realism in the Corps…
On a glorious summer morning a few weeks ago two United States Marines — one an active-duty reservist, one recently retired — paced around a light-filled warehouse on the Marine Corps base here, talking shop. “Somebody who just knocks our socks off is Gerhard Richter,” said Michael D. Fay, a chief warrant officer before he left the corps last year. “We also love Basquiat.” Not your everyday exchange at Quantico perhaps. But one in keeping with the mission these men have dedicated themselves to for the last several years: the Marine Corps combat art program, for which both have worked as artists, recording the experiences of their fellow Marines.
The program is not the only one of its kind in the United States military, but many regard it as the one most deeply committed to its artistic mission. Like those in the other services, it began after the attack on Pearl Harbor and scaled back after Vietnam. Somewhat unusually, however, it has kept at least one artist in the reserves ready to deploy. And while most of the services have reactivated their art programs since the start of the Bush administration’s “global war on terror,” the Marine Corps’s has been the only one to cover most of the major conflicts.
Which helps explain why some of its supporters — most vocally Mr. Fay — are expressing concern about its future now that the program, which at its height in World War II had more than 70 artists, is down to just one full-time member, Sergeant Battles. “Now that I’m out, people have been asking me, ‘What’s the plan?’ ” said Mr. Fay, 56, a forceful personality who often calls the program “a red-headed stepchild,” partly because of the artists’ lack of formal status in the Marine hierarchy.
As a result, he argues, combat artists often have to lobby sympathetic commanders to be deployed and do their jobs. In the past the program came under the auspices of the Marine Corps Historical Center, reporting directly to the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, or “close to the flagpole,” as Mr. Fay put it. But in recent years the program, which currently has an annual budget of $20,000 to $25,000 for art supplies and travel, has been overseen largely by civilians at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., several more steps away.
Mr. Fay worries that this setup, along with the program’s diminished size, could lead to its falling off the top brass’s radar, a development that could threaten what he and other supporters see as an important part of the Marine Corps identity. “The Marine Corps is more like a tribe than some corporate organization,” Mr. Fay said. “And the combat art program, we’re like the shamans. We’re the ones who take this experience and try to articulate it.”
One thing that sets the Marine Corps program apart from those of other services is its focus on human subjects and experiences. A bigger difference, though, may be the program’s requirement that members be both Marines and full-fledged artists, not one or the other. (In the Vietnam War, however, it used civilian artists too.) When deployed, they carry the same 75 to 100 pounds of combat gear — including food and water, body armor, a Kevlar helmet, an M-16, a 9-millimeter pistol and ammunition — as their fellows, as well as art supplies. Also, said Joan Thomas, the art curator at the Marine Corps museum, they must be vetted by her and by artists who preceded them in the program.
These requirements impress even the program’s competitors. “The Marines are doing it the way it should be done,” said Gale Munro, the head curator of the Navy’s art collection. “They have really good artists, they’re chosen from within the ranks, they’re in it for the long term, so they can get a long perspective.”
And being in combat, Sergeant Battles and Mr. Fay agreed, can be a fantastic way to develop as an artist. “You’re balancing a tactical eye as a Marine with your artist’s visual eye,” Sergeant Battles said. On the one hand, he said: “you’re thinking ‘Is that a sniper? Is that an I.E.D.?’ ” But, Mr. Fay added, “you’re also sort of looking strategically” as an artist. “Yeah,” Sergeant Battles said, “You’re still looking at, ‘Wow, look at the way that light is bouncing off the body armor.’ ”
Company commanders don’t need to worry about protecting the artists, as they need to do, for example, with embedded journalists, and this has won support for the program throughout the rank and file. “The biggest worry a unit leader has is: ‘Oh, my God, who is this guy? How am I going to take care of him?’ ”said Col. Richard D. Camp, retired, vice president of museum operations for the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. “But once they find out these guys are fully capable of taking care of themselves, all that is off the table.”
