January 1st, 2010 1 comment
For a man who’s name evokes intensity with a shield of mystery, Saul Williams’ single presence can quiet an entire room packed with people crossing all racial demographics. Making history with Afro-punk as the headliner of the 2009 U.S. tour, Saul Williams seemed like the perfect candidate to represent our idea of freedom of expression fused with tossing out racial boundaries and social norms. At 37 years-old, Saul has touched every aspect of the entertainment industry, ranging from his lead in 1998 poetry documentary, Slam, to working with MTV to publish a collection of poetry books, to touring with System of a Down and Nine Inch Nails. Throughout the Afro-punk tour, he performed music off of his 2007 album, “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust,” (produced by Nine Inch Nails founder, Trent Reznor) and spent an hour using MAC make-up before each performance to transform into his alter performance ego, Niggy Tardust– a colorful persona he adopted from David Bowie’s 1970′s character, Ziggy Stardust. Saul’s character was accompanied with equally theatrical band mates, including an electric pianist, Kwame Brandt-Pierce, who looks like a skeleton vampire with a cape and goggles, Davin Givhan on guitar, who rocks a bright yellow tuxedo jacket and bow tie depending on the night, and Saul’s college friend who was also a performer on the tour, CX Kidtronik on electric beat machine– who performs like a mad scientist in a lab creating the perfect formula to Saul’s off the wall lyrics. Thanks to Niggy and to Saul, Afro-punk interviewed our man of the hour to reveal if his serious stage persona trailed into his personal life and why his songs such as “List of Demands” and “DNA” take such a tone of emergency.

Interview and photos by Whitney Summer

Afro-punk: Do you ever get tired of interviews?

Saul: Not if the questions are good.


Afro-punk: We noticed after your performances, you casually walk off the stage and hug audience members and it never seems like it’s for the camera. Why do you do that if you don’t have to?

Saul: To break the wall. I think because of the work that I do and because some of the things that I say or what have you, I think that sometimes people can take it to some level where it’s not necessary. So it’s a mutual exchange. Because if I don’t do that, one, I would have left an empty room behind the stage, walked onto a stage with four people, performed in front of an audience and gone back to that empty room. I don’t think there is anything more lonely than touring. A lot of times I look into audience and say, man it would be nice to meet some of those people. And if I have enough energy, it would be nice to meet some people. It also depends on the venue. With me touring with Rage Against the Machine or Nine Inch Nails or System of a Down, that individual reaction is just lost.

Afro-punk: While on the Afro-punk tour, have you had a chance to speak with people who consider themselves a part of the Afro-punk community?

Saul: Most of the people that I meet at these shows are learning about Afro-punk through me. That’s who I end up meeting at these shows.

Afro-punk: Do you feel like you have a responsibility to the Afro-punk movement because of this.

Saul: Yes and no. When I’m doing Lollapalooza, I don’t feel like I have a responsibility to represent Lollapalooza. I’ve toured with tons of festivals, at least 12, and performed at least 100, where there is no personal investment. This differs because there is a personal investment. I think it would be cool if more people were involved. But I don’t like for people to feel alienated. So I am always questioning the idea and the process, on every level. Even with using the term, “afro.” But I know that some people who come from the afro experience kind of need that sometimes to feel like it’s theirs. So I think the incremental stepping stones are cool, but do I feel a responsibility… the responsibility that I feel comes from my own personal ideals on being a human being. There is tons of shit that would be different if it were Saul Willams presents Afro-punk as opposed to Afro-punk presents Saul Williams.

Afro-punk: Knocking our beacon of perfection? In what way would it be different?

Saul: For one, the placement of sponsors. There was one show where I said, you can’t put the sponsors name over the stage when I am performing. It has nothing to do with accepting finances from a corporation, but there is no reason why their name, this big, needs to be hanging over the stage while I’m performing. I just see no purpose in that because I know I’m not getting any money from them. Or, little things, like, the amount of meat on the bus. If it was my experience, then we would have vegan chiefs at every point along the way. It would be a much greener experience. The last tours that I have done have been with bio-diesel fuel. The only stops you make are at whole food stores.

Afro-punk: Is there anything else you would do to shake up the tour experience?
Saul: The main thing is, what is the difference of a movement and a lifestyle campaign? The first movement that I was a part of was the spoken word movement and I watched what that movement did and there were lots of corporations that sponsored poetry readings, but no corporation, not even HBO, can say that they were significant in forming the movement. Because it wasn’t a lifestyle campaign, it was a movement where people felt the need to speak up. And we learned to listen and use hip hop and poetry. Our generation would express ourselves in a way where we don’t need music, we don’t even need stages. You see it now when you see Brave New Voices and all of those 14-year-old kids who speak up. It’s like lyrical skateboarding. (Poetry) was like a movement. Even with Afro-punk, the way I see it is a safe haven for kids who may feel singled out for being exceptional or different or for not wanting to wear the uniform and feeling ostracized for being different. For wanting to find a place where they can come and gather and get into the stuff that they’re into and I think as a movement, that’s important. As a lifestyle campaign, I could give a fuck. A movement promotes and instigates change.

Afro-punk: Why did you decide then to work with Nike and allow them to use your song, “List of Demands” in a commercial ad?

Saul: Because with Nike, one, I have owned Nikes, several pairs. So, part of it was just keeping it real. Secondly, I thought that it is was essentially going to reach people that I normally wouldn’t reach. They weren’t telling me what to say, they weren’t asking me to write anything new, they wanted to use something that was four years old that was already written and embedded in who I am and what I believe in. So basically I felt like Nike was doing a Saul Williams campaign. And based on sales and charts after the commercial, Nike’s sales didn’t spike, but mine did.

Afro-punk: A lot of the lyrics in your music are extremely controversial and in your face. There are no subjects that you’ll shy away from in regards to race relations. During this tour, there have been quite a few white people in the audience and they are singing all the words to your songs. Your lyrics don’t even seem appropriate for white people to sing.

Saul: Well for one, that’s because you are black. But I would say it’s written just as much for them. When I decided to do music the way that I have, I knew that I would essentially be in the process of alienating a certain group for part of the journey, that some people wouldn’t be ready yet. It’s the same way people look at Afro-punk, like, that’s cool, but, it’s not hood enough, or whatever they may think. With the poetry, the most hoodest of cats were like, yo, I rep for that. The audience, depending on if I’m doing a poetry reading or a music show, tends to fluctuate. But it’s been like that for years, so in writing the songs, I think what would be the craziest thing to hear white people say.

Afro-punk: So, you’re thinking this as you are writing?

