Hangin’ at Bench Two


Now I’m hanging out at Bench Two on the Berkeley campus. Like so many spots in this damn town it culls up a thousand ghosts, a thousand memories from days and nights past.

I’m thinking about the memorial we had for Yume at this spot in January 1994, almost exactly 23 years ago.

Yume was this cackling gay hippie in his 60s who looked like a wizard. Long gray hair and beard. Rings on every one of his boney fingers. Usually adorned himself with exotic pendants and magical potions. “Time for another ciggie!” he’d cackle, and light one up on this very bench.



About 50 street people showed up for the memorial. It was a quiet, soulful occasion. We banged a gong and lit incense and passed out individual ciggies from Yume’s favorite brand, milled around smoking them and sharing zany Yume stories.

Then the Infamous Bones took out his guitar and him and his crazy girlfriend bashed out a couple of frenetic rock songs in honor of Yume. Claire — the Human Tripod (so named because she documented just about everything that happened back then on the Telegraph street scene) (she’s dead now too) — filmed it all with her video camera. I still have a copy of the VCR cassette tape in my storage locker somewhere. Me, Duncan (also dead), Blue (also dead), Ben (still alive but barely), Krash, even Alex showed up briefly, a bunch of others from that time and place and scene.

It sticks in my mind because it was a soulful beginning, January, to what would be one of the weirdest and most eventful years of my life. 1994.

It’s all gone now of course. But this goddamn bench is still here.








Telegraph Street Music, Volume One



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.








Fame — and probably everything else in this life — is fleeting


Amoeba Records

This is the side window of Amoeba Records on the corner of Telegraph & Haste.  For 15 years they had a laminated copy of a San Francisco Chronicle article in the window.  The article was about this CD I recorded in 1994.  The headline was “Surprise Local Hit CD,” or something like that.  With a color photo of me, Duncan and the Hate Man standing in front of Amoeba Records with copies of the CD.  They sold a ton of copies of the CD at Amoeba Records.  Which I guess is why they had the article posted in the window.

For years I walked by that corner.  Thousands of times.  My main hang-out spot, my vending table, was right across the street.  And every time I passed by the window I would look at the article out of the corner of my eye.  It was like a talisman.  Like a sign that I belonged here.  This was MY scene.  But with this other weird twist.  Over the 15 year period, I kept aging, kept looking older.   But the photo of me kept looking the same.  So, over the years, it was like actually watching myself aging before my eyes.  As my past self, the 1994 Ace Backwords, kept drifting farther and farther into the past.

Then one day, I walked by Amoeba Records and looked up at the window and the article was gone.  They had taken it down.  And I thought:  “Fuck.  I’m gone.”  And I felt sad.  And strangely diminished.

I guess fame is fleeting.  Especially local hit type fame.




Ace Backwords 1994


A seemingly youthful Ace Backwords before all the malt liquor started kicking in.
I stumbled across this photo of myself from 1994.  And then I’m doing the math in my head.  “Holy shit, that was 20 years ago!”  And I think:  “How can that be possible?”  Because it seems like just yesterday.  But the math never lies.  20 years.  7,120 days.  Give or take a couple days.  60,880 hours ago. . . .. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.  60,880 hours ago?  Seems like only about 50 thousand hours ago.  But that’s the strange thing about time . . .

Tick tick tick.. . .

And I don’t know if you do this.  But I look back on my Youthful Self … And its like looking back on somebody else.  I barely even remember who I thought I was back then.   Let alone who I actually was.  I have to assume it was me. The Ace Backwords of 1994.  Even though I can barely remember who I was, or who I thought I was, at that particular juncture of history.

Part of me wants to look back on my Youthful Self like I was a cool guy.  Because, well, frankly, it was me.  So I’m sort of rooting for myself.  Even as another part of me looks back at my Youthful Self as a total asshole. Because I was certainly that, too (and I could catalogue all the fucked up shit I did, if you really want the details).

But the strangest thing, re looking back on my Youthful Self, is that it really feels like I’m looking back on somebody else.  I barely even remember who that person was.  The Ace Backwords of 1994.  Even though I have to cop to the fact that it was in fact me.  Same social security number and finger prints and DNA. Even as, I swear to god, its like looking back on somebody else.