I spent an afternoon with Robert Stark in the podcaster’s hometown of Santa Barbara, California.
I arrive at his place around 1:00 PM: a magnificent vaporwave mansion in the Santa Barbara Hills, overlooking the city below. It is amazing to think that it is from here that Robert has recorded hundreds of interviews with fringe celebrities ranging from deplorables like Richard Spencer and Greg Johnson to oddballs like Xiu Xiu lead singer Jamie Stewart, and Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe…
As soon as I pull into the driveway, Robert steps outside: a tall, lanky man dressed from shoes to baseball-cap in black, flanked on either side by gorgeous, fawning, (((blondes))). He carries with him a painting I preselected from his Facebook Page as one I wanted to purchase:
A vista of Broadway in San Francisco: a city I will be making my first visit to in the coming days, much to Robert’s excitement, Robert being an Urbanism enthusiast if there ever was one.
For this I exchange with him several hundred dollar bills. Robert’s anxiety about having these bills slip out of his wallet will prove to be a recurring theme throughout the day; “I have OCD,” he explains.
Robert pitches to me two different hiking trails we could check out, but then says why not just do both? I go with that option. “I’ve got all day, ” I say.
After we’re done hiking, we head over to Mission Santa Barbara: one of the must-see’s of any visit to the city.
On our way there, navigating our way through SB’s windy and confusing back-roads, we find ourselves deep in conversation on Robert’s history as a podcaster, his recently solidified political identity as a Starkian, and the allure of (((blonde))) women, so much so that Robert keeps forgetting to tell me where to turn and we get lost. Like the fear of losing hundred dollar bills, this too becomes one of the day’s recurring themes.
Robert speaks in the same way, and largely on the same topics, in real life as he does on his podcast. I have spent hundreds of hours listening to The Stark Truth, and it’s surreal for me to hear Robert’s voice coming from my passenger seat rather than electronically reproduced by my car’s speakers.
We eventually make it to the mission:
And then continue downtown:
Here, Robert shows me a number of locations he has painted:
His favorite building in the city, a multi-use facility on Anacapa St.:
And Santa Barbara’s beautiful courthouse:
As we walk the streets, Robert says he sometimes thinks about what he would do if he had complete aesthetic control over the cityscape: what he would build, what he would raze, what he would apply special effort to preserving. He recalls the interview he conducted last summer with Santa Barbara Mayoral candidate Hal Conkin, and points out some of the areas he asked the candidate questions about. Robert has an obvious deep investment in his hometown, with special regard to architecture and infrastructure.
For my part, I like Santa Barbara a lot. Similar to LA in terms of culture and climate, but much more walkable and cohesive, having a real small-town quality. It reminds me of the small, liberal towns of Upstate New York where I grew up and went college.
We have some time before dinner, so we hit Butterfly Beach:
Robert asks jokingly if it would be appropriate for me to photograph any of the tanning beauties lining the shore, and I say, probably not. He recalls how he used to walk here for inspiration and then utilize the pent up lust to go write his novel Journey To Vapor Island.
The sky turns a pinkish color, and we drive back toward downtown for dinner. As I pull onto the 101 Freeway Robert asks if we can play the song “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle:
My auxiliary cord seems to have short-circuited but it’s ok: the reduction in sound quality makes the track sound almost like a vaporwave remix.
I remark that “Heaven Is a Place On Earth” could be a Blackstonian anthem, referring to Roger Blackstone : The Neon-Nationalist Presidential candidate in Robert’s novel Journey to Vapor Island, and his Utopian vision of indeed making Heaven a place on Earth. Robert agrees, but points out the fact that the lyrics are less about Utopia, and more about finding Heaven on Earth through a relationship: a theme perhaps equally relevant to Vapor Island, and the kissless virgin at its center: Noam Metzenbaum. Robert recalls hearing the song frequently on Santa Barbara’s now defunct 80’s radio station when he first moved to the city, and how it provided a soundtrack to his loneliness.
When we arrive back downtown, we head a to a Thai restaurant for dinner. Robert orders Sake and feels like Roger Blackstone from his novel, who is known to spend his evenings clad in a kimono and sipping the Japanese Rice Wine.
