KING COLE

The Mythical
True Life Story

THE MYTHICAL TRUE – LIFE STORY OF KING COLE

Sometimes a tune written by a brilliant, insightful songwriter you’ve never heard of meets the sociopolitical moment in unimaginably provocative ways. With a vibe sounding like an update of the classic atmosphere-drenched 70’s soul of Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack and Isaac Hayes, “The Mean Season” is just one of hundreds of thus far unearthed musical treasures penned over the last 35-plus years by Andrew “King” Cole, a Miami based under the radar force of nature who up till now had been at peace with abandoning his musical dreams after a series of close major label calls a few decades earlier.

Yet genius has a way of outing itself at the right time, and “The Mean Season” – which also impactfully introduces us to the bluesy soul vocal brilliance of Memphis based emerging artist J-Buck – has a lot to say about this crazy, divisive, pandemic ridden world we inhabit in 2020. Cole’s words resonate from the get-go: “It’s getting hot in here and we’re upset/People feeling the same way too/Let’s take a breath. . .It’s the mean season, you better get ready/Cause here it comes, here it comes/It’s the mean season, you better get steady/We need steady guns, steady guns/That’s just a pun. . .” Then comes the bridge: “We all know right from wrong and we say it’s not our fault/The problem as I see it is we don’t know true from false/And we all have a window that lets us look into our heart/Can’t you see that all this greed is what keeps us apart?” The song’s final lament asks a rhetorical question, “What’s it say about the world today when you’re kind, you’re considered a fool? And without a doubt they’re gonna hollow us out/Humiliation is the golden rule.”

“The Mean Season” is just the start of a unique rollout of a batch of King Cole-penned singles–sung by up and coming artists leading up to the release of the provocatively titled album Troll the Troll. The second slated single, the romantic ballad “Your Story is Mine,” reveals a more personal, heartfelt side of Cole’s artistry. As part of a multi-media presentation, the cover image of each single will feature a thematically related painting by renowned Florida based surrealist painter Barry Gross. The image accompanying “The Mean Season” is, appropriately enough called “The Screamer.” When we get into the almost too mythical and bizarre sounding to be true superhero origin story of Cole’s life, you’ll better understand why that’s appropriate.

In the music business, we can often tell a lot about someone’s integrity by the company they keep – and Cole is working with powerhouse team led by two storied veterans – Emmy nominated, #1 hit songwriter Barry Coffing (also founder and owner of Uprising Entertainment and Music Supervisor.com) and Charles Calello, whose string, horn and/or vocal arrangements have been featured on over 100 Billboard chart records (including 39 Top 10 hits), from “Sweet Caroline” (Neil Diamond) to “After The Lovin’” (Engelbert Humperdinck) to “My Heart Belongs to Me” (Barbra Streisand), Frank Sinatra’s album WaterTown, and  Calello was also the arranger/conductor of the strings on Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland.”

On each Cole-penned track, Coffing will serve as producer of the rhythm section and vocals, while Calello produces the horns and string arrangements. Cole’s multi-faceted history with Coffing extends back to Los Angeles in the mid-80s, when Coffing responded to an ad Cole put in the paper looking for a keyboardist and singer for his band. Cole hired him and the two hit it off and started gigging all over town from 1985-89 at hotspots like The Baked Potato and At My Place, often with top saxophonists like Kirk Whalum and Everette Harp sitting in. Another collaborator was Paul McCartney’s sister through marriage, Ruth McCartney. Coffing quickly recognized Cole as a talented singer/songwriter and he started producing his friend’s music. He helped Cole “get up to bat” with possible publishing and artist deals at Warner Bros. and Atlantic.

Since so many recurring demons in Cole’s personal life are part of the story why he didn’t find ultimate success, it’s probably kindest to say the industry was fickle and it just wasn’t his time then – but clearly, now it is. Cole was always more of a behind the scenes cat anyway.

