Creativity is structured. It may sound a contradiction of terms, but when you really think of it, it does make sense. We live in a structured world and creative energy does not float amorphously through it without some structure to contain it – to allow us to focus in it. Before artists can create, then need to put up a structure that will allow us to work in their creative space. This episode’s guest, Kario Salem, knows this to be true from his decades of experience as an artist. Kario is a respected pluralist, actor, screenwriter and musician. In this conversation with David Jensen and Cecily Chambers, Kario shares his creative journey in acting, music and writing, and the lessons he accumulated over those colorful years. Listen and partake of his valuable insights on ambition and rebellion, being present, willful destruction of the ego and his honest thoughts on the country’s political atmosphere in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial unrest and social upheaval.
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Creativity Is Structured Mischief With Kario Salem
We are interviewing, Kario Salem. Kario is an award-winning screenwriter, actor and musician. While most known for his career in screenwriting, he decided to revisit his passion for music. With personal support from Bob Dylan and many others, his music is getting spread around the world. Billy Bob Thornton starred in his music video, Stand Down, which won Best Music Video at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival. Kario is a true original and is never afraid to speak out against people, systems or structures that don’t feel authentic. In our interview, we chatted about how creativity is structured mischief. He speaks to being present in your life and how he went hunting for his ego with a spear and a knife.
Kario, thank you for joining the show.
It’s my pleasure.
You’ve accomplished so much and you colored outside of the lines to live a dynamic life as a pluralist, a screenwriter, a musician, a big wave surfer. We wanted to have you on because Structured Mischief is about highlighting people who bend or break the rules to create change. I have a personal relationship with you, so I know you have a strong desire to impact change in the world, particularly in your arts. We felt you could speak to how you’ve bent or broken the rules to have a more win-win situation for all.
Adding to that, you’re a rebel. By definition what we’re calling our tagline is, “Rebels with a cause.” A little play on the classic book and film. As Cecily is describing your background, you clearly have been outsider status looking to make a change for the good and for the better. That’s what we want to explore with you.
I don’t think it was necessarily conscious. I was certainly raised to have a social conscience. I never saw the acting that I did or the songs that I was writing as overtly political. I always thought that the most human contribution one could make was by producing beauty, truth and authenticity. I’ve never thought of myself as a rebel. People who are artists by and large don’t think that way. It’s not so conscious. It’s more like you resonate with something that feels authentic. You have the opposite response to something that feels tired, phony or inauthentic. If you’re looking at a painter like Banksy, that’s an overt mischief-maker. It’s not that he is doing it for the sake of mischief, but more for the sake of having a different conversation between the artist and the viewer. He chose that extraordinary path.
I didn’t go to Juilliard because it was unconventional, but because it was the best acting school in the country. I went there precisely because I didn’t want to have to go through all of those repetitive, debilitating, even demeaning dynamics that usually go along with an acting career, auditioning, cattle calls, struggling to get an A, and all that stuff when you’re a young actor of eighteen. That felt like something I was not interested in pursuing. As I looked at, it was simply a way of getting the best education, but also getting an entrée into the world that I coveted entry to in a way that would dispose of all those other beats and stats.
From your perspective, you looked at it like you were able to get into one of the best acting performance schools in the world. You clearly had talent to do that. At the same time, you have pivoted and you’ve gone in many different directions as a songwriter and as a big wave surfer. There’s something about that. It’s challenging you.
I made a lot of mistakes. Looking back in hindsight now, it’s easy to see the grand design. I would be lying to you if I purported to have had such a design other than I knew I was talented and I wanted to have a career doing the things that I loved. I also made a number of critical mistakes that were inauthentic and I’ve learned from them. Music has always been my abiding passion and my first love. As I was graduating high school, music was heading in a different direction I thought. It wasn’t until Bruce came along in 1975 or 1976, where he started to ring that rock and roll bell again, and turn our ears away from disco, and punk followed shortly thereafter.
The second greatest revolution in music in my lifetime, which was the late ‘70s, early to mid-‘80s and on. In certain respect I behaved inauthentically because I took the easy road initially. Acting came easy to me. It was something that people wanted to hire me to do. They wanted to pay me money. From the time I was nineteen, they wanted to send me all around the world and let me act. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy acting. It’s not that I wasn’t inspired to do the great roles and that’s why I went to Juilliard. It wasn’t that, it was that it was easier than what than the musical choice. The musical choice would have required me to abandon all of that and simply find my fellow musical soulmates, and put my nose to the grindstone, and made the musical contribution that I was capable of making, but it’s still too immature to have made at that time.
