Saira's Interviews

Photographs by Marcia Resnick, with text by Victor Bockris and others including John Waters and Richard Hell.

Published by Insight Editions and available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and at local bookstores.



Dirty rebellion downtown in NYC : Smart  shooter Marcia Resnick captures much more than  the slit grit and anarchic spirit of 70s New York. She captures the very soul of punk.   Studs zips dyed hair and the snappy snap stare of a cooler than cool eye. Resnick  talks punks, poets and provocateurs .


Interview by Saira Viola


Saira Viola

“You’re probably one of the coolest shooters on the block. How did you get to be one of the ‘hippest,’ names in photography, when professionally, the industry is dominated by men?”

Marcia Resnick

“Thanks for describing me as both “hip” and “cool.” When I first began in photography, I was fuelled by the energy of the Women’s Liberation movement. Women were encouraged to engage in any endeavor that men were known for.”

S.V. “How did you manage to get the photographs published printed and acknowledged in such a male dominated industry, in many ways people view you as a pioneer for female photography, despite the success of Annie Leibowitz , do  you think the industry has opened up more for women?”

M R :  “From 1979-1982 I had a humor column in the Soho Weekly News in NYC which included a photograph and a paragraph called Resnick’s Believe-it-or-Not. My relationship to the newspaper enabled me to get to photograph certain people who ordinarily, were not available to the average person. For example, I got to spend two days following and photographing NYC’s Mayor Ed Koch for the paper. I got to photograph cover stories. And I got to photograph for other periodicals from there. Yes, way before this, Annie Lebovitz photographed for Rolling Stone Magazine and continued to do so for many years, which led to her working for other periodicals. Women have been photographing for many, many years .As we get more liberated as a society, all industries are more open to women and other minorities including the LGBT community.”

S.V. “Who would you say was the most defining influence of the punk art movement in 70s NYC?”

 M.R. “Definitely Andy Warhol. He not only produced great paintings but also produced Interview magazine, experimental films, books, music groups like the Velvet Underground, the Factory where art was created and Superstars gathered, etc. The punks learned from this interdisciplinary and collaborative way of making art.”

S.V. “And out of all the provocative , eccentric, gifted mavericks you’ve photographed who stands out  for you and why?”

M.R. “John Belushi was the most memorable and challenging photo session.  In early September 1981, I spotted John Belushi in the New York after hours club, AM-PM. John was on a twenty-four hour binge with no sleep. I asked him when he would do a photo session with me and he said “Now.” As it was 5:00 AM, I didn’t believe him. Upon returning home, John and his entourage were waiting in a limousine in front of my building. Once inside, he paced around like a caged animal, fidgeting incessantly, uncanny for someone who was such a fluid performer. In one vulnerable moment, he peered from behind his flailing arm. John produced a series of expressions with such passion and feeling that they seemed to represent the arc of his career. The outcome of this session became Chapter 15 in Bob Woodward’s book “Wired, The Short Life and Times of John Belushi.” 

S.V. “Who  would you say feeds your own inspiration?”

M.R. “I’m inspired when I look at the work of master photographic artists like August Sander, Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Diane Arbus, Man Ray and Germaine Krull to name a few.”

S.V. “You chose Victor Bockris, to pen the pastiche that accompanies these iconic  images why?”

 M.R. “From 1977 until today Victor and I maintained a collaborative friendship. He introduced me to Andy Warhol and William Burroughs and he had interviewed many of the people who I had photographed, like Joey Ramone and Richard Hell. We both were fixtures in the NYC downtown music and art scene.”

S.V. “There’s clearly a punk renaissance going on, that has revived the myth and legend of arguably one of  the most exciting eras in music . Can you shed any light on what happened at the now infamous ,  ‘orchestrated,’ dinner party with Andy Warhol, William Burroughs and Mick Jagger?”

M.R. “One evening in NYC in 1980, rock legend Mick Jagger, literary luminary William S. Burroughs and art prodigy Andy Warhol had dinner in the “Bunker,” Burroughs’ residence on the Bowery. At first, Andy and William were bantering about young boys. When Mick arrived the conversational dynamic changed. Those three counterculture egos in one room were so large that it became uncomfortable. There was no subject they could all agree upon. At one point, a food fight erupted. Not wanting to add stress to the already complex situation, Victor thwarted my picture taking and I took only one roll of film.”

S.V. “Three egos , one roll of film now the  stuff of punk legend !  What does ‘punk’ mean to you?”

M.R.  “Against the grain. DIY. Counterculture. Underground. On the edge. Fearless. Style conscious. Also, having spunk.”

S.V. “Now, it’s fair to say you’ve  photographed a who’s who of underground talent from Belushi , to  Bourdain, was there ever any sexual frisson between you the young ingénue and the big guns of  that time ? Are you happy to blur the lines between shooter and subject?”

M.R  “Yes. Often. But, as to blurring the lines, I don’t think so. I am intrigued by the give and take between sitter and photographer, the many exchanges and provocations that take place during a photo session.”

S.V. “  What   do you think these photos managed to achieve?”

M.R. “As a book, “Punks, Poets and Provocateurs, NYC Bad Boys 1977-1982” contains my photographic interpretation of a unique era by looking at the talented artists who dared to upset the status quo.”

S.V. “Yes, and that radical spirit has been rekindled of late. I have  to ask, as someone who lived that ‘trip,’ have you caught HBO’s new show Vinyl?”

MR : “Yes, I’ve watched it and keep doing so out of curiosity. I’m curious about things that I’m not familiar with like the business of making records. And I’m curious about how much further from the reality of the times depicted the series will go.”

S.V “The cultural synergy of music, and art, seemed to have so much more momentum in the 70s. Why do you think music moved the moment then and not so much now?”

MR : “The DIY aesthetic of the punk bands of the 70s has been replaced by calculated, choreographed and spectacular efforts to make music that is the product of many professional specialists working together. As a result, a lot of music today simply lacks soul.”

S.V “Could I ask a little about your personal aesthetic and how it  reflects the spirit of the times:  would you say you shoot off the cuff without any of the usual photographic constraints like tonal range?  Also why did you decide to focus on these subjects’ faces, abstracted from their social backgrounds, it harks back  to the work of Robert Frank, but the images are also shorn of detail  can you explain a little about  the  aesthetic process?”

M.R : “Firstly, I don’t consider my shooting style as off the cuff. And, although I’m not into Ansel Adams’ Zone System, I do take lighting and composition very seriously. And, although Arnold Newman, known for “environmental portraiture” was once a teacher of mine, I prefer to primarily photograph just the individual, isolated from his environment. And, as much as  I adore Robert Frank’s work, my work is very different from his. In most cases, I am interested in what happens when there is eye contact between me and the person I am photographing. As far as the spirit of the times is concerned, any kind of experimentation in the arts was encouraged.”

S.V. “Finally  if you could choose  who would you like to photograph you?”

MR : “I don’t really like to be photographed. But if it could be someone from the past, I suppose George Hurrell because he would light me so that I would look like a 1930s movie star.”


In a sea of  pop dolls and  naked selfies  Marcia Resnick is a punk shooter who shakes rattles and rolls.








Lydon_John_sweater_loresJohn Lydon


Jean Michel Basquait


Belushi_sitting_lores (1)John Belushi



Byrne_David_smoke_lores (1)

David Byrne



Divine_lores (1)




Thunders_tub_lores (1)

Johnny Thunders


Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones photographed in New York City, 1980.  ** HIGHER RATES APPLY ** © Marcia Resnick / Retna Ltd.

Mick Jagger


Klaus Nomi photographed in New York City, March 1979. © Marcia Resnick / Retna Ltd. ** HIGHER RATES APPLY ** CALL TO NEGOTIATE RATE ** © Marcia Resnick / Retna Ltd.

Klaus Nomi



Warhol_Andy_lores (1)

Andy Warhol



JaggerBurroughsWarhol_loresMick Jagger, William Burroughs and Andy Warhol

16-1-copie-2Blek Le Rat has been stenciling the Parisian streets since the early 80’s. Gonzo Today honours an artistic pioneer and proud French activist as he celebrates his 30 year anniversaire.

A graduate of the esteemed École des Beaux Arts in Paris, Blek Le Rat’s inspiration for street art came during a trip to NYC in the late 70’s. On his return he brought the bounce and brio of the Big Apple to the arrondissements of the French capital.  The Graffiti Poet was born, and Xavier Prou (Blek Le Rat) has shown that pyretic polemical commentary can blossom and burn from humble spray paint and heartfelt poetics.

Saira Viola: As a student of the Beaux Arts in Paris, did you ever envisage that you would become the founding father of guerrilla street art?

Blek Le Rat: No, I did not envisage this idea at that time, although a fortune teller told me when I was 20 years old that I will become famous all over the world as an architect.  She said, “I see you working in the city and you have a message to say to the world” … it’s unbelievable but it’s true.

On the other hand, I remember having been really impressed with the graffiti that I saw in NYC during the summer of 1971. It was kept somewhere in my mind for 10 years before I started to make graffiti.

SV: The Dada movement and Surrealists of Paris gave birth to some of the most exciting art of the 20th century during a time of war and political unrest. Can you explain the Manifesto of Stenicilism and who influenced you in its creation?

BlR: I was influenced by the Surrealists, the Situationists, and, of course, like many young people of my generation, by the British and American culture of the 70’s 80’s. I read André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism, and I found that the Graffiti art movement would need someone to write a text about the movement. I did it, but I think my text would need to be rewritten now, because I wrote it in 2003/4 and the movement of street art evolved and changed a lot since that time.


SV: We are experiencing a tumultuous period in world history with mass poverty, violent extremism, and unprecedented human suffering on a global scale. Much of your work highlights the plight of those affected by these issues and the growing homeless population. In London, they recently installed steel thorns in subways and bus shelters to stop the homeless from sleeping there; moreover, the growth of centralist city planning has imposed a sterile uniformity on city landscapes.  Why do you think it’s important to express these social concerns through agitational art?

BlR: Art is one of multiple medias that makes a statement to the people. Although, in my opinion, political and social statement in art is also something dangerous to explode. Many so-called artists use this way of working only in search of vanity. I am sorry to see artists making and selling on the art market prints or pieces of art just few days after a tragedy like what happened in Paris in November. There is a large audience for this kind of art, but there is something wrong with this behavior.

SV: As the originator of stenciled graffiti, you have been acknowledged by British street artist ‘Banksy’ as a pivotal influence on his works. When you recognise your ‘signature’ in his work do you find it flattering or offensive?

blek_sprayBlR: Banksy is the best illustrator of our time. He uses my style to express his own ideas, and I feel very flattered with it but we don’t play in the same courtyard—or to put it another way, we go to the same restaurant, but we don’t eat from the same menu.

SV: In the cushioned luxury of a high end gallery, do you miss the kinetic energy of spraying the streets with pow wow painted philosophies?

BlR: I love cushioned luxury of galleries. 🙂 And I love the energy coming from the street.

SV: And lastly: If you had to choose three people to have a tête-à-tête with, whom would you choose and why?

BlR: I don’t know, I don’t see many people, perhaps the French writer, Louis Ferdinand Céline, but he died long time ago; Picasso, Praxiteles, but they are all dead people.



Ferranti portrait by Joey Feldman
photos courtesy Seth Ferranti

Seth Ferranti – sharp-talking, hard-working, lovable bad boy, convicted crime kingpin turned media mogul-in-training – appears to be omnipresent. After sitting on the US Marshall’s Top 15 most wanted list for two years Ferranti was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.  A first-time offender, Ferranti created a writing and publishing career straight from his cell block. His brash savage depictions of prison life and big boy gangsters offer a squalid, compelling, often explicit reflection of life behind bars. Ferranti is a regular contributor to Vice, Don Diva, Penthouse and other magazines, as well as founder of Gorilla Convict, a real crime website and publisher chronicling the stories mainstream media have chosen to ignore.


 Since his release in 2015 Ferranti has launched GR1ND Studios, a graphic novel studio featuring the true stories of ‘prohibition mobsters,’ ‘suburban drug dealers,’ and metro drug czars.  Ferranti has diversified into the film biz too. His newly released series  “Easter Bunny Assassin” can be viewed here and is the official selection for the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase.


Saira Viola: Tell me about the first time you took weed ?

Seth Ferranti: I smoked weed for the first-time when I was 13 years old. I was living in San Jose, California, and bought some tai sticks off this jerry-curled black guy. I was an All American Kid. I played sports and sung in the choir. I was a mama’s boy, but after that first joint my life kind of went on a different path. I started getting  into drugs and partying and girls and money.

 S.V. How does a self-confessed choir-singing mama’s boy from a safe, white, middle class neighbourhood go from smoking weed to distributing more than 100,000 doses of LSD?

S.F. I took to selling drugs naturally. LSD and marijuana mostlyI used to follow the Grateful Dead. Not necessarily for the music. I was chasing an acid connect. I got one too. Mail order straight from San Francisco. I would get 100 sheets of acid a month. I was living in Fairfax, Virginia. Right outside of our nation’s capital and I was flooding East Coast colleges with acid and kind bud. I liked to trip on acid. I felt like it expanded my mind. I envisioned myself as a kind of counterculture outlaw. Supplying acid and pot, things that are being used medically nowIt was a natural progression. People just trusted me when I said I could move stuff. I remember convincing this Mexican cartel guy to stash 500 pounds of weed at one of my apartments. I was just good at stuff like that so I rose in the drug dealer hierarchy fast. I was scoring ounces from my older godbrother at the age of 16 and at nineteen he was selling pounds for me.

 S.V. By the time you were 19 you were supplying 15 Colleges in 5 states  with LSD and weed pulling in 20/30K a month. What did your parents think you were doing ?

S.F. Well I had my own place from the age of 17 onwards. I had a place at my parents too of course but I was hardly ever there. My parents were in denial. They didn’t want to believe that their little baby boy could be doing stuff like that. But it was evident. I didn’t work, I didn’t go to school, but I had money and a lot of money all the time. Plus I traveled all the time and went wherever I wanted when I wanted. It was probably the most free time of my life but I ended up in the penitentiary. I don’t regret anything that I did. It was all a learning experience for me. I was addicted to the money, the drugs, and the power. When you are the man, as in drug dealer, it’s like being a rock star for real. It just kind of snowballed and I thought it would  never end. It was one big party. Looking back, I was kind of naive and even stupid in a way. All my friends from high school graduated and went off to college. I would drive up and see them once or twice a month and sell drugs to them and all their friends. Colleges go through a lot of drugs. I could have saved some of that money. But when money flows into your hands like water it flows out of your hands like water too. 

S.V. Did you learn anything about the effects of LSD ?

S.F. I took 75 hits of acid once. I ended up crawling down these steps backwards in Three Rivers Stadium after a Dead show because it was like a cliff to me. I loved acid. Not saying I would do it now. But acid was a great mind expander and helped you to look at things in a different way. I went a little overboard, but I was young and reckless and bold and brash. I was an LSD/marijuana outlaw and I lived the lifestyle accordingly.

S.V. You were dealing full time. How did you make those connections with supplier and user?

 S.F. I made most of my connects through my godbrother and his circle of deadhead friends. I went on tour and made more contacts. The dead tours back then were full of drug dealers. The lot was like a drug bazaar. This was before the feds started cracking down on LSD dealers. It was really a different world. I just networked and jumped out there. You won’t make any connections if you don’t do that.

S.V. How  did you get busted ?

S.F. I got busted by snitches. How else do people get busted for drugs now? With the ‘war on drugs,’ the feds enacted all these draconian laws and all they had to do was get people who were scared of prison to snitch. I refused to do that. I took off instead. But I was set up in a sting. A snitch named David Craigo set me up. He was a good friend from high school but when he got busted with a couple of sheets he decided to snitch instead of taking his weight and keeping his mouth shut. This led to a whole bunch of people’s lives being affected. I know you could say that about me and selling drugs, about all the people  or addicts whose lives I affected, but that is the ‘war on drugs attitude.’ We live in a new world where marijuana is legal and LSD is being studied for medical benefits. I feel justified in my actions for real. I was right back then and I had to pay the price, like all the marijuana OG’s, so that we could enjoy the liberties that we enjoy now.

S.V. You fled – parking your car by  the Potomac River near your house leaving behind an empty vodka bottle, a fake suicide note and your leather jacket. You went on the run how did you survive on the lam?

S.F. I  had money so it was easy. I had fake ID. I was set up. I was a criminal. The only reason I got caught was because I started selling pot again and someone snitched on me again. Law enforcement nowadays doesn’t investigate anything. There are no Sherlock Holmes on the force. They get all their busts through snitches. That is what our criminal justice system has become. When you have ID and money it’s easy to hide. I was in California and then I went back to Texas when my money started running low and started running loads of weed up to Missouri. I got busted there when someone else snitched on me of course. 

S.V. Do you miss getting high ?

S.F. I don’t miss getting high like an addict and having drugs being my everything like when I was young, but I smoke marijuana and I drink alcohol, although I’m not a very big drinker. But I would say I’m a functional stoner. I like to take time off. Getting stoned all the time is not cool. Not in my line of work. But it helps the creativity process.

S.V. Tell us about the first night in jail.

S.F. I cried when they first put me in jail. This was after I got caught and hauled in. I was facing 30 years and I was only 22. It seemed like my life was over. I ended up getting 25 and I never cried again. But when they first put me in that cell, alone because I was under observation, I cried and couldn’t believe that I let my life lead me to that point. 

S.V. Tell us about your worst night in jail.

S.F. Every night in prison was the worst. You’re with a bunch of violent men that are capable of anything. You have to be on guard at all times. You can’t be nice or smile because the predators in there mistake kindness for weakness. You have to be on point  and ready to go at all moments. So every night and day were the worst ones to me.

S.V. You turned criminality into creativity by writing poems, short stories and later, novels. What inspired you to become creative ?

S.F. I’ve always been creative. I used to sing and write songs in punk rock bands when I was young and play Dungeon and Dragons, and of course I was the Dungeon Master creating the worlds and characters. I turned inward in prison. I wanted to build something from in there, a career, and I did it through writing. It was poems, then articles, then features, then books and screenplays. A natural progression for me. It was the ambition that led to my creativity flowing. I needed to make my mark from inside there. 

 I was worried about myself really, so I wrote about it. I was crying out from inside to let people know what was going on. When you’re in prison doing decades  for a first time non-violent offense you are just sitting in there like, “when the fuck are the people outside going to wake the fuck up.” By me exposing my situation and writing about it, it’s helped others for sure. Not that I set out to do that. But I do more of that now. Exposing what our corrupt government is doing.

