August 31, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: Solving the Vexing Percussion Problem

Keir DuBois, the Mojo Wire and their friends crash a frat party. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/9/97).

I was in a rotten mood. It had been two weeks and no one had responded to our ads about looking for drummers. In fact, all the ads I saw were looking for drummers; seems there’s a severe shortage on talent when one is in a town where everyone and their mom is in a band, and we learned that the hard way. Still, something might have come up, but I wasn’t in prime condition to appreciate that.

I’d just read an article in a pop music rag that bent me all out of shape. Seems that the College Music Journal was having its annual hipper-than-thou convention, and some comments made by the keynote speakers were just out and out lies, but the crowd of bitter bohemians cheered like a cult. One of the speakers, techno-guru Moby, said the contemporary music scene was “not courageous” as well as “anemic and soulless.”

The fact that he made this assertion just because the poor bastard couldn’t avoid the Wallflowers or some other Top Forty band on the radio is laughable. He of all people should know that the current scene is very courageous; it’s just not getting the publicity it deserves. He also forgot that the world isn’t perfect.

The next speaker was the ghoulish Marilyn Manson, who said “If you do something that everybody loves, it’s not really worth too much.” Like hell it’s not; that guy and his band have sold oodles of albums, and I’d be surprised if he thought that his own material sucked. Well, maybe he does; he’s already become the ‘90s Alice Cooper.

“Jeez,” I said aloud, “these guys have really gotta lighten up a little. I mean, how rough can it be? Even they didn’t have to deal with a paranoid terrorist roommate for a year.”

“What?” asked Bryn. “Are you griping about music again, you fool?”

“Of course,” I replied. “What else do I do these days but weep and moan?”

“Look,” he reassured me, “we’ll find a damn drummer, okay? Now please play your part!” He was referring to my bass line for a surf instrumental we’d been working on called “El Nido Thunder.” I flipped the power switch, rumbled the rafters awhile, and came up with a low counterpoint for his screeching lead, and suddenly all was right with the world. Rock and roll indeed.

An hour later it was dark, and we were congratulating ourselves for our brilliance when Adam walked in with Ian and our friends Stacy and Harriet. Stacy looked at Bryn and I with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye and said, “Okay boys, get pretty. We’re going to go crash a frat party!”

“What?” we asked, and then realizing their folly, exclaimed “No! No, no, no!” Bryn and I aren’t very fond of the greek system at all, and we don’t care if our disdain is justified or not, we’ll pick on the greeks as much as we pick on everything else.

“Whoa there,” cautioned Adam, “Those of us that hold too much hatred will have no, er, ‘dignity’ to lose. She said we’re crashing it, didn’t she?”

“Yeah,” chimed in Harriet, who unknowingly repeated my own advice, “you guys have really gotta lighten up a little. We need handsome men like you there to protect us from the, um, weird guys that are gonna be there. Yeah, that’s it.” It was a weak argument, but as I’ve said, my brother and I are raving egomaniacs, and flattery will get anyone anywhere with us.

Minutes later, after collecting Stacy’s roommates Rachel and Emily, we arrived at Theta Chi. Of course the girls were let in right away, and the hulk at the door gave us the cold shoulder. “Don’t worry,” called Stacy over the fence a few feet away, “we’re gonna get you four in here!”

In fact it took twenty-five minutes. We had enough time to cruise to Del Playa to see the destruction there and be back in time to find her waiting for us. “Come on, come on, let’s go!” she yelled, grabbing me, the most reluctant soul, by the collar and dragging me through the gate. “You better appreciate this, Mister Rock and Roll. I had to convince four different meatheads that you guys were legit!” I had no choice but to go where I was led, and to make a very long story short, we actually had fun, for a little while. There was a great country-blues band playing, and we all took over the couch behind the drummer.

Soon everyone was loopy. “Hey,” I offered, “I know what we could do to solve all our problems!” In the state of mind I was in, I must have made it sound like a revelation. They all looked at me like I was Moses come down the mountain.

“Let’s steal this drummer! Let’s talk him out of this band, ‘cause we can get better than these guys, and if he won’t go, we’ll just cart him of after they finish the gig! There are a lot of us; we could do it!” Whether or not the guy actually wanted to go was beside the point, because he was good and we needed him, and, well, things would work out eventually, right? “All right,” answered Emily, “you four guys each get an arm and a leg, and we’ll each take a drum!”

“No, we won’t,” said Bryn. “We’ll go over there and chat him up like any sane prospective band would.”

