Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chap 15

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

We last left off with our narrator...He's interviewing Don Pedro. Talk of secret societies, rituals, and emulating the ways of psychedelic indigenous shamanistic tribal people. 

Chapter 15
Mesoamerican anthroplogy at that time was largely the domain of Americans and Europeans, and they were much more interested in the material remains of the great cultures - the pyramids, the hieroglyphics...that sort of thing. We were studying the cultural remains. A decade or two later, our immersion-style investigation would be much more acceptable, desirable in fact. Look at the work of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Though even their research wasn't participatory. Many decades would pass before participatory anthropology would be accepted - though it would still be controversial and ultimately unreliable. You mentioned being familiar with the works of Carlos Castenada.

Yes! Did you know him too? You seem to know everyone.

Well, I am telling you my life story! [laughs] Which necessarily involves people I know or knew. The list of people I don't know is vastly larger than those I do, just like everyone else. Though admittedly, my list of people known - people of some repute - is longer than most.

So Castenada. I loved those books. But I don't know whether to believe them. I want to. They seem believable. It seems like I could sit in a bus station in Nogales and there would be Don Juan. depends on what you mean by true.
I hate answers like that!

[laughs] Part of what seems believable in the books is due to Carlos' familiarity with the geography and culture of the region. He really did travel and study there for many years. He really did speak with the Indians. He really did get to know some of the shamans and became familiar with their practices. He undoubtedly ingested hallucinogenic plants - perhaps even under the guidance of a shaman. But as for the identity of Don Juan...I would say that Don Juan is an amalgamation of several different men he knew. Some shamans, and some men like with knowledge of esoteric Mesoamerican practices and philosophies. And some...well, can I put it...beatnik West Coast counter-cultural Aquarian gurus. [laughs]
So it seems like you knew Castaneda pretty well?

Yes, indeed. We corresponded for many years. And we met regularly. You really shouldn't tell this to anyone. This is off the record, so to speak. For one thing, I have no wish to aggrandize myself. To you is one matter. [laughs] I think you can take it...and take me. And for another thing, I have no wish to harm Carlos. He is a troubled soul. the Germans say.
Honestly, I see much of what I told Carlos put into the mouth of Don Juan. In some ways, I am Don Juan. I honestly do not hold this against Carlos. There is a great literary tradition of this sort of thing. And personally, I think the line between history and fiction is often blurry. It's like watching a magician - the sleight-of-hand kind. You know that you are being fooled, but nevertheless you see something magical. You want to see magic! And as much as the sleight of hand is important, also vital is the communication between the magician and the observer - the banter. This is the power of words.

Carlos has a wonderfully creative mind. And whether or not his stories are literally true, they contain truth. And they contain beauty. Some men, for various reasons, cannot handle the truths of this world. And so they create truths of a better world. Nobler truths.
Ain't that the truth.

Calla te! [laughs] You responded to something in Carlos' stories. It called to you. And this is where the true magic is. When you feel that life is something bigger than our petty activities of the day. And that we can participate in that bigger life. Drugs are an easy passport to this bigger world, but there are dangers -- practical ones, but also, shall we say, existential dangers. They say in Zen that when you reach Nirvana, you realize that Nirvana is what you were doing before you started trying to reach Nirvana! The same, but now different.
That would be a great name for a band: Nirvana.

[laughs] You and your bands!

(to be continued...)

The SLIT interview: Hard Rock Legend VAN CHRISTIAN!!

SLIT:  How'd you get involved with the Tucson music scene?
Van:  by playing in bands, and watching other bands, and making friends with people in bands and in other aspects of the music biz

SLIT: When did you start singing?

Van: I guess around 1983, a couple months before I recorded my 1st record

SLIT: Which instruments do you play? Are you self-taught?

 Van: When I was really young my dad showed me how to blow into a piece of paper wrapped around a comb. I remember thinking at the time that I was really great at it. 
        In 7th grade or so I began drum lessons with a great teacher and a really great drummer.   His name is Fred Hayse, and I believe he still teaches here in town. He is also a world class jazz drummer and has traveled and recorded with a lot of famous people. Sadly, the band I was in, in Jr. High had a very good drummer already, who also bullied his way into singing all the songs, so that left me to playing a tamborine and a cowbell.  I also got to sing "Smoke On The Water".
      I played drums in a band after high school, went to California with them and decided that being a drummer sucked, and I sucked being a drummer.  So I moved back here to T-Town and began playing a guitar.   I play a guitar well enough to write songs and record them, and perform them.  So whats that? The comb, the drums, and the guitar. I also think I could play a harp in like a symphony or something.  I’ve never tried it but c’mon,  it looks really easy.

SLIT: What kind of guitar do you play?

Van: Yamaha six string acoustic guitar

SLIT: How do you write a song, or put it together? What's the process?

Van:  When I started writing songs, I had kind of a formula, and as a result a lot of them sounded the same.  Anymore, songs come to me in a hundred different ways.  Mostly I just try to make myself feel something…with varying degrees of success.
                       (photo credit: Cliff Green)
SLIT: Do you have any favorite musicians? Albums? Who inspires you?

   As far as artists I like, my list is maybe a little typical for a man of my advanced years, but here goes; Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Nick Cave, John Prine, Marc Bolin, Townes Van Zandt, Alice Cooper, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, and on like that. My favorite musicians are Rainer Ptacek, Kevin Pakulis, and Chuck Prophet.  My favorite album is Nilson "The Point".  As far as who inspires me:  most of the people that inspire me have nothing to do with music.and I really wouldn’t know where to start.  

SLIT: What are some milestones or highlights in your musical / creative life?

Van: The first Naked Prey record, self titled.  The first Van Christian record, "Party of One".  Also, being part of Slit’s blogazine.... thanks Howie and all the Slit readers, love & peace, VC

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chapter 14

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

We left off last time with our narrator interviewing Pedro Luis Martin as part of a "Tucson Oral History" project...
Chapter 14 
So I've actually heard of Aleister Crowley. People thought he was some kind of Anti-Christ. He had big orgies and sacrificed babies and that sort of thing.

Well...I was acquainted with Crowley. And I will tell you this. He wanted the world to think these things of him. He craved fame. But scandal and notoriety were an acceptable substitute.

I met Crowley not in England, but in Mexico, of all places. After Crowley's falling out with the Golden Dawn, he lived in Mexico for a few years. He maintained connections there and visited from time to time. I met him as a graduate student at The University of Mexico, where I was studying Mesoamerican archaeology. There were a few of us in the department who were becoming deeply interested in the shamanic traditions of the indigenous Mayans and Aztecs. We were actually participating in the rituals ourselves. And strange things happened - unnatural things. [laughs] I think Crowley wanted to see some real magic for once. We brought him around to some of the shamans we had contact with, but Crowley became impatient and left before he had a chance to see anything. Frankly, I don't think the shamans much liked or trusted him. Crowley was a Victorian and something of a chauvinist.