S.V. But  it wasn’t easy getting educated inside jail was it?

S.F. No. I fought battles to get my college education. In prison they say they are about rehabilitation but they’re not. There was so much red tape just to take correspondence courses. You’d think they would be happy I was getting an education and my parents were paying for it. But they made it difficult for me. Holding my college materials, not releasing them to me, lying to me, and just putting obstacles in my path as I tried to get my education. Which I got anyways despite them. 

 S.V. There has been a media out cry following the Miami Herald investigation into Florida’s Juvenile Justice System Fight Club revealing large-scale corruption, and sordid secrets of the Florida juvenile justice program. Staffers were setting up fights between inmates – surveillance videos show beatings, inappropriate behaviour, sex between staff and detainees, and a culture of silence and blanket denial.  There were 12 suspicious deaths in the Florida juvenile system since 2000. How was your relationship with the guards when you were imprisoned ?

S.F. That really doesn’t  surprise me. I still don’t like prison guards and when I see them I’d like to throttle them. They make money, their livelihood, off the misery of others. Some guys deserve to be in prison. Anybody who is repeatedly violent should be locked up. They have no place in society. But I was locked up with a bunch of non-violent drug offenders and the guards treated us like scum. Not to say I would ever attack or assault anyone but that is how I feel.

 S.V. How do you feel about criticism that you‘re profiting from a criminal past and glorifying criminality for profit?

S.F. I tell cautionary tales. What I write about is about giving the other side. It’s about getting the side of the story that the mainstream media and law enforcement doesn’t get. It’s about humanizing the people that the media turns into monster. Is there some glorification or romanticization, yes. But to people who criticize that, fuck them. I’m here to tell stories. I started telling stories in prison and my most devout fans are prisoners. They are serving life. They are the guys that cheer for the bad guys. These are the men that love my writing. They like what I write and the content I cover. So I see it as opening a window to a world that people don’t normally see. It’s not glorification, it’s a cautionary tale, but I do romanticize in the telling. 

S.V. When Joshua Boyle, kidnapped Canadian hostage, and his wife Caitlan Coleman were rescued from the Taliban after being held captive for five years he couldn’t  believe Donald  Trump was President what do you think of Trump and his stance on law and order – and how prisons should be reformed ?

S.F. I think Trump is good for America right now because he is waking the country the fuck up. We need to get more young people involved in politics. Congress should represent the people. Let’s get some different people in there. Let’s make it diverse. This country is a melting pot and the political spectrum should cover that. I’m white but these rich old white men in politics don’t represent me. Lets get them out of there. Trump is the key to this. He is waking up our country due to his antics and I believe our next president will be ground-breaking. 

Prison should be about rehabilitation. People need to get the tools in prison that they can use on the street to get away from a life of crime. Without tools prisoners will re-offend. We need to offer inmates opportunities that include educational and vocational pursuits. When I was in I wanted to take stuff like photoshop and video editing but it wasn’t available and it should be. 

S.V. You were barely 22 years old when you were imprisoned – 25 years and 4 months for running a criminal enterprise – no chance of parole. Living in a cell 6 x 10,  slumming on a metal bunk bed, making  92 cents an hour working in the prison factory seven hours a day. Decades passed. And you hadn’t even used the internet. What was your first day of freedom like?

S.F. Freedom was great. I was shell-shocked yes. But it was a good shell-shock. The stores overwhelmed me. I went in a Walmart and it was like sensory overload. The tech was really challenging but I learned. Plus the last two years I was in I read books like Internet for Dummies and other guides like that to learn about the world I was walking into. But coming back into the world, after my long sabbatical,  was awesome. 

S.V. Looking towards the future and current projects can you tell us more about your movie Easter Bunny Assassin and you comic book venture Supreme Team? And you’ve produced the  documentary White Boy?

S.F.  Easter  Bunny Assassin is an idea that I came up  with in prison. I came home and executed shooting Season 1 of the web series which has 4 episodes. The first two are up on YouTube now. Check them out. It’s about a bunny that goes around with other crazy characters that I created by mashing up holiday figures with criminal types. 

The Supreme Team and Confessions of a College Kingpin comics are nonfiction true crime comics. Supreme Team is based off my nonfiction book of the same title about the Queens crew that has gone down in hip-hop infamy. Kingpin is about my case and how I ended up a drug dealer and in prison. I think both comics are ground-breaking. I am bringing Grand Theft Auto to comics.  

White Boy is a true story about Richard Wershe Junior ‘White Boy Rick,’ a legend of Detroit’s drug world in the 80’s. Charged with  a non-violent juvenile offense in 1987 still behind bars –  the film asks the question does Wershe’s punishment fit the crime? The NYC première is Friday November 10th: details at

S.V. Finally Seth Ferranti  somebody makes you an offer you can’t refuse – what will you do – any nuggets of wisdom for any wannabe crimminarti out there?

S.F. I write for money that‘s what I do. I usually only get involved in projects that I’m passionate about so it’s not like I’m going to jump on anything. And no, I certainly wouldn’t go back to my old way of life. I think there is plenty of opportunity out there for people that write about true crime. I’m the type of guy that has standards and morals so it’s not like I’ll just do anything. But I like to work too. The biggest thing I can say is to keep working. Keep a lot of logs in the fire. Work hard and produce. At the end of the day it’s all about the execution. 


Noir's Rising Star

Featuring razor-sharp dialogue and scheming gangsters, Jukebox is a novel that makes Clerkenwell the backdrop for a gritty crime caper.

Andre Paine talks to author Saira Viola about her satirical targets, EC1 inspiration and Hollywood.

London gangsters have long been a fixture in fiction, from the crime family sagas of Martina Cole to Clerkenwell local Jake Arnott’s bestsellers featuring real-life characters. Now a new author, Saira Viola, has taken inspiration from EC1 and come up with a fresh, satirical take on gangland culture.

“When I was researching the area there seemed to be an old school, gentlemanly kind of attitude [attributed to] the criminals, which is where the satire comes in because a lot of people are glorifying criminality,” Viola explains.

Jukebox is a witty, riotous story populated by larger-than-life characters in EC1. There’s a Jewish mob boss described as the John Gotti of London, a tenacious female journalist who’s sick of celebrity news, and a trainee solicitor who’s desperate to escape the fusty legal world and break into the music industry. As the novel’s ostensible hero, Nick is no straight-laced legal eagle – he’s a swaggering, sociable thrill-seeker known as the “prince of Clerkenwell”.

These three characters are thrown together along with comical villains, aspiring rock stars and a 21st century shaman in a novel that’s notable for its heady, rhythmic prose style, which was inspired by hard-boiled crime, Beat writers, the poetry of Baudelaire – and rock.

“One of the greatest poets is someone like Paul Weller,” says Viola. “Within three minutes, he has a social polemic and there’s a tenderness as well as a passion.”

She was also influenced by post-war US crime writer Chester Himes. “He writes from the streets,” she says.

It was the streets of Clerkenwell that she turned to for Jukebox, which features several recognisable locations, including The Eagle gastropub, Fold Gallery (recently relocated to Fitzrovia), Smithfield Market and the now defunct TARDIS club. Sculptor Nick Reynolds – son of Great Train Robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds – hosted parties at the artists’ studios up until the early Noughties. As it was named after a timetravelling police box, Viola used artistic licence to portray the Turnmill Street venue in a contemporary novel.

While working in London in advertising and as a writer (she’s published poetry and an earlier novel), she was drawn to EC1. “It is an amazing place,” she says. “Everybody knows about gangland Clerkenwell and the Clerkenwell Crime Cartel, but there are so many bohemian artists, musicians, poets and daydreamers.”

With her international background, including early childhood spent in various African countries and a recent spell in the US studying and working at a New York law firm, Viola brings an outsider’s perspective to EC1. She hung around London’s legal heartland off Chancery Lane, eavesdropped on conversations in pubs and met some “colourful” characters.

‘Clerkenwell deserves to be on the literary map’

“Clerkenwell is a hotbed of creative influences with a bohemian insanity that lends itself well to London noir,” adds Viola. “It certainly deserves to be on the literary map of London.”

Of course, Charles Dickens first wrote about the criminal underworld of Clerkenwell in his 1838 novel Oliver Twist. “He wrote for the times and his writing created social reform,” says Viola. “Dickens is one of my favourite authors of all time.”

Having moved from Africa to London in the Nineties, escaping into books was her way of dealing with the upheaval. Today she still considers herself a “punk outsider” (she once wrote lyrics for a short-lived band called Suburban Acid).

Viola had early discussions with major publishers, but she was unwilling to compromise her writing style for Jukebox. Having signed a deal with tiny independent Bloodhound Books, it was published with a cover blurb from poet Benjamin Zephaniah and found a readership as an ebook.

The online success of Jukebox has led to movie interest – our interview has to be arranged around a trip to meet film producers in LA. “They really liked the characters,” says Viola. There’s also talk of a theatrical adaptation.

Of course, low-key publishing origins are no barrier to success in the digital age: Fifty Shades of Grey and The Martian both started out small and ended up on the big screen.“The rules are changing,” agrees Viola.

This rising star of crime fiction is already fielding offers for her next novel, which is set to feature a female mob boss. “She’s not going to be one of your hackneyed female mobsters, she’s going to be super cool,” says Viola. You wouldn’t expect anything less from this sharp, satirical author.


“Jukebox” (Bloodhound Books) is available in paperback and ebook


Rocker, Sage, Artist, Poet and Proud Outlaw of Our Age. This is Jonathan Shaw – bruised, brilliant and unapologetically raw. Think you know Shaw? Think Again!


Interview by Saira Viola


SV:  What was it like growing up with a famous Hollywood screen actress as a mother? (For those who don’t know, Jonathan Shaw’s mother was Hollywood femme fatale Doris Dowling – best known for her roles in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend and the neo realist Italian classic Bitter Rice and his father: jazz legend Artie Shaw.) How would you describe growing up in old school Hollywood with such famous parents?

JS: Well, I’ve covered a lot of that ground in my memoir books (The first book of Jonathan’s multi-volume memoir saga, SCAB VENDOR – Confessions of a Tattoo Artist, is set to be released on Turner Publishing in early 2017), so there’s not much I can add to a story that’s taken me almost 20 years to write. But for simplicity’s sake, I can tell you that, sadly, it was a childhood not unlike that of too many children growing up in America. A very unhappy one. My parents were both complicated people, geniuses really, but they had a lot of, um, how can I put it, deep existential personality disorders, problems stemming from their own miserable childhoods. And that made them pretty unqualified to be successful parents, God rest their souls. My mother was a hopeless alcoholic, a raging, violent mess in a dress. Despite being a beautiful, talented, intelligent woman, she was pretty much insane during my formative years and beyond, mostly due to her alcoholism. She loved me and she meant well, she really did, but she just didn’t have the emotional tools to do very well as a mother, poor thing. And my father, Artie, well, even though he didn’t drink, he was every bit as nuts as my mother was, with his own weird pathology. I mean it’s the good old law of attraction. Like attracts like, right? He was basically what could be described as a narcissistic sociopathic personality: traits that were pretty much exacerbated by the extreme level of fame and success he attained in his music career. I mean they guy was basically like Elvis or Mick Jagger in his day. It was that kinda deal. That and his undeniable genius, not just as a musician, but as an intellectual, a writer, a philosopher, a curious mind, all those factors contributed to making him a very difficult, conflicted, unhappy man, personality-wise. He was also what’s known today as a sex and love addict, a textbook co-alcoholic, who kept getting tangled up with, um, problematic women. It’s a classic pattern for people like that, repeating the same dysfunctional behaviours, always expecting different results, Einstein’s classic definition of insanity. I think my mother was like Wife Number 7 by the time they hooked up. It was all love and kisses at first, but predictably, the relationship degenerated into a battle of raging artistic egos, and that’s what I was born into. A fucking battlefield.

artie doris jonathanJonathan’s parents: jazz legend Artie Shaw and Hollywood actress Doris Dowling

My earliest childhood memory is of my mother emptying a gun in my father’s general direction, she wasn’t a very good shot, thank God, (laughs), and then him grabbing the gun out of her hand and beating the shit out of her. So it wasn’t exactly a Leave it to Beaver storybook childhood, y’know? (laughs). After that, he split, never to be seen or heard from again. I was just a baby, y’know, so I was raised by my mother. Well, basically raised by wolves, actually (laughs). I split home and took to the streets when I was around 14. I only got to know Artie much later, when I was in my 30’s. When I went to look him up, he didn’t exactly welcome me like the Prodigal Son with open arms or anything. Like I said, he was a complicated, difficult man, but I did get to know the guy pretty well over the ensuing years. Our relationship was distant and very intimate at the same time, in a weird way. Mostly because, like most narcissists, Artie was a really good talker, very intelligent and introspective in his own twisted, self-serving way, so I did get to know him really well, especially towards the end of his life, as well as you can ever really know someone like that. A lot of that’s in the new book.

SV: Yes, we’ll talk about the new book a bit more later, but I’d like to talk about how you initially became involved in arts and literature. As you had such a wildly dysfunctional, turbulent childhood, I guess you never felt that pressure to be like either of your parents. Despite being in the Clint Eastwood movie Tightrope, was it a conscious decision to steer clear of music and acting and instead, focus your attention on the visual and literary side of the arts?

JS: Well, yes, given what I’ve just told you about my upbringing, such as it was, it’s not too surprising that I never felt the slightest ‘pressure’ – either inward or outward – to ever follow in either of their crooked footsteps.

Both of my parents were way too spaced-out and self-involved to really pay much attention to my ‘future’ or anything like that. For my part, I wanted nothing to do with their toxic bullshit American Dream values. I was a shy, introverted, alienated kid, who went on to become a pissed-off, rebellious teenager. All I ever wanted as a kid was to get as far away from all that as humanly possible. But you can run all you like. There’s simply no outrunning the laws of karma or your own DNA, that’s for sure. Like it or not, your people are in your blood, and we often end up proving the old adage true, that the apple don’t fall far from the tree (laughs).

It’s rarely a conscious decision, though. Like that Clint Eastwood film you mentioned. I certainly never set out to be in a movie. That was more of a fluke. I was in my late 20s, working in a seedy tattoo shop in New Orleans, when a film crew showed up at the door one day, scouting locations for the movie. The director looked at me and asked me if I’d ever done any acting. Needing money, I lied, of course, told ‘em I’d been in a bunch of South American soap operas and shit, figured they’d never be able to check it, and it worked. Next thing I knew, I was playing a scene opposite old Dirty Harry himself. Go figure. It was fun. I made a few bucks, got my SAG card and everything, but I never even thought of pursuing an acting career or anything like that.

I was gung-ho about tattooing back then, so I just kept going with that. But even as much as I abhorred my parents’ lifestyle and my mother’s alcoholism, I went on to become just like them in so many ways. On the outside, my lifestyle was a world apart from theirs, of course, but in a deeper inner level, I wasn’t much different. So much so that I went on to become an alcoholic and a drug addict, just like my mother. And on many levels I followed in Artie’s footsteps as a pussy-chasing, fame-and-fortune-obsessed maniac too. I guess my basic self-esteem was so shattered, coming from the kind of background I came from, that I craved that sort of outward validation and attention from the world for a very long time. Go figure. (laughs).

SV:  You hitchhiked your way to Central and South America. How old were you and why did you decide you wanted to go there in particular?

JS: It’s funny, cuz looking back on it today, I realize it was kinda like that old song, “any world that I’m welcome to is better than the one I come from.” I can’t think of any better way to explain it. I think reading Kerouac’s On the Road when I was that alienated, curious teenager craving adventure and escape might have had a lot to do with it. You know how in that book they ended up in Mexico, and the way Kerouac described it, it just seemed like the kind of funky, anarchistic, lawless place that appealed to my restless, antisocial sensibilities. You gotta understand, I grew up very unhappily in an extremely materialistic, privileged environment in Beverly Hills, surrounded by all kinds of wealth and glamor and prestige. But my experience with the whole American Dream thing was like being in a long, protracted nightmare. What I saw was mostly the dark, tragic side of it. Half of my extended family of origin committed suicide or went insane by the time I was old enough to know I was alive. So I wanted no part of any of any of that shit. By the time I took off on the road into Mexico and all that, I was strung out like a lab rat on heroin, like most of my friends. People were dropping like flies all around me.



Death was in the air I breathed, so it was like, what do I got to lose, y’know? The road literally saved my life. My hoboing years in Mexico and Central America before I eventually ended up immigrating to Brazil, those times on the road, broke and aimless, just living and surviving by my wits, it taught me so much about life and the innate goodness of the human spirit that it actually instilled in me a will to live, which I think ultimately resulted in me getting clean and sober many years later.




SV: You’ve touched on the pain of addiction, and your parent’s battles with different kinds of addiction and how that impacted upon your life, and have been very open about struggling with the effects of heroin addiction. How did you eventually kick the drug?

JS: Well, that’s a very long story that I go into at great lengths in my memoir saga, but basically  after running around the world like a rat on a treadmill for decades, basically seeking an escape from myself and going to extreme lengths to find a way to control and enjoy my substance abuse, I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s a full-time job, y’ know maintaining that sort of lifestyle for an extended period of time. For me the liquor and drugs just stopped working one day, the old sense of ease and comfort they used to provide was slipping away, and then it all  just started taking a terrible toll on me, mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. By the time I finally threw in the towel I was a wreck, a shell of a human being, morally bankrupt. I was finally ready to go to any lengths to go straight. I knew the party was long over, and to keep trying to keep it going any longer was gonna cost me my life. So I made a decision to get clean, and that’s when I had to start facing up to all the dark, demonic trauma-fed boogie men and hobgoblins inside of myself that I’d managed to keep at bay for so long with drugs and booze. It’s not an easy process for a life-long alcoholic and addict to do an about face like that, it requires great motivation and an almost super-human tenacity and dedication, not to mention a healthy dose of divine intervention. But fear and desperation are great motivators, so I stuck with it, and over time I began to experience a deep and effective psychic change. I had to start turning over all kinds of rocks inside myself and taking a good long look at all the shit that was creeping around down there under the surface, the root causes for my addictions. But that change of lifestyle had many unexpected benefits too. It’s really what set me on the path of fulfilling a life-long dream to become a writer, like my early heroes, guys like Kerouac, Bukowski, Fante and Celine. Those were the people I looked up to as a kid and always dreamed of following in their footsteps, but I had to put down the drinking and the drugs before I could find the kind of unflinching self-honesty and introspection it takes to be that kind of writer. I mean, some guys like Bukowski seemed to be able to do it without being sober, but for me, there was no way out but the straight and narrow. I guess everybody’s different in that way…


SV: Well, yeah lucky for us you came through the other side. Talking of Bukowski in your new book, ScabVendor – Confessions of a Tattoo Artist, there’s a chapter where you describe coming to blows with Bukowski. What happened? And what was your relationship like afterwards?

