Category: Obituaries

Richard Duardo: RIP

“‘Where in the world, where in this situation now can I be revolutionary, iconoclastic, and a voice of freedom?’ And, mind you, I’d never even lifted a pencil or drawn a circle. I was eighteen. I thought, “Artist. You can be as revolutionary and loud and opinionated and self-righteous as you want to be in this world - in the art world. And they’ll just accept it.” You know, what an interesting curiosity, an artist with an opinion. And I thought, “Okay. I’m going to be an artist. This is how I can survive, this is where I feel I can be free.”

- Richard Duardo in an 2007 interview with the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

 "Richard Duardo" - Mark Vallen. 1980 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. I took this photo of Richard standing in front of the Centro de Arte Público gallery in Highland Park, Los Angeles. He was 28 at the time and I was 27.

"Richard Duardo" - Mark Vallen. 1980 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. I took this photo of Richard standing in front of the Centro de Arte Público gallery in Highland Park, L.A. He was 28 at the time and I was 27.

My old friend and associate Richard Duardo died on November 11, 2014 at the age of 62. I will let others compose the detailed obituaries… but I do have a few things to say about the passing of L.A.’s maestro of serigraphy.

I made Richard’s acquaintance in 1980, since we were both denizens of the Los Angeles punk scene. Our reputations preceded us, as we knew of each other’s works before we ever met.

I had seen a number of silkscreen prints by Richard - like his 1978 poster Dia de Los Muertos, which was a public announcement for an art event held on Nov. 4, 1978 in the Highland Park area of the city.

Featuring a hand-drawn image of a skull clenching two red roses in its teeth, the poster is still in my collection. But it was Richard’s punk posters that really grabbed me.

Richard and I were both enamored with The Plugz, one of L.A.’s original Chicano punk bands. The group was widely popular in Los Angeles during that tumultuous period and Richard had produced a 1980 poster for them announcing performances with British bands Gang of Four (Starwood) and The Selector (Whiskey a Go Go).

"The Plugz" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen poster announcing a Plugz performance at the Starwood with the Gang of Four.

"The Plugz" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen poster announcing Plugz performances at the Starwood and Whiskey a Go Go.

That same year Richard teamed up with Tito Larriva of the Plugz and Yolanda Comparan Ferrer to form the Fatima Records punk label. Its first production was Attitudes, the debut album from L.A. Chicano punk rockers, The Brat. Richard designed the album cover art for the record.

Only in the last few years has there been some acknowledgement that a sizable portion of L.A.’s original punk scene was composed of working class Chicano youth.

We were also fans of the Screamers, possible L.A.’s most extreme and theatrical early punk bands. In 1980 Richard created a large silkscreen portrait of Screamers front man Tomata du Plenty and keyboard player Tommy Gear.

Snarling in cheap sun glasses, Tomata stands behind Gear, who breaks open a raw egg. Esoteric and mysteriously confrontational, the Screamers print not only captured the novelty of the band, but the uniqueness of the entire early L.A. punk scene.

I still think of the Screamers print as a high-point of Richard’s design career.

At the time I had also created portraits of the Screamers, and I am pleased that one of them, a 1978 portrait of Tomata, is currently on display at the Georgia Museum of Art’s Boxers and Backbeats: Tomata du Plenty and the West Coast Punk Scene until January 4, 2015.

"Screamers" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen. 37 x 40 inches.

"Screamers" - Richard Duardo. 1980. Silkscreen. 37 x 40 inches.

My two cover illustrations for L.A.’s punk journal SLASH magazine were well known in 1980 - a portrait of singer Sue Tissue of the Suburban Lawns, and Come Back To Haunt You, a drawing of an indigenous man wearing a leather jacket and sporting a Mohawk.

One day in 1980 Richard called me to ask if I would exhibit my works at a small group exhibit of artists to take place at his Centro de Arte Público gallery in Highland Park. He knew of my art, especially liked the SLASH portraits, and really wanted these works in the show.  Of course I said yes; years later, every time I saw Richard he mentioned how much he loved the Sue Tissue drawing, and always hinted at buying it. Now I wish I had simply given him a print of it years ago.

In 2002 I contacted Richard to see if he would be interested in reprinting my Sabra poster at his Modern Multiples serigraphy studio in downtown Los Angeles. He was extremely supportive of the project and immediately agreed to do the work. At the time Israel had started its “Operation Defensive Wall” campaign that had its soldiers fighting major battles in Palestinian West Bank cities; it would be the largest Israeli military campaign in the West Bank since the 1967 war. Moreover, in June of 2002 the Israeli cabinet decided to build a gigantic wall that would seal-off the Palestinians in the West Bank. The Israelis called it a “security fence,” the Palestinians called it the “apartheid wall.” I thought it was time to republish my Sabra silkscreen poster.

I originally created the Sabra print in 1982 as a street poster reaction to the Sabra and Shatila massacres that killed some 3,000 Palestinian civilians in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of that country in June of 1982. The Israelis had invaded with the intention of destroying the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was then in exile in Lebanon. The Israeli Defense Force surrounded the PLO in the capital of Beirut, and laid a seven week long siege of the nation’s capital of Beirut that included saturation bombing. The war ended with a U.S. negotiated settlement that forced the PLO to completely withdraw from Lebanon. After the pull out, Lebanon’s President Bashir Gemayel was assassinated, and in retaliation his right-wing supporters were allowed by Israeli troops to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila - thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians were brutally murdered and mutilated.

"Sabra" - Mark Vallen. Silkscreen. 23 x 29 inches. Originally published in 1983, Sabra was reprinted in 2002 by Richard Duardo at his Modern Multiples Serigraphy Studio in L.A. Each print was pulled on heavy white paper, hand-signed by the artist, and received the Modern Multiples studio "chop" mark.

