A Disclaimer:These characters are the property of MTV, and the intellectual property of the creators of Daria. I appreciate their indulgence in letting me build a world around them. I am doing this for love, not money, so please do not get your panties in a twist about it. Thanks.
Spiraling Out of Control
On the road with the ultimate townies.
By Ruth Margolis, Rolling Stone Staff Reporter
Trent Lane, the lead singer for Mystik Spiral, is tuning his guitar. This wouldn't be so unusual, except that we are at a Truck Stop just outside of Tucson, Arizona. He seems oblivious to his surroundings, as he twangs the strings. The various patrons of the establishment are peering up at him from their hot roast beef sandwiches. They really don't know what to make of him. His sister Jane is waiting at the counter for her to-go order of pie. The rest of Mystik Spiral is in the parking lot, smoking and complaining. This is one of the most unlikely bands in America, and yet their popularity continues to grow.
Mystik Spiral, by their own account, have nearly broken up over one hundred times. Their conflicts are legendary. They have managed to argue about everything since I joined them on the road a week ago. Hotel rooms, radio stations, wardrobe, sound levels, restaurants, and the most entertaining argument, aerosol hair spray. They aren't fighting to gain power, they fight because they exist.
They are very diverse personalities, yet they manage to hold it together, as Jesse Moreno, rhythm guitar, says, "for the music, man." On the surface, they look like any other Doors cover band, playing a brew pub near you, the difference is…well, no one really knows for sure, but record executives all over Los Angeles are scratching their heads trying to figure it out. Mystik Spiral surfaced after years of pop chart domination by manufactured boy bands, and little girls with centerfold figures. Some say that it was the target demographic aging, others say that it was a return to a raw, basement sound. Mystik Spiral, well, they don't say much. They do however, rock and roll.
They broke onto the scene with their first hit, "Who the Hell are the Jones." It struck a chord with disaffected youth everywhere. It heralded the new, pared down lifestyle, embraced by Gen Zen'ers. Kids, who were thirteen when has-beens like Brittany Spears were gyrating at the top of the charts, woke up one day and realized that they wanted more than a Barbie Pink Jeep and a cell phone. These kids, rather than demanding their MTV, like their parents before them, demanded to be taken seriously. Mystik Spiral responded.
They had the matinee idol good looks, the rock and roll rebel affectation, and music that was "accessible." "Stupid is more like it," comments Jane Lane, the group's manager and self-proclaimed chief ass-kicker, "but you have to give them credit, they were prolific." That they were, their songs, one right after the other, hit the charts, placing them solidly in that group of bands that you never remember you like, until you see the Behind the Music on VH1. Their music sold. Their tours sold-out. "That's where the rubber meets the road in this profession, it's all about ducats." Jane observes.
So, it's here, after the release of their third album, "On the Edge of Eternity," that we find ourselves on the last leg of their North American tour. Ragged doesn't begin to describe them. "We go from bus, to hotel, to stadium, to hotel and back on the bus. I swear, one day I'm just going to have Greyhound tattooed on my ass." Moaned Trent, clearly tired of being on the road. "You don't have room, remember Mexico?" Said Jane, taking a dig at her brother. "No." He admitted. "Damn tequila."
The band is antsy, they are almost home, there's only Phoenix, San Francisco and the last shows in LA, then they can take a well-earned break. We roll into Phoenix, it is at least 116 degrees. Waves of heat emanate off of the pavement. Max Tyler, drums, is about to step onto the black top of the parking lot, barefoot. "Shoes, everyone!" Jane calls out. She's very detail oriented. She has to be.
I'm sitting in Jane's suite. The band is downstairs doing local press interviews. Jane begged off, explaining "I can't face another 'New Times' reporter. No offense." Her friend Daria has flown in from California, she'll be trailing the band for the rest of the tour. They are watching television and catching up. Jane had ordered cheese fries from room service, and they are doing their best to decimate the three plates, before the pizza arrives.
