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Pablo Conejero López Is The Spanish Poet Haunting the Lower East Side

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

A slender man draped in a long coat and sporting coiffed dark hair descends a set of stairs, strolling along the South Street Seaport in a faded video sequence that seemed straight out of a dream. The man narrates in Spanish while English subtitles roll underneath: “There are things and dreams that disappear by not thinking them/And lovers whose pain is forgotten during each successive sleep.” The man is Pablo Conejero López, a Spanish artist that has haunted the Lower East Side with his introspective poetry and eclectic multimedia music collaborations.

The poem in the video is an excerpt from Lopez’s third book, Cuerpos (“bodies” in Spanish), which will be released in December with Paradigm Publishing. But although López has been prolific on social media—his Instagram boasts 12,300 followers and growing—that’s not how I was introduced to the curious artist. In a way, I first encountered López while I was walking around Great Jones Street and a ragged piece of paper stuck atop a Minnie Mouse sticker caught my eye. The haunting opening lines resonated with me: “Come/take me with you/by the hand down melting pathways/and store windows/so we can see our reflection.” So I looked up hashtag #PabloCL to learn more about my mysterious street poet.

When I met up with López in person a few weeks later on a bench on the outskirts of Seward Park, he recounted the story of how his “sticky paper” poem adventures began. “It was sort of an accident that happened. One day I was printing stuff up, and I used sticky paper instead…so I realized it could be a sticker…Like, why didn’t I do this before? Because if you’re an artist or poet, it’s the fastest way to get your words out there.” He used the hashtag #PabloCL to connect with passerby. Some liked his art and some did not, but the most important thing was that people took the time to notice his art, which could feel like a rarity in a world where writers often faced a steady stream of rejections from literary magazines. “When you’re doing this, you don’t need anyone’s approval. You just post it. And it’s free. It’s more direct. Maybe somebody would never find out or you would have never found out if I was published [in] the Paris Review.”

Upon our first encounter, I immediately noticed two things about the soft-spoken artist, who seemed out of place in this bustling corner of the Lower East Side where the sirens of ambulances mingled with the loud conversations of park goers. First: the intensity of his gaze and keen self-awareness (during a lull in conversation, he sighed and asked, “Am I boring you?”), which I attributed to his background as an actor. Second: his sharp attire (a crisp blue striped shirt, sheer black dress pants and shiny leather shoes), which spoke to his day job (he works in a shoe store now and before that in a tailor’s shop).

The 38-year-old poet-musician was raised as the youngest of four children in the coastal Spanish city of Valencia, where he was raised “in a very conventional and traditional atmosphere because of the area of Spain I grew up in, but also a very unconventional family.”

Although both of his parents were educators before retiring, López spurned the academic life, opting not to go to college after high school. “I didn’t want to be a part of a system in any way. Because I grew up, you know, like many kids that are a bit artistic or the classic effeminate kid, I was always feeling inadequate in a kind of way. That sort of pushed me away from any kind of system.”

Instead, while he was developing his own writing, he set off for London, where he studied drama at the National Youth Theatre. He auditioned for and subsequently starred as Mercutio in a play his father wrote, an adaption of Romeo and Juliet and Two Noble Kinsmen in which Mercutio falls in love with Romeo and Juliet. He split his time between London and Madrid, bartending to earn his keep and also taking voice lessons.

Although he was an actor by training, López felt his true calling lay elsewhere, and he started shifting more formally towards music and poetry in the late 1990s. Of music, he says it “helped me develop an identity as a teenager when you feel misplaced and [have] classic adolescent feelings.” While writing the poems that would comprise his first book, Rock and Roll Jolie, López wound up joining a group of hard-nosed kids from the outskirts of Madrid, among whom the reclusive López found a home for five years when they formed a band called Vice and Vanity, featuring López as their vocalist. Even though their music hewed more to rock and roll, they had a sort of “punk rock aesthetic” that was inspired in part by the music scene unfolding in New York at the time. “It’s more of an attitude or a way of looking at life than a style of rock and roll,” said López.

