Drunken Indian Part II: Negativland

North Fork Dry Diggins, California, Mid 1980s

Auburn California: the town where I went to high school, first kissed a girl, learned to drive a car, and kissed another girl, used to be called North Fork Dry Diggins. I mention it only as a device to tie this to part one of Drunken Indian, California.

Jeff Nixon lived in a pick-up truck camper in his parents’ backyard in Auburn. Jeff was a punk rocker, raised Seventh Day Adventist and handy with electronics. He had climbed a telephone pole to hook up his television to the cable TV line. In these confined quarters we would sit and watch the Playboy Channel while Jeff would fiddle with – wait for it – his homemade descrambler. Back in the ’80s, pay channels, particularly the naughty ones, were scrambled for non-subscribers. When the picture was scrambled it required all of my bird watching skills to catch a split second glance at a nipple or a butt crack.

When descrambling soft-core porn failed we would turn off the TV and turn on Jeff’s police scanner. We could listen to such gems as the neighbors having sex (baby monitor), a man nearby talking to his mistress (cell phone—we called them car phones in those days), and the quotidian police, fire and ambulance calls. Occasionally while listening to police radio a friend’s name would wake us out of our beer, marijuana and cough syrup induced stupor (if only I had something like drugs to blame my stupors on). “Did he just say ‘Earl Cooper?” (Name changed.)

Inevitably, one of our many under 21 acquaintances would call and ask Jeff if he wanted to drink some beers, which, loosely translated, meant, “Can you buy us beer?” The upshot of that request was that it got us out of the tiny camper. The down shot was that the callers were always dudes.

Jeff’s Plymouth Duster was held together by two bumper stickers: one that said “Negativland, No Other Possibility,” and another that said “Car Bomb.” Both stickers came as extras with a record called A Big 10-8 Place by Negativland.

Negativland is an experimental music band from Concord (nee Drunken Indian), California who, like Jeff, listen to and record sound from scanners and HAM radio among other nerdy electronics hobbyist pastimes.

I used to think “Negativland” was the band’s subtle dig at Concord and the suburbs in general, but like so many great things (Bernd and Hilla Bescher, Kraftwerk, Himmel und Äd) the name came from Dusseldorf: specifically from the song Negativland by the Krautrockers NEU!

Negativland gained international attention after their EP U2 was released and subsequently recalled. The tracks were constructed out of samples from the U2 song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and from a profane rant by beloved American Top 40 host Casey Kasem. Aside from being sued by Island Records founder and alleged vampire, Chris Blackwell, this resulted in a book by Negativland called Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2 and a documentary by Craig Balwin called Sonic Outlaws. The book is now used as a textbook in college courses concerned with the subject of Fair Use. Or it would be if I taught such a class.

One day a few years before he moved into the camper, Jeff came home to find his copy of A Big 10-8 Place destroyed and strewn about on his bed. There was an accompanying note from his dad to the effect that this was filth and as long as Jeff lived under his roof this crap would not be tolerated. Bummer too because I just saw that record for $190 on eBay.