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PM Authors & Contributors @ The Left Forum June 8th-9th

Stop by the Left Forum for challenging panels and engaging presentations by these PM Authors & Contributors & Hundreds of others. Also remember to stop by the exhibition room and check out our new releases including Peter Kuper's Drawn to New York, among others.

For more information on the Left Forum, click HERE.

Saturday, June 8th

Session 1
10am-11.50am 
Room: LHN

The Making of Global Capitalism

In this conversation, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin demonstrate the intimate relationship between modern capitalism and the American state, including its role as an “informal empire” promoting free trade and capital movements.

Chair:
Nicole Aschoff    

Speakers:
Leo Panitch        
Sam Gindin            
Joshua Freeman

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Session 1
10am-11.50am 
Room: W521

The Theory of One-Dimensional Society, the Specter of Climate Collapse, and Prospects for Social Transformation

Following the presentation of theories of reification advanced by György Lukács in his History and Class Consciousness (1923), and continuing his colleagues’ investigations into the "culture industry" of late capitalism (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944), German critical theorist Herbert Marcuse famously came to declare advanced-industrial society as being one-dimensional (One-Dimensional Man, 1964): a world marked by the absence of opposition to prevailing trends, with the stipulated integration of the Marxian proletariat into capitalism and generalized social conformity. This panel will examine the contemporary relevance of Marcuse’s analysis of one-dimensionality, particularly as regards the ever-worsening climatic and environmental crises, driven as they are by the exigencies of the capitalist machine and, crucially, its seemingly widespread acceptance among the U.S. populace at large (the U.S. being the single largest contributor to this problem historically). Dialectically, though, this panel will also attempt to explore the chances for a sustained "ecological general strike," as is being currently formulated by the I.W.W., prosecuted by the masses residing within the world-system’s imperialist core, in accordance with their responsibilities, as theorized by tendencies like autonomous Marxism. Panelists will also seek to examine the contributions permaculture can provide in the struggle for a decentralized, anti-authoritarian resolution to the climate crisis.

Chair:
Javier Sethness Castro   

Speakers:       
Sky Cohen            
Jani Benjamins             
Quincy Saul

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Session 1
10:00am - 11:50am
Room: W604

The Revolution of Everyday Life: Are Situationist Ideas Still Relevant?

PM Press have recently published a completely revised translation of Raoul Vaneigem's "classic of subversion," The Revolution of Everyday Life. Vaneigem's book offers a lyrical and aphoristic critique of the "society of the spectacle" from the point of view of individual experience. If Debord's analysis armed the revolutionaries of May with theory, Vaneigem's book described their desperation directly and armed them with "formulations capable of firing point-blank on our enemies." Donald Nicholson-Smith will discuss the technical and politico-cultural difficulties confronted by the translator of critical texts such as those of the Situationist International. Is such translation really possible, or does the "target" (English-speaking) culture inevitably alter and reinvent the original (French) one for its own purposes? Donald Nicholson-Smith will discuss the value (or not) of the book now that it is almost half a century old with Chris Winks, a connoisseur of the Situationist International and its sequelae. The discussion will be chaired by Eddie Yuen.

Chair:
Eddie Yuen

Speakers:
Chris Winks
Donald Nicholson-Smith
Hari Kunzru

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Session 1
10:00am - 11:50am
Room: W522

World War 3 Illustrated 33 years of confrontational comix

Since 1980 World War 3 illustrated has been addressing personal and political ideas using the medium of comics to illustrate these ideas. The magazine has been an historical document of our history from Reagan to Obama as well as international history. Founding editors and on-going contributors will discuss this history and our future with visual presentations.

Chair:
Peter Kuper

Speakers:
Seth Tobocman
Sabrina Jones
Sandy Jimenez

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Session 1
10am - 11:50am
Room: W503

Penal states, Border choreography, Bare bodies

Statistics show that prisons, detention centers, solitary camps, border deaths and movement of immigrants through illegal pathways have increased exponentially with restrictive and selective regularization mechanisms in the EU and settlers states such as United States and Canada. Politics of difference, xenophobia, islamophobia, global war on terror, nationalism, and imperialism coincides with the increase in discrimination and sequestering of immigrant populations. Therefore this panel explores: legality/illegality, precarity of clandestine immigrant workers and immigrant autonomy through collaborative convergence of clandestine immigrants with immigrant-justice groups, autonomous Marxist/anarchist and native activist groups.

Chair:
Terran Giacomini

Speakers:
Matt Meyer
Matt Graber
Sutapa Chattopadhyay
Thanu Yakupitiyage

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Session 1
10:00am - 11:50am
Room: E325

Left Wing Noir: High Crimes and Misdemeanors

A group of progressive crime writers discuss the importance of incorporating economic, environmental and other crimes in their novels and stories, in a popular genre with a long history of social commentary, and the challenges of being a creative artist in a commercial medium that doesn't want to hear alternative views that run counter to the dominant Center-Right "mainstream" narrative.

Chair:
Kenneth Wishnia   

Speakers:
Steven Wishnia
Irene Marcuse
Lina Zeldovich
Kaylie Jones


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Session 2
12:00pm - 01:40pm
Room: LHN

State Theory and its practical orientation

An open discussion on Alvaro Garcia Lineras theory of the state with Stanley Aronowitz and Leo Panitch. 

Chair:
Stanley Aronowitz

Speakers:
Leo Panitch
Saskia Sassen  

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Session 2
12:00pm - 1:40pm
Room: W613

Primitive Accumulation in Light of the Current Onslaught of Austerity


This panel addresses the damage austerity is doing to the economy and society. Its backdrop will be Karl Marx's analysis of the role of classical primitive accumulation. For all its brutality, classical political accumulation may deserve some credit in promoting the development of capitalism's productive capacity. In contrast to classical primitive accumulation, the modern variant seems to be almost entirely extractive, feeding the voracious appetite of finance capital, by consuming what might otherwise nourish the lives of the people, including those parts of the public sector that serve human needs.

Chair:
Michael Perelman  

Speakers:

David McNally 
Michael Hudson

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Session 2
12:00pm - 1:40pm
Room: E303

Shrinking Financial Capital: Why and How?

We would like to have a facilitated discussion with Cathy O'Neil (from OWS alt. banking) and Doug Henwood (author of Wall Street) on why the financial sector is still a smart target for organized movements. What is finance capital's unique political and economic role in the economy? What tools do movements have for curbing its power in the medium-term? What is a long-term strategy for shrinking finance to bathtub-drownable levels?

Chair:
Suresh Naidu   

Speakers:
Cathy O'Neil  
Doug Henwood

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Session 3
3:40pm - 5:20pm
Room: E308

Labor: Stumbling Block or Ally in the Transition to Building an Ecologically Sustainable Economy?

The panel will discuss the important role of labor’s role in building the transition to an ecologically sustainable economy and some of the problems we face in a society where jobs are scarce. Panelists will include union activists and labor educators.

