art by Joey Feldman
TAXI TO THE SUBURBS … NO ROOM AT THE INN … A SAVAGE ENCOUNTER ON A STAIRWAY IN THE DARK… TERROR HITCHES A LIFT ON THE BATTERSEA PARK ROAD…
I must’ve been early getting to the Latchmere Theatre that Monday. The theatre was situated above a recently renovated pub along Battersea’s conveyor-belt main street. I was wearing my Allen Ginsberg skull-mask with glasses to avoid unwanted confrontations. I found the back entrance up a newly erected iron fire escape and went inside.
Immediately on my left, there was a door. It was open. It looked like a toilet. Inside, a dark figure hunched over the pan. My god, I thought, I hadn’t expected such realism, not so soon anyway. I’ve been out in the country for two years, so I’m out of touch with theatre. I didn’t like to ask if he was okay. Actors get funny at rehearsals, though I didn’t remember a bag of plumber’s tools lying there in the actual book. So I moved on.
Stumbling down a dark corridor, over pipes and dangerously loose wires I made my way toward sounds of banging and out-of-tune whistles.
“Ah Hullo!” I grabbed the hand of a tall, slender character emerging from a door with light beyond. He was wearing shades. I shook his hand warmly.
“My God, you look just like him,” I said. He looked at me and he looked at the mask I was wearing. “Oh, sorry, don’t worry,” I said as I removed it. “It’s me, Ralpho Steadman. You must be playing Hunter S. Thompson. It’s amazing! You could be him.”
“What!?” he looked at me strangely.
“Hunter.” I continued, “You’ve got him off to a tee, the way you move, the nervous twitch. The weird, deep voice ….. Amazing.”
“Er…” He looked a little nonplussed.
“Oh sorry,” I said. “Relax, it’s okay. I’m not spying. Just looking in. You know. You’re great – keep it up. Ah…don’t I know your face. From telly perhaps? Great stuff.”
“Don’t think so,” he said shuffling uneasily.
“Oh sorry. It’s theatre, right?” I replied, looking for openers. “Real acting! None of those crappy re-takes. Straight off first time. Know your lines. Tradition. That sort of thing. What’s your name? I ought to know you.”
“It’s Arnold,” he said. “I’m the electrician.”
“Ah…yes – just the man I want to see. Look – er, my wife’s thinking of opening a nursery school in our outbuilding. Nothing grand. About 30 kids. Proper thing. Not just child-minding. The place needs electrifying of course. You ever work out of town? Never mind. I’m looking for Lou Stein. Is he here?”
“Try up those stairs. Take a left, along the corridor, then right down the end. They’ll know.”
“Thanks. And don’t forget – day in the country – do you good.” I scribbled out my number and turned to leap upstairs.
“Oopsaaaieeeeeeee!!” A sharp pain, like thirteen cattle prods all at once, took my breath away as I drove my shin bone into the bonnet of a huge, red fibreglass Chevy convertible being carried across my path.
“Ouch and Hell!” I screamed, as I tried to hold in the agony and sorrows I’d long forgotten. “Sorry, my fault! Is that it? The red convertible? Oh no! Arrrgh! No!”
“Are you alright?” The voice came from a tiny girl in a cream-white fluffy V-neck sweater who had been carrying the Chevy with another figure in the shadows.
“Blood!” I screamed. “I’m bleeding! Oh God, all over my pants. Get me a doctor quick! A real doctor. Nothing Gonzo – I don’t want to die ….!”
“Relax man. It’s only red paint. We just sprayed the Chevy.” Continue reading
Do you remember the first time you ever looked at a piece of art and said to yourself, “Holy shit, this is beautiful. I get this. I relate” . . . or whatever it was that caused “that feeling” no matter what type of art it was?
I was working as a store artist at Tower Records in Philadelphia in 1990/91, producing store displays. drawing, painting — whatever it took. I still don’t know how I managed to get the job. My boss, Jim, came to me one day and said, “Your work reminds me of this guy Steadman…have you ever read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?”
I said, “I don’t know what that is.”
The next day, Jim brought me in a copy. I’m not much of a reader as I am a “skim through the pages to look at the drawings type of guy.” I was blown away. I looked at these somewhat perfect, yet really dirty, hyperkinetic, mistakes-and-all drawings and got that “feeling.” There was no internet at this time so I had to hit the used book stores. I needed to see more of this “Steadman.”
I found a few, and that’s when I believe I went to “art school.” All through school I always drew. I was even awarded the classroom cartoonist award early on. When my father passed I was 19, I thought it would be a good idea to go to art school. Three weeks later, fueled by anger, resentment, and a student loan, i dropped out.
In 2000 the internet was starting to work. I found out Ralph Steadman was having a show in Colorado. I don’t remember how but through some folks help, I got there. I went to the gallery early — to just walk around and see the originals.They were intimidating. Inspiring. Beautiful.
