"NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" Screening in Huntington Beach

"NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" will be screening as part of the "AnARTchy: The Art of Punk" exhibition at the Rainwater Gallery in Huntington Beach, CA and I will be doing a Q&A after the screening.

Click here for more info. It's a FREE event but space is limited so be sure to RSVP!

Appearance at It's Not Dead Fest

Noted rock photographer Lisa Johnson has invited me to participate in an art show she's curating at the It's Not Dead Festival in October. I'll be appearing as a "featured author" (due to my work on NOFX's upcoming autobiography) and as a "featured artist" with some collage poster/flyer artwork on display from my time on the road with NOFX while filming "Backstage Passport" part 1 and 2.

36 bands, a bunch of old school skaters, over two dozen artists and authors...and me! You can't go wrong!

"NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" wins two Best Music Documentary awards!

"NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" has been awarded Best Music Documentary at both the Kingston Film Festival and the Oregon Independent Film Festival! The Oregon Independent Film Festival will be screening the movie on Wednesday, September 23rd at the Metro Cinemas in Eugene (tickets available here).

Digital downloads of the film (and double-disc DVDs featuring extra footage and "lost episodes" from season one) are available now from the Fat Wreck Chords website and Amazon.com!

Official Trailer for "NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" posted!

Fat Wreck Chords has released the official trailer that Ryan Harlin and I made for "NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" and has announced a special screening of the movie and a Q&A with the band before their August 13th show at the Gramercy Theatre in New York. Tickets available here!

"NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" to be released on August 21st!

In 2009, Ryan Harlin and I set out on the road with NOFX to create a sequel to our docu-series, "NOFX: Backstage Passport". After three years of adventures and two years of editing and almost a year of prepping the release, "NOFX: Backstage Passport 2" will finally be released on August 21st!

Instead of episodes, this time the project takes the form of a documentary feature, and the DVD will include two "lost episodes" featuring footage from trips to Australia and Eastern Europe during the original "Backstage Passport" tour.

There will also be a special screening of "Backstage Passport 2" and a Q&A with NOFX at Thee Parkside in San Francisco on the day of the release as part of the Fat Wrecked for 25 Years festival, details here!

"Do You Remember: 15 Years of The Bouncing Souls" Special Screening at the Asbury Park Music In Film Festival

It's been over a decade since Ryan Harlin and I made our feature directorial debut with "Do You Remember?: 15 Years of The Bouncing Souls" and we're humbled to see that it is still being enjoyed by so many people.

The Asbury Park Music In Film Festival has just announced a special screening of the film on April 10th, 2015 in Asbury Park, NJ, which will be followed by a Q&A with Bouncing Souls bassist Bryan Kienlen and guitarist Pete Steinkopf.

Have fun, True Believers!

One of my favorite interviews

My friend and fellow USC alum Kam Miller did an in-depth interview with me for her blog, "Glass Half-Full in Hollywood".

Check it out here

Very informative...and flattering!

Reagan Youth Announces New Lineup...and I'm part of it!

Years ago my friend Landon was instrumental in getting me the job of singing for Dead Kennedys. Now he can be credited with recruiting me to sing for another legendary punk band: Reagan Youth!

Looking forward to whatever this new adventure has in store...
By Jeff Penalty
(Originally published in Swindle #6, re-published in The Utne Reader)

Have you ever bitched about the fact that your cable TV company decided to jack up its rates simply because they could?  Has your blood ever boiled thinking about the way major labels are keeping good musicians down?  Have you ever thrown your hands up in despair at the piss-poor choices on the ballot for any given American political office?

Take heart, comrades…John Nese is here to lead the revolution!

John runs the Soda Pop Stop in Eagle Rock, CA, a store that specializes in hard-to-find (if not impossible-to-find) soda pop, carrying over 500 varieties.  I walked into his store assuming I’d be writing a fluff piece about fizzy sugar water, but I walked out with a startlingly vivid illustration of corporate oppression and the disturbing effect it has on every aspect of our lives.

I started by asking John, “Why soda?”  He answered with a smile: “I got mad.”

John’s story is an American fable.  He inherited the family grocery business from his father, but, like all independent grocery stores, he found himself struggling to compete with the price clubs and major supermarket chains.  He started carrying a few rare varieties of soda as a means of keeping the business afloat.

And then one day a representative from Pepsi came into his store to convince him to stock the brand.  At the price the rep was offering (remember: no bulk wholesale discount for a small shop like John’s), John would’ve had to charge more for Pepsi than the chain store down the street, and he would’ve felt like he was ripping off his customers.  So he told the Pepsi rep he’d rather refer his customers to the chain.

The Pepsi rep said, “You can’t do that.”  John said, “Watch me.”

I listen intently as John explains the politics of soda pop.  The thing about Pepsi and Coke is that they have the money and clout to purchase shelf space in all of the major grocery chains and price clubs, so there ends up being no space—and little incentive—for stores to stock drinks produced by independent bottlers, even though dozens, if not hundreds, of such bottlers exist.  So as consumers, we’re left with merely the illusion of true choice, choosing between two colas that taste basically the same, and which aren’t really all that great to begin with.  As John points this out, I am suddenly stirred with both anger and sadness, staring at aisle after aisle of proof that corporate rule has officially infected every single aspect of our lives, robbing us of our freedom of choice and holding us hostage to the whims of the C.E.O.s.

