The Church

January 2nd 1998
I had to go to Los Angeles from San Francisco where I lived when The Church was recording Starfish, I needed to talk to Enigma about doing a video for Game Theory (I got the video made, too - it was Ericaís Word). I was going to be there during the Harmonic Convergence, and there I was, on my way to go hang out with the empyrean Steve Kilbey at this most supremely cosmic time in the history of the universe. After I had finished up business with Enigma, Steve told me to come on over for a visit (Iím convinced that he really invited me over so that I would score them some pot, which I didnít do).

I showed up and Steve and Richard (who were roommates during the Starfish sessions) were sitting there watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and I donít mean it was on, I mean they were glued. Finally the show was over and - can you believe it? It came right back on again. Back to back episodes of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". Again they were glued. So what is a little rock and roll girl do? You sit down and eagerly watch "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" is what you do.

Anyway, when Robin Leach finally released his many-legged grasp of my pop hero and Steve began to pay attention to me; he played me the chords for Centaur, and sang the chorus which had lyrics. I thought the song was marvelous. Years later when Steve suggested we do a second record after Hex went double-platinum, I asked if we could do the one he played me way back when they were recording Starfish. Together we wrote lyrics to it, and Centaur came to life.

Other Starfish facts of minor interest; the Church stayed at the Oakwood Corporate Apartments on Sepulveda, Steve swam in his fatherís swim trunks, they offered their guests herbal tea (no beer, coffee, or even real tea, Steve is allergic to tea); Richard was on a first name basis with the water-pipe seller at Venice beach; Steve meditated every day, lying on his back; the band referred to each other as ďdonkeysĒ; and the line "in this city" [North South East West] started out as ďin this businessĒ.

Continued on Jan 3rd after I said I couldn't picture Steve being fixated to a show like that.
I never saw him watch that or much of anything else on TV again though. Maybe he and Richard were uncomfortable with me, but what can I say? It's the gospel truth, I watched two full episodes of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" with those two guys.

Oh, "the pursuit of adulation is your butter and your bread" line from Lost wasn't in the song demos I heard either. Steve and I talked a lot about fame and money during my Harmonic Convergence visit. I unashamedly advocated seeking both, Steve said that he was a purist and was only in it for the creative fulfillment that music provides. We debated the stardom point hotly, Steve insisted that it was unimportant how much acclaim or riches are garnered in the process of creating great art. Now that he's - as my daughter says when she encounters pathos - a sad, sad baby - having lived at the apex and liked it and lost it, he might accede the point.

Here's the Starfish story I've been holding out. After many such conversations, Steve wrote me a postcard saying that he hoped that I would soon be a star, or at least a starfish. Thereafter, during that period of time, when I wrote to him, I would sign my name as Starfish. Naturally, I was astonished to see that the title of the record was Starfish. Steve covered himself though, so as not to get in trouble if these postcards popped up, by adding that vinyl note about droogs and the Starfish is Ploog. I've been a musician long enough to know that the Starfish very well could have also been Ploog. But it was me first.

Robert Lurie asks : Since you were there in the thick of the GAF era, maybe you could answer the question that's been burning in the minds of Seancers for so long: just what exactly happened to Richard?

I think Richard was at the center of a lot of unfortunate circumstances during the recording of Gold Afternoon Fix.

1. The least sophisticated circumstance which probably had the most impact on Richard was the gadget mania that Steve and Waddy had in common. Richard couldnít get too excited about programmed drums, he wasnít interested in them and probably wouldnít have been allowed the opportunity to do anything so fundamental as program drum parts anyway. Not that this penchant for gadgetry is anything new for The Church, in fact the clever use of new musical technology and the totally unique sounds that are made available to the human ear for the first time on Church records has always had a great appeal to me. All this Science and Technology was boring to Richard, I think. And it made him feel despondent and useless to be passed up in favor of a computer.

2. So here are the guys at a critical stage of their careers, recording the music that could catapult them to superstardom or doom them to one-hit-wonder status. Everybody they know is telling them how to do this record. They have already had trouble deciding on a producer, and each producer they talk to has his own (sometimes deflating) commentary. Everybody is very tense. Steve tries to behave like this is just another record, using the same songwriting and arrangement techniques as always, but Richard sits off in the corner brooding. Steve, who was concerned about Richard and values his contribution would attempt to involve him in some way, but Richard would generally mutter something like yeah, or whatever you want, and just generally sadden and confuse everyone until they would find some other (i.e. mechanical) way to manufacture the input that Richard was withholding. (This is all according to Steve.)

3. The guys all hated L.A. and really didnít want to do the record there. The recording took a long long time and really didnít need to be recorded in L.A. (but the side benefit of recording in L.A. is that the record company likes to watch the work develop, and the record gets promoted better.) The apartment complex was noisy and kind of sleazy (not that sleazy, just Hollywood - note - one of our neighbors was Val Kilmer who played Jim Morrison in The Doors movie - the treatment for the script was delivered to our apartment accidentally and I peeped at it and then took it over to his apartment).

4. There was a lot of cocaine floating around, (though Steve did not partake) and that was not Richardís noseful of tea (Richard prefers green tea, if you follow my meaning) and he found his green solace elsewhere, for all of this and for all of the other things he was upset about, he needed a lot of solace and he comforted himself every chance he got until he was quite consoled and quite incapable of keeping anything even close to the kind of meter that the boys had become accustomed to with the steady unshakable quartz technology that was never bummed or self-indulgent, and always accommodating, obedient, peppy and alert.

5. A subtle thing happens among close-knit groups and families that I think might have been working here. I think that all the tension and difficulties were hard for everyone in the group, but that Richard sort of took on the job of crumbling at the verge of great success. One person is going to crumble more than the rest, just like one member of the groupís name will come last in alphabetical order. Thus, he became the Identified Patient and was further ostracized, a devastating blow to Richard, one of the most social creatures I have ever encountered.

So, thatís what I think. I always liked Richard. He was a hot dogger on the music business moguls, but he crashed and burned. Itís too bad, he was one thrilling drummer live in those early days.

Kevyn Marshall asks : What's the story with the song co-written by her and Karin Jansson that appears on Remindlessness as 'Excerpt from Charlotte Bay Pde' ? Why is it 'Excerpt from', was there a longer version of the song ?

Ah, the Charlotte Bay Parade riddle. All I will say is that the truth is one of the following three scenarios:

1. Steve actually wrote the song (and this is all there is of it - according to him - but it seemed too short so he called it an excerpt) and credited Karin and me just to cause people to wonder about this little scrap of song, and to piss us both off.

2. Steve and Karin invited me to Australia for a visit; she and I wrote the song together while sitting on their couch, just the best of friends. Steve didn't like any of the other parts of the song, so he just used the chorus.

3. Steve had been reading (or maybe it was a tv show) about Merce Cunningham and Philip Glass and their technique of creating art from random and disparate sources. Having found by playing the Dadaist game "Exquisite Corpse" that this creative method was a surprisingly fertile one, he wanted to try the Glass/Cunningham technique. As an experiment he asked a few of his friends to send in scraps of song or lyric. I sent the guitar progression, Karin did the words, none of the other bits worked. so he tossed them just called it an excerpt as a kind of nod to the other pieces and the method of writing which, apparently was not as successful as he had hoped.

Well! I can't just ruin the mystery now can I? I'm a writer for heaven's sake, I'm supposed to be a good liar!

Back to In The Net