Terraplane

Terraplane - Steve Earle CDFor the past 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of making the cover art for Steve Earle’s CD and album covers. The new one, Terraplane, is a blues record, and it is a knock-out. It is named for the old car that Nash used to make; one that  blues men referred to as, “The Money Ride.”

Published in: on October 18, 2014 at 5:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Bird for Cuba

Bird for Cuba

Published in: on October 8, 2014 at 12:15 am  Comments (2)  
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Bird For Puerto Rico

Bird for Puerto Rico

Little Dweller

Published in: on October 7, 2014 at 11:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bird for Israel

bird for israel

She flies from Tel Aviv to the wall, moving the silences tree to tree

Published in: on August 27, 2014 at 10:48 am  Comments (1)  
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Bird for Palestine

Bird for Palestine

Published in: on August 19, 2014 at 11:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Volo

 With Your Bloody Bib, In Secret, You Do The Work Of The Songs.


With
Your
Bloody
Bib,
In
Secret,
You
Do
The
Work
Of
The
Songs.

Published in: on August 14, 2014 at 1:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Published in: on August 7, 2014 at 11:50 pm  Comments (1)  

Lunch Drawing #55

lunch drawing 55

Published in: on August 7, 2014 at 11:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Pink Death

Pink Death

My pal Penn Jillette once owned a vehicle named Pink Death. It was a Ford Bronco painted a color Penn invented, called “Stripper Inner Labia Pink.”  So candy-colored pink was this car, that the guy at the body shop made Penn stand there and watch as they gave his formerly butch truck something like a hundred coats to get it the right blush of “Inner Labia Pink,” which is, “Stripper.” There is actually a paint-chip named Stripper.

Damn I love this country.

I spent a week zipping around Vegas with Penn on assignment from Playboy and it was a holy hoot watching people’s reactions to Pink Death. It were as if the goddamn thing were radioactive. Even twenty years ago in Vegas this was regarded as weird.

Penn is full of funny traits and quirky observations; one of the benefits of being his friend is, though we are polar opposites in some of our political beliefs, we never fail to crack each other up. He is also one of the smartest people I’ve ever known with a searching intellect and endlessly inquisitive mind that wants to know the nuances of every single thing that interests him.

For years, Penn and Teller have had a bit where a rabbit winds up in a chipper and for years, Penn convinced me that they actually just threw the fucking rabbit into the chipper.  “Rabbits are CHEAP,” Penn would explain, and I believed him. That’s a bad habit of mine; believing Penn when he’s pulling my joint.

He once staged an elaborate subterfuge to get me to believe that everyone we knew got a discount from Federal Express, except me. He surreptitiously emailed all of my friends to get them to go along with the gag and I believed them.

So, like an asshole, I called FedEx and asked them if they thought I was a fucking mark. I told them that I used FedEx almost everyday and that I should get the discount that my friends enjoy.

They asked me what I was referring to. That while they valued my business, their rates were their rates and everyone paid the same. I told them I wasn’t some douche-bag or a mark; that I knew how this game was played and I wanted in on the discount, and to quit working my stick.

The woman, Nora, assured me that there was no secret discount and that I was mistaken, which just infuriated me. I started yelling, “I’m not a sucker, lady. I’m not some fucking hick you can jerk-off like Dickie Dope. I’m not a mark.” And I added “Now don’t fuck around with me Nora. I’m in no mood!”

She asked me who told me this and I said all of my friends had told me, in fact, Penn…

PENN! Mother-fucker. That Mother-fucker.

Then I got it. I swear I could hear him laughing his Newfie ass off all the way from Vegas.

The “Tony Called FedEx” story was born and all of my friends know it. And at every opportunity Penn relates it, with great relish and much embroidery to entertain all who are present, including me—the Sap who called FedEx.

