THE GUEST SERIES FROM JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER
I’m an inveterate New Yorker–you can take the boy out of the city etc.–but I’m zeroing in on living half my life in Santa Monica, California, a seaside gem 12 miles west on the freeway from downtown Los Angeles. Today’s charged particles are from five Southern California bands that are special to me. Here’s why:
Cayucas is the name of a sleepy little beach town about halfway between LA and San Francisco. It’s a beautiful spot on the central coast where GTFP and I spent our 20th anniversary. I figured that’s where the band were from but it turns out they’re from right here in Santa Monica and went to the same high school as my kids.
Once you get past Franklin Bruno‘s dial-tone voice you get a bunch of pop hooks and perhaps the best lyricist this side of Elvis Costello. (In one of my favorite couplets he rhymes “desk” with “Kafkaesque”.) Nothing Painted Blue split up so Bruno could get a doctorate in Philosophy from UCLA.
A few years ago I was in Court in Victorville, a sorry-ass town over an hour northeast of LA. I looked at a nameplate outside a courtroom and recognized the Judge as the band’s former drummer who, it suddenly came back to me, I remembered meeting once in a law library. I went in to say hello in his chambers and he was chuffed (as JC would say) that I remembered his old band. He apologized when his clerk interrupted our visit to remind him that the jury had come back in half an hour ago. We shook hands and he put his robe on and headed back out to resume a murder trial.
Acetone met at CalArts, an arts college in Valencia, California. The trio were a big part of the Silverlake scene in the 90’s, releasing record after beautiful record. Moody and atmospheric, it was Acetone’s simple but elegant songs that inspired me to pick up a guitar and start playing out with friends after a very long lay off. Sadly, they disbanded in 2001 after the suicide of bassist Richie Lee.
Before anyone gets insulted, the band were named by African-American Mark Stewart, who goes by Stew. I asked him about the name once at the now-defunct venue Spaceland. ‘You see any brothers in here?’, he asked. There weren’t any. ‘I’ve got a problem with that,’ Stew said. The name is his lament at the dearth of black people in rock music. We got friendly when he asked he to name one black rock musicians after Hendrix and I came up with Barry Adamson (he was expecting Phil Lynott). TNP were one of the best bands in LA for years, making super-sophisticated and truly funny records and performing great live shows (they once payed an entire gig alternating between Ramones and Beach Boys tunes). I must have seen them 15 times before Stew left LA for New York, where he eventually won a Tony award for the lyrics to a Broadway musical about his youth called ‘Passing Strange’. Spike Lee filmed the last performance.
This will probably be the only song in this series that I heard before it was recorded. Lidsville were a quartet out of Orange County. When I first moved out here my buddy Ed the Bassist and I formed a label we called Meridian Records to feature indie bands. Lidsville were the first one on it. Our timing was spectacularly bad as Nirvana hit just months afterwards and suddenly everything indie was mainstream. The band had a local following but couldn’t compete with better-funded grunge acts that were all the rage. I remember listening to the band debuting Retribution live one night and thinking the guitar solo sounded like a cobra being charmed out of a basket. Singer/songwriter/lead guitarist Greg Johnson now teaches physics to high school kids up in Chico, half a day’s drive north of me.
On the never-to-be-forgotten night that I met Jonny earlier this year, he gave me a copy of a 7″ single by Lidsville and briefly explained his past involvement with the band. Tune into tomorrow for more.
One more thing to add…..that para above about Jonny’s conversation with the judge from Victorville has to be just about the coolest thing I’ve read on any blog all year.