The Beatdown

New Backbeat editor throws his first punch.

I had a ritual as a kid. Every Thursday, I'd pick up a Westwordand sit in the corner booth at Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe, flip to Backbeat and pore over Gil Asakawa's prose, line by line. I couldn't wait for the day when I'd be old enough to actually go and see the bands I read about. I also hoped that someday I'd write sharply enough to have my own work appear in Westword. Never mind that I'd yet to write a single paragraph for any publication.

Fast forward to the early '90s. I'm foggy on the year, but it was around Christmas, somewhere between the release of Glue and Purplemetalflakemusic. I was a struggling, unpaid freelancer for a local rag whose name still makes my mother cringe, on assignment at Rock Island, witnessing the Fluid deliver a once-in-a-lifetime performance. John Robinson and company owned the stage that night, manhandling the hometown crowd with flawless material honed from hundreds of sets slugged out in the underground. The images from those 45 or so minutes were burned into my recollection long after the fragrance from that cold winter night -- the smell of sweat and stale cigarette smoke -- dissipated from my clothes.

I've since jotted notes at innumerable shows that I consider legendary. A few weeks after the Fluid gig, at the same venue, I stood mesmerized as I watched King Scratchie and the rest of the Warlock Pinchers -- from whom I still vehemently contend Cobain stole the satanic-cheerleader shtick for the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video -- work the crowd and themselves into a frenzy, alloying the irreverent wit of the Beasties and the ferocity of Slayer. Then there was the time I witnessed a jaw-dropping set by Pil-Bug with a handful of strangers in the basement of Muddy's. The performance in that damp, darkened room was so intimate and visceral, it felt like we were watching the band rehearse from behind a two-way mirror. Frontman Augy Zhivago was close enough for me to trace his fingerprints as his hand clutched the mike.

It's moments like these that compelled me to keep writing, even without being paid for so many years, documenting the music and the experience. Those same moments saw me through day jobs that were killing me slowly. For years, I'd come home at night and write until I literally couldn't see. Sometimes I didn't sleep for days. That's when I produced my best work. And it all led up to this.

Some days you're the hydrant. Some days you're the dog. Today, brothers and sisters, you can call me Cujo.

I've been pinching myself for the better part of a month, but now it's time to buckle up for a white-knuckle-nerve-shattering hell ride. I'm the foul-mouthed, opinionated, chain-smoking audiophile who'll be putting with a hockey stick from now on. I was genetically engineered to do this job. It's all I've ever wanted to do.

From the first day I started reading the publication you're holding in your mitts, it became my trusted friend and companion, as well as my adversary. Let's just say we've had a love-hate relationship over the years. Early on, Asakawa's writing gave me a profound appreciation for all styles of music. (Of course, all of the records I inherited/stole from my five siblings over the years didn't hurt in diversifying my tastes.) I remember vividly the disdain I felt for Michael Roberts when he succeeded Gil. Roberts praised the albums I hated. I loved some of the albums he hated. Nevertheless, over the course of time, Thursday after Thursday, Roberts's succinct writing style and his evenhanded coverage of the local scene earned my respect. When Laura Bond, my esteemed predecessor, took the reins in 1999, I was guarded and skeptical. Who was this newbie, and what qualified her to opine on a scene that I had watched so many locals build with blood, sweat and tears? Inevitably, she, too, gained my respect -- and if you read her farewell column in the last issue, it's evident she became part of the very scene she critiqued every week.

So who the hell am I? I'm just a local kid made good. I kicked down doors when no one would answer. I learned how to write by writing -- endless rants on everything from why I thought Radiohead's Kid A sucked when it first came out (too derivative of Aphex Twin), to why Van Morrison's Astral Weeks is one of the best albums of all time, to why, pound for pound, Tupac delivered his most relevant material before he was down with Death Row. It also probably doesn't hurt that I'm a native. I was born and raised in this small town. I can breathe in this small town -- in fact, my lungs freak out when I leave here. I was taught to fear Jesus in this small town, and I'll probably die in this small town. I love this place. There's nowhere else on the planet I'd rather be, and there's absolutely nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Somebody once asked me if I had to choose between losing my vision or hearing, which I would pick. I didn't have to give it a second thought. I'd die -- literally shrivel up and have no reason to exist -- if I couldn't hear the music anymore. It makes me feel alive. It comforts me when I'm sad. And conversely, somewhat inexplicably, it makes me feel sad even when I'm happy. Great albums will do that to you. I still can't make it through Joni Mitchell's Blue or Sam Phillips's Indescribable Wow in their entirety, for that very reason. Ultimately, the bottom line to me is this: Music lives and breathes.

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