The artist with his parents at Disneyland's Tomorrowland, 1959. "We're a happy family, me mom and daddy." Photographer unknown.
I did not start my American life at Disneyland
but it was a close starting point
I was born September 7, 1953
Disneyland opened in California in 1955
my parents took me there in 1959
I was six-years-old.
That same year Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
was denied permission to visit Disneyland
I liked Tomorrowland
where I rode the look-alike U.S. Navy nuclear submarines
I liked the Rocket to the Moon ride with its space age astronauts
I did not like Mickey Mouse.
The comedy album "The First Family," was one of the most popular records in the United States in 1962. A lighthearted parody of President Kennedy and his family, the album was recorded on the very evening that J.F.K. made his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. The album sold nearly eight million copies, more than the debut album of Peter, Paul, and Mary. I bought the album as soon as it was released, and in the above photo I am pictured listening to it on my portable record player. Photo by the artist's father, Joe Vallen.
In 1963 at the age of ten
my parents gave me a wooden palette box
with oil paints and brushes
I painted a portrait of President Kennedy
right after he was cut down by an assassin
My painting is lost, but I did not misplace
the wooden palette box
I use it to store my paints today.
In 1967 I was fourteen when
President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke
at L.A.’s ritzy Century Plaza Hotel
outside 10,000 people protesting the Vietnam war
chanted “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
they were attacked by a phalanx of 1,300 club swinging LAPD officers
I did not attend that protest, but it moved me just the same.
It would be a short time later that same year
that I would attend my first political demonstration
a massive protest against the Vietnam war
where thousands of people snaked their way down Wilshire Boulevard.
My father took this black & white Polaroid camera snapshot of my mother and I as we marched in the huge anti-Vietnam war demonstration that took place on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard in 1967. The placard carried behind us that reads "Bring the Troops Home," was the theme of the march.
In 1968 I was fifteen-years-old
The Vietnam war was escalating
Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated
So was Bobby Kennedy, at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard
At the Democratic Party National convention in Chicago
police beat and tear gassed thousands of antiwar protestors
I did not go “Clean for Gene.”
When I was sixteen in 1969
I convinced my parents to donate food
to the Free Breakfast for Children program
run by the LA chapter of the Black Panther Party
We drove the family car full of food stuff
to the L.A. Panther headquarters at 41st and Central
A week later on December 8, 1969 the Panther H.Q.
was raided by officers of the LAPD SWAT team
They dropped a bomb on the rooftop of the Panther H.Q.
It was the first military operation by a SWAT team in the U.S.
On August 29, 1970 I watched live TV coverage
of the Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles
30,000 Mexican-Americans marched against the Vietnam war
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department attacked the people who
gathered in Laguna Park to listen to speeches
Police gunfire killed four that day:
Brown Berets José Diaz and Lyn Ward
a Jewish supporter of the movement named Gustav Montag
and L.A. Times reporter Rubén Salazar
Salazar was shot in the head with a wall-piercing teargas canister
as he calmly sat in the Silver Dollar Bar and Café on Whittier Blvd.
I was seventeen-years-old and my blood boiled.
Yours truly at eighteen years of age, standing on my home turf of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, California, 1971. Photographer unknown.
My first public art exhibit, an open-air display of pen drawings, watercolors, and collage. The art was displayed at a 1971 counterculture festival sponsored by the L.A. Free Press that took place in the San Fernando Valley. The art included tributes to Hippie, Native Americans, psychedelic rock, and the Black Panthers. I was eighteen at the time, and yes, I made the tie dye backdrops myself. Photo/Mark Vallen ©
In 1971 I published my first street poster
a pre-Watergate print titled “Evict Nixon”
I did not vote for George McGovern
In 1972 when traveling in Europe
To avoid the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I hid my ponytail under my collar
Appropriately, I was standing in the Roman Coliseum
when I got the news that Richard Nixon had been re-elected
The Italians were furious; I told them I was Canadian.
In 1973, a U.S. backed fascist coup destroyed Chile’s democracy
sending shock waves around the world
A Chilean family friend told me the coup made her feel “secure”
I did not concur. I preferred Victor Jara.
"Self Portrait" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1973 ©
At twenty-years-old I ate tofu, wheat germ, sprouts, and yogurt
before they could be found in mainstream grocery stores
The fast food culture was driving me insane,
I had a growing interest in T.Rex and David Bowie.
