Spring and summer 1992 — the warm months that closed out my junior year may have been the best time of my life. Afternoons of swimming and shooting pool at Bret K.’s house (was it elk jerky or bear jerky we were eating that one day?), long twilit evenings of “tennis” (see below) or spending quiet time with the girlfriend, nights full of innocent teenage fun (like the time Jeff O. sped through the Placer Video parking lot with Anthony on the hood of his car). We were easy to spot around town with our fleet of candy-colored early 70’s GM vehicles: my sky-blue Blazer, Bret’s shamrock-green GMC pickup, and Jeff W.’s Cheeto-orange Chevy pickup. Jeff O. and Eric L. broke the pattern with their turd-brown Mustang II (prone to overheating) and two-tone Eddie Bauer-model Bronco II, respectively. Bowling…movies…SNL…MTV…all backed by the soundtrack I’m featuring here…
#64. “Divine Thing” — The Soup Dragons
Those long, warm evenings of that particular spring were tennis evenings at Sam Brannan Park. Not that I played much — or at all. Jeff O. and Eric were the racket sports fanatics, and I was quite content to lounge along the baseline with a stack of magazines and keep up a running conversation with them as they lobbed the ball back and forth. Sooner or later, they would get tired and we could all go rent a movie, which was more my speed.
The tennis court was surrounded by a high wall of oleander bushes, and for several evenings running there was evidence that a poor soul in straitened circumstances was making these bushes a temporary domicile. After a week or so of noticing the tattered sleeping bag and empty government cheese boxes, the occupant himself finally made an appearance.
He was already there when we arrived. Seemingly asleep, he was curled up with his back against the tennis court’s chain-link fence. We all noticed, but said nothing. The game started. Fifteen feet away from us, he continued to sleep, or pretend to sleep. The game finished, and the next game in their set began. Conversation rambled from topic to topic. THWACK! went the ball as it volleyed between the two players. THWACK! The man stirred slightly. For almost forty-five minutes, it was as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Then Jeff O. piped up — loudly — between lobs:
“Wouldn’t it suck to live in a bush?”
Well, I thought it was funny at the time.
These Used To Be Surrounded By Oleanders: The Sam Brannan tennis courts as they are today. The skateboard park in the distant background replaced the homeless-friendly vacant lot
And the Soup Dragons? I was aware of them through their criminally inept cover of The Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free,” and I seem to recall Eric being a casual fan around this time. I have a clear mental snapshot of 3 or 4 of us listening to this in Eric’s Eddie Bauer Bronco in the Sam Brannan parking lot. In the very parking spot shown above. Eric was the only one of us who had a CD player in his car.
#65. “Friday I’m In Love” — The Cure
I spent most of my high school years actively despising two bands: The Cure and Depeche Mode. Emily was a world-class Curehead, however, so whenever we drove in her car I was assaulted by Robert Smith’s caterwauling. (Our deal was whoever drove picked the music. I was usually able to sweet-talk her into letting me pick the music even when she drove, though not often enough to escape learning Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration forwards and backwards.)
Why did I hate The Cure so much? Because they just seemed so antithetical to everything I wanted out of music — swagger, confidence, general ass-kickery. I most certainly did not want to hear some lipsticked, cartoon-character freak with a rat’s nest of hair and raccoon eyes expound in an adenoidal yelp about how forlorn and misunderstood he was. Fuck that noise! Plus, they used lots of synthesizers, which was a no-no in my book back in ’92. I’ve since realized The Cure’s “Goth” (TM) look was no more of a pose than any other band, and that under all the mopey whining were some tight little pop songs — “Friday I’m In Love” perhaps the best of them.
Why did I hate Depeche Mode so much? Because they sucked and still do.
So The Cure’s Wish album came out in late April, right around the time everyone was gearing up for prom. In fact, it was probably blasting from the tape deck in Emily’s Datsun Z as we went dress shopping. (We had been spinning Wish so often at the time, I felt as though I should go ahead and get a dress too.) My junior prom was also directly responsible for me learning how to drive a standard transmission (“stick shift” for you non-gearheads.)
“I am not getting all dressed up and and going to a nice dinner and prom in that thing,” she said, gesturing at the Mattmobile.
“We’ll take your Z,” I suggested.
“No. The guy drives to prom. That’s tradition.” [NOTE: I may have been the one to insist that driving to the prom was the male prerogative, but this is how I remember it, and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can get their own long-winded blog. E. definitely vetoed the Mattmobile up front, though.]
So began several nerve-wracking practice turns around south Yuba City in my mom’s non-Eddie Bauer Bronco II with the hair-trigger clutch that popped if you looked at it hard enough. I eventually got the hang of it, but I spent much of the month of May with a sore left leg.
#66. “Breaking The Girl” — Red Hot Chili Peppers
It was also around this time that I became a member of a band — we lasted one rehearsal. I was an admirer of the Chili Peppers’ Flea, plus I had, shall we say, limited musical ability. Those two facts about Your Humble Narrator made him perfect for the role of bassist. Jason Van Zant played lead (he owned two guitars — a blonde Telecaster and the arctic-white Stratocaster fetishized in the Wayne’s World movie.) Brian Cunningham and resident school weirdo Mike L. were also involved, but I forget in what instrumental capacity. I do remember we were drummer-less.
Cunningham conned someone’s grandma out of a Frankenstein’s monster of a bass guitar. It looked like it started life as a some kind of Fender knock-off, but its formerly solid body had been stuffed with cotton wool for some reason, and a piece of old leather had been thumbtacked over the enormous hole that had been gouged out of the body’s backside. Its never-been-changed roundwound strings had been worn smooth by the seventy-year-old woman who played in the country-western cover band that had been her late husband’s hobby.
Rehearsal time came. I plugged in, stood stock-still in Mike L.’s garage, clenched in concentration, and plunked the notes Jason told me to plunk. The bass sounded so terrible, it covered my lack of skill nicely. I made a warm, bass-y wash of sound that was at least in the neighborhood of the same key Jason was playing. We made it through two (or possibly one-and-a-half) Dead Milkmen-style snot-rock originals. (We didn’t get to my edgy songwriting effort, “Hatefuck.” Hoagy Carmichael I was not.)
We then began a 45-minute discussion of how our first video should look. In one of our nocturnal countryside cruising sessions, we had already ran across a perfect location — a set of grain elevators out in Sutter, a small(er) farming town about seven miles away. From a distance, they looked like a gigantic pack of twenty-four ounce beer cans. Up close, at night, they looked like a whirring, hissing, Gilliam-esque industrial futuristic nightmare-scape. All color washed away against the towering white silos floodlit by powerful flourescents. How cool would it look to set up band gear and rock out with all this as a backdrop? Security at the place was clearly minimal/non-existent as we had already paid it a night-time visit or two. In fact, it was clear we could simply back up a truckload of gear and film our video till the wee hours.
The Sutter grain dryers, still whirring away…
We never got that far. No one was motivated enough to plan even a second rehearsal. The old bass moldered under my bed until I handed it off to Jason when he got out of the army(!) the following summer. The grain elevators would re-enter my story, however.
On prom night.
But in between my first/last band rehearsal and my junior prom, something terrible happened. Check out the previous entry, “Interlude,” for the story.
#67. “Why” — Annie Lennox
Yes, she was slightly taller than me in heels. But look at that fucking hair. God, I used to be beautiful…
Continue reading →