But Crowley did make a discovery that changed his life: the use of hallucinogenic substances to elicit a state of non-ordinary reality. The Victorians had opium and ether...and some of them partook of hashish. But none of them had substances as profoundly hallucinogenic as peyote and the other plants used by the Mesoamerican Indians. My fellow graduate students and I become our own guinea pigs in the study of these substances. We discovered that guidance and setting were vital in using substances to achieve a state of higher being - or 'different being' might be the better term. Anyone could ingest these substances and have hallucinations. One might even get the sense that they had arrived at the secret of the universe - that sort if thing is common enough. But our most powerful experiences took place when we were with the shamans - when we had been ritually prepared for the experience, and when we were under the guidance of the shamans while intoxicated.

Our interests in these subjects -- our closeness to the people we were studying - led to our eventual expulsion from the graduate program.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chapter 13

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

We left off last time with our narrator interviewing Pedro Luis Martin as part of a "Tucson Oral History" project...

Chapter 13
"Yeah, I've met a few people like this. Medieval wannabes. Society for Creative Anachronism types. Witchy women. Dress in black.

[laughs] Truly, I think that a big driving force behind all these orders - the Freemasons, the Rosicrucians, the Golden Dawn - is the need for ritual in our lives. Protestants in particular have been attracted to these sorts of mystical orders. They grew up in sanctuaries devoid of sensory appeal - four walls and lectern some have called it. In turning their backs on what they consider the Roman mumbo-jumbo, Protestants starved their imaginations. Perhaps Calvin considered imagination something that leads to sin. Which, of course, it can. (laughs) But imagination also leads to truth and beauty. And what is imagination without the senses? There may be Platonic forms, but the only way we have of approaching the Ideal world is through our senses. So I think that participation in these mystical orders is an attempt to recapture the sensual beauty of our higher leanings. Smells and bells, as some call it.

You know, I've never been to a Catholic service.

Really? Well, it's a pity you never went when the liturgy was still in Latin. Honestly, the vernacular service is why I rarely go to Mass anymore.

That, and you don't believe.

[laughs] True. But I believe that others believe. And I believe in tradition. Many traditions, really. Mexicans, for the most part, are varying degrees of Spanish and Indian. There are also Mexicans with other European blood-the Germans in northern Mexico come to mind. But the Spanish colonists themselves were not wholly European - nor even wholly Christian. Most of the Spanish colonists came from southern Spain, which has a rich tradition of Muslim and Jewish influences. There was a time in the Middle Ages when southern Spain was governed by Islamic caliphates who were relatively tolerant of their Christian and Jewish subjects. As a result, there was a florescence of high culture. The Arabs had preserved classical texts that the Western Christians were unfamiliar with. At the time, the Arabs were much more knowledgeable about science and medicine than the Europeans were. The Jews shared in much of this knowledge and gave us some of our greatest medieval philosophy. Compared to Muslim culture in the Middle Ages, the Europeans -- even their kings -- lived like savages.

The Europeans learned from their Islamic conquerors, but they fought against them, eventually returning Spain to Christian rule. Yet the Christians were not so tolerant of the Muslims and Jews. The Spanish Inquisition forced mass conversions of Jews and Muslims. And if those who converted were found to be holding on to any of their traditions or trappings, the Inquisition should I say...rub them out. However, many Jews converted outwardly to Christianity, while remaining secretly Jewish.

Perhaps you have noticed the menorah on that shelf. That was passed down through my mother's family. It was hidden and never displayed until it came to me. Times have changed, and my family's Jewish ancestry is no longer such a stigma - though it's nothing any of us trumpet from a mountain top. For one thing, we are perfectly assimilated Christians, and other than a few stories and traditions, there is nothing Jewish about any of us. And I would not presume to insult a real Jew by claiming to be Jewish - which after all is a religion and not a race or really even an ethnicity. But for my part, I am proud of this ancestry, and I honor it. I have spoken with local rabbis, and I have studied the religion.

Oddly, my first exposure to Judaism was through the Golden Dawn, which derives partly from the Kabbalah - Jewish Mysticism.

And we've come full circle. Back to the Golden Dawn.

[laughs] Just so."
To Be Continued...

Tucson Drummers Series: Meet...Bruce Halper!!

(photo credit: Cliff Green)
Note: Bruce Halper has been a fixture in Tucson’s band scene for…decades! He exudes a funloving Vegas-style panache.  He’s been in about 40 bands, with the most famous probably being the Sandrubies and Rainer & Das Combo (for 3 years).  Currently he drums for Leila Lopez, Sandrubies, Luminarios, Aaron Gilmartin, and Jazzholes (aka Jazzphones).  He’s also worked for several years as a jazz singer, in the style of Tony Bennet. Drumroll please…here’s Bruce!

 “Flying Bruce”

I started playing drums when I was about 13, in New York. My piano teacher actually taught me my first basic beat. It was the basic beat, like eight notes on the high hat, and like boom-cha-boom-cha.  The way we learned was by copying all the records of the ‘70’s, note for note.  The guy who showed me that is now a pretty bigtime producer out in L.A. and we’re still friends. He used to slow down the vinyl on the guitar solos, so he could hear every note. That’s how we learned.
I went to private school in Riverdale, and we had a “school rock band” – it was a class – and we learned all about rock n’ roll. In that class, I played every instrument onstage. We had a number called “Flying Bruce”, which meant I would go from instrument to instrument while the band continuously played.  I think we also did some Dylan too.

I then moved to Tucson, and was playing in bands by 16. Later, who knew I would grow up with one of Dylan’s drummers: Winston Watson III?  We went to Jr. High together in Tucson.

My first club gig was at Choo-Choo’s in the ‘70’s (now known as the “Surly Wench”)  We started a band called Shire, and the name was taken! So we changed it to Flyer.  We did the Cars and Sytx and Kansas and Yes, and all that.  We had a chick singer and she was so beautiful.  They had a wet t-shirt night; I loved all that. I was all of 16 years old.

Another band I was in was called “DangerZone” and another was “Randy Orange Band”. He was a trippy dude, but a good friend. We used to do originals but started doing Blondie covers and the like. The punk community hated us and would come to gigs, which were well-attended, hell, sold out at places like Smiley’s and the Embers on Speedway.
"Hopkins, Slutes, and Jeff Keenan...were scouting me!"
Fast forward to the mid-‘80’s, and I’m drumming for Rainer (from about ’85-’88), and I was also in this horrible cover band playing 5 nights a week – this horrible disco shiizdtt.  Rainer found a better drummer (Ralph Gilmore) and fired me.  So, I’m at this disco club, and Hopkins and Slutes and I believe Jeff Keenan are there – they were scouting me.  I remember how out-of-place they looked coming from the downtown area.  All I said was, “get me tha FoHque outta here”, meaning I would much rather do your gig”.  Two weeks later, I was playing in front of 10,000 people and recording for RCA records.  Quite a jump, I would say.  That’s how I started drumming for the Sidewinders.  I did the recording as a favor to Rich on a song called “Worlds Apart” on their debut album for RCA.