Chair:
Jenny Brown

Speakers:

Sam Gindin
Howie Hawkins        
Steve Downs

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Session 3
3:40pm - 5:20pm
Room: E329

Unpacking the University-National Security State-Corporate Complex


Our major universities, as key institutions serving corporate and state power and imperial “national interest,” are currently undergoing a transformation. While still rhetorically giving voice to the goals and expressed values of a liberal education -- those of openness, tolerance and democracy -- the modern university has increasingly become an essential component of the "university-national security state-corporate complex." In short, universities worldwide are being retooled to serve neoliberal ends and an offensive is currently underway to restructure the entire higher education system in service to capital and empire. The panel will examine various elements, illustrated by case studies, of that broader agenda.

Chair:
Liza Featherstone 

Speakers:
Steve Horn
Allen Ruff
Chris Hebdon

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Session 3
3:40pm - 5:20pm
Room: E322      

Ecofeminist Ecosocialism in Action: Perspectives on Contemporary Movements for a Planet Beyond Capitalism

This panel begins with the premise that a transition to an ecosocialist world society is possible only to the extent that the movement and its outcomes are ecofeminist in character. Our aim is to highlight ecofeminist dimensions of movements that seek ways beyond capitalism and crises. The panel participants address the following themes: How resistors set up direct deals to take control over energy, food and related parts of the political economy, how activists in the USA are organizing an ecofeminist, ecosocialist movement, and how and to what extent global social movements build convergence across gendered, ethnicized class and geographic borders as an alternative to the corporate and United Nations ‘green economy’ agenda. The panelists seek to contribute to a revolutionary feminist and ecofeminist analysis of contemporary social movements and problems in 21st century political economy.

Chair:
Terran Giacomini

Speakers:
Terisa Turner   
Abraham Mwaura     
Quincy Saul
Sutapa Chattopadhyay

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Session 4
5:30pm - 7:10pm
Room: Schimmel

Ecosocialism: Coming to a Horizon Near You

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other recent so-called natural disasters, many people on the Left are awaking to the magnitude of climate change, and to the importance of an ecological critique of capitalism. What is the next stage in the evolution of anti-capitalist thought, action, and organization, in this new era of climate chaos? What is the ecosocialist movement, and what is ecosocialism as a political and ideological orientation? Join some of the co-founders of Ecosocialist Horizons, a group that has been organizing around these questions for many years, nationally and internationally. We invite you to a join a conversation, an organization and a movement.

Chair:
Joel Kovel  

Speakers:
Quincy Saul
Kanya D'Almeida
Terran Giacomini
Abraham Mwaura 
Ben Barson
Terisa Turner
Leigh Brownhill     

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Session 4
5:30pm - 7:10pm
Beyond Bloomberg: The Future of New York

From his perch at City Hall and with the aid of both imperial wealth and an often imperious personality, Mayor Bloomberg has pushed a vision for the city that has charmed the chattering classes and confounded critics. What is the Bloomberg legacy and what progressive possibilities exist in the most unequal city in America? A conversation based on a special issue of The Nation. Featuring Doug Henwood, Kim Phillips-Fine, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, Josh Freeman and The Nation's Executive Editor, Betsy Reed.
            
Chair:
Betsy Reed         

Speakers:
Doug Henwood 
Joshua Freeman

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Session 4
5:30pm - 7:10pm
Room: W510

The Question of Strategy after Occupy

Panel Discussion

Chair:
Vivek Chibber

Speakers:
Barbara Epstein
Sam Gindin
Charles Post 
Michalis Spourdalakis 

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Session 4
5:30pm - 7:10pm
Room: W610

Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar Lopez RIvera

Chair:
Professor Ana M Lopez   

Speakers:
Jan Susler, Esq.  
Graciano Matos
Clarissa Lopez

Book: Oscar Lopez Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance by Oscar López Rivera
and edited by Luis Nieves Falcón    

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Session 4
5:30pm - 7:10pm
Room: W522

Politics and Literature: Victor Serge Today

After years of obscurity, Victor Serge is emerging as an exemplary figure, both as lifelong revolutionary and a major 20th Century novelist. Ignored in academia, Serge’s books command a growing ‘invisible international’ of readers. New translations and editions are appearing, including the first complete English translation of Serge’s classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary. In life, Serge incarnated many dualities: French/Russian, anarchist/Bolshevik, revolutionary propagandist/literary artist. At this round-table, Serge translators, scholars and members of the Brecht Forum Serge Study Group will discuss topics as diverse as Serge’s newly recovered Mexican Notebooks, Serge’s anarchism, Serge’s revolutionary humanism, and Serge’s ‘double duty’ concept while seeking the unity underlying Serge’s apparent eclecticism.

Chair:
Jenny Greeman

Speakers:

Chris Winks
Mitch Abidor
Casey Butcher
Richard Greeman

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Session 4
5:30pm - 7:10pm
Room: E301

The Intertwining of Red and Green: Ecocide Can Only be Stopped with the Defeat of Capitalism

The only way to save the planet is to end capitalism. In the production of commodities, the processes of exploitation and expropriation/extraction are inextricably intertwined. Our struggles against both should be similarly linked. We will discuss the economic mechanisms that make capitalism inherently expansionist, and therefore ecocidal, and how capitalism generates both class domination/struggle and ecocide (omnicide, in fact). And yet our corresponding movements—labor and environmental—have often been at odds. A ghastly contradiction has been set up between our need for clean air/water/food, and our dependency on jobs (increased industrial production) for immediate survival. Capitalists push this contradiction in their favor; we will explore how we can push it the other way. We’ll discuss the need for environmentalists to ally with and support working class struggles, as well as for the working class to incorporate the fight against extraction/expropriation, in particular through imperialism), into their struggles. The environmental struggle can only be won if capitalism is eliminated. Only the working class, by liberating itself and abolishing wages, can defeat capital and end capitalism. A red-green alliance is essential to strengthen our collective capacity to challenge our common enemy.

Chair:
Stephanie McMillan

Speakers:
Ron Whyte
Mario Kawonabo
Jalen Matney

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Sunday, June 9th



Session 5
10:00am - 11:50am
Room: W615

Catastrophism

This panel includes several authors of the book Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, The panelists will explore the politics of apocalypse—on the left and right, in the environmental movement—and consider whether the lens of catastrophe can distort our understanding of the dynamics at the heart of these numerous disasters and possibly impede our ability to transform the world. Doug Henwood, Eddie Yuen, and Jim Davis will consider the reasons why catastrophic thinking is so prevalent, and challenge the belief that it is only out of the ashes that a better society may be born. The authors argue that those who care about social justice and the environment should jettison doomsaying—even as it relates to indisputably apocalyptic climate change. Far from calling people to arms, they suggest, catastrophic fear often results in passivity and paralysis—and, at worst, reactionary politics.



Chair:
Doug Henwood    

Speakers:
Eddie Yuen 
James Davis      

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Session 5
10:00am - 11:50am
Room: W626

China, Africa and Capitalist Destruction of the Planet

China has been transformed into the workshop of the world. But it is a workshop with few native natural resources. This circumstance has compelled China to enter into highly problematic relations with foreign resource suppliers, notably with various undemocratic governments in Africa. At the same time China's unique hybrid communist-capitalist mode of production is driving China's ecology toward collapse while its relentless and rising coal burning and resource consumption has dire implications for the whole planet. Fred Magdoff, professor of plant soil science, ecosocialist and author of "What Every Environmentalist Should Know About Capitalism", Tersa Turner, professor of anthropology and author of works on oil and class struggle, gendered development an related topics, and Richard Smith, whose work has focused on capitalist development and China's environment, will comment on these issues.


