One of the privileges of being an under-the-radar artist is that I can get as weird as I like and no one at the record company gets upset. Further off to the left I’ll go, careening back to the right, whatever- it’s all okay, there’s plenty of blank tape and hard drive space to get crazy between formulaic pop song crafting sessions.
After the peak of the tech boom of the late 1990s and having not participated in those jobs, I was left without an affordable place to live. After ten years, my small 19th-century house full of dirty hippies in the Castro was evacuated thanks to something clever called an Ellis Act eviction. I dutifully packed up my studio, my belongings, and did a thorough cleaning. It was how I spent my Christmas 1999. Then the bulldozers came and erased the place.
I remember visiting the neighborhood in order to vote in the 2000 election, not yet having a permanent address of my own. I walked up to the house, peering in at Bobcat excavators underneath, digging down two storeys to build a superhome. The facade was all that remained, a token reminder of what was once there, with steel I-beams jutting out through the redwood slats. That and the ‘70s unfinished wood “51 Ord St” sign, which I took with me as a souvenir.
Wanting to make the best of things, I started playing more shows out of town. I’d tag along with my fan and friend Linda T on her road trips showing collies. She’d go run around the dog show ring with a tri-colored smooth bitch, and I’d play some house concerts, coffee houses and rock clubs. We went from Orange County on up to the San Juan Islands. Soon my keyboard player Khoi-San got on board for some shows playing Wurlitzer piano, and somehow lost his shoes in Seattle.
Khoi and I went on another trip, just the two of us in his car. We stopped in Olympia; I wanted to ask about London Pain, who had written the book of poetry I’d found last time through. I returned to the boutique off the main street that sold used clothing, records and books. London Pain was nowhere to be found, although the tip was that he’d bugged out to the desert.
The trip was fun, I’d found a few decent dependable gigs in Seattle and up in Orcas Island. We were heading home through Oregon, and we listened to a cassette of The Beach Boys’ Holland, specifically the Big Sur Trilogy. It’s a mix of music and spoken word. It maintains a narrative, but it’s not exactly “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
A trilogy? Who writes those? I declared “I’m going to write a trilogy, what the hell.” Khoi said he’d write a trilogy to match my trilogy. You got it, Khoi-San. The trilogy-off was ON!
My trilogy was the beginning of the London Payne album project. I tore apart a few of the poems, unceremoniously strung them together, added a few of my own ad-libs to three separate pieces of music. I edited these together into one work-- Boom, trilogy. I soon returned to the remaining poems and made each one into its own song.
Khoi came to my new Hyde St studio with his three-sided masterpiece about our time together on the road and in the studio. It was fantastic, and it was also a lament for the lost Ordophon studio, which was previously a storage room for vitamins, an enduring tale, apparently. We recorded his trilogy in separate bits, tacked it together, and it’s on Identity Parade, the second album I recorded for his band Bigwheel.
Now I think it’s time to weave yet another freak flag.
PS The archives at the old website revealed Khoi's tour journal...