I used to draw rabbits for my mother. As a kid, my sisters had them as pets and they got huge. They were also not as gentle as you might think. I saw one of our bunnies kick the holy dog-shit out of a wild rabbit that had come into the yard and attempted to eat some of his food. They’re nasty little fuckers and territorial as hell. Whenever I felt the need to get out of the doghouse with my mom, I’d draw her a rabbit or a bird and she would then become convinced of my better side long enough to get me out of the house and back on the street with my friends. I was good at charming my mother. I once sold her a baggie full of Cheerios by telling her they were “donut seeds.” She gave me a buck. Even I, as a child had some of the Penn Jillette carny-trash in me.

In the city where I live, you mostly see squirrels, though lately I’ve noticed a lot more rabbits. I like them. I love drawing their odd shape and when I spot one, the stillness of them is almost eerie. Often they freeze right in the middle of the road and get creamed, which is kind of a dumb-fuck way to get killed. At least squirrels run away.

I found out later that Penn and Teller don’t kill the rabbits—cheap or not, they actually treat them quite well. As Penn explained, “Hey, the little fuckers work six shows a week.”

Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 1:58 am  Comments (1)  
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Bird for Bobby Womack

birdforbobbywomack

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 2:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Alphabet of Songbirds – B

Alphabet of Songbirds - B

I’ve kind of been quietly making an etching alphabet of songbirds. The first idea was to make them pretty, pretty, pretty, and then I thought about the nature of Nature–it’s not all pretty–and then the hideous habitat destruction we’ve inflicted on songbirds and every other creature the landscape attempts to sustain, and the pictures have become a bit tougher and more wild, and maybe more true. We’ll see.

“B”is for Baltimore Oriole.

Published in: on June 20, 2014 at 2:29 am  Comments (2)  
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Lunch Drawing #49: Gary, Indiana Cardinal

Lunch Drawing #49: Gary, Indiana Cardina

Published in: on June 12, 2014 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Azul

Azul

All over the west and south sides of Chicago there are still live poultry shops. It only now occurs to me that I’ve never actually been in one. Americans are particularly squeamish this way– we never want to look the creature we’re about to slaughter in the eye. We’d rather see it fried with some biscuits and gravy on a plate, or in nugget form in a small styrofoam box; or even better, chopped up with a bunch of vegetables in some soup. We’re not much for the blood and the feathers and the screeching death that comes along with butchering poultry.

A number of people in the city have begun to keep chickens in their yards in Ukrainian Village they raise their own eggs and I have to admit it is kind of heartening to see a plump chicken or two walking the alleyways. You want to warn them that: feral cats, large rats, raccoons, and now coyotes also now walk these alleys, and would gladly feast on them; but then you notice these are some big-assed chickens and when you get right up close and look them in the eye?  You see all of the madness in the world.These chickens are Chicago chickens and they just might be able to hold their own.

Years ago, when I first opened my studio on Damen Avenue, there was a small bodega a few doors down from me. The older Puerto Rican guy who ran it made change out of his pocket, rather than the cash register. The store was badly stocked, open when it  wanted to and closed at odd hours. We struck up a friendship by virtue of being neighbors and sometimes having to look out for the same goofs who would run in and grab stuff when you weren’t looking. We were also the only Sox fans in that part of town. I liked him, He had thick bifocals and a sad smile and spoke the kind of English that one speaks when they learn it first in Chicago. He referred to the alderman as “our guy” with a roll of his eyes.
I only knew him as “Popi.” One day, I noticed these Polaroids taped to the side of his antique cash register. They were all pictures of roosters…more specifically, fighting cocks. He told me, that in Puerto Rico, he’d raised many champion birds. He said where he came from people weren’t  hypocrites about things like cockfighting. He’d tell me, “You gringos get all weepy about  two chickens fucking each other up WHILE you eat your McNuggets.” He had a point.
He also, once in a while, would stop me in my tracks when this line of conversation occurred. He would ask me if we cared as much about people as we did about the chickens. “There you go– white people will wring their hands over cockfighting, where each bird has a fifty-fifty shot at coming out alive. But kids in this city are blowing each others’ heads off for dime bags and where are your tears for them?”
Bucktown changed and the bodega is long gone, as is Popi and his backyard full of fighting cocks. There were a few of them that were beautiful in a wild, mad, kind way. Rubio, a starkly black, long-plumed bird with a blood-red head. Pinto, a speckled mess with sharp thorny spurs, and Azul who. Popi explained. was a rare blue-faced gamecock who he’d paid better than a grand for back home. He fed them only prime feed and fought them in Indiana, he explained, “with a bunch of white guys who look like a dumber version of you.” It was nice to know that somewhere out there there is a dumber version of me.
I guess what has changed about Bucktown the most is the absence of people like Popi and the fact that I used to walk my neighborhood and sometimes hear three or four different languages being spoken in the length of a couple of city blocks.
Now there is a Marc Jacobs store and restaurants that people blather on about on Yelp! all the time. I’m old enough to know that this isn’t bad or good–that change is the human experience. I don’t miss the days when you had to look over your shoulder in this neighborhood, though. Judging from the gun violence you STILL kind of have to.  I do realize that in very short order, it is a different city. That for all of the technology that was supposed to connect us, it feels like we are more alone. For all of the cameras and crime-prevention gestures and feel-good documentaries, we are still apt to maim and kill each other.
It has always been a cruel city– it is our history; Steel, slaughter, railroads,and bootleggers made the cash register ring, and this was the only music anybody with any power danced to.
Popi was right. We’re still killing each other in Chicago over dime bags, and still wringing our hands over smaller cruelties. Everything has changed, and everything remains the same.
Published in: on May 13, 2014 at 5:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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Last Child