One skeptic turned supporter is Col. Robert Oltman, who met Mr. Fay in 2005 when the colonel was commanding Second Battalion, First Marine Regiment, part of an expeditionary unit that had been assigned to clear insurgents from Ubaydi in western Iraq. On the final day they were ambushed and lost six men, many of whom were “younger Marines, newly married, new fathers,” Colonel Oltman said. Some months later he visited the museum and was shocked to see Mr. Fay’s drawings of those same men on display.
Although he had first viewed the presence of a combat artist as an “administrative burden in trying to step off into combat,” he said, he began to realize its value. “We have somebody who was there who can tell the story,” he said, “so when their children grow up, there’s an archived history of what their father or loved one did.”
So why should the Marines have artists in addition to photographers? The Marines interviewed for this story mostly said that what counted was the added emotional resonance that artists can bring. And, of course, capturing a moment in a painting also serves one of art’s most ancient purposes. “It’s the pact we make with the warrior: You will live forever and we will remember you,” Ms. Blair said. “And to me the best way to do that is through art. We can’t give him his life, but we can give him that immortality.”
read the entire article here…
from ’68-76, artist Mike Stevens created a catalog of album covers from his fantasy career…
Dori Hadar, 29, and Frank Beylotte, 32, are friends from Washington D.C. who met at a Salvation Army store while mining for funk and soul gold. ”I went to a flea market, and there was a huge record collection there, at least 20 boxes,” Mr. Hadar said, recalling the morning of the discovery. ”I was going through that very happily when I came across this box full of strange hand-painted album covers. I realized they were fake and was about to put them back, but then I looked at them more closely.”
Pulling the records out of the sleeves, he was surprised to find that they were made not of vinyl but of cardboard. Each had been cut in the shape of a record, with grooves and a hand-lettered label painted on. Nearly all the albums were credited to an unknown black musician named Mingering Mike, and dated from 1968 to 1976.
The front covers were intricately painted to look like classic funk albums; on the spines were titles and fake catalog numbers; the backs had everything from liner notes to copyright information to original logos; the inner sleeve was often a shopping bag meticulously taped together to hold a record; and some actually opened to reveal beautiful gatefold sleeves. A few albums had even been covered in shrink-wrap and bore price stickers and labels with apocryphal promotional quotes.
What Mr. Hadar found was a cache of seemingly nonexistent music: soundtracks to imaginary films, instrumental albums, a benefit album for sickle cell anemia, a tribute to Bruce Lee, a triple-record work titled ”Life in Paris,” songs protesting the Vietnam War and promoting racial unity, and records of Christmas, Easter and American bicentennial music. He had discovered, perhaps, an outsider artist.
”There are quite a few folk art collectors that are salivating to get their hands on this collection,” said Brian DiGenti, the editor of Wax Poetics, a leading journal for record collectors. ”I think without a doubt that when all this settles down, this collection will be in a permanent gallery, and it will probably be one of the more important folk art collections there.”
As Mr. Hadar examined the albums, a crowd gathered. He knew what had to be done: he bought all 38, for roughly $2 apiece. Excited on returning home, he posted his findings on soulstrut.com. A fellow collector, Mr. Beylotte, responded, telling him that he had been to the same flea market and had seen similarly decorated seven-inch singles and eight-track tapes along with cassette tapes and reel-to-reel recordings. He believed there might be music to accompany the conceptual albums.
He and Mr. Hadar returned to buy the rest of the Mingering Mike stash, including photo albums and correspondence. Afterward they put a cassette tape in the stereo and heard their quarry’s music for the first time. It was mostly a cappella — a cross between doo-wop, field hollers, gospel, the soul and blues — accompanied by what sounded like sticks on a bucket keeping a beat. Though they lacked instruments, Mingering Mike and his collaborators — known as Joseph War and the Big D — seemed to have the arrangements in their heads and would mimic string glissandos, trumpet blasts and bass lines vocally. For words, Mingering Mike and the Big D talked and sang, mostly about how they wanted to become famous. ”We should be stars,” went the chorus of one song. ”Stars in the eyes of man.”