"So Jane, you're technically playing Tempe, so are the guys going to yell, 'Heelllloo Tempe!' or are you going for the more inclusive 'Heelloo Phoenix!"
"How about 'Heelllooo Valley of the Sun!' that certainly covers it."
They banter back and forth, like the childhood friends that they are. What strikes me is that they make merciless fun of the band, I get the impression that they don't take anything very seriously. There is a knock at the door, and assuming it's their pizza Daria answers with a twenty in her hand. It's Trent, and he's more than happy to see Daria. He sweeps her up in a big bear hug, while Daria directs his attention to me.
"Reporter." She says somewhat stricken.
He drops her like a hot potato. "Hey Daria, what's up?" Trent is trying to act casual, but there's something more there.
"Hey Daria, I've got something for you. In my room. Got a minute?" Trent was steering her out of the room.
Jane is laughing at her friend as the two go down the hall to Trent's room. "Yup, the gaff is well and truly blown. Hey, where are you going? Don't you want any pizza? Leave the twenty, I don't have any cash."
I am looking at a group of people who are dead, dog, tired. They are all leaning against one another after the show in the dressing room. Their cars are waiting to take them back to the hotel, but they don't have the energy to move. Nick Campbell, Mystik Spiral's bassist, is smoking a clove cigarette. The thick smoke is giving Trent a cough. "Nick man, could you like take that outside?"
Jane is looking around for personal effects, she has been trying to get them out the door and back to the hotel for nearly an hour, but they just won't budge. "Jesus Nick, it smells like you're smoking a ham in here."
"A ham would be hard to roll." Jesse observes. Everyone looks at him for a second, before bursting out in laughter. You can never be sure with Jesse if it's a joke, or if he's serious. Still waters may run deep, but Jesse is just thick.
Finally, everyone collects themselves enough to make it out to the limousines. They all look like kids after a birthday party, crashed out asleep against each other. "Hey Daria," Jane nudges her friend, "Good thing you guys hooked up before the gig, huh."
"Die Lane." Daria gives her a cutting look.
"Huh?" Trent looks around blearily.
"Not you. Go back to sleep." She turns her attention to me. "If you make me look like some airhead, bimbo, I will come after you." She wasn't smiling. Let me state for the record that Daria Morgendorffer is a bright, intelligent young woman, who is utterly charming and delightful.
The next morning, after a quick stop at Starbucks, we were on our way to San Francisco. One thing you should know about going to Starbucks with a rock and roll band: double caff. We spent the next ten hours careening through the desert up to San Francisco. The band was playing video tapes on the way up, and predictably, there were arguments about which tapes to watch. In the end, it was decided that they would watch Animal House, this is apparently a daily viewing. Daria, Jane and I hung out in the back of the bus.
We talked about Lawndale, a suburb somewhere…well, I never did find out exactly where it was. Apparently Lawndale is the ultimate in bland utilitarianism. According to Daria and Jane, if they weren't bored out of their minds, they were asleep. That could be one explanation for Mystik Spiral's popularity, they have no regional affiliation, they simply are the product of Anytown, USA. More and more, our nation's cities are becoming one big amalgam. The same stores, shops and Starbucks on every corner. There is no more regional differentiation, with the one exception of what one calls carbonated sugar water. For the record, Lawndaleites call it 'soda.'
The group was jazzed about being back in California, if they weren't so tired and homesick, they would have been thrilled to be back in San Francisco. Jane attended UC Santa Cruz for three years, Daria graduated from UC Berkeley, and the guys played every dump and dive within a 50-mile radius in their salad days. As it was, they all just wanted to get to the hotel.
