ART ROCKS! Swendoza and the Art Rocks! Radio

By Jed Sanders.

Swendoza is the one and only “Chanter of Personality”. Every Wednesday night, he broadcasts live from “Bordertown USA” with on the world-famous Art Rocks! Radio program. His media coverage of the local arts and culture here in San Diego has spanned for nearly a decade, and he has interviewed well over 1,000 different local artists, guests, and celebrities.

Upon the recent ninth anniversary of the program, Swendoza turned the tables and allowed me to interview him on his show. This, I can tell you, was no easy task. He is a true pro and makes it look easy.

The following is a transcription from the live Art Rocks! Radio show on November 9, 2011.

So what made you get started with Art Rocks! Radio?
Art Rocks! Radio really came along almost by accident. I moved back home to San Diego from New York City. I got emerged in the art, fashion, and music scene there – when it was really rockin’ in the lower Eastside. I had to come home for family reasons. Art Rocks! Radio came out of a magic moment when I was at a telemarketing gig. My voice is what God gave me and what I can make money off of, right? I spent a lot of time in the telemarketing business, and one day an inbound call came and it was the wrong number. They were looking for I had been told many times in the telemarketing gigs, ‘You know you have a great voice,’ ‘Are you a disc Jockey?’ ‘Is this a recording?’ ‘Are you a robot?’ ‘Is this a real person?’ And then I checked out the very next day after I asked this guy a few questions about it. wsRadio is a brokered station where every individual host buys their own time. We are our own executive producers. That’s where it really began, in 2002.

What would you say is one of the worst parts of doing your job?
I would say that the worst part is just getting here every Wednesday to do this show, ya know? I’m still a very stage-frightened kid in a lot of ways. I get very nervous before each show, and apprehensive. A lot of times, I get concerned I am going to say something dumb that is going to embarrass one of the guests. I am always concerned about that.

What is one of your favorite interviews that you have done?
Paul Stanley from Kiss has been on the show a couple of times. When he was not on the road with the band, he was doing art. He came through San Diego a couple of times with his art shows. What I remember about Paul Stanley was an answer he gave to one of our questions with my partner Ally Bling Bling. I explained, ‘This is a one word answer question, Paul… If you were not a rock and roll star, what would you be?’ His answer in one word without missing a beat was ‘Broke’. We have had all kinds of great guests on the program. We had Grace Slick a few times. We had Peter Max. The list goes on and on. Mario Torero is a great San Diego artist and was the very first guest on the Art Rocks! Radio show.

What do you like to do for fun in San Diego?
Fun in San Diego is the great outdoors. Just being out there and knowing you can step out there 300 days a year. Balboa Park is one of the greatest institutions in the country. A little known fact is that Central Park of New York City will fit inside Balboa Park. It is very large physically and is culturally how I got started with my appreciation for art. I grew up in San Diego, that’s where the art thing came from. I would go to the museums in Balboa Park.

What are the “Raging Art Bull” episodes about?
Raging Art Bull came about because there were so many things on my mind after interviewing so many different kinds of artists. I would hear their stories, how they got started, and the struggle they were involved in, from artists of all levels of success. The struggles were all very similar in terms of the dues they have to pay in order to keep it going. One thing they all had in common was that they didn’t care about the dues, because they were just going to keep on doing it no matter what. I felt that there was something keeping that development from happening faster than it should have.

Do you mean by something that is suppressing the artist?
Yes. Usually, when I try to articulate this, I get the usual looks and charges that I am some sort of conspiracy theorist and so on. I don’t think I have to do that anymore now that we have all seen the Matrix movies. It demonstrates a lot of the political scene I see in America. When I went to school, I was a History major and I earned a PHD in History. When I was studying History, the art of the past was very important in understanding a time period. European history is a lot deeper with the fine arts, while American History deals with a lot of the folk arts, fashion, and music. I have always felt there is a dimension of art that I call the ‘Political Economy of Culture’. I stole the term from a great historian, who I recommend everyone to read, by the name of Eugene Genovese. He wrote a book called the Political Economy of Slavery. He was a Marxist scholar and painted for me, very early in grad school, what the ‘Matrix’ was all about. It was something you knew that was there, but you had to connect the dots. It isn’t always a solid thing you can grab a hold of. There is a ‘Matrix’ in San Diego. I call it the ‘Arts Mafia’. It is a sensationalized term and I don’t deny that. With ‘Raging Art Bull’, I wanted to turn the dedication and sacrifice that a lot of artists have gone through into a rage that was welling up in me because they weren’t better treated. It is my feelings on the political economy of culture. San Diego is a microcosm that one can study to find a better way of promoting the arts and to take better care of our artists.

Through the Raging Bull episodes, what do you find that is one of the biggest frustrations that a lot of artists go through?
It would be with the gallery system. The system is geared for the interests of the collector, not the artist. It turns art into a commodity. It’s a good thing because it is easier to sell as a commodity. There is the old saying that if you can put it in a bottle, then you can sell it. It is essential for artists to understand that most gallery operators today do not even own their own business. What I mean by that is that they rent a space. They borrow the inventory; they don’t buy it, and their interests are in cultivating collectors. That is their business. I’m not saying that is ‘evil’, but that is the way it is. I find something wrong with gallery operators who try and convey the impression that they are the best friend an artist can have. ‘We are such a good friend of yours, Mr. and Ms. Artist, that you should pay us. You, the artist, should pay us for helping you.’ That bothers me. A lot of the gallery operators are like a priesthood in the medieval church.

