I was born in 1954 in Sacramento, California. I am descended from pioneers who arrived in the Sacramento Valley in 1846 before the Gold Rush. The year after that, they helped rescue the Donner Party survivors, whom they had trekked with on the way West.
Hardship, heroism, tragedy--it's a great story, and even true. But lingering over it would slow us down, so we will move on. Read about it here.
My grandfather was an insurance and real estate salesman who also spent a few seasons in the 1920's as a carnival barker with a traveling sideshow. He brought his wife and sons along. Before Tod Browning's "Freaks" debuted on movie screens in 1932, my dad grew up knowing JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy, and his toddler brother, my uncle Bill, was coddled and teased by the Midget Girl.
It was only a brief interlude, this period of traveling with the carnival, but I have to think it lent spice to our otherwise bland Middle-American family, setting it apart. There's some dark rye in our white bread, some Angostura bitters, some Tabasco, in our Campbell's Tomato Soup.
Like the young Ray Bradbury, irresistibly drawn to the carnival that visited his hometown one autumn day, and seized by the blue-sparking hands of Mr. Electrico, who commanded him to "Live FOREVER!" we've been Touched. Once you've been Touched by the Great Mystery, by the great, indefinable Hoo-Hah, you're blessed—and cursed—forever.
And I am the inheritor of that boon. Some will understand what I mean. Others may have to work harder. But they'll get it.
Let's just say I'm perfectly ordinary, which I am. To understand me, just realize that I'm just like you. Except I'm not.
My grandfather died in 1935, the year my father graduated from high school two years early. It was the Depression and the family needed a breadwinner. Fortunately the Southern Pacific Railroad was still hiring. He went to work at the big rail yard in Sacramento and never left.
My father was a man of largely unrealized talents. He was bright and an avid reader, devouring up to three books a week for years. He was an early science fiction fan. He was a 32º Mason. He could sing. He could whistle beautifully and do quick, accurate arithmetic in his head. He was a large man, over six feet and 300 pounds, and in his prime, possessed of great physical strength.
He had a hot temper that was the flipside of his usually affable nature. He was a talker, a natural entertainer, a drinker, a bon-vivant, an appreciator of music and beautiful women, a joiner, a compulsive glad-hander; yet also painfully shy.
At 52, his heart worn out, he died. He deserved more.
My mother was always supportive of my artistic inclinations, although she wasn't particularly artistic herself. But her mother apparently had an artistic sensibility, or so I gather. I never knew her myself, as she died the year I was born.
But this picture shows a beauty with a certain look to her; a soulful gaze emanating from those big dark eyes. Exotic, for a girl born to English parents. But they were from Cornwall. And Cornwall, like Wales, is different.
My brother and sister are from the same bloodline, but in them, conventionality overrules the mad streak. Consequently, they have more of the benefits that accrue from years of noses pressed to the grindstone while adhering to societal norms: family, work, lives well spent. I love them dearly, and the fact that neither is quite as warped as I am is probably for the best. One mutant per family is probably enough.
We have now come to the point in the narrative where the protagonist may rightfully make his appearance. And here he is! I grew up the spoiled third child of adoring parents who had working class incomes but middle-class aspirations. The neighborhood, an old one, was already headed downhill economically when I arrived. And it was racially diverse. As a white kid, I was a member of a racial minority at my elementary school (which, synchronistically enough, was named Donner Elementary, for the people my ancestors had helped rescue). I probably acquired greater perspective from this fact.
But what was outside--the street--was less important to my development than what was inside--books, the television set, and the culture and nurturing I got from my parents. Long before I could read, I was already absorbing knowledge from the great glassy Eye that was always on, illuminating the room, and me; bathing my vulnerable, developing brain in the ghostly light of its cathode-ray tube. I learned a lot from that idiot box.
The World Flowed Into My Brain Through a Philco Television Set
My consciousness developed rapidly, although unevenly. I could appreciate humor and clever repartee aimed at adults, although my understanding of some key adult concerns was still quite incomplete. The actual mechanics of sex, for example, were still pretty foggy. However, with my dad's unabashed admiration of such beauties of the era as Rhonda Fleming and Anita Ekberg as a model, I had no trouble realizing that I too liked the way women looked.
Reading instruction in the early 60's in California was dominated by an idiotic system called "Look-Say," which discounted actually learning how the letters of the alphabet could be used to make any word you wished (phonetics, "phonics") in favor of rote visual memorization of words as blocks. As a result of this willful disregard of good sense, most kids were having trouble learning to read, and despite my, um, FORMIDABLE INTELLIGENCE, I was no exception. I was getting toward the end of first grade, but I was still a lousy reader.
