Tag Archives: shine on you crazy diamond

My Story Shared on Broken Light’s Blog!!

This is so wonderful! It is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the lovely and beautiful blog Broken Light Photography posted a blog about my SHINE ON tattoo and its meaning, and linked to my “Tattoos and Suicide” post about my brother David. This was totally unexpected, and a heartwarming surprise! Please read, and check out their blog! ❤ A million thanks and my intense appreciation to Broken Light for using my piece, my story, to highlight the issue of suicide for this week. I hope it can reach more people and help them deal with the loss of loved ones, and maybe even help people who have suicidal thoughts/ideations realize how horrific it is for the loved ones left behind.

Broken Light Collective

Photo taken by Jan Austin Smith, a 27-year-old man living in Northern California. His mother, a Psychiatrist, has depression, and his closest aunt is bipolar, so he has been around people with mental health issues his whole life, and has a tremendous amount of compassion for them. He thinks that mental issues are so maligned in the dominant culture, it is tragically sad. Jan has also suffered from depression and anxiety himself, which has been hugely exacerbated by disabling chronic nerve pain in his knees, and 5 knee surgeries. On his website, TheRewildWest, he writes about human, Earth, and animal liberation, as well as displays his beloved nature photography. He’s also a novelist, and editor/book reviewer for the Green Theory and Praxis Journal.

About this photo: “This photograph is of “Shine On,” my first (and current only) tattoo. Its profound meaning to me is threefold: it is a tribute to…

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FROM ONE: Artist Lisa Korpos

This is the first installment of a new series I’m starting, called From One:  Artist Profiles of people doing counter-cultural work, using their creative gifts–whether that be photography, drawing, painting, writing, tattooing, et. al.–to raise awareness of important social justice issues, especially ecology and the unsustainability of the dominant culture.

I first became aware of Lisa Korpos’s work at the house of my good friends Luke and Terra, whom I met in New Orleans doing post-Katrina relief work; strangely, Luke was the first person I talked to when I arrived in December of 2005 in New Orleans, and it turned out he also came from Orange County in southern California!  Not only that, we both returned independently at the same time in March of 2006!  Since then we’ve developed a profound friendship.  Anyway, there was this amazing piece of artwork hanging on their wall about deforestation called Memories of an Old Oak Tree:

This was one of the most profound pieces of art I’d ever seen; deforestation is the environmental issue that hits me hardest, as I connect with forests  probably more than any other ecosystem (read Derrick Jensen and George Draffan’s seminal Strangely Like War:  The Global Assault on Forests).  I asked Terra about it, and she told me how it was created from all recycled/reclaimed materials by her friend Lisa Korpos.  About this piece, Lisa says:

It’s meant to really put a humanizing touch on the whole problem of deforestation.  I think that oftentimes, people write off environmental problems as something sort of distant–they feel detached from them.  So I wanted to get everyone really, personally engaged by allowing them to see from the perspective of a tree, as if it were a cognizant, sentient being.  The illustrated panels are each supposed to be a foggy memory of this old oak:  From the misty landscape of the tree’s home, to the scene of the cruel logger lunging at it with a chainsaw, to the scene of the paper mill, and so forth–it all tells the tree’s story. Even the base of the artwork itself gradually shifts from branches & leaves to processed wood planks, symbolizing the tree’s transformation.  At the very bottom of the piece, on a piece of plywood, it says, poignantly, “I miss being a tree.”  It’s a final reminder to drive home the point that this was once a living organism; that we shouldn’t be so quick to forget the origins of so many things we use.

Then Terra (who has a wonderful blog, Preserving Terra, about canning and preserving fruits and vegetables–a skill whose value, especially with the impending ecological collapse, cannot possibly be over-estimated) informed me that Lisa is also a tattoo artist.  Then Terra showed me some of Lisa’s tattoo work–on her back!

Note: This tattoo is *NOT* finished–all the flowers will be colored in when it’s done, but this gives you an idea of the incredible tats Lisa produces!