Instead, I let acting and then a bad marriage and a few other things throw me off track. I got back on track a little bit too late in terms of the music industry that they thought I was a little too old and too long in the tooth of the age of 30, which is pretty remarkable considering what I’m doing now, many years later. It’s important when we talk about structured mischief or structure, is that we see the structure perhaps when we’re looking back at our lives. That structure wasn’t apparent or visible to us at that time.
That’s what we’re looking to get at is to understand, is it conscious? Is it subconscious? Is it something that you’re an active participant in as you structure your choices? Structured mischief, there’s a tension in those two words intentionally. We’re trying to explore the mischief-making. Mischief-making is rebels without a cause. People who are going and making mischief for a variety of personal reasons or interests. Putting structure in there and then recasting that as rebels with a cause is our attempt to understand and unwind that tension between those words and what we find in our lives.Artists don’t consciously rebel. Most of the time, they just do something that feels authentic or resonates with them. Click To Tweet
They are a contradiction in terms in a sense. I understand what you’re getting at. They are complementary because creativity is structured mischief. There’s a reason that when you write a play, it’s called play. When you wrote a screenplay, play is an essential part, playing music and acting. Creation itself is a form of play, but you can’t get it done without structure. The structure then becomes the ritual. For those people in your audience who are interested in the process of being an artist, the structure is absolutely key. If you don’t make the decision that this is something you’re going to do and do it seriously and do it at the highest level, then you won’t create the time that you need for practice. You won’t create the relationships you need, and you won’t create that dynamic where you tune the world out so that you can sit in your creative space and create.
That’s where the structure comes in. If you don’t honor your desire to create with a rigid structure, in other words, you get up, you make your coffee, and as a writer, I want to be in my chair by 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning, the phones will not be answered, the emails will not be replied to, and nothing else will come in. It’s my music and my moment to get the best out of my brain for those first three critical hours of the day. That is structured. I tell this all writers, acting is a little bit unstructured in that sense and that’s part of the emasculating nature of the profession. That’s true for women as well in that you give up much of your own power to those who will either hire you or not. You’re in waiting and whirlpool of your own emotions for someone to call or for your agent to call and say you have an audition. You’re told to get the audition and you hope to get the job. Suddenly, you are in a structured workplace. For the writer, for the musician, for the painter, for any number of artistic endeavors, that structure has to come from you almost entirely. If you don’t demand that from your own life, creation will not follow.
Can you add a little bit more to that specifically? That was wonderful, the definition for you of the structure of getting up in the morning. I’ve heard other writers that said, “I have a disciplined part of my day. It might be in the evening. It might be in the morning, but I set aside where I’m not touched.” What other tools or techniques you use in order to bring that structure?
It depends on what I’m working on. Music is like a fusion machine. It is a self-perpetuating energy source. That’s why anyone who’s in a relationship with a musician, whether male or female, will always talk about the moment where they have to knock on the door and say, “It’s time to come out. Get out of that studio and be a human being.” It is insanely satisfying and energy-producing that you don’t have the same letdowns. You don’t have the same lag in your physical stamina. Whereas if you were writing a screenplay or a novel, and you’re staring at a computer, nothing is coming back to you. You can write a good sentence or come up with a good idea or a story idea. You say, “That’s exciting. I got that. I’m going to focus on that and work on it.” In terms of energy, it’s debilitating. By end of three hours, you’re done and you need a long break before you can rejuvenate.
It probably has a lot to do with the vibrations that you’re getting back from the instruments.
The harmonic vibrations. When we hear a certain chord in a certain way, the atmosphere of our soul changes. The universe itself is tuned harmonically. The universe is tuned to 432 megahertz. The pianos of Mozart and Beethoven were tuned now at 440. In those days, they were tuning their pianos and their instruments to 432 or it could have been slightly lower, but this idea of being that the cosmos itself is humming.
You’re in rhythm with it.
There’s a cosmic om. When you hit certain moments in music, the reason why they have such an emotional effect on us and you can remember that certain times of your life by the songs you were listening to is because of the harmonic relationship to the physical and the emotion.
You’ve talked about your acting and music career. One of the things that we wanted to ask you was in what area do you work the hardest to rewire your thinking? Is that music or is that your big wave surfing or is that something else?
The surfing took a lot of rewiring and that was intentional. When my wife saw me pounding the little white ball into the grass with all my other Hollywood friends, after my last record deal, it was a bit of biography. After my last record showcase for Sony music fell through, I had lost interest in acting. Even though I had a decent career, I’d lost interest in that. When my last music opportunity with a major label fell through, I was heartbroken. Screenwriting came out of that heartbreak. It almost came out. It wasn’t the 1st nor 2nd thing, it was the 3rd thing. It wasn’t even a backup plan because it had never even occurred.
