Covert To Overt

[This is a forward that I wrote for the book “Covert to Overt: The Under/Overground Art of Shepard Fairey” which was released today. Shepard has been a trusted friend of mine for close to 20 years now and he remains someone I have unmeasurable respect for – I was honored to contribute something to this book. I though I’d post what I wrote here in case some people didn’t see the book but might enjoy it – though I fully recommend grabbing a copy for yourself regardless.]

1985 was a rough year for me. At home, at school. The fact that my recently divorced family had just moved across the country to somewhere in rural Texas, and had started using an assumed name didn’t help things. What did help things was a tutor that a teacher suggested I spend some time with after school. The tutor was a kid from a few grades above who seemed equally excited about the situation. We actually clicked right away. This was noteworthy because I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids. Not saying that I didn’t get along with them, I did, they were just into things I couldn’t really get excited about. I often felt like more of a spectator, just kind of watching things play out around. At that time I didn’t know any better and assumed I was just weird. Not that I’m not weird, but that’s a different story. Anyway, this tutor and I were supposed to work on my math and Latin (yes, Latin) skills which were sub par apparently, though they didn’t get any better during our lessons. Thing is, he didn’t teach me any math or latin, but he did clue me into everything awesome in the world.

The people you can point to in your life who had a significant impact are rare, but this guy, whose name I don’t even remember, introduced me to both Monty Python and the Circle Jerks, among other things. If you know me today you can see how much credit is due this one guy. On his suggestion I snuck home his loaned cassette copy of Group Sex and within seconds of putting it into my walkman I had an overwhelming feeling of “Finally!” Until then music had been one of two things for me – either the slow, mopey and depressing stuff that my mom way constantly playing at home, or the stuff on the radio that people were always dedicating to each other. One psudo-father figure who used to hang out around my house was a big Casey Kasem fan and was always listing to the weekly Top 40 countdowns. I found all of this to be terribly boring. Conversely, this cassette was exciting and scary.

This resonated, and made me excited about what else was out in the world that I didn’t know about. I dove in deep and had similar reactions upon hearing Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Run DMC, Gorilla Biscuits, NWA and Sick of It All not long after. I’d found my people, and even if they weren’t right there with me physically, knowing they were out there in the world somehow made things better. Knowing that these people who weren’t happy with the way things were and wanted to make a change could do something –even if it was just to sing about it. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful for me to learn at such a young age. Unconsciously these bands became my social litmus test, I could gauge right away where new people I’d meet fit in my world view. Were they people who would accept things as they were, or were they people who would try to change things for the better.

I had a similar experience with art. Growing up I’d been to museums and found them largely boring. I know now that was as much due to what I was being taken to be see as anything else, but as an angsty teenager I really didn’t give a shit about the old masters. Eventually I stumbled onto the likes of Bosch, Darger and Worhal and I got it. Just like the bands I was now obsessed with these artists were commenting on the society surrounding them, and not everything they had to say was roses and sunshine. Even if sometimes it was.

A decade later a friend who I’d been exchanging letters with for a while but never met – a penpal as we used to say – came to visit in Chicago. We spent the entire night of his arrival driving around the city in a borrowed pick up truck, blasting NWA and talking about the drive to have a hand in shaping the future. We talked about small actions that can have huge impacts. Writing a song. Telling someone about a band. Creating an image that makes people ask questions. Simple actions that can change the world. As sun rose we called it a night, having accomplished our goal of installing huge images of a sunken eyed figure looking out over the city commanding people to OBEY.

Or perhaps challenging them to resist such orders.


I depend on my hardware when I travel, I set things up and I expect them to do what they are supposed to. It saves me endless stress and frustration, so long as it works. Which, because I’m an Apple user, it always does. I never have to think about it. Until recently when it’s all I think about because Apple thinks they know what I want my hardware to do better than I do.

Example 1: The kid has an iPad, I loaded it up with videos for him a while ago. Anytime we travel together I know that as soon as the plane takes off I can give him the go and and he can watch any of the videos on his iPad and kill a few hours of travel time. Except last week as soon as we hit the runway one of his videos won’t play, then another, then another and another. I look and find some new setting “show all movies” which is turned on, I turn it off and now it shows “only movies that have been downloaded to this iPad” which is about 5 of the 30 that used to be there. Some unauthorized autoupdate changed this and deleted files that I had on this hardware. I don’t have autoupdates turned on for this so everything about this was against my wishes. Who on earth at Apple thought this was a good idea?

Example 2: Same trip, my iPhone. Same problem. Half my music is gone. I don’t use icloud, I don’t use Apple Music, I don’t use any streaming shit. I have my own MP3 files and I chose which of those files, those songs, I wanted on my phone. Except now half of them are gone because again, some update that I didn’t consent to deleted files from my device.

