Love Poems for Robots: prose in praise

Some 20 years ago I began a chapbook called Love Poems for Robots.  A little ahead of it’s time I put it aside. But I recently began looking at it as future publishing project.

In doing so I was inspired to write a new entry:

When the Robot Said….

When the Robot said


We laughed.

When the Robot said


We cowered.

When  the Robot said.

“Fuck you.”

We crushed it.

 By Dean Balsamo


Taos: A Hippie Ruin – Artifacts


Penny’s half pit-half-shit- house lies in ruins not far from our land.

“Burned out,” is what the pipeline to the mesa says.

Meet her once. Four years ago-the last time we came to our plot-five miles past the  Gorge Bridge outside of Taos, NM. The same bridge appears in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Penny. 30-40. A face like a relief map. Paranoid and prickly – like the Cholla dotting the landscape. No surprise.

At first glance her structure – with the goat pen attached – looks made for the Duchampian approach the Hippy-Survivalist-Outlaw culture here employs.

Anything with a roof and walls of some sort qualifies. A broken school bus like Pine Ridge. Or something growing out of the ground – a mash up with debris its owner manages to scrounge.


Taos being Taos… a flexible personality is….helpful.  Penny’s was a fail.

There’s no grid. Utilities.  But justice is served.  It’s harsh like the landscape. What can you do when The Social Contract is the law of the land?


The spirit on the Mesa or “Carson Estates,” as it’s also called – lines up with historical precedent.

In the past, Taos Pueblo – on the other side of the Gorge – sends their “bad hombres” into exile – to this same place.

No water to speak of – at least 800ft down.  Little shade – a few pinons. The road rutted. Sunbaked like adobe.

A big sky, wild sage, volcanic rocks and the occasional tarantula round out the general conditions.

Penny’s ruins leave us a glimpse at her bare bones “vernacular” style. Using a Turkish-inspired approach she puts bottles – wine, beer, water- into her mortar. In this case the mud she mixes from the ground she walks on and applies it over the jerry-rigged framing – a collection of sticks and stones.


Haven’t seen this technique used by anyone for a while.  Reminds me of Guerneville, CA and other Humboldt County stops in my hippy past.

TAOS MESA THROUGH THE WINDOW.As Penny’s house slowly makes its way back to Earth….

Another Hippie artifact is a growing presence: the recycled School Bus.


Since our last trip a collection of them is taking root.  In true hippie speak: they “serve the people.”  With a side – a mad max/depression-era flavor.

Hot meals, sundries – even library services are offered


This is a population defining itself.  After language…and a few other aspects…buying and selling is about as basic as it gets in this regard.



This car stands about a mile into the road. Says everything. New signage.

Almost medieval. Like a city state or town  posting proclamations and expectations – helpful attitudes to hold.

We’ve been coming here over a 24 year period. Its nomadic culture’s doing what most hunter gather ones  do. Settle.

Land loving, land grabbing, squatters….

Free –thinking –until they’re not – freedom- loving- would- be -artists with the terrain-assemble here.

A population in flux. People are digging in.  Can running water and electricity be far behind? My guess is you hear everything you need to know at the school bus general store.


Arcane Word Magazine: Cairo Raw: Graffiti from the Streets of Cairo. Print and PDF

View Arcane Word by Dean Balsamo

Arcane Word Magazine

Cairo Raw: Graffiti from the Streets of Cairo

From the Publisher:

Magazines are one of my passions. I collect them , write for them, distribute them and create them. Arcane Word  is a title I’m using to explore different topics around art media magic

Arcane Word Magazine takes its cue from the memory of  60s magazines like Avant Garde and Evergreen . A different perspective.

Arcane Word is open to collaboration and creating something similar in magazine or book (I’ll be posting PDF’s of books I’ve done-soon) form.

You can contact me at:   Dean Balsamo   and 505.570.7325

Here’s a PDF Version of the magazine. I’m making this available at no cost.


Use the link below to order a print copy.

Click  here  and you’ll be taken to the Blurb site where you can order print copy

Background to this issue:

In November 2015 my son and I went to Cairo, Egypt for six days. We stayed downtown at the edge of Tahrir Square – the most graffiti-rich part of the city given it’s proximity to the various encampments and battles taking place downtown since the “Arab Spring.”

There’s a storehouse of words, images and drawings for me to mine. Future issues will feature more impressions, photos (including pyramid sites) and drawings from Cairo.  It remains an incomparable  experience.

Dean Balsamo

National Hippie Museum-Proposal for Taos, NM

hippie release 3

Mock up of a press release for the Hippie Museum (from a few years back.)

