TOPANGA MESSENGER -- December 15, 2005

"Toilet and Log's Rodeo Grounds Art Scene"

by Pablo CapraArtwork by Dani Katz

In the final years of the bohemian Rodeo Grounds community, artists James Mathers and his girlfriend have created a wild local art scene in their sprawling ramshackle residence on the controversial property that Lower Topangans must finally turnover to State Parks in February 2006. As the clock ticks toward the end, a manic atmosphere of almost ecstatic creativity and partying engulfs Mathers' abode. Looking like a cross between a caveman and a dandy, Mathers has changed his name to "Toilet." His girlfriend is "Log," a tall punk/goth princess.

Before State Parks bought Lower Topanga in 2001, Toilet was a subtenant renting an airstream trailer on a three-acre property in the Rodeo Grounds that was already notorious for its art crowd, annual summer parities, and as a crashing spot for celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. and John Drew Barrymore.

But Toilet's fellow renters were relocated early on. Half of the property that Toilet once shared with them has been boarded up. Although Toilet still lives in his airstream trailer, he hasn't had to pay rent since 2003 (when his landlord was relocated).

The focal points of Toilet and Log's art scene are a large art studio and a campfire pit.

The art studio has high ceilings, a small alcove with a bed, a fireplace, and paints and canvases lying everywhere for anyone who might be inspired.

Toilet likes to collaborate on paintings with any painters who happen to show up. His newest series of paintings is distinguished by its excessive use of glitter. On one of them he has written, "Where we come from everything sparkles and everything is free. Come home."

Toilet's weathered paintings spill out of his art studio and are scattered all around the yard, alongside sculptures by Toilet's friend Jeanbatiste, who sculpts in a garage on the property. Toilet's yard also contains several painted wheelchairs (he prefers them to regular chairs) and rotting couches that are grouped around a fire pit.

"Idlers of the Bamboo Grove" is the title of the Lower Topanga poetry book published by Brass Tacks Press in 2002, which Toilet illustrated and contributed poems to. It is also a way of life that has become the basis for Toilet and Log's art scene.

"I value the social above the productive," says Toilet, who doesn't have a regular job. Log doesn't have one either.

Toilet and Log often invite friends (and friends of friends) to crash at their place for weeks, months, even years. When they're not throwing parties, they hold court by the campfire, hanging out with whoever drops by.

They preside over their scene in costume or in the nude. Toilet likes to get a quick laugh from newcomers with his lewd catchphrase, "I am Toilet and your ass is mine!"

Many come to Toilet and Log's simply to mix with the many different kinds of people who tend to show up. Around their campfire, you can meet the Hollywood elite and eccentric goths; millionaires and beach bums; locals and travelers; gurus and doctors; white-haired hippies and dramatic teenagers; rappers, Rastafarians, deejays, and punk rockers.

On any given day, a crowd may gather at Toilet and Log's for an impromptu drum circle, a movie shoot, or a barbecue. Log may be naked, chanting, and playing her harmonium. Toilet may be holding forth on how the roots of arundo (the bamboo that grows everywhere) is a source one of the most powerful psychedelic on the planet, DMT.

Toilet and Log also hold many sacred and magical rituals at their place. Their latest ritual was a symbolic wedding they performed with 15 others around the campfire.

"We decided to marry the Yang active principle of Voodoo to the Yin receptive function of Dada and gave birth to a new art form called Doodoo, also known as brown magic. Then we anointed everyone as low Doodoo gurus. Afterwards we all smoked pot," Toilet says.

Toilet and Log's anarchist lifestyle has been a constant source of conflict with State Parks, who is trying to depopulate the lower Canyon. But Toilet and Log say that they want to keep the artistic spirit of the Lower Topanga community alive until its last days.

"More than making art, this place has been strongest at making artists," Toilet says. "I wonder what Topanga will be like without us."

THE MALIBU TIMES -- August 4, 2005

"The struggle of survival told in 'Rat Tales'"

by Austen Tate
Photo by Pablo Capra
Old photo by Phil McMahan
Artwork by James Mathers

A unique illustrated book by a local tells the tale of the old surfer man in the shed's nightly war against the invasion of rats.