Adam and I reluctantly agreed that this was probably the better thing to do, but I still heard Emily mumbling “...I coulda had that cymbal, easy...” as we sauntered over to talk to the drummer.

Unfortunately, he really liked the group he was with, and even worse, he didn’t know of any other drifting, bandless drummers. Upon rejection, we all drowned our collective sorrows again for another hour or so, but then went back tothe girls’ place in the Fontanbleu, where we wrote and played a new song, a creepy little thing that called “The Shakeup.” It was so good that it gave us that great and powerful feeling of being in a band and creating. “You know,” I said, “it really won’t be that long until we’re ready to go out there and make a living doing this.” I was happy, but a little too excited.

“Sure,” answered Ian. “But you still need a drummer.”

August 24, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: New Adventures With The Mojo Wire

Keir DuBois is back after a failed solo attempt. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/2/97).

“The Clap is dead. From the ashes of a popular and successful blues band has arisen a smaller band, skilled but unknown. The faces are the same and the talent remains, but what has arrived in Isla Vista, playing the most corrosive blues, the most reverb-drenched surf, the snappiest pop, and the cheesiest country is a new group called the Mojo Wire.”

Kevin laughed at our attempt at self-promotion. “You twits,” he chided, “you think that will get you where you want to go? Hell, if people see that, they just might take you seriously, and you know that any band in Isla Vista who takes themselves seriously is laughed out of town as pretentious egomaniacs!”

“But Kev,” I replied, “we are egomaniacs. Well, at least Bryn and I are.” Bryn is my younger brother and a guitar player in the band. I play bass guitar, only because no one else wanted to. I turned sheepishly to Adam, the singer, guitarist, and frontman, and said “Adam has no ego. He’s far too modest.” I thought I was useless to add that as such, he is a great choice for a camera-magnet leader. “Besides,” I continued to Kevin, “you’re not coming, so what’s it to you?”

Kevin, at fifteen a drum prodigy, merely laughed. “Without me, you jokers will be hard pressed for gigs. Face it, your only gig here at home is a repeat of last year’s Christmas Boat Parade fiasco, and furthermore, drummers are hard to find.”

To this Bryn reminded our oh-so-mature skinsman that he’s so young that he has to ask his dad if he can jam with us. He then ripped deeper. “Remember, we saved you from drumming for a crazy punk band, you doofus, so you better appreciate that Christmas gig.” Bryn is a little bitter himself about said performance; our employer is cheap, so we only get free food and drinks for playing. Never mind that we’ll get valuable exposure, playing on a fifty-foot yacht, which itself must have eaten up most of the funds of our esteemed patron, whom we only know as “Ms. C.”

Soon we’d have to leave for school. All of our equipment was packed into a medium-sized white Aerostar, an auto that looked more like a giant egg than a car. At the wheel was our friend Ian, who in addition to being the sometime driver, was also the resident manager, accountant, lawyer, lighting and sound tech, bookie, and mafia man. He revved the engine impatiently. “Let’s go, huh? If we wait any longer, we’ll hit traffic!” We’ve never met anyone more concerned with time and money than Ian, and that’s why he is where he is.

Adam was indifferent to his future roommate’s concerns. “We’ll be going soon. We’ve got plenty of time.” He took two slow ambling steps down the driveway, looked at the ocean, and came back. Something was getting to him, but I couldn’t tell what it was. When he wasn’t happy Adam had this look on his face like he was distantly occupied with profound matters of the universe, the way the rest of us looked when we were stoned or hungover.

Adam could also be the flashiest out of all of us. We’re not usually dressed formal for gigs, but our first gig as the Mojo Wire was at a wedding. We’re the world’s worst wedding band, but we pulled this show off because Adam looked like a rock star. We played great, but he was dressed like a corporate surfer plus mafiosi in one, which bested my suit, a dull blue thing that made me look like a goofy Secret Service agent. He writes all our sillies songs, though, so even if we do start to think that he’s infinitely cooler than we are, we just have to recall our most favorite Adam-penned song, “Your Mama’s A Ho,” which elegantly speaks for itself.

Bryn was humming that same song when it occurred to me that these songs belong to a different band. They’re our songs still, but that was when we were the Clap. Now that we’d be away and without Kev, some of us had no intention of having such a name. Not me. “I miss the Clap,” I blurted out at random. “I think I’ll write a song called ‘I miss the Clap.’ It was such a great name for a blues band.”

“No,” said Bryn, “it was a hilarious novelty of an unpoetic name. I like the Mojo Wire much better, and you forget, bro, that we are not just a blues band.”

