. Vava was hooked. He canceled his flight to France and stayed—for fifteen years.

The surf would never quite deliver the way it did for his arrival, but life certainly did. A resourceful man who speaks four languages and thrives in the presence of beautiful woman, Vava got a job assisting some of New York’s finest photographers. Within a year he was shooting his own stuff. Before long, his pictures were appearing in the biggest fashion magazines in the world. Vava traveled voraciously, spending time in Paris, London, Los Angeles, Sydney, Sao Paulo, and Amsterdam. In 2000 he won the photo competition at the prestigious Hyères Festival in France. Around that same time he began the body of work on display here. For the last decade, Vava has been immersed in “Hold Your Breath,” a book about Hawaii in general and the North Shore in particular. He grew up obsessing over the Hawaii depicted in surf magazines and movies. When he finally arrived there many years later, he found it to be both nothing and exactly like he’d expected.

What drew you to photography?

As long as I can remember I had a camera in my hand. I always knew that I was going to be doing something visual—an architect, or a designer, or a graphic designer. As a kid I was always doodling and doing little drawings and I was actually pretty good at it. When I got to college there was a photo class that I took and I loved it, and I felt good about it. My brother-in-law was a professional photographer. My grandfather was a photo-enthusiast; he always had a camera around. So photography was something that was familiar to me. I started shooting on my surfing travels. But I never set out to be a photographer—it was just a natural extension of my travels. But I really got the first buzz when I was in design school when I started to shoot and develop my film. At that time it was happening at a very subconscious level. I did not know I was going to become a professional photographer, but I got hooked then.

As long as I’ve known you traveling has been a huge part of your life. When we first met you had separate phone books for London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, and Hawaii. Where did all your traveling start?

It started in the early ‘90s in Brazil. There was a very weird political scenario in the country itself. It was a very instinctive feeling that I wanted something else. I had traveled within Brazil and to Europe as a kid, with my family, and I knew there was something out there for me. I had no real plans for the future, I had a broken heart, I was bored at college, and I was tired of surfing in competition, and surfing itself. So all the main motors of my life weren’t fulfilling me at all. Once I started to travel it opened up this vortex, it opened up these possibilities. For me it was very easy to travel. I’ve always been very adaptable, very easy with new languages. Going to a new country and learning a different reality has always been exciting to me.

Did surfing contribute?

My very first international trip, alone without my family—I was seventeen years old—was a surf trip to Peru. We’re talking around 1988. And I was the youngest guy, I was with four other guys, all older, and we went to all the best places. We went to Punta Hermosa, we went to Machu Picchu, we surfed perfect Chicama. That was probably the gnarliest, craziest trip of my life. It was the first time that I heard about terrorists. There was a terrorist group in Peru. I knew there was going to be big waves, trouble, all the difficulties of traveling in South America. Peru at that time was a fucking shithole. But that didn’t stop me from going. I remember driving through Máncora, and Máncora was a dead town. It was year after El Niño, there was a mudslide that covered the whole town—all you could see was the roofs of the houses poking out of the mud. It was like a horror/western movie. You looked to the left and there was this crazy disaster, and you looked to the right and there were these peeling, perfect lefts with no one out, not a soul to be seen. We surfed our heads off. It was this wild contrast of joy and fear. Oh my god, this is amazing! Oh my god, where the fuck are we? At night they cut the power and we thought the terrorists were going to attack the town because that’s what they used to do: cut the power, attack the town, kill everybody, steal their passports, and move on. The Sendero Luminoso means “The Shining Path.” It was the biggest terrorist group in South America. They were pretty active throughout the ‘80s. When the power got cut everybody ran into the desert to hide, and we stayed in our little hut, and it turned out to be just a power shortage. We were shit scared. But that didn’t stop us. We kept on traveling through the desert. I think that planted the seed in me. The sensorial experience; the knowledge that I can function in whatever situation you throw at me—it made me feel special in a way. It made me feel good. Everything after that was easy.

What would be the highlight of your photography career?

In a professional sense we can talk about the prize I got in Hyeres, which was very renowned and opened up a lot of possibilities in my life. It gave me a little bit of status, but it also gave me the self-assurance and confidence that I needed. That was very fulfilling. But highlight of my photography career—that’s a tough question. How do you measure that?

You’ve been photographing the North Shore for over a decade. I remember us talking about how you grew up looking at pictures of Hawaii in the surf mags, and that your photos deal with how you imagined Hawaii to be, and what it actually looked and felt like.

My first trip to Hawaii was in ‘99/2000, so it’s been twelve years. A lot of the North Shore has changed. A lot in me has changed. Photography is amazing to me because after a while that file, that archive, has a life of its own. When something is about five to ten years old you start to look into the documentary value of it. The more it ages, the more significant it becomes. When I first started to photograph Hawaii the pictures looked like my dreams, or like the images I formulated in my head from reading all the surf magazines. It was like déjà vu. I realized at some point that just like my memories, the actual images I was shooting needed to age, to get some sort of ” real ” vintage value so they also could speak with that same tone as the images I was paying tribute to. And probably that’s why now these images make more sense then the first time around when I first stared to edit the work. Photography is a time travel platform. I wanted to portray my lifelong experience with surfing through emotional images. Hawaii was a place that could magnify that story and at the same time provide the elements for new theatrics. All I needed was to live them through a camera and let time do its part.

