Glendale College's Student Magazine
Wednesday June 20th 2018

Raven Jake: Songs as Stories as Songs

Clad in all black, Raven Jake wanders the desert talkin’ to rattlesnakes and picking up rocks. Along the way, he meets interestin’ folks; some dead, some not. Raven Jake is partial to history, the natural sciences and the written word. He enjoys poetry shoot-outs and mining for art…

So begins the autobiography of Raven Jake Dawes, a fictional desert rat created by art director and visual effects specialist, Jeryd Pojawa. These days, he’s less involved in the movie industry, more likely to be writing a song about the depletion of the earth’s petroleum reserves. How did an L.A. boy from 122nd and Western who lived through the Watts riots end up as a folk icon? Let’s ask him.

At the age of 53, Pojawa went back to school, taking a Photoshop class at Glendale Community College; the effect of which he describes as “being given a new pair of eyes.” “Joan Watanbe, [former head of the photography department] is a genius, and it was a privilege to learn from her.” The reasons he gives for returning to school vary, but Pojawa’s strongest motivation was to “get back into a learning environment. I wanted to get a degree,” he said, “but also wanted to expand my skill set. And, quite frankly, I had the luxury of time.”

Before attending GCC, Pojawa had already built a career in the visual effects aspect of the film industry, working on such movies as Terminator II, Godzilla (the American one), and the Final Destination film series; when asked what his favorite film to work on, Pojawa said “It’s a toss-up between Terminator II and Attack of the 50-foot Woman.” His expertise lay in model-making, but Pojawa has also attracted attention for his “plein-air UFO” artwork: paintings of nature that mimicked the painted-in-the-outdoors style of van Gogh and Guy Orlando Rose…only with the addition of hovering spacecraft and little “grays.”

“By any measurement, Raven Jake is more of a myth than a man,” said Stephen Berkman, an artist who specializes in wet collodion process photography, most popular between 1850 and 1880. Pojawa has built a number of props for Berkman’s eccentric photographs, including a dwarf-sized dog sled and a rocking horse for a child with hypertrichosis, a genetic condition that results in an abnormal amount of hair growth or “werewolf syndrome.”

“Raven Jake is a real interesting guy,” acknowledged Christopher Caplan, “He’s got this weird western cowboy/Indian aesthetic.” Caplan, a former GCC student and musician, also spoke of how Pojawa was “very knowledgeable of geology and the weird history ofAmerica.”

Pojawa was also part of a special effects team that won two Academy Awards. Ironically, this did not have the effect on his career that one would assume such prestige would. “When people see that you’ve gotten an award for being damn good at something,” Pojawa elaborated, “people assume you don’t need the work, or that the job offers are lining up out the door. This was not the case. But eventually, somebody was willing to pay the big bucks to consult with an expert in his field, so the work started up again.”

Still, Raven Jake paints a positive picture of his experience as a whole: “Not only has the motion picture business enhanced my ‘people skills’,” he explains, “but it has also expanded my skill set and interests. As one discovers new things, one grows and expands their knowledge base.” His passion also bleeds through as he describes his battle with the San Marino School District over the fate of the Michael White Adobe building. Three years ago, the school district was planning to demolish a 166-year-old home – the first in San Marino– to expand the swimming pool on the high school campus. A group of outraged community members, including Pojawa, took them to task on what he termed an “act of historical violence.” Fortunately, the district relented and the historic home still stands, although it is in need of restoration.

Pojawa elaborated on his motivation to save this artifact of Americana, saying “The Michael White Adobe building is 166 years old, and even if it is not a major piece of architecture, it is still represents a very interesting slice of multi-cultural history; tangible at that. How can we expect our children to be enthusiastic about the subject if we aren’t willing to preserve the evidence of its existence?”

Something else Raven Jake takes seriously is music; his and everyone else’s (well, everyone who isn’t Katy Perry). “I believe that at their best, songs are stories,” he says. “My songs, the ones I write and perform, are personal expressions of things that, to me, are universal experiences. Some are happy, some have a political message; some are sad or angry, just like people.” But he also adds that it is about more than just the music: “Storytelling goes back in human history a very great distance… even further back than the Druids, who used songs to pass down stories and accounts of history.  Since they had no written language, it was vital that these bards could remember long and complex histories of the great deeds of great individuals and the familial lineages of their kings.”

Wearing a black shirt, black pants, and a black Stetson with a raven feather in it, Pojawa cuts a dashing figure. So what’s up with the Raven Jake Dawes get-up? “Raven Jake is a character I created, a sort of cross between an old Native American shaman and a Spirit of the Old West.” “The raven,” he went to explain, “is a spiritual animal…and “Jake” is a little joke, since jackdaw is another name for raven.” Pojawa says he settled on the raven after an encounter where “a wild raven approached me quite casually and let me interact with him without any semblance of fear.” His appreciation for the bird is apparent; as he avidly talks about the species he calls “magnificent black birds.”

The difference between Pojawa and his alter-ego is “Raven Jake is a purer version of myself; me but better, simpler and more direct.” “Jeryd Pojawa is gradually transforming into Raven Jake,” alleges Jane, his wife of eight years. “A lot of his newer friends know him only as Raven, which is a little weird to hear.”

Jeryd and Jane also run a blog  together. “I started writing the blog primarily to highlight Jeryd’s art and poetry, but it really became a lot more than that,” says Jane. “It’s become a very collaborative effort – not just him or me, but us – and it keeps evolving. We were lucky to be able to use it [the website] for social advocacy. The Raven Jake character isn’t politically inclined, but he does take a stand on certain issues.” The blog, focused primarily on natural history and out-of–the-way travel has attracted at least one celebrity fan – Yoko Ono. She commented on a follow-up on her “Wish Tree” installation, now growing in Pasadena’s Arlington Garden, by stating emphatically that “Now is the time for action!” regarding the peace consciousness movement.

So what does the future hold for Raven Jake? Aside from putting out an album, Pojawa hopes to stage a comeback to the world of acting. And, as they say in the West, has “a whole lotta irons in the fire.” For the moment though, he is conducting a public “rodent jihad” on the ground squirrels ravaging his garden, writing songs and wandering the desert talkin’ to rattlesnakes and picking up rocks…

About Matt Kemper
Matt Kemper is 20 years young and working on a journalism major at the University of South Dakota. In the future, he hopes to mold young minds without actually having to meet them and model for American Apparel.

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