This shocked and disgusted my father, who expected any son of his to be able to read at least. So, as the family legend goes, one day he sat me down, got my undivided attention, explained that if I wanted to be able to read, I needed to memorize the sounds of the letters; sounded them out for me, drilled me with examples, and didn't let me go until I had it. I honestly have no memory of this momentous teaching session. But the way my mother always told it, one session was apparently enough.
Improvement thereafter was rapid, if not actually immediate as claimed. I soon could read; haltingly at first, then zooming into fluency. My speaking vocabulary already was good, but now the world of the printed word was open to me.
Apparently this happened in 1961. Now I could not only read kids' books more easily, I could read real books. My parents bought me one of those profusely-illustrated, multi-volume kids' encyclopedia sets--"The Young People's Science Encyclopedia"--and I plowed through it. A substantial part of my foundation of basic knowledge--that I've used ever since, and that will, if I'm ever chosen, allow me to do well on "Jeopardy!" or "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"--was acquired then, from those books, when I was seven, eight, and nine years old.
I had other favorites. An illustrated book of the world's mammals, and another of reptiles and amphibians, inspired me to try to create my own bestiary, with drawings stuck in an old picture album. Derivative, yes, but you gotta start somewhere. Give me a break. I was a kid.
I was becoming me. I had a long way to go, but in some fundamental ways, I've been an adult since then, or at least since I was ten. To the extent that I can actually remember what it felt like to be me, it seems that I still feel about the same. As a child, I was like an adult. As an adult, I am in some ways like a child. I don't know what it means. I only know that it's true.
Well, we've arrived at 1963, or thereabouts, and my art has matured enough that the later me is apparent. This biography's dragging, so let's pick up the pace from here. This isn't the life story of EveryBoomer, so we'll leave out some of the more universal influences that everyone remembers.
If I leave something out, like who was President, don't assume I wasn't aware of it. As you might have guessed by now, I'm aware of everything. But we've got to restrict ourselves at least somewhat to the artistic sphere, or this thing will be longer than "War and Peace."
I've devoted so much space to pop culture, literature and science that you might wonder when the influence of fine art itself starts to make itself felt. I'm not really sure. My awareness of art as an important human endeavor started very early. I couldn't tell you when I first heard of Da Vinci, for example, or saw a reproduction of the "Mona Lisa." Some of the moderns, who don't yet occupy quite such an elevated position in the pantheon of art achievement, took longer to impress themselves on me. But they too made their way into my mind somewhere in this period. I'm sure that by fourth grade, I knew who Vincent Van Gogh was.
Travel, in the form of family vacations, was another stimulus for my intellectual growth. Even though we were never affluent, vacations were always a priority. My brother and sister remember regular trips to Santa Cruz. I have some recollection, but remember our stay at a cabin in Pinecrest (in the Sierras) better. Longer vacations followed, after my brother and sister left home and more income entered the discretionary column. In 1962 we traveled up the coast: through the redwoods, on to Oregon, through Washington to the Seattle World's Fair. It was a thrill. Science, art, architecture, fun rides--I loved it. The World of the Future! I must admit though, that even then, despite my naiveté, I had doubts about some aspects of this future world (which never quite came to be and now is our past; the future isn't what it used to be). When I toured the Monsanto House of the Future (a plastic foam bubble straight out of "The Jetsons"), it seemed too unnatural to me and unhealthy somehow. Too sterile, too corporate, too...plastic!
From Seattle we went on to Victoria, British Columbia and Vancouver. My mother enjoyed the "veddy, veddy British" character of the Empress Hotel. We had tea and crumpets in the dining room. I guess it tells you something about me that I had heard of "crumpets" at that age (eight).
Later in the Sixties we further explored the West: Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, and shorter trips in Northern California: Mt. Lassen, the Mendocino Coast, the Trinity Alps. My mom worked for the State of California as a fingerprint file clerk in the Department of Criminal Investigation and Identification, and couldn't always coordinate her vacation time to match my dad's (nor did she enjoy travel to hot, dry or adventurous places), so went to Southern California, the Mojave Desert, and Baja California by ourselves.
We made the SoCal trip in style, thanks to my dad's good friend Bob Novak, who'd become quite successful in the scrap metal business. Like my dad, Mr. Novak was a big, imposing fat man—6'2" and up to 400 lbs. at his biggest. But he was just as generous as he was big. More than once, he'd given my dad expensive clothes he'd outgrown.
