I love making portraits of other artists. True, a portrait of anyone is a wonderful mystery waiting to be unlocked, but I always have an extra sense of excitement before I make a portrait of an artist. I think it is because they are often willing to experiment and collaborate, and are more willing to be patient while I exact my desire for perfection and exploration. Louie Gong was no exception.
Louie Gong is an artist, activist and educator, among other things. His heritage is Nooksack/Chinese/French/Scottish, so he brings a really unique perspective to his work, along with a modern sense of style. His murals are incredible. When I first saw his work, it felt somewhat familiar in the sense that there is a fair amount of Native American art here in the Pacific Northwest. But very quickly you realize that something is different about this piece: a modern sensibility that at the same time still feels authentic to its roots. Then I start to see the Chinese influence which seems so subtle at first glance. It’s quite brilliant.
Louie just opened a really cool new store here in Seattle called Eighth Generation. I want the blanket he is wearing, which he also designed. Christmas wishlist… If you aren’t in the Seattle area, fear not, they have a great online store as well.
I have really been looking forward to posting these portraits and videos. I had so much fun working on this assignment with Vince, and as an added bonus, the story is one of those rare page turners that doesn’t come around all that often in a magazine. For me, it’s right up there with the Wired article on Dan Kaminsky which I worked on last year. Here is the intro for Vince’s story, which is in the July 2009 issue of Seattle Metropolitan. The link to the entire article is further down.
“Billed as the Second Coming of Johnny Cash, a teenager from Federal Way wowed rock stars, morning news shows, Ellen DeGeneres, and the Cash estate. There’s just one problem: Vince Mira is done parroting the Man in Black.
There was a moment in September 2007 at the Cash Cabin, the studio built by the late Johnny Cash outside Nashville, when everyone froze. In the room were musicians intimately tied to Cash and his music—his son John Carter Cash, his bass player Dave Roe, and Jamie Hartford, who played guitar in the Cash biopic Walk the Line. Vince Mira, the Federal Way teen flown in for the recording session, had just crooned the last line of his “Cold Hearted Woman,” a twangy harangue against a cruelly apathetic succubus (“…as far as you are isn’t far enough for me”), leaving his audience speechless.
Finally, Hartford, who’d been scribbling music dictation in a notebook, dropped his pen and paper and turned to the producer. “John. Carter. Cash. Does that freak you out?” John looked up, “Yeah, that freaks me out.”
John Carter had just heard a familiar voice pour from the mouth of the teenager. The producer had agreed to record an album with the talented teen—already making a name for himself with Cash covers—on the condition that “We don’t just record a bunch of my dad’s old songs.” Now, here was Mira performing an original, but his voice, a haunted baritone, was spot-on Johnny Cash.”
– James Ross Gardner. Read the entire article (here).
Before this assignment, I had heard stories over the past couple of years about Vince Mira, the young teenager who was discovered playing Johnny Cash songs on the street. I had seen the YouTube videos from Ellen (here) Good Morning America and a few others, but I didn’t become a fan until I heard him perform live. Wow. This guy is talented. He is the real deal. There are a lot of people out there with a gimick, or who sound like someone famous. But Vince has huge talent, and he can stand on his own. His similarities to Johnny Cash provided him with a great start, but it’s exciting to see him head out on his own now and show people what he’s got.
The first video above is Vince Mira performing an original song, “I’m a Goin Back Home”. The second video is a Johnny Cash song, “Folsom Prison Blues”. Both were performed at the gum wall in Post Alley, Seattle. I asked Vince to play one of his songs so I could film it, and it didn’t take long at all for a crowd to gather. After he finished the first song, someone yelled out, “Play ‘Folsom Prison Blues’!”. Even though he is trying to get away from that, he didn’t seem to mind.
Vince has an album out now, called “The Cash Cabin Sessions“. It was recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio by John Carter Cash, Johnny Cash’s son. It’s a great album. You can also catch Vince every Tuesday night at the Can Can in the Pike Place Market in Seattle. For now at least. I don’t know how much longer he will be playing there, as he has already toured with Pearl Jam, and played on some pretty big stages.