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On Success (and Fear)

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Why is success so terrifying? –Desiree Landerman, Canada

Hi Desiree,

I guess the pat answer would be is that change is terrifying. I’m going to qualify that and say that it’s FAST change that is the most terrifying. Luckily for me, I am not what you’d call a success in the writing world, overnight or otherwise. All of the success I’ve experienced has happened at such a slow pace that I’ve had a chance to process it.

When I was just starting out in the early 90s, I was scared of making a fool of myself. I masked this with bravado and bluster and finally in my 30s, I found true confidence. Still very few publication credits then, though.

I think that decades of writing in obscurity has hardened me a little bit, and taught me a few things. Now, in my late 40s, I’m achieving the success I hoped for, but hadn’t yet earned in my 20s.

There is one big reason why I am personally terrified of success with writing. I hate performing in front of people. I also hate parties, meeting new people, subways, and going for walks on days that end in “y”. Yet I am a public school teacher. Go figure. I think I know why, though.

Every element of my classroom environment is pre-planned and set-up in advance. I know who I’m supposed to be when I’m in that space. When I’m on a stage, I can’t be Josh Medsker, Writer. I’m just Josh Medsker, Awkward Man.

And I know that the more books I write and the more recognition I get, the more I will have to put myself out there. This scares me so much. I am trying to find a good way to integrate these performances into my artistic self-vision, but so far I haven’t.

Thank you for this question. I hope this was a useful answer.

–Josh

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On Happiness

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I kept coming up short on topics to write about, so I put out a call for questions! I took the idea from Nick Cave. On his website, people write in and ask him questions, which he answers at length. So, without further ado, here is my version of that idea. –JM

Are you happy? –John Hocker, Alaska

Hi, John. You know how they say “If you have to ask yourself if you’re happy then you probably aren’t?” That’s me.

I’ve often operated in a fog of self-consciousness. Not my whole life, but for large swaths of it. I’ve found that the times I’ve been the happiest are when I’m focusing on someone else’s needs. Or, if I am focusing on myself, I’m deep in some creative project and don’t have time to contemplate it.

I think that reflection is crucial to being a thinking person, but too much reflection, and you are hamstrung. It can very quickly turn from reflection into neurosis.

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Writing = Faith

It’s an understatement to say that we live in interesting times. So interesting that after work, I just want to go home, grab my wife, my dogs and cat, pull the covers up over my face, and go the fuck to sleep. But somehow, this world just keeps creeping under my blanket.

So what do we do? After the floor is swept, the litter box is cleaned and dishes are done, what do you do to organize your mind, or keep some semblance of normalcy in this DUMPSTER FIRE OF A WORLD c. 2020? As a writer, you write. But that is a feat sometimes. I think the key is to please yourself.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with rising sea levels, or the rise of right-wing populists around the world, or any number of issues that are troubling me… but I do know that I can string words together in a way that pleases me. Getting up in the morning, committing to an idea, putting it down –that is an incredibly brave act of faith. Who will read it? Who will care?

To paraphrase Andy Warhol, “Make art. Let someone else figure out if it’s good or not. While they are doing that, make more.

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The Decline of Northern Civilization: T.C. Ottinger

T.C. was a long-time scene maker in Anchorage, with his impeccable style and 50s and 60s-infused rock and roll. All driven by his ever-present Rickenbacker. Never one to mince words, he had a lot to say about local music history when we caught up via email a while back. He’s been living in Columbus, Ohio for more than a few years now, rockin with the Lee-Enfield Trio, among other projects. The Alaska music scene will never have a more vocal advocate (and critic). It’s my honor to welcome him to this oral history project.

Josh Medsker: When did you first get involved in the local music scene?

TC Ottinger: Going way back to about ’83, my first band was Diagonal Incision, followed by Irrational Youth in college. The precursor to Dead End Kid was The Subterraneans with Scott Comins, Don Schwartz and Tim Lottridge on drums (who would subsequently move to Oly with DEK). DEK was a great band with some fine tunes, equally influenced by Social D’ and The Misfits in addition to the burgeoning grunge element. With our relocation, we broke up (a theme to be repeated ad nauseum). Dean Fryer and I moved back to AK at separate times and he formed Sonic Tractorhead–and then moved again. I hadn’t seen him since–maybe–’92 though when I ran into him in AK in July, I realized why I loved playing with the guy and really did miss him. Too bad our recordings of DEK were fookin’ shite.

As to my involvement in the “scene” of the early ’80’s, I had gone to some punk shows, went to The Warehouse once (no big deal) and bought all the issues of the Warning fanzine, so I wasn’t too into what was going down, although I knew what was up (I was already distancing myself from the “stupid/drunk” punk, by having already owned Gang of Four, The Damned, early R.E.M., The Jam–natch–but that was definitely out of the musical knowledge of the local musicians which sucked when I tried to form a band–another theme to be repeated ad nauseum). More later.

JM: You gotta tell me the full story of you rooming with Kurt Cobain in Olympia.

TC: Cobain was never my roomie though I did get to “jam” with him a few times and eat pizza at Jo’Momma’s and drink pints at KS’s Reef Room and all three of us in DEK moved to Oly in Aug ’90–just in time to witness the last, great, epoch/genre-changing musical phenom (for real: music, fashion, politics AND the bonus of making Warrant, Garth Brooks and Michael “NAMBLA charter member” Jackson completely irrelevant).

