Arthur’s lost Spring 2007 issue

Cover design by Mark Frohman and Molly Frances; photography by Eden Batki

Above: an early draft for the cover of what was intended to be Arthur No. 26, originally scheduled for release in Spring 2007.

This issue was delayed til the fall amidst the publication’s ownership transition; by that point, some of the pieces scheduled for publication were no longer available, and Yoko Ono was no longer the cover subject. A real shame.

My biggest regret of all is we lost our massive salute to Sly and the Family Stone, which had been timed to coincide with the Spring 2007 re-release of the band’s entire catalog. The Seth Man had worked so hard, on an insane deadline, to cover it all with his customary sensitivity, scholarship and enthusiasm. Oh, the loss!

In any event, the Seth Man’s pieces appeared in some form later in the year on Julian Cope’s relentlessly inspirational Head Heritage website. Here they are:

LIVIN’, LOVIN’, OVERDUBBIN’ … Sly Stone: The Slippery One Who Got Away (main feature)

Dance to the Music (1968)

Life (1968)

Stand! (1969)

There’s a Riot Goin On (1971)

Small Talk (1974)

Sly Stone Stone Flower singles (1970)

— Jay Babcock

TRUST AND LOVE: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Sharp Ease (Chris Ziegler, Arthur, 2006)

The Sharp Ease: Dana Barenfeld, Christene Kings, Paloma Parfrey and Aaron Friscia.

Trust and Love

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Sharp Ease

By Chris Ziegler

Photography by Molly Frances

Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (August 2006)

A slightly injured and slightly drunk Sunday afternoon with the Sharp Ease: singer Paloma Parfrey is tipsy with a beer and a bent trumpet and one sprained ankle, still limping after the part in last night’s show when she fell into a hole in the stage. But Sharp Ease write off injuries instantly. Two shows ago, Paloma had scribbled some broken glass all over her arm, and she was completely recovered within hours. That’s the resilience of the Los Angeles native—the same thing that keeps coyotes and deer poking around the edge of Echo Park also keeps the Sharp Ease alive and thriving. Early 45s like “T-Spin” and first album Going Modern (released last year on olFactory Records in cooperation with LA’s landmark all-ages space the Smell) outlined the Sharp Ease sound: Pixies and Slits with sax (by Anika Stephen) and keys (by Paloma’s brother Isaac) and cut-above lyrics by Paloma, who grew up in a commune and graduated into teenage rock ‘n’ roll band the Grown-Ups before she even graduated high school. Newest EP Remain Instant finds Sharp Ease recovering after a line-up shake-up (longtime producer/supporter Rod Cervera played guitar on this one, following original guitarist Sara Musser) for seven of their best new songs about life in still-unheard Los Angeles—the never-seen-on-TV co-ops and galleries and collectives that keep an out-of-breath outsider community breathing, where the Sharp Ease play their shows and sprain their ankles. Paloma and bassist Dana Barenfeld, drummer Christene Kings and new guitarist Aaron Friscia meet for beer and photographs at Paloma’s 1957 Airstream trailer.

Arthur: Paloma, exactly what kind of commune did you grow up in?

Paloma: My parents were both extremely politically active and they decided to join this commune after I was six months old to be able to protest regularly and feed the homeless. It was this thing in East LA—the Catholic Worker. It’s Christian-oriented, but not like hyper-Christian. Their work is to serve the hungry and protest nuclear weapons. So I’ve been protesting since I was six months old.

Christene: Paloma came out of the womb with a NO NUKES sign.

Continue reading

“SEASONED GREETINGS: Deck the blahs with boughs of holly” by Molly Frances (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 25 (Winter 2006)

By Molly Frances

The holiday commonly called Christmas brings with it general feelings of dread and depression, as well as the intrusion of traffic, crowds, family, chocolate-covered everythings, large rectangular boxes, turtlenecks, and relatives with weird hair giving even weirder gifts. Well friends, I’m here to tell you: It has nothing to do with that!

Whichever winter holiday you choose to celebrate, from the Winter Solstice on down to Kwanzaa, I think we can do it better. We can make new rituals and traditions to define what these holidays are really supposed to reflect: faith, love, and rebirth.

