"I May Not Be God, But At Least I'm Real"

Merkley??? or the fourth Bee Gee???

I don't think I have ever laughed so much or gotten so philosophical during and interview – and to think, I have never even met Merkley??? in person. I think there's something here for everyone: music, art, photography, politics, and philososphy; so feel free to skip to the parts you like, or read the whole thing. Needless to say, I had lots of fun doing this interview (all via email) and I sure as heck hope you have as much fun reading it. As always, the interview speaks for itself more than I could ever speak for it.

You are a man of many trades: Painting, photography, music, (sculpture?), writing, producing, landlord, and bullshit detector. Bullshit dectector? Why must you detect bullshit? Isn't bullshit smelly?
Yes, Bullshit stinks. I don't like it. I don't like it one bit. People can disagree, but it's not necessary to drop a load of made up crap just to get people to go your way. If you haven't got the chops to persuade with logic and reason – or at the very least something so ridiculous it merits experiment, then your poop will be detected, and in it, your long ass lying nose will be rubbed.

Yum. Does this ever wear you out? I find that everyone has been full of shit at least once in their lives and there are, what, 3-4 billion people around*. Where do you draw the line? What kind of bullshit merits your attention over another?
My own bullshit is target one. Bullshit that affects my freedom is target two. The rest is pure enjoyment.

What medium do you use in your paintings? How big are they, typically?
Mechanical pens with various transparent pigments laid on top – or sometimes just oils and acrylics – whatever is handy really. I don't really like to work big. Big kinda bugs, not very practical. I also find that a lot of people are fooled by the schisters who paint really big paintings with very small ideas. I keep my small ideas small, easy to carry and hang over your toilet.

Why so many old men, (old curmudgeons?)?
I think they are funny. Authority is funny to me. I grew up Mormon and there are a lot of old curmudgeons sludging around making commands and such. Most of the time when I draw I try to entertain myself. Old things and people are much more interesting to me, they have more stories to tell, or in this case, for me to invent. They are all pretend. I can invent any story I want and nobody gets hurt. Painting is hard. I never really look forward to it. I mostly do it to prove to myself that I can. It's totally masochistic.

Do you ever feel like an old curmudgeon?
I looked up curmudgeon just to be sure. "An ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions". Not me. I'm sweet and handsome and filled to the brim with love and honey. I have no idea where you got that idea – you're the mother fucking ill-tempered one. I completely resent the god dammed lame accusation. What are you, some kind of asshole? Of course you are. You're ALL ASSHOLES!! I am right about this. I am ALWAYS right. YOU CANNOT CHANGE MY MIND DAMMIT!! Now shut-up.

Can you possibly invision what you'll be like when you're, say 72?
I will have uploaded my soul into the internet by then. I plan on being immortal by age 60.

How do you think being raised Mormon has affected who you are and what you do today? What is your take on Mormonism?
Mormonism is just another religion. I don't believe in any religion as I am an atheist. I meet people all the time who were raised inside a religion and then left. I find I have a lot in common with most of these people. Certain ideas contained within certain religious cultures are nice, but they belong to humanity not any given religion. I miss certain social aspects of organized religion, getting together often, talking about common beliefs and what have you. But the thought that I ever dedicated myself to Mormonism completely baffles me now. It all seems so obvious from the outside. I do love my ex-Mormon brothers and sisters – especially when alcohol is involved.

What were you like in high school?
I think I was a little out of place in high school (isn't everyone?). I always felt much older than my peers. My teachers seemed to feel the same. My grades weren't very good but I still had a free pass to do whatever I wanted. I wasn't a hooligan, I was a good, breakdancing, new wave, Mormon boy who knew what he was going to do with his life. I was always the star of the school assemblies, I was winning all the art contests with mostly hyper-realistic paintings, I really excelled in drama and creative writing. I always got the sense that my teachers felt that I didn't need much teaching. I'm still in contact with a few who tell me that they we're always confident that I would be fine. I wish they would have told me that then. I seriously would have dropped out. I hated high school. So many Morons always acting tough. The only thing I really *learned* in high school is how to deal with complete assholes. That's valuable I guess.

What can you tell us about your photography?
Photography is great. I always loved photography but I have this disease that causes me to be:

a. A totally cheap bastard.
b. Completely unable to take film in to be developed and
c. Unwilling to let others do in a dark room what I can do with photoshop.

Digital cameras are what got me back into it. I suppose I take a similar approach to photography as I do with my paintings although it's much more instantly gratifying. Even the big complicated collage photoshopped photos that take me days or weeks to finish have more immediate gratification. I always hate my paintings until the last finishing touches. I never dread photoshop like I dread painting. Painting is so messy – all those paints and markers laying around and getting lost in the couch like a bunch of idiots. Holy crap I love my Powerbook.

Also, I like to make photographs reflect my perception of my subjects. Whoever said a photo never lies was full of shit. A photograph is the biggest lie around. When was the last time you stayed completely frozen for a hundred years? Photographs don't represent reality. The reality in my portraits comes from my experience with the subject. Unfortunately a camera cannot capture the attention I give to moving, living, people, that's why manipulation is necessary. My photoshopped photographs represent reality more than your average zit filled photo. No zit lives forever. Life is too short to look stupid or ugly in a photo. Fuck that shit.

