IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #8
The Official J Church Newsletter - I Guess - Spring '00
Looks like we're playing some gigs next month, believe it or not. Here
Sunday Feb 6th @ Howling Bull
This is a free in-store in conjunction with Giant Robot
zine. It's noon-ish and we'll mostly be doing stuff from the new album.
Incidentally, Liberty and I wrote something for the latest issue. If you
haven't already, check it out...
Thursday Feb 17th @ The Bottom Of The Hill
This is a Gavin showcase thing for Honest Don's. We're playing with Limp
and Nerfherder. We're trying to work it out so that we play first. This
gig is all-ages.
Monday Feb 21st @ The Cocodrie
This is with our pals Discount (check out the new album on whatever the
hell Liquid Meat/Kat is called these days). It's also all-ages.
After that, who knows? These are our first gigs in over a year.
IN THE YEAR 2000...
It's the year 2000 and I'm trying to have an open mind. Like for most
people I know, the '80s were a sore disappointment and I was totally pounded
into cynicism by the '90s. And I'm not even a cynic. I'm keeping the faith.
I mean, I've still got this stupid band and this stupid label. Will things
be looking up for us in the new millenium, century, decade? Ha.
And with that sentiment, I look back on '90s and reflect on what was
important to me. At least what seems important now.
I've been looking at all of these retrospectives of the past century
by everybody from the Nation to Newsweek to VH1. What's the point? Reflecting
on a century only serves to point out how arbitrary dates are. I'm not
christian, so the date of the birth of Christ is pretty irrelevant to
me. And I'm only 32. You're probably younger. Do you really have any sentimental
feelings for something that happened in the '30s. Where does history and
nostalgia morph into one image? Nowhere. They are parallel lines that
are only confused by calendar companies.
This is not to say that history isn't important. Nor is it to say that
it can't be
inspirational. But to claim to be "reflecting" back on the past
100 or 1,000 years seems absurd. Reflection implies (and that's an understatement)
introspection. Do you remember World War I? Do you remember the Depression?
Do you remember Babe Ruth? We know what these things are. But they are
practically mythology. We're too young to "remember" and therefore
too young to "reflect".
So I'm sticking to a reflection on the '90s and what were the hi-lights.
I couldn't even tell you what the '90s "mean" to me. I'm not
sure if they mean anything.
Anyway, in 1990 I was 23 and living at the Maximum RockNRoll house.
Gilman Street was on it's second or third wave. Epicenter was just opening.
I was in a different (though equally un-popular) band called Cringer.
I had just moved to San Francisco and was wondering if I had made a mistake.
I'm still wondering. I wish I was joking.
Okay, the entire lifetime (and it's certainly debatable as to when that
ended) of Epicenter was bookmarked by the '90s. We all know the shit.
We all know all the bad things that happened and what a huge pain in the
ass it was. We all know what a huge bummer it was towards the end. But
there were a hell of a lot of good times as well. There were some great
gigs (THE EX, NATION OF ULYSSES / BIKINI KILL, JAWBOX, SNUFF, CHUMBAWAMBA,
DEMOLITION DOLL RODS / QUINTRON, HUGGY BEAR / FRUMPIES / BLOOD SAUSAGE,
THATCHER ON ACID, and I'm forgetting loads). I met a lot of great people
and despite all the problems, it was fascinating to see them in the context
of a working "collective" (although it was certainly the loosest
definition of the word). It was worth it just to see Tim Yo have to wait
his turn at a meeting and go to a vegan potluck.
