Being the percussionist for Sun City Girls is akin to trying to bottle mercury. It's not easy to contain or guide the sort of sonic chaos that radiates from the infamously experimental Seattle group. But Charles Gocher was up to the challenge, holding down the beat while contributing his own special strain of madness to SCG's baffling eclecticism.
Charles Gocher passed away February 19, 2007, after a three-year struggle with cancer. He was 54. Many with close ties to this Seattle musical institution speculate that without Gocher's percussion mastery and maverick spirit, Sun City Girls cannot continue as a touring and recording unit. Although dozens would love to occupy SCG's vacant drum seat, it's doubtful any could adequately replace Gocher in the veteran band's lineup. Climax Golden Twins member and Gocher friend Robert Millis alluded that trying to do so would be as misguided as the Who getting Kenney Jones to fill in for Keith Moon.
To hold down Sun City Girls' drum stool, as Gocher did for nearly 25 years, required phenomenal dexterity, encyclopedic knowledge of various cultures' musics, and an ability to flow smoothly along with bandmates Alan and Richard Bishop's absurd whims. A skewed sense of humor was essential, too. It's hard to think of another sticksman who could complement SCG's iconoclastic founders as well as Gocher did. Maybe Henry Cow's Chris Cutler or Mr. Bungle/Secret Chiefs 3's Danny Heifetz? Nah. As brilliant as they are, they likely couldn't subsume themselves into the SCG multiverse as seamlessly and move among genres (noise rock, jazz brut, ethnodelia, raga rock, spaghetti Westerns, gamelan, antic skronk, etc.) as loose-limbedly as Gocher did.
Soon after news of Gocher's death was reported, testimonials began deluging SCG's MySpace page. Animal Collective, Caroliner Rainbow, Pelt, and other luminaries bestowed extravagant, heartfelt praise. Sunset Tavern talent booker Kwab Copeland stated on this paper's music blog, Line Out: "I had the unbelievable honor of hosting a Sun City Girls show a few years ago, and it was the most amazing thing that has happened on our stage."
But outside of the Bishop brothers (who declined to comment), nobody has greater insight into Gocher than SCG auxiliary member and audio engineer Scott Colburn, proprietor of Gravelvoice Studios, where the Girls frequently recorded from 1992 onward. Colburn, an SCG initiate since 1984, also collaborated with Gocher on the bizarre 1997 album Pint Sized Spartacus.
"Charles was a renaissance man," Colburn recalls. "He played music, wrote poems, stories, plays, and novels. He painted and made films, but the common thread in all of this was his honesty about who he was and his need to express himself creatively.
"I remember an article in Forced Exposure (I think) that had Charlie describing what it was like to be the drummer of the Sun City Girls," Colburn continues. "[H]e likened it to playing hot potato or badminton. He described moving the sound from one side of the stage to the other.
"Seeing the band play 35 nights in a row was an experience I'll never forget, because I realized that 'good' improvisation is really fucking good and it is executed by musicians who 'listen' as well as they play. The Sun City Girls ruined jazz improvisation for me because no one since has been as good at it."
With a poetic flourish, Colburn concludes, "There was a mind link: three girls drinking from the River Styx and tripping on the bacteria within. These guys [filtered] the world around you and spit it back into your eye. It was completely unique."