It was the same debate we’d had all summer, with the one exception that I agreed that we shouldn’t just be a blues band. What was weird was to hear a comment like that come from my brother the Blues Purist. No, that’s not true; Bryn’s not all blues and nothing else, it’s just that if he had to play blues guitar for the rest of his life, he’d be perfectly happy.

My thoughts were again interrupted by Ian yelling that it was time to go. We all said goodbye to Kev, promising that we’d never find another drummer who could play like him, and assured him that his spot at the Christmas gig was secure. “Excellent,” he snickered, clasping his hands together. “I shall await your ultimate return.” He cackled suddenly. We all laughed at the sight of the young terrorist riding into the sunset on his bike. We piled into the van and sped off in the opposite direction.

It’s been three weeks since then, and the three of us are still woefully unrehearsed. Sure, we can bust out all of our old blues songs in our sleep, but we need drums behind us. Not just drums, though. Kevin is one of our best friends, and it’ll be hard to replace him.

August 17, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: Shameful Disintegration On Tour

Keir DuBois is back after a failed solo attempt. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 6/5/97).

Sometimes sabbaticals can be anything but vacations. I apologize to the few readers of this column for missing last week, but it just couldn’t be helped, and evidently, more serious things have gone on within the Clap in the last two weeks. There were several things that piled up on the members of the band that caused a collective identity crisis on their part, and they decided that the best way to ride out the problems was to spend time away from each other for a while.

We’d just finished a small four-date tour of the Bay Area, and that was, to put it euphemistically, rather interesting. We had one show on the street in San Francisco, opening for a street bluesman whose major claim to fame was his ability to converse with the passer-s by in various languages. These people were duly impressed, but that was only because they didn’t stop long enough to notice that this guy’s language skills were sixty percent genuine and forty percent pure bullshit; half of what he said in any language other than English were nonsense syllables that sounded somewhat like the rest of the legitimate syntax.

We were impressed at first as well, but we also decided to have a little fun with the old guy, since he only let us play a three-song set and continually interrupted our songs to promote his own. When we objected he chastised us, saying we spoiled white kids had no idea how rough it was on the street and that it’s not all for one.

Naturally, we decided to show him the sense of humor that the suburbs breed; we got someone in the crowd to ask the bluesman to speak Latin. The polymath’s Latin was almost nonexistent, and it didn’t help that the interrogator we found was a Berkeley classics professor. Our bluesman benefactor was so angry with us by then that we had to hotfoot it across the wharf just to avoid the random garbage he began throwing at us.
Our other shows were a little more successful. Catering to our growing (and previously unknown) fan base in sunny Pleasanton, we played at the Amador High prom, which would have been a great show if our drummer Kevin hadn’t pulled the fire alarm.

This was our major problem. Kevin’s two main goals in life were (a) to be a drummer, and if that didn’t work, well, there was always plan (b) terrorism, which he seemed to have a perverse attraction to. At first we thought it was cool that he could create small plastic explosives in the eraser heads on pencils, but this whole fire alarm thing was a bit much- I mean, it’s one thing to talk about blowing up one’s school, but Kev took this a little too seriously, especially since we were far from his school, and since the dance was held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Club, we weren’t at a school at all, so there was absolutely no excuse for this kind of behavior, which would have otherwise been more understandable, however perverse.

The last two shows were in Modesto. These went well, but that was only because the support we were able to drum up was about thirty friends and friends of friends, since our promoter had unfortunately been on a serious bender the night before, and so was completely blotto when he was supposed to be booking the tour. The result was the crowd in the audience for the two shows were exactly the same people. I’ve never dropped acid before, the resulting heavy dose of deja vu that we got the second night was pretty damn trippy.

The sticky points between the band came to a head while we ate at the In-n-Out in Kettleman City, quite possibly one of the most desolate places in this great state of ours. We were all in favor of dumping poor deranged Kevin, but we also knew that if he had no drumming outlet he’d probably defect to the Michigan Militia and turn that movement on its ear for his own nefarious purposes.

Another issue was Adam’s singing, as in he didn’t want to, despite constant praise from a never-ending stream of beautiful young women. We recruited our friend Laurel for vocals, which she is damn good at, and she’s very talented, but she immediately took issue with the band’s name. That was no surprise; almost every woman who heard our name despised it. The real shocker was when Laurel refused to sing our only hit, the song that we simply must play at every show, because it’s the only famous Clap song, and since she wouldn’t sing “Your Mama’s a Ho,” then we were out of luck again.