I was told by the gallery owner that the opening was private and I was not going to be able to attend. I had come all the way from Philadelphia to meet my “Da Vinci” and to see the work of a living master. Ralph and his wife, Anna, walked in a few moments later. I was in shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt. But I had a backpack. And in that backpack I had a sketchbook and pen to give to Mr. Steadman, as a way of thanking him. Maybe he’ll even create some more with these gifts. Yes he didn’t know me, but he unknowingly helped me.
I’ll never forget Ralph hugging me and asking me if I liked the Beatles. He then went into the song “Your Mother Should Know.” We goofed off for a bit, then Ralph said, “Are you coming to the opening tonight?” — in your face, Mr. Gallery Owner.
There’s more to that story but let’s go to New York. Ralph was on a book tour. Hunter had just passed. I got some time to spend with Ralph at the gallery. I told him that I have tried not drawing like him, in his style, but it’s what I’m most comfortable with. His response was something to the effect of “America always makes a cheaper version.” But he also said to “keep drawing, keep fucking up — dedicate your life to making mistakes . . .If you enjoy what you’re doing, by all means keep doing it.”
Since then there has been contact with Ralph. Even some involvement with a drawing table, but that’s another story. This weekend is Ralph’s birthday and he turns a young 80-years-old. When I see his new work I can only think that he’s just getting started. There’s no stopping this very weird creative ball of fire.
I have seen a pattern in successful people who seem to have what I want. They are giving, selfless, down to earth and have an infectious good spirit about them. This is how I know Ralph Steadman. So for the inspiration, for the generosity, for the friendship, and for the body of work you continue to create:
A most happiest of birthdays to you.
Thank you Ralph Steadman and God Bless
This week marks 46 years since Scanlan’s Monthly published Hunter S. Thompson’s legendary piece, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.
words, art and photos courtesy of Ralph Steadman
I had only just arrived in America in late April of 1970 and was staying with a friend in the Hamptons on Long Island to decompress. His name was Dan Rattiner, who ran the local newspaper, THE EAST VILLAGE OTHER. After a week I began to feel I was getting in the way and it was time to make my trip into New York to look for work.
He had so generously picked me up at Kennedy Airport a week earlier and we drove into New York and out the other side. I roll my own cigarettes and without thinking lit up in his car. Dan said, rather sweetly, I thought, that they tended not to encourage that kind of habit, particularly in a car, because it was a bit like “giving cancer to your friends.” I gulped down the smoke. Then I lowered the window and choked the filthy excrement out into the city.
That was OK, even in 1970, and I respected his guarded request. It was then that I first saw the crossing sign at intersections which came up in green and red, pronouncing, WALK, and then, DON’T WALK. I laughed about it for some reason. I think it was the tone. The command. The admonition.
Which ever one you obeyed, you were guilty. I was beginning already to like the city. DRINK, DON’T DRINK. SMOKE, DON’T SMOKE. PUSH THAT OLD LADY OUT OF YOUR WAY. DON’T PUSH THAT OLD LADY OUT OF YOUR WAY. BOMB THE SHIT OUT OF SOMETHING. DON’T BOMB THE SHIT OUT OF SOMETHING. RULE THE WORLD. DON’T RULE THE WORLD. OK. FORGET IT. WE CAN DO ANYTHING. WHAT D’YA NEED? HAVE A NICE DAY! $$$$$$$$$$$$. FOREIGN POLICY? WHAT WAS THAT?
It kept me in a kind of reverie until we got to the Hamptons. It was my first true vision of the American way of life — a slice of the American Dream. The law-abiding vision of madness contained in a mechanical device. It was the law masquerading as a road sign. DON’T, was the true mantra. Americans love DON’T. Thou shalt not. The bedrock of received knowledge — the Ten Commandments. The God-fearing pioneers who still had a long way to go. GO! DON’T GO. FUCK YOU GOD! We’re on our way . . .
I spent the week with Dan and his wife Pam. Enjoying their spontaneous kindness. Their joy in themselves. Their genuine desire to be nice to strangers and make them happy. It was then that I began to think that it was time I moved on and leave them inside their euphoric bubble. Bless their hearts. It was time to go into New York.
Of course, the very next day the phone rang and it was for me: ”Are you Ralph Steadman?”
“I bin lookin all over for you. Dey told me that you was already in de States. I got a job for yer. Do yer wan it??”
It was a call from JC Suares, art editor of Scanlan’s magazine in New York. He said, “We bin lookin’ all over for ya!” He growled with a pronounced Brooklyn accent. “How’d ya like to go to de Kentucky Derby wid an ex- Hell’s Angel who just shaved his head, huh! and cover de race. His name is Hunter Thompson.”
“Johnson? Never heard of him,” I replied. “What’s he do? Does he write?”
“The what?” I replied.
“De Duuurby,” he repeated.
“You mean the DAAARBY!”
“OK,” He said, “De DAAARBY!” We were in agreement. “But he doesn’t want a photographer. He wants sometink weird and we’ve seen yer work, man!”