A few of the albums and labels were decorated with pictures of the Washington Monument, so Mr. Hadar and Mr. Beylotte figured that if Mingering Mike was still alive, he was probably in the Washington area. Fortunately Mr. Hadar happened to be an investigator for a law firm. (Mr. Beylotte works for the American Psychological Association.) On one of Mingering Mike’s earliest seven-inch singles they noticed that he had put down his actual name. And in a stack of his letters, they found street addresses.
Mr. Hadar said that he chose the address most likely to be current, and drove there. A cousin of Mingering Mike’s answered the door. Wary of a stranger, the cousin would tell Mr. Hadar only that Mingering Mike lived in southeast Washington.
Undeterred, Mr. Hadar sifted through court records and other public documents until he came across Mingering Mike’s last known address. He went there with Mr. Beylotte, finding a small apartment building in a rough neighborhood, he said. They knocked on the door, and a man answered. They recognized him instantly: he was a little older and a little heavier than in the pictures they had seen, but it was definitely Mingering Mike. When they told him they had found his album covers, they recalled, a broad smile spread across his face. ”My babies,” he said. He had never released a real album; he had only fantasized an entire career on cardboard.
Mingering Mike is a large, good-humored, round-faced man who did not want his real name published or his face to be photographed. The reason he gave for maintaining his anonymity was that he had two jobs and was worried that the attention would ”disrupt things at work.”
The name Mingering Mike came about, he explained, when he saw a street sign for ”merging traffic” and twisted the word in his head to create mingering. His music making began in his teenage years, he said, when he locked himself in the bathroom (for the good acoustics) and tried to come up with a song. Once a complete song finally tumbled out of his mouth a year later, he couldn’t stop. In the years that followed, he said, he wrote more than 4,000 songs on everything from legal pads to matchbooks to diaper boxes.
Eventually he gathered family members to help record the music. When asked what he used for percussion, he laughed and replied, ”You wouldn’t believe it.”
The music was not recorded with an overturned bucket after all, he said, but from either beating an Afro comb on a bed or hitting a telephone book with hands. Occasionally, he said, his cousin, the Big D, would roll up a piece of paper and blow through it to replicate the sound of a trumpet. But just writing and recording music wasn’t enough, Mingering Mike said, so he started making the album jackets so that ”if it all came together one day, I’d be ready.”
He said he would spend as long as a week making his album jackets. He originally put the cardboard records inside because the covers were too flimsy otherwise. And then he began adding fake promotional stickers, seven-inch singles to accompany the records, lyric sheets, gatefold sleeves, fan club information and nearly every other detail imaginable. ”I wanted everything to be my own stuff and my own ideas,” he said, ”and not copy from anybody else.”
Mingering Mike’s dream, he said, was to be known for his music, and for his songs to inspire people. Thus, he tackled subjects like the growing drug problem in the United States on the cover of ”The Drug War” and compulsory military service in his apocryphal reissue of an apocryphal soundtrack to the apocryphal film ”You Only Know What They Tell You.” A recurring theme, which appears on the album ”The Two Sides of Mingering Mike,” is the choices that one had to make during the Vietnam War era between military service and civilian life. The logo for his spurious Decision Records label depicts two hands, one reaching for a microphone and the other for a gun.
But outside of performing a few shows at St. Elizabeths, the historic mental hospital here, in an act with his brother, an amateur magician, he attempted to seek a wider audience for his music only once. He responded to an advertisement in the back of a magazine promising to set lyrics to music, but he soon realized it was just a scam.
Mingering Mike’s uncle and musical collaborator, known on the records as Joseph War, helped unravel at least one of the mysteries of Mingering Mike, as well as his logo for Decision Records. ”At that time it was the Vietnam War,” he said, ”and he was AWOL, so he couldn’t go out. He had to do it all on his own.” (Joseph War, who owns 10 to 15 of these album covers, added that Mingering Mike was later pardoned through President Jimmy Carter’s amnesty program.)