My head already reeling, John begins my tour of his shop by telling me about Red Ribbon Root Beer.  Until the ‘60s, root beer was made from sassafras root oil, which was taken off the market because it causes cancer.  Red Ribbon uses sassafras bark (which, thankfully, doesn’t cause cancer), and it is the only root beer on the market to do so, giving it the most authentic taste possible.  It even changes flavor as it ages!

Next, John let me sample a mint julep, because unlike most of you southern plantation owners from the 1800s out there, I’ve never had one.  And it was so refreshing that I have since found myself walking around and actually saying, “I could really go for a mint julep right about now.”

I was also curious about Moxie, a company out of Maine that I thought had ceased to exist around the same time Hollywood started making “talkies.”  Yet there on the shelves were several varieties of Moxie: Original Elixir, Cream Soda, Orange Cream Soda, and Cherry Soda.  John swears by Moxie Cream Soda, declaring it the best cream soda on the market.  He sent me home with a bottle that I later shared with a friend, and neither of us found any reason to argue with John’s assessment.  He also sent me home with a bottle of the Original Elixir, which he cautioned I might not take to right away.  “It’s a sipping soda,” he said, claiming that it would actually change flavors while I drank it.  And it did: each sip started as a cola, morphed into a root beer, and left the aftertaste of some sort of evil black licorice potion from Satan’s private reserve.  I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

“Have you ever had a pomelo?” John asks, uncapping a bottle of Quench and handing me this soda flavored with the first cousin of the grapefruit.  Down another aisle, he holds up a bottle of Manhattan Special Orange Soda to show me the pulp at the bottom, proving that it’s flavored with actual oranges.  Later, he tells me about an angry phone call he placed to the makers of Tommyknockers Root Beer to complain about their switch from Madagascar vanilla to vanillin in their recipe.  He tells me about the elderflower soda he’s anticipating from a Romanian bottler and the rose flavored soda he has coming in for Valentine’s Day.  The possibilities and permutations seem endless.  And, in fact, they are.

Upon a return trip to the Soda Pop Stop one afternoon to share the joys of a mint julep with a friend, I tried to get John’s attention, but customers were coming at him from all sides, asking for his recommendations the way they would a seasoned sommelier at a Napa Valley winery.  One customer told John, “You’ve got me hooked on the Boylan’s Cola!”  And I realized that we were all there because we’d had a door opened for us: a door to a whole world of fun, adventure, and taste.  It’s a door that should have been open to us from the start but which was barred by capitalism gone sour.

I ask John, “Do you still get mad at Pepsi and Coke?”  He says, “No.  I thank ‘em every morning!”

People from all over the world are thanking him as well, both in person at the store or by ordering their favorite sodas by the case via his website.  So dedicated is John to the cause of good soda, that he’s even trying to locate molds to make the metal parts for those now-out-of-production seltzer bottles popularized by the Three Stooges.  With a bottle of seltzer and some raspberry or chocolate syrup that John sells at the end of one aisle, you can even make your own sodas!

“If it was about nostalgia,” John says, “it’d have been over in five years.  It’s freedom of choice.”

Upon a third trip to the store to enlist yet another friend in the soda revolution, I find John outside, hammering something out of the sidewalk.  When he’s done, he lets us sample a bottle of that much-anticipated rose soda (delicious, by the way!) and explains that earlier in the day some workers came by to install a newspaper box in front of his store.  He asked them for the proper paperwork from the city, but they didn’t have it, so he told them to come back when they did.  They started to install the thing anyway until he told them to bug off again.  And then, rather than roll over and take it, he went outside to remove—by hand—the hunk of metal they’d just put in his sidewalk.

It’s a subtle gesture that somehow seems to sum up John’s attitude perfectly.  His pride in his business and his individualist spirit practically amount to a Rockwell portrait of what it is—or rather, what it should be—to be an American.  It makes me think back to the way he concluded our very first conversation with an assertion that practically made me want to salute him:

“Am I Don Quixote?  No.  The important thing is that people have choices.  Not just with drinks, but with everything you do.”

As I shook his hand to say goodbye, he added with a smile:

”Don’t get me started on the education system…”

By Jeff Penalty
(Originally appeared in Swindle issue #2)

“Get a calendar.”


“Just get a calendar.”


“Do you have a calendar?”

“Yes!  What is it?”

“What’s today’s date?”

“April 16th.”

“Today’s the day you became the lead singer for Dead Kennedys.”

The American Dream boils down to two scenarios.  1.) Winning the Lottery.  2.) Joining your favorite rock band.  I had just received a phone call to say that I, like Sid Vicious, Henry Rollins, and Tim “Ripper” Owens before me, had just achieved the less likely of the two.

I didn’t believe Landon at first.  Not a lot of people would have.  It took a good half hour or so of convincing, and even then I still suspected that the whole thing was a really cruel practical joke.  If it was, I very much prepared to cut Landon out of my life as a friend, just as swiftly as I would cut open his throat and remove his trachea.