JS: Bukowski used to live in this ratty little studio apartment in the slummy side of East Hollywood, not too far from me. I used to go over to his place and just hang out. I was there all the time. I really was lucky to get to know him as well as I did. That was just our first meeting I wrote about, where we went to fist city and all that. After breaking the ice on that first encounter, I started dropping around a lot, with drinks and stuff, at least every coupla weeks. That went on for quite some time. I got to know Bukowski pretty well. This was back in the early 70s, before he became really famous. He was still accessible back then. Luckily, he kinda took a liking to me. Bukowski was a real piece of work, but his bark was worse than his bite. Looking back now, he was really very kind to me. He read some of my fucked-up junkie poetry and even gave me encouragement, in his own weird way. Bukowski was the one who turned me onto a lot of my favourite writers too. Celene, Fante, stuff like that. We had some good talks. So many things he told me about writing, living, whatever, I only remembered alotta the stuff he said many years later, long after he passed away. By then I’d been living in South America for years, and we didn’t really stay in touch after I left America. Still, I really do consider him like my most important early mentor as a writer. But after I got bit by the tattoo bug, I pretty much put all those early literary ambitions behind me for many years, until I finally got sober…

SV:  So, with Bukowski as a mentor, and the spirit of adventure firmly lit in your soul, you become a tyro in the ancient art of tattooing. What attracted you to that world and how did you manage to transcend what was ostensibly regarded as a fringe vocation into an accepted art form?

JS:  I was already interested in drawing since I was a little kid. At one point, I sort of dreamed of being a comic book artist. One thing led to another, and I wound up traveling, hoboing around Mexico and Central America. Then I ended up getting work on a ship and living a lifestyle that brought me into close contact with a lot of tattooing. Back in those days in the mid-’70s there really wasn’t a tattoo culture like there is today, where it’s accessible and you walk down the street of any town and you see tattoo shops everywhere and people sporting a lot of tattoos. It’s kind of turned into this very acceptable, mainstream, kind of boring thing. It’s become like a cliché, the tattoo. But back in the ’70s it wasn’t that at all. It was still something edgy, underworld, kind of dangerous, mysterious, and weird. The average person would not come into a lot of contact with tattooing. I guess there was always this perverse part of me that never let me feel I fit in with the crowd. Even before I found liquor and drugs, I always felt like an outsider, an alien, y’know? Like I said, I was pretty much orphaned by alcoholism in my family of origin, so from an early age I was running the streets and living on the edge. Eventually, I took to the road and started working on ships and traveling the world, and I never really looked back, so my family and school were always the streets, bikers, beatniks, winos, weirdos, druggies, hustlers, criminals and whores. Those people were the only ones who wore tattoos back then, outsiders, y’know, and they taught me the art of survival. So I really didn’t come to tattooing so much for the art as I did because of the outsider lifestyle that surrounded the whole deal back then.


For me, the artistic part came later. Much later. How that developed into a sort of mainstream art form, and my part in seeing and even making a lot of that transition happen is a really long story. So I was working on ships, hanging around with sailors, and I was in a lifestyle where tattooing was part of the cultural currency. Third world, blue-collar lifestyle. So, like I said, I got into tattooing more through the lifestyle than I did through the art. My artistic interest sort of came later, but I was attracted to it more through the lifestyle and what a tattoo represented.  At some point I was getting tattooed by some old salt in Panama, watching all the fancy electronic equipment, seeing colors, people getting tattooed—the guy, really, he wasn’t a great draftsmen, and I said to myself, shit, I can do this. But how am I going to learn? Back then there was no way to learn. There was a very closed community: If you walked into a tattoo shop and said, I want to learn tattooing, they’d probably chase you out with a baseball bat.


Old-timers were close-mouthed about their trade secrets. It was almost as if they could see what would happen in the future if the word ever got out. Back then, you had guys who were functionally illiterate, could barely read or write, and were driving around in brand new Cadillacs, wearing gold watches and diamond rings. They were making a lot of money tattooing. Some of them were good draftsmen, some of them weren’t very good, but they knew how to tattoo, and they kept that to themselves. If somebody tried to open a tattoo shop in the same city as one of these guys they might’ve thrown a firebomb through the window. It wasn’t easy to break into. I had to experiment on my own, making my own equipment and so on. And once I’d become proficient enough to have an idea of what I was doing, one thing lead to another, and through a fortuitous confluence of circumstances, I was accepted by one of the old-time tattoo masters, and he took me under his wing and let me into the game, gave me a formal apprenticeship. After he passed on, I went off on my own and traveled the world as an itinerant tattoo artist.


Once I’d made my bones and established myself in that world, through another stroke of lucky fate, I got a chance to dust off some of my early literary aspirations and became the managing editor of the first big tattoo magazine — International Tattoo Art — and I just kept running around the world, tattooing, but at the same time I was researching tattoo history and interviewing the old-timers, documenting a lot of stuff that had previously gone undocumented and putting it into a context where it could be enjoyed by the general public. I became part of what you’d call sort of the second generation of tattoo artists—there is basically modern tattooing as we know it today, and tattooing before that. Somewhere around the mid-1980s, tattooing started to become a little fashionable. Up until then, it was like sailors and bikers and criminals and blue-collar workers. There was a lot of tattooing going on, but it wasn’t visible to mainstream society. Then sometime in the early to mid 80s, a new subcultural group started getting interested in tattooing, and that was rock and roll musicians. Guys like Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That was around the time MTV became a viable source of culture. Suddenly people are seeing tattoos on these bad-boy rockers, and from there it just kind of snowballed. Being in the right place at the right time, I was kind of the generation that was the bridge between these two worlds. In that capacity, I was very instrumental in not only seeing all that happen, but making a lot of it happen.  That’s kind of the short version of how things all fell together for me in that context.


SV: It’s intriguing that it was the lifestyle that drew you into tattoo world. What do you think about the tattoo industry now? I mean when you pioneered this art form, getting a tattoo was about making a real statement. Do you agree with some critics  today who now think a tattoo is just another hipster trend, like a bushy beard, denim skinnies and mock specs?

JS: (Laughs) Before the whole Tattoo Reality Show thing started, some big Hollywood mucky-muck producer approached me with an offer to head up the first one. I turned him down. Some people would say I really missed the boat on that one, but hey, I didn’t wanna be on that fucking boat. I’d been tattooing for over half my life at that point. I was already sober and looking for a way to get out of the game. I was done. For me, an offer like that was like being offered a luxury stateroom on the fucking Titanic. No way was I gonna waste any more of my life pandering to the lowest common denominator of public taste. Tattooing used to be something cool and edgy, but when it became a respectable mainstream gig, it lost a lot of its beauty for people like me. Even as it attained greater levels of public approval, a certain mediocrity crept into the thing. You know, the public can be a real shit-eating monster. Just look at all the vapid horseshit they’re putting out on television and the movies these days! And the public just eats it up! It’s fucking pathetic. Shit, man, that’s basically why I shied away from stock commercial tattooing back in the day, and started doing my own thing, creatively, developing new styles, the whole modern tribal thing, it was basically to get away from catering to the mainstream public’s overwhelming bad taste. Let somebody else do that shit. I’m sure I’m not gonna make a lot of friends by talking like this about the modern tattoo renaissance, but hey, I’ve paid my fucking dues.

markus cuff

SV: Yeah, somehow I can’t see you as the king of tattoo TV or any other reality show sell out! Could you tell us a little about your introduction into tribal tattooing, and what it involves?

JS: When I first started experimenting with new styles, developing a sort of fusion of traditional primitive pacific island iconography with my own modern abstract design patterns that became known as “neo-tribal” tattooing, well, that kind of shit was pretty much unheard of back then in tattoo circles. The stock in trade was limited to a very set standard, without a lot of wiggle room, creatively. So it was kinda like in the land of the blind, I was the one-eyed man who became King. Next thing I knew, I was being copied by less resourceful, less imaginative tattoo artists and, boom, a new style was born (laughs). The whole neo-tribal craze I started went on to become like the meat and potatoes of an emerging tattoo industry. Back then, the very idea of using the words ‘tattoo’ and ‘industry’ in the same sentence woulda sounded totally ludicrous to most of us in the game. Now, look at it.


SV: And now it’s a million dollar business with suits and celebs, inking their torsos. This leads me to another question about the fame game: You’re  famous in your own right but have special friendships with some of the biggest names in film, art and music – how did you meet and stay the course with people like Depp, Jarmusch, Iggy pop and Joe Coleman?

JS:  Well, the whole “celebrity clientele” thing wasn’t what I was after when I first started tattooing. Nothing coulda been further from my mind. It just developed as an organic thing, over time, but I certainly never set out to become the “Tattooist to the Stars’ or anything like that (laughs). I mean, yeah, the business was good and all that, but once I started getting branded with that kinda public reputation, it all just started getting kinda stupid, y’know. Hoards of all these real middle-America types coming in from all over the place, and they weren’t even coming to me for the quality of the work, but just because I was the guy who tattooed all these famous people. It coulda’ been anybody for all they cared. The good old herd mentality. Most of these fuckers didn’t know shit about tattooing, they just wanted the status of, ‘I got tattooed by the famous guy who did so-and-so’s shit’. But yeah, word-of-mouth got the ball rolling, and next thing I knew I was going on Letterman and getting visits from people like Iggy, Johnny Depp, The Cure, Shane MacGowan, Dee Dee Ramone, Marilyn Manson, Jim Jarmusch, Johnny Winter, Kate Moss, Orlando Bloom, Tupac Shakur and all his bitches. The VIP list goes on and on. Even Vanilla Ice was lining up for an appointment, much to my embarrassment. But hey, it was the 90s, right? (laughs).

with iggy

Jonathan with Iggy Pop

with jim jarmuschWith Jim Jarmusch

Everyone who was anyone – or thought they were – was clamouring for ink from me back then. Some of them I’d known before I became a brand name, people like Iggy, Johnny and Jarmusch. Others, like David Lee Roth and Tupac, I got to know through tattooing. Some of these guys became lifelong friends. There were others I tattooed once or twice, then never saw again. People tend to come and go around tattooing, which has always been an essentially transient art form. The lifestyle is pretty much part of an outsider culture, at least it was back then. In that sense, there was always a certain bond between someone like me as this notorious outsider artist and all these eccentric off-the-wall celebrity types. Life in the fast lane and all that, it all just kinda went with the territory.

with j depp

With Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom


SV: Ironically Vanilla Ice has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance lately, so clearly you were trailblazing the moment. How did you become immersed in that whole downtown NYC art scene?  An off beat nirvana for like minded free spirits.

JS: Same thing. Law of attraction or whatever. It was a pretty small world back then, and anybody who was doing anything down there, creatively, eventually got to know each other. One thing led to another, and suddenly I found myself right in the middle of this very vital and vibrant underground art scene. The people who ran in those circles, many of us just naturally gravitated together, y’know, like a tribe or something. There were many tribes and sub-tribes working downtown back then, and we tended to support and encourage each other, still do. It’s a natural thing. It wasn’t about tattooing, wasn’t a tattoo thing at all. No way! I just happened to be a tattoo artist. Others were making music or film, painting, performance art, whatever, but there wasn’t any distinction or rivalry between us as there is in the so-called tattoo community, no, we each had our own unique thing going on and we respected each other as artists and got to be friends over the years. When I quit tattooing and started devoting my time and energy to writing fulltime, that was seen as a natural transition by most of my peers. I’m not talking about tattoo artists, most of those people I never really considered my peers. I don’t mean that in a snobby, disrespectful way, but I always just felt more comfortable around artists working in other fields. So when I started writing and putting out books, those were the people who really showed a lot of support, not the tattoo people so much, but other writers and artists in general. Those are the ones I like to think of as my real peers.

SV: And armed with the sound of the scribe in your head, could you share with us the backstory of howNarcisa Our Lady of Ashes,  your best selling novel, went from an ‘idea,’ to being republished and eventually topping the Amazon best seller list for over 6 consecutive weeks, with HarperCollins, no less: a national and international success? As an underground writer, did you have difficulty in trying to get it published, and recognised?

JS: Once again, the whole process developed pretty much organically, like most things in my life have happened. There’s a quote by Lawrence Durrell where he wrote, “There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.” During the process of writing Narcisa, I contemplated those words a lot. How it came about was like this.  I’d recently quit the tattoo business and moved back to Brazil to write. I was struggling through a first draft of my Scab Vendor memoir. I’d been working on that book for years already, on and off. Over the course of the writing process, I’d become like an archaeologist, searching for clues to my own past, digging up memories of people, places and things I’d buried way in the back of my mind and forgotten about for years, decades, when suddenly these two characters, Narcisa and Cigano, her partner in crime, just kinda stormed onto the page, like a pair of angry children, clamouring for my immediate attention. So I dropped my other book-in-progress and just surrendered to their weird imaginary exploits, and just wrote and wrote until it was done.

All through the process of writing that book, I felt kinda like a war correspondent documenting some surreal battle between heaven and hell (laughs). Living with those deranged phantoms, even as I wrote them into existence, it was like following a pair of soot-faced miners down into the festering wounds of my own darkest places. So, to answer your question, yeah, the book evolved organically over a number of years. How it ended up getting published was that an earlier draft was released in 2008 by Heartworm Press, a really cool little American indie publisher. The initial print run of 5000 sold out in a few weeks, and then the book became this sought-after cult classic, a collector’s item, with copies fetching hundreds of bucks online. It wound up getting over 200 5-Star Amazon reviews – crazy numbers for an obscure little underground novel by an unknown author. I mean, the thing was out-of-print and unavailable to the average reader for years. So that ‘cult-classic’ distinction got the ball rolling, initially, and then a new, heavily revised draft was picked up by HarperCollins after Johnny Depp launched his imprint there. He gave it a nod cuz he really liked the book, but ultimately it was up to the editors at HarperCollins whether they wanted to publish it or not.

Depp didn’t have a say in that, really. Luckily for Narcisa, the big boys liked it enough to take a chance with it, so after JD gave it the thumbs up, it came out and had a nice little run in the sun. But it’s still essentially an ‘underground’ novel. For my part, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with their approach to marketing the book. They coulda done a much better job of getting it out there, especially having Johnny Depp’s name attached to the thing, but I guess that’s how it goes with big publishers like that.  Unless you’re Stephen King or somebody like that who doesn’t need the support, you’re not getting much support from a big publisher. They couldn’t care less. It’s a big faceless corporation. They don’t care about art or literature. They’re in business to make money. And if they’re gonna make money on a cookbook or some atrociously-written celebrity shit stain, then that’s what’s gonna get the juice, not some piece of what they consider lowlife literature. They couldn’t give two shits. Jerry Stahl, one of the greatest living writers in America hardly sells any books either, so at least I’m starving in good company (laughs).

SV:  Well  yes, some of the most gifted minds of our times have suffered penury and hardship, from Blake to Van Gogh, and no doubt artists will continue to succumb to the brutality of poverty in an increasingly commercialised industry. So, despite the growth of the new digital presses that have burst onto the scene, there still seems to be a lack of counterculture authors like yourself. In the 60s, “City Lights,”  was famous for breathing new life into the literary world. Many believe it was a more beneficial climate for such authors than today’s publishing world. Would you agree?

JS: Absolutely, after what I just said, how could I possibly disagree? It would be totally hypocritical. Sometimes I find myself lamenting the feeling that I was born in the wrong era. Like back in the day, the kind of writers I’ve always admired, the so-called ‘outlaw’ writers like Kerouac, Burroughs, Henry Miller and Celine, those guys actually were able to make a living with their books. Try that shit today. It’s a whole different climate, and unless you’re lucky enough to have ‘em make a movie out of your stuff or something, you better not quit your day job. The publishing world is like so many other businesses today. They’re being absorbed by big, faceless corporate concerns with little time or interest in giving writers editorial or promotional support. Back in the days of Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and all that, those guys were treated like fucking superstars. You had hands-on editors like Maxwell Perkins who really cared about the writers they worked with. Where’s all that today? No such thing. But at the same time, I’m a firm believer in that Joseph Campbell quote. If you’re a writer, you need to just ‘follow your bliss’ and keep going, no matter what. I never got into writing with the idea of amassing cash and prizes from it. If I wanted that, I woulda never quit tattooing. I guess there’s some writers who see it as a business, a job, whatever. But I’m one of those guys who writes to save his life. If I didn’t have this kind of creative outlet, I’d probably follow a life of crime or commit some horrible atrocity (laughs). Bukowski was one of those writers who wrote because he simply needed that expression. So was my friend Dan Fante. Jerry Stahl, Hubert Selby Jr., ditto, I’ve been very fortunate to know so many like-minded writers, and we all seem to have that one thing in common. Write or die, y’know.

SV: Narcisa has received widespread critical acclaim. What do you think Bukowski would make of it?

JS: The book or the critical acclaim? (laughs). Bukowski was a funny guy. He didn’t give two shits about critical acclaim, on some levels, but I think he kinda basked in it when it finally came to him, in a wry kinda way. God knows he sure had it coming, and on some levels I think he felt vindicated by all the positive recognition at the end of his life. Sweet revenge, y’know? Anyway, I think he would have enjoyed my book, the writing, the subject matter, the whole twisted spirit of the thing. There were times where I could swear I even felt him like looking over my shoulder during the writing process, saying stuff like, ‘boring metaphor, I could write a better one with my dick!’ or ‘you nailed it there, kid. Now you’re talkin’!”

SV:  Narcisa tells the story of a ‘motorcycle riding nomadic poet,’ and his ‘crack smoking philosophical prostitute’ lover. Is any of it secretly autobiographical?