After more than a decade of making music, Mingering Mike realized that he needed to focus on paying rent, so music took a back seat as he worked as an administrative assistant, a building maintenance engineer and a security guard. When he fell behind on payments for his storage space, most of his possessions were auctioned off to the flea market, where Mr. Hadar and Mr. Beylotte found them.
What the pair discovered in the end was not just a conceptual funk star and an unusual folk artist, but a fellow digger. In addition to his homemade work, Mingering Mike had 4,000 actual albums and 2,000 seven-inch singles to his name, from the Temptations to Lalo Schifrin to Barbra Streisand. In the inside sleeve of one of his albums he had written on a piece of paper, ”Records are my 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. love,” before calling himself a ”recordholic.”
Before he left Mr. Hadar’s house, Mingering Mike did not ask what would become of his ”babies.” Mr. Hadar and Mr. Beylotte have said they would like to see the albums in a gallery and the music on CD. He asked instead if he could borrow a copy of the 1974 funk classic ”Breakin’ Bread,” by Fred Wesley & the New J. B.’s. ”That’s my favorite,” Mr. Hadar said of the album.
Mingering Mike smiled knowingly. ”We’re like brothers,” he said, ”brothers in music.”
“Mingering Mike” 2007 (Princeton Architectural Press) written by Dori Hadar
check out Mike’s website for more…
PART 2: “MR. FREEDOM”
just what the doctor ordered — a little more freedom…
“It was shot at the end of ’67 and the beginning of ’68, but the French government censored it for nine months, thinking it was about May ’68. So it didn’t come out until ’69. Anyway, it was completely foreign to the whole movie scene here in France. I guess my posisiton is pretty marginal everywhere — then and now.”
— William Klein 1988
“MR. FREEDOM” 1969 directed by William Klein
once impossible to find, now part of Criterion’s box set “The Delirious Fictions of William Klein” along with “Who Are You Polly Magoo?” and “The Model Couple”…
also see, the films of WILLIAM KLEIN — PART 1
(quote excerpted from a conversation with Johnathan Rosenbaum, “Cinema Outsider: The Films of William Klein”, Walker Art Center 1989)
unable of late to make music, Lounge Lizard and Sons of Lee Marvin member John Lurie has been painting — a selection of works “The Invention of Animals” is on view now in L.A…
“I Need to Know If There Is Life After Death I Need to Know Kind of Soon”
Tanja M. Laden: How are you feeling these days?
John Lurie: I’m OK. My nervous system sort of overreacts to being pushed, so then I get migraine aura, I get a lot of noise in my vision, I get a sensation in my head that goes along with that, I quiver. All kinds of stuff. I have no feeling in one or both legs, or my left arm; my left hand doesn’t work so well. I get a kind of roaring, buzzing sound in my ear. In the beginning, they told me I was a hypochondriac; I was having panic attacks. But I did all these tests and they all came back completely whacked-out.
TL: Your painting and drawing has helped, though, right?
JL: There was a long time when I was too sick to leave the house. And even in the house, I was really miserable all the time, because I was in pain. My nervous system was just lying to me all the time. So painting gave me something I could concentrate on that gave me relief. I would usually suffer afterward, when I stopped. To have something to do was good. But it wasn’t some kind of thing where I was dealing with a psychological problem, you know what I mean?
TL: Do you ever wonder if it’s psychological?
JL: No, I know absolutely 100% that it isn’t.
TL: What are you doing, besides painting, to help ease these symptoms?
JL: Well, I’m doing a million different therapies. I’m getting injected with ozone, and doing these Chinese herbs, which has helped me a lot. But is this whole interview going to be about my health? ‘Cause that could be a little embarrassing…
TL: I was wondering if you ever thought about making a sculpture for yourself that’s not a traditional sculpture, more like found objects put together, like an assemblage.
JL: Yeah, I used to do that. When I was young, when I first moved to New York, it was a different time, and you could find all this stuff on the street that was amazing. I used to collect it, bring it home, and make stuff out of it, all the time. But I’m cured of that now.
TL: What happened to those pieces?