Quick note on The Subterraneans: for about a year, we were the only band doing anything. We had some great originals and did covers of Echo’, Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, The Cult… We played on the beach with a generator long before a “coastal trail” existed; we played the park behind Egan before anyone (with a permit, too), we opened the UAA Pub (yawn) and played some legendary house parties. Then we saw The Guests and knew it was time to move on (my opine: The Guests are one of the five greatest AK bands–ever; Skate Death are around #9, if you’re going to ask).

JM: Oh I am.

TC: And by “greatest”, I should qualify that to mean “most-lasting impact”.

JM: Top ten… Fave local bands ever and why… Hopscotch was always in my top 3.

TC: Not in any order and not because I may like them–or not (I fuckin’ hate SD) but: TCOs, The Guests, SD, Psychedelic Skeletons, Tuesday Weld, Roman Candles, Sonic Tractorhead, DEK, Freedom 49 and Dr Zaius. There are some more recent bands but they are so fuckin’ blah on stage.

Hell, too bad The Ambition was only around for a year (until we moved to OH and broke up) because we would’ve been better, bigger and more influential than most of the previous bands previously mentioned. Hopscotch? Hell, we were pretty fuckin’ good but could’ve been so much better if the line-up didn’t fluctuate so damn much! ‘Pretty much 6 lost years of my life…

JM: I’ve always appreciated that you worked your ass off, musically, during that dead time in the late 80s. I’ve been told it was dead. I wasn’t around.

TC: If it could be any deader, this would be that period. I decided to move to Dallas after 2.5 years at UAF (great school in a shitty city) early ’88. When I returned to Anchorage in the summer, I found myself in a band that was quite good (The Subterraneans) and played quite a bit. Very few bands would venture north and those of any local quality would depart even quicker than they would later in AK’s history! One of note–that continues to spark interest among those of us who know talent–was The Guests. At one spectacularly poor “festival” for the University Free Press (which was around for, probably, 3 issues), The Guests were amazing; in a nod to pre-grunge, they should’ve gone on to be much bigger once they moved (but…drugs, ego, women). Their originals were far superior to anything anyone else was playing though, once they closed the show with an incendiary, punk-cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars” (with one Cliff Hall hammering a big sheet of metal), they were nothing short of gods. 

This was also a time of hippy/jam bands starting to take off, in addition to white-funk shit, a la RHCP. When bands like this took off, I knew that the local flavor was really starting to suffer.

Now, this was a time of many venues opening and closing, so the opportunity to play was actually greater than it had been in many years; further, one could put on shows for relatively cheap without too much bureaucratic tape, i.e., cops being cops.

Once, though, that The Subterraneans inevitably broke up (forming some regrettably blah, white-funk bands), I ran into Dean Fryer and we put together DEK which was–since The Guests weren’t around–the best band of ’89-’90. Sure, that’s reads a bit self-centered, but we were fuckin’ mega; live, no one could touch us (too bad our recorded output was stale)! We put on the best rent parties, legendary house parties, rented the Spenard Rec Center and blew it up and–still–the greatest bunker show in AK history before going to Olympia… 

JM: What is your recollection of the Kincaid Bunker Show?

TC: The Kincaid Bunker show (“4 bucks/3 bands/2 stages/1 night”) really was something that should’ve been documented (this, of course, in a time before the ubiquity of digital this and that). I challenge anyone to replicate even half the energy and fun of that night; the “good vibes” will never be duplicated as today’s little fucks would find someway to ruin it with rap, thug-life b.s., baggy-panted misery and just plain ego-play. That, and they’d charge some disgusting fee to “make” money rather than just try to recover their investment. Hell, the pit that erupted in front of our closing set was self-policing, friendly-yet-spastic and–by many–considered the largest ever mosh pit (qualify: not counting the big-money shows that K-WHORE would produce, as the pit at Metallica might’ve been the largest). 
More later…enjoy

JM: So, in your estimation, how were the 90s, compared to the 80s, scene-wise?

TC: The ’90’s were a great time of musical growth for Anchorage with the opening–and the subsequent closing–of many venues; so many places were run so half-ass, there never was any doubt as to their being open for any length of time, e.g., Gigs, Plunking Monkey, The Underground (of course, with some, it was only a matter of time once the wrong element was allowed to frequent the places). So many good bands sprung up at this time that challenged the old guard of Skynyrd and Zep’, Tuesday Weld being one that comes to mind and one of my all-time fave AK bands.