JS: Most good fiction is autobiographical, to a degree, in that it reflects the big T – Truth of a writer’s soul, if not necessarily telling the small t truth through any particular story. There really are no new stories under the sun, just endless variations on ancient, recurring human themes. It all boils down to the old ‘boy meets girl’ plot, I guess, and then all hell breaks loose, blah blah blah. It’s not an original concept, when it comes to our collective mythos as a race, because the basic themes of Narcisa are basic universal human themes. On a surface level, the story is steeped in all this sex and drugs, adventure and hedonistic living, but then it goes into some really surreal levels of addiction, greed, aberrant behavior, violence, betrayal, anguish, degradation, emotional trauma and terror. But the story is always underscored by a deep and pervasive undertone of unconditional love, flawed, lust-driven “romantic” love, which is a reality for so many people, and a passionate quest for salvation, redemption of the human spirit. These are all basic human themes. There’s all sorts of deep emotional subtexts to the book, basic human condition stuff. Almost anybody who’s even half awake can easily relate to these two characters’ insecurities and fears, their hopes and dreams and nightmares, their feelings. Because Narcisa deals with base level human feelings, the kind of strengths and weaknesses and all the little comedies and tragedies we all experience in our feeling world every day, the stuff that propels the human experience as we live it, whether we’re living extreme realities like these two characters, or just coming and going from the office every day. As human beings, we need to share our experience, strength and hope with each other in order to help each other navigate the human experience. In that sense, storytelling is a very powerful evolutionary tool, one of the most ancient compulsions of the human race.


SV:  The book lampoons consumerist values in an increasingly soulless society, like where the protagonist continuously uses materialism to buy his lover’s affections, ie TV, designer threads. Do you think this constant desire for false gods in our society has  eroded our morality and humanity? The gods we serve now: a Mercedes Benz and a get away pad in the Caribbean. How did you distance yourself from that all that glitz and greed, or were you always a bohemian radical?

JS: Well, having been raised in a very privileged, materialistic American Dream home, where all that kind of glitz and glamour was basically a sort of turd-polishing device, a cover up for all kinds of dark, nightmarish shit going on under the surface, I instinctively recoiled from all that at a very early age. So, yeah, I guess you could say I was always a bohemian radical, or at least one in the making. As a kid, I just thought to myself, shit, if this is how rich people live, like wild fucking animals, I didn’t want any part of it. I think that’s a big part of what set me on a different course in life, firstly instilling in me the compulsion to run as fast and as far away from where I came from, and generally infecting me with a deep and pervasive revulsion for the whole American Dream culture.

SV:  Which authors living or dead do you find inspiration from?

JS: Oh, man, the list goes on and on. I’m gonna have to really think about that question. If I get started, It’s never gonna end. Let’s just say all the usual suspects, plus a whole lot of others, some well known, some pretty obscure. Bottom line is this: for me, there’s only two kinds of writers, those who write “commercially” with a lot of craft and technique and scholarly devices, and oftentimes very little substance, and those other guys I was talking about before, the ones who write compulsively, barbarically, out of a deep inner need to express themselves honestly and sincerely through language. They literally have to get it out of them before they end up killing themselves or somebody else. One of my early mentors was the great American outlaw writer, Hubert Selby Jr. He was often quoted as saying he was like “a scream looking for a mouth” before he found writing. It’s people who write like that who inspire me to keep going. Yeah. Here’s the short list of writers who’ve had an influence on my writing and my thinking: Louis Ferdinand Celine, HP Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Jorge Amado, Kerouac, Bukowski, Jerzy Kozinski, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Jerry Stahl, John Fante, Dan Fante, Lydia Lunch, Gregory David Roberts, Wally Lamb, Emmet Fox, David Icke… Fuck, the list goes on and on. That really is just a very short list, much shorter than what I’d give you if I had all the time in the world to really think about it.

With Lydia Lunch

SV:  Well, that’s plenty to be going on with! Now, you’ve been quite busy lately, having also published Scab Vendor – Confessions of A Tattoo Artist, which we mentioned earlier. Essentially it’s a no-holds-barred memoir of your life. Was that a cathartic experience ?

JS: Oh, yeah! I don’t think there’s any experience more cathartic than going through your own life and your past history with a fine-tooth comb and unearthing all kinds of fucked up, scary shit along the way. Definitely scary, that’s probably why it took me half a century to even find the courage or desperation to begin (laughs). I’d been journaling all through the 70s, during some really insane, self-destructive times, when everybody was dying all around me. I dunno how those old journals survived all the subsequent decades as I traveled around the world like a crazed ghost. But they did. Then, a lifetime later, I dredged them up out of an old suitcase I found in my mother’s garage.


Opening up those old notebooks more than thirty years after they’d been written was like cracking open the fucking mummy’s tomb or something (laughs). A very surreal experience, and reading through them had a profound effect on my current writing. In retrospect, I think it was like some sort of weird, unconscious survival mechanism going on in me back when I’d originally written all that stuff. Having been a heroin addict, I’d never thought I’d live to see twenty. My general attitude at the time was like, okay, well, as long as I’m going to hell here, I may as well take a lot of pictures along the way, leave something behind for posterity, y’know?


Those old journal entries became the pictures I’d taken along the road to hell, so to speak, and the posterity turned out to be a reborn, reincarnated version of myself. So, when I came across all those old journals, it was as if they’d been sitting there in limbo, like one of those time-capsule things, just waiting for me to reincarnate someday and come dig them up and do something with them, rearrange them from these little literary scrapbooks, like a sorta big, bizarre jigsaw puzzle. They became part of a roadmap for navigating my present writing projects, the big long memoir I always needed to write, but just never had the wherewithal. Somehow, I’d survived a perilous journey from the past to the present and gotten clean and sober, so I started going back to that terrible old crime scene to write a book about it, all these years later, throwing in bits and pieces of stuff I’d picked up along the way, right up to the present time. My brother, artist Joe Coleman, described the process as being like vivisecting one’s own soul, and I really related to that analogy. That’s what it’s been like (laughs), like undergoing a prolonged spiritual, emotional surgery. Painful. This book has been unravelling itself for years, y’know, well over a decade of writing now, digging deeper and deeper as I go along. At this point, what originally started out as one book has developed into thousands of pages of stories. It’s all basically told in some sort of weird chronological order, but there’s way too much writing at this stage to ever be published as one book.


Nobody’s gonna read a thousand page book nowadays. My literary agent read the first book, which constitutes about a third of the overall story, and just that book alone was nearly a thousand pages. So he suggested I break it up into two books, in order for him to be able to shop it to publishers. So I cut the thing in half and we promptly got a good publisher to take it. It’s slated for release in early 2017, Even after the second book eventually gets released, both books are still gonna make up only about a third of the projected saga. So it’s gonna be a long haul to get the whole story out. It will eventually amount to somewhere between 5 and 10 books, all told, should I live long enough to complete the whole thing.


SV:  Hopefully you’ll see it through. Now, talking of Joe Coleman, the celebrated artist, you too are a respected and distinguished painter, and have had several art shows all over the world. Do you have a favourite piece of art?

JS: It’s funny, I’ve done a lot of painting and drawing over the years, but for most of the time I was so involved in tattooing that I never had the time to pursue it fully. It was only after I quit commercial tattooing that I really started being able to make the kind of art I really like personally, the kind of stuff I’d buy to hang on my own wall. I guess it’s because back when I was tattooing, there were always the clients, customers telling you what they wanted, how they wanted you to work, so most of the time it was like working under this constant constraint, like trying to make art with some fucking moron breathing down your neck, art directing you, telling you what to do. With very rare exceptions, it was always like trying to paint a masterpiece wearing handcuffs. So when I quit tattooing, it was like the handcuffs came off, and suddenly I was free to do the kind of stuff they would never let me do. My own vision. It was a very liberating feeling, very empowering. The weird thing, though, is that one of my favourite “painting” projects was when I got these antique shop mannequins and started painting all these old school tattoo designs all over them, like the old time carnival tattooed lady with full body tattoos, y’know? It was so much fun, and I never had to run anything by anyone else, nobody telling they didn’t like the placement, the size of this or that design, the juxtaposition. I called the shots and that was it. Those old tattooed store dummies turned out really great. Wound up selling ‘em to serious collectors at different art galleries. One of ‘em was bought for some outrageous sum of money by the recording artist Pink. Another one went to this big Canadian art collector, Bill Jameson, a friend of Joe Coleman’s. Later he died. Sometimes I wonder what ever became of that piece. I never even got any good pictures of ‘em. It’s one of my biggest regrets.

SV:  A change of gear now and I’d like to talk contemporary pop culture. America is going through a lot of social, political and cultural changes. What’s your view on American pop culture now?  Do you think that the ‘revolutionary,’ vibe, ie Beyoncé and her black power salute, is genuine or is it just political posturing calculated to elicit a certain political response and repackaged to an ostensibly  ‘capitalist’, crowd?

JSI have no idea who the fuck Beyoncé even is, really, other than that you hear that name blasted into your consciousness every two fucking minutes. Shows you how much I know or give a shit about American pop culture(laughs), so I’m really not an authority.

But, like I think it was Bob Dylan said a long time ago, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. And it’s a foul wind indeed that’s blowing all over the planet in these apocalyptic times today, not just in America, but globally. From my perspective, all the social, political and cultural changes you speak of are just smoke and mirrors. The more things change, the more they tend to follow the same old time-tested script of oppression.

And it’s getting worse, no doubt, because of many factors, technology not being the least. So things that were already oppressive and rigged to favour the elite controllers, the poli-tricksters, the global cabal of mega-wealthy multi-national power mongers, those things are only getting worse today. Worse, in the sense that the end results of all this greed, ignorance, fear and mind-control are speeding up exponentially and becoming more and more sophisticated with technological advances and globalization, etc. At this stage of the game, it’s pretty clear to any intelligent person who’s even half awake and half informed that we’re facing mass extinction on this planet. It’s gotten to the point that, unless there’s a radical change in human consciousness very soon, it’s gonna be too late for all life on this planet to be sustained, including human life. I could go on and on with this topic for hours, but I won’t. The information about the effects of disforestation of the rain forests and chemtrails, fluoride in the water, the proliferation of GMOs and processed foods and all the massive corruption in high places and political fuckery that goes on to sustain this self-destructive climate for humanity is already out there. It’s readily accessible to anyone who wants to do the research and become aware of an increasingly morbid global agenda being perpetrated right under our noses.

For me, the bottom line is this: if we don’t start to wake the fuck up as individuals and as a race and fight to defend this planet and respect our mother Earth, there’s gonna be all hell to pay. I admittedly don’t fit the popular conception of someone who “functions” easily in the mainstream of human affairs. I’m not a “team player” and I certainly don’t strive to fit in with Nine to Five societies. I don’t read the paper, don’t watch the news, don’t even own a fucking television. Never voted in an election. Never went to high school or college or held a real job. Never got married or raised any kids or “settled down.” The truth is, I spent most of my life drinking and drugging it up, running the planet, raising hell, seeking romance, adventure and extreme experience, while trying to suss out the game in one way or another. One thing I’ve come to find is that the more“normal” and “well-adjusted” and “politically correct” many people appear on the surface, the sicker, the more hypocritical, and ultimately duller they actually tend to be in reality.

Human society as a whole has always been a big let-down to me, mortally ill, mind-controlled, hypnotized, baffled, and hog-tied into an intricate web of highly persistent glittery illusions about itself and its own reality. And it seems more than ever now to be collectively brainwashed into a steadily deteriorating perversion of “reality” by the highly contagious scourges of TV, a bullshit Obedience Training system called ‘education’ and the insanely ridiculous mind-fuck matrix of worldwide poli-tricks andpoli -tricksters ; an incredibly complex soap opera played out by a creepy cast of characters that make the Cosa Nostra look like a bunch of ineffectual little boy scouts. It seems that most of us have been so efficiently conned into clamouring like lost children for some illusory sense of “security” in this big collective hallucination of a world, that this surreal consensus reality has actually manifested into some very sick shit now.

The kinda shit that would have the good George Orwell doing back-flips in his grave. Big Brother is on us like a cheap suit, with Homeland Security, a surveillance camera on every fucking street corner, satellites patrolling the stratosphere like floating robot storm trooper armies. It’s like some horrible Sci-Fi movie shit. But this shit is real- whatever the fuck that means anymore, especially in the light of the most cutting-edge Quantum Physics research coming into focus. Surreal is more like it. Chemtrails, poisoned food and water. Bogus “terrorist attacks,” and now a carefully manufactured “financial crisis” to go along with all sorts of other creepy, paranoia-provoking scenarios, seemingly deliberate and strategically orchestrated to generate even more and more fear.

Fear seems to work like a charm for rallying popular support for insane practices that will clearly lead to the extinction of the human race if not perceived by the masses very soon! Ya gotta ask yourself, what the fuck is going on here? The more I observe humanity’s collective behavior, the more I see the familiar ingrained patterns of a big dysfunctional family reflected in our politics and history; lies, divisions, secrets, deception, all of the myriad behavioural devices that support an iron-clad infrastructure of deadly spiritual affliction.

I don’t know the answer, but one thing is clear: until a very bright blinding light is shed on what’s wrong with the present system, right down to its root causes and conditions in our individual souls, there can be little hope for its correction. Like I always say, “the truth will set you free, but it’s probably gonna hurt.” And that’s probably why some of the best writers and artists working in the world today aren’t usually the most popular ones .

SV:  So, do you think the political and economic stability of a country affects the intellectual and artistic climate of society?

JS: Honestly? No idea. That’s a kinda trick question, like what came first, the chicken or the egg, right? As artists, I think it’s important to always approach our work in a spirit of love and service, rather than separating our bread and butter work from our ”higher purpose.” At the end of the day, there’s only one purpose anyway. And it is love and service, as far as I can determine.

The one time I did try to write a movie script with the idea of financial gain in mind, it was such an out and out disaster on so many levels that it could almost be seen as more of a setback in some ways, than progress. So much so that I’ve learned through necessity to just trust the muses and try to always stay true in my work to whatever the fuck is in my soul and needs to come out into the world for whatever reason.

As far as paying the rent, any shit job will do until the universe is ready to reward our efforts with the cash and prizes. As long as you got a roof over your head and food in your belly, you are in good shape to love and serve the work itself. Anything beyond that is just extra milk on your Raison Bran. If we are painstakingly persistent in our efforts as artists, I believe we will always find a way to get the work to where it’s meant to go.

SV:  That’s excellent advice. Your father was a phenomenal artist and as explained to those who might not know, a bona fide jazz legend. What kind of music do you groove?

JS: When I asked him the same question a long time ago, one of the wisest things the old man ever said to me (and he said a lotta wise shit, self-serving as much of it was) was this: “There’s only two kinds of music. Good music and bad music.” As I get older, I find myself being able to relate to that concept more and more. I’d take it even a step further and apply it to all art. Good or bad.

To me, genre is pretty much irrelevant. If it’s got soul and integrity and technical excellence, I will probably resonate to it, regardless of genre. But to answer your question, I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, pretty much spanning the spectrum from Classical to Jazz to Rock to Bossa Nova, Country, whatever, just depends on what I’m in the mood to listen to at any given moment.

Much of the time these days, I prefer silence, or the sounds of nature, running water, birds singing, stuff like that, especially when I’m writing. I tend to listen to classical music a lot when I’m writing. Music with too many twists and turns, lyrically, just tends to distract me from being in the zone when I work. But when I’m painting or making visual art, then it’s all about rock ‘n roll, baby!

SV:  And you can’t get more rock and roll than Vintage Tattoo Flash, it’s your latest book, tell us about it?

JS: Well, the old style tattoo imagery that’s the main focus of this big coffee table art book was basically just part of the scenery in my life as a tattoo man. Back in the day, old hand-painted tattoo flash like that was much more commonplace in the tattoo world than it is today. It was everyday reference material for most of us, and you saw it everywhere. My collection of the old stuff that comprises the images in that book just sort of came together over the years as the stuff became more scarce and sought after. Tattooing is a popular art form, always has been.

As such, the designs change and evolve according to public demand. The material you see on tattoo shop walls is basically dictated by popular tastes. New iconography started being introduced into the mix by newer upcoming tattooists sometime around the mid 70s, catering to the changing popular tastes of the time. The old designs that had been the bread and butter for the old school tattoo guys for so many decades was quickly becoming obsolete.

Much of this material was on its way to the dumpster when I started acquiring it. A lot of it was actually given to me, and even the stuff I did pay money for was sold at a very nominal cost. Most of these old school guys couldn’t get their heads around why anybody would even want it. To them, it was just obsolete shop material. Unsellable crap. You’ve gotta understand that for someone whose stock-in-trade is selling tattoos, if a design doesn’t sell anymore, from their point of view it’s basically worthless.

But I loved the old tattoo designs, always had, ever since I was a little kid. And I had a very strong intuition that someday it would make up a really cool, valuable archive. So I just started amassing boxes and boxes of the stuff, picking up more and more in my travels and interactions with the old timers and constantly adding to the collection. One day I woke up to realize I was sitting on priceless archives of vintage Americana, a really important documentation of folk art history. But I never consciously set out with that intention. Like most good things in life, it just fell together and happened on its own.

We did a couple of very successful and well-attended art shows back in the early 90s at galleries in New York and Hollywood, back to back. I remember the first big show was done at a gallery in NYC. We were totally shocked and unprepared for the kind of crowds it drew. They had to set up police barricades around the whole block by the gallery to keep order on the night of the opening. It was insane. That’s when I first began to see the kind of power this stuff had to bring people out of the woodwork. The next show was on the West Coast in Hollywood about a year later. Same big crowds, same mad interest. You had all these big name movie stars and rock stars showing up to gawk at the artwork. After those first shows, I got busy with other projects, tattooing and working with the magazines, traveling the world, and the work all went back into storage. And that’s where it’s stayed until now.

After the original art shows back in the 90s, there was much talk about doing a book. Robert Williams himself was one of the early supporters of the idea. There was this one guy (who will remain unnamed) who sat on the material for like 8 years, promising to get us a book deal with a big publisher, but it never happened.

Then, Johnny Depp came along and said he wanted to publish it, and even offered to sponsor a traveling museum show. Ironically, right after Depp came into it, the other guy finally came back with an offer from Rizzoli. But it was too late. At that point I was already sick of waiting for him, so of course I made a commitment with Depp to do the thing, seemed like the best way to go at the time. Well, Depp ended up dropping the ball too, and then I was right back where I started.

