June 14, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek, Part 1

So when I first announced I was gonna do these recycling re-post thingies, I joked that when I was hired at the UCSB student paper in early 1997 it was "a hilarious lapse of professional judgement," apparently on the part of...someone. Well that someone was probably not my new editor, Jolie Lash. Jolie was in charge of the Artsweek section, and though I still don't know why she did it, after I wrote a few CD reviews not even worth mentioning, offered me my own Artsweek column every Thursday. Staff artists would illustrate it periodically with cartoons. I could write about anything I wanted as long as there was something in there about music. Little did she know what a fatal combination this would be.

See, the previous year Bryn and Adam had formed a blues "band" in high school, called it The Clap and asked me to be their bassist. Also, since 1996 had been an election year, I had re-immersed myself in Hunter Thompson's books of political weirdness, which I hadn't cracked open since I was high school myself. So my column, which was eventually called "Battery Acid Blues," ended up reading like a weekly cocktail of a whinier "High Fidelity" plus a cheap knockoff of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Pretty cringeworthy, but it was fun most of the time. I'd slip into Jolie's office at the Nexus and furtively bash out each column on an ancient, green-screened IBM computer, then flee the scene immediately. I therefore didn't end up spending too much time with my newspapery-student colleagues.

Okay then, that's enough backstory. Here we go with the first group of my Artsweek stuff from spring '97. It was bad and ugly, but for better or worse this is how it all began. Click on a column's title to read the whole thing.

Name Droppings: All-Access at the Grammys (Feb. 27, 1997)
Talk about gonzo rip-offs. My first pre-"Battery Acid" column was a pretty weak stab at the "overwhelmed journalist seeks a big story" idea, and was of course complete fiction (as all of these things are), including an interview with Beck:

I promptly produced my trusty tape recorder and talked with the injured Beck about anything and everything until he was wheeled out again, leaving me alone with the TVs, which now showed Lyle Lovett pissing off the entire Nashiville industry by accepting his award for Best Country Album. As the interview tape rewound, I pushed “play” laughing out loud at Lovett’s pompadoured Afro and goofy smile. I stopped laughing when I realized that my recorder had been low on batteries and had taped the interview I’d just finished at half speed and even less. My first question rambled on for way too long, especially considering that the tape delay caused my voice to sound like a tranquilized hippo. Beck’s response, played back by the powerless machine at about two revolutions per minute, echoed through the room a garbled “Msadcb&$f#$sF$%dvmmnS#!%***.
Battery Acid Blues: The Bouncing Black Lung (Apr. 24, 1997)
My first "Battery Acid" column was a little better. Not fantastic of course, but it does get effectively more surreal and "what the fuck" as it goes along:
Later during the press conference the band was asked if they had known that a heart attack had taken place at the location of their show. “Now wait just a minute!” croaked the singer, whose strained voice by now was practically inaudible, so that once it could be determined by everyone else of his intention to speak due to his wildly flailing hands, the band, their manager, and their lawyer had already vigorously denied the incident. By now the conference was silent. They craned to hear his wisdom. “Yeah, there was a heart attack, but so what? With all the junk that gets injected around here, she was lucky it was just a heart attack!”

The congregation was stupefied. “Yeah, uh, yeah,” he continued, but that was as far as he got before collapsing into a coughing fit that during its course deposited at his feet his left lung, which, as soon as its nicotine-darkened sliminess hit the floor, slid down the ramp, gaining velocity until it sped along the tile and out the door before screeching to a halt and disintegrating from exhaustion, nearly one hundred eighty-three feet from its gasping owner. All along its path the bouncing black lung had caused silent, open-mouthed stares from the entire press corps. As the lung gurgled its last it was beheld with extreme curiosity by all, none of whom thought for a second about the man from whence it spewed, including himself, until he realized he could not hold his breath any longer. The loud gagging of the singer brought everyone back from their own personal surreal universes, but not quickly enough for anyone to save him from his own excess.
Battery Acid Blues: Bargain Shopping at PopMart (May 1, 1997)
I tried to translate the gonzo ripoff vibe to a concert review. It didn't work, with spectacularly awful results, but then that U2 tour was often like that, right?
U2 took the stage to mass hysteria, entering from the back of the stadium and shimmying toward the stage like the techno-mavens they so want to be. We were already slightly sloshed and gladly took part in said madness, though we were wrong in thinking that we would be the most inebriated- as U2 strode fearlessly down the aisle next to our seats, drummer Larry Mullen noticed a toasted male yuppie two rows in front of us putting the moves on a gorgeous but unflattered girl next to him. Before all of our eyes in eye-popping video techno-color, Larry put on his sheriffs badge and became John Wayne, taking the drunk yup by his nose and beating the crap out of him as we all cheered with vicious bloodlust.
Battery Acid Blues: Writing Wretched Breakup Songs (May 8, 1997)
More weird fiction. I tried to meld a breakup story with a "band getting dropped by their label" story. Ah, to be young and stupid.
It was a twisted, pathetic tale, and it had everything- lust, betrayal, superficiality, cheap controlled substances, dumb jealousy, vindictive manipulation- the works. It had threatened to suck everyone within a 200-foot radius into its putrid, festering maw, what with the rending of garments, pulling of hair, and throwing of previously cherished possessions off fifth-story balconies. Jake had even called me up a few times amidst the concurrent saga of The Clap’s crumbling record deal, simply to blubber and moan about how unfair it all was, and he was so consistently unintelligible that I couldn't tell if he was talking about the band's rejection or his blasted relationship. Ultimately, I guess it didn't matter; he ended up in therapy, his ex was confined to rehab, and we came in a distant and hapless third. I pretended to care, but secretly I cursed the whole awful situation for alienating other labels, whose erstwhile interest in The Clap might have precipitated conspicuous and flashy bidding wars.
Battery Acid Blues: Catch The Clap! One Night Only! (May 15, 1997)
At this point I'd just decided, fuck it- I'd simply just continue to make shit up and fill space, but explaining the band name ended up being fun:
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.
Battery Acid Blues: The Many Pitfalls of Stardom (May 22, 1997)
This one was simply an impenetrable wall of pure bullshit. I tried to take on the "selling out" concept and ended up making absolutely no sense at all:
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.
Battery Acid Blues: Shameful Disintegration On Tour (June 5, 1997)
I decided to make the last column of the school year worth reading, and so went out with a simultaneous bang and whimper of complete chaos:
"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."
So now I'm sure you're all just pants-pissingly excited to read next week's installment of my second stint at the Nexus, from fall '97 to spring '98, right? Well, it does have a real interview with Patti Smith in there. Read all about it next Saturday...

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Why? because you offered us genius in your columns and people needed to read you.

    -- Jolie :)

    ReplyDelete

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