Monday, March 31, 2014

KK Barrett Changed My Life

(Another cross-post with the KSFS blog. Hope ya like it.)

Say what you like about Spike Jonze's movies; one thing you can expect when you step into his world is uncanny production design. Last year's Her is no exception, and it earned longtime Jonze collaborator K. K. Barrett his first-ever Oscar nomination. Barrett has been doing production design for Jonze for a long time, even before Being John Malkovich, when he was still known mainly as a music video director. But I never actually noticed until my wife and I stuck around to watch the credits roll at the end of Her. A familiar name popped up, and I thought, "K. K. Barrett...where have I heard that name before?"

Come join me now as we turn back the hands of time. It's early 1978, I'm underage, and the people I carpooled with to see Patti Smith at Winterland have dragged me to the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway. Miraculously, I avoid being carded and slink into the early San Francisco punk mecca like the wide-eyed Santa Cruz hippie kid I am, where I am confronted with this:

Check out the baby-faced blond kid on the drums. Yes, that was K. K. Barrett, powering the astounding Screamers, LA's first real punk band. Four guys, not a guitar in sight, yet they had a ferocious intensity that no ordinary rock and roll band could match. I was floored. I didn't fully understand what I was seeing and hearing, but I knew that this was the future, this was what was needed, and this was where music had to go to matter anymore. A week later, I was back home, watching a fast-rising new band called Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Previously, I'd been excited about this show; Petty had a fresh new sound that echoed the spirit of rock and roll from back when it still meant something. Now...I shrugged my shoulders and thought, "ehhh, they're OK I guess." I had just seen a revolution, and I was feeling the wind with a brand new skin. The Screamers had just raised the bar for weirdness, and I would never be quite the same.

The Screamers had a good run, doing things their own way. They never released a record because they were holding out for video as the next artform and thought that merely putting out vinyl was too much of a compromise. (Now, of course, their recorded output has been lovingly compiled for old and new fans.) Singer Tomata DuPlenty passed away from AIDS in 2000. Synth player and main songwriter Tommy Gear has vanished into his private life. Electric pianist Paul Roessler is still a well-regarded and very active LA musician. And K. K. Barrett is creating the visual environments for some of the trippiest movies that mainstream Hollywood has to offer these days. But even if none of them had ever been heard from again, they were responsible for one misfit kid's epiphany in a seedy little North Beach bar he had no business hanging out in. Bless 'em, one and all.

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