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Interview with:


E-cigarettes :

How ” Breaking Bad” cheated its way to a grandly cynical finale

Healthy tool or gateway device? And Cigarettes vs. e - C i g a r e tt e s : Which Is Less Environmentally Harmful?

Who the fu*k is Alex Grey?

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“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.� -Friedrich Nietzsche 2

table of contents How ‘Breaking Bad’ cheated its way to a grandly cynical finale

E-cigarettes: Healthy tool or gateway device?

And Cigarettes vs. e-Cigarettes: Which Is Less Environmentally Harmful? Who the fu*k is Alex Grey?

Interview with: MF DOOM

pg#20 Eargasm: Wu-Tang pg#26 Quiet On Set: Wolf Of Wall Street pg#38 Kill E’m: Neymar pg#60 Mixed Media: Nick Baxter pg#66 Pixels: Vector Art pg#72 APDAT: Nasir Islam 3

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How ‘Breaking Bad’ cheated its way to a grandly cynical finale Cheaters never prosper, or so they say. And if they do, they’re probably biblical moralists or writers of film noir, the kind where desperate saps with immoral get-rich schemes get punished for their transgressive ambition one way or another, sooner or later. Double Indemnity. No Country for Old Men. And Breaking Bad, the extraordinary, many-things-at-once, neo-noir, desert-western, dark-comedy serial created by Vince Gilligan, which came to an end Sunday night. For five seasons, this bold and cold AMC series chronicled the downfall of a dying, dead-on-the-inside Everyman who sold out his principles (such as they were) to feel alive and strong; who betrayed and then just ripped up all of our culture’s explicit and implicit social contracts to score the significance he believed he deserved. Walter White was a man who could have been a tech king, but who chickened out and cashed out too early; who abused his neglected genius to enter the drug

what will profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Jesus) How much land does one man need? (Tolstoy) We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy. (Dumbledore) Breaking Bad was awesome. It was arty-fun pulp, profound but short of pretentious and never preachy, and proof that careful attention to the internal lives of its characters, the details of the world, and thematic possibilities of any story in any genre can create transcendent effects. It was not just a pleasure to watch, but it was a pleasure to watch the culture embrace it, especially here at the end. Given my regard for the show, I have long had that unreasonable fanboy desire for everyone to lovelovelove this seemingly unlovable drama about a brilliant meth-making skipper and his Bitch!-quippy little buddy trying to survive and thrive in the seedy wilds of underworld ABQ. I have also had that ridiculously demanding desire

trade and build a grotesque, destructive substitute for the empire that might have been his; who tried to beat the reaper by becoming one himself, The One Who Knocks. In the end, this too-human monster was allowed a happy ending: He went to the grave on his own terms, and with all of his illusions about himself intact. He was, in his mind, a mythic Campbellian hero, a man who went on a journey to bring back an elixir of treasure to save his family (but oh, how they didn’t want it, his horrible blood money!); a Marvelous action hero, who emancipated slaves and destroyed an evil empire (that he had built himself, that had destroyed so many lives!). As an avatar of heroism, Walt was as meaning-challenged as the Lady Justice in Saul Goodman’s office, as the Nazi swastika on Uncle Jack’s arm. And so Walter White, the antithesis of what we really want from heroes — sincerity, selflessness, virtue we can believe in — was a critique of the antihero culture that spawned him. In his folly, we hear echoes of ancient wisdom. For

for Breaking Bad‘s last episodes to be perfect. I have not been as impressed with the last eight episodes as a whole as others have been (the Walt/Hank confrontation in the premiere, the all-time great “Ozymandias,” and the satisfying closure of the finale notwithstanding) — but 92 percent pure ain’t nothing to sneeze at. When I think about what makes Breaking Bad great, I think about the intricate, richly thematic design of individual seasons and the extraordinary mise-enscène within each episode; I think about Cranston’s unfailing success at grounding every moment of his monster in some emotion or aspect of human experience that we can relate to, even when we didn’t want to; I think of the love-hate warfare between Walt & Jesse and Walt & Skyler; I think of the themes, like the value we put on human life and on our own; I think ofthe humor, the horror, and the endings. “Run!” “Everybody wins.” “Tread lightly.” The kicker to the pilot that resonated all the way unto the end: “Walt? Is that


How ‘Breaking Bad’ cheated its way to a grandly cynical finale you?!” And then there was the armchair sport of tracking the business of the title. The show pitched us Mr. Chips-to-Scarface; we wanted to understand the mechanics of that mutation. And for most of the show’s run, Walt’s evolution of evil proceeded logically and felt credible, and by the time we reached the last season, Breaking Bad was read as a “moral” drama. James Poniewozik of Time put fine words to it in August: “By ‘moral,’ I don’t mean preachy, or aimed at making you a better person, or a wholesome hour’s entertainment for you and your small children to enjoy together. Rather, from the beginning to (it would seem) the end, the show has systematically been about morality: how it works, how it fails, what makes a good and bad person, how the seed of evil finds purchase and grows.” We all have our theories about why Walter White broke bad. Some will tell you Walt was always as bad as he wanted to be, and that cancer simply broke the chain that kept that beast leashed. Some will tell you that Walt’s story could be read politically, as a critique of white-male privilege gone ballistically mad. (Interesting how both fed/challenged this reading. More on this

later.) Some will tell you that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle explains it all: Walt’s impossible-to-measure Determinism; his duality; other stuff Wikipedia tells me. I’ve looked at Breaking Bad through a variety of perspectives over the years. I have thought Breaking Bad was dramatizing a theory of behavioral psychology that says post-Enlightenment secular man, lacking faith in received wisdom, institutions, or symbolic ritual to assuage terror of mortality, chases after “immortality projects” — legal or otherwise — in which the actual self (in this case, Walt) creates an aspirational self (the pork-pie, black-shaded godfather) and adopts a “heroic” project to obtain a sense of mastery over life that yields a useful self-deception, a denial of death. Overthink much? Maybe. “Who cares? Who cares, who cares, who cares?” opined Linda Holmes, a Breaking Bad admirer, in an essay earlier this season about our interest in parsing Walt’s evil. I do wonder if all our psychoanalyzing/philosophizing was just us trying to rationalize and justify the “morally shady” pleasure of watching a man pursue abhorrent bliss. (“It can’t all be for nothing” = us?) Here at the end, as we reckon with a finale that felt to some like an affirmation of


Walt’s immorality than a critique of it, I no longer see a show that was remarkable for its seemingly fair, rigorous observation of human behavior. I see a story led by a cynical view of human nature that was determined to reach a predetermined destination by any means necessary, for better and worse. A feeling of inescapable inevitability emerged throughout season 5. This was not just the byproduct of two flash-forwards that teased a violent climax. Gilligan and his writers mushed Walt, Jesse, Skyler, and Hank to their final destinations by using — sometimes with a knowing wink – tried and true storytelling “cheats.” This invariably happens in any kind of serialized storytelling, especially at the end, as writers try to make rationalize and reconcile an accumulation of making-it-up-aswe-got-along storytelling. The Contrived Coincidence (see: Hank’s Lucky Crap, when he found the incriminating Leaves of Grass in the john; Walt’s chance viewing of Charlie Rose, the catalyst for the finale). The Thunderbolt Epiphany (see: Jesse suddenly realizing Walt has poisoned Brock). The Idiot Stick (see: Hank’s Keystone Kop pursuit of Walt). Hear me: I am not trying to be a nitpicker, and I’m not trying to argue that Vince Gilligan is a bad writer — no, he’s a brilliant writer and

I can’t wait to see what he does next — or that Breaking Bad wasn’t a great show. But I am wondering if it was a different show than what we thought it was, and I do question the value of its treatment of moral concerns: The final season felt like scientists meddling with an experiment to achieve a desired result; or the clumsy intrusion of capricious, morally ambiguous Fate, something like Maxwell’s Demon, regulating with bias the actions of particles within a closed system. Either one confuses — or makes more interesting, depending on your point of view — our understanding of Walt’s character and the show’s depiction of human nature. Nothing summed up the overt Fate-or-cheat? dynamic more than the opening scene of the finale, in which Walt tried to steal a snow-covered car that would take him to his final destination. He saw police headlights and and began begging/bargaining (with God? Satan? Death? Vince Gilligan? The Audience?) for passover. The cruiser cruised by — and an idea struck him. He reached up to the visor… and car keys fell like a gift from heaven. Deus ex machina, indeed. It was as if a morally sensitive universe was giving him more chances to surrender and submit to The Law; or an impish universe seducing him to more evil. Either way, Walt’s world comes off as almost mystically alive and supernaturally — or unnaturally — active. And it begs questions. Here are mine: Did Breaking Bad really give us a plausible portrait of a man breaking bad? What was the show’s philosophy of human nature? Did we get artfully rendered determinism and or artfully rendered fatalism? Let’s drag in George Bernard Shaw, shall we? “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” Point taken. But which is Breaking Bad: Accurate observation or cynicism? Both? The truth, perhaps, is in the plastic teddy bear eye of the beholder. Cynicism comes in many forms, and a few of them aren’t all that bad. In fact, upper-case Cynicism — the ancient philosophy — is a revealing lens through which to look at Breaking Bad. Let’s start old school. The first Cynics were anti-establishment eggheads who envisioned a culture where the individual had boundless freedom to undertake that great heroic act of self-fulfillment, the pursuit of happiness. But they defined that project differently from how we Americans do: The Cynics defined the pursuit of happiness as the unfettered chase of Eudaimonia (human flourishing) through the attainment of moral virtue — what we ought to do — through the power of reason and reason alone. They saw themselves as counterculture heroes; they took Hercules as their idol. Breaking bad? No, Cynics were outlaw personalities fixated on breaking toward the transcendent Good. They were also nature-loving ascetics who eschewed the materialistic values of society — specifically wealth, fame, and power — as toxic elements that poison judgment and perfect clarity. They wanted liberation from a cloudy, diseased mental condition created by any enterprise that cultivates pride, viciousness, and greed. They called this


condition — how fitting — “smoke.” I might be as delusional as Walter White, but I would like to think all of Breaking Bad was an ironic communion with Cynicism in service of producing a sly comment about a culture where “the pursuit of happiness” is all about satisfying our desire for fulfillment with stuff and status — by becoming “the beautiful people” to borrow from Walt. The Cynics might watch the credit sequence of Breaking Bad, see those letters from the periodic table — essential elements of nature, symbols of transcendent natural law — come together to form the title, watch them transmute into meth smoke, and think: Metaphor! And then they see Walter White and start pelting him with rotten figs, for Walt is the embodiment of everything that they would say is the enemy of human flourishing and an insult to their beliefs. Here is a man of great mental powers — all will and reason — who applies them to attain material satisfaction, not moral perfection, and worse, who makes and sells pure smoke and impudently calls it “Blue Sky.” He desecrates the philosophical conception of the pursuit of happiness by chasing after

wealth (I only need $700,000! No, wait: Make that $82 million!), power (“I am in the empire business!”), and fame (“Say my name!”). Of course, Walt was also an immoral expression of the American dream as articulated by the Declaration of Independence: His entire arc has been a fight for life (the first battle with cancer; the Death symbols of The Cousins), liberty (the epic struggle for emancipation from Gus Fring), and the pursuit of

liked it. I was good at it, and I was alive.” And Breaking Bad says: But ain’t that America? Little pink(man) houses and Rage games, for you and me. Yet the true tragedy of Walter White was that he bought into a profoundly cynical — not Cynical — moral vision of himself. He never had much of one in the first place. If he did, what was it? An atheist can have a rigorously developed code. The Christian has the exam-

was at war with elements that were forged long ago and are now immutable. Yet is it not true that evil acts cultivate evil character? I find it interesting that some Breaking Bad fans are actually uncomfortable with the idea that “Breaking Bad” was a present-tense phenomenon occurring within Walt; they want to make the premise and title of the show “Broke Bad Years Earlier and Is Finally Getting Around to Acting Like It.” It’s interesting to

his black-hat, Heisenbergian happiness (“You’re goddam right!”). But Walt’s perverse notions of fulfillment leave him vicious, greedy, and judgment-impaired: The height of his smoky monstrousness, from a Cynical perspective, comes when he shoots Mike in a fury, then realizes he didn’t need to. Oops. Sorry. My bad! If only I was more Cynical! Let me sit here in the quiet by the river and contemplate nature and higher virtues — no, wait, gotta go. See ya! One episode later, Walt’s greed-hazed gray matter goes crude-oil dark: He orders the assassinations of 10 people during two minutes of Manic Pop-Pop-Pop-PopPop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop-Pop shivving. Walt should have been Superman. Instead, he went Bizarro. Individualism and self-realization run amok. “I did it for me. I

ple of Christ to follow. What did Walter have, besides the law of the land and obligation to family? Breaking Bad seemed to take the Cynical view that the rules and norms of society are insufficient to save us from our worst selves. For Walt, that worst self had a name: Heisenberg. Walt created a whole persona for that man: Bald head, black hat, black T-shirt and glasses, black muscle car. An ensemble that seemed to be inspired by generic images of cool Hollywood criminality. There are those who argue that Heisenberg’s ruthless qualities belonged to Walt’s true self, that they’ve always been there and that sooner or later, one way or another, they were going to get out, whether Walt got cancer or not. But this view makes it sound like Walt

consider that we simply can’t accept the idea that a person, fictional or otherwise, would actively choose to be “bad.” (Just as we find it corny when people, especially in fiction, choose to be good simply for goodness’ sake.) While Breaking Bad is certainly open to many interpretations, I’ve always read it this way: “Heinsenberg” was a means to an end. It was Walt’s Mr. Hyde — and his hiding place. It was a constructed personality — a part to play — that helped him cope with, and deny, the evil things he was doing. Yes, Heisenberg allowed Walt to exercise certain qualities that were essentially Walt. But Heisenberg became a thing unto itself, and Walt increasingly allowed it to take him over, in part because he needed it more, especially when he began craving more and


more. The Walt-Heisenberg duality becomes a metaphor for schizoid homelife/worklife thinking, that we behave one way in our “personal life” and another way in our “professional life,” and that each of these personas have different, even contradictory moralities — but that’s okay because that’s just the way we do things, and it’s the only way we can achieve material-world success. But season 5 judged this cynical perspective and demolished it. As Walt segued into empire-builder mode, as greed set in, he gave himself over fully to the wish-fulfillment fantasy of Heisenberg. The lines between Walt and Heisenberg blurred, and he lost touch with reality and humanity. The cost of this was measured in the lives of the “family” he allegedly loved. He forced himself back to Skyler’s life and bed — forced his perverted concept of “family” on her — turning her into a hostage, sending her from despair (the swimming pool “suicide” attempt; telling Walt, “I’m waiting for the cancer to come back,” maybe the most chilling moment ever in the show), to sell-out resignation. Fine, Walt. I’ll be your Bride of Heisenbergerstein. Can I have my kids back now? Meanwhile, Walter’s surrogate son, Jesse, unsettled by Todd’s

needless killing of The Tarantula Kid, yearned for his father figure to feel just as upset. Instead, Walt went about his work, whistling. This ambivalence, as much as his own despair, catalyzed Jesse toward his endgame. As with Skyler, Walt refused to take Jesse’s suffering seriously, and refused, for the longest time, to take seriously Jesse’s desire to quit. For Walt, Jesse and Skyler had become things, accessories for his black-hearted persona, or, at best, supporting characters in the grotesque cosplay of his life. But then the cancer returned, a big bad wolf to blow his Heisenberg straw house to smithereens. It shattered the lie of his internal matrix, and it was back to the desert of the real for Walt: no morality, no immortality, just a whole lot of money and family who despised him. He would lose those things, too, and in the end, during a final temptation in a Granite State bar, he chose to become the only thing he had left, the only thing that felt real as rock: Heisenberg. In this way, Breaking Bad was as bracingly, usefully cynical as Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, and even Christ himself in their nasty-wry attacks on self-deception and hypocrisy. In the Whites’ money-laundering car wash, and especially in Gus’ superlab of iniquity hidden underneath a laundry, I hear echoes of Jesus scolding insincere moralists for being “whitewashed tombs.” We also recognize in Breaking Bad the kind of cynicism dramatized by the Coen brothers and Stanley Kubrick in their stories of foolish men who degrade themselves by chasing worldly significance, who are tempted to such folly — and degraded further — by the corrupt influence of society and culture. Breaking Bad is The Shining exorcised into crime fiction.


