Monday, January 17, 2011

Have You Seen the Seen

In keeping with the original idea that "Le(s) Bonx" was a French punk jazz band, this song was to be titled "Have You Seen the Seine?" but I couldn't spell the name of the river so I changed it to the more esoteric "Seen" and removed the question mark.

Le Bonx may never have been released in any form had it not been for Bill Bergstrom. In 1981 Arlene and I moved into an old apartment complex in Oakland that we dubbed "Weedhaven" - not for the obvious reason, although there was a lot of that going on, but because the front yard was overrun with gigantic weeds. We had a cozy little one bedroom on the second floor in the back of the building. Bill and his wife, Andrea, were our downstairs neighbors. At the time we were working on songs for the album that became FSGBOC a couple of years later. We were working during the day and playing music until late at night. One night we were working on a song and there was a knock at the door. When we answered it, there stood Bill with a guitar and bottle of wine. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em", he said. That was the birth of The Rummies (more about that later).

Bill was a construction contractor and a very skilled graphic artist. His musical tastes were more left-of-center than mine and he introduced me to a lot of musicians and groups that I would otherwise have never picked up on. He was a fan of Tom Waits, Laurie Anderson and other more obscure oddballs who I came to appreciate. In fact, my musical partnership with Bill was the catalyst for Rodent to Rodent.

It was Arlene who suggested that Bill might like Le Bonx, which I had compiled on to a cassette and stored away. We were sitting around talking about music and Bill was extolling the virtues of this or that experimental ensemble and Arlene said: "Sparky did something like that a couple of years ago..." I made a copy for him and he took it downstairs for  listen.

Bill and Sparky collaborate at Weedhaven
As I've said before - probably repeatedly - I'm a big fan of the tightly arranged 3 minute pop song. Bill's tastes ran in the other direction and this led to a lot of spirited discussions about the relative merits of our favorite styles and artists. We learned a lot from each in the 2 or 3 years that we were friends. By this time we'd started playing guitar together - Bill had a quirky, completely original way of playing that suited my songs perfectly....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

A few days later Bill came up and told us that he really enjoyed the Le Bonx tape. He got the joke, but insisted that the fact that it was done in fun did not detract from its artistic value. He related an amusing story: some friend of his came over while he was listening to Le Bonx and , having no idea what they were listening to, thought it was a recording by an obscure group of jazz virtuosos. We were all quite amused by that, but Bill was serious when he suggested that I should incorporate more of the free-form spirit of Le Bonx into my music. Again, this is where the idea for Rodent to Rodent born. It was also around this time that one of our neighbors, an eccentric named Robbie (who at this point in time had decided that he was rat-pack era Frank Sinatra) stopped by to tell us that he'd been listening through the wall to Le Bonx. He was very enthusiastic about it although he said: "I feel your drummer's pain".

("Have You Seen the Seen" was released in 1981 on the Le Bonx cassette and again in 2003 on the CD version)

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