Counter Culture guru Osho’s discourse on versatility of the word “fuck”


got me thinking of all things hippie. With the original hippie generation aging it seems that

The National Hippie Museum

is a project long overdue. While an online component (see below) would act as most people’s touchstone for the museum- having a physical place where people from all over the world could come to celebrate Hippie-is a no brainer as it caters to the pilgrimage aspect that underlies so many of the important hippie culture events from music festivals to anti-war demonstrations to the random groupings that sprung up whenever hippies met anywhere during those times.

Taos, NM feels like the perfect place to locate it.  Not only was Taos an important hippy hub with communes and personalities there (Dennis Hopper for instance) but even today there are still pristine hippie threads woven into the Taos environment like:

Image result for picture of an earthship in taos

A large Earthship in Taos.

  • The Earthships out on the mesa.
  • Taos Pueblo which maintains its traditional ways .
  • A strong hippy spiritual tradition still thriving with Lama and other groups.
  • A healthy legacy of psychedelic research.
  • A place where nature predominates with big skies, lots of sun, and the mountains.

And Taos, unlike any number of well-traveled hippy spots has never experienced the branding make-over and gentrification other places have.

In a word: Perfect.

Below are some elements and programs that come to mind. Take these as field notes.


Structures on the museum campus could find some inspiration in buildings designed by Ando, the great Japanese architect whose approaches rest on using concrete, light and water. Add the sun-and you’ve got a good benchmark from which to start.

Keeping true to the hippy spirit you’d want to look at incorporating resource-conserving approaches like the Earthship which was conceived in Taos and permaculture to terra form the grounds.

Also more contemporary techniques and materials- used in a hippy spirit of innovation – hempcrete, adobe, core 10 steel, 3-D printing, rammed earth for instance.

As far as the grounds – we go hippy- you have to have places for people to ….commune…with each other…with nature.  Some aspen groves, large rocks, wild patches, wild-grassy knolls and a labyrinth -the campus has to breathe.

And accommodate a variety of activities-people do their own thing -sit, sun, meditate, gather, rant, eat, concert-commune

hippie taos cross

A shrine in Taos-they’re found all over northern NM.

Field Notes: Programs and Exhibitions

The exploration of hippie culture in the U.S.-the world- rivals critical research and writing in the art world- it’s endless.

Below: some sketches-mock ups – strategy suggestions.

The Hippie Archives

The Hippie Archives-an online, real time –updating, international archive of hippie photos and films submitted by the museum’s hippy family from around the globe.

Like the WAPO’s Comments section-there’s a curator-the photo editor reviewing submissions.

Hippy photos from the Afghanistan rock stars visited-the days of the King’s hashish and lapis shops- – Tehran in the decadent days of the shah. Paris, London, East Village -things from all over appearing.

Photos are sorted/cross-filed like “General, Stars, Festivals, Women, Hippie Homes & Communes, Black Hippies, Brown Hippies, Native American Influence, Nudity with an over 18 disclaimer.

You can take a Periscope approach with the screen-display the world and click on the country whose hippy pix you want to see.

hippy screen shot 2

Naturally there would be prominent places devoted to the spiritual paths running through hippie culture both in the Hippy Archive and the physical location-a permanent wing devoted to:

Gurus and Teachers



Spiritual teachers/gurus/teachings and movements  get a spotlight with  photographs, films, art works and talks-museum stuff- on figures like:

  • Da Free John-the Marlon Brando of Hippie spirituality.
  • Gurdjieff – creates intense seekers-crazy creatives.
  • Osho – great comedic timing.
  • The Maharishi – people are still levitating to his work.
  • Meher Baba- The saint who inspired Pete Townsend.
  • Yogananda- Cali loved him and he- Cali.
  • Aliester Crowley- the man for the times- sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

And the spiritual memes including  Zen, Buddhism, Hindu religion, The Craft,  Tarot, I-Ching, UFO’s, magic, hermetics and the Essenes…..ideas-the subjects- you were likely to see in the form of books, art work, and practice in any self-respecting hippie’s home.


Of course need we say more when it comes to hippies? Without drugs there is no hippie. But it wasn’t all groovy. And it wasn’t all bad. Many of the boomers who got into various spiritual/religious trips got into them because  they opened those “doors of perception.”

There are an unlimited amount of topics that can be addressed here:

Writers, authors and others with a focus on drugs and hippy culture can talk:

For instance the author of Acid Dreams could come and discuss the CIA’s unauthorized and secret experiments with LSD on Americans.

The writers of recent articles and books about LSD Mircrodosing

(see )

can be invited to share their experiences.

LSD and Silicon Valley-can be an exhibit and talk- tracing the influence of this and related hallucinogens on the origins of Silicon Valley with Jobs etc.

Art exhibitions featuring work done under the influence of various substances can be mounted.


This wing of the museum and space in the online archive is probably going to be one of the most active and story-inspiring aspects to the hippy museum. Where do you start?