Unfortunately, a great many bands also appeared that were nothing more than terrible musicianship packaged in forgettable stage demonstrations or good musicianship with absolutely no idea of “mach schau” (hell, you can be the greatest shredder alive but if you dress in white tennis shoes, torn jeans and can’t bother to take a shower and are just boring as fuck live, you might as well be playing in your living room). In some cases, a few bands’ over-inflated view of themselves and their attempt to impress the eight fans they had at that moment led to some ugly confrontations (for example, Philipino Haircut–which sucked–vomiting on stage after their usual shit performance, totally disregarding common decency with regard to the following band having to stand around in stench; Kenny Bo’ and I threatened to beat the shit out them– until they cleaned up after themselves. Somehow, we came out as the “bad guys” in the whole mess). Odd, in all this, I was going to school full-time, working full-time, playing in bands, DJ-ing on radio, writing music reviews, booking shows for other artists and yet found time to frequent a number of performances–demanding to pay full admission, as is morally the right thing to do–yet rarely seeing other bands at our shows! How was I viewed as the “evil man” in this scenario? Sure, I spoke my mind on radio and press but that’s because no one should sugar-coat their opinions when dealing with something so esoteric as music; if you think you have the onions to be a rockstar, you might want to listen to what a musical veteran is putting out. I know talent when I hear it and though I may not have been a fan of a certain band’s music (Freedom 49, 36 Crazyfists) I ALWAYS wrote of my admiration and respect for those artists, putting out one good review after another with regard to those in question. 

Obviously, though, the ’90’s gave rise to so many copy-cat bands wanting to be Nirvana or Rage Against the Machine or, later, Limp Bizkit. I was always cheesed at how the local scene was such a vacuum that nothing really original ever grew though there were the occasional gold nuggets, the aforementioned Tuesday Weld comes to mind, again (some bands, like Pikal, are just…yawn).

Sure, I never put anything out that was ground-breaking but I was in a surf-instrumental band before “Pulp Fiction” was released (leading to the resurgence of the genre), my bands would wear suit and tie just about 80% of time (long before “Trainspotting” appeared) and we started the switch to a rockabilly sound…all this before they became nationally fashionable which led to many thinking that–once they finally saw us–we were part of a trend. Sheesh, I even did a rap-thing with just drum, bass and mic that really turned some heads (opening for Cypress Hill, some locals were upset that F’49 didn’t get the slot–throwing coins, shoes, spit, blocks of wood…at my head!– but we lobbied for the gig the same way everyone else attempted but were chosen by CH’s management on the merit of better material…so suck it).

JM: You escaped to the Lower 48 for a while, right? With Hopscotch.

TC: Yeah, even ol’ Hopscotch made it out of AK for a bit to the now-defunct NXNW, chosen on the strength of our tape, bio and press package. Once that band went through its fourth or fifth iteration, I finally had to put that to bed and formed The Tall Cool Ones which is–probably–the best band of the ’99-’02 period (qualifier: with Damian and Clint, not the regrettable Joey Fender version), as we walked away with Best Band honors three years running (without doing any sort of stumping for votes, too, we gobbled up over 60% of votes each year!). 

Another band from the ’90’s that can’t be overlooked is Kevin Smith’s perfect Dr. Zaius, a Dinosaur, Jr. meets Todd Rundgren meets Sonic Youth element. If any one band could have been labeled as the, say, the “best Anchorage band of the ’90’s”, they’d be it, without question. Far and away the most musically gifted trio in the circuit though the only complaint was they were very reserved on the stage (too be forgiven, sure, as their music could have been also labeled as “shoegazer”). 

And then the venues dried up due to poor management, people getting stabbed, bands asking for too much money or just plain disinterest from the locals. Or the rise of the internet. Whatever, apathy had fueled the implosion of a burgeoning scene and it took a few years to recover.

JM: You are originally from NOLA, yes? When did you come up to Alaska? What made you stay for so long?

TC: Born in 1967, the same year as the Saints, my all-time fave sports team regardless of record (unlike 49ers fans who jumped ship the second their team took a nose-dive in the standings…). ‘Rents moved us to AK in ’72 to have a better education and escape racism (not realizing that the indigenous people of AK are some of the most racist turds on Earth). Although we’d visit the extended fam’ a few times over the years, AK became my home as I really hadn’t anything else to which I could compare! But–aaah–once I tasted the freedom of Dallas or Seattle or NY or London, I knew it was only a matter of time until I’d finally find myself permanently out of that musical/fashion/entertainment hell.

The thing that really irked me was the apathy. I already wrote that in an earlier missive but it’s the perfect word for the Anchorage music scene and a majority of its participants. It just seems so many want so much done for them (kind of like residents of Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta) that they’ll bitch rather than just finding a venue; hell, so many places in Anchorage would love someone to walk into their establishment and ask to play a show (gratis, of course, at first). Bands in which I was involved played so many different places, at times being the first to play somewhere new or unique (to only be ruined by the onslaught of the “punk” rock attitude that you have to kick holes in walls or pull sinks off walls…). 

I guess another thing that may have bothered me was the frequency at which original thought was shit upon by the local media or–gasp–someone actually voicing their opinion without first consulting the various outlets, venues, artists. Again, as I wrote earlier, who cares about someone’s opinion (from me? Sure, I may have more years under my belt as a professional musician but, inevitably, what I say are just words, or advice, and you should just grow some fuckin’ stones and become a better fuckin’ band).

JM: Do you have any regrets about that time? Anything that you wanted to accomplish that you didn’t?

Tall Cool Ones, c. late 90s. (note: This is a reference to Seattle’s “Fabulous” Wailers, not our man’s initials.)

