Listening to a Tape - A - Interview with Jason Honea
The table is filled with Italian magazines from the fifties, and with what is remained from their pages.
I look on a piece of the Liparian Sea, so called because of the Liparian Islands I can see on a clear day, when I move to an other spot. There is a chunk of rock next to the building. More close to me are a set of headphones, a Marantz cassette player and a tape by The Shitty Listener, which handwritten title I have misread for days: constant stranger. I have given it a listen already, so I rewind the tape to the beginning of side A. I put the tape into the player. I put on my headphones, and I push 'play.'
Get a Grip
The song is recorded by Loren Chasse, a friend of Jason's from his Californian days. I remember him telling, they went out to record an abandoned rose farm. I liked the image. Roses left on their own, to grow for ever, and every once in a while someone from the neighbourhood comes to pick some.
What I hear takes me back to last century, when during phone calls snippets of other conversations came through. It was said this happened because the cables lied too close to each-other, such a romantic idea. Truth is that something similar can happen when recording from a four-track. Faint sounds of track three and four, which is the two stereo channels from the last track of side B, leak through, backwards. This adds something of a spell to the opening sequence, when our hero leaves a scene in a house where happy music is played, walks a wooden floor, picks up a guitar and sings Get a Grip, then he returns, and we hear different, still happy music coming from another room.
I am a sucker for lyrics, never listen to them, but I am a very easy victim to catchy tunes, and this is one that rings in your ears for days. My mind wanders in two directions. The acoustic guitar - I don't like acoustic guitars - seems untuned. I don't have a trained ear to recognise the E minors in our life. It just sounds very unpolished, which I like. Most strings are left free to swing, make me think of Glenn Branca. Make me also think that this song could welcome more free swinging strings to provoke audio hallucinations.
The song wandered around in my musical memory for days. And doing so it scanned all the pop songs I had heard in the past. I arrived at 'black and white' and the guitar riff to it. Then, knowing that also Michael (Jackson, not Northam) must have had a pop song memory of his own, I digged deeper and arrived at Gordon Lightfoot and his 'If you could read my mind.' That is a 1972 song, a year when the light on earth was disabled by soft focus camera's and young boys and girls wandered out in mass to get away from a suit and tie defined society. Freedom was a good song on the FM radio: Get a Grip!
Jason: The Germs are a hobby of mine. I discovered reading when I discovered their lyrics. I used to keep a copy of the (GI) lyric sheet in my car and also had a copy folded up in my jacket at all times. Needless to say, that one got kinda ratty. Loren Chasse recorded this in the Aero Star parked at Jacek Ostoya's in SF. For the Manimal.
I Call You Up
This is the scene. Somewhere in the 1950's in a small town in the southern states of U.S.A., a kid walks into a recording studio. He sings his song. He is a good singer, everybody in the choir of the Catholic Church says so. You should record a song, boy - they all say.
The man from the recording studio looks at him. He sits behind a desk, a bit too relaxed, a Winchester rifle rests in his lap. The only thing we hear is a fan.
How old are you boy?
You recorded that song for your girlfriend? I suppose you have a girlfriend.
How old is she?
And then you know he should not answer the next question and leave the studio straight away. He doesn't. One hour later he is back on the street again. The look in his eyes has changed. In his hand the one and only 45' copy of his song. He throws it in a dustbin and gets on the first Greyhound that leaves town. The song travels with him, and would haunt him for years. He never saw his girlfriend again.
Jason: We did a show some August with N.O.T.A. in Oklahoma City. Actually, I believe we drove down together from their place in Tulsa. There were a ton of Native American kids at the show and a bunch of them were already well buzzed when we pulled into the parking lot. The venue was a gym and it remained lit for the entire show which only complicated things due to the staggering heat.
We had been on stage for about twenty minutes when a young couple came running into the crowd screaming for us to stop and come help in the parking lot. When we got out the door the first thing I saw was a big crowd of kids rocking and banging a station wagon inside of which a battling couple was kicking the shit out of each other.
A big Pawnee kid named Badger had locked himself inside with his girl and he was punching her out. Some guy in a flannel took a tire iron and smashed in the rear window which then allowed people to somehow scramble in and get a door open. Gnarly scene. Can't remember what happened after that.
Across My Dreams
Today the electricity went away for a short time. This triggered the alarm of the house at the other side of the trees, a fifty meters uphill. An uptight sirena as a dog chaises own tail maddening centrifugal woowoow spat in all directions. A useless sound. I also find the sound of vacuum cleaners useless. Across My Dreams drifts on vacuum cleaned sounds.
The image is different, because here we touch blissful moments. I have been going through the fifties magazines more then once to find pieces of pictures I could use for my collage. I have looked in numerous faces of women then young, attractive and healthy as three pints of milk a day. Those women are now in their eighties. Most of them probably have married and have used a vacuum cleaner as well.
The monotonous sound with its very subtle variations lulled them into a trance. And yes, there are the wedding bells, so distant they sound, to remind of the happiest day of their lives. But wait. The windows are open. People are running towards the cheering crowd further down the street. The military marching band plays. Women throw flowers at the troops that will go to the front tomorrow. So much dust.
Jason: Across My Dreams: I wrote this to the Knit Separates. I wanted them to know how I felt about our song In the Sea at Night.