Walter White is Jack Torrance, blind to the demons that drive him. And the capricious shadow world of ABQ, built to expose and inflame your darkest self, is Walt’s Overlook Hotel. But the truth is that the whole Chips-to-Scarface thing has always been a misleading frame to view Breaking Bad. Walt was never a solid, decent square who melted into moral quagmire under the duress of everyday heat. He was a product of an artistic vision that we need to be led by moral vision, lest we make a sht-happens world sh-ttier. The fact that I often agree with the show’s dim view of people doesn’t make Breaking Bad “accurate observation.” But it doesn’t need to be. Breaking Bad is designed to inspire personal reflection. It is an opportunity to reflect on and question my own worldview, my own attitudes about goodness, my own moral code, or lack thereof. So far, so high-minded. On some days, even I didn’t buy it. Fracking Breaking Bad for deep goo was always dubious exercise. The crime genre naturally skews lower-case cynical, populated with people highly motivated to not do the right thing and possess no love of virtue. And hey: Meth-making scuzzballs are probably not the test subjects for researching virtue, especially ones that are, like, totally made-up, and were as compromised with burdens like Walter White. He came to us in a state of Falling Down, boo-hoo-hooey distress. Squashed dreams. Humble, humbling jobs. Pregnant wife. Handicapped teenage son. Modest savings and crap health insurance. And that was all there before they gave him terminal cancer. Of course Walt was going to break bad — he was utterly baroque with brokenness. The

White poisoned How ‘Breaking Bad’ Brock. Skyler made peace with Walt’s evil and cheated its way to world, but the exaggeragreed to How ‘Breaking Bad’ cheated its way toation a grandly cynicaleven finale was so gross that frame Hank for it begged an incredulity a grandly cynical her husband’s that undermines our crimes, but when want to engage and finale she realized Walt’s embrace the wisdom

characteristics of Walt’s internal world — specifically the festering wound of Gray Matter that oozes jealousy and bitterness throughout his being (more on this later) — were chosen to create a personality that would resist, reject, revolt against any other course of action, righteous or otherwise, so much so that by this last season, he’d be proudly proclaiming to Jesse that he knew he was going to hell, and dammit if he wasn’t going to reign like Lucifer until he got there. (Not that Walt even believes in hell; maybe if he did, things would be different.) Put another way: Walt was going to break bad, and then reallyreally bad, whether he wanted to or not. There’s no show if he doesn’t. Which was fine with me. Really, it was. It did bother me that Breaking Bad didn’t dwell more on the devastation caused to individuals and communities by Walt’s meth-making. The show leaned too much on an unspoken compact with the au-

dience: Let’s take as a given that drugs are reallyreallyreally bad. Okay? Now, let’s focus on other things. I was also bothered when it seemed like the show was actively denying Walt legit opportunities to do Good or redeem himself, and when the show indulged in cruel joke storytelling and maximized the consequences to grotesque extremes. Sometimes, the temptations placed in front of him felt credible; other times, forced. Walt lets Jane choke to death on her vomit to advance and protect his awful interests; Jane’s distraught father returns to work too early and allows two airplanes to collide in mid-air. Breaking Bad was using gross exaggeration to make a point about the ripple-effect ramifications that any action, selfish or altruistic or neutral, have on the


presented. Put another way: That was just f—ing mean. When I think of Breaking Bad‘s worldview, I think of the season 1 episode “Cancer Man,” and I flash on the drawing in Jesse’s brother’s bedroom of the Hindenburg aflame and falling from the sky and the words “Oh the humanity!” The people of Breaking Bad are buggy Hindenburgs, their doomed voyages made all the more certain by the direction of some really twisted and manipulative air traffic controllers. Other examples of the show’s storytelling strategies and philosophy were sooooo damn bleak that I just say: No. In Breaking Bad, murder was routinely depicted as, like, The Worst Thing You Can Possibly Do… Except Slavery. Okay, no debate there. But exceptional death often had other special properties in Breaking Bad, too, especially when it involved children and family. Jesse’s slow what-have-I-become? meltdown began in season 5 when Todd kills The Tarantula Kid; he finally applied himself to rebellion when he realized that Mr.

wickedness had cost her brotherin-law his life, she finally took a stand against her husband. Walt’s motivation for quitting the meth business? The return of that indomitable buzzkill, cancer. (The on-off-on of Walt’s cancer was perhaps the clearest proof of Breaking Bad‘s capriciousness.) In the “moral universe” of Breaking Bad, death-horror is pretty much the only reliable prod that can move the soul toward The Good, and even then, only when it involves innocence incarnate or loved ones. If that’s true, then we’re all screwed, and The Hunger Games starts to look like a pretty reasonable idea. Breaking Bad revealed the depth of its cynicism this season with its most heartbreaking storyline. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Hank went out a hero. But


Breaking Bad went out of its way — maybe too far– to deconstruct heroism by showing that Hank’s “heroism” was far from virtuous. After Hank discovered that Walt was Heisenberg, he should have immediately told the DEA — but he didn’t. Why? Pride. He had been scammed by his own brother-in-law. How humiliating, for himself, and for the DEA, and Hank was certain the embarrassment would cost him his job. He reasoned that the only thing that he could do to salvage his ruined rep was to collar Walt himself. And to make sure the DEA didn’t take that away from him, he broke the rules of proper police work and decided to conduct the final phase of his investigation in secret. One of the season’s most audacious moments was also one of its most preposterous: Walt’s blackmail tape, framing Hank for his crimes. Hank was effectively cowed and controlled by it, further insuring his fate. I refuse to believe a cop of Hank’s caliber would have succumbed. And I refuse to believe that the tape couldn’t have been easily debunked. And yet, the results of these dubious storytelling choices succeeded more often than not at producing interesting, worthwhile effects. As much as I didn’t like what happened to Hank, and didn’t like some aspects of how it was done, I enjoyed thinking about and talking with people about the provocative question that Breaking Bad was trying to dramatize, namely: Did Hank = Walt? What’s the difference between heroism and villainy? Because after all: Hank’s most “heroic” action in the series ended up morphing into a self-serving “immortality project” designed to cheat the inevitable, deny the destruction of his identity, and produce a self-serving legacy.

Hank’s final, defiant moment said it all. “My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go f— yourself,” he spat at his executioner, Uncle Jack. Note it: Not “Hank.” ASAC Schrader. His symbolic self. His “Heisenberg.” This was his declaration of identity — never mind the irony that what brought him to the place of his death was technically his own damn “f— himself”: an off-book police action. It was Hank saying: “This is how I want to be remembered.” It was his “Say my name!” moment. We eulogize the failure of his “heroic” quest with the words of the Cynical/cynical poem that inspired the title of the episode that killed him:


And on the pedestal these words appear: 
”My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: 
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
 Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
 Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
 The lone and level sands stretch far away. Walter White’s personal Fall myth was Gray Matter, the tech/ research company he founded with Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz. In the first season, we learned that Walt sold his stake in the company for $5,000 in the early days; we don’t know why. He had been in love with Gretchen; they were a couple;

then something happened. After Walter was diagnosed with cancer, Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz offered him a good job with great benefits that would have paid for his cancer treatments. He turned it down. Why? Maybe because Walt was certain he was going to die and was more interested in quickly making a nest egg for his family instead of prolonging his life; maybe because of pride. Whenever Walt spoke further of Gray Matter (which was rare), he implied he had been screwed by the Schwartzes, a narrative that was either a lie or spoke to facts not yet in evidence. Our inclination was to pull out the world’s tiniest violin

and mock his whining. I coulda had class! I coulda been a contender! I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum high school chemistry teacher-turned-murdering meth maven! Boo-hoo-hooey. Gray Matter and everything it meant to Walt — including, ultimately, his call to action for his last “heroic” action in the series — always bugged me. Cranston could make me believe in every part of Walt in any given episode, but this part of him, his relationship to his murky What-Coulda-Been past, always fell apart on me upon reflection. I can buy that Walt turned down the job, for whatever reason. But making it the catalyst for diving deeper into


the meth business as part of some grossly misguided second chance to prove his worth as a genius empire-builder? As much as I love the denial of death/immortality project of it all, it felt unfair to me if not implausible that Breaking Bad never let that old wound heal. It also felt like a cliche. These kinds of “issues” and motivations have become commonplace in this Golden Age of Drama, from The Sopranos to Lost to Mad Men to Dexter: People fueled by past damage, incapable of escaping historical patterns of behavior, flailing desperately for catharsis that can cure them and free them and remake them into moral, fully realized people. It’s fascinating how much audiences love/hate this characterization, how much they seem to both desire and doubt “redemption.” The Sopranos, Lost, and Breaking Bad (and currently, Mad Men) spent their long runs dangling the prospect of positive, healing change in front of its characters and audience like a carrot on a stick. We chased that bait into the depths of character depravity and across time and space. The Sopranos routinely denied Tony and his family this change — and us, closure — to polarizing effect, although now, for the most, we all applaud that final cut-to-black as intellectually tough. The message: It didn’t matter what happened next; the Sopranos were never going to change. Lost allowed the castaways countless shots at redemption, both in life on The Island, and in death in the Sideways world purgatory, all in service of making a point about the unfairness of Divine Judgments for souls stuck in an ambiguous, not-yet-fully-discovered universe. Or so I would argue. Some were inspired. Others barfed. We debate its merits still. What we want from serialized dramas that concern themselves so much about good and evil, morality and ethics, redemption and damnation, is change we can believe in.

When storytellers resort to cheats and reductive psychology or punt to generic fate and ambiguity in the process of getting to the ending that feels correct to them, they risk jeopardizing the project of tracking characters over time and tainting the final form of the story, that being that thing that lives in your memory. When I look back on a show I spent years watching and loving, I want to recall and feel what was beautiful and fun about it. I don’t want to be thinking: “Man, that just didn’t add up.” Or, to paraphrase Walt: “All of that, for nothing.” Breaking Bad flirted with this kind of disaster during its final season, and never more so than in its penultimate episode, “Granite State.” Just when it seemed that Breaking Bad had completely forgotten about Gray Matter, Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz reared their provoking heads at the worst possible moment for Walt, because it took away his best possible moment. Let’s talk it through. The plot of “Granite State” finds Walter hiding out in a cabin in the New Hampshire mountains. His lung cancer is starting to kick his ass toward the grave. He should heed the counsel of Robert Forster’s ferryman and stay put in his snowbound limbo. He should make like the Cynics and commune with nature, apply his tremendous powers of reason toward introspection, clean his smoky soul. But he can’t bare to be alone with himself, and when his wedding ring slips from his wither-

ing finger, reminding him of his dwindling mortality, he puts on the black hat and runs. He has to take one last Hail Mary shot at legacy, at fulfilling his immortality project, which in the back half of season 5 has been symbolized by his selfish desire to leave his family his worldly treasure, his Meth millions. “All of this can’t be for nothing.” Walter comes down from the mountain with a portion of the cash packed in a box and finds his way to a bar. He calls Walt Jr. and tells him he wants to get him the parcel by mailing it to an intermediary. Walt Jr. — the closest thing to a virtuous character in this show — rejects Walt’s blood money and rebukes him. Get behind me, Satan-Daddy! Just die, already! Shamed, Walt decides to do an honorable thing, an even better thing than hiding out from justice in the mountains: He calls the

DEA, gives up his location, and waits for his reckoning. It’s a petulant surrender, for sure. I do not dare call it “redemption.” But this self-justifying monster is submitting to judgment against him and punishment by law: It is a victory for moral virtue. A small one. But a good one. Let him have it. But no. Breaking Bad‘s finger of cynical fate intrudes. Walt takes a seat at the bar. He sees something on the television as he’s drinking and as the bartender is clicking through the channels. It’s Charlie Rose. The guests are Elliott and Gretchen, who, as we know, embody Walt’s fatal flaw: jealousy. It provokes him to immoral action the same way that, say, Marty McFly got provoked to reckless action any time anyone called him “chicken.” Walt’s weakness is exactly that credible and exactly that reductive. Or so this scene makes it seem. Walt listens to Elliott and Gretchen tell Charlie that they are donating millions to drug treatment programs in New Mexico.


He listens to them insist that their philanthropy has nothing to do with shoring up their falling stock price due to Gray Matter’s association with White. He listens to them say that Walt gave little to Gray Matter beyond half of its name. He listens to Charlie drop a nugget of intel that he didn’t know until now: that Blue Sky was back on the street. Someone had stolen his awful greatness; had robbed him and replaced him. Gray Matter all over again. Finally, he hears Gretchen — his ex-lover; the one who got away – say: “The sweet, kind man we once knew? He’s gone.” Something stirs within Walt. The police arrive, but Walt is not there. This crap-luck Charlie Rose moment was The Last Temptation of Walt. And to quote a certain knight of a better crusade: He chose… poooooorly. It was also another contrived coincidence, another example of Breaking Bad‘s demonic Fate goading him to indulge his demons, to do the wrong thing, to believe that he was and could be nothing more than Heisenberg. Worse: It sabotaged his meager morsel of redemption. And so we got the cynicalpalooza of the series finale. It was a transporting hour of artfully crafted escapism about a man who got to exit his gone-rotten life living an action hero fantasy and playing Ironic Christ, setting captives free, shaming moral hypocrites and destroying evil, and insuring happily ever after for the ones he loved the most. I emphasize “ironic.” To be clear: I do not


believe Walter earned “redemption.” What does that term even mean? What does that look like? Did a couple “good” acts and some long overdue honesty at the end of a very long run of wrong and deceit atone for and effectively purge from the psycho-spiritual-historical record all of Walt’s sins? Of course not. And apart from a hint of a gracious smirk from Jesse at the end, I don’t think the finale offered Walt any real exoneration or absolution. The show allowed Walt to die thinking he had accomplished something — leaving treasure for his family, a treasure which the show made clear was not only unwanted but immoral — but that is not the same thing affirmation. Gilligan prosecuted a compelling case against Walt; now, we render the verdict. I enjoyed the finale while I was watching it, and the more I think about it, the more I like it even better. I don’t know what it said, if anything, about human nature. But it felt true to Walt, and true to the series. I may not have always admired how Breaking Bad got to its finale in its last season, but the finale itself felt, for the most part, correct. We got the Schwartz stuff out of the way quickly, and cleverly. Walt got to parade his fat stacks to the Schwartzes — proof that he was every bit as “good” as them — and bullied them into becoming partners in a conspiracy to get the cash to Junior when he turned 18, under the guise of a donation from a benefactor. Interesting: Were we supposed to conclude that Gretchen and Elliott really did screw him over back in the day? “Cheer up, beautiful people,” he said. “Here is where you get to make it right.” Gretchen and Elliott were not given the chance to respond. I didn’t read the line as a slam against the wealthy in general; I read it as an expression of Walt’s view that — contrary to what the Schwartzes told Charlie Rose — these rich people owed their wealth to his ideas. “Here is where you get to make it right” = “You can repay me for the life I made for you


and for the credit you’ve denied me by executing my living (but not for long) will.” But make no mistake: Walt’s will was wicked. His family didn’t want his blood money. Saying no to Walt’s ill-gotten riches was their attempt to salvage and redeem their lives with a virtuous choice — by breaking good. How dare he desecrate that heroic project and rape their meaning by forcing his vile legacy and his meaning upon them! Walt then proceeded to take down the Meth empire (put THAT into your anti-drug crusade pipe and smoke it, Schwartzes!), but for all the wrong reasons (pride), and with the most extreme and immoral of ways. Murdering Lydia. Slaughtering Uncle Jack and his men. The law could have taken them out, and in a better fashion. But Walt got the visceral satisfaction of vengeance (but did he deserve it?), and anyway, like Walt gives a crap about “the law.” Walt liberated Jesse, maybe because it was the right thing to do, but also because his plan, as conceived, required someone to do what he didn’t have the balls to do himself: Put a bullet through his brain. This facilitated a very nice moment for Jesse, who got a chance to make a choice about his own personal meaning and break toward good by throwing aside the gun, completing the arc that began with his coerced assassination of Gale with a redemptive mirror moment. Yet Jesse was incorrect when he told Walt that he was done doing what Walt wanted him to do. By refusing to kill Mr. White, Jesse was fulfilling the great moral command that Mr. White gave him back in high school: “APPLY YOURSELF.” But Jesse also got to turn it back on him too. You want death? Apply YOURSELF, bitch! The student had become the teacher. Is it possible that Walt was hip to these ironies and how significant all of this might have been for Jesse? We’ll be debating that one for years, most likely in the context of the larger question that I suspect fans will be debating and arguing over for years to come: Did Walt redeem himself even a little bit in the finale? Question: Who killed Walter White? It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t murder. And it wasn’t suicide. He died from a bullet fired from the product of his own evil genius, a machine gun mounted on a garage door opener. But it wasn’t a direct strike: The bullet was one of many, sprayed randomly, that (I think?) hit him off a ricochet. He died… by accident? By incidental precipitant of the epic chemistry experiment that transmuted Walt into Heisenberg? By Fate? By contrived coincidence? By… Vince Gilligan, the God of this universe, taking responsibility for his creation and putting this rabid dog out of his misery? Regardless, Walt got a great parting gift: He went into the abyss with all of his heroic, great-man delusions intact, feeling proud that he had built something as beautiful as Jesse’s pinewood box. Consider it a reward for five years of breaking bad for our amusement. Well done, my good and faithful


servant. I guess you got what you deserved. Goodbye, Walter White, you dirty little cheater. You made me think. You made me feel. You made me mad. You made me look at myself. And you made me mad again. You weren’t perfect. But 92 percent pure ain’t shabby. That’s Breaking Bad. And oh, the humanity!