Landon, incidentally, was the voice on the other end of the phone.  He fronts a band called Sidekick.  I met him at Al’s Bar when I first moved to L.A. and our mutual love for the Chicago punk band Screeching Weasel immediately cemented our friendship.  Sidekick often ripped through Screeching Weasel covers and when they did Landon would graciously allow me to get on stage and sing with them.  Always a good time.  The years went by and, despite numerous people encouraging me to pursue singing more seriously, rocking occasionally with Sidekick at dive bars around L.A. was pretty much the most musical glory I ever expected to achieve.

Then Dead Kennedys reunited and Landon became their tour manager.  I was happy for my friend, but I, like most fans, was skeptical about the reunion with Brandon Cruz filling in on vocals for Jello Biafra (who had grown estranged from the band due to a far-too-much-discussed legal battle).  Landon agreed to get me into their first L.A. show for free so I could satisfy my curiosity.  All week I knew I was going to see Dead Kennedys.  The ticket said “Dead Kennedys.”  The marquee said “Dead Kennedys.”  But it wasn’t until I was standing at the edge of the dance floor when the band launched into their first song that I realized, “Holy shit!  That’s Dead Kennedys!”  A smile parted my lips and I quickly squeezed my way into the crowd to sing along with all of my favorites.

Brandon had done a superb job and after the show I told Landon it was a job I wanted.  I was half-joking, but it was a half-joke I’d make repeatedly over the course of the next year.  I thought I was wasting my breath, but, sure enough, one day Brandon stepped down and Landon endorsed me for the job based on my love of Dead Kennedys and the fun he’d had sharing a stage with me.  And for some reason three of my biggest musical heroes trusted his judgment.

A little perspective here: Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 and became one of the most influential bands in the punk genre.  Even my parents know who these guys are.  “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” was one of the first punk albums I ever owned.  I remember jumping on my bed as a teenager, singing along to it and thinking to myself how cool it would be to one day sing with the band.  At the time, I immediately dismissed the notion, thinking to myself, “first of all, they broke up years ago and they’ll never get back together.  Second of all, even if they do get back together, it’ll be with Jello.  And third of all, even if they do get back together without Jello, how would they EVER find me and why would they EVER let me up on stage with them?”  I vividly remember all of those thoughts going through my head, and thinking to myself that I should keep a lid on my idiotic fantasies.

Simply getting to practice with Dead Kennedys in Landon’s small, dingy practice space in Hollywood was enough to squash the cynical voice in my head that told me to stop fantasizing all those years ago and to give me a story to bore my grandkids with.  But then I got to play a secret show with the band at the Viper Room with all my friends in the audience cheering me on.  Then we got to play shows in Norway.  And Istanbul.  And Mexico City.  And all over the U.K.  Every trip was an incredible adventure, each worthy of its own separate article.  There’s story after story to tell, based on surreal moment after surreal moment.  For instance: in Scotland, we played a club where I had seen a punk show back in ’98.  I never imagined I’d be back at that club.  Let alone on its stage.  Singing to a sold out crowd.  With Dead Kennedys.

Further, I could write articles about the way the music of Dead Kennedys shaped my drastically left-leaning political ideals and how grateful I am for the opportunity to speak to crowd after crowd about the importance of open-mindedness and political participation.  I could write about the bonds I’ve formed with three very quirky musicians who formerly existed in my life only as sounds coming through a stereo speaker and names on an album cover.  I could write pages and pages about the importance and timeliness of the Dead Kennedys reunion in relation to both the current punk rock scene and the world at large.  Believe me, a person in my position has a lot of things to think hard about and gets a lot of frequently asked questions.  But today I’m only allowed to share 1500 words with you, so the rest will have to wait for some other time.

For now I’m just enjoying the ride, because the one thing I can’t really speak about with any certainty is where this is all going to go.  Maybe we’ll keep touring, maybe we’ll record new music, or maybe it’ll all end tomorrow.  At first, the unpredictability of the situation really messed with my head, but I’ve made peace with it because I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to live out an insanely fantastic dream, the scope of which I can still barely comprehend.  It’s all cherries on top of the icing on top of the multi-tiered cake at this point.  Maybe there should be some sort of punk rock twist to this story to make it all edgy or dark or something, but there’s really not.  It’s a fairy tale.  It’s a dream-come-true scenario, and it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience.  If I wrote a song about it, it would sound more appropriate coming out of Jewel’s mouth than mine.  It’s done nothing less than change my entire outlook on life.  It sounds excruciatingly cheesy, I know, but it’s the truth.  After all, I used to really relate to the Dead Kennedys song “Forward to Death”, which contains the lyrics “I don’t need this fucking world / This world brings me down / Gag with every breath / This world brings me down / I’m looking forward to death.”  But now it’s the one song I feel weird about singing because for once in my life I’m NOT looking forward to death!  I’m having too much fucking fun!  Even when things are at their shittiest and I’m forced to look into the darker side of my soul, I’m able to turn myself around because I’ve learned that life can take radical turns for the better just as easily as it can take drastic turns for the worse.

Roughly ten years after my first exposure to the music of Dead Kennedys, I was on an airplane bound for a tour of Norway, seated between Landon and drummer D.H. Peligro.  As we taxied onto the runway I looked back and forth between the two of them and said to Landon, “if this is a joke, you’re really taking it too far.”  Landon laughed and assured me that it was for real.