Thoughts about drum fills
Well, drum fills and drum solos are two completely different things.  Fills are necessary in pop music as part of an arrangement for a song. They let you know when something is going to happen musically.  For example, I do a fill when you’re going into a chorus or out of a bridge; I do this for the song and for the songwriter, but never to show off or say “look what I can do”.  A fill will sort of propel the band into another place and they’re necessary or else music would be boring.  By the way, when I learn Leila’s songs, for example, we take great pains to make sure that the drum fills work right for the passage, and not be (what is called in the music as) “overplaying”.  I hate that.

Tune In For Another Installment of ....TUCSON DRUMMERS!!
Note: This article was originally published in SLIT 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dust of the Earth, Chap 12

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

When we left off, our narrator was at Tumbleweeds, apparantly enjoying himself...
Chapter 12
"Don Pedro loved being interviewed on tape"
Jorge seemed mystified by my visits to Don Pedro and A.C. He understood my attraction  to Ana Socorro but thought Don Pedro was just a crazy old man. Jorge also believe that if Raul Castellano discovered my visits, I would be forbidden to return -- with a threat of violence if necessary. My friendship with A.C. would be seen as a sort of back-door threat against the family, and the strained relations between Raul and Don Pedro would get even worse. Jorge said there were rumors that Raul had beaten Don Pedro during an argument not long after A.C.'s mother had died. Raul had thrown Don Pedro down the stairs, resulting in the spinal injury that had confined him to a wheelchair. If not for Ana Socorro, Don Pedro would have been banished from the house entirely. As it was, Don Pedro was moved into the back of the house where the servants lived, and he and Raul maintained an icy peace.

    One of my projects for the Southwest History class was to record an oral history with a longtime Tucson resident. These histories would be archived at the Arizona State Historical Society, which had just begun this program. There was a list of suggested people who had volunteered to be interviewed, but I knew right away who the subject of my project would be.

    Don Pedro loved being interviewed on tape, and I soon gathered enough information about his personal history in Tucson. But Don Pedro went off on plenty of autobiographical tangents, covering periods of his college experience in England, his visits to Europe and Asia, his childhood in Guadalajara, and his days as a stamp dealer in Mexico City. I ended up with many hours of recordings, which I have transcribed over the years. I turned over the Tucson-related material to the Historical Society, but the other material I keep stored in a filing cabinet with the intention of someday writing a biography. Since I doubt I will ever get around to this task, here are some salient passages from Don Pedro's oral histories.

Excerpts from an interview with Pedro Luis Martin:
    I attended Cambridge between 1907 and 1911. I had some friends in my house who were involved in the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn. This was a sort of fraternal organization - like the Freemasons - but much more mystical and secretive. The Golden Dawn had a darker, more occult tradition. Early on, members studied Black Magic and Demonology, as well as the Jewish Kabbalah and Eastern mystical traditions. There were various rites and initiations, and members advanced through ranks.

    By the time I became involved, the Golden Dawn had broken off into a few different branches. The early leaders had quarreled and schismed, setting up their own 'true' orders. Really, by the time I became involved, the Golden Dawn was on the wane, and today only few scattered adherents belong to the order. That tarot deck you see on my shelf there - that was designed by A. E. Waite, one of the early members of the group. It's a beautiful favorite. Though Waite was probably the most scholarly and careful of the order, he was overshadowed by more flamboyant - and frankly, more egotistical - members like Aleister Crowley. Crowley thought Waite was a bore and a pedant.

So wait. Did the Golden dawn actually practice Black magic? Like, did they call up demons and that sort of thing?
    Well...there may have been a few who tried it. But really, the Golden Dawn was more of a theosophical group. They were interested in secret knowledge and wisdom. No one I met seemed to can I put this...supernaturally powerful. I never witnessed any apparitions or manifestations - or any phenomena that broke the laws of physics. On the other hand, I thought that there was wisdom and knowledge to be found in the texts. The order based its rites on historical documents...ancient traditions, though obscure. Much of what people now practice as witchcraft or pagan religion derives from these traditions.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The SLIT Interview: Brian Smith!!

The Awesome, The Award Winning...Brian Smith! (photo: Phoenix New Times)

SLIT:  How did the Pills form? What were your first songs?

Brian: The Pills formed because of the New York Dolls, really. I romanticized that debut album, it drove me to find Robin Johnson, who I met at Tumbleweeds playing in Z-9. I was in the Suspects but done with the idea Johnny Rotten’s lidless glare. I had to start again somewhere. Robin loved Cheap Trick and Aerosmith and I think I turned him onto the Dolls. It blew his 15-year-old mind. Our first were covers of the Heartbreakers (Johnny Thunders), maybe the Dolls (“Pills,” of course), a song we made up called “She Said Goodbye, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t sing a lick back then ... a pitched rasp if I was lucky. But I could leap and strut like some amphetamine-y rabbit.

We did our first gig at a bar whose name escapes me, but it was a cowboy den south of Broadway under some overpasses. We were a quartet still— with Johnson, Fred Cross, and Rex Estelle. Robin wore crimson lipstick and a fake, three-quarter length red leather jacket that likely belonged to his girlfriend. Cross was a rather big teenager — could’ve played varsity football — so he wore something frilly and sweet, trannie casual. Estelle did the Watts thing with a suit jacket. My little brother Stuart (later in GAD) roadied. The whole thing was glorious, bad and beautiful. You couldn’t find a better use of nascent talent then that!  

Mark Smythe showed up that night to watch, and he later approached us, asking to join up. We considered Smythe a rock ’n’ roll star, a vet with a truckload of playing and songwriting skill … he traveled for music, he’d lived in Boston for awhile with his band. He played real clubs. He walked in that night wearing leather with a tart on his arm, cigarette dangling. He looked a little like Pete Way but sounded like John Lennon, until he cut his hair and then he was Lennon all the way. He was 22 and we called him grandpa. He hated that.

What’s weird is my old cycling pal Greg LeMond showed up that same night. I can’t remember how the hell he found out about my band or that gig, and I can’t remember why he was in Tucson. But he was there with his soon-to-be-wife Kathy. He was older than me and his bike racing career was just blowing up … See, I’d quit cycling the year before, was on the Junior National Team and LeMond thought I crazy to stop, tried to talk me into coming back. And then he saw the Pills play and he was absolutely shocked. Completely, mouth-agape-dumbfounded. In fact, I think he loved country music. This was before he won the Tour de France three times, of course.