"Sabra" - Mark Vallen. Silkscreen. 23 x 29 inches. Originally published in 1982, Sabra was reprinted in 2002 by Richard Duardo at his Modern Multiples serigraphy studio in Los Angeles. Each print was pulled on heavy white paper, hand-signed by the artist, and received the Modern Multiples studio "chop" mark.

As Richard pulled the Sabra print, we discussed the politics of printmaking and much more. He was very “left,” but also quite cynical, preferring the artist’s life to that of the political activist. I spent some days around the studio, talking with Richard about all manner of things, including the so-called art scene. In a moment of truth he told me that he sometimes wondered what it was all about. He spoke of the hundreds of artists that had passed through his studio, and how so few of them actually got anywhere; of those that did achieve fame, their celebrity was usually fleeting.

I have to mention that during my time at Modern Multiples, Richard was also working on a silkscreen reworking of the legendary artwork created by Ignacio Gomez for the play, Zoot Suit. I was thrilled to see this work in progress, not just because I have come to know Mr. Gomez, but for the reason that as a twenty-five year old I saw Zoot Suit premier at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1978. I watched in fascination as Richard’s assistants worked on creating a hand-drawn stencil for the large 37 x 51 inch silkscreen. Since the print had 25 colors in it, that meant 25 different screens; and because the edition was 250 prints, that meant an extremely labor intensive project. The results however are nothing short of astounding. Zoot Suit is a dazzling print full of rich detail and one of the reasons why Richard was an acknowledged master printer and his Modern Multiples was possibly the best arts oriented silkscreen workshop in the entire country.

I certainly had artistic differences with Richard. I thought his personal works became much too commercial in the latter half of his career, and that he need not have worked with so many self-absorbed art stars. He started to apply to himself the dreadful moniker given to him by others, “the Andy Warhol of the West Coast.” But I have been told that it is impolite to speak ill of the dead.

Richard was sociable, gracious, and always supportive of artists. Looking up his own prints online, I am alarmed to find that his early works are practically non-existent, which is why I felt it necessary to write this obituary. Of the hundreds of artists that did pass through his workshop, I am certain that each and every one of them felt special because of the experience. That perhaps was Richard Duardo’s greatest legacy.

– // –

The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas will present an exhibition of 20 large-scale silkscreen prints by Richard Duardo from June 3, 2015 to August 10, 2015.

Billy Jack

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack." Artist Ermanno created a montage using newspaper photos and stories of the day to form a portrait of the fictional super hero, Billy Jack.

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack." Artist Ermanno created a montage using newspaper photos and stories of the day to form a portrait of the fictional super hero, Billy Jack.

I was 18-years-old when the movie Billy Jack was first shown in U.S. theaters in the year 1971. Tom Laughlin, the man that imagined, wrote, starred in, and independently produced the film, died on Dec. 12, 2013 at 82 years of age. This is a short remembrance of Mr. Laughlin, an appreciation for his swimming against the tide and capturing a certain spirit that most today will deny ever existed. I cannot begin to say how influential Billy Jack was to my generation.

As the Vietnam War continued to rage in 1971, U.S. Army Lieutenant William Calley was found guilty of mass murder for his role in the My Lai massacre; the Pentagon Papers were published in the Washington Post and the New York Times; prisoners took over Attica State Prison in Attica, New York and the government responded by launching a military assault that killed 28 inmates and 9 guards. A massive international campaign demanded the release Angela Davis, then in prison on trumped up charges of kidnapping and murder; over 1,000 Vietnam War veterans threw away their combat medals and ribbons on the Capitol steps in a protest against the war, and the Native American occupation of Alcatraz ended when armed agents of the state forcibly removed the indigenous activists from the island. Of course, there were dozens of earthshaking events that took place in 1971, but the aforementioned sets the stage for an understanding of Billy Jack.

None of the corporate press obituaries written for Mr. Laughlin will tell you this, but Billy Jack was one of the cultural expressions of opposition to illegitimate power that became a hallmark of the rebellious late 1960s and early 1970s. Laughlin’s movie embodied the anger, distrust, and open contempt millions of Americans came to feel towards government.

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1967 film, "Born Losers."

Movie poster for Tom Laughlin's 1967 film, "Born Losers."

The character of Jack can be described as a Green Beret Vietnam War veteran of white and Native American heritage that experienced the horror of war and came home to a deeply divided nation.

Confronted with racial and class oppression on all levels, Jack found his spiritual core by becoming a guardian of the people. The character of Billy Jack first appeared in Laughlin’s 1967 Born Losers, where Jack battled a psychopathic motorcycle gang that had been terrorizing a small California beach town.

Nevertheless, Jack as a character cannot in any way be compared to right-wing vigilante characters like those in Death Wish (Charles Bronson), or Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood). As a Vet, Jack certainly had no relationship to the monosyllabic, muscle-bound, jingoistic Rambo (as played by the monosyllabic, muscle-bound, jingoistic Sylvester Stallone).

The character of Billy Jack really struck a nerve in the 1971 film, where the tale of the battle hardened Vet takes on a decidedly anti-authoritarian direction. In that film Jack rediscovers his Native American roots while living on an Arizona reservation, he takes up the struggle to defend an alternative school and its hippie and indigenous student body from small town bigots, and uses his hapkido martial arts and firearms skills to battle the forces of oppression on his native soil.

The movie more than touched upon pertinent social issues from an egalitarian perspective; racial oppression, corrupt police, the abuse of power, the destruction of the environment, and other pressing concerns, all of which are still very much with us in the present day. The film ends with Jack entering an armed confrontation with law enforcement and their crooked bosses in city government, leading to his arrest and imprisonment. In other words, Billy Jack is not a movie that would be made today.

