June 20, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek, Part 2

This second helping of my work for the UCSB student paper is from the 1997/1998 school year, when I was a junior. My brother and about 18 of his classmates had come to school that year as freshmen, and little did these kids know that, aside from enjoying the privilege of my 21-year-old self buying them alcohol, they'd also get cameos in my revived "Battery Acid Blues" columns. It was a glorious and decadent year, the first real year that my old band the Mojo Wire played out in Isla Vista and recorded some vintage, '60s-sounding blues and surf songs.

I'd finally switched my major to English and went completely beserk, shaving my head, transforming into what amounted to a psychotic gigolo, and was given to indulge in controlled substances, melodramatic relationships, the fiction of Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis, and the heavy classics by Milton and Chaucer. Astonishingly, only fits and snatches of this wild and freakish year made it into my weekly columns. In terms of tone, that is; I was still testing the waters of my particular brand of diluted sub-surrealism, so some embarrassing juvenile mistakes will pop up in these things from time to time. But hell, you gotta stand up to what you done, and so I is.

Oh- quick note: last time I forgot to mention the weirdness with the dates. Well, the original dates that each column ran are given, but these posts are dated in 2002. The rationale is simply that's when I really started to learn HTML and beef up my own website, and posted my Nexus work up there to show off. Kind of like I'm doing now. So let's get to it- click on a column's title to read the whole thing.

Battery Acid Blues: New Adventures with the Mojo Wire (Oct. 2, 1997)
New year, new column, new band name, new characters: namely Adam's roommate Ian Shifrin, who was, and will always be, known as "The Mafia Man." Which is nice, actually, because that meant he'd no longer be known as "Hose me down!" Ian. Ho, ho.

“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!”
Battery Acid Blues: Solving the Vexing Percussion Problem (Oct. 9, 1997)
This one, for a certain person I'm now married to, is valuable solely because of her appearance in the text. Probably because we weren't even close to being involved at the time.
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!”
Battery Acid Blues: A Humorless Weekend In Los Angeles (Oct. 16, 1997)
Truly a wretched trip, but I could have definitely written a better column about it. So many missed chances to nail dumb wankers to the wall. Ah well.
While I’ve been daydreaming about the nature of the universe, Adam has already reached one of his definitions of hell. Traffic is hopelessly snarled, the other drivers are jerks, and to top it off, the directions he got are less than helpful, and so now we’re getting a lovely tour of Bel Air. Ronald Reagan’s hood. O.J. Simpson’s turf. Everybody appreciates it but our driver, and by the time we’re pulled over by a rent-a-cop patrol car wondering what we’re doing here, Adam’s had it. Lucky for us, our fearless frontman only has eyes for our ultimate destination, and squeezes the information out of the chubby security guard faster than that guard could squeeze the jelly out of a doughnut. We soon arrive at the foot of UCLA’s Dykstra Hall.
Battery Acid Blues: The Hopeless Wankery of Critics (Oct. 23, 1997)
Mostly a mangled effort to describe how much less emotionally mature I was, in terms of taking criticism. Naturally, my bandmates were much better at it at a younger age.
Being in an unknown band is quite a peculiar position. “Unknown” is itself an inaccurate term for the band, since there are a large number of friends and family who know and love the music and support us no matter what. But in the eyes of the arbiters of cool in the music industry, we’re nobodies, just another half-assed garage band of white rock ‘n’ roll guys from the suburbs. We usually don’t mind this description, (except the half-assed part; we’re all proud of those) but we really don’t want to be confined by it. So, when we received our first real negative criticism, by one of our potential employers, it didn’t sit very well. No, that’s not entirely true. Bryn, Adam, and Kevin (when he was still our drummer) really didn’t care. It doesn’t matter to them if everyone loves the Mojo Wire except for one little critic. I, however, for some reason take it personally when someone says a creation of mine “sucks.”
Back For Good: Looking Up to Patti Smith (Oct. 23, 1997)
My first and only interview with a bona-fide Rock Star. Smith was fighting the second round of her mid-1990s comeback, and had probably already done 500 or so interviews that week, but she was nevertheless very kind and patient with me, an obvious amateur, and it was fun hearing her enthuse about her son's burgeoning guitar skills. I still have the tape somewhere, actually.
"I think that people that have a calling just need to keep working and be focused on the development of their craft. Not that they shouldn’t try to perform or get published, but not to look at such things as a barometer of their worth. They’ll learn themselves, because in the end, fame is fleeting. People will sell two million records and then the the next year nobody remembers them. What’s really important is the quaility of the work, and if it’s good work it will endure.