Rural Hippie, City Hippie, Hippie Evolution, Artists, Politicians, Authors…endless.

All kinds of talks, presentations and exhibitions dedicated to the women of hippie culture and the women that inspired them. Important curator post to fill here..


Naturally all kinds of films from the time of hippie are out there and later ones that deal with the era. Many unusual and intriguing presentation approaches can be taken here-including personal appearances by the people who directed, wrote and acted in them and programs around themes like Horror Hippie Films or Hippie Road Trip flicks, Hippy movies from Europe –constant re-contextualizing of the available material.


Music the medium that infused all hippie activities is everywhere and again there is so much here to look at whether footage, recordings, recollections by those who were there, authors on their books and articles on era. Only limit here is imagination Some of the topics can  include:

  • Be-Ins and footage and recordings from those.
  • Festivals-not only Woodstock but Monterey Pop, Altamont, and others.
  • Personal recollections by solo and band recording artists, managers, producers and so on.
  • Listening Booths/areas
  • Nights: Janis Joplin, Hendrix, The Doors, Beatles……
  • Exhibitions of relics and artifacts from music personalities of the hippie era.

You could have a Hall of Saints with revolving exhibitions of actual articles of clothing, instruments, journals and so on from famous personalities of the time. Even something special like this sketch of a vitrine-like case that allows people to touch an article of clothing from a famous musician or other personality from hippie culture.


Art Exhibitions and other avenues for hippie exploration can encompass things like:

  • Mount Yoko Ono installations.
  • Do the same for proposed installations that never made it from the conceptual stage to exhibition space.
  • Dada exhibition
  • Art work done under LSD, shrooms and other conscious altering substances and states.
  • Alex Gray the contemporary artist who explores these regions in his painting.
  • Hippie era plays by Sam Shepard, McClure and others.
  • Black Hippie culture.
  • Hispanic peoples and hippie culture during the 60’s in New Mexico.
  • Hippies In….name- the country, city or time….

Maybe it’s anti-hippie…a building to tie the culture down.

My guess is the story here is too deep to tie it down.

Hippie m picture of the author

the author-age 20.




Osho on “Fuck” one of our most useful words-humor


Came across this recording of a humorous talk by  Osho the famous Counter-Culture Guru. There have been several articles over the last few months on the usefulness of cursing for instance in The Economist  and how using “bad words,” is thought to represent a more communicative person. Not sure where I stand but I do know sometimes you have to say “fuck it,” and move on .


Road Trip: Art Pilgrimage – Marfa TX light, ruins, re-purposed buildings Pt. 2

A former supermarket?

A former supermarket?

It was a running joke among those of us who wrote on the arts for The Santa Fe New Mexican. Every profile on an artist we ran seem to open with, “the light spoke to me….It was the light that drew me…..”

Always with the light-some artist’s ecstatic response to the New Mexico version of it.

But the joke’s on me because I experienced a displacement of time and space in reaction to the light in Marfa the first night I was there.

“Putain,” I thought as I sat in the courtyard of the Paisano Hotel. It feels like Paris that night we ate outside at 10 PM. But that was northern Europe. June.

But it’s January. 6 PM Central Time. Here…now…it’s still light. Here’s a film from the courtyard of the hotel showing what the light looked like.



Something was off. I couldn’t square the time with the light. I know Marfa has aerial phenomena- the Marfa Lights. ( American Spirits-Marfa Lights-why not) A viewing area exists about 8 miles out of town.  But this was different there was something in the air- like a vortex- my normal perceptions were skewed.

Metior red band for a new world. Mixed media on canvas.

Metior: red band for a new world. Mixed media on canvas. Image size 9″ x 12″.

One person I asked about my condition said, “It’s because we should be in Mountain Time like Santa Fe.” I knew Marfa was in the Central zone but my eyes and this feeling – I got nothing out of this answer. Couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

But the displacement fueled my curiosity – the natural armor of perception was compromised-  for the remainder of my stay I was le flaneur –  I crisscrossed the town center for the next few days in search of hidden places, unexpected locations and encounters with locals -anything the town had to offer.

I did finally get a scientific explanation for what I was experiencing- from my server at Stellina, one of the watering holes in town..

See more about Stellina  here:


When the nearby MacDonald Observatory was being built the time zone here in this part of West Texas was changed – at the scientists’ request – from Mountain Time to Central Time so the researchers in Chicago and Austin could share data in real time with the observations made at the observatory. So the sun and  light weren’t  lying – the clock was.

 Marfa has a number of great legacy structures from the 40s, 50s and 60s that have, are or will be re-purposed.