In the ending scene of the film as Billy Jack is driven off to prison in a column of police cars, while Jack’s young supporters line the road with their clenched fists held high in defiance of authority, the song One Tin Soldier played over the movie’s final moments. The song as recorded by the U.S. rock band Coven put the finishing touches on the movie’s pro-freedom stance and further galvanized the real world antiwar movement; One Tin Soldier hit number 17 on Billboard’s top 100 in 1971.

Laughlin’s 1971 Billy Jack would be followed up in 1974 by The Trial of Billy Jack, and again in 1977 with the last of the series, Billy Jack Goes to Washington. All took the same dissident stance, but I think the 1971 production was by far the most effective and influential. The last film condemned the atomic power industry and its connections to the U.S. government, and Laughlin remained convinced that his film did not receive a general theatrical release because of a government effort to suppress it. But as everyone knows, blacklists were never implemented in Hollywood. Commenting on the film’s portrayal of governmental collusion with corporate powers, Laughlin told Sacramento TV interviewers in 2007, “However corrupt you think Washington and Congress are, you’re not even close.” Nothing has changed since then.

While conservatives may well bemoan Billy Jack as so much whining from Hollywood liberals, Tinsel Town did not exactly roll out the red carpet to Tom Laughlin and his antiwar protagonist. The Billy Jack films were produced independently, and Laughlin used his own money to make them. In the case of the 1971 Billy Jack, its politics caused major studios to reject it, but Warner Bros. finally worked up enough courage to distribute it. However, Warner dragged its feet in promoting the movie and Laughlin had to wage a three year legal battle to regain control of his film. He finally won his lawsuit, and in 1973 rented 1,200 movie theaters across the U.S. for the re-release, a strategy that had never been used previously. While the 1971 Warner distributed release made $6 million, Laughlin’s independent ‘73 re-release eventually made $100 million. Billy Jack remains one of the biggest grossing films in the history of independent filmmaking.

Korean hapkido grandmaster, Bong Soo Han, stands in as Billy Jack. Screen shot from Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack."

Screen shot from Tom Laughlin's 1971 film, "Billy Jack."

Billy Jack would also be the first film to introduce a mass U.S. audience to martial arts, something that forever changed the American understanding of “action” movies. Billy Jack predated the films of the Chinese American martial artist, Bruce Lee.

Tom Laughlin was a student of the Korean martial art, hapkido, and he trained a great deal for the fight scenes in his film.

While Laughlin did his own stunt work in the movie, he called upon the Korean grandmaster, Bong Soo Han (1933-2007), to stand in as Billy Jack to perform the advanced fighting techniques seen in the most electrifying and memorable fight in the movie.

Despite the popularity of the Billy Jack films, critics generally hated them. For instance, Roger Ebert (1942-2013) reviewed Billy Jack by stating, “I’m also somewhat disturbed by the central theme of the movie. ‘Billy Jack’ seems to be saying the same thing as ‘Born Losers,’ that a gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice.” Other bourgeois film critics have referred to the films as “vigilante-themed” (LA Times 12/15/2013). In its obituary for Mr. Laughlin, USA Today made reference to his “big-screen vigilante Billy Jack.”

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word vigilante is that of “a person who is not a police officer but who tries to catch and punish criminals.” In an opening scene from Billy Jack, Jack discovers the town’s corrupt unelected political boss, Mr. Stuart Posner (played by Bert Freed), trespassing onto the reservation with his thugs to hunt and kill wild horses. Jack confronts the armed goons with his own lever action rifle and the following dialog ensues:

Jack: You’re illegally on Indian land.
Posner: I’m sorry about that. I guess we just got caught up in the chase and crossed over without knowing it.
Jack: You’re a liar.
Posner: We got the law here, Billy Jack.
Jack: When policemen break the law, then there isn’t any law - just a fight for survival.

The exchange between Jack and Posner does suggest vigilantism, but would it not be more accurate to describe Posner as the vigilante? As the unofficial “leader” of the town, he appointed the judges and the police, so when he said “We got the law here,” he literally meant that he was the law.

Another scene from the Billy Jack film shows hooligans associated to Posner, roughing up Native American students at a local eatery. Billy Jack walks into the establishment just as the racist brutes are dumping white flour on the students in a mocking attempt to make them “white.” Tensely, Jack tells the bullies that he has tried to “be passive and nonviolent,” but when he sees the children he loves so abused by “the savagery of this idiotic moment of yours… I go BERSERK!” Jack then trounces the racists with a series of hapkido punches and kicks, utterly vanquishing them before attending to the stricken kids.

To fully understand that scene, one must know that just eight years earlier on May 28, 1963, multi-racial Civil Rights demonstrators had staged a sit-in to desegregate a “Whites Only” lunch-counter at a Woolworth’s Department Store in Jackson Mississippi. The protestors were viciously assaulted by a gang of white racists, while the police stood by and watched. Those conducting the sit-in were punched with brass knuckles and struck with broken sugar containers. They were burned with cigarettes while the mob poured sugar, ketchup, mustard, and drinks on them. A photo of the unpleasant attack made the national news, outraging decent people everywhere. Tom Laughlin was one of those people.

Tom Laughlin as the character, Billy Jack. Screen shot from Laughlin's 1971 movie, "Billy Jack."

Tom Laughlin as the character, Billy Jack. Screen shot from Laughlin's 1971 movie, "Billy Jack."

All this brings up memories of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Deacons were founded in Jonesboro, Louisiana in 1964 by African American men wanting to protect their communities from the depredations and terror of the Ku Klux Klan.