As the Lower Topanga community, an artist colony in the Rodeo Grounds, patiently awaits its fate – the final eviction process by the California Department of State Parks – Robert Lynn Overby, who once resided in what is also called the Bamboo Grove, is already out on his own. State Parks officials considered Overby, a.k.a. Baretta, a non-resident and therefore he was not given relocation funds or any assistance in finding a new home.

"Kill or be killed," said the 55-year-old surfer man in the shed of his situation, one that can be compared to his struggle against the nightly invasion of his former Topanga home by rats.

In the midst of the chaos and loss of his home, Baretta – who is also an actor, photojournalist (his photos have been published in The Malibu Times), house painter and now a writer of prose and poetry – recorded his stories of struggle and war against the wild and wily rats that tormented him in his Topanga shed in a storybook aptly titled "Rat Tales." Twenty-six-year-old Pablo Capra, mentor and artist of Lower Topanga, helped Baretta with the narration, and fellow Lower Topangan artist James Mathers illustrated the tales.

Baretta had endured hardships before state enforcement agency officials were sent to his "Grizzly Adams" shed to tear down his misery with pickaxes. It was inside this shed where the "Rat Tales" began and where the old man would have to struggle in the decay and dirt against the vermin.

"They rushed at me with their little claws and they wanted to kill me," Baretta described. "I felt them breathing in my nostrils at night, looking over me and I felt them crawling on my belly.

"It was something I didn't think about before," he added, but "the numbers grew and their offspring flourished in the later years of my shedly life. Rats swarming. I had to punish them for being naughty and that's where the book came from."

In the book, Baretta shows compassion for the lizards that get stuck in glue traps, but shows no mercy to the rats for which the traps were meant to catch. He describes "circus actor" rats, cannibal rats, flying rats and even talks about a "carnivorous species" of squirrels, which he believes eat the rats that get stuck in the traps he laid out.

(Warning for parents: Language and graphic descriptions in the book might be considered inappropriate for children's reading.)

Mathers describes Baretta as a "classic Southern California voice. His whole life is like a Steinbeck novel. He lives like a Bukowski character."

Born in San Diego, Baretta went to Point Loma High School and later majored in Speech at the local state college. He surfed as a teenager – a 1966 front-page photo in the San Diego Tribune showed the now rotund man as a handsome, slender, eager-looking 16-year-old at the World Surfing Championships in Ocean Beach, where he claims to have shaken hands with surf legend Duke Kahanamoku.

His foray into acting came, Baretta said, when he tried out for the play "Grapes of Wrath" with professors who took students to London for a national readers' theater workshop, giving him the opportunity to study acting under the legendary Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson.

However, fame and glory passed him by, and he returned to the West Coast in 1977, settling in the Topanga area.

It was here that he met his new friends, the ones he said inspired him to follow his creative roots.

"They were my new 'earth' friends," said Baretta, reminiscing on the days spent around the "Snake Pit" in the Rodeo Grounds over a 10-year period during the '80s.

Capra, one of those friends, is the founder of Brass Tacks Press, as well as a poet, editor and a writer for The Topanga Messenger. He collects the stories and history of Lower Topanga and compiles them into paperback books with illustrations. "Rat Tales" is the first in a series of the short storytelling books to be published by Brass Tacks Press. Growing up in Topanga with his father in the movie business linked Capra to artist/poet Robert "Jeremy Black" Campbell and Richard McDowell, co-founders of Brass Tacks. In 2002, they published "Idlers of the Bamboo Grove" and "Life as a Poet." "Rat Tales" will be the beginning of capturing the art and culture of the ending days in the Lower Topanga Rodeo Grounds.

Capra describes Baretta's book as a "black comedy with good comic sense, and timing," but the writer also has a deeper understanding of "Rat Tales."

"I think besides being a book about just killing rats, there is a bigger story of struggling to survive, which Baretta is [doing] living in an impoverished situation," Capra said. "And so that comes out in the book, in the way he treats the rats ... there is a parallel with his life and that of the rats."

Capra admires folk art storytelling such as The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales and feels Baretta's book fits in the genre of "literary folk tradition."

Both Mathers and Capra believe Baretta is important as a storyteller in their community.

