All the News That Didn't Fit

On the Record

The Olympia Connection, Or Lack Thereof


The Numbness Is Just a Bonus

Hiphop City


Soul by the Pound


Incest is Best

The Rise and Fall of the N-Word


If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Tell the Truth Anyway

You Don't Own Me

Summer Lovin'

Stagger Lee

Music to Lose Your Job By

Boy, You Sure Can Take the Fun Out of Music


Stuart Braithwaite From Mogwai

Going to New York City?


A Whole N'other Level

Who Says Morrissey Fans Don't Get Laid?


Not Modest Enough

For my band, Betlo, 1997 was an endless dribble of low-rent gigs in the suburban wasteland between Redwood City and San Francisco. Morale was down. Synthetic drug use was up. Fred, the drummer, was breaking the law with underage girls in the back rooms of raves all over the Bay Area. Jose, the rapper, was spending too many hours picking up trash on the side of US 101 because he couldn't afford to pay off a misdemeanor possession charge. So when we got hired to play in Tahoe for the affluent alcoholics of the Stanford University Ski Club, it was a godsend: $800 plus free beer. Leaving town for any reason was a good thing; getting paid to leave was even better.

For a band like Betlo, which lacked ambition and artistic vision, there were only two things that got gigs: lots of gear and lots of beats. The recipe was simple: every song started with a jungle-replica rhythm from Fred and his five-piece Sonor Sonic Plus drum kit. Sixteen measures later, Soto entered with a big bass line on the Xotic XB-2 fretless five-string bass, pumped up by a David Eden World Tour 800 Bass Amp. After eight more measures, Joe started sending minor-seventh guitar chords through a 1962 Fender Vibroverb reissue amp. This was followed by some horn lines by myself on a relacquered Selmer Balanced Action tenor saxophone with an Otto Link Super Tone metal mouthpiece. Brad, the DJ, waited until the chorus to spin battle records on his twin SL-1200 MK2 Technics turntables with a Vestax mixer. In front--always--Jose rapped stock rhymes about putos and pistols through a Shure SM57-LC cardioid dynamic microphone. This mix of gear and beats, repeated with emotion a dozen times over a span of four hours, was what we had to offer.

Upon our arrival in Lake Tahoe, we unloaded and met the students scattered throughout the Ski Club's six-bedroom chalet: 40 REI-clad Caucasians, the children of the captains of industry, sullenly waiting for night to fall so they could begin binge drinking. We weren't drinkers ourselves, but we had plenty of weed. We had packed it in little Baggies and film canisters throughout our gear: in jacket pockets, in instrument cases, and in the hollow backs of the guitar amps. When Jose found four joints loose in the record jacket of Space Traveler's Hamster Breaks Volume 1, we thought they were part of the same stash. It wasn't until we sat down in a back room to smoke the joints that Joe informed us they were rolled with cocaine as well as weed. By then (this is always a handy excuse) the lighter was already lit, and it was too late: we had to smoke it all.

Because I want to discourage cocaine use, I will tell you all about cocaine, so that you don't have to try it yourself. First, cocaine makes you more powerful. Second, it makes you better looking, smarter, and more musical. This was the condition we found ourselves in as we neared the end of the fourth set. The grooves got tighter, the beats got nastier, and we were high-fiving each other after each solo. In our narcotic rapture, though, we had forgotten about our audience--then we looked around: after five hours of heavy, reckless drinking, every last one of the Ski Clubbers had passed out where they were standing. They were jackknifed on couches, sprawled in hallways, and lying on the floors. It was like Jonestown, 1978.

The first Ski Clubber to vomit was lying not more than 10 feet from our equipment, so, initially, we were mad. But then two others started, and soon a half-dozen Clubbers were stirring and moaning, ready to retch, and we nearly panicked. Fortunately, my girlfriend's chemically heightened intelligence prevailed: "We've got to roll them over," she said, "or else they'll choke on their own vomit, like, uh, Jimi Hendrix." So we went through the dimly lit chalet, nudging and rolling ill bodies with our boots and Pumas and then propping them against each other so they would stay that way. Within 20 minutes, every last member of the Stanford University Ski Club had received a life-saving kick from us.

For a struggling band like Betlo, gigging is one long battle against the indifference of audiences everywhere. This gig, in the mountains, commissioned by wealthy college students, had been no different. Because of that, it was beautiful to walk all-powerful among the slumped bodies of the formerly aloof crowd. They needed our kick in the end, and when the night was done, we felt as good as a group of simple beat sellers from the lowlands will ever feel.