Chair:
Matt Meyer 

Speakers:
Terisa Turner
Fred Magdoff
Richard Smith

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Session 5
10:00am - 11:50am
Room: W602

Reproducing Cities in the Americas: Knowledge, Technique, and Spatial Practice

This session highlights the struggles for urban space in the Americas through the intersecting lenses of race, gender, sexuality, and class, paying close attention to the politics of urban development, displacement, confinement, and surveillance, as well as resistance. On the one hand, gentrification and neoliberal economics are displacing and confining the urban poor to a growing periphery. Simultaneously, communities that have been historically relegated to the city’s margins, find themselves subject to increased policing if they are to access social programs. On the other hand, displaced groups are making claims to urban space by drawing on their racial and gender identities. All of these processes are intimately linked to processes of global capitalism. By juxtaposing research projects focused on Toronto, Vancouver, Montevideo, Rio and Sao Paolo, and drawing on methodologically flexible approaches, the panel aims to show how site specific research is both theoretical and practical for forming political collaborations capable of challenging global capital across geopolitical spaces. Panelists: Leslie Kern, Department of Geography, Mount Allison University; Karen Murray, Department of Political Science, York University; Vannina Sztainbok, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto; Chair: David McNally, Department of Political Science, York University

Chair:
David McNally

Speakers:
Karen Murray
Vannina Sztainbok
Leslie Kern  

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Session 5
10:00am - 11:50am
Room: W625

Exodus: Breaking out of Prison and Patriarchy: The Life and Times of Russell Maroon Shoatz

This panel will explore the life and times of Russell Maroon Shoatz, and the campaign to free him. Russell Maroon Shoatz is a former Black Panther who has been held in solitary confinement for over 20 years. But he is not only a symbol of human rights violations, cruel and unusual punishment, and the struggle against solitary confinement, but also a revolutionary intellectual. His recently published book, "Maroon the Implacable" (published by PM Press and Ecosocialist Horizons) explores themes from the history of maroon communities in the Americas, to feminism, ecosocialism and food security. The book has been described by Chuck D as "a high document of true freedom for the masses." An international campaign to free Maroon has made considerable progress in recent years and continues to build in momentum, nationally and internationally. This panel is at the intersections of human rights, mass incarceration, the black liberation movement, feminism, climate change and environment and movement building.


Chair:
Quincy Saul    

Speakers:
Theresa Shoatz
Kanya D'Almeida  
Dan Kovalik
Vagabond Beaumont
Bret Grote     

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Session 6
12:00pm - 1:50pm
Room: W522

Pop Media as AgitProp: The Power of Cartoons


Cartooning is a highly effective tool for conveying complex ideas in a widely disseminated format. Avant-garde leftist cartoonists like Peter Kuper ("World War 3 Illustrated"), Ted Rall ("Search and Destroy"), and Stephanie McMillan ("Minimum Security"), utilize the cartoon form to spread propaganda designed to shift the discussion, helping the struggle to save the Earth from ecocidal capitalism. If words won't be enough to save what's left of the environment---try cartoons.

Chair:
Stephanie McMillan   

Speakers:
Ted Rall
Peter Kuper

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Session 6
12:00pm - 1:50pm
Room: E302

Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21 Century America: A Dialogue on the new book "We Have Not Been Moved"

Contributors and commentators shall kick off a lively discussion of the recently-released PM Press/War Resisters League book on the links between these pillars of U.S. empire.

Chair:
Matt Meyer 

Speakers:
David McReynolds 
Ellen Barfield   
Bob Brown    
Tarin Gonzalez         

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Session 6
12:00pm - 1:50pm
E304

Socialist-Feminist Strategy for the 21st Century

Panel Discussion

Chair:
Leo Panitch  

Speakers:
Joan Sangster 
Nancy Holmstrom 
Rebecca Schein 
Maria Poblet          

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Session 7
3:00pm - 4:50pm
Room: E307

The Crisis of Capitalism: Five Years Later

The financial crisis of 2008 seemed to mark an inflection point for capitalist accumulation. How does the post-2008 period compare to that of pre-2008? Is global capitalism still in crisis? How does or did this crisis compare to past crises of capital, and how has or will global capitalism recover, if at all? How will this all depend on ongoing struggles of resistance, reform, and revolution?

Chair:
Ben Campbell

Speakers:
Leo Panitch
Doug Henwood
Radhika Desai 


Anarchist Pedagogies Reviewed in Maximum Rock N Roll

by Alex Cruse
Maximum Rock N Roll
January 2013

In his essay "Ends and Means," Italian Anarchist Errico Malatesta wrote, "All of us, without exception, are obliged to live more or less in contradiction with our ideals." This philosophy both haunts and challenges the authors of Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education, a collection that frames radical education reform in the contexts of historiography and political theory. Throughout, the authors (among them, David Gabbard, Isabelle Fremeaux, and Alex Khasnabish) take on the onerous task of enacting Anarchist praxes from within "institutionalized" academia—a space in which such theories may never be functionally realized.

This text throughly and elegantly explains the project of tyrannical educational establishments: they hermetically seal-off the production and consumption of information to an elite—who also mediates the valuation process of this information. By working symbiotically with other State-run institutions, certain social and economic narratives are reinforced and normalized. Thus, activists and students of Radicalism/Anarchism may find themselves suspended in and disempowered by the dominate ideological complex and, in the words of Stephen Shukatis, "re-incorporated into the workings of state and capital… creating the image of subversion." This compelling tension is one that contributors revisit in chapter after chapter.

As Nathan Jun notes in his section, "Paideia for Praxis," university-level curricula are insidiously designed by the joint edifices of State and Capital: they codify, organize and promote social hegemony. Academic institutions, then may be read as closed systems, in which agendas strategically (though covertly) replicate the conditions which allow these hierarchies to thrive. Using the logic of Kropotkin, Jun calls for transformative university programs (as opposed to outright abandonment of them) which could unite theory and practice and retain a humanist ethos at their core. Here, he echoes Ivan Illich, who stated that traditional schools are mired in social ritual—and it is the ritual which must be changed before radical reform can be enacted.

While these analyses should not be revelatory to most readers, the authors' proposed educational alternatives may prove more so. A new, Anarchist pedagogy, as described by these authors, entails: (1) the promotion of a type of learning that necessitates self-directedness and autonomy; (2) the production of spaces that emphasize community participation and social/political progressiveness, whose architecture is (3) lateralized and decentralized, as are the power dynamics therein.

Yet, I found that this framework only generated more questions. Is it tenable with the notion of a liberated, atomized self? How can Radicals socially constitute themselves in a way that would satisfy Anarchist telos—that would not simply replicate the top-down authority model of the current system? If we are ontologically defined by our social relationships, can true "autonomy" ever be achieved?