Inside an old warehouse next to the tracks that formerly stored wool-not it houses sculptures out of mangled car parts by John Chamerlin

Inside an old warehouse next to the tracks it formerly stored wool-now it houses sculptures out of mangled car parts by John Chamberlin

marfa dark bld.

marfa to be

These, along with projects by big name architects  are the kinds of structures I appreciate on my business trips -you can find them everywhere…Chicago, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Los Angeles… reminders of our country’s industrial past- some getting new life with TLC. .

Marfa also has a number of ruins-mostly in the form of adobe buildings returning to the earth.

Ruins outside of town.

Ruins outside of town.

An adobe building in pretty good shape by Marfa standards.

An adobe building in pretty good shape by Marfa standards.

Pretty much says everything about the attention adobe gets here.

Pretty much says everything about the attention adobe gets here.


The woman I met from Colorado who had some knowledge of the area told me the adobe building tradition is dormant here. Marfa isn’t Santa Fe. There are some parallels to the way Santa Fe was a few decades ago before it got the national attention it enjoys today.  The video below reminds me of what it was like in Santa Fe-in the barrio near downtown.


marfa adobe street houses

 I didn’t see any adobe structures being refurbished in Marfa.

The buildings most in demand for re-purposing are the older warehouses and structures from the 40s and 50s.

Store front for Ranch Candy

Store front for Ranch Candy

Marfa Ballroom-exhibition space

Marfa Ballroom-exhibition space

marfa church gallery marfa altar

The light, the buildings, the feeling I got here leads me to believe this could be a good spot for a structure I’ve wanted to see built for some time. More about this in another post.

This is the Prada store located about 35 miles north of Marfa near Valentine, TX...a small group of houses. This is an art project that Prada cooperated with and supplied product for. It's never open.

This is the Prada store located about 35 miles north of Marfa near Valentine, TX…a small cluster  of houses. This is an art project that Prada cooperated with and supplied product for. It’s never open.

The photograph above – grabbed from the web- shows the store sitting within an area carved out from the surrounding ranch land.

I wanted to take a photo too and measure the building outside,  look inside -but I didn’t see it on my way in as I’d taken a different route. But on my way out…about 6:30 AM I passed it. I wouldn’t have seen it at that hour were it not for a couple of people setting up a tripod and getting ready to shoot it at sunrise. I barely saw them in the dark while they were moving around the center of the road.

What I saw in passing….on this road at this hour at that speed…:.


Dean Balsamo



Sensing my travel-starved state, our friend said, “Marfa.” And that was that. Several days later I took a solo pilgrimage- a road trip- to Marfa in West Texas.

You could describe it as the “biggest little art town,” in the country given the people who make the trek there- national/international artists, gallerists and collectors, celebrities like Beyoncé film makers and those who seek unadulterated art experiences like me.

It’s about 7 ½ hours from my home in Santa Fe,  3 from El Paso, 7 from Dallas and 6 hours from Austin.  It takes an act of will and a true believer’s fervor to get there.

marfa map

But like all the best holy spots rekindling of faith can occur, visions and maybe cures.  My experience touched on all of these things. I came away loving this part of Texas, feeling rejuvenated and creatively inspired. The desert air and 75 degree weather was ok too.

While films have been made here- Giant (w/James Dean) and There Will Be Blood – visual arts of a more minimal nature pioneered by the great American artist Donald Judd dominate parts of the landscape, as well as, various galleries.

The place fed my creativity. I worked on a script and some other writing, walked around the areas bordering the main street taking photos of the classic 40-60’s buildings being re-purposed , toured Judd’s spaces around town and met some friendly people .

Here are some of the Judd’s concrete sculptures sitting on the land surrounding the old German POW camp he bought decades ago and turned into the working exhibition grounds for his and the work of contemporaries he admired.

MARFA JUDD CONCRETE TWOOne of a number of concrete pieces by Donal Judd on the grounds of an old German POW camp he bought in Marfa decades ago.

MARFA JUDD CONCRETE ONEThere are a number of buildings on this land-you can see part of one in the background. The German POW’s were housed there, now they’re filled with Judd and other artists’ work.

It’s a funny place in a good way. I pulled into the Paisano Hotel on the main street in town and the only people I see walking are a couple of back packer-looking types with a camera staring at the Victorian influenced city hall building.

marfa paisano hotelThe Paisano Hotel in Marfa where I stayed.

But this isn’t a hippy town like Sebastopol or Cotati in Cali. The art over lay and location in the scrub of West Texas gives it a different feel.

There’s sort of quiet buzz here. You catch people at the hotel looking at one another or in Stellina, the hipster’s watering hole/ restaurant that appears to be the place where many of the visitors come as well as the local art movers and shakers gather.