Saul: Yes, I’m talking directly to them. Because I want to see it come through their mouths. Because I know that the process of reciting it will probably be the closest that they will ever come to getting into my brain. It’s not only written for them (white people), but I think it’s as essential for black people who learn it and recite it because it’s beyond pro black, I think of it as meta-racial- using race in order to step beyond it. I think that there are as many, if not more, black people caught up in racial politics than white people perhaps in America and it’s detrimental to our health and growth, although it is necessary in the incremental process of growing. My music and lyrics are set up for the process of catharsis. The part of the process of rebirth. I sometimes set up (my lyrics) for white people to be confused whether they could or should say it, so they can think about how retarded it is that they had to think about that. I set it up the other way so black people could see the confusion in it too, because at the end of the day, what the fuck, these are words.


Afro-punk: One of your songs that elicits the most response from the crowd is called, “Black Stacey” where you talk about a guy who humped his pillow at night and used bleaching cream because of his insecurities. Who exactly is Black Stacey?

Saul: Who I was when I was 13, 14, 15. I never went by Black Stacey, I went by my middle name, my name is Saul Stacey. I grew up an hour outside of New York City in a very troubled, poor, black neighborhood, but there were no other black guys named Stacey. Black Stacey….it was there, I was never called that to my face and I just always knew that’s how I was referred to. I thought it was funny, but as a kid, I went through so much because of my complexion. Especially juxtaposed with the way that I spoke. Especially juxtaposed with what I chose to speak about.

Afro-punk: What were you talking about at 15?

Saul: I mean, I was reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, I was just on one. Big time. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey…and I would just read these things and be like, don’t you know you are perpetuating the blah, blah, blah. I was on the most black political front that one could ever be on, and be 14, and articulated in a way that would make black people say stuff like, why do you sound so proper or so white, but they would look at me and be like, you are the blackest nigga I know. So, you’re so black, sounding white, talking all that super black shit. If you want the essence of why my songs have that sort of weight and why I’m comfortable with putting things in the mouths of all of those people it’s because of that experience as a kid and I see what it did to me. And basically what it did to me was it opened me up.

Afro-punk: How long have you been growing out your hair?

Saul: I have no idea. I’ve had locks I think five times. The first and second time were probably the longest about shoulder length, the second time I grew out locks, it was around the time of Slam and from that point forward, I’ve just always.

Afro-punk: When did your self realization come into play, when you were like, I am this complexion, and I’m okay with it?

Saul: Well politically, it was there in words when I was 14 and 15. My favorite past time was cracking on people and what was hard was that people loved roasting on me. But I remembered all of the jokes that they could say and only a few would have the comebacks where I was like, fuck. I started feeling comfortable with myself, well, it’s an ongoing process, but when I started growing locks. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the mirror.


Afro-punk: How’s it been being on the road and not being able to spend so much time with your daughter, Saturn, and your son, Xuly, as well?

Saul: The flip side of this that nobody really seems to get is that you can look at my tour schedule and say wow, but when I’m home, I don’t have a nine to five. So when I’m home, the time that I have with my kids seem more than what I see my sisters have because they work nine to fives. So when I’m home, I am home.

Afro-punk: How often are you “home”?

Saul: Before this tour, I was home since June. When I get back I’ll be home again until…I have a few spot dates, I’ll go away for two or three days here and there, oh until February.

Afro-punk: What happens in February?

Saul: Usually in February I speak in schools in the states, Black History Month, poets come out and speak, usually between Martin Luther King’s birthday until the end of February. I usually speak a lot at schools. But yes, I do feel like I spend a lot of time with my kids, however, the lifestyle is not conventional, that’s the only thing that’s awkward about it, it doesn’t fit into any conventional realm of conception or perception. My daughter’s mom is a painter and my son’s mom is a choreographer and my son’s mom is as much of a jet setter as I am. So the world that he knows is a world where mom and dad trade off moving around the planet and dragging him with them, so that’s what he knows. He’s nine, and he spent the summer in Paris and right now his mom is in Germany, while I’m here.

Afro-punk: Where does your confidence in jet setting root from?

Saul: My confidence in jet-setting comes from having a jet-setter as a dad. My dad was a pastor of a baptist church and he traveled a lot. He was always on the go, and I loved my dad, but I never missed him. I don’t mean that in a mean way or in a bad way, but it was like, I knew where he was. I knew he loved me and I knew he was busy, and I loved how busy he was. In fact I bragged on him, like, my dad is in so-and-so right now.

Afro-punk: Having your 13-year-old daughter, Saturn, on some of the tour dates has seemed completely natural for her.

Saul: The thing is, Saturn was born in 1996 when I was in Brooklyn in the middle of all of my poetry readings, Saturn was there with me. There are countless images of me from 96′ to 99′ in New York City, doing performances with a kid in a back pack behind me.

Afro-punk: No way. So you’re saying you were performing with a baby on your back?

Saul: From the moment I saw those baby back packs that you can use from the time they are four months old, I just loved those. So I couldn’t wait for Saturn to turn four months old because it was so much easier than the stroller.

Afro-punk: So your school was supportive when you had Saturn?

Saul: I was just supported on many levels, where the school where I was at was like, bring her here, we will use her in class. So, I brought her everyday in my back-pack.

Afro-punk: Right next to the water bottle and pens?

Saul: With a piece of amethyst in my left pocket and a collection of feathers in my right.

Afro-punk: The amethyst theme shows up often in your music. What importance does it play to you?

Saul: That first poem, I stand on the corner of the block, slinging amethyst rocks, was because someone had given me a piece of amethyst. It’s my birth stone, and said, this is your birth stone, do you know the quality of this stone, you should. Learn it. You want to learn the quality of this stone? Just hold it for a few hours, you’ll see. So I started holding amethyst and before I started writing poetry, I was walking around New York holding amethyst in my pocket, and focusing on breathing and drinking lots of water, I started meditating that year, all when I was 23.

Afro-punk: Your necklace you always wear, I noticed you haven’t taken it off for the entire tour. You have one and your daughter has one, too. What is the significance to you and the planet, Saturn?

Saul: First it was just me and then I found it again in Australia, I was in tour in London, and I just thought it was cool, and I never really felt a need to take it off. But you have to understand, I was writing about Saturn, the planet Saturn, before my daughter, Saturn was born, and I felt a connection with the planet. For instance, Saturn is the only planet in our solar system that can exist outside of our solar system because the center of the planet itself is so hot it could exist as if it had its own sun. And the reason it’s so hot is because it is composed as what quantum physics call dark matter, and in our ozone layer, those same elements are called melanin. And I would write about it, and it always freed me up.

Afro-punk: Any Saturn references in your lyrics?

Saul: I think the first thing I wrote about Saturn is in Amethyst Rock, “Saturn leaving stains in my veins and astrological patterns”…I’ve always been into science-fiction, and particularly, the black science fiction writers. Like Octavia Butler, and beautiful writers like Alice Walker and Toni Morrison of course, those books really opened at a crucial time for me. It all converged around the same time of a horrible break up, moved to New York, exposure to poetry scene, new father, and then the final thing was that NYU required that we keep a journal, that was the only thing. Keep a journal.


