By Tony Sokol
The Alt-Right got what they think they wanted by pushing the minority hiring of the orange candidate Donald Trump into the White House in the year that black lives mattered on an almost-hourly basis. The alt right rose out of non-existence to make that happen, pretending to be an alternative community while desperately clinging to a long-dead status quo. The alt community’s biggest voice, AltVariety, was shuttered but the publisher officially tagged me, the magazine’s most reliable upstart, to break the conspiracy.
The alt right is trying to “purloin the alt culture by surreptitious malevolence,” Luke Walker warned. The so called “alt right” did not exist as an entity or catch phrase until 2016. He wants to ensure that the message of Alt Variety “was not misappropriated for the gains of opposing forces and their ignoble values.”
To that end, we found a soldier of the old guard. We turned to the alternative left and beyond: the radical 72 year old artist, poet, filmmaker and proud member of the Black Panthers whose Earth Bird Presents has been running on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a public access set of channels on Time Warner Cable in Manhattan since 1998. An alt-celebrity who taught Marilyn Monroe a thing or two about dating on the streets: Emilio Murillo.
“It was my father’s name and in the hospital in 1944, when my mother named me Emilio, my father said ‘he will cause trouble,’” Murillo said. “This from a man who in typical teenage excess in Spain had gone into the field and caped a young fighting bull, pissed in the outdoor holy water fountain and then went up the hill to watch and laugh as the pious crossed themselves with the water. He then went to a gypsy camp and joined in the ceremony of the cat. Grand ma caught him and sent him to America so he would not get thrown in jail.”
Murillo’s father worked in an ice factory in New York City “pulling ice blocks during the summer and was a professional paso double dancer in the winter. He danced in the Cotton Club in Harlem where the rich people went to enjoy a different world. He knew many of the people in front and behind the curtain.”
The fig doesn’t fall too far from the Newton in the Murillo family, as the filmmaker explained.
“When Franco and the axis invaded Spain after the revolution that kicked out the monarchy and the Catholic Church which owned much of Spain, my father worked to raise funds for the republican cause,” Murillo said.
“Later as the war became bigger he worked for an early version of OSS as a bartender in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Because he looked like an Ayran and spoke Spanish, he helped in foiling Nazi sabotage of the navy yards.
“In 1947 the Nazis took over the White House and declared that anyone who had fought for the republican cause in Spain was a commie and so my father was blacklisted. Pope Pius the idiot chimed in with excommunication for all those and their families who opposed Franco.
“The rest is simple, I was smallest and youngest kid in my grade always (I skipped grades), even carried a violin for a while, took care of my two brothers, so I wasn’t afraid of bullies, listed as a commie in elementary school for wearing my father’s Spanish civil war buttons on my senior hat, listed as an instigator for turning an attack on my school (middle school) by the tough school into a rough house that we won, and a commie again for demanding that red china be part of the United Nations in debate club.”
Emilio was then sent to “the toughest high school in the nation at the time (Morris High), still the smallest kid in the school, won the fights, had a couple of knife fights that I won.”
The instigating street scrapper born in the South Bronx “ended up with a date with Marilyn Monroe who was doing actor’s research for a Black Board Jungle episode exercise at The Actors Studio,” Murillo remarked.
But it always appeared he was marked.
“I should say that Cardinal O’Connor, who wasn’t a cardinal back then, came into my senior English class and told his sister the teacher that I was a bad kid,” Murillo explained. “I was given the wrong date for the S.A.T. final and missed it and had to settle for a general diploma, while the assistant principal said don’t worry about it, you are not going to college anyway. I insisted and took summer school where I received a 98 on the S.A.T. final (I think) might have been a 94 and got my academic diploma. Obviously excommunication at work. To me that was no surprise.”
Emilio’s rebellion came through creatively, and it was noticed early.
“The first time I was called an artist was when I was six years old by a young priest who had come with a delegation of priests to tell my father that we had all been excommunicated,” Murillo recounted. “The young priest came over to me with a small book of paintings that were kept in the Vatican. They were painted by Esteban Bartolome Murillo in in the 1600’s. He said to me ‘this is your family, you are an artist.’ So I studied the career of artists and found out they were poor and did not make any money until they were dead, even as young as I was, that struck me as a lousy way to make a living. Kids are smart that way.”
