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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Back in the late 80s, early 90s, Anthony was one of the best street musicians on the Telegraph street scene. Always reminded me a bit of Sly Stone. Could hit that funk rock sweet spot of melody and beat. And he had the gritty streets of Oakland ingrained in his sound. But he could play to the white hippies too. Whenever he was busking and I passed by he’d start playing “White Punks on Dope” by the Tubes in my honor. Ha ha (it was an inside joke between us).

In 1995 one of the DJs at KPFA radio invited me and all my street musician friends to come down to the radio station for a 4-hour late night jam session (I was promoting the release of the TELEGRAPH STREET MUSIC CD). So about 30 of us showed up at the radio station. And we did interviews and played live music and played cuts from the CD.

Anthony showed up with his guitar and his hot girlfriend (he was on top of his game at that point). And while he was waiting for his turn to play live over the radio airwaves he went into the KPFA restroom to get into the mood. But whatever he was smoking in the boys room set off all the fire alarms. Ha ha. The general manager of KPFA had to come running down to the station in his pajamas at 1 in the morning to investigate what the disturbance was. Ha ha. He was pissed.
But whattaya expect inviting a bunch of crazy street musicians into your radio station in the middle of the night?

I recorded the 4 hour radio show off their board (excellent sound quality). I haven’t had a chance to listen to the tapes in 30 years. But I’d love to hear it. To see if the show was boring. Or if it was as fascinating as it is in my memory.



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.