In her chapter, "Anarchism, Pedagogy, Queer Theory, and Post-Structuralism," Lucy Nicholas addresses such fundamental problems using Foucault-dian theory. She argues that, "autonomy can be understood not as a natural proclivity, but as a situated capacity,"or potentially (italics hers.) Additionally, she re-valorizes knowledge, distinguishing basic knowledge0transmission from authoritarian practices. I found such (re-)definitions to be crucial in understanding the structural and semiotic barriers which we, as Radicals, must negotiate.

The text additionally succeeds in its characterization of Anarchy as a workable, embodied approach to existence. Multiple examples of liberated educational spaces within myriad countries were provided in order to demonstrate how new infrastructures of resistance can and have been engineered. In his chapter on "The Anarchist Free Skool," Jeff Shantz discusses the concept of a "temporary autonomous zone." His account of this "heterotopic" environment (a counter-site, or alternative space) echoes the comments made by Jun. Rebuilding programs, rather than dropping out of extant ones, is key to evading capitalistic conferment and debunking the "myth of social mobility," to which advanced educational credentials contribute. However, while such theories are persuasive and eloquently relayed, he comments, "[t]he persistent lack of analysis and vision along with a failure to assess the political context for action and develop useful strategies for meeting stated goals consistently undermined the collectives' capacities to do political work. Clearly good intentions were not enough" (141). Yet Shantz optimistically alludes to the reinvigoration of similar spaces; he too emphasizes that effective resistance must be lived.

Other sections explicate disparate issues such as intersectionality, academic privilege, anarcho-feminims, and the actual mechanics of "free skools," such as Escuela Moderna and the Really Open University (ROU). But because the individual authors return to the philosophies of lived-resistance and collective action, the chapters feel thematically well-integrated; marked tonal shifts do not disorient the reader so much as they create a textual metaphor for the box populi.

As a whole, Anarchist Pedagogies functions as a hybrid manifest/historical anthology/field guide—while it does not ignore the daunting complexities of revolutionizing our education system, each experience and infrastructural critique lead one to conclude that such revolution is irrefutably needed now. Appropriately, the afterword is entitled, "Let the Riots Begin."

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Between The Bars: Barred for Life on Phawker

by Jonathan Valania
Phawker.com
April 19th, 2013

Perhaps you've seen Stewart Ebersole bike messenger-ing around town over the years. He no longer lives in Philadelphia but for many years he cut a pretty dashing profile, a tall drink of water with the gift of gab and miles of style, always changing up his look, sometimes a mod, sometimes a rocker, sometimes shaggy-haired, bearded and Rapsutin-like, but always a punk. Always. Black Flag is his brand, having cut his punk rock teeth back in the early '80s as a mohawked college radio DJ, and he's a lifer. He's got the Black Flag 'bars' logo tattooed on his lower leg. Over the years he met a lot of people inked with the Black Flag bars. Young and old. From near and far. Slowly but surely it occurred to him that the bars tattoo was the secret handshake of punk rock. Six years ago he embarked on an improbable odyssey: to meet, interview and photograph as many people around the world with the Black bars tattoo as he could and publish a book about it. Earlier this month, after hundreds of man hours and thousands of miles traveled, he published BARRED FOR LIFE. Stewart will be in town Sunday to celebrate the publication of the book at Tattooed Mom's on South Street from 7-10. Show your bars to the bartender for a deep discount on drinks. We got him on the horn from his current home in upstate New York where he currently resides.

PHAWKER: Why don't you explain the concept of the book?

STEWART EBERSOLE: In short, it's a collection of photographs and interviews with people from all over the world that have the Black Flag bars tattoo.

PHAWKER: Explain the tattoo. How it came about, what it means, etc.

STEWART EBERSOLE:
The bars are four slightly offset rectangles, they are close to one another but as they progress from left to right, they're high low, high low, to create the image of a waving flag. Historically the Black Flag was used as the pirate flag, that was probably from the 1500s all the way to the 1900s, then the anarchists took it over, not like people hell bent on destroying things but the anarchist political movement of the early 20th Century, they picked it up as their flag. In the late '70s Black Flag was called Panic, and they were looking for a new logo and new name and [band leader] Greg Ginn's brother Raymond Pettibon came up with the design based on the cover art for a book called The Black Flag of Anarchism which is sort of the ABC's of what anarchism is and had the Black Flag name attached to it, at that time Black Flag was a roach spray. They were about to be sued by a band in the UK who called themselves Panic first, so they changed the name to Black Flag, and they already had the readymade logo.

PHAWKER: So what made you want to do this?

STEWART EBERSOLE: Originally it started as a joke amongst friends who all had the Black Flag bars tattooed on them. I'd say since Black Flag broke up in 1986, I've probably known about 25 or 30 people with the tattoo, and zero of those 25 or 30 people don't have issues with their tattoo - fading, white blotches, bars running together etc. - so when I met up with four or five of my friends in Columbus, Ohio in 2006, to get a touch up on my bars we were all talking about this. We talked about starting a magazine where all the contributors have the bars. When we started doing some research we found people from all over the world with this tattoo, which is ironic because Black Flag as a band never really extensively toured outside of the US. They are an American band, even more so a regional band from the west coast.

For people all over the world to have this tattoo there had to be more to it. It's not like they are Led Zeppelin, there's not a huge fandom for Black Flag. During my research, I asked people what motivated them to get the bars tattoo. It was always something different, like, 'It connects me to the punk community from which I came, I feel like its dying now' or 'I feel like I am getting older and it is the best way for me to stay connected,' or 'It's a great way to meet other people because if that person has the same tattoo you know they came from the same background.' So I put out the word and set up a tour of the U.S., Canada and Europe to meet and interview all these people and photograph them.

Because the band, for the most part, declined to participate, everything had to be told through the fans, the people that we interviewed and photographed, and then I just sort of laid a narrative under it about participating in the scene, why someone would want to be a punk rocker in the 80's despite being constantly tormented, fucked with and threatened with grievous bodily harm and what not. What would make a person do that? One unexpected twist was that the average age of people contributing to the book was 25, and when we did the tour Black Flag had been broken up for 26 years, so the vast majority of people in our book were not even alive when Black Flag was active. I think that is a testament to the enduring power of the music and the scene that Black Flag created.

PHAWKER: Why do you think their music continued to speak to succeeding generations of angry young people?

STEWART EBERSOLE: In the '80s there were punk bands like the Dead Kennedys singing about Ed Meese, Ronald Reagan and the wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, they basically put a time stamp on their music. Their music is about 1981. People are looking for something more emotional than they are something political in music.  Black Flag was singing about the poltics of people's emotions, so their music doesn't have a time stamp. Ninety percent of the audience for punk rock in 1981 and 1982 was fucked up kids. I was kind of a mess and I know most of my friends were a mess but we were trying to make a go of it and if you didn't fit into the normal world, punk rock was great because you didn't have to. Black Flag was a band singing about about not wanting to go back to the normal world, not wanting to deal with the authority figures, not wanting to climb with the social ladder. Those songs spoke to pissed off kids. And they still do.