Later that night, we were at a very exclusive restaurant, across the street from Fairmont. The Big Four is a plush and stodgy place, filled with ancient specimens, quietly sipping soup and an oaky Chardonnay. We are clearly out of place here, yet the staff knows us. The bartender seemed delighted that we were here and began making everyone's favorite drinks. He offered me a Kir Royale, made with Piper-Sonoma sparkling wine. Very astute. "I went to school with most of these guys." Daria explained. "We used to come in through the kitchen, hang and chat. Now we pay our own way and tip outrageously."
"It's a very good policy." our waiter Michael explains. "How are you doing love?" He asks Daria, giving her an affectionate peck on the cheek. "This lug, still treating you well?" He's indicating Trent, who is embarrassed.
"Ix-nay, eporter-ray." Daria says, indicating me.
"Right, big secret. I'll be back with soup." He flounced into the kitchen. We never did get menus. We did, however, get one amazing meal. I was impressed with everyone's table manners. I've been on the road with a lot of bands, I have never been with one that could hold their own in a four star restaurant. Even Jesse, who looks like he'd be more at home tearing into the leg of a mastodon, knew which fork to use for salad.
We sat for a while, drinking demitasse, eating chocolate deserts so decadent that I could swear I was in pre-war Berlin. After dinner we walked back across the street to the hotel. We paused for a moment while Jane put her money in the washer in the lobby. "Hey, how often do I get a chance to clean my money?"
It is a typical cold, drizzly summer day in San Francisco. We are at the stadium, for a sound check. Jane is running around, in her 'intimidation boots' making sure that everything is set up for tonight. The show is sold out. The guys did an early morning interview on radio, so they are all nodding off from lack of sleep. Jane wants to get it set up, and get back to the hotel, so that they can rest before the show. Daria is scribbling something in a notebook.
Later in the day finds me in Nick's room. He's sorting through his things, trying to decide what to wear for the show. I ask him about the Band, he seems more mature than the rest of them, yet, he's the most volatile.
"God-damn, son of a bitch, cock sucking bastards! Where are my jeans?" He's throwing laundry all over the room in search of a particular pair of faded, black denim pants, with a hole torn out of the knee. Three pairs of faded, black denim pants come sailing across the bed. Finally he gets the pair he wants, and changes into them. For those who are curious, boxers.
Once dressed he is ready to talk. "I started with Mystik Spiral mostly because I was stranded in Lawndale by the conditions of my probation. I needed to play, and while at the time, these guys were as raw as cookie dough, they at least were working on original stuff. I mean, how many Grateful Dead tribute bands can there be? So we started to play together. It was rough at first, actually it still is. I like heavy, Led Zepplin-type riffs, but these guys are more grunge/angst/shopping mall than I am. So we have our moments." Yes, moments like the time Nick tried to break his bass on Max's drums at an Albuquerque show. Something about the drums throwing off the beat. "Yeah, I have a temper. I don't know what they tell you at your meetings, but caffeine and sugar are really bad substitutes for barbiturates. You know, except for alcohol and an occasional toke, these guys are clean. I mean, they checked me into rehab. That was ugly, 28 days of jonesing and the friends of Bill W. I'm not saying it didn't save my life, but I've never been a joiner, so it's hard for me to accept that I've got to make a meeting to keep my life together. Speaking of which, I've gotta get a move on here. Wanna come? It's open." I decline, since I promised to meet with Trent and Daria before dinner. That and I've never been a fan of folding chairs and cigarette smoke.
Trent is looking thoughtful. As usual, he is holding a guitar. I've noticed that he's got a guitar in his hands most of the time. I don't think it has anything to do with the creative process either. More like his weapon. Daria is looking uncomfortable. She has already made a mental note of where the exits are. I caught her scoping out the drop from the window. This is one chick that is not ready to be outed. Yet, that's what we're here to do.
"You know, it's no big deal. So we're together. We've been together for years." Trent starts, strumming a bit, the words come out in a cadence.
"Right, no big deal for you. You want to be in show business."
"I think you're making too much of this." The tune becomes more strident, the chords he plays are in the minor key, underscoring the conversation with a feeling of tumult.