The recently published Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals of Yuletide by Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling (Inner Traditions Press) is a fascinating resource to explore the origins and varieties of our holiday traditions. If you thought Christmas was a time to lay low the libido and close your heart for the season, this book begs you to reconsider. Resist the mood-killing family gatherings and neutering woolen sweaters and breathe in the seductive aroma of the ages. The very spices, plants, and incense that make us cringe when encountered in uncomfortable holiday environments have been used for hundreds of years to invoke fertility, love, and magic during the winter “feast of love.” Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, anise, saffron, ginger and vanilla were used in ancient Roman kitchens in baking and beverages, and many of these spices were considered to be aphrodisiacs. The authors instruct that “in medieval times festive meals were sprinkled to the thickness of a finger with spice powder, most often pepper, nutmeg, and cloves.” So gather the freshest ingredients you can find and get to work on those gingerbread houses, cookies, and spiced ciders to rekindle ye olde ancient holiday magic.

The greatest burden of the holiday season is of course the madness surrounding the selection of gifts, but it needn’t be this way. Why not offer your friends a bowl of steamed kale greens garnished with olive oil, lemon juice and a festive toss of dried cranberries? Tell them you offer this bowl of nutrient-rich greens to open their heart chakras. They will be so overcome by your gesture of goodwill and caring that that marshmallow santa will be thrown to the ground in favor of real nourishment. Give your beloved a pomegranate, the symbol of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. This deeply romantic gift will sweep away all previous longing for that iPod or riding lawnmower they were expecting. Traditional and modest gifts of candles, plants, and incense are often the most potent and symbolically rich. Frankincense is described in the book as stimulating feelings of intense sensual joy and, due to its THC content, can create “pharmacological effects.”

When we decorate and give gifts of green plants and flowers we are maintaining an ancient connection to faith and the hopeful message that winter will pass into spring. This is a time to celebrate the cycles of life, the light that we know will follow the dark winter days. Pagan Christmas reminds us that the Christmas tradition contains many holdovers of pagan rituals that were adopted by Christianity due to their undying presence in the popular mind. The disconnected presence of the living room tree can bounce back to a joyous significance when you consider that “pines are a symbol of immortality and resurrection. The idea that lucky children could find treasure hidden under them may come from the tree’s long history as an object of pagan worship. Like fir and spruce, the perfume of the pine needles and pine resin was considered forest incense.” The beauty of nature can thrive even in the dead of winter—or the suburban horror of Uncle Frank’s den.

Let’s not allow the manufactured and cynical distractions of the winter season to bully the magic from our thoughts. Creativity and passion can inspire us to cultivate new ideas about sharing time and and gifts with the people we love most. The authors of Pagan Christmas point out that even normally bummed-out Nietzsche would perk up in anticipation of Christmas approaching. Instead of dredging your defeated soul to the mall, pay a visit to your local farmers market and browse the bounty of the fall harvest. Spread nature’s sweetest gifts of tangerines or bags of pecans. Plant a tree in someone’s name ( to celebrate the proliferation of nature. Break out of your Jello mold and create a spicy new holiday dish. And If you find yourself alone this winter, as all of us do one time or another, why not adopt a cat or dog? They will keep you warm, and if you feed them they will love you forever. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

“Wise Walnut” by Molly Frances (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (September 2006)

By Molly Frances

“Wise Walnut”

Fall is here. Embrace the wisdom of the squirrel and gather up your nuts. We need them more than they do.

One of the most ancient of foods, walnut fossils have been found dating from the Neolithic period over 8,000 years ago. Rumors of the walnut groves in the hanging gardens of Babylon have been circulating for some time, and King Solomon is said to have often strolled among his walnut trees “into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley” (Song of Solomon 6:11).

In the Middle Ages, the “Persian” walnut became known as the “English” walnut as colonial-minded English sailors carted off loads of the nutty bounty and spread them about Europe, and eventually the “new world.”

Jupiter’s royal acorns, as the ancient Romans liked to call them, bear a suspicious resemblance to the human brain. That makes walnuts brain food in every sense of the word. They’re loaded with Omega 3 essential fatty acids, vitamin E, and minerals necessary for mental and heart health. It’s no coincidence that as our intake of omega 3s have decreased drastically, depression and heart disease have risen. Get this, slim jim: Your brain is 60% fat, and cell membranes will build themselves out of whatever fats are available. Omega 3s are the optimum choice, but most people fill up on omega 6s, found in polyunsaturated vegetable oils and animal products. An imbalance skewed towards Omega 6 fats are associated with inflamation, degenerative diseases, and mental disorders of all kinds, including increased violent activity. Sound like anyone you know?