Afro-punk: When did you start asking people to pay you to read your poetry?

Saul : When Saturn was born, I had just started reading poetry that March, that June, July, August when I was not in school living in Brooklyn in Fort Greene, being asked to read in all of these places and just showing up naively, I paid my rent through reading poems that summer. I had no idea, I never asked for money, I didn’t know I should. And at that point, I even thought money was evil. Like, it did not belong aside the idea of good art. So, I was hesitant to even accept it. I didn’t think it was right to get paid for something I loved, something that came so simply. I would think, so, you just want me to read from my journal again, okay. You’re going to pay me $300 to read my journal entries for 20 minutes. Okay. This all came to mind, like, with all this new creative energy coming through me and the way I was surprised to see the universe was supporting this, why would I get in the way of the creative energy of the universe. Let’s go. Okay.

Afro-punk: And you never asked for money for your performances?

Saul: When I started realizing, there was the spiritual side happening and there was also the side where I was in school for acting. I knew I was entering the world of commercial art. I was going to be earning for acting, which I was going to have to place some value on. And crafting the business of that has to do, which is for some people, respect is quantified by how much they had to go through to get you there. So I wasn’t into it at that level, then, but it was not about money. When I first started out, probably 70 percent of the things I did were for free, now, maybe, 30 percent of the things that I do are for free. A lot of times, people will ask, so, what do we pay you. The medical school at NYU was like, we’re having our black medical ball, and we want you to come and read, this was like, 96′, we have a budget, how much do you cost? And I didn’t know what to say, um, $300. So then the next, $400. Then around 97′, I remember doing something at Lyricist Lounge, I was just going by my own little numerology, the numbers that I like, I like three and four, and three and four make seven. So I never asked for five or six, I went from three to four to seven. So then I went from seven to eight to nine, so yea.


Afro-punk: Who is the alter ego, Niggy Tardust?
Saul: Well, I wanted to smash Saul Williams. I felt like there was a very fixed idea as this very intellectual, conscious, thing, where I was like, yea, but you’re kind of missing the point. You listen so hard to what I say but don’t realize that I’ve paid more attention to how I said it. Something like my song, “Coded Language,” people hear a list of 80 names and they’re like, wow, you’re so smart. But I’m like, I’ve fashioned this poem after a manifesto. I’m fucking with form here. You’re dealing with the substance. Yes, you talk about a song like Trigger. And I’m like, dude, do you hear how we sampled that. Do you hear how that beat is and how we’re flowing over that beat? That is what’s crazy. Fuck what I’m saying. What I’m saying is just what I think, but how I’m saying it is what I’m studying.

Afro-punk: So Niggy Tardust is the Superman to your Clark Kent, Saul Williams?

Saul: Niggy Tardust was a way for me to have a bit more fun, to escape the persona that was built by the media, and to explore an unexplored aspect of myself as far as media is concerned. None of my friends consider me deep, most of my friends consider me a clown. And not that Niggy Tardust is a clown in any way, but Niggy Tardust was just a way for me to bring another aspect of myself to the stage and to enjoy more theatrics on the stage which I found hard to do under the umbrella of Saul Williams and the perception of what should be under that umbrella.

Afro-punk: What’s the relationship between you and CX Kidtronik? We heard that you were a back up dancer in his group, KIN, back when you were attending Morehouse College together.

Saul: It was funny because it was things that I didn’t take all that seriously then when I was in school. My main focus was theatre when I was there. Chris had a group, he lived in my dorm, he knew I danced. I free-styled. But yes, he asked me to dance in his group, and my other friends were doing it, too. It was called KIN, Knowledge in the Name of. It was a conscious group and that was when Chris was Muslim. That’s how CX was formed, it was Chris X as opposed to Christopher Davis. Until Muslims were like, you can’t have this big green dread lock and call yourself a Muslim and he was like, okay. At the time we would open up for groups that came through Atlanta, people like De La, Tribe, Arrested Development, all types of people.

Afro-punk: Was CX as wild on stage then as he is now?

Saul: He was on the stage, I would say even more wild then, with a big boom box, it was crazy. And we had trampolines on stage, a muscular guy holding an axe. He had a white friend who went to Emory, that he would pay to come out in the middle of this one song and whip him. And so he’d get whipped in the middle of the show by this white dude and the audience would go wild and the drums would come in. It was always wild.


Afro-punk: Where did that transition of consciousness take effect in your life?
Saul: Well it was my sister first. My older sister, who is seven years older than me came back from college, like, nobody in here will be eating red meat or pork. This is the same sister who came back from college, like, nobody from here needs to be supporting Coca Cola because they support apartheid. She went to Fisk University. And every single time she would come back home, she was like, we don’t do this anymore. This was my older sister who was really cool, who had a car, was smart, was in college. Obviously since I was the youngest, our bonding time decreased because she was so much older than me. I have two older sisters, and I am the youngest.

Afro-punk: What was one of the things she taught you that really stuck?

Saul: I might have been eight or nine, when she gave me like 100 cue cards and said, these are words you shouldn’t use. They were words like, “it”, “stuff,” “like,” just simple words. I didn’t really practice it but it was a consistent thing form her coming home all of the time. She would come home and tell me what I should do my next school report on, she was an activist in her school, and was just always giving me things to think about. I remember I moved to Brazil when I was 16, I was an exchange student. Before I left she was like, you should like, you should lock your hair while you’re gone. And I was like, what, I didn’t even know what she was talking about.

Afro-punk: Growing up, did you ever feel like you were clashing with your father’s beliefs? I remember you mentioned when you went to Morehouse, you were trying to get away from the hypocrisy of the church and what you witnessed growing up.

Saul: The way that I clashed with my father’s beliefs and the way that the clash manifested was that I started feeling …part of my beef with Christianity is it seems like there is a lot of cop out with with the language. And when I say Christianity, I don’t mean in the teachings of Christ, I mean the teachings of the teachings of Christ. I would sit back and listen to them argue about whether a woman should be allowed to be on the pulpit. A women minister, like how dare she, I don’t know if she has any right. So the sexism in the institution, I was like, what does this have to do with God and spiritual upliftment.

Afro-punk: So what does your dad think of your work now?

Saul: My dad was always extremely proud of what I was doing. He had no vocalized beef with anything I said, to the point where I did poetry readings at his church.

Afro-punk: And your mom?

Saul: My mom was rushed from a James Brown concert to give birth to me. That’s my mom, James Brown is in town, I don’t care how pregnant I am, I am going to see James Brown. And so my mom is a huge fan and supporter.

Afro-punk: How do you stop yourself from getting caught up into the celebrity?

Saul: I have no idea. For the most part, life remains extremely personal, there is family life, romantic life, and the day to day life, the daily discipline of creating and those are very few people. It’s only in the context of performing where I deal with celebrity on a regular basis. Aside from that, especially after the move to Paris, I feel like I live rather anonymously. The majority of life exist behind these walls.