Having said that, some of the bad times were the most fascinating to
me. Dealing with fights at the hardcore gigs. Dealing with the "riot
kids" as we named them (who tried to trash Epicenter for being white
bread and racist. What am I? Chopped liver?). Even the whole water explosion
was amazing. It was all a nightmare. It was horrible. But it was amazing
seeing people actually being forced to deal with stuff that they had no
real experience with. And remember, there was a lot of alcohol mixed into
But EPICENTER is now gone and it's good that it's gone. Still, for me,
it was a really important thing in the past decade (for better or for
NIRVANA/GREEN DAY/OFFSPRING RUINING PUNK
No, I like a lot of the people in those bands. More power to them. But
once punk became an accepted part of the mainstream consciousness, it
was over for a lot of people. I'm somewhat ambivalent to the whole thing
as I've got a lot of friends on both sides of the... money. But here are
what I consider to be the inarguable facts:
1. Punk is now a mainstream art form. The MTV audience is no longer
the enemy. They're the target audience. It's no longer "us versus
them". Now it's everybody together. I got into punk because I couldn't
stand those people and I didn't want to have anything to do with them.
How sickening are the bands that pander to the lowest common denominater
for record sales...
Everyone used to complain about punk being elitist. What nobody stopped
to understand was how that was part of the beauty of punk. FUCK YOU. You
yuppies and preppies and jocks are not invited to this party. It's a private
affair and you are not on the list. You went to Woodstock '99? Try again
2. Punk bands have different ambitions. Bands used to get so excited
when they were able to get their first single out. If you sold 1,000 records,
you couldn't believe that so many people cared enough to buy your shitty
record. Even if only half of them liked it and even less read the lyrics,
it was still exciting. It was the great unknown.
Now everybody wants to sell 100,000 copies. If they don't, they're disappointed.
Or maybe embarrassed. They blame the label. They blame the distro. They
blame the production. There's no love of the music. There's only the hope
of eventually ending up on a major label. Nothing original, of course.
Bands just want to do exactly what the successful bands do. They're as
unoriginal as their music.
3. Indie bands think that they're changing the world. The weird part
about the mainstreaming of punk is that the indie world has become even
MORE indignant than it used to be. Punk bands used to be able to play
with indie bands or emo bands or noise bands. It was no problem. Suddenly,
the indie scene has been given carte blanche to be even more condescending
and self-righteous. Emo bands don't consider themselves punk anymore.
They're "artists" now. Well, everyone is an artist. As vapid
as it may be, the Offspring are just as rellevant in terms of art as any
band on Jade Tree (no offense to Tim and Darren). I don't think it's important
to sell a lot of records. But at the same time, you can't pretend to be
as culturally significant as CAN or NEU or THE BIRTHDAY PARTY if you're
only selling 2,000 records.
The bottom line is that it's not fun to be into punk anymore. The whole
"scene" has been perverted by money. Or I should say, the promise
of money. Now, I'm no zealot about these things. I don't think there's
anything wrong with profiting off of music. There have been times in my
life where I've made a pretty decent living off of J Church. I won't deny
I know it's a cliché (and a Cindy Lauper song) but money changes
everything. And I really don't think you can ever turn back. I say a lot
of this as an outsider. We're not really a part of any scene (not for
lack of trying!). People that like us are just weirdos that don't fit
in. I like that.
RIOT GRRRL WAS COOL AND SO WAS FUGAZI
As far as bands being important to punk, Bikini Kill and Fugazi stole
the show. You can hate them. You can love them. You may be indifferent
to them. But if you're reading this newsletter, you can't deny the fact
that both of those bands have had an impact on your life without you even
needing to know them personally.
Fugazi came into my life right when I felt like my interest in punk
music was slipping. The East Bay explosion seemed totally contained with
Operation Ivy gone. The Crass thing was long gone. There was nothing "happening".
Fugazi came along and somehow were able to convince us all of their sincerity
and honesty in one short year. While it was their second US tour (actually
in '89) that lit the tinders, Fugazi helped create an atmosphere that
we all now take for granted. You can think of all the little things (door
prices, no merch, cheap records). But the real impact of Fugazi was this
revelation that punk was art and therefore had a conscience. It was the
post-modern version of the Crass message. In some ways Americanized by
it's humor (humanity) and therefore, a musical revolution that the American
underground could really get behind.