"Baretta reveals the collective fears and misery of the state we are in here in Lower Topanga in our unconscious minds, being evicted," Capra said.

"Our world needs Baretta, he is a canary in the coal mine. Representing all that is being sanitized and disappeared from beach culture," Mathers summarized. "Rat Tales' is a cold look at what it means to be wild and human and how these two savage paradigms meet on the point of destruction."

And although it seems that Baretta's war against the rats is gruesome and unforgiving, he writes in the "Rat Tales" epilogue, "You must have sympathy for all creatures great and small, even though it was too late for the rats on the glue traps. They're doomed. Why do we doom these little rats?"

"Rat Tales" can be purchased online at www.lifeasapoet.com.

MALIBU MAGAZINE -- August/September 2005

"The Disappearing Bamboo Grove"

Article and photos by Sonja Magdevski
Old photo courtesy of Topanga Historical Society

The fight to save Lower Topanga

Pablo Capra is a denizen of the Rodeo Grounds, an area of the world that today only exists for a few fortunate souls. He moved there when he was 6 months old with his family, after his father cleaned out a flooded, mud-filled home he had fallen in love with that was devastated by the overflowing Topanga Creek in 1980. Twenty-five years later, Capra struggles with the thought of having to leave his homemade paradise to make way for the expansion of Topanga State Park.

The Rodeo Grounds is one of a few neighborhoods that comprise the 1,659 acres of the Lower Topanga Canyon area, which was purchased in August of 2001 by California State Parks after 64 percent of California citizens approved Proposition 12, the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000. As the largest park bond act in California history, a yes vote gave the state permission to collect $2.1 billion from taxpayers for park acquisition and development, with a majority of the funding allocated to cities and counties for neighborhood projects. A smaller portion of the proceeds was allotted for land acquisition, of which $43 million was used to purchase the Lower Topanga Canyon property.

"We are preserving and protecting a significant ecological corridor for future use and recreation and just as importantly we are preserving the habitat and wildlife of the area," said Deputy Director of California State Parks Roy Stearns. "As Los Angeles expands, more and more of these precious open spaces are being gobbled up by asphalt, driveways, houses and businesses and in the future we will need additional recreation space for people to enjoy."

The area has been coveted by California State Parks for several decades with the goal of creating a hiking trail that links the ocean to the Valley. Starting at Topanga State Beach, the trail would wind its way through Lower Topanga all the way up to Topanga State Park and beyond. The interim plan calls for removing invasive plant species, enhancing the native plant community, removing non-historic buildings, restoring the creek bed, protecting habitat and wildlife, and possibly, some day, restoring the wetlands and the lagoon that once existed before the Pacific Coast Highway was built. State Park officials admit this will be an arduous process lasting anywhere from 10 to 20 years or more. Regardless of the timeline, ecologists, environmentalists and many local residents celebrate the purchase.

The irony of the situation is that Pablo Capra said he was probably one of the state's citizens who voted yes for Proposition 12, because "who doesn't want clean water and clean air?" he asked. One of the main reasons he and his fellow residents live where they do is because they enjoy living immersed in nature, where the door delineating the outside from the inside is often blurred. He and his neighbors most likely also voted yes for Proposition 40 in 2002 which collected $2.6 billion dollars for land acquisition, park development, habitat protection, clean beaches, and more. Stearns stated that there isn't enough money in this lifetime to purchase all of the land that Californians would like state parks to protect. Pablo Capra wondered if Californians would still vote yes to these bond acts if they knew people would be evicted from their homes in the process.

Five million dollars has been allocated by State Parks to provide relocation funds for the area's evicted tenants, two-thirds of whom have already accepted their buy-out offers and have moved out. The average pay-out has been about $80,000 per household, depending on the size and condition of the home, with the highest payment so far reaching well over $200,000. The commercial district along the highway with its staple historic institutions has suffered a similar fate. Stearns said that businesses compatible with future visitor use of the park have a greater chance of remaining in place. The Topanga Ranch Motel closed in 2004 but will eventually be restored as a historic structure. Of the initial ten businesses, half have opted for a buyout, while the other five remain open, albeit somewhat tenuously, as they continue to work through arrangements with State Parks. Wylie's Bait and Tackle has been in business since 1946 and the Malibu Feed Bin is going on 40 years.

