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Going fishing for inspiration 

Wednesday, Jul 5 2006
Writer's block's a bitch. But the effect is twice as evil if you do most of your work alone (solo artists, graphic designers, freelance writers; we've all felt it). When the pool of ideas is bone-dry, you've just got to ride that drought out until your head stops bugging — or you can join forces with another artistic instigator, bond over grease sandwiches, and accentuate each other's talents. Local boys Aesop Rock (a recent transplant) and longtime resident

Jeremy Fish went the latter route, when mutual appreciation led the two into each other's creative sphere. "We were going to make a documentary about the world's greatest patty melt," jokes Fish, "but we got sick from the ones we had late at night at Mel's on Geary. Shame on you Mel's, piss-poor patty melt." Instead they paired up for The Next Best Thing: A Short Story About the Creative Process, a 7-inch-sized graphic novel and accompanying picture disc.

For those new to this dynamic duo, Fish is well known the world over for his striking images decking skateboards, canvases, shoes, toys, and clothing (he also co-owns the Unbelievers skateboard line). His is a world populated by skulls and turtles, guns and grenades, sailboats and Silly Pink Bunnies, inked with clean lines that could render the characters kinda cute if they weren't, say, about to ash on the carpet or wielding a weapon. Indie hip-hop hero/Def Jux staple Rock, on the other hand, is a tongue-twisting word slinger who once rapped, "How about some old-fashioned gone fishin'/ Fishing is great but I hate hooking the bait," but he's in the tank now, standing as the lyrical master behind the story line of The Next Best Thing.

The 24-page book is a cleverly abstract tale of a giant skull of a man burdened with rivaling the genius of "the great pyramids and spray cheese in a can." Fish captures his character in stages of the brain-blocking/brainstorming cycle: doodling, kicking it on the couch, celebrating victory, and tripping on the "last chicken," while Rock raps the story line on the accompanying 7-inch. Together they turn common suffering into a cool conceptual package — one that's sure to become a quick collector's item.

Although it's debatable whether either artist is really hampered by a lack of ideas (Rock releases like a record per year, guests on recent work by El-P and Mr. Lif, and is at work on his next solo record, while Fish has a half-dozen art shows coming up in the next few months alone), you can examine their craftsmanship at a book-record-art release party on Thursday, July 6, at Upper Playground's FIFTY24SF Gallery (248 Fillmore St.) at 7 p.m.

Later that same night, the second of Fish and Rock's artistic offspring goes on display. It's a short film called Fish Tales, which features Fish's mug and Rock's music. Fish describes the movie as being about "following your dreams," based on a fisherman seeking his personal Moby Dick. "He thinks it lives in the city, and no one believes him," Fish explains. "He finally finds it, catches it, and takes it on an adventure in San Francisco. And, coincidentally, the fisherman turns out to be a gifted skateboarder." (Look for the scene of Fish skating a slippery version of his namesake — which in real life caused a dislocated shoulder if a recent interview is any indication). The movie, created for Element skateboards, screens before Rock's headlining show at the Independent at 9 p.m. "The idea of solo releases can get a little stale if you don't mix it up from time to time," admits Rock, reflecting overall on the combined work with Fish. "It's nice to have another set of ears (or eyes) on whatever you're doing. It can get a little surreal making songs all day in a city where you don't know many people at all. You don't even know what [your music] sounds like even though you listen to it all day."

Rock takes the stage in a benefit for the 826 Valencia writing center. Doing his part in dropping knowledge on the next generation, Fish says he aims to express "how to not be a sheep; teach kids that there are a lot of careers that don't involve suits and saying 'Yes sir' all day." As for his career heroes, Fish names a certain kung-fu master as his dream future collaborator. "Jackie Chan or some wacky martial artist would be cool," he says. "I would have him come to a show and kick the shit out of people." Adds Rock, "There's always more ideas, you just gotta find a way to dig them up."

On a related note: Another great graphic artist immersed in both the skateboarding and music scenes, Shepard Fairey will be giving a free lecture at the SFMOMA Wattis Theater also on Thursday, July 6, at 6:30 p.m. Afterward, he DJs a special set at Milk.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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