Today I thought I was gonna write about being back on the road, about how I’m doing the things that make me happy, like walking everyday and writing. I was even going to imbed a cool photo of Mount Shasta in the post…but no, that was not to be! Instead I’m going to tell you all about a little bit of internet flack that happened today in regards to a portrait that was painted of me about 30 years ago:
Back in the 80’s I was a punk. In many ways I still am: I live my life on my own terms, thrive outside of the mainstream, and, lo these many years later, I once again have funny colored hair. Okay, there’s a LOT more to punk rock than that, but that’s kind of the “distilled” version. Suffice it to say, that I was NOT into punk for the stereotypical reasons: I’ve never believed that Anarchy was a political belief to be supported (I personally feel that an anarchic society would be death and misery for the poor, the weak and the downtrodden) I’ve never been into gratuitous violence, though, as a young punk, if you were fighting for a righteous cause, I could support ya….and I was certainly in a scrape or two back then, usually standing up for someone that needed standing up up for! Now, I’ve changed a lot in the ensuing years, I’ve let go of most of the “righteous anger” I used to have, and I’d way rather work it out or walk away…but even back then, violence for the sake of violence? No, not something I ever went in for.
Okay, 30 or so years ago this guy, this artist named Alan hung out with all my non-punk friends (besides the punk crowd, I also hung with a bunch of actors, and arty types that formed a group called “The Fools Guild”. Fun group, amazing people!) So, Alan decides he’s going to paint all of us. He painted a beautiful pic of a bunch of Fools entitled “The Feast of Fools”. It was gorgeous, the guy’s got talent. Then Alan decides he’s gonna paint me. Well, I’m flattered, of course, so I agree, but here’s the rub: Alan, he’s kind of, oh, I don’t know, a hippie, I guess…or at least maybe he used to be a hippie, but, let’s just say he doesn’t “get” punk rock at all, it’s decidedly out of his purview. So, he paints this portrait of me…only it’s NOT me! It’s some rougher, courser, stereotyped version of me…I mean, for gods sake, he had me wearing a tee shirt that said “Destroy”! I have NEVER in my life worn a shirt that said “DESTROY”!!!!! Why would I? First of all, I’ve never believed in nihilism, and, secondly, I was from the first wave of punk rock…okay, maybe not the FIRST wave: in today’s computer parlance, I was probably version 2.0…not, 1.0, when The Sex Pistols and The Ramones started, which was approximately 1976; I became a punk in 1978, When the L.A. scene blew alive! All the aggro crap came later, when the H.B.’s hit the scene in Hollywood. H.B.’s were from Huntington Beach, and they were kinda like drunken frat boys…just my recollection, mind you, others may remember it differently… but when they arrived, it was no longer very safe for us punk girls to dance in the pit…pogo-ing gave way to slam dancing, and things got much more violent. The stereotype that everyone thinks of as “punk rockers” (or “punkers” *groan*) was born during this time. Prior to that, what attracted me to the scene was a bunch of amazing, intelligent, talented, creative people! (Oh, yeah, and there was also alcohol, great music, and plenty of cute boys!!!!!)
The thing is, what drew me to punk was that it reminded me of Paris in the 30’s! Everyone was an artist, or a musician (that should probably be a musician or an artist…)or a writer! And everyone was SMART!!!! That was such a relief for me, to find a group of people where, not only was it okay to be smart, but everyone else was too! Even the junkies were smart (okay, maybe not THAT smart!)(says the grown up woman and MOM who SURVIVED the sex, drugs and rock and roll of that period!) See, growing up as I did in the in the 60’s and 70’s, if you liked school, and loved to learn, you were kind of an outcast….and here was a group of people who were ALL outcasts! And we REVELED in it! We took things to the edge, and sometimes over. We screamed “Oh yeah! You don’t like us? You don’t accept us? Well that’s okay, cause we’re DELIGHTED with us! And We’re gonna change the world!” And you know what? When you look at it from the standpoint of art, design and music, we actually DID change the world. So as far as I’m concerned, that means we accomplished what we set out to do!
Fast forward 30 or so years: I’m on my lovely walk today, the one I was gonna write about, absorbing the scenery, thinking about how I’m intent on living my life to the fullest, etc., etc. when I get a Facebook notification saying that someone has commented on a post I was tagged in. I click on the link…and it’s the portrait! This portrait was first posted on Facebook in 2010, and I was polite about it then, just as I was polite about it when it was painted (very UN-punk rock of me,right?!) but I did make it known that I didn’t believe the painting was an accurate portrayal of either me, or punk rock, that it was pretty much a cliche….well, today there are post after posts of people PRAISING the painting, saying that Alan really captured “currant” events (???? ummmm, what can I say, spelling freak here!) Then they go on to credit to Alan what WAS me about the painting: the outfit (minus the “Destroy tee shirt) the jewelry, the blue hair! (which was actually GREEN, as are my EYES!) Like it was him that thought up the way I dressed and not me! Arrrgh! So, I let it be known that the dress and the hair and jewelry were mine, not Alan’s, and I again reiterate that I think it’s a cliché and not a true representation of either the time or of me….well, they keep going on: How could I hate something so beautiful (NOT!) and chastising me by saying that “people should be more appreciative of the work and time it took to create the painting.” Now, again folks, this is ME, or at least it’s supposed to be, and it’s tagged with MY name. Yet I’m not “supposed” to have anything but praise for this…this…this misrepresentational monstrosity! Ayyyyyy!