TC: Any regrets? Not playing more, not playing with musicians that understood what I was trying to do, not putting more shit together for other bands (though I did a helluvalot, mother fuckers, without any thanks). To accomplish— Just to make Anchorage a better and more forward place for music; it’s sad that backward, no-talents think they’re the shit when all they’ve done is play a few shows in AK. Saying they’ve helped some new bands get started or get some gigs and not recognizing what is missing from their “clients” bag of tricks is only hurting said artists. Yeah, I know, what have I done? Not sold out and played Benihana, for one fucking thing…

JM: How did you juggle your regular life during those times? Was it difficult, with jobs, school, GFs, etc…

TC: Fucking hard as shit. I don’t know very many in any scene that had my schedule nor could have maintained my life for as long as I did! Ken Bodensteiner, for one, that’s for sure. But, I would do just about anything to play music, put on a show because the show is all that matters–you never cancel a show (some people need to get that through their fuckin’ heads: if you say you’re playing somewhere–even for free–you play or, well, you lose a great deal of respect in my eyes). As for girlfriends, I am glad to have finally left AK and found my wife. Period.

JM: What are some of your favorite stories from those days?

TC: Too many to list but: opening for Social Distortion, opening for (and destroying) Soul Asylum, the bunker shows, getting kicked out of Talkeetna for playing too loud, being on the radio and educating the masses to better music, The Tall Cool Ones, The Ambition, recording two Hopscotch tracks with Rick Kinsey, recording TCO tracks with Kristian Rosentrater…I know there’s more, just let me finish this shot to clear the cobwebs.

JM: Was there camaraderie among scenesters, do you think? Was it pretty unified, or were there factions, cliques?

TC: There was a comradeship early in the scene, and then it became one big backstabbing, buddy fuck-fest. The cliques were pretty obvious, too, but I was never involved in any (probably because I wasn’t allowed in with the self-imposed intelligentsia or the dirty masses that felt not taking a shower was somehow cool).

JM: What was your overall impression of the music scene up there? How is it different than Columbus?

TC: I learned a great deal of tolerance but the AK scene is sorely lacking in everything–too many “big fish” heads. The best thing I’ve ever done is finally and permanently move to a city where music is diverse, educated (these people know The Wailers are a band from Tacoma…), highly competitive though close-knit (which breeds better musicianship), a high number of musician-friendly venues, working class ethic–all traits that do not exist in Anchorage. Hell, if someone writes that a band or artist isn’t “all that”–any press is good press! The danger is when someone STOPS writing about you; AK bands need to appreciate that little bon mots from someone who actually has lived it.

www.facebook.com/tchristopher.ottinger

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The Decline of Northern Civilization: Jenn Gray of AK INK

(This is an ongoing interview series about the alternative / punk music scene in Anchorage and its attendant culture, from the 80s through the 00s.)

Jenn held down the punk rock fort in Anchorage from 2002-2006 with her zine AK INK. Local music live reviews, attitude, beer reviews? The local music scene needed an infusion of fresh blood, and she delivered. She was kind enough to speak with me a few years ago about her days in the Anchorage scene trenches.

Interview by Josh Medsker

When did you first get involved in the punk scene in Anchorage?

I guess I first became involved in the scene when I was 16. My family moved back to Anchorage from Germany in 1993. I started dating musicians, and going to the local shows.

Who were some of your models for zine writing? What zines (local or non-local) had you read or contributed to before the start of AK Ink? I still remember your Skeeve’s Christmas Story comic! Hahaha! I loved that.

I liked comics a lot, and tried to make some. Not dumb boy action adventures, but more cynical crass feminine humor. I wasn’t interested in zines at first because I had only been exposed to perzines where people drone on about their personal bullshit. I was familiar with the reproductive aspect of zines, and replicated my comics in the same way. I remember NNN a lot because of how the half legal sized pamphlet felt nice to hold. The full sized letter zines were bulky and lame, and the half letter sized zines were too narrow and awkward. I started making AK ink in half sized legal sheets too. NNN seemed to have the right amount of scene coverage, music reviews, and other shit that I found appropriate of a scene zine. I figured if I made one, I could interject all of my drawings and comics in-between the scene coverage. With NNN I could see that the past was documented, but at the same time I could see that no one was documenting the present.

I left AK in 2000, and honestly… from 1996 when I quit NNN, up until then, there didn’t seem to be a lot of zine-ing going on. And by the time you started AK Ink, the Verve had gone kaput, right?  What was the local zine/small press scene like at the onset of AK Ink?

Yeah we began at the end of 2002, and not a lot was going on zine-wise, aside from a few perzines found at Subterranea. There was some scene coverage in AK This Month and the Press, but I wanted AK ink to focus primarily on the local underground punk scene, because there wasn’t much documentation of that.

An important note about the timing of AK ink, was that it began right as the internet was starting to explode. Paper zines were practically already obsolete. So if there weren’t a lot of zines out there, that’s a huge contributing factor. Making copies at Kinkos was all revised; you had to have a credit card to run the machines, so I’m sure that deterred some of the kids. We intended AK ink to be a website zine only because we lived in this new digital world, but we made the paper version just for fun. Then we said fuck it, and made it paper too. Good thing because the paper copy is the only thing that remains.

I don’t know if you experienced this, but during NNN, it almost seemed like–because we were writing about it, more bands popped up, or maybe, the bands that were around took what they were doing a tad more seriously… dunno.  Was that your experience?