The Ice Bird

Last Child

 

Published in: on May 8, 2014 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Birds for Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse Tashunca-uitco My land is where my dead lie buried. A flock of red birds or a necklace of stars. He wished to be black leaves--flying over water...

Crazy Horse Tashunca-uitco
My land is where my dead lie buried.
A flock of red birds or a necklace of stars.
He wished to be black leaves–flying over water…

Crazy Horse wanted little to do with other people, red or white. He was happiest out wandering in nature. He was as content to sleep in a cave or a hole, as he was in a camp. He loved being out under the stars and was comfortable with his own company. There was a reason the Oglala Lakota referred to him as “our Strange Man.”

His nonconformity set him apart in a tribal culture. He had much responsibility in his tribe. He was among the most fierce of warriors; a brilliant tactical fighter and a superb hunter, and to his tribe, he was necessary and he was up to shouldering his immense responsibility to his people. He hunted buffalo, he led war-parties and raids, but when the opportunity arose, he would go off by himself to be in nature and fast and seek visions. He was curious about the spirits and the next world and he sought wisdom. Like Basho, he was always searching and seeking knowledge.

In Tokyo, I visited some Shinto shrines and was struck by how much Shintoism reflects the beliefs of some Native American beliefs as well. I’m not religious at all, but do tend to cede the power most attribute to god, to nature. The Shinto teachings have an intense reverence for the natural world and the shrines are sublimely beautiful.

In battle Crazy Horse adorned his forehead with three hailstones and red lightning bolts on each cheek. He also carried a small pebble or hailstone behind his ear. These images were powerful talismans in his life and visions. When it would hail, the Native American believed it was raining stone and, depending which text you read, this was alternately ominous and hopeful at the same time.

It may sound odd that I once went to Japan to better understand Crazy Horse, but I think it helped. In every culture, there are these odd-spirited men who don’t quite fit into the world easily, yet they push that culture forward for better and ill. They are necessary people who don’t want to punch a clock or color inside the lines. There is an otherness about them. In Japan, the Haiku monks were thought to be oddballs in their day. Basho was an admirer of Li-Po, the great Chinese poet of the 8th century, another wandering spirit enamored of wandering in nature. It is not an accident that Haiku is rooted in nature and reflects the seasonal shifts of one’s lifetime.

I hope that after Crazy Horse was murdered, he went somewhere. He certainly deserved better than he got. I don’t believe in the afterlife, but I’d like it if he had one. Haitians refer to the land between the living and the dead as the “Gray World” and there is no time continuum; it is a place where Basho and Crazy Horse could meet. I hope wherever Crazy Horse went, he wore a necklace of stars.

Published in: on May 7, 2014 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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