Cracka Smile, a.k.a Damien LaKlaive, has been wandering the United States homeless for 5 years. After moving to New Orleans initially to help do clean up work after hurricane Katrina, he found himself the victim of a another storm, Hurricane Gustav. Gustav was predicted to be a catastrophic downpour that would cause three times the devastation of Katrina. Since fleeing in 2008 on an evacuation bus, Cracka has travelled the U.S. in search of artistic inspiration. Having lived on the streets in cities from Austin to Los Angeles, he now calls California home.
“I’ve just never wanted to get caught up in the general malaise of street life.” He says this with a smile on his face after telling the story of how California’s recycling hubs have given him a second chance to express himself by creating his unique artwork. “I would just pick up everything I saw laying around. Which in the L.A. area alone is quite a lot.”
He worked day and night collecting recyclables all over L.A. County after discovering that, since the release of the iPad 3, its predecessor iPad 2 could be purchased for as low as $400 dollars. “It gave me something to focus on and work towards, and honestly kept me out of the trouble that tends to find you when living this kind of life. ” Earning only five to ten cents per bottle or can, he had his work cut out for him. “It wasn’t easy that’s for sure.”
After months of hard work, and living off the free food dished out by the many local churches that help those in need, his efforts payed off. “I was ecstatic when I finally had saved enough money to buy one and was immediately driven to get busy creating.” And create he has. Since October of 2012, Cracka Smile has written several songs and filmed and edited videos for his favorite tracks using nothing but the iPad and its many helpful apps.
All this has been accomplished simply by walking around and soaking up inspiration from the many sights and wonders that this great city has to offer. “I would walk around and see these great works of street art or beautiful old buildings and parks and just start filming anything and everything.” Catching tunes in his head while passing his time at the Los Angeles Central Library, Cracka would work on his iPad’s Garageband app and create songs anywhere he could find some peace and quiet. “Once I got the music sounding right, I would utilize anything from fast food bathrooms to the empty hallways of my storage facility as a vocal booth.”
When listening to his original songs, the emotional content induced by the hardships of life is evident. “To me it’s a spiritual endeavor. Learning to live without the amenities that most people take for granted helps me to see something greater, something deep and grand.” With pop/rock videos such as “I Is What You See Through” and “The Song Remains The Change” as well as his electronic Buddhist chant song “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”, Cracka Smile proves his artistic eye is solid and his vision is of a better world. “I want to be able to purge the darker side of myself while showing what the beauty of the world means to me personally. Inject a little positivity and make peace with it all.”
Now delving into classical pieces and working on his video, music and art website artfreeart.weebly.com , Cracka is looking to the future. “You can let the problems of life get you down, or you can use what cards you’re dealt to make something better. Even if all you achieve is inspiring future artists to push their hardest, it’s worth putting a 100% into what you do.” In lieu of the current economic pressures, those artists might need to take a cue from this dedicated workaholic and keep their nose to the grindstone. Cracka Smile is not giving up anytime soon. “I plan to keep it up for as long as I can.”