A Hidden Paradise

The Rodeo Grounds was, back in the day, an actual rodeo arena in the 1800s on a Mexican ranch. Today, the arena's outlines can still be seen from aerial photos. Before that, the area was once an important economic and cultural crossroads for Chumash and Tongva Native Americans who inhabited the land, and the area is purported by local legend to be a sacred Native American burial ground. At the turn of the 1900s, it was home to a Japanese fishing village, then, in the 1930s became camps for the young men of President Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps. Soon after it became the private hideaway for famous Hollywood movie stars in the 1940s who stole away with lovers and friends into the area's wooded seclusion and serenity.

Many of us have driven by Topanga Canyon Boulevard along the PCH numerous times without ever having the pleasure of experiencing the beauty and charm of Lower Topanga. Once inside the canopy of native and exotic species that has created this magical landscape below and beyond the road at the mouth of Topanga Canyon, the outside world seems far away. The sounds of traffic disappear, sunlight dances along Sycamore tops, slight breezes trickle through palm fronds, ducks casually paddle their way down the creek, and narrow, well-worn paths through dense thickets of bamboo beckon one deeper and deeper into this Alice in Wonderland-like world.

"We are fortunate enough to have landed like Columbus in this idyllic setting next to the ocean that does not exist anywhere anymore in the United States," said Robert Lynn Overby, (a.k.a. Baretta to those who know him), a resident of the area since the '60s. "I came from a little town called Ocean Beach near San Diego that had a beautiful pier where my father had a drug store, and when I came here it was just like coming from this little sleek surf town. My friends from UCLA brought me here to go surfing and at that time it was full of thugs, bikers, actors, surfers and artists right it in the middle of Los Angeles where we all lived for cheap. It was unbelievable. It seems like a hundred years ago. There was really special magic about this place."

Before state park acquisition, the area was home to a community of more than 80 households composed of artists, writers, filmmakers, surfers, local business-owners, photographers, families, students and retirees, many of whom have lived there for decades in a lifestyle that has been called eclectic, bohemian, and unconventional. Residents lived in a rural, village environment where everyone knew each other's families, histories, fears and dreams; where neighbors helped one another and the community pitched in for public works projects. In 1981, they collected $2,000 to construct a permanent foot bridge across the creek out of old telephone poles after floods destroyed the previous one. During the Malibu fires in 1993, residents used flares to control burn their own hillside and clear it of brush as fires were fast approaching after the fire department refused to enter the area with their trucks.

"People don't understand why we live here - some people think it is too rustic - sometimes we go through winters when there aren't any exits except on foot, but we still think it is the best place to live in the world," said Ray Casser, who with his wife Renate, has been a Lower Topanga resident since 1965. "I love nature and when I first came here I was instantly fascinated by the beauty and serenity of the place. Each time we come home at the end of the day we are reminded of how we live in paradise."

The Cost of Preservation

Unfortunately this idyllic community that emphasized tranquility instead of materialism has come to pay a high emotional price for this lifestyle. Their previous landlord, the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Ltd., (LAACO), allowed residents to live cheaply as long as they weren't bothered with the typical tenant/landlord grievances such as maintenance, plumbing, roofing, etc. Residents lived in rented homes with month-to-month leases on prime Southern California coastal real estate for $400 to $1,600, but were required to repair everything themselves regardless of the crisis. They even had to maintain their own roads. As a result, LAACO's extreme laissez-faire lease arrangements made it easy for longtime renters to feel like homeowners, as many people constructed beautiful additions to their homes, with bedrooms, offices, sunrooms, and art studios.

"I have lived here for 25 years and I have really grown roots here with my family," said Bernt Capra, Pablo's father. "My son Lucas was born here, Pablo was 6 months old when we moved here and my youngest daughter Michele loves it here. I have buried pets here. We have a vegetable garden and 15 fruits trees with avocado and fig trees and blackberries - it is just a different lifestyle here - and yet we are only 10 minutes from Santa Monica. This place made it possible for me to develop a life that has been very comfortable and full of happiness for me and my family because the cost of living is low. For entertainment you can take your surfboard to the beach and in the summertime lots of friends come to visit. Maintaining a family home as the center of gravity for our activities is very important to me and I don't want to lose that."

