Visiting Evelyn McDonnell at her quiet home nestled close to Cabrillo Beach, one may be surprised to find a trailblazer in San Pedro with a comprehensive publishing career recognizing women recording artists.
She is the editor of Women Who Rock, a pivotal book of essays and striking illustrations, by women, of more than 100 female musicians who have made a sonic imprint on our lives. McDonnell, who also is director of the Loyola Marymount University journalism program, has devoted her career to the topic of women musicians.
This release isn’t the McDonnell’s first foray in documenting musical greatness. She released Queens of Noise: The Real Story of the Runaways, a book that posed the question of why the Runaways didn’t become one of the greatest bands of all time.
McDonnell has been published works in Rolling Stone, Ms., Spin, Vibe, Interview, Black Book, Us, Billboard and Option. McDonnell was once the pop culture writer at The Miami Herald, senior editor at The Village Voice and associate editor at SF Weekly. She has also written the books Mamarama: A Memoir of Sex, Kids and Rock ’n’ Roll, and Army of She: Icelandic, Iconoclastic, Irrepressible Bjork.
McDonnell noted that when she first started talking about Women Who Rock it looked like we were about to have our first woman president. She said there was a feeling that women’s voices were being celebrated. But that changed before she even had her contract in hand.
McDonnell reflected on the timing of the book idea at that pivotal moment.
“It went from being timely to being necessary,” she said.
It’s a different climate now. Trump was elected president and legislative efforts to control women’s bodies was stepped up several notches soon after. Women Who Rock was released the same week as Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault hearings ahead of his fight for confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
McDonnell has had a perpetual interest in women musicians and issues surrounding gender and creating art, making noise, and being heard. Between McDonnell, her publisher and agent, they recognized a contemporary trend in publishing portraits of courageous heroines, like the Rebel Girls series. Realizing there weren’t heroine stories focused on music and there was a need for an update on books from the past, this project was timely.
Women Who Rock is served up in shocking pink.
The book covers a long chronological span that includes several genres, and unexpectedly, some obscure artists. Even if you’ve heard of someone in the book, you may not have heard their music.
“I knew as I was editing it that I was working with all these gifted writers and illustrators, that it was a very special experience,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell was pleased that Women Who Rock has illustrations in ink, paint, pencil and digital color rather than photos, making the book unique. It captures the idea that both the essays and the art are portraits. They are the writers’ and the artist’s interpretations of the musicians. Under that shocking pink, the book’s illustrations are pictured on the hardcover. They have gotten some criticism on the velvety, embossed pink book cover. McDonnell noted it’s particularly from older women as opposed to the younger women, who are “raised with that consciousness—acceptance of femininity and acceptance of the pink.”
“I have seen that generational divide over the pink,” McDonnell said. “It’s “pynk” as Janelle Monáe did in her song, Pynk. That song captures the whole thing of celebrating women in this extremely provocative way.”
There is the sense upon seeing the book that it has finally arrived. There are so many women artists now. Women Who Rock is an honest appreciation of them and all of their highs and lows — what made them who they are from Bessie Smith to Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell to Pussy Riot to Lauryn Hill. The compendium contains more than 100 essays, all written by female journalists, musicians, DJs and poets, capturing each artist and placing her in the context of her genre and the musical world at large. McDonnell said there was a need to connect them to the women that came before them.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, in terms of problems women have [experienced] in music or of them thinking that they are the first person to do this,” McDonnell said.
As McDonnell wrote in her introduction, the women in these pages have persisted against all odds, rape, bad contracts, sexual exploitation, addiction, anorexia, corrupt managers, suicide, domestic violence, prison and murder. These are recurring motifs.
“We can learn from the women who have come before us and pioneered,” McDonnell said. “Because there is a tendency to try to turn powerful women, creative women into lone wolf figures.”
She thinks of it as a tactic of the patriarchy, giving the example of the recent remake film, A Star Is Born. McDonnell was struck by Lady Gaga being the only woman in the entire film.
“It’s unbelievable … as if she just sprang out … she doesn’t even have a mother,” McDonnell said. “Her girlfriends are drag queens, they’re men. She’s this singular creation, literally made by the man, Adam’s Rib… it’s so biblical.”
She is not discrediting the individual efforts of women and their singularity but, McDonnell noted, they’re part of a community, and history and a lineage and most women recognize that.
Since Women Who Rock was published, a political action group has been formed. McDonnell never thought that this was going to be one of the results. It’s called Turn It Up. It’s a Times Up, Me Too, 50/50 by 2020 (50/50 male/female at every level across organizations and pay parity by 2020) political-action group of women, or female-identified, musicians and DJs, journalists, scholars, and engineers. The goal is to raise awareness of women who work in the music industry and to gain parity for them. The group will have workshops and events, such as letter-writing campaigns that point out to local media companies how they could involve more women.
McDonnell and four Women Who Rock collaborators held a panel discussion March 5, at Loyola Marymount University. They discussed the role of politics in music, which the panel asserted unanimously, is tied together. Even though women still must fight to be heard, the take away was that progress is happening, gatekeepers are evolving (bookers and promoters), many of the millenials will not frequent clubs that don’t book female bands, and there is more inclusion for everyone, including non binary artists. There are new paths forward for women, which McDonnell further elaborated on. It was never in her mind to create this activist group and community but it is beyond her expectations, which were to just turn people onto a bunch of artists and music that they didn’t necessarily know.
McDonnell believes women are increasingly going to control their own music. They will be mistresses of their own destinies, not just be the singers or producers but that they will handle all the aspects of their music making or that when they work with men, they will work as collaborators, not the “quintessential Svengali relationship.”
“Or, it can go the totally opposite way, where we’re just going to have these idealized hologram pop stars that don’t actually exist in our pure projections of, someone, mostly male fantasy,” she said. “It might be the two extremes. In Japan there’s already pop stars who actually do not exist. It’s like a pure fantasy creation.”
It won’t be the male musician having to rescue and turn the female singer into the star. McDonnell said women will have their own agency. She referred to A Star is Born again, saying she actually did like the movie but if she thinks about it abstractly, the entire message is wrong.
“Shouldn’t that storyline progress?” McDonnell said.
The Friends of Cabrillo Marine Aquarium is hosting a book signing March 31 at 4 p.m. to celebrate the release of Women Who Rock.
LONG BEACH — On Aug. 8, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that a Long Beach Superior Court jury found Lebrette Stacey Winn and Eric James Avery were found guilty of pimping, pandering, sodomy by use of force, mayhem, human trafficking, kidnapping and forcible rape, among other charges.
Nine accounts were related to the forced prostitution and kidnapping of three females, ages 16, 18, and 20.
Winn, 23, convinced both women into prostitution. When the 20-year-old woman asked to quit he threatened and then raped her.
The 18-year-old victim quit prostituting for Winn months after she began in November 2012. Winn tricked her into meeting him in May 2013 then forced her into his car and picked up the 20-year-old-victim.
The two victims escaped when Winn left his parked car and went into a mall in Culver City.
Avery was convicted of two felony counts: pimping a minor 16 years of age and human trafficking. Avery was a member of the Long Beach Baby Insane Crip gang.
Police arrested Winn and Avery, 25, on May 16, 2013. Officers found a hotel card in Avery’s pocket and later located the 16-year-old victim when they used the card to open a hotel room in Inglewood.
Winn is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 22. Avery will be sentenced will be Sept. 12.
Winn faces 37 years to life in state prison. Avery faces up to 34 years in state prison.
As the House of Representatives quickly moves forward on its impeachment inquiry — an inquiry that is gaining public support as it reaches 52 percent and disapproval ratings for the president drops to 41.7 percent — Donald Trump’s campaign launched a $10-million television ad-buy that paints the impeachment push as an effort by the Democrats to “steal” the election.
In the days immediately after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry, the Trump campaign ran 1,800 Facebook ads mentioning “impeachment”— which have been viewed according to Forbes and CNN, 16 to 18 million times. Clearly he’s not going down without a fight and his social media campaigns are bound to be as deceptive and fraudulent as his twitter attacks.