Are you still making music or are you focusing on producing other musicians?
I have a big project that is uuuhhh coming along, It is a big one and involves all of the various mediums I use. Music, painting, writing, sculpture, film etc... I have been chipping away at it for many years and I think I can see light at the end of the tunnel. But in between, I still like to produce other artists such as my buddy Quinn aka Bing Ji Ling and his brother who has a project called "The Early Hours". Quinn and I have been producing some stuff as a duo under the name Kreme Kul. I am also producing some new Von Iva music this week. Quinn is in China so I'm doing it all by myself. Producing other stuff is fun. I like to pull out those really good performances and ideas from the people I work with. I view myself as more of a coach sometimes, making people do it over and over until they do it as good as they possibly can. I don't stand for laziness in anyone besides myself. I'm the only one allowed to be lazy.

What's this big project? Or is this top secret, classified information?
I never talk about my personal projects until they are complete. I don't like getting any guff for changing my mind. Besides, you'll steal my ideas and make billions of dollars.

Why do you think you're lazy? What, are you crazy? You are frightfully prolific. Is this humility, or just a big joke?
I know people who get up early, exercise, raise kids, put in a 10 or 11 hour day at work and then come home to create more, then they have the energy to take a vacation. UGh. Making my stupid art doesn't take near the physical energy. For the most part, what I do is fun and therefore very easy. Trust me, I really am lazy. I hate standing. I don't even like sitting up. I'd rather just lie down, fire up the laptop and create. Sometimes the tv will stay on the same channel for days because the remote is out of reach.

It is very rare to see such a creative person as a proponent for capitalism; could you please explain why you promote the capitalist system?
I wouldn't say that it is rare at all. We may have different ideas about what is creative. As far as art goes, I think it is pretty much self serving bullshit. Art is where cowards hide from accountability. The really creative people are inventing new technologies and cures for diseases where it is completely obvious who got it right and who fucked up. In art a coward can always just say to his critics "Fuck off, you're just stupid. You don't get it." That doesn't work if your O-Ring fails and the Space Shuttle blows up.

Hm, yeah, but I think this is more of a semantics argument here. I absolutely agree about the differing kinds of creativity. I absolutely agree about accountability and the merits of more functional forms of creativity. Since you bring it up, though, I have to dive a little deeper into it. As an artist, how do you account for your accountability?
Well, like i said, as far as my art goes, there is no accountability. If someone doesn't like it. They are RIGHT. One is always right when voicing an opinion about art. It's completely subjective. But I don't consider myself to be merely an artist. I probably hold myself up for the most scrutiny when I discuss politics and public policy. I also preach a lot and give a lot of advice. You can only steer people wrong so many times before they lose your number. That isn't to say that I am trying to measure up to the people who really do lay their lives on the line for invention, freedom and progress. I actually do admire people who actually make or protect the things that make my life enjoyable. The men and women fighting in the Middle East are far more important than me in the long run.

And before you ask, yes I am excited about the whole Middle East thing. I have always supported the war. I only wish our leaders would have been more upfront with the whole philosophy behind it. It's a philosophy that I support whole heartedly.

It's not capitalism alone that I like. It's LIFE on Earth I like. And it doesn't really need promoting. It's gonna happen no matter what. I think it is pretty clear to anyone who bothers to look closely – or who backs up far enough to get a good view, that capitalism isn't, as you put it, a "system" invented and owned by man but rather, a natural phenomenon owned and utilized as the method of survival by all living things. I'm not so ignorant or self-absorbed to consider myself to be outside the bounds of nature. We can either fight against it or accept it, work with it, make it work for us. The only way one can actually, truthfully, fully divorce themselves from capitalism is to commit suicide. And even then some worm will be digesting your eyeball for fuel to make more and more worms. Everybody is looking for a niche – an edge. That's life dood.

Ooo! More semantics! The word, system, doesn't intrinsically imply man-made. All of life: ecology, cities, transportation, information distribution, etc are all considered "systems." They are all natural manifestations and I think that we English speaking humans use the word, system, as a kind of catch-all term. I WILL say that capitalism is much more natural, darwinistic creature than what we like to CALL ouselves here in America, ie, a Democracy. I find capitalism to be veerry, very interesting and personally perfer to prance around in it and work within it and look at it and poke at it, than just sit there and scowl because it takes too much initiative, energy and creativity to make it work for me. That's just me. But in MY experience, the majority of the arty-farty types I have come across have been very vocal about hating the "system" and capitalism. There are a lot of things that suck about it, mainly, I feel for those who are at the bottom. I have fantasized about a utopian world where every one was taken care of equally and no one went hungry or were overworked, beaten, or marginalized. But the hard, cold truth is, human nature will never, ever allow it. We are competative, and power affects us in ways that aren't typically viewed as postive. That's life dood indeed.

I think, though, that the people with the paintbrushes and pens and big mouths are necessary as a kind of checks and balances to keep the beasts of power and money from going too far. Their sway is natural, too. In all of us, there is the potential to go either way and each of us has different limitations and tolerances and different things that we find acceptable. From my perspective, no one is really right and no one is wrong. It's all funny to no end.

Like I said, when an artist takes on politics – THEN, he becomes something other than an artist. THEN there IS accountability. Philosophy 101 will shine a light on nihilism, it's an awesome idea. It's the idea that justifies and gives me license to *pretend* that some things do matter, and those things are whatever the fuck I decide they are. Why not??

There is a book I can recommend. I't called BIONOMICS. Google it mann.

A big, big question that I always have for artists and musicians is, WHY. What drives you to create?
I have thought about this and I think artists and people who create feel the need to examine themselves from across the room or across the street or from space. We make things so that we can stand at a distance and say – wow – look what I did. I have value. Love me.

*[Did I say 3-4? I meant 6.5 billion people. Damn, it's getting crowded...]

What is there to love about Merkley??? Take a look at his website. There's lots of stuff there. It could take days to see everything. You could also just go straight to one of my favorite stories of his (perhaps of all time.)

By Heather Bowden, March 2005