The Capra family is one of the remaining households that has refused to leave their home and who, along with the others, are currently in litigation against State Parks challenging the relocation plan. The residents' contend that a proper relocation committee was never formed, in which tenants comprise 50 percent, according to state relocation laws. Tenants and business owners alike have said they feel as if their voices were ignored throughout the planning process, even though they attended all meetings, repeatedly outlined their needs, formed a community association, and hired legal counsel. Ginny Wylie, owner of Wylie's Bait shop (which her grandfather started), also has a home on the property and said that if the process had been fair and equitable most of the tenants would have probably made agreements with State Parks by now. The initial court rulings in the case have not been favorable to residents.

Another impediment in the relocation process is finding equitable housing for residents, which in today's real estate market seems impossible, particularly for anything along the coast for the rates residents had been paying. As Bernt Capra pointed out, the only comparable location that has a surfing beach within walking distance surrounded by a lush, tree-filled environment with a creek running through it is Serra Retreat, which as he also highlighted, is a playground for millionaires.

"Living here has made me very open minded and it made me respect nature and helped me to become an artist with all of the other artists around as role models and inspiration," said Pablo Capra. "It is hard to get back a community that you grew up in so it would be hard to build another community like this because I have been here my entire life."

To read more about the residents of the area, Pablo Capra has published Idlers of the Bamboo Grove, a book of poetry and drawings from Lower Topanga Canyon residents available through Brass Tacks Press and local bookstores. The website is www.lifeasapoet.com. To learn more about Topanga State Parks, call 310-455-2465 and ask for Ranger Tim Hayden, or 310-454-8212 to speak with Park Superintendent Bill Verdery. To view old photos of the area, call the Topanga Historical Society at 310-455-1969 and ask for Ami or Doug Kirby.

TOPANGA MESSENGER -- July 14, 2005

"From the Shelves of Lobal Orning… Man v. Rat In Lower Topanga Tales"

by Pa
blo Capra
Artwork by James Mathers

In the 19th century, the Brothers Grimm wandered the countryside to record folk tales as part of a larger study of German culture. They believed that the tales were important as reflections of the popular mind. Novelists and poets could articulate complex emotions and ideas, but the Grimms realized that it was the unlettered storytellers who revealed the unconscious fears and desires of a people. The dangers of traveling through deep forests, for instance, took the form of ogres and witches; and dreams of love and wealth were embodied by dashing princes and beautiful princesses in enchanted castles.

In this tradition, Brass Tacks Press recently recorded Robert “Baretta” Overby, a Topanga storyteller, and the result was published in a slim pocket-sized chapbook called “Rat Tales.”

A 28-year resident of Lower Topanga, Baretta was evicted from his home without compensation by State Parks in May. He works as a house painter and photographer for The Malibu Times, specializing in accident shots, as well as portraits of the firemen and lifeguards who deal with accidents. His stories are distinguished by their black humor and Schadenfreude.

“This is a story about Baretta, the old surfer man who lived in a shed by the beach. And it was about time that he took care of those rats that were bothering him so he couldn’t be dreaming about the perfect wave in Tahiti,” the back cover of his book explains innocently.

Inside, Baretta recounts in horrifyingly obsessive detail his attempt to eradicate a bustling rat community. At first, he uses glue traps, but as money, luck, and patience run out, he resorts to more gruesome alternatives like sticks, knives, soup cans, and even his own hands and feet! The graphic action unfolds in 25 micro chapters (or tales), each one like an appalling prose poem.

Those familiar with the history will soon realize that Baretta’s rats are symbolic of Lower Topangans and their painful experience of being evicted to make way for a park. The parallels are obvious in certain quotes like, “Why do we doom these little rats?” and “They should be given counseling by the State.”

The marginal existence of the rats especially reflects Baretta’s situation. His rickety shed with mud floors was not deemed a legal dwelling by State Parks, and eventually he was kicked out as a trespasser. Since his eviction, he has been living in his car.