But live, the Pills were a visceral and physical release for me, drug-like, and I went for it. Our goal was to be a great live rock ’n’ roll band, one of the best anywhere. We really were, on a couple nights. Mostly we were teen-arrogant.  That was another thing Smythe hated. 
SLIT: Would you ever do a Pills reunion?

This reunion stuff is awkward because I’m a completely different person now. Who isn’t? It’s like being a tourist in someone else’s record collection, or memory. Having said that,  I've all my hair, weigh about a buck-fifty. Yeah, I’d play. It’d be a challenge, tho.

SLIT: What are some of the milestones in your life as an musician/performer/writer/artist?

Brian: Getting to be close friends with songwriter Doug Hopkins (RIP), ex-Gin Blossoms. I think about the guy everyday, still. He was a giant, the real deal, smartest man I’ve ever met. Would’ve owned the world had he made it to the other side.

Want to hear more of my vanity? 

 Winning the Arizona Press Club’s Don Schellie award for feature column writing.  It was 2000 and I’d been “writing” for, maybe, three years, and Phoenix New Times had (shockingly) given me a column in which I wrote about some of the oddballs and unlikely situations I’d stumble across in Phoenix. The award showed I stomped all the state’s daily newspaper columnists. It’s a milestone because it bestowed in me some inner-belief and sense of possibility, hinting that I might be able to do something other than rock ’n’ roll, something that could save my life. Pretty sweet for an alcoholic high school drop-out grounded by self-loathing and depression.

In fact, there were a few New Times editors who believed in me, namely Jeremy Voas, who’s an incredible writer, editor and journalist, and Kate Nolan, who’d previously edited Playboy for 15 years. I learned a lot there. New Times lifted me out of the gutter.  Suddenly I had health insurance and a living wage, which was completely alien to me — and I was far too terrified (thought the liver could be done) to schedule a doctor. The next year they nominated me for a Pulitzer.

The only other “real” job I had was making yo-yos in a Tucson factory owned by Howe Gelb’s dad!

Meeting Muhammad Ali. Gentlemen AfterDark were booked to support, believe it or not, Billy Preston, at the Santa Monica Civic, in one of the most cockeyed bills ever concocted.  It was as strange and dreamlike as it was absurd, and we wound up not even going on. Whatever.

I remember Sly Stone moving through backstage as if floating, in a lime-colored fedora, long sapphire feather sticking up off the side of his pimp hat, surrounded by these almost cartoonish but comely chicks in hooker heels. I was too scared to approach him.

Soon Ali stepped through the dressing-room area backed with an entourage, holding his young daughter’s hand. I felt like some shivering pale scarecrow when he loomed in front of me and stopped. Someone whispered something to him about us playing with Preston and he looked at me, sort of up and down, and then he reached his out hand — his fingers heavy with large diamonds — and I shook it. I said, “I’m Brian.” He nodded and his grip was scary powerful, of course. Then he turned and introduced me to his daughter. He said, “this is Boy George.” I shook her hand too. So great.

I’m sure I resembled Johnny Thunders that night. What I remember most was thinking how Ali was the living, breathing personification of a gentle giant. His suit was perfect but his skin wasn’t, his dark eyes frightened. He wasn’t all there.  (We were all living-squatting with our girlfriends/wives/roadies in downtown LA; a single rehearsal room fashioned inside the old Pabst brewery, where metal bands rehearsed in rooms down the hall, all fucking day long. We had no money, no cars, I bummed quarters from metalheads for 40s of Colt 45. It was absolute misery and I truly wanted to die.) 

GAD had countless low and high milestones. Working with Alice Cooper and Dick Wagner as producers, though the resulting record was bad.

Another was that pick in People Magazine’s 10th Anniversary issue that said we were “Stars of the Future.” It was this full-page photo of us alongside some others, including Tom Cruise and Glenn Close, both of whom got shorter play. We thought we were in!

Another time, music mogul/producer Jimmy Ienner told me and Robin, face to face in his posh Beverly Hills hotel room — as we downed all his shrimp and Heinekens — that we were going to rule the world. He’d make sure. He’d already been listening and following us for six months or so. Never knew what happened with that. Entropy, probably.

In those days you needed a major record deal to get as many people to hear you as possible. For us it was constant barrage of set-backs, dogged disappointments and poverty. I could on forever about this stuff.

More: In 1987, GAD lived back in LA. We had a great manager in this guy Wayne Sharp. We got a demo deal with A&M Records, and we were banking everything on it. Things were looking up again. One day we were recording at A&M studios with producer Rob Jacobs when label-head Jimmy Iovine strolled in. He stood and listened to our song “Holiday” on playback, we’d just finished it. He listened intently at a pretty good volume, and when the song ended, he said, “That’s a hit. … Let’s talk when this is finished. … Don’t let anyone else hear it. …” Right.

—My post-GAD band Beat Angels. We had a demo deal with Columbia Records before the band was all together. It was feeling right. We did well, not in terms of popularity, certainly, but in terms of cred in certain circles (and in Finland!). It was heart-breaking when it ended (at first) but now I’m fine in the notion that we were often a potent rock ’n’ roll band, did two albums that some really like a lot. We did a lot of worthy things, earned pockets of fans in different parts of the world, etc. …

I spun these unredemptive lyrics, filled with personal sadness, about suburbia and strippers, about drunks and derelicts — often vaguely about some I knew in Phoenix —and juxtaposed it against fat power-pop; sing-song hooks and big guitars. We all dug the idea of Marc Bolan, and we all adored pop. I was reading Flannery O’Conner, Harry Crews and Jim Thompson but listening to Cheap Trick, Raspberries and Badfinger. I thought it worked swimmingly. Besides, nobody did that. But many who I’d hoped would understand didn’t. Others did: one magazine (Album Network I think?) called us the best rock ’n’ roll band on earth at that moment.

There was tragedy; our original drummer (and the last one for GAD), Jon Norwood, died after our first album. It was absolutely horrible in every imaginable way.

We had to boot bassist Kevin Pate (who also played in GAD) for getting too strung out, which was funny considering I wasn’t so upright, nor truthful, with the booze and meth and coke. Pate re-joined later, clean, like a guy who’d returned from battle. He made it to the other side, and had this grizzled insight and calm to prove it.

I established life-long friendships with those Beat Angels guys, as I did with GAD, it’s unavoidable if you spend time living in and out someone else’s pockets.

Here’s a nothing-much anecdote that had huge significance for me: One night we had a show in L.A., and Arthur “Killer” Kane from the Dolls came down. Of all people, Killer Kane. I noticed him from stage, sort of — thought I was seeing things. But there he was, standing in the audience, his big forehead reflecting the colored lights, the tallest, most beautiful fucker there.

