Punk rock saved my life.
My life has been fairly autonomous – a long round about way. Born on Oahu, grew up in the SF Bay Area in a small city (at the time) called Fremont, and moved back and forth between the West Coast and the Midwest. Music was always there. Punk rock was always there.
I say this as it may illuminate how I view my surroundings. Punk rock saved my life. At my lowest points, bands like Rancid, Ramones, Bad Brains, and X-Ray Spex were always there to lift me up, get me out of my head, tell me to get my butt off the floor and get going.
I often here that I am eclectic, which I guess fits. Growing up, I liked drawing, daydreaming, cartoons, comic books, and animals. I was never much for sports as I was always the kid picked last – though I was the big stocky kid. We read Ferdinand in the first grade, and for the first time I found someone who was like me. Expected to be one thing, but would much rather be the one just sitting quietly smelling flowers. I was an outcast when I was 6. I also had undiagnosed learning disabilities. The psychiatric community was still coming up with definitions for kids like me. Until I was 16, I was made to believe that I was stupid — that I was the “R” word. So I dove more and more into music from the the Who and Zappa to Stravinsky and Coltraine.
That pattern pretty much followed throughout my early years. It’s why after studying classical string bass, and jazz I found punk rock to be the perfect glove. It was an outcast like me. It was energetic, chaotic, uplifting, cathartic, and it didn’t fit into any pattern. You had the Texas blues stylings of the Cruzados, the working class fIREHOSE, the nihilistic growl of the Germs, and the musical acrobatics of Fishbone not to mention DEVO, Oingo Boingo, B-52s or the Go Gos. None of it fit with each other, yet they all came together in a natural canvas.
People misunderstand a lot of us who were/are part of that scene. We were outcasts. We knew it. Our “shocking” dress had nothing to do with upsetting people. We were all outcasts, and afraid of the world. We tried to find some way to shield ourselves. Our style was our armor – our uniform. It was how we could say “Hey, you’re like me and you’re cool.” If anyone in the the outside world accepted it, great. If not, we knew we had each other. It was how we protected ourselves. It was how I protected myself from a world that constantly reminded me that I never fit.
I’ve played in punk bands, Irish bands, jazz ensembles, orchestras, and symphonies. I got to do backstage work for Jerry Lee Lewis, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Al Jarreau. The whole time I would spend my free time heading to the Gilman or the Stone in Berkeley and moshing to bourgeoning groups like Green Day. The other time I would be resting my ears as I had a tendency to fall asleep near the amps, and wake up with a nasty case of ringing ears. This is, of course, from what I can remember.
Being into the arts, and comics, and music, and reading at a time when that was frowned on by a society convinced that the only way to have a meaningful life was to go into sales after getting a business degree in some thing that I gave 0 “fs” about. Instead I went into the one discipline that welcomed outcasts with open arms. I worked in Theatre and began a love of performing, designing, and learning. My first semester in lab tech taught me more about algebra and geometry than the 5 years of high school failed to get me to understand. I was able to see things in practical applications, and not just “class you’re going to use this one day.” kind of settings. I could bring all of my interests with me, and I could learn in an environment that encouraged me to seek out both small ‘t’ and big ‘T’ Truths for myself.
From the Theatre I moved onto filmmaking, so I majored in Radio/TV/ and Film. I worked in kitchens to pay the bills, and edited video and audio at night. I loved cooking. I was good at it. I still am. I can analyze and talk about food like some can go over the play by play of the last UFC fight. It’s something that brings people together, and tells a wide ranging story, much like music. Cooking is the act of building a community through building balance of disparate ingredients. It’s taking things that don’t alone, but create a whole new thing when combined. A kind of balanced chaos. This notion stuck with me as I got into visual design and animation. I discovered Anthony Bourdhain, and his no holds barred approach to cooking, and his unapologetic “cut off my nose to spite my face” meshed with my “need to find my own way.”
It was during college that I let my childhood love of cartoons take a front seat. I began studying animation in filmmaking and television, and quickly gravitated to the work of Saul Bass, Ward Kimball, and Jay Ward, and found the styling of early 50’s/60’s animation and design take hold – a design aesthetic that I still find predominant in my work. It was a style that many viewed as passé, and not modern. It didn’t fit the modern aesthetic of design. Once again, I didn’t fit. However, the clean design aesthetic did provide easy to understand visual cues that adapted nicely to web and interface design. My goal was to make my own web cartoon series (if you want to talk about it sometimes, just let me know). Because my goal was to put everything on the web, I figured I needed to know programming. Nobody told me I couldn’t, and as I have found out it is rare to have a designer anymore who can develop as well — once again casting me as the square peg in a round hole.