But “Rat Tales” is also unique for its lightning-fast transitions between tragedy and comedy. A crude and obstreperous Falstaff, Baretta’s imaginative analysis of the rats and their behavior is hilarious: “The rats had learned to fly earlier in their childhood. Now they would just hang onto the walls, and leap to the bags of food [hanging from the ceiling]. And it was driving me crazy at night as they did acrobatics and somersaults like circus actors.”

His rats also have many positive qualities. They are called “amazing” and “valiant,” and described as being intelligent to the point of having a sixth sense. And in the end, when Baretta finally gets rid of the rats, he’s actually sad that they’re gone.

“Rat Tales” could even be considered educational in its study of different methods for catching rats. For instance, do you know about the tricks of the Mexicans?—“They capture their rats with a bucket filled with water, a little ramp leading up to a diving board, and a fresh morsel of bacon at the end.”

Or, that mousetraps are strong enough to catch a rat? “If they catch it on the nose, it’s history.”

In the process of telling his “Rat Tales,” Baretta also describes two Lower Topanga parties, and mentions several people in the community like James (“the center of freaky attention”), Christoph (“the German lad”), and an anonymous “pot-growing maniac” from Hawaii.

Rudimentary studies are also made of several other animals like lizards, ground squirrels, bobcats, coyotes, and even chupacabras!

In addition, “Rat Tales” includes nine dirty, sadistic, confrontational illustrations of rats in their death throes by Lower Topanga artist James Mathers (illustrator of “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga Canyon,” and author of “The Children’s Guide to Astral Projection”).

DO NOT READ THIS WHILE EATING!

“Rat Tales” is the first in a series of non-fiction prose works and oral histories that Brass Tacks Press is compiling about Lower Topanga. It is available at Lobal Orning, Topanga Video or online at www.lifeasapoet.com.

Baretta is currently working on another book in this series about his arrival in Lower Topanga in the late ’70s.

LA WEEKLY -- June 16, 2005

"Semi-Naked Defiance"

by Dani Katz
Photo of Log by
unknown photographer
Photo of Toilet & Log by Lyf

My girlfriend and I arrived late to the Topanga Beach Resistance Sexy Costume Party. We drove through a creek, wound our way around a tree and parked behind an economically diverse assortment of mud-splattered cars.

Charlotte noted in sotto voce the Amazon woman wearing a string of Barbie dolls around her waist and silver rings through her nipples.

“That’s Log,” said a bare-midriffed but otherwise well-shrouded Berber nomad passing by. “She’s a performance artist. She sticks vegetables in her ass.”

I thought she looked familiar.

“I wonder what her in-laws think of that,” mused Charlotte.

“Well, her boyfriend’s name is Toilet and he eats the vegetables out of her ass,” the Berber replied. “It’s part of the performance. So they probably don’t mind.”

Charlotte made an abrupt and hasty farewell, leaving me to brave yet another Rodeo Grounds extravaganza on my own.

The ancient Chumash gathering spot has hosted (and boasted) many legendary parties and Sunday night’s fund-raiser was no exception. L.A.’s motley liberal vanguard — a colorful assortment of creative types — gathered in sequined droves to support the community and to celebrate the magic of the Rodeo Grounds. Tourists in telltale Gap gear happily mixed in with the tattooed and mohawked in-crowd to make for a weird, groovy harmony.

The hootenanny was called by the residents of Lower Topanga — a tight-knit community of artists, writers, filmmakers and families — who have been fighting eviction ever since the State Parks Department bought the beach-adjacent parcel and gave them the boot a few years back. The land grab is ostensibly to turn the area into a park and wetlands, but many here see a conspiracy at work to rid some of L.A. County’s most prized real estate of smelly hippies.

While most of the locals took their paltry payoffs and ran, others are refusing to budge, preferring bucolic bliss and community values to petty cash and urban sprawl. Following State Parks’ most recent maneuver (it’s rescinded trash service and instructed local sanitation to repo residents’ trash bins), the holdouts held a fund-raiser Sunday night to raise money for their fight to stay put.

Costumes ranged from slutty to sluttier. I had gone vintage for the occasion.

“Are you supposed to be a librarian?” queried a passing drag queen.