"Maybe you're right." She capitulates, even going so far as to display the smallest bit of affection on her part, by putting her hand on his knee. Trent's playing changes, becomes more open, lighter, happy almost. "Besides, my parents don't read Rolling Stone anymore. No offence."
"Your parents know." Trent tells her, to her evident surprise.
"What do you mean? How do you know?" Daria looks shaken.
"Your Dad used to give me money, and your Mom threatened me with bodily harm if you got pregnant before you graduated. So now can we see them at Christmas?" Trent asked.
"Oh shit. Christmas, that would be such a treat." Daria grabs her head, clearly nursing a blinding headache. "Okay, but only if Jane comes too, I need a buffer." She left to find aspirin, and to lie down.
It's hard to draw Trent out, mostly because he feels that anything he has to say, he says through his music. "I used to daydream about it all the time in school. When I met Jesse in summer school, we both agreed that we would make it happen. It never occurred to me that we wouldn't play together. When we got Max and Nick to come on board, I knew that it was a good combination. Sure, the fights can be a drag, but it lends intensity to our music." I point out that intensity has led to calls to the police and destruction of private property. "Well, maybe the guys take it too far sometimes, but we got some cool pictures out of it." He is of course, talking about the famous picture. The one of Nick, pinning Max to the stage with the neck of his bass. The knee in the chest was considered by all to have been slightly overboard. Luckily, no one pressed charges, and they went on to sell out their first tour, based on the 'reality' of that photo.
I manage to corner Jesse alone at breakfast the next morning. He's got three plates in front of him, taking bites out of everything in rotation, in an obsessive-compulsive manner. I ask him how he feels about the success of the band. "Cool." Is the response. I try to draw him out about how his life has been affected by the amazing success of the band. "Cool." How does he feel about being named one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people? "Cool." As he finishes his breakfast, I'm hoping that he'll open up, tell me what he's thinking, unburden his mind. He does, "Hey, are you going to finish that?" And with that, I give him the rest of my eggs.
Back on the bus, we are only three hours away from rolling back into town, back home. Everyone's gear is packed up, not just stowed into the nooks and crannies of the bus. There is a quiet that has descended on the group. Jane and Daria have their heads together, discussing some family issues. Trent is holding the guitar, but he's not playing it. The video is on, but the volume is down and no one is really watching it. The flat landscape of interstate 5 blows by us. Scrubby bushes, oil wells, irrigated fields and the occasional wide spot in the road where there is a gas station and some fast food restaurants. Max and I are talking quietly in the back of the bus.
"So, where do you suppose these people live?" Max asks.
"You know, the people who work in the gas stations and Taco Bell's in places like this. Button Willow. Who's from Button Willow? Is there a high school here? Is there some kind of industry, besides burger flipping? Where do they buy their clothes? Groceries?" He stares moodily out the window, contemplating what to him appears to be a very desperate life.
"Maybe there's a town around here, we just can't see it." I offer.
He looks at me. This is some of the world's flattest landscape, and visibility must be 50 miles in all directions, there is only landscape and more landscape. I shrug. He has a point.
Once we get to Los Angeles, everyone gathers up their belongings, and begins to head back to their homes. Homes they haven't seen in nearly three months. There is a weariness that goes to the bone. Jane reminds everyone that they need to be at sound-check the following day at three in the afternoon. It is obvious that the last show, is going to be the hardest, because they will have to leave the house to get to it. "Don't make me get medieval on your ass, just be there!" It is how she does business, an iron fist, but no velvet glove. Just boot planted firmly on ass. As the cars head out, almost in a caravan towards the canyons, I have to think about how this band…no this family, has managed to capture the zeitgeist of their times. How did four guys from a typical suburb, distill the essence of suburban surrender, and yet, write a love letter to that experience. Either they aren't as dumb as they look, or we have to ignore the man behind the curtain.