Panels & Playlists: Ben Cohen

Panels & Playlists: Ben Cohen

Panels & Playlists is a feature in which the world of comic books and music collide! I have a brief chat with comic creators, who in turn share what music is on their playlists and give a little insight into their favorite songs.
Ben Cohen is a Vermont-based cartoonist with a BFA/MFA in Sequential Art. He is the creator of such works as BULLY and the four-issue limited series solo anthology entitled BENMANSHIP.

Ben Cohen: I had included a Neil Young song, From Hank to Hendrix, to include my roots. I still listen to my fathers music. However, this is not about my father's Artistic path, just as it's not the music of my childhood neighborhood. So, even though I've listen to Gil Scott-Heron throughout my life, that's someone else seeding my music tree.

I don't know what Adrian's intentions are here, but I took it in a direction of identifying self discovery of music and how it influences my voice as an individual Cartoonist. The same truth that forms Arts innovative intentions follow self discovery. Despite our best efforts to be unique, external guidance happens. Truth is we pick up what suits our needs at the time and put it all together into the life. This has been my artistic process.


1. Wall of Voodoo - "Back In Flesh"

Ben: So, putting on shuffle the era my musical tree grew it's own branch of my own making, Wall of Voodoo's "Back In Flesh" will represent. I took control of the radio dial in my room at age 7 and I settled on Live 105, the Bay Area's "Modern Rock" radio station in '82. I didn't hear the term "Alternative" until Nirvana broke, but essentially "Modern Rock" was an eclectic cultural scene guided by the Punk Aesthetic.

Living in my neighborhood, with my parents at the time, it was something perceived naively as only to my liking. That outsider impulse has stayed with me. I don't seek popular aesthetics for the simple reason of fitting in. Admittedly, this tendency has been coded as judgmental to those reasonably enjoying popular impulses. I regret at times it was true, but with age a truer self has set in. It's more an natural independence of thought in harmony with others thinking...and sure, when an impasse happens, I am struck by the disconnect in taste, but it easily becomes respectful differences.

Wall of Voodoo was an early favorite. It was surreal hearing "Mexican Radio" blast out of a Discoteca in Mexico, c. 1987. In '94, I was introduced to my favorite of their songs, "Back In Flesh," through the best mix tape I have ever heard, by a friend with an equally strict code of conduct and aesthetic. We matched like a closely linked Venn diagram.

Wall of Voodoo was considered "Art" Rock and it certainly played it loose with it's lackadaisical smart ass talking vocals, eighties synth and 60's surf guitar. Structurally, the songs rest on the strength of happy accidents. The happy accident has been essential to my creativity since Ms. Ottis' Tam High Drawing & Painting Art class. It's where the driven Artist can find their Artistic Voice.

With, "The corporation's boiling over.." Back in Flesh signals the tireless tradition of calling out the Oligarchy...

"You better sign your time card now/They don't care about you anyhow"'s said with a young White Male LA privilege...perhaps self aware. So, unlike the also privileged vocals of Camper Van Beethoven's "Club Med Sucks," this voice lists off stereotyped activities of middle aged white guys. So the counter voice of negatory could be taken different ways. For today, setting up the ending to be a wining of a Trump supporter or if covered by someone else, it has the potential to fit right with support of the exasperated voice of BLM activism.

I'm left with the impression this:

"Well, you can't tell me what to do!/Well, you can't tell me what to do! (Hey, fuck you!)"

...somehow helps the ink flow my way.

2. Living Colour - "Memories Can't Wait"

Ben: Leaving my East Bay immersion in cultural diversity, new to Marin, 12 years old, at a friends who actually had cable, MTV introduced me to Faith No More and Living Colour on the same day. Since that day, when music comes up I spend most of my time talking about FNM's lead singer Mike Patton. Adrian has an entire podcast of me carrying on. Patton's musical acts were part of a scene I have been immersed in since. However, from that scene only Living Colour & Fishbone closely represent a bridge between neighborhoods I grew up in culturally.