He was the third person to ask.

I talked coincidence with a hotshot director. I cradled a homeless man’s polished log, which I was told needed my energy. I swayed giddily to Magic Box’s improvisational grooves while hometown hero and Rodeo Grounds legend Norton painted and a dominatrix shimmied. A sarong-wrapped black man with crooked nipples put something in Log’s butt. Toilet shouted. Everyone was smiling.

There was “Burt Reynolds,” a barefoot clown and a sprinkling of nudity. Some guy was running around the compound for over an hour before I realized that, aside from being nekkid, he was also an old friend (never quite sure of appropriate etiquette when interacting with the publicly nude, I usually just ignore them).

The State Parks thugs watched from across the road. The police came. An illegal fund-raising citation was issued. By 2 a.m, the vibe had mellowed. Shivering revelers bundled up by the fire. A shirtless man with dreadlocks strummed a guitar.

Leaning against a fat, happy yucca tree that the state wants to cut down to make way for the wetlands, I inhaled the jasmine and dizzily surmised that none of these people had jobs. I guess that’s why they’re smiling.


THE MALIBU TIMES -- May 5, 2005

"Topanga Poet's Work Performed at UCLA"

Article and photo by Baretta

A poem by Malibu High School 1997 graduate Pablo Capra was set to classical music by UCLA student Daniel Gall, and performed in the Undergraduate Composers' Concert at the Jan Popper Theater on April 27.

Capra's poems is about the sad life and death of John, a bum who hung around Topanga State Beach for many years. John's story was sung by four imaginary characters whose everyday lives he had touched: a businessman, a valley girl, a student, and a beachgoer.

The musicans who performed the piece were Danielle Crook (soprano), Athena Greco (alto), Arian Khaefi (tenor), Jesse Rosenman (baritone), Andrea Chang (piano), and Gillian Singletary (cello).

This is the second collaboration between Capra and Gall. Their "Life as a Poet" was performed by The Los Angeles Cello Quintet last year. Capra's work is published by Brass Tacks Press (www.lifeasapoet.com), and Gall's work can be found online at www.danielgall.com.

TOPANGA MESSENGER -- April 21, 2005

"The More Ado About Floating"

by Pablo Capra

Recently, the second installment of the graphic novel “Floating,” by “Idlers” poet Robert Campbell, was published by Brass Tacks Press under the title “The More Ado About Floating.”

Like the first installment (reviewed in the Messenger Vol. 28 No. 21, October 21, 2004), “The More Ado About Floating” was drawn in meticulous ballpoint pen shortly before Campbell lost his eyesight to diabetes in 2000 and turned to poetry. It remained unfinished after his tragic death from diabetes at age 53 last year.

A painter for most of his life, Campbell called his artistic style 'Real Fantasy' and attempted to show how our fantasies spill over into reality.

The story of “The More Ado About Floating” is episodic, exploring different variations of how intoxication can float one away to a fantasy world.

Campbell abstained from intoxication in real life, and when you read his graphic novel you can understand why. Although his graphic novel is extremely amusing, his fantasy worlds are too real for comfort, and his characters are usually tormented by their tenuous grasp on reality.

“The More Ado About Floating” begins when a young man named Chris gets stoned and starts flying around the room with two pets who have inhaled his secondhand smoke. “They’re my twin engine jets armed with doo-doo bombs, which I fire at the enemy!” he shouts at his distressed mother, before making a crash landing.

Another tormented character is Coco, a famous actress and a pothead. When her boyfriend comes to pick her up at Channel Two, the secretary tells him that “[Coco] was here all morning long, but by midday she started dissipating, till by one she’d dementiaed off to another dimension.” Later, we learn that Coco has been whisked away to a doll house where she is imprisoned by a giant terrifying clown. She manages to escape on a toy train, but just when she thinks she’s made it back to reality, she turns to ask directions to Channel Two and is confronted by weird insect creatures.

At one point, Santa Claus appears as a character in the story when he discovers that Witch Hazel is hanging around long past Halloween to ruin the Christmas season. Despite her rude manners—she calls Santa “numb nuts” and “porky face”—Witch Hazel manages to seduce Santa back to her coven for a nightcap where he really gets into trouble.

