Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to spend nearly two weeks with Gas Chamber, a band made up of four exemplary humans (and my friends), then write about the whole thing for Utne Reader.
The outcome of the article was personally rewarding, though with reservations (see note below). Through the trip – which essentially trekked from Vancouver to southern California – we came across numerous unexpected oddballs, oddballs disguised as Gordons (a.k.a. Normals or “Garys”), and plain ol’ Gordons. Not all of those shining, multi-colored light beings made it into the article, so I wanted to share two of the outliers here.
At a show in Long Beach, California, held in a bar that advertised a monthly Sunday “wake-n-bake jam session,” punk rockers included anyone from a gap-toothed old Nardcore vocalist and a middle-aged man in a neon green burqa, to teenage Hispanic women with model looks nodding their head to music played by a Korean-American engineering student/hardcore guitarist. Bouncing through the cultural buffet to hand out homemade business cards was Ryan William Beitz. Dressed in a pink windbreaker and the kind of cowboy hat Kurt Russell might wear on vacation, Beitz gleefully shared his Big Idea: to collect every VHS copy of the 1994 literal non-stop action thriller “Speed” in existence.
Of course it is something easily categorized as dumb or the creation of late-night stoner thinking. The joy of Beitz’s “World Speed Project” comes from those feelings all of us can find when immersed in something totally dumb, as the ridiculous subsumes personal doubts and reality itself. Every artistic action has an element of what Beitz has done here; the Dadaists questioned their own creations meant to question creation as a form (under the guise of two world wars, to boot). A brief audio interview I did with Beitz between bands (including fabulous locals, The Coltranes) was lost in a theft of a recorder outlined in the Utne article. But the robbers left me with, among other things, Beitz’s business card, and I’ve since sent two copies of “Speed” care of the self-anointed Grand High Chairman Beitz. I strongly encourage you to do the same and you can do so here.
Another mental freedom fighter I met was Seattle cabbie and former helicopter mechanic Timothy J. Kerr. Early on in the tour, my wife and I took a taxi, or pre-historic Uber, to our hotel after a night out with four local lunatics (and our friends) and were lucky enough to catch a science lesson with the ride. With virtually no prompting, Kerr elucidated to us today’s challenges of climate change and planetary naming conventions. (In a brief investigation, I am fairly certainly this is not the same Tim Kerr from Big Boys nor the power-play expert on the ‘80s Philadelphia Flyers.) Kerr shared gems such as:
“The thing is, Alaska and Siberia weren’t covered by ice during the Ice Ages. Ah-huh. That’s why were getting all this strange weather [in Seattle] and that’s why they had elephants up there before. The center of the magnetic north pole appears to be in northern Quebec or Ontario, then the ice forms around there and keeps growing out, more and more.”
“The scientists aren’t talking about this. Sedna was found [and] … they’re not telling us what’s going on. The panic part, I mean we’re just having an Ice Age. So what. When you get away from ice, you can still have a 90-degree day.”
Ever the fan of “Coast to Coast” and other reality rebels, I took this as an opportunity to gain a field recording from someone on the frontal lobe frontlines of matters such as magnetic field shifts, the Ice Age and sunny days to come in the Pacific Northwest. In a 15-minute cab ride with a few interjections and question from myself, Kerr presented a thought-out-yet-roaming dissertation on his expectations in two major scientific movements for the decades to come. Here, I present 8 minutes of that conversation which I was able to obtain, a recorder full in his view in the space between the driver’s seat and the backseat. What I missed primarily concerned the veracity of Pluto, not as a defined “planet” but as something other than an outpost for E.T.s or government training. (Admittedly, I did not present myself as a journalist to Kerr, as I felt it more important to hear his presentation rather than feel it had direction, bias or an aspect of interrogation. If you have any contact for Kerr, I’d be happy to talk with him further.)
Listen to an mp3 of Kerr here:
(You’re welcome to share with the appropriate attribution and human decency.) I do this not to label or liable Kerr in any way; to me he is a reminder of the possibility and wildness alive in every day life. It is too often we don’t listen to other people, think them crazy, assume ourselves the jury on sanity.
A note on Utne Reader article: there were many edits and revisions, a few typos and many things lobbed off. I remain entirely grateful for interest from the publisher/grim guitar plucker, Christian Williams, and the time, love and minivan space from David, Pat, Jerry and Craig. As for the article, it was strange and revealing to have something where I’m at the center. For years, I’ve written breaking news and profiles for dailies and trade publications, all where someone else was the focus. The band could have been the center in front of a different audience intended by another publication – say, MRR or Razorcake. But given that the Utne magazine/online audience is not just punxxxxxxx, the lack of “fame” held by the band and my original pitched of a deeper story on being “old” in a cultural subset which does not celebrate such things, I felt the best option for the “voice” of the article to be myself. The end result was an article somewhere between a journal and a Didion-style, fly-on-the-wall report. Without getting completely in the weeds, I’m only half-sure it worked. This falls in line with the half-assed creative output that has followed me through my life. It was a tiny personal experiment that, hopefully, gave insight into an outstanding band and a timestamp on sub-sub-subculture.