When I put away the guitar with all the heartbreak that went with it. A few years later, seeing how haunted I was by the loss of music in life and that dream, my wife bought me a surfboard. I’m like, “Jews don’t surf.” I’m in my mid-40s at this point. She said, “I thought it was the most beautiful thing. The surfboard was gorgeous.” I stuck it up on the wall of my office. We then moved to the ocean and I would always talk to my wife about when I was growing up. I would say to her, “I spent most of my youth body surfing and I was always in the ocean.” I never surf because it seemed like a cult or a rule that I didn’t belong to. I’d be body surfing at Zuma Beach. Every time we would drive by the ocean, I would miss that. She picked up on that being the incredibly intuitive person she is. She got me this board and we moved to the beach and said, “It’s now or never.” I go to a surf shop in Malibu and I walk in. I’m overweight and I’m in my mid-40s. I said, “Am I too old to learn how to surf?” They said, “Yeah, but try it anyway.” It’s probably because they wanted the money.
I got a nineteen-year-old Malibu kid. It took me an hour to get my wetsuit on and off because I put it on backward the first time. By the time I got it on correctly, I was already exhausted. I’m carrying this board across PCH. It’s November and it’s freezing cold. The water is 58 degrees and I’m thinking, “Why am I doing this? It’s so hard.” On the second day I got up on my first wave, small little wave and I felt what all surfers feel at that moment, which is a version of flying. Incredible energy sources have rolled its way across thousands of miles to break on your little shoreline and it’s carrying you home. There was something exquisitely, stunningly beautiful and profound about that. It lasted about two seconds because the next thing I knew, I heard a voice screaming in my left ear, “You motherfucker,” and another surfer coming down the line. He kicked his board and hit me in the face so hard that my lip was bleeding and I started to swell. He’s screaming at me but now I know those guys.
You were in their territory.
They’re spoiled brats. They’re probably my friends, I don’t even know it anymore because I don’t remember who that person was. In any case, this young surfer chased the guy away and said, “Get back up on another wave right away once you stop bleeding.” After I was able to coagulate my blood with the cold Malibu water, I got back up on another small wave. I went home and I got a bag of frozen peas. I’m sitting in bed and Dana comes back to the apartment. She looked at me and said all the obligatory things, “What happened? Are you okay?” After I told her what happened, she looked at me and said, “It feels good, doesn’t it?” I’m like, “Yeah.”
It was my Fight Club moment. At that moment, I realized whatever that high-wired Jewish brain of mine, there was something in that ocean that I needed as a human being and as a man that I was only going to get there if I had the guts to pursue it. That’s when I made the choice to do that. Two years later, I was training with a big wave surfer in Hawaii. I had said to him, “Here are my criteria. I want to surf the biggest, fastest, most beautiful blue waves on the planet earth. I just don’t want to die.” He said, “Okay.” I started that process and it rewired me in many ways. It rewired me as a musician, as a writer, and as a human being. Something about the wildness, the danger, the adrenaline, the beauty, and the power put me into a much deeper place. It’s less of mind space and more of a soul space, and everything changed.
That rewiring is a combination of ambition and rebellion on some level in my mind. What is your relationship with ambition and rebellion?
I’m extremely ambitious and thus, I am also extremely heartbroken. That’s the trade-off because some people who are looking at me from the outside would say, “He’s a successful guy.” I’ve won a few awards. I had a few movies made. I’ve been on Broadway as an actor. I’ve got music out in the world now, which is another story. The ambitious mind, the guy that I was growing up, the guy that I was raised to be. My parents were fantastic, but nevertheless, did not check those ambitions or put them in a category where they might have been healthier. Those ambitions have not been realized. Not at the level that still the level that I had hoped. It’s a destructive thing. Ambition in terms of wanting to do your best is a great and positive thing. Ambition in terms of wanting to get the best out of yourself, thus the structured mischief, discipline, and all of those things are also good. The ambition of world domination, superstardom, and being the one who walks into the room that makes all the heads turn, the guy that other people are buzzing about, that’s destructive.
I would call that ego.
We all suffer from that in smaller and larger degrees. We all have to contend with that. It is not productive. A lot of the times, we misconstrue some of the things that are impediments to us as essential parts of our process but they’re not. That kind of anxiety that goes with that grandiose ambition is not creatively productive. You think it is and you convince yourself it is. If you stay up night tossing and turning that somehow your work is not going to be as good, that’s not the truth. These things are inculcated in us overtime for a variety of reasons. Much of which was well-intended. Nobody was trying to contaminate us, but contaminated we are. We do have to rewire that.
