IT'S A LIVING… BUT IT'S NOT A LIFE #8
The Official J Church Newsletter - I Guess - Spring '00

 

FEBRUARY GIGS

Looks like we're playing some gigs next month, believe it or not. Here they are:

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.

 

EPICENTER ZONE

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 the quotient.

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 worse).

 

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 next year...

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 that.

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 the rioters.

 

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 skinny...

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 pharmaceutical relief.

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.

 

LIBERTY

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. Who cares?

 

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).

 

ASIA ARGENTO

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 until...

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 Entertainment Corp.)

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. (Lookout)

 

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