While Cole working with Coffing again is a beautifully timed resurrection of a long-established friendship and personal relationship, the songwriter’s connection with Calello is a more recent, serendipitous sign that the stars are aligning for his music to finally be heard. Cole went over one day to Power Station studios in Pompano Beach to meet with Rob Roy, the famed recording engineer and producer who built the facility using the acoustic design expertise of his friend and business partner Tony Bongiovi, known for the legendary Power Station in NYC (now called Avatar). Cole wanted to check out a vintage recording console they had acquired.

“After saying hello to Rob, he told me that Charles Calello was in Studio A mixing a song,” Cole says. “I immediately asked, ‘The Charlie Calello?’ I couldn’t believe that I had the opportunity to actually meet him and shake his hand. A bit later Charlie walked out of Studio A into Studio B where I was playing some new songs for Rob. Rob introduced us. When Charlie extended his hand, mine was shaking. He seemed surprised that I knew his name, but the truth is, I had been aware of it from the time I was 11. I remember listening to ‘Lightning Strikes’ by Lou Christie. My aunt who was raising me walked into the apartment just as the pre-chorus started and when she heard it, she thought it was Frankie Valli.

“When I told her it was Lou,” he continues, “she asked me who did the arrangement? I said, ‘What’s an arrangement?’ She explained and I sort of got it. She had been a dancer in the 40s and singer in the 50’s and had appeared on TV and had a lot of connections, so she said she was going to ask her friend, the legendary DJ Murray the K who arranged the song. The Valli-Christie confusion made sense because Murray told her it was Charlie, who had also arranged for the Four Seasons. Charlie enjoyed my stories, and we got together for coffee and the meeting lasted over four hours – three spent in my car listening to his songs and mine. He had so many cool stories – like that day in Rome in 1965 when Paul McCartney invited him over and he hung out with the Beatles. He has a Super 8 film of it! We were able to book some studio time and work on the two songs so we could re-record them and then the pandemic hit.”

The best way we can spin Cole’s tragedy-filled yet still a work in progress, on its way to triumphant life story is to say that without those traumatic losses, re-appearing drug addiction, ongoing depression, rags to riches to major IRS trouble, a later bad accident and recovery and a journey balancing the sensibility of an irritable feral cat with a successful 41year marriage, we wouldn’t have the treasure trove of songs he and his team are about to unleash.

The power of music plays a huge recurring role in the salvation and soul survival of one who is otherwise irreligious. It’s a through line that offers high, joyful points amidst the chaos and despair. It’s the reason we have “The Mean Season” and everything else that is to come at all. As he has always said, “I will die if I give up.” His lineage includes a brother who is a famous Pulitzer prize nominated author – and his 9th grandfather is the legendary William Bradford, a signatory to the Mayflower Compact who served as Governor of the Plymouth Colony – and, as Cole says but Wikipedia won’t, was a murderer.

Born in Washington, D.C. as Andrew Cole, he was the child of an actual CIA agent who traveled with his family under diplomatic cover to outposts like Cyprus (where “the Turks and Greeks and Americans were vying for power) and Okinawa, Japan. His dad had been in World War II, fighting in the Atlantic and Pacific, including being part of the crew of the famous submarine The Barracuda. Sounds heroic but it left Cole’s dad with severe PTSD, which combined with bipolar disease and alcoholism, ultimately had deadly consequences. Once out of the service, his dad’s intelligence skills led to him being into the OSS just as it was transitioning to becoming the CIA. The PTSD and the intense stress of being a spy and turning people led his dad to have several nervous breakdowns. He was violent and “beat the shit” out of Cole and his brothers – and murdered their mother right in front of them when Cole was just nine. Cole’s older brother Allan (later the author) was wounded in the shooting and struggle for the gun. Though he was shot twice in the stomach, he was able to disarm their dad, knock him out and stand guard over us after Cole called the police.