Dr. Andrew Weil believes that the lack of Omega-3s in our diet is “the most serious nutritional deficiency we have in this country.” This deficiency is believed to be responsible for a wide range of diseases such as alzheimer’s, arthritis, ADD, diabetes, heart disease, PMS, and severe and manic depression. Omega 3 oils are found in oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and sea greens such as hijiki and kombu. They are essential for retinal function and vision, immunity, promoting good cholesterol, and cancer prevention.

Got the blues? Skip the sundae and go right to the nuts. Omega 3s stabilize moods and increase energy levels. They are also beauty oils, keeping skin youthful and glowing and hair soft and shiny. Get healthy and happy by replacing some of those 6s with 3s. How about a handful of walnuts as a snack or on a salad? How about some ground-up flax seeds? Why not? Let’s all learn how to cook up some delicious sea greens like Hijiki; it’s fun to say and more fun to eat.

Make certain to store shelled walnuts in the refrigerator (up to six months) to keep the oils from going rancid, as they can become carcinogenic. Chopped and ground nuts go bad more quickly than whole raw nuts. You can tell a bad bag of nuts by the smell – if they have the aroma of oil paint throw them away.

Enjoy a bag of organic raw walnuts or whole fresh walnuts from your local farmer’s market. Nothing says “I have arrived” like a big bowl of walnuts on your table and a nutcracker placed just so. You’ll have a potential moneymaker on your hands as well, playing the shell game with your friends. The increased walnut-fueled brain power is sure to benefit your sleight of hand.

“A Better Way to Cool Off” by Molly Frances (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (July 2006)

The New Herbalist
By Molly Frances

“A Better Way to Cool Off”

As spring fever’s eager blossoming inevitably withers into the summertime blues, we seek quick relief among the abundance of icy blended concoctions that our advanced civilization offers us. Unfortunately, though that iced coffee provides a momentary respite on a balmy day, it will also quickly return you to a state of dehydration and turn up the heat of your internal thermostat.
The ingredient for the most soothing and refreshing of summer drinks is probably already growing in your garden. For a deeply cooling drink, brew up a tasty pot of mint tea.

A handful of the fresh herb plucked from your garden and tossed into a carafe of hot water will have you living the good life in no time at all. Be sure to include the stems of the plant. This tea may be served cold as well, but resist the temptation of pulling out your blender. Frozen drinks and ice cream will hold heat in your body and freeze digestion. To really keep extra cool this summer, avoid your freezer and enjoy your summer beverages without ice.

For a truly sublime experience, serve your friends a pot of Atay bi Na’na’. Made from boiling water, fresh mint, a small amount of green tea and honey to taste, Morocco’s most popular drink is consumed all day long. Usually served in ornate silver pots and small decorated glasses, it is customary for three servings to be offered by the host, who pours the tea from a distance of up to several feet above to aerate the brew and show off his skills. Practice this before the guests arrive.

In addition to its cooling properties, Mint tea settles the stomach and digestive disorders, eases migraines, and helps draw out infection upon first signs of a sore throat. The powerful antiviral properties of peppermint are due to its main active ingredient, menthol oil, which opens and heals sinuses, bronchial tubes, and vocal chords. It is also said to create a mentally stimulating and relaxing vibration that reduces stress and anxiety.

So what have we done to deserve this magical leaf? As the legend goes, Hades, god of the underworld, was busted by his wife Persephone in mid-frolic with a hot young wood nymph named Mintha. Persephone, who had been somewhat rudely snatched down to the underworld by Hades in the first place, was in no mood to overlook this infidelity and stomped the little nymph underfoot, transforming her into the plant we know today as Mint. In a gesture of atonement to Mintha, Hades would endow the plant with its sweet and unmistakable aroma.

