I “met” Michael Hallberg when he joined Russian Iron MC a few years ago, and I’ve been wanting to showcase his craziness for some time. I expected a challenge.
First off, I wasn’t sure where the hell to fit him in… should I focus on the bike photography and give him a post in FleshandRelics, or do the art thing and run the article here? You can’t fit the guy neatly into a category. And once I sent him a list of questions for an interview I realized that bullshit wasn’t going to work either. The email response I got back from him was so perfectly surreal that my puny Q&A interview format went straight out the fuckin’ window.
So, honestly, I’m just not gonna mess with it much. I’m going to spark a bowl, pour a cocktail and basically just let him tell it…
Mike Hallberg was born on an Army base in Atlanta, (Fort McPhearson, the same one Leonard Nimoy was stationed at), raised by hippies, a rocket scientist & tent revivalists. He grew up playing in tanks at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, saw P-Funk in 76′ at the USA’s 200th birthday blowout in DC, got chased by gaters’ in Florida swamps. He worked for NASA, a really horrible head shop in Tampa, the Cuban Mafia and 2 different t-shirt shop owners that were in Christian metal bands 20 years apart. He met Anton LaVey and talked about androids & space. He was briefly a park ranger in Colorado, he’s traipsed the country in a 65′ VW, and he’s fairly decent harmonica/theremin player.
Yeah, a theremin. I didn’t even know those things still existed.
“The theremin (// THERR-ə-min; originally known as the ætherphone/etherphone, thereminophone or termenvox/thereminvox), is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the thereminist (performer). It is named after the Westernized name of its Russian inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The instrument’s controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.”
“I’m 3rd generation Space, both of my grand parents- grandfather was an engineer and had an Indian with a sidecar he tooled around in and got in trouble in Panama a lot with, my grandmother was a photographer and ended up as the head cocktail waitress at the Holiday Inn at Cocoa Beach, meeting many of the Original 7 astronauts.
My father was an engineer on Gemini before he got drafted to work on ordnance ballistics and electronic control systems at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, then likely, the last engineer at any NASA facility to get a computer (he had one, it just seemed cheating to use it). He was a pencil/paper/hand drawn schematics engineer, still mostly is though he’s plenty savvy on a computer. He thinks they’re neat to build, horrible to use.”
“I did shit for Seaquest … had a hilarious, drunken bathroom moment in the stalls between Roy Scheider and his manager at a Sea World after hours Seaquest party, with him (Schneider) explaining that he had to get out of that fucking show since it was killing his career. Got to work with Michael Dorn as a narrator on an animation I was directing on the Shuttle, that was complete hilarity.”
“Coolest moment though was being in line in the HQ cafeteria and I turn around and Neil Armstrong’s in front of me, it totally hit me, ‘Dude, this guy is the first human to set foot on another celestial body, period, forever, for all of human recorded history, this guy…’ there’s rock star/president big then there’s THAT, all I could muster was talking about the KSC cafeteria’s weird menu and the best blueberry cobbler ever then him explaining the history of the menu there and him bringing out this ancient woman who was a cook there that had been since 1963 and introduced her to me as the ‘Cobbler Genius’. Then I went out to the back parking lot where the original Apollo White Room had been silently rotting away and ate my cobbler in it.”
Mike was a music critic for 2 “zines” in the 90’s and pretty much got tickets to everything for about a decade;
“…no matter how awesome or shitty, pick a band between 91 & 2001 I likely saw, met and had some interview with them. Mostly Industrial and mostly the shitty ones.
” He got a rep as being a fair “if not brutal” critic.
“…I took the stance of, ‘I’m not a musician, I’m into music and I buy shit, it’s about the vibe and if you suck, I’m going to honestly tell you why…’ that went over good/bad, I had a fucking great time with Gibby Haines about it, not so much Eddie Money.
We had a public access tv show called, ‘The Bud Yahuda Show’, about a Hasidic Heavy Metal vampire hunter and mystic (mostly an excuse for us to wander Tampa on drugs with camera gear.)”