“The More Ado About Floating” is unique because of Campbell's imaginative way of looking at the world. Even in the ordinary setting of the final episode—about a working-class family trying to make their Christmas the best ever—the odd perspective and oversized drawings make it seem as if something fantastic is going on.

“Can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about this place!” one of the characters comments.

Campbell’s years of working in the movie business as a scenic painter probably influenced the creative angles and close-ups in his storytelling, as well as his idea to include outlandish commercials for real and imaginary products like Raid and The Coffee Bean, and an aging actress’s old dreams.

His way of describing the ordinary world verbally is also imaginative, and reflects his poetic ability. In “The More Ado About Floating,” a cat’s paw is seen as “a fist full of switchblades that could fray the fabric of reality,” and a beach ball becomes “a ball full of cold wind.”

Campbell successfully disrupts our notion of reality by mixing in these ordinary fantasies with more extraordinary fantasies like spiders who play poker, and the witch who flies over the Hollywood sign on a vacuum cleaner.

Both installments of the “Floating” graphic novel by Robert Campbell are available at Lobal Orning, as well as his poetry chapbooks “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga Canyon” and “Life as a Poet presents: Anesthesia Lake.” Campbell’s books are also available online at www.lifeasapoet.com.

MEPHISTO 97.6 FM (Leipzig, Germany) -- January 2005

"Thirty Days on Spring Radio Interview"

Translated from the German by Pablo Capra



INTRO:
Mephisto 97.6 FM. Mephisto brings the love to Leipzig. [ENGLISH: "Where you at? Where you going? How you feel?"…]


DJ: The skyscrapers of downtown are an undesirable area of Los Angeles to live in. However, the writer Richard McDowell moved into a skyscraper half legally, half illegally with a handful of other artists. He lived in an old office space, making a new life for himself in a seemingly unpleasant neighborhood, and from this experience came his book, Thirty Day on Spring. With me on the telephone is Richard's friend and publisher Pablo Capra. Hello.
PABLO: Hello.

DJ:
How did Richard come to live in this skyscraper? He already lived in downtown LA, correct?


PABLO:
Yes. First he ran and lived in an art gallery in a better part of downtown. But his building was sold, and he had to close his gallery. He didn't have a place to live anymore, so he asked the landlord of an abandoned skyscraper if he could move in there.


DJ:
And how high was this skyscraper?


PABLO:
It was about 14 stories. It was an old bank building, and he rented a cheap office there. He lived in this building together with other poor artists. It was a strange experience. There was only one bathroom per floor, and the elevator was broken. The higher floors were dark, empty, and spooky because no one wanted to climb that high. There was also no fire alarm, and so the landlord sometimes asked Richard to stay up all night on fire watch. It was a chaotic but very creative environment, and Richard documented it all in his book Thirty Days in Spring – Spring being the name of his street.


DJ:
What does he write about in his book? What were his experiences? What was his life like?


PABLO:
He takes an interest in how low people can sink. Everyday he watches the drug addicts, the prostitutes, the crazies, the bums, the sick, the dirt, the rats, the criminals... and the artists try to wrestle meaning from all this. The book records 30 days in this hellish part of the city.


DJ:
Why is life so harsh in downtown LA?


PABLO:
Downtown LA had its highpoint in the '40s and '50s, and afterwards most of the businesses and people moved to other parts of the city. Today there are few people who actually live in downtown. At night, it's mostly just the homeless sleeping in cardboard boxes.


DJ:
How long did Richard live in this skyscraper? Is he still there, or was it just a short-term thing?


PABLO:
He lived in the bank building for almost two years, but in 2003 the fire department threw everyone out. Now he lives in a cheap hotel nearby, and he's working on his next book.


DJ:
Has his living situation improved then?


PABLO:
Well it's legal, and a bit more normal, but I wouldn't call it an improvement.


DJ:
Pablo Capra is the friend and publisher of Richard McDowell, who wrote a book about living in a seemingly unpleasant skyscraper. The book is not for sale in Germany, but if you want to track it down, you can get more information by calling the station. Our telephone number is 97-37-976.

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Official website at www.brasstackspress.com