Amongst all of the chaos created by this reality-TV-president, the facts and the truth really don’t matter and attempting to argue with anyone who has bought into this is like arguing with a corpse. When Republicans and the Trump administration co-opt the term “fake news” and apply it to fact-checking and any news that’s damaging to the administration, words start to lose their meaning. Even Trump’s reverse accusations of corruption in Ukraine quid pro quo scandal has started to defang the very meaning of the term “corruption.” But daylight is starting to show through the cracks in the wall of lies and deceit. Still, his core supporters are adamant in defending this scoundrel. How do we understand this?
First, the name “Trump” has been sold and traded as a “brand” for 20-some odd years, much like Coke and Pepsi. Trump has branded everything he touches including buildings, golf courses, wine and men’s wear. He has even sold the naming rights to buildings he had little or nothing to do with. And just like any other brand, his comes with certain perceived values.
In these early days of the 21st century, branding has evolved into an industry spinoff of digital marketing, an end result of 100 years of advertising, psychological research and, yes, infotainment propaganda. Trump was probably the first to become a popculture celebrity because he said he was rich. Being on 1980s television shows like Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Trump’s various cameos on World Wrestling Federaion, appearances at major boxing events, his representation in cartoons and cameos on various television shows as a celebrity built upon his image of being of the wealthy elite. In this country, wealth has been equated with having the best and that their wealth is proof that they are the best. Proof outside of wealth isn’t necessary. Trump as a celebrity has often been treated as an antihero if not a villain. This is why pundits keep calling him the ultimate disrupter of politics. Trump’s fans and his supporters know who he is and voted for him because of his brand.
So, how do you get past the rational mind of the consumer and get them to respond to their gut or sexual instincts? We see it all the time explained in the simple advertising lingo of “sex sells.” You might say that the ad campaigns are attempting to grab you in the same way Trump was caught on camera saying he grabbed women. Of course the new Facebook ads and the coming tsunami of fake advertising about the impeachment hearings or Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders et al. are meant to grab you there. They’re not intended to reach your brain.
So arguing with true believers about the facts of climate change, immigration, trade tariffs, Syria or the obligation of the president to follow the U.S. Constitution is a senseless exercise and a waste of good air. They will, as you’ve probably already experienced, turn all the words around on you like a tossed word salad and keep it focused on liberal elites screwing the working class. This might not be a bad argument if you just eliminated the term “liberal” and focused on “corporate elites” not paying their share of taxes, but that would only open up another endless line of circular debate and finger pointing.
The true believers are loyal to the Trump brand beyond the comprehension of the rest of us, who now represent 50 percent of the electorate. This is still not enough to persuade the gutless Republican Senate majority and a large segment of independent rural voters listening to Fox News that Trump is simply unfit for office, if not a threat to our republic. The Trump brand is like a lot of other brand names, a symbol that may not contain any substance.
What his Democratic opposition fails to do is approach this as a contest between brands, not as ideas or facts against lies but as a marketing campaign that uses information as a form of political warfare using words and images in contextualized contrast to degrade the opponent’s market share.
The one weak point in Trump’s brand has been his tax returns. Trump has been defending from the very beginning having to release them. If you’ve noticed, anytime Congress, New York prosecutors or anybody else gets close to his “my taxes are under audit” excuse he gets a team of lawyers to fight it. Hiding those taxes are the bulwark of his claim to being a billionaire. And when his true worth is exposed, he will likely be revealed as a fraud, a scammer and a tax cheat who owes his “success” to the Russian mafia or worse some foreign potentate in Saudi Arabia. And suddenly his brand won’t mean much, if anything.
Trump’s brand is built like a house of cards with each one having his name to promote and balance one against the other and when the underlying finances are exposed with a court order and brought to the U.S. Congress the true believers will see the man who would be king has no clothes. And still many of them will be in disbelief and Trump will still fight on to the bitter end, screaming on Twitter, accusing anyone who defies him of being a traitor or worse: demanding absolute loyalty until that very moment he is indicted and convicted. Even then he will deny everything and turn the sober judgment of justice around on his accusers to exclaim his innocence against all the evidence, all the documents from whistleblowers and all of the testimony from his former fixers, lieutenants and personal henchmen.
If by some trick or contrivance he were to get away with this fraudulent exercise in corruption and escape impeachment, and as some suggest he gets reelected, no one will ever trust America again. Not our allies, not our adversaries and not the majority of Americans who see his “brand” as an empty vessel in which to pour bigotry and hatred, all the while exclaiming that he is making us great again!
Thousands of union members and supporters from throughout the Los Angeles Harbor Area and the rest of Los Angeles County will gather for the annual Harbor Labor Day Parade Sept. 2. The event celebrates 40 years since 14 unions and their supporters gathered on Broad and E streets on September 1979 and began their march to Banning Park. Dave Arian, David O’Day, Diane Middleton and Luisa Gratz started organizing the Harbor Labor Coalition the prior year.
Then, as now, they will meet up with old friends, swap war stories and listen to speakers, extolling the virtues of the labor movement and the struggles of the men and women who toil in the harbor communities and beyond — much in the same way as their forebears did two centuries ago in the major port towns of the East Coast.
On this day, politicians are welcome to show up. But they are not allowed to make political speeches or pass out campaign literature. This is the one day of the year when only labor issues are addressed.
The Harbor Labor Coalition, the parade’s originator and organizing sponsor, was brought together by one struggle in 1979, involving the Inland Boatman’s Union fending off an attempt to impose an inferior Florida-based contract onto the Los Angeles Harbor Area workers. It was consolidated the next year in support of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers in the midst of a bitter strike. IBU coordinator, O’Day, and treasurer Robert Forrester were able to organize 10 unions in support of their dispute, including Arian who had just joined the ILWU Local 13’s executive board.
What makes this parade unusual is that during the period of the late 1970s, Labor Day parades were gradually being replaced with picnics throughout the country. Detroit, long the site of some of the biggest Labor Day parades, ended the tradition by the 1980s. The Harbor Labor Coalition, not to be dissuaded, would be the vehicle by which a Labor Day parade, once held long ago in San Pedro, would be brought back to life in Wilmington, California. Though a conservative act, it was wholly in keeping with that go-their-way-attitude of so many of the unions in the harbors, whether from the ports of Los Angeles or Long Beach.
The Carter administration was intransigent in its approach to squelching problems within the economy of the late 1970s. President Jimmy Carter did this through a price-wage combination, which focused primarily on forcing down wages.
This infuriated the AFL-CIO’s president George Meany, and sparked a war of words through the media and a standoff at the bargaining table. The test came with OCAW’s new contract negotiations and later with the Teamsters’ contract under its then-president, Frank Fitzsimmons. The Carter administration was able to claim victory in its confrontation with big labor during the Teamster contract negotiations.
As a sidenote, the labor movement actually gained more concessions under the Nixon administration than under any administration since. This was due to Meany’s special relationship with President Richard Nixon as a trade off for his support of the Vietnam War. In the 1992 election, Meany blocked AFL-CIO endorsement of McGovern, who had excellent pro-labor credentials. This was a huge political favor to Nixon, who just like Donald Trump, treated politics almost exclusively as a series of what’s-in-it-for-me deals.
Resistance From the Top
It was during the Carter administration that the labor movement’s troubles began as it mangled arduously developed relationships that were earlier established and peaked during the Nixon years. The administration’s efforts proved to be a boilerplate by which the Reagan administration in the 1980s would pursue its own r agenda against the union movement. The air-traffic controllers organization walked off the job, in August 1981 setting off a chain of events that would redefine labor relations in America.
In response to the walkout, President Ronald Reagan issued one of the defining statements of his presidency. He said the striking air-traffic controllers were in violation of the law; if they did not report to work within 48 hours, their jobs would be terminated. Reagan carried out his threat and the battle over union jobs has been fought ever since.
The atmosphere under the Carter administration was so charged during this period that Time magazine ran an article on Jan. 1, 1979, titled “Labor: A Year of Showdowns.”