Luke and Terra knew that I’ve long wanted a tattoo(s), but that I’d just been released from prison, so had no money.  They contacted Lisa and funded my getting one as a sort of Get-Out-of-Prison-Free present, and three days later, the day before I left for home in northern California, it was done!  You can see pictures of my Pink Floyd “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” tattoo, and its profound meaning to me, partly in connection to my brother David (who killed himself at my age, 27), on my post, “Tattoos and Suicide.”  One of the great things about Lisa is that she doesn’t just talk the talk (or….paint the paint? Heh.)  She is vegan, and uses vegan tattoo ink–those are just two of the things she does to promote a better world, in addition to using her art to inspire and awaken  =)

This next piece is called “PROGRESS?”  It was done on a reclaimed brown paper bag, as part of her Brown Paper Bag HeART prismacolor series:

“This one,” Lisa writes, “is about how wildlife is forced to adapt to destruction of [their] habitat and the introduction of human contaminants into environments that were once pristine. It’s all symbolized by the hermit crab abandoning [his or her] shell to live in a rusty can of [his or her] own, long-dead shrimp brethren.”

Beautiful, touching, and heartbreaking, all at once.

Canary’s Out of the Coal Mine, pastels on recycled cardboard.

“The meaning in this one is pretty self-evident. Kind of a play on the old canary-in-the-coal-mine adage.”  This one is my favorite of her ecological-themed artwork, aside from the tree sculpture.

I also wanted to hear Lisa’s take on a couple important questions; part of an artist’s job amidst this culture of occupation and death is to use it to further social justice issues.

JAN:  Was there a defining moment for you where you thought, “This culture is FUCKED.  I have to do something with my artwork to challenge the dominant culture’s myths.”  Was there a watershed moment that made you decide to do what you do?

LISA:  I don’t think there was any definitive, watershed moment, no. My sensitization to our civilization’s problems was a gradual process.  What concerns me in this world is all the hurt, injustice and oppression happening, and my art is just a natural extension of that concern. I have many, many moments when I think, “this culture is FUCKED,” but it’s a repetitive cycle of anger, and that  cynicism doesn’t lead to creativity. It’s on the upswing, when I’m feeling optimistic, that I can channel all that internalized outrage into something constructive instead.

JAN:  Some people would say art–any kind of art, including writing–is a passive act of resistance to the murder of billions of animals and destruction of the biosphere.  Symbolic resistance.  A passive act.  What would you say to that?

LISA:  All forms of activism are all equally vital, passive or not.  We need to adopt an open-minded, multifaceted approach when it comes to confronting our planet’s ecological & socio-economic problems!  Perhaps painting a picture or writing a book isn’t as bad-ass as throwing molotov cocktails at some corporate building.  So be it.  Creative endeavors (particularly ones interwoven with social commentary) should not be underestimated in their power to change minds.  Isn’t this what we need, at the end of the day?  For more people to be more conscious and caring?  I don’t think the fear-mongers and war hawks at Fox News are going to encourage anybody to be more compassionate.  I don’t think the slew of KFC advertisements on TV are going to convince anybody to contemplate the suffering of chickens in factory farms.  With a massive, corporate-owned media that’s already zombified so many people, the responsibility lies on our shoulders, alone, to bring back a little sense and rationality to the conversation.  It’s a heavy burden, but it’s ours. So, sure, maybe artmaking is a passive form of activism.  But it can change minds, and that’s always, always the first step. [emphasis added]

Incredibly, Lisa has also used her own body as a canvas for her work!  Apparently it’s a tradition among tattoo artists that the first tattoo they get is self-done.  When she was 17, Lisa tattooed her animal friend Echo on her calf:

Lisa rescued Echo while she was traveling, and they became constant companions:

She was the most incredible little friend & traveling companion a girl could ever hope for…we traveled together, from Portland all the way to the East coast, and then back home to Orange County. I managed to sneak her through Greyhound and countless subway security checks just to get her back home with me.

Outside of those few incidents when I had to hide her in my bra, I never even bothered trying to keep her confined. She never really left my side, even though I was sleeping in parks and on rooftops, and she had every opportunity to. She always understood that being close to me meant safety and warmth, so she stuck close and gave lots of kisses.

That little rat saw more of the country than a lot of humans have, and I was always so grateful for her company.

If you know me you know I’ve had rescued ratties continuously (except during prison, of course) for the last 6 years, so I can totally dig and attest to what Lisa’s saying.

Serrendipitously, Lisa and I grew up literally within half a mile–at most–from each other!!  I plan to get more tattoos from her in the future (if I’m ever not flat-broke!); she gives incredibly fair rates and, as you can see, does a wonderful job.  If you’re interested in getting some body-art done by her, she’s currently in the process of opening up a shop in Costa Mesa and if you would like to schedule a tattoo consultation or appointment for the future, you can contact her through her facebook  or e-mail, which is riot-bunny@hotmail.com.