Afro-punk is a platform for the other Black experience, the one we don’t see in our media. D.I.Y (Do It Yourself) is the foundation.

© 2010   Created by Matthew

Digital Tastemakers

November 24th, 2009 No comments

Five voices that matter.

  • By Ryan Bradley
  • Published Nov 8, 2009

Illustration: Gluekit

It often seems as if there are, oh, 800,000 New Yorkers who blog, roughly 730,000 of whom have an opinion about music. We picked five who are (get ready to rumble, commenters) more important than the rest. Here’s why.

Omnivorous online granddaddy of the local live-music scene who covers bands from Brooklyn to London. Curates shows, too.
Why he’s important:
The exposure Dave (who really only ever goes by BrooklynVegan and is loath to have his last name revealed) gives artists, most of whom log on to see what’s being said about them. Or, as he puts it, “Someone gave me this self-released CD by Justin Vernon (a.k.a. Bon Iver) in the beginning of summer 2007. I blogged about it, invited Justin to come to play my CMJ showcase at the Bowery. I guess the rest is history.”
In the five-plus years since he started BrooklynVegan:
“A lot of venues have closed because of rising rents. But I think even more have opened in Brooklyn to take their place.”
Everyone should be listening to:
“Nathaniel Rateliff & the Wheel. I just hosted them at two CMJ shows.”

Robert Lanham,
The blog with the name (for better or worse) synonymous with Brooklyn music. Author of The Hipster Handbook.
Greatest claim to fame:
“We were the first blog I’m aware of to write about Grizzly Bear. I think it was Ed Droste who dropped off a demo years ago, with a note that said, ‘Hey, we’re neighbors, check this out.’?”
Criticized for:
“We are constantly accused of promoting only hipster bands.”
Everyone should be listening to:
“Real Estate. Are they too popular now?”

Nora Walker,
D.J., talent scout, party girl.
Areas of expertise:
Dance music, British imports, cheesy electro-pop.
The problem with Brooklyn is:
“There were eight to ten really big music blogs when I started. Now there are probably a hundred. Everything seems oversaturated and overwhelming.”
Everyone should be listening to: “The Depreciation Guild: dark, gorgeous, layered electro-rock.”

Tod Seelie,
Areas of expertise:
The DIY music scene, “warehouse and apartment shows, mainly.”
Why he matters:
“I’m friends with bands like Matt and Kim, CSS, Japanther, the Death Set, and Ninjasonik, so I covered them a lot early on.”
Everyone should be listening to:
Dark Dark Dark, Woods, These Are Powers, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Ninjasonik, Crystal Antlers, and Cerebral Ballzy.

Christopher R. Weingarten, @1000timesyes
The sometime critic will have reviewed 1,000 albums from 2009 on his Twitter feed by year’s end.
Areas of expertise:
Hip-hop, art-metal, noise. “But damned if I don’t love the new Miranda Lambert and Green Day albums.”
Right now, Brooklyn is:
“Moving toward bands with basic ideas and lots of laptops, filtered through a wall of distorted mush to make them sound interesting. See: Real Estate.”
Everyone should be listening to:
“Dälek, from New Jersey. They are making some of the most important music in the world.”
Beef with other bloggers:
“Anyone that tells you they personally had a hand in ‘making’ a band is either aggrandizing their importance or has an inflated sense of self-worth.”

Read more: Brooklyn’s Sonic Boom – Five Voices That Matter in the Music Blogosphere– New York Magazine

Meet the Man Who Lives on Zero Dollars

November 24th, 2009 2 comments

In Utah, a modern-day caveman has lived for the better part of a decade on zero dollars a day. People used to think he was crazy

Daniel Suelo lives in a cave. Unlike the average American—wallowing in credit-card debt, clinging to a mortgage, terrified of the next downsizing at the office—he isn’t worried about the economic crisis. That’s because he figured out that the best way to stay solvent is to never be solvent in the first place. Nine years ago, in the autumn of 2000, Suelo decided to stop using money. He just quit it, like a bad drug habit.

His dwelling, hidden high in a canyon lined with waterfalls, is an hour by foot from the desert town of Moab, Utah, where people who know him are of two minds: He’s either a latter-day prophet or an irredeemable hobo. Suelo’s blog, which he maintains free at the Moab Public Library, suggests that he’s both. “When I lived with money, I was always lacking,” he writes. “Money represents lack. Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present.”

On a warm day in early spring, I clamber along a set of red-rock cliffs to the mouth of his cave, where I find a note signed with a smiley face: CHRIS, FEEL FREE TO USE ANYTHING, EAT ANYTHING (NOTHING HERE IS MINE). From the outside, the place looks like a hollowed teardrop, about the size of an Amtrak bathroom, with enough space for a few pots that hang from the ceiling, a stove under a stone eave, big buckets full of beans and rice, a bed of blankets in the dirt, and not much else. Suelo’s been here for three years, and it smells like it.

Night falls, the stars wink, and after an hour, Suelo tramps up the cliff, mimicking a raven’s call—his salutation—a guttural, high-pitched caw. He’s lanky and tan; yesterday he rebuilt the entrance to his cave, hauling huge rocks to make a staircase. His hands are black with dirt, and his hair, which is going gray, looks like a bird’s nest, full of dust and twigs from scrambling in the underbrush on the canyon floor. Grinning, he presents the booty from one of his weekly rituals, scavenging on the streets of Moab: a wool hat and gloves, a winter jacket, and a white nylon belt, still wrapped in plastic, along with Carhartt pants and sandals, which he’s wearing. He’s also scrounged cans of tuna and turkey Spam and a honeycomb candle. All in all, a nice haul from the waste product of America. “You made it,” he says. I hand him a bag of apples and a block of cheese I bought at the supermarket, but the gift suddenly seems meager.

Suelo lights the candle and stokes a fire in the stove, which is an old blackened tin, the kind that Christmas cookies might come in. It’s hooked to a chain of soup cans segmented like a caterpillar and fitted to a hole in the rock. Soon smoke billows into the night and the cave is warm. I think of how John the Baptist survived on honey and locusts in the desert. Suelo, who keeps a copy of the Bible for bedtime reading, is satisfied with a few grasshoppers fried in his skillet.

He wasn’t always this way. Suelo graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in anthropology, he thought about becoming a doctor, he held jobs, he had cash and a bank account. In 1987, after several years as an assistant lab technician in Colorado hospitals, he joined the Peace Corps and was posted to an Ecuadoran village high in the Andes. He was charged with monitoring the health of tribespeople in the area, teaching first aid and nutrition, and handing out medicine where needed; his proudest achievement was delivering three babies. The tribe had been getting richer for a decade, and during the two years he was there he watched as the villagers began to adopt the economics of modernity. They sold the food from their fields—quinoa, potatoes, corn, lentils—for cash, which they used to purchase things they didn’t need, as Suelo describes it. They bought soda and white flour and refined sugar and noodles and big bags of MSG to flavor the starchy meals. They bought TVs. The more they spent, says Suelo, the more their health declined. He could measure the deterioration on his charts. “It looked,” he says, “like money was impoverishing them.”