A good number of the Deacons were combat veterans of WWII and the Korean War, they armed themselves with legal firearms and patrolled their neighborhoods, guarding against the KKK. The Deacons for Defense and Justice provided security for the non-violent activists of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who were organizing voter registration drives among disenfranchised blacks. Considering that law enforcement, the courts, and various governmental agencies in Louisiana at the time were largely controlled or sympathetic to the KKK and other white supremacist organizations… can you really call the Deacons “vigilantes”?

I am struck by the vast difference between the tone and temperment of the Billy Jack movies, and contemporary movies like Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, films that not only embrace torture and imperial intervention, but were made with the cooperation of the Pentagon and the CIA. Today’s critics have nothing but praise for such films, and would never express their being “disturbed” that “a gun is better than a constitution” when depicting the invasions of foreign countries or holding “enemy combatants” in torture centers. Even the social democratic windbag Michael Moore praised Zero Dark Thirty as a “fantastically-made movie” that should “make you happy you voted for a man who stopped all that barbarity.” And what barbarities have been halted exactly? Launching war without Congressional approval? Zapping wedding parties with drone missiles?

It should be remembered that in 1968 John Lennon wrote an alternative version of his song Revolution that included the line, “we all want to change the world, but when you talk about destruction, don’t you know you can count me out/in.” Lennon included the word “in” because he was torn over whether violence might actually be used successfully to bring about justice. Tom Laughlin did not share those misgivings, and his anti-hero character of Billy Jack used his open heart, swinging fists, and gun, to fight oppressors and protect the defenseless.

Like many films from the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Billy Jack movies are undoubtedly dated. This is due, not only to the technological changes that have taken place in the world of movie making, but because of the changing perceptions and sensibilities of today’s film makers. Yet, an authentic and deeply felt humanism still emanates from Laughlin’s Billy Jack series, no matter how dated they may appear, which is something no one will honestly be able to say about all of Hollywood’s current action films rolled together.

Laughlin’s films could have been improved with substantial edits to focus the stories and shorten running times, though I say that about most films from the period. Just as postmodernism reduced the visual art world to an uncommunicative, detached, and indifferent state, so too has Hollywood largely forgotten how to tell the human story realistically and sympathetically. Laughlin could at least write a screenplay that expressed real compassion, despite the fact that he was not the most sophisticated or accomplished director. In a 2011 video statement titled What makes the Billy Jack films so unique?, Laughlin admonished Hollywood filmmaking by proclaiming:

“Another thing that made the Billy Jack series so unique, and so box office goldmine, is that you had the super action, the morality, the spirituality… come from both a super hero, Billy Jack, and a super heroine, Jean - who does credible, powerful women’s action, not absurd stuff like shooting two guns while riding backwards on a motorcycle, as Cameron Diaz did in the latest Tom Cruise picture… just absurd stuff.”

Whatever the weaknesses of Tom Laughlin as a director, and there were many, I would prefer his vision over most anything Hollywood offers today.

Iron Lady: Rust In Peace

Mark Twain once wrote of a memorial service, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying that I approved of it.” The following comments regarding Margaret Thatcher having ascended to the choir invisible are written with that same attitude, a spirit no doubt shared by millions in the U.K. and around the world.

When I heard the news on April 8, 2013 that the “Iron Lady” had passed away at the age of 87, it was like receiving word of a long-time nemesis having given up the ghost. Numerous memories of Thatcher came to mind, none of them pleasant, as I waited for the deluge of corporate media sophistry that would conceal the real legacy of Maggie Thatcher.

This “anti-obituary” will be told through some of the graphics and songs opposing Thatcher that were produced in England during her reign, which is a very wide field indeed. There was The English Beat’s Stand Down Margaret; Robert Wyatt’s version of Shipbuilding (written for him by Elvis Costello); Costello’s own Tramp The Dirt Down; Morrissey’s Margaret On The Guillotine; UB40’s Madam Medusa; the Au Pairs’ Armagh (about the torture of Britain’s Irish political prisoners); The Exploited’s Let’s Start A War Said Maggie One Day; Anti-Pasti’s No Maggie Thatcher and No Government, and many other songs too numerous to mention.

"Margarine the Leaderine" - Gee Vaucher. Collage. 1979. Cover art of Maggie Thatcher for volume two of International Anthem, Vaucher's self-published "nihilist newspaper for the living".

"Margarine the Leaderine" - Gee Vaucher. Collage. 1979. Cover art portrait of Thatcher for Vol. 2 of International Anthem, Vaucher's self-published "nihilist newspaper for the living". The artworks Vaucher created for Crass became an indelible part of the band's legacy.

This piece of writing will primarily focus on two influential punk bands that gave Thatcher and friends a collective headache, Chumbawamba and Crass, but first a few things about Maggie you will likely not hear about in corporate news coverage of her passing.

I remember Thatcher as the Education Secretary for Edward Heath’s Conservative government (1970-1974). She imposed spending cuts on the state education system, eliminating free milk for schoolchildren, an act that earned her the everlasting title of “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”.

Things only got worse when she became Prime Minister on May 4, 1977.

Prime Minister Thatcher introduced austerity to the U.K., implementing savage cuts to social spending and making race-to-the-bottom neo-liberal casino capitalism the new norm.

Working class England was ravaged by her monetarist economic policies as manufacturing and industrial jobs disappeared - a legacy that continues with the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Thatcher took Britain to war over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands… a filthy imperialist escapade that earned her the contempt of Latin America. She mobilized the state to defeat striking British coal miners, and totally decimated the mining communities of northern England’s coal belt. At the House of Commons she attacked the miners by referring to them as “the enemy within”, saying; “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty”.

