From Bands that Didn’t Matter: Music from the Margins, by Luther Silver. Magic Coda Press, 2003.
Take, for instance, Beckett’s Crib. A typical foursome from the Minneapolis club scene, circa 1999. Overall, in the great freewheeling orgy that is the history of rock ‘n roll, Beckett’s Crib probably rates as no more than a not-too-sloppy French kiss. But their minor status and their devotional fans make them, in another sense, the perfect rock icon. Musically adequate, promotionally gifted, and fronted by the enigmatic yet charisma-laden Ash, they were rebels from a cookie cutter mold right down to their bizarre, rock-legend-worthy demise. Four years ago, with the millennium looming, Ash disappeared and was soon linked with the death of a former female acquaintance/lover. This mystery, which remains unsolved, has only added to the allure that allowed Beckett’s Crib to flirt with mega-stardom for all their short existence. But, of course, their failure to go Top 40 only lent them permanent indie credibility and a devoted following that has kept their two slight LP’s in continual print by Crunch Records, a small label wholly owned by Sony, incidentally proving that capitalism’s forte is the ability to turn anything, from starry idealism to cold cynicism, into a profitable venture.
From The Weekly City (A Minneapolis Arts and Music Weekly Paper) Aug 15, 1998.
Beckett’s Crib has a chance, in aftermath of the Twistees implosion, to take the Twin Cities rock’n’roll scene, slip it in their hip pocket, and give it a righteous down-home shimmy-shake. They’ve already got the coveted third opening slot for Bob Mould at First Avenue, local radio airplay, decent sales of a locally produced LP, and a pack of bloodhound-nosed label execs on their trail waiting to take them nationwide. And while this rag-tag outfit may look like just another cabal of slickly packaged do-it-yourself hipsters, their cagey allusions to minor historical events and pseudo ironic rap sessions led by their nominal leader, known only as Ash, indicate that Beckett’s Crib is either the cutting edge of what might be termed folk grunge, or the most elaborately conceived rock hoax since the Monkees. Find out for yourself at Ground Zero this Friday Night.
Diana Kurchuk, sister of deceased. Statement to Police:
Of course I knew Ash. And it’s not like the rest of the world says, that he was crazy with that, you know, crazy genius. Like some people say. Whatever genius means, I mean. He wasn’t. A genius. We hung out together when he was seeing my sister. Before he killed her.
He was quite charming. He could have gotten into my pants; he came close once, but backed off at the last second. I’d have let him; he could talk anybody into anything, like you were his best friend... He was lots of fun. And, like, I forget? That people like him have great special bonds with people wherever they go, so how special am I? Or whatever. He was cool. And demented. Attractive, of course. Hyperactive. Bi-polar. And my sister said that in the sack he was, well...clever, without being gimmicky. He made you think, and people are attracted to that. Cornball, huh? Whatever.
From Ash’s Journal:
The urges of the twentieth century are all converging on really loud noises. Rock concerts, fireworks shows, guided missile strikes. The rush is on to define what the twentieth century was all about. Silly mortals. We’ll just look back and find some way to say that this was the most innocent time of all. Like when the seventies came back, people said they were longing for simpler times. Ha. Watergate, recession, Iranian hostages: simple as pie. Well, why not the bring back the eighties? Billy Ocean. The Cars. Why not bring back the early nineties? Or last week? If the future’s going to be even more complicated, let’s start a revival of the now.
Doug Stilton, bassist for Beckett’s Crib. From an unpublished memoir:
When we first met Roxanne she looked very geometric. She wore this padded suit jacket and straight skirt, so she was all angles and tangents, ovals and triangles and small square buttons. And we were all in jeans and sleep-soaked T-shirts and to us she was just some chick with an art history degree stuffed into a suit and sent out by a record label to scout for talent. We looked at each other and then at her and wondered why we got sent a second stringer. A newbie.