She did have a good point, though. Our name is a public relations albatross, and so we immediately decided to brainstorm a new one. This proved difficult, though, since every name that passed our criteria of “good” (meaning the mere speaking of the word or phrase made us convulse in laughter) was just as dirty as the Clap. Still, talking about this stuff wasn’t getting us anywhere, since by that point all of our egos were way too big to accommodate each other, so we all decided to part ways for a while.

My brother Bryn and I woke up at 3 AM that morning, hijacked our tattered van, and drove back to ‘Frisco with all of our road money. Sure, this was a horrible thing to do, but he’d just seen “Trainspotting” and I’d just read “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and because both of us were ridiculously inebriated, so we had no qualms at all about ditching Kev and Adam.

We were crossing the Bay Bridge into Oakland when Bryn suddenly pulled a .357 Magnum on me and demanded all of the money and to be let off the van right now. “Now?” I said, eying the gun. “We’re on the bridge, you dolt!”

“I don’t care!” he screamed, his face flushed with drink and lack of sleep. “Stop the van and let me off, or I swear to Elvis I’ll shoot!”

At this point I didn’t care if he was my brother or Kevin’s terrorist prodigy. I let him off right there, which just happened to be in the middle of the bridge on Treasure Island. Two weeks later he arrived home in I.V. in a crate stamped “U.S. NAVY.”

Adam and Kevin hitch-hiked their way back here in a car full of gorgeous girls, who dumped Kev in Isla Vista (after he stole their bikinis) and drove Adam, singing all the way, to Cabo San Lucas. I bet he was singing all the way, but I didn’t hear from him for a month.

I ended up back in P-town at a friend’s house, putting the finishing touches on a batch of new Clap songs I’d stolen, preparing them for my impending solo career, which took two rather un-noteworthy months to fizzle and die, after which I pleaded with the others to revive the band (jump-started now for a second time), and when they finally agreed, we began planning our next major assault on the world, which we knew would make us superstars again.

August 10, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: The Many Pitfalls of Stardom

Keir DuBois is not a sell-out. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 5/22/97).

We as a band have been ready for the many pitfalls of stardom, and we’ve avoided several hassles that have brought down or severely wounded the abilities of other bands to exert their creative juices and love of performance, but the Clap was caught substantially off guard when an interviewer from a publication that is to remain nameless asked us what our opinion was on some fans’ allegations that we’d sold out.

Sold out? The Clap? Hey, we haven’t even had a record deal since our first frontman kicked the bucket! This we had to know about. Evidently some disgruntled supposed roadie of ours got a little irked at us for allegedly cutting him out of some share of tour profit. This was a little peculiar, since we’ve never had roadies (or even groupies) and we’d never been on a major (or minor) tour. When the guy figured out he couldn’t get money out of us, he apparently decided to kill us the behind-the-back way and accused us of committing that heinous sin of selling out.

I’ve got several problems with this kind of name-calling. First, as I understand it, “selling out” means compromising one’s artistic integrity for the sake of making more money. Now, if someone has bills to pay, I understand such actions are immediately necessary. I’m sure it’s great to be a cult hero, but if you’re a cult hero that dies in penniless starvation just because you adhered to some ridiculous code of hip ethics, then there would never be a more idiotic martyr.

However, going the other way to the extreme is just as bad. For example, for about two years now it’s been very easy to throttle a band like Hootie and the Blowfish because their output has been consistently bland. Granted, that in itself is a matter of opinion, and in those two years criticizing Hootie has taken on bandwagon-like proportions; as if dissing them gives you an instant ticket to hipness.

For me, being the opinionated guy that I am, I’ve always thought that any band who willingly advertises that they play pop music of the beer-and-tears variety or of the chaste prom date variety deserves to get dragged through the mud a few times. Still, I am myself a hypocrite in this matter; even though I’m as judgmental as I am, I’m also a sucker for a good pop song, and even though there have been very few of those lately, that smacks of hypocrisy. Well, so what?

What I mean is, why do pop music fans absolutely have to be hip or square? Why not both? The great majority of good pop music is both, and I think that the best music comes out of the tension that results from the mixing of the artistic and the commercial. The best pop artists out there have realized this, and every single one of them, from Bob Dylan to U2 to the Beatles to Public Enemy has taken not a small amount of hell from those who think they know better.

What’s so annoying is that the critics really don’t know any better, but for some reason they think they do. The thought process behind cries of “sellout” is very grandiose but inherently hollow; just because someone translates their art to a more commercial medium doesnt’ always mean they sold out. What if they just want to reach a wider audience? Who wouldn’t?

