Zappa, Ramones & Punk

by New York Latin Culture February 17, 2013

Cecilia Jurado with works by Moris
Cecilia Jurado with works by Moris. Photo Keith Widyolar

Rock artists Cal Schenkel and Arturo Vega discussed their art with punk, poet and diplomat Gaspar Orozco last night at Y Gallery as part of the exhibition “Metal Coyote.”

Gallery director Cecilia Jurado explained, “‘Metal’ is a style of music, and ‘Coyote’ is slang for a person who takes people across the border. This exhibition is about the cultural cross-fertilization that goes both ways.”

Cal Schenkel ~ Safe as Milk

Cal Schenkel best known for his work on album covers for Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Captain Beefheart, showed slides of his work and told stories about their creation. His original paintings are available as part of the exhibition.

Arturo Vega ~ Hey Ho, Let’s Go

Arturo Vega designed the Ramones logo and became part of their Rock family, touring with them for almost 30 years. Vega first connected with Rock as a boy in Chihuahua, Mexico when he heard a song on the radio. He called it “Happy Music” and has spent his entire life reconnecting with that feeling. Years later he discovered the song was Elvis’ “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Arturo Vega
Arturo Vega by Keith Widyolar

“There is no art theory in my work,” explained Vega. “What makes me free makes me happy.” As a young man in the 1960s, Vega headed to San Francisco to find his freedom. “In those days, you could always find something to eat, a place to sleep and someone to sleep with.”

Returning to Mexico and finding some success as a performer, Vega got fed up with the political battles there and came to New York. “When I saw Alice Cooper in 1972, I realized that Rock had stopped being the revolutionary force I knew and had become simple theater.”

In those days, Vega walked the streets of New York wearing a psychedelic swastika armband of his own creation. He explained, “I wasn’t promoting the Nazis. It was about overcoming evil by turning it into something beautiful.” A shopkeeper once came after Vega with a baseball bat, and on seeing the numbers tattooed on the man’s arm, Vega was very sorry, but there was no way he could explain it to the shopkeeper.

Vega was making art. He doesn’t draw really, but was attracted to simple graphics. Some of his pieces at the time were paintings of supermarket sale posters. He went crazy for photo booths and fell in love with cheap t-shirts imported from Poland. He thought they were exotic pieces of art because they managed to make their way out from behind the Iron Curtain. Vega’s simplistic style was a perfect match for the stripped down rock of the Ramones.

The Ramones and Arturo Vega
The Ramones and Arturo Vega

Vega had a loft on the Bowery. One day a fellow poked his head in the door. He said that every time he visited the girl living upstairs, he heard the same music that he liked coming from Vega’s loft. He wanted to see who was listening to it. The fellow was Dee Dee Ramone. He liked Vega’s art. This was while the band was still forming out in Queens, but Dee Dee insisted that Vega design their logo once the band got started.

CBGB’s was around the corner from Vega’s loft and the rest is history. For a time Johnny and Dee Dee lived with Vega. In almost 30 years, Vega missed only two concerts out of more than 2,000 shows around the world.

Vega said his Mexican heritage was never an issue. He was always just Arturo. This inclusive point of view was an important part of the character of all the music that came out of New York in the 1970s including Disco, Punk, Salsa and Hip Hop. Disco allowed the gay community to go out and express themselves without being harassed and everyone was welcome to join them. Punk allowed anyone to become a musician. Salsa was Cuban music from Spain and Africa with a strong Puerto Rican influence in New York that went global in the 70s. Back in the day, anyone with a turntable and speakers could make a party. This inclusive character is an important part of what made Disco, Punk, Salsa and Hip-Hop global cultural phenomenon.

It’s interesting that it was a Mexican-American artist who helped create this very American icon, the Ramones.

Gaspar Orozco – Punk, Poet, Diplomat

Arturo Vega
Gaspar Orozco by Keith Widyolar

Gaspar Orozco founded the punk band Revolucion X in Chihuahua, Mexico in the 1980s. They made two albums, one was a hit in France. He said, “Back in the day, we were 4 or 5 punks among hundreds of metal fans. As you can imagine, it was interesting.” Orozco is now a published poet and diplomat. His latest book is Autocinema (CONACULTA, Mexico, 2011). Orozco is now the Mexican cultural attache in Los Angeles.

Death was very present in ancient Aztec and Maya Mexican culture through the tradition of human sacrifice. The ancients believed that blood had to flow to keep the world alive. Punk style presents an infatuation with symbols of death. We asked Orozco if Punk manifested itself any differently in Mexico because of its history. He said, “Our main influences were Punk bands from Spain and Chile. There was a punk band that sang in one of the indigenous languages, but otherwise Mexican Punk was pretty much the same as everywhere else.” Kids will be kids. It doesn’t matter where they are from.

There are less than “20-20-24 hours to go…” for your last chance to see “Metal Coyote” with work by Los Jaichackers, Brad Kahlhamer, Juan Luna Avín, Julio Morales, Moris, Eamon Ore Giron, Aurie Ramírez, Cal Schenkel, and Arturo Vega. Y Gallery is open 12-7pm. The show closes today. The show has been extended until February 24th. Hey ho, Let’s Go…

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