In 1975 the war in Vietnam finally ended
The alternative culture flew apart
I was twenty-two-years-old
A new conformity began to rise
I did not think it would be long before another war started
In 1976 I did not vote for Jimmy Carter.
When I was twenty-four in 1977
I did not listen to the Bee Gees or the Eagles
To provoke the condemning stares of an unapproving public
I writhed and frothed in the birth of LA’s
nihilistic punk rock scene
my hair whacked off and my clothes torn to shreds.
"Self Portrait" - Photo/Mark Vallen Feb. 1983 © Punk rock portrait on Sunset Blvd near L.A.'s infamous Whisky a Go Go.
By 1984 Orwell’s words had already come true
I made art against the policies of President Ronald Reagan
I feared the world would end in a nuclear holocaust
I did not vote for Walter Mondale.
In 1985 I created the silkscreen print, Free South Africa
a poster created to support the anti-apartheid movement
I worked with UCLA students that demanded the
university divest its funds from apartheid South Africa.
Despite the “Reagan Revolution”
I did not vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988.
I was thirty-eight in 1991
I made art against President George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War
I became a vegetarian
In 1992 I did not vote for Bill Clinton
And with the indigenous people of the Western hemisphere
I condemned 500 years of colonialism in the Americas.
In 1996 I was forty-three-years-old
I worked at a top advertising agency
I offered to build the company’s website,
saying the internet was the wave of the future
The CEOs told me the internet was a “passing fad”
There was no future for me in the 9 to 5 world
I did not vote for Clinton’s re-election.
I was forty-five-years-old in 1999
In the spring of that year, I made art against
the war President Clinton waged on Yugoslavia
I liked the film Wag the Dog
and was amused by “The Billionaires for Bush or Gore”
I did not vote for Al Gore
In 2000 my chad was not hanging.
My grief was not a cry for war in 2001
I made art against the war in Iraq
In 2003 I joined 100,000 anti-war protesters
on the star studded Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame
distributing my artwork Not Our Children, Not Their Children
I did not vote for John Kerry in 2004, the former “anti-war” activist
known in the UK as “The Haunted Tree”.
I am pictured standing before a John Heartfield reproduction at the 2006 J. Paul Getty Museum exhibit, "Agitated Images: John Heartfield and German Photomontage." Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2006 ©
In 2008, friends and associates asked me
to create and exhibit artworks to support
the presidential campaign of Senator Obama
I declined, and I did not vote for Obama
but dared not publicly say so until now.
I was fifty-eight-years-old in 2011 when President Obama
without Congressional approval, began a war against Libya
Antiwar activists said the war would being democracy to Libya
I lost friends because I thought the war illegal & unwise
Today Libya is overrun by al Qaeda affiliates and ISIS
In 2012 I attended the first day of Occupy Los Angeles
then got back on the subway and went home
The movement coined the phrase “We Are the 99%”
but in L.A. it degenerated into a squabble about
camping on the lawn of City Hall. Another missed opportunity
I did not vote for Obama’s re-election.
I will be sixty-two on September 7, 2015
I make no apologies for my life thus far
I am the most un-Baby Boomer person in existence
born between the execution of the Rosenbergs
and the premiere of the radioactive monster-movie, Godzilla
Given my crown of thorns in the punk rock summer of hate in 1977
This is not a nostalgic poem
all of this and more made me what I am.
Yours truly at sixty-two years of age, still standing on Ventura Boulevard, but it is now an "upscale" street awash with corporate logos. Photo/Jeannine Thorpe 2015 ©
I’m still clawing my way to the bottom,
as an artist and a counterculturalist
because “radical” means “the roots”
Sometimes saying “no” is not a negative but a positive.
Just think of what I will be writing about after
the lyrics to the Beatles’ song When I’m Sixty-Four
actually fully apply to me.
All this started for me years ago
when people were optimistic enough
to work at creating a new world
While that optimism has lapsed for many
the need continues to be great
This is what inspires me to create my art
to transform horrible circumstances into a world at last livable.
So dear reader, I am not a cynic after all
I did not think that at this late date
I would still be saying
“be more than a witness.”
– // –
All photos and text are the property of artist Mark Vallen ©