She’d been out to hear us play the night before and now she was at the hotel to take us to a swishy coffee house where the plan was to lounge around and shmooze and maybe get high later. Ash held out her chair as she sat, complimented her lipstick, then said something nice about her skin tone. He was a freak about stuff like that. He lit her cigarette, American Spirit, a trendily sexy brand to fit her trendy sexiness. As she sat her geometry decayed; breaks and pleats appeared as if from nowhere, settled into a lap and knees.
“So you want to record an album,” she said.
“We’ve gotten good reviews,” Chip said.
“I saw The Weekly City called you the best rock and roll hoax since the Monkees.”
I said, “What about Spinal Tap? Better than them?”
Ash said, “The Sex Pistols were better than the Monkees. And fake as Columbo’s glass eye.”
“That’s a real glass eye,” Chip said. We were on a roll, intoxicated with our cleverness, a bunch of hard-ons for this deal she may or may not have been offering.
Roxanne reached toward an ashtray, revealing the lacy top of her undershirt and a smooth roll of breast. “The record is inconclusive on the Sex Pistols,” she said coolly. She was trying hard to be a razor sharp professional at the moment, but you could tell that she had a wild streak, that at some point in the recent past she’d been on, say, a mechanical bull, that she carried a diaphragm in her purse, that her apartment smelled like someone spilled a bottle of imposter fragrance in a locker room. She kept directing questions to Ash, touching his hand. He had her, the bastard.
“Your name,” she said. “Beckett’s Crib.”
Ash: “Right. Herbert Hoover’s summer retreat.”
“Also,” she said, “The site of a Civil War skirmish?”
Ash again: “That turned into a Native American massacre.”
“I looked it up. Or tried to.”
“It’s very poorly documented.”
“If at all. But we don’t care about your sense of history.”
Ash: “It’s our sense of destiny, right?” She gave him a cool, helpless gaze and lit another cigarette.
Chip Flexner, keyboardist for Beckett’s Crib, from an interview for Pop Soup, a Twin Cities music magazine:
Interviewer: Can you tell us about Ash?
I: Why not?
F: He was unknowable. In the end.
I: That sounds like a self-serving cop-out, if you don’t mind my saying so.
F: True. But then again, I copped out. Quit the music biz. I work in an office now, delivering mail.
I: You’re an office manager, right?
F: Sure. But mostly it’s make sure the mail gets delivered.
I: Start somewhere and just talk, then.
F: Start somewhere?
I: Like, with his name.
F: Well, Ash wasn’t his real name, of course. He was born Erik Henderson, a name he thought was too plain, so he changed it every time he started a new band. He was in six or seven bands before he got so well known he couldn’t change his name any more. Funny how that works.
I: How’s that?
F: He said once he was so famous he couldn’t rename himself any more. That he might as well have not picked a name, since he’d now lost the freedom to choose anyway. But he’d been known as Razor, Stunt, Pearl, and Turbine. Names with edges, that implied danger, but none of them caught on. When he finally stopped caring, he tagged himself Ash, grouped together rejects from his past bands and suddenly there we were, in the upper ranks of club bands and being asked to headline weeknight shows and open for weekend acts at the Fine Line and First Avenue.
I: It was all pretty quick?
F: Yeah. We cut an album in about three weeks. Then there was airplay, bigger shows. Invitations.
I: How did Ash handle it?
F: Well. I don’t suppose he handled it well, did he? It was around this time he started saying he wanted to kill someone. He said he wanted to know what it felt like to take a life. A snuff urge. He said that with all the people on the planet now—more than had ever been alive since the dawn of time, really—life wasn’t precious any more. The sanctity of life was an antiquated notion. According to the new Ash ethos, killing or dying sensationally was the only political statement the average person could make any more.
I: But no one took these signs seriously?
F: Nah. I mean, we were all crazy. Doug wanted to start dating Winona Ryder. Got in touch with her agent. Sent her flowers. Our drummer Tuchman swam naked in every hotel pool he could find. Used to piss in the ice machines. That’s how the road rots your brain. We spent huge chunks of time in buses and hotel rooms in complete disconnect from the real world, and we each became, you know. Smothered by our own heads. And Ash just started to think the end was coming. Of the world, maybe, of himself possibly. Of Beckett’s Crib, absolutely.