It’s in an old building’s store front space. Common tables line the sides facing an elongated oval bar in the center of the room. The bearded server said this about the owner/chief: “She’s self-taught.” That’s Marfa I thought.

marfa building with stellina

Stellina the place I ate in one night is located in the storefront underneath the balcony seen in the photo.

marfa steillina with caption sketch use

One morning I searched for 20 minutes trying to  find Do Your Own Thing Coffee. Had I not read something about it’s unlikely location-in what looks like an old lumber and tool supply yard I never would have found it.

Here are some pictures of its surroundings and of the shack that houses the café.

MARFA DO YOUR OWN THING PIXThis the outside of Do Your Own Thing Coffee-sort of the closest thing to a “hippy” spot. Inside they have a wood burning stove for cool mornings.

MARFA DO YOUR OWH THING DOGI sat outside in the early morning sun and  spoke with a woman  who was from Denver. She bought ½ acre of land within the town so she had hook up for water and paid $75K. She’s building some kind of living/exhibition space she hopes to host various events.

If you go out of town some that same 75K will get you five acres.

I got the impression from talking to some people and observing the town that there are a number of people there who have money and are buying places to live there sometimes and have some sort of business. Whether they actually need to make money to maintain their places is another story.

I didn’t really realize why I went to Marfa until I came back. But I’ve been thinking of a project for a few years now-a building project called Heaven Sighting Device-that I feel could work there. More about that a later post.

marfa truck stop with note in tx I took sort of a  back way down there…south of Carlsbad, NM I went through 50 miles of oil country. All I saw was scrub and pumping oil wells and had to share the two lane road with huge tractor trailers and large pickup trucks all working the oil fields till you hit  I-10. This truck stop I sketched from memory was Mad Max like…an Airstream and various tents set up here and there. The whole time I was going through the area I thought I was looking at something secret. It reminded me of growing up in California during the 50’s and 60’s and our road trips to the desert where we’d see pumping oil wells and just appreciate them as objects of wonder. They were fascinating. Always had and always will have -a fascination with industrial processes and the tools/machinery making them possible.

Dean Balsamo


Metior: A Southwestern Sky. Mixed media on canvas by the author.

Metior: A Southwestern Sky. Mixed media on canvas by the author.

Last week two national magazines –GQ and Bloomberg Businessweek-came out with articles referencing the growing popularity of  LSD micro-dosing and other bio-hacks for enhanced work performance and more productive daily lives. These practices have gained critical mass in the Silicon Valley and its spokes in Seattle/Portland/Austin/NYC so their influence is amplified that much more.

It’s no accident that the momentum for the psychedelic-and other substance- fueled bio-hack strategies  emanate from the Valley because substances that alter our mental chemistry….magic mushrooms, salvia, peyote, DMT alcohol….have always been allied with the religions of their times.

Today, objects from the technological cults are fetishized.  Their shaman-geniuses venerated. God is found in algorithmic details.  And our lives experience miracles as a result.

The Bloomberg Businessweek article is an expanded review of A Really Good Day – a book by Ayelet Waldman a former “federal public defender,” now writer who documents her 30 day experience with LSD microdosing over a 30 day period.

The article says, “Waldman’s problems….mood swings…anxiety …were relatively ordinary.”

However the paragraph goes on to say that she got worried. Worried- that the onset of menopause would compound these challenges.  The article says she worried that they “threatened to disrupt her marriage and livelihood.”

She was inspired to try the regime after reading Bay Area psychedelic proponent Dr. James Fadiman’s book from 2011 outlining the 30 day schedule, taking 10 micrograms worth of LSD every three days. This dose is well below the standard threshold for hallucinating. The idea is to take enough to experience more clarity and enhanced productivity but not the over-powering hallucinogen episode.

The GQ piece has an experiential flavor to it (like Maureen Dowd writing about her cannabis experience in CO earlier this year) as the author Josh Dean also try’s Dr. Fadiman’s microdosing schedule on himself while also examining other bio-hacking approaches popular among West Coast techies and executives.

While the author says he didn’t experience any particular expanded feeling of clarity-though he reports more lucid dreaming-he ends the article saying he wants to continue with this strategy.

As it stands now, the microdosing approach is driven by a millennial mindset it’s a measured strategy. Small doses. It’s not about “dropping acid.”  This isn’t about setting up situations where the participant risks at least temporary obliteration of the personality.

No one is looking to escape. This is supposed to be about fine tuning and enhancing the person’s connection with performance.

However one incident recounted in the GQ article concerns the experience of a microdosing practitioner who reported nothing happened when he did the recommended 10 mg. Which is what the author himself said about his experiences.

But in this case the user raised his dosage to 25mg and this appears to have had some real results as he reports: “I realized at the sales meeting that I never cared about the stupid product we were selling, so I went home.”

