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School of Fish: The Best Lesson Learned

By Jav Rivera

The sad truth about excellent songwriters is that they’re typically troubled. They battle demons, overcome obstacles, find solace in drugs or alcohol. etc. And it’s because of this that they can write songs with such heartache and honesty. It’s also because of this that they often die young.  Some of my favorite songwriters have gone away too early – Shannon Hoon (Blind Melon), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.  These three found alternative ways to deal with their pain (drugs and/or suicide). Josh Clayton-Felt (of School of Fish), however, died because of testicular cancer at the young age of 32.

Josh Clayton-Felt
School of Fish, an alternative band founded by Josh Clayton-Felt (guitar and vocals) and Michael Ward (guitar), released two albums in the 1990s.  Their first self-titled album, released in ’91, produced the single, “Three Strange Days”.  The album was full of alternative pop rock tunes backed by drum machine-like percussion. In comparison, their second album, Human Cannonball, released in ’93, was a louder, tougher album with intense drums (by Josh Freese) and deep, heavy bass (by John Pierce). “Take Me Anywhere” was the album's single, released along with a music video.

Human Cannonball sounded like it came from a completely different band and I remember being put off by it immediately because of the drastic change in sound. It wasn’t as pop-oriented as the first album, which is what I had expected on their sophomore effort. After a few repeated hearings and allowing myself to remove my expectations, however, I realized three things: The first was that this was one of the best albums in my ever-growing collection. The second was that this was an incredibly bold and courageous move a little-known band could make.

The third and most important lesson was to not expect something from an artist and to listen to a new piece of work based on its own merit.  I use this same tactic when watching a new film from a favorite director or studying a new work of art from a visual artist.  It simply makes sense considering that most artists want to experiment and expand their techniques.  It’s one of the traits I value most in artists. And out of respect, I should base my opinion of their new work solely on the new work – not in comparison to anything they’ve previously released.

School of Fish (with live performers Chris MacDonald and Chad Fischer)
In a short amount of time School of Fish not only released two well-rounded, completely different albums, but they also inadvertently defined me as a person and changed the way I view the arts. I will forever be grateful to School of Fish.

School of Fish on iTunes

Josh Clayton-Felt's Website: www.joshclayton.com
Michael Ward's Website: www.wardworldwide.com

TRIVIA 1: Human Cannonball was originally titled Canine Cannonball but Capital Records deemed it too close to animal abuse.

TRIVIA 2: In 1994, School of Fish disbanded. Clayton-Felt went on to release several solo albums as did Ward. Ward has become a much sought after session guitarist and has played with various artists including Ben Harper, John Hiatt, and The Wallflowers.


The Saint

By Lisa Adamowicz Kless

There’s a snapshot tucked away in one of my photo albums, showing a commonplace, weathered wall somewhere in Europe, one that I might have walked right past; except that spray painted in tall, jagged letters somewhere near the middle was the word “Freedom”.  That caught my attention.  I paused.  I took a picture.  Even if it’s since been painted over or scrubbed off, the graffiti served its purpose.  It was noticed, it got its message across, provoked thought, and now sits immortalized forever in an album an ocean away.

Besides that brush with graffiti, the only other major exposure I’ve had was being stopped at a railroad crossing, watching the kaleidoscope of colors and patterns on trains go by at dizzying speeds.  Then, just recently, graffiti was back on my radar, my awareness and understanding of it expanding and evolving.  In large part, thanks for this goes to visual artist Mario Gonzales, who has given me a glimpse into the world of graffiti art and some of the inspiration of the people who create it.  I’m clearer on the distinction between a tagger, who just scrawls their name on things, and a true graffiti artist.  Gonzales is the latter.  His work is intriguing, political, witty, engaging…I could go on.  I’d rather just tell you a little bit about him first though, and then encourage you take a look at some of his work and judge for yourself.  

Art, in a broad sense, is something that’s always intrigued Gonzales.  Cartooning was his first passion, stemming from a childhood love of cartoon classics such as Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.  As he got a little bit older,  comic book art grabbed his interest.  In the early 1980s, his family moved to Milwaukee, WI, where he started to feel the pull of graffiti art.  As a teen, he attended the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, where he was exposed to art ranging from abstract to modern, Renaissance to contemporary.  He also had the opportunity to study and work in different mediums, widening his artistic range.  His art has evolved as he’s gotten older; like many graffiti writers, he’s moved to using paper and canvas as his backdrops: a safer and much more legal means of expression.  For Gonzales, subject matter comes from basically anything that inspires him to draw or paint.  He says: “I tend to create whatever comes to mind and work with almost all art tools, from colored pencil to airbrush; I think artists should be knowledgeable in more than one medium.”  His biggest goal is getting exposure for his art.  It makes perfect sense.  As a graffiti writer, a whole city has the potential to be your gallery.  Gonzales may have shifted his art to canvases now, but it still grabs your attention in a big way.  I was told that he was “all city” in his earlier years as a graffiti writer, and I have no doubt that as word of his work spreads among art communities, he’ll be all city again, simply in a different sense this time.