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WuTang Clan


Few would argue that Wu-Tang Clan’s music isn’t both classic and iconic, but is it comparable to highbrow fine art? The Staten Island group certainly thinks so. “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music before,” RZA told Forbes about the group’s upcoming Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.” And, what does that mean, exactly? Well, the plan is not to release the album through normal channels, but instead display it as an exhibit at museums, where fans would pay $30 to $50 to listen. But multiple museums won’t be able to carry the exhibit at once: There’s only going to be one hard copy of the album, and it will be encased in a container handcrafted by British-Moroccan artist Yahya. Wu-Tang’s aim seems twofold: They’re looking to create a listening experience that’s memorable and isn’t replaced by whatever next week’s new

releases are, and by pressing a single disc only, they hope to undercut the inevitable leaking of today’s music. Is that even possible? In a current climate where music not only trickles online once it’s officially released, but often before it’s out, can the Wu set up enough security measures to ensure no breaches? They certainly hope so — but, as Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, an associate of the group who helped come up with the idea, acknowledges, “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.” It’s about more than just avoiding a leak, though. “The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years,” RZA said. “And yet it doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.” That won’t be the case with this release. Following its museum run,


the project will be made available for the right deal — which the crew hopes will be in the millions — to anyone from a wealthy individual to a brand or a record label. “This particular privatized album, I think — this idea we have — will be something that will go longer than all of us,” RZA said. According to the report, all of Wu’s original members, as well as some special guests, will appear on Once Upon a Time in Shoalin. The album is set to have 31 tracks and clock in at longer than two hours, and it comes in addition to, not in lieu of, A Better Tomorrow, which is still due out later this year. Somewhere on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, inside a vault housed beneath the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, there sits an engraved silver-and-nickel box with the potential to spawn a shift in the way music is consumed and monetized. The lustrous container was handcraft-

ed over the course of three months by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, whose works have been commissioned by royal families and business leaders around the world. Soon, it will contain a different sort of art piece: the WuTang Clan’s double-album The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, recorded in secret over the past few years. Like the work of a master Impressionist, it will truly be one-of-a-kind—in lieu of a traditional major label or independent launch, the iconic hip-hop collective will make and sell just one copy of the album. And similar to a Monet or a Degas, the price tag will be a multimillion-dollar figure. “We’re about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before,” says Robert “RZA” Diggs, the first WuTang member to speak on record about Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, in an exclusive interview with FORBES. “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music.  We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.” Wu-Tang’s aim is to use the album as a springboard for the reconsideration of music as art, hoping the approach will help restore it to a place alongside great visual works–and create a shift in the music business, not to mention earn some cash, in the process. The one-of-a-kind launch will be a separate endeavor from the group’s 20th anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow, which is set for a standard commercial release this summer. According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, a Morocco-based part of Wu-Tang’s extended family, the plan is to first take Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on a “tour” through museums, galleries, festivals and the like. Just like a high-profile exhibit at a major institution, there will be a cost to attend, likely in the $30-$50 range. Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution,

they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.” Though no exhibition dates have been finalized, Cilvaringz says Wu-Tang has been in discussions with a bevy of possible locations, including the Tate Modern (a representative from the institution did not respond to a request for comment). Other venues, including art galleries and listening tents at music festivals, could eventually round out the tour.



Once the album completes its excursion, Wu-Tang will make it available for purchase for a price “in the millions.” Suitors could include brands willing to shell out for cool points and free publicity (just as Samsung spent $5 million to buy copies of Jay Z’s latest album for its users) or major record labels hoping to launch the album through the usual channels (they’re used to paying top acts seven-figure advances). There’s also the possibility that a wealthy private citizen could buy it and either keep the album or release it to the public for free in the name of democratizing a cultural artifact. That’s essentially what clothing mogul Mark Ecko did by purchasing Barry Bonds’ 756th home run ball for $752,467 and conducting a plebiscite to determine if he should blast it into outer space, send it to the Hall of Fame unblemished, or brand it with an asterisk (he eventually did the latter and sent it to Cooperstown). “The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years,” says RZA.  “And yet its doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.” Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’s origins date back to 1997, while Wu-Tang was on tour in Europe. At one show in Amsterdam, the group allowed a few of the fans to hop up on the stage—and one of them happened to be Cilvaringz, then an 18-year-old just beginning to study entertainment law and music management. “I recognized his energy,” says RZA. “There was something about him different from the rest of the audience.” Cilvaringz kept in touch with the producer and even took the step of traveling to New York with friends to try and arrange a meeting, only to find that RZA was too busy to sit down with him. But when the Wu-Tang star’s mother met Cilvaringz by his demeanor that she contacted her son and urged him to make time. RZA did exactly that, and found himself even more knocked out by the upand-comer than he’d been in Amsterdam, urging him to go back to school and continue learning about the music business. He soon became a mentor to Cilvaringz, showing him the ropes of production and the industry itself. By the late 2000s, RZA and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan were ready to start working on the project that would become Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. Cilvaringz’s aim as producer was to create an album with a vintage Wu-Tang sound, the same one that drew him to the concert in Amsterdam a decade earlier. The group was no stranger to collaborations with international artists like IAM, the French hip-hop group that collaborated on the 1997 track “La Saga” with members of the Wu-Tang Clan. The song features two verses in English, two in French, and shoutouts to cities from Medina to Marseilles. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for Wu-Tang to work with Cilvaringz, who’d subsequently relocated to Marrakech, for Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. The pieces slowly fell into place, with the group’s original members agreeing to participate alongside few special guests. The lengthy leadup gave him plenty of time to think about how to ensure a lasting impact for the album. “It took a long time,” says Cilvaringz. “After five years, I’m sitting here and


I’m like, ‘Am I really going to release this record and see it die after a week?’” That sentiment led him, along with RZA, to come up with the one-copy concept. After watching Jay Z debut his album in partnership with Samsung last summer—and buy 100 copies of Nipsey Hussle’s $100 mixtape—Cilvaringz and his Wu-Tang compatriots had something resembling proof of concept for Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. “I think it’s a musical portrait that’s going to revolutionize music in the future,” said Wu-Tang member Jamiel “Masta Killa” Arief, via electronic message. “And I’m thankful to my brother Ringz, to collaborate with, and I’m ecstatic to be a part of it.” Now, all that remains to be done is to transfer the digital files of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin to a physical disc, enclose it in the silver box, and nail down some dates for the exhibition. To be sure, there’s always a chance that this carefully conceived plan will combust before it sees the light of day, a possibility that Cilvaringz recognizes. “I know it sounds crazy,” he says. “It might totally flop, and we might be completely ridiculed. But the essence and core of our ideas is to inspire creation and originality and debate, and save the music album from dying.” The plan almost resembles a Kickstarter campaign in search of a single, super-wealthy backer; there are also parallels with Jack Conte’s Patreon. But it more closely mirrors the centuries-old patron model, where aristocrats would commission painters or bankroll resident musicians to create works of art. Indeed, crowdfunding on the whole is the distant progeny of that system, as is the aforementioned activity of Samsung. Wu-Tang is betting that a full-circle return will yield industry-shaking—and pocket-fattening—results. Cilvaringz is even hoping the album will mark the beginning of a scaleable private music service. And as far as RZA is concerned, the move is an opportunity to attain a unique form of immortalization, not just through music, but through model. “There will be a time when we can’t tour, and that’s just the natural evolution of man,” he says. “And yet this particular privatized album, I think—this idea we have—will be something that will go longer than all of us.”



Meet The Real ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ In Forbes’ Original Takedown Of Jordan Belfort

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Meet The Real ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ In Forbes’ Original Takedown Of Jordan Belfort Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is a raucous bacchanalia of sex, drugs, and money on Wall Street that focuses on the excesses of Jordan Belfort’s career at over-the-counter brokerage house Stratton Oakmont. Scorsese and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio seem less interested in the true facts of Belfort’s life and actual details of his securities crimes than in showing off more and more lewd behavior. But the movie does correctly feature one of the first public takedowns of Belfort and Stratton Oakmont in a 1991 issue of Forbes magazine. While staff writer Roula Khalaf (now foreign editor at the Financial Times) didn’t coin the phrase “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” she did call Belfort a “twisted Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.” Khalaf describes the business model as “pushing dicey stocks on gullible investors” and noted the already growing challenges from federal investigators. You can read the full text below.

always shared in this prosperity. A year ago, even before customers began lodging complaints, the Securities & Exchange Commission started investigating Stratton Oakmont’s sales and trading practices. Subpoenas have been issued to a number of Stratton Oakmont’s former brokers. Belfort confirms the investigation and says the firm is cooperating fully. The Queens-born son of two accountants, Belfort earned a biology degree from American University. After failing in the meat business, he learned the stock brokerage business at a succession of shops — L.F. Rothschild, D.H. Blair and F.D. Roberts Securities. His postgraduate work came at Investors Center, the 850-broker penny stock house, where he went to work in 1988, and which was shut down by the SEC a year later. In 1989 Belfort teamed up with 23-year-old Kenneth Greene, an Investors Center graduate who had occasionally driven one of Belfort’s meat trucks. In early 1989 the lads opened an office in a friend’s car dealership in Queens, then set up a franchise of Stratton Securities, a minor league broker-dealer. Within five months, Belfort and Greene had earned enough in commissions to buy out the entire Stratton operation for about $ 250,000. As Belfort’s righthand man, Greene owns a 20% stake in Stratton Oakmont. To push his stocks, Belfort hired the same kind of motivated young salesmen who had driven his meat trucks. He taught them his trusted cold-calling technique, the “Kodak pitch.” That is, the first tout is not some obscure over-the-counter issue but a blue chip, often Eastman Kodak. Only after an investor takes the blue-chip bait do Belfort’s brokers pitch the higher-margin garbage. A former Stratton broker recalls Belfort’s motto: “Whip their necks off, don’t let ‘em off the phone.” Belfort’s brat-pack brokers quickly came to idolize him. One 28-year-old broker is said to have gone from laying carpets to earning gross commissions of

Steaks, Stocks — What’s The Difference? October 14, 1991: By Roula Khalaf AT 23, Jordan Belfort was peddling meat and seafood door-to-door on New York’s Long Island and dreaming of getting rich. Within months, he was running a string of trucks, moving 5,000 pounds of beef and fish a week. But he expanded too quickly on too little capital. By the time he was 25, he filed for personal bankruptcy. “I was pretty talented,” shrugs the smooth-talking Belfort, now 29. “But the margins were too small.” Looking for a product with more fat in it, Belfort founds stocks. Steaks, stocks — from a hustling salesman’s standpoint, what’s the difference? Today Belfort’s two-year-old Stratton Oakmont brokerage, operating out of Lake Success, N.Y., specializes in pushing dicey stocks on gullible investors. And, while the product may be as perishable as meat and fish, the margins do appear quite handsome. Stratton’s total commission revenues should hit $ 30 million this year. The firm now boasts nearly 150 brokers. Belfort, who owns over 50% of Stratton’s equity, may have personally made $ 3 million last year alone. Belfort’s customers, on the other hand, haven’t


$ 100,000 his first month, $ 800,000 his first year. He got to keep about half of that. On average, Stratton Oakmont’s brokers make around $ 85,000 a year. Sounding like a wet-eared version of New Jersey’s great penny stock salesman Robert Brennan, Belfort says he’s helping his clients invest in America’s future. “To me, the most important thing is to get involved in fundamentally sound companies, earnings-based companies,” he says. Ventura Entertainment Group is a good example of Stratton Oakmont’s merchandise. A North Hollywood, Calif.-based maker of TV movies, Ventura is the successor to a 1988 blind-pool offering. Belfort started pushing Ventura almost from day one, and last year underwrote a secondary issue for the company. At the time of the offering, Ventura was coming off a year when it lost $ 455,000 on revenues of $ 3 million. The fellow behind Ventura is 52-year-old Harvey Bibicoff, whose previous company was electronics retailer Discovery Associates. Under him, the company, now called Leo’s Industries, racked up huge losses (FORBES, Nov. 26, 1990). Belfort’s game is more than just one of collecting commissions and underwriting fees. Look at the Ventura secondary, for example. Last year Stratton Oakmont sold 400,000 Ventura units (one share and one warrant) for $ 12 each. The shares jumped to $ 15, and Belfort told his brokers to quickly buy back the warrants for $ 1 each from pleased

investors, while continuing to push the stock. Within months, Belfort unloaded most of the warrants on investors for $ 10 — a 900% profit. The recent price of Ventura’s shares (after a 2-for-1 split): 63 cents. Cynically, Belfort now concedes that Ventura was a good story, but “a story only lasts for so long.” And then there was Nova Capital (now called Visual Equities), an art-investment company controlled by Alvin Abrams, the 56-year-old president of penny stock underwriter First Philadelphia Corp. — a man whose past includes repeated censures and fines by the SEC and the National Association of Securities Dealers, dating back to the 1960s. In 1989 Belfort acquired a block of Nova warrants for $ 1 each. He exercised the bulk of his warrants at $ 2.50 to $ 2.75 and retailed out the stock to investors for


$ 5. Stratton brokers continued to tout the shares. The price rose above $ 9. As the stock went up, Belfort exercised more warrants and sold the shares. (The stock has since fallen to $ 3.) By one estimate, these and other warrant deals have earned Stratton upwards of $ 10 million over the past two years. Many Stratton Oakmont stocks — including DVI Financial and Ropak Laboratories — have taken a pounding in recent months as word of the SEC investigation spread. But having made a killing from his warrant deals, Belfort appears unwilling to use the firm’s capital to support the stocks. Sounding like a kind of twisted Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers, Belfort justifies his record this way: “We contact high-net-worth investors. I couldn’t live with myself if I was calling people who make $ 50,000 a year, and I’m taking their child’s tuition money.” Approaching 30, Belfort seems to have it made. He drives a $ 175,000 Ferrari Testarossa, and says he’s taking it easy


and looking to use Stratton to diversify into other businesses. Recently, for example, he bought an option to purchase a 15% stake in Judicate, a publicly traded, Philadelphia-based arbitration firm. Judicate — 1990 losses $ 814,000, on revenues of $ 1.9 million — made news last summer when it landed a contract with the NASD to settle disputes between brokers and clients. The way things are going, Belfort is going to need all the help he can get dealing with Stratton Oakmont’s roster of burned clients.

E-cigarettes: Healthy tool or gateway device?

If the tiny sample of smokers in a new study in the British journal Lancet are any indication, electronic cigarettes might be slightly more effective than nicotine patches in helping people quit smoking. Great, right? Except another new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests more children and teens are trying them. The implications of both these studies means electronic cigarettes have been getting a lot of attention lately. Just what e-cigarettes are and what role they should play in helping people quit smoking depends very much on who you speak with about this topic. Smoking is still the leading cause of avoidable death in the United States. The devices are not one of the FDA-approved methods to help people quit, but many people are using them this way. A growing number of scientists are studying them to see whether they may be a way to end an epidemic. The topic, though, remains as polarizing a health issue as sex

education or diet sodas. An e-what? The e-cigarette was actually developed by a pharmacist in China. The pharmacist, Hon Lik, was a three-pack-a-day smoker. That was nothing unusual -- more than 300 million people in China are regular smokers. But when Lik’s father, who was also a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer, Lik decided he had to come up with an alternative that wouldn’t kill him. Most scientists believe nicotine itself, while highly addictive, is not what causes cancer for smokers or for the people around them who breathe their second-hand smoke. Instead, it’s the toxic chemicals that are created when tobacco and filler products burn that are dangerous. If there was a way to get nicotine addicts their fix without the burn, you just might avoid the health problems. Nicotine then becomes as harmless as any other addictive substance, such as caffeine, some experts say. So Lik developed an e-cigarette -- a device that uses a small battery


to atomize a pure liquid solution of nicotine. Nothing is burned. There is no ash. There is no smoke. There is nicotine, and then there is flavoring added for taste. Essentially the person using these inhales a kind of vapor that looks like fog from a fog machine. A recent review of all the scientific research done on e-cigarettes by Drexel University professor Igor Burstyn concludes “current data do not indicate that exposures to vapors from contaminants in electronic cigarettes warrant a concern.” In plain language, Burstyn concludes: “It’s about as harmless as you can get.” “I wouldn’t worry at all if someone was smoking one of these by my kids,” Burstyn said. “From a pure health perspective, these are not as bad as a cigarette.” E-cigarettes came to the U.S. market around 2009. The CDC now estimates about one in five American smokers have tried an e-cigarette -- that’s about 6% of all adults. There are e-cigarette stores, but now you can also buy them online or in

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convenience stores. Some look like regular cigarettes; some look like pens or thumb drives. Firsar, atomic fireball candy and cookies and cream. It makes them worry that e-cigarettes will become a gateway to encourage kids to develop a lifelong nicotine addiction -- or worse, try the real thing. Only about 20 states specifically forbid the sale of e-cigarettes to children. Tobacco use has been on the decline with kids; it’s about half what it was in the mid-1990s. But the latest CDC study shows a growing number of middle and high school students have tried e-cigarettes. One in 10 high school students surveyed said they had tried e-cigarettes last year. That’s double the number from 2011. One high school in Connecticut banned them after the principal said administrators dealt with at least one incident involving e-cigarettes every day. CDC director Tom Frieden characterized this trend as “deeply troubling.” But as far as risky behavior goes, it’s still a tiny fraction of students. The survey showed about 3% of these kids said they had used one in the last 30 days. By contrast, 39% of students said they drank some amount of alcohol in the past 30 days, 22% binge drank and