That tension quickly became apparent during a jurisdictional dispute over the importation of a contact from the wage-depressed Southern state of Florida into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
O’Day, in a full-page letter in the Harbor Labor Coalition’s dinner awards program in May 1991, commented that the Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbor Labor Coalition was originally started to address the IBU’s jurisdictional dispute with the Seafarers International Union and Crowley Maritime Corp. in 1979. Crowley ran a tugboat operation in Florida under an inferior contract to the one used on the West Coast.
There has been some confusion as to what drove the formation of the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Coalition. Many people remember the 1980 OCAW strike and consider that as the driving force in starting the coalition. However, according to the records of the coalition itself, it was the IBU and SIU conflict that initially drove the formation of the Harbor Labor Coalition.
This was an effort to address concerns locally, by which, through unity, the various disparate locals could channel their resources and fend off attempts to bring down wages, benefits and other attacks on the harbor unions. The impact of that fight is still felt today in the harbors, through the increased resolve created to fight the “good fight” by workers who would not be denied their livelihoods.
In a 2009 interview with Jim Smith, formerly with the Newspaper Guild Local 69— a founding local of the Harbor Labor Coalition — the involvement of the Harbor Labor Coalition with the OCAW came on the heels of the IBU struggle. The OCAW was having a tough time negotiating a new contract and was by then on strike.
The OCAW, being a local Harbor presence, went to the Coalition to seek support in its contract fight. The Coalition came forward as a show of unity to promote OCAW interests. Eventually, the Harbor Labor Coalition hosted a parade on Avalon Boulevard in Wilmington in March 1980 in support of OCAW contract negotiations during the 1980 strike.
David Sickler: The Early Years
Before the coalition was founded, David Sickler, former regional director of the State Building & Construction Trades Council’s Southern California, called the locals in the Los Angeles Harbor a “clannish group.” In the late 1970s, the harbor unions wanted to form their own central council, along with their own charter. This was strongly opposed by the AFL-CIO International.
The ILWU, being one of the largest Harbor unions, did not itself become re-affiliated with the Los Angeles County Labor Federation until 1988. Historically, this is a pattern that has been repeated many times by other unions.
In 1981, the Los Angeles Labor Coalition’s Labor Day parade was used to address labor’s displeasure with Reagan’s firing of air-traffic controllers. By 1982, the coalition itself was re-energized through an increased number of participant unions. One would be remiss in not mentioning another event that has had an influence on Labor Day activities in the port area. That would be the role of the labor breakfast held in downtown Los Angeles.
The Catholic Labor Institute, headed by Patrick Henning, hosted the labor breakfast. Five to six hundred people attended those early labor breakfasts.
Cardinal Roger Mahoney’s opposition to an effort by gravediggers in Catholic cemeteries to join a union in the late 1980s strained his relationship with the labor community. While many have related the cemetery workers failed organizing to the cessation of the Catholic Labor Institute Breakfast, in actuality, the breakfast had started to fizzle out by the mid 1980s. By the time the cemetery workers’ organizing drive was squashed by Mahoney, who by the late 1980s was an archbishop, the Catholic Labor Institute’s breakfast had already faded into history.
Within a few years, the Labor Day breakfast was given a new venue at Los Angeles Trade Tech when John McDowell was chairman of the Labor Studies Department there.
While politicking was not allowed at the Harbor Coalition’s post-parade rally, it was the very substance of the labor breakfast at Trade Tech.
Under Miguel Contreras (former head of the County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO) the labor breakfast was moved to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angel. For this to happen, Cardinal Roger Mahoney had reached out to Contreras in an act of reconciliation — wiping the slate clean from the bitter fallout over the cemetery workers’ strike, according to Sickler. It was a move strongly supported by Miguel Contreras.
At 10 a.m. after breakfast, the Cardinal held a mass on behalf of the workers. Needless to say, this conflicted with the parade’s schedule, creating a pell-mell dash from Cathedral to the port, so as to at least not miss the rally.
You seem to be clinging on to some old visions of what the San Pedro and the POLA should be. Like a latter-day Don Quixote – trying to throw advancing technology under the old noble-labor bus. One of these days, with new and better technology, San Pedro and Wilmington might actually get rid those overpaid ILWU jobs for good and finally and hopefully, all the stinky, polluting trucks and ships that continue to kill the families surround the existing ports.
Richard Pawlowski, Oregon
The Battle of Automation —Second Perspective
I have a similar sentiment. Self-driving everything is coming, and there’s going to be a huge upheaval in the workforce. It can’t be fought – no one will be able to toss their wooden shoes into the gears of technology.
It’s far easier to automate a controlled environment like a port rather than freeways which must still (for now) accommodate unpredictable humans – this is why true full automation is happening in places like mines, farms, Amazon warehouses, and other fenced-off parcels where we need to ‘move stuff’.’
It’s only a matter of time. What to do with/for the non-knowledge workers is a big question.
Jason Herring, San Pedro
Not all progress brings prosperity. There will be winners and losers. As I wrote in my last editorial, “good jobs and a clean environment must be equal to a sustainable economy and a healthy community. It doesn’t have to be an either-or decision”. We must not jettison the jobs that are already here for an unknown promise of future prosperity. We’ve seen how this didn’t work in the past with the shipyards and canneries closing. Technological advancement is a force of its own that is undeniable.But how it gets integrated into our economy is a discussion for debate, the same way that human DNA engineering is being discussed as ethics and legal issues.
James Preston Allen, Publisher
New Dog, Old Tricks
Is anybody else among RLns readership shaking their head in amazement about the Daily Breeze’s op-ed page of late? You’d figure a paper that supported the Vietnam War to the end and Nixon deep into Watergate might change with new ownership. Nope!
The last two Sunday editions have been a union buster’s wet dream. In particular, “Unions v Innovation” 6/30. Steven Greenhut lambasts unions for impeding progress while being political bullies. He praises Lyft and Uber, on the other hand, as innovators and political innocents.
Trouble is, these two relatively new companies employ more lobbyists than Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart combined. They often barge into small statehouses with as many as 16 lobbyists and an already written bill they want passed. Talk about bullies!
When Donald Trump tells American citizens to “go back” to their country, I hear chilling echoes of my own childhood.
I was born in America, but when I was just five years old, my family and I were put into American internment camps. One hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans were rounded up and uprooted from our homes simply because we looked like the people who had bombed Pearl Harbor. We lost everything. We were allowed to keep only what we could carry. It was a dark, harrowing time.
Today, we are witnessing new horrors at our border, eerily similar to what I experienced during World War II — with the added cruelty of family separation. The Trump administration once again is turning America into a nation that has lost its soul, where barbed wire camps become the symbol of a broken and cruel system.
George Takei, Los Angeles
More on Trump
Who is Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore) and why is the president repeatedly attacking him over Baltimore? Who are those four congresswomen he constantly slurs? It doesn’t matter to the president. Slurs and insults are a “little game” of hatred that the president uses to divide voters.What are his rules?
Rule 1: “Haters hate hatred of their hate.”
Rule 2: “Lovers hate hatred of their love.”
Rule 3: “While Lovers and Haters are hating each other, Tycoons grab the Monopoly money.” Maxine Waters might agree that Members of Congress and reporters and football players and anyone with brown skin have become mere pawns in a silly little game of hate.
Meanwhile, the one percent of Americans who are “super rich” are quietly pocketing 90 percent of the biggest tax cut in a century.
If the president didn’t play his little game, what would happen?
When voters see they got nothing from the president’s only accomplishment, ordinary Americans might just stop playing a poor little rich boy’s game.
Billy Orton, 44th Congressional District Candidate, Long Beach
A View From the Hand Basket
I am a lifetime resident of San Pedro and the changes that have occurred over the past few years are astounding.
California is now a sanctuary state, with many sanctuary cities. It welcomes illegal aliens who can receive medical and other free benefits, compliments of the California taxpayer. It leads the nation in homelessness and allows vagrants to camp out on its streets, to do drugs, and relieve themselves in public without any restrictions or consequences. It’s passed laws that will cost the taxpayers billions of dollars to deal with the homeless problem. It has the highest state income tax in the nation and its public education system is a disgrace. Its gasoline tax has been increased constantly while its roads continue to deteriorate. It’s passes laws that are a joke at best, no straws, no plastic bags at the supermarket unless you pay for them, etc. It has alienated businesses and property owners to the extent that many are leaving the state. It supports gender free restrooms which in my opinion can be a danger to children. Recently, it wants to teach children that capitalism is racist.