Review of “Spinners Heart” LP, the Weekly City.
There it is; you can hear it in the thrumming impulse of the bassline beating like a second heart, the plaintive adolescent insistence that the world just isn’t fair and what’re you going to do about it, bub? The same urge given voice all those years ago when you knocked the soup ladle against the four-quart saucepan and marched through the living room. Me, me, me, this album says, and though it was never a question, you answer: Yes, me. Then there’s that moment on the first track when Ash mutters into the microphone something along the lines of “Ah, here it comes,” and he says it in such a way that you turn around to see what it was he saw. You’re connected through nothing more than the sheer force of his all-encompassing will, and the song takes you down a rough road and you hope against hope, against your own best judgement, that the ride will smooth out soon.
“America’s Worst Fugitives” Transcript, Original broadcast date: Sept 9, 2001.
He was a creature of the night, the charismatic frontman for a popular Minneapolis club band. But there was more to the man than his music. In his secret heart, he was a crazed stalker terrorizing his ex-girlfriends. A man with a thirst for blood, haunted by apocalyptic visions. Tonight, we reveal the secrets behind this musical maniac and ask for your help in bringing him to justice.
Roxanne’s fling with Ash lasted a few weeks, and when it ended her wild streak showed itself. She stopped wearing her geometric suits and started bringing drugs to the shows. She wouldn’t tell us what the label had planned for the band, because she’d pretty much quit her job to hang with us, though Ash wouldn’t touch her any more. But they seemed to get along, which makes me wonder why everyone thought Ash had something to do with her disappearance. I mean, she knew a lot of men, and had bad judgement. What did she think would happen?
Hell, one night she slipped into bed with me. Just crawled in as I was nearing sleep, this big, soft, naked girl smelling of that cheap perfume and fruity umbrella drinks. She curled up next to me, put her tongue in my ear, brushed the tips of her doughy breasts against my chest, and with the rest of the band sleeping or passed out we coupled, quietly rutting, then lay still. I heard a song in my head, wondered what it was, then realized it was the bridge to a song we’d been working on, "Trashing Sodom," come to me on its own.
“This won’t make him jealous,” I said.
“No,” she said. “But I couldn’t sleep.”
In the morning she was on the floor, curled up in one of the comforters, one smooth ass cheek exposed and glowing in the morning light. I wanted to talk to her, maybe in the shower, but before I could wake her up I saw Ash. He was standing near the television cabinet, skinny and pale and I could tell he hadn’t been sleeping when she and I were doing it, but it was like I said, he didn’t care. “The label sacked her ass three weeks ago,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “They don’t like it when you sleep with the talent.”
“It wasn’t that,” he said. “They don’t care who you fuck. It was she stopped believing money was the end of what we could bring to the world.” He pushed aside a naked, anonymous leg on the other bed and sat down to light a cigarette.
On the floor, Roxanne moaned and shifted. “Do you like her?” Ash said. I didn’t answer. I was waiting for him to tell me. He shook his head, said, “No, you don’t. You want to save her, even as you know she doesn’t want to be saved.” I still didn’t answer. He went on for a few more sentences, one of his mini-rants like when he was on stage. He explained some stuff about my wanting to make her want salvation with me, then some things about martyrdom, and then he shrugged and let it go, rubbed at his face. He said, “God I’m beat. Can’t sleep any more. I feel like the shrink-wrap for our albums. Just something to cover the product long enough to get it bought and sold and then you throw it away.”
I said, “I think I worked out that bridge,” I said. “To 'Trashing Sodom.'”
“It was A minor, right?” said Ash. I shook my head, said there needed to be a sus4. He didn’t get it, but I promised he would when he heard it. That was a thing about Ash. He didn’t understand music as music; that you could work it out like a math problem. He only understood music as a refuge and escape, as a tool against the prison we were in, one that he’d been hacking with so long it was dull and chipped and no good for anything, but still the only tool you had.