Okay now we’re beginning to touch on the more traditional effects of LSD-the kind that old hippies can relate to.  And probably the likes of Henry Luce founder of Time Magazine who along with his wife was taking LSD in the early 60s. She was actually quoted saying LSD shouldn’t be given to the masses, but kept for the elites. But Leary, Alpert and the CIA of course had other ideas.

Gary Grant was another experiencer during this time. And if stories-like the one headlined below in a small magazine from the 90’s- are true- even John Kennedy was experienced.

Steamshovel Press-a small title from the 1990s

Steamshovel Press-a small title from the 1990s

Again comparing the millennial LSD use to the 60s several things stand out. For instance the focus. The people who are bio-hacking with LSD and other products which include mixing prescription medicines with other substances according to the imagination of the practitioner are focused on a systematic redesigning of their personalities….on the fly.

But these aren’t the hippies of old. We’re not talking about blotter acid or the orange barrels of yesterday providing unexpected shocks to the kundalini.

No. Today’s pioneers aren’t interested in mystical experiences that risk obliterating the psyche or tearing down the personality. And they’re not, like the 60s, going out and seeking gurus or ashrams to join.

This seems to be a relatively recent response-mirroring the growth of Silicon Valley’s technological influence over our society because throughout the 1990s there were a number of small magazines with a psychedelic focus that still carried the spiritual/conscious raising memes developed in the first onrush of LSD use. See examples below.

The title says everything about this magazine focus.

The title says everything about this magazine’s focus.

Another title from the 90s with legacy focus on psychedelics

Another title from the 90s with legacy focus on psychedelics


Given that the technological sphere is providing the context for much of today’s bio-hacking it’s only natural for the devotees to read the body/mind complex as code to be manipulated and then refocused on specific projects having to do with optimizing their productivity.

No one’s dropping acid to bust out of the system or escape The Man. No. Today’s pioneers are interested in integrating their hopefully heightened experiences with the technological work focused culture they’re immersed in.

And maybe that’s just the way the evolution of ideas goes. What starts outside of the larger system eventually makes its way in towards its center.

One day people will do this with the company’s blessing in certain quarters. It’ll be like Mad Men and their drinks-something to spur creativity. Not for everyone in every industry of course.

But it seems perfectly aligned with the kinds of brain cells needed to communicate with the  gods delivering technological inspiration from the future.

                                                                                                              dean balsamo



Krishna and Gopi Girls by Jodianna. Collage and mixed media on board. 16″ x 16″ x 1.5″ $650 including shipping. More information:

Indian Gurus, Personal Care Products, and the Three Power Points.

“Now all tie-wearing people are sweating. They realize loincloth-wearing people can do many things,” says Baba Ramdev, “unpaid ambassador,” for Patanjali Ayurved the biggest of the various guru-associated Indian companies taking market share from Unilever, Colgate and Dabur in the personal care category.

Last week Bloomberg Businessweek had a fascinating article about the surprising and formidable challenge home-grown, guru-fronted companies like Pantanjali have given the large multinational companies who dominate this industry in India.

Unilever has seen its market share in personal care fall at least 5% over the last few years. Stolen from them by companies associated with various gurus like Ravi Shankar, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and Jaggi Vasudev.

We’re not talking about Sri Aurobindo Ashram or Sai Baba’s incense. Or Rudy’s bread. We’re talking about a billion dollar company in Patanjali’s case with a CEO, childhood friend of the guru, who is India’s 48th richest person.  This is a company that expects to grow its revenue from the present 1.5 billion and 1.2% of India’s personal care category to over 7 billion while capturing up to 35% of the market for Indian honey, Ayurveda medicines and ghee…in three years.

Unilever understands they have something they need to address in the Indian market as their CFO has said of Pantanjali, a company “which everybody has been following with a lot of interest-incredible branding created there.”

And a VP at IIFL Holdings says, “These ayurvedic product sellers are posing a threat to Indian and global players as the product has gained mass appeal,” noting also that profit margins have shrunk as the big companies are forced to address the competition  from the guru companies. And that’s because among other things, “it has made the existing players enlarge their marketing budgets greatly to try and protect their turf.”

All of the established companies facing competition from the Ayurveda-guru companies are rushing Ayurveda lines to market. Coalgate’s come out a line of toothpaste incorporating neem, clove and other traditional herbs and Unilever’s got its Haman soap and a version of the famous Brahmi Oil, a greenish coconut oil based hair treatment infused with traditional herbs


We used to get the latter in an Indian grocery in the East Village, off of 6th where all the Indian restaurants are. It’s got an herbal scent and it is…oily. Good for luster says traditional Ayurveda.

But while this is a great story about capitalism and competition and the power of the “little” guy to disrupt the Indian marketplace, this is not a straight forward story about marketing and the brand.