It seems like everyday there is something new that is in conflict with America and its traditions. Most of the above can be attributed to the liberal politicians who have dominated its political offices.
Unless significant changes are made California could become the first state to be recognized as a “third world state.”
Kenneth M. Bezich, San Pedro
I presume that at one point your family immigrated to this country and then had access to at least a free public education, if not other public services supported by taxpayer dollars. And, as much as some nativists at that time may have discriminated against you and yours, no one shut the door on you as you are now proposing to do to those who come after.
This area, and California in general, is a diverse cultural melting pot that has become an international cioppino of flavors that is difficult to replicate anywhere else. This should be celebrated and not disparaged. In the end, we will fix the homeless problem.
After two-and-a-half years in office, the press is still befuddled by how to cover Donald Trump. On July 14, the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote, “We shouldn’t rise to his bait, but how can we not? If we ignore him, we normalize his reckless behavior, and that’s even worse.”
But that’s a false dichotomy, media critic Jay Rosen, noted on Twitter. And a few weeks later, the El Paso massacre showed it wasn’t a dichotomy at all: repeating and amplifying Trump’s hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric helped normalize it so much that 20 people lay dead as a result—and two more have died since.
The shooter’s manifesto specifically echoed the same lying language Trump has used repeatedly in his campaign rallies and on Twitter—the language of “invasion” used to misrepresent civilians fleeing violence as a military threat. Most notably, in the run-up to the midterms last year, Trump repeatedly portrayed a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers—mostly women and children—as a military threat—a threat that magically disappeared on election day. In addition to being civilians fleeing violence, they had formed into a caravan for defensive reasons—for greater safety in numbers on a perilous journey.
Misrepresenting them as a military threat, which Trump did repeatedly, was a monstrous, multi-faceted, ultimately lethal lie. The media did far more to amplify and spread than it did to question, warn against or condemn.
After the massacre, Trump naturally blamed the media alone: “Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years,” he tweeted. But the main failing has been in mishandling Trump —taking his bait and spreading his message because they only see two options, both of which normalize him in different ways.
“These are not the only choices,” Rosen said. He proceeded to describe five alternatives the press can take: you can change the way you cover him, you can focus elsewhere (on those he’s hurting) while still describing his actions, you can report his lies in a “truth sandwich,” treat his gaslighting as an issue or beat in itself, and ground 2020 coverage in “a transparent and public agenda that derives from a creative act of listening,” a model first developed by the Charlotte Observer in 1992.
It’s useful to describe these, to make the media’s untaken options clear. But they aren’t the only ones, and Trump alone is not the problem. The problem is a far-reaching attack on democracy, including the very notion of shared public understanding, on which democracy depends.
In light of the El Paso massacre, and recent social science research, I’ve added six more options. Four of them expand on Rosen’s gaslighting proposal, to deal with other signature Trump forms of deception, while two build further on the public agenda idea: one built on mass (non-elite) public opinion priorities, the other treating Trump and his allies’ erosion of democratic norms as a distinct new beat. All in all, there are many ways for the press to escape from the box that they’ve put themselves into. They can choose as many of them as they wish—and you, as citizens, can push them to do better.
#1: Rosen suggests, the media can simply stop supplying Trump with oxygen by suspending normal relations with the Trump government. Instead of focusing primary coverage on the White House, “Send interns to the daily briefing when it becomes a newsless mess. Move the experienced people to the rim,” Rosen wrote before Trump took office. “Outside-in can become the baseline method, and inside-out the occasionally useful variant.”
The different ways in which Trump has decimated cabinet departments, with only sporadic media coverage, show just how wise this advice was. In the same vein, Rosen noted, CNN could simply stop covering his speeches live: there are simply too many lies to deal with otherwise. Rather than a single one-size-fits-all choice for everyone to take, Rosen wrote, “Each newsroom has to start asking: what game do we stop participating in this government?”
#2: A second option Rosen suggested, was coverage that reports Trump’s actions, “but he is not the main character,” and he cited an example brought to his attention by Antonia Hylton, a reporter/producer for Vice News on HBO.
“We spend way more time with immigrants and lawyers and in courtrooms than we do circling his orbit in D.C. And it’s paid off,” Hylton said.
When asked for an example, Hylton linked to a 30-minute documentary, Zero Tolerance.
“[We] followed one Guatemalan family’s tough journey from separation to reunification last summer,” she said. “Center the experiences of the family over administration spin.”
This is one example of a very rich journalistic tradition. Documentary filmmakers have used this kind of model forever. Pacifica’s weekday news program Democracy Now! has taken the same approach for more than 20 years, regardless of which party was in the White House. Independent journalists from George Seldes and I.F. Stone down to the alternative press of today have routinely worked this way. It can be done.
#3: If Rosen’s second approach was steeped in history, his third option was the opposite — a new idea called the “truth sandwich,” proposed by cognitive linguist George Lakoff, specifically suited to Trump’s flood of false statements. But the basis is anything but new: First impressions matter. How you broach a subject frames the way it’s seen. And repeating claims makes them seem stronger, regardless of what you might say about them. So, rather than start by repeating Trump’s false claims, first explain the big picture about what’s really going on, then present Trump’s claim — which need not be a direct quote — and then debunk it: Truth/lie/truth: A “truth sandwich.”
The big picture on almost any subject Trump likes is invariably the opposite of what he proposes. So put that first: immigrant crime rates are significantly lower than crime rates for native-born Americans and illegal immigration has been net negative since the great financial crash in 2008. There is no crisis on either count.
Trump’s job-growth numbers his first two years are below Obama’s for the last two years of his term, he’s done nothing to fundamentally change the economy he inherited, except to shift more of the benefits to the rich; global warming is real, and oil company documents dating back to the 1970s prove that they’ve known it all along, so claims that it’s debatable or a hoax are the result of decades of deliberate lying. This is how any coverage of Trump’s lies about his favorite subjects should be introduced: Set the stage with cold, hard, documented facts before turning to discuss Trump’s latest lie, then debunk it with specific contradictory facts.
Lakoff got a buzz of attention for the idea this past year, but it’s far more popular with social media critics than it is with the corporate media journalists in whose hands it would matter most. But it’s never too late to change and never too early to put 2020 campaign coverage on a solid factual foundation.
#4: Fourth on Rosen’s list was the creation of a special kind of coverage—the “Gaslight Desk,” based on the recognition “that sometimes the news he made today is meant only to bring opacity to news he made yesterday.”
Gaslighting is lying so deep it aims at destroying your faith in your perceptions—in your own sanity. “Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said in a speech last summer. That’s a gaslighter’s core message: Believe me, not your lying eyes.
Rosen gave the example of Trump falsely claiming to have pushed back against his crowd chanting “send her back,” when he had actually been quite pleased, as the chant lasted 13 seconds. This sort of claim, “exists only to confuse and erase earlier reports,” he noted.
“By presenting — and fact-checking — these claims as if they’re just the next round, journalists co-author this confusion.”
#5: This last point is crucial: fact-checking may be sufficient for ordinary false claims (though that’s debatable), but it’s clearly insufficient when the point is not just to deny certain facts, but to attack the whole framework of making sense of the world. Of course, one could handle gaslighting using Lakoff’s “Truth Sandwich”—and that’s what the Gaslight Desk should do. But handing it off to its own special department is a way of further underscoring just what’s going on—an additional act of accurately framing precisely what Trump is up to, heightening public awareness of how profoundly Trump is attacking public understanding.
Gaslighting isn’t the only trick Trump uses so much it deserves its own desk. There are four other candidates, two of which are especially strong, that are similarly distinctive to require special identification and treatment. These were identified by George Lakoff just before Trump’s inauguration as the main ways Trump uses Twitter: pre-emptive framing, to define how issues or events are described; diversion (aka distraction), to shift attention away from troubling stories and topics; deflection, to shift blame from himself onto others; and trial balloon, to test public reaction.