Sometimes I hate them all. Everyone who walks through the door to hear us play. They could have so much more, and they settle for us. They stand there shoulder to shoulder, an infinite potential for violence in their shaking and hopping and dancing and shoving. All the urban hayseeds who collect tattoos and body piercings with the same sense of pride Mom has when she picks up a new Precious Moment figurine. The whole world going stale as fast as bread. The chase and catch of fame and followers. And you realize this isn’t the millennium approaching; it’s a benchmark of our own weakness and folly, that living in the nineties has given us a collective inferiority complex. Our shouting and noisemaking an effort to be heard by generations to come, who will look down on us, who lived in the shadow of their century’s glory. What can the future have to offer except more history? I’m sick of thinking. I’m going to stop thinking. No good can come of it.
I: And when he disappeared?
F: He disappeared two days after Roxanne did, slipping off into the night. I was with him at the club the night she disappeared, and then soon enough he was gone too. No one heard a word from either of them and then her body was found in the trunk of a car at the Mall of America. I know it wasn’t Ash who did it. Not because I was the alibi, but because of where they found the body. Car trunks would never have been his style. Plus, he was interested in a cool, anonymous killing. A cold, intellectual murder of the type that could never actually take place. A platonic conception of one man taking another’s life, without all the mess of plot and motive and physical interaction that can go horribly, horribly wrong. He knew her. Liked her. He was an artist, not an actor.
I: So you think you know him that well, unknowable as you claim him to be?
F: Well done. Bravo. Let me tell you what I told the police: he would’ve been more careful. He would’ve put the body someplace more clever, or he would have hidden it so no one would ever find it. Ash was an artist, a man who couldn’t open his mouth or take a piss without it being a statement of some kind. A car trunk? Strangulation? Way too proletarian for Ash’s taste. No way. Ash isn’t the man you’re looking for.
I know he did it.
From Bands that Didn’t Matter: Music on the Margins.
Bands like Beckett’s Crib existed, in the end, to be destroyed. They weren’t built to last; they were built, like fireworks, to be destroyed in the most spectacular way possible. Their transience was part of the appeal. Catch them now. They existed so that when they stopped there is a history: A beginning, a middle, an end. So that their work when viewed in hindsight is clearly arced, like the contrail of a jet as it returns from the Orient. And you, from the safety of your elder years, over lunch with your cubemates in a sidewalk café, can recount the shows you went to and women you were with. If the impulse behind all art is the denial of death, then only the death of the artist can make art permanent; it is only then that we can see what they meant to us, and what they meant to tell us.
Ash’s Journal, Final Entry:
Afterwards: The water was black as oil and shimmered with a taut, cool stillness. Rings spread from where fish flipped at insects skimming the surface, radiated, were consumed by minor wavelets of other fishes’ snappings. The rings interested him for sporadic, unconnected moments, were hypnotic in their origin – the splash of tail breaking surface, the small-scale violence subsiding under the pull of gravity and surface tension – this micro-cataclysm and its calm, circular effects. Then his mind wandered, went nowhere, until the next slapping plop. It seemed, after some time, that the appropriate thing to do was lie down in a stretch of clean sand just above the dampness skirting the waterline. The sand compacted, shifted, cracked as it accommodated his form. The sky was grey, and there were neither stars nor the telltale ragged tear marks that usually, in the night, marked the edges of the undersides of clouds. For a second it seemed he was looking down into a void; he felt as if he might fall and his whole body jerked in a pre-sleep spasm. Suddenly he remembered where he was. A cold wind began to blow. Or so it seemed.
Michael Ramberg grew up in Minnesota, where he also went to college. He spent many years as the network administrator of a Minneapolis law firm, but now teaches English in Mokpo, South Korea. His work has appeared in Rosebud, Bellowing Ark, and Whistling Shade. More information, and other stories, can be found on his website, http://www.grebmar.net.