Cole always felt he had inherited the bipolar gene, and it took years of therapy to work out the destruction he felt inside throughout his childhood. Within a few days of the tragedy, Cole and his brothers Charles (3 ½ years older) and David (5 ½ years younger) were shuttled to NYC to live with his aunt (his mom’s grieving sister), uncle, their daughter and Cole’s grandmother – seven people in a one-bedroom apartment. After a year, his brother Allan recovered from his wounds and Charles moved back to Los Angeles to live with him. In those days, Cole says, you didn’t talk about emotional trauma. You kept a stiff upper lip and suffered in silence.

These shocking events and crazy- quick adjustments led Cole to some very dark places that haunted him on and off throughout his life. He started using drugs within six months – smoking pot at 10 years old and doing LSD by 12. Trying to paint himself as a hipster of the times, he muses, “It was during the British invasion, during the hippie time, and I was running around with older kids.” Yet he adds, “I wanted to get out of myself and my depression, and all of that helped me cope. I was enrolled in a New York public school, and later educated by nuns and priests, but I was a feral child, wandering, getting into petty trouble, dealing with my own PTSD, and ultimately getting into heroin and cocaine for a long period of time – and all the other dead-end things drug addicts get into. I’ve was never arrested as a kid but I would spend time at construction sites, stealing items to sell. I also spent time on the railroad tracks by the Hudson River and I got into brutal fights with other kids. Like I always say, bipolar is a bitch.”

Music offered the balance, the balm, the serendipitous encounters which, if taken out of the hellish context of everything around it, would almost make us think Cole had an anointed childhood. Some connections were almost prophetic. He has fond memories of a time before his mom was killed, when his older brother was driving him to school listening to AM radio and hearing Dion singing “The Wanderer.” In the 2000s after Cole had retired to Florida, he had the opportunity to record with Dion at Power Station under a different name. Those trips in the old brown Rambler also exposed him to the likes of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and early Motown hits – and the brothers would often sing along.

In the mid-60s, as his childhood trauma was reaching a crescendo in NYC, Cole became fascinated with the British Invasion music. A huge lifelong Beatles fan, he particularly gravitated towards McCartney’s “Yesterday” – connecting it to the confusion he felt with the sudden loss of his mom “why she had to go I don’t know she wouldn’t say.”– and John Lennon’s “I’m a Loser.” “When I hear that song, it’s me in those days,” he says. “My self-esteem was non-existent, I was always acting out but it was like nobody could see me. The feeling of isolation is something that has dogged me my entire life. For obvious reasons, I have always had trust issues with people.”

One of the upsides to adolescence in the Upper West Side was bumping into the cool musicians who lived there during this funky time. In this hotbed of jazz and Latin music, Cole met Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals (who had a great influence on his songwriting) at Ungano’s, where Jimi Hendrix and many others played. In the neighborhood, Cole met his future namesake Nat “King” Cole, Duke Ellington, Doc Pomus, and Ashford & Simpson. Lena Horne lived there, too and later Roberta Flack, James Taylor and John Lennon.  He would often see Ellington hailing a cab and wave hello. Over time, the legendary band leader would respond, “Hey Red!” One time, Cole was waiting for a bus and Ellington came up to him and said he was having a bad day and rubbed his red hair for good luck– like an anointing for the future by a true American icon and musical god. Cole’s other fond memories of this time include a trip to Vegas with his aunt, the former pro singer who “performed everywhere,” and riding in a limo arranged by the owner of the Sands. The older sister of a friend began teaching Cole guitar at age 12; that woman passed away in April 2020 from COVID-19.

That crazy pendulum between being the feral child on and off of drugs and alcohol and finding solace in listening to and making music defined Cole’s life for years, even after he moved out to Los Angeles in pursuit of other dreams. In the 80s, while finding his footing in the club scene with Coffing, Cole discovered he had great aptitude for trading the markets and found great success in the financial world. Addiction was always part of the equation, but somehow, he muddled through and found a way to land on his feet. Before an intervention by concerned loved ones ended that part of his self-destructive lifestyle for good, he was always “off and on and underneath the wagon.”