Diversion and deflection have both been used so frequently in a laser-like manner that scientists have been able to study them quantitatively, as I reported for Salon on Aug. 4. Deflection has been used to blame “fake news” in defense of Trump’s own prodigious lying, while diversion has been used to distract attention from the Mueller investigation, as major media outlets— the New York Times and ABC World News Tonight—have repeatedly reduced coverage following Trump’s distractive tweets. There’s every reason to believe these strategies are effective more generally, even though it’s difficult to measure these more diversified uses and their impacts. The same can be said for preemptive framing and trial balloons as well. Hence, the following four desks are all called for as well—either separately or in a cohesively shared format.
Skateboarding will be an Olympic sport starting at the Tokyo Games in 2020 and will include both men’s and women’s skateboard street and park competitions. And the competitive skateboarding culture purveyor known as the Dew Tour is making sure everyone knows it at their convention which is taking place this week at the Long Beach Convention Center and Rainbow Lagoon Park through June 16.
At Dew Tour more than 80 of the world’s top pro male and female skateboarders will compete in team and pro and amateur individual competitions in team challenge and individual park and street events.
One of those people is Alec Majerus who is originally from Rochester Minnesota, but he moved to Long Beach to become a professional skater. At 24 years old Majerus has been called the “definition of a savage” by his peers and they mean that in the best of ways as they give him high praise and respect.
They have watched him grow from a 14-year-old boy, when he first skated down a 14-stair rail, into an eminent adult competitor. Majerus won the Silver Medal in the Men’s Skateboard Street X-Games in Minneapolis in 2017. Prior to that he has racked up almost two dozen other awards from as far back as 2010, at 14 years old.
Professional Skateboadrder Alec Majerus.
Right after he moved to California Majerus broke his leg. He had to undergo surgery and had metal put in his leg. Because of that metal he was told he could not skate for one year. In a strange coincidence after surgery, Majerus came down with a staph infection and had to have another emergency surgery.
“It was a blessing I got the staph infection and had to take the metal out because now I’m good, back to normal,” Majerus said in his video. “Then it was on.”
All he wanted to do was skate and at that point, he had one year to film three “video parts” Skaters make video parts to showcase their skills and they are important, showing creativity, their character and they also document things that may never get recreated.
One look at Majerus’ skate video’s and you’ll have to keep watching him as he handles treacherous street skating courses of pavement, stairs and rails—Majerus’ specialty. It’s an extremely physical sport. When it puts you down it’s extremely hard to get back up. Majerus keeps getting up.
RLn spoke to Majerus through email recently about his mad skills and what keeps him motivated.
MP: I see that you’re not wearing any padding which I guess is standard for street skating. But what you do to stay in shape in order to take the beating that you do?
AM: I do a lot of low impact exercises when I’m too sore for skating like biking and hiking to keep my muscles strong and ready for impact. I also do physical therapy a few times a week to help prevent any injuries.
MP: Your persistence comes across clearly in your videos. Beyond persistence, how do you challenge yourself to get to the next level, or maybe more appropriately, to the level you want to reach?
AM: I do have a lot of persistence when learning a new trick. Sometimes I’ll get so close and I’ll try it for hours and not land it. But then the next day, I’ll be a little bit better at trying it from trying it all day the day before, so I just keep pushing until I learn it or unlock how to do it in my brain.
MP: How did you pull off filming three video parts one years’ time? What did that take for you to complete?
AM: I was traveling so much with adidas and Volcom … it kind of just came easy and natural because we were going to such cool places like Barcelona with so much to skate.
MP: How many years do you plan to — or can you keep skating professionally?
AM: Well I’d like to skate forever! Ha ha, but I guess we will see how long my sponsors will put up with me and help support my dream. I have no plans of slowing down and I’m going to continue to push myself in contests and in the streets.
MP: What’s coming next for you after the Long Beach Dew Tour events?
AM: I am heading to New York the day after dew tour for a Volcom skate trip with the Volcom team. I’m excited we are going to skate and film in New York for a couple weeks.
Majerus is humble. In his videos his contemporaries explain that filming three video parts in one year is hard. Street skating is harsh, skaters get beat up. If you look at a video part, one trick lasts almost one second. There are 300 tricks or more in five minutes of video. Do the math to fill up a five-minute video part and it becomes clear how demanding it is. But the challenge is one that Majerus clearly, is up for.
Dew Tour has announced the top athletes scheduled to compete at the summer event. It is the first-ever U.S.-based Olympic qualifying event for men’s and women’s skateboard park and street competitions. More than 300 of the world’s best skateboarders will compete in individual park and street events for a chance to win the Dew Tour title, while earning valuable points toward their country’s Olympic skateboarding team.
Skateboarders like Majerus are now earning points by competing in World Skate sanctioned events during the Olympic qualifying period which started January 1 of this year and will end May 31, 2020. Dew Tour also serves as the last global qualifying event in the U.S. in 2020. This year’s Dew Tour will host open qualifiers, quarter final, semi- final and final rounds of competition, offering fans the chance to see both favorite and new skaters from across the globe. Competitions will start June 13 and will conclude June 16.
The Scotts offers a lesson in the changing nature of fatherhood
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
“I was raised primarily by my mother,” said Howard Scott Jr., who’s called “Scotty” by most people who know him best. “My father was a rolling stone. He basically assisted us financially. My mother was my primary care provider.”
Scotty is the founder of the City Lights Gateway Foundation, the CEO of Arch1 Entertainment — a multimedia artist development company — and the son and namesake of Howard Scott Sr., known by millions worldwide as a founding member of the multiracial, multiple-genre (rock, jazz, Latin, rhythm-and-blues, reggae) funk band, War.
Scotty was speaking from a place of reflection.
“My mother kept us grounded in the sense that it was my father that was in War — and not us that was in War and that we should stand on our own accomplishments.”
Scotty said he didn’t understand why his father was away so often — at least, not until he grew older.
“If you don’t have a man around, you’re likely to pick up the traits that women have,” he explained. “Because my fatherwasn’t around, there were a lot of things I reacted to differently than if I would have had a male role model around. My father was strong, disciplined and committed. That was all great. He was a military man. What he accomplished musically was above and beyond. But being there is totally different.”
Scotty has two grown children of his own, and from the outset of his parenthood he aimed to be the constant presence in their lives that his father wasn’t able to be in his. But it wasn’t only a matter of being there for his children — it was what he brought with him, the lessons he tried to pass along by how he lived.
“It’s O.K. to be affectionate,” Scotty said, itemizing a few of them. “How you should be slow to anger, how to reason out a situation, how to be a good listener.”
Scotty was born in 1965, and was raised by his mother in Harbor City. His paternal aunt lived across the street.
Howard Scott Sr., who we’re going to call “Senior,” isn’t the villain of this story. He didn’t choose his career over his family. He was directing his energy to provide for the material security of his family through a career that allowed him to provide that security. He met the expectations of fatherhood at that time.
Howard Scott Jr. and Senior at an event. Photo courtesy of Howard Scott Jr.
But the 1960s was a pivotal time for the United States and certainly for the Scott family. In one year, Senior graduated from high school, was drafted into the Army, was sent to fight in Southeast Asia and became a father. And his dramatic personal path careened through the context of a larger world dizzied by the Watts Rebellion, the assassination of civil rights leaders and a state crackdown on the Black Panther party. Senior wanted his son to do better and be better than him.
“When I was able, I sent him to a private school,” Senior said.
Senior remembered his reasoning.
“One of these days when he comes up, he has to have the tools he needs to grow up in this society, to be the man I wanted him to be — that he is today.”
For a period of time, Scotty stayed with his father. Senior was on the road frequently, but not always, and Scotty has warm memories of the times — the quality time — they enjoyed. He remembers being told, and told often, that he didn’t have to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“I taught him to be the best he can be and be an honorable man,” Senior said. “If he wanted something, all he had to do was work hard.”