Thatcher refused to negotiate with Irish Republican prisoners in Britain’s notorious Long Kesh “H-Block” prison camp; interned for committing paramilitary acts in the cause of an independent Ireland, the inmates were waging a hunger strike in 1981 in order to gain political prisoner status. One of the protesters, Bobby Sands, was elected as a member of the British Parliament during the strike. Ultimately, Thatcher let Sands and nine other Irish Republican prisoners starve to death rather than talk to them. IRA recruitment went through the roof, and upwards of 150,000 people attended the funeral of Sands in Belfast, Ireland.

 "You're Already Dead" - Gee Vaucher. Cover art portrait of Thatcher for the 1983 Crass single "You're Already Dead".

"You're Already Dead" - Gee Vaucher. Cover art portrait of Thatcher for the 1983 Crass single "You're Already Dead".

Thatcher supported the apartheid regime of South Africa and in 1987 stated “The ANC is a typical terrorist organization. Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land”.

She struck a solid alliance with Ronald Reagan, agreeing with him that hundreds of U.S. nuclear missiles should be deployed across Europe in order to pressure the Soviet Union. She allowed Reagan to base 160 nuclear cruise missiles in the U.K., 96 at the Greenham Common U.S. Air Force base, and 64 at the RAF station in Molesworth.

Thatcher supported General Pinochet, who staged a fascist coup d’état on September 11, 1973 that drowned Chile in blood. Pinochet’s military dictatorship (1973-1990) murdered tens of thousands of Chileans, still more were kidnapped, tortured, and forced into exile. As late as 1999, even after his 1998 arrest on charges of torture and murder, Thatcher thanked Pinochet for “bringing democracy to Chile“. There is more of course, but it is outside the scope of this blog to list each and every one of Thatcher’s misdeeds.

Of all the music produced during the Thatcher years, the most caustic and vitriolic attacks against Maggie came from punk rock; in fact it is hard to imagine the genre at all without the Iron Lady. From the Sex Pistols to the Clash, from Discharge to Conflict, punk bands may not have mentioned her by name, but they laid waste to Thatcherism and the ruling class it served. As the perfect icon of reactionary state power, Maggie gave punk something to flail and wail against.

Outside of England, Chumbawamba and Crass were hardly known (save for small circles of miscreants like myself), a fact that remains unaltered by time; both were extremely influential in their own way, making tremendous impact on punk and dissident culture in the U.K. Crass formed in 1977 after the group’s founder, Steve Ignorant, saw a performance of the Clash. Chumbawamba formed some years later in 1982, in large part influenced by the artistic/political stance of Crass.

In those early years the two groups spearheaded the politicized subsect of punk that came to be called “peace-punk” or “anarcho-punk” for spotlighting anti-war, anti-authoritarian, and anti-capitalist themes. Crass came to my attention in 1979 when they sent a review copy of their first 45 single, Reality Asylum/Shaved Women, to L.A.’s Slash magazine, where I worked at the time. The challenging slab of vinyl was unlike anything us Angelenos had ever heard before, and so Slash published a full article about the band in its last issue… which was most likely the first major article written about the group in a U.S. publication.

Crass released a string of albums and singles from 1978 to 1984 before they disbanded. It was difficult listening on the whole, even some of my punk friends in the early 80s would not listen to them, but I always found the group more than intriguing. To me, one of their most inspired recordings was their third album, Penis Envy (1981), an indictment of male dominance, conformity, and war, all delivered with the band’s typical melodic chaos.

Another recommended recording would be their single, Nagasaki Nightmare (1981). Few works in the annals of music history have attempted to deal with truly horrifying real world events, but this particular recording succeeded like few others. It is their most remarkable effort. It should be remembered that despite all of their outrageousness, their brutal sound, and their total lack of radio airplay - Crass nevertheless consistently reached the top of the Indie Charts.

"XXX!" - Gee Vaucher. Designed as back cover art XX

"Welcome Home" - Gee Vaucher. 1982. Artwork designed as a foldout poster for the single "How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead?"

In 1982 Crass responded to the “Falkland Islands” war with a scorching aural attack titled, How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of A Thousand Dead?

The song was a slap in the face to Thatcher and the British ruling class over their war against Argentina on the issue of Falkland/Malvinas Islands sovereignty.

The Guerra de las Malvinas, began in April of 1982 when Argentina sent its military to secure the Islands, which Argentinians call the Malvinas and have always claimed as their territory (they continue to do so).

The British government under Thatcher deployed Her Majesty’s Armed Forces to make the Argentinians surrender the islands to the British Empire, having “claimed” the islands in 1833. The Malvinas are some 300 miles from the coast of Argentina, while they are around 8,000 miles from the U.K.

The uneven war lasted 73 days, ending June 14, 1982 with Argentina surrendering the territory to the U.K. The conflict took the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers, 3 Falkland Islanders, and 255 British troops… just shy of the 1,000 alluded to in the Crass song title. How Does It Feel was recorded in London in August of 1982, the single came shrouded in a black paper sleeve printed with a thousand tiny white graveyard crosses representing the war dead. The single included a folding black and white poster artwork of a horribly wounded U.K. bomber pilot, his face mutilated from combat. Under a banner reading “Welcome Home”, the vet hugged his gleeful blonde wife on the airfield tarmac. The song itself was frenetic, filled with atonal guitar noise and anguished shouted lyrics;

“How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand death? Young boys rest now, cold graves in cold earth. How does it feel to be the mother of a thousand death? Sunken eyes, lost now; empty sockets in futile death.”

Conservative MP Timothy Eggar defended Thatcher and the war, telling the press that the Crass single was “a vicious, scurrilous attack on the Prime Minister and the government”. Eggar condemned the record for being “obscene”, and Crass responded by saying the true obscenity was the war. The Tory party made an effort to prosecute Crass under the U.K.’s “Obscene Publications Act”, but the attempt failed once the Attorney-General ruled the single did not breach the law.