Surfing gave you the perspective that there is something greater than you out there in the world. Your life could be gone in an instant. All the worrying and anxiety that you’ve spent in putting yourself through for years, what is that worth?
He talked about it being soulful. A soulful moment for you as part of that rewiring.
Let me add one thing to that, which is that when you are in a state of ambition, judgment, concerning yourself with where you need to be, you are not where you are and you wind up missing your life. What I look back on my life with some sadness, is all those beautiful moments that I missed. Instead of being fully present where I was, I was ambitiously thinking about where I needed to be. I missed whole sections of my life. The most profound rewiring I’ve done speaks to that. I am right here having this lovely conversation with you. I’m trying not to think about where I need to be or where I wanted to be or any of that.Ambition in terms of wanting to do your best is structured mischief; ambition in terms of achieving domination or stardom is destructive. Click To Tweet
The ocean does give you this sense of the universe is vastly greater than oneself. In that perspective comes a release in a way of the obligations of ambition. It doesn’t mean you go put your feet up and smoke pot all day, which sounds good. Those people who are blissfully free of that ambition, I envy them because emotionally, caring is hard. When you care about something, it means you take it personally. When you are writing something, you’re putting your heart and your soul into it. If it is like so many movies that I’ve written, which the world would enjoy seeing, they will never see because they cost $150 million and people aren’t going to make them for whatever reason. That is agony. I don’t want to impose that agony on anyone else.
You’ve talked about your ambition and how you have learned, sometimes painfully but also sometimes soulfully, about keeping your ambition checked. What is its relationship to rebellion or maybe it doesn’t have a relationship for you?
I’m a rebel by nature, not by conscious design. I do what it is that I can do. I hear what it is that I hear and that oftentimes does not conform in conventional ways.
He’s not as worried about what other people are thinking of him. He’s able to go into a pitch room and be like, “No, that doesn’t feel right to me and this is what I think instead.”
My agents are talking about this, that my passion can sometimes be misconstrued as intensity but it’s not. If I’m going to write something, it’s going to be personal. If you’re writing things that aren’t personal, that’s hackery. If it’s personal, then you’re going to your heart as open. If your heart is open, that means it can be crushed. A lot of times what you see in artists as they get older is they start to ossify. They’ve had so much rejection and heartbreak that they wind up of fossilizing their hearts. Their work suffers as a result because they can’t take that braking over and over again. The rebellion is not a conscious thing.
It’s not like I wake up in the morning and say, “How can I rebel?” It’s that my mind leads me to certain places, my heart, my soul, my upbringing, whatever it is that are not conventional, that are more original places. There’s a cost with that. In one sense, that’s a positive thing. In my case, early on musically, I didn’t want to imitate anyone. The greatest artists of all time start off genuinely by imitating. The Rolling Stones, all they wanted to be was a blues band. The Beatles were obsessed with Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
Ray Charles impersonated all the people that he was surrounded by.
Some people like to think of that as cultural appropriation. That’s dangerous. It is artists being artists.
They’re learning. They’re teaching themselves by impersonating other people to get their own vibe.
It is oftentimes their inability to capture exactly they’re hearing in their head that leads them to something else they never expected. It’s like, “I can’t quite sing that way, but I can sing this way.” Nobody is doing that.
That creates creative breakthroughs and all kinds of rebellion.
I’m talking about me and making musical comparisons here. Bob Dylan who was a mentor of mine, Joni Mitchell publicly called him a thief, “He steals from everyone else.” First of all, that is completely wrong and incredibly dangerous. It’s like saying Shakespeare stole Hamlet. There was a story that he’d heard about a Danish Prince. It was either a play or it was in that tone that he had read, but it wasn’t Hamlet. Bob spent his early years devouring folk, blues, and the traditions until they were literally a part of his cell structure.
He’s famously said, “If you had played whatever song it was 10,000 times, you would have written A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall too.” He’s being generous. No, you wouldn’t because that’s genius and that’s what he is. He came from this encyclopedic knowledge of he listened to the guy the other day that said, “Why haven’t you ever done anything in Bluegrass?” He’s got a record out. He’s like, “Bluegrass is way too complicated. It is a whole different harmonic universe. You got to be born into that.” He knows the shit. The way that I’ve been rewiring my brain with the encouragement of some of my musical partners now is to start doing archeological work into the music that moved me and bringing it in through my filter. Not abandoning it, not rejecting it because it’s not mine, but studying it and seeing how it can influence and elevate my own work.
Honoring it, celebrating it and then interpreting it.
In a funny way, all of this is happening very late. I’m a late bloomer. I’m winding up when most people are beginning to think about retirement.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing? Is it that or is it something else because you’re a late bloomer?