By the late 80s, Cole was burned out on L.A. and all the years of drinking and drugging had left him unable to write and perform music or work his day job. In 1989, he and his wife Vicky moved back to New York, where he bottomed out and was back to his feral cat ways. On the upside, he bought an apartment in a building designed by the same architect who did the Dakota. The down was that he went through a long period of time paying back a huge IRS debt, trying to climb out from the financial and emotional damage he had caused living a little too high (literally and figuratively) in Beverly Hills. This is also when the intervention that changed his life took place. He got sober in 1990 and has been clean ever since.

At one point during his time back in NYC, Cole and his wife trekked to South Florida to celebrate the 4th of July with his aunt and uncle, who had moved down there. In 1992, they moved down there to enjoy the 85 degree Atlantic and in their declining years, take care of the couple that had graciously given him a home when his own family was destroyed. Cleared of his debt and off drugs and alcohol – we’re almost at a happy ending, just hang on – he got back into the financial world trading oil and gas options and futures as well as currencies. He retired comfortably 15 years ago and started writing songs – including a favorite called “The Circus Is Still in Town” about the swirl of his crazy life experiences and the constant pull towards instability despite his best intentions.A key line is “I’ve got to face the fact that the monkey’s off my back but the circus is still in town.”

Case in point, just as Cole was starting to enjoy his retirement and recorded the blues track with Dion, he started having mental problems again and, worse, had a debilitating car accident in 2007 where he broke his neck and back. He endured constant pain and physical therapy for a year – and still has metal plates holding some body parts together. Still,  he put one foot in front of the other in an effort to, as Calello says, “keep that forward motion going.”

“I just don’t give up, because as soon as I do, I am sure I won’t be around anymore,” he says. “That kind of determination to fight through everything is why I think my songwriting has improved over the years. I’m in a daily fight for my sanity, which is my life. My aunt and uncle died a few years back and I’m working through those losses. Taking care of them really helped me focus on someone else besides myself, and that’s always good when your go to wake up call is depression. I am so grateful for all the love I received from my aunt and uncle and friends that cared and have listened to me when I needed them most. Most of all, I thank my wife Vicky, whose steadfast love and support – and refusal to give up on me – saved my life.”

Musically, Cole isn’t looking for fame and notoriety with “The Mean Season” and the other songs he is about to drop. He cares more about using his songs as a vehicle to help launch others like J-Buck to stardom and give them a fair shot to get on that road. “Songwriting is just something I do,” he says, “and I’m driven by something inside me to express the stories and emotions that are inside me Since I’ve been sober, I am committed to using my abilities to serve and help others, and I think that’s something we should all aspire to. I still don’t read music and don’t consider myself an accomplished musician by any means. I’m still open to learning.

“Charlie Calello gave me some great advice recently,” Cole adds “He said, ‘When you’re writing a song keep your eye on the donut, not the hole. The wrong focus can get you off the path you want to be on. You need to be open to all ideas that flow. But if it’s not meeting the three basic principles of songwriting – rhythm, melody and emotional content – it won’t work. The reason I believe people believe my songs when they hear them is because I lay everything bare and am as honest with myself as possible.”

Written by Jonathan Wildran

BARRY GROSS

Surrealist Painter
Creative Visionary

BARRY GROSS

SURREALIST PAINTER, CREATIVE VISIONARY WORLD-WISE SURVIVOR

After over four decades of creating thematically darkly subtle yet fiercely soul-provocative paintings that some call surrealist but ultimately transcend simple genre categorization, Barry Gross is used to the dichotomy of visceral responses he gets from first time viewers. It’s either “I get goosebumps” or “Your work is beautiful, but too confrontational and scary” – to which he often responds, “Well, if you don’t want to look at your life, then it is scary, because my work is all about life.”

Jeanne Frazier of American Art Collector Magazine may have said it best about the Ft. Lauderdale based painter when she wrote, “Barry is not afraid to get in your face with his art.. . .never losing his ability to talk to the viewer with beautifully strong images that put the viewer into whatever state of mind Barry wants them, peaceful, mystical, jovial, awestruck, and sometimes anger, showing an honest that is brutal but undeniable.”

