The X-plicit Players

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I just passed Debbie and Nina of the X-plicit Players, slowly sauntering down Telegraph Avenue, side-by-side, just like old times. Aside from the fact that they were fully clothed for once. . . I don’t think I’ve seen them up here since Duncan’s memorial back in 2009.

They must be close to 70 by now. But they didn’t look much different than they did back in the day, aside from their hair being gray. They were clad in brightly-colored pastel-colored hippie clothes. Long flowing skirts, the layered look, etc. . . I don’t know if they recognized me as I passed by. They didn’t acknowledge me and I didn’t acknowledge them (long story). . . Ladies and gentlemen, the X-plicit Players.



Someone asked me about my “falling out” with the X-plicit Players.

Well, boys and girls, it all started in 1993. Me and Duncan had decided to prominently feature the X-plicit Players in the Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar that year. So Duncan spent much of the year following them around with his trusty $30 Kodak Instamatic camera taking photos of them. As they frolicked around in public in the nude. So I had many interactions with them over the course of that year. The X-plicit Players. And they were always super friendly and super positive whenever they related to me.. They always had big smiles and plenty of hippie good vibes.

Then in 1994 I decided to record a CD — a compilation album of Berkeley street musicians. And I wanted a song by the X-plicit Players on the CD. So I had many more interactions with them. And again, they were always super friendly and super positive. Total grooviness all the way.

Then when the CD came out they all instantly turned on me. They HATED what I had done to the recording of their song on the CD. In fact they were righteously outraged. And now whenever they saw me, they were no longer super friendly or super positive. In fact they literally turned their noses up at the sight of me. Like I smelled like shit or something. They hated my guts.

And it really wasn’t even my fault.

When I recorded the X-plicit Players playing their music, they had two songs that I liked. This one song called “Let Them Be, Breast Free” (or something like that) (which was sort of their anthem advocating public nudity, an anthem for a generation yearning to expose their breasts in public — which was like their big Cause — with a capital C — they were going to save the world by liberating humanity from their body hang-ups — they REALLY believed that stuff, and it was a nice pleasant little ditty). And then they did this other song where they’re all blowing away on these diggery-doos. And it had a cool hippie vibe to it. So I wanted to use both songs.

The problem was: I only had space on the CD for one X-plicit Player song (like I said it was a compilation CD with 22 other street musicians). So I decided to combine the two X-plicit Player tracks. I’d use the first half of the “Let Them Be, Breast Free” song. And then fade it out. And then fade in the second half of the diggery-doo song. Wonderful.

The problem was. The guy who was my studio engineer for the recording of the CD, HATED the X-plicit Players. He was this 21 year old heavy metal kid who had put together a home recording studio in his apartment on Telegraph in Oakland. He had all this great recording equipment and actually knew how to use it. So I had talked him into collaborating with me on this CD project and using his recording equipment and recording expertise to record my damn CD (and to his credit he did a great job — the CD is well recorded, professionally recorded, and we jerry-rigged the whole thing together on a shoe-string budget).

But the problem — like I said — was that he had an intense dislike of the X-plicit Players. I’m not sure exactly why. He was offended and disgusted by their nudity. And he thought their music sucked too.

So the day came when we were going to mix all 22 tracks that we had recorded onto the master tape. Which we would then send to the company that was going to press up our CD. And we had to mix all 22 tracks in one afternoon.. Because I had rented out this big and expensive piece of recording equipment that we needed for the job from a local music store. And I had to return it at the end of the day.

So me and this 21 year old heavy metal kid are mixing down all the tracks on the master tape and laying them down in the sequential order that they’ll appear on the CD. One after another. And things are going fine. Until we get to the X-plicit Players track.

“I hate that track,” he said. “They suck. I don’t think they should be on the CD.”

So I have to talk him into mixing the track. But he’s dead set against it. Thinks it’s going to despoil the whole CD. But I was adamant. I really wanted the track on the CD. But he’s got me over a barrel. I have no idea how to use the recording equipment. So if he decides not to do it, there’s nothing I can do about.

Finally I talk him into doing it. So he mixes the two tracks together. But instead of artfully fading out and fading in the two tracks, he just makes an abrupt and artless cut from one track to the other. I ask him to re-do it so it sounds better. But he refuses. It was hard enough to talk him into doing it once. Let alone talk him into re-doing. And frankly, it was just a novelty track basically. It wasn’t like it was genius music or anything. It was just a little ditty. So what the hell.

But when the X-plicit Players heard the finished CD they were outraged. From their perspective I had butchered their masterpiece — “Let Them Be, Breast Free.” And they hated my guts ever after.

I’ll never forget when the guy who was the head of the X-plicit Players angrily confronted me. I tried to explain the situation to him. But he didn’t buy it. He felt it was inconceivable that I couldn’t get the 21 year old metalhead to do it the way I wanted. “But you’re ACE BACKWORDS!!” he said. Like I was some kind of great man, some kind of big hot-shot, who could just snap my fingers and get this kid to do my bidding. Sheesh.

The whole CD project was like that. Dealing with these crazy street musicians. All 22 tracks had weird back-stories to them, dealing with all of them. It’s a miracle I even managed to finish that project. Ha ha. Fucking musicians. 

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Getting the New Year off on the right foot

The owner of this Toledo, Ohio, 7-Eleven gave a hungry shoplifter food instead of calling the cops.

It’s New Years Day, and I just went down to 7-11 to get my morning coffee. I was waiting in line, and I was just about to put my coffee on the counter when this guy cut in front of me. I instantly bristled. If there one thing that will incite my “macho” side it’s somebody cutting in front of me on line.