"Gotcha!" - Gee Vaucher. Designed as back cover art for the single release, xxx.

"Gotcha!" - Gee Vaucher. Designed as the back cover art for the 1983 single release "Sheep Farming In The Falklands".

As a follow-up, Crass released the single, Sheep Farming in the Falklands, in April of 1983. The single’s flipside was titled Gotcha! The cover art featured the otherwise black and white Crass logo, this time done up in the colors of the Union Jack.

The flipside jacket was a photograph of a World War I veteran whose face had been mutilated by bomb splinters - the word GOTHCHA! floating above his face in capital letters.

The image sans text, came from the classic anti-war book, Krieg dem Krieg (”War against War”) by the German artist Ernst Friedrich (1894-1967). Friedrich first published his book in 1924. A diatribe against those who start wars, his book combined appalling photos of war wounded soldiers with devastating text. Needless to say Friedrich ran afoul of the Nazis and fled Germany in 1933. I have prepared an essay on Friedrich, which you can expect in the near future.

The song, Sheep Farming, begins with a short snippet of an actual news broadcast recounting the attempted government prosecution of Crass over the aforementioned How Does It Feel. The song then launches into feverish pandemonium - screeched and squealed - first sneeringly condemning the imperial war (”Friggin in the riggin another imperialist farce, another page of British history to wipe the national arse!”), and then, dripping with bitter sarcasm, offering a jingoistic narrative as told through the voice of an imaginary war supporter (”Onward Thatcher’s soldiers, it’s your job to fight…”). Laced with expletives, the song ends with all musical structure falling apart, like a great battlement blasted to bits by artillery fire. The final words of the composition, aimed directly at Thatcher, likely comprise the most insulting language ever committed to vinyl.

"Birds Put the Turd in Custard" - Gee Vaucher. xxx xxxxxx xxxx

"Birds Put the Turd in Custard" - Gee Vaucher. 1983. Artwork designed as a foldout poster and lyric sheet for the single "Sheep Farming In The Falklands/Gotcha!"

The single’s inserted mini-poster and lyric sheet bears an artwork of Thatcher, wide-eyed and smiling, holding what appears to be an enormous phallus sculpted from excrement. Circling the repulsive portrait are the words, “Birds put the turd in custard but who put the shit in no. 10?”

The title of Gotcha! referred to the May 4, 1982 edition of The Sun, which originally offered the revolting headline of “Gotcha” when reporting on the sinking of the Argentine Navy cruiser, the ARA General Belgrano, by a British Royal Navy submarine, the HMS Conqueror. The Conqueror struck the Belgrano outside of the war zone with two torpedoes, killing 323 crew members. The infamous Sun account gloated that “Our lads”, “had the Argies on their knees” after “torpedoes from our super nuclear sub Conqueror” had blasted the cruiser.

Gotcha! had the same song structure as Sheep Farming, alternating between earnest denunciation and sardonic pro-war narrative. Crass took the war propaganda of The Sun and inverted it, exposing the national chauvinism, racism, and warmongering of the state and its sycophantic media with the song’s opening chorus;

“Gotcha! - you Argie bastard, Gotcha! - you fucking Spik, Gotcha! - you Latin bender, Gotcha! - you Dago prick… We gotcha, gotcha, gotcha - gotcha, gotcha, gotcha - we gotcha, gotcha, gotcha - Our boys have got it right!”

Sounding like the heat of battle from the opening to final chords, the relentlessly unpleasant song creates the impression of a soldier, indeed, an entire nation, gone mad with war lust: “This is Thatcher’s Britain built on national pride, built on national heritage, and the bodies of those who died to wave the flag on the Falklands, to protect us from the Irish hordes, to support the rich in their difficult task of protecting themselves from the poor”. Listening to the song, one can imagine the eyes of war enthusiasts bulging as their spittle flies into your face while shouting: “Yes, this is Thatcher’s Britain, so let’s increase the strength of the police. Let’s expand the military, let’s all arm for peace. Let’s suppress all opposition, let’s keep the people down. Let’s resurrect past histories for the glory of the crown.”

Chumbawamba achieved “commercial success” with their 1997 “dance hit” Tubthumping, but it is a lesser work that gives little indication of the full depth and breadth of what the band was capable of.

In 1982 I first heard Chumbawamba on a double record compilation put together by Crass and released on their Crass Records label that same year. Titled, Bullshit Detector Vol 2. (after a lyric from the Clash’s song, Garageland), the compilation consisted of 38 tracks from the same number of British punk bands. Chumbawamba’s cut Three Years Later was easily forgotten, a grating ditty with the repetitive lyrics, “You can’t do nothing if you haven’t got money”. Still, there was something to the lurching mechanical-like beat and jangly guitar noise… a portent of things to come. I still posses my copy of Bullshit Detector for its anti-Monarchist cover design and illustration, a consummate example of punk aesthetics.

"Dig This" - Clifford Harper. Linoleum cut. Cover art for the 1985 benefit album, "Dig This: A Tribute to the Great Strike".

"Dig This" - Clifford Harper. Linoleum cut. Cover art for the 1985 benefit album, "Dig This: A Tribute to the Great Strike".

I really took notice of Chumbawamba in 1985 when they contributed two songs, The Police Have Been Wonderful and Fitzwilliam, to Dig This: A Tribute to the Great Strike. Dedicated to the Miners Strike of 1984-1985, the album was a fund-raiser for the striking miners and all money raised from the sale of the record went to the “Miners Solidarity Fund”. The LP featured cuts by Poison Girls, Mekons, The Ex, Omega Tribe, Leningrad Sandwich, Men They Couldn’t Hang, Akimbo, and Steve Lake.