One thing I wanted to say about late bloomer thing is that I feel like all of these things are coming to you now, because there was a little bit of death of the ego that you went through. Now, it’s like you’re approaching music from a different place and there’s a different intention behind it. You don’t need it as much to validate yourself. You had to go through this rewiring process to now get to the point where it can come from you and it can be what it is. You do have a desire to make people feel things, but it’s not about validating yourself.
I’m glad you brought that up because in this case, going back to what you were saying, David, is that my ego has a problem. It was a serious problem. I’m not saying it was one event that led to its destruction, but I would say that it was willful destruction. It was conscious. I went hunting for my ego with a spear and a knife. I killed it, ripped his heart out and ate it. I do think it was conscious. The moment that I became the best actor was the moment where I stopped caring about acting. When I realized it was no longer about me, but only about the story that I was one of many instruments that were tasked with the obligation to tell that story.
The story was flowing through me rather than me saying, “How can I make this about me? How do I like the cigarette here and steal the scene from this other actor here, or get the audience to look at me?” All that actor bullshit. It all went away. This was right before I quit. It was hard because I had achieved a powerful place as a performer where I could walk out on stage without the slightest bit of nervousness or the slightest desire to impress or approve, and simply allow the story and the character to come through me and then walk away. It was an unusual experience. We come to terms with ourselves in sections. It doesn’t all happen at once. That was a certain part of my 30s, and the surfing was in the 40s, and now I’m moving into this more active pursuit of ego wherever I find it and trying to snuff it out.
What is your advice for somebody who’s unsure about this balance of ambition versus mischief-making versus rule-breaking? What would be your advice for somebody who’s trying to figure that out for themselves?
In order to break the rules, you should probably know what the rules are first. Some people are born originals. There’s a neurological set of variables. I think I was born an original. That doesn’t mean my work was always originally good. It means I was original.
As Adam Grant would say you’re non-conformist in his book, Originals, or that title how non-conformist changed the world is a study about that persona type and that neurological wiring that allows people who are non-conformist to create change. That’s partially what we’re interested in. What is that? Trying to codify it.'I went hunting for my ego, with a spear and a knife, killed it and ripped his heart out and ate it.' – Kario Salem Click To Tweet
It’s a noble pursuit. I’m not the one who has to do that.
Maybe it’s a fool’s paradise. We’re not sure yet.
There is no absolute answer to any of these questions. I always say when I’m working on a rewrite of a script, let’s ask as many good questions as we can and we won’t come up with all the answers, but we’ll come up with some and they will make this enterprise better.
Do you feel like that’s a level of curiosity in a way where you’re trying to look at things, flip them over, look at all sides?
Often when I get a script to rewrite, there are only 1 or 2 characters with a real point of view. Mostly, they sparked typical sketches. The first thing I’m trying to do is come in and say, “We have to figure out who this person is before the story is going to have a chance to work. Not only this person, but everyone else in the room or on the stage with this person has to have a specific point of view. If they don’t, the number of variables that may lead us to something great is going to be minimized and reduced unnecessarily. That’s where the structure comes in. My first thing is, listen, read, have a response, and then probe a little more deeply. As Cecily said, “Curiosity is king.” You can’t be afraid of where these questions will lead you. A lot of times, people are afraid of where the questions will lead, especially in Hollywood. That’s why I’ve talked my way out of more jobs than I’ve ever had because they don’t want to go that deep. They’re afraid of it.
We’re doing this interview during a pandemic that the world hasn’t seen for at least 100 years. If you look at what research and scientists say, we’ll have more of them in the coming 50 years. I know you’ve had some strong opinions about COVID specifically and about how it’s played out in your hometown. What are your thoughts on that from a structured mischief perspective? People are saying, “I’m not going to wear a mask because it’s an infringement on my freedom,” versus, “Most scientists agree wearing a mask can curtail the spread of the virus.”
Those people in the first place are willful idiots. When they can’t be conversed with or reasoned with, they should be shunned. We were at a dangerous moment in world history, but particularly in American history. This has been the greatest pandemic. There have been two viruses that we’ve suffered in my opinion, Trumps-16 is a virus that built on racial animus, social division, and a perfect storm of sexism, social media, the active promotion of lies in social media, etc. We don’t need to review them all. Everybody knows and we live with them every day. The world is also going through a similar political pandemic and you add COVID to the mix. What you’ve got is the great unmasking of American mythology. I am in a state of disgust with my country and I’m not shy about saying it.
