By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Amanda Ayala-Fairey’s black pug, George, fidgets in my lap while her husband, Shepard, sporting a Bad Brains T-shirt, talks a mile a minute about his plans to dethrone that other, equally pugnacious George from the White House. The walls of the conference room inside Studio Number One — the design firm that pays the bills for his gallery space Subliminal Projects, as well as his Obey street-art project — are lined with Warholian head shots of rappers Slick Rick, L.L. Cool J and Tupac Shakur screen-printed onto wood in shades of red, white, blue and gold. Absent, though, is Andre the Giant’s mug — strange, considering that Fairey’s rendering of the 7-foot-4-inch, 500-pound wrestling sensation has over the last decade and a half been plastered worldwide. Perhaps the icon’s absence signals the artist’s subtle shift away from his bread and butter: the appropriation of pop culture for the propagation of pop culture.
Fairey shows me sticker versions of the anti-Bush poster he created for a joint project with graffiti muralist Mear One (an acronym for Manifest Energy And Radiate, One as in “the One”) and agitprop postering king (and L.A. Weeklycontributor) Robbie Conal, whose Ronald Reagan caricature bearing the header “Contra” and footer “Diction” Fairey acknowledges was influential in helping him integrate his own pop and political sensibilities. Elizabeth Ai and John Orlando, founders of Post Gen, a burgeoning art collective born out of the “Beat” and “lost” generations — “I wanted to start my own generation,” Ai says — conceived the posters as a way to publicly call Bush to task. Dubbed BE THE REVOLUTION, it’s essentially the same-old-same-old guerrilla-postering-in-the-dark-or-light-no-matter-so-long-as-it’s-done-surreptitiously-and-carefully-enough-that-no-one-gets-caught-by-the-cops-and-thrown-in-jail-or-worse-falls-from-a-precarious-ledge-and-breaks-a-leg campaign out of which Fairey and Conal and, by extension, Mear One have made careers.
After plastering Los Angeles, the trio plus Ai and Orlando — who will play documentary filmmakers along the way — aim to overwhelm walls, poles, and other neglected surfaces in Boston and New York City during the upcoming national conventions. “These posters will act as distractions from the real advertisements,” Fairey says. In deference to Noam Chomsky’s notion of a “spectator democracy,” which draws from Walter Lippmann’s theory that propaganda enlightens the general public about issues they otherwise might not consider, Fairey regards these posters as catalysts for awakening the apathetic. “I’m interested in improving the system rather than just saying fuck the system.”
Ghost in the Drum Machine
John Wood’s eyes scan the crowd in front of Amoeba, the massive Hollywood record store at the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga. Teenagers stand on the corner, waiting for rides. A weather-beaten man sells incense next to the bike rack, and a hot-dog cart is parked around the corner. There’s a small scene here each weekend, though people are mostly on their way into the store, so it stays fluid. Wood has to work fast if he’s going to sell any of his bumper stickers tonight.
A pair of twin brothers dressed in hooded sweatshirts make their way across Sunset, and he catches their eyes with his wares. “Drum Machines Have No Soul,” reads his sticker. The twins pause to read the message. One reaches for the sticker saying, “You better believe it!”
“It’s a common-sense call for better music,” says Wood. “They cost a dollar each.”
On first impression Wood is a gregarious crackpot. He wears a hat announcing his “Drum Machines” slogan and a mauve dress jacket over a checkered button-up shirt. His glasses are large and plastic, his sneakers white and scuffed. Once he’s made eye contact with a potential customer, his sticker pitch — “It’s a common-sense call for better music” — is not far behind. A mussy-haired mod and his girlfriend stop and dig in their pockets for change.
When I approach him, Wood immediately launches into a polemic on music and social revolution, citing George Orwell and warning that “rampant technology will leach the meaning from life and relieve untold millions of their livelihoods.” After this proclamation he tells me that our interview is over. His one-man organization — the Society for the Rehumanization of American Music — is going to be bigger than Beatlemania. But it’s too early for him to talk to the press.
The interview isn’t really over though because Wood — a 53-year-old pianist — keeps talking. He tells me that his father is Randy Wood, founder of the old-school soul, gospel and rock & roll label Dot Records, an early home of Pat Boone. Then he tells me that he — John — ran the Studio Masters recording studio here in Hollywood for 25 years. Most important, he tells me that multitrack recording — the process by which members of a band record their music separately in the studio — is killing music as we know it.
Despite the rise in sightings of his sticker on record-store walls, lampposts and hipster bumpers, Wood is a less-than-convincing evangelist. When challenged, he insists that the statement on the sticker is not an argument but an objective fact. When I decline his offer to collaborate with me on writing this article, he asks if I am threatening him.
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