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Boredom Is Always Counterrevolutionary: Donald Nicholson-Smith + Iain Boal at CIIS

by Steven Gray
LitSeen
Mar 5, 2013

‘In May of 1968 there were massive protests in France. They are often characterized as “student” protests in an attempt to limit the wider dimensions of the unrest and revolt. In fact, these protests led to a general strike involving nearly 10,000,000 workers. People know how to do things over there.

A small group called the Situationist International is thought to have sparked the uprising. They only had 10 or 20 members, but what they had to say resonated with an increasingly alienated population, and they knew how to spread their message, which had a Marxist as well as surrealist point of view. One of the Situationists, Guy Debord, “described official culture as a rigged game, where conservative powers forbid subversive ideas to have direct access to the public discourse” (from “Spectacle (critical theory)” on Wikipedia), and doesn’t that sound familiar. Third-party presidential candidates are not even allowed to participate in the debates in this country.

Two books were published in 1967 by members of the SI: The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, and The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem. Vaneigem was born in Belgium in 1934 and grew up in a “working class, socialist and anticlerical milieu.” He was familiar with miners’ strikes and Magritte. He was concerned about a society overrun with commodities and the rat-race that follows. “Boredom is always counter-revolutionary… A life governed by sanctioned greed is by no means freed thereby from the old tyranny of having to forfeit one’s life merely to pay for it” (The Revolution of Everyday Life, PM Press, 2012). The book is extremely quotable, and includes an author’s preface from 2010, where he states the following: “… the United States of America is now viewed by Europeans as a paradoxically archaic country. Its technological achievements would warrant only admiration were they not belied by a mental stagnation that allows the ‘icy waters of egotistical calculation’ to preside over an inhumanity cynically defended in the name of profit.”

On the subject of overcoming the influence of the church: “Behind the rent veil of superstition appeared, not naked truth… but the slime of ideologies.” There is a direct link from the SI (which lasted from 1957 to 1972) to the punks.

The other night, we went to the California Institute of Integral Studies to hear a discussion with the man who translated Vaneigem’s book, Donald Nicholson-Smith. He has long hair and a gray beard and was in the SI from 1965 to 1967. He is an Englishman with a sense of humor who has lived in New York City for many years. Though he was supposed to be in conversation with Sasha Lilley, co-host of “Against the Grain” on KPFA and co-author of Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, she was having a baby and couldn’t make it. In her place was Iain Boal, a social historian who currently teaches at the University of London and is one of the editors of West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California. He is also one of the world’s foremost bicycle historians and has a book on that subject called The Green Machine. I spoke with him after the discussion, but I forgot to mention my own bicycle history – lying unconscious on a road one night with my bike nearby.

The two men had a conversation in front of a classroom which was more or less filled. I was sitting next to Csaba Polony, who publishes Left Curve. Nicholson-Smith read a selection from the book, and this was followed by questions from the audience. There was reference to “the organization of appearances” in a culture which is “dying for not surpassing the master-slave dialectic.”

“The organization of appearances is a system for shielding the facts. A racket. It represents the facts in a mediated reality to prevent immediate reality from presenting them… Fragmentary power organizes appearances as spectacle… Worsened by history, the incoherence of the spectacle turned into the spectacle of incoherence [thus Pop Art is at once a current example of consumable degeneracy and the expression of the current degeneration of consumption].” Vaneigem wrote this around the time that Andy Warhol had surfaced as a superstar of surfaces.

Some phrases that came up in the discussion: the “seduction of the commodity” and the “imperialism of the market.” “Anthropology and revolutionary praxis.” “The first synthesis is community.” The world a few centuries ago was a “pregnant automaton.” The book seems to have aged well, considering most of it was written half a century ago.

Two nights later my wife and I watched an episode of Mad Men. It is set in the early 1960’s and gives a somewhat diluted sense of what people were dealing with back then. The advertising world has become more amplified over the years. We followed that with a video called “Obey”, a film informed by Death of the Liberal Class, a book by Chris Hedges.

Another idea flying around the CIIS classroom: the Marxist point of view is that nature is a worthy opponent. A man whose hair and beard were pretty wild raised his hand and spoke in a very reasonable voice, pointing out that nature is not always hostile; it is often a “congenial” force. There was general agreement that the word “nature” is very broad. There was some mention of how much the communists like industrial assembly lines and of the irony of such a subversive book being considered a classic. There was some question if the Left is sufficiently subjective and provisional – apparently not. There are “reified attempts at protest.”

All of this talk about keeping a population diverted (if not hypnotized) with spectacles, while maintaining a food supply, reminded me of the ancient Romans who had bread and circuses.

Iain Boal was a smooth moderator, choosing his words carefully. At the same time he would throw in quick and quiet asides that could be devastating. During a discussion of The Long Now - a 10,000 year perspective (according to Stewart Brand) – he noted it was similar to the Department of Defense estimates for the storage of atomic waste. At another point he threw off a phrase about the “valium-soaked suburbs.” He teaches sometimes at U.C. Berkeley, and the next time he is there I want to sit in on a class.

Nicholson-Smith mentioned the necessity of “historical memory.” Having such a perspective is downright subversive when the authorities want us to slip into amnesia with the aid of pharmaceuticals. We should never forget what has happened, what we have witnessed, including the crimes of the Cheney/Bush administration. When someone in a conservative think-tank (Fukuyama) postulates “the end of history,” there is probably another prison being built.

 

Steven Gray has been living in San Francisco since 1849 and has rent control. Self control is another matter. He reads his work on a regular basis in venues throughout San Francisco. Sometimes he accompanies other poets on guitar. He is co-editor of Out of Our, a poetry and art magazine, and has two books of poetry: Jet Shock and Culture Lag (2012), and Shadow on the Rocks (2011).

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| Buy e-Book now | Back to Raoul Vaneigem's Author Page | Back to Donald Nicholson-Smith's Page | Back to Iain Boal's Page




‘Rama Rating: 8 of 10 for Kuper's Drawn to New York

by Michael C Lorah
Newsarama.com
March 19th, 2013

‘Rama Rating: 8 of 10

 A combination artbook/short story collection by New York adoptee Peter Kuper, Drawn to New York repurposes many of Kuper's illustrations, sketches and short comics to capture the energy, humanity, chaos and seediness of the Big Apple. As someone who works in Manhattan, I feel safe saying that Kuper succeeds on many levels. Everything is filtered through his political and economical prism, giving Drawn to New York a specific and personal vision, but the sum total of its components adds up to a distinctly New York experience.

The book's biggest success stems from Kuper’s not attempting to force a narrative or structure on its disparate elements - the sprawling, directionless, unbridled mass of the city is best captured in these snapshots and short narratives. Kuper mixes representative illustrations with impressionistic sketches to capture both the physicality and personality of neighborhoods. One sequence uses apartment building windows as panels in a comic book to support the city’s millions of individual stories. Of course, this glorified sketchbook approach may not work for all readers, but when you’ve been drawing city-inspired scenes as long as Kuper has, you have a tremendous catalog of sketches to show off. Appreciate the artwork if not the themes.