We have been asked to drink this mythological Kool-Aid about who we are and what we stand for, for generations. A lot of it is bullshit and we’ve done a few good things for the world. This is a grand experiment. Our forefathers were grotesque hypocrites, but they were also geniuses. They did give us a template if we’re up to it that we can mold, re-imagine, and hopefully, help lead us to a freer and socially egalitarian society. That said, we are deeply a racist country. For instance, Hollywood, my community is singularly responsible for the romanticizing of the South and the Confederacy. My Hollywood Jewish forefathers are the ones who gave you Gone With The Wind and every other movie and television show that treated the Confederate soldier as somehow this graceful embodiment of Southern charm and decency and all the other horse shit.
You can find twenty Hollywood films that show a Confederate in decent light for every one film where a Yankee Union Soldier was shown in an equally flattering light. Think about that. We are in the middle of reckoning and it’s a reckoning that’s long overdue. The fact is that we have all these movies about how we fought the Nazis. All the brave men and women who fought the Nazis and the greatest generation. Part of that is true. What is also true is that 38% to 40% of this country, similarly to the same 38% to 40% of this country that supports he, who shall not be named in this show. Not by me, unless I named him earlier. I apologize to all your audience members because to say that name is like a witch over a cauldron conjuring demons to me. It’s contamination. My point is this, there’s 38% to 40% of America that is willing to let the Nazi flag fly from Buckingham Palace without lifting a fucking finger. That’s the truth. It wasn’t until Pearl Harbor, even Roosevelt had to illegally send our supplies across the Atlantic to the English.
He didn’t have the votes. He didn’t have the support in Congress and in the public.
This is us. Going back to your original question, when someone says, “I’m a free person, you can’t make me wear a mask.” You’re not allowed to run a red light. You’re not allowed to drive drunk. There’s something called a social contract. You don’t even have to be educated. Harvard, Yale, Cornell and Princeton, I’m talking to you, you are turning out some fucking idiots in willfully ignorant, arrogant, self-entitled, bullshit mongers. Mike Pompeo is another Harvard guy. All these guys that come out of Harvard thinking they are God’s gift to the world. I worked at Harvard for a year as well when I was acting. I taught a class there. There are a lot of good things about Harvard, but there is a lot of horseshit there too. We have to reckon with this sense of entitlement we give to the truly ignorant, and to the truly venal. When the college-educated people are saying, “I don’t have to wear a mask.” I want to slap them upside the head. That’s what I want to do.
Thank you for sharing your calm views about this. The social contract pieces where I go off. We stopped teaching Civics about the time I finished high school. We’re going back many years. What I look at in generations that are younger than me, when you have a Civics conversation, which involves a social contract, meaning that we’re all in this together, there’s a certain amount recognition about that. I’m hoping that these protests around George Floyd, but more importantly, what’s now being called JEDI, Justice, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion movement is going to address the idea that we have to live in a civil society.
Many of the people that politically you described are strict. I loved your rant. I don’t necessarily agree with them. However, I need to figure out a way to bridge the gap. One specific way is there is a knee-jerk reaction from the left about tearing down the monuments. The Jewish filmmakers of the ‘30s and ‘40s were obsessed with the mythology of America and telling stories like Gone With The Wind that work accurately based on historical fact. That’s part of the power of Hollywood and part of the power of America.
In response to say they’re going to tear down all of the monuments, maybe some do need to come down, but maybe there’s also a learning opportunity that’s being missed. Maybe, there’s that putting that history in context. There are many quotes we can go to about, “If you don’t learn your history, you’re forced to repeat it,” etc. The point is, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” As much as I love what’s has been going on with the protest and putting the spotlight, starting with the Black Lives Matters Movement, and legal justice and social justice expanding more broadly. If I look at it globally, it’s a human movement. People are protesting in Paris, London and Asia. They’re coming about because of JEDI, not just because of Black Lives Matter. They’re recognizing and identifying that.
Racism is not an American province, the Chinese, Japanese, French, English, Germans, Russians. Ask any black soccer player, how they’ve been treated in Europe and they will tell you it isn’t pretty. It is important that they take this on not just as an American issue but as a global issue. As far as the statue goes, here’s what I think. Most of the Confederate statues were put up.
They were propaganda. They were put up by the daughters of the Confederate revolution.
They were there to reinforce the psychological horrors of Jim Crow. They were there to create this Stockholm Syndrome oppressive idea. First, I want to go back to what you said about civics and ethics. We don’t teach them at all in American schools. It’s a critical gap in the idea that high school, grade school, and the college now are simply to serve the economy. We need more lawyers, doctors, hedge fund operators, which we don’t need. We need to fill all these slots without considering the larger landscape of what it means to have a true and interesting big egalitarian life.
