One of the weirdest scenes I was ever involved in was the year I spent recording a compilation CD of Berkeley street musicians back in 1994. The “Telegraph Street Music” CD. Volume One.
I had spent the previous 9 years working as a cartoonist. Now, cartoonists are basically nerdy, introspective, mild-mannered types. The kind of people that are comfortable sitting by themselves at a drawing board for long stretches of time. So that was the kind of scene I was used to. So I was completely unprepared for immersing myself in the middle of the music scene. Musicians are the exact opposite of cartoonists. They’re wild, aggressively extroverted, exhibitionists, overly emotional. And among the most drugged-out and hard-drinking groups of people there is (I’ve read that only physicians have a higher rate of drug use than musicians). And this was even MORE pronounced among street musicians.
And it’s not hard to understand the high drug and alcohol content among musicians. They regularly gig at bars and nightclubs where booze is the stock in trade. And playing music also goes along with “partying” which is also a big drug and drink scene. And anybody who has ever pounded down a few quick beers to muster the courage to get up on stage and sing karaoke can understand that part of the equation.
Myself, I was taking a lot of psychedelic drugs back then. When I took acid and played music, my music sounded better, more profound, cosmic even. (Of course later I realized, if I really had had any musical talent I wouldn’t have needed the drugs to make it sound good. It would’ve sounded good just on its own.)
I spent a year sort of auditioning all these crazy Berkeley street musicians and setting up all these impromptu jam sessions on street corners. And there was always plenty of pot, booze, crack cocaine, speed, acid, ‘shrooms, you name it, to keep the party going. So for me it was sort of like stepping into a whirlwind of alternate mental states of mind.
Anyways, I managed to get the CD pressed up. 22 track of chart-topping weirdness. And I printed up a 64-page magazine to go along with it because I was into over-kill back then. And it got written up in all the local newspapers and music magazines. The San Francisco Chronicle did a big article with the big headline “The Surprise Hit of the Season.” Which was a bit of an exaggeration. But I wasn’t complaining. And KFOG — the big psuedo-hippie classic rock station — did a feature on it and played some of the tracks. And the first pressing of a thousand copies sold out pretty quickly.
I had this Peavy amp in my apartment at the time, that I’d bought from some crackhead musician for 50 bucks worth of crack (that amp had great fuzz tone for power chords!!). So I had all these street musicians tramping through my place at all hours of the day and night, partying away and making lots of music in between all the drugs and alcohol. ROCK’N’ROLL YA PUKES!! My upstairs neighbor wanted to kill me. And I can’t say I blamed him. After he called the cops on me for like the third time, I realized the party was over. I had gotten too wild for civilized company. Plus, I was four months behind on my rent, because I had stupidly spent what little money I had on recording equipment, musical instruments, pressing up a thousand CDS and printing up a 64 page magazine. So I was fucked.
But I didn’t care. I wanted to cut loose. I wanted action. I wanted to be baying at the moon at midnight without getting busted by the cops.
So I packed up all my stuff into storage, sub-let my apartment, and hit the road. I had a frame backpack with a sleeping bag, and my guitar and a leather satchel with all my recording equipment. And I set out to record Volume Two of the “Telegraph Street Music” CD from right on the streets. It seemed like a concept. So I spent a year recording hundred of hours of music, madness and mirth. But by that time, I had become so overwhelmed by the street musician scene that I couldn’t really produce much of anything with all the cassette tapes I had recorded, except to put them all in a big box and stash it in my storage locker. Where they sit, thankfully, to this day. THE END.