Thoughts On The Passing Of John Napier

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, November 12, 2012 11:03am | Post a Comment
I know many people will be writing about John Napier, who passed away last week. So here are my thoughts. This is not a biography, just thoughts about the times we spent together on earth and the thanks I never got to say to him in person. To read a more thorough account of the greatness (and flaws) of John Napier through the eyes of Carla Bozulich, go here

I met John in 1991.He was in a group called Ethyl Meatplow, together with Carla Bozulich and Harold Barefoot Sanders III (AKA Biff) Ethyl Meatplow was fun and disturbing at the same time. They were an electro-queer-pop-industrial group with occasional nudity and urine flow. It was nothing that Los Angeles had seen before or since. Ethyl Meatplow was a band for several years before I got to know them and  were ready to break out nationally. I had a band that would often play on the same bills as them. John especially liked my band and helped us get gigs and convinced people to release our records.

John was a strange cat, but in a good way.If you were friends with John, you often had to endure long phone conversations with the first fifteen minutes of him speaking in an Elmo-like voice with Tourette's Syndrome. Once in awhile a body part that usually covered would suddenly be exposed, as he’d be laughing in a high-pitched child’s laugh. Normally I’d find that kind of behavior intolerable, but from John, it was endearing. It meant he was comfortable with you. That’s one way he showed he loved you.

Another way he’s shared his love was through music. If he knew you had the same thirst for music that he did, he would stop at nothing to share his vast musical taste with you. It meant a lot to me, being just as thirsty as John for new music in the days before the internet, He introduced me to Can, Neu, Stereolab, The Flesheaters, Sun Ra and countless other artists. He forced me to listen to Pet Sounds from The Beach Boys because I told him I hated The Beach Boys. He made me a fan.

The best thing that John did for me was giving me my first push out the door into making music not just a hobby, but also a career. At a time when my band broke up, I lost my job and my then girlfriend moved away, he offered me a job going on the road with them. I was hesitant at first, because I felt so tied down to Los Angeles. He reminded me that I didn’t have anything to tie me down, so why not? I didn’t realize how green I was until I went on that tour. It was the first time I traveled past the Northwest. It was the first time I really felt cold weather and the endless hours of driving and doing nothing while waiting for the band to play.

Ethyl Meatplow was popular in gay communities across the U.S. I got a crash course in gay culture across the U.S., something I wish all people could experience. It changed my thought process about gays in general. It’s when I started to correlate the similarities between race, gender and sexuality. I remember the best shows were in places like Wichita, Kansas and Little Rock, Arkansas, which had strong, close-knit gay communities. It was something the big cities could learn from.

The second half of the tour was opening for Front 242. It was an exhausting schedule that started to wear us all down. Front 242 road crew were a bunch of road professionals that were used to working with groups like Van Halen and The Backstreet Boys, Front 242's crew gave me so much crap at the beginning of the tour. They had one rule were I had to breakdown Meatplow’s gear, have it out of the venue and in our van in fifteen minutes after the band finished their set or they would dock the band’s pay 100 dollars for every minute I was over. I remember asking John for help breaking down the gear and he refused, because, “This is what we’re paying you for!”  It was a lesson that in business, if a friend hires you for a job, you are still their employee, no matter how close you are. I never forgot that. After a few days I got breaking down the gear to a science and Front 242’s crew never gave me grief about that again.

After the tour, Carla got me a job, playing bass for Beck. That same year, John started a record label with his then girlfriend Melanie called Basura, which was distributed by Priority Records. Priority was making tons of momey from their Hip=Hop releases and was probably looking for the next Nirvana, Instead, John gave them Foreskin 500, Congo Norvell (With Kid Congo Powers) Bakamono and Timco. As we used to say, "just send the bill to Ice Cube." During the time I was on tour with Beck and John was running the label, we recorded an album together under the moniker Buccinator, along with my friends Evan and Amery “AWOL” Smith, who used to play with Suicidal Tendencies and The Beastie Boys. Our album, The Great Painter Raphael, didn't set the world on fire but we got to do short tour in the beginning of 1995. It was the most fun I had on any tour. It’s said that the best way to start a band is with your friends, because if the band doesn’t work, you still have friends. That is why the tour was fun. Playing was icing on the cake. It was more like a vacation with several of your buddies.

To be honest, I haven’t been that close to John in recent years. We were friends on the dreaded Facebook and I kept up with his recent developments. He kept up on any new that I did. He gave me a ‘like” when I posted about completing a ten mile run a few weeks ago. I congratulated him when he graduated college. It now occurs to me how odd and sad that is, that the only communication people we were once very close with is “liking” each other’s accomplishments; finished required courses to become a counselor? “Like” Opened up a store? “Like” I didn’t even know he had moved back to Los Angeles until I heard of his death.

Since 1993, I have worked with music in some fashion of another. I worked in record stores, record labels, road crew, musician, deejay and writer. Going on twenty years, I’ve never had a boring corporate job and I’ve mostly loved going to work. Recently I helped open a new spot called Espacio 1839, which is a retail store, an internet radio station and an art gallery all in one space in Boyle Heights.

I think John would have dug Espacio 1839. It is right up his alley, and I have him to thank for it.

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