It’s not all weirdness (perhaps). Michael has over 27 years professional experience in illustration, screen printing, photography, motion picture, print and design. His list of clients include NASA, Disney, NASCAR, NHRA, Budweiser, The US Government & Military, as well as “a billion shirts” for Ron Jons Surf Shop, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, House of Blues, and designs for Grave Digger (because monster trucks RULE!) Aerosmith, Graceland, Prince and a slew of other bands across America.
“I’m a Mac guy because I’m unaware of any other alternatives. I’m strangely legit, Adobe Creative Cloud, before that, mostly pirate but I got sick of fighting it on plugins and other bullshit. I can’t think of any Adobe software I don’t use save Dreamweaver/Flash/Fireworks, not being a web guy, makes sense, was an Adobe Certified instructor and Alpha/Beta tester for about a decade, have been using After Effects since it was COSA AfterEffects. Old skool Amiga/Video Toaster user/Alpha/Beta tester, article writer for Amiga World magazine and equipment tester at KSC, one of the NASA advantages.”
“I got into art sideways, no schooling, an aunt I thought was cool who drew horses & liked The Rolling Stones & Johnny Cash, that was enough, then I got good enough that chicks dug it & people handed over cash, done, career path established. From there on out, Robert Williams kind of was my guiding light philosophically, ‘Take Mescaline and learn to draw eyeballs & skulls…’. Pepper that with being a 3rd generation worker at Kennedy Space Center I got the technical side in photography and visualization down and a want to communicate (with mostly eyeballs, spaceships & skulls…) but turn the creative eye loose on highly, engineering oriented stuff, best of both worlds, rat rod rocket artist.”
“I got into cars and air-cooled engines the same way, sideways. My dad built high performance Corvairs while working for NASA on spaceships. I was hooked; engines shouldn’t have water in them unless it’s a fucking train in the desert southwest. I’ve done the full circle, 60’s VW’s, hot rod VW’s, Porsches, Urals and now back to the Corvair. There’s something oddball about air-cooled engines, they operate best the faster you go so the point of them is always go fast.”
“The specifics on the Ural are pretty funny. A friend of mine, Sergei Kossenko; graduate of the Moscow Music Conservatory, brilliant composer/pianist/instrumentalist/Theremin player who’s written several symphonies and conducted them with the Moscow Symphony at the Bolshoi. Our media lab “Sound Guy” at Kennedy Space Center turned me on to them.
We needed to hire a Russian and we needed a sound guy, seemed like he had cred. He told me about these cool motorcycles with sidecars that had hooks you could pop an AK onto, a motorcycle as an AK accessory. I had to have one.
It took me about a decade to get it but obviously, I made up for lost time. Sergei almost got me fed to the pigs by the Russian mafia after we both left NASA, but that’s another amusing drunken misadventure.”
“I’m an Eagle Scout, that what got me interested in the Southwest, that and lots of westerns/road films. Between Leone, Ford, Peckinpah and Morriconne soundtracks, atom bomb tests and coyote/road runner cartoons the west was the best; chasing mescaline dreams of too many Doors songs tripping balls in the desert, petroglyphs, dinosaur bones and ghost towns, an American living in Maryland then Florida’s going to throw into the biggest myth we have. The West, ultimate freedom and endless frontier.
Burning Man seemed the logical step and on the way back from BM in a VW bus in 2001, I found Moab (and a desert girl of course) who cinched the deal.”
One current project, and one I’m particularly interested in, is Michael’s illustrations for W. Kurt Wenz’s Psychobilly Tarot: a Major Arcana tarot deck of 22 trump cards and 4 aces with original illustrations featuring psychobilly themes.
Psychobilly “takes the traditional countrified rock style known as rockabilly, ramps up its speed to a sweaty pace, and combines it with punk rock and imagery lifted from horror films and late-night sci-fi schlock,…[creating a] gritty honky tonk punk rock.”
A line of T-shirts featuring various designs from the deck are planned to be released alongside the cards.
Oh yeah, about that “interview format”….
“A good friend of mine is the producer of “The Hukilau” (Tiki Kiliki), one of the biggest tiki convention things thrown at the Mai Kai in Lauderdale, and had to play man servant to Bunny Yeager (who was fairly cantankerous sort and had great stories.) for the 2005 event. I was a solid tiki drunk before then, Zombie’s the top drink second by the Fogcutter.”