Have you seen any effect from Raging Bull? Has anyone called you up and cussed you out, or are you just ruffling feathers?
It is hard to tell. We have a Teflon oligarchy here in San Diego. Nothing sticks to them. The only thing that does is cold hard cash, and that insulates them somehow from even paying attention. On the internet, I have ruffled quite a few feathers. It is good for debating and getting things rolling. As far as Raging Bull making an impact, I could not say because I’m not finished yet. The level of public discussion of the arts in San Diego is pretty pitiful. I got a thing on Facebook today from Kinsee Morlan, the arts editor of the San Diego City Beat newspaper, and she was talking about this panel discussion that they were having on whether San Diego should create a county board of art; in other words, a big bureaucracy or another board of some sort to help people know what kind of art to buy, and to pick and choose the winners and the losers. I got to thinking to myself that if it is still going on, I haven’t made much of an impact. I added my voice to the general round of cheers that Kinsee was getting for the announcement by saying this is yet another exercise in the expansion of the ‘circular firing squad’ that is the public discussion of art here in San Diego. They are just going to have a bigger circular firing squad. There will be more people in the circle who will be on the public payroll speaking for what they say is their constituency, which is the ‘art community’.

Would you expand on that more?
I would like to say something positive about the San Diego art scene. It is blowing up. There is so much hidden talent here, which is another reason I started Art Rocks! Radio. San Diego is the epitome of a border town. More people cross the border here than anywhere in the United States. The scenery of the art scene is blowing up. These people who are trying to form this large umbrella of an organization, ‘The County Board of Art’; they are trying to hijack the percolating cultural thing that is going on in San Diego. They want to hijack it so that they can take advantage of it and continue to control it the way the cultural alagardes, who are already in place, do. If anyone would like to challenge me on this and debate about it, I would be happy to do it.

That sounds like an exciting debate and one that I would like to hear.
That is what Raging Art Bull is about. Obviously, I have not been invited to participate on this panel discussion. I don’t care about that. I have been to a few of these panel discussions and it’s like listening to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb. They are missing the point entirely. The media coverage of the art scene in San Diego misses a lot because it does not address these kinds of issues. I have had debates with other cultural journalists about this and they seem to think that all cultural journalism is to tell people the time and date of the new art opening, or when the next fashion show is, or the next band event. That is the depth of their coverage.

You mentioned that you have a PHD in History. What part of history interests you the most?
When I was studying history, it was at a time when computers were becoming used as a tool for historical research. I did a quantitative study of a political movement in the Midwest during the mid-19th century. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it was one of the first studies ever done utilizing that computer technology. In those days, it was the big computer you had in the middle of campus where you had to bring the big tapes and the IBM cards. I was one of the very first to do what they call ‘quantitative history’. I had become a bit disillusioned in graduate school with what I was learning in history, as I learned I was actually training to become a court historian; to speak for the house. I found something very unsatisfactory about that. I found when you get lost in the numbers like that, you lose your sweet spot, you know? That sweet spot you have for art and culture. I was getting to a point where I was bored reading my own dissertation. It was boring compared to the great masterpieces of history that have been written. History does not always repeat itself entirely. One of the great masterpieces that everyone should read is the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. It was an 18th century masterpiece that the founders of our country knew backwards and forward. It is important for people to know that America was founded almost as a clone of Rome. The founders were so concerned about that because of course they knew what happened to Rome. They wanted to avoid those problems that brought the Roman Empire down. Well, guess what? The problems the founders were nervous about…They are here to the max right now.

It is frightening to think that we are on that downward spiral.
I don’t think it is downward. It is in a different direction and this is how art can save us. The world is in a bad place and people can learn from history. I see art having a lot of similarities to religion. People go to religion for solace and spiritual support. As religion falls along the wayside, people are going to have to find a way to deal with finding that solace and spiritual support. Human nature does not change. Those feelings will always be there, and a need for spirituality.

I believe that all artists are touched by God. I mean…all people are touched by God in one way or another. But artists have a special touch that came from God; however, one wants to define ‘God’. I’m not here to preach any particular faith.

Are there any artists, dead or alive, you would like to interview?
Vincent Van Gogh. I spoke about how I feel artists are touched by God. Well… I believe Vincent was [tormented] by God. In recent revelations, it is showing that he did not commit suicide. He was accidentally shot by some boys playing with a gun. This is a new theory that is coming around now. He was not suicidal. He was locked in an insane asylum because he had dared to shock the establishment with a new kind of art that was naturalistic. He painted everyday people in everyday situations, rather than the grandees who were paying for the big fancy portraits and the landscapes of their manors. If any artist could talk about how they are touched by God, or even tormented by God, it would be Vincent Van Gogh. You can see it in his work. Nature is not an easy thing in Van Gogh’s work. It’s in constant turmoil.

Where would you like to see yourself and Art Rocks! Radio in 10 years?
That is a tough question. I do have some things I am working on right now that I am going to bring out in 2012. I have been thinking of different ways artists can sell their art. I have some ideas in mind. I am working on a new blog that I am going to launch before 2012. It will be a different side of me; more of the historian side. I like to write. –That’s if God helps us get through 2012. The Mayan calendar tells us it’s all coming to an end…Who knows? I do hope that art plays a larger role in the emerging 21st century. This is a great time for the culture of the world to get more involved with the political economy of the world. A great book, written by Margaret Tuchman, called The Proud Tower was a study of European culture on the eve of the First World War. Things were changing transcendentally in Europe at that time. People were going to do things differently. I kind of think we are at that same moment now. I hope that The Proud Tower does not repeat itself and that we allow ourselves the cultural enlightenment not to be smothered by war hysteria.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all of our questions.

To listen to the full interview and past episodes on the Art Rocks! Radio program, go to and click on the Art Rocks! tab.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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