This is the song that relates to the picture on the cover of the cassette. It is in black and white and it is a portrait of Jason that could have been made in one of those cabins with a little stool with adjustable height and a curtain too short to make nocturnal love making possible. Jason's pose bears traces of Bowie in Berlin, Rutger Hauer's disposable Hollywood movies and Sigue Sigue Sputnik after they cut their hair (but left the orange dye in it).
Yes, indeed, he looks very average on this picture. But we have to remember that 'average' has a high iconic value in the United States. Someone has to marry the girl next door and make suburbia a beautiful place.
The opening line of the song is "I Call You Up." By then we have heard a car engine as a droning background and a lot of reverb around the guitar playing. Acoustic guitar. I am sure this song connects with some other great songs from the last century. Not as a copy, but to confirm that the melody is again one that stays with you for days.
There is an image to this song, that connects to the description of the front cover picture. It is very much an MTV song. MTV was big in the pre-internet post TV era. The image of the videoclip comes natural, it is a black and white view on a nocturnal highway (or is it Mulholland Drive, the stage for every young american who wants to be James Dean for a day) Captured in the lights of the car, Jason appears, a see-through ghostly image in a leather jacket and jeans, sings this song. Sad song, melancholic...why.
Put the daylight on, go faster because now you hardly hit 25 miles an hour. I know it is dangerous, but are we talking rock 'n' roll or not. Get a drummer, throw in electric guitars, something Harrisonesque, something Go - Betweens, even the Californian sunlight flooded songs of Fleetwood Mac can stand. Yes fuck, I know this is all experimental and shit, but the song has a potential that goes beyond our laboratorial lifestyle. Sometimes you have to take a break, get some air and sing.
Jason: There had been some school arsons in the area and apparently punk rock graffiti was found at both sites. The cops came after me for some reason. I was eating dinner with my parents when he came to the door. When I got outside he told me to lie down and that he intended to cuff me. At one point he had his knee on my back. My father stood there in the doorway , yelling at me to just tell the truth. I looked up and there in the sky was the day moon. I could hear some kid down the street laughing. Later on it came out that two jr. punk rocks were responsible for it all.
As a boy I used to trip on seeing that same moon in the morning light as I rode. That moon always seemed to be much bigger to me when we were in Japan. It's also something quite central and recurring in the work of two men I greatly admire: Sherwood Anderson and Charles Burchfield.
Where did you ride to see the Moon in morning light?
Jason: I could see it hanging over the Pacific as a little guy on my way to school.
What were you doing in Japan, Joejoe San.
Jason: My father was a navy pilot. We were stationed in Iwakuni.
Who are these guys Sherwood and Charles.
Jason: American writer and an American painter.
This is the same song as the song before, with this difference that it is early morning now, very early morning, just after sunrise, crickets already sing in the rising heat. The girls have long gone home. The room, mainly a worn down leather sofa, a table and a tv set that doesn't work is scattered with empty beer cans, pizza boxes, plastic trays with unidentifiable food, full ashtrays, is half in darkness, a tiny ray of sunlight splits the room in two.
On that couch sits Jason with an acoustic guitar he bought at a garage sale for 3$, and it sounds exactly like that when he plays it, torturous to any Segovian ear. On an old pouf that I forgot to mention sits a second person with an acoustic guitar. His one sounds better. And while Jason is somewhere in a back room of poet's heaven, hammering those rotten strings, his friend delivers one beautiful curl of melodies after the other. At the end of the song it is also his idea to load the sofa on the back of his pick-up truck, drive it to a bend in the road above the village and leave it there, for those who want to enjoy the view on the Pacific ocean. Jason forgets to bring his guitar.
Jason: I was fifteen on an El Camino bus heading to Santa Clara. I got on a few stops further down than usual. Next stop a young, young vato in hair net, baggy white T and light gray overcoat with corduroy black slippers got on and sat in front of me. He produced a shiny silver colt 45 that seemed as big as a football and then loudly exercised the action the next couple miles.
El Camino? Where were you going (as usual)
Jason: El Camino is a major thoroughfare in the Santa Clara valley. I was more than likely on my way to go punk rocking somewhere.
Jason: A Vato is a Mexican gang member in most cases. They can be lone wolves as well.
Jason: Receiver/loading mechanism of a gun.
Smile Now Cry later
The friend waits in the pick-up truck. Jason has gone back into the apartment, calls up the girl. (This is pre-cell phone era). The girl doesn't answer. Just as he expected. The answering machine records the song he sings to her on a cassette. In an other life in an other time Jason would have stood a chance in American Idol if Jonathan Richman had been part of the jury.
Song ends, enters bliss. It was really a good idea to get rid of the couch. Song ends, enters sunlight. The old transistor radio starts playing as if touched by magic; it is the alarm. Some 50s, early 60s melody, almost BurtBacharachish repeats itself over and over again, gets absorbed by the triangular roar of the pick-up truck. Summer of '87. 5:30 am. The awakening. After a break the most beautiful melody comes to define the universe, something fake Chinese maybe or vintage TV-serie, something played over a very cheap system. I want this.
Jason: This is a cover. East Side Story cruise comps. A pavilion at the San Jose flea market late 70s. Watching Latino/Afro soul R&B vocal groups- guys my age playing instruments and hitting soaring lush harmonies through too small speakers full of mice shit and nest hair. Some of them are in suits while others are in their field clothes that have been meticulously cleaned and ironed for just this occasion. Lots of dead grass and steel fencing, sugar cane and melon. The heat and smells bewildering. I end up leaving at with a head full of melodies and tunes that I'm trying my best to commit to memory.