Chumbawamba’s contributions to Dig This were a far cry from their earlier hard-core punk sound. The Police Have Been Wonderful had a mild techno sound achieved in the studio through repetitive looping tape. Over the hypnotic soundtrack the group sampled news broadcasts of Thatcher lauding the police for the way they handled the strike, “Most of us who have watched the scenes on television have only the highest praise for the police” - an outrageous statement in itself since the entire country was watching TV news reports of brutal police actions taken in crushing the miner’s strike.

Fitzwilliam was a hauntingly beautiful ballad about the people of the mining town of Fitzwilliam braving violence from police and scabs, and enduring government and media lies throughout the duration of the strike. In the middle of the song (lyrics here) a poetic juxtaposition is made between the working women of the mining town and Prime Minister Thatcher: “Woman and woman in opposing extremes, between man-made heaven and popular dreams, between twisted detachment and learning to breathe - one locks the prison, one sets herself free”.

The Mineworkers strike lasted a year but was eventually defeated by repressive legislation and Thatcher’s use of raw police violence and brutality. After the strike collapsed, Thatcher closed 25 coal mines in 1985, and 97 more would be closed by 1992. In a report published in the Guardian after Thatcher’s death, one miner, a veteran of the 1984 strike, put it this way: “It was class war. The people above didn’t want us to win. The people with money didn’t want us to win. If we had won, they wouldn’t be able to get away with what they are doing now, cutting benefits for disabled people and things like that. The unions would have stopped them. But we lost.”

"Never Mind The Ballots" - Artist unknown. Graphic from the inside cover art of Chumbawamba's 1987 album, "Never Mind The Ballots Here's The Rest Of Your Life".

"Never Mind The Ballots" - Artist unknown. Graphic from the inside cover art of Chumbawamba's 1987 album, "Never Mind The Ballots Here's The Rest Of Your Life".

By the time of their debut 1986 album, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, Chumbawamba had already moved beyond hard-core punk to embrace pop, folk, a cappella, and “world music” forms - though they were certainly capable of launching a raucous sound barrage at a moments notice (listen to the cut Invasion as proof - lyrics here). Despite the lack of stereotypical punk dissonance and cacophony, Starving Children embodied the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist punk moral code; it was a concept album that offered a scornfully derisive view of corporate control of culture.

Other high-points in Chumbawamba’s recording career include their second album, Never Mind the Ballots… Here’s The Rest of Your Life. Recorded in 1987, this brilliant concept album exposed the con-game of elections under capitalism: “Said the Party to the adman, ‘We’ll conjure up a gimmick - the way to lead an ass is with a carrot and a stick. Dig down for minorities, promise them concessions, ride in one their backs, and then teach them all a lesson”. (It was the album young people in the U.S. should have listened to prior to the 2008 presidential elections.) Also high on the list would be the group’s third album, English Rebel Songs: 1381-1984. This extraordinary recording presented traditional protest songs from throughout England’s history; from the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, to songs of the Diggers (1649), and Chartists (1840s).

"Here's The Rest Of Your Life" - Artist unknown. Graphic from Chumbawamba's "Never Mind The Ballots" album.

"Here's The Rest Of Your Life" - Artist unknown. Graphic from Chumbawamba's "Never Mind The Ballots" album.

After 30 years of writing, recording, performing, and agitating, Chumbawamba called it quits in July of 2012, but ever forward thinking - they had planned something special for the future.

“In anticipation of the great day” they wrote and recorded a seven track EP in 2005 titled In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher (you can see them performing one of the songs, So Long, So Long, in this 2009 concert).

Over the years the band encouraged fans to pre-order the EP for £5 (around $7.60 U.S.), giving their word that the recording would be released on the day of Thatcher’s death. Years after they recorded the EP, Thatcher died on April 8, 2013. The band mailed out the Memoriam CD that same day. Chumbawamba posted a statement that read:

“She’s not been gone more than a few hours, and already the national media have cranked into gear and begun the blandly respectful eulogies – at their most critical they seem to be only able to say: ‘She polarized opinion … what’s certain is how much of an impact she made on Britain … etc etc.’ Twitter set off at a pace with a thousand ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ messages only to be followed by a slew of bleeding heart liberals bemoaning the fact that people were daring to celebrate someone’s death.

Pah! Let’s make it clear: This is a cause to celebrate, to party, to stamp the dirt down. Tomorrow we can carry on shouting and writing and working and singing and striking against the successive governments that have so clearly followed Thatcher’s Slash & Burn policies, none more so than the present lot. But for now, we can have a drink and a dance and propose a toast to the demise of someone who blighted so many people’s lives for so long. If we must show a little reverence and decorum at this time, then so be it. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of all Margaret Thatcher’s victims.”

The wealthy and the powerful of this world mourn Thatcher’s death. Prior to her April 18, 2013 funeral, Prime Minister David Cameron told BBC Radio 4, “We are all Thatcherites now“. Offering a timid rebuke to the remark, Cameron’s Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Party co-conspirator Nick Clegg squeaked, “I certainly wouldn’t call myself a Thatcherite. I am a liberal. She wasn’t a liberal.” Ah yes… a liberal. In an official statement, President Obama said “The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the class divide, street parties celebrating Thatcher’s death took place throughout England. The largest occurred in London’s Trafalgar Square, where upwards of 3,000 people drank Champagne and sang “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” from the classic Judy Garland The Wizard of Oz movie. The song became a sensation with anti-Thatcherites, who succeeded in making the song the number one hit on U.K. iTunes “top ten” category. Hundreds turned their backs on Thatcher’s funeral procession as it made its way to St. Paul’s Cathedral, while in the former coal mining village of Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire (its coal mine closed in 1994 due to Thatcher’s policies), residents gathered in the village square to burn Maggie in effigy.