Persephone may have extinguished Mintha in the flesh, but her spirit has lived on in this most promiscuous of plants. There are few lands that the wildly propagating mint has not traveled to, and few cultures that she has not seduced. As 16th century herbalist John Gerard declared, “The smelle rejoiceth the heart of man.” From Egyptian temples to Roman baths, Mint has been used for all varieties of healing and pleasure. The Pharisees even paid their taxes with it, as revealed by this scolding from Jesus: “Woe to you, Pharisees! You tithe mint and rue and every edible herb but disregard justice and the love of God.” Ouch!

While perhaps more prized for its pleasure-inducing than medicinal properties, the mint julep has been the preferred drink of the Southern Aristocracy. Accept nothing less than fresh mint, water, sugar, and Kentucky bourbon. As one of its key proponents, S.B. Buckner, Jr. warned in 1937: “A mint julep…is a ceremony… a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee.” He instructs, “Go to a spring where cool, crystal-clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breezes. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home.”

As Mintha clearly gets around, she has crossbred into hundreds of varieties including chocolate mint, basil mint, ginger mint, Persian mint, Corsican mint and Pineapple mint. All this intermingling frustrated one ninth-century monk, who declared, ” I would rather count the sparks in Vulcan’s furnace than count the varieties of mint.” The most popular forms are spearmint and peppermint, the former most often used in cooking but the latter more medicinally potent.

As Buckner proclaimed, “bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.”

Recently discovered delights in L.A. and elsewhere, by Molly Frances (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 31 (Oct 2008)

Recently Discovered Delights
by Molly Frances

1. Nite Jewel
This one-woman act has been haunting nightclubs around Los Angeles and beyond this summer, dropping nocturnal transmissions and electro dust into the atmosphere. Accompanied by her bubbling synthesizer and deep tunnel beats, Nite Jewel would make the perfect house band on the mothership that’s going to take us all away from this place.

2. Raymond Chandler
What a different city Los Angeles would be without the mythology of Phillip Marlowe and the many shadows cast by Chandler’s noir mysteries running through its city streets. Fall’s a good time to revisit these stories of an honest man lost in a sea of corruption.

3. Avocado with poppy seeds
Slice an avocado, add lemon, and roll in a generous heap of poppy seeds. Exotic.

4. Semina Culture: Wallace Berman and His Circle by Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna (2005)
You will never get tired of looking at this book. This catalogue from the 2005 traveling exhibit spans the years of mid-’50s to early-’60s beatdom, when an artistic and literary utopia formed around the mysterious figure of artist Wallace Berman and his arts and literary journal Semina. You couldn’t find it on newsstands or in bookstores; most of its few hundred copies were mailed by Berman to friends and peers. The book not only reproduces all nine issues but is a Who’s who of West Coast bohemia.

5. Walking really far
Walk for two hours in any direction and see where you end up. Maybe you are missing something. Maybe you will find it.

6. Velaslavasay Panorama
The North Pole is tucked right into South Los Angeles. Go and see. It’s hidden in the second floor of the beautiful Union Theater. Take yourself to the endless horizon.

7. Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)
The 17 tracks on FlyLo’s second record seem to flow without beginning or end, stacking dusty samples, sandpaper beats, and washy synths into a collage as dense and sticky as an august afternoon in Van Nuys. You’re stuck in traffic, the sun is in your eyes, a jackhammer echoes an unsteady rhythm in the distance, your radio suddenly plays all its stations at the same time. For a second it all makes some kind of sense.

8. The Late Show (1977, dir. Robert Benton)
Lily Tomlin, Art Carney, a lost cat, blackmail, murder and endless hijinks, set in Los Angeles. Nutty and Noir, this Robert Altman-produced mystery features an incredibly stylish Tomlin as an aimless but charming eccentric and Carney as a cranky over-the-hill detective with one last fight In him. Don’t get the idea that this is one of those awful detective spoofs, it’s actually one of the most perfect movies you’ve never heard of, covering all genres, emotions, and hairstyles. You will laugh many times.

9. Cold brewed coffee
Impress your friends with a rousing pitcher of iced coffee. You will be known throughout many wide and concentric circles for being a dark brewing lord and master of the bean. No one will know how easy it is for you with your cold brew coffee bucket. You grind a whole can of coffee with 9 cups of water and it sits for 12 hours and then you have a pitcher of low-acid coffee that tastes amazing for two weeks. Everyone will love you and want to be your friend. You can buy the cold toddy brewing kit they sell in stores or make your own. It’s off the grid.