By time he was 15, Murillo was awarded the “Saint Gauden’s medal for fine draftsmanship and had one of my oil paintings exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in N.Y.C.”
It was time for the weird to go pro.
“I decided that I should be an industrial designer,” Murillo said. “I got a job with Raymond Lowey/William Snaith as a messenger and treated the office as an artist opportunity, learning from some really good designers the craft and the way the system worked.”
“Lowey and Studebaker were working on a new Avanti to replace their classic sports sedan. I thought about it and left a sketch of the way the new Avanti should look like on Loewy’s desk. The secretary thought it was the bosses work and moved it on to the design staff. Lowey was not amused and fired me. Lowey lost the contract and Robert Anderson took the sketches that I had done and the rendering done by his staff to General Motors. It became the Camaro/Firebird car.”
“I did not like the way industrial design made the artist part of a machine. So much for a career in industrial design. I was sixteen at the time.”
“The industrial designer Mel St Clair, who worked at the industrial design firm, said it was time for me to be an artist and sent me to Pratt Institute, where I spent a year and a half, before becoming a photographer,” Murillo said.
Emilio continued his education at Columbia University in 1970 “so I could help stop the war in South East Asia while getting a B.A. degree from The School Of General studies and spending seven years in The School Of Arts, Film Division learning film and film production.”
Murillo’s artistry even got the federal government’s stamp of approval after he created two blockbuster films for a workingman’s wage.
“In 1979 the federal government of this country sent me a W2 form that listed my occupation as Artist,” Murillo explained. “I had worked for a C.E.T.A. program called the Artist Project where I directed The Federal Artist and its prequel. The C.E.T.A. Artist Project used the documentaries as a lobbying tool in Congress so instead of canceling the Arts Project renewed it and expanded the project to ten thousand artists for 2 and a half years.
“The documentaries made a quarter of a billion dollars for the American arts community. I got my usual ten thousand dollars for the effort. The Federal Artist and its prequel made more money than Star Wars, that year. When President Reagan got into office he canceled the program and had a law passed that made it illegal for people in public works project to promote their projects with mass media.
The radicalization of Emilio Murillo solidified in the summer of love.
“In 1967 I met up with Robert Boardman Vaughn, who claimed he was the twenty-fifth man with Fidel Castro, when they got to Sierra Maestras,” Murillo said. “As a photojournalist and Black Panther, I was interested. He also claimed to be one of the beatnik poets of the fifties. He lived on and off with me and my small family for almost four years. He was in a teaching mood, perhaps because he was wearing out from the rough life of being a poet or perhaps from surviving for so long from the brutal COINTELLPRO tactics that befell so many of the young people trying to change the racism and warmongering the nation was engaging in as public policy.”
“Before going to Cuba, he had been a teacher of poetry in the University of Iowa and had spent his time in the Village poetry and jazz scene.”
We asked about the genesis of his video program, Earthbird.
“In the winter of 1969, when I was busy trying to start a new channel on UHF called Community Television Network so that the people could have a voice of opposition to the racism and the Vietnam war, a five man hit group, attacked me and came within a quarter inch of killing me in the hallway of my apartment in the Lower East Side,” Murillo said.
“One of the assasins yelled out, ‘five D, vida.’ Later, it was found out that the F.B.I. had a group called Division Five that did wet work for COINTELLPRO.
Wet work means executions for professionals who don’t look to Craigslist for gigs.
“Vaughn came back from Florida to find out what had happened to me,” Murillo said. “He was mugged with a blow to his head, that landed him in the hospital. He wandered around for another year and ended up wrapped around a radiator in a hallway. Poetry was his life. He died a poet.”
“Understanding this, I am not interested in documenting people who do not have this commitment to their poetry. I have too much respect for my audience. There are other channels for entertainment.”
When Emilio’s Earth Bird Presents started in 1998, it was on at six p.m. on Sundays.
“If you were a channel surfer, and that was before the internet exploded, you knew all channels are equal, no matter how much money was spent on production. Public access had no commercials and was different,” Emilio said.
“On Sunday, my show was hurting the ratings of ABC’s local news show and the reruns of Sex in the City. So I was put into prime time, 8 p.m. every other Thursday, where I have been ever since.”