It is said that serendipity is the gift of finding things we didn’t know we were looking for. Fatherhood at a Juneteenth celebration and Father’s Day is probably coincidental with both days falling on a date between June 13 and June 19 on a weekend.
Officially, Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth in San Pedro is more or less a black family reunion over barbecue at Peck Park — except these families are specific to San Pedro and their families came by way of places like Louisiana and Texas during World War II and lived in the workforce housing that existed in San Pedro before being torn down one by one. The exception, of course, is Rancho San Pedro and Harbor Hills public housing.
Senior grew up at a time and in a household of deeply entrenched gender roles. Masculinity was almost completely defined by the kind of material security a man was able to provide. But the trauma suffered by Americans living through the 1960s and early ‘70s required different answers.
“I was probably five or six years old when my parents moved from San Pedro to Compton,” Senior said. “We lived in the projects in San Pedro. When we got the chance to start “movin’ on up” my parents took that chance and moved us to Compton.”
“I was young back then, but what I do remember was the unity I saw there. It was just a community of people who came from the South for a better life. It was just a great place to grow up.”
“My father bought me my first instruments,” Senior recounted. “As a matter of fact, he bought me an acoustic guitar like I bought my son an acoustic guitar.”
Senior’s father initially bought him instruments out of a catalog. When Senior’s skills rose to the level of requiring professional instruments, his father got him professional instruments, but Senior had to pay his father back.
“He wanted me to be better than him,” Senior said. “My dad was proud of me just like I am proud of my son. My father was 45 years old when I was born.”
Senior said he didn’t experience stress from being away from his family while he was on the road. Providing materially for the family was his prime directive as a father.
“We had to do a lot of international traveling to build the brand of Eric Burdon and the band War,” Senior said. “And when Eric Burdon left, we had to build the brand of War.”
The Scott family is originally from Texarkana, Texas — right on the Texas-Arkansas border. The family moved to San Pedro during World War II, drawn by war time jobs and the canneries. Senior’s father was a crane operator and his mother worked at Starkist on Terminal Island.
The family moved out of workforce housing as soon as possible. Their destination: Compton, where they purchased a house for $9,500. This was before Unruh’s Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination in housing accommodations and retail establishments, among other civic areas of life in 1959.
“During that migration, people from Mississippi were going to Chicago and Detroit, while people from Texas were going to California,” Senior explained.
Senior recalled a childhood fantasy, dreaming of playing guitar as well as his father playing the blues.
“I was never the guitar player he was because he could play that country boy guitar like a Lightnin Hopkins and those guys,” Senior said. “I had wanted to play more modern guitar.”
Senior said he acquired his playing style in Harbor City. His cousin, Jack Nelson from San Antonio, Texas came into town with his Gibson guitar and taught him and his brother-in-law how to play guitar and bass guitar.
In the end it was music that offered the pathway to understanding between Senior and Scotty.
“When you listen to Cisco Kid, Lowrider and you hear a kind of Latino soulful sound, it’s all derived from him growing up in San Pedro and playing music in Wilmington and Harbor City with Hispanics, then of course moving to Compton,” Scotty said. “A lot of people don’t realize that whole genre of music was influenced by this whole Harbor Area.”
That was like the real big deal for musicians back in the days. That time was so important then. The climate and the way people were. You have to figure that these children were 15, 16, 17 years running in and out of these establishments. This is War’s area.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Scotty began to study music history to be able to better identify the music heavily sampled by hip-hop artists, especially as the artist began raking accolades, millions of dollars and value to heavily sampled songs like Senior’s catalog of music.
“I remember when Napster came out during that time,” Scotty said. “War’s music is worth more today than it was when it first came out. I started to wonder, if dad’s catalog is worth more now and you have all of these top hip-hop artists— Tu Pac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, especially those West Coast guys — and of course, P Diddy and all them guys on the East Coast and Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson were all sampling War’s music. It gave me a sense of pride to know that my father was the source of this penmanship. A lot of these artists don’t even know the history of the music they’re sampling.”
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor and Benjamin Garcia, Reporter
Anyone attending the Pride at the Port of Los Angeles Festival on June 15 will find themselves living their best life dancing with Cher impersonator, Chad Michaels, to the liveliest music pumped out by the Southland’s top DJs. Just remember that this inaugural San Pedro Pride Festival was never a call for civility or even a call for acceptance for the LGBTQ community in this Port town. It was a call for solidarity against hate.
The Pride Festival is set to take place one year after the press conference where community leaders and Councilman Joe Buscaino stood in solidarity with Ryan Gierach, a gay Air Force veteran and former WeHo News publisher, who allegedly endured months of homophobic harassment and was physically assaulted by his neighbors.
At the time, Gierach said the abuse from his neighbors began as soon as he moved in two years prior.
“When I came here my neighbors directly across from me began calling me names — all of them revolving around gay epithets,” he said.
The harassment escalated when he hung a rainbow flag in front of his house for Pride Month. His neighbors slung anti-gay remarks and actual garbage at him, he recounted at the time.
He captured the episode on video, in which two women and a child are seen mocking him and one woman spits at him. In the video, one woman taunts him through his screen door, jeering at him before spitting on Gierach through the door.
Gierach told a television news outlet that before this, fliers were posted around the neighborhood that listed his home address and accused him of pedophilia.
When word of this initially got out, civic leaders Aiden Garcia-Sheffield, Allyson Vought, Leslie Jones and Mona Sutton offered Gierach their support — this is significant given that the four had just ended their stint as officers at the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council.
At least one of his neighbors has said Gierach’s account isn’t all that it seems. That person painted Geriach as a bad neighbor at both his previous West Hollywood home and San Pedro.
Garcia-Sheffield founded the nonprofit, Bridge Cities Alliance, for the express purpose of promoting community inclusion through monthly outreach socials, community clean-ups and hosting annual Pride at the Port of Los Angeles event.
At first glance, choosing the USS Iowa as the venue for the festival would seem odd. When asked about how the nonprofit chose the venue, Garcia-Sheffield told Random Lengths News, “We had originally planned on the Harbor Cut but were told it would be under construction at the time of our festival.”
No one could have known that the Los Angeles Maritime Museum would have been given a two month renovation reprieve when a venue for the festival was first sought.
“This year, there will be no live bands,” Garcia-Sheffield explained, “It’s our first year and we want to be successful. Unfortunately, the complexities of live band sound requirements were placed on next year’s goal list.”
“Well we certainly gave priority to those who are generously giving their time,” said Garcia-Sheffield when asked about the process of choosing performers.
Garcia-Sheffield admitted that those who participate actively in the LGBT+ community and who are generously giving their time (i.e. performing damn near free) were made a priority. With those two thoughts in mind, he said they had more entertainment than they could fit into one day.
Chad Michaels will be performing in the VIP area aboard The USS Battleship Iowa. “All but two of our entertainers donated their time to the festival, including DJs,” Garcia-Sheffield said.
General admission is $15; VIP admission is $75. Voyage on the Fairy Ferry is $45.
Ticket purchase to the ferry includes entry into the main festival and light food on board, provided by Hamburger Mary’s. The cruise includes views of the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports and will be hosted by Master of Ceremonies Jewels Long Beach. Passengers may also expect DJ Shane to perform, a dance floor and drinks.
The gates open at 11 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. The last call for alcohol will be at 9 p.m.
It’s Friday night on March 29th at PCW ULTRA’s Wrestle Summit and Jake Atlas has just stepped into the ring to defend his title against a challenger from Canada’s IMPACT! Wrestling Federation, Dezmond Xavier.
Atlas takes off his blue sequined blazer, shining under the stage lights and struts confidently in blue short shorts and white boots in front of a cheering crowd. He uses suggestive body language to taunt his opponent. He’s the very picture of the modern day “face” – or hero character – in professional wrestling: young and handsome and clean cut, but he’s also very L.A. – a true blue Latino hero who recently came out of the closet.
Fans line up for Wrestle Summit outside of the ILWU Memorial Hall while the sun begins to set. Photo by Adam R. Thomas.