10. The Baroque Music station on
When one’s radio breaks down, you can discover amazing things that were once hidden right under your nose. Lurking within the Classical Radio tab of that iTunes thing is an endless stream of this amazing music that restores your faith in civilization. It only occasionally loses its affirmative power when interrupted by a commercial for under-eye circles.

11. Raw vegan whipped cream
Soak 1 1/2 cups of raw walnuts (or raw cashews) in water for two hours…then get rid of the water and put the nuts in a blender with 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice and two tablespoons maple syrup (a few drops of almond extract optional) This recipe is from Juliano’s UnCook Book (Regan Books,1999)—good recipes, really bizarre self-portraits.

12.Griffith Observatory
Despite multi-million-dollar renovations during recent years, the main attraction at Griffith is still the view of the twinkling metropolis below. Go at dusk to watch nature and culture collide to form a gold and purple ooze that stretches from the mountains to the sea. Breathtaking.

13. Sylvia Robinson “Pillow Talk” 7-inch single
Found this scratchy 45 in a box at the back of a thrift store in Joshua Tree. Before masterminding Sugar Hill records, Robinson recorded music as ‘Sylvia’ and wrote this song for Al Green. He turned it down because it was too dirty so she recorded it herself and it hit number one on the charts in 1973. With breathy talk vocals, hi-hat swoosh, and sugary string and electric piano arrangements, it’s a fine specimen of the early disco sound that was forming around Philadelphia and other East Coast cities at the time, and is a naughty stepping stone between Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin’s Je T’aime and Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby in the history of simulated orgasm on wax. The flipside sounds like it comes from an earlier, more wholesome time period but is an equally luscious track with a piano-heavy girl-group sound.

14. Jumping on a trampoline
Up and then down. Do it again. Jumping cleanses your cells and lymph nodes and increases your immunity. Up with people.

15. Making your own amazing salad dressing in one minute
Combine cold pressed organic olive oil (a lot), lemon, honey and stoneground mustard. This tastes better than anything you can buy. There is room for error. Salad dressing is very forgiving. Raw sage honey sweetens the deal.

16. Too Late For Tears (1949, dir. Byron Haskin)
All the pleasure of knowing a dangerous femme fatale, none of the risk. 1949 Los Angeles in glorious black and white.

17. Okra
If you slice a piece of okra crosswise, it reveals a circle of five perfect hearts formed from the fibers. I never loved okra, but now that I know it loves me, I’m coming around.

18. Show Cave
This art gallery/performance space in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles has been forming its own hybrid aesthetic out of the goo of contemporary life in its past year of existence. Exhibitions have exciting names like Beast Heat, Glitter and Doom and Survivors of the White Plague. Show Cave also offers a stage to emerging musical talent (see #1).

19. Low Motion Disco, Keep It Slow (Eskimo)
In one room a synthesizer slowly throbs; in another a band rehearses outtakes from an unrecorded Royal Trux session. In a third room someone is playing records from their parents’ collection. There’s an empty bottle of purple syrup on the floor. The windows to this house are open and there’s a cool breeze that blows down from the mountains. You’re listening to these sounds mingle from down on the street. It sounds like a perfect mix that shouldn’t work at all. It’s too slow to dance to but it’s kind of funky. This is supposedly taking place in Switzerland.

Molly Frances lives in Los Angeles and makes music in Terminal Twilight.

LOVESONGS TO THE WORLD: A conversation with Lavender Diamond’s BECKY STARK (Arthur Magazine, 2007)


Is Peace Enough?

Old people cry, young lovers smile and cynical hipsters get confused when she’s onstage. What is Lavender Diamond’s love-and-ecology frontlady BECKY STARK up to?