In many regards, that has been co-opted by an identity politics of the left. Not that some of that is good, but gone to extremes, it’s not good. Peter Thiel, not that I agree with him politically but a lot of his philosophy, I do agree when he talks about that the university system is as corrupt as the Catholic church 500 years ago.
Let’s be clear. You immediately pull the rug out from under any argument you might make, however valid, by supporting he who shall not be named. Peter Thiel cannot talk about corruption in the college sphere and continue to support you know who.
He doesn’t continue to support it, but that’s another topic I don’t want to be distracted by it. A few years ago, he basically wrote Trump off, but that’s another topic.
He wrote Trump off after birtherism, after Charlottesville, he finally got around to writing him off?
I’m not supporting Peter Thiel. I was talking about his philosophy about the education system. He has an interesting critique of higher education. That’s what I’m talking about.True instruments of change have processes in place. They rebel with a cause. Click To Tweet
I’m sure you’re right about that. The problem is that, and this speaks to your larger point, we do have things that we need to learn that are uncomfortable. Maybe we need to learn them from people who make us feel uncomfortable. We have to keep our ears and our eyes open because any extreme, whether it’s the right or the far left, the far right isn’t getting as much attention as it deserves because white supremacy is one of the biggest problems we have in this country. The far left on the other hand, there are some bad apples over there. There’s rigidity there with the way they want to torture the language and the baby has to be thrown out with the bathwater. I agree with you there, but at the same time, there should not be a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Andrew Jackson is in Lafayette Square, but Robert E. Lee, what I loved about went on where I grew up in the South. I grew up in Virginia. My grandmother lived on Monument Avenue in Richmond, and the way that the protesters and specifically Black Lives Matters decorated, I’m going to call it a graffiti, the Robert E. Lee statue at the beginning of Monument Avenue to me is a testament to then reflecting what it means. To take that down, in many ways to me, is a loss learning moment. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. I had it posted on some social media in the last week, but it brilliantly describes not only the tension, the division, and what that represented in the South then and now. More importantly, at one point during the protest, they projected an image of George Floyd on it and other black men that have been killed by police violence. To me, it spoke volumes about why that statue should stay.
You’re saying it should stay because a group of political activists/artists/rebels/mischief-makers redecorated history in a way that reveals it. That’s a separate argument. To me, that’s the power of art. I don’t know how many other examples you have out there as far as what’s been done to some of these monuments. I haven’t seen enough.
Most of them had been pulled down. I’ll send you an image of that because it’s stunning. To me, it reflects the true history projected on a mythical history that was propagated by a bunch of granddaughters of people that fought for the Confederacy 100 years after they died.
That’s a fascinating conversation. I know what you’re saying. I don’t mean to be completely dogmatic about it. In that particular case, it sounds to me like there was a beautiful collision between the spirit of this moment, which is long overdue of the past and comes something infinitely greater than it ever aspired to be and more provocative as a result. You make a valid point. I worry about this too. I don’t want to feel like I have to line up with every single person on one side in order to earn my place as in that conversation. That’s the dangerous moment we’re in now. It’s like a purity movement.
That is the problem. There have been a lot of great speakers especially from the far left that has talked about how you need this purity moment. That is not part of democracy in my mind. That democracy that has been evidenced through the protest to me, is showing our democracy at work because it is causing for change.
This is a complicated territory. We’re not water spiders dancing on the surface of something. This is a very important subject. It’s full of nuance, complexity and surprise quite frankly. One of the greatest, if not the greatest irony in American history, if not the world, is that the people who were dragged here and enslaved and oppressed for 400 years are likely going to be the instruments of our salvation in November 2020. Life doesn’t work in a linear way. It doesn’t unfold in a linear way. It doesn’t unfold in a predictable way. It’s never predictable. One thing I would add to this question of violence and revolution and all that, most revolutions don’t turn out well.
All of them involve pretty much unless you’re talking about, and there still was violence. What Gandhi and Martin Luther King were able to achieve could only have been achieved in oppressive societies in which the oppressing class was relatively enlightened. In the case of India, it was the English who valued their education. In the United States, it was revealing America’s indecency to those who had lived too long in oblivion, who educated the Northern white who had exploited Southern racism without even knowing in some cases that they were doing so.
That said, there was always the promise of violence from the Black Panthers, from now come from the rest that helped Martin. The reason why he ultimately agreed to let the children march in Birmingham, he knew well that he had in Bull Connor. He knew that he had the perfect foil, that this guy was going to reveal his true venality for all the world to see with these horses, these dogs, the Billy clubs and all of it. It cost him enormous anguish to think about anybody in his movement especially the kid. The people of Birmingham in Alabama who knew their kids were going to march were desperate to keep them back. It was a big controversy within the civil rights movement, whether to allow the kids to do that knowing that they would be putting their lives and their bodies at risk.They did it anyway because the spectacle led to change. The reason why we fought the civil war is that it came to a point where there was no more conversation to be had. Lincoln tried everything. He tried to reason and he tried going to the table. It was ultimately impossible. The only thing that was possible was the war. I do think we’re at a similar moment now. When you have 35% of this country who not only support the indecency, racism, and violence that this man has done to our democracy, and done so and reveled in it. You can’t talk to them anymore. You got to beat them.