I used to be able to trust that Apple products would just work. Now I can’t. I feel betrayed.

And that’s on top of the massive piece of shit that iTunes has become.

While I’ve been reassessing my digital interactions I now find myself reassessing what tools I use as well. Suddenly a dumb music player that reads 256GB MicroSD cards sounds like a more appealing travel companion than my iPhone. And that makes me reassess everything else.

I need a new laptop as my trusty 11″ MacBook air that I’ve dragged all over the world for the last 2 years is on it’s last legs. I’d been eyeballing the new MacBooks but that was when I was trusting Apple to be making the right steps forward. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the older MacBook Pro seems much more appealing even though it’s bigger and heavier – if only because it has ports I can trust and depend on. But reconsidering that is making me reconsider anything. I’ve loyally used Mac OS since the early 80’s but suddenly I’m wondering if something else isn’t a better choice.

I don’t want a company deciding how I want to want to use my stuff. I want to make that decision. I don’t know if Apple respects my choices anymore. But what else do I consider?

I’m going AFT for a while

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter. No way I’m tweet storming this.)

“I’m done, for now, with spending lots of time in the public online space.
I want conversations, in DMs or emails or channels. I want time to think.
I want to look at the sky and listen to the world.”
Warren Ellis, Blood Work

I think the above sentiment captures a lot of what I’ve been feeling and have alluded to here and elsewhere. For me it boils down to a few things – “social media” as it were, just isn’t fulfilling for me anymore. I feel like I’m chasing something that no longer exists. What once provided community now feels empty. It makes me frantic because I’m not satiated, so I refresh, reload, keep looking and eventually walk away worse off than I started. It’s disappointing because I feel like there was so much promise. Maybe I just miss what once was, and want something more than it can provide. And realizing that, or perhaps accepting it, means continuing to look for something in a place you know it doesn’t exist is silly.

I’m taking a break from twitter for a while. I’ll be AFT. Away from twitter. That’s a terribly hard thing for me to say, and to accept. That site changed how I communicate with the world, it helped me find my voice, helped me find an audience, and helped me see the world through so many others eyes. It’s not the site it was anymore and I need to stop hoping it magically will be. For ages now I’ve pointed people there first and foremost for me. I was one of the first 140 people to join the site and now, 9 years or so in, I can’t even imagine how much of my life has been spent pinging their servers. I’m not sure what I have to show for that either. A few fantastic friends for sure – but can I say I wouldn’t have met those people elsewhere? I don’t regret any of it and I’m not saying this to be remorseful, rather I just need to walk away for a bit to get some perspective. I wasn’t really using Facebook when I quit it and I’ve never regretted that decision. I don’t ever think about it and don’t care what I’m missing. Right now I can’t imagine Twitter not being a part of my life, but I need to be able to do that. I need to figure out how I think through ideas and how I relate to other people without it revolving around a single website. Maybe I won’t be able to stand it and I’ll be back. Maybe I won’t. We’ll see how it plays out.

As I mentioned in my internet vacation thoughts, I’m not going offline – just rethinking what and when I use which things – and for what purpose.

Internet Vacation

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter. Subscribe or else.)

I’m fried. I’m exhausted. I’m overloaded. I have so much I want to do and I feel like I’m not getting anything done. I blame the internet. I need an internet vacation.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently but not exactly sure how to put my finger on it, or explain it but I think I’m getting there. That is, I’m getting no where. I’m feeling like I’m working all day and getting nothing done and I think it’s because I’m always on. Because of everything that I do and everything I’m involved with it’s not realistic for me to be offline for any extended period of time so the thought of an “internet vacation” in the sense of being offline for some giant chunk of time. That said, I think it’s imperative that I find a way to not be online all day long.

I don’t have the kind of relationships and connections with people online that I used to and I feel like I spend a lot of time and effort chasing that, whereas perhaps that time would be better spent building and fostering offline relationships and connections.

I’ve experimented a bit with this, about 6 months ago I moved my phone charger to the living room so I plug it in before I go to bed and don’t look at it again until after breakfast (unless I have an early morning meeting). This has helped, I sleep better, I can read a book in bed, I get a solid chunk of things done in the morning. Then the day begins – so to speak – I’m in front of my laptop or ipad or phone, or some combination of all three constantly. I’m juggling emails, slack teams, tweetdeck, an ever present search window for research, news feeds, etc. Not to mention todo lists, kid/family stuff, eating, and all the rest of it. I also chopped my following list on twitter in half, moving a lot of people to lists I check more sporadically and that’s been a good step, but it’s not enough.