By Jay Babcock, with photography by Mark Frohman & Molly Frances
Originally published in Arthur No. 26/Sept 2007

Recently Becky Stark and her mother dropped in on Arthur’s Thursday social at a pub in Los Angeles. Talk about the fruit not falling far from the tree: Diane Stark, an ordained minister serving at the Unity Church of Practical Christianity in Grand Rapids, Michigan, effortlessly owned the place. At a table of Becky’s friends, she told stories about her own mother, a spiritualist who gave public lectures on metaphysics in the ‘40s and completed an unpublished book entitled “The Meaning of Love.” She talked about working as a stripper on Sunset Boulevard in the mid-1970s; about witnessing Martin Luther King, Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech; about her own life philosophy (“I like to act as if I’m inside a fable”); about how you should hold a loved one when she’s asleep; and, of course, about Becky being born (“She was happy to be here”). Then someone put on Link Wray and it was time for the Stark women to dance—or, as Diane put it, “have a conversation at the energetic level.”

If that doesn’t explain Becky Stark, here are some other true stories. One of the first books she read was a collection of Gandhi’s writings given to her by a friend of the family who was active in the nuclear freeze movement. She joined the League of Women Voters at age seven and in seventh grade, traveled through the Soviet Union with 13 other American kids as part of a cross-cultural exchange initiative called Peace Child. The three-week tour included a stay with 500 Soviet kids at a Young Constables youth camp on the Volka River and participation in a youth choir performance opening for American poodlerockers Skid Row at the Moscow Peace Festival in Red Square. (“Peace Child” was the title of a hit song in Russia, and Becky can still sing it on demand.) From eighth to tenth grade, Becky was the head writer, anchor and host of “Kids’ Point of View,” a weekly 20-minute television show sandwiched on UHF between the World Wrestling Federation show and Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. At 14, she started a local youth chapter of the National Organization of Women. As a teenager, she developed her range by studying modern and romantic opera (as well as Tin Pan Alley and other classic American pop music), but her opera singing career was ended when her body failed to develop the large lung capacity required to sing at a professional level. She studied Russian as a Comparative Lit undergrad at Brown, and dance at the Merce Cunningham Conservatory in New York City. In 2000, Time Magazine published a photograph of Stark wearing a bright yellow dress levitating in front of riot police during a protest march at the Democratic Convention. In 2003, she toured across the country with Xander Marro, performing “Birdsongs of the Bauhauroque,” an operatic fable/comedic poem involving puppetry, keyboards and costume drama. Returning to Los Angeles, Stark worked a series of comical dayjobs and started performing solo as Lavender Diamond and doing stand-up at the Improv and other comedy clubs

Over the next two years, Lavender Diamond evolved from a one-woman act into a four-piece symphonic folk-pop band featuring composer Steve Gregoropoulos on piano, Jeff Rosenberg on acoustic guitar and Stark’s boyfriend, the cartoonist Ron Rege, Jr., on drums. The band’s sadness-and-ecstasy four-song EP The Cavalry of Light was self-released in 2005. At ArthurFest that year, they played into the sun with such beauty that left many (including poet Charles Potts) teary-eyed. During the next year, as they were recording with Vetiver/Brightblack Morning Light/Devendra Banhart producer Thom Monahan, Lavender Diamond were signed by the legendary Geoff Travis to Rough Trade in Europe and then to Matador in North America.

Imagine Our Love, Lavender Diamond’s debut full-length, was released earlier this year to the kind of divided response the band has often received live. Stark’s Lavender Diamond persona is unique: think of a cosmic grade school teacher, or maybe Mary Poppins, returned to talk to you later in life, heartbroken at first to have to remind her former pupils about the importance of sharing and respect for Nature, but happy to encourage you to do better, using music, humor and imagination. When Stark sings “You broke my heart” over and over, pointing her finger directly at specific audience members, it’s a loaded—transgressive, even—move in a culture built on evading responsibility; you can see how it might not fly with every jaded urban hipster. But Lavender Diamond’s music is for the entire school, not just the kids too cool to be there. It’s pop music for peace, simple songs pitched somewhere between Linda Ronstadt, Jefferson Airplane and Yellow Submarine. Or, as Stark says, “It’s lovesongs to the world.”

Here’s part of our recent conversation.

Arthur: So many people think you’re being ironic. Does that bother you?