Also, if the artist is still in creative control of their work, then there’s no reason to call them a sellout; no matter how much the work sells, it’s still from the original source and therefore uncorrupted. If it still isn’t “good” work, well, that’s the fault of the artist losing their love of creating good work, not the fault of the artist creating lousy work just for the money. Sometimes the critics or the public genuinely don’t get it, and when great things get under-appreciated because someone says their creator is a sellout, that can really hurt.

However, sometimes the problem isn’t with the public misunderstanding the artist- it’s the other way around. Sometimes it seems to me that there is an unwillingness of the artistic few to surrender their great creations to the masses simply because the artists assume their work won’t get the appreciation it deserves. Well, tough. Nobody’s going to appreciate it the same way the artist does, but that’s no reason not to present the art to the public and have no chance of praise at all.

Granted, the masses haven’t always made it easy for this kind of thing to happen, but that’s only because the public is a very fickle entity; they know what they like and they’re not so sure that they’ll like something new unless the novelty can hold their attention. This process often involves the public becoming impatient with the eccentricities of the art and immediately ditching it in favor of something new. This, in turn, almost always makes the art’s creator bitter and cynical, and that can be justified or not depending on specific cases, but the end result is the artist whining about the public being inherently moronic and how there’s no way in hell that the artist will dumb down their work to a third-grade level just so that the average doofus on the street can understand it.

In other words some artists are just too damn anal. It’s one thing to try and challenge the collective intellect of the public, but it’s quite another to become so pretentious so as to think that one has to create second-rate art just so that people won’t have to think too hard to understand it. Artists aren’t always as brilliant as they think they are, and the public isn’t as stupid as the artists think. The people know that they can make or break a career by using their wallets as a weapon, and if it turns out that someone’s work doesn’t sell until after their death, well, sometimes those are the breaks. The public can’t appreciate everything all at once, but that doesn’t make them inherent cretins.

Whoa, I’ll stop that right there. I didn’t want to turn this into a high art versus low art debate, because I don’t know much about that and and I’d really be stretching my already-strained bounds of credibility. The point is that reaching a larger audience shouldn’t always be called selling out; for those of you who are too cool, and you know who you are, don’t shortchange the intelligence of the music-buying public. They’ll come around sometime; they just need a little shove in a new direction now and then.

August 08, 2002

Resigned to Voyeuristic Amateurism

It’s unnaturally cold here at the west end of North America, almost an actual dark day in paradise. Everything is gray and damp and dull, as if November forced its way into the beginning of August, but that won’t stop Santa Barbara from going batshit crazy this weekend. Today begins the annual Old Spanish Days celebration, locally known as Fiesta Weekend, when tourists from Fresno and Lancaster and Riverside will be whooping it up in demented depravity for three days straight.

The looming debauchery has already affected productivity—my supervisors are gone for the day and the workload is miniscule anyway. Still, six hours of dealing with bitchy arguments over petty cash reimbursement has dulled my senses, and since this stuff will just be back with a vengeance on Monday, with me likely hung over from a prolonged Fiesta binge, I don’t think any more real work will get done today. I listen for any hints of nearby life, but the front office is pretty quiet, so I subtly take the phone off the hook, moving it just slightly so that it still seems in place, and try not to think about all the meaningful, creative things I haven’t accomplished today while sitting in a cube.

I shouldn’t dwell on it too much, cause sooner or later it’ll get overwhelming and I’ll psych myself out with the realization that life seems less and less likely to grant me the holy privilege of “doing what I want to do.” I’ve mired myself in that horrible place before, and the worries always seem to pop up whenever I’m bored at work, and I have to remind myself that creative minds are always doomed to similar purgatories before someone deigns to give them a paycheck for their brilliance.

Too bad for me that brilliance has been in short supply lately. My writing has sucked, and I’m not enough of a maniacal self-promoter to survive the brutal jockeying of literary fiends that compete for the attention of newspapers or publishing houses. That sort of thing takes a kind of willpower just short of genius, and I’m not a genius. I used to assume that no one else in my immediate socio-creative radius showed more promise with equal talent, but of course that proved as wrong as every other na├»ve assumption I held when I thought that people would naturally beat down my door in frenzied anticipation of the next masterpiece.

I file some more pay stubs and refund receipts and try not to feel like a fraud. No one else I know has leeched more mileage from their idols than I have, and the wider world will guess at it sooner or later. Someone will probably detect the smoldering desire for validation that plagues people like me, or maybe they’ll notice a blatant bit of plagiarism without thinking it’s some insane originality, and then my cheap ego-fort of cover will be blown and I’ll be just another imitator. Just another frustrated also-ran in the great race of desperate whores, except for one debilitating difference: an inconveniently interrupting inner monologue.