24% rode with a driver who had been drinking. The real problem is that 88% of adult smokers who smoke daily said they started when they were kids, according to the CDC. Kids who start down the path to using e-cigarettes may stick with them for life. “So much is unknown about them and what the long-term complications could be with their use,” said the American Lung Association’s Erika Sward. “Bottom line, we don’t know what the consequences of using them are, and we are very troubled that kids would find them attractive.” E-cigarettes are unregulated in the United States; no laws make manufacturers tell you what you are actually inhaling. The unknown is one of the many qualities of e-cigarettes that the American Lung Association doesn’t like. It’s “a complete unregulated Wild West,” Sward said. She wants the FDA to move quickly with regulatory oversight, which she says would make manufacturers disclose what the actual ingredients are in each of the 250 or so brands available. In 2009, a FDA test on a small number of e-cigarette samples found “detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed.” They found diethylene glycol in one cartridge at a 1% level; this is an ingredient used in antifreeze and can be toxic to humans in large quantities. Diethylene glycol is also found in some dental products and in some pharmaceuticals. After that study, the FDA banned the sale of e-cigarettes. They warned e-cigarette smokers that they were inhaling “toxic” and “harmful” chemicals. However, in 2010, a court ruled that “the FDA had cited no evidence to show that electronic cigarettes harmed anyone,” and stores could go on selling them. The early e-adopters On the other side of the debate are the passionate supporters of e-cigarettes. Many who use them say it is the first thing that has helped them stop using cigarettes -- something more than 90% of smokers fail to do with any of the existing FDA-approved methods. There are blogs and message boards dedicated to them. And there are countless impassioned testimonials from the people who use them. Florida resident Craig Lashley says they’ve changed his life. “I got tired of being like that little kid in ‘Peanuts’ who had the cloud of smoke following him all the t you buy a starter kit, which costs between $40 and $130. In the kit is the e-cigarette, a charger and a few cartridges. The cartridges typically last as long as a 20-pack of cigarettes and sell for around $10. You can also buy a bottle of e-liquid to refile the cartridge yourself. The anti-e-cigarette camp Critics point out e-cigarettes come in kid-friendly flavors such as gummy betime,” Lashley said. “I didn’t like the way I smelled when I smoked, and I didn’t like what smoking said about me, especial-

ly to kids.” He discovered the e-cigarette about a year ago and hasn’t smoked a regular cigarette since. He says he smells better, feels better and spends a lot less -- about $10 a week on e-cigarettes. He used to spend about $45 a week on regular cigarettes. “I like the feel of blowing smoke,” Lashley said. “It seems to me like (e-cigarettes are) a healthier alternative.” A growing number of respected physicians and scientists agree, and they say these products could end a major health problem. “Electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-containing devices offer massive potential to improve public health, by providing smokers with a much safer alternative to tobacco,” the Royal College of Physicians says. “They need to be widely available and affordable to smokers.” The latest study, published in the British journal the Lancet, examined whether people who used them as an alternative to smoking would abstain from using regular cigarettes. The New Zealand authors studied the behavior of 657 people who were trying to quit. One group got nicotine patches, another got nicotine e-cigarettes and others got placebo e-cigarettes without the nicotine. Over a period of six months, only a tiny fraction of the people in the study actually quit smoking. People using the nicotine e-cigarettes quit at a slightly better rate compared with those using the patch, though. Some 7.3% using the e-cigarettes abstained from smoking traditional cigarettes compared with the 5.8% who stopped with the patch. About 4.1% stopped with just the placebo e-cigarettes. It was such a small number of people who quit that the authors concluded “more research is urgently needed to clearly establish their overall benefits and harms at both individual and population levels.” Dr. Michael Siegel, a physician who has spent the past couple decades working on tobacco control initiatives, has been surprised by the negative reaction to e-cigarettes from so many people in the public health sector. Siegel says the studies he’s done have shown e-cigarettes are a help. “True we don’t know the long-term health effect of e-cigarettes, but there’s a very good likelihood that smokers are going to get lung cancer if they don’t quit smoking,” he said. “If they can switch to these and quit smoking traditional cigarettes, why condemn them?” Siegel theorizes the e-cigarettes might look too much like smoking. “It’s ironic the very thing that makes them so effective ... drives the anti-smoking groups crazy. But what makes them so effective is

it mimics the physical behaviors smokers have, which is something the patch can’t do.” Siegel does believe there is an urgent need for more regulations. Ray Story, founder of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, agrees. He says his association has also pushed for age verification legislation. “When you have these companies trying to promote these as something they are not, and you have stores that sell them in the candy aisle, you are going to have a problem,” Story said. “If they are officially categorized as a tobacco product, you get an automatic age verification put in place. “Nicotine is addictive, and we want the federal government to create guidelines and a structure that will confine these to being sold as adult products.” Lashley says no matter what the debate, he will continue to spread the e-cigarette gospel to his fellow adults. So far, his co-workers have been receptive to the idea. He used to be the only one with an e-cigarette on smoke breaks. Now he says he’s got more than a dozen colleagues doing the same. One colleague, though, complained about it.


Cigarettes vs. e-Cigarettes: Which Is Less Environmentally Harmful?

“He said ‘I’m sick of all these people smoking electronic cigarettes,” Lashley said. “When I asked him why he said. ‘Simple, now I can’t bum any off of them.’ “ An e-cigarette. The health effects of the devices are unknown, but might they provide some environmental benefits over traditional smokes? Photo: Jakemaheu, Wikimedia Commons For years environmentalists have been pressuring cigarette makers to cut back on synthetic chemicals in their products, to reduce their harm to both smokers and non-smokers. Regulators have been worried about second hand smoke for years, and have been passing indoor smoking bans state by state. Today you can go to work, shop, or go out to eat in many places without being inundated with toxic haze from smokers. However, there is still a problem with cigarette butts left behind by smokers. We all see this litter on our sidewalks, roads, and parking lots, often just feet from a trash bin. Unfortunately,


many smokers still toss their spent cigarettes out their cars. Although people are smoking less in America thanks to decades of public health campaigns, cigarette butts are still a significant trash problem. The core of the butt can take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to decompose. During that time, the cigarette filters are full of tar, nicotine, and other toxins that can leach into the ground, potentially affecting any organism that comes into contact with them. Butts pushed by rain into storm drains can make it into the ocean, where they can release their toxic chemicals, or get eaten by fish or birds. Although it is also a controversial product, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, could help reduce this toxic burden. The devices use a small amount of power to vaporize nicotine, which is then inhaled. Some are marketed as entirely nicotine free, and many have flavorings added. Many are advertised as helping smokers wean themselves off their habit. Most electronic cigarettes are reusable, meaning only a tiny amount of vapor needs to be refilled for each use. This means they are potentially more eco-friendly than going through mountains of single-use products, which take resources to produce. e-Cigarettes are typically powered by reusable batteries, and are often charged via USB ports.



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Because electronic cigarettes don’t produce smoke, they are much less risky to non-users and to air quality in general. The health impacts on users are not well known, since the products have only been on the market for a few years. The FDA has recommended against their use, pointing out that there isn’t enough data to know how much nicotine a user might actually inhale, and whether there might be adverse effects. A number of groups have also warned that the products might be attractive to children, given their novelty and option for different flavorings. While many e-cigarettes look like traditional tobacco products, others resemble pens or USB memory sticks. While some health professionals suggest consumers steer clear of e-cigarettes, it’s also possible that they could function as a useful smoking cessation intermediary. It’s obvious that quitting smoking is difficult, so maybe there is value to a product that may or may not cause some harm, but that helps one stop using a product that we know causes harm. It’s clear e-cigarettes are safer for non-users, so does that qualify them as a worthy lesser of two evils? Is it too convenient for non-smokers to say that people “should just not smoke or use e-cigarettes”? If it were easy, they’d already be doing that. What do you think?



Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. Born on February 5, 1992, in São Paulo, Brazil, Neymar drew attention for his impressive soccer abilities at an early age. He emerged as a star for Santos FC as a teenager, winning four straight Player of the Year awards while becoming one of Brazil’s most popular public figures. In May 2013, the gifted youngster announced his move to Europe to play for Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona. Quotes “Everything in my life has happened very early, personally and professionally. I’m always learning; I have to.” – Neymar Child Prodigy Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. was born on February 5, 1992, in Mogi das Cruzes, São Paulo, Brazil. The son of a former professional soccer player, Neymar followed in his father’s footsteps by playing street games and futsal, an indoor version of the game. He joined the Portuguesa Santista youth club in 1999, and within a few years was one of the most highly regarded young talents in the country. Rising Star Neymar joined the youth system of Santos FC at age 11. News of his abilities spread to Europe, and he was offered the chance to continue his development with Real Madrid C.F. at age 14, but the Santos team’s management reportedly convinced Neymar to stay put with a

large bonus. Neymar made his senior debut for Santos in 2009 and lived up to the hype by earning the league’s Best Young Player award. He emerged as a fullblown star in 2010, helping Santos claim the league and Copa do Brasil championships en route to the first of three straight scoring titles and four straight Player of the Year awards. That season he also made his debut for the senior national team and debuted a Mohawk-style haircut, which quickly became popular among younger fans. In 2011, the flashy forward produced what would be voted the FIFA Goal of the Year and led Santos to its first Copa Libertadores championship in 48 years. However, he also began to experience the backlash that accompanies fame. Neymar was criticized for his play during Brazil’s quarterfinals loss in the 2011 Copa America tournament, and was scolded in the media for fathering a child out of wedlock. Neymar scored his 100th professional goal on his 20th birthday in 2012 and finished the year with a career-best total of 43. Although Santos won its third straight league title, the young star again was subject to criticism when Brazil lost the 2012 Summer Olympics gold-medal


game to an underdog Mexico team. Changing Horizons In May 2013, Neymar announced he was making the leap to Europe with a transfer to FC Barcelona, a powerful club that featured superstar Argentine striker Lionel Messi and several members of the Spanish national team. Soon afterward, the wunderkind silenced a share of his critics by leading Brazil to victory in the 2013 Confederations Cup, indicating his readiness to shoulder bigger

expectations on the world stage. Neymar’s father has authorised the Club to lift the confidentiality clauses in his son’s contract The Club has insisted that the transfer total was €57.1 million and detailed all the payments referring to the player’s salary and other agreements reached with organisations connected to him. Bartomeu and Sanllehí clarified a number of stories published in various Spanish newspapers and as an exception, revealed details of Neymar’s salary. The father of Neymar Jr., Neymar da Silva, has authorised the Club to lift the confidentiality clauses in his son’s contract and this Friday evening, the Club President Josep Maria Bartomeu, assisted by the Director of the Football Management Area, Raül Sanllehí,

explained all the figures involved in the transfer: “we have not lied. Football games are won on the pitch, not behind closed doors in offices . We lost Di Stefano in an office, but we’ve not lost Neymar”, insisted the Club’s new President, adding: “when Barça wanted to sign Neymar, the representatives of all Europe’s top clubs were in Brazil trying to get his services for their teams”. Sr Bartomeu revealed that Neymar’s father considered the recent reports about the signing were unjust and the President stressed the fact that his son had always preferred Barça, despite bigger offers from other clubs: “he preferred to come to Barça ahead of other European clubs who would have paid much more. Neymar Jr. believes in Barça’s values and also really wanted to play alongside Leo Messi”. Bartomeu and Sanllehí had thus decided to


come forward with all the figures from the transfer to rebut the stories recently published in the Spanish press. The Club had also decided to reveal the player’s salary, though Sanllehí made it quite clear that: “we will not speak in public again about a player’s wages”. Cost – 57.1 Million Euros “We are very proud of the Neymar contract, but it seems like we are being asked to apologise for it. It was a very tough negotiation”, according to Raül Sanllehí, who personally headed the team which hammered out the deal. The Director of the Football Management Area said he very much regretted that the figures surrounding the transfer had been leaked, but again insisted that the global cost of the transfer was 57.1 million Euros, to which a bonus of 2 million Euros will be added if Neymar finishes in the

top three of the Ballon D’Or. As well as explaining again the figures paid to Santos – 17 million Euros – and the 40 million Euro compensation paid to N&N (Neymar da Silva and Nadine, the players parents), the Club also revealed the player’s salary. The total salary cost to the Club is 56.7 million Euros (gross), which is divided into three concepts: 2.7 million Euros as agent commission (5%, rather than the 10 or 15% paid by other clubs) , a 10 million Euro signing on fee and a guaranteed salary of 44 million Euros. Transparent, but discreet dealings FC Barcelona have also struck a number of agreements with organisations connected to the player, such as the Fundació Neymar Jr., a

commercial agent to link Neymar’s image with the Club’s in Brazil, an agreement with Santos concerning academy players and with N&N, who will scout young talent at the Brazilian club. Raül Sanllehí summed up the Club’s dealings in this matter by claiming: “transparency is very important, but transparency handled properly, because if you open the door too wide, it becomes indiscreet and that can work against the interests of the Club”. Barcelona have paid the Spanish authorities £11.1million following allegations of tax evasion in the transfer of Neymar. The High Court judge Pablo Ruiz this week insisted that the Catalan club should repay the amount they evaded during the Brazilian striker’s transfer to Spain from Santos last summer. Barcelona again insisted they have done nothing wrong but confirmed the payment had been made to avoid the club’s name being tarnished and prevent a difference in interpretation. The club’s board of directors met on Monday morning at the club’s offices to discuss their response to the allegations.



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A statement released on Barcelona’s official website said: ‘The board denies the existence of any tax related crime in relation to the fiscal obligations arising from the signing of the player.’ It went on to say that the club would continue to collaborate with the courts and the tax authorities to clarify the facts and that it would present a legal defence if necessary. The statement added: ‘Given the existence of a possible divergent interpretation of the exact amount of tax responsibility arising from the signing and to defend the Club’s reputation and good name, FC Barcelona has this morning made a complementary tax declaration of a total of €13,550,830,56 to cover any potential interpretation made concerning the contracts signed in the transfer process for Neymar, although we remain convinced that the original tax payment was in line with our fiscal obligations.’ Neymar arrived at the Nou Camp for a £48.6million in the summer, though they later admitted the transfer fee was much higher. He has so far scored 12 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions.

granted the prosecutor’s request to lay charges for tax fraud. After Rosell’s exit, Barcelona admitted he had cost £71.2m, including payments to the player and his family, and not £48.6m as they originally said. The judge requested Barca’s tax records relating to the deal and had asked the tax authority to calculate the scale of the alleged fraud. Barcelona paid a company owned by Neymar’s parents, N&N (Neymar and Nadine) the sum of £33m which they argue was a penalty clause established in a contract signed in 2011 to be paid if they purchased the player before 2014, as they did last summer. They also entered into various agreements with Neymar’s father including an agreement to pay him for scouting players in Brazil and for finding South American commercial partners for Barcelona. This has left the club open to the suggestion that the extra contracts were, in fact, a form of disguised wages – money that, in effect, ended up as income to the player and should have been taxed as such. As a non-Spanish resident during the tax period in question, once interpreted as income, this money would taxable at 24.75 per cent.

Barcelona were forced on the defensive over the Neymar deal after a club member filed a complaint against President Sandro Rosell, alleging misappropriation of funds. Rosell, who denied wrongdoing, stepped down saying he wanted to clear his name and protect the club’s image. But when details of Neymar’s signing came to light the judge overseeing the case

FC Barcelona – arguably one of the most popular sports teams in the world – has been charged with tax fraud. The team was indicted on tax fraud charges this week in connection with signing of the Brazil forward Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. The 22 year old forward, known simply as Neymar (yes, like Madonna), was signed to FC Barcelona in May 2013. Neymar has been highly touted


with former forward, über footballer (and fellow Brazilian) Pelé calling him “an excellent player.” Even before his move to Barca, he was considered a hot commodity, being ranked by Forbes at #8 of the world’s best-paid soccer players in 2013. In anticipation of the World Cup, Neymar has racked up endorsements with Nike, Panasonic, Lupo, Guaraná Antarctica, Santander, Claro, Unilever, Heliar, and Volkswagen. Neymar made his professional debut on March 7, 2009, at the age of 17. He quickly became a star and the object of speculation about transfers. After admitting that “[t]o play in Europe is my dream,” it was clear that the footballer had set his sights on one of the more prominent clubs like Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. Rumors started flying, placing Neymar in Barca as early as 2011. It had been suggested that Neymar would head to Barca after the 2014 World Cup which, not so coincidentally, will be held in Brazil. Neymar initially denied the deal, saying, “I have no agreement with Barcelona or anyone else.” In 2013, Neymar announced what practically everyone already knew: he’d be heading to Europe. In May 2013, Neymar named FC Barcelona as the team he’d be joining – together with superstar Lionel Messi. At the time, details of the detail were scarce. This week, those details were made public when Spanish tax authorities indicted FC Barcelona on tax charges linked to the signing. Prosecutors accuse the team of fraud in the transaction, referred to as “financial engineering.” The sticking point appears to be payments made to a Brazilian company controlled by Neymar’s father, which prosecutors allege were taxable but disguised as other payments in order to avoid reporting and tax requirements. The deal is complex and payments were made over a period of years. What everyone seems to agree on is that Barca paid out a total of 86.2 million euros ($118.24 million US) to Neymar’s former club (Santos) and others. What isn’t quite certain is the

identity of those others. It’s alleged that payments were made to Neymar’s father as commissions and for personal services including marketing, and that the payments made to Santos were considerably less than reported. Former Santos president Luis Alvaro Oliveira Ribeiro has been quite vocal about the transaction. It’s clear whose side he’s on, saying about Neymar’s father, “[h]e always denied that he had received money from Barcelona, ​​which is a demonstration of lack of character in my opinion unforgivable.” He wasn’t the only one who lit into Neymar Senior’s character. Delcir Sonda, owner of third-party investor DIS, also criticized Neymar’s father, saying, “I’m disgusted by all the sh*t that fell to my company. Neymar’s father is a person of very low level. He was in poverty and do not appreciate people who helped his son.” Neymar has defended his father on social media, posting on Instagram, “I am a fan of my father for having brought me where I am today and if he has earned millions with that, well what is the problem? It worked, nothing fell out of the sky.”