But more than that, he loaned us one of his cars for this trip, a 1962 Cadillac convertible, white with red interior a luxurious land yacht with giant, rakish tail fins. We returned it in good condition, of course.
I imagine Mr. Novak is gone now, but I'd like to say thanks for what he did for us. He was a man to be respected, a mensch. I will always remember him, and that car.
After my dad retired on disability in 1970 he had more free time, so we did a major Northwestern trip by car, boat (and even some rail) that took us as far as Fairbanks, Alaska. My mom flew up to Seattle-Tacoma Airport to meet us and together we drove back home. It was a good trip, and the last travel adventure he ever had.
Having established that I was shaped and invigorated by travel, with an ongoing passion for art, science and nature, let me return to the wellspring of popular culture, which is deceptively deep. All art goes to the subconscious, to that realm Jung called the collective unconscious and Campbell the world of archetypal myth. As a conduit to the deepest dreams (and nightmares) within our being, all art and culture, whether "high" or "low," serve a similar purpose. So let's look at TV, movies, and genre fiction again.
"The Outer Limits" generally lacked the whimsy so often found on "The Twilight Zone," but it was often scary as hell and damn good. "The Man From Uncle" was big for me. I already could appreciate that it was a satirical version of James Bond (I'd thrilled to "Goldfinger" in 1964 and in fact was starting to read the Fleming novels), but watered down for TV. Loved it anyway.
Speaking of Bond: I read "Thunderball" before I saw the 1965 film version. I was disappointed that it left out the subtleties of what was Ian Fleming's most-sensitively-written book. Blofeld was badly cast (he's never been portrayed accurately to this day), and Domino wasn't a blonde. But Claudine Auger was magnificent and I was heavily in lust with her.
Back to books; let's acknowledge some greats. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe. Books, more books: Like my dad, I was a science fiction fan, and he introduced me to the work of such luminaries as Isaac Asimov ("The Good Doctor"), Arthur C. Clarke, and his special favorite, Robert A. Heinlein.
Heinlein's idiosyncratic mixture of "right-wing" and "left-wing" impulses, unified by a theme of individual liberty, never seemed impossibly contradictory to me. It felt right to me—I have the same tension of opposites myself.
Right wing, left wing. Left brain, right brain. Rationalism, mysticism. Science, magic. I wanted both. I am both.
More movies, the good and even great: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Invaders from Mars," "The War of the Worlds," "Them," "The Day the Earth Stood Still." TV: "The Invaders ("...architect David Vincent has seen them!"), all the old horror classics from Universal: all the "Frankenstein films, the "Mummy" series, the "Dracula" films, "The Invisible Man" movies; "The Wolfman," "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."
How about the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller? Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane? (Lovely!) The original version of "One Million B.C.?" Victor Mature as rugged Tumak, of the Rock People? Curvaceous Carole Landis as his mate, Loana of the Shell People? (My favorite in this role. Sorry, Raquel!)
Or how about this one, an early memory: 50's sci-fi with a wonderfully lurid title--"Devil Girl From Mars." A Martian dominatrix. Can't hardly beat that, can you? In the words of Joe Bob Briggs, check it out.
To be truthful, I'd watch anything with a monster in it, including Godzilla, "Rodan," and other Japanese movies from Toho Studios with guys in rubber monster suits trampling miniatures of Tokyo. Plus, of course, "classic" American-made, B-movie schlock, many from Roger Corman, James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff: "Invasion of the Saucer Men," "The Amazing Colossal Man, the truly atrocious "Giant Claw" (a giant bird, looking like a Dr. Seuss creation, but composed of antimatter. Don't blame me--I didn't make it, I just watched it.)
Giant spiders. A giant mantis. A giant Gila monster. Giant grasshoppers. Anything giant.
Anything small: "The Incredible Shrinking Man," etc. Anything irradiated, mutated, enlarged to super size or absurdly shrunken. Anything from another world, another dimension, a lost world, a lost continent, under the sea, deep in the earth. Anything alien. Anything Other.
I saw a lot of these throughout the 60's, but I got a concentrated dose in the latter half of the decade. My initiator into this fantastic world was a witty, mild-mannered local TV personality named Bob Wilkins, he of the droll understatement, big cigar and bigger rocking chair. He looked and sounded like a bank clerk who hadn't yet successfully gone through puberty, but to his legion of fans, he was a star, and most importantly, a friend you could count on every lonely Saturday night.
If you were one of us, you know.
More TV: "The Addams Family" was brilliant, funny, endearingly strange. "The Munsters," on the other hand, was dumb. I watched them both.