“That’s right,” it says, burbling up from the depths of my mind, a brutal voice of Reason that shatters all scams with its fearsome hammer of reality. “Yeah, forget about all that crap, man. Drop it. You’re not a writer and not an artist. You’re just a bureaucrat, sniping and clawing for any slice of soothing survival you can get. How many more days do you think you’ll be able to slouch into your tiny apartment at the end of the day, dude?”

Whatever you say. Sure, fine. And yeah, grand theft is too easy to spot in print to get away with it, especially the odious kind that pretends to be an homage. Uh-huh, everyone’s a crook, but some are smart enough to fess up if they ever get caught, and they grovel and plead like children for their infractions to be forgotten until the next time, so that they might be seen in the eyes of the world as perpetual first-time offenders.

“Yeah, that’s more like it,” agrees the Voice. “You’re not an artist yet, but you might become one someday, when you step out from under the shadow of Emulation, and keep from being obscured by the blazing light of history and the combined intensity of universal appreciation and abject envy. It’s been a long time since those glory days of wild and bizarre prose, let alone the odd interview of a C-list musician or politician, hasn’t it? It was one headlong rush down with by total lies and blatant plugs for a band that doesn’t play anymore.”

I silently agree, but the voice takes this as a cue to continue. “You’ll be an artist when you can string together something less puerile, less self-aggrandizing than that juvenile shit you passed off as criticism in the school paper. Until then, you'll keep sitting in front of a computer at a dead-end job by day, and playing with a no-hoper, nobody band at night. Come on, just try not to cobble together tunes that reek of revenge. Until you can do that, pal, you’ll just be a perpetual interpreter, bereft of ambition and innovation.”

It’s hard to really, truly admit psychological defeat when I’m only arguing with myself, but that’s what happens, and I go back to work, filing forms and answering emails and phone calls from curious and desperate job applicants for the next few hours. It’s pretty soul-crushing, and I can’t help but think ahead to rehearsal with the guys tonight, when ear-splitting noise will drown out the worst doubts and nastiest self-recriminations.

I pull up our rinky-dink website on the computer and click through it in a fit of vanity. The site had crashed earlier today, when I tried to upload a few pages’ worth of new lyrics for the songs we’ll be practicing, but it seems fine now. The lyrics are the first ones I’ve finished in six months, having spilled out of the burbling stew of my brain as epic, monstrous things that cannot be controlled by tight, clever titles. Indeed, they must be given big words like “forever” and “oblivion” and such, bloated with pretension and crippled by hubris.

The day is just slouching by, so I pull a lyric sheet out of my pocket and give it a quick scan, a self-critical impulse that must mean my mental worms are truly ready to turn. Future cerebral expeditions to unearth more meaningful scrawl will now probably have to be shelved in favor of mock self-absorption and gratuitous daydreaming over some lame semi-hip ennui midlife crisis shock-mode bullshit. Well, that’s not entirely true, but it can’t be made to sound like anything else, so enough of this crap. Most people will not be bothered with such selfish tripe on their good days, so any karmic mercy on a wretched afternoon like today is out of the question.

When overcooked bullshit like this is piling up, though, you gotta get out from under it, and I need some air anyway, so I get up from my desk and leave the HR office without permission to deposit a long-awaited check at the billing office downstairs. I step out into the open Admin building hallway and shiver; the faint shadows and the weak breeze offer small consolation since I’d spent most of the day sitting inside a cubicle. I take the elevator down and, after a wham-bam visit with the lifers in Billing, am not in the mood to go back up three floors and simply try to look busy for the next two hours.

As I turn toward the elevator, though, a brunette of indeterminate-student age passes in front of me, walking briskly through the quasi-tunnel of Admin’s first floor. It’s been a long, boring day, and she is absolutely stunning—I caught a brief glimpse of a snub-nosed, high-cheeked profile—so I decide to skip out on work and follow her. Not in a devious, obsessive, or psychotic way, I tell myself, knowing full well this would be near-impossible to explain to anyone else on the receiving end of even the most benign form of this behavior. I do it anyway, however, because at this point it’s almost routine.

Seriously, it’s sad but true. Back when I was a student it was easy to follow pretty girls all over campus, crowded as the paths were between classes, with everyone out and about keeping decidedly cool and to themselves (this was before the proliferation of cellphones). It goes further back than that, though; I've indulged this sick impulse at every academic institution I've ever attended since grade school, for no other apparent reason than the challenge of keeping far enough behind to escape notice and compensating for the girl's speed or lack thereof as she walked.