Is there a single image from your Hawaii work that you feel captures your impressions of the North Shore?

There’s an image of Jesse [Faen] with the Fish that I really like. He’s laying down in bed with the board next to him, and he’s raising his hand up to block the sun. It’s an introspective moment of a surfer. It has a vague narrative to it. It could have been me in that image. It could have resembled something that I saw in a surfing magazine when I was a kid. But it also resonates to the time that I was there hanging out with Jesse. There’s another picture where Joel Tudor is looking at me, and he’s wearing a T-shirt that says “Dora Lives.” That image could have been shot in the ‘70s or the ‘80s. When I shot that image then he was paying reference to something that I saw as a kid, of a place I only knew about through the magazines. Now I look at that image and think about first, the moment when I took the shot, and second, the period where I was a kid growing up with surf mags that featured the North Shore. There are two layers to it.

Who are your favorite photographers?

I can decipher my photography influences by layers. The portraiture of Richard Avedon, the colors of Stephen Shore, the haunting portraits of Emmet Gowin, the raw youth from Larry Clark, the skin and innocence on Jock Sturges, the cold and abstract compositions from Michael Schmidt. I’ve always been a photo junkie. I could name 100 photographers on that list. I also like movies. Strong visual narratives: Kurosawa, Kubrick, Antonioni, Lynch…

What makes a great image?

There’s no rationale to it. There’s no mathematical formula. There’s a distinct sense you get when you look at a good image. That’s the beauty of photography for me. It has to be felt. It’s not something that you see; it’s definitely something that you feel. It’s one of the most sensorial mediums that you could possibly have. The only thing I could possibly compare to it is music. You listen to it and you have a rush of thoughts and emotions and feelings. Photography does that to you. In a funny way, a good photograph will start a dialogue with you—internally you have this conversation going back and forth with the photograph. That to me is a buzz. That to me is what makes it so amazing. And another thing: photography as a medium is close to magic. A camera is an amazing, magical instrument. You’re recording a fraction of a second of a moment, and it stays. And you’re living that moment. And that moment is a whole different feeling when it’s frozen. This little machine does all that. What else do we have out there that is such a clever trick?

What are you most inspired by right now?

Music has always been important. I look at other people’s photography and painting. I try to draw inspiration everywhere. I could listen to a Silver Jews song, or Cro-Mags, or Vivaldi, or jazz and images come to my mind. If I close my eyes in darkness and listen to music my head creates images. Imagination is the most important thing in my head. Not creativity—that you can play with, or control in a way. But when you can access imagination and record that and bring that out—that’s the place where most of my work comes from.

December 9, 2013

FOR THE LOVE OF GEOFF DYER

There are several hundred reasons to love Geoff Dyer. One of them is his writing. The author of eleven books, including “But Beautiful,” “Out of Sheer Rage,” “Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It,” and “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi,” Dyer is hailed as a genre-defier. He explores, crosses lines. I want to say that he digresses, but in the astonishing rabbit holes down which he takes us, they don’t feel like digressions. In Dyer’s protean world, there’s no such thing.

I first met him a few months ago at a residency/workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I was deeply enamored of him, which often leads me to stuttering and nervous, incoherent ramblings. Dyer put me at ease. He joked, he self-deprecated, he exuded a droll lightness. During a discussion about literature he said that he likes to think of writing books as epistemological journeys. Me being of the knuckle-dragging surfer variety, I had to look up “epistemological.” It means “the theory of knowledge, esp. with regard to its methods, validity, and scope.” Not only did this fire me up on my own writing (“Writing is an opportunity to learn in the public eye,” wrote another of my favorite writers), it made me realize what I love so much about Dyer’s non-fiction. He starts out on the bar stool next to you, drawing you in to whatever subject, and by the end of it your both dressed in cap and gown, clutching diplomas.

Another reason to love Geoff Dyer is his passion for balls. Dyer played tennis nearly every afternoon. His wins and losses became the source of inside, ongoing jokes that were bandied about the dinner table. One scorching afternoon we went to the beach. “How boring!” said Dyer, scanning the group of pasty writers stretched on towels, heads in books. He produced a tennis ball, and rallied us all into a game of catch at the shoreline. But ordinary catch was not enough for Dyer. “The idea is to fake each other out,” he said, eyeing me but rifling the ball to the unsuspecting player on his right. He also insisted we add an element of hot potato—the moment you catch the ball you’re already throwing it. Indelible memories of Dyer diving for balls in the spuming shorebreak, his drenched T-shirt clinging to his narrow frame, his toothy smile gleaming in the Florida sun. I felt nine years old again. Had he proposed we build a sandcastle I’d’ve been in without question.