Developing a thick, world weary skin that’s helped him ride out what he calls “a lot of waves, where sometimes you’re under the water, and then on top of a great tsunami, because that’s the life you’ve chosen,” Barry understands that these responses have nothing to do with him or his work, and everything to do with the life of the person immersed in the intricate details of his fascinating storytelling. And sometimes the initial reaction is not the final one. “It’s exciting for me because painting is a journey,” he says. “People look at a piece like my 7’x7’ ‘The Ascension’ and think it’s dark but then there’s that oh my god moment where they catch the twists and turns and realize I’m taking them on a road towards peace. It’s like seeing a movie that can affect you in different ways. Sometimes you want to walk out in the first ten minutes, other times it’s exactly what you need to see and hear.”

The old version of Barry’s Icon Editions website lists a wildly impressive resume of gallery exhibitions from the mid-80s through the early 2000s everywhere from Boca Raton, Naples, Sarasota and Chicago to his birthplace of Brooklyn and onetime adopted hometown of Atlanta. Through donations, he has supported the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, AIDS Atlanta, Center One, the Mario Leumieux Foundation (specializing in Hodgkin’s Disease and neo-natal cancer research and other organizations dedicated to breast cancer, childhood diabetes and sickle cell anemia.

On the glitz meter, his high-end collectors over the years have included Elton John, the late Burt Reynolds and bigwigs with Hard Rock Café, The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Airlines, Invesco and the Singer Sewing Machine company. Billionaire John Hardy once displayed 15 of Barry’s works in an exhibition at one of his golf resorts and bought several others. Financier Malcom Forbes once wrote a piece in Forbes Magazine on a painting he bought – and the last time Barry visited New York City, he saw it was still hanging on the second floor of the Forbes building.

In addition, Barry is currently launching a new business called Collidescope, where he will be marketing and selling posters, gi-clee prints (with the images composed of thousands of small dots) and T-shirts featuring his works. An investor in a recent gallery show he did in Tampa recently chose Barry’s enigmatic “Self-Portrait” for a label on a wine called American Artist 2017 bottled by Five Point Cellars in Napa, California.

For all those accolades and endeavors, Barry, engaging in the resignation aspect of the path he chose, has learned that just because something big is happening at any given time, you better appreciate the summits because they may not continue. Case in point: Eleven years ago, he found himself homeless at age 60, living in his vehicle in the parking lot of a Miami storage facility where he rented a large space to work in. He could have lived with friends or family, but his lifelong independent streak, his desire to sink or swim on his own terms, took precedence.

Barry can’t quite pinpoint just how he met retired financier and erstwhile musician Andrew Cole, but the two had many things in common. On the darker side, living in New York City, they both endured broken families (Barry’s from divorce, Andrew’s from a violent tragedy) and hardscrabble addiction-filled adolescences where they made poor decisions and ran with the wrong crowd. Both had the added responsibility of taking care of younger siblings at home while negotiating their loneliness and search for identity. Focusing on the positive, both were deeply talented artists whose freewheeling creativity helped them form a lasting bond. Andrew took a loving (deeper than liking) to Barry, his vast array of oil-based paintings and commitment to riding out setbacks, knowing future acceptance and successes could be just around the corner.

“At one point, Andrew said, ‘You just can’t be homeless. You can’t do what you do and not be taken care of,” Barry recalls. “He owned an office building and provided a unit and invited me to live there until I got on my feet. It was a space of three or four hundred square feet, with a knocked-out tile ceiling where I could set up shop – which was perfect because I do large works. I also slept there and had a little fridge. His recording studio was next door, and often he would come to do his own work. He would pop in and take me out for breakfast.

“We developed not only a strong friendship, but also a unique creative exchange,” he adds. “I would take a break and go to his space where he would play and sing the music he was writing, and he would stop by and watch me paint. There were some beautiful things going on. When you meet certain people, no matter what they stay in your life. You might not see them for a few years, but then they’re there again. I’m very grateful that Andrew and his wife Vicky were always supportive of me and my work.”