She seems like she could fall into almost any assumption I could make about her, all favorable. She’s dressed up for this gray day in a tastefully sleeveless white blouse with a neck-high cut that compliments her khaki ankle-length skirt well. All is skin-tight. Skirt not slit very high up her legs at all, creating the effect of short and frequent strides; it isn't long before she turns the corner around Admin and is out of sight, forcing me to either pick up the pace or be conscientious and go back up the stairs to my cube.

The Voice is on to me, though. “Yeah, think fast, you lecherous sloth. Your lack of a proper, enthusiastic, all-American work ethic has already thrown you into fuck-it mode, so just speed up. You’re already in trouble. Might as well make it worth the grief you’ll get back at the office. Your tibialis anterior muscles will protest the only way they know how, and your front lower legs will ache with indignation, because you’re A) still pathetically out of shape despite biking to work daily, and B) you wouldn’t have even remembered “tibialis anterior” if not for your girlfriend’s (yes, as in actual co-habiting female sexual partner) semester of anatomy lab last year. Yeah, dipshit, she wouldn’t enjoy this, would she?”

Well, it’s not like I’m going to talk to this girl anyway. I dismiss the Voice with a shrug and pick up her trail immediately after turning the corner. It’s the hips in that skirt that did it. “This girl would not give you the goddamn time of day, you asshole. You stalk like an amateur and she probably knows it by now.” Shit. You think so? Come on, I don’t even know what her whole face looks like. I gotta find that one out, man. “Suit yourself, slimeball.”

I fall back from around fifteen feet to about thirty, clomping around in ragged faux-Docs like a troglodytic frat guy—except frat guys wouldn’t chase this girl, or at least she wouldn’t’ let them catch her. She doesn’t really look anything like the blonde, low-watt, short-tempered coeds that now constitute fifty-four percent of the current student body. Those girls binge on alcohol as often as they over-exercise at the gym, their bodies unconsciously breaking even in a vicious cycle until their strained physiques finally show dissatisfaction via protruding pouches of tummies and handles that spill out of the tight baby t-shirts or spaghetti straps that compliment their frighteningly tight jeans.

So yeah, this girl doesn’t look like that. She looks like the daughter of a rich daddy, like every girl I dated in high school. This of course presents a few Freudian problems—I remember the story of how my parents met at school thirty years ago, when my dad followed my mom home—and the replay reel starts to run, with audio commentary included for my listening pleasure. "Struggling semi-sensitive guy from broken home seeks sheltered little rich girl, brunette if possible." Fuck off- you know it wasn't really like that. "Are you sure? You weren't there, now were you?" Freud's overrated. Besides, I've never snorted cocaine, so shut up. Overanalyzing this is not helping, okay? Let’s just keep going.

By this time I’d crossed the Arbor and main square in front of the Library, in what I’d thought was a parallel trajectory, but apparently not as focused or attentive to the rapidly exploding directional possibilities that the girl might take, because before I can follow her around to the dorms on the far side of the windowless Psych building, the world is suddenly full of people, and she melts into the oncoming throng with ease. Undergrads and vendors and professors and grad students and university support staff all converge on the same spot, and the beautiful vision that spurred my bent truancy is gone.

Gone, and all I can do is go back. There’s nothing for it. It’s been at least twenty minutes, and the fucking phones back at the office won’t answer themselves—on or off the hook—and the job applicants and grievance-filers and staffers confused over their health benefits will still be there. My legs ache, my feet are cramping up with fatigue, and I’m sweating like a horse, right through the feeble clothing that passes for dress-casual in this apathetic day and age.

I turn around and start walking slowly toward the bus loop, back the long way. Might as well make the most of the remaining minutes of fresh air, drab and displaced gloom that it is. I try not to think about the vile reasons for what just happened, but I can’t completely banish the idea of sin. I may not be an artist, but at least I’m not psychotic. I’m just a lazy, voyeuristic asshole with not enough free time.

August 03, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: Catch The Clap! One Night Only!

Keir DuBois explains what’s in a name. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 5/15/97).

Our band has always garnered a lot of questions about our name. For newcomers, the blues band that I’m part of is named the Clap, and in our brief existence we’ve heard one query after another: “Where did you guys come up with that name?”

People either like it or they hate it, and that usually depends on how much thought they actually give it. We’ve had a lot of fun making up reasons as to why we chose the name, and some are better than others, and some are even better than the real (read: serious) reason.