How could I leave out "Star Trek?" I can't. Finally, a good science fiction show on television. Sure, I watched "Lost in Space," but I resented the contempt for the genre that was so evident. Besides, Irwin Allen never missed an opportunity to recycle a kelp monster from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (TV version: see 1961 movie version) by recasting it in "Lost in Space" as a beast from another planet. Same kelp. Okay, maybe they glued on some more rubber hoses and some eyeballs, but it was the same monster.
"Star Trek" was another matter--still sometimes cheesy, but at least in the same ballpark as written SF. It helped that they occasionally used scripts by giants in the field, like Theodore Sturgeon and Harlan Ellison. But while on the topic of Star Trek, I must admit one thing: despite the quality of the writing, acting, the production values, the single thing that had the most impact on me when I saw it was Nancy Kovack as Nona, the ill-fated barbarian sexpot. OMG! If puberty wasn't already in progress (it was) seeing her would have definitely given it a jumpstart.
Give me a barbarian queen in a fur bikini and I'm happy.
And speaking of fur and barbarians...we can't leave out the sword and sandal pictures. All my life I've pursued knowledge, but despite being a rather poor natural athlete, I've also pursued strength, and muscles. Can't say I have either, even yet, but I'm still trying. So naturally I'm also a fan of muscleman movies--Hercules, Goliath, Samson, you name it. It was a given in our house that of course a guy would want to have muscles and be strong. My dad never had a good build, but at least he'd been strong as a young man, before he got sick with a heart condition. My brother, my dad and I agreed: Steve Reeves as Hercules had the ultimate male body, "the body beautiful." Of course, it took work to get a body like that, and generally speaking, we were too lazy to do what it took to even come close. But that was the body we wanted to have.
Years later, I actually did don a fake-fur, one-shoulder strap, generic strongman/caveman outfit, stand on a stage with chains wrapped around my wrists and rip them apart. Of course, they were very weak chains. Steel, though. You try it. It still takes some effort.
Okay, back to the late Sixties. By now I'm in junior high, an underachieving misfit, and due to lack of motivation my grades are so poor the school brings in a psychologist to give me an I.Q. test, to determine if the kid is lazy or just a moron.
The verdict: not a moron. High end of gifted. 150, to put a number on it. Well, that was reassuring, but I think seventh grade was just too much of a readjustment, in any case. I finally had gotten the hang of elementary school, as a mature sixth-grader, then had to get used to junior high. The "A"s in sixth became "D"s and even "F"s. The fact is, I've always been rather slow to mature in terms of integrating all the factors that are necessary for functional success, despite showing flashes of brilliance early.
I guess that's why I didn't get around to creating this site until now, at 50. Better late than never, eh?
Whoosh! There goes high school. (No, it wasn't subjectively fast—it felt like a long, long time, like it does for everybody. But this bio is getting way too long, and you're probably itching to get to the end. See? I care.)
I didn't start asking girls out until the last semester in high school. I'd been waiting to get taller, slimmer, and better-looking. I did (a little), but also realized that time was running out. As it always is, at any age. As it is right now. Anyway, I started too late. Those I asked, said no. Those who earlier would probably have said yes, I had ignored.
College (Sacramento City College): I grow my mustache for the first time and keep it for the next thirty years. (It's back, BTW. What I saw when I went clean-shaven in 2003 frightened me so much I grew it back, plus a goatee.)
I continued adding to my store of knowledge and understanding. Don't underestimate the value of freshman and sophomore courses (General Education requirements), taken at a community college, if the teachers care (they did), and the student is paying attention (I was). The foundation of learning I had been building since birth now got some rugged middle stories.
Some Paintings I Did During This Period
It's time I acknowledged some formal art influences. First, some historical influences, including some outside the sphere of Western civilization: Cro-Magnon cave paintings; Babylonian bas-relief; Aztec, Mayan, and African art; Tlinget Indian totem carvings; Maori art; Egyptian art and civilization; the mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome;Norse and Celtic mythologies; Byzantine mosaics; cathedral gargoyles; Chinese landscape painting; Chinese and Japanese calligraphy.
For influences nearer to my own time and place, I have found kinship with such artists as Da Vinci, Hieronymous Bosch, James Ensor, Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Paul Jenkins, and Joseph Raffael. And the list could go on. At every stage of my life, I have absorbed visual ideas, along with the concepts that go with them--"memes," to use a buzzword popular a few years ago. All artists ingest art, digest it, and then secrete a substance derived from the art consumed. I am no different.