Inevitably, he made his way to New York in his early twenties. López was visiting a friend at Stony Brook in Long Island, and he would take the train into the city and just roam the streets. But New York cast a spell on López, and he returned every year until 2005, when he met his now-husband, Vincent Michaud. Michaud would soon become a creative partner with López, as he illustrated the poet’s second book, New Reality, and also developed the visuals for many of his multimedia works, including Park Poem, a collaboration with Laloved Magazine that also featured spoken word poetry from López alongside out-of-this world music from López’s current band, Ensalmo (roughly meaning “incantation” in Spanish).

Newly in love and wanting to pursue other creative endeavors, López moved to the city for real in 2006 and split up the band, though in his first year in New York they did play a few gigs at spots like Continental (back when it was still doing live shows) and the Trash Bar in Williamsburg (now the Brooklyn location of the popular Overthrow boxing gym). But eventually, he and the band went their separate ways, separated by more than just an ocean. “They were demanding a presence from me, and I was also withdrawing and wanting to start a life here. I wanted to stay with them, but I also wanted to explore, not only personally but also artistically.”

López’s present-day band, Ensalmo, was eventually born with the addition of bandmates Florencia Zaballa Moon and Jamie Del Moon. All the while, López’s love of poetry grew stronger, inspired as he was by poets like Manhattan native and musician Jim Carroll, who also lived on the Lower East Side for a time. López released his second book of poetry in 2011, and then more recently began to plaster his writings around the city in places like Washington Square Park and the East Broadway subway station. So many of his poems centered on the experience of dwelling in this ever-changing place–whether it was being a romantic in the city or observing a flock of birds and meditating on their significance in one’s own life.

Image posted on Instagram by Pablo Conejero López

He was particularly inspired by the Lower East Side, where he’s lived for the past 10 years. In fact, it was in part due to the diversity of his surroundings that he decided to write his next book of poetry in both English and Spanish as a way to fully embrace his native tongue. “For this book, I really want to develop my love for my mother language. It’s the first bilingual book [of mine]. I wrote it, I translated it,” said López. “That’s what I like about New York—the diversity and the language diversity. The cultural diversity is something I identify with. Especially in this neighborhood,” he said, gesturing to the small storefronts and residential walk-ups on Essex Street.

We chatted for a little bit about the shops of nearby Orchard Street and the gentrification of Chinatown. In the process, I discovered that López had more than just a personal connection to the Lower East Side—it was a historical one that spanned generations. His grandfather and great-grandfather moved to New York, and it’s possible they may have at one point lived on Cherry Street, settling in among the influx of Spaniards that flocked to Lower Manhattan in the early twentieth century. “It makes me feel subconsciously that I ended up here.”

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Punk Magazine 40th-Anniversary Exhibition

Issue #2 featuring Patti Smith (Image courtesy of Howl! Arts)

Issue #2 featuring Patti Smith (Image courtesy of Howl! Arts)

In 1976, a comic artist named John Holmstrom begot Punk magazine as an excuse to stalk his favorite bands from the downtown scene, and look cool in the process. Needless to say, Holmstrom succeeded (beyond what he ever imagined) in permanently etching the East Village into the throbbing heart of the punk movement, and visualizing an R. Crumb-like vision of the scenes running through Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. Soak up the 40th-anniversary exhibition that opened last week at Howl! Happening and Punk’s lasting influence becomes sharply real.

Read more here.

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Queer and Trans Punk Fest Aims to ‘Break Down All Those Boxes’

Adult Mom (Photo: Richard Gin)

Adult Mom (Photo: Richard Gin)

Freak Out! Fest, a queer and trans punk music festival, is making its debut in Bushwick and the Lower East Side this weekend with over 20 bands playing shows at Silent Barn, ABC No Rio, and Cake Shop. The fest starts tonight at Silent Barn and continues with afternoon and nighttime shows on Saturday and Sunday.

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ABC No Rio Co-Founder Recalls a New Era of Hardcore in Exhibit and Screening

Freddy (Photo: Loizos Gatzaris‎)

Freddy Alva (Photo: Loizos Gatzaris‎)

Once upon a time there were things called subcultures, that managed to thrive despite promotion through “social channels” or sponsorships from energy drinks. Since 1980, 156 Rivington Street has been a subculture enclave for activists, artists, counter culturists, and assorted noisemakers, providing a non-profit space to exchange ideas and physically interact. It’s not secret that the hardcore punk scene was once a magnet for such individuals, so when the storied matinee shows at CBGB became too violent in the late-’80s, punk turned off the Bowery to Rivington Street to ABC No Rio.