No book. Life went on. I was busy with a thousand other projects, so the book idea just went on the back burner and stayed there for a long time. Meanwhile, I retired from tattooing and started writing other books. That’s when this tattoo book idea came back into the picture. I’d finally signed with a literary agent to oversee the HarperCollins deal for Narcisa. After that was in the bag, he asked me what else I had and I told him about the Vintage Tattoo Flash book. He shopped the concept to a few different publishers and came back with a decent offer from Powerhouse. I’d already done a couple of book signing events with them over the years for some of my works of fiction, and I knew them to be a good solid operation, so it all came together pretty effortlessly once the deal was signed and delivered. It’s the easiest book I ever published. All the work of collecting the stuff and having the authority to see what was good and not, that work was already done 30 years ago. It was like someone saying, hey, do you have a family scrapbook? We want to make it into a coffee-table art book. And I said sure, man. There’s enough material in this collection to put out another 5 to 10 volumes, so I guess we’ll just see how well this one does for the publisher. If it sells fast and makes them oodles of money, as I predict it will, I’m sure they’ll want to keep putting this stuff out there till the cows come home. And when they do, I’m ready to roll with it. It’s already being really well received within the tattoo community, but beyond that, it’s started to get some noticeable buzz in the straight arts community, and that’s where I’d like to see this thing going, ultimately. I’ve already been approached by some serious artist management type people with the idea of taking the collection into the realm of fine arts galleries and even putting together museum exhibitions, so I guess we’ll just see where it all ends up from here.

SV: Intriguingly, despite being in the eye of the storm, you made a conscious decision to live off the grid, away from the numbers, and not beholden to any kind of establishment. Do you miss being part of the razzmatazz that someone of your celebrity stature could easily be part of?

JS: I think I may have  answered that question many times, but in a word, no. Talking about living off the grid, my friend Iggy Pop just came out with a new album. My favourite song on it is this thing called Paraguay. After listening to it the first time, I realized he must have been inspired by a conversation we had after I told him about my time living there in Paraguay. In that song, Iggy managed to express the essence of what I’d been feeling and experiencing when I dropped off the grid of all grids and moved there. It was weird, like one day, after living half a lifetime in Brazil, where I’d first gone to drop off the grid, ironically, I became totally disgusted by what I saw as an ugly extension of American globalism creeping into my adopted home there.

Rio, the place I’d always felt so comfortable in with its disorganization, its lawlessness and anarchy, was suddenly becoming this surreal, horrible replication of the kind of awful changes I saw New York go through under gentrification, the whole New World Order thing taken to a really surreal third-world extreme, and I just knew I had to get the fuck out of Brazil.  It didn’t feel like home anymore. Once again, I was this wandering gypsy, displaced, orphaned and uprooted by progress and longing for a simple life in a simple place, totally off the grid. So I got on my motorcycle back in Rio and just started riding south.


I wound up in Asuncion, Paraguay, and right away I felt right at home there. It was like getting into a time machine and going to someplace that doesn’t exist anymore in the modern world. It was like being in some Garcia Marquez story. Macondo. Paraguay is this weird time warp kinda place. Nobody ever goes there. No reason to. There’s nothing there. I loved it! If this world has an end, Paraguay is it. I wound up just staying there, like I’d really found my place in this world again, a place totally off the map, off the grid, as you put it, where nobody could ever find me and I could just live a simple life among simple people like that, in a forgotten little corner of the universe where I could just live all alone in peace.

I was really thinking about just cashing in my chips and staying there for good, like just fuck it, y’know. Eventually, though, I dunno, I got on my bike and rode back to Rio, then eventually I went back to the States, mostly to pursue my writing career, but it was this really charming little interlude in my life, a very special time in a really special place.

Anyway, when I got back to America, I was telling Iggy about it, and next thing you know I hear this song he wrote, Paraguay, and it hit me, like, hey, he got that from me! But I’d already forgotten about our Paraguay conversation, so it was like this surreal little flashback when I heard the song. I sent him a text one day, where I said, hey, I lived that song before you wrote it, brother, and he wrote back, I know you did. Love ya, baby!(laughs).  So there’s this whole dreamlike quality to the whole thing, and yeah, to answer your question, no, I’ve never wanted anything to do with razzmatazz or celebrity stature. Fuck that shit. Neither has Iggy, despite all his fame and notoriety. Guys like us are all about dropping off grids, and I guess that’s what people like about us, in some weird way.

SV:  Dropping off the grid, you’ve embraced Brazil very much as your home, how’s it changed since you first landed ?

JS: It’s like I explained, it lost all its charm for me over the last decade or so, at least the big city, Rio de Janeiro, it’s changed in so many ways that are just repulsive to me. Progress, greed, corruption, political intrigue, globalism. It’s an ugly thing to see. I don’t know if Brazil will ever be able to survive the horrible karma of allowing the destruction of the Amazon to take place within its borders. It’s a crime against nature and all life on this planet of such massive proportions, it’s like a fucking modern day holocaust. Genocide of indigenous peoples, it’s like a spear in the heart of humanity. Very tragic situation. I could go on and on, but what’s the use? Brazil is a fascinating cultural melting pot, a place of massive extremes, like a magnified reflection of all that’s good and beautiful and noble, and all that’s evil and horrible and corrupt about everyplace on this planet, everything that’s good and bad in the overall human experience. It’s definitely a raging battlefield for extreme forces of light and darkness, but I guess you could say the same thing about just about anyplace on the planet right now, right? Like it or not, Brazil is my home, spiritually. It’s a huge reference point for me, and as such, it’s a place where I see the light and the darkness playing out in vivid Technicolor. A ringside seat for the Apocalypse.


SV: Is there anything you haven’t experienced that you’d like to?

JS: That’s a heavy question. There’s so much to see and do in this world, but realistically, there’s no way I could possibly see and do it all. Not within the constraints of one lifetime. So sometimes I’m like, what the fuck? It’s frustrating to even contemplate such a question (laughs). Is there anything I haven’t experienced that I’d like to? Fuck yeah! I’d like to have spent 20 years exploring the Orient. I’d like to spend another 20 years living with indigenous tribes in the Amazon. I’d like to have lived in Cuba! Fuck. Just gimme one year in every fucking unknown place like Paraguay, all across the globe, and I’d be happy.

But fuck, man. I’m 63 years old already, and I’ve still got a whole past lifetime of lifetimes to reflect on and write all these books about, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of any of the shit I wanna do yet, so what the fuck? Frustration! Fuck you! Don’t ask me questions like that! What a horrible thing to ask someone! Agony! Pure agony!


SV: (chuckles like Muttley the cartoon pooch) Ok another one:  What’s been your most surreal happening to date?

JS: Iboga. Google it!

SV: Ah, the psychotropic dazzle of Iboga  – googled it. That’s a whole other story right there, but right now:  when you lay it all on the table, you’ve had such a rich and varied life, looking back, what do you think of your magic carpet ride so far and what’s been in your mind, your highest point, your most notable achievement?

JS: My most notable achievement? Seriously? (laughs). Having lived on this planet and survived intact for 63 fucking years. That’s my most notable achievement, no doubt. And that so-called achievement is only by the grace of God. Left to my own devices, I shoulda been eating grass by the roots at twenty. Having been spared a cruel destiny and put on a path of creative redemption, that’s what I call a fucking miracle. Any notable achievements I’ve been graced with the good fortune to demonstrate in this life must be credited to God’s infinite grace and mercy. The only part I can ever take a little bit of credit for is having found, mostly through utter desperation, just enough willingness and open-mindedness to humbly and gratefully accept that grace and mercy.

SV:  Ladies and Gentleman: Jonathan Shaw. No intro necessary.



With words that beam conviction, she is an acclaimed poet and novelist to whom it seems eloquence comes easily. Not only did Saira Viola pen a special piece for the Rohingya - a community we have worked for extensively, she also lent more of her time to us for an interview in which we discuss everything from her time in Africa, political art and gentrification to her latest crime novel ‘Jukebox’.

We begin the interview speaking about Saira’s earliest years in Africa;

I remember electric blue skies, red, red soil, gold brush, and the sweet intensity of the jacaranda flowers, mixed with coconut and cloves on a soft breeze. Trips to the market were an adventure in themselves you could easily bump into zebras, geese, or a lone giraffe foraging among the tree tops.  The countryside was chaotic. People were everywhere filling the air with laughter and gossip– at night you could hear the slow rumble of drums and the Kaypacha tooting whistles and sometimes, animal cries in the distance .These sounds were an early initiation into the importance of rhythm for me and have remained with me ever since .My mother would often regale me with traditional tales of talking elephants, magical chimps, and wise men as wizards. It was a blissful few years. Later my parents moved the family to the UK, and I spent the latter part of my childhood in England and had to adapt to a different climate and a much more mannered, starchy existence. It was grey, very grey, compared to Africa, and the people were much quieter and more reserved.  There was a frosty uniformity to houses and streets and I was unaccustomed to the ‘stiff upper lip’ of mannered Brits .When I was seven or eight years old I smuggled my beach clothes into my school bag, removed my uniform, and paraded around the assembly hall in a bright green bathing suit and flip flops.  The administration was not amused and severely reprimanded my mother.  As an outsider in English society, I withdrew into a world of words where I could do anything and be anywhere.

How did you begin to write, and who were your early influences?

Once we had settled in Europe I dealt with the upheaval through literature, and I remember escaping into far off lands through fairy tales.  In particular Riquet a la Houppe (Riquet with the Tuft) was a story that stuck with me, a French fairy tale about an ugly Prince who bestows wisdom on a beautiful but dim-witted princess.  Later I discovered Charles Dickens and was inspired by his ability to create stories that ultimately led to social and political reform.

In terms of using your writing as a means to highlight social justice issues, do you feel this is a responsibility for all artists, to reflect the times, or is it down to choice?

This is a really complex question. To a certain extent I think it depends on the genre or medium the artiste is working in. I embrace thorny social commentary because working within the crime genre lends itself well to political criticism. I use crime fiction and social satire as a way to consider topical issues within society like race and class and greed. I believe that sometimes fiction can function as a form of advocacy. Upton Sinclair ‘s novel The Jungle totally transformed the meat packing industry in the US, and Dickens’ Oliver Twist sparked debate by drawing readers’ attention to the crime and poverty of Victorian England helping to bring about much needed social reform.

Your book Jukebox seems an eclectic story to say the very least - could you tell us a bit about the events that inspired the story?

Jukebox satirizes the greedy and the godless.  I use the crime genre as way of expressing the truth about British society, because it is a perfect medium to test the boundaries of good versus evil. Many of the episodes in the novel are inspired by real events that reveal a profoundly ugly materialism and worship of celebrity.  The story focuses on a promising young lawyer who trades the courtroom for crime and becomes embroiled with a ruthless London mobster who uses the law firm as a front to facilitate his vast criminal enterprise.  Jukebox depicts a society dangerously polarised by class, race, and financial disparity.

Jukebox is a story set in London - what are your views on how this city is changing? We have seen the debate about gentrification come to the fore somewhat in recent times, have you seen the evidence?

The gentrification of London has created a new underclass of people who exist almost invisibly in the shadows.  They cannot afford spiralling rents and have been forced out of their homes due to a systemic financial policy of urban renewal, which is really a policy of class and racial cleansing.  Government and the media are complicit in their neglect, which they disguise by diverting the discourse to news of terrorism or celeb gossip and trivia.  The underclass exist in a twilight world, unable to get regular employment as they have no fixed abode, medical care, or any of the core services of a civilised society.  Gentrification enriches the business class, while austerity impoverishes the underclass. Recently a young homeless man was sanctioned by a local London council with a penalty fee of £1000 – if he had access to that kind of cash it’s unlikely he would be sleeping in the streets. This kind of draconian approach to poverty exacerbates the misery, and radical initiatives are needed to foster a new all-inclusive society that does not seek to punish the poor.

Jukebox can be found on Amazon, and is published through Bloodhound Books – for more information please visit Saira’s twitter page (

Saira is a writer with a clear concern about the ills that surround her – both locally and globally. In her poem ‘’Tuesday at Dawn’’ she in a single stanza captures the horror of war and the stain it will inevitably leave. She writes of “suffocating numbness” and dreams scattering like “weeping confetti”; forcing us to confront the heart-breaking realities of our time. Art that reflects social issues seems to be having somewhat of a resurgence in the mainstream at least, and we are thankful for artists like Saira for being a part of it all. The myriad of terrors in our world are confusing to say the very least, but what we know for a certainty is that art can speak to the issues in ways that detached political analyses cannot.

Below is the poem she wrote specifically for the Rohingya titled “Song for Rohingya”. The piece will speak for itself.

The flowering  stench of 
And the numbing chains of 
A PART HEID noose our hearts and our minds 
While Fashion models weep for 
And Paparazzi hustle 
OVERTIME the Kardashians  steal another headline and 
The world simply closes her 
waiting for Rohingyas to crumble  to 
Bludgeoned and battered in bloody seas Rohingyas are stateless denied all humanity 
Slaves of Burma 's
Ethnic cleansing regime 
Their suffering ignored by 
Western democracies 
And the violence that buries a toddler's smile 
Filtered by newsrooms and the AP wire 
Myanmar burns with Rohingya screams 
Let the coronet of freedom bleed bleed bleed

I will always try to champion the rights of the disenfranchised, the weak and the destitute” – Saira Viola


Dana Beal Irvin, the grandee of the free marijuana movement and pioneer of Ibogaine (African plant) use, a free thinkinglove preaching, radical of the Woodstock generation, is still busting a proverbial blood vessel in the gut of the establishment. Now, after four decades in a colourful career of counterculture politics, Dana talks candidly to Saira Viola about his consummate struggle for change. 


S.V. The political and social tumult of the 60s and 70s created a flowering of hippiedom. As an instigator, participant and dissident of that era, what does counterculture philosophy represent to you today?

D.B.  In 1959 William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg hied off to South America in search of the Beatnik Holly Grail — a psychedelic CURE for heroin addiction — which they took to be yage. Today we call that Ayahuasca, and people claim it does help. But nothing compares to the African Rainforest cure,  ibogaine, discovered a few years later by a 19 year-old from New Jersey. Howard Lotsof. Lotsof actually tracked Ginsberg down in the Peace Eye Bookstore to tell him about it in 1963, but Allen did not register the gravity of what he was saying. The discovery of the discovery had to wait until Lotsof told me about it, a week after Nixon resigned. I needed it because people blamed me for asking George McGovern about pot and CIA heroin on national TV and supposedly costing him the election. But at first I didn’t understand the full import. It took a little more than 6 years–until after Reagan was elected — for us to start to work on ibogaine, in December 1980.

 S.V. There seemed to be a genuine mood of idealism and hope during that time: civil disobedience, protest rallies,  demonstrations all offered inspiration for change. Why do you think there is such widespread cynicism now, yet so many struggles to overcome for the marginalised, disenfranchised and oppressed?

D.B. The same movement has waxed and waned. The problem is humans can perfect the silicon chip, but not the social order. They need the chip to do it for them— and, we see what results.

S.V. You were just 16 years old when you hitchhiked all the way from your home in Ohio to Washington DC to hear Reverend Martin Luther King deliver his historic “I have a dream speech”. What inspired you to do that?

D.B. I was able to get my folks to let me go, and so entered into history. (First coverage in the Washington Post).

S.V. Two months later, on September 15 1963, the Klu Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church killing Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, and you organised your first demonstration in Lansing protesting against the Klan. Now, forty years later, we are still witnessing gruesome, unacceptable and unconscionable killings of young black men and women. These are systemic racially motivated killings of black citizens in the U.S. What are your thoughts?

D.B. Well, at least they curbed outright lynching. In the 20’s they couldn’t even pass a federal law against it, and in the 40’s Harry Anslinger ruined Billie Holliday’s life for singing “Strange Fruit.”  Nixon kept pot illegal against the recommendation of his own Schaefer Commission, because putting cannabis and heroin in the same category made the Controlled Substances Act the instrument of political persecution of the Black Panthers and the Yippies!, the lynchpin of the New Jim Crow, mass incarceration and the Southern Strategy. Police shootings affect hundreds; slow death in prison hundreds of thousands.

S.V. Could you tell us about the Yippies (Youth International movement) and the Yipster Times?

D.B. Abbie Hoffman recruited me in January, 1968, because we’d given away 4 pounds of joints to Levitate the Pentagon the previous October. I missed Chicago myself, but got involved again when it was decided to restart the Youth International Party. Our first action was the first Washington, D.C. Smoke-in in 1970 — where we punctured Nixon’s Honor America Day summoning of the Hardhat Legions (there were no hardhats, just some rightwing evangelicals) and overwhelmed Billy Graham’s meager turnout with a spirited antiwar protest. (Everyone else was afraid because the Kent State shootings had just happened.)

After I confronted McGovern we came back from Miami to New York City and started a newspaper, which explored a lot of protests as the war ended, especially marijuana smoke-ins, Rock against Racism, and phonephreaking, which became hacking, which became ubiquitous computers. In the ’80’s we stood foursquare against Reagan and eventually developed ibogaine by the early 90’s, after the paper shut down.

S.V. Most people know you are a passionate advocate for the legalisation of   marijuana and as you’ve expressed, you have a long history of marijuana  activism – leading the 1972 smoke in outside the Democratic Convention. You also founded the Global Million Marijuana March, and were the first point of call for many Aids victims, for New York’s underground medical marijuana network. Are you happy with the progress made on marijuana?

D.B. I’m not done yet. Once again, there is tremendous controversy about the CSA (Controlled Substances Act) and a push to de-schedule cannabis altogether, so it’s not even in the drug law. We need to pass a law abolishing “pothibition”, like the law against keeping slaves, or the Civil Rights Acts of the 60’s.

S.V. You also staunchly support the use of ibogaine for the treatment of drug addiction and highlighted some of the initiatives you’ve been involved in to make people aware of its benefits.Can you explain why you’re so convinced that  ibogaine works and how it differs from other medical treatments for addiction?

D.B. After almost 9 years, eventually someone I really knew took it, and I became convinced. If anyone told you a sufficient dose of a rainforest substance could end heroin withdrawal in 30 minutes and eliminate the habit so that withdrawal never came back, and craving disappeared, you would say it was too good to be true until you became convinced. Eventually everyone who reads this will advocate ibogaine, because it works via nerve growth factor GDNF, so that small amounts given daily, cures Parkinsons and re-sprouts dopamine receptors.

S.V. Turning to more personal travails: Despite suffering two heart attacks and being arrested and jailed multiple times, you continue to agitate and instigate. What’s your secret? How do you keep going in spite of all the obstacles and setbacks you’ve faced?

D.B. I would die of boredom otherwise.