I still don’t know if I believe him.

By Jeff Penalty
(Originally published in Swindle's "Icons" issue)

“Ronald Reagan made me do it.”

It’s unlikely that such a defense would hold up in a modern American court of law, but it’s how Robbie Conal explains his incitement to hit the streets with his trademark poster art.

Robbie is best known for gluing disturbing and hyper-real images of political and historical figures to fixtures of the urban landscape.  His posters usually include a portrait, a slogan or a one-liner (the man loves his puns), and some form of overt socio-political commentary.  The posters are placed by Conal and his “volunteer guerrilla postering army”: a formidable force that has the ability to cover a significant amount of public space in Robbie’s home city of Los Angeles and beyond.  Both his art and his methods are untraditional and controversial.  And that, children, is exactly how one becomes an icon.

Robbie, though, doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with that label.  “[The word ‘icon’] makes me think of a giant wooden cross painted by Cimabue in the late 13th century: Christ writhing stiffly on a 400 pound hunk of black carved wood, looming over my head in the Uffizi Museum in Florence.  Nope.  I don’t identify.”

But when others think of the word “icon” they may think of someone who has blazed a trail and inspired others to do the same, and under that definition Robbie most certainly fits.  Numerous artists have sidestepped the gallery system and taken to the streets with buckets and brushes in Robbie’s wake, inspired undeniably by his consistency and his coverage.  When asked at what point he realized that his illegal art would or could eventually gain legitimization, Robbie claims, “I never did.  But I knew people would see it.  Especially in L.A.  Everyone (around the world) thinks Angelenos are superficial.  But what they don’t know is that we’re DEEPLY superficial.”

Robbie is essentially the art world equivalent of a street corner Bible thumper.  Not content to sit quietly inside a church and wait for people to come in and find salvation, he goes out into the world to broadcast his message loudly, abrasively, and (mostly) unwelcome-ly to anyone in range.  The key difference being that most religious figures would encourage you to obey while Robbie begs people to think for themselves.

He offers the following to those who may want to continue in his tradition: “If you want to communicate your social/political ideas to regular people and have no money, make an interesting little black and white picture, turn a few words of the most subversive language on the planet—colloquial American English—inside out, shake ‘em for loose change…[and go] to Kinko’s.  Mix up the medicine and text message your homies after you call your local National Lawyers Guild office.”

With others clearly willing to pick up wherever Robbie leaves off, does he ever see his own postering missions coming to an end?  “I always see them coming to an end,” he claims.  “Every time I stand up on a red naugahyde banquette at Canter’s [the deli from which his L.A.-based missions stem] and yell at the, uh, ‘troops’ about ‘Guerilla Etiquette’ […] the first thing I say is, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this again.’  I’m old.”

Sure, he’s got his own book, “Artburn”, on the shelves, a regular column in L.A. Weekly, and a teaching gig at U.S.C., but if Robbie’s posters do someday cease to appear on your friendly neighborhood electrical box, what will he do for a creative outlet?

“My art in the future?  I’d like to draw portraits of cats.”

By Jeff Penalty
(Originally published in Maximum Rocknroll #268)

To an extent, people are right to pick on L.A. After all, I defy anyone to sit at the Rainbow Room for more than ten minutes without making a sarcastic comment about the Methods of Mayhem-era Tommy Lee wannabe at the next table. But buried underneath the thick layers of smog and cynicism, the true spirit of rock n’ roll is still pogo-ing away in the City of Angels.

If you put a copy of Bang Sugar Bang’s latest full-length, THWACK THWACK GO CRAZY, into your CD player, you will most likely be driven to play air guitar, laugh your ass off, and say to yourself (or even out loud), “holy crap!  THAT’S what rock n’ roll is supposed to sound like!”  Also, you will probably have a craving for beer.

And when they’re not spending their time writing new music (which they do at an enviable pace), playing shows (which they do several times a week on average), touring, or holding down day jobs, Bang Sugar Bang also maintains Kiss or Kill, a Tuesday night rock club Where Everybody Knows Your Name.  (And if they don’t know it yet, just show up two or three weeks in a row and they’ll be sober enough remember it eventually.)

So I present to you a band that doesn’t just walk the walk, but also rocks the rock.  I talked the talk with bassist/vocalist Cooper and guitarist/vocalist Matt Southwell over email so that I might help provide you, gentle reader, with a window into their souls.

JEFF: Give me one word that uniquely sums up your band's history, current status, sound, and attitude.
COOPER: Street.
MATT: Beer.

JEFF: If you were to hand someone who'd never heard your band a copy of your latest album, what would you say to prepare them for the listening experience?
COOPER: I'd say "Grab a cold one and hang on!"
MATT: "Hope you like it, if you hate it give it to someone you think might like it. And, if they hate it, it makes a great drink coaster. Unfortunately, it does not repel mosquitoes."

JEFF: If you had a helper monkey, which band-related task would you want it to do in order to help you the most?
COOPER: A helper monkey! Wow. Actually Pawley [drums] is my helper monkey. But he's a sucky monkey! He's supposed to flyer the city before every show. But he seems to have a hard time getting the job done. So if I could have another helper monkey in addition to Pawley I'd hope he'd flyer and do internet promotion for all our shows. That would be awesome.
MATT: I'd want my helper monkey to haul the gear and find some beer. I think I speak for every musician when I say that hauling your gear down icy steps or in the rain SUCKS! How come all the best gear is the heaviest?