You’ve got to defeat them. I’m not saying that I’m promoting violence, but I’m saying that the mechanisms of democracy are enormously slow-moving. In certain critical moments in our culture, we have these violent eruptions and passions. I don’t mean violence and I’m not talking about looting. It’s madness. We all know that. I’m talking about the rage that is a threat to the powers that be. Unfortunately, that’s how change happens in this country. I worry about it as I know you do, I can see it in your eyes. I know Cecily is worried about it. It’s going to be people like us that hopefully can try to structure the mischief and make sure that it is productive mischief, productive rebellion and not self-defeating. I know that’s where you’re coming from.
I would love to have you back on and have us talk more about this because you clearly thought about this a lot and passionate about it as we all are. Cecily, any closing questions or thoughts?
The last thing that you said, Kario, made me think of Matt Heller who we had on here. He was saying that he feels that the way the Millennials will spark change in the world is they need to have some process presented to them. That’s how we’re going to be able to move forward because otherwise, there’s a little bit too much mischief. That’s where structured mischief comes in. We’re hoping to provide this process for everyone to get behind and figure out those next steps forward.
This is the Millennial moment and they have risen to the occasion. They woke up, they looked up from their phones and they hit the streets. That is a magnificent thing to behold. I do think that they are the most tolerant generation in the history of mankind. What’s amazing about what I’ve seen is it takes a moment to reveal how many people out there who are smart, well-educated people, some of them are even from Harvard who are true activists, true community organizers and true instruments of change. They do have processes in place and they are ready to meet this moment. We should end on that positivity because it is something that I truly believe in. I’m not putting a gloss over it. It’s inspiring to see that. I’ve had some conversations with them myself on various forums. There are a lot of political talents out there in the young generation.
I could not agree more. I don’t know if you’re a Bill Maher fan or not, but it doesn’t matter. He had a great moment one night where he said exactly that, “Millennials, this is your moment to step up and take charge and you can make the change.”
I love him. New Rules is a must-see for me every week.
Thank you. We’ll look forward to chatting with you again.
This was an absolute pleasure. I wish you guys the best.
About Kario Salem
Kario Salem is an Emmy award winning screenwriter, actor and musician. While most known for his career in screenwriting, he recently decided to revisit his passion for music. With personal support from Bob Dylan, Juval Aviv, and many more who have helped spread his music to the masses. Kario’s music video Stand Down, starring Billy Bob Thornton, won Best Music Video at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival and has over 13 million views on Facebook and counting. He is represented by ICM Partners.
Bolstered by some of indie rocks finest, the forthcoming KARIO EP features Jon Natchez (The War on Drugs), Garret Ray (Vampire Weekend), Elijah Thomson (Father John Misty), Mitchel Yoshida and Stewart Cole (Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeros), Lewis Pesacov (Fools Gold), and Rachel Goodrich.
The intro hits of lead single “A Piece of Me” pick up with such confidence, one would assume the band has been collaborating for some time. And while most involved are members of prominent indie bands, pedalling the emotional hills and psychological valleys together suggests a deep musical brotherhood has formed. Elements of indie rock, new wave, and folk, cross psychedelic lines to create a sound all to itself – the collective uniting around KARIO’s personal reflections of heartbreak and triumph:
“The idea of the song came in a singular moment as I watched the love of my life cross the room, oblivious to my attention”, accounts KARIO. “And as my heart filled with love, I thought “What if we hadn’t fought so hard for this relationship? What if we hadn’t got lucky enough to survive all the stuff we put each other through? What if we ended up with other people? And the answer was clear: She would always occupy a deep place in my heart, and I in hers, no matter what. I would always have a piece of her and she of me.”
Masterfully presented by producer Matt Linesch and this team, “A Piece of Me” is a song undeniable in its sentimental layers. Through its atypical structure, we gradually fall spell to the darkening introspection, progressively unraveling in an epic outpouring of emotion. “A Piece of Me” was unveiled in advance of the official release on Jose Galvan’s KCRW radio show with Galvan proclaiming, “That is a track my friends!” While the ambitious production takes listeners on an adventurous ride, the message and aesthetic play equally weighted parts in what clearly celebrates creative life’s arduous path