Becky Stark: I thought our music was simple enough for anyone to get, and so it’s kind of confounded me when people think we’re joking. Why on earth would we do that? Every time anyone asks if I’m serious about celebrating peace on earth I have to say, “Are you seriously asking me that question?” For real. I’m the weirdo? For talking about peace? In the midst of a horrific insane war? What? What have things come to that people think it’s a joke to play music that celebrates peace? I guess that in the performance of Lavender Diamond I am trying to create an antidote to the degradation of our times—it’s like we are trying to run an interference pattern. It’s pretty extreme, and maybe that’s why people think it couldn’t be sincere. I think it’s our responsibility to be understood. Maybe some people think we’re kidding because we look silly. Well, I’ll have to work on my delivery and fashions so that we are taken more seriously. Maybe I’ll have to start wearing all grey and black and frowning! Seriously…maybe we just have to be more elegant…? More sexy? We’ll keep working on it. I probably need to be more dignified and not as loopy. If we’re being misunderstood, it’s because we’re not being powerful enough or intelligent enough in our communication.

Talk about the source for the title “Imagine Our Love.”

Ron [Rege, Jr.] was reading Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh and came across the phrase “imagine our love” in a passage about covering the world with loving prayer. Thich Nhat Hanh is a peace activist from Vietnam who was brought to the U.S. by Martin Luther King, Jr. in an effort to end the Vietnam War. Peace Is Every Step teaches how to cultivate the strength and power of a loving heart, about love and communication. How to be a peaceful person—a warrior of peace. He talks about how the people he was with in Vietnam had to heal from the war. It is very beautiful and inspiring and heartbreaking. He’ll be at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles leading a peace walk in September. Peace is every step!

Is peace enough?

Yes. That’s the definition of peace, I think: understanding that we already have enough. Peace, by definition, is enough.

What do you think music is for?

Music is for celebration, for having a great time. Music is like touch, language and medicine: it’s for healing, for uplifting. Music is a source of strength for people in a time of trouble. Music gives people a way of expressing joy and sorrow. Music is for communicating poetry and new ways of living and being, for communicating ideas of how we can transform our world and guide it into liberation of the mind and spirit.

The whole world seems to be getting stupider a la Idiocracy‘s predictions. Have we entered a new Dark Age, and if so, how can smart people—the ones who aren’t sharks or demagogues—survive in a devolving situation?

We have to be smarter. We have to grow. We have to evolve ourselves consciously—by being part of the consciousness revolution. We have to build the understanding of the nature of consciousness until it is understood as a fact like the world being round. People have to understand the reality that all of us have power and responsibility and that everyone matters. Everyone is you. The paradox of your own individuation—how at once your life can be whole and part, like a grain of sand—is a source of great pleasure and mystery. What a glorious paradox! It is liberating to discover that your life has meaning, whether you like it or not.

It’s a good thing that our terracidal economies are coming to an end, because our ways are not sustainable. We have to build new models that work so that when the current idiotic models come crashing down, we can be ready with the new ones. An end is a beginning. We have to build the new beginning! We have to be mischievous and intelligent. We have to build templates and demonstrate how to live in a sustainable way. That way it’ll be all figured out and everyone can just copy. We have to make harmonious living delightful. And exciting. And awesome. We should make eco-amusment parks. We could have rides like “It’s a Small World After All”—but everything demonstrating harmony with nature and sustainability. The energy sources for the rides will be transparently built as attractions. We’ll have the artists and engineers create gorgeous, exciting attractions around the energy sources, so that the kids are mesmerized! We’ll have murals, laser light shows. People can come with their families and have a delightful, uplifting, exciting, healing experience that is all powered by the sun and the wind.

I think that if we put our minds to it we can figure out ways to heal our environment.
Sometimes I think about public healing rituals for the earth, holistic remedies for planetary toxicity, like our toxic urban rivers. Maybe baking soda would work? The best way to treat completely toxic water is to run it through a system of plant filters. A lot of ferns. Another powerful way to filter water is to run it down a path in the shape of a figure 8—it oxygenates the water. In China, they build gigantic figure 8 sculptures in the parks. I’d love to start an eco-village community that’s built around urban river water usage. That way we can figure out how to clean our rivers and live with them again and teach everyone else to do it too.

And—also—I think the way to progress/survive is to practice radical compassion, to relate to the world in a completely non-adversarial way. It’s a waste of energy to be against anything or anyone. We have to stop wasting energy. Change our energy source. Change our relationship to nature. Change our relationship to each other. Redirect our energy source from fear to love. From limited to unlimited. Perceive no enemies and no limitations. I have a feeling that we can come up with all the solutions we need.