The following is pertinent, so please bear with me. Just prior to Maggie’s death I viewed the classic American film-noir, Ruthless. Starring Zachary Scott, the 1948 flick told the story of a predatory capitalist’s rise to power, and how he mercilessly crushed all those in the way of his acquiring endless profits… going so far as to abandon the woman who loved him, Martha Burnside (played by Diana Lynn).

Scott’s character of Horace Vendig met his match in the equally venal oligarch, Buck Mansfield (played by the incomparable Sydney Greenstreet). Without giving away the end, a character who witnessed Vendig’s downfall, said of him: “He wasn’t a man… he was a way of life”. Likewise, consider this essay regarding Thatcher, not as an attack on an individual, but as a critique of “a way of life”.

Thatcherism is alive and well, but so is the resistance.

From Valenzuela to Vallen: A Eulogy

"Portrait of my father" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 10 x 14 inches. 1979.

"Portrait of my Father" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 10 x 14 inches. 1979.

On February 7, 2013, my father Joe Vallen passed away at the age of 88. Multiple medical problems led to his death, but his primary difficulty was a weak heart. I was at his side at the final moment, whispering my goodbyes into his ear. He died peacefully.

On October 28, 1924, José Jesus Valenzuela was born in Guaymas, a coastal city in the state of Sonora, Mexico. When he was around 2-years-old “Jesusito” came to the United States with his mother and grandmother to settle in San Diego, California. An amazing world opened up to José when he came to Los Angeles at around sixteen years of age to work in the city’s restaurant business at the behest of his uncle, “Alex” Maytorena. At the time, Alex worked as chief bartender at Perino’s, one of L.A.’s original elite restaurants. Alex helped my father land his first restaurant job as a busboy.

My father married Patricia Schneider in 1951 at the Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. José officially became a U.S. citizen and anglicized his name to “Joe Vallen” ten days before I was born on September 7, 1953. Patricia’s mother, Anita Murieta, came from Mexico to the U.S. presumably around 1918. Anita married Edward Schneider, a Maitre ‘D at Victor Hugo’s in Laguna Beach, CA. Pat knew little about her father, who died when she was a baby.

Without formal education, and from a solidly working class background, Joe and Pat strived to live the “American Dream” in a Los Angeles very different from the city we know today. They eschewed their ethnic backgrounds in favor of the upwardly mobile, Euro-centric vision that dominated 1950s McCarthyite America; it was a lifestyle they never challenged until the turmoil of the 1960s confronted them.

In the early years of his extraordinary career Joe worked hard as a waiter, sometimes working two shifts a day. He landed a job at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub at L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel. Because he could speak Spanish, he was asked to act as poolside translator for Charlie Chaplin and famed Mexican actress Dolores del Río during their first encounter at the club. Joe was later employed at the world famous Brown Derby restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. He worked his way up through the restaurant world to become a Maitre ‘D at some of the city’s most elite establishments like The Cave Des Roys private club on La Cienega Boulevard, The Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and The Friars Club of Beverly Hills.

As Joe worked in the leading restaurants of Hollywood’s Golden Age, there was hardly a studio boss, actor, entertainer, or politician that he did not meet. Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mel Torme, Ronald Reagan, Conrad N. Hilton, Howard Hughes, and so many others were charmed by my father. Mention a celebrity’s name in casual conversation and Joe’s usual response was to recount having served the person, how well they tipped, whether or not the individual’s disposition was friendly or sour, and general observations regarding comportment, style, and manners. For years I urged my father to write down his remarkable experiences as a Maitre ‘D; he always promised that he would, but he never penned a single line. Now it is too late.

Despite his rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, Joe was a simple working class man. Unbelievably his waiter’s salary enabled him to buy a home and three apartment complexes in the San Fernando Valley - such was a testament, not to Joe’s wealth, but to a once vibrant economy gone to ruin. Joe also purchased land in the then undeveloped Southern California mountain community of Big Bear, where he built a beautiful “A-frame” cabin - virtually with his own hands. Some of my life’s fondest memories involve that wonderful cabin.

On May 5, 1961, my father and I watched on national television as NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to be launched into space. On November 22, 1963, we watched the live Walter Cronkite broadcast announcing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, two days later we witnessed the televised murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. My father and I watched the first televised performance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964 - marking the moment the “generation gap” opened up between us (Joe mocked the “mop tops” while I was inspired by them). This pattern was repeated over and over as my father and I watched the triumphs and tragedies of late 20th century America unfold before us.

We certainly had our differences, and we fought only as a devoted father and son could. The rebellious 1960s drove a wedge between us, and it became harder and harder to understand one another; it was a gulf that was never really closed. In the late 60s Joe loved Frank Sinatra while I was passionate about The Doors; come the late 70s Joe still revered Sinatra while I acclaimed The Clash. Funny thing is, with the ascendancy of the totally vapid corporate-created pop singers of today, Mr. Sinatra is not looking so bad to me. Perhaps father and son finally came to terms.

After 61 years of marriage Joe and Pat were inseparable. They met the vicissitudes of life with grace, perseverance, and no small degree of courage, but life takes its toll. In 2012 Joe underwent surgery for a pacemaker, and at 87-years-old it would be his third defibrillator implant. At 91-years-old Pat began having trouble taking care of herself because of dementia. My wife Jeannine and I devoted much of 2012 to taking care of my parents, until at last it became necessary to admit them both to a skilled nursing care facility. Despite the best of care, Joe lasted but a few months, and is survived by his devoted wife, who now remembers less and less of the world.

There is so much more to say, but words cannot express my sense of loss. I mourn the passing of the big-hearted man that raised me, and who eventually came to understand - as best he could - this wayward, bohemian, artist. But I also lament the passing of the world my father once knew and was a part of. I carry it within me; this true son of El Pueblo de Los Ángeles will not forget.