I order Yellow Curry and a Sake of my own, and once we are properly fed and buzzed, we head into the Santa Barbara night. Like so many other places in California–and to might great joy–the city glows Neon after sunset:
We end the evening in what feels like the most appropriate way possible: driving out to Isla Vista, the locus of Elliot Rodger’s infamous 2014 spree-killing. The tragedy has had a huge effect on Robert and I both, providing key inspiration for each of our respective novels (Robert’s already released and mine forthcoming).We park on Del Playa Drive and walk to the edge of the beach. It’s a beautiful scene with the waves crashing, and the light of oil rigs in the distance. The stars are far more visible here than they are in LA, and for the first time in a long time, I feel called to say a quick prayer for all those men and boys who feel unwanted by society, and suffer in isolated misery. And yes: also for the victims of the violence inflicted by such men and boys when certain of them inevitably break.
Before heading back to the car, we walk Del Playa Drive. It’s a Sunday night in July, and UCSB has been on recess for over a month, but that doesn’t prevent a few scattered Chads from playing beer-pong in their backyards, or smoking cigarettes on their balconies, and a few strident Stacys from orbiting around them on this one of America’s most infamous party streets. Robert and I walk along the gutter, two men terminally not invited to the fun, and with one-too-few X chromosomes to show up anyway.
Robert recalls, with amusement, how our friend, novelist and blogger Pilleater, has been described as what Elliot Rodger could have been if he’d stuck to Asian chicks and channeled his emotions more constructively. Exactly, I say: the channeling of emotions is what makes all the difference. Going on a killing spree and writing a novel are like night and day–the former being an ultimately creative act and the latter being ultimately destructive act– even if the impetus for both is the same, tortured, emotional state. Random violence of the sort perpetrated by Rodger never makes anything better, but I still truly believe writing novels and creating art can be a force for positive change.
We talk also of Youtuber Luke Ford, and the careful consideration of his own narcissism that has accompanied his alt-right blogging every step of the way. Robert recalls one particular anecdote about Luke walking the streets of Beverly Hills after becoming a blogger thinking pompously to himself “there’s a new Sheriff in town!”. Robert says this is something he can relate to; that when he walks around after recording a particularly good podcast, he feels as if he is more worthy of respect. I say that I too can relate to this mindset, and that it reminds me of the basic ambivalence I have about all of this blogging, political edge-o-sphere stuff.
Are we highly intelligent critics of society whose ideas can ultimately ameliorate it, and promote civilizational flourishing? Or are we just a bunch of men and boy’s who cannot find the status we crave in real life and so take to the internet to seek it out? addicts going again and again to a well of insubstantial narcissistic supply, entering virtual spaces in which we, and our ideas, are afforded more power, and dreaming up real worlds in which we could be afforded same. The conclusion I have reached, I say to Robert, is that we are not intrinsically one thing or the other– that for now we could be described in either way, and that what we ultimately will be has not yet been revealed.
History is written by the victors, I continue. If we win, we will have always been intrepid ideological and cultural travelers to a new promised land. If we lose, then its all just been a maladaptive daydream–a power fantasy– and we really were just sad boys jerking off to hentai in our basements the whole time. It’s a harsh uncertainty that I bet even Richard Spencer grapples with from time to time.
Robert see’s where I’m coming from, and adds that his own maladaptive daydreaming, while not always exactly healthy, is linked integrally to his process as a painter, novelist, and thinker. Perhaps it goes without saying that those who feel compelled to dream up alternative futures are by default not the most “well-adjusted” members of society, but is this in any way a negation of the value of their thought? I think not. Because after all we have to consider: what is it that is prevents certain people from adjusting to the status quo in the first place? And when these people form a mass, are they not the very motor of history?
The artists cathects his frustrated desires into his work and create sa beauty which rides the back of destruction, and transcends the pain and muck of his battered ego, becoming like the most beautiful products of nature itself: concretely existing entities, flowers of the tumultuous process of evolution, aesthetic guide-stones in this chaotic reality. I started this blog as an exploration of how politics, sex, and art all connected, and I can now say I have never spent an afternoon with someone who understands this better than Robert Stark.
We get back into my car, and pull onto the 101 Freeway, Xurious’s “Growning Stronger” taking us into the night.