The experience was transformative, but Suelo needed another decade to fashion his response. He moved to Moab and worked at a women’s shelter for five years. He wanted to help people, but getting paid for it seemed dishonest—how real was help that demanded recompense? The answer lay, in part, in the Christianity of his childhood. In Suelo’s nascent philosophy, following Jesus meant adopting the hard life prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount. “Giving up possessions, living beyond credit and debt,” Suelo explains on his blog, “freely giving and freely taking, forgiving all debts, owing nobody a thing, living and walking without guilt . . . grudge [or] judgment.” If grace was the goal, Suelo told himself, then it had to be grace in the classical sense, from the Latin gratia, meaning favor—and also, free.

By 1999, he was living in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand—he had saved just enough money for the flight. From there, he made his way to India, where he found himself in good company among the sadhus, the revered ascetics who go penniless for their gods. Numbering as many as 5 million, the sadhus can be found wandering roads and forests across the subcontinent, seeking enlightenment in self-abnegation. “I wanted to be a sadhu,” Suelo says. “But what good would it do for me to be a sadhu in India? A true test of faith would be to return to one of the most materialistic, money-worshipping nations on earth and be a sadhu there. To be a vagabond in America, a bum, and make an art of it—the idea enchanted me.”

There isn’t enough space in Suelo’s cave for two, so I sleep in the open, at the edge of a hundred-foot cliff. No worries about animals, he says. Though mountain lions drink from the stream, and bobcats hunt rabbits under the cottonwoods, the worst he’s experienced was a skunk that sprayed him in the face. Mice scurry over his body in the cave, and kissing bugs sometimes suck the blood from under his fingernails while he sleeps. He shrugs off these indignities. “After all, it’s their cave too,” he says. I hunker down near a nest of scorpions, which crawl up the canyon walls, ignoring me.

The morning ritual is simple and slow: a cup of sharp tea brewed from the needles of piñon and juniper trees, a swim in the cold emerald water where the creek pools in the red rock. Then, two naked cavemen lounging under the Utah sun. Around noon, we forage along the banks and under the cliffs, looking for the stuff of a stir-fry dinner. We find mustard plants among the rocks, the raw leaves as satisfying as cauliflower, and down in the cool of the creek—where Suelo gets his water and takes his baths (no soap for him) —we cull watercress in heads as big as supermarket lettuce, and on the bank we spot a lode of wild onions, with bulbs that pop clean from the soil. In leaner times, Suelo’s gatherings include ants, grubs, termites, lizards, and roadkill. He recently found a deer, freshly run over, and carved it up and boiled it. “The best venison of my life,” he says.

I tell him that living without money seems difficult. What about starvation? He’s never gone without a meal (friends in Moab sometimes feed him). What about getting deadly ill? It happened once, after eating a cactus he misidentified—he vomited, fell into a delirium, thought he was dying, even wrote a note for those who would find his corpse. But he got better. That it’s hard is exactly the point, he says. “Hardship is a good thing. We need the challenge. Our bodies need it. Our immune systems need it. My hardships are simple, right at hand—they’re manageable.” When I tell him about my rent back in New York—$2,400 a month—he shakes his head. What’s left unsaid is that I’m here writing about him to make money, for a magazine that depends for its survival on the advertising revenue of conspicuous consumption. As he prepares a cooking fire, Suelo tells me that years ago he had a neighbor in the canyon, an alcoholic who lived in a cave bigger than his. The old man would pan for gold in the stream and net enough cash each month to buy the beer that kept him drunk. Suelo considers the riches of our own forage. “What if we saw gold for what it is?” he says meditatively. “Gold is pretty but virtually useless. Somebody decided it has worth, and everybody accepted this decision. The natives in the Americas thought Europeans were insane because of their lust for such a useless yellow substance.”

He sautés the watercress, mustard leaves, and wild onions, mixing in fresh almonds he picked from a friend’s orchard and ghee made from Dumpster-dived butter, and we eat out of his soot-caked pans. From the perch on the cliff, the life of the sadhu seems reasonable. But I don’t want to live in a cave. I like indoor plumbing (Suelo squats). I like electricity. Still, there’s an obvious beauty in the simplicity of subsistence. It’s an un-American notion these days. We don’t revere our ascetics, and we dismiss the idea that money could be some kind of consensual delusion. For most of us, it’s as real as the next house payment. Suelo doesn’t take public assistance or use food stamps, but he does survive in part on our reality, the discarded surfeit of the money system that he denounces—a system, as it happens, that recently looked like it was headed for the cliff.

Suelo is 48, and he doesn’t exactly have a 401(k). “I’ll do what creatures have been doing for millions of years for retirement,” he says. “Why is it sad that I die in the canyon and not in the geriatric ward well-insured? I have great faith in the power of natural selection. And one day, I will be selected out.” Until then, think of him like the raven, cleaning up the carcasses the rest of us leave behind.


November 13th, 2009 No comments

916 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-0254
Only in Greenpoint could you find the fashionista scene located next to the Polish meat store. As for the interior, it lives up to the name—black mirrored tables, black leather banquettes, pretty-boy bartenders in black tees, and a tin roof painted … yeah, you get it. The bar is long enough to avoid drunken encounters with struggling Goth models, and a sizable back garden offers an escape from the deep chasm of blackness within.

Doghouse Saloon
152 Orchard St., nr. Rivington St.; 646-429-8780
Deceased music venue the Annex has been reborn as the Doghouse Saloon, a balls-to-the-wall frat bar with multiple flat-screen TVs, Skee-Ball, pool, beer pong, free hot dogs, half-off margs during Monday Night Football, karaoke, and a live eighties band on Saturday night.

The Sackett
661 Sackett St., Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-622-0437
The owners of the Sackett placed their bar on a side street for a reason: They’re aiming to keep things quiet, in line with their relaxed Park Slope location. Inside, the space is simple but warm—brick walls, knickknacks tucked away on the shelves, and tiny café tables. There’s a juke box by the door stocked with indie tunes, and a sloppy blues-rock is played on the house speakers. There’ll be an outdoor area opening in 2010, and a menu of appetizers and artisanal, oven-cooked sandwiches before then.

48 East 23rd St., nr. Park Ave. South; 212-982-8802
This swanky homage to Ping-Pong and cocktails is a cross between a members-only club and an eighties high-school gymnasium. The Susan Sarandon–backed club houses 13,000 square feet of table-tennis space, flanked by a full bar, mini-bleachers, and a VIP room with a D.J. booth and a Rirkrit Tiravanija–designed Ping-Pong table made entirely of mirrors, worth $60,000.