JEFF: What's more important: looks or a sense of humor?
COOPER: Sense of humor hands down!
MATT: Seeing that this question made me laugh, I guess it would be sense of humor.

JEFF: What's more tasty: Jack In The Box or Del Taco?
COOPER: Do I even have to answer that? Del Taco of course! Jack in the Box has fingernails in their burgers!

JEFF: If you had the money, would you buy one of those special mattresses they sell on TV; the ones made with NASA material that doesn't let wine spill or something?
COOPER: I don't have TV so I haven't seen the ad for the mattress you're talking about. But it sounds pretty cool. If I had the money I'd probably buy it. Especially if it hides wine stains! That could come in handy.
MATT: Yes, I'll buy anything made by NASA. I support the space program. Save the Hubble telescope! I'm a total space nerd. I know the exact location of the Mars rovers at all times.
JEFF: What's your take on the Los Angeles music scene?
COOPER: It's an exciting time to be a musician here. It feels like something is really happening. There's an electricity in the air. When we began, these promoters were charging $15 and lumping us on bills with bands that weren't like us at all. We'd play sandwiched between a Christian death metal band and the next Arlo Guthrie! […] After paying the cover, paying to park, and buying a beer our fans had already spent $30. That's part of the reason we started booking our own night. It's called Kiss or Kill and it happens every Tuesday at the Echo in L.A. We keep the cover low, $3, have drink specials all night long and make sure all the bands are right stylistically. The only way to get booked is to show up and support the scene. It's become a collective of sorts. All the bands have taken over duties to make the club run. No one makes any money off the club. It all goes back into a pot to pay for club costs, a compilation CD, etc. Music should be about music, not money! Now there are lots of free or cheap shows all over the city. And you see bands piggybacking on one another, building their fan base together.
MATT: It's in a transitional place, which is always healthy. There's a lot of new sounds coming out of here. It's almost like anything goes. I like the diversity. There's still plenty of bands trying to give record labels what they think the labels want, but there's just as many bands doing their own thing and I like that.

JEFF: Your sound is often described as "X meets the Jam." If X actually met the Jam in a dark alley, who would end up with whose wallets?
COOPER: Oooh. That's a tough one...God, I don't know. Okay, I have to say X and here's why: I'm convinced Billy Zoom may very well be an alien. His guitar playing is almost unhumanly good. And have you ever seen him play? The look on his face while he's playing makes him look like someone from another planet. So, I'm convinced if X and the Jam had a brawl, Billy would summon his buddies from the planet that he comes from and his otherworldly friends would come down and pull some crazy alien attack shit on the Jam and the Jam would lose their wallets.
MATT: Gonna have to go against Cooper on this one. Although John Doe would be a good fighter, the Jam are three London street toughs and I think they'd come out on top because I don't think DJ and Billy would want to fight. So it'd be three on one. Although if Exene's been drinking she could be trouble. Yeah, in the end I'm gonna have to go with the Jam.

JEFF: Who is your biggest fan?
MATT: My mom. Or maybe my sisters. I'm very fortunate to come from a family that always supported my playing.
COOPER: Matt's mom. Hands down. She travels all over the country to come see us play on tour. She's the coolest 65-year-old lady you'll ever meet. I remember when the last White Stripes album came out. She called us up insisting we go buy it right away because "it's a really good record." She's unreal!

JEFF: Who do you WISH were your biggest fan?
COOPER: I'm happy with Matt's mom. But, it would be cool if David Bowie were our biggest fan. That would be really cool.
MATT: That's tough. Chris Farley. He'd be fun to have down in the pit. But, he's dead so I guess it doesn't matter.

JEFF: If your band were actually The Three Stooges, which stooge would each member be?
COOPER: I'd be Larry for sure. Matt would be Moe and Pawley would definitely be Curly.

JEFF: Who would enjoy your latest album more: Jesus or Satan?
COOPER: This question reminds me of this card that Pawley picked up in a bathroom in Tennessee somewhere. It's a church's business card with a pair of praying hands on it and it says "Give Jesus a try. If you don't like him, it's all right. Satan will always take you back!" We've got the card taped to the dash of our tour van. Every time I see it I have to laugh. So I guess Satan would like our album more, since he's super down with embracing Jesus' leftovers. And all of us are definitely Jesus' leftovers. Although I think Jesus would probably dig our record, too.
MATT: Depends on if there's beer in heaven.

JEFF: What's your favorite porn movie? 
COOPER: “Dinner Party.”
MATT: “The Chameleon.”

JEFF: If there is a heaven, what would you like to hear God say when you get there?
COOPER: "Let there be rock!"
MATT: "Joe Strummer and your dad are waiting in the pub. They already bought you a drink. Oh, and we don't call last call here."

Okay, now I know that last answer was really poignant and touching and I hate to take away from it…but does anyone else find it interesting that they had such readily available and confident answers for the porn movie question…? Anyway, check out www.bangsugarbang.com and www.kissorkillclub.com for more info about these crazy rock n’ roll types and their crazy rock n’ roll club. And if you find yourself in the vicinity of Los Angeles, do not be alarmed: it’s not an earthquake, it’s just the heart of rock n’ roll pounding away as hard as ever.