Xavier lets his moves speak for him. He pretends to walk away into a corner before instantly committing to a panther like double back flip that culminates in a powerful aerial kick straight to the back of Atlas’ head – knocking the cocky star to the ground instantly. The audience of hundreds lets out a collective cry while Xavier goes for a pin on the stunned Atlas straight away, attempting to end the night’s Ultra-Light Championship bout before it’s really begun.
Atlas escapes of course. He’s a hometown favorite here at Wilmington’s International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union Memorial Hall, and a rising star in the L.A. Indy wrestling scene. Though he struggles against Xavier, who chases him around the ring for much of the match in a stunning display of acrobatic prowess, Atlas eventually delivers his signature finisher – a modified backwards Tornado DDT from a handstand on the ropes – and pins Xavier. Atlas rises and grasps his belt, his title ably defended, before screaming to the crowd while they chant back, “Whose house? Jake’s House!”
“He’s just one of those up and coming kids,” says Joseph Cabibbo about Atlas. “I’ve seen a million of ‘em and he’s one of them. He’s just going to be a star.”
Josef Samael (Cabibbo) swings a folding chair at Danny Maff during Wrestle Summit. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
Cabibbo should know. While fans of Atlas may have been chanting that it was “Jake’s House” during Wrestle Summit, in reality it was Cabibbo’s. Because Cabibbo is one half of the duo that runs PCW ULTRA – the company that put on the night’s events, including Atlas’ match with Xavier. As the primary talent manager and “Booker,” – the wrestling slang for essentially, the Lead Writer – it was Cabibbo that ultimately decided that Atlas should win the night’s bout of pre-planned pugilism and flying physicality.
“You have to be a specialist to understand – not just the falls and the [maneuvers of] wrestling and all that – that’s one thing. But the way you put it all together and train an audience . . . It’s like no other business around,” says Cabibbo.
Cabibbo is a strikingly intimidating figure at first glance. His shaved head and wild, dark beard just starting to gray sit atop a bulky frame underneath. He looks like he might be Santa Claus’ evil twin brother. But Cabibbo isn’t a bad guy at all; he just plays one in the ring.
Happy Man poses and defends himself from Douglas James while Randy Myers looks on during the screwball comedy inspired Revolver Scramble Match. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
That’s because the 44-year old Cabibbo, in addition to being the creative force behind PCW ULTRA, also brings his talents to fans directly as a performer with 20 years of experience in the independent professional wrestling scene, best known for his now retired character The Almighty Sheik. Now he plays Josef Samael, an evil, guttural creature and part of a tag-team of violence loving baddies – known in the wrestling lingo as “heels” – called Warbeast with his teammate Jacob Fatu.
During the night’s performance at Wrestle Summit, Cabibbo, after spending all day working behind the scenes already, comes out in a classically styled wrestler’s leotard and demonstrates his trademark brutal, theatrical style with Fatu in a match against two other teams, and they’re all pairs of heels. The match starts in the ring but spills out into the crowd halfway through, with Cabibbo and Fatu swinging folding chairs at their opponents and driving them into tables, leaving a trail of carnage behind while half the audience chases them around the hall on foot, breaking the already thin fourth wall just that bit more, but obviously rapt in their attention.
Before the show and while eating a sandwich, Cabibbo waxes philosophically about his methods for playing a good heel, something he’s done for more years than many in the audience have been alive.
Fans cheer as the action heats up at Wrestle Summit. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
“It’s really easy to me because [after 20 years] I know how to work a room . . . you have to limit yourself as far as what you’re going to give the audience, because you don’t want them to react positively to you. But at the same time, you don’t want them to react negatively to you in a way that is cheap. Like you don’t want to look at a lady who is overweight and go ‘you big fat blah blah blah,’ that’s not cool. That lady’s going to feel like crap. So, you want to use yourself to represent everything bad in that audience’s life that they can identify with. If a boss doesn’t give you respect you look through somebody. If somebody cheats you in life you cheat the good guy. You do stuff that they can identify with and you get heat with the drama of it . . . I find that it’s best to emasculate a man and scare a woman. Those are two really foolproof ways to get under somebody’s skin.”
Still, Cabibbo warns that playing a good heel is a balancing act, talking about times when crowds have gone out of control with rage and having to fend off assaults in past shows.
“It’s a real strange thing,” says Cabibbo. “Everyone knows its entertainment, but everybody’s emotions can get the best of them. It’s weird. It’s like at first, they’re just playing along. Until they’re not.”
Taya Valkyrie taunts the crowd over a stunned Daga during the Mixed Sex match at Wrestle Summit. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
When he’s not playing a brooding bad-man though, Cabibbo’s talent truly shines as a creative who lives and breathes his craft, and he’s as nice as Mister Rogers off stage. If he isn’t regaling you with a story from his past days wrestling in Puerto Rico or Japan, he’s talking about his plans for the next show: how to make it better than the last, how to get bigger talent, how to grow PCW ULTRA – which in the wrestling world is a business arrangement known as a Federation, Fed, or Promotion interchangeably, essentially the equivalent of a theater troupe – into a bigger and better show for the audience.
Which is a good thing for Cabibbo’s business partner, Mike Sharnagl, the owner and founder of PCW ULTRA. Originally founded as Pacific Coast Wrestling in 2015, Sharnagl, who has a day job working in marketing, says he attended a local independent wrestling show and decided that he could do it better, fronting the money to start the business. He handles the logistical and marketing aspects of the enterprise, while Cabibbo handles the nitty gritty wrestling details like booking.
“No one was doing any kind of wrestling in the South Bay, and I live in the South Bay,” says Sharnagl, who lives in Lomita. “It turned out that he [Cabibbo] was my perfect, I dunno, my other being here. We work great together because we’re in completely separate channels, but working for the same goal. He’s like ‘I booked this guy and that guy and it’s going to be ridiculous. People’s minds are going to blow!’ and I’m like ‘I got a taco guy! So, people are going to be so stoked because now they can eat tacos!’”
With their first shows originally playing to a gym in Torrance in 2016, the pair’s new venture soon saw the venue filled to capacity once they were able to book the TV wrestling legend of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rob Van Dam. Cabibbo felt that venues that would host roller derby matches would likely be good for wrestling, and they soon found the ILWU Memorial Hall in Wilmington, moving there in 2017. Since then they’ve been setting up a series of six to eight major shows a year, three years now.
It couldn’t have begun at a better time, too, since the previously extremely small, mostly underground, and often very amateur world of the independent wrestling scene has exploded nation-wide. All across the U.S. thanks to a distaste amongst fans for the McMahon machine that is the World Wrestling Entertainment behemoth, fandom culture on social media and a resurgent attendance in high quality wrestling schools (the Santino Brothers academy is the big one in L.A.).
According to Grecco Bray, who works for PCW ULTRA as a line producer, though the average person not following Indy wrestling on social media wouldn’t know it, these days there are often nine to twelve different wrestling shows running in California alone during any given week, and it’s diversifying.
“Wrestling became really limited thanks to Vince McMahon,” says Bray. “It was a monopoly. He was Caesar. He took over everything. He killed everything. Five years ago, you could have sworn wrestling was going to die. But then my generation came up and said ‘We’re old enough, we have an idea on how to do this, and we can do different styles.’ The Territories are coming back.”
Shane Strickland’s Swerve delivers a double stomping kick to Mil Muertes during the Championship Match at Wrestle Summit. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
“The Territories” are how the professional wrestling world in the U.S. was organized from the 1950s through the 1970s. It was a cartel-like system where different, wrestling federations and promotions divided the US into regions, generally keeping talent localized and making money from live shows, which allowed for different styles to develop in different regions. McMahon took over what would become the WWE in the 1980s and slowly but surely bought out smaller promotions and federations until he created a conglomerate that brought professional wrestling into the mainstream on cable TV, but also homogenized the industry.
“McMahon’s one size fits all notion has kind of gone away,” Bray says. “[The style of show in] Northern California is different from Southern California which is different from the Deep South. Because people are different and crowds have different needs.”