Uncle Charlie’s
87 Ludlow St., nr. Delancey St.; 212-677-1100
Nightlife fixture Michael Ng is hoping that the same recipe of success—off-the-strip locale, live showtunes, buff bartenders—that worked at the Midtown East Uncle Charlie’s piano bar will attract a younger crowd at this LES location. This time out, there’s also flat-screens, beer pong, and room for 200.

The Woods
48 S. 4th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; no phone
To succeed in Williamsburg, a bar needs three things: a cavernous space, a “we don’t try too hard” attitude, and constant supply of plentiful and cheap booze. The Woods, owned by the same guys who run its popular neighbor, Savalas, has safely nailed all three. If you’re daunted by the bordello-red chandeliers or immaculate wood finishes, fear not—the bartender is shoveling out $2 Miller Lite, in plastic cups no less.


November 13th, 2009 No comments

By Jon Whiten • Nov 13th, 2009 • Category: Arts, Blog


The opening reception for the Agitators Collective’s new can’t-miss show at the 58 Gallery, “Who Will Save Beauty?,” is at 7 pm; at 8 pm you have choices: Dave Greek hosts the Stockinette Cafe’s comedy night; doo-wop and classic cars come to the Loew’s; and the Attic Ensemble kicks off its latest production, Rabbit Hole (performances also scheduled for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon).


Saturday morning at 11 am, the Hudson County Genealogical Society will host a slide presentation/lecture from Tom Bernardin on Ellis Island; at noon crafters will unite for a Stitch-In at the Jersey City Museum — and animal lovers will hop onto the bar crawl fundraiser for Liberty Humane Society. At 1 pm, Dr. Frank Gallagher and Dr. Claus Holzapfel will lead a nature walk into Liberty State Park’s interior 240-acre natural area, which isn’t normally open to the public. Saturday night brings the champagne gala reception for the Cathedral Arts Festival and a rare Saturday night show at Lucky 7’s featuring Kiwi The Child and Copasetic.


At the Loew’s at 3 pm, there is a special screening of The Diary of Anne Frank, celebrating the 80th anniversary of Anne Frank’s Birth and the 50th anniversary of the film.

Jon Whiten is the founding editor of the Jersey City Independent. He is also the editor of and the managing editor of NEW magazine.


November 3rd, 2009 1 comment

Future, the soulful versifier, originating from Palm Beach, FL, has ambitions not common among other 20-year-old rappers. “I want to inspire with my music, and encourage people to focus on their opportunities, instead of their insecurities.” Dubbing his sound “deep at the core, but something with life,” Future stimulates thought with each verse and movement with every bass line.

With his younger upbringing in Florida, Future made the first step in the direction of his imminent talent by auditioning at a performing arts school. The maturing, goal-driven artist relocated to New York City in 2003, where he developed his creativity, talent, and love for hip-hop. His rap debut began on a gospel note when he performed a spiritual cover of Snoop Dogg’s hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot” for his Brooklyn church. His ability to carve precise, heartfelt lyrics, no matter the topic at hand, allows Future to be absorbed by a variety of audiences. Captivated by the ardor and dynamic resonance of the north east, Future ignites his dream by beginning to first produce, then write, engulfing his life with music. “Music is my food.”

and the FUTURE was born…

Since his days performing in the church, Future presents himself as a steady contender among the new faces of young hip hop today. His appearance on RockMeTV’s Round Table, hosted by Lenny S, Maya the B, and Big Lite in November 2008, landed Future the opportunity to disclose his first mixtape “Focus on the Future, Forget about the Past.” He partnered with Theophilus London, a major figure in the indie-rap game, on the single “Weakas,” as well as on projects at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn. The sultry track “Shooting Stars” uncovers Future‘s charismatic side, possessing the ladies with his lyrical flow and heavy mantra. Circulating on mixtape sites, the release has brought Future to the attention of popular blogs such as The Hip Hop Chronicle, Iblog126, Ill Vibes, and many more.

Future’s August 2008 collaboration with electro hip hop artist Mickey Factz on the track “Rollin’ Stone” earned him the “Heater of the Day” feature on In April 2008, Future graced the stage of HOT 97’s Who’s Next Contest, hosted by Peter Rosenberg, taking home the winning title. Future’s laid-back facade and syncopated stream was also demonstrated at the notable SOBs, in New York City, alongside 9th Wonder and Buckshot. His emergence among the metro-area is paramount and reveals his enthusiasm for the art, while staying true to his Palm Beach pedigree.

Future lives the motto of his mixtape – “Focus on the future, forget about the past,” whether it pertains to his life, music, or the reality of the everyday world. The doting humanitarian wears the colors of commercial appeal, but carries his rhymes with the sweltering force of an underground approach. Future’s espionage, “James Bond of rap” manner surpasses the ability to tag his sound as one, allowing listeners to call the music as they feel it.


For Booking Information:


November 3rd, 2009 2 comments

A friend of mine died tonite.

He was actually a neighbor of another friend, but who’s reputation preceeded him far before the day we had met. He was described to me as the kind of person that I would love to be around, predominantly due to his guitar playing abilities.

He was a 33 year old guy, originally raised in Kearny, New Jersey and was fed on heavy metal and King Cobra beer. This, to me, was God-like in itself. We spent the 8 months that I’ve known him in the guise of a drunken stupor, along with the hopes of obtaining some type of “higher” ground from the plethora of drugs that we both had spent our days abusing. I think that ultimately, it was caused from a lack of  love we both felt for ourselves.

I can still hear him calling my name, whether he heard the opening of the front door followed by my voice cursing the gods for my misfortunes, or the creaking of the stairs when I was on my way down to his apartment to beg for one of the Phillie’s cigarettes that he so lovingly smoked.

“Uncle chris!! AAwww, yyeeeaaahhh!!!” was what he would yell from his couch, while enjoying a Yankee game or “jamming out” on his Schechter Diamond Series guitar that he played the “King Cobra” theme on. An offer of a 40 oz. of the malt liquor would be presented, as he gulped down full glasses of it while smoking those stinky cigarillos.

Usually a story would ensue about his ex-girlfriend, “Whoreen” or his disappointment in a friend of his who’d been, supposedly, playing what he called “white-boy games” with him. These tales would be repeated countless times until a new dilemma would arise, but each time with passion, as if he just HAD TO let me know the scope of his heartache.

Though, I’m not sure if I laughed quite as often, since I’d met this dude. His comical genius was one of which was so disguised in the “I’m so smooth and cool” model, that it seemed as if he had been brought up in the same school of sarcasm in which I had been; so far removed from the numerous I had met before. He called his style “Ultra Sexy”.

“You got another beer, bro?” is what I would asked upon arrival. His response was simply, “What da ya think this is amateur hour? Daddy’s home!!!!!” Refrigerator then opened to show the beauty of 6-8 “cobras”.  As twisted as it was, it always made me feel good.

I miss my friend.