“The Ongoing Moment,” Dyer’s illuminating discourse on photography, focuses on linked subjects, motifs, and gestures in his favorite images. He shows us how one picture leads to another, thus creating a sort of conversation between photographers like Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, and Robert Frank that, by extension, traces right up to the present.

Dyer and I spoke via Google Hangouts. He was framed dead center, cropped at the high forehead and lower chin, clean shaven, cheery, laughing easily. He was in New York, I was in LA, but it felt like we could have been sitting across the table from each other.

Q&A coming soon to Huck magazine—http://www.huckmagazine.com/

October 25, 2013

MASTURBATION IN PUBLIC (#3,796 in a series)

Last night I drank a bottle of Two-Buck-Chuck, masturbated first to Asa Akira while listening to Nine Inch Nails, then Like A Virgin-era Madonna while listening to The Smiths, felt lonely, a hole so big you could hurl into it Tonka trucks and puppy dogs and vodka shots and still not touch the sides, reached for Gmail/Instagram/Facebook/Twitter the way John Belushi must have reached for his syringe in Bungalow 3 on 3/5/82, wept for a whole bunch of reasons far bigger than my immediate pain, gorged on Ak-Mak sesame crackers and roasted red pepper hummus interspersed with spoonfuls of avocado and goat cheese, fell into bed with my clothes on — no teeth brushing.

Woke. Scribbled this entry into journal. Thought a lot about “creepy” and “oversharing” and “boundaries,” how these buzzwords produce shame for simply being human. Thought about posting this (honesty, tapping inner voice, shedding inhibitions makes a cloudy day sunny). Thought about not posting this (you’re a clown, who’ll take you seriously?). Thought, You’re sounding like Nicholas Cage in “Adaptation”...not only that, you start out writing about masturbating — now you’re masturbating in writing. Thought, Ah, fuck it.

October 23, 2013

GREAT FRIENDS

“What are you most proud of?” asked my therapist.

“Well,” I said — bulging passport, cutback in 1989, collage of female faces torqued in ecstasy. “I have great friends.”

“Beautiful. Care to elaborate?”

“Well, this one guy, Derek Hynd, he’s Australian, he’s in his mid-50s, and he’s an amazing character. He’s a writer—he was a pro surfer and he had a surfing accident and lost sight in one of his eyes, and he started doing a column in one of the surf magazines. His byline was a cycloptic eye, with ‘Hyndsight’ written under it. He’s a romantic, a fatalist. World War 3 could be going off and he’d be pointing out the pretty colors in the sky. He dances like no one you’ve ever seen, spasmodically, from pulses deep within. Almost like an epileptic fit. Oh, and he’s one of the best surfers in the world. And here’s the thing. He rides finless. Which, in surfing terms, is like surrendering all control, it’s like driving on ice, all traction is gone, so when he’s on a wave he drifts sideways, backwards, he twirls into 360s, he falls a lot.”

My therapist shifted, folded her hands together. “Do you feel finless, Jamie?”

October 21, 2013

REFLECTING THE MIRROR: THE ART OF JOHN BALDESSARI

In 1971 the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design invited John Baldessari to have an exhibition, but it couldn’t afford to pay shipping or travel costs. Baldessari proposed instead to invite students to write on the gallery walls, “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.” The students showed up in droves and covered the walls. The school subsequently made prints of the phrase—one was bought by the Museum of Modern Art. Baldessari had clearly hit a nerve.
 
Eighty-two years old and playful and Santa Claus-ish in appearance, if Santa were 6’7” and on a kale diet, John Baldessari has been hitting nerves for over five decades. His contrarian brand of conceptual, often photo-based art seethes with irreverence and dry humor. It questions the very notion of art, often turning inward, or inside out. "Pure Beauty," for instance, consists of those two words, painted by a professional sign painter in black capital letters on an off-white canvas. One of his well-known text pieces simply says EVERYTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS PAINTING BUT ART, NO IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK. In "California Map Project," he created physical forms that resembled the letters in "California" geographically near to the very spots on the map that they were printed.
 
Baldessari grew up in National City, California. He studied at San Diego State, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the Otis Art Institute, and the Chouinard Art Institute. Initially a painter, he began to incorporate text and photography into his canvasses in the mid-sixties. In 1970 he began working in printmaking, film, video, installation, sculpture and photography. His works are collected in the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Broad Collection. He has won countless awards, among them a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. He is known for being a wonderful art teacher, in fact, he used to have his students throw a dart at a map of Los Angeles and wherever it landed, they’d visit on a field trip. The idea was to break out of the studio.
 
I met with Baldessari in his spacious Venice studio. He was kind and thoughtful and laughed easily. I got the sense that he was greatly at peace with the world, or at least having a lot of fun in it.
 
more on page 98 (no link, you're going to have to copy and paste): http://malibumag.com/uploads/online_issues/august2013michaelshannon/files/html5/

October 18, 2013

GUERRERO, MEXICO

On a Waves4Water mission to Guerrero, Mexico we distributed food, cleaning supplies, and water filters to victims of the September floods.

October 16, 2013