So, once again I reiterate that I think Alan went for the cliché, and that this is not what punk was about at all!.. Then I ask if we can please just let this go, and if Alan would please just untag me so I don’t have to deal with this anymore….
Alan responds: “Wow Darla,there must be some truth to the picture for you to respond like this. I was just painting you as I saw you. As I recall, though it might have been reflective of a time in your life that has difficult memories attached. For the record, I’ve always liked this painting. I think this discussion might speak to the real purpose of a portrait. To hold up a mirror. It is true that (probably) most have a hard time accepting what they see. But I have never been a commercial portrait painter. I also don’t lay my own trip on my subjects. I let them reveal themselves to me. That is what makes it worthwhile. Receiving the gift. No “cliché” there.”
Wow! Could he get anymore pompous, anymore arrogant, anymore “The artist as God”? When I respond negatively to his painting, it MUST be because the “truth” in it upsets me. It must be because what I see in “the mirror” doesn’t please me. It can’t possibly be that I don’t like it because it’s not reflective of me, because, after all, Alan doesn’t lay his own trip on his subjects; and this is how I revealed myself to him, after all! (could someone please get a mop,’cause I’m oozing sarcasm all over the place!) Not to mention that when he painted it, my life was going swimmingly, I was in design school, looking forward to a career, so I can’t recall any reflection that would cause me “difficult memories”…whereas Alan was suffering through the dying gasps of a horrible marriage….no, no, it has to be HIS perception of me that is the correct one! *Sigh*
What Alan failed to grasp was that the reason I never liked this painting was that it was obvious that Alan never SAW me, so there was no possible way he could portray me truthfully…He had a preconceived notion of who I was before he ever set brush to canvas. He had an outsiders biased view, a bit like the white settlers in this country saw the Native Americans. Yep, he looked at punks and saw savages. He certainly never saw beauty or art in punk, he saw curiousities, characters, sideshow fringies….but he never saw me or mine. Yet still he wanted to jump on the bandwagon and paint what he didn’t understand. He painted, and I’m back to the Native American analogy here, his own version of a cigar store Indian, or the cheap beady-tomahawkey-feathery tchotchkes you used to find in the roadside tourist attractions. Nothing but a bad imitation of the real thing!
We all want to be seen, need to be seen. And this kneejerk kind of misrepresentation happens to all of us all of the time, in the minds and eyes of strangers,and parents, and sometimes even partners and friends. I have always been about shattering preconceived notions; I have always been about letting the real me shine to all who see me…often a difficult task, but a worthy one. Back in the day (the punk rock day!) I would come across those who automatically assumed I was a violent deviant because I dressed funny and had colored hair (which I had, by the way, because I thought it was beautiful! Still do!) When these people reacted negatively to me, nine times out of ten I “niced them to death”! I made sure I was just the opposite of what they were expecting: I was polite, I was well spoken, I was intelligent, I was kind. (and I know, my friend Scotty is gonna read this, and he’s gonna say: “Oh REALLY Darla? May I just say: Castro Valley?” to which I must respond “I said nine times out of ten, Scotty!” to which he’ll respond “Kicking buses?” and I’ll say “Come on Scotty, nine times out of ten means eighteen out of twenty, so ya gotta give me these two!” And he will, ’cause he’s that kinda guy!!)
When it comes down to it, I think that this shattering of misconceptions might just be another way that punk rock changed the world: I ended up watching a Donahue show from the early 80’s on youtube the other day. It featured a bunch of punk rock kids, and some of their parents. It was amazing how the people would screw up their faces in reaction to the kids, snap judgements quickly placed. Until the kids talked. Then you could see the judgements shifting, loosening a little bit…and when you look at society today, I think we have much more tolerance for differences than we used to, I think people are not nearly as homogenous in appearance as they used to be. I think…I HOPE…we’re more accepting of people being who they are, letting themselves shine through, their REAL selves. It could be just because I live on one of the coasts, in freaky, lefty California, but I hope not. I hope we are all actually evolving as a species…
So, here’s my advice and words of wisdom: Don’t EVER let anyone “paint a portrait” of you that isn’t true and isn’t you! If it happens, stand up proudly and say loudly “Nope! That isn’t me!” Let yourself, the real you, shine through!
Tomorrow I just might tell ya about my trip….