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Welcome to the Terra Dome

We knew we were on to something by the number of people screaming. At our studio, drunks would burst in and thrash about the room. Onstage, people would leap up and commandeer the mike, or it would somehow end up in the audience. "I AM AMERICA!" one guy howled . . .

From a letter, 6/15:

During the last song, a drunk woman came up real close to our singer and studied him while he sang. Then, during a guitar solo, she jumped up onto the stage, grabbed the mike and began to issue the most doleful wailing imaginable. The singer left the stage and got another drink. We continued, slowing it down, while she gutted and wailed in soul-twisted agony. A series of fireworks was set off over the awnings of Cahuenga . . . a guy at the bar kept holding a gun up to his friend's head . . . a bum outside was singing Madonna's "Vogue" . . . They will not forget that incongruous sight . . .

So you see what kind of world we're coming to: The gun turned out to be fake.

It felt good in those days, like something alive and relevant . . . I knew it'd have legs . . . It was hard to believe we wouldn't all be rich . . . Seems there wasn't a time, coming on or off stage, there wasn't someone saying, "You'll be huge . . ." A woman who worked for Billboard once came up to me, shaking her head and smiling, and said, "You boys'll make a lot of money . . ." More important, what we were doing made sense, the elements had properly combined . . .

"L.A. Band Nature's Mediocre Live Show at CBGB Leaves Some Room for Improvement

Guitars, the pop culture phenomena and overt phallic symbols, are the basis for a lot of rock & roll. The music is twanged by countless Americans and is a vehicle to express endless feelings and ideas. With this overload of guitars, how do rock bands find inventive sounds? Nature, from Los Angeles, keeps their sounds fresh with exciting guitar effects and sampling. At CBGB recently, the metal/alternative-rock band hit the crowd with long guitar jams, which would have been banal minus the effects and sampling. Most of Nature's songs start as simple metal songs. Near the end of the songs, though, they jam and contort their guitar sounds with reverb and wah effects. Nature (Zoo Entertainment), the self-titled debut album, includes songs about the funky character Z-Man from Russ Meyer's film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Dialogue from the film is sampled, livening the music.

Onstage, Nature's antics are zany. At one point, bass player Hugh Bonar broke a string. Threatt grabbed the string and attempted to choke Bonar as he played. Bonar avoided Threatt and retaliated by spitting on him. For the next song, Threatt asked, "Can you play with three?" "I only need one string to play this shit," Bonar replied.

Nature's silly stage acts were prevalent at the very end of the show, too, as Threatt and Bonar knocked over microphone stands in a fit of obviously fake rage. They held their instruments above their heads like they were about to break them. Instead, they calmly placed the instruments against amplifiers.

Nature is an average band. One weakness might be that their music crosses too many genres, trying to be too accessible. Combining metal, glam, punk and alternative in one band alienates more listeners than it attracts. Punks who cannot stand glam will not bother listening. Metal heads will probably not like them because they are too alternative. Nature wants to be huge rock stars. Maybe they want to attract a large following too fast. When asked which artist they would chose if they could tour with anyone, Threatt answered, "Whitney Houston. We want exposure, baby." "

-The Washington Square News

But let's backtrack for a moment. Astute readers may remember me as the guy incandescing in the corner back there in the L.A. Weekly film section about three or four years ago, a publicist's worst nightmare . . . At the same time, I was in the process of getting a Major Label Record Deal with a self-destructive little company, ultimately representative, it seemed, of the whole existential schmeer . . .

The Way It Works

Point 1: The record industry is often run by powerful men of the most brazenly stereotypical quality. Often I suspected that the people around me were somehow deliberately appropriating these cliched images, half in parody, half as the result of some fine business sense - lulling their competitors into a false sense of security, then striking with scorpion precision. The line was hard to draw: irony, or the real thing? I remember this one guy, if it wasn't the "sand-niggers," it was the "tea-bags" - a name for every nation, all with a kind of "say it to my face, motherfucker" defiance, as though, again, he weren't really a racist, merely a parody of one . . .

 

Point 2: The industry is very large, but with only a limited number of players. Thus workers can go from place to place regardless of a trailing string of failures as long as they're associated with one success at some point. Record companies are regularly purged of employees and replaced by others in a forever-circulating pool. And thus it is filled with strange, irascible behavior, a melange of bad drugs, frazzled nerves, frayed ears, Satanic rituals and, of course, dinners at the finest restaurants . . .

Point 3: The music industry tries to replicate its success by doing the same thing over and over; this may be a sane way to run a business, but it doesn't really apply to the highfalutin, self-transforming, diaphanously transfiguring "realm of creativity." Thus we have the recurring spectacle not only of record companies but of individual musicians crouching like animals for the next trend - contriving new personalities for each new style. It's a startling process, ultimately alienating, but it can pay off big time when the time comes, though it halts the good vibes of any forward-seeming "movement." In fact, the turn-around time between authentic "inspiration" and its soulless repetition has reached a kind of terminal velocity. Our solution: Become stereotypes before the fact. "A scream for attention and a cry for help," as Music Connection put it, rating Nature with a mere 6 out of 10 stars. Music for the sociopathic man about town, indelibly self-referential, petulantly inexplicable, in fact completely incomprehensible. We were ready for Nebraska.