We later found him outside the venue, met and talked. We were great, he said. It turned out he’d heard about Beat Angels and had walked up some West Hollywood hill from his place to see us. He was the sweetest, most gentle guy. … Heading back to the club we glanced over to see Kane standing there on that Sunset Boulevard sidewalk where we left him, in all that street-scene noise, this mythologized figure from long ago, from the New York Dolls, who not long before had fallen out of his Hollywood apartment window. He smiled weakly and waved one of those fake waves you see on wooden roadside Indians where the arm is up, hand’s stiff, and only the forearm moves, sideways, to and away from his head. It felt like he walked across my grave, or me his. He died several years later, just after the Dolls had reformed.  

—Standing with 12,000 others watching Alice Cooper headline some outdoor shed, sometime in the mid to late ’90s — can’t remember exactly, which is weird. The show kicked off on a truncated version of “Hello Hurray,” and Alice strutted on stage in that precise élan — in top hat, leather trousers — and sang a verse, “Let the show begin, I’ve been ready …” etc. Without a second’s break, the band launched into a power-chord riff and instantly beer spurted up through my nose, the goose-bumps rushed and the arm hairs saluted. It was “Sideshow,” a song I’d mostly written that Alice had liked enough to record on his final Sony album, The Last Temptation. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” followed. Incredible.  I was moved to tears. No shit. In some small way life had come full circle.

 It’s hard to imagine how huge this was. Cooper frightened me to death as little kid but I dug it, and I remember chirping “Hello Hurray” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” skipping off to third grade at Gale Elementary School.

An aside: Gentleman Afterdark drummer Winston Watson once told me he did a stint of arena shows in Cooper’s band and “had” to play that song every damn night. Ah ha-ha.

The Slingbacks. My ex-wife Shireen moved to London after we parted and got a deal with Virgin Records in the mid-’90s, with her trio the Slingbacks. She’s an unbelievably great songwriter — has a real eye for unusual beauty — and made an equally winning Mitch Easter-produced major-label album that got lost because the Spice Girls blew up and sucked all Virgin’s attention. So sad. The album, All Pop, No Star — whose U.S. release was cancelled — featured a few songs that we wrote together as a duo in Tucson. Sure, the record stiffed but to me it’s huge, was its own reward; I think it’s that good, and that has zero to do with anything I contributed. You might find a few don’t-do-justice Slingbacks vids on YouTube. The CD’s nearly impossible to find.

SLIT:  How’d you get started with writing and journalism? Which writers do you like?

Brian:  Hmmm. I once said to an ASU journalism class in Tempe (as a quest speaker) that I do not recommend anyone taking my route into journalism ...

Look, I bailed from high school as a sophomore. The Sahuaro High School English class consisted of some old guy who didn’t want to be there shoving the only writer he ever cared about — Whitman — down our throats. Fuck that. So I gave up and played rock ’n’ roll instead, lived hand-to-mouth. Had a festering alcohol problem before the Pills split up. But, I read. Read lots eventually, mostly fiction. Mostly great writers. Went back and read the classics. My idea was this: You want an education? Get a stupid library card. I’d read Catcher in the Rye as a prepubescent, and CREEM and Lester Bangs, and then I discovered Rimbaud and suddenly writing meant something. In Rimbaud I found a teenager speaking my language, in whatever translation. And he was pretty punk rock. But man, those early GAD days were burdened with lots of pretentiousness on my part … those poor guys. …

In truth, my launch into my paid “literary career” was actually through reviewing movies. Porn movies. (I’m must be the first guy to describe a blowjob as “Wagnerian”! I’d reference, say, Lou Ford or Paul Verlaine in 300-word butt vid review.) First I wrote in pseudonym for a local Phoenix porn magazine hilariously run by some heavy metal guys who needed a writer, and that led to a couple national magazines — I made some money, barely enough for beer, speed and rent, and I got sent boxes of porn each week. The timing was good because whatever money I had from Beat Angels (well, never really made a dime) or songwriting, was gone. Timing was bad because porn and booze and speed are a lethal and destructive trio.

The porn writing led to a staff writing job at the ill-fated, New York-based Popsmear Magazine, which blended porn reviews with book and CD reviews. I was writing features. Borders banned it. The magazine had the right idea — acerbic wit with fearlessness, like CREEM .

Onetime — and this is no milestone — I was in L.A. in fall ’97 on a porn shoot, co-authoring a planned cover story for Details magazine on Gen-X porn centered around this idiot kid Matt Zane, a porn director. Mainstream press had yet to go into to porn and write about it. It was there, on that Zane porn shoot, after watching a woman get sodomized almost against her will, that I decided porn was not the progressive, sex-positive and pro-female industry that some women, such as Nina Hartley, told me it was, and what I wanted to make it out to be. No, I met losers and narcissists and lots of emotionally damaged women, lots of tragedy, soullessness and sadness. I never did the Details piece. What I learned and discovered probably would of made a better story, but that’s not what they wanted. I was sickened.

By then I was writing and reporting feature stories, and New Times in Phoenix began to give me freelance work. I did my first 5,000 word cover story in ’98, which actually earned a journalism award. I was learning on the gig, from editors, and teaching myself through trial and error, learning feature storytelling tricks. They gave me that weekly column, and then another ... at one point I was writing a weekly music column too,  to write about whatever I wanted, as long as it involved people and some reporting. Then they hired me on as staff writer. So it was me with my Keith Richards hair and floppy fringe alongside a Harvard grad here, a Columbia grad there …. Hey, my new career.

SLIT: What are your favorite books or movies?

Brian: My pet authors are those who experienced It and could in some way define it — I tend to ignore those whose book flap tells of creative writing degrees from this or that prestigious school. What can they show me? For years I’ve loved Hubert Selby Jr., Nick Canty, A.L. Kennedy (I’m floored by her short story collection What Becomes —recommend highly), Harry Crews, Denis Johnson, William Gay, David Goodis … there are many others … Bernard Malamud, Tim Sandlin…. I’ll be buried me with Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina. I could go on but I sound like pretentious twit.
Movies? I don’t know, there are lots …. Midnight Cowboy, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Requiem for a Dream, Personal Velocity, Little Children … anything P.T. Anderson does, anything with Philip Seymour Hoffman or Myrna Loy. I love a good cop yarn.  

SLIT: Do you like the Beat writers? Is Kerouac a great writer? Is "Howl" a great poem?

Brian: Well, I stole the band name Beat Angels from that whole deal (and a Rickie Lee Jones ditty), but it was meant to be sort of ironic, self-deprecating. Howl was great, though I’ve not read it in decades (Funny, I just co-edited a piece by John Sinclair – he’s a new columnist at Metro Times. His specialty? Pot. He’s the only guy alive who can use Ginsberg’s name without name-dropping.) I read On the Road at a fairly tender age and it got me right in the gut… not the speed jags and the sprawling open-road metaphors, more the sadness, particularly the migrant worker girl and the descriptions of Tucson and its mesquite forest. (I think Robin read it around the same time and he was pretty moved to; we were in our teens and one of the things we had in common was how we saw things in similar ways. We were often moved by the same exteriors — songs, lyrics, books, movies whatever).

