October 12, 2004

Three More Weeks of Nail-Biting Insanity


The mercilessly dry Southern California summer has lingered far too long into autumn for me to be in a good mood, but for a multitude of reasons, this stumbling fiasco of an election year hasn’t been weighing too heavily on my psyche. No, I’ve had too much shit to do over the past few months to pay close attention to the delirious grumblings of George Bush and John Kerry, which is why I haven’t been moved to write anything at all about this stinking campaign ever since Kerry clinched his party’s nomination by shaming John Edwards into becoming his veep of choice. It’s all roaring back, now, though—thanks to a few weird events in a (relatively) far-off place—so sit tight, kiddies, cause the Home Stretch is where the Devil does his thang.

Indeed, and in normal circumstances I would have been one of the first to know about shit like that, except this time events had long since overtaken me. See, right about the time Senator Kerry “reported for duty” at the most garishly Stalinist Democratic Convention I’d ever seen, Em and I were moving from Isla Vista down to our new steady jobs in Ventura. It was a short 45-minute drive, but escaping from I.V. after so many years of intense exposure was like finally getting a one-way ticket out of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, sans donkey ears. There were plenty of jackasses on C-SPAN, though, once Em hooked up the cable and the Boston convention speeches began spilling into our new living room.

I didn’t have much time to meditate on that sorry spectacle, however—never mind the Nuremberg rally that Bush held in New York a month later—because I soon joined the rest of the guys in Honey White on a trip up to San Francisco. We began recording our first full-length album at Take Root Studio in August, with ace engineer Jonathan Mayer at the controls, and what with the overwhelming awesomeness of our Loud Rock Music and its accompanying static of Giants games on the radio, Zappa on the control room stereo, glorious Indian and Vietnamese dinners, and every Simpsons episode on video and ready to play in the studio VCR, we wouldn’t be distracted by presidential politics for very long.

Nevertheless, 2004’s campaign inevitably poked its hideous head into the studio several times. One bad joke about Bush from Jon and we were off—no dipshit Republican was safe from our passive-aggressive liberalized vitriol, and Joe Lieberman would have felt skittish in that company, too. The tipping point came and went earlier this month, though, when Brian joined up with DJ Monkey Mike and his crew of canvassers on a registration drive to Reno. Our genius guitarist had already skipped out on one session back in September (as it degenerated into simultaneous diva-tastic displays from Bryn and I) to go see the Pixies with Owen in Berkeley, so the rest of us were only mildly impressed when Brian sauntered into the studio at our most recent session, dispensing Kerry/Edwards buttons like they were shiny new silver dollars.

“Oooh,” said Jon the engineer, “they’ll look great next to my vintage McGovern and Mondale buttons. All I need is a Dukakis, and I’ll have the complete set!”

I smirked at him and turned to Brian. “Yeah, don’t get cocky, dude. You should know that by now; when Democrats get the hubris bug, they’re almost guaranteed to crash and burn.”

Bryn looked up from tuning his guitar. “Right—we have a record to finish, man, so if you’re gonna get all political and stuff, have the decency to let us know first.” He then invoked the sad story of our heavily employed drummer. “You realize, of course, that Billy would give his left nut to be here right now.”

“Besides,” said Jon, “you still have a guitar part to lay down for ‘Dead Man,’ Brian. We got shit to do, so stash those buttons and grab your axe.”

Brian’s reply came with a genial sneer. “You whiny bastards,” he chuckled. “This is still a tight race. John Zogby is a whore, and those eleven-point gap polls from Time and Newsweek are soaked in dogshit. All the Republicans did in Manhattan was barf out the nastiest, most hateful ugliness they could spew. Remember what happened when Pat Buchanan did that in 1992? Eight years of Bill Clinton. Those fuckers are scared.”

“Maybe so,” hollered Jon from across the wide band room, as he stacked amplifiers and arranged microphones, “but you try getting swift-boated sometime, Brian. There’s no real way Kerry will recover from that, even if he continues to stomp Bush in the deba—“

A low, rumbling boom interrupted Jon, sending him into an immediate, near-apoplectic fit of curses. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he spat, “I told that guy to keep his volume down when we had sessions in here.” He stormed off, heading for the space next door—where we knew a stern, 350-pound black man held court in his motorcycle body shop, bathed in the soothing sounds of Stevie Wonder.

Brian took advantage of Jon’s temporary absence to continue flogging the presidential debates while he plugged in his Strat. “Who do you think won the last one? Bush seemed on speed until he was talking about, well, death, and Kerry stayed cool. The Swift Boat Veterans ain’t got shit—hell, even John McCain called them scum-sucking parasites.”

“Dude,” I shook my head, “Bush had a bionic box attached to his spine—didn’t you see the photos? It was like his second, Stegosaurus-brain back there. He could snort all the coke in Bolivia and still win with Rove whispering cues in his ear.”

“Totally,” agreed Bryn, “but Brian’s still got a point about those polls. Gallup is fucked, and if there’s no criminal activity in Florida or Ohio, Kerry will win big. No incumbent’s ever won in a squeaker, and most of the numbers show Bush’s lead at, like, a chickenshit 2 or 3 points.”

The bass still thumped from next door, and I shrugged. “Whatever. In that case, it won’t take long for some crazed bookie to lose bowel control in Vegas and place stupid odds on a Kerry blowout. Remember, we still have three more weeks of nail-biting insanity before election day. By then, all the work that Brian and Mike did in Reno could be tossed out in favor of a mass karmic enema for everyone who stands to lose if Bush tanks.”

Brian rolled his eyes, but whatever witty riposte he thought up was cut off by Jon as he returned back from the body shop, and the rumbling mysteriously stopped. The engineer wore a devious smile as he flipped the amps’ switches and pulled on a set of rifle-range ear protectors.

“Okay Brian,” he said, “get your ass out there and do the take. We have too many overdubs this weekend to screw around with Bush and Kerry all day.”

Brian shrugged. “Fine, but what about the mechanic next door?”

Jon tapped the earphones before handing them off to Brian. “Put these on,” he said, “and as for him,"—here he jerked his head at the wall separating the studio and body shop—“well, he better have some clean underwear handy.”

He marched into the control room and motioned Bryn and I to follow. “Come on guys—you don’t want to be stuck out here when Brian starts playing, our you’ll both need diaper changes too.”

It didn’t take long to see why. Brian’s guitar thundered through the studio when Jon rolled tape, and it was such an epic feat of soloing that we all forgot about the stupid election for the rest of the weekend. The good mood didn’t last that long, though—on our way back south through San Jose, the Volvo died a quick and horrible death during a torrential downpour on the 101 freeway. I ranted and raved like a maniac, cursing my feeble car and its treacherous betrayal in our hour of need, but Bryn and Emily had the good sense to call Triple A and a tow truck, so it wasn’t long before we retreated out of the rain and huddled around my sister’s kitchen table in Santa Clara.

It was a sodden, sorry end to our creative revelries, and it left me in a mean and bitter state of mind for days after I got home—prime, fertile soil for electoral-related hopes and fears to breed like mice and eat away at every available mental floorboard. Maybe October in an election year is always like this—hell, Hunter S. Thompson even said so, and apparently he’s endorsing Kerry in the next Rolling Stone—but I’ll be damned if I let it fester any more than it already has. The Clinton-Gingrich years weren’t that long ago, and bitter weirdness is always waiting around the corner, so the best thing to do is find something you love and keep the ugliness at bay. Rock and roll stops the traffic, indeed.

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