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Marky Ramone On Life as a Ramone in the E. Village: ‘Everybody Was Psychedelized’

(Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

(Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

No band is more identified with the East Village than the Ramones. The band’s performances at Hilly Kristal’s CBGB and other neighborhood venues defined punk rock forever. In 2003, the corner of the Bowery and Second Street near CBGB was officially named Joey Ramone Place. Over time, members of the group lived, drank and hung out in the East Village.
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Punks, Dunks and Free Beer at the Opening of This Photo Show

Henry Rollins from Black Flag.

Henry Rollins from Black Flag.

Before Pete Kuhns became the Village Voice’s sports photographer, he covered Seattle’s punk scene during the ’80s for the biweekly Seattle music newspaper The Rocket. The difference between documenting Black Flag and yellow flags isn’t as big as you’d think: Kuhns’s high-endorphin action shots of The Clash, X, Dead Kennedys, and Public Image Ltd are all printed in black-and-white for maximum drama, and there are plenty of fit, bare-chested men, if you’re into that.
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Taylor Gets a Swift Kick in the Ass From La Petite Mort

(Photo: La Petite Mort's Facebook)

(Photo: La Petite Mort’s Facebook)

Taylor Swift’s new role as the Big Cupcake’s “Global Welcome Ambassador” made every New Yorker want to step in and say “Imma let you finish…” But rather than merely festering in outrage, Lower East Side boutique La Petite Mort went ahead and conscripted the legendary Chico to do a memorial mural for the bubbly bopper.
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White Lung at Saint Vitus

Feminist punk is having a moment, and White Lung is right in the mix. With this show, the Canadian band releases its third album, Deep Fantasy, which has been getting lots of positive press. Lead singer Mish Way has a thing for Courtney Love, and it’s obvious that Hole is a big influence on this latest release.

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Good Shows: Feminist Punk, Norwegian Soul and, Um, 'Intensindie'

Here’s what’s good in live music this week.

Leeds-based indie rock outfit Kaiser Chiefs have hopped the pond to promote their new album, Education, Education, Education & War. The band is famous for rocking festivals with big stage sets and light shows, pulling every stunt short of a miniature Stonehenge. Their most recognizable single is probably “Ruby,” released back in ’07. Bottom line, you will not be bored at this show.
Webster Hall, East Village, Friday, June 20 @ 8 p.m., tickets $30.
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Can You Find the Velvet Underground Banana at The Randolph’s New Place?

(Photo courtesy Randolph Brooklyn)

(Photo courtesy Randolph Brooklyn)

Oh hey, the folks behind Nolita spot The Randolph at Broome opened their new Williamsburg outpost earlier this week. Randolph Brooklyn’s design was “loosely inspired by ’70s punk,” according to the release, and indeed there’s a wall of televisions that reminds us of the Video Lounge that Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong installed at Danceteria. Scour the collage-style wallpaper that recalls a Sex Pistols or Clash album cover and you’ll even find the banana from the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico. And (fun fact) the mural in the front of the place quotes Adam and the Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni talking about punk rock (“it was anti-drug pro-amphetemine anti-sex shag-fest”).
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Drug Smuggling, Brain Eating and Hasidic Punk Rockers

Take From Dusk Till Dawn and National Lampoon’s Vacation; subtract Chevy Chase, John Candy, Quentin Tarantino and bloodthirsty vampires; add Jennifer Aniston as a stripper and Dodgeball director Marshall Rawson Thurber, and you’ve got We’re The Millers.

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Black Flag Annihilated Last Week With a Super Secret Show

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Black Flag at Warsaw (Photos: Joshua Kristal)

Depending on whose tweets you prefer, Black Flag spent Friday and Saturday either “destroying” or “kicking the crap out of” Warsaw, only to go on to do a Sunday show at a venue so secret that if anyone gave up the name (Grand Victory) they probably would’ve had to disappear to Hong Kong. (Seriously, the email confirmation was all: “Any social media or other discovered leaks of location may result in denied entry.”)
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