One theory is that the name is based on a pun; when you hear our music, you like it and so you “clap” to it. That one died a quick but horrible death- ditched almost immediately, in fact- for the obvious reason of smelling worse than rancid limburger. Another explanation that didn’t make it to the bank was the one that claimed that, well, we wanted to have a gross, disgusting name that would no doubt endear us to those wholesome folks at the Parents Music Resource Center, (sorry Tipper, your daughters are gorgeous, but we can’t forgive you your silly album stickers) but “The Butthole Surfers” was already taken.

Closer to the truth, but ridiculous nonetheless, was the idea that, since we’re a blues band, we’d undoubtedly be influenced by Eric Clapton at some point in our career, and so by calling ourselves The Clap, we would not only be paying tribute to him but also show up right in front of Slowhand in all of those alphabetically-listed rock encyclopedias and anthologies and stuff.

This was misinterpreted to insinuate that since the Clap would come before Clapton, The Clap must think that they’re better than Clapton. This is of course untrue, and why we didn’t see this whole fiasco in the first place is beyond me, but after many laborious interviews explaining away our bad taste, we finally deflated that bag of hot air, apologized to Eric, and made everything nice again, hoping that the next time we get bad press it would be easier to defuse. It wasn’t, and so we finally gave up trying to make bad jokes about our dirty band name.

The real reason our band name is so dirty is that, surprise surprise, it was entirely supposed to be. Well, sort of. We didn’t exactly plan to become famous as members of a band named after an STD, and though it might seem calculated now, it was totally spontaneous at its inception.

See, Adam, Bryn and I were at a coffeehouse shootin’ the breeze as spoiled white teenagers do, listening painfully to the band that was playing that night. Cover after cover emanated from their amplifiers, and we started to get annoyed; hey, if we wanted to hear Alanis and Hootie and, hell, the Eagles, we’d turn on the local Top Forty station and get comfortably numb. We soon realized that, without being egomaniacs and with a little practice, we could go up there and play and eat those other bands for lunch. Famous sax man Brandford Marsalis once said that there’s “no better feeling than to go up on stage and just cream all the other bands, you know, beat the shit out of all the other bands,” and we took this advice to heart.

While the three of us were having delusions of fame, power, money, making great records, and meeting beautiful women, the cover band finished their set. Being as we were in Southern California, where everyone is too cool for anything and then some, no one in the tiny audience applauded. We usually do, just cause we know no one else will, but this time we didn’t clap because they sucked.

Their lead singer was not getting the instant gratification he expected, and that really went up his ass sideways. “Hey,” he told the crowd, after numerous suggestive “thank you”s “a little appreciation, huh? A little applause, huh?” No noise. No, a few pinkie-claps were heard. “Aw man, “ he whined, “come on, people, clap! Clap! CLAP, DAMMIT!!”

This finally garnered a fraction of the reception he wanted, but Bryn hadn’t noticed; he just sat there laughing to himself like a little boy who just got away with whacking off in the bathroom. He waited until Adam and I noticed him, and then blurted out “Guys, we should call our band ‘The Clap’!” He barely got this out before exploding into a fit of laughter that was more contagious than said STD, and soon all three of us were guffawing uncontrollably, rolling around on the pristine tile floor like weighted beach balls.

When we came to our senses after about fifteen minutes of this seventh-grade regression, we did it all over again, and then agreed yep, that’s it- we were gonna be The Clap. I could just see the marquees: “Come catch The Clap tonight at the IVBC!” I fell over laughing a third time.

We hadn’t reckoned on all of the implications of our name, but we soon came up with a semi-serious reason for it. We argued that, well, we’re a blues band, and the blues in its original form had been widely regarded by whites as everything from dirty to oversexed to downright satanic. The dirty part was right; musically most electric blues is amplified to a distorted, fuzzy-souding level. The sexy part was right, too; blues rhythms derived ultimately from ancient African percussion beats, which were very animated, enough to get one’s groove thing going in a matter of seconds. It started at dancing and then went from there. The devil-music thing was more a combination of the other two traits seen through the conservative eyes of white southern Baptists, but the legendary Robert Johnson was said to have learned the blues from a man who learned himself from playing guitar while sitting on a tombstone at midnight.

Anyway, we put all these things together to justify our name, saying that it’s a dirty name for dirty music; raw, hot, sexed, and very crude. After all, what is “rock’n’roll,” other than an old blues euphemism for sex?

Needless to say, our moms think the band’s name is lame. We know that they’re right, and we know that nothing we could say would legitimize it, so we won’t bother to explain a way or apologize for our name.

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