Thanks to Rodrigo Katafú, on the 10th of March last year, I had the opportunity of organizing a conference with Mike Watten Hangar, at the artistic creative centre in Barcelona.
For those who do not know Mike, he is, from my point of view, one of the most emblematic musicians of the alternative culture in the USA , during the 80’s and 90’s, particularly in the state of California.
He has played with high level bands and musicians such as Minutemen (his own band at the beginning) Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, R.H.C.P., Frank Black, Porno for Pyros, Joe Mascis, Carla Bouzolich, and a long list of musicians and reference bands of the alternative scene.
Mike Watt plays the bass. Although he most probably plays many other instruments, he defines himself as bassist. The peculiar grave sound that he produces, and the rhythms – strange melodies- “fun fuzz rock” makes his music quite characteristic.
For some, he is a constant innovator. His research, and creative orientation is considered necessary to understand the actual underground musical scene in the United States. He is a reference when it comes to discovering integral creativity developed in the non conventional circuits of music (and art). Furthermore he is an obsessive composer and a prolific art activist, founder of several disco graphic companies (New Alliance, Clenchedwrench), art director and writer (as can be seen in his web – blog in which his impressions and experiences of the world can be seen every day).
After the conference we organized a meal with him, the members of his band and other touring companions as well as some visual artists resident in La Escocesa, entity responsible for the event. The experience we shared that day seemed so special to me that in some way I felt indebted to him and to his musicians. I wanted to return the favour by the writing of this article, perhaps as a tribute, or in order to keep in touch with him/them.
During the conference, Mike explained that near his home in San Pedro, California, opposite the beach, there is the public sculpture “Jacobs Ladder” by the artist Jasper D’Ambrosi, done on the mid- 80s. This work shows two merchant seamen clutching each other while being rescued from the sea. Both are hanging from the ladder of a rescue helicopter. What makes de sculpture symbolic and special is that the second seaman being rescued is giving his life jacket to someone still in the sea beneath him, even before he himself is in the helicopter.
In some way, the symbolism of this work is important to understand Mike Watt and his philosophy about life and artistic creation. It expresses a clear message of solidarity to mankind or perhaps, even better, a message of forced solidarity. Therefore, it represents closeness and the necessary cooperation between people. These concepts fed the artists among whom was Mike Watt, and became essential for the development of the local punk art.
The spirit of the neighborhood and mutual support gathered together people of different tastes and preferences, whose only points in common were freedom of artistic and personal expression, non conformism, fierce anti-politically correct consumerism and a critical attitude to the lack of values of solidarity.
Subsequently, a powerful alternative emerged, allowing this artistic scene to connect with other similar scenes and alternative circuits, permitting global recognition, first in Los Angeles and afterwards in the whole country.
Mikes father was a sailor all his life so it becomes obvious the attachment that he has to this work and sculpture. The sea and travelling were always present in his youth, stimulating his ever-constant desire to travel, to tour with bands and to discover new worlds to this day.
I consider his contribution to be of paramount importance, taking also into consideration that his initial colleagues are travelling around the world presenting their work, giving constant concerts and all sort of activities, independent of their prevailing good or bad economic situation. It seems to me that they are committed to projects that express their creative freedom and ethical values, as long as they can cover expenses. They will continue to do that as long as they live. They are a great example of tenacity and humility, qualities to be particularly admired.
Art, community and solidarity are perhaps a good philosophical base for this kind of cultural activists, who in my opinion, are really interesting and the foundation of many important cultural and social movements.
Those who explicitly issue the message “think globally, act locally” or implicitly through individual behavior, are in my opinion, very necessary in today’s world. The present overload of global information to which individuals are subjected distorts our perspectives and prevents us seeing those brilliant and special models as frequently as we need them.
To find models of activists like Mike Watt, based on his accessibility and daily work, makes sense to people searching for personal creativity and artistic examples to be followed.
Kike Bela (originally published on Shookdown magazine, 01/09 of 2015)