Kuper’s short comics stories bring readers into the lives and experiences, not necessarily literal, of Manhattan’s urban dwellers. “Jungleland” is a frenetic adventure of survival against the wilderness and the ceaseless greed of fellow man. “Chains” examines the interconnected nature of our lives and our sins, and “The Wall” takes a satirical approach to the disparity of economic classes living side by side and the exploitation of the poor. Kuper also brings readers inside his September 11, 2001 experience as a resident, a father, and a politically active cartoonist (Kuper is cofounder of and contributor to the superb World War 3 Illustrated).

Whether you live or work on the island, visit as a tourist, or absorb the city’s iconography through its omnipresent pop culture presence, everybody takes something unique away from New York City. Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City is Peter Kuper's New York, and anybody who's spent any time here, physically or otherwise, will recognize the energy and architecture, the grime and crowds, the beautiful humanity, the foods and odors (on one page, he uses smears of color in an attempt to show the smells of parts of the city) and sights. Love it or not, there’s no place on Earth quite like New York City, and few people have captured it as effectively as Kuper.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page




Bring Your Black Flag Tattoos to Vinal Edge This Saturday

by Craig HIavaty
Houston Press
April 10th, 2013

Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m., tattooed Black Flag disciples are encouraged to stop by Vinal Edge in the Heights for sweaty fellowship with their fellow "barred" brethren to celebrate the release of Stewart Dean Ebersole's Barred for Life: How Black Flag's Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock's Secret Handshake.

The book looks at people who have tattooed Black Flag's iconic four bars logo onto their skin, whether it be on their neck, hands, bicep, or ankle. I have even seen the bars inside a gal's lower lip.
According to Flag history, the bars were Raymond Pettibon's idea after the band changed their name from Panic. As the band's in-house graphic designer, he also created their iconic album art, posters, and flyers, and he also happened to be guitarist Greg Ginn's brother.
(Wanna know a fun semi-secret about Fred Durst, from Limp Bizkit? He's got the bars inked onto one of his index fingers. How do I know? I met him in 2010 at a Buzzfest meet-and-greet on a lark with Buxton's Chris Wise, and Durst noticed my bars near my left wrist and decided to show me that he also had the bars. I shit you all not.)
Ebersole's work began on the book years back when he first spread word that he was looking to photograph the bars on punker skin in the wild. Along the way he also asked fans to tell their stories behind their tattoos, which he compiled into the book, which you can get on Amazon.

Saturday at Vinal Edge, Hates drummer and occasional Rocks Off contributor David Ensminger will be shooting video and taking pictures of the festivities. The Barred project will continue on, even now after the book has been released. Ensminger helped edit Barred for Life for PM Press, and has a Black Flag tattoo himself, natch.

He's also singing and playing drums in Black Flag cover band My War, which features members of 500 Megatons of Boogie and Super Dragon. Locals Ex-Girlfriends will also be performing.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Stewart Dean Ebersole's Author Page




Barred For Life: A Review on Blogtrotter

by  John L Murphy
Blogtrotter
April 7th, 2013

How "The Bars" signify not only Black Flag's relevance three decades after their career, but the impact of punk upon those who in this collection were usually far too young to have seen a gig makes this photographic and journalistic anthology compelling. As I was born the same year as Dez Cadena and Henry Rollins, and as I grew up watching this L.A. scene, I admit some surprise.

Everybody interviewed with the icon is younger (with one exception: Ron Spellman, a second-generation tattoo artist a few years older) than me--or therefore the famous Hank whose arms, torso, and back became ever more inked as his power as the band's longest-lasting singer dominated the band's image and presence. Why tattoos perch or crawl over the bodies of the hirsute or hairless hundreds in these pages portrayed, whereas earlier punks did not tend (as chronicler Stewart Dean Ebersole, Spellman, and Chuck Dukowski concur) to decorate themselves with so many or so "graphic" an array of body art remains more an observation than a consideration. Yet, the generational gap between those who come after the band who choose to don The Bars and those who heard the band in its heyday persists.

While I wish this aspect was explored more, this isn't a sociological treatise. It's an angular presentation that mingles Ebersole's own rambling memoir of life in Red Lion PA with his coming-of-age with the Flag. Interspersed are intelligent interviews with band members, Spellman, and photographer Glen E. Friedman. (Greg Ginn no longer talks to the press; Rollins talks to them but not here.) I share what Ebersole wrestles over: feeling that by the 1984 "My War" LP (if not the title track, which was punchier than most other tracks) the band's move away from hardcore to jazzier and sludgier textures did not do the ensemble justice. Ebersole returns to this over and over, and many who identify (as all tattooed do here) their favorite song, singer, and album by the band list "My War" often in both categories. The editor locates this pivotal point (before the band ended in '86; note the current revival on two tours by a version of Black Flag and one of Flag) as a very punk rock one.

That is, the band challenged its followers not to expect conformity, and undermined its own fan base. "Upon exiting, Black Flag seemed to kick down the temple." (255) They always tried to take charge. Friedman reminds readers how the band, under SST's aegis and Ginn's command, forged a collective identity itself at "The Church" and its relentless devotion to rehearsing and touring, and managing itself. While Ginn's brother, Raymond Pettibon, earns full credit for his design of their logo, I recall that its symbolism might have eluded those who first saw it on records and flyers (if not yet tattoos). The four black rectangles always remind me of a row of amps.
 
The band's name evokes for me--as Chuck Dukowski reminisces--the bug spray slogan "Kills ants on contact" famously borrowed by the band in a Hollywood Blvd. counter-PR, anti-Adam Ant stunt, and the popular insecticide of the era. The anarchic connection appears to have motivated Ginn to change the name of the group from Panic, coupled with his brother's icon as a memorable non-verbal logo and a rallying image of its vision. Ebersole finds that its lyrics (unlike the Dead Kennedys or I may add the Clash) have not dated as much for they were not paired to Reaganesque depredations. The deeper anarchic resonance may, however, intentionally or accidentally matter less to some who don the four staggered, as if pixillated, dramatic and stark black bars.

Billy Atwell sums this up (one of nearly four hundred wearers featured) as therefore pure hardcore. "They say something without saying something at all." (89) Ron Reyes reflects: "People don't get the cereal brand they eat in the morning tattooed on them." (125) So, what does this "secret handshake" register as? As I lack tattoos, and as Black Flag is a band I like with some songs but pass by with many more from that problematic later period, I approached this volume of those who had heard this music a decade or two after me--and often far from its home turf--with curiosity.

Scanning the testimonies from band members, Ebersole and his mates (his own tattoo is via a girlfriend's birthday gift), and those inked, the whole counterculture-as-commodity connection appears underexamined. (A couple of slips on pg. 276: Kira Roessler went not to "Yumi" but "Uni[versity]" H.S. near UCLA; so did Paul not "Bean" but "Beahm" aka Darby Crash.) Rightly, many who were in L.A. around '80 lament the turn to violence that kept such as me from the mosh pits as they grew increasingly full of the jocks who used to pummel the artsier and the lonelier who tended to comprise the first punks and the band themselves (not sure about Rollins, although certainly he was less pumped up when he joined...). Ebersole notes NYC scenesters featured more tattoos but that this faded with British bands and then earlier American ones--only to return with Rollins and mid-80s hardcore. But I kept wondering if this ink-as-marker identification was less radical or subversive than its wearers often assumed. As with many features promoted by those who place themselves outside the norm, the norm tends to catch up, surround, and profit off of their promotion.