While the Spanish taxing authorities allege that it’s a Spanish tax matter, Neymar’s family appears to disagree. Neymar’s father has indicated that any resulting tax consequences of the sale would be addressed in Brazil. The tax authorities – and the court – appear to disagree. Santos filed court papers demanding to see the actual details of the transaction. FC Barcelona argued against the disclosure and lost. Now, Neymar and FC Barcelona may have to divulge the specifics. FC Barcelona has denied wrongdoing in the transaction, posting on its website that: 1) The Club’s dealings with respect to this operation, and in light of all information available, was at all times in line with the relevant legal legislation 2) Represented by its lawyers, the Club will appear at the Jutjat Central d’Instrucció number 5 within the next few days in order to defend its interests and rights. 3) We express our total willingness to collaborate


with the Justice authorities in this matter, as we have done since the first moment the issue arose and in any other area in which our presence may be required. Despite the official statement, the club has already taken a hit. FC Barcelona’s former president, Sandro Rosell, resigned his position last month after initial accusations of misappropriation of funds related to the deal were made public. It’s the second tax-related scandal to rock the club in recent months. Last year, Spanish prosecutors also accused super star Lionel Messi (and, ironically, his father) of tax fraud.


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G r e y


Alex Grey was born in Columbus, Ohio on November 29, 1953 (Sagittarius), the middle child of a gentle middle-class couple. His father was a graphic designer and encouraged his son’s drawing ability. Young Alex would collect insects and dead animals from the suburban neighborhood and bury them in the back yard. The themes of death and transcendence weave throughout his artworks, from the earliest drawings to later performances, paintings and sculpture. Alex went to the Columbus College of Art and Design on full scholarship from 1971-3. Grey dropped out of art school and painted billboards for Columbus Outdoor Advertising, 1973-4. Grey then moved to Boston to study with and work as studio assistant for conceptual artist, Jay Jaroslav, at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1974-5. At the Museum School, Alex met his life-long partner, the artist, Allyson Rymland Grey. At their meeting in 1975, an entheogenically induced mystical experience transformed his agnostic existentialism to a radical transcendentalism. The Grey couple continued to take “sacramental journeys” on LSD. For five years, Alex worked in the Anatomy department at Harvard Medical School preparing cadavers for dissection while he studied the body on his own. He later worked for Dr. Herbert Benson and Dr. Joan Borysenko as a research technologist at Harvard’s department of Mind/Body Medicine, conducting scientific experiments to investigate subtle healing energies. Alex’s anatomical training prepared him for painting the Sacred Mirrors (see below) and for working as a medical illustrator. Doctors at Harvard saw images of his

“The web of life, love, suffering and death unites all beings.”

-alex grey

Sacred Mirrors, and hired Alex for illustration work. Grey instructed Artistic Anatomy and Figure Sculpture for ten years at New York University, and has taught the Visionary Art Intensive and other art workshops with Allyson at The New York Open Center, Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, the California Institute of Integral Studies and Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. The couple now teach MAGI workshops (Mystic Artists Guild International) at CoSM in Wappinger, New York. In 1972 Grey began a series of art actions that bear resemblance to rites of passage, in that they present stages of a developing psyche. The approximately fifty performance rites, conducted over the last thirty years move through transformations from an egocentric to more sociocentric and increasingly worldcentric and theocentric identity. In a major performance entitled WorldSpirit,


spoken word poetry in musical collaboration with Kenji Williams was released in 2004 as a DVD. Grey’s unique series of 21 lifesized paintings, the Sacred Mirrors, take the viewer on a journey toward their own divine nature by examining, in detail, the body, mind, and spirit. The Sacred Mirrors, present the physical and subtle anatomy of an individual in the context of cosmic, biological and technological evolution. Begun in 1979, the series took a period of ten years to complete. It was during this period that Alex developed depictions of the human body that “x-ray” the multiple layers of reality, and reveal the interplay of anatomical and spiritual forces. After painting the Sacred Mirrors, he applied this multidimensional perspective to such archetypal human experiences as praying, meditation, kissing, copulating,

“Of all the forces The strong, the weak, the gravitational The electromagnetic The strangest, strongest force of all Is the force of Love. Beyond all form Love is the kosmic adhesive Binding the All And playing out its rites In every dimension.” - Alex Grey

pregnancy, birth, nursing and dying. Grey’s recent work explores the subject of consciousness from the perspective of “universal beings” whose bodies are grids of fire, eyes and infinite galactic swirls. Renowned healers Olga Worral and Rosalyn Bruyere express appreciation for the skillful portrayal of clairvoyant vision his paintings of translucent glowing bodies. Countless teachers and spiritual leaders, including Deepak Choprah, incorporate Alex’s art in their power point presentations. Grey’s paintings have been featured in venues as diverse as the album art of TOOL, SCI, the Beastie Boys and Nirvana, Time and Newsweek magazines, the Discovery Channel, rave flyers and sheets of blotter acid. Exhibited worldwide, Alex’s art has been honored with solo exhibitions at Feature Inc., Tibet House, Stux Gallery, P.S. 1, The NYC Outsider Art Fair, The New Museum in NYC,


the Grand Palais in Paris, the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Alex’s art has been featured in several year long exhibitions at the American Visionary Art Museum including a room installation he created with Allyson entitled “Heart Net” (1998-99). A mid-career retrospective of Grey’s works at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in 1999. A keynote speaker at conferences all over the world including Tokyo, Amsterdam, Basel, Barcelona and Manaus, the international psychedelic community has embraced Grey as an important mapmaker and spokesman for the visionary realm. For 2011 an 2012, the Watkins Review named Alex Grey one of the top twenty spiritual leaders alive today, in the company of such towering luminaries as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Eckhardt Tolle, and Oprah Winfrey. The Temple of Understanding awarded and sighted both the Grey’s as two of the world’s top fifty Interfaith leaders.

Grey’s first monograph, the large format art book entitled, Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey, has been translated into five languages with well over one hundred thousand copies. His inspirational book, The Mission of Art, traces the evolution of human consciousness through art history, exploring the role of an artist’s intention and conscience, and reflecting on the creative process as a spiritual path. Transfigurations, Alex’s second monograph, contains over 300 color and black & white plates of his artwork. The Visionary Artist, a CD of Grey’s reflections published by Sounds True, leads the listener on a journey of art as a spiritual practice. The video, ARTmind incorporates Alex’s images in an exploration of the healing potential of Sacred Art. Grey co-edited the book, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (Chronicle Books, 2002). In 2004, the


VISIONS boxed set contains both earlier monographs of Grey’s artwork plus a portfolio of new works. Alex Grey’s upcoming book Net of Being, to be released in late November 2012, shows how Alex’s visionary art is evolving the cultural body through icons of interconnectedness. Grey’s latest monograph includes over 200 reproductions of Grey’s artwork, contains spectacular photos of Grey’s collaboration with the cult band TOOL plus his worldwide live-painting performances, and offers Grey’s reflections on how art evolves consciousness with a new symbology of the “networked self.” Alex’s painting “Net of Being”—inspired by a blazing vision of an infinite grid of Godheads during an ayahuasca journey—has reached millions as the stage set and the cover and interior of the band TOOL’s Grammy award–winning triple-platinum

album,10,000 Days. Net of Being is one of many images Grey has created that have resulted in a chain reaction of uses—from apparel and jewelry to tattoos and music videos—embedding these iconic works into our culture’s living Net of Being. A five-year installation of Grey’s best loved artworks were exhibited at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, in New York City from 2004-9. Alex and Allyson have collaborated on performance art, live-painting on stage throughout the world, and the “social sculpture” called CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, that the Grey’s cofounded in 1996. The Grey’s live at CoSM in Wappinger, New York and in Brooklyn since 1984. Their daughter, Zena Grey, born in 1988, is an accomplished actress and artist living in Los Angeles. The artist’s mission is to make the soul perceptible. Our scientific, materialist culture trains us to develop the eyes of outer perception. Visionary art



What Is Visionary Art? encourages the development of our inner sight. To find the visionary realm, we use the intuitive inner eye: The eye of contemplation; the eye of the soul. All the inspiring ideas we have as artists originate here. The visionary realm embraces the entire spectrum of imaginal spaces; from heaven to hell, from the infinitude of forms to formless voids. The psychologist James Hillman calls it the imaginal realm. Poet William Blake called it the divine imagination. The aborigines call it the dreamtime; and Sufis call it alam al-mithal. To Plato, this was the realm of the ideal archetypes. The Tibetans call it the sambhogakaya; the dimension of inner richness. Theosophists refer to the astral, mental, and nirvanic planes of consciousness. Carl Jung knew this realm as the collective symbolic unconscious. Whatever we choose to call it, the visionary realm is the space we visit during dreams and altered or heightened states of consciousness. Every sacred art tradition begins with the visionary. “Divine canons of proportion,” mystic syllables, and sacred writing were all realized when the early wisdom masters and artists received

the original archetypes through visionary contact with the divine ground. After a sacred archetype has been given form as a work of art, it can act as a focal point of devotional energy. The artwork becomes a way for viewers to access or worship the associated transcendental domain. In sacred art, from calligraphy to icons, the work itself is a medium: a point of contact between the spiritual and material realms.

The Role of Art Our inner world, the life of our imagination with its intense feelings, fears, and loves, guides our intentions and actions in the world. Our inner world is the only true source of meaning and purpose we have. Art is the song of this inner life. Art’s key role in the human drama is that of a “great convincer.” The artist posits one myth, religion, or ideology over another, yet also always expresses the raw passion and evolutionary force of the inner world itself. The artist attempts to make inner truths visible, audible, or sensible in some way, by manifesting


them in the external, material world (through drawing, painting, song, etc.). To produce their finest works, artists lose themselves in the flow of creation from their inner worlds. The visionary artist creatively expresses her or his personal glimpses of the Divine Imagination. Every work of art embodies the vision of its creator and simultaneously reveals a facet of the collective mind. Art history shows each successive wave of vision flowing through the world’s artists. Artists offer the world the pain and beauty of their souls as a gift to open the eyes of the collective and heal it. Our exposure to technological innovations and diverse forms of sacred art gives artists at the dawn of the twenty-first century a unique opportunity to create more integrative and universal spiritual art than ever before. The Visionary Tradition A complete historical account of the global visionary art tradition would fill volumes. The sixteen thousand-year-old cave paintings of human/animal hybrids, such as the Sorcerer of Trois Freres, are a good starting point. Much ancient shamanic art, such as African ritual masks and aboriginal rock and bark paintings, clearly depict visionary dreamtime wanderings and encounters in the lower and upper worlds. A visionary art history lesson would include representations of mythic deities and demons: the Mayan feathered serpent; Egyptian and Greek sphinxes; and Indian, Balinese, and Thai portrayals of many-limbed, many-headed beings housed in complex mandalas. One of the earliest known Western mystic visionary

artists was Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German abbess. While enveloped by a fiery inner light, she was told to “speak and write not according to human speech or human inventiveness, but to the extent that you see and hear those things in the heavens above in the marvelousness of God.” The icons created from her visions are direct and authentic gifts of spirit. Perhaps the most famous visionary artist was the fifteenth-century painter Hieronymous Bosch, who portrayed an extraordinary array of grotesque beings, tortured souls in hell, and angels guiding the saved to the light of heaven. His Garden of Delights is one of the strangest paintings in the world; an encyclopedia of metamorphic plant/animal/

human symbolism. Pieter Bruegel was touched with the same visionary madness when he created Fall of the Rebel Angels and Triumph of Death, an amazing landscape featuring a coffin go-kart and armies of skeletons herding the struggling masses. Northern and Italian Renaissance artists like Grunewald, Durer, and Michelangelo delineated the revelations of Christian mysticism with searing, Gothic realism. Our historical sketch of visionary art would have to include the seventeenth-century alchemical engravings of Johann Daniel Mylius and mystics like Jacob Boehme and Robert Fludd, who detailed complex mandalic philosophical maps pointing to union with the divine. William Blake, the nine-


teenth-century mystic artist and poet, conversed with angels and received painting instructions from discarnate entities. Blake published his own books of art and poetry, which revealed an idiosyncratic mysticism arising from his inner perception of religious subjects. He resisted conventional religious dogma, proclaiming that “all religions are one.” The characters in Blake’s paintings and engravings seem akin to those of Renaissance masters Michelangelo, Raphael, and Durer, yet are softened with a peculiar magic. His artwork exalts an ideal realm of inspiration that he termed the “divine imagination.” Blake’s work laid the foundations for the nineteenth-century Symbolist movement that included such artists as Gustav Moreau, Odilon Redon, Jean Delville, and Frantisek Kupka. The realm of visionary art also embraces Modernist Abstraction like the works of Kupka, Klee, and Kandinsky; Surrealist or Fantastic Realist art; and Idealist work like Blake’s. The twentieth-century Surrealists operated in a territory without clear moral order: a dreamship adrift on the ocean of the unconscious. Artists like Max Ernst, Salvador Dali,

Hans Arp, Hans Bellmer, Stanislav Szukalski, Juan Miro, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Frida Kahlo mixed images from childhood memories, adult desires and fears, sex and violence, wherever the creative currents led them. The visions of the Surrealists help to define a dream realm where any bizarre juxtaposition is possible. A profound truth resides in such strangeness, for these visions can shock us into deepening our acknowledgement and appreciation of the Great Mystery. The Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew was one of the great visionary artists of the twentieth century (his obsession with anatomy and mysticism relates to my own work). Tchelitchew’s paintings evolved through metamorphic symbolism to x-ray anatomical figures glowing with inner light, and eventually progressed to luminous, abstract networks. Perhaps the most widely respected visionary painter of the twentieth century is Ernst Fuchs, whose highly detailed and symbolic works are often based on biblical and mythological subjects. Fuchs combines the technical mastery of Durer


and Van Eyck with the imagination of Bosch and Blake in a completely personal fantastic realism. Fuchs has had a widespread and profound influence on many of the greatest contemporary visionary artists. The masterful Mati Klarwein, Robert Venosa, De Es Schwertberger, Olga Spiegel, Philip Rubinov-Jacobson, and many others count him a key teacher or inspirational force. The post-World War II Vienna school of Fantastic Realism included artist friends of Ernst Fuchs, like Arik Brauer, Anton Lehmdon, Wolfgang Hutter, and Rudolph Hausner. In 1940s America, the artists Ivan Albright, George Tooker, Paul Cadmus, Peter Blume, and Hyman Bloom were known as Magic Realist painters. The psychedelic sixties spawned a new kind of poster art, leading many painters in a visionary direction. In the 1960s and 70s, a loosely associated group of California visionary painters, Joseph Parker, Cliff McReynolds, Clayton Anderson, Gage Taylor, Nick Hyde, Thomas Akawie, Bill Martin, and Sheila Rose, were published by Pomegranate Art Books. Pomegranate has also featured the shamanically inspired work of Susan Seddon Boulet. A more visually aggressive psychedelic pop surrealism energizes the work of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Robert Williams. Paul Laffoley, a painter and architect, is one of the most encyclopedic of visionary geniuses. Dystopic visions of contemporary hell worlds are stunningly portrayed in the paintings of Joe Coleman, H.R. Giger, Manuel Ocampo, and Odd Nerdrum. Visionary abstraction is articulated in beautiful infinities in the works of Allyson Grey, Bernie Maisner, and Suzanne Williams. Some of the most promising new visionary painting is by A. Andrew Gonzalez, Erial, and Guy Aichison. The archetypal mindscapes of Francesco Clemente and Ann McCoy enjoy the rare distinction of visibility and success in the contemporary art marketplace. The word “visionary” has also come to be associated with “outsider, naive, insane, and self-taught” artists, who include Adolph Wolfli, Reverend Finster, and Minnie Evans. What unites these various groups of artists is the driving force and source of their art: their unconventionally intense imaginations. Their gift to the world is to reveal “in minute particulars,” as Blake would say, the full spectrum of the vast visionary dimensions of the mind. 1. Visionary mystical experiences are humanity’s most direct contact with God and are the creative source of all sacred art and wisdom traditions. The best currently existing technology for sharing


the mystic imaginal realms is a well-crafted artistic rendering by an eye witness. 2. Mystic visionary artists distill the multi-dimensional, entheogenic journey into externally crystallized theophanies, icons embedded with evolutionary world views. Since mystic visionary artists paint the transcendental realms from observation, their work offers a growing body of evidence substantiat-


Why Visionary Art Matters ing the divine imaginal realms and by extension, Spirit itself. 3. The mystic state described by visionary artists includes images of unity, cosmic oneness, transcendence of conventional space and time, a sense of the sacred in having encountered ultimate reality, positive affect, vivid color and luminosity, symbolic pattern language, imaginal beings and infinite geometric jewel-like vistas. 4. For pilgrims to the sacred inner dimensions, visionary art provides validation for

their own glimpses, and proves the universal nature of the imaginal realms. Reflecting the luminous richness of higher spiritual worlds, visionary art activates our light body, empowers our creative soul, and stirs our deepest potential for positive, transformative action in the world. 5. Humanity’s materialistic worldview must transition to a sacred view of Oneness with the environment and cosmos or risk self-destruction due to continued abuse of the life-web. Artworks can call us to imagine our higher unity as humanity evolves toward a sustainable planetary civilization. 6. Mystic Visionary


Art is a product of the Primary Religious Experience. The word religion comes from the Greek meaning “to tie back.” The Primary Religious Experience is a personal connection with Source that “ties us back” to our own divinity. 7. Therefore artworks that transmit mystic visionary reality and affirm the most holy transcendental truth are sacred and should be preserved by any and all means to share with generations to come. Entheon means a place to discover the divinity within. Entheon Exhibition Hall at CoSM will honor and preserve visionary artworks that point to our common transcendental source.

