When I was preparing the manuscript for my new anthology, The Hippie Hacker, the Happy Hooker and the Great Clone Orgy, and RA Press asked me what I wanted on the cover, there really was only one answer I could give. And that answer was Mark Garro.
Garro had a solo art show at Copro art gallery in Santa Monica about a week ago, which I’m anguished to say I missed (because I’m a sinister misanthrope, a hermit troll under a crumbling bridge; I’m a miserable shut in who lives in a broken down trailer with his 32 angora cats, etc.) Go check out his work. Just amazing. Garro inspires me like few other artists today. And it’s always a treat to see him—and his bright and lovely wife Audrey.
Last year in Glasgow, I stood beneath the massive Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Salvador Dali’s haunting 1951 painting, transfixed in awe, for at least 30 minutes. I simply was helpless in the grasp of it’s power, I could not move out of its orbit, I could not look away. Without wading too deeply into the dangerous washing machine surf of hyperbole, I’ve had similar experiences standing before Garro’s Buttercrucifly or his skeletal Ganesh crucified on a telephone pole. You can’t exaggerate it: this man is talented.
It was through Attic of Love that I first met Garro. There was a little group of our fans from the New York City area who had their own cable TV show. No it was not Wayne’s World, it was TV Boy, and Garro was their patron artist. They were faithful Attic of Love fans, true believers, and they set about creating music videos of the band to air on their shows. At first they were rather tawdry affairs, shameless slow motion footage of barely clad beach bunnies, running, jumping, twerking, bouncing, jiggling, falling out of the meager band aids of fabric passed off as bathing suits, all set to our jarringly earnest songs. But these guys loved us, and aired Attic of Love music, however raunchily presented, every week on their show. Faithfully.
And as these kind of things do, the desire to make a worthy Attic of Love video with the band escalated until it became a production, with live filming at three of our shows, and some, how can I put it nicely, stage, um, production.
It was at a show in Albany, New York, that Garro took the stage with us, garbed in rags, his bald head and face painted a sinister pale green, resembling nothing short of Batman’s Joker if the Joker had fallen on particularly hard times and was living in a cardboard box in a back alley of Gotham City’s skid row.
Did I mention our songs were a little earnest? We played our hearts out as Garro crawled out from behind the guitar amps, capered menacingly about, perched on speaker cabinets, and mimed the most evil, exaggerated hyena laughter I’ve ever seen.
Garro: Television guy, science fiction book cover illustrator, surreal artist, Attic of Love fan. And psychotic clown. How could he NOT somehow become a bit of band mascot for a time? Garro’s presence is felt on two of our albums: He is the macabre and somehow regal clown figure, staring at the camera with barely contained hysteria, gracing the cover of one of our early EP’s. And he allowed us to use his brilliantly surreal acrylic painting Buttercrucifly as the cover for our first self-produced album after we were extricated from our record contract with a national label.
Let me explain a little bit about Buttercrucifly, and then a bit of context with regard the music it came to represent on that album (Lessons).
The first thing you notice is the playful use of both perspective and symbolism. The frame is actually a part of the painting itself, and parts of the painting extend out beyond it in three dimensional clarity. The first time I saw this work in person, I literally had to step up close to scrutinize the pencil that seems to balance precariously on the bottom surface of the “frame.” The first thought I had was that some disrespectful jack ass (this was in LA, after all) had thought it would be funny to stick his pencil there. And then there’s the imagery. An anguished man, apparently part butterfly, washed up in the surf of a beach and crucified to a cross made of a stick and another long pencil. The man’s body is half submerged into the picture itself, as hyper realistic elements wash and merge with the dissolving textures of the painting. The contrasts are stunning: You feel as if you could reach out and feel the grit of the sand, the foam of the surf has three dimensional clarity, and then where all the images meet, the painting deliquesces into artifact—sand and surf transform into smears of paint, as if the images have somehow magically emerged from those smears.
Garro is making a statement about art here. He clearly is the figure in the painting (or at least it’s his alter-ego of sorts). The painting represents the sacrifice of the artist, the magic of transformation, the emergence of meaning from inspiration. And yes, of course, it illustrates a strangeness, where the hyper-real and the surreal can somehow subtly coexist.
Garro profoundly honored me and Attic of Love by associating this beautiful piece with the Lessons album. And at the time, it seemed to fit perfectly, there could be no other cover for this studio session. After all, the album contained a surreal description of a martyr agonizingly pulling himself off the nails that crucified him. Another song was written entirely in free verse. Still another was lyrically constructed by juxtaposing the titles of a dozen Salvador Dali paintings. If ever there was going to be a rock album that fit this painting, it was Lessons, with its rather elevated aspirations and shots of lyrical strangeness throughout.
So when it came time to suggest a cover for my new anthology of science fiction stories, Garro, and Buttercrucifly, came instantly to mind. Part of it was nostalgia, of course, the marking of an era for myself as an artist, and the continuity of my transition from the musical medium to the literary. But once again, the thematic correlation could not be ignored. So much of the symbolism and imagery of Garro’s painting bear a synchronistic relationship to my work and specifically these stories. It’s as if we are caught in a similar aesthetic orbit, by no means intentional or consciously directed, but still every bit as real and inexorable for all that.
I hope that those songs from another time, and now these stories, honor Garro half as much as being able to use his work has honored me. And it’s with humble gratitude that I look forward to sharing this book with all of you.
Ahh, PS: I have no idea if any of those old TV Boy videos still exist in the world. But there’s at least one that can be found, and that’s the one with Garro as the mad clown. There’s also a fittingly brutal bar fight spilling out into the street in this video, and no, it was not staged. But that’s a story for another time.