It’s in the mixing of these different styles where Cabibbo and Sharnagl’s PCW ULTRA finds its unique spin as a company. Some, like Atlas, come from a gymnastics background, others, like the pink spandex clad Japanese superhero caricature “Happy Man,” play at screwball comedy. Brutal weapon matches, mixed sex tag-team matches, and of course, it wouldn’t be SoCal if there weren’t Luchadors. The winner of the night’s championship match was Mil Muertes, who brought a pure luchador gimmick (albeit with an undead theme).
Combined, it’s as Cabibbo pitches, a “circus act,” where if you don’t find one matchup entertaining, you only have to wait a few minutes to see if the next might catch your eye. It’s a broad-based, vaudevillian approach that he and Sharnagl devised in order to try and appeal to more locals, especially families, looking for an alternative to a movie for a good Friday night out rather than only focus on bringing in hardcore Indy wrestling fans, who Cabibbo says have become more sophisticated due to social media.
Mil Muertes is stunned during his Championship Match on March 29 at ILWU Memorial Hall. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
“If for instance, somebody is going into the WWE [fans] know about it, thanks to the internet,” says Cabibbo. “They’re into the intricacies. They understand if two people are dating. They understand if two people have legitimate heat – what we call anger in the business. There’s also times where we work heat, and they think they’re smart to it but we’re able to get them in a different way!”
Talking about “working heat” – creating false anger between two performers that the audience believes is real – is the art of professional wrestling that the average person doesn’t see. It’s what bookers like Cabibbo are most in charge of creating by forming a fictional narrative around the actual lives of the performers. And it all plays out in real-time, all day, every day.
“The best way to describe wrestling is [it’s] kind of 24-hour live theater,” says Bray. “What I compare it to is it’s Shakespeare. At the end of Macbeth there’s a huge fight scene. Macbeth and MacDuff pull out their giant phallic symbols and beat the crap out of each other for like 15 minutes in most productions. [Wrestling], every match, hypothetically would be the last 15 minutes of Macbeth. Except you’re already geared up and you’re just ready to go and boom. That is theater.”
Like any good cultural product, wrestling, whether at the local level of Indy shows like Wrestle Summit or at the national level with the WWE, reflects the world around it, and this includes politics. Cabibbo retired his best known persona, The Almighty Sheik, because he felt an “evil Arab” might not be as appealing in a post-post-9/11 world. There’s also debate about the nature of one of the core tropes of the craft – faces and heels – when relativism is a major element of living in a digitally globalized world.
LA Indy Wrestling superstar Jake Atlas is about to take a flying blow from Dezmond Xavier during Wrestle Summit. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
“What we’re running into in the modern day is that one man’s heel is another man’s face,” says Bray. “The example I use is the political one: the president’s a professional wrestler. He cuts a really good gimmick, his crowds get excited, but they don’t believe he’s going to do these things. He never had to take the abuse, but he does everything else a professional wrestler does. Which is, ‘I’m the good guy, they’re the bad guy, watch me next Sunday rumble in the jungle with that person there, I’m upset.’ The reason I use him as an example, is that he’s a hero for a group of people. He’s also the biggest villain in the world. And there is no one size fits all. In some territories, he’s a face. In some territories, he’s a heel, and it’s the same thing for any of these guys.”
Two days after Wrestle Summit, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on HBO brought more politics regarding wrestling to public attention with a segment focusing on the abusive treatment of wrestlers in McMahon’s WWE. The segment highlighted many major issues that both Bray and Cabibbo spoke of in interviews with Random Lengths News, including how wrestlers are entering into an almost entirely unregulated industry of simulated combat that sees most dying young due to years of wear and tear on their bodies.
“In the WWE they’ll fix you if you’re broke, but they don’t have to,” says Cabibbo. “You’re an independent contractor, so it’s basically – they protect you in a way that they’re protecting their contracted race horses. This is a business that’s infamous for chewing people up and spitting them out . . . pro wrestling is ‘enter at your own risk.’ Everyone knows and no one is surprised by it. That is the way it is. I recommend that anyone who wrestles, whether it’s for a living or not, that they have insurance. If they choose to wrestle without insurance that’s on them – I don’t recommend it at all. I don’t.”
Healthcare is a major issue for wrestling at its highest levels in the WWE, but it’s even more precarious at the “minor league” level of the independent wrestling world. Shane Strickland, a ten-year veteran (in both wrestling and the military) who represented PCW ULTRA as their champion Swerve against Muertes during Wrestle Summit, agreed that a lack of performer protection was the most critical issue in the industry today.
Taya Valkyrie kisses Johnny Ultra over a defeated Daga during the Mixed Sex Tag Match on March 29 at the ILWU Union Hall. Photo provided by PCW ULTRA.
“We’re pretty much all on our own,” says Strickland. “I’d say 80 to 85 percent of independent wrestlers don’t have health insurance. So every night we’re in the ring it’s a gamble.”
While the economic realities of smaller shows make healthcare a sore spot in the Indy scene, other once common problems are improving according to Strickland.
“Smaller promotions, there’s times when there are shady workings in the back and performers don’t get paid,” says Strickland. “Those guys are getting weeded out more, those promotions, because of the internet age. Once one bad thing happens everybody hears about it.”
In general, Strickland is positive about the internet’s influence on the industry beyond just its effect on preventing abuse. Saying that he sees more and more crossover between Indy wrestling and mainstream entertainment, especially music, due to social media and in turn, success in terms of both fame and fortune.
“It’s starting to become the cool thing, to like wrestling, when it wasn’t [before],” Strickland says. “It was taboo to be a wrestling fan, like ‘oh you like that fake crap?’ But nowadays that’s changed, wrestlers are more relatable. We’re just like you, we were nerds too. I wouldn’t even just say it’s wrestling, but entertainment [in general]. There’s independent rock shows in bars, and there’s independent wrestling shows in clubs.”_
Fans react with excitement as the fight spills into the crowd during the 3-Way “Winner Take All” match at Wrestle Summit. Photo by Adam R. Thomas.
The comparison to Indie music scenes is apt. During Wrestle Summit, while plenty of attendees are families with small children, and more traditional wrestling fans are decked out in WCW or WWE branded clothing, there is a major presence of young adults and teenagers dressed like they were ready for a punk rock show. All spiky hair and denim jackets covered in band pins like a military uniform is covered in medals.
“It’s like a punk scene or anything like that,” says Derek Lounsbury, a fan who drove down from Tacoma, Washington to see his local wrestlers appearing at Wrestle Summit from the DEFY promotion. “It’s not super mainstream, the independent wrestling scene, but it has a high retention rate, right? It’s different from what I think people are used to. It’s more inclusive. It’s more open. It’s more welcoming, I think, to more people than it’s ever been.”
Cleanup begins after Wrestle Summit at the ILWU Memorial Hall. Photo by Adam R. Thomas.
Ultimately, the presence of both dedicated fans like Lounsbury and a families at the ILWU Memorial Hall for Wrestle Summit means Cabibbo’s booking and Sharnagl’s marketing efforts are working. By the time the lights dimmed and the first bell was rung, every seat in the 800-person capacity hall was filled, ready to watch the spectacle of grown men and women flinging themselves at each other in coordinated epic battles of good versus evil, and evil versus other evil, all complete with burlesque costumes and campy stereotypes.
For Scharnagl, the next step is to connect with more South Bay businesses to fill vendor space at shows, and neither he nor Cabibbo are settling for their current plateau of success. Sharnagl is setting his sights on potentially moving to an even larger venue such as California State University Long Beach’s Walter Pyramid or the Grand Chapiteau in San Pedro.
“The whole goal is to build this area,” Sharnagl says. “I want everyone [in the South Bay] to be like, ‘this is mine.’”
So if you find yourself hankering for an old-fashioned show of testosterone and tights covered spectacle, then perhaps seeking out a local independent show might be right up your alley. If you’re in the South Bay, PCW ULTRA is planning for their next show, Mind Crawler, to take place at the ILWU Memorial Hall at 231 W. C Street in Wilmington on June 14, with ticket prices varying. More information is at http://www.pcwultra.com/.