JL: They’re all gone. You know, Jean-Michel used to sleep on my floor. Then I’d get pissed at him and throw his stuff away. I can’t tell you how many millions of dollars worth of artwork I must have thrown away in my life.
TL: How long did Basquiat sleep on your floor?
JL: He would stay there for three nights, and then he’d stay somewhere else. That went on for a couple of years.
TL: Like a couch-surfing situation?
JL: No, floor. Not the couch. There was no couch. He slept on the floor.
TL: “The Invention of Animals”, is also the title of one of your paintings. Why did you choose this title over the others?
JL: I don’t know. There was no big thing. I mean, the show in New York last fall was called “The Skeleton In My Closet Has Moved Back Out To The Garden”. I kind of like that title better.
TL: Do you have any animals?
JL: No. I used to. We were in New Orleans when I was a kid, and I used to go every day and hunt for snakes and stuff.
TL: Are you spiritual?
JL: Yeah, of course. Getting sick made me delve much further into that. I had a mystical experience when I was in my late teens, early 20s, and I spent years trying to recapture that.
TL: What was that experience?
JL: I don’t know how to explain that to you. I just had one of those things where I was aware of everything being connected in life. There was no difference between the molecules in the cement to the molecules in the air to the molecules in me; it was all of one piece.
TL: Were you on acid?
JL: No! But I spent years trying to recapture that. It was like I went to God’s house for a minute. And I spent years studying religion and mysticism and doing all different kinds of yoga and fasting for weeks on end, trying to recapture that. ‘Cause after I had that, nothing else made any sense, really. And then I slowly got back into the world, until I got so back into the world that I was like a heroin addict.
TL: Which pieces in this exhibit have the most meaning to you personally?
JL: “The Spirits Are Trying To Tell Me Something But It’s Really Fucking Vague” is somewhat autobiographical.
TL: Do you hear music in your head?
JL: Sure, but I try not to, now. I really have to block music out. It’s too painful for me. The sense of loss is unbelievable. I mean, my soul came through with music. Music was everything for me. I get musical ideas where I’m, like, OK, don’t go there. And actually, listening to music can be a real problem for me now, because it creates symptoms.
TL: You said a few years ago, you said you were working on a memoir. How is that going?
JL: When I first got sick, they told me I had a year to live, and I was writing my memoir really fast. There were really weird things happening with my nervous system and my heart and stuff, and it didn’t look like I was gonna make it, so I was writing really fast, and then I couldn’t write anymore.
TL: A year?
JL: Nobody actually told me I had a year to live. How it went was, I did a test where my blood pressure and pulse just acted completely bizarre. And the neurologist told me that I had this rare disease, and sent me to this website, and it was, like, well, your family has to help you now. You can’t do anything. You can’t move a chair. You can’t feel ashamed. People have to do everything for you now — and then it sent you to a more legitimate medical website where it said that 90% of patients die within a year.
TL: Were you on a bunch of meds that made the symptoms worse?
JL: No, because I didn’t have a diagnosis yet. I just had all these symptoms. I wasn’t going to start taking pills until I knew what was wrong. I mean, they’re mostly a bunch of arrogant idiots, these guys. I have a good GP in New York, but other than that, I don’t see anybody anymore. As far as the brain and neurology is concerned, they just know very, very little. And because they know so little, they want to pretend that they’re God, because their mother told them they were God when they finished medical school, and then they get pissed at the patient when they don’t know what it is.
TL: Does the fact that you’re a creative person exacerbate or relieve your symptoms?
JL: I am sure having the outlet helps me in some way. I know that when I got really sick and had to stop playing music that it was an unbearable loss. I never thought that painting could come out of my soul in the same way. But I think that it does at this point.
TL: Have you ever wondered whether your condition is related to your creativity?
JL: I wonder that too. When you look back through history, it’s like, they think van Gogh had temporal lobe epilepsy and Dostoyevsky had this… I did have one neurologist tell me, “I think you’re just wired different than everybody else.” Which is possible, you know. It is possible.
“John Lurie: The Invention of Animals” through 8.7 at Gallery Brown, L.A…