I see Bikini Kill as being part of that legacy. Using the terms of the
'90s, they took the revolution to the next level! I don't think I need
to explain to you what they and the initial Riot Grrrl scene were about.
You've probably already made up your mind about that (if you're reading
this I'll assume it's positive). Both Bikini Kill and Fugazi have been
scrutinized and picked apart far more than any other punk band in the
'90s including bands that have sold many more records. I'd say that's
definately a testament to the strength of their (dare I say) "message".
THE GULF "WAR", RODNEY KING, AND OTHER EXCUSES TO RIOT...
It was all simulacra anyway, wasn't it? Did the Gulf War really happen?
Is there a Rodney King? Does it matter? Our main connection to any of
that hyper-reality was through the television. I don't know Rodney King.
I don't know anyone in the military. There's not enough room here for
me to explain my feelings about either situation. I was against the war
and certainly against anything that has to do with the LAPD. But the riots
had little to do with those actual feelings. It was a chance to run wild
in the streets. Everytime the city is taken outside of it's routine, it's
a small victory against daily life. The fact that the Gap and Radio Shack
got looted is just frosting on the cake. When the downtown was closed
off and the bridge was shut, there was a real feeling of the people taking
back their lives. It was an example of how totally fragile the social
strata of a major city is and how an active minority can bring the powers
that be to a standstill. For that alone, I'll always be on the side of
BECK BECAME A STAR
This is only important to me because I used to play guitar for the man.
I did four trips with him playing guitar in New Zealand, Australia, Phillipines,
Hong Kong, Japan, the US and all over Europe. It was a big part of my
life that has had more lasting affects on me creatively than anything
else in the last 10 years. For the first time, I was really taken seriously
as a musician and as a creative person. Cringer and J Church, people may
like the music sometimes. But we get no respect from our musician peers.
It was nice to be validated as a talented guitar player and I'll be the
first to admit that it really went to my head at times (I mean, guitar
magazines were taking photos of my set up for analysis and diagrams).
Now I can say it with a certain amount of confidence. I'm certainly not
the best. But I'm a really good guitar player.
HONG KONG ACTION MOVIES CAME AND WENT
The film industry there is now dying. But for a while it was all the
rage. I loved it. But I love many different catagories of Hong Kong cinema.
As an asian-american, I don't really know what it all means. Was it good
for the cause? I don't know. Send me your opinions.
I DIDN'T DIE
Yeah, you may not care. But not dying was a big deal to me. Here's the
I thought that I had bronchitis. I was coughing like crazy. I was coughing
to the point where I couldn't sleep at night and would simply lie in bed
for hours gagging. So I went to the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic for some
Within minutes of my arriving, everyone their starts freaking out. They
keep asking me if I'm on Crack or Cocaine. They're taking my blood pressure
over and over. They run an EKG on me.
Turns out that I don't have bronchitis. I've got congestive heart failure.
I'm gonna die.
I'm rushed over to the Emergency Room at SF General and amazingly I'm
seen by doctors right away. Many doctors. Many, many doctors. They all
don't know why I'm not dead. One doctor actually told me that I shouldn't
have been able to walk. My heart is racing out of control, they say. Either
I've just had a heart attack and didn't realize it or there is one on
the way. I'm hooked up to loads of machines and they make me eat aspirin
(which I guess thins blood and helps prevent heart attacks. Hmmm.). After
hours of tests and X-rays I'm told two things...
1) My heart has been greatly enlarged. As a result, I've fucked up my
lungs and kidneys. My heart had enlarged to the point where it was pressing
heavily onto my lungs filling them with liquid and blood. The enlargement
of the heart has caused it to pump twice as much blood which was fucking
up my kidneys. They didn't know what had caused it, but it was probably
either AIDS or cancer.
2) I hadn't had a heart attack. But one was coming and they needed me
to stay in the hospital.
Fuck, that was a long week in that hospital. I had just enough money
to rent the TV for the time I was there. Most of the time I wasn't allowed
to have a bath. And I was sharing a room with a guy chained to the bed
with a cop at the foot of the bed the whole while. I don't have to tell
you what that means.