I think we noticed more bands pop up because we were searching them out, and collecting them into history. Not everyone remembers the lame band that three of your friends were in back in the early 2000s, but zines do. I think creating a zine is a big contribution to the scene, and compliments the contributions of the bands. Not everyone is a musician. Instead of making music with melody and lyrics, we made visual art with photography and type. Perhaps it does inspire, and encourage some people, but the scene was definitely already alive and kicking by the time we started writing about it. There were lots of mohawks in the pit, and fist banging all around.

Also, looking back on it, it seems like AK can only support one ongoing local zine at a time! Hahaha! I think the Ak Verve/NNN dual run was a fluke.  In the 80s, it was only Warning.  In the 90s it was me and Bmac (an anomaly), and it seems like in the 00s it was only you. Did you find that to be true?

No, I think we tried to encourage each other to create, whether it was in AK ink, or in other zines. Actually, there were several zines going on the same time as AK ink, maybe not as consistent, or in the same vein, or as reproduced and promoted, but we would run ads in each other’s zines to show support. The more perspective, and the different perspective, on the same subject is wonderful for archiving.

Tell me about the birth of AK Ink. What made you want to start a seriously local zine in Anchorage?

I wanted to do several things. I wanted to get my art published, I wanted to have a fun creative enslaving project, and I wanted to document the scene so I could remember it. I have a terrible memory so creating a zine was perfect. I was going to all the local shows and hanging out with band people anyway. I coupled it with my favorite genre, punk rock, and AK ink was born. “AK” stands for the geographically fucked location, and “ink” stands for pen art, type, toner, and the blackness in reproducing art. A nice plus was that it gave me something to do besides drink at the shows.

Why did you fold it up, ultimately?

It folded because I was poor and working with my back. I figured I better get my shit together and finish my bachelors before I got all crippled working manual labor jobs. I quit the zine, and my shitty warehouse job to go back to school.

Do you think you’ll put out #20 ever?

Yes. Everything for it is sitting safety in my attic waiting for my next move. Though, I’m not sure if I will release it this year, next year, or in 10 years, whenever the inspiration and time comes.

What are some of your favorite AK memories?

I’m really interested in subcultural group thought/aesthetic/action, and the conformity of nonconformity. Youth culture and underground communal response might be found in all cities, but we got to experience it, and document it, in Anchorage. I like how the scene doesn’t really pedestal the bands. They are usually just dudes with day jobs dragging their equipment through the snow, keeping the scene alive, giving a reason to congregate. The scene is about the people who come together, the bands and the crowds. Granted, everyone is usually more interested in finding drugs, an after party, or a lay, rather than focusing on the sound, but the music is the soundtrack to this weird intermingling. Sometimes there are tons of people contributing to this collective, sometimes people just stop trying, and go about their lives. It doesn’t matter; the Anchorage underground scene always peaks again. I find this shit fascinating.

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I Love The Eagles! There, I Said It.

I first became aware of the Eagles when I was around ten years old. It was 1983, I was just beginning to listen to music, and generally, my tastes were quite diverse. My sister and I particularly liked their live version of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” from their Greatest Hits Vol. 2, and would try to match their matchless harmonies. We’d play it any chance we got. Family trips up to Lake Wasilla, Christmases, Mondays… Sometimes, at home, I would put on the vinyl and the giant space-age headphones my folks had (the kind that covered half your head) and just marvel at that song. It was my first taste of a cappella. And fingerstyle guitar. And I’ve never quite gotten over it.

Once I got older, around high school age, I became keenly aware that the Eagles were not cool. They were to be openly mocked by the young musical cognoscenti. Too rock for hardcore country fans. Not rock enough for stoners or metalheads. Not street enough for rap fans. And for my crowd? Alternative kids? Too ubiquitous and mainstream. I mean, their first Greatest Hits is one of the best selling albums of all time. Would my Doc Marten-wearing, backcombed black hair sporting, top 40 out-of-hand dismissing friends sign off on that? Not bloody likely.

Dutifully, I kept my Eagle-love hidden until my late 20s when I proclaimed my forbidden love to the world. My love of rockabilly took me deeper into country music, then on to country-rock, and deeper into the Eagles.

I was surprised and delighted to find that their roots in country-rock run deep, with Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon stamping his twang all over their first three albums. His Gram Parsons tribute “My Man” is gold. And those harmonies, with heavy lifting on the high end from Randy “Take It To The Limit” Meisner? Again, they stomp everyone aside from CSNY. This is not up for debate. And the fact that Meisner was in Rick(y) Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band in the late 60s was just… damn.

For me, “Already Gone”, from their 1974 album On The Border straddles their rock and country sides perfectly. Lots of woo-hoos and tight harmonies, with that raucous (yet not quite unrestrained) guitar edge they’d take further as the 70s wore on. Don Felder rips at the end of the song, especially, and when they go up a half step in the coda, it still gives me chills. The song is rocking, pretty, economical and tight.

Generally I lean towards their early work, but I will admit that I once drove around the block 3 times, coming home from Walgreens, just to listen to Joe Walsh and Felder’s mind-blowing guitar duetting on “Hotel California”. Rewind, and rewind, and rewind…

For me, though, these songs, more than any fanboy music geekery, remind me of my family. Invariably, whenever my sister and I have hung out over the years, at some point the Eagles will come out. We’ll drive around Anchorage, Boston, or LA, wherever we are… blaring it, just enjoying, singing along, remembering.