Bridging a variety of musical influences IS MY JAM, but it's more then that. Vernon Reid paints a song with his otherworldly guitar riffs in a way, that again, defines music on it's own terms. The Cartoonist that influences me, the music that influences me most, takes from all over, but finds it's own way, by accident, nature or stubbornness. Reid's playing broke what had been rattled by bands like Wall of Voodoo, making easy my apatite for Patton's path to John Zorn, which rough me back to the roots of jazz in my old neighborhood. If it was not for Reid, I doubt Miles Davis would be played often in my house.

"Memories Can't Wait" jumps in with Reid dragging you, kicking and screaming till you are stuck in the groove, just like Cory Glover is telling you. Others have freedom...but you, you "can't ever stop," "can't ever quit."

"...wide awake/But these memories/These memories can't wait..."

Nostalgia born witness to oppression drives this Cartoonist.

3. Combustible Edison - "Theme From 'The Tiki Wonder Hour'"

Ben: Sure, I loved Nirvana, Soundgarden..that's my High School days...but by favorite Sub Pop band is Combustible Edison. They forged an appetite for everything from Les Baxter to Stereolab. It all happened with a Tarantino contributed film (of course), Four Rooms and Ted the Bellhop (who I understood too well at the time).

I have slowly worked to remove writing from my comics and it's process. This is in part driven my two truths, lyrics are not terribly important to me and I am dyslexic. So when I am making Comics these days, I work to make them silent. This is why my 2nd comic was called "Still No Sound" (after FNM song lyrics), current project is called "Interrobang" (!?!) Truth is these visual stories are instrumentals. Thus the next work will be titled, "Villainous Soliloquy (An Instrumental)"

Simply put, Theme from "The Tiki Wonder Hour" is an instrumental which places me in a place of aesthetic presence. If I can remain there, I can create without impediment.

4. Baroness - "March To The Sea"

Ben: It was instantaneous, setting foot in Savannah, even before studying comics there, a thick syrup of hardened struggles, an intense erotic wave flows over me. Working in the bowels of a kitchen, my already well informed East Bay Hardcore and Thrash background was confronted with Kyuss, the Western Desert band, channeling early Sabbath. Josh Homme has since joined Patton and Reid in an self appointed elite group. However, the band that truly captured my Savannah feelings were not fellow Western's. Unfortunately, they formed a band days before I left town for Vermont. By accident practically, Baroness arrived on my radar and have filled my need to feel that Savannah feeling since.

When we "March to the Sea," it's not the Pacific that's on my mind. I am on Tybee. With that comes a price. There are dark sides to comics work, to Savannah, to our lives on both coast and through it's middle. The Seas are no escape neither:

"Heroin, where did you take my friend?
Tell me why, those ropes are hanging high?
You left me alone."

5. Kendrick Lamar - "untitled 02 | 06.23.2014"

Ben: Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, Eric B & Rakim, who could say was their first. All I know is this music has been there most of my days and when it's worked for me and reflected the community I came from (who they were speaking to, not knowing I was there), it has played it's part. It is almost always so present. Kendrick Lamar, brings me home at a time, I feel intense desire to be there, but I am not...I am in a small white bread town.

As I formed my particular code, it became difficult for any musician to gain influence on me. However, The Bestie Boys, Tribe Called Quest, Jill Scott, Blackalicious, Dead Prez, De La Soul, Hieroglyphics have all had full access. Once I heard Kendrick Lamar for the first time, all the sudden we were talking Skip James, Björk, Vernon Reid, Josh Homme, Mike Patton, codes. This may mean nothing to you, but this means everything to me. This is how my Comics get made, the intangible aesthetics in my ears.

I love the bass of this song, the raspy blues vocals, the deliberate beat (I play the kit to release). But it's the sounds, the lyrics that fit together in a way that reflects, film, tv, comics I love most. It's not about me. It's my representation. I maybe familiar, but I don't have to be. What's important is the Art tells a story that integrates a production top to bottom an aesthetic that represents the artist's perspective a world. Kendrick Lamar is one of few Artist in any medium who accomplishes this virtually every time. He always is present.

If I can leave myself on the page just once, as he does in my ear every time, I will die thinking, I have done my job here. I was present, I represented.

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