It’s hard for me to believe Bloomberg and the executives from the large companies quoted in this article don’t see what’s underlying this story.  It’ epic.

They may not want to publicly delve into the powerful complex of ideas fueling the incredible potential for the guru companies- because they may not have a real solution to neutralize the threat. They’re spending more money to counter the home grown Indian guru companies but they’re also continuing to lose market share to them. Not exactly a winning strategy, nor one they like explaining to their investors.

It doesn’t seem like the large companies can stop the babas invading their monopolistic turf because the momentum fueling the guru companies is fed by a unique blend of three of the most important movements-ideas -affecting the planet at this time:

  1. Nativist/Populist thinking and movements.
  2. The desire for natural and pure personal care products/foods/lifestyle.
  3. Religious/spiritual fervor-the realm of the zealot.

Here’s the picture designed for the Bloomberg article. There’s that quote about the loin cloth people and its author Baba Ramdev pictured.


He’s outspoken with nativist sentiments. “Why shouldn’t our country’s money stay here and be used for this country’s service?” But guess what, and this should feel familiar, his outspokenness and determination to act on his words have made Patanjali Ayurved the most powerful of the guru-companies.

In a way his focus on Indian products by Indians for India echo’s Gandhi. Also the current Prime Minister has added his voice to supporting Indian products.

In the early aughts I was a regular reader of Hinduism Today a magazine focused on the traditional practice of Hinduism. But they weren’t talking about yoga-most people’s brush with Hinduism in the West. The magazine preaches traditional Hindu life and does its part to keep the flame alive all over the world. They make no excuses for believing Hinduism is the only authentic path to keep India true to itself. Its message is delivered with a side of nativism.

This pride in all things India easily lends itself to the movement for pure, healthy, natural products. Traditional Indian cuisine and it’s affinity with Ayurveda practice is already a given. India’s natural products are totally in line with the West’s desire for organic, natural foods and body care. This area is a no brainer for the guru companies who already are aligned through their Yoga and spiritual ashrams. No doubt this desire has been helped by contact with all the western practioners and visitors already committed to a natural lifestyle.

And while products along these lines have always been available-even in the west-ashram-driven businesses  like Sri Sri Ayurveda are now using mass media, point of sales advertising and online marketing. They’ve even drafted Olympic silver medalist P.V. Sindhu as spokesman. I would suggest that the marketing of India’s legacy natural food products is just in its beginning phase with larger campaigns around natural product offerings set to take even more share from multi-national companies who presently dominate the Indian market. The guru’s emphasis on marketing milk, ghee, honey will pull all kinds of other natural Indian products into the guru companies plans.

The spiritual/yoga aspect really seals the deal for various baba aligned companies when you consider the zealot-like devotion to the babas. The religious fervor is a marketer’s dream but without the spiritual practice/yoga schools these gurus command all multi-nationals can do is dream about what it would be like to have brand loyalty like this.

For instance with nearly 10,000 stores selling only its products built on top of its existing franchised yoga studios it’s no wonder Patanjali sales have exploded and allowed them to become such a powerful force in the Indian marketplace.  This (and other guru companies using similar strategies) company appears unstoppable in the near future as their store count expands-taking advantage of more existing land around its yoga centers. They’re able to cut out all kinds of expenses around marketing  further increasing their margins. Patanjali believes they have enough space to expand for the next three years in this manner.

While these companies are not going to drive the multi-nationals out of the country, they are certainly going to make life more difficult for them. And considering the blend of powerful forces behind the home-grown Indian baba companies there’s little the large ones can do to combat them- not when it comes to the kinds of emotional/spiritual energies they have behind them.


(detail) from collage/mixed media work by Jodianna.

Contact the author for more info.  505.570.7325



Wine, Millennials, and Algorithms

A couple of weeks ago Bloomberg Businessweek ran an article about Verve Wine, a new e-commerce site with 1000 bottles for sale and a new way to help consumers discover wines they might not otherwise come across without guidance. But not just any consumers- this new approach is scaled to millennials.

According to the article, Verve’s founder Dustin Wilson  one of only 230 master sommeliers in the world,  “ is targeting millennials who now drink almost half the wine consumed in the U.S. and are more likely to trust an algorithm than a human using incomprehensible adjectives.”

Like Vinfusion, another new approach whose aim is to make it easier for us to enjoy wine- featured in The Economist – (see my comments on it here)

Verve also addresses the suddenly pressing need to by- pass the traditional language of wine in order to give the consumer more useful tools they can relate to for discovering wines they’re not familiar with-and of course drive more sales for those selling wine.

It took me a little time to warm up to Verve’s premise because the attack on the traditional language of wine, railing against its “mystique” and “this high end snooty thing,”  that the respective articles in these magazines take- gives the impression they’re using the same prepared talking points to dismantle the usual criteria with.