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Snacks on Snacks on Snacks – Guest Column by Tony Metz

“But you’re a potato!” Disgusting. (Frito Lay)

I need to bring something very important to your attention. Snack food cannibalism. The taboo of cannibalism is well-established in cultures across the world. There are forces at work which are trying to dismantle this ages-old social more, using our snacks to normalize this repellent, barbaric behavior. I for one, need to speak my mind. You must have noticed the onslaught of commercials slyly promoting this godless liberal agenda. Firstly, there is a Lays Potato Chips ad, where the husband and wife engage in eating one of their own, seemingly as some sort of precursor to intercourse (which is a whole bigger issue, but I digress). The husband catches the wife eating a stack of Lays, and gasps in horror. Rightfully so. However, by the end of the commercial has convinced him to engage in her abhorrent practice as well, and they bond over their sick delight in self-consumption. Are we meant to be convinced as well, through appeals of humor and gluttony? We cannot remain silent while these evil forces chip away at our long-established morality. A similar situation is portrayed in a current Snapple commercial, where a group of 4 Snapple Mango drinks sit, drinking Snapple Mango, which is horrifying enough. One of the Snapples inquires about the whereabouts of their friend, Phil. Upon realizing they are in fact drinking Phil, they shrug off their Snapplephagy and continue their previous conversation. Whatever compunction they had has been sapped by their lust for mango-flavored juice drink. Thanks, Obama. Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to the current series of commercials for the breakfast cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch whose tagline is “crave those crazy squares”. This commercial may be the most disturbing of the three, because it shows a series of cereal bits eating each other, one after the other, in what can only be called a bloodthirsty manner. Unlike the characters in the Snapple ad (who were unconcerned) and the Lays ad (one of whom at least started out concerned with his wife’s behavior) the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Squares exhibit any conscience or remorse whatsoever. No, liberal media, and your shills in agribusiness, I will not “crave” these squares or any other food that engages in such reprehensible behavior. Behavior that goes against the very moral fabric that this Christian country was founded upon, and I ask you, reader, to stand up and say NO MORE. Here is contact information for you to make your voice heard:Frito Lay North Americahttps://mcu.pepsico.com/m/Html/Home.htm?brand=fritolay&culture=en-USDr Pepper Snapple Group Consumer Relations(800) 696-5891General Mills (Cinnamon Toast Crunch) Consumer Helpline1-800-248-7310

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Born to Lose

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1996. (Photo by Virgil Porter)

What I remember most is the giant hill covered in black ice and trying to climb it, wearing Doc Martens, supporting myself by grabbing onto side windows of cars on my way up to the liquor store.  It was New Year’s Eve in Alaska—going into 1997 and I was at a party. I came with my friend Joni, who I’d been sleeping with, in-between drowning our mutual sorrows in cheap beer. In what was probably the darkest year of my twenties, hanging out with her was a bright spot.

It was this guy Gabe and I, climbing the hill. A year earlier, at a different party, Gabe and I got into it. He tried to beat me up because he thought I was a poser, a pussy, and a full-of-shit writer. I was majoring in journalism but flunking out of college. I had been doing a punk zine for a few years and had recently retired it, feeling burned out and overwhelmed by my life. It took a lot out of me, but I also lived for it. Music and writing were my life—and I was at an impasse. I was despondent that the local music scene— something I’d based my life and identity on for two, three, four years—was dying. I was very happy that Gabe and I were finally hanging out though. I felt vindicated in my quest to become a genuine punk rocker, whatever that means.

We finally reached the liquor store then made our way down the hill, sliding all the way back to Alan’s party house. The nice coat of snow on my motorcycle jacket complimented the pre-existing sweat, dirt, and vomit. I was looking forward to seeing Julia, Alan’s new girl, who was a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. We’d all heard from around that she wasn’t doing so well, that she had relapsed. She was a fixture in the local music scene but had been AWOL for a few months, and no-one knew for sure what had happened to her.

She had moved up to Anchorage from Los Angeles a few years prior, to clean up from years of IV drug use. I was drawn to her, mostly because she I both came from very religious upbringings and had both rebelled in our own ways. I had much admiration for her outsized attitude and her willingness to try and make a better life for herself. Deep down, I knew she was fucked up—maybe beyond repair.

Gabe and I barreled through the door, dropping our bundles of beer onto the carpet. I sat on the couch when Julia came out, wearing a sloppy getup of sweatpants and a blank, dirty t-shirt. Her skin looked yellowed and rubbery, and it aged her ten years. She looked like she was pushing forty, hair plastered back onto her head and pinned with a barrette. She sat down next to me. I wondered where her daughter was.

“Hey, Josh,” she said, putting her arm around me.

“Hey,” I said, afraid.  I hunched my shoulders.

“How’s it going?”

“Good,” she said.

“You want a beer?” she asked, reaching down to grab a can from the box.

I had forgotten all about it. “Um, yeah, thanks,” I said, taking the can of Milwaukee’s Best that she offered.

“So, where’s Cheyenne?” I asked, looking around, trying to hide my disgust at her appearance.

“She’s in our bedroom,” Julia said, motioning down the hall.