Anyway, all that was before Kerouac became a dorm-room staple and, later, a high school standard by which to judge and choose hipsters based on Facebook entries — you know, how much of your cushy suburban life is defined by the “underground” beats of the ’50s? I’ve seen high school kids wearing Kerouac tees with $150 kicks! Now, if the beats weren’t so packaged out of context and Starbucks-approved, it’d have meaning.  I still love Kerouac’s Tristesse.  

SLIT:  What inspires you today?

Brian: That I quit drinking, and that’s the foundation of everything that works. I have no desire to be famous any more, so that’s a relief, even an inspiration. I’ve learned to find some grace in small wonders, and found a beautiful, smart woman in my wife Norene who is also a writer. Shit, I’m grateful to be employed.

Finishing a short story’s is good, but way too rare. Need to get them done. 

I live in a beautiful, tree-lined Detroit neighborhood where we’re the only white folks for blocks and blocks and blocks. I like that — always hated living amongst “adjusted” white people. But it’s isolating at times — and I can’t just walk to the corner for a New York Times or a cup of coffee. You have to drive somewhere for that. If I still drank, there are magnificent old-man bars everywhere, the hallmark of town built on blue-collar blood.

But the black culture here, especially in my neighborhood, is very Southern; the grandsons and granddaughters of factory workers — the Southern migration — who are a generations better off as professors or school principles or city workers. Marvin Gaye lived a mile away when he recorded What’s Going On. Stevie Wonder lived all through the ’60s with his parents in a house two blocks from my door. Detroit’s like that. You can buy the house Smokey grew up in for $7,000, but you’d live in the ghetto.

Driving requires the ability to dodge pot-hole axel-busters, streetlights rarely work, and the city government is a mess, nearly ruined by a mayor who fancied himself a rap star. What’s inspiring are the old Detroit black ladies who wear church hats … they’re my gods, one on each shoulder. They’ve all this coarse, earned wisdom, and wit, have lived through truly hateful times – race riots, poverty, relocation, segregation, racism, failing unions, murder — and they take no shit from anyone. Love ’em.

Detroit’s fairly shattered right now, and the three million living in the suburbs could give a shit about anything south of 8 Mile — too multi-cultural! — which is Detroit. But there’s a sense of pride and community here because of that. Obama is loved, of course, because he basically saved the auto industry. You don’t hear much about that. And soul music has abducted my heart … that inspires too

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dust of the Earth, Chapter 11

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

When we last left off, Ana Soccorro was reading one of her grandfathers favorite books to our narrator.  As we learn, having someone read to you can be very seductive...

Chapter 11
"I got to know most of the guys in the popular bands at the time."
    Summer was drawing to a close, and I needed to decide what to do with my life. I opted to take two classes at Pima Community College just to get my parents off my back and maintain my allowance. I was still living at my parents' house in the foothills near Campbell Avenue and Skyline Drive, commuting to the downtown area everyday in the VW Super Beetle I had received for my sixteenth birthday.

    One was a poetry writing course and the other was The History of the Southwest. I figured both of these would be a cakewalk - which they turned out to be. I continued to visit Don Pedro and A.C., while still going to see punk shows and hanging out downtown and on Fourth Avenue with Jorge and the sisters - whose names I now recall were Dana and Penelope. I got to know most of the guys in the popular bands at that time: the Pedestrians, the Suspects, and later the Serfers, the Giant Sandworms, and the Phantom Limbs. Jorge was my passport into the music scene and the after-parties, and Dana and Penny were our constant companions. I even began to develop a thing with Penny (the blond one). A.C. was my dream, but Penny was the irresistible reality.

    You knew that you had made it socially when you were invited into the ladies room at Tumbleweeds. Girls would pull band members in there with them, and all manner of scandalous behavior would ensue. You might hear coke snorting in the stalls or see a pair of fishnet-clad knees on the floor. My first visit was at Penny's behest, and I looked around wide-eyed at the chicks fixing their make-up in the mirror and gossiping with each other. As Penny took my ladies-room virginity that night, I noticed that she was dressed much as Ana Socorro dressed for school - the plaid skirt, the white blouse, and the knee socks - but for very different reasons. It was an object lesson in post-modernity, the sincere versus the ironic.

    It was like the second-hand work shirts or bowling shirts that guys would wear to shows, with name patches like Ernie or Gil. But there was this one guy who wore his real work shirt with his own name on it. He was a mechanic by day and handed out hundreds of stickers for B-12 fuel additive. The stickers wound up on guitars and amps and became a sort of cool code word. So many layers of irony - co-opting the ordinary and making it hip or risqué. But I must admit that when Penny knelt in front of me, I responded profoundly to the corruption of her innocent trappings - and she had perhaps the most lascivious smile I have ever seen.

To Be Continued...


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chapter 10

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

When we left off last time, our narrator was getting to know more about the object of his infatuation, Anna Soccorro, with his his visits to see her grandfather, Don Pedro.

 Chapter 10
 She picked out a passage that her grandfather enjoyed and began to read to me
     Occasionally, Ana Socorro would show up during my visits, hovering over Don Pedro. We would work together, performing various tasks for her grandfather. Sometimes Don Pedro would go to another part of the house - his bedroom or the kitchen -- leaving Ana Socorro and me alone together. In this way, we got to know each other and I began to learn the history of her family. I started calling her A.C. because I thought her full name took too long to say. She seemed amused by this - it became apparent that her life was filled with way too much seriousness. I had always used humor as a social lubricant, and it worked to a certain degree with her. But to a deeper extent, A.C. seemed impenetrable - or maybe what went on around her seemed to pass through her entirely, leaving her ultimately unmoved. I wondered whether this was some sort of survival mechanism she had developed to deal with a life she had not chosen but that she felt duty-bound to live. This quality gave her a kind of purity that I found irresistible, much like the noble sadness that I had first seen in her.

    Don Pedro still read to his granddaughter, though the subject matter had grown from the tales found in Andrew Lang's fairy books to classical mythology, Heraclitus, and even Eastern literature like the forlorn Chinese poetry of Tu Fu (translated by Kenneth Rexroth, an acquaintance of Don Pedro from his visits to San Francisco in the Fifties). But lately, the roles had been reversed, and more and more A.C. would read to her grandfather, usually late at night when he had a hard time sleeping. She told me that she would take her alarm clock and place it under her pillow, set to go off late at night and in the wee hours of the morning. She would arise and check on Don Pedro. He needed assistance to get out of bed into his wheelchair -- so if he woke up and couldn't go back to sleep, he could only lie there in the lonely watches of the night.

