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PULP Originals

Out Of Here: Four Teenagers, Two Dropouts



For four teenagers on Pueblo’s Eastside, the fight isn’t in the street, it’s in school. Two dropouts, 18 and 17 years old, a 17 year old on the verge and a 15 year old doing everything he can to avoid what so many around him have done, all have one thing in common, a disdain for the education system that they all feel has let them down.

In Pueblo, District 60 has a dropout rate slightly higher than the state average of 2.4 percent and for the 2013-2014 school year, D60 was at 2.9 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The district decreased from 3.7 percent the previous year, making Pueblo D60 one of the few districts in the state to see a decline.

Benny Guerra, recently turned 17 years old, has a typical dropout story. He has a history of low grades and bad behavior at school. But not a lack of willingness to learn; even though he lacks the motivation to return to school. No one is telling him to go back and when he was in school, nothing made him excited about being there.

Benny has had some issues with controlling his anger, and he says that didn’t affect him in school. Even though he was excited for school, Benny’s eight-year stay was a rough one. Elementary school wasn’t where the problem was obvious, but it might have started there.

He talked about his years of being frustrated with standardized testing and being a bad tester. He says that the schools never did anything to correct the problem. For him things just gradually got worse.

“I never really felt confident moving on to the next grade, but they would still send you on, regardless if you’re struggling,” Benny said. “But definitely in middle school. They didn’t prepare me for high school.”

While there was a pattern back to their middle school years where most talked about having a bad experience, which foreshadowed their troubles in high school, 18-year-old Thomas Lopez is different.

He was far more confident about the next step and he expected to do great as he transitioned to high school.

Thomas Lopez, who likes to go by Lopez, undoubtedly has a passion for learning, but that didn’t matter much when he switched from homeschooling to Central High School. He felt overwhelmed and underprepared.

Coming from homeschooling, where he could wake up later and start his classes when he wanted, made for a difficult and an abrupt change. At Central High School, it was back to the set schedule that he had never really liked and the teachers around him quickly lost his attention.

At 16, Lopez says he was eager to learn and show excitement to be in high school. He hustled for that year at Central. But then that came to a startling end. After about a year, school officials pulled Lopez in to talk to a counselor and explained to him that he hadn’t progressed like they wanted him to throughout the year.

“They told me that I hadn’t progressed to their expectations, so they didn’t give me all of the credits that I should have gotten,” Lopez said. “I really felt like I did great, but in the end, I had nothing to show for it.”

His situation was complicated because they didn’t explain to him why he didn’t receive the credits, he tells me.

Today, Lopez still doesn’t know what happened that year, why he didn’t progress to the school’s expectations and what he could have done better. Whether or not I’m getting the entire story on this, could be questioned but today he’s on a different path. He is self-teaching himself everyday by reading anything he can get his hands on and is in the process of getting his GED.

Lopez and Benny are both on a hard road to prove themselves without help and without structure but are determined. Months from now, they both plan to have a GED. From there, both say they will try to accomplish dreams beyond a GED. Benny wants to go to barber school and Lopez hopes to attend college as soon as he’s able.

“Sometimes I feel like an outcast,” Lopez said. “They look at dropouts differently and that’s why I don’t really like that term.”

Since neither are enrolled in school right now, their days look a lot different than the average teenager. Without seven class periods and the structure of school their only structure is that which they set themselves.

Lopez schedule is loss and fluid. He wakes up, gets ready for the day and then breaks out a book for some quick reading.

“I’m a nerd,” Lopez said. “I love to learn and it’s always exciting when I get the chance to learn something new.”

He exercises his brain and then he exercises physically. Just down the street from the apartment complex where he lives, there’s a basketball court where he shoots around. Sometimes he will walk across the east side to El Centro Del Quinto Sol Recreation Center to play against others.

With smooth skills on the court and a well put together basketball IQ, he plays his heart out on the hardwood for the couple of hours that he’s there. Then, he heads back home until he can do it again the next day.

In the same apartment complex, Benny is waking up around the same time and starting his day off a little differently. He might get his creative juices flowing with a little free-hand sketching. He explained that he can get lost in drawing for hours at a time, before he realizes he should probably get out of the apartment for a bit. That’s when he starts his walk to El Centro to play basketball just like Lopez.

“I would love to play in the NBA one day, but I know that I won’t get there without hard work,” Benny said. “I just get on the court and play until I can’t play anymore.”

Once the sky starts to get a dark blue tint and the sun starts to lower out of the sky, they know they better head out, so they don’t have to walk home in the dark.

Benny’s little brother, Derrick Guerra, a 15-year-old from Risley Middle School, has fought hard to stay on track in school. He’s about to make the transition to high school, and while he hasn’t dropped out he has a story very similar to his brother’s. He also has prevalent anger issues like his brother, but he has shown more self-control and has been able to keep it in check. He says it hasn’t interfered with school.