I followed my wife to Milwaukee in her search for the Bard and a PhD, and her experience encouraged me to get my Masters. I continued to work in kitchens, but gravitated more towards multimedia. I was the second oldest person in my class, and was not expected to make it. I had one instructor who encouraged me to keep going, but since I wanted to focus on visual rhetoric rather than quantitative or qualitative research, the professors didn’t really know what to do with me. There was also my penchant for wearing Hawaiian shirts at almost every occasion.
As I got older I became heavily influenced by the Incredibles and Brad Bird. Specifically, the original concept drawings. Once again the retro simplicity of the Atomic era animation struck me, and I searched out more and more artists. I was introduced to an artist’s collection by Josh Agel, also known as Shag, through a tattoo and comic artist friend of mine who saw my Hawaiian shirts, love for totems, and all things kitschy as a super power – I guess it was though I didn’t know it. Shag’s work led me to the Tiki revival movement. A collection of former punk rockers, miscreants, and ne’er dowells that grew up, settled down, and went to work — a far cry from where we started. Tiki and Polynesian Pop was our outlet to let our Freak Flag Fly on the weekends, and to come back together. Once again our habit to wear aloha shirts, lava lavas, totems, and cabana suits shocked our friends and family, but it was our way of saying “Hey… we get it now. We’re still here. Let’s have a drink, some food, and watch some Gilligan’s Isle reruns.”
I still play music, but now it’s Hawaiian music. I’ve traded my distortion pedals for a conch shell. I still listen to a lot of the old records I once did, but I’ve added Martin Denny, Milt Raskin, and Yma Sumac to my rotation. I run my own business, which to be honest I never thought possible. I am less inclined to get a mohawk any more, but I encourage it with my kids. I still don’t feel like I fit, but I don’t think I ever will or that I need to. I’ve found success not through the creation of goals, in the traditional sense, but by seeing where the road takes me. I found that ultimately what I want is the journey. The destination will be where I hop on the next train. I found out, actually within the last couple of years, that I am in fact not stupid – that I never was. I just learned differently, and that was ultimately my super power.
It hasn’t all been painless. There are a couple of years that I don’t really remember. There were friends that I watched slowly destroy themselves, and opened my eyes to my own possibilities. There are friends that it took it upon themselves to close their own peep holes — and with all my tears I still miss them. Not all of us in that community at that time came out of it, and I am grateful and surprised I did. I am not sure I would have made it, without that community to back me up. Punk rock was the movement that showed me the strength in myself – to own up to who I am – and to always be there for my Ohana.
I wake up with crippling anxiety. I struggle daily to put one foot in the other, and I cry in movies… a lot. I still here that voice in my head that tells me that I was worthless, and there are times that it wins. There are days that pushing myself out of bed is painful, but I do it anyways if for no other reason that I have 3 people that need me. I spend a lot of time feeling like a disappointment, or an impostor and I have almost been destroyed by it … on more than one occasion.
But, I am older now, and a dad, and that means something. To paraphrase Wreck-It Ralph, “If those kids like me, how bad can I be? I’m bad, and that’s good! I will never be good, and that’s not bad! There’s no one I’d rather be, than me!”
I read movies and cartoons like some read Tolstoy. I enjoy art museums, tribal art, Polynesian design patterns, and martial arts. I am always looking for a Kung Fu marathon, and do not want to be interrupted when I’m watching Xena the Warrior Princess. I am a Brony, a Whovian, a Fan boy, and an animation junky. I love reruns of G-Force and Ultra Man, and will never tire of kitschy, campy, low brow, or Mid Modern Century art. My heros will always be Mr. Rogers, Eartha Kitt, Bob Ross, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Hedy Lamarr, and His Holiness the Dalai Llama. I carve tikis, and I think about the tiki bar that I want to open one day. I miss the ocean, and the palm trees, but they will never separate me from my kids, my Ohana, or my wife. I can sing Amazing Grace to the Gilligan’s Isle theme song. I will drop everything at the drop of a hat to watch a Disney Princess movie, and will always consider myself a pretty pony. I will never hide my tattoos, and never work at a place that expects me too. I am more comfortable with circus freaks than I am with business types. I find the best food comes from places off of the main strip, and no one makes a poke like Bruddah Eddie. If you come to my house, you are a part of the tribe. I will always have a place for you at the table, and time to listen over a cocktail. I strive to teach my kids to do no harm, and to always speak with kindness and compassion. I can talk about any topic for about 30 seconds, and I love to learn, listen, and make myself better.I value you, and where you came from.
I approach each job I take on like I have approached my journey. Take each task on it’s own, and enjoy it for what it can teach you. Seek out the projects that pique your curiosity, and never think there is one method to get an expected result. Find the people who’s weirdness that meshes with yours, and make them your Sanga. The team is your Ohana – they have your back, so you should have theirs.
One day I’ll get back to that cartoon. For now, as The Doctor might say, I am getting to the place I need to be… the long way around.