But aren’t some people more responsible for what’s going on than others? Like the rich and powerful, for example. They seem fundamentally different to most people.

I love the rich and the poor just the same—it’s the middle class that’s the problem! Just kidding. It is true that sometimes it is staggering to witness the way that the rich go on with lives involved in the accumulation of power. But the rich aren’t the only ones in the death grip of the paradigm of domination and control—everyone is! Well, not everyone—but a lot of people are. Time to give it up! Sure, debutante balls and Wall Street culture are weird and corrupt but your question smacks of bigotry. Everyone needs healing and needs to grow. We have to stop dividing the world! Stop it! The only way to solve the world’s problems is for everyone to work together and love each other no matter what class you come from. I have friends who are homeless and friends who are billionaires. I used to have a lot of class rage but I’ve given it up completely. I grew up in a poor family, on the wrong side of the tracks (literally—the train tracks were down the block), but I can’t stand all this bigotry. It’s a cult mentality, a false reality. So, stop it. The most beautiful and gentle soul I ever met, who taught me chess and tai chi, inherited billions of dollars when he was 21. He died of a drug overdose on the street a year later. He was so lost. I think if people would have embraced him in our community he wouldn’t have gone astray. Who knows what would’ve happened if he hadn’t died? Maybe he would’ve used his money for good. It hurts my heart, all this dividing everybody up. If you think the rich are different from everybody else, you are operating in the paradigm of domination and control just like all the other idiots! When the earth becomes so toxic nobody can live on it, the rich die too! No one escapes!

Sorry, but you made me mad with that question. Don’t pull that shit. [laughter] There’s no time to fight.

Speaking of dividing up: why aren’t Lavender Diamond playing all-ages shows? It seems like all you played on your last tour were over-21 bars and nightclubs.

We realize that our music resonates for people of all ages so we’re playing as much as possible at all-ages places. We’re organizing a tour to schools where we’ll play with the student bands and choirs. But I do like club shows, though, because you can be more wild and dark.

You once told an interviewer “dancing should be the number one priority of the nation.” But I’ve never seen people dancing at your shows!

Maybe Lavender Diamond is part of the problem! [laughter] People do dance at our shows, but not enough. These days I always wish before the shows that we were making a dance party, but it’s true that we are definitely not making a dance party. That’s why our next record is definitely a dance party record. But yes, Lavender Diamond is part of the problem until we start to make better dancing music. Maybe we need help from the DFA, or M.I.A. Or I could help them, Donna Summer style…?


Who are your favorite dancers? What are your favorite dances?

In terms of historical dancers and choreographers, I love Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, George Balanchine, Maria Tallchief, so many great dancers from the 20th century. Busby Berkeley! I would love to make a musical film with David Parsons’ choreography. I love Ryan Heffington. I want to do some Gene Kelly-style duets. I really love the Singing in the Rain dance, the dance from the end of Lili, and the dances from West Side Story. I love the dead doll pas-de-deux from the ballet coppelia. I love the Balanchine Firebird dance—it’s psychedelic! Twentieth century ballet is so extreme. I like folk dancing too: the polka, the waltz, the do-si-do, square dancing, all the hip-hop dance grooves. I like West African dances—they organize their dances according to ritual purpose, so there’s a marriage dance and a crop dance and death dance and so on. And in Mali they don’t differentiate between the word for language, medicine, and dance. Everyone dances, it’s like yoga—healing codes and positions for your body. It’s like the opposite of ballet. West African dance is all down and ecstatic; ballet is lifting up and is really masochistic. I like ballet but I like the folk kind, not the masochistic high art style. Although I do really love to watch the great ballerinas, with them it doesn’t seems to be about suffering but is about ecstasy. And I want to dance with Patrick Swayze! The dance from Dirty Dancing. That reminds me that tango is the best dance ever. I also like meditative dance like tai chi.

And—I love Mecca Andrews. She is my favorite dancer, she dances in our video. I can’t wait to make more dances with her. Also I love the way Miranda July dances, she’s a great dancer. I love the way my sister dances and my mom dances. I love the way Ron Rege, Jr. dances, he’s a great dancer! I love the way Maximilla [Lukacs] dances!

I guess I really love the way that everyone dances. Everybody is a great dancer!