Similar to his brother, he shows a slight lack of focus and some issues with keeping his grades up.

From time to time, like many other kids growing up on the east side of Pueblo the pressures of being with the wrong crowd is a big threat to staying in school and moving forward.

“I’m not too worried about getting caught up in the wrong crowd, because I did that and I have moved on; I’m more worried about school,” Derrick explained. “I’m just gonna stick to going to school and hope that I don’t have to drop out, too.”

Derrick is a kid who has options. One of those options is to drop out, but he has seen how hard the path could be after making that decision. He also knows what keeps him moving forward. He still worries though, knowing what it’s like to get bored in school and to not have much faith in classes keeping his attention. That’s why he’s more optimistic about going to high school, because he has made the decision to go to a different school than his brother.

The path for dropping out and returning to the system isn’t unknown to these men. Eastsider, Marc Butts, is returning after being dropped his last semester because of truancy. Butts’ grades were low, but he managed to get most of the credits he needed to move on to his senior year, if he decided to return.

After some struggling and repetitive bad grades, the school dropped Butts for the remainder of the 2014-2015 school year. From time to time, he skipped classes, rebelled against his homework workloads and didn’t take some of the testing seriously, but he never really gave up on the idea of school.

Confused and frustrated, Butts contemplated what it would be like if he didn’t return to school. He considered just getting his GED, he thought about working and then he was able to come to a conclusion that he had to change things around and finish high school with a diploma.

Butts now has a job lined up once school starts and he has set some goals. Good grades and hard work are in his near future.

“I really didn’t want to go back, at first,” Butts said. “But, I’m this close and I know I can do it. In the end it’s worth it.”

All four young men have plans to defy the odds and the stereotypes that surround the term “dropout.” They each have an idea in mind about what success means and how to eventually get there. For the kids who will continue on with a GED, they know they will have to work harder than their counterparts. They’ll need more discipline to finish high school on their own terms, their own way. But the kids who want to fight it out until graduation day are still battling a system that seems to beat them down. What the four boys have in common isn’t just a struggle to finish high school, it’s a desire to keep going and move on to college, a profession and a life that is not synonymous with “dropout.”


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Arts & Culture

Art is Hard with Pueblo illustrator Riki Takaoka



Takoka, Riki (web)

“I’ve almost quit doing art so many times.”

I’m at a coffee place downtown talking shop with Pueblo artist and illustrator Riki Takaoka. With works currently on display at the Q Pop gallery in Los Angeles, and a recent addition for possible contribution to nationally syndicated contemporary arts magazine Hi-Fructose, (not to mention freelance nominations from Paramount Animation Studios), I figured he and I were in for a quick convo about brushes or pen techniques. I wasn’t expecting that one of the quickest and most accurate caricature artists I’ve ever seen in my life would say he is quitting something he’s clearly great at.

But I was shocked to hear that come from his lips.

Shocked, but sadly not at all surprised. Talk to almost anyone in the so-called creative class, and they’ll tell you a similarly dismal story that usually goes as such;

1) Find something creative you love to do.

2) Take years and years honing and perfecting your craft.

3) Get good enough to be recognized for your art.

4) Ask for compensation for your art.

5) Get chided for daring to ask for said compensation.

image by Riki Takaoka


The worst part about hearing that from him is that the illustration work of Takaoka is flat out phenomenal. Blending playfully bold caricatures with a jagged surrealistic quality, Takaoka has developed a signature style and skill set that stands on its own. A style that he points out he has been brewing since childhood.

“When i was a kid, I would draw and redraw the same cover of PSM (PlayStation Magazine) over and over. I was just obsessed with it. I’ve stayed in my room for days sometimes, just trying to push myselfto do better,” Takaoka said.

But all the talent and hard work in the word can’t guarantee financial success in the art world.

When the topic shifts to art as a means of income comes up, Takaoka offers, “Art is hard. Not hard for me to make. It’s easy to make and I love it. Just hard for me to deal with. Or, I guess live off. Deal with trying to live off it. And it’s frustrating to spend hours making a commission piece for someone and then have to beg them to pay for it.”

Unfair doesn’t seem to do it justice. In no other profession other than the creative field will you hear of such a thing. I’ve never once heard of my food service friends offered to be paid by a future profit share, or my wife the hairdresser and stylist proposed exposure for their work as an alternative to actual money. But every day in creative lines of work, artists are at odds with clientele who want assets for nothing or damn near.

“I get that almost every time, everywhere. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been. I’ve lived in Hawaii, in Texas, here in Colorado.” he said. “Unless you’re a well known artist, people constantly try to get out of paying you for your work.”

