Coffee shops have a reputation as havens for struggling artists bent over MacBooks, hands cupping steaming lattes. But it’s often difficult to guess who these people are. Loud and flashy isn’t typical for afternoon coffee drinkers. But at the Blenz Coffee in Maple Ridge Plaza on Dewdney Trunk Road, there’s one artist who’s impossible to miss.
Though his birth certificate says Kyle Herman, most people aren’t familiar with him by that name. Dressed in a long feather cape, silver peace symbol draped around his neck, and a tie-dye bandana sitting atop oil-slick sunglasses, Herman puts on the persona of Arak StarrEagle, founder of the charitable artist collective Halcyon Imagineers, self-professed altruistic philosopher, and inventor of glam rap.
As StarrEagle, Herman preaches a unique kind of message through his poetry and songs, along with his close friend Charlie Spittel (who performs as Mr. Gnosis), and the other Halcyon Imagineers.
“The idea behind Halcyon Imagineers is to showcase people’s talents in Greater Vancouver, focusing mainly on Maple Ridge, because that’s where we’re based,” Herman says. “We wanted to make an impact in social justice, raise awareness for causes we believe in, and combat social ills that we’d like to fight against.”
Herman formed Halcyon Imagineers in August 2013 as a loose coalition of local area artists and friends who all share his altruistic artistic vision of peace and love.
“Our mantra is ‘all life is precious and sacred. Everyone matters, everyone is special and beautiful, and everyone is unique in their own way.’”
The Imagineers host local charity events in Maple Ridge and the surrounding cities that feature themselves and several others performing songs, poems, spoken word, and other art.
“We believe art is a good medium to draw people in and raise awareness for the social causes,” Herman says.
The group held an event at Cynthia House in January to promote awareness for abused women and children, called Diamonds in the Sun, and an event in Port Coquitlam called Unity Rocks that supported anti-bullying.
Those events were successes, and now Herman is getting ready to launch the group’s next charity event, Noble Hearts, on July 5 at the Maple Ridge Plaza Blenz.
“Diamonds in the Sun was a phenomenal success,” he says. “A lot of people came out, but it’s not necessarily about the crowd size. It’s about touching people’s hearts and making them think.”
Noble Hearts’ purpose is to raise money for the Salvation Army’s Caring Place meals program, which Herman has worked with since last May.
“Everyone deserves a house and a home. There’s a lot of people who make a bad decision in life. I’ve experienced poverty. I’ve had rent problems. Anybody can end up out on the street in a box on a cold winter night,” Herman says. “We want to do the best job we can to make people think about the issue of homelessness, and famine.”
Despite the issues, Herman wants to keep the event fun, and that’s where StarrEagle comes in.
Herman grew up in the ’80s, and it’s reflected in his characters and his art. Arak StarrEagle was inspired by a mix of Arak, the Son of Thunder, and Valda, the Iron Maiden, characters who starred together in a pulp DC Comics series.
“[StarrEagle] is really more soft,” Herman admits. “He’s the hippie. He’s got the peace symbol, wears feather boas, he’s all about peace and love, very Berkley, California.”
To that end, Herman says StarrEagle is more of an extension of himself. But at Noble Hearts, Herman plans to also perform as a newer character known as the Golden Gryphon, a sort of paladin character – noble, virtuous, and somewhat medieval.
His characters perform a kind of spoken word Herman calls glam rap, which takes the aesthetics of ’80s glam metal bands like Poison and Skid Row, and mixes them with the music of contemporary hip hop artists like Ludacris and Jay Z.
Though ’80s heroes may have inspired his outlandish characters, Herman insists it is friends and family that inspired his beliefs.
“It started with my grandfather,” he says. “And my administrator Charlie Spittel, who I met in the ’90s. These are very progressive people.”
However there is still one other person who inspires him, and he wears his symbol around his neck in the form of an enormous block of carved wood.
“I wouldn’t be who I am without the good lord Jesus Christ.”
But Herman doesn’t care if others don’t share his faith. He believes that you don’t need a badge to be a hero, or wear a cross to be a saint.
But he insists that to be StarrEagle, you do need one thing.
“Clearly,” says Herman, “it’s about garish, outlandish style.”