Experience God as the Divine Artist and Cosmos as the masterwork of Creation. The Transcendental Unmanifest Realm is mirrored in our Immanent Manifest Realm. We are all Sacred Mirrors, reflections of the Divine. Since God is the creator we are also creators, co-creators. The creative impulse is inherently evolutionary because it resists known pathways and seeks a new adaptation, a new style, sound, method, or understanding uniquely suited to the new moment. Every moment is fresh, unknown, with the freedom to develop in any way – this is the power and message of Art for the Soul’s renewal. When we recognize

our own roles as creators of our reality, we are no longer a victim of our circumstances, and are empowered to activate our own imagination and intention to create the life we love. God makes love to us through the Visionary experience. The Mystic Visionary opens their spiritual eye and beholds the conjunction of love and beauty as the basis and wonder of creation. Mystic Art provides a means for both artist and viewer to align with the creative force and unite with God through contemplation of Cosmic symbolism. We reflect on visionary art, in order to glimpse the Divine Imagination and align ourselves with God. Beauty attracts us by the shine of the divine – it’s God that’s the true magnet in

Beauty. Reflection is seeing as a spiritual practice. The Great Wisdom masters and traditions hold up a sacred mirror of the universal light of love. Reflection is clarified attunement to the cosmic symbolism in life and recognition of the Godself in everyone. When sacred mirrors face each other, the infinite is revealed. Each of us is an utterly unique reflection of the divine. Every moment we can choose to see ourselves, every other, our world and cosmos as Sacred Mirrors, opportunities to recognize God’s presence. This transformative view relies on the fundamental mystic insight of unity across all dimensions of the immanent and transcendental order. How each of us see ourselves and our world sets

our path in life. Our worldview determines how we treat each other and the environment, so it is crucial that we awaken to our highest possibility. What we think and believe are the boundaries, limits, and possibilities of who we are and what we can create and become. Our consciousness evolves through phases from a primal to a more elevated worldview. The function of spiritual teachings and prac-


tice is to catalyze the phase shifts toward identifying oneself as a Sacred Mirror. Our responsibility in establishing this view, how the world and self can be seen, is the focus of CoSM’s approach. Love is the Universal Religion, Art is Universal Religious Expression. Mysticism is the primary religious experience whose chief emissary is Art. Creativity is the taproot of the Sacred.

Creativity is sacred behavior. Creation = Love . Founding a church where Art is our Religion connects us with all wisdom traditions – because all religions manifest sacred art and architecture. In order to know the meaning of the Art of the past we must understand the religion. Connecting with the Great Religious Traditions through their art is a form

of worship. The history of Art becomes your link to universal spirit and artists participate in the prophetic lineage by receiving and transmitting the iconography of the evolution of consciousness from prehistoric cave painting through magic mythic archetypes to modern, post-modern art, the arc of the developing soul of humanity is etched into the arts. We


contact where we’ve been as a species and may project where we are going. The key ingredient in the arts is creativity, a channel open to divine intelligence and flow that transcends dogma and enables the Spirit to make contact with the material world. The eternal God touches our hearts through Beauty in Nature, the imagination and the Arts. When creativity is recognized as spiritual practice, Art becomes an offering to uplift humanity and serve God. Art is the longest continuously living spiritual tradition – or religion – of humanity. The mystical experience is always beyond words, thus art, music, poetry is the only language capable of transmitting the ecstatic spirit directly. Art transcends yet incorporates all beliefs. A true Gnostic path, the study of art of all cultures familiarizes us with worldviews outside of our own limitations, promoting toler-

ance and respect for differences – values necessary for human survival. CoSM, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors recognizes Art as the holy practice it is, Art is our Religion.

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Nick Baxter 60

Nick Baxter was born in 1981 in New Haven, Connecticut and remained in the New Haven area until 2008, when he relocated to Austin, Texas. Following a lifelong passion for creative self-expression, as a high school senior he was granted placement in the Visual Arts Department at the Educational Center for the Arts, a magnet school in New Haven CT. He then attended the Paier College of Art in Hamden CT (Dean’s List) where he learned the basics of sharp-focus still life painting in the classical “Trompe L’œil” style. In 2000 Nick began a career in tattooing, while continuing to develop and pursue his interest in other fine art mediums such as painting, mixed media collage, and photography. Now tattooing over 10 years, Nick has gained international acclaim in the body art community for his thought-provoking, innovative motifs and has become widely recognized by others in the tattoo industry for his combination of fine art and technical tattooing skills. He has been featured in every major tattoo art magazine in the world as well as in other publications and books, and

teaches seminars worldwide to other tattooers and aspiring artists about advanced tattooing techniques as well as realistic oil painting. In 2010 Nick wrote and released his first book, “Sharp-Focus Realism In Oil,” through independent publisher Proton Press. This 128-page volume combines instructional oil-painting text with a comprehensive gallery of Nick’s paintings from the past 10 years. Strengthening the emerging connection between the previously separate tattooing and fine art worlds, in 2005 Nick and several other accomplished artists from the tattoo community painted alongside renowned contemporary artist Alex Grey at his NYC studio COSM, in a multifaceted collaborative performance. This was followed in 2008 with participation in a live painting performance in Philadelphia alongside Alex Grey and wife Allyson Grey, called “Visionary Primitive.”

ton, MA in 2007. This body of thematically-unified work featured photography and 10 oil paintings which, when arranged correctly, combined to form one large image. Viewers were invited to piece the symbolism of the works together on their own with the help of a written statement and a drawing reminiscent of a map legend, which were provided at the opening. Two follow-up exhibitions entitled “Healing” and “Rebuilding”, with themes and subject matter branching off from the “Surfacing” works, were held in August 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona and February 2010 at Last Rites Gallery in New York City. In 2011 Nick expanded upon these overarching themes in another solo show called “Reclaiming” at Nisus Gallery in

Nick has shown fine art works in several group exhibitions each year since 2003, selling paintings to many private collectors in the U.S. and abroad. He held his first solo exhibition entitled “Surfacing” in Easthamp-


Portland, Oregon. A member of the International Guild of Realism since 2011, Nick’s technically demanding painting style dwells somewhere in between traditional sharp-focus still life and modern photorealist styles, while bringing in elements of symbolism and surrealism. His subject matter tends to center around close-ups of skin and visceral, bloody macro-scapes, in exploration of what it means to be human—to have a unique consciousness inhabiting a vessel of flesh and blood. Recently, however, Nick has expanded this exploration by incorporating elements from the natural world and images of outer space, bridging the gap between the personal and the universal, between human life and all life. These intricately conceptual and me-

ticulously rendered paintings bridge elements of psychology, postmodern thought, anarchist theory, and interpretations of ancient Buddhist teachings with personal symbols to investigate the nature of suffering, hope, and transformation. Inspired by a sincere concern for the human condition and a deep appreciation of the natural world, his aim is to question familiar assumptions and pierce the surface appearances of what we often take for granted; to create a space in which emotional certainties waver and taste loses its bearings, so that deeper truth and spiritual understanding may be uncovered. Nick Baxter: Obviously tattooing can put strain on your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, neck, spine and lower back.

What type of physical problems have you encountered due to tattooing? In broader terms, all of these body parts are connected, like a series of stops on a train. The physical action of sitting and extending your arms, making small, repetitive hand motions over long periods of time puts stress on the body that just goes down the continuous line of interconnected body parts. I deal with pain, strain, and discomfort in all of these areas on a regular basis‌ Then there is the sort of separate issue of the eyes. Intense focus on up-close objects can strain and wear down the eyes over time. Sometimes this problem is simply genetic and occurs early in life, before tattooing becomes a factor. I’ve been prescribed glasses since my early teens. You once mentioned a trick that your eye doctor told you, which is to focus on a distant object while tattooing and do it for a certain amount of time?


Yeah, that’s basically it. It’s ideal to rest your eyes as often as possible. Just let them blur out and relax for a few minutes, then resume. If you’re not tattooing intricate details, you can do this while you work. Or spend a few minutes changing your focus to something in the distance, then resume. Do you have any tips for good tattooing posture? Slouching forward with your back curved, which collapses the chest and diaphragm, is bad for the body, so while sitting down to work, hips should be tilted forward slightly. Lean forward at the hips rather than only with your upper back and shoulder area. Sit with your back upright, keeping your shoulders down and relaxed, with your head and neck balanced squarely above your shoulders, not tilted forward and down. This is basically what I described with the sitting meditation practice in the previous question. Another good tip for tattooers is to get on a regular core workout regimen, meaning abdominals and back muscles. Having a strong midsection comes in handy for holding oneself upright in the correct sitting posture for long hours, whereas someone without a strong core may tend to slouch sooner from fatigue. Of course, taking breaks as frequently as possible will always help, especially if, while on your break, you do some stretching and loosening


up, where you hold each stretching posture long enough for it to be effective—usually 30 seconds to one minute with deep, easy breaths. I’ve found it helpful to do stretches that move my body in the opposite direction from that which I hold it in all day while working. For example, after working with my shoulders and arms extended forwards and down, it feels good to do stretches with my arms thrust upwards and backwards, above my head or behind my body. Same concept applies to my back and spine.

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Is Vector a Form of Art?

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Original artworks can be highly sought after, but how does digital media fit into the equation? Because a Vector file can be infinitely reproduced, will this form of art ever be held in the same esteem as its traditional cousins? Join us in our community discussion: Is vector an art form? Is Vector Art? So here’s the question that I’ve had on my mind recently... Is vector a widely accepted form of art? There’s amazing vector artists out there, some of which we have interviewed on Vectortuts+, but are they held in the same esteem as painters, sculptors, or photographers? Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items (often with symbolic significance) in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect. - Wikipedia If art is defined as something that affects senses, emotions and intellect, does vector come under this description or is it simply a medium for illustration? If vector isn’t art already, will it be considered an art form in the future?

What Is Vector Art? Vector Art is a technique, not a style.

“vector” illustration programs. (Vector programs: Illustrator, Freehand, Corel Draw, Flash, etc.)

Perhaps a better term would be “vector-based art,” meaning art created in a vector-based program. Vector art consists of creating paths and points in a program such as Illustrator or Freehand. The program keeps track of the relationships between these points and paths. Vectors are any scaleable objects that keeps their proportions and quality when sized up or down. They’re defined as solid objects, and can be moved around in full, or grouped together with other objects. Vectors can be defined by mathematical and numeric data. So vector art is anything that’s created in Illustrator, Freehand, Corel Draw, Flash or other

The other side of the coin is raster art. Raster art consists of pixel information, where every pixel is assigned a RGB or CMYK value. This can create smoother and more detailed images for photos and paintings, but if the image is scaled, the program has to create new information resulting in that distorted look. (Raster programs: Photoshop, Painter, Fireworks, MS Paint, Gimp, etc.)

What is Not Vector Art? Just because something is “cell shaded” or “flat colored” does not make it a Vector. The use of filters (cutout, etc.) creates a raster-based image and thus is disqualified from ever being considered a vector image. Only a vector program such as the ones mentioned above can create a vector image.

or oil paint. I understand that these days there is some program overlap. Photoshop has some vector tools and Illustrator has some raster tools, but if you use the lasso and the paint bucket, you are not creating vector-based artwork. If you run a filter you are not creating vector-based artwork.

A vector takes time to create. The artist makes decisions on how much or how little detail to include. The artist makes decisions on colors to use. These are the same decisions one makes before sitting down with conte crayons, pastels


Talented Vector Artists and their Favorite Illustrator Tools Beto Garza Q What is your favourite Adobe Illustrator Tool/Effect? The first time I used illustrator I always used the Pen Tool(P) to draw everything, but then after a while I became really interested in a more geometric style. So I fell in love with the basic Shape Tools. The ones that I use the most: the Rectangle (M), Ellipse (L), Rounded Rectangle and the Polygon. These and the Pathfinder panel are always my friends in most of my works. This is because with them I can draw whatever I want by simply adjusting some anchor points with the Direct Selection Tool (A) or scale some segments with the Scale Tool (S) for example.

and highlights. Then when I finish drawing I start to use Pathfinder options and bringing all the figures to life. Some of them I duplicate with the paste to back (Cmd + B) and paste in front (Cmd + F) commands, depending on the figure I will use Pathfinder on. When I’m done with that I select all my work and Click “D” to see if everything’s ok or if I need to send something to front or back or align and at last I add some color and details to the final illustration.

Q Could you share with us your best tip on how to utilise this tool/effect? When I draw the first thing I do is a few quick sketches to get a good composition and see which figures I will use in my final illustration. When I’m finished sketching I go directly to Illustrator and start drawing by seeing my final sketch. I use a black stroke and no fill and I start drawing figures (in this case I made a quick icon of “La Calavera” of the Mexican lottery, by using almost only rounded squares). Some of them get duplicated to add some details like shadows

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Helen Huang

Q What is your favourite Adobe Illustrator Tool/Effect? One of my favorite Illustrator tools is the Color Panel, which is essentially a color mixing and editing tool. I learned it on my own by experimenting with different color mode in the Color Panel. Now I set my Color Panel to HSB as default. HSB is a great setting especially for selecting colors to use as highlight and shading. Q Could you share with us your best tip on how to utilise this tool/effect? HSB stands for Hue, Saturation and Brightness. For highlight, decrease the saturation and increase the brightness. For a darker shade, increase the saturation and decrease the brightness. This way you get a very organic and natural looking shading color.


Justin Currie

us your best tip on how to utilise this tool/effect? Here’s basically how it works. Step 1: Open a piece with a white background. Step 2: Make a circle with the Ellipse Tool (L). Step 3: Give the circle a radial gradient fill. Step 4: Change one Gradient Slider from 100% Opacity to 0% Opacity. Step 5: Now that you have a nice glow element, go crazy with it! Throw them around until you get your desired look, put it in places that light would be showing through

Q What is your favourite Adobe Illustrator Tool/ Effect? I’ve got a polishing trick I almost never skip: its the radial gradient used as a light bloom trick, I picked this up from Penny-Arcade artwork and since discovering it, I borderline use too much. I find it gives a nice soft edge to objects and adds a ton of atmosphere to any piece. Q Could you share with

Step 6: Enjoy!


Petros Afshar

Q What is your favourite Adobe Illustrator Tool/ Effect? Surprisingly my tool of choice, is the shape tool. It is a fundamental element as it forms and structures most of my art works. The ability to alter the shapes diminishes its limitations into an endless wave of possibilities to create intricate patterns and stylistic appearance. Q Could you share with us your best tip on how to utilise this tool/ effect? By using the Selection Tool (V), you can change the shape by clicking on each anchor

point and directing it in a path of your choice. Using the same selection tool, you can cut into a shape. For example, by creating a half circle you select the bottom end anchor using your white selection tool, then using back space to remove the bottom half of the anchor. Alternatively you can choose how much of a shape can be removed by adding anchor points to the shape. This can be done by selecting the Pen Tools (add anchor) function and clicking on the areas you do not want cut off.




SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) –On a picturesque fall day in Springfield, Nasir Islam calmly sips a cup of coffee, reflecting on his past. Not too long ago, this sort of thing might have seemed entirely too farfetched. “I was 14 when I first joined a gang. It was hell from there on. I was very self-destructive; I was selling drugs, very ignorant. Some of the things were very violent; assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, a lot of ugly stuff that I’m not proud of today,” Islam recalled. Life is drastically different for the Springfield native, now a father of 4. The product of a broken home, Nasir grew up without a father. At 11 years-old, his mother left the family for the streets, leaving 4 children on their own. They were eventually split up in foster care. “At an early age, I was basically forced to go out to the streets and try to fend for myself and my siblings, and by doing so, I ended up meeting different people who were caught up in the same kind of struggles. I was seeking some kind of warmth, if you will some kind of acceptance. I feel like they had that for me,” said Islam. He would stay with the gang until his mid-20′s, in that time serving a total of 9 years in and out of jail cells. A lone, quiet moment of reflection along the

EyE Former Gang Member Turns Life Around


train tracks signified a turning point when Nasir realized he was going in the wrong direction. “I was just asking myself questions like, what is my purpose? Why am I suffering? Why do I have to go through all of this, and why am I doing this?” Unfortunately, Nasir’s story is just like many who get into gangs. Now his work involves community outreach, speaking at juvenile detention centers, and the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. “You and I, we’re never going to eradicate crime or gangs. But I think we have the courage and conviction and determination to do everything we can, to make sure they do not leave here, they don’t try to prey upon the vulnerable,” Sheriff Michael Ashe stated. The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department works with local police on gang intelligence, in mandatory educational sessions on gang awareness and prevention. “In other words, the toughest nut is not as hard as it looks to crack and these guys are a testament to that,” said Program Specialist Joaquin Suttles. The goal is to try and figure out what makes these gang members tick. “30% of our populations are validated gang members. We look for tattoos, gang identifiers, just talking to these guys, interviewing them; I listen to all the calls, read all inmate mail

talking to other law enforcement,” Gang Intelligence Sgt. Jessica Athas stated. While introducing non-traditional ways to try and rehabilitate inmates, like using life coaches. They also make sure that gangs remain separated, and any one of them doesn’t have too many members. “There’s not going to be one group influencing another and we can still get to the real crux of the problem. Whether its anger management issues, substance abuse issues, educational issues,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Champagne. They even reach out at that young age where gangs start to suck kids in, running a volunteer basketball league in South Holyoke. “Our goal is that we can steal the resources from the gang and drug pool. That we can reach these kids at 11 or 12 years old, so they can want more out of life,” Program Manager Ed Caisse. If this were the case for Nasir,

perhaps he would’ve taken a different path. Pleading with those who are still involved that there is always a better way. “When we fear something, that’s stopping us from being great. If you have the opportunity to get out without getting hurt like myself, walk away. Walk away and do what you need to do to be productive,” Islam advised. Hampden county sheriff’s department also offers after incarceration support service. Once inmates are released, they can choose to participate in the voluntary program, which helps with finding housing, and jobs. Last year alone, over 2500 took advantage of it. Gang violence is real, and a natural concern for most parents. This article contains the history of gang violence and some gang violence statistics, based on a National Youth Gang Survey conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Even though

gang violence is decreasing overall, it still remains a problem. And, interestingly, it is a growing problem in smaller towns. Gang violence is very real, and is a problem in some cities and


schools. Even with the overall decrease in national gang violence, there is still enough gang activity to make school dangerous in some cities, as well as make whole neighborhoods unsafe.

MF Doom


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The most villainous rapper breaks down the message behind the mask, and why good things come to those who wait The multi-monickered man mainly known as DOOM rarely does interviews, let alone video ones. So having him and his mask on the Academy couch is almost as exciting a prospect as the new Madvillain album. In this career-long examination of his art and life, he talks about triumph and tragedy with KMD, rebirth as the masked avenger, the differences between his band of many men, working with Madlib and why he draws inspiration from real life rather than rap music. RBMA: Alright everybody, thanks for hanging out. We’re joined today by, in my opinion, one of the most creative artists hip hop’s ever generated and we’re very excited to have him here. So please, won’t you welcome MF Doom. (applause) DOOM: Peace. Hola. How’s everybody doing? Good to see you all. RBMA: Thank you for joining us today, sir. How you doing? DOOM: What’s up, brother? I’m good, I’m good. RBMA: We usually like to start by playing some music. Last week we had a gentleman by the name of Young Guru here, who does quite a bit of work with Jay-Z. He was talking about some of his favourite artists, his favourite productions and MCs, and he talked quite a bit about you. He mentioned an album Mm.. Food. I thought for those who may not be quite as familiar with

your work as others could hear a bit of that. Is that cool with you? DOOM: Yeah, no doubt. RBMA: OK, let’s start with a bit of that and then we can get into some conversation. (music: MF Doom – Beef Rap / applause) With this as a reference, can you talk about your process when you make a song like this? DOOM: Yeah, that’s a good example, that particular song. Haven’t heard this in a while, sounds good in here. What I usually do when I’m producing a record, I’ll come up with the beat first and the beat will inspire the lyrics. In that particular example, that’s like the main song. That song defines the record, title cut if you will. I came up with that particular song first and everything else spawned from there. Just a typical joint. I heard the loop first, caught the loop, put the drums to it, polished it up with the 808. I don’t like to overdo it too much, I like to keep it close to the original as possible, leave a little something to the imagination, but enough to get the translation across. Then just write to it. It’s that simple. RBMA: What about Viktor Vaughn? DOOM: Vik is similar but he’s younger. He’s more like an 18/19-year-old whippersnapper, thinks he knows it all. A lot of times he disagrees with DOOM, but still he looks up to him. RBMA: And what about King Geedorah? DOOM: Geedorah is an interesting


character. The whole direction of Geedorah is he’s not even from earth, he’s from outer space. He channels the information to DOOM in order for DOOM to produce. So he gets the message from Geedorah. Geedorah’s not even on earth, he’s more like an ethereal being. RBMA: What physical form would Geedorah take then? Is he human or something else? DOOM: He’s straight reptilian, he would be like a 300-foot, three-headed golden dragon. It’s actually from the old Toho Godzilla films. Again, it’s just like the villain theme, Geedorah’s like the classic bad guy, strong, really strong, where they have to jump him at the end. But they always end up chasing him away – the whole hero thing, the hero got to win. But if you look at it, Geedorah is really stronger than all of them, sort of an oddball. RBMA: So why is DOOM more of your dominant persona? Or maybe not dominant, but the one that is more on the forefront? Because you’ve said that DOOM is to some extent doing Geedorah’s work, he’s more like an emissary or something like that. So why is DOOM at the forefront as opposed to these other characters? DOOM: I think it is just for writing now. It just happened to end up that, with these characters in this time frame, DOOM happened to

MF Doom might fall back for a another two years. But it varies, it’s an ongoing story.

end up at the forefront. But in the next 12 months, Geedorah might take to the stage again and DOOM

RBMA: I guess the mask is a huge part for DOOM. For those who are new to this, can you explain a little of this: why DOOM, why the mask, why he’s only seen with the mask? DOOM: Yeah, no doubt. There was a time in hip hop when things started going from my point of view more towards what things look like as opposed to what they sound like. Before you didn’t know what an MC looked like until you went to a party and saw them rocking. Most times you see them rock before the show. RBMA: Before video. DOOM: Yeah, pre-video. So you were really going off the sound of the record, straight skills. Once it became more publicised, hip hop became more of a money-making thing. You get these corporate ideas where people want to put what it looks like to sell what it sounds like. But we’re dealing with music. But what I’m doing is coming with the angle that it doesn’t matter what the artist looks like, it’s more what he sounds like. The mask really represents rebelling against trying to sell the product as a human being. It’s more of a sound. At the same time, it’s something different and it fits with the theme of the rebel, the villain. He don’t care about the fame; that shit’s of no consequence, it’s more the message of what’s being said. It helps people focus more on what’s being said. But it’s still entertaining, it still has some theatre, and still has the appeal of what could be considered enter-


tainment, but the message is still there. The villain represents everybody, anyone can wear the mask and be a villain, male or female, any so-called race. It’s about whether you’re coming from the heart, what’s the message, what you’ve got to say. That’s mainly why I chose to bring the mask into the fold. RBMA: You just mentioned your first encounters with hip hop. Can you talk a bit about how you got into hip hop initially? DOOM: What, you mean about hip hop generally? RBMA: Just in general, yeah. DOOM: I think my first experience with hearing the sound that we now call hip hop was just listening to the radio. At the time it was WBLS, Frankie Crocker. He’d be playing joints like Grover Washington Jr., certain records that just got that feel – like Chic, “Good Times” – you hear it, even if it’s not being spun you hear it in there. At the time I was young, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and I’d go down the block. A lot of people had older brothers back when there was two turntables, a lot of cats had afros. We’d look up to them, go peak at what they were doing down in the basement. But I wouldn’t be able to get on the wheels until what must have been a year after, when they’d finally invite us down to trial and get on. So that was my first experience with what we call hip hop now: “Tramp”, Otis Redding, spinning, see how the record feels when you spin it back, how the fader feels when you hit it. RBMA: Now this is in Long Beach or in Freeport? DOOM: Freeport, Long Island, where I first started. RBMA: And KMD started out as a graffiti crew? DOOM: Yeah, that’s right. Back then there were crews that were just crews, that were just listening to music, be artists in general, whether it be breakdancing, anything. At the time we didn’t really categorise

it like that. Anything that was fun. A crew was just guys you’d walk home from school with and that was just a crew. Everybody in the crew might add one thing or bring a different angle to it. So graffiti was something we just did, like doodling in art in general. So it turned into graffiti first, then breakdancing came into it as that became more popular. Then music, hip hop, was always there, as far as the music aspect. It just turned out the hip hop part sound-wise got more popular and became something we just practised more, became where we were making tapes and then took it from there. RBMA: How did you meet MC Serch? DOOM: I met Serch at a talent show. You know how we’d be having those outdoor daytime parties, not even a night party, but an outdoor theatre where people would be gathering in the community selling different items. They had a stage, singers, anyone could just go up there and do their thing. I guess there was some structure to it, but he had a performance he was doing up there. I was wandering ‘round checking out stuff, I was with my other partner – and we peeped this cat, but we heard him first before we saw him. Anytime someone was rhyming it was interesting. “Ooh, this dude here, he’s up there doing his thing by himself.” I think I met him later that day through my man, he already knew him. So that’s how we met. (music: 3rd Bass – The Gas Face / applause) RBMA: What goes through your mind when you hear that now after all this time? DOOM: That’s like a snapshot from back then, it was fun times back then. You can tell there’s a lot of humour and spontaneity. Nowadays things have got kind of serious with hip hop, where it needs more of that. Wouldn’t you all agree, a little bit of humor? To me, that’s how it was, it was comfortable, not so intense.



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People weren’t so hung up on who’s the best. It was more of a fun thing. So yeah, man, it’s like a snapshot, an old picture. RBMA: It’s interesting because there is a lot of humor, a lot of looseness in a song like this, but you guys were actually saying some profound stuff, too, and I think that’s one of the trademarks of what you do. Especially so with all the KMD stuff, which we’ll get to in a second. Can you talk a little

bit about Zev Love X? This was you before MF Doom. What’s the relationship between Zev and DOOM? DOOM: They both really existed simultaneously, it’s not like a change from one to the other one. One came more to the forefront now, but these are shifting positions. It’s back to the whole character thing. So Zev still exists somewhere as that character, you just don’t hear him too much right now, he’s in the background out of the story. There’s a lot of similarities, but I need another way to get a different point across. The DOOM character is a little more serious than Zev is. A lot of people describe it as dark. I would say it’s a deeper hue, more reflective, he sees deeper into things. RBMA: DOOM has gone through things that Zev hasn’t gone through yet, right? DOOM’s perspective is going to be different. DOOM: Definitely, definitely. Art imitates life, it’s loosely based on experiences. Of course, everything is in some way based on experiences. At the same time, DOOM always existed, but when was the chance to grab that mic and make that debut? RBMA: The other thing with Zev and the KMD era – not to stay on it too long – is that it also represented the Five Percent Nation, which was very prevalent at the time. You and Brand Nubian dubbed yourselves the God Squad. It was a very interesting time for all that stuff to be so prevalent. Any reflections on that now looking back? DOOM: Really, a lot of the influence to put information and get different aspects into the music comes from the likes of PE and BDP. They would speak on different things you wouldn’t really hear anywhere else, unless you went to a gathering with an old uncle or something like that, where they’d be sitting round talking about back then. It was something


you’d hear more through family members, passing on stories culturally and in order to keep that alive and keep these messages out there for the youth, we put it in the records. Unintentionally, kind of just to be like PE, really. “What did he say? I’ll remember that, what can I add on and drop a jewel about?” Or to be like how KRS used to come with different information that you wouldn’t necessarily hear. RBMA: Right, but also adding this element of fun, of playfulness. I’m going to play a little bit of KMD. I’m going to play something that’s not one of the singles, maybe the intro from the album, because it just kind of sets things up. Is that OK with you? DOOM: Yeah. RBMA: This is from the KMD first album, “Mr Hood”, which you can kind of tell may set the stage for things which came after. (music: KMD – Mr Hood At Piocalles Jewelry / Crackpot / applause) DOOM: Thanks, thanks. That’s fun record. RBMA: If anybody here has heard this album, this Mr Hood character is present through every skit. Can you talk a bit about how this is all constructed? Obviously, this is the same source, the same voice, Mr Hood. Where did you get it from, if you can talk about that, how did it come together? DOOM: Ironically, the record is a Spanish language record. When you travel to different countries they have records – on vinyl – where they’ll repeat a phrase and say it in another language. It was Spanish, which is funny ‘round here, right? But it was an old record, recorded in maybe the early ‘60s. And I’m listening to the record, I’m noticing he’s saying some funny phrases in general. Like, why would you even want to translate that? I guess, at that time people spoke in a slightly different way. I listened to the whole record by itself,

with the Spanish translation on it. I noticed you could even mix-match words, cut and paste different phrases in between it, so it started to where I could see a storyline coming out of it, something that matched what was going on in the current days, you know, what’s going on in the street. But based around this character, he’s a stiff, sounds like a corny old dude, but he’s a real thug, a hood dude. So the whole record was based on us schooling him from being a drug dealer type, just dropping little jewels, schooling him, bringing him into the crew. But by the end of the record he gets to do his gully, becomes more aware, more conscious of what’s going on. RBMA: Even just using that Spanish instructional record it generates this vibe of inclusion, which I thought was unique to this record and the group. Skipping to the next record, even though there are songs off of this album that were hits, this album was very well regarded, spawned a few hits – “Peachfuzz”, “Who Me?”, things like that that are in the same spirit. The next record you guys did is entitled Black Bastards, recorded a couple of years later. This album, for those who know, was actually not released when it was supposed to be released. But it has a different vibe, which is really interesting. It has a little more aggression in it musically, even though it retains its playful vibe. And I liken it in a lot of ways – and I don’t know if anyone has said this to you – to all the groups who came out in this era – De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian, groups like this – came out with very acclaimed debuts. A lot of them came back with a little bit more jaded-sounding records, but yet classic records. And I think it’s very much in the same league as those records, even though it doesn’t get talked about in the same way. I

wonder what your perspective on it is. DOOM: The second record comes through a lot of the experiences we went through after the first record. And that was our debut record, of course, Mr Hood, where we were still wet behind the ears in the game. Business-wise there was a lot of things we didn’t know and there’s a lot of growing up you do, 18, 19, when I did the first record. There’s a lot of things about society in general that you find out, come to grips with, growing into manhood. So the next record was maybe two or three years after that, so all those new things we were learning, a lot of the weirdness that came out of being in the business, went into that record. That’s where you get a lot of the edge on it, almost bitterness, I would say. It’s like a talk shit kind of record almost. A bit like: “Well, fuck y’all, we’re still going to do our thing.” RBMA: So that’s you and Subroc, your brother. DOOM: Yeah, Subroc, my brother, my partner. That record was a fun record again. That’s when he started coming more into the vocal part. Sub was nice, he brought my skills up. He started doing styles like that. It’s always good when you’ve got a partner to reflect off, it brings more out of the duo, out of the group. RBMA: So you guys are sharing production and vocal duties at this point? DOOM: Yeah, it took a lot of the weight off me. At this point, the third member of the group, Onyx, who was on the first record, he’d kind of left the group. So the vocals was kind of on me. But he just took it: “I’m ready.” RBMA: This record, like I said, didn’t come out when it was supposed to in ‘93/’94. There was a controversy that those who follow hip hop are probably aware of that caused that record to never come out. What do you want to say in retrospect about that, if anything? DOOM: Well (long pause), the controversy, there were a couple of different things, some of them behind the scenes, some of them more up front. But it all culminated into the agreement we had with the label to be severed, it was kind of mutually agreed. It was a conflict of interest and creative differences, kind of thing. That’s really what led to the record being shelved, as they say. But to me it’s no big deal, it happens in the game, relationships get to the level where you split and do something else. To me, we just got too big and too outspoken for the situation. RBMA: The original artwork – and it’s