I’m very seriously wondering if I could somehow engineer limited internet access for myself. One hour a day. Or two one hour blocks spaced throughout the day. In the offline times I could focus on the things I want and need to focus on, and knowing I only have an hour of connectivity maybe I’d be more discerning about how I spend that. Random browsing would disappear but I’m pretty sure I’m OK with that, and I could keep a text file with things I need to look up and then batch them.

I have Freedom App but I never use it because anytime I’ve tried something comes up and I need to get online and end up quitting it. But maybe it’s worth a shot – try it for a week or something and just put in 6 hours as how long I want to be offline, then quit browsers, and set a countdown clock somewhere. Is this even reasonable? I know don’t know, but I think I want to try it.

Time, and the managing there of

Articles,Me, Myself, and this blog,Philosophy — Sean Bonner @ 9:34 pm

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter which you can and should subscribe to if you know what’s good for you.)

A few months ago on the Grumpy Old Geeks podcast, Brian was talking about his daily routine and while the specifics of it aren’t that important some bits jumped out at me. I’m going to get this wrong but it was something like “2 hours of news followed by 2 hours of email in the morning, break for lunch, bike ride, 4 hours of work work, 1 hour of email, end at 6pm no questions asked. That last bit was what hit me – he said basically “if it’s 5:55pm and what I’m doing will take 10 more minutes to finish then I do 5 minutes of it today, stop at 6pm and then finish that 5 minutes first tomorrow.” The argument being that there’s always 5 more minutes you can jam in, and before you realize it it’s 7pm, or 10pm or 3am. Setting the firm cut off point gave him the ability to have work free evenings.

Today I was listening to Max’s new Untitled Podcast and there was a similar notion being discussed. Max used the term “designing your life” which I thought was interesting, but it was following a conversation about budgets and how no one questions the sensibility of sticking to a financial budget if you want to reach certain goals. Similar logic should apply to time, and a time budget is the way to do that. Max talked about a horrid evil piece of software which I won’t even mention but it runs in the background and give him reports on how he spends his time. “You spent 732 hours in the last month on twitter” etc. That is information that is horrifying to me, but it shouldn’t be – for any of us – because we should be able to know exactly how much time we want to do certain things and how to ensure those things happen.

I want to read for at least an hour a day, but often it hits 11pm and I’m exhausted and I just crash. If I had a time budget dictating that I spend an hour a day reading it would be easier to justify, and I’d be happier, and my overall life would be improved. I’m guilty of working all the time, but I’d like to spend more time not working and just playing with my son. A dictated budget might give me the metal approval to allow that to happen.

I thought it was noteworthy that in Max’s conversation he commented that in some professions there is a time when work is actually done. When you finish X that’s all there is for the day. When I worked as a professional graphic designer in the 90’s that was often the case – I’d have done everything I could and next steps were waiting on something from someone else so I could call it a day. But now, with the web, and social sites, and constant email there is never an end. There is always a flow of new things to do, so unless you consciously decide that you are going to put it down and do something else for X hours a day, you won’t. And before you know it you’ll be dead and will have wasted your life chasing likes on Facebook.

Fuck that.

Make some noise

Me, Myself, and this blog,Music — Sean Bonner @ 7:18 am

Last month my friend Adrian told me he had an idea, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in collaborating on a project with him. He’d been reading my 30 days of fiction stories listened to some of the synth noise I’ve been messing around with and thought there might be an interesting fusion between those and some footage he’d filmed recently. It sounded fun.

The trick of course is that Adrian lives in Tokyo and I live in LA, so we couldn’t just get together and make it, so instead we started sending bits and pieces back and forth to each other. He’d send me some video, I’d send him some audio, he’d tweak the video and send back, I’d record new audio and send it, etc. It actually worked out pretty well, and the resulting piece of video art is something I’m quite happy with.

You can read Adrian’s blog post about it or go directly to the video hosted on vimeo.

Somewhat related, I’ve been having a lot of fun making this crazy noise stuff recently and think I might do more of it, but it seemed weird enough that I thought it should have it’s own name. So I’m calling it KILLAKEE CAT and I got the domain to house it. It’s a nod to this fun story. You can also follow @killakeecat on twitter for updates on new things whenever there are some.

self confidence and collaborations

Articles,Me, Myself, and this blog,Music — Sean Bonner @ 1:41 pm

I’m not exactly sure when but at some point in my life I started ranking collaborations higher than anything I could do on my own. Of course, I should note, there is value in both. But there was a solid section of my life when I knew that no one wanted to work on anything with me so if I wanted to do it my only choice was to do it myself. And I did. And I was happy with the results. Perhaps due in part to some of those results, people I looked up to started getting in touch, or maybe having some experience under my belt I wasn’t nervous about reaching out to them. Anyway, I’d talk to some of these people and on occasion one of us might propose working on a project together. I was always flattered. Seriously, anyone I’ve ever worked with in my life has been a dream come true for me. At first anyway, but that’s a different story. I’d only ever consider going in on something with someone I already respected, so that someone I respected was down for a collab with me felt great.