Basically, I ran up several thousands of dollars worth of bills only
to find out that they didn't know what was wrong. It wasn't cancer or
AIDS (thank God). But believe me, I was sure I was going to die in that
hospital bed. It was bad. I had nothing but time lying there thinking
about my death. I only had one visitor the entire time I was in the hospital
(thanx Jim) and I wasn't about to start up a conversation with the cop
or the guy chained to the bed. I just lay there thinking about my death,
my mortality, my life ending watching the Simpsons (God bless Matt Groening).
Well, I'm not dead and I'm not dying (not really). I'm on a lot of medication.
I have to take 9 pills a day and probably will have to for the rest of
my life. If I stop, then I will die. But whatever, I don't mind the pills.
I mean, I'm not dead. Sounds stupid, but I don't know if I can possibly
get across to you how that feels. This isn't Patch Adams or something.
I'm not suddenly loving life. But I'm strangely less afraid of death.
I feel like I've had a test run. I'm not happy and I'm not sad.
Epicenter closed and I got Liberty out of the deal. She was one of the
main people that ran the place in it's final two years. She and I are
dates now and the future looks bright (knock on wood).
So there it is. That's the '90s to me. When I sit here and reflect,
that's all I get. There were good moments. There were lots of bad times.
J CHURCH ALBUM AND NEWS...
Okay, so the tentative title for the album is One Mississippi.
Fuck, I don't know. I don't want the title to be silly or too serious
or pretentious. I didn't want to try to have some double meaning or whatever.
It's simply the address of the place where we recorded the album. With
the gentrification of San Francisco, it may very well be gone by next
year. That's it, we've dropped two tracks to keep it at a more reasonable
time. So, it's One Mississippi, 26 tracks, over an hour
long... It's proper album #5 if you're counting (1 through 4 in order
of appearance are Quetzalcoatl, Prophylaxis,
Arbor Vitae and Drama Of Alienation).
Well, my dreams have come true. It looks like we are going to do a project
record this year with Asia Argento (Italian actress and daughter of Dario
Argento). We will be doing something as a sort of tribute to the Situationists
and Paris May '68. It's a jumbled musical mess in my mind right now. And
I can't quite explain on paper what it will be. But it will be very different
and new and hopefully, that's a good thing.
THE J CHURCH VIEWING ROOM
GALAXY QUEST - Fuck off. It's really funny. Allen Rickman
is great as he was in Dogma. It's the hardest I've laughed
CRADLE WILL ROCK - Oooh, a totally self-satisfying
film for lefties. I feel like I've been taken advantage of. But I love
it. Just seeing portrayals of Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Orson Welles
and many others is just too good to not salivate over. I'm not really
sure how great this movie is. But if you come from my political perspective
and fascination, this film is a total satisfaction. Sort of like the way
you can enjoy Reds because it's a great film AND because
it's exciting to see Emma Goldman as a character in a movie.
J CHURCH LISTENING ROOM
V/A - The Secret Museum Of Mankind Vol 3, Ethnic Music Classics:
1925-48, this is a pretty enjoyable collection of indigenous
musics from all over the world. Very fun, very listenable and interesting.
Mostly culled from rare 78s that are now long gone. You can hear great
music from places like Matabeleland, Samarcand, Angola, Congo, Tuscany
and many, many more places. Well worth looking into. (Yazoo, Shanachi
CLEVELAND BOUND DEATH SENTENCE - I really like this a lot. It's Aaron
Cometbus with some friends of his from Minneapolis. Great catchy punk
with lots of energy and tunes and cool lyrics. It's straight up punk rock.
But the lyrical flourishes and variety of song styles makes this a real
keeper for me. Believe me, I listen to a LOT of this kind of "thing"
all the time. But it's rare that one sticks out for me like this did.
It's not gonna change the world. But it's good. It's definitely good.
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