Cut to the Summer of 2020, with the world in full and anxious COVID-19 lockdown mode. Barry had indeed landed on his feet and was living in and working out of a large loft in a HUD-supported art community. His current space has a 14-foot ceiling and huge windows that allow a lot of light, plus an 11 square foot kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Whereas he used to have to go to a storage space to look at his many stunning but unsold paintings, the loft was fashioned as a gallery/workspace where many of his best paintings are on display. “It’s got great energy,” he says. “It’s one of those places that’s minimalist but where you just feel alive. There’s just enough space for people to come in and hang out. The community has 37 units and is full of actors, singers and musicians.”

Barry’s new digs were the perfect place to receive a cheerful call from Andrew, asking him if he could use from 10-13 paintings as cover artwork for an ongoing series of single track releases based on new productions of songs penned by Andrew and featuring an array of compelling up and coming singers. Andrew who is using the hipster moniker “King Cole” for the project, had recently re-teamed for the sessions with Emmy nominated hit songwriter/producer Barry Coffing – whom he first played with for years in the 80s in Los Angeles – and brought legendary string, horn and vocal arranger Charles Calello on board. On each track, Coffing will serve as producer of the rhythm section and vocals, while Callelo produces the horns and string arrangements.

Barry was immediately excited about repurposing and gaining further exposure for his paintings and, indicating his ongoing commitment, signed the contract Andrew had written up. He will be working throughout the process with Coffing’s wife Megan Coffing, a multiple award-winning graphic designer – and loved their idea of also creating holograms of these paintings for some of the covers. The first single, “The Mean Season” featuring Memphis soul singer J-Buck, will, in line with the edgy theme of the song, will feature Barry’s painting “The Screamer,” which shows the face outline of a person behind a thin stocking like material, literally screaming. You can almost hear the blistering echoes when you glance.

 

The announced subsequent song/painting pairings include “Your Story Is Mine,” paired with “Tale of Two Souls,” an intimate depiction of a man, woman, and horse in a small, partially lit pool, eyes closed and arms raised; and “Troll the Troll” (the eventual planned full length album title) with “Clowns,” a vibrant, photograph-like work of five colorfully dressed clowns wearing multi-colored suits and cone hats, with different smiles (with hints of wickedness) on their faces. To Barry’s knowledge, “Clowns” has sold a total of five times to different collectors over the years.

The painting Andrew plans to use for his music website is “The Ascension,” a sensual 7’x7’ work featuring peaceful, blindfolded people either wearing masks (sound familiar?) or with shut eyes, moving though the world via what looks like rope or an umbilical cord. At the top is a seer keeping a watchful eye as the people depicted adapt to their ever-shifting environment.

“This painting is a journey in itself,” Barry says. “At first, people think it’s dark, but they look more closely, uncover the twists and turns and see that it’s about people seeking a more peaceful way of life. There are mountains and crevices and a hole in the earth and a serene skyline where the angel/seer views what they’re going through.

“I know Andrew and Barry chose to work with me because of the diversity of my work,” he adds. “Andrew’s songwriting is very eclectic and it shouldn’t be too difficult to find 13 paintings of mine which are suitable representations of songs ranging from pop and R&B to rock, jazz and hip hop. Another thing I’m very excited about is Andrew’s desire to write original music inspired by some of my paintings, both instrumental pieces and songs with lyrics. The only time in pop music history I can recall someone doing something similar is when Don McLean wrote and sang ‘Vincent’ about Van Gogh.”

Though Barry, fresh out of a two-year stint in the Navy, attended the Pratt Institute for the Arts in his hometown of Brooklyn, his focus was on illustration and education courses – and he never took a painting class in his life. Since he began his career in the early 80s, he’s found that the most beautiful part of art and life itself is the fact that everything is always changing, and that opens the door to fresh inspiration every day. True to the mission statement on his website where he debates who is the Creator while also acknowledging the existence of a higher power at work, he says there is always the feeling that his mind and spirit are being guided to move in different directions. He notes that while some critics might complain about artists drawing inspiration from the work of other painters, he lets the process flow naturally once something external sparks his imagination. Besides paintings, he is often influenced by photography and architecture.