I think that if one has a true calling they should follow that calling, but they should also be ready to go through a certain amount of pain. To feel that is an honor or a privilege, cause it’s not easy; being any type of artist is rough work. Very few people are given a break and part of it is being able to do the work itself. The reward often is just being part of that human chain of the whole evolutionary process of art, and sometimes there’s a lot of humiliation attached to it [and that] doesn't really stop. Sometimes people on a large scale, they just don't get it, but you can't let that kind of thing be your driving force. You have to be sturdy- being an artist is not for the faint-hearted and you have to be proud that you are what you are. You have to be a proud bum."
Battery Acid Blues: The Wisdom of Jackson Hammer (Feb. 14, 1998)
This column has the distinction of finally raising the ire of then-Nexus editor-in-chief Marc Valles, who reportedly hit the roof when he found out I'd made it all up. Where he'd been for the other eleven-odd examples of my fictitious bullshit is a mystery. Jolie had attached a random photo of a blues man and ran the fucking thing with a fine-print, nebulous caveat saying, well, it sort of might all be fake. I've apologized to Marc on several occasions for this one, but always at a safe distance.
"...Now there seems to be another revival of the blues again, and it's even more diluted than before. I mean, in the sixties there was the first revival, with Cream and Clapton and Zeppelin and all of those other gunslingers and their fretboard gymnastics ripping off American black musicians, and then in the eighties there was a second revival with Stevie Ray Vaughan that kind of died after he did. Now there are all these young blond kids out there like Johnny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd that were raised on heavy metal and other kinds of wank-a-rama bullshit, and they're being touted as the next coming of greatness and they get to tour with, like, B.B. King or some other geezer who had their songs and style stolen thirty years ago. I don't really consider myself any kind of purist, but it's sad to see a form diluted so much by people who know or care so little about its background. Same with ska; It's become frat-goon music."
Battery Acid Blues: Scrambled Visions In Calabasas (Mar. 21, 1998)
This one actually didn't run as a column in the paper, even though I'd typed it all up. At the last minute, though, I decided it was awful- it made no sense at all- and since I felt sort of in hot water with Valles over the Jackson Hammer thing, I never turned it in. It's so completely bizarre, though, that I just have to include it with the rest as a twisted "Battery Acid" finale. I don't remember what ridiculous justification I found to stop writing for the Nexus, but it happened, and I think it was my editor's senior year, too, and after Jolie was gone I wasn't keen on testing the waters with someone less receptive to my weirdness. Anyway:
Last night I had a fabulously weird dream. The Mojo Wire had just finished playing a great gig, and so appropriately the band was in my dream. All of us- Adam, Bryn, Joe and I were driving south on the 101 through what looked like Calabasas. The hills were all green-brown, California hills that are all saturated for one month and then choked with mud and dead grass for the other eleven. They undulated into the southern distance toward Malibu like great bubbling milkshakes. Milkshakes? Of course. We’d stopped at Jack-In-The-Crack for milkshakes. Bryn slurped loudly in the seat behind me, and then gave a great belch. Adam began to laugh and drive at the same time- a very dangerous thing for him to do. We swerved between two semis like Luke Slywalker infiltrating the Death Star, and Popov the hamster screamed like Chewbacca.
It gets much crazier from there. Sort of. Ah, the consequences of unleashing raw talent. Okay, so now that my first faltering stabs at published writing are behind us, we can proceed to my short-lived but more "respectable" [read: scenester-ific boosterism!] stuff for the Santa Barbara Independent. Plus some other music-related crap from that era (2001-2003) when I was a bureaucrat by day and rock & roll egomaniac by night. All next week, right back here at the DV.

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