    Don Pedro had been an avid birdwatcher when he was younger, and he enjoyed having read to him the ornithological works of Arthur Cleveland Bent. One afternoon when Don Pedro had left A.C. and me alone in the study, I asked her to read something aloud from one of these volumes. She picked out a passage that her grandfather enjoyed and began to read to me. I closed my eyes and leaned back on the sofa, listening to her voice. Infatuation often elevates the details of the beloved's qualities to an almost holy beauty. In my more cynical moments, I view such a thing as a spell of nature whose ultimate purpose is simple procreation. But in my own dark watches, when I lie awake at night, I often recall A.C.'s voice as she read to me, the subject matter resonating with my desire, the beauty of plumage and courtship displays sanctifying the union of creatures who take flight and migrate, returning to the same grounds every year to start again.

The plumage of the mallard drakes is at its highest stage of perfection before the end of winter, and the first warm days stimulate these vigorous birds to migrate to their northern homes. Many of them have already mated when they arrive....Others are busy with their courtships, which are conducted largely on the wing. I have seen as many as three males in ardent pursuit of one female flying about, high in the air....finally the duck flies up to the drake of her choice, touches him with her bill and the two fly off together, leaving the unlucky suitors to seek other mates.

To Be Continued...

Dust of the Earth, Chapter 9

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

We left off with our narrator getting to know Ehmet ( Don Pedro's mute Indian servant) a little better.  We've just learned that Ehmet had saved our narrator from a fall out of a tree ("The Tree Of Life")...

Chapter 9
"I would meet Don Pedro, usually in his study"

I felt a little manipulated by Don Pedro - that he was using my interest in Anna Socorro to get me to visit him. On the other hand, maybe Don Juan was trying to set me up with her, which seemed like a believable thing for a grandfather to do, though this kind of matchmaking rarely seemed to be successful. Yet there was something fascinating about him, and so I began to visit the old man. 
It soon became clear that my comings and goings needed to be covert, always using the back entrance to the sprawling Castellano Manor. I never saw more than the rear rooms of the house, and even that part was spacious. I got the idea that Raul Castellano had sequestered Don Pedro in the back of the home and the two rarely encountered each other. Ana Socorro's rooms were towards the front of the house, though she spent much of her time with her grandfather, caring for him, acting as his arms and legs or items out of reach, but most often simply sitting with him engaged in conversation. There was obviously a great love between the two, as great as the paucity of affection between Ana Socorro and her father.
Ana Socorro's mother had died from cancer a few years previously, and her relationship with her father began to grow distant after Maria Luisa's death. Raul started working long hours, and speculation was that he became more actively involved with his clients in organized crime at this time. But he made sure that Ana Socorro went to the best schools, associated with all the right people, and stayed actively involved in the Church. Her quinceanera was the grandest that had been seen in Tucson in many years. Unknown to party guests, however, was that the biggest event of Ana Socorro's fifteenth birthday party was her engagement to a thirty-five year old associate of Raul's. These sorts of arrangements were common in earlier times. Tucson pioneer Sam Hughes had married a twelve-year-old Mexican girl from a prominent family. They had a successful marriage that lasted till Hughes died in old age. In the late 1970s, though, such an arrangement needed to be kept secret. When Ana Socorro eventually told me of the engagement, she seemed to accept it with equanimity.

    When I visited Don Pedro, I would be met at the back gate of the home by Ehmet, the big Indian. He would escort me into the house, where I would meet Don Pedro, usually in his study. Don Pedro and I would talk, and I would help him with various tasks - shelving books, getting other books down, helping him organize papers and photographs. Don Pedro would tell me about the contents of each book, and if I seemed interested, he would lend me the book, and we would discuss it on my next visit. In this way, I received a better education than I had ever gotten in high school. It was a 'great books' course of learning, I suppose, but filtered through Don Pedro's personal tastes and my own receptiveness.

There is a light that goes on when you pique a person's interest, and when a teacher recognizes this light, he sees a true student. And when the student follows this light, it will take him down the path of true learning. Forced schooling breeds resentment, and everything learned formally dissipates rapidly. True knowledge - like true love -- lasts forever and informs every aspect of a person's life.

To Be Coninued...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chapter 8

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

We left off last time with our narrator waking on the couch of a book-lined room in the home of Ana Socorro Castellano's grandfather, Pedro Martin.    

Chapter 8
"I looked towards Ehmet, but couldn't hold his gaze for long."
I felt a little defensive. "I'm not sure what you mean. But thank you for looking after me. And thank Ana Socorro for me." I got to my feet, but felt lightheaded and sat back down on the sofa.
    "You should thank Ehmet, as well." Don Pedro gestured to the big Indian, who was now standing in the doorway. Ehmet picked you up after you had fallen from a tree that grows in the alley next to our yard."

    I looked towards Ehmet, but couldn't hold his gaze for long. I thanked him and he nodded in response.

    "Ehmet is mute," Don Pedro explained. "He is my servant and looks after Ana Socorro. I dislike the term 'servant', but I dislike euphemism even more. You could call him my helper, if you find that more palatable."

    Ehmet held a saucer with a cup of coffee on it. He set it down on the end table next to the couch.

    "Are you a coffee drinker?" Don Pedro asked.

    "I think I am this morning," I replied. "Where is Ana Socorro?"

    "Already at school. And that after attending morning mass. Bless her heart, she's a faithful soul."

    Looking around the room again, I noticed another shelf full of philosophical titles. I had completed a semester at the University of Arizona before dropping out. I recognized some of the authors from the humanities course I had taken. There were also books about anthropology and archaeology. Many of the books on the shelves around me had titles in foreign languages. I would find out that Don Pedro was fluent in Spanish of course, as well as English and German; he could converse passably in all the Romance languages; and he read classical Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

    On one high shelf was an ancient looking menorah, about which I became curious. This menorah would later be the subject of a revelation about Don Pedro and his family. But sitting there that morning, I began to feel uncomfortable and just wanted to go home to my own bed. I rose again and was able to remain standing.

    "Ehmet will show you out," Don Pedro said. "Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, you must leave through the back door. Not all are welcome here in the Castellano home. I myself am barely tolerated." He seemed grimly amused.

    As Ehmet guided me out, Don Pedro stopped me.

    "You know, Ehmet told me that you spoke to him from the tree before you fell."

    "I thought Ehmet couldn't talk."

    "He doesn't speak, but he can communicate through signs and also through writing. He is quite literate."

    "Well, I'm sure I said all kinds of things last night. I hope I didn't offend anyone."

    "Actually, you spoke to him in his native tongue. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs."

    I looked at Don Pedro skeptically. 

    "The doors of perception, my son. There are mysterious worlds open only to poets and madmen - or those who make themselves briefly mad by ingesting certain substances. This is of interest to me. I would be grateful if we could meet again. Perhaps you could thank Anna Socorro in person."

 To Be Continued...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The SLIT interview: John Venet!!

John Venet as "Johnny Anonymous" in The Pedestrians, circa 1979  (photo: Cliff Green)
 SLIT: How'd you get started playing guitar? Are you self taught?