It’s only been a few hours, but the building seems so quiet without you. I wish that I could have a cigarette with you, or see your bruises from riding a big wheel (TUFF ONE) down the driveway at 4 in the morning while you were piss-drunk with your boys. I remember that time you “wrestled a bear once”. I did too, but the bear played dead.

I miss you, MTA.

Thank You so much for telling me that I was one of the coolest guys you ever met, even though I laughed at you and told you to shut the fuck up. You were definitely one of the realist dudes I’ve ever met in mine.

I hope you’re finally chillin with your homeboy you lost, that you never got to speak to cause you were fuckin “Babyface”. I hope you’re kickin it with Les Paul, telling him about the ’58 you got in your livingroom. Telling Dime I said “what’s up” while you’re showing him your theme song for KING COBRA.

We only hung for about 8 months, but I feel fortunate to have met you. Thank you for giving me a perspective on life that I might not have had if I never met you. Thanx for reminding me what great music is about. And thank you, ultimately, for being my boy.

I hope you’re happy now…


Time 2 Shyne


October 20th, 2009 No comments

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Where’s a Bomb Strapped Suicidal Extremist When You Need One?

October 14th, 2009 10 comments

by Hector Huezo



This bat shit crazy broad is here.

This, THIS store, is MY safe haven.

It’s my sanctuary, my “fortress of solitude” amongst books in bulk & overpriced pig-swill coffee. Fuck, I’m upset but at the very least I’ve got about 15 yards between us.

Right, let me explain..

On a particularly depressing Sunday afternoon,  I decided to go to B&N & just park my ass down & read. A cute red head nursing student caught my eye, college kids were loudly attempting to study & there I was… sitting amidst the revelry of life, trying to forget about the past.

I was trying to read something lighthearted– Jim Norton’s “I Hate Everyone” (screw Catcher in the Rye, everyone should read THIS book) when a middle-aged pudgy woman asked if I’d mind watching her belongings while she went to the bathroom. Trying a feeble attempt to be my charming self I answered “Sure, but it’ll cost you $5″, she smiled & said I was witty & then instantly feeling uncomfortable  I said I didn’t mind watching her things, hoping she’d get the hint that I just wanted to read.  Well, she didn’t.

She then started asking me a bunch of questions: where am I from,
what do I do, what’s my nationality, then started getting too
personal; am I married, am I seeing anyone, etc…

I vaguely answered a few of her questions, but really just wanted to be left alone. She introduced herself as Terry, who upon initial contact with this person, resembled to be seemingly normal. She was about 5′ 0″, I’m guessing brown hair, a body which suggested her best friends were Ben & Jerry.

Within the first 5 minutes of our conversation I discovered that she:

was divorced but had no children,

she was taking care of her nieces & nephews as her sister was taking care of her brother in law due to having brain surgery,

she was going for her PhD in psychology (red flag 1),

her boyfriend had recently dumped her after declaring he was bi-sexual (red flag 2),

& she was ultimately dismayed at Latin culture in general,
particularly it’s youth. Ummmmmmm… k.

I know I talk a lot of trash & have this finger pointed at the world like it owes me something, but deep down I do try to be as courteous as humanly possible, so I listened with feigned politeness & attentiveness to this woman whom I can tell had some serious issues going on. There even came a point in which as she was speaking to me,  I literally turned my head to my book & just started reading as she continued to yammer on & on & on about some insipid conversation which I cared nothing about.  I spotted one of the cafe workers with whom I’m friendly with & gave her this look that said “I’m figuratively Jodie Foster being mentally raped by Theresa’s group of drunk men in The Accused, PLEASE HELLLLLLLP me!!!!!!!”, but she didn’t get my look & just continued to roll thegarbage out of the store.


I gave this woman as much courtesy as I possibly could, but listening to her go on & on & on was the equivalent of slamming my own testicles repeatedly by a car door. And then this piece of conversation occurred:

“Could I ask you a question?”,

“Well, nothing’s stopped you in the past 37 minutes so go for it…”,

“Do I look like I suffer from bi-polar disorder?”,

“Yes. Yes, you bat shit crazy cooze, you are fucking insane. I would rather walk through Newark with a sign that reads ‘Fuck Obama, Michael Alexander rules’ than listen to your ramblings. You weren’t given children for a reason because God didn’t wanna fuck this planet up anymore than it already is with your progeny. Please do yourself a favor & develop ALS (Stephen Hawking’s disease) & shut up you Cuban mass of NUISANCE.”

Now of COURSE I didn’t say that. I think I mumbled something to the effect,

“Mm? What? Bi-polar? No, you look as normal as most.” (I’m such a pussy. Why God even gave me a penis
is beyond me sometimes)

Now that question didn’t bother as much as the next one…

“You have a lot of female friends, right?”,

“I suppose as much as most males do”,

“Well, would you like another
female friend?”,

“Uh.. sure… I guess”.  She then proceeded to give me her phone number.

What the fuck??? Hey cute red head nursing student…. IT SHOULD’VE BEEN YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I proceeded to go to the bathroom a few times because I had to get away from her, & I also had more cigarettes within a an hour’s time than I care to count.

By about 7:15 I couldn’t take it anymore & decided to finally leave.  So, with little fanfare, I politely said “goodbye” & good riddance,” hoping I’d never see her again.

I got in my truck, deleted her number & suddenly didn’t mind so much that I’m alone for the moment. If this is the insanity out there waiting for a guy like me, then ramming my testicles in my car door doesn’t seem so bad for the moment.

A few weeks later, I’m back at B&N. I’m reading “God Hates Us All” by Hank Moody . The usual motley crew of assorted people are here; students, perverts, nuisances, etc… until this one manatee catches my eye.

Have you ever noticed how some fat girls talk? It’s almost as if the fat from their bellies crept up from their cow udders & lodged it’s way to their throat. I’m currently privy to this phenomena which I like to call “thick throat”, wherein a portly-sized Asian girl raised by Pokemon & Ramen noodles whom I’ve dubbed
So-Phat, is discussing physics (or Bon Appetite magazine, who fucking knows) with some dude who’d rather be watching a football game, I’m sure. Her voice is overpowering the guy’s & it sounds like she’s congested with fat, animal fat, or the contents of KFC’s Family Fun Bucket;  I can’t really tell.

Now, the moments in which she’s quiet I’m thinking she’s either– GOD FORBID– suffered a coronary,

fallen asleep,

or someone’s placed a suckling pig replete with a baked apple in it’s mouth for her to feast on.

B&N’s certainly full of it’s wayward oddities;

there’s the somewhat disturbing red faced white guy who’s changed tables at least 3 times & whom I’m pretty sure is either grading papers, or
writing a manifesto, neither would surprise me.

There’s also the self-described “frump-a-lump” ugly duckling who admits she’s not a glamorina, but has no problem dishing out a healthy slice of
criticism at women in fashions advertisements.