S.V.Finally, on a more relaxed note, if you could share a spliff with anyone living or dead who would it be ? 

D.B. Willie Nelson or Bill Maher.


Action in Provincetown, MA




dana-1Dana Beal Arrest 1967. Freed outside Federal Courthouse

dana-2with David Peel, underground newspaper 1977, covering marijuana laws

dana-3Dana and fellow activists at underground newspaper promoting May Day is J Day

dana-4Sister Somayah Kambui Cannabis Activist and Sickle cell Anemia Sufferer RIP

dana-5Re-occupy Rally for the Yippie Times

dana-6with Aron “The Pieman” Kay

dana-7At the NYC cannabis parade

dana-8Yippie Rally

dana-9With Steve Conliff 1977

dana-10Dana Beal addressing the crowd at the White House Smoke-in,  July 2016

dana-11Dana Beal and Jerry Rubin, with Ben Masel, passing a joint on stage

dana-12Dana Beal with Leland Radovanovic NYC, Cannabis Parade

dana-13This was the Inauguration of Nobody’s Counter inaugural Ball
on the night of 1/20/77 at DC’s

dana-14Dana Beal, Joff Wilson and David Peel en route to the UN building

dana-15Dana Beal with American Rapper and activist Immortal Technique


dana-17leading the protest to the DNC



Dana with fellow marijuana activists bringing the giant joint to Clinton’s doorstep



Photo: Chas Andrews

Rocket Ron Whitehead the twirling swirling dervish of the spoken, written and flying word waxes poetic on basketball, politics and his view on our world

 “I have long admired Ron Whitehead – he is as crazy as nine loons and his poetry is a dazzling mix of folk wisdom and pure mathematics.”
Hunter S. Thompson 


American agitator, grassroots activist and global firebrand.

Professor, author, Nobel prize nominee and a native son of Kentucky. 


Saira Viola: Raised on a farm in Kentucky how important is nature in your work and the rhythmic beat of the lan? 

Ron Whitehead: We’re born in space. We measure space with time. But if that’s all there was life would be boring, tick tock metronomic. It’s the third element, rhythm, that adds the magic the mojo the mysterium tremendum the terrible beauty the poetry to life! As a boy wandering cross the yard the meadow the pastures the wild flowered fields the tall woods down the crooked dirt roads the lost backroads the coal train railroads the luscious Kentucky wilderness I walked with the beat with rhythm. I skipped I jumped I shouted I danced I proclaimed I sang the words coming to me channeled straight riding the blood crest direct from the holy unholy realms of the creative imagination right into me. Oh  the poems the songs came early and there has been a steady non-stop river of alchemical fire burning through me ever since I was 5 years old and I’m 66 now and the river has grown the river is vast and it’s gushing into all the oceans of the worlds!

Photo: Jinn Bugg

SV: Music is one of your primary passions and you’ve collaborated with artists and musicians all over the world. What is the significance of music in your verse and who offers you the most inspiration?


Music Saved My Life and Bob Dylan Saved My Soul
The Impossible Dream

“Just as I am without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me”
Turned on the radio and heard Bob Dylan
Singing Like A Rolling Stone “how does it feel

to be on your own a complete unknown” and
I caught myself breaking my promise

So what if I was flat as a pancake

Music had saved my life more than once
And every time I’d listened non-stop to

Bob Dylan well -ever since I was 12 years old
Every time I heard him sing I felt deep down inside

He was saving my soul helping me want to keep on
Keeping on no matter what the hell was going on

And I knew then as I knew before and after that
I’d never quit listening to Bob Dylan who I regard

To this day as The Best of them all better than Homer
Better than Shakespeare his words his songs helped

Me know I’d never abandon song I’d never quit
Listening to the Gift of God sweet music and even

And then came Elvis and Johnny and Jerry Lee and
Daddy said turn it off but he was glued too

And being a poet who loves music as much as poetry
Well Bob’s words and I knew them all by heart

Bob’s words saved my soul growing up in the pioneer lands
Of Kentucky where Bluegrass was birthed distant cousin

Photo: Jinn Bugg

SV: You have just released your latest anthology of verse a basketball inspired collection: blistered asphalt on dixie highway: Kentucky Basketball is Poetry in Motion” by Ron Whitehead (Finishing Line Press; 40 pages, $14.99) and performed alongside legendary player Frank Messina, can you explain how this collection came about?  

RW: In 2014 I was the featured poet at 4 international Arts Festivals in Estonia and Finland. While on a 9-hour train ride from Lapland to southern Finland, while contemplating the beautiful nature and people of Finland and considering how much Kentucky and Finland have in common, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I knew little about the 1st 18 years of my Mother’s life. Mama is the oldest of 13. Daddy was 1 of 11. I’m the oldest of 6. In 2 minutes I fleshed out a book about Mama’s early life. When I returned to Kentucky I called Mama and told her my story and my plan and I asked her if she’d co-author the book with me. She excitedly said Yes! The book is titled MAMA: a poet’s heart in a Kentucky girl. In 2015 it was released in hardback. In 2016 the paperback came out. At the age of 83 Mama became, for the 1st time, a published author. It’s one of the greatest gifts I was ever able to give her!

While working on the MAMA book my long-time friend New York Mets Poet Frank Messina called me. Frank and I have toured across Europe and the USA. We have performed, recorded, and been best of friends since May of 1994 when he performed, with his band Spoken Motion, at the 48-hour non-stop music and poetry Insomniacathon I produced to kick off New York University’s week long 50-year celebration of The Beat Generation. Frank and I call each other often to get caught up on life. When I told him about the book I was writing, with Mama, he suggested I write a book of basketball poems sharing with the world some of the stories I’d shared with him during our travels. Frank wrote a book of Mets poems which landed him a feature story on the front cover of The New York Times. I told Frank, “HellYeah! That’s a Great Idea!” And so I started writing the basketball book while writing the MAMA book.

The basketball book won the $1,000, plus publication, grand prize from Finishing Line Press. Frank hosted the release event at NYC’s historic Poets House. Miles Davis biographer Quincey Troupe, composer David Amram, and others performed. Frank hosted an  amazing event. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d write a book of basketball poems. When my sweetheart Jinn Bug told me she loved the book and that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever written well knowing that she hates sports I was ecstatic. The book is about life. My experiences playing basketball, since I was a boy, all over the world is the thread that holds it all together.


Art by Ryan Case

SV: You are a key cultural influence in the underground movement and well known in the Kentucky community and beyond for your anti establishment views, as part of the original Beat circle who affected you the most during the Beat era and who do you feel resonates now?


On First Reading Jack Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD
Down and Out in Kentucky
Part VII
For Madmen Only

We’d finished our second fifth of Southern Comfort
and the mescaline was kicking in

Jimi Hendrix crosses borders threatening to ascend towards heaven
with lightning and thunder he plays

Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower stereo loud as it will go
here in the only underground bookstore in Kentucky

For Madmen Only
shelves and bins stocked with books and records from

City Lights and book people San Francisco
Atlantis and Alligator New Orleans

teas and herbs candles and incense from mountain communes
turquoise blue Spiritual Sky

and next door in
The Store

our head shop
paraphernalia rolling papers pipes bongs roach clips
water beds posters GROW YOUR OWN
blankets and clothes from India Native American jewelry

and we’re serving the new consciousness
inspired by the one and only King of The Dharma Bums

Jack Kerouac
and yes there’s Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Gary Snyder Richard Brautigan Ken Kesey Neal Cassady
Allen Ginsberg William Carlos Williams William Blake

Hermann Hesse Knut Hamsun Dostoevski Nietzsche
Bukowski Thomas Merton The Dalai Lama Gandhi

Burroughs LeRoi Jones Diane di Prima
Hunter S. Thompson Ralph Steadman

with Robert Johnson Hound Dog Taylor Howlin’ Wolf
Jimi Hendrix Led Zeppelin

and always Bob Dylan Bob Dylan Bob Dylan
on the stereo

but we’re Down and Out in Kentucky
failing like no others dare fail

and we’re always on the outside outsiders outlaws
being told you don’t fit you ain’t shit what the fuck you doing here

Photo: Jinn Bugg

SV: You have authored over 30 books of verse, been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and successfully maintained an active and inclusive role on the literary circuit what advice can you give those who want to follow your trail? How do they beat the rejection blues? 


there is no safety
all is demanded

expose yourself completely
accept the consequences

of your successes
and your failures

as no other dare
enlightened mind

is not special
it is natural

present yourself
as you are

wise fool
don’t hesitate

embrace mystery paradox uncertainty
have courage

through fear
and boredom

have faith
be compassion

embrace the wind
embrace your heart

not-knowing is the fundamental plowed earth of our being
it is our life source


ron whitehead

Photo: Jinn Bugg


SV: As someone who has witnessed first hand the divisive politics of race hate in the US and particularly in Kentucky what are your thoughts on the American race debate today?

And what worries you most in a Trumpian world?  

RW: I was raised to be a compassionate warrior. When I was 25 I took a personal vow to become a non-violent spiritual warrior, using poetry as my primary vehicle of communication. But I tell you what, I’d sure like to take Donald Trump on, man to man, one on one!


I Will Not Bow Down
to your Reign of Fear Based Racist Street Bully Tyranny

I Will Not Bow Down Donald Trump
I Will Not Bow Down
to your Racially Purified White America
to your Dividing and Conquering the USA

I will not Bow Down Donald Trump
I Will Not Bow Down
to your Racist Fear Based Power Mongering
in the name of Democracy!!!

Donald Trump
I pledge allegiance to the Creative Forces of the universe
to the Word and to Silence
I pledge allegiance to Dreams
I pledge allegiance to Birth to the Journey and to Death
I pledge allegiance
to Candor to Sincerity to Laughter and to Irony
I pledge allegiance to Passion to Compassion
to Empathy and to helping those in need

Photo: Jinn Bugg

SV: How if at all do you think art and literature can initiate or influence political and social change?  


Can Art Matter?

The Storm Generation Manifesto

The older I get the more I realize I don’t know anything, no one does. We’re all guessing, feeling our way, grappling for answers. But every day I have encounters with the spirit world. We are all in perpetual motion, in transition, even when we are still, silent, listening. Listening is the greatest art of all.

Not-knowing is the fundamental plowed earth of our being, not-knowing. It is our life source. Embrace the wind. Embrace my heart. Born to die, there is no safety, all is demanded. Expose yourself completely. Accept the consequences of your successes, and your failures, as no other dare.

Enlightened mind is not special, it is natural. Present yourself as you are, wise fool. Don’t hesitate, embrace mystery paradox uncertainty. Have courage. Through fear, and boredom, have faith. Be compassion. Embrace the wind. Embrace your heart. Not-knowing is the fundamental plowed earth of our being. It is our life source. Not-knowing.

Today ‘Specialization’ is sold on every corner, fed in every home, brainwashed into every student, every young person. We are told that the only way to succeed, here at the beginning of the 21st Century is to put all our time, energy, learning, and focus into one area, one field, one specialty (math, science, computer technology, business, government). If we don’t we will fail. We are subtly and forcefully, implicitly and explicitly, encouraged to deny the rest of who we are, our total self, selves, our holistic being. The postmodern brave new world resides inside the computer via The Web with only faint peripheral recognition to the person, the individual (and by extension the real global community), the real human being operating the machine.

The idea of and belief in specialization as the only path, only possibility, has sped up the fragmentation, the alienation which began to grow rapidly within the individual, radically reshaping culture, over a century ago with the birth of those Machiavellian revolutions in technology, industry, and war. And with the growing fracturing fragmentation and alienation comes the path – anger, fear, anxiety, angst, ennui, nihilism, depression, despair – that, for the person of action, leads to suicide.

Unless, through our paradoxical leap of creative faith we engage ourselves in the belief, which can become a life mission that regardless of the consequences, we can, through our engagement, our actions, our loving life work, make the world a better, safer, friendlier place in which to live.

Sound naive? What place does the Storm Generation voice, the voice that, though trembling, speaks out against The Powers That Be, what place does this Visionary Outsider Voice have in the real violent world in which we are immersed? Are we too desensitized to the violence, to the fact that in the past Century alone we have murdered over 160 million people in one war after another, to even think it worthwhile to consider the possibility of a less violent world? Are we too small, too insignificant t o make any kind of difference? The power-mongers have control. What difference can one little individual life possibly make, possibly matter?

Today the X and Y and Z the microserf generations are swollen with young people yearning to express the creative energies buried in their hearts, seeping from every pore of their beings. They ache to change to heal the world. Is it still possible? Is it too late? Is there anyone (a group?) left to show the way to be an example? To be a guide? A mentor? James Joyce, King of Modernism, said the idea of the hero was nothing but a damn lie that the primary motivating forces are passion and compassion.

As late as 1984 people were laughing at George Orwell. Today, as we finally move into an Orwellian culture of simulation life on the screen landscape, can we remember passion and compassion or has the postmodern ironic satyric death in life laugh killed both sperm and egg?

Is there anywhere worth going from here? Is it any wonder that today’s youth have adopted Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Amiri Baraka, Robert Creeley, David Amram, Diane di Prima, Ed Sanders, Anne Waldman, Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, The Clash, Sonic Youth, Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and all the other Beat Generation and related poets, writers, artists, musicians as their inspirational, life-affirming Storm Generation ancestors? These are people who have stood and still stand up against unreasoning power/right/might, looked that power in the eyes and said NO I don’t agree with you and this is why.

And they have spoken these words, not for money or for fame, but out of life’s deepest convictions, out of the belief that we, each one of us, no matter our skin color our economic status our political religious sexual preferences, all of us have the right to live to dream as we choose rather than as some supposed higher moral authority prescribes for us.

How  will poets, writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, photographers of the creative realms of the 21st Century respond to these questions? Some respond with ironic, comic faith, some with passion, with compassion, without which the intelligent sensitive creature will inevitably traverse the Valley of The Shadow of Death encountering Angst, Despair, Ennui, and possibly Suicide. The Storm Generation poet writer musician artist filmmaker photographer the empath whose natural ability is negative capability, ineluctably chooses the life-game quest of self-creation in the possibly infinite probability of possible realities in the self-contained inter-connected Ocean of Consciousness.

So, where are you going? Please answer the question. Can art matter?


listening is
the greatest art of all


My argument for The Ocean of Consciousness reaches back to the early experiential understanding of holy while reaching forward beyond the limits of dialectical gnosticism to an alchemy that also transcends divisions inherent in the alienation the fragmentation of Deep Modernism and the superficial chaos of postmodernism.

we are non-violent spiritual warriors

Photo: Jinn Bugg

Photo: Erin Whitson

SV: As someone who has struggled with addiction what has been the hardest part of that journey?


i took my last drink of alcohol
on sunday morning july 28, 2013
i took my last drink of alcohol

on sunday morning may 21, 2017
i have more clarity than ever

my liver has healed my health is restored
i’m on creative fire like never before

and why did i stop drinking you ask
well i’ll tell you

my liver was in bad shape
my health was down the tubes

but more than anything
i fell in love with jinn

p.s. no i didn’t go through AA or any other recovery program.

i decided to quit drinking and i quit. no side effects no recovery problems. i have no problem with AA and NA. i’ve studied the literature for all the healing and recovery programs. everyone has to find their own way. it doesn’t bother me what anyone does. never has never will. i simply want the best for everyone. that’s all.

thank you ALL for listening.

Photo: Deborah Fuller


SV: As someone who identifies with the primal influences of Icelandic culture what moves you beyond the realms of the present?

RW:  The yearning the eager desire for adventure into the unknown.

SV: Is there a single book that changed your life and inspired you to write?

RW: Once each week, when I was a boy, the Bookmobile came to our school.

I was forever searching for new adventurously fascinating books. Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME is the inspirational book that stands out more than any other from my childhood.

SV: Every artist finds their own method of shaping their work, is there a poetic process you can share when you put words to paper? 

RW: I open all my energy centers, my chakras, and relax my perineum, allowing my entire being to become electric lightning white light. I listen. I go wherever my intuition guides me to go. I don’t hesitate. I fearlessly go. I call the process the sorcery of poetry.

Gonzofest Louisville

SV: You’ve been fortunate to meet some of the giants of literature is there anyone alive or not that you wished you’d spent some time with?  

RW: I’m honored to have edited, published, shared the stage and page, practiced hangoutology, become friends with all of them. And I anticipate making many more new friends as I journey on.

SV: Do you have an opinion on poetry and lit critics?

RW: Refer to my


poets come out of your toilets
you’ve been holed up too long

playing with yourselves with
your wastes you’re wasting away

SV: Have you ever suffered the numbing hand of censorship?

RW: Yes. I’m totally against censorship. As adults, as long as we aren’t harming others, we should have the freedom to choose.

SV: For those who are uninitiated what is GONZO Fest?

RW: On December 12, 1996 I produced The Official Hunter S. Thompson Tribute in Hunter’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I brought in Hunter, his mother Virginia, his son Juan, Johnny Depp, Warren Zevon, Roxanne Pulitzer, Douglas Brinkley, Bob Braudis, David Amram, and others. After Hunter died I wrote a tribute plus 13 suggestions for Louisville to honor Hunter in his hometown. 7 years ago Dennie Humphrey and I founded GonzoFest, a celebration of the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. This year The Louisville Free Public Library, Hunter’s 1st library, became home to GonzoFest. Hunter’s mother, Virginia, retired as librarian there. Hunter’s mother was a remarkable person. I was honored to be her friend.

SV: And finally if you could be President of the USA for one week what would you do?