“In the following years, the studio’s VHS equipment long obsolete wore out degrading the broadcasts, then the digital tape machines wore out with the same problem. Now with the new technology, my show is once again being properly broadcast and looking better than it ever did. It is now on the internet too, on mnn.org.
Murillo has produced, shot and edited 97 shows, “holding back on three X-rated shows because they don’t fit the education format and the time slot,” he counted. “Sex, cursing and nudity. They may never be edited, we shall see. I think 97 is a proper odd number for poetry, it is also a prime number.”
The series is important beyond Murillo.
“I have worked in professional mass media since 1963 and have been aware of who and why media creates archetypes,” Murillo proudly proclaimed. “They tell the masses, who is important, who are enemies, who are friends, what people should think about, what is important, what should be forgotten and what should be believed. These institutions and their owners do this for profit and control to enhance the position of their families in this country, so everything that speaks against their control is ignored in public mass media. They did all this with money, which translate into power. This was before the internet took over mass media.
“Free speech is the most important part of this democratic institution, without it people cannot make the choices necessary to their well-being or to the well-being of the State. There was a reason Plato, the famed Greek philosopher, removed the poets of his perfect state, the poet are uncontrollable and create change. Robert Boardman Vaughn, the poet, teacher and Poet Companion to the Cuban Revolution taught me that.”
“These were conversations Pedro Pietri and I had at the famous Puertorican New Years Party being given by Pedro in his thirty eighth floor apartment overlooking the dropping of the ball in Time Square as the world celebrated the new year of 1998. Pedro, one of the C.E.T.A. Artist Project poets suggested that I should videotape the poets of the downtown scene.
“He said the poets were doing the ‘thing’ and other words of encouraging observations. I explained that the equipment I had was VHS and obsolete by broadcast standards, but I had spoken to Laura Ludwig, a poet who had a show on Brooklyn cable and she said I should get a slot in mnn where my video equipment would work. So, Pedro introduced me to Steve Cannon who runs A Gathering Of the Tribes, Miguel Agarin, the leader of The Nuyorican Café, and Eve Packer and I went to work. Please note we did this without money, but with the talent that was being ignored.”
This has too long been the case.
“The history of poetry notes that at the turn of each century, the important poets gather in the richest, most free city in the western world. In the 15th, 16th century it was Madrid, in the 16th to 17th century Rome, in the 17th to 18th century London, in the 19th to 20th century Paris and now in the 20th to 21 century it was New York,” Murillo said.
“They would go there to be published, and because it was where they could find halls of free speech, and this was where the patrons of the arts gathered. Imagine if we could have seen Keats, or Shelly performing at their readings. They too would have been ignored and lest you think that the Beats were early, this country called them all commie drug addicts and closed them down as quick as they could.”
Then towers fell.
“In this country, the attack on 9/11/01 closed down free speech and dissent,” Murillo said. “So the moment passed, though I went on creating shows until 2006 as a lesson in history to poets everywhere. Pedro Pietri, who had tried to organize a movement call Poets Opposing War (POW) died and was laid in state in the same church that he had presented the first POW assembly, exactly one year earlier. They said he had died from complications of the Agent Orange spraying he had been subjected to as a soldier in Vietnam. His medicine had been coming from a Veteran’s Administration hospital.”
“The President of the United States issued a statement that civilian dissent would be considered a matter for Homeland Security. So the time was over, next century it might be Mumbai or Hong Cong, we don’t know, but this time, luckily for world history earth bird presents captured the free speech of the poets at the turn of our century in New York City.”
And what is poetry beyond words that rhyme?
“To explain poetry, you must deal with the ambiguities that a poet works with, to give added meaning, textures and color,” Murillo said. “A book most poets know is called The Seven Types of Ambiguities. This becomes the way short poems can have meanings beyond the brevity of their language. The poets documented on the show have those skills and the complexities of their performances allow for multiple viewings.
“When you include the documentary texture that shows them in the city dealing with their lives as a poet and a human being, you add more texture. They are not personalities living in front of a large crowd, they are people driven by their art to communicate in a world that pays little attention to what they have to say. All this adds to the longevity of each show.