By Jeff Penalty
(Originally published in Swindle #5)

When one thinks of hippies, one tends to conjure up the image of a shiftless, paranoid, drug-crazed, patchouli-wearing, granola-eating, self-righteous know-it-all who won’t stop lecturing you about how evil your car is.  John Van Hamersveld is most decidedly a hippie, yet he is none of the above.  Well, maybe the drugs…and I’m not sure about the granola…but everything else he is not.

It’s easy to throw around assumptions about a guy who earned his living drawing psychedelic concert posters for Cream and Jimi Hendrix.  And about one who, upon hearing about this article, forwarded me a dozen or so lengthy and rambling emails about, for instance, the post-Gen-X “Echo Boomer” generation and its sociological implications.  After receiving several of such emails—a few of which were simply slightly reworded versions of the others, some of which were random childhood photos, and one of which was a rant about an eBay sale of a t-shirt that featured a pirated version of one of his pieces—I thought I had John Van Hamersveld clocked.  I wrote a one-line email to my editor:

“This guy is a friggin’ nut cake.”

Regardless, I was pressed to continue with the story, so one day, while waiting for my car to be serviced, I sat down and waded through all of Van Hamersveld’s seemingly irrelevant emails.  As the television in the waiting room went from “Montel” to “Cops” to “Home Improvement” to “Married with Children” (What the hell are they doing to my car back there?), I managed to excise a few interesting facts about which to query John in person.  He had met Andy Warhol.  Steve Jobs gave him a free Next computer.  He had worked with Mick Jagger.  But there was one story that seemed to rise above the rest.

In an article he personally penned, John (in between his tangential analysis of pot culture) details the process he went through to create a revolutionary design for the cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Crown of Creation” album.  He gets stoned with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick at his apartment when they approach him about doing the cover.  He gets stoned while coming up with concepts and ideas.  He gets stoned before a meeting at RCA with the Airplane’s manager.  Finally, he gets stoned with the whole band and asks them each to give him a word, which then he then translates, while stoned, into a visual.  He coordinates an extensive amount of photo work, which, in the days before Photoshop, was a long and costly process, and finally comes up with a cover that the band and the label go bananas over.

Then they ask him about money.  He asks for $9,000.  Not too outrageous considering the work he put in and the fact that his cover design (front AND back) would be translated into a branded campaign to advertise the record.  But, of course, the label balks and nobody wants to put up the cash.  And this is where John shows that he’s not just another damn, dirty hippie:

Same old story about money: the record company leans on the manager who leans on the band who in turn leans on the artist.  Labor is value.  Even in the "new culture" we're creating everyone still wants something for nothing.  Maybe I should be reading Chairman Mao's little red book instead of Eye Magazine.  Only after meeting with attorneys is the matter settled.

This guy is my kind of hippie.  And by that I mean he lives his life with his eyes and mind open and with art and humanity as top priorities, but with his feet planted firmly, and unapologetically, on the ground.  Raised by scientists (no, not in a lab…his grandfather was an inventor and his father designed jets and satellites) and nurtured by a grandmother who was a Wall Street investor and a mother who was a fashion model and a painter, and later rooming with a friend who was a business school student, John was able to equally exercise his right and left brains, allowing him to create as well as to find ways to continually fund and sustain said creation.  Rather than bemoaning the sad fact that we’re all slaves to the corporate structure, he accepts that structure as a reality and finds his own way to rebel within it.  Instead of idly talking about revolution, John Van Hamersveld lives the revolution—by changing the rules of their game to uncompromisingly pursue his passions.  And not taking any shit from his fellow granola-heads along the way.

John’s personal revolution was born in the mid-1950s when he fell in love (as hippies will do) with surfing.  In the early ‘60s he moved to Dana Point, California and the crew of surfers he mixed with at the time were focused solely on surfing and more surfing, so each of them tried to find a way to support their habit, preferably by doing something that related to the sport.  Some would shape and/or sell boards.  His neighbor, John Severson, founded Surfer magazine.  And a guy named Bruce Brown started making a movie called “The Endless Summer.”

Van Hamersveld had started Surfing Illustrated magazine, which led to him working with Severson on Surfer, which in turn led to him doing advertising work for Hobie Surfboards.  He met Brown when “Endless Summer” was in post-production and took a freelance job creating a poster to advertise the film.  Van Hamersveld organized a photo shoot (Brown himself is the figure in the foreground of the poster) and turned the resultant photo into a graphic image while taking night classes at Pasadena’s now-famous Art Center College of Design.  He was paid $150 for the finished poster and pretty much forgot about it after it was sent into production.

Of course, the film became a watermark (pun very much intended) in the world of surf documentaries and John’s image resonated heavily with those who identified with surf culture.  Hard to imagine that something like that would continue to generate income and decorate college dorm rooms all the way into the next millennium, but the fact that the poster has endured is a testament to Van Hamersveld’s power as a visual artist.

That power was recognized at the time by Brown Meggs, who signed the Beatles to Capitol Records.  Meggs soon hired John as his personal art director.  Among his new duties?  Designing the cover for the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” album.