been reissued since with the original artwork – is the character, the symbol of KMD which is the quote-unquote sambo face. DOOM: Yeah, the sambo face with the line drawn out, the no sign with the slash, meaning an ending of any stereotypes, any type of false representation of anything, end of that. That was the logo. Then we took it a step further with the Black Bastards cover, where we had the character on a hangman’s noose. Now we’ve got the character on the hangman’s noose, so we hang that character, which means the same thing – the ending, the deading of that stereotype. At the same time, it’s like the Hangman game, with the letters

missing out, so it’s like a puzzle. So the whole thing is like a puzzle, but still with the message of no more stereotypes. I guess it was a little bit maybe too… I don’t know, I can’t work out the reason why they couldn’t handle something like that. RBMA: It seemed like it was misinterpreted. Whoever decided they were offended by it, that it was too controversial, they misinterpreted the meaning. DOOM: But at the same time you had records like “Cop Killer”, that Ice T shit, on the same label. There were a lot of controversial records at that time. I think it was more: ‘Is this product marketable? Can we sell it?’ If they’d found a way to sell it, it wouldn’t have been a problem. There was some rock group, I forget their name, but the same year they had a cover with a cross on it, Jesus Christ with a goat’s head. It was real bugged out, something that people might see as offensive, blood, all kinds of crazy things. But they were selling millions of records at the time. So there were a lot of behind-thescenes things, then they have the front story, even nowadays they do – there’s always a front story, but there’s always


a backstory, the real story. It happens. It happens a lot in politics, it happens a lot in general. Any time there’s money involved it tends to be that way. RBMA: So KMD gets dropped from Elektra, the album doesn’t come out, and something even more tragic than that – your brother passes away. How did you cope that tragic time in your life? DOOM: Actually, what happened was we were just about done with the record when the accident happened, when Sub lost his life. Then I finished the record, there was still a bit more to do. One of us had to finish it anyway. If it had happened to me, he would’ve finished it. But that’s when they decided to sever the agreement. A lot of things were going on at that time. So the way I dealt with it, I just kept it moving. At the time it seemed like another thing, another obstacle to manoeuvre around. I had to be strong for my mother. I’m the oldest out of all of us, so I had to take the reins at that point, I couldn’t really think about it too much. Especially with the deal being different, I had to regroup and figure things out. So the way I dealt with it is how we deal with it – keep it moving. RBMA: Were you ever concerned about quality control during this time? Did you feel overextended doing all this stuff? DOOM: Nah, not at all. I’d be doing the records anyway, so whether I just did them and kept them on my shelf and nobody heard them, or somebody came and wanted to put them out. See, I got the formula from Bob – Bobbito, we call him wooden-tooth Bob… RBMA: I heard you and MF Grimm once sent him a sympathy card. Can you tell them what the sympathy card was? This is a diversion, sorry. DOOM: I can’t remember exactly what it was. It was more Grimm’s idea, I just signed it. It was retarded. It had something to do with the wooden tooth joke, though. RBMA: Bob said there was a sympathy card he got in the mail and he was like, “Nobody died recently. What is this?” He opened it up and it said, “We are sorry for your loss, your hairline loss.” DOOM: (laughs) Oh yeah, it was Grimm’s idea. It was just real funny. RBMA: I’m sorry, let’s go ahead. You got the idea from Bob. DOOM: I got the idea from Bob. “Yo, let’s put the record out, no picture cover, nothing.” DJs would buy a white label record and play it. They either don’t like it or they do. If they do like it then they’ve got to go and see what the label is. They’d go

looking for the record as opposed to force-feeding the record. “Yo, we got this new record out.” It’s almost like we did it the opposite way, where it’s up to the people what they like. That way people come to you looking for something they’re really feeling. You don’t get the bullshit records like that, you get quality records. So if I’m doing a bunch of records, people know where to come to get the quality that they’re looking for. “Have you got anything else?” So this is why I started putting all these records out. It’s not an overextended thing, it’s more of a niche thing. Certain people like certain things. It might be thrift store clothes, they’ll go to the thrift store to get those instead of going to Macy’s for the high-end shit. It’s a certain quality people look for, where you provide that same quality. RBMA: How did you and Madlib decided to work together? DOOM: I got a call one day from Peanut Butter Wolf, up there in Stones Throw, a good friend of mine. Big up, Wolf. He mentioned this cat Madlib, I wasn’t familiar with his work at the time. I guess he heard some of my stuff and he was reaching out to me, wanted to do a record together so he could give me some beats and whatnot. So at the same time I was doing records with a lot of different companies. They flew me out to LA, so I flew out there, met these cats, cats was cool from day one. I got along with these dudes, good-spirited, good-hearted people. Real record diggers, beatmakers, we had the same kind of vision about how we did records. The way we did records was similar, but he was still unique though, had his unique style. That’s how it started. He reached out and ever since then he’s been my man. RBMA: They were all living in the same house at the time, is that right? With the studio, the Bomb Shelter, in the basement. DOOM: Yeah, they had a mini-mansion up on the hill. It was a pretty big crib though, up on the hill, overlooking the hills. It was a good place to work at. RBMA: So what was a typical day like, you and Madlib trying to put this album together? DOOM: A typical day… RBMA: Or were there typical days? DOOM: Yeah, I can put it in a nutshell. I’m trying to finish this record so I can get back home. I’m staying in LA and trying to get back to my children. I’m working as fast

I can without sacrificing the quality. So he’s working too like that, so I hardly see him, even though we’re in the same house. So he’s always in the Bomb Shelter and I’m up on the deck writing. He’d give me another CD and I’m writing, he’s back in the Bomb Shelter and I would hardly speak to him. We might stop and he’ll burn one and listen to the beat and that’s it, the next two days I probably won’t see him. Then I was getting mad work done, knocking it out. Then at the end of the week we listened to the work. I’m, “Alright, here’s the angle I’m thinking of on this one, all we need is a verse and it’s done.” And then that’s it, we hardly spoke. It was more through telepathy. We spoke through the music. He’d hear a joint and that’s my conversation with him. Then I’d hear a beat and that’s like what he’s saying to me. It’s real bugged. And still to this day that’s how we do it. RBMA: Let’s hear a bit of something from Madvillain, which is MF Doom and Madlib. (music: Madvillain – Great Day / applause) DOOM: Thanks, appreciate it. RBMA: You always described yourself as a writer, even though you’re an MC and producer, you’re a writer. And the craft of what you do it’s easy to get lost among the records and the personality and the mask and everything else, but this craft of wordplay, of putting words together in an interesting way, maybe using this song as an example. This song, for instance, you say things like: “Groovy dude, not to be crude or rude, but this is like something you might put on movie food”. Obviously, it rhymes, as most rap does, but how do you decide when to say something by not saying something? You could say “movie food”, but in the main someone would say butter or whatever. It’s a reference to something that’s a little step off to the left, maybe two, and I wonder if you might address that a little bit. DOOM: As I’m writing it I’m also thinking of it from a listener’s point of view. It’s almost to the point where I catch myself off-guard. I try to keep it interesting. The essence of rhyming is to keep everybody off-guard a little. I’ll take it and stretch it a little, leave one word blank, knowing that the listener is following along and will fill in that blank, just like I’ll fill in a blank, but always put that word in that you least expect, or that you might think would be there but that


almost makes sense in another way. It keeps the story interesting where you can match wits. It’s like you keep a conversation with the listener where you can match wits with them makes it more fun to me. I try to keep it entertaining for someone down the line who might be listening. It gives it a sense of longevity when you never know what the dude’s going to say. So you want to hear it again and again, and once you do get it you want to pass it on to a friend. It’s like a good book. That’s why I phrase it as a writer. It is written, I’ve got the notebooks to prove it (laughs). I’m doing more writing than I ever thought I’d be doing. And it’s put together loosely, like you’ve got novels that are put together loosely. Like tabloids as opposed to credible newspapers, in the same way you’ve got hip hop in the sense of rhyming that is fun, here there, just thrown together, not as crafty, I would say. Then you’ve got the real crafty, good stuff. I try to make that good stuff where you say: “Wow, that’s a classy book and well written.” RBMA: And you did a whole album that we mentioned earlier Mm.. Food, where every title is a food, every subject on the surface is referencing food. But the songs aren’t necessarily about food, they might be referencing something else. DOOM: Yeah, double entendres, it’s all in there (silence / laughs). RBMA: I want to make sure we have time for questions, I’ll open it up in a second. Around 2006 up to the last album you did there were moments of a certain amount of unpredictability. You were very prolific but there was also some inactivity. What was going on in that time? DOOM: Hmm. I was still doing work, but I was laying off it a little bit. I was concentrating on family, other children on the way, I just kind of took time off for family. Just to get away from it for a second. I don’t want necessarily to do one thing for too long, to where it gets boring, just take a step back for a second, that kind of thing. I didn’t think it was noticeable from the outside. I think there was still enough work out there for people to absorb. If it comes to a point where I need to get more information, I study – to give out information I need to take in information. So just leave it alone for a second and observe the world so I have more things to say. People expect us to just constantly be talking. I’m the type of cat who’s more laid back. The conversation isn’t always about what I’ve got to say, sometimes it’s just time to listen. So that was the listening time. RBMA: I want to open questions up for folks, even though there’s still a few things to cover, but just to make sure

everybody’s get a chance. Participant: I’ve a really obvious question for you. When can we expect the next Madvillain album? DOOM: Good question. It’s almost done, I can say that. But it’s been almost done for maybe like two years. I can’t say when it’s done, but I’ll be finished soon with my part by, say, January. But Madlib still has to put his little touches on it, but it’ll be soon. Soon. Participant: First and foremost I just want to say that Doomsday and Madvillian are two of the greatest hip hop records ever made, I’ve listened to them all my life. One of the things I always wanted to know on Madvillain, I always found ‘Eye’ with Stacy Epps a really interesting track because 95% of the track is you and Madlib corresponding with each other. I always wondered, what was the point of the introduction of that track? Was it to break up the record, give people a breather? How did that track come along to start the record? DOOM: That’s a good question. I make hip hop like the way we used to listen to. On radio shows and even at parties, the joint would be rocking, then they’d hit a certain point where there’d be more street records, more funny records, then by the end of the night they’d have some more slow jam for the ladies, just to add that feminine essence. It was always a good way to smoothen and even everything out. I would always put something for the ladies on every record, whether it’s a female MC or a song about women or girls singing, it needs balance. What would we do without them? Right, ladies (laughs)? So that’s where it came from. Stacy’s a good friend of mine and she came with good stuff and she was feeling one of my beats so I said: “Go ahead, just put something on there.” And it fit perfectly on there. Participant: Out of music that’s currently going at the moment – I mean you’ve worked with Thom Yorke and I read this morning Jonny Greenwood as well – out of up-and-coming producers


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Bringing Underground Mainstream

and more established ones like Flying Lotus as well, would there be any you’d call upon to do a record with? One that’s quite influential on stuff you’d want to rap on? DOOM: I don’t really listen to current hip hop where I know who is who, to the point where I’d say: “I’d like to do a beat with this cat.” Usually I’ll hear something and say: “Who did that?” I find producers that way. But if I had to say anybody I’d say my man Kanye, he’s doing his thing. He’s a good friend of mine, too, and I haven’t had a chance to work with him yet. So if I had to say a producer, something that people wouldn’t expect, I’d say Kanye. Participant: One last question. I always found it refreshing the fact that you used a lot of ‘80s samples, from Boz Scaggs to Anita Baker in your music. Would that have been stuff you’d listened to a lot in general? You don’t listen lots to what’s going on presently in hip hop, which I totally understand because I think a lot of it’s bullshit, but I’m curious, is that stuff you listen to in your spare time? DOOM: The stuff I grew up on, I still listen to that stuff. The interesting records to me are records that are hard to decipher technically, I’m trying to figure out how they did that, what equipment did they use. It’s different now, the methods they used to record. You can tell – also a lot of times you can’t tell – what they used. Was it two-inch or quarter-inch? So it’s interesting sonically to me, enough to stay in that

realm, looking for things from that era that I still haven’t heard, recorded from like Brazil. Brazilian [music] that was recorded in that time is still new to me. And it’s still just as interesting. It comes from that – I’m still in the ‘80s, ‘70s and ‘60s, I’m like stuck there. There’s a lot of stuff that’s still unfound. Participant: I have a couple of questions. First, I don’t know if it’s the reissue of Mm.. Food that has the plastic silver cover and if you scratch it, it smells like chocolate. Do you come up with the concept while you make it, or is that something that comes afterwards? DOOM: The concept about the chocolate, my partner from the label Rhymesayers, my man Saadiq, he came up with that one just to celebrate the record. It came out after the record was out, so it was almost an addon to the food references we talked about earlier. That’s one he came up with to make it interesting. Participant: When you’re making the music is it only an audio thing or do you have a visual aspect as well? DOOM: I always have a visual. I always see it and I hear it. A lot of us do, too, as artists; you can see it and hear it, sounds have colours. So it’s always both, audio and visual. Participant: “Rhinestone Cowboy” is one of my favourite of your songs. What made you come up with it? Did you hear the beat or did you have the concept already? DOOM: Interesting question. The record was a little short and my


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man Egon, he was: “Doom, we need one more song.” At the time he was up in Stones Throw, he was the A&R dude. I had so many beats from Madlib, I went through them, picked the one that stood out the most. That was the one in a heartbeat, it wasn’t tricky to rhyme to. So that song came out of just needing to fill the slot, real spontaneous, like a week to turn the record in. “Here you go E, it’s done.” That’s how it came about, but it’s one of my favourite records as well, so a lot of the time when I’m under the gun like that, I tend to come up with that kind of thing. So I wrote it to the beat, just real quick. Crunch time. Participant: Do you ever find yourself out of ideas? How do you work around that and outside of music where do you look for inspiration? DOOM: A lot of the time I do. Writer’s block is part of the process. When that happens I tend to just leave it alone and look for something else, I’ll read or something. I get inspiration from a lot of different things though; nature, silence a lot of the time, playing with my children, just things people might do every day, some people take for granted. The smallest thing might start something. When I get stuck I just go back to normal mode, that’s when you find things will come to you. Just have a pen and a piece of paper handy, you never know when it’ll come to you. Participant: So you don’t just stand there and force it? DOOM: I’ve tried, lord knows I’ve tried. The way creativity works for me, it comes to you like an energy stream, like a wave. So you’ve just got to be ready for the wave and when it subsides, wait for it to come back. There’s no way to make it happen. You’ve just got to be ready. Participant: You haven’t talked much about Grimm yet. So can you tell us how you guys met, the nature of your relationship and maybe why things went sour? DOOM: I wouldn’t say it went sour, but we met around the same time I met Bob. The same crew, all from uptown. Kurious was around the same time too. I met George up there, he was working up at Def Jam with Bob. Grimm was doing demos and winning battles around the same time. Everyone was from uptown, so I was uptown with these dudes. I wouldn’t say it went sour, just that relationships tend to split. I don’t see the same people that I used to see every day. They’re still my peoples and I’ve got mad love for all my brothers. That’s how it went. Participant: What happened to the Invisible Girl? She did the hook on Doomsday and


then on “The M.I.C.”, but I’ve never heard of her again on any other records. DOOM: She’s the invisible girl (laughs). Participant: Did she write those records? Man, those hooks changed my life. DOOM: She was the kind of singer where it was like: “Yo, my man knows a girl who sings and I’ve got to finish the record. Ask her can she sing this part.” And I’d play her the reference. “Oh, I can sing that.” I paid her $25 or something as a session singer to come in and do it and I don’t know what she’s doing now, I haven’t seen her ever again. I don’t think I even know her real name (laughter). RBMA: You should be able to find her though. DOOM: Probably. Maybe. RBMA: Who’s next? Participant: You said your characters have conflicts. Have you ever thought about making a record with your different characters battling it out? DOOM: Yeah, matter of fact there’s a little rap beef starting right now between DOOM and Vik. Vik is plotting on him ‘cause he’s jealous because DOOM’s getting a little shy, so he’s talking of coming at him with a dis record. So I might make a spoof of the little hip hop rivalries that go on. When Vik is going to come he’s going to come hard with some shit (laughter). Participant: Nice, thanks. RBMA: Is DOOM ready to respond? DOOM: We got to see (laughter). He’s nice though, I wouldn’t go up against him. RBMA: I think this is the point where we’re going to have to wrap it. But first do you have anything to say to these impressionable young minds in conclusion? DOOM: Yeah, follow your heart is the number one rule. A lot of people might not see your vision yet, people might call you crazy. Just follow your heart all the way through; that’s when you’re breaking new ground and people will appreciate it later on. Never do something to try and impress the next man or the next woman. It’s about what you see, what’s inside you. Everybody’s a unique individual, you have something inside you. So whatever it is, bring it to the table and share it out with all of us. Thanks for all your support. It’s people like ya’ll that make me continue to do it. It’s valuable when you guys show appreciation, I’m like wow! Somebody else is actually listening and knows what my crazy ass is thinking about. So I appreciate that and thank you guys. RBMA: Let’s say thanks to MF DOOM, everybody. (applause / cheers)

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Bringing Underground Mainstream


Special Thanks to: hillcat1983




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