“If you add the quality of the ‘high content low tech’ film making style I have learned from many years of working in mass media, it becomes understandable why the show has lasted so long. Besides, it looks different from anything else that is on cable.”
“I made this series called earth bird presents for the students of poetry and those that wanted to see and understand the poets at this time in the history of world literature. It belongs in the new teaching devices in colleges around the world, to be studied in relation to the time the United States was in ascendance and free speech was the norm and then when it lost the free speech because of war.
“It belongs in classes that teach modern poetry, to make poetry more understandable and fun. Beyond that it belongs on cultural channels in this country to encourage poets to take the chance and free their voices.”
Murillo took his earliest learning to the deepest part of his heart.
“Robert Boardman Vaughn the old beat poet taught me the craft of poetry and its demands on the poet. He often quoted an old mentor Charlie Parker, the legendary saxophone player who would say, ‘if you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn,’” Murillo remembered. “So, few ivory tower poets made it to the show. I stayed away from poets that put me to sleep, because I did not want my viewers to turn the dial and watch something else, that is the curse of mass media.
“Original thought, without racism or stupidity was important, unlike the mass media that filled the airwaves with meaningless content meant to sell their consumerism, sexism, capitalism and violence to a dumb-ed down public that was without expectations of higher thought.
“I did not want to waste my time or the viewer’s time with people I did not want to know. The poets who made it to the show, had something to say, knew how to say it and they were not idiots. Children who watched the show were educated properly. As a long time teacher in non-traditional spaces, this was always on my mind.
The young ladies from the Rogue Scholars, in the show called ‘The Poetry Of Amy (uzi) Oozonian were the most surprising as their energy, youth, education and talent reminded me of the long gone flower children that ran much of the “make love not war” revolution of the sixties. It gave me hope for the future, until President Bush’s stupidity brought us into a never ending war.
Eve Packer’s work on the old 42nd street sex industry revealed the other side of what was always described as sleaze with a poet’s understanding of the people who worked there.
Now I am 72, and trying to sell the show as that was my plan for making the money that was denied to me because of being blacklisted for being a Black Panther and helping the nation get over its racist ideology. It is my so called 401k, except if and when it sells will make millions and allow me to retire properly. Be that as it may, this is my work for society.
The visual artist had a desperate need for sound.
“My music education begins with a friend of my father, Nat King Cole, who let me play the white keys on his piano, when I asked about the black keys, he said don’t worry, that he would play those,” Murillo remembered. “In second grade I won a contest sponsored by UNESCO for kids, asking them to put a melody on one of their poems so it could be sung by children. My father said he did not want me to be a musician, so that was that.
“In 1968, I let a guitar into my house and there has been one there ever since, multiplying itself to a piano, keyboards and other musical devices. Most of the music, in my films and videos, is mine.”
Rumors abound about Emilio’s most constant companion.
“Now on to Dinky, the name of my famous (for the show) guitar,” Murillo smiled. “She has done the intros and outros to 90% of the “Earth Bird Presents” shows and all of the classical guitar music in the show. She is a cheap small, almost 3/4 classical guitar, from Hong Cong made 70 years ago. She is has a book-matched solid cedar top, with rosewood back and sides – rosewood was cheap back then – mahogany neck, and an ebony fret board.
“I replaced the worn tuners, dressed the frets because they buzzed, made a new bridge plate out of one of my sons big plastic toy plane’s wing. The ceiling fell down on Dinky, so I had to fix the top when the top started to pull away from its glue joint. I fixed it with a Popsicle (made of spruce, right) and Elmer’s glue. Unfortunately I had to wait for five years until the Popsicle stick and glue dried so the guitar would sound right. Then I used crazy glue (smarter) and staples to hold the binding while the glue settled it argument with the plastic binding. In return for all that work, Dinky became the perfect studio guitar for automatic gain control (agc) video.
“The bass doesn’t boom, the mid-range is sweet and up high she soothes. That is what old guitars do when you care for them. Of course I have a first generation Fender Tex Mex Strat for crying and screaming.”
Earth bird presents once featured this writer in an episode and I had to step outside myself to ask why? Who the fuck was I that you thought you had to turn a camera on me?
“I caught Tony Sokol’s rage that was under the surface of his work and let him release his anger to complete his creative work,” Emilio admitted.
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