“There’s been times where I haven’t drawn for three months straight,” he added, sounding a bit dejected. “Because sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it. But it’s one of the only things I know how to do well.”

I asked him about his experience living and working out of Pueblo.

“It’s a nice place to live. It’s affordable. I can walk around and not feel stressed out about having to have two jobs to survive,” Takaoka said. “But the problem is no one wants to work with each other. Not everybody, but too many.”

Even though the art scene here is by no means perfect, he was quick to add, “but it is getting better I guess. And bigger. People doing more. Taking chances.”

In any other line of work, the odds of failure facing people would break most people. But not Riki.  At the end of our conversation, I asked if he considered quitting forever, which got a sly grin. “I can’t quit, I guess. Maybe I’ll just stop for a while. But not completely. At this point it’s like handwriting to me. Period. It’s almost subconscious. It’s the way I see the world. And deal with it.”

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Arts & Culture

Land Lines : PULP Artist of the Month



Denver’s Land Lines occupy a truly unique headspace upon listening, which can only be described as “Fresh off the boat from Chilligan’s Island”. The Mile High trio, comprised of Martina Grbac (cello/vocals), Ross Harada (drums) and James Han (electric piano/organ), seamlessly meld vintage-modern baroque music with pop shimmer and gloss, like having a dance party at the symphony. Musically, Land Lines is at times is sparse and introspective, with clever and brooding lyricism, only to then turn that right on its’ ear as with bursts and blooms of  thundering pop force, (which contains equally clever and brooding lyricism). On their newest album “Natural World”, dark and moody synthesizer tones playfully buzz and pulsate to and fro over drums that are the audio equivalent of a saunter and sashay. But the lively pluck and eerie hum of the cello (compliments of Martina Grbac) is what sets this band apart from the pack, providing an melodic orchestral punch that cuts through the dense sonic layers like a Hattori Hanzo sword.


for fans of /// Portishead • Lady Lamb the Beekeeper • Beach Fossils

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The Local : BRIDGES



BRIDGES may easily (and quite erroneously) get lumped in with every other current metal/hardcore band playing out today, but this does them no justice. Shifting between the audible snarl and massive attack of hardcore and metal to delicate and downright pretty alternative minded exalt on a dime, BRIDGES, in a very big sense, play simply heavy music. Not heavy in the classic metal distorted-and-detuned-riffs kind of way, but heavy in perhaps an emotive sense. There are elements of hardcore and modern metal, yes, but the real strength behind this band is that their music largely defies any easy categorization, instead using the 60+ years of combined innovation to bring about one of the most well versed and original bands currently in Colorado.   

On a whim, I asked them to quickly list the bands that they had played in or currently part of. They easily listed over a dozen, with some being short tenures in young acts fresh out of high school with others spanning for multiple years, tours, and record label heat.

But what really amazes me about BRIDGES is their reverence for each other. In all my time spent hanging out with bands (both my own and other), I have never encountered a band which seems to enjoy the presence of each other more. They bring the act of playing music back to a core that often falls by the wayside; Simply enjoying it.

I spoke with BRIDGES on a dimly lit porch, beers flowing, on a windy night Tuesday, November 10th 2015.

PULP/ Your previous bands all kind of sound like a lineage tree of Pueblo metal and hardcore. After hearing all that, how does it feel?


Matt (Herrera/guitar) / I think it’s really cool. I’ve always been fortunate that with all of the bands I’ve been in were with friends. Just playing together, getting along outside of music. And now, we’ve all been in other bands when we were younger. I met Joe and Adam when they were both probably like 14 o4 15, and now I’m playing in a band with them? I never would of thought.


Tyler (Boyce/Vocals) / But I can say that out of all the bands I’ve been in, this has been the most fun to be a part of. On a writing level and on a friendship level. It’s just always good.


In some of your previous bands, there was some label heat and contracts and business stuff. Are you dealing with any of that stuff now?


Tyler/ It’s definitely a lot easier with BRIDGES. With my old band, some of the guys got so sucked into wanting to “make it” that we were writing too fast and putting out stuff that wasn’t ready, and wasn’t as good as it should have been.


Matt /  Well with (previous band) Son of Man, it ended the way it did because by the end of it, it wasn’t any fun. It was all business. I want to try and take a more organic approach with this band. I want to still be busy, but not push anything that isn’t ready or right. Instead of worrying about obligations and the business of it, I want to focus on writing the best music we possibly can. Everything is so saturated right now in our genre. I don’t know exactly what our genre is, but it’s hard to stick out. I’d like to push our own thing, and not falling into a mold. My favorite bands have always been ones that are heavy, bot not in the usual way, you know?