Having designed both a Beatles album cover and a world-renowned movie poster would probably be enough for the average artist to consider him or herself a success.  But for John, whether he knew it or not, this was only the beginning.

Just as he had immersed himself in the surfing scene, John immersed himself in the music scene in the late ‘60s, founding Pinnacle Rock Concerts, a concert promotion agency.  He designed 19 concert posters between ’67 and ‘68, each more iconic than the last.  His images of Jimi Hendrix, the Pinnacle Indian, and the Space Cowboy encapsulate the vibe of the era and re-prints and re-imaginings of his concert posters continue to sell today.

And then there was that whole Jefferson Airplane business.  And the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” album and accompanying ad campaign, which connected John to Mick Jagger.  Which is why Jagger was wearing one of Van Hamersveld’s “Johnny Face” t-shirts in a photo that appeared in New Music Express.

I interviewed John at his home in Santa Monica and I trolled through all of his lengthy emails, but I was still a little confused about the Johnny Face, and I needed to fill in a few other gaps as well, so I sent him a brief email containing four simple questions.  I got back EIGHT enormous emails, three of which contained photo attachments.  Goddammit…

I started to read through the 38K (text only!) email that contained the lengthy story of the Johnny Face and realized that it was an article he’d sent before and that it didn’t contain the details I needed.  Rather than risk another assault of emails, I’ll just go with what I’ve figured out.  Long before Shepard Fairey started dotting the urban landscape with Andre the Giant, the Johnny Face poster was everywhere.  A simple, smiling, psychedelic character that took hold of the public consciousness as the ‘60s gave way to the ‘70s.  Later, John added the phrase “Crazy World Ain’t It” to the face and it was distributed as a button and a t-shirt.  It became so wildly popular that John was now being referred to as “Johnny” by clients and acquaintances and the KRLA radio station licensed the image to appear on 250 billboards in L.A. and Orange County.

Ever shrewd, John requested that 25 of those billboards be located near record labels and ad agencies.  Hardly the kind of self-promoting genius you’d expect from a guy who was doing his fair share of mescaline at the time.

And hey, did you know that John also designed the original trademark for “Star Wars”?  They ended up tweaking his design just enough so they didn’t have to pay him, but back in the day he used to hang with George Lucas and even attended a few “Star Wars” production meetings with other like-minded artists.  Of course, when I find this out in the interview I can’t help but get sidetracked with nerdy questions about Lucas, but we eventually move into the ‘80s, when John moved from drawing into architecture, got into computers, and started focusing on developing trademarks and signage for companies like Contempo Casuals and the Broadway Deli, which led to him being commissioned to design a mural for the Olympics which wrapped halfway around the L.A. Colisseum for the ’84 games.

Again, one has to wonder what kind of standard of success this guy must have to not retire and pull a Bobby Fischer-style disappearing act after that kind of recognition.  But a few years later John raised his own bar by designing Fatburger.  If you don’t live in L.A., you probably don’t appreciate how omnipresent (or tasty) Fatburger is, but the local burger chain is considered an L.A. institution.  John not only designed their logo, but the entire retro look of the restaurant and the unique architecture of their buildings.

And then, one day in 1993, while riding his bike, he went over the handlebars and shattered his elbow.

While he was supposed to be healing, he was drawing, forcing himself to recuperate while creating 200 sketches for the Octopus Army Stores in Tokyo.  He ended up selling them 14 t-shirt images for $75,000 and the company made millions off of his designs.  Take that, you stupid bike!

As he reacquainted himself with drawing again—after years of working mainly on computers—he also reacquainted himself with his ‘60s roots.  So it seems fitting that as 2005 draws to a close John Van Hamersveld is going on the road to promote a poster he designed in his signature ‘60s style for the Cream reunion concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London.  All at once, art, music, culture, and John Van Hamersveld have finally made a complete circle.

Through a combination of keeping his mind open, his wits about him, and his ambitions ever-reaching, John Van Hamersveld built a career of which any artist would, and rightly should, be envious.  His work has steered the way album covers, concert posters, corporate trademarks, and architecture are looked at today.  And with the birth of each new generation comes a re-birth of interest in his contribution to the world of art and design.


Now I get why he sent me that “Echo Boomer” article…!

By Jeff Penalty
(Originally published in the Swindle "Icons" issue)

When Raymond Pettibon says, “Joan Jett has a bigger dick than Hulk Hogan,” he means it as an insult to Hogan and a compliment to Jett, not the other way around.  His proclamation comes after I tell him that Hogan and Jett may potentially share the pages of the Swindle “Icon” issue with him.  He follows up by explaining that while Hogan may have won the hearts of many fans, he is not respected in the locker rooms amongst those who take wrestling seriously.  And Raymond should know: he wrestled professionally in Mexico and Japan.

This is a startling revelation, especially from a guy who moves and speaks in as low-key a manner as possible.  Even though I am there to discuss Raymond’s art and career, I end up spending a solid 15 to 20 minutes pestering him about the details of his Lucha Libre days.  He politely accommodates me and I learn that he was inspired to jump into the ring in an effort to impress a circus acrobat.  Unfortunately, she was dating the dog-faced boy, so his love for her was unable to thrive.