I’m an Abraham Lincoln Republican
in 1863 he signed The Emancipation Proclamation
freeing the slaves

I’m a Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democrat
in 1935 he signed The Social Security Act
giving the working class the only retirement
most of us will ever have

I’m a Benjamin Franklin Independent
that eccentric genius who more than anyone
birthed the United States
and those precious documents
The Declaration of Independence
& The Constitution
& The Bill of Rights
on which it still barely stands

But more than anything
I’m a Kentucky farm boy poet anarchist
The only government for me
is the government of individual responsibility
and helping my neighbors

If I were President of The United States of America for one week I would do everything possible to
Implement the doctrines inherent in my poem Prayer:


thank you for the bounty of life
for the beauty of nature
and for the love of family and friends


Ron Whitehead


All photos courtesy of Ron Whitehead unless otherwise stated

Photo: Jessica Mathis


art by Joey Feldman

art by Joey Feldman
Clive Stafford Smith OBE is one of the leading lights of the legal profession, a recipient of numerous awards for services to the law, including the Gandhi International Peace Prize and shortlisted twice for the prestigious Orwell Book of Fiction award. A tireless defender of human rights and justice, Gonzo celebrates the ultimate legal rock star.
Interviewed by Saira Viola


Saira Viola: Lawyers are generally perceived as leeching piranhas, who shamelessly profit from other peoples’ misery, but you have successfully bucked this trend and are very much seen as the pinup of peoples’ justice. Who or what influenced you to become a lawyer?
Clive Stafford Smith: In my view there is only really one purpose to any professional qualification, and that is how it may facilitate assisting those who are less fortunate. My own preference is to look around the world and see who is most hated, and then get between them and the ones doing the hating. In that sense, having a law degree is a helpful tool as it gives one the power to do some good.
S.V.As someone who is passionate about the Rule of Law and the legal process, ostensibly working within the system to change the system, the founder of the non-profit legal charity Reprieve, a staunch death row activist, and someone who has championed the rights of the disenfranchised and wrongly incarcerated for over three decades, can you explain what it feels like to witness a state execution when you hold an unequivocal gut belief that the person you are representing should in fact be freed and the system has crucially failed?
C.S.S. I don’t care whether they should be released from prison or not. But whenever anyone is executed that is a failure of the system. Witnessing an execution in the 21st Century, where we sacrifice a human being to the mythological notion that it makes the world a better place, is (I imagine) rather like going back to the 17th Century and watching a witch being burned at the stake.
S.V. Moreover, was it your belief in the system that allegedly prompted you to pen a 50 page brief in defence of Saddam Hussein, allegedly contending that he should be tried in the U.S. under U.S. criminal law?
C.S.S. That is nonsense, as I never penned such a brief. I don’t see why he should be tried in the U.S. at all, as the U.S. has no right to try him. I did, however, write a brief detailing how he might be defended from the grisly fate that awaited him, based on the fact that the U.S. was meddling in the Iraqi justice system in ways that were reprehensible.
S.V. Can you sum up in simple terms what has been the effect of the WAR ON TERROR?
C.S.S. It’s not the War on Terror, it’s the War of Terror. The U.S. and its allies have visited more chaos and terror on the world than Bin Laden ever did, though obviously 9/11 was a dreadful and deranged act. The effect of the WOT has been to make the world a vastly more dangerous place, though not for those who are most afraid (the Americans and the West) but rather for the people who actually suffer in it everyday across the Middle East and elsewhere. In the words of Michael Franti, you can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace.
S.V. You are probably most well-known for representing detainees of Guantanamo Bay. And this year, after years of wrongful imprisonment, Shaker Ameer was finally freed. We are now witnessing grassroots activism and public anger at the way prisoners and alleged enemy combatants are treated, and you have successfully saved over 300 death row inmates from state execution and defended over 80 detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Former detainees of  GITMO have highlighted the barbaric treatment they were subject to culminating in calls for reform .But we are also witness to police brutality on the streets, civil unrest and extra judicial killings of black citizens in America. There is a strong wave of public outrage at what some commentators see as the ethnic cleansing of the black community in the U.S. Quentin Tarantino, the film director, has spoken out against these killings and he has suffered an unprecedented backlash from police federations. There is a general mood of discomfort and anger about the erosion of citizens’ rights and what appear to be the systemic racially motivated killings of black citizens in the U.S. What are your thoughts?
C.S.S  That  violence has been there for all my life in the U.S., and long before it. Only now people are finally seeing how terrible it is.
S.V. Finally, as someone who is at the forefront of the civil liberties debate who or what do you think is the deadliest threat to our civil liberties today?
C.S.S. Secrecy. If power can do terrible things and claim that they should be secret, we are in grave danger.

Yippie Yippie! Pie Aye! Pie Pie Pie Days!


Meet Aron Kay champion pie thrower, grassroots activist, professional agitator and ‘unrepentant hippie Yippie Jewish world warrior.’

Saira Viola talks  pies, politics and  pot with the original ‘Pie Man,’ a beloved and mischievous figure from the American counter culture era of the 60s and 70s, who continues to exert his unflinching exuberance influence, and passion for the evolving activist movements today.

S.V. Who or what inspired you to become chief pie thrower?

A.K. I happen to be a Vietnam war child and a child of the holocausts my mother was a graduate of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, my father hid from the Nazis in a polish forest for three years so I was very aware of  political situations. I grew up watching Abbot & Costello, and Marx brothers movies, you know, The Three Stooges and my heritage, my Jewish sense of humour is part of my survival. It’s in me, that kind of warped sense of fun. I actually witnessed Tom Forcade pie a member of the President’s Commission of Obscenity and Pornography in 1970  and that was the moment, and it all just followed on from that.

S.V. Have you always been involved with the underground movement and counter culture politics?

A.K. Yes, I explained my background, you know where I’m from and my parents, and back in the 60s I was living in LA and I was part of the Griffin Park Love Ins we gave away free food to the community, I was always a rebel. Even when I was a kid I used to drive my parents crazy like the time I got back from a Grateful Dead concert tripping on acid and snuck  a young lady into my room. Later on I became very focused on radical politics and believe you have to protest you have to challenge what’s unjust with society. I protested the Vietnam war,  went to all the black panther rallies and witnessed the protest at the courthouse  in favour of Bobby Seal (Former Black Panther), campaigned for the legalisation of marijuana with other activists and was  part of a wave of underground radicals that really made a difference.

And I’m not done yet, as a cancer survivor, I have a fresh cause to fight for, I believe that health care is an inalienable  human right for everybody. And there should be a constitutional amendment on it, quality healthcare is a right everyone should be entitled to. As someone who has suffered on the frontline with cancer enduring endless rounds of chemo, having my beard and hair fall out we need a mass amnesty on marijuana, I was lucky I had pot edibles to get me through my cancer treatment, but others aren’t so lucky. We need to de-schedule it so everyone can benefit from treatment. And not give in to corporactocracy.

S.V. Turning back to pie days – who was the very first person you pied?

A.K. I  popped my pie cherry by attempting to pie Rennie Davis  who was a defendant in the case of the Chicago 8…Rennie had sold out to the fifteen year old “perfect master” guru maharaj ji….the pie was thrown during his rally at the Anderson Theater in NYC.

phyllis-schlafyAnti-feminist Phyliss Schlafly receives apple pie

S.V. You’ve said and most people would agree that everybody knows somebody who needs to be pied. You’ve successfully pied all kinds of people including William Buckley Jr., (conservative author), Senator Pan Monihan, former New York mayor Abraham Beame, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy (Nixon operatives), Quinton Kopp, Steve Rubella (Studio 54), Jerry Brown, McGeorge Bundy, Edward Teller, Randal Terry and Andy Warhol. Most of these targets were political, ultra right wing, well known, authority figures. Why did you pie Andy Warhol?

A.K. I believe Warhol had dinner with the Shah of Iran who was a bloodthirsty dictator. It pissed me off.

warholAndy Warhol gets a cherry pie at a High Times bash

S.V. What do you think the pie achieves that other protests lack?

A.K. Well it brings a sense of humour into the political debate and as a political statement it creates immediate impact, deflates the victim’s ego and humanises them in a way. Some people take it really badly and are offended, others just laugh it off, but it creates an impact.

S.V. Why do you think pie throwing is becoming an increasingly rare form of political  protest?

A.K. The short answer to that is people are too candy assed  to take a risk. It creates legal problems for people and people nowadays don’t want to take that risk. You could end up behind bars, in some places it’s deemed assault and you could get a stiff fine or jail time.

S.V. Who would you most like to pie now?

A.K. The Queen, she needs a drastic pieing – Irish pudding flavour; David Duke (leader of the Klu Klux Klan) he needs a knuckle kosher fist pie; Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O Reilly. And of course paedophiles, Nazis, extreme right wingers – they all need pieing.

S.V.What about the Donald?

A.K.Trump? He needs a female to pie him, he’d feel castrated then.

S.V.Is there anyone you wouldn’t pie?

A.K.There is a pieman etiquette I adhere to. I would never pie anyone disabled, or in a wheelchair, anyone hurt or blind. There’s ethics involved.

S.V. And finally, as someone who’s lived it, been there and done it do you think the alternative culture of the underground has been successful?

A.K. I’m positive we made changes, but there’s still so much more we have to do and can do. Fifty years have passed since the era of the Summer of Love began …it ain’t over till it’s over!!!

pie6Venice activist Jerry Rubin lands one on pro-nuker Edward Teller.

pie19Rex Weiner and Deanne Stillman, founders of Piekill pie David Frost

pie1See it fly toward ex-Mayor Beame of NYC

Occupy Wall Street



Aron Kay with the late Jerry Rubin Chicago 8 Defendant

The Pie Man cometh JPG Aron Kay In Action


Pieman Aron Kay Gets Ed Koch out of Joint


High Times founder Tom Forcade lands a faceful


Return of The Rude Boy!
Saira Viola talks to Cult Punk Agitator and Bonafide Rebel Ray Gange.


Godfathers of Punk: The Clash released their first feature film a mix of rock doc and fiction in 1980 to less than ecstatic audiences. Produced and directed by Jack Hazen and David Mingay the film boasts electrifying footage from the Sort It Out, and On Parole Tours, and shows the band in the studio recording Give Em Enough Rope, but was largely panned by critics as an empty bag of tricks with no real staying power. The undisputed star of the film however, was not the band but rude boy Ray, who slides from scene to scene juiced up on Special Brew and H. For a long time The Clash tried to have the film edited down to a concert movie. Years later its casual effectiveness, unintentional irony and social awareness secured cult status for Gange in Britain and beyond. With a recent airing at the Barbican, the punk vibe has returned. Ray G talks about his rebel punk daze.


S.V. Can you explain what The Clash means to you?

R.G. Awareness, using anger positively, and not allowing yourself to be pigeon-holed by others. Most exciting live band I’ve ever seen, lyrical brilliance. An education. “Give it all you got or forget about it”

S.V. The Clash emerged at the beginning of the punk era: a time when Britain was crippled with race riots, poverty, and post Vietnam war angst – aligning themselves with Marxist revolutionaries they were the soundtrack of a politically conscious youth. How did you become their roadie? Tell me about Rude Boy? 

R.G. The Roadie thing is a misconception from the Rude Boy movie having that ‘fakeumentary,’ feel about it.  I’d become friends with Strummer while I was working in a record shop in Soho, and just used to go to gigs or the pub or over to where he lived & play records etc. One day I was talking to a film maker customer, David Mingay, in the shop and he mentioned his company were about to start working on a film about The Clash. I mentioned I knew them and was friends of Strummer, and a few weeks later he told me they were looking for a fan-type character to be in this film and would I like to do it. Mr Mingay, by the way, appears to remember this origination somewhat differently, but it was a long time ago. Anyhow after some thought and discussions with Strummer I agreed to be in it.


S.V. So you’ve never been a punk rock roadie?

R.G. Nor any other kind. I have an aversion to heavy lifting and long hours.

S.V.You were only 18/19 years old, in the film, but were roundly criticised for  having dissenting right wing views in the movie – was that accurate?

R.G. To be honest, at that time I didn’t really have any political views at all,  those were for old folks I thought then (as I’m old and political now maybe that was true?)

When we were shooting that scene of Joe & I in the pub,  I was listening to what Joe had to say and for lack of prior thought on the topic, I decided to respond from the position of the older, south London working men I used to drink in pubs with, and react as they would,  as up until that point those would have been the only expressions of political thought I’d  have heard.

Had  I been less naïve, more serious, I might have realized how these things might later be interpreted & I’d have put more thought into it. 

S.V. Did Joe influence you and shape your later political views – tell us about the Brigade Rosse scene in the movie? 

R.G. I’m not sure that I reaped the benefits of his influence until many years later. I  know that he was the first older person that I had any real respect for. If he had a part to play in my later political views it would be from realizing that his thinking and the lyrics of The Clash’s songs have, in my opinion, become more relevant as time goes on.

I knew from news reports that the Red Brigade were a so-called terrorist outfit but in that scene, which like most was an improvisation, as a counterpoint to the seriousness of the subject matter, I was trying to reference the comedy of Leonard Rossiter/Joan Collins Cinzano TV ads of the time and mimic Joe’s voice back at him, neither of which seemed to be too successful.

S.V. You’ve done another movie since, a Western. Can you describe your role in that and did you have a role inAbsolute Beginners? Would you like to do more acting in the future?

R.G. In the western called The Price of Death, directed by the great Danny Garcia, I play Sam Crenshaw, a member of a gang of desperadoes on the hunt for the loot a former gang member stole from us, which of course we’d stolen in the first place but that don’t matter to us. Suffice to say in the grand tradition of spaghetti westerns, it doesn’t all go to plan.

As for Absolute Beginners, Julien Temple kindly found the role of an extra for me to play which he then expanded with dialogue. Unfortunately my increasing drug dependency meant I failed to show up on set for my big scene with Steven Berkoff, and this resulted in my only on screen appearance lasting about 2 seconds as I rush across the street.

I’ll do more acting if I get offered any for sure. I really appreciate the whole production process of a movie much more than I did when I first experienced it so many years ago.

S.V. Ray! You  missed out on a great cinematic moment with Steven Berkoff! Shame! But the movie sounds like a crowd pleaser. When’s it out and is there a trailer for us to see? 

R.G.I think it was scheduled for November this year but this appears to have been delayed because the director has a few projects running simultaneously. 

S.V.What was it actually like living in London during the Punk years?

R.G. London for me in late 70’s – late 80’s was generally a blast as I was working in a record shop which was great fun, going to see bands almost all the time or ‘partying’ as they say these days.

I don’t really remember things like ‘the 3 day week’ or ‘the dustmen’s strike’ or those other great doom n gloom stories of the time. Too busy having a good time. I think I was probably living in LA for much of the time that folks regard as the worst of it.

S.V. How serious was your heroin addiction?

R.G. In a nutshell: “Goodbye the 80’s”. The descent from recreational usage of late 70’s into full-on addiction is not something that I noticed until one day I had an inkling that this might not be the best way to live and then discovered that stopping isn’t so simple. That friends had been distancing themselves for some time didn’t register, neither did lost career opportunities (I know I know), lost girlfriends etc. The  only thing that seemed to matter was getting and using more drugs.

Eventually I had an epiphany that I was going to die in squalid circumstances and found the wherewithal to not want that demise. This awakening led to a two year to & fro’ battle including a rehab stint before eventually, with the help of others, I discovered that the easiest way to give up drugs and alcohol is to give up drugs and alcohol.

Twenty  years later that sounds so simple and obvious but when you are trapped in that cycle of self-destruction that’s the last thing that it is.

S.V. Yeah, and would you say it’s a constant battle with yourself to keep away from drugs and alcohol? Any advice for those in the thick of it? 

R.G. Hasn’t been a battle for a long time, I’d sooner stick electrodes on my testicles, one day at a time . Of course,  tomorrow is forever a mystery. My advice to anyone struggling is to seek help from those that have been through the same experiences.

(Moving on then – such a graphic image ..) 

S.V. You’re an art school grad, DJ, actor and activist what’s your view on the future of Britain? 

R.G. Without wishing to appear too dystopian, unless we have a major shift in peoples thinking & voting, if it isn’t already too late for that, then we will become a country of bread slaves convinced that we are at liberty as long as our electronic devices aren’t taken away from us. Folks need to liberate their thinking, start forming barter communities and using local currencies such as those that currently operate in UK towns such as Totnes, Brixton & Lewes.

The problem is that everyone’s waiting for someone else to lead the revolution but that person’s busy playing Call of Duty or GTA X or some such.

I went to a talk by Bernie Rhodes (Former Manager of The Clash) recently  and at the end of his stage ‘thing,’ he stood at the front of the stage, looked into the crowd and said “I’m seventy two, I’ve done my shaking things up bit, a few times. When are you lot going to get off your arses and do something?” This  was met by polite applause and a few uncomfortable sniggers.

S.V. Hmmm, why do you think there is such cynicism in the younger generation, and a reluctance to make trouble, agitate and rattle cages? 

R.G. Because they get everything they want from a screen so they don’t see any problems as long as they have a good wifi connection. 

S.V.Views on Simon Cowell the pop puppet Svengali and his influence on the music industry? 

R.G. Ah, Mr Homogeneity? Does he have an interest in music?

S.V. He is a supreme puppet master me thinks, but as someone who was part of the rich spontaneity of the punk era, what do you think about how he’s dominated the music industry?

R.G. Well, it’s pretty tragic but it dovetails perfectly into the lack of discernment that folks seem to have for the content of popular culture. The Hunger Games edges ever closer to being humanities reality. 

S.V.Who do you think was the ultimate subversive? 

R.G. Throbbing Gristle, Duchamp and Warhol.

S.V. Any heroes? 

R.G. Lee Marvin.

S.V. Ideally where would you like to be Ladbroke Grove or LA? 

R.G. Los Angeles, not the cultural desert many perceive it to be and, despite appearances,  in fact much more subversive than West London will ever be again. Plus it’s easier to hide from excessive sunshine than excessive grey.

S.V.Who’s your favourite writer, artist, actor, politician?

R.G. Writer: John Fante or Chester Himes or Colin MacInnes

Artist: Richard Diebenkorn

Actor: Geoffrey Rush

Politico: Robin Cook RIP, Bernie Sanders

S.V.What’s the most worrying aspect to you about Britain today?

R.G. That too many of the working class/lower middle class seem to believe that The Tories have their best interests at heart. And that we are sleepwalking into a proto soft-fascism. 

S.V. Hillary or Trump ? 

R.G. It’s a real dichotomy. HRC will probably pursue a  foreign policy that continues to destabilise half the planet whereas the apparent  domestic policies of a future President Trump would seem to give a lot of unpleasant people permission to behave in very unpleasant ways especially if female, non-white or just plain different, plus God knows what DT might push for as CIC.

S.V. Best memory of the Clash?

R.G. Going with them to see The Village People at La Palace in Paris late 78.

S.V. Favourite song of all time?

R.G. Move on Up – Curtis Mayfield

For what its worth – Buffalo Springfield

Rockaway Beach– Ramones

S.V.Would you ever admit to listening to Abba or show tunes like Oliver? 

R.G. (Smiles ) When working in a Soho record shop I was given tickets to the premiere of Abba: The Movie. Joe Strummer was delighted to come with me to that!

A Chorus Line (Original Broadway Cast) is one of the most prized albums in my collection.