JV: I first started playing guitar when I was about 8 years old. There was an old Stella guitar hanging around my house. I had to share it with my 4 siblings, so it was just an occasional thing, until I saved enough money up from delivering the Detroit News and the Free Press to buy a guitar. 
I was playing Violin in elementary school, but it just seemed too limited.( Plus you could beat on a guitar and not break it.) I remember Grinnells Music store had a beautiful new 70 strat,  black with a maple board that I'd go in and play all the time.  Just couldn't swing the cash though, so bought a  Japanese Epiphone 335. My older brother was a blues player, and he had an ES330, so I thought my Epiphone was pretty cool.  I got a crappy little Kingston plywood electric and a Kent amplifier.

I did take lessons in Detroit for a few years, and Music was my split minor at t he UA but when it comes to guitar, I've always felt like theory got in the way of just playing what you felt, so really I am self taught, with lots of time just jammin with my brother in the beginning and friends later. I used to pull my amp and guitars around in a wagon in Detroit to go play at my buddies house.  Four piece called Telepathy and we were doing Black Sabbath and Kiss tunes in his attic.

SLIT: Do you have a fave guitar? Fave guitar player?

JV: I've always loved the Gibson SG, but I am also  real fond of Strats and Tele's. I have a couple German Hoyer Les Pauls that I like a lot.  My top fave guitar players are:  Rainer, Jeff Beck, David Gilmore, Tom Verlaine, and believe it or not David Byrne because he was so totally un-conventional.

SLIT: Do you play other instruments?

JV:  But I'm a luthier by trade,  so having a favorite (singular) guitar is tough. I also play a little bass, mandolin, violin, cello, piano, just enough to record a song fleshed out by myself. Guitar is my main instrument.

SLIT: How'd you first get involved with Tucson's music scene?

JV:  I moved to Tucson in 1976, and when I started at CDO  for 11th grade, I met  Billy Sedlmayr and Dave Seger .  We started playing together then which evolved from doing Bonnie Rait and Bob Mehan songs into The Filthy Shrews. We added Chris Cacavous  in about 1978 and became the Pedestrians.

Dave and I did White Pages with you and Lee Joseph after that, Bill and Dave did Giant Sandworms and moved to New York for awhile.  I did Trout Unlimited with Van Christian and Keith Evans, Then when Dave got back from New York, we did the Voodoo Godhead  tape on Dave's dad's 4 track, which evolved  into Naked Prey. I was actually the guitar player in Prey when we did the  First recordings to shop. I left the band after a trip to LA to play, because I was in school, and didn't want to bail on my degree. Dave took my place, Baden replaced Conklin, and Tommy Larkins replaced Sam Blake, and the rest is history.  I also was in a band with Mark Mellinger (The Confused) and John Booth called HMS. we played Nino's all the time, and Club Europa, Tequila Mockingbird etc..

SLIT: What are some highpoints of your musical life/career?

JV:  Gotta say the Coolest gig we ever did was opening for the Ramones in Nov of 1979 at the UA Ballroom in the old Student union. But, because of the "in-betweeen" LA and Phoenix nature of Tucson, a lot of future monster acts played here. We played a lot of gigs with people like X, Black Flag, Fear, Alley Cats, Snakefinger etc.. It was always kinda fun to see who got the show, the Peds or the Suspects.  Z-nine and Channel 88, Serfers ,Seldoms, Character  Reference, Loudness One, lots of really good Tucson Punk bands were springing up. Alot of the credit for that is directly attributable to Joanne and Richard at The Record Room. Also Jonathan L., and Later, David La RussaChuck Graham also covered some of the local scene, but for some reason his column didn't appear until 2 or 3 weeks after a show.  Jonathan L.  used to hang out at TumbleWeeds all night,  play pinball, and just listen. Then he'd write it all up in the Newsreel.  Amazing what a little press can do, and then "Anything thats Rock and Roll" and "Virgin Vinyl "shows started actually airing terrible cassette copies of local bands.  It was like we finally got our own Village Voice and Leggs McNeil .

SLIT: Do you have any ideas about how a guitar should be played?

JV: No, thats what the whole revolution in music was about. No pre-conceived way to play anything. You just did it till it made sense and sounded right to you.  The end result is Rock and Roll was changed because everbody stopped trying to do the same thing. A sound was new, because it wasn't conventional. New chords galore!

Dust of the Earth: Chapter 7

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

We left off last time with our narrator getting to know all of the Biblical Sense. We start today's segment with him waking up in the house of Ana Socorro Castellano...

Chapter 7
"Interesting what we find when we open the doors of perception"
 I must have been exhausted because, in spite of the shock of seeing Ana Socorro, I drifted off to sleep, rousing every so often to see her moving in and out of the room. Once I could have sworn I saw the big Indian standing in the doorway. The room seemed to be a sort of study or library, and I was lying on a large sofa to one side of the room. There was a desk cluttered with papers to the other side, and shelves of books reaching to the ceiling everywhere else. The smell of leather and musty old books filled the room.

    I drifted off again and awoke in the morning to find a man in a wheelchair sitting next to me. Don Pedro was dressed in slacks, oxford shirt and tie, and a cardigan sweater. I would come to find out that he was always dressed at least this formally, even though he rarely left the house. He was a trim compact man, elegant in spite of his advanced age and infirmity - an impression heightened by his smooth mildly accented voice. He had a thin mustache that made him look a little like old-time actor William Powell.

    "You've had quite a night, young man."

    I rose up a little but couldn't find anything to say.

    "Interesting what we find when we open the doors of perception," Don Pedro continued. 

    I looked at him, mildly surprised. "My father has that book."

    "Does he? He must be a broadminded fellow." 

    "He used to be."

    I looked around the room. A pair of roof-prism binoculars rested on one shelf, and I noticed Peterson's Field Guide To Western Birds next to it. On another shelf were dozens of hand-labeled binders and some books about stamp collecting. There were framed photographs on the walls of the room showing a more youthful Don Juan with various distinguished looking companions.
    I felt a little dizzy and was having a hard time concentrating. I changed the subject to a matter of greater interest to me. "I saw Ana Socorro..."

    "Yes, she lives here," Don Pedro responded. "Do you know her?"

    "Not personally. I know of her, I guess."

    "I am her grandfather, Pedro Martin."

    I introduced myself. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, Mr. Martin. As you already seem to have guessed, I wasn't myself last night."

    Don Pedro smiled. "Who then were you?"

    I laughed, rubbing my eyes. The back of my neck was stiff and sore.

    "Ana Socorro is a caring soul," he said. "She has always taken in stray dogs and cats, and tried to help injured birds. She rarely spends her considerable allowance on herself. It ends up in the alms box at church, or she gives it away to needy strangers."

    "So I am like a stray animal?"

    "Perhaps. Something led you here, I think. This is no coincidence." be continued