I considered making an issue of it. But then I realized he had been standing in the aisle directly in front of the cashier. And he very likely had been waiting on line before I got there (most people wait on line along side the counter, but every now and then someone gets confused about the concept and waits on line in the aisle directly in front of the cashier). So I decided not to make an issue of it. And besides, he was only buying one little bottle of wine, so the transaction wouldn’t take long. And besides, I never like to get into any kind of scene before I have my morning coffee in me.

The cashier greeted the guy with a friendly smile. Evidently he knew the guy. “How long were you in prison?” said the cashier.

“Seven years,” he said. “I was in prison for seven years. For bank robbery.”

“Eww, seven years. That’s a long time!”

“Yeah, but I just walked it off. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I had to do the time. So I just walked it off.”

The guy waved good-bye to the cashier and headed out the door to drink his wine.

I was glad I hadn’t made an issue out of it. Some of those guys just out of prison will shank you over the slightest offense.


I had three friends who suffered from chronic depression. They were almost always depressed. I’ve had trouble with depression myself. But these guys were really depressed.

One of them once told me: “I kept a journal for awhile. It basically went: ‘Monday: I’m depressed. Tuesday: I’m depressed. Wednesday: I’m depressed.’ And it went on like that for several years.”

My other friend once said to me: “I vividly remember EVERY bad thing that ever happened to me going all the way back to kindergarten.” It’s like his mind had this weird editing function that edited out all the good things while emphasizing all the bad things.

And my third friend once said to me while we were having a casual phone conversation: “I just want to let you know I’m sitting here with a loaded gun on my lap and I’m thinking about killing myself.”

The weird thing was: All three of them were good-looking men, in good physical health, with sharp minds, quite intelligent with quick wits. And all sorts of artistic talents. And they all came from fairly stable, and financially prosperous, families. And yet they were miserable virtually all the time. And when they weren’t depressed, depression was never far away. It was like depression stalked them relentlessly. It was hard to figure. I knew many many other people who weren’t nearly as gifted as them, but were perfectly satisfied with their lot in life. It was if the three of them were simply born depressed. They were just wired that way.

All three ended up committing suicide. One jumped in front of a train. One hung himself. And the third, I believe, shot himself.

This life often doesn’t make a lot of sense. You just to figure it out on the fly.

Another decade shot to hell

I remember exactly where I was on New Year’s 2010. Living in this little motel room in this trailer park in the middle of the Arizona desert. Everything had fallen apart in my life as year 2009 came to a close. So, for lack of anything better to do, I rented out this room in the middle of nowhere for a couple of months. And sat there licking my wounds, and trying to get some kind of perspective on what had happened to my life in Berkeley, and hopefully come up with some kind of Plan B.

But the amazing thing now that I think of it, is how FAST those 10 years flew by. New Year’s 2010 to New Year’s 2020.

And I realize the NEXT 10 years will probably fly by even faster. Which will bring me to age 73, about the average life-expectancy for the U.S. male. Though my, ahem, lifestyle has hardly been average. So there’s no guarantee I’ll make it that far.

The older I get the more aware I am of how fleeting this life is. Here today gone tomorrow. One minute you’re starting up your life. And the next minute it’s almost over.


(A Dark Period Wandering in the Desert — Both Literally and Figuratively)

Looking back fondly (and otherwise) on the year that was, 2019


.January 2019: The University destroys over 70% of the trees, mostly completely healthy trees, at the top of People’s Park, for a variety of bogus reasons. (My favorite “reason” was: “The trees were blocking out light.” Yes. That’s what trees DO. They supply shade.)

February 2009: Ace Backwords spends the entire year as mostly a completely law-abiding citizen. .  . Well, two out of three.

April 2019: Against all odds, People’s Park celebrated it’s 50th birthday. And, among other things, Berkeley legend Country Joe McDonald reprised his “Fish Cheer” one last time.  “GIMME AN F!!!  . . . .  .”

. April 2019: The feral cats spent the entire year mostly slacking off. As usual.

.May 2019: One of the great highlights in the world of publishing in year 2019, was the publication of THE BOOK OF WEIRDO by Jon. B Cooke.

.June 2019: Artist R. Crumb is immortalized on the garbage cans of Berkeley.

.July 2019:  The Golden State Warriors basketball dynasty comes to a sudden end.

.August 2019: The Heterosexual Pride Parade draws a small, but raging, group of proud heteros.

.In a related aside, a trans woman, an asian, and a latino stage a three-person parade and march down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in support of President Trump.

.September 2019: One of Micro Scaredy’s litter of kittens finally makes it’s way to my campsite — Nano Scaredy — the fourth cat in the “Scaredy” lineage. But alas, Nano Scaredy disappears a couple of weeks later.

.September 2019: Ace Backwords fulfills a life-long dream by finally becoming a trading card. Suitable for trading (two Ace Backwords and a Peter Bagge will get you a ’67 Mickey Mantle).

.October 2019: The “Blacks for Trump” movement fails to gain much traction.

.November 2019: Over a thousand angry — but mostly peaceful — protesters show up on the Berkeley campus to protest Ann Coulter’s speech on immigration.

.In a related aside, Ann Coulter dubs me her “Berkeley Man About Town” and tweets out two of my photos to her millions of Twitter followers.

.December 2019:  Ace Backwords does his part to unify the Bay Area community!!

.December 2019: More than a few people breathed a sigh of relief as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg made it through another year.