Thank you, Lisa–for my tattoo, for using your talents to raise awareness about ecological issues and raise people’s consciousnesses (and consciences) in general–which is all desperately needed–and for your patience and help in developing this profile.

If you’re going to get a tattoo, get it from Lisa!–not only will you be supporting a counter-cultural vegan who’s in the process of building her career, you will get vegan ink, and YOU WILL GET AN INCREDIBLE TATTOO!!  And please let her know if you do that Jan sent you =)

Tattoos and Suicide

Thanks to L+T for the free-from-prison gift, and to amazing tattooist Lisa Korpos for her great work!

Shine On You Crazy Diamond.  By Pink Floyd, my unquestionable, unequivocal favorite band, a band that didn’t just make music, but high art in the form of compositional sonic landscapes.  The song is a 26 minute, 11 second masterpiece cut into two tracks, the first track and the last track on Wish You Were Here, separated with three other songs in between.  It is the finest album I’ve ever heard.  And Shine On is the definite best “track.”  It says so very much, musically and lyrically.  On a superficial level it is about the band’s original lead singer, guitarist and songwriter, Syd Barrett, who eventually burnt out his mind by doing massive doses of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) on a daily basis for as many as two years.  “Come on you raver,” Roger Waters sings, “you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!”  It morphs into a contemplation on the downfall of the artistic individual in general, about the dangers inherent in pushing your psyche to the brink in an effort perhaps to produce something brilliant, and perhaps simply to escape reality–which actually may be an important component of the solipsism inherent in most creative endeavors.

The song is exquisite.  It is vivid , wistful, intense, ever-changing, staggeringly beautiful, and packs an intense emotional wallop.  It is sui generis–Latin for utterly without equal.  Nothing else like it in the world.

My brother David, too, was sui generis.  Meet him once and you’d remember it forever.  He was the life of the party, even without an actual party.  He’d walk into a room and light the place up so much you practically had to shield your eyes.  He had the most beautiful, joyous smile.  His sense of humor was legendary; I remember one night he and my brother Brandon and I were camping (in our dad’s massive undeveloped back yard in Riverside) and David had us laughing our heads off for hours–telling jokes, doing impressions, relating personal stories.  Laughing so loud and hard, in fact, that our dad trekked a couple hundred yards out to the tent to tell us to shut up.  We of course thought he was a monster or vicious killer, so David pulled out his long curved knife and Brandon and I shot at dad with our BB guns.

And David had that rare form of humor than transcended age differences.  Driving to Arizona when I was about 8, he was telling a story about being solicited by a prostitute when he was stationed in Saigon with the Marines in the early ‘90s; it was hilarious to me, it was hilarious to 14-year-old Brandon, and it was hilarious to our dad.  I think David had a profound impact on the development of my own sense of humor, which has always been one of my best qualities:  my ability to see the humor in every situation, no matter how grim or personally traumatic (you’ll see what I mean if I ever get my prison memoir Rebel Hell published).  It lends a certain bearableness to living in this fucked-up, cruel, tragic world.  Once you comprehend that your own life is all a farce, you’re a step ahead.  And this helps me not just in my writing, but with interpersonal relationships and life in general.

David was a badass, too.  In the best possible way.  He was a snowboarder, covered in tattoos–a full sleeve on one arm, both pecs, the legs (his one-time roommate was a tattoo artist, so he got a bunch done for really cheap or maybe free).  David and his friends would leap off the Mission Bay Bridge in San Diego, which is about a 50-foot jump, in the middle of the night.  He totally SHONE ON like someone nearly crazed with indefatigable joie de vivre.  Truly lived life like he meant it.  Like it mattered.

The last time I saw him was 9 years ago this month–maybe even this week.  Two of my best friends at the time, Marcus and Travis (for some reason twins freaked David out a little), were on a summer-long surfing trip.  I joined them for a few days in Carlsbad, a coastal town about halfway between my L.A.-area hometown and San Diego, where David lived at the time.  I decided to pay him a visit.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple years; this was not long after I got my own car and was allowed to travel solo.

His apartment in San Diego, the last place he lived.