I felt the sadness and anger rising in me. All of her friends, myself included, had tried for over a year, to keep her off of hard drugs only to have this stranger, this Alan guy, swoop in from Nevada—or wherever it was—and just blow the whole thing to shit. But ultimately, it was her choice in the end. We all knew it—especially me. The sick thing is, even after everything I knew about her drug problems, I still wanted so badly to do heroin with her. I was jealous that she had slid so far down.  It would’ve been so easy—just get up, walk back into the room, and boom, relief.

*

I wanted so desperately to be accepted by Alan, Gabe, Julia, and all of the gutter punks. I wasn’t satisfied with my skunk pompadour, tattoos, leather jacket, radio show, punk zine, or any of it. None of it helped alleviate my feelings of worthlessness. I felt that Gabe was probably right: I wasn’t living the authentic life. I was a college student—unlike these other kids. They drank until they passed out, shot drugs, and they had facial tattoos. In trying to achieve my goal of heading straight down, I became a dabbler. It started with whip-its in high-school, and then I moved on to weed, hash, mushrooms, acid, and eventually meth—all in varying degrees of use. I craved scene cred, but I never found what I imagined was true abandon. Then I finally found something that made me feel better, something that took the edge off of daily life: burning myself with cigarettes. I can’t recall the first time I did it, but I will never forget the rush. Every day when I look at my arms, I remember. The sizzling sound it would make, hitting my skin and the sick joy I felt, knowing I had marked myself permanently in the process. I wanted people to look at me and cringe, knowing what I had done.  I would do it when no one was around, to make myself feel better, and I would also do it on a dare because people asked me to.

“Do the smiley trick,” they would say. That’s where you press the hot lighter top to your skin, leaving a burn that, ironically, looks like a smiley face. I had found real release.

I had never been able to shake the feeling that I had failed my parents. When I was eighteen, I told them I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I dropped out of that life. At the time I wished that they had been self-righteous zealots, so I could tell them to fuck off and be done with it. But, religion aside, we had a pretty good relationship. So I was stuck. I didn’t have the guts to sink into the gutter, but I had turned my back on the person I used to be. I was nowhere.

*

A few months after Alan’s party, I saw Julia was at a Social Distortion show at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage—all the scene kids were there. It was February, 1997, right before my twenty-fourth birthday. I was in a mood and was burning myself again. I sat outside the auditorium, brooding, in my sleeveless t-shirt, which I had written “Sick Boy” on in black marker (and Joni stole from me!)  I was talking with my friend Rex, who owned the local punk shop. He was fiddling with his septum ring, and giving me his usual half-cynical, half-uplifting pep talk. As Rex got up to go into the show, he hugged Julia. She came and sat next to me. She had shaved the sides of her head clean again, revealing her “PUNX” tattoo, and her liberty spikes were freshly dyed green, and standing in all their glory. My leather jacket was draped over my legs. My arm was pink and raw. I brought the lighter down again.

“Stop it, Josh,” Julia said, reaching her arm out. “Stop!” I pulled the lighter away from her grasp.

“What,” I said, baiting her. “What?” As if to say, who the hell are you to tell me to stop, doing what you’ve done? I brought it down a second time, looking at her. She turned and walked away in disgust.

My arm really hurt. The second burn was right on top of the first one. It would be the ninth and last one I ever did. At the end of the show, the lining of my jacket stuck to the wound. I winced, slowly pulling it off. I decided to forgo hanging out at, so I walked the two miles from downtown to midtown: up C Street, to the Village Inn to eat alone, have my late-night coffee, and think. I realized that Julia was right—I had gone too far. It was frightening that she was afraid for me. I ordered my coffee, took out my notebook, and, like so many nights before, began to write.

I continued to use various drugs; but seeing Julia, during that winter of 1996, changed my outlook: I tried to stop using them as tools to obliterate myself. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. There were very few times that writing gave me the level of release that was comparable to burning myself or doing drugs. Still, I carried a little notebook with me, inside the secret pocket of my motorcycle jacket—just in case.

*

I had one of the most odd and, strangely enough, transcendent  experiences of my life on that New Year’s Eve, in Julia’s front yard. I remember standing with Julia, Gabe, Joni and a couple other people, smiling, watching the downtown fireworks show. Everyone just seemed so happy to be alive, looking at the bright explosions in the sky. I cut out early and quietly, an Irish goodbye as they say, and began scrambling back up the hill, filled with purpose again. I felt happy and newly innocent, and a feeling came over me: maybe things would get better eventually, if I just kept putting pen to paper—if I just kept going.

***

(This memoir originally appeared in Criminal Class Review, in a different form, in 2013).

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Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex

I was extremely saddened to hear about Poly Styrene’s death a few months ago. She was always one of my favorites… didn’t stick to the punk formula. And she certainly was unique in the late 70s London punk scene, being one of the few black women around (‘cept maybe Pauline from The Selecter).

I got to speak with her via email in the summer of ’96, after the new Spex put out their record, Conscious Consumer. We talked about eastern religion, the Pistols reunion, and more. Shame I never got to meet her in person. -JM (2011)

Interview by Josh Medsker

(from Noise Noise Noise #11, Oct. 1996)

(note: after their appearance at the Holidays in the Sun Brit punk reunion-fest this summer, the Conscious Consumer lineup has split.)