There’s also the creepy-uncle looking guy who keeps eyeing the no doubt in high school girls “studying” at the counter tables. In particular, the one in the green & white cheerleader outfit.

Hmm… wait…

onsecond thought… he may be on to something here.

Oh wait, Megan’s Law is still in effect so let me shut up.

Well, So Phat & Huggy Bear are leaving, and I’m seeing the Oriental wildebeest take her lazy strides, shuffling her feet in sandals,down the aisle to the exit.

Ok, what the egg roll’s up with Asian girls not being able to walk like a normal human being? Instead o factually lifting their feet & planting said feet heel to ball onto floor, they just shuffle their feet as if they’re mopping the floor with the bandages used to bind their feet.  Oh… maybe that’s it.

Anyway, I’m glad I can enjoy some silence without listening to her mucous coated throat box as it made me wanna wretch my lukewarm spinach & feta stuffed pretzel right here on this pea soup green table, but at least her Mt. Fuji sized heftiness moved & gave way to two good looking girls talking about some vacuous bullshit like ballet flats, the new Twilight movie or doing fun weekend activities like getting a hysterectomy.

There’s a guy to their left who is probably thinking what I’m thinking… no, not THAT, but a bloody, brutal, violent, ritualistic killing might make this night worth it.

Well, that & the cute high school chick in the cheerleader outfit trying to spell out my name using her pom-pom’s, but given the fact that today’s MTV, iPod & Blackberry ingesting spoiled youth have trouble putting a cohesive sentence together, I’m willing to wager she wouldn’t get past the “c” in my name, give
up, & spell “cat” instead.

Gimme a C! Gimme a U! Gimme an N!

I think we know where this is going.

I go back to reading “God’s Hates Us All” & am just enthralled by the story. I then want to stick my hands in a cage full of violently hungry wolverines for not writing this story first.

I give my eyes a rest for a second & who do I see coming my way but—


I politely say hello as she makes her way behind me to the counter to order her cup of coffee. The entire cafe is pretty much empty as it’s now 10 p.m. at night, sothere’s an excellent chance this mouthy waste of skin will weasel her way next to me & begin yet another inane conversation. I’ve hadabout enough of this, so with the skill of a ninja I gather up my belongings & stealthily leave the store like a guy leaving a girl with no birth control;  you run to the hills & pray you don’t get caught while making your exit.

I make my way to my truck & light a cigarette.

I tend to feel awful for thinking & saying & even writing the things I do because sometimes I feel I lack a filter.

I had that filter with someone who meant the world to me, but alas she saw the light & moved on to bigger & better & brighter things. Maybe this woman was feeling a different level of loneliness as I’ve felt.  Maybe she just wanted to reach out to someone the way I sometimes initiate conversations with complete strangers hoping to find some sort of connection & perhaps, maybe, forget about her pain for a while.

Maybe I was the last vestige of a friend long gone, long lost, long forgotten & she was trying to reclaim that?

Not my fuckin’ problem lady.

I hope a shark eats you on your raft
en route back to Cuba.

‘Nyktomorph’ Group Show Reveals the Power of Uncertainty

October 8th, 2009 No comments

By Irene Borngraeber • Oct 8th, 2009 • Category: Arts, Lead Story

The exhibition “Nyktomorph” at Curious Matter is an exploration of what the darkness holds. That eerie shape you catch out of the corner of your eye, that shadow that could be … (but might not), that destabilizing feeling you get when you sense someone might be watching you. The artists in this show have taken the looming uncertainty of the nyktomorph, or “night creature,” and transformed it into visual expressions that together range from the mysterious to the disconcerting.

Climbing the front stairs to Curious Matter’s brownstone exhibition space you come face to face with your first creature of the night — and your first hint that this show is as much about invoking flights of our imagination as it is about the visual works of the artists themselves. “What’s that on the floor?” In the mid-day sun it was hard to tell, as I squinted into the darkened interior of the gallery. My brain jumped as I realized — Oh … they’re birds!” But the pigeons hadn’t suddenly decided to become fly-by arts aficionados; the stuffed pair were part of a piece created for the show by Curious Matter co-founder and curator Raymond Mingst.

The sculpture is by far the most visceral incarnation of a changeable night creature, but it’s not alone in its exploration of the split second gap in consciousness that stretches between the known and unknown. All of the pieces in the show essentially exploit the precarious moment when you’re not sure what you’re really seeing or experiencing, when you can’t tell reality from what you think may be happening. They are designed to destabilize, to make us question not only what’s physically there, but how we feel about not knowing for sure. We’re being toyed with.

Ross Bennett Lewis’ photograph “Muñeco”, taken as he himself stumbled into the gaze of a marionette, at once teases and draws us into a place where objects (or are they sentient beings?) appear to peek around corners. His not-quite-sinister portrait watches us as we tour the show, like an uncertain door-keeper. Other works are not so direct, suggesting settings where unknown creatures may be hiding in the shadows. Olivie Ponce and Stacy Seiler both conjure up uncertain fantasies through the creation of non-specific, atmospheric landscapes that are hauntingly barren, neglected, and untamed. Perhaps the nyktomorph is behind these twisted spires or rusted-out buildings, or perhaps it is the landscapes themselves that become ever-changing creatures of the night.

The show is tightly put together and includes the works of twenty four artists who are active both locally and nationally. The beautiful exhibition catalog includes an artist-written description of each work, and — though it is enlightening to read what the artists have to say about their creative processes — in the spirit of the nyktomorph it’s more fitting to let yourself go and imagine the story behind each mysterious representation. Christopher Moss’ painting of two sock puppets engaged in what looks like a bloody battle between the hands and face of the person wearing them is as distressing as it is visually compelling, and its ambiguity (Who is in control? Who is the attacker?) epitomizes the uncertainty that makes the nyktomorph so vaguely threatening through its lack of definition. The unknown shape in the darkness frightens because we don’t know what we’re dealing with — or what it can do.

Mary Hill’s mesmerizing video, “Father and Daughter”, also highlights the transmutable and fluid nature of the nyktomorph by focusing on its potential beautiful and playful qualities, rather than its more sinister undertones. We watch as bathing beauties flip and swim, folding and unfolding in a kaleidoscope of arms and legs, creating unexpected ripples and shapes to an otherworldly soundtrack. It’s haunting, in the way you’d expect benevolent ghosts to be.

The show tackles the ultimate ambiguity of the nyktomorph; that dark shape could very well be a harmless trick of the light, a real animal threat, or an otherworldly creature. We don’t know what the shadows hold or what tricks our minds are playing, but through this show we come to understand and appreciate the power of such uncertainty.

Through Oct. 18th
Curious Matter
272 Fifth St.
Sundays: 12-3pm or by appointment
Contact: 201-659-5771 or curiousmatter (at)

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Irene Borngraeber is an artist, art historian, and writer. She has worked in museums in the U.S. and abroad and currently covers the New York art scene for ArtVoices magazine.
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