November 1, Lubbock, TX --

Upon arrival, we are taken to our quarters, the second floor of Stubb's Barbecue, and shown a press release for the show: "On Nov. 2, the Depot Warehouse will be the location for an awareness campaign and fund-raiser against the growing problem of gang violence. The event is sponsored by the H.O.P.E. Organization. Its primary function is to educate and make the public aware of Lubbock's rapidly growing problem concerning gang violence . . ."

This was a benefit for the creation of youth detention centers where kids could be taken to be picked up by parents in lieu of the administrative hassle of taking them to jail; the final page of the document listed the bands that would perform, including Mike Pritchard's Cathouse Blues, Ground Zero, Uncle Nasty, F.O.A.D. and, finally, "Zoo Entertainment Recording Artist 'Nature'" . . .

May 5, Norfolk, VA --

Norfolk, VA: We play at a seafood restaurant. The venue is the Bait Shack, situated in a mall, with a marquee proclaiming our performance and the price of crab legs. A clutch of vampires makes its way to the show, alerted somehow to "industrial night" here. They keep their distance from the guys at the pool tables but are unable to avoid the presence of the tropical decor, or the "seafood basket" . . .

May 7, Springfield, VA --

We play in a mouse trap. Club consists of gray cardboard set up like a laboratory maze, dimly lit, with writing scrawled on the walls; a woman named Pam brings us Chinese food; the first act is a guy beating on a kettle drum. Later, the club fills with vampires - we watch them watching us, crows against the wall, inscrutable . . .

November 10, Chicago --

One way to obviate guilt is to attempt to sneak "subversive" messages into the mainstream. I tried this one or two times; it didn't work too well. Once, giving a radio interview from the hotel, the DJ was getting ready to play our song, an electronicized version of the theme from You Only Live Twice, and he said, "Is there anything you'd like to say to introduce this song?"

"PEOPLE OF CHICAGO," I intoned, "THIS SONG HAS A SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU . . ."

A long pause.

". . . Yes?"

But I couldn't think of anything . . .

March 14, Placerville, CA --

A lovely town seemingly run by children . . . talking to some kids in the parking lot, couldn't have been more than 14 years old, when the drummer from the band we were touring with, who fancied themselves Reservoir Dogs space-rockers, stumbled out of the van, took a few steps and vomited into his hands . . .

Getting sick on the road is always interesting, injuries are rampant. And there you are, getting out the Yellow Pages, begging a ride, ending up in a "sports medicine" facility, being treated by someone named Thor. In fact, being on the road can be harder than you might imagine - a brief period of focused activity followed by 20-hour drives, forced upright in a van (only the lucky or previously lucrative get The Bus). You start to understand the physical necessity underlying the myth of The Smashed Hotel Room: You generate a great deal of energy in a brief period of time, then it's back to the Motel 6 with nothing to do. This building, progressive energy is the best thing about being on the road, but it's not something that's easy to turn off. It begins happening automatically whether you're onstage or not.

 

Suddenly our record label was being sucked into the void. Rumors of divestiture from its ultrapowerful "parent" company came true as our protective, octopuslike home base began vanishing beneath us - and there we were, adrift in an increasingly insensible tour, taking wild zigzags across the country, with random stops in remote areas, sometimes for three or four days . . .

It lends a unique vision to the country. If you'd like to know what the nation's looking like these days, here's your answer: It's looking just like L.A.

What It All Means

If the injunction has been to "go forth and multiply," it is long since accomplished - the scenes of the world have been filled. Now, instead of forward momentum, we experience a commingling, an endless cross-referencing of previously existing inventions. Thus the flowering of tribute and cover bands, a nostalgia for images of a commonly held experience, when trends came in sequence, "meaningfully," rather than all at the same time. With every trend that ever was now back in circulation, how can one of them hope to attain significance over another? For those awaiting a unified music scene in the tradition of recent decades, be prepared to wait for a while.

Rock & roll is also a Faustian impulse, let us not forget. And so it is filled with people attracted to the cult of celebrity, trying to remove themselves from the physical vicissitudes, trying to get through the goal posts of life by sneaking down the sidelines. But while the traditional pyramidal corporate structure isn't capable of keeping pace with its own expansion, the cult endures . . . What else could it do? As a mythical figure, the celebrity is one step detached from the human body, and what better way to describe our world, our city?

The only way to save us from the Faustian impulse is to democratize it. Then there won't be any more need for public figures to stand in for our hopes and dreams: You'll be it.


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