What have you been doing, since the breakup of the original band? I heard that you put out some solo records in ’80 and ’86? Have you done anything other than music?

I’ve been writing songs, and a diary and a book on Bhakti Yoga. I did put out a solo album in 1980, called Translucence, which was a therapeutic retreat from electric music, and was mainly for my personal development as an artist and a human being. I also put out an EP, called Gods and Goddesses, that was a fusion of styles.

spex95How would you say going to India changed your personal life, and your musical outlook and ideas?

I’ve been very much influenced by Indian culture and philosophy, which has had a profound spiritual significance in both my personal life and music and has helped me introduce mantra therapy in my work and private life.

How do you think the new album, Conscious Consumer, fits in with the other X Ray Spex material?

It’s a progression but still carries quite contemporary concepts of social issues, which aims to se the listener free from consumer bondage. I’m no exception to this rule. I like to hear the messages transmitted as much as I like to sing them. I think Conscious Consumer was more an exercise in communication.

What happened to the original band? Who’s in the new band?

The original band tried to do X Ray Spex without me, unsuccessfully. So I went solo for a while, and then re-formed Spex with new people. The new band is me and some friends.

What do you think of the Sex Pistols reunion tour?

I haven’t seen them. Paul Cook said he gave all his tickets away for Finsbury Park. Everybody who sees them says they sound great. Shame they haven’t any new songs.

You keep up with music these days? Which bands interest you?

The band Shelter have a good message, but musically, I like instrumental, chill-out music. I hope to put on a one-day event once a month, in London and LA, of all my undiscovered bands.

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SEMI-VISIBLE HANK: Punk Icon Eludes Dogged Interviewer

This piece will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first thing I wrote that I got paid for, launching me on my first (albeit short-lived) career. All thanks goes to Robert Meyerowitz for taking a chance on me. And Mark and Gretchen Fitz for letting me crash in their spare room even after walking out of my day job. Read on! -JM (2017)

By Josh Medsker

(from The Anchorage Press, Feb 1999)

I had tried to get an interview with Henry Rollins for a week, shortly after his spoken-word date at UAA was confirmed. The UAA Concert Board put up a brick wall: no interviews. Then I noticed a paper on the fridge at my friends’ Mark and Gretchen’s house, where I was crashing. Mark was working with the Concert Board, and had Rollins’ itinerary, including t19059140_10155555496924994_2609964065141975273_nhe hotel where he was staying. I knew what I had to do.

I was supposed to go to work at the Century 16 Megaplex the day of the show. I was the barista boy. I had to weigh my options. Shitty minimum-wage job or possibly meeting Henry Rollins. Serving coffee (with no tips) or talking with one of my punk rock heroes. Making $30 dollars and sitting with my thumb up my ass for most of the day or sticking my neck out to do what I love to do.

I got up at 6am, the day of, and headed out to the Captain Cook Hotel. I was scared as shit. My first balls-to-the-wall journalism experience. Most of the interviews I’d done before were calm, set-up affairs. No big surprises. But this was guerilla commando shit. I expected the hotel to put me out on my ear, when they figured out what I was doing. But I staked that place out for hours.

I arrived at 7am and sat in the hotel restaurant, figuring it was a safe place to start my spying. As far as the hotel knew, I was just another guest. I went over and over the questions I was going to ask, careful to keep my pad and tape recorder out of sight. After about an hour, I got up and took a look around. I noticed there were two towers, with the front desk right in the middle. I sat near that desk for the next five hours, reading Johnny Cash’s autobiography, ready to nab Rollins when he checked out. I never did see him. I was so pissed.

I found out later that night that Rollins was producing commercials that day and left the hotel early. I also found out that the hotel had made special arrangements to get him out of the hotel unnoticed and untouched. There was no way in hell I would’ve gotten to talk to him. But at that point, I was just looking forward to relaxing and enjoying his show, with a scant possibility of getting backstage after.

Rollins busted out for over 2 hours, on everything from Christianity to Black Sabbath to dating, and did it all with graceful showmanship. He’s much funnier than he’s given credit for. He went back and forth between his obsessive fanboy antics hanging out with Black Sabbath and his acting roles without missing a beat. He railed against mediocrity over and over. One of his targets was modern music. “All those guys sound the same,” he said. “Hootie. Eddie Vedder. The guy from Creed. They aren’t particularly bad or good–they’re just sort of there. And that’s the worst.”

Whenever Rollins is home in LA, he says he gets the urge to roam again. He calls it immaturity, but it seems more like an overwhelming desire to explore. Fear of dying without accomplishing anything seems to drive him.

After the show I wandered into the wings. My plan was to find a friend of mine who’s on the news staff at KRUA. I found her, and she’d been denied access as well. I found out later that a group of high school journalists were grilling Rollins backstage. No interviews, huh?

On my way out the door, I ran into Mark. “What one question would you ask Rollins?” he asked. I knew what he was getting at. “I’d ask him what lessons he’s learned, having been deep in the alternative music scene for nearly 20 years.”

I met up with Mark later at Village Inn where we guzzled coffee and ate shark pate taken from backstage. He was one of the few people allowed to talk with the man. He and Hank had sat and talked punk for a bit, and upon hearing my question, Rollins imparted this bit of wisdom: “If you want something done, get off your ass and do it yourself, because no one is going to do it for you.”