How do you feel like BRIDGES differentiates from other acts out now?


Matt/ Well. Bands have started to, and I even hate saying this, but using dance moves and choreography.  It’s so stupid.


What does that mean? Like dancing with guitars?


Matt /  Yeah, like head banging and spins and stuff. It used to be, when a band was getting into the music, it was just something that happened naturally. In Son of Man, really we were all just trying to keep up with (SOM bandmate) Mo. But I get it, when I was younger and in a band, we did tons of stupid shit. I mean, it was the late 90’s. We all loved Korn and Limp Bizkit, so use your imagination. (laughs) But it totally sucks when people and bands are more worried about a dance move or a look than what they are writing.


Josh (Ewing/bass) / Every time we jam, it’s all organic. (laughs) When you start choreographing it, it seems fake and more like going through the motions than having fun.


BRIDGES has always been a more sonically adventurous band to me. You’re heavy, but it’s more in layers rather than in riffs. Is that something you try to do on purpose?


Matt/ We’ve always made it a point to not write the same way twice.We all love different things; Clean parts, and having melodies and parts that go places, rather than just the same riff over and over. There’s no point in having two guitar players who are playing the exact same thing. We even talked about writing a pretty and clean (guitar tone) song at some point. It’s always better to try and work toward something new. It’s exciting.


Tyler/  And that’s one of the thing that initially interested me about trying out for the band. Like you said, there are layers to it. And it’s very intricate. You can dissect it, and you can find so many different types of music in it.


Joe (Johnson/Guitar)/ It’s just nice to have the people to do it. We’re all open minded.


Do you think Pueblo is hurting for an all ages place to play?


Matt/ Oh, totally. I think it has taken Phil’s (Radiator) being gone, and kind of ripped out without a choice, for people to realize that it is hurting. Sure, they’ve re-opened now, but they’re not all ages. It feels like there’s this big gap, but it’s slowly being filled back up. We played a show at the Daily Grind a while back, and we got to play for a bunch of kids who wouldn’t have otherwise got to see us. There’s an untapped youth market here in town, but there’s nowhere for them to go see bands play.


Tyler/ Another thing, is there are now finally young bands still in high school that are starting to pop up. But this scene isn’t what it used to be. Everyone we know now is older, and no one really kept going. Where are these new bands supposed to go?


Matt/ It’s a bummer because I’ve never even heard of these guys, and there’s nowhere to check them out. We’ve only played Pueblo twice in the last year.


Any reason for that?


Tyler/ It’s hard to find places where you can play. It’s hard when no one wants to invest in Pueblo. Everyone thinks that Pueblo is this s— hole, and it is a small town, but I love it here. I’ve seen and met a lot of cool people, and there’s a lot of cool things happening here. But nobody chooses to get up off the couch to see them. and yet everyone complains that there’s nothing to do. That’s the saddest part.


Josh/ There’s a lot of great stuff here that fails due to lack of support.


Matt/ There’s so much negative stuff being said and reported about our city, it’s just nice when people can get out there to other places and show them that we’re not all gang bangers and drug addicts. I mean, we all make jokes sometimes, but I want to share that there are good people and good things going on here. When bands come down here to play, they all say it’s great, you know?


With the band all coming from such different musical styles, is writing the way you do more difficult?


Tyler/  When we write stuff, we all kind of write with it too. Someone has an idea, and we all try to make it fit with how we see it, and still make it into something we’re all looking for. We all compensate for each others’ styles in that way. It’s a team effort.


Josh/ I think it helps that we all try to have an open mindset with writing. No one ever comes in and says “I have an idea and it has to go exactly like this.”


Do you feel like it makes it more unique that way?


Matt/ It makes it more real, and definitely gives it a more unique identity. It’s great. It makes it so that we can’t make anything cookie cutter. It’s good to be able to do that. More rewarding that way.


Tyler/ I also think it’s maybe why we all get along so well too. There’s never anyone jumping down someone’s throat about not playing something the “right” way. We just want to make something that we like a lot and can be proud to show people. We put a lot of time into it, and when we get any kind of good feedback about it, to say that it gave them some sort of feeling or emotion, that’s the coolest thing about making music. And makes us happy.


Josh/ And it’s totally applicable to anyone doing any kind of art. If you’re doing it the way you want, not under anyone else’s guidelines, and attain results that they’re proud of, especially if it’s someone telling you they love it, definitely makes it way more rewarding.


Is that part of the reason you guys play music to begin with? For that feeling?


Josh/ Oh, definitely. The core factor of it comes down to I love to do it for myself. I love playing music and playing it with my best friends.


Tyler/ Exactly. The best part, is you get to show up, hang out with your best friends, and make music that hopefully you can all enjoy and get behind. If not, why are you doing it?

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