When I arrived at his apartment he whipped up some homemade chili and corn bread and we walked to the corner store for beer.  I was 18 and caught in that desperate pre-21, alcohol-enjoying-stage where we’d go to great lengths to procure booze:  one friend would shoplift it for us; other times we’d hang out with “Uncle Joe,” a 40-something Indian immigrant with an asphyxiating stench who’d take our cash to the liquor store in exchange for an hour or two of company and a 99-cent tall can of 211 Steel Reserve.

Over dinner, David told me a story about something that happened his senior year of high school.

It was some 9 years prior; he and two friends decided to skip school for the day.  They awoke before dawn and drove up to a lookout point in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains.  They shared a fifth of Jim Beam as the sun rose and painted the valley and foothills in brilliant purples and then oranges and then lit it up all the way.  Only when David was good and drunk did he realize:

“Oh, shit!  I have a fuckin test today!”  One that he absolutely could not miss.

His friends laughed.  “Screw it, man, that ain’ happ’nin.”  Eventually he convinced them to drop him off  school.  Took the test, still blasted– apparently he could hold his liquor.  There’s nothing worse than a man who gets drunk and starts acting idiotic and violent (one of the many reasons I despise alcohol).  When David walked to the teacher’s desk and dropped the test face-down, the teacher stared at him sidelong.  After a year with David in his class, the teacher knew my brother.  Knew his devil-may-care attitude, which emanated from his pores like whiskey.  “David, have you been drinking?”

“Nah, course not.”  He began walking out of the classroom.

“I think you need to go see Principal Couts.”

David chuckled.  “Fine by me.  I’ll go visit Couts.”  Walking out, he flicked a salute and, wearing that infamous grin, called over his shoulder, “Have a good one!”

“Let me smell your breath,” Principal Couts said in his office.

David sat on the other side of the desk.  He raised an eyebrow.  “Why do you wanna smell my breath?  That’s weird.”

“David, let me smell your breath.”

David sighed.  Fuck it, right?  He inhaled deeply, from the bottom of his lungs, leaned forward, and unleashed a big fat WHOOOOOOSH of whiskey breath right into the principal’s face.  Then he sat back and shrugged.

That was David.

Oh, and the test?  The one he took drunk off his ass without studying for?  He aced that bitch!

On October 3, 2003, I got a call from my dad on the way to a classic rock festival.  “David killed himself last night.”

I was stunned, to say the least.  To the point where it didn’t seem real, and stayed that way until the funeral a week later, when I saw his dead body in the casket, and I saw my father crying for the first time in my life.  My mom actually wrote and recorded a gorgeous song about him, about knowing him as a child when she was married to our dad (David and I had different mothers), and then losing touch with him when my mom and dad got divorced, called “I Never Said Goodbye.”  I’d love for you to take a listen.

Fuck, it still doesn’t seem real.  Sometimes I see someone that looks like him, and I think, Holy shit, maybe he didn’t kill himself!!  Or I’ll wake up from a dream in which he appeared, and in that half-asleep state of wavering-reality, and think, He’s not dead–David would NEVER kill himself!  Then the rational mind takes over and my heart is broken anew.

He was one of my favorite people in the world.  I’ll never get over it–the loss will never stop hurting.  None of us know why he did it.  I wish I knew.  But I try not to dwell on the sorrow; I try to focus on how amazing a life he had considering it ended at just 27 (my age now).  On how many lives he touched while he was here.  The vast majority of humans live for many decades longer than David did and still don’t live as much as he did.  I wish I could believe that one day we will meet again, in some afterlife, but I know it’s not going to happen.  It’s a fairy-tale hope.  But you know what?  That’s okay.  That’s life, and that’s death.  He has returned to the Earth and left behind a beautiful legacy.  I knew him until I was 18, and I count myself pretty fucking lucky for it.  Totally worth the sorrow I’ve experienced as a result of his death.   This may seem macabre, but I truly believe it’s far more tragic to live a long pointless life than it is to live a short but intense, meaningful, profoundly influential life, like he did.

And so I return to the beginning:  my tattoo.  Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a tribute to him as well.  To the amazing, inspiring way he lived.  And, perhaps most important of all, it is a reminder to me:  LIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT.  LIKE IT FUCKING MATTERS.  Because it does.  It really does.  And who knows how much longer we have?

It is a reminder to be ME, crazy fuck-you wild me, to shine on, to speak my mind and write what I want and live how I want, no matter what the world thinks.

Today would have been David’s 36th birthday.  This is my tribute to him.  My love letter.  My thank-you note.  Happy birthday brother.