One encounter moved me. "Chaz" returns from Iraq after leaving part of his leg behind. At Walter Reed VA, he wakes from a coma and tries to get back together. He finds Henry Rollins as part of a USO tour standing there at bedside. Chaz tells him about his ambition, and he soon dons his Bars.

I am not sure how many have tattoos of the Bars on more inaccessible or intimate areas; the ratio of males to females here appears to balance that of those inked overall in American (and Canadian, British, and Continental) cultures where many get by as bartenders, skilled workers (or not workers!), artists, or creative or casual laborers a bit off the corporate or mainstream grids. I kept turning the pages--which mimic punk collage as you need to find your way around the text and images and odd juxtapositions--expecting to find a familiar face. While I did not, I saw people that I'd like to meet--an indication of Jared Castoldi and Ebersole's casual but approachable style behind the lens.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Stewart Dean Ebersole's Author Page




Barred For Life: A Review on Jaded Punk

by Dan Ozzi
Jaded Punk
April 10th, 2013

If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you have a Black Flag bars tattoo. And you probably think it makes you pretty special, huh? Well, bad news:It doesn’t. Thousands of people have The Bars permanently branded on their flesh. Tens of thousands, even. It’s arguably the most common music-related tattoo out there. But is it more meaningful than just a tattoo? Barred For Life is a book that seeks an answer to that question.

The 8x10” book features interviews with all Black Flag members except for two who declined: Henry Rollins, who was probably busy doing deadlifts and Greg Ginn, who was probably too high to answer the phone. The interviews give some insights into the background of the band which, if you’re enough of a fan of the band to read this book, chances are you’ve heard before. But the band members’ reflections on the tattoo and the logo itself are uncharted territory for most Black Flag aficionados and are most relevant to the crux of the book’s story.


Barred For Life is held together by the personal narrative of the author, Stewart Dean Ebersole, who reflects on Black Flag, The Bars, and the meaning of the Punk Rock movement. (His capitalizations, not ours.) While not uninteresting, it is a distraction from the book’s main eye candy: Dozens and dozens of black and white photos of people with their Bars tattoos and their brief thoughts on it. Each subject is asked for the following: name, age, location, occupation, favorite singer, favorite song, favorite album (amazingly, someone said Family Man), and what the band/logo means to them. Through hundreds of pages of these featurettes, we get a comprehensive picture of what kind of people get The Bars tattoo. And the answer is all kinds.

Flipping through Barred For Life is a bit like looking through a high school yearbook. Chances are pretty good that you’ll spot someone you know, either personally or from a band/record label/venue you’re a fan of. A former member of Avail makes an appearance, as does the drummer for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and the founder of Equal Vision Records. Frank Turner is featured on the book’s final page. Some punk notables, like former Indecision and Milhouse singer, Artie Phillie, aren’t even credited as such. Everyone from 44-year-old NYU psychology professors to 25-year-old bike messengers in the UK are included. Some are self-professed bums and others are city councilmembers or Daily Show producers. Some seem to have intimate and deep connections with the logo and the band, whereas others profess to having gotten it to fit in to a scene.



There is an especially moving story from a wounded U.S. Army veteran who met Henry Rollins. “[Rollins] asked me now that I lost my leg what I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to go back into combat with my buddies. He left the room and came back in red-faced. I think that he was crying.”

The tattoos of the iconic logo themselves tell a larger story as well. It’s a story of a movement that acts as a Rorschach test, meaning something different to each person it touches. Some tats are timeworn and faded while others are crisp and new. Some are small and subtle while others prominently take up an entire limb. They adorn people’s asses and people’s throats.

Some folks got them in prison and some were the result of late night drunken tattoo sessions in basements. Some people got theirs at 18, others got them at 48. Liberties were taken with the logo, like the guy who got the Bars as bacon strips.


While it would’ve been a much easier undertaking for the author to publish a book of general punk tattoos, he instead narrowed in on one specific logo, did the subject due diligence, and the results are infinitely more impressive. It’s amazing that four simple sticks can capture such a comprehensive story, but much like Black Flag did for the punk scene, Barred For Life ties it all together.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Stewart Dean Ebersole's Author Page




Barred For Life: A Review in Big Wheel Magazine

by Louie Bones
Big Wheel Magazine
April 13th, 2013


Fans of Black Flag have a lot to be excited about this year and with the addition of Barred For Life: How Black Flags Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock's Secret Handshake, fans have another awesome Black Flag-related book to add to their collection of Black Flag reading material.

Although not a release endorsed by Greg Ginn, this book is a must have and an insightful look at Black Flags loyal fan base. More specifically it’s about that percentage of loyal fans with Black Flag tattoos, fans who are Barred For Life.
The books author is a long time Black Flag fan who set out to meet, photograph and interview like minded fans around the globe and that’s exactly what he’s accomplished. Over his lengthy excursions he was able to photograph hundreds of fans from all different walks of life who share a common love for Black Flags music and message.
 Some fans prefer Keith Morris, others prefer Ron Reyes and some even express their distaste for Henry Rollins but all agree on one thing and that is that getting into Black Flag is a life changing moment and others with the “bars” are like extended family members.

The black and white photos that adorn the 322 pages of Barred For Life create this honest appeal that sets this book apart from many tattoo focused publications around today. The interviews with ex Black Flag members and colleagues add another dimension to it as well, one that adds a personal touch and truth.


Ron Reyes, Edward Colver, Glen E. Friedman, Kira Roessler, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Keith Morris and Tattoo Artist Rick Spellman shed light on what it was like around Black Flag during the bands original incarnation both on and off stage. Their inclusion make this a must have for fans of Black Flag's music and art while the hundreds of photos make this a must have for both fans of Black Flag and tattoo culture. If you love Black Flag, tattoos and Black Flag tattoos then you will need this book!
  

We highly recommend getting this book!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Stewart Dean Ebersole's Author Page




Black Flag Bearers

by Patrick Rapa
City Paper
April 4th, 2013

A new book chronicles a cross-country quest for meaning in an enigmatic punk tattoo

By the time Stewart Ebersole got his first Black Flag tattoo, the legendary ’80s hardcore band had already imploded and broken up. And, truth be told, he hadn’t much cared for their last few albums. But still, their killer early music, and the defiant punk ethos that went with it, was enough to send him into a tattoo shop with his copy of 1984’s Slip It In to get a tiny set of the “bars” inked onto his right leg.

Those four staggered bars were designed by artist Raymond Pettibon, brother of guitarist Greg Ginn, when the band was just getting started in Hermosa Beach, Calif., in the late ’70s. Meant to symbolize anarchy, a kind of antithesis to the white flag of surrender, the logo appeared on pretty much every album, flier and T-shirt the band produced.



