Dead Rock Stars




















different colors made of tears
graphite, cheap ass ballpoint pen, watercolor on paper

A few people have asked me why I chose DEAD rock stars for my current Pen Noise project rather than living ones. Certainly there are plenty of living rock stars, and ones that I hold in high esteem. So why did I choose dead rock stars and where am I going when I’m drawing these guys?

The whole project started as a random accident. First when I decided to draw Lou Reed after he died and then when I decided to draw Kurt Cobain on the 20th anniversary of this death.

In all honesty, Lou Reed never meant much to me, but his song Heroin on Velvet Underground and Nico is the best musical simulation of getting high on heroin ever put to music. I am a recovered addict (one lucky enough to have lived), and I like listening to Reed’s “Heroin” because I like the way it makes me feel. I wrote about that extensively in this article in CounterPunch.

Kurt Cobain, on the other hand,  is a kindred soul. I saw him perform many times, and I always knew he was not meant for this world. Tender soul as threadbare as his green sweater. I feel that man. Even when he’s dead. He had IT, and IT for the record is very difficult to live with. So many of my Dead Rock Stars had IT, and IT eventually killed them. Whether drug overdoses, suicide or liver disease from a life of pouring poison into their bodies, these guys and girls died from not being able to cope.

But their music somehow helped me cope or marked a big memory in my life. I can’t draw just any old dead rock star. They have to be ones that resonate for me personally. Some of them aren’t even stars. I’ve drawn Elliott Smith and Townes Van Zant as well as Jimi Hendrix and Ian Curtis.

When I put the book together that is going to go with my upcoming solo art show at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA, I will have an accompanying letter that I write to the dead artist. The letters will take any kind of format. Some will be sincere reflections on the music. Others may be descriptive stories from my life and why their music is memorable and important. Some might be lists. Some poems. I will have to let the Dead Rock Stars’ music take me there.

I think part of me chose to draw Dead Rock Stars to commemorate my life and the fact that I actually am alive and not dead even though I grew up in the rock and roll generation of death, death and more death.

jimi700Today is the day for you to rise
cheap ass ballpoint pen and india ink on paper

The world we live in isn’t really cooperative for people who feel most comfortable expressing themselves through music and poetry (which is what good rock lyrics are). Unless you are a superstar raking in the cash (which itself can become its own death sentence), musicians live on the outskirts inside their heads, and their heads are often very confusing places, just like the heads of other artists.

What is it about rock that fulfills a Death Wish? Or what came first – the death wish or the rock?

ianclrlrg700Don’t turn away in silence
cheap ass ballpoint pen and chalk pastel on paper

Many people have asked me why I don’t identify the musicians in the titles. I really want people to see these artists as spectres whose spirits linger in the present and provide a universal humanity separate from what they were locked into as Rock Stars. These are not portraits. They are more like maps or evidence of the energy that the Rock Stars left us when they left the world. They could be images of all of us on some level or at least pieces of us.

These dead rock stars I draw they are all angels. They were angels when they were living, and they are angels when they are dead. In many ways, they are my guardian angels. They watch over me and their music frequently helps me get through times when I find it difficult to breathe, when just being seems like an insurmountable task. Isn’t it ironic that these dead guys sometimes help keep me alive?

This is not to say that they were “good” people by standard social definitions, but they are people who struggled. They had a desperate need to express themselves, and that need was lethal. I understand that. I do. So yeah, they are not the kind of angels spreading their wings in church on Sunday morning. But they spread their wings in the church of my heart. And I feel them beating. I do.

So maybe my Dead Rock Stars collection is really a catalog of angels. Just like Jimi Hendrix sung about how: “Angel came down from heaven yesterday. And she stayed here just long enough to rescue me.”

This project is not really an exorcism, but maybe more like an exhumation. I’m bringing back the dead to celebrate life. I want to say, “Hey, maybe you are dead, but you are not forgotten. Maybe you can’t write songs or play drums and guitar now, but I am channeling you through my Cheap Ass Ballpoint Pens, and check it out. We made a new song together. One that’s scribbled on paper.”


Fly on My Sweet Angel
Jimi Hendrix: Torn Between Two Worlds

The Spike in Our Veins
Lou Reed and That Junkie Life

Anton Corbijn’s “Control”
Isolated Emotions: the Rise and Fall of Joy Division

A Review of “When You’re Strange”
In the Court of the Lizard King