I haven't said anything about my development as a writer. I wrote a little fiction in junior high (that I will spare you), wrote some humor and miscellany for the school paper in high school, took creative writing courses in high school and college, wrote some more fiction, but didn't write anything I considered of professional quality till 1986, when I was 32 years old. It simply took me that long to mature.
Even then I just put them in a drawer and didn't start submitting them until 1993, when I made a serious attempt to get published. I wanted a credit as a professional fiction writer and I didn't care what genre. I wasn't finicky. I surveyed the market, wrote some more stories, and started sending them out.
To my disappointment, the science fiction/fantasy/horror stories--my attempt to play in the same league as my heroes--didn't sell. But my comedy erotica did. For two years I was a fixture in some (impressively) sleazy but nationally-distributed, large-circulation publications, under a pseudonym I don't care to divulge. Rent this movie to see my gorgeous editor. Strong women are a good thing, especially if they buy your stuff.
I eventually lost interest in being a sleazoid comedy hack, but might get back into it someday. It was, after all, a form of my art that people liked enough to pay for. Cakes and biscuits may be nice, but nothing says love like cash.
As for the more "serious" fiction--well, I'm up for another round of rejection slips. Time to crank up the old idea machine and see what comes out.
Back to college, art, and life. I drifted through my later two years of college--three, actually. I was starting to lose interest in learning that wasn't self-structured. I drank and partied a little, like your average college student. My mother got cancer and took a year to die, finally succumbing in 1977. Losing my mother was hard on me, and I ended the '76 year a few credits shy of graduation.
One bright spot in '76: I finally went out with a girl who was willing to go all the way. (About time! And the antidote to death is sex, as we all know. Or love. Or both, if you can get them.)
In '77 I made up the necessary credits. True story: I had failed to show for Human Sexuality in '76, and so had gotten an incomplete. For some reason, the only way to remove it was to attend some Human Sexuality classes at another local college. But as I recall, I didn't make it to enough of THOSE, and the "incomplete" converted to an "F!"
And this was after I'd finally done some advanced course work, some "field work," so to speak. Oh, the irony!
But the credits I did get put me over the top, although my GPA had suffered. I was now a graduate, but didn't know what to do with myself. I tried getting into the master's program at the University of California at Davis, but wasn't accepted. I applied at my alma mater, California State University, Sacramento ("Sac State"); didn't make the cut there either. I was hurt by this, so I gave up on the idea of pursuing a master's.
My rejection actually gave me a big boost toward solidifying my identity as a serious artist. In 1978, depressed because a girlfriend had left town, I put on a manic spurt, going on a production spree that resulted in most of the early "shaped canvases" you see documented here. 1979 was similarly productive. I took my art to the marketplace, making the rounds of galleries with slidebook in hand. I started having shows.
I met my wife Julie (who put this site together; she's my technical expert on all things computer-related, and without her, I'm lost) in 1979, and continued to have shows through the late 80's. I was probably on the verge of becoming locally known when I started withdrawing from the art scene. I'd painted a lot in those years, and I wondered if I'd had too much chemical exposure. But the main problem was that success wasn't coming at a fast enough rate. I ran out of enthusiasm.
In 1996 I discovered a new artistic outlet, the yearly Burning Man festival.
It offers almost unlimited potential for self-expression (I've barely scratched the surface), but zero opportunity for financial gain. Totally non-commercial. Totally for its own sake. It would take artists to invent such a thing, wouldn't it? A temporary utopia that COSTS money to participate in and doesn't make you back ANY. A celebration of transient experience. It's perfectly useless, in any practical sense. So of course I love it.
Burning Man inspired me to try performance, first for free at the event (Zagmianda Sideshow, BMan 1999), then later for pay, in a San Francisco bar with the Technomania Circus. Training for the first, I got impatient in the gym and ruptured a disk in my lower back. Doing the second, in 2002, I re-ruptured the disk doing my stunt of bursting out of a wooden crate. Well, them's the breaks. But I got myself a credit as a paid performer. Woo hoo! I'm a carny now too!
Yeah, I'm into performance now. Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup. Since 2000, I've been making a serious attempt to get on "Jeopardy!" and since last year, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" I've never had a problem passing the test, but haven't yet gotten the call. Hopefully this website hasn't scared away the talent coordinators permanently. "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people LIKE me!"
I'll keep trying, and if I ever get on, and especially if I win, you can all read about it here, on the Web's vainest of all vanity projects. Since crawling back into the womb is not an option, I must go forward, to climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every byway, till I find my dream.