Somewhere along the way, however, the bars picked up a new, less concrete meaning, something more ambiguous and oddly tribal. As detailed in Ebersole’s new book, Barred for Life: How Black Flag’s Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock’s Secret Handshake (PM Press, March 1), the logo these days signifies not so much an appreciation for a band — it’s worth noting that Black Flag’s sound and fanbase mutated with each of its many lineup changes — but a vague sense that the person with the tattoo knows what it’s like to be a little different on some level.

“If Black Flag never got together again, people would still keep getting the bars,” Ebersole says when he and photographer Jared Castaldi sit down for an interview at Tattooed Mom. It’s Castaldi’s first look at the finished book, and he flips through it quietly. On each page there’s a large, black-and-white image of a knuckle or a wrist or a scalp permanently affixed with the bars.

Neal Santos

L-R: Stewart Ebersole and Jared Castaldi at Tattooed Mom.

The symbol’s resilience and mutability were a big part of what inspired Ebersole to assemble a crew and embark on a six-year mission to collect photos of and interviews with proud bar-bearers across the country. Having played and toured with a few basement-level punk bands in his day, he had the connections to book himself at rock clubs and bookstores in Vegas, Chicago, San Francisco and dozens more places. “It was basically us being in a punk band but not playing music,” Ebersole says. The largest tour put him and his crew on the road for more than 50 days straight.

It all could have added up to a zine — a medium Ebersole has dabbled in before — but he saw the potential for something more. The resulting Barred for Life is part photo book and part memoir, interspersed with lengthy interviews with Black Flag alums.

When considering if any other band has come close to matching what Black Flag and Pettibon achieved with the bars, the mouth logo John Pasche designed for the Rolling Stones comes to mind. “OK, so say you’re going to do Lipped for Life or Tongued for Life, what are those people going to say when you ask them about their tattoo? ‘Rolling Stones are the best band ever!’” shrugs Ebersole.


Barred’s subjects, some in their 20s, many in their 30s and 40s, are all over the map when it comes to the meaning behind their tattoos. “We got far more non-Black Flag answers than we got answers about the band,” says Ebersole. “Those kinds of tattoos are, like, ‘Oh, I got wasted at the Spectrum in ’85,’” jokes Castaldi. He helped launch the Barred project, but had to bail on the big tour when he landed a day job. His photos dominate the first 80 or so pages of the book, after which Ebersole did the shooting.

Several subjects make a point of saying Black Flag is not, in fact, their favorite band. A few allude to the bars as a secret handshake, or as symbolic of an unspoken bond that ties strangers together as punks and ex-punks on similar journeys, while by no means guaranteeing friendship. “You know they come from the same background,” says Ebersole. “I don’t think you have that with the lips and tongue.”

And then there are the tattoos themselves. So many of them, Ebersole points out, are just really, really ugly. “Most of the time they aren’t professionally done,” he smiles. “Or if they are professionally done, they still don’t look all so hot.”

“They’re pretty much all bad,” laughs Castaldi. “First of all, they’re not even black anymore, they’re blue. And they’re not — there’s nothing straight about the lines or anything.”

About a year into his project, Ebersole had a tattoo artist ink over his mini-bars, which had blobbed together, replacing them with a massive set that dominates his left leg. “I decided if I was gonna do the book I would have the biggest one,” he says. “It ended up not being the biggest.” Who took that title? “A guy named Jimi in Salt Lake City. He was in prison for 16 years, and over the course of 16 years he had this guy stick-and-poke it in his gut.”

You’ll find Jimi Germ and his gigantic bars on page 209 of the book. Instead of solid black rectangles, his tattoo bars frame a scene depicting the alleged crime that got him thrown in jail: he and some friends flipping over a cop car and setting it ablaze during a riot. “He’s out, and now he’s becoming a librarian,” says Ebersole.

The bars’ simplicity has led to myriad creative variations. A guy in Toronto has them made of bacon strips (p. 137), while a woman from Massachusetts went with a lipstick motif (p. 133).

One dude in Wisconsin let his brother brand the bars onto him below his navel (barely visible on p. 186). The bars on a hairy arm in Albany are overshadowed by a nearby mushroom cloud erupting from a toilet (p. 71). The bars never seem to be anybody’s only tattoo.

Ebersole lives in Nyack, N.Y., and works as a marine geologist, but he grew up in York and lived in South Philly until recently. As a result, a large number of locals made it into Barred for Life. The bars on the shin of Philadelphia rocker/competitive eater Ryan “Chubb” Pasquale (p. 19) look like crayon scrawls, but were actually the result of a tattoo machine he built with a small motor, a toothbrush, a pen and an eraser when he was 16. “Fuck if my dad didn’t walk in on me while I was doing it,” Pasquale says in the book.
Jared Castaldi

Jared Castaldi

All of Barred for Life’s subjects were asked to name their favorite singer, song and album from the Black Flag catalog. Perhaps not surprisingly, the answers often involved a lot of mixing and matching of eras.

The “fantasy game” responses would drive Ebersole a little nuts; he’s an outspoken guy, not averse to arguing music minutiae. But he gets it. After all, Black Flag’s roster changes are the stuff of legend, with guitarist Greg Ginn being the only constant and vocalist Henry Rollins — whose tenure started with the ’81 classic album Damaged and ended with the band’s breakup in ’86 — being the most famous.

In fact, as you read this, two versions of the band are prepping for summer tours. Both look like fantasy teams.

The simply titled Flag is composed of original singer Keith Morris backed by bassist Chuck Dukowski (’77-’83) and drummer Bill Stevenson (’81-’82, ’83-’85), along with guitarist Stephen Egerton (from fellow punk veterans the Descendents and ALL).

Ginn, meanwhile, has put together a new Black Flag, with singer Ron Reyes (whose original run with the band lasted a mere seven months from ’79 to ’80) and drummer Gregory Moore, best known for playing with Ginn’s other band, Gone.

Ebersole has little interest in these revivals — “you might as well go see the Grateful Dead minus all their members except Bob what’s-his-name” — but he did interview several alums for the book. He hung out with Morris in his L.A. backyard and watched a Super Bowl with singer and guitarist Dez Cadena (’80-’83). Ginn and Rollins, however, turned him down.

“I talked [Reyes] into an interview that he didn’t want to do. Now he’s in Black Flag again,”

Ebersole says. “[Dukowski] said he had no interest in reliving the past. Now he’s in Flag.”

“[Bassist Kira Roessler] said, ‘You sure you even want to interview me? If you aren’t a big Black Flag fan, why do you even want to know these things?’” he laughs. “And I was, like, ‘Don’t you think this makes a much more objective book if I thought you guys sucked when you were in the band?’ She thought that was hilarious and invited us over and we had a blast.”

Ebersole pulls no punches about his disgust for the later Black Flag albums. “I listened to Annihilate This Week and it’s horrible. I listened to Family Man and it’s intolerable,” he says.

“They had all this really great music before they became shitty.”

Did any of his subjects name songs and singers from the shitty era?

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, everybody did,” he says. “Are you familiar with the concept of patterning? When a duck or a chicken is hatched, they’ll become attached to the first thing they see.” When it comes to Black Flag, “That’s how everybody is. … I still listen to Damaged all the time. When I’m pissed off, it’s my go-to.”


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