S.V.What if anything keeps you up at night ?

R.G. Cramp. 

S.V.Sorry to hear that. A cool tip from a great friend of mine is turmeric, hot water honey and lemon that might do the trick. Give it a go. 

R.G. Thanks. I’ll try it.

S.V. If you met Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or Kanye what might you say?

R.G. Other than the money, WHY?????????

S.V. Is there still or was there ever beef between you and The Clash?

R.G. Nope, they had a beef with the makers of Rude Boy which made things a bit awkward at times but even when things were fractious the band and I still got along. Not so much with their crew. Post-Rude Boy I was always a guest at any of their gigs whether Clash or BAD or what have you. I was chatting with Topper just recently and often see Mick and Paul at various happenings.

S.V. How would you describe Punk?

R.G. A loud ‘n’ snotty technicolour explosion in a world of grey.

S.V. Do you think there’s a punk renaissance now? If so, why?

R.G. Musically there seems to be a much larger renaissance of new punk in the US. Here it seems to be much more nostalgia based. Probably as so many of the old punks have a feeling of creeping mortality and want to re-live as much of those formative good times as possible and because we find it difficult to get excited about much that’s come along in the post-grunge era.

I think the unexpected early death of Joe Strummer woke a lot of people up to the reality that those days aint coming back so get out and do it again. Demise of the record industry probably helped, in that anyone that was in a band remotely connected to those days has to get back out gigging if they wanna make any dough from that part of their lives and careers.

S.V. You also had Indie chart success yourself with your own music. Why didn’t you proceed with that? 

R.G. That was as a manager/label owner and that ground to a halt as I made the mathematical error of putting the drugs before the success rather than vice versa.

S.V.Tell me about your art, and the concept of urban hieroglyphics?

R.G. Those are a series of paintings autobiographically based on relevant pages of the classic London A-Z, using all the information on the page apart from any words or names. Along the lines of modern cave paintings if you like.

S.V. Hmm, mystically evocative with direct imagery, and now?

R.G. I’m now working on a series of works that are based on cult or classic movies using dialogue as a reference back to the days of silent movies, an attempt at illustrating the circle of life from a filmic perspective.

S.V. Advice to young Ray – What would it be if you had an hour with him?

R.G. Don’t abuse drugs, alcohol or self,  respect others and remember that you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason. Oh, and do some fucking work. 

S.V.What’s new Ray’s manifesto for now?

R.G.  Create, be of service to others and behave with integrity whenever possible. 

S.V. Any regrets?

R.G. What can you do with regrets?

And as  everybody who’s anybody knows, no one knows what the rude boy knows!

clash-3kind permission of Martin Muscatt
Ray with Mick Jones and others
at football match organised by Martin Muscatt for The Clash in 1978

1982 with Maggie Ehrig  singer of LA band Twisted Roots

Ray Gange with Paul Simonon of The Clash

With Don Letts of Big Audio Dynamite and Kirk Brandon

Barbican screening of Rude Boy with Ray Gange in conversation


With former Clash manager Bernie Rhodes

Rude Boy film promo art

original film Rude Boy cover

All Photos courtesy of Ray Gange






Pixi guitar


Peacenik Pixi Morgan was at the vanguard of rebel society: Nomad, musician, protestor and punk, pagan. Christopher Stone sheds light on a bonafide fire starter, the frondeur spirit of nonconformity which characterised his existence now permeating coffeehouses and hipster hangouts throughout the land.


Interview by Saira Viola


Saira Viola: ‘Living on the outside – is such an all encompassing life choice. 
What can you tell us about Pixi’s decision to run away and move in with self professed hippy Steve Andrews ?’

He was very young when he left home, sixteen years old, and at the moment I can’t give you an explanation for why he did. It’s one of the things I will be investigating as I write the book. I do know that he was living in a squat before he moved in with Steve and that he had recently been in the news for saving a bunch of old people from a fire in an old people’s home. That tells you a lot about him. He was already very brave and very spontaneous even as a youngster, characteristics that grew with the years.



‘Pixi gravitated towards music, was completely self taught and became  a highly revered and  accomplished singer and  musician. Can you tell us about his  musical influences and if they inspired his way of life at all?

I asked Steve Andrews to answer some of these questions for me, as he knew Pixi in the early days. This is what Steve says:

He used to play my Dylan and Leonard Cohen albums over and over and added some of their songs to his repertoire later. Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” hints at Pixi’s traveller lifestyle.  I remember him doing an energetic version of Cohen’s Diamonds in the Mine.

Pixi used to say he could play any song with three chords but he learned far more than that and evolved his own style. He was inspired by the singer-songwriters but became more of a travelling minstrel, which was the title of one of his own songs.

What I can add to this is that all the songs he chose to interpret, as well as his own songs, all had a deeply emotional, autobiographical, often pagan element to them. So he did a great version of Solid Ground by Dougie MacLean, which is a lovely song in itself, but to me, having heard Pixi sing it at many a protest, in many a pub garden after some pagan moot, Pixi’s version will always be the definitive one. But there’s one line in it, “My Father’s they have said these things… the joy that shared friendship brings,” which characterises Pixi to perfection. “The Joy that shared friendship brings.” He meant that. It was his secret mantra. He was someone who could give everything to his friends, who was comfortable with emotional intimacy, who was loyal and honest and completely up front with those he chose as his friends. It’s a rare quality.

All of his songs were autobiographical in some way, even when they were other people’s songs which he was interpreting. So there’s a lovely song by Richard Thompson he used to sing: Beeswing. Again, it’s Pixi’s version that is the definitive one to me. Even though Richard Thompson’s is more musically accomplished, Pixi’s in much more heartfelt, much more real. It’s about a woman traveller:

Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child, oh she was running wild
She said “As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay.
And you wouldn’t want me any other way”

You see, he’s singing about himself. He’s the Beeswing in the song. He’s the one “so fine a breath of wind might blow her away, the lost child, running wild etc”. To Richard Thompson, that’s just a story he made up. It’s a good story, well told and well executed. But to Pixi, it was himself, so he took those lyrics to heart and made them absolutely his own, to the point where they are almost achingly poignant.


Nomadic culture has always been part of society, a way to screw the system before it screws you, was this a conscious political decision do you think on Pixi’s part?’

Yes, I think it was. But it was also part of the ethos of our time. Pixi was a latecomer to this. It all goes back to the Free Festivals, to Windsor and Stonehenge, which were deliberate exercises in experimental anarchy. The guy who started the Windsor festival, Bill “Ubi” Dwyer, was almost a card-carrying anarchist, a psychedelic anarchist as my good friend Wally Deanputs it. I think that’s as good a definition of the ethos as you can get: anarchy informed by psychedelia. Pixi was born in the 60s, in 66, so he was a mere baby during the first Summer of Love, but by the second, which was based around Rave, he was in his 20s. So he took to that. He was around Glastonbury for the so-called Harmonic Convergence and was one of the Rainbow Warriors at that time, nothing like he ended up, dressed in rainbow colours and “Love-Bombing” people. So it was political and spiritual at the same time. What I realised about him is that he lived his whole life as an act of resistance: as a deliberate exercise in a sort of cultural guerilla warfare. He was on the front line throughout most of his life: a traveller, a protester, a busker. Even in his final form, which was barely distinguishable from an alcoholic street person, a tramp, I think he made a conscious decision. He went right to the bottom, right to the depths, in order to highlight the presence of humanity in those places. He never lost his empathy. He never lost his connection to people. He was always a person dedicated to love. So, yes, it was political, but not in a theoretical way. In a deeply humane, deeply spiritual way. 

pixi in ely (1)pixi me and nick (1)


‘How would you define a new age traveller vis a vis Pixi?’

See above. The new age travellers arose out of the free festival scene of the early 70s. The movement was reinforced by punks in the later 70s, the so-called Rainbow Punks, of which Pixi was one. During the Thatcher era there was a concerted attempt by the establishment to smash all resistance to their colonisation of our Culture. This is the irony of the story. The Thatcher government took on the Miners first, and then the New Age Travellers and effectively broke them both. It was very violent. She did this using a sort of cod-patriotic rhetoric, about British values and the rest, while selling us out to the corporations. She destroyed heavy industry and the culture and skill sets that went with that – the Miners and the Miner’s Union, being the prime example of that – and replaced it with a service economy. And then she destroyed the Traveller’s movement, which, in part, was a deliberate attempt to find a deep-rooted traditional culture of these Islands, and to express that.


There is a romanticised notion about life on the road, starry serenades at dusk, fresh water skinny dipping at dawn and the glorious freedom of going where you want when you want. For most of us that heroic freedom is just confined to idle daydreaming in between snatched tea breaks and everyday  domestics, what does it take to live like Pixi did?

I think it’s very hard, especially in this culture, where all of the little nooks and crannies of freedom have been blocked off. Literally. So the ancient Bridleways and Droves which criss-cross the landscape have mostly been blocked, with mounds and ditches or big lumps of rock, or gates that only allow small vehicles entry. They all used to be open in the past. But, you know that “romanticised notion about life on the road, starry serenades at dusk, fresh water skinny dipping at dawn and the glorious freedom of going where you want when you want” was exactly what Pixi and his peers aspired to, and, to some small degree, managed to achieve. That was why they had to be destroyed. Isn’t that what we all want? Or those of us with nomadic tendencies at least. And there were always compromises which might have been made: like travellers buying bits of land up and down the country and being allowed to travel from spot to spot. Or adapting some of the Droves and Bridleways and Green Lanes, which have been used by traditional travellers from ancient times. See, this is how the notion of property is so skewed. If you buy a bit of land it becomes yours. You can buy a bit of land and never live on it, but it is yours in this culture. You can also squat on land and after a number of years, if no one else claims it, it will become yours. But when travellers have been using land from time immemorial, for Fairs and gatherings, like the Tan Hill Fair in Wiltshire going possibly to neolithic times, because they don’t “own” the land in the modern sense they can find themselves banished from their own culture. That’s what’s happened to the travelling communities, both of the traditional, and the new age kind. Most of them live in houses these days, often against their will.


There seem to be two dominating points of view on the great mythological hero of the open road, who is lionised in fiction and the arts and on celluloid: one is the  great adventurer rolling through society, emblematic of individual freedom and free love, and the other is that of a dysfunctional, selfish non conformist who skirts responsibility and doesn’t want to contribute to society by moving out of the system. Do you think Pixi would agree?’

I think not only would Pixi agree, he would admit to being both at the same time. He was certainly a hero of the open road, as you put it, as I hope to show in the book. But he was also a dole-scrounger who hung out with the other dole-scroungers drinking cans of Special Brew on the benches in Glastonbury High Street giving the hard-working citizens a hard time. He used to sing this song: “Eat, drink and be merry, it’s Giro day again,” which he sometimes used to change to “eat drink and be lairy.” But, again, I think that Pixi deliberately chose to be in that place, with the fuck-ups and the outcasts and the lost souls and the people who had been abused. I think he was one of them but he had this incredible capacity to communicate and to build bridges which made it possible for him to translate that culture into terms us house-bound people could understand. That Giro Day song was an example of that. It was tongue in cheek, self-satirising, but it made you understand what the culture was like. The point was, everyone would wait till their Giros came, and then they’d ALL have a party. It was a sharing community, as well as an outcast community.


Do you think people who choose to live as Pixi did are now demonised and criminalised by conventional society and the media?’


‘Can you tell us how Pixi changed the negative perceptions associated with some peoples’ view of his lifestyle?’

Pixi was Pixi. He was absolutely unique. You couldn’t not like him. Everybody loved Pixi. If they knew him, they loved him. He gave from the heart. So, towards the end he looked like a tramp. He was a tramp, to all intents and purposes. He had bad teeth. He stank of booze. He was rarely clean. But a few minutes in his presence and you would love him. There was a light in his eyes, a sort of fire, which spoke to you beyond mere words.

Someone, a music promoter friend of mine, told me a good story which illustrates that. So he was on Glastonbury High Street, it was his birthday, and he was drunk. He was always drunk, but he was drunker than usual on this day. And my friend the music promoter was there, with a friend of hers. Pixi came up to her and, asked her for a snog. “Go on, it’s my birthday,” he said, and she reluctantly agreed. Well, he was Pixi. She’d known him for years. Even in that state people couldn’t resist him. And after allowing him to give her a good, tongue-laden snog, her friiend, who didn’t know Pixi, was disgusted. “How could you do that?” she said. “With that dirty old tramp?” My friend the promoter, didn’t say anything. Later they were back at my friend’s flat. “Go on,” said her friend, “let’s hear some of your recordings of the local talent.” So my friend put on Seasons, by Pixi, and after it was finished her friend was raving about it. “Wow, that’s beautiful, what a voice, I could fall in love with a man with a voice like that. Who is it?

“It’s that dirty old tramp I just snogged in the High Street.”

There’s a lesson to be learned in that, I’m sure.

As to why my friend never represented him for his music: he was way too chaotic for that, she said.


‘Pixi , sadly succumbed to the demon of alcohol, do you think this is more prevalent in nomadic societies where access to treatment is not readily available?’

Pixi struggled with the drink, it’s true. We all used to meet up at various pubs at various times of the year for the pagan festivals, and Pixi would always be the life-and-soul. He could sing for hours at a stretch and never repeat himself, fuelled by the drink in part, but also by the sheer staying power of his talent. So that’s how everyone knew him, the life and soul, everybody’s favourite busker, but we didn’t see him in the inbetweentimes, when it was just him, on his own. I didn’t even realise he had a problem till I went to stay with him in his house. Yes he lived in houses at times. This was with his last wife, Lynne, during the most sustained period of domesticity in his life. He’d been drinking ginger wine, and I went out and bought a bottle of whiskey to go with it. Pixi soon collapsed, because he’d been at it all day, but me and Lynne stayed up and chatted and finished off about a third of the whiskey. And then, in the morning, Pixi got up and we all sat round and drank coffee, and Pixi picked up the whiskey and put a shot in his coffee. That’s when I knew he had a problem. Seasoned drinkers who want to carry on drinking know its not a good idea to take it in the morning. But Pixi always did. Usually Special Brew. He was one of the Brew Crew. They’ve changed the recipe recently, but it was absolutely devastating stuff: 9% proof, almost as potent as wine, said to have wormwood in it. He did desperately want to get off it, he made heroic efforts to, but he couldn’t. It was that life-and-soul thing that everyone expected of him. It became a trap which he couldn’t escape. He was catholic about his drug use, meaning he’d take almost anything and everything. He was a true psychedelic gypsy, and took all of the psychedelics, but drink was always the easiest to access, and he could always make money and have a good time just by turning up at a pub and starting to play. It became a lifestyle in the end, and it killed him. I think he knew he was going to die young. His songs are full of references to death. Like Look at the Coffin and Sam Hall, about a hanging. Look at the Coffin was played by Dave Sangar, one of his best friends, at his funeral, which was the best funeral song I’ve ever heard. It turned the funeral into a celebration, as Pixi would have wanted it to be. 


‘Do you think the contemporary counterculture scene is in fact a new form of conformity?

Don’t know much about the contemporary counterculture scene I’m afraid. You tell me: is it? 

‘In view of the political and legal challenges new age travellers face, do you think it’s feasible to try and follow Pixi’s lead?’

One day it will be, I truly believe that. I believe that either we’ll have to adopt new and sustainable ways of living, of the sort that Pixi was always experimenting with, or we’re fucked as a species. 

Pixi on stage

‘You’re penning a biography about Pixi, why do you think he’s such a pivotal figure in the counter culture/new age traveller movement?

Not sure how pivotal he was. He was just a man, a good friend of mine, someone I loved, who carried love in his bearing and in his being and who is a lesson to me because of that, and I want to tell people about him. Also his loss has been devastating for a lot of people and I want to allow them to have their say. I want to offer my talent to the community, as Pixi did, with his singing. Everyone deserves a voice. Pixi had his, and it still reverberates through the songs he recorded, but some of his friends need to have their voices heard too. He had such an effect on us all. He wasn’t the greatest luminary in the counter culture. I think he may have been legendary amongst the traveller community. But this is the point, to me. We live in a world and in a culture which diminishes us. We are made to feel like we are nothing. But deep down, under the layers of cultural accretion, of accumulated negativity, there’s a true authentic being in all of us. Pixi lived his authenticity to the maximum. He became legendary even when he was still alive. As a writer, part of my job is to sing the praises of those who deserve it, to help to make legends, and no one deserves it more than Pixi. 

‘As we witness a growing tide of dissatisfaction with governments and corrupt  corporations, what do you think we can learn from Pixi’s value system?’

It was love and friendship first. But he was tough. He could fight. He could defend what he believed in. It was funny, because he was a skinny little beggar really. That’s one of the reasons the drink killed him. He just didn’t have the physical capacity to process the poison. But I saw what he was like with people who crossed him. When we were in Tintagel for the launch of my book about the Loyal Arthurian Warband, there was this Cornish Nationalist  who started to become threatening to all of us. Pixi was over the table and at him in half a second, that fierce light in his eyes, fists clenched. It was like the guy was being attacked by a wolf, albeit a skinny one. He literally ran away.

Pixi lived is life in the moment, in the now, giving it absolute commitment. He was spontaneous, fervent, a real live-wire as the cliché has it. He acted straight from the heart, in defence of what he saw as sacred: the land that we live on, and the community he was a part of. It wasn’t airy-fairy love he practised. It was full-blown, deep-down, elemental love, unconditional, incorruptible, like a fire. He was a revolutionary, a revolutionary of the heart. It wasn’t some theoretical revolution which he only talked about and expounded at meetings. He lived it, in his relationships with people, in the ways he chose to live his life, in the magic he created around him, in the way he affected the lives of all of those who were touched by him. I never saw him on a demonstration or anything like that. But he was there at Newbury, chaining himself to trees, that kind of thing, putting his body on the line for what he believed. 

‘There is an increasing intolerance to those fleeing war and civil unrest , in Europe and most notably in America as voiced by GOP front runner Donald Trump what do you think Pixi’s reaction would be to Trump?

I think he would have laughed at Trump and then got on with his life. Pixi was never impressed by politicians anyway, let alone buffoons like Trump. 

‘And finally ending on a blossom of positivity what’s Pixi’s favourite song of all time and why?’

I don’t know. Pick any from his playlist. He sang all of his favourite songs. One of my favourites is one of his own songs which went by a variety of titles, If I Was a Russian or The Purple Song, amongst others. This is Pixi at his most playful, as we should all remember him.