Perhaps it was this unrequited love that led Raymond to take on such dark subjects in his artwork.  His comic book-style pen-and-ink and watercolor drawings are fraught with violence, despair, and depraved sexuality.  Even when he draws Gumby, it’s still a little unsettling.

Most people assume that Pettibon’s work gained its earliest exposure when it was used on flyers for punk shows and as cover art for numerous albums by Black Flag.  Being a “punk artist” in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s however, wasn’t the rose parade it is today.  “Punk rockers don’t buy art,” he points out.  “They never did.  I could’ve asked for 50 cents for any drawing, it would’ve been too much.” And, he reminds me, in the punk world “any of the most disliked things would be prefaced with art, [or called] ‘arty.’”

Despite the fact that the work may have been difficult to sell, and despite its association with a music movement that at the time was maligned and shunned by the mainstream, it is undeniable that Pettibon’s art has since had an impact on the punk subculture.  Well, undeniable by anyone other than Pettibon himself: “I don’t have any delusions of how important my work was in the context of punk rock…if my work wasn’t there not that much would be missed.”

He’s wrong, of course.  Or maybe just modest.  But if Pettibon hadn’t been associated with Black Flag, it’s likely that I would not have had the opportunity to be deeply disturbed by his drawing that the band used for the cover of their “Police Story” single.  It features the frightened face of a cop with a gun being shoved in his mouth.  A speech balloon has the faceless gun-holder saying, “MAKE ME COME, FAGGOT!”  The image still rattles me, despite having been desensitized over the years by TV, abrasive music, and real life.  It’s not shock value: shock eventually wears off.  It’s something deeper.  Darker.  Deadlier.  And it’s that intangible that eventually took Pettibon’s art beyond the punk scene and into exhibitions at prominent museums around the country and earned him such distinctions as the Whitney Museum’s prestigious Bucksbaum Award.

Still, Pettibon shrugs off the idea of being termed an “icon.”  “It’s kind of like getting your commemorative watch when you retire.  It’s kind of after the fact.  But I don’t have a problem with it.”  When asked whom he would list as icons, the talk turns back to wrestling, and he salutes Terry Funk, Freddie Blassie, and Roddy Piper.

And also to Sirhan Sirhan.  Pettibon explains, “After all these years, he’s still a political prisoner for something, yeah, he did, but the world should be glad he did.”

I soon discover that Pettibon’s politics are as discomforting as his artwork.  He adds Lee Harvey Oswald and Squeaky Fromme to the icon list.  And when he suggests Sarah Jane Moore, he adds, “Some motherfucker should’ve taught her to shoot.”  As our talk delves into other political matters, he offers up other controversial viewpoints as well:

“I voted once in my life, I’m against voting…I’m more for bullets than ballots in general.”

“I don’t support the troops.  I support the insurgency…I feel bad about American troops for being there and for dying when they do.  [But] you can always leave.  Get the fuck out of Iraq, Okinawa, Guam, Hawaii…”

“My values are relativistic and I’ll give a cop the benefit of the doubt.  If that’s me with my gat—my gat’s larger than the one depicted [in the ‘Police Story’ drawing]…we can have a discussion, and he can answer me just as well with my .357 barrel in his mouth, or on his cheek, or on his adenoids, or down his throat.  I’ll listen to his whimpering cries.”

And, perhaps most radical of all: “I’m a complete pacifist.”

This last statement fits more than it may seem with the rest of his viewpoints, but I had read that Raymond raises pit bulls for dogfights, and this seemed incongruous with the practices of a pacifist, let alone someone who is an accomplished artist and, from what I could gather, not a total fucking asshole.  He tells me that he raises the dogs as part of a charity.  The pit bulls are given to at-risk youth who train them and teach them to fight.  It offers the kids a sense of responsibility, discipline, and accomplishment.  I ask him how any charity that involves an illegal activity could be officially recognized and Raymond says he doesn’t do it for the recognition; he does it because it’s something he believes has a positive impact.

As I wrap up the interview, I point out that I’m having trouble understanding his nature.  Every word he has uttered has been in a calm, mellow tone of voice.  No sudden movements.  No outbursts.  When he walks, he shuffles at a slow pace.  I tell him that I’m having a hard time reconciling his tranquil manner with his former career as a pro-wrestler and his current hobby of training dogs to fight to the death.

It turns out he was fucking kidding.

And at that moment I realized that Raymond Pettibon is not only a brilliant artist, but also a true dyed-in-the-wool punk, and quite possibly the most underappreciated comic genius of our time.  In love with the dog-faced boy?!  And I fucking bought it?!  I wasn’t angry in the least; I was simply stunned by the fact that he was able to think on his feet so quickly and to so deeply commit to a joke!  He said that I was too nice a guy to let me keep believing the joke about the dogs, but I honestly believe that if I’d ended the interview 15 minutes earlier he would’ve let me go home and type up an article that characterized him as a pile-driving dogfighter.  And, in fact, he encouraged me to do so.

He assured me, however, that he was very serious about the numerous political and artistic issues we discussed, and I expected no less.  His art says it all, but Raymond says it himself just as well:

“If the pen was actually mightier than the sword, I would have a field day.  It would be a fucking bloodbath.”

After that, we went out and he bought me onion rings.