I’ve been lucky to work with or build things with a great number of people I think are serious badasses. And I’m incredibly proud of the outcomes of the vast majority of those collaborations. I wouldn’t undo them for anything. Even the ones that didn’t work out exactly as I’d hoped – all still awesome. But somewhere along the way I started second guessing anything that I didn’t have a collaborator to validate. I don’t think this was a conscious shift, at first it was just if a had the choice between doing something on my own or with someone else I’d opt for the joint endeavor because two heads are better than one right? And then as that went on it turned into a feeling that I needed some outside perspective or expertise to shape whatever my contribution was. And eventually that maybe they were the one with the value and I was just lucky to have the opportunity work with them, but without them my piece wasn’t all that interesting. I don’t think any of those are especially productive positions to take, but you know, hindsight and all.

It’s only after years of a slow shift and later a conscious decision to recognize it that I realized how many ideas, projects or things I put off because a collaboration hadn’t materialized. The slightest hint of interest from someone else justified an idea to me, and lack of interest nullified it. It’s like I stopped trusting my own internal gauge of what was worth doing. Similarly, if someone else thought an idea was cool but was unable to work on it with me I made myself believe I couldn’t do it on my own. That I needed that other person to help my ideal materialize. Of course none of that is true and these are just the things doubt fills your head with. The slide into that negative space is so gradual that it’s hard to recognize, so just realizing this is happening is a huge step. Having identified the culprit it’s easy to cast them out.

If I think I have a good idea, it doesn’t become less of a good idea just because I don’t have someone to collaborate with. If I do, great, but if I don’t, no biggie. This is probably a similar feeling to being in a relationship for a long time and when it ends, feeling uncertain about your own choices and quickly looking for someone else to shack up with so you don’t have to face all that on your own. Or choosing to be single for a while and seeing who you really are. So in a way, creatively, I’m trying to embrace being single for a bit. What does that mean? Probably means I’ll be producing and putting out a bunch of garbage that you all will have to sort through. But it also means I might make some things I’m happy with. I think about my friend Jonathan’s theory here – make lots of stuff and some of it will suck but some of it will be great and it’s worth it for the great stuff.

It’s a new year, what will you do with it?

Me, Myself, and this blog — Sean Bonner @ 1:01 pm

While I’m far too jaded to put any stake in new years resolutions I do find value in reassessing life and direction and trajectory from time to time and the new year is an easy marker to remember to do that once and a while. Looking back over the last 12 months I think I too often let the little critical voices inside my head shape my actions. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while you know I wrestle with this and sometimes I’m awesome at ignore them and other times I give them more weight than I should. It’s a creep and easily addressed once I realize it and while I might not see it day to day, looking at months at a time makes it more obvious. And just like how turning on a light gets rid of the darkness, taking notice of the inner critics often shuts them up. It make them easier to ignore at least, for a while anyway. That’s why these occasional assessments are good.


For me, the inner critics aren’t of the “you suck!” flavor that others sometime fight with. Mine are more subtle and a constant “no one will care about this, why bother?” I also overthink reactions and if I can convince myself that a single person might read whatever I’ve written and might take it the wrong way and might react negatively then before I realize it changed course. I self censor. And that’s bad for my head. I’ve talked a lot about how writing is my therapy. I work though whatever is rattling around in my brain by writing it and have come to some amazing revelations this way. So when I don’t write, when I don’t hash this stuff out, it piles up. And that sucks. And it spills into other parts of my life. I tell myself not to send that email because the person probably won’t reply. I tell myself not to take that photo because it’ll probably be lame. I tell myself not to put whatever it is out there into the world because no one will care. So I’m identifying that right now and casting it out.


Right now I’m giving myself permission, and encouragement to push forward. I’m renewing my license to do it. What will I do with that license?

  • Take the shot
  • Hit publish
  • Don’t worry about potential critics
  • Say yes
  • Just fucking do it

I know this approach might result in making some things that are less than awesome, and might result in making some things that get me in trouble. But I also know that making things trumps not making things. And trouble from making things trumps no trouble from not making things.


So that’s where I’m at today. Thanks for being there with me.

Next Page »
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
(c) 2015 sbdc | powered by WordPress with Barecity