But what kind of “incomprehensible adjectives” used to describe wine are we talking about?

In a random search on the web the site Wine Folly came up. They list 40 common adjectives used to describe wine along with their accepted meaning in wine circles.

Some of the examples include:


The word Crisp with wine is more often used to describe a white wine. A crisp wine is most likely simple but goes really well with a porch swing on a hot day.


Sommeliers and wine experts cringe when they hear this term while the rest of us delight. Jam is delicious and it is part of the PB&J experience. In wine, jammy indicates a wine with a cooked berry sweetness that is syrupy and often is used to describe American wines like zinfandel, grenache, cabernet franc and Australian shiraz…don’t be a hater.


When a wine writer pairs down his lengthy description of flavors and characteristics of a wine into one word, he uses dense. Dense is favored for use in bold red wines such as cabernet sauvignon, Côtes du Rhône and Brunello di Montalcino but usually isn’t a positive characteristic in other wines because it implies that wine is handicapped.

While the different words describe the complexities and nuance of various wines they aren’t from an alien tongue. This is the language of wine-now go out and speak it. You read, you sample you note and repeat.

This scenario reminds me of screen writing. There are those who will take endless courses, keep buying books on the topic and take all kinds of webinars on the subject. But what do the successful pros like ‘David Mamet or Brian Koppelman recommend?  Reading Scripts, watching films and writing. That’s the formula.

As society takes on more of the millennial world view do we have to wonder if everything will be about taking the highs and lows, the mistakes and the discoveries, the disappointment and the joys out of cultivating a love for wine (or anything else).

In the case of Vinfusion, the machine highlighted in The Economist article   The traditional language is not only gutted but the actual cultivation  methods –the art to blending -is totally dismissed as well- giving the final product something of the nature of “swill.”

Thankfully Verve doesn’t get rid of all the language of wine. They use a smattering of terms like acidity, alcohol level, and tannin level in their evaluation of your tastes to come up with wines that give a structural form to your tastes as in this example from their press release:


These are the legacy descriptions Verve uses but shifts the emphasis from the more subjective approach to wine adjectives to terms which focus on the structure of the wine.

This approach has everything to do with the founder Dustin Wilson. He has good pedigree having been the head of wine procurement for Eleven Madison Park, a famous restaurant in Manhattan, as well as, the star of a documentary called Somm-tracing his path to master sommelier.

And unusual for an e-commerce startup- Verve actually has a shop in Manhattan where consumers are encouraged to come in for a sit down with an onsite sommelier who, after conducting a Q & A with you about your tastes-will then feed the answers to the “custom software” which will spit out recommendations for you.

From the Verve website:

Coming Soon

Verve Wine is a new place to buy wine online. We curate delicious wines that are thoughtfully and carefully produced from around the world, and deliver them to your door. We will also have a flagship shop in NYC where we’ll host wine tastings, classes and events.

Since there’s only one brick n’ mortar location online users will have to make do with a form they fill out online and submit to the algorithm-driven program to find the best wine selections for them.

But to my mind there’s something of a bubble – an insular feeling about the parameters he’s sketched out to reach millennials.

The whole idea of having a physical location where millennials or anyone else is going to come in and do a consultation seems to be at cross purposes with the stated purpose of this approach in which Wilson says consuming wine, “has become more about camaraderie than having this thing on a pedestal.”  Doesn’t the physical store and the way they go about trying to expand your tastes in this manner imply a gallery type situation-a “pedestal?”

I don’t know many millennials who would consider taking this route with their wine purchasing. And when you consider the fact that most of the wines on their site sell between “$25-$50” it becomes even harder to imagine millennials flocking to this site.

Special occasions… maybe. And maybe Verve will be used for educational purposes-something like the showrooming that takes place with physical stores. But most avid wine drinkers are not spending this much for daily wine consumption.  I would suggest that $7-$10 is more likely with $10 to $20 the average for more well off consumers.

While I do think Verve is on to something –they haven’t opened yet-getting enough traffic to both their store and their online site is going to be interesting to watch. I think it’s going to be an uphill battle.

And that’s because there are already so many upscale grocers like Whole Foods, New Seasons, Central Market in TX, and Kroger’s Main & Vine carrying fine wines why would most people spend time online or in the Verve shop when they can just as easily go into one of these stores and peruse the selections and usually get help with staff in the department.

It’s hard to compete with say going into Trader Joe’s with a bottle you bought there and telling them, “This just doesn’t work for me,” and having Traders just take it back no questions asked.

This personal connection is what  I feel in the end allows grocers with well thought out wine selections to excel-taking what they can from Verve’s approach and incorporating it into their own cultivation of wine consumers. They already have the platform and traffic they’re only limited by their imagination.