Once something clicks and he starts building on the concept, Barry is always open to changing course from the initial vision. He uses an initial drawing as reference material, giving himself a basic guideline, but when he’s using human subjects, sometimes the faces evolve and he ends up with a completely different result than he began with. Likewise, his technique over the years has grown and diversified with different marks and textures. While he does a lot of glazing, he doesn’t do it like the masters who put it over one or two layers of paint. “Sometimes,” Barry says, “I will do 10 to 15 layers in a whole piece or in certain areas. The dimensions change with the colors as certain hues come through others. For instance, I’ll use orange and it will flow through red which flows through blue, and usually the result is a magnificent color.”

Not surprisingly considering his partnership with Andrew aka “King Cole”), Barry always listens to music when he paints and usually, for consistency’s sake, listens to the same three or four CDs over and over throughout the several month period of creating the painting. For maximum energy flow, his usual go-to is instrumental music – classical, jazz or serene, ethereal new age – but on occasion, if the mood fits, he will fill the room with hip-hop beats and vocals.

Never wanting to be the stereotypical “starving artist,” Barry started his career with the “straight job” of being a book illustrator before finding it too artistically confining because he was catering to the needs of others. Once he committed to painting, he engaged in a whirlwind of day jobs, from his personally gratifying role as a special ed teacher to kids with Down Syndrome and autism to less worthy “survival jobs” like being a furrier (stretching furs until he realized how disgusting it was) and a salesman. He always felt that if he was capable and healthy, there was no reason he couldn’t work a job for money and still pursue what he loved to do.

Perhaps one of the reasons behind Barry’s ongoing ability to overcome the usual ups and downs is the fact that he could never take the health part of that equation for granted. In the years since he left the Navy, he had committed to working out a half hour a day, three days a week, building his body up. In the 80’s, however, he experienced the double whammy of testing positive for HIV (1986) and having his first heart attack the following year. He’s been on numerous meds for HIV over the years.

In the late 2010s, he experienced a massive heart attack, which led to the discovery of three clogged major arteries. Doctors put four stents into two of these in three days. Not long after, he developed a bad case of diverticulitus, an infection or inflammation of pouches that formed in his intestines. Some of his intestines were removed and a bag was placed inside him for a few months, until the infection was reversed. There were side effects from the surgeries, however and at one point he almost bled out and died. Five pints of blood were required to save his life.

“Even my sister is always asking, ‘How are you still f’ing alive and still creating?’” Barry says. “I think it’s an attitude. When you’re ready to die, you will, but until then, I’m gong to stay alive and live to the best of my ability. You get to the point when you go through these bizarre things in life and you develop the ability to just say, okay, whatever. As sick as I might ever get, I will never be one of those people who will just lay in bed. That’s not life to me. I don’t know if something I did that has helped me stay alive, or if it’s another force in the universe, but in my mind, I’m not afraid of death.

 

“I’m still here, painting, and with Andrew’s music and the new T-shirt and gi-clee and wine ventures, I have a lot of exciting things to stay alive for,” he adds. “Maybe the key is listening to my body more than the doctors. But for the past 15 years, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful M.D. that I trust with all my heart – literally! He came to one of my shows last year and loves art and the creative culture. Another factor possibly playing a role in this longevity is my sensitivity to the world and people around me. If you look at my artwork closely, it’s very sensual and intimate, and the storytelling is all based on not only my life but everyone’s lives – because we all go through difficult challenges that shape us into who we are. As I remark in my mission statement, ‘In the quest for who we are and why we’re here, I have confronted myself and consequently retrained myself to be more positive, while experiencing the outer world of mankind, the self and moving inward towards the spirit.’”

Written by Jonathan Wildran