Earthwise history of ska in Palo Alto

Inspired by Aaron Carnes’ reading and signing at Streetlight Records Saturday, I wrote this short memoir of my experience doing ska shows here, mostly in the late 1990s, mostly at Cubberley Community Center. Aaron’s book is “In Defense of Ska” and is part his memoir of being in Flat Planet and part being a roadie for Skankin’ Pickle plus his argument about the signficance of the scene or genre. I’ve skimmed the entirety of his book, which is more than I do for a lot of books I buy on impulse. The event was my first author event in a while, and my first time in a record store for a while. Aaron is from Gilroy and is the music editor of Santa Cruz Good Times, a sister publication of San Jose Metro. I saw the interesting cover peeking out from the distribution box and noted that the event was that afternoon and literally went straight to the hit. Aaron had previously written a cover story about Mike Park of SP for the Metro. 

Aaron Carnes author appearance, Streetlight San Jose May 8, 2021

I deliberately wanted my concert series at Cubberley to be diverse, so it made sense to have a sprinkling of ska in my history, although overall I consider myself a “1990s indie rock” guy. Recently I do more jazz and blues than rock or ska. Maybe it is attributable to the legendary influence of Skankin’ Pickle that I wanted to poke around in the genre. 

1) Toasters, Spring Heel Jack, Monkey at Cubberley Auditorium
2) Tomato Head Records Showcase: MU330, Janitors Apartheid, Slapstick, Chuck Phelps Misc robot project; (I sort of think I did a Dill Records Showcase and a Tomato Head Records Showcase, working with different schism members of the Skankin’ crew)
3)Skankin’ Pickle unannounced guest at PaloPalooza II outdoors Cubberley Amphitheater;
4) Slow Gherkin’, Marginal Prophets, IBOPA; poster by Keith Knight.
5) Second Slow Gherkin’ show, I think; maybe not.
6)Monkey on California Avenue, free show — City of Palo Alto Public Art Commission unveiling of “Go Mama” by Marta Thoma — I was the middle agent or co-promoter;
7) Mike Park opening for The Evens(Ian Mackaye and Amy Farina) at Terman Middle School; not ska, but made you think about ska.
8)Kemuri (with Peechees, The Donnas as Electrocutes, Pansy Division — filling for J Church — not on the poster but Todd Inouye previewed them in his Metro column); I also remember that there was a huge gap between the Donnas short set and the Pee Chees — I wished I had let Kemuri play longer.
9)The KGB? Sort of a ska band (with Big City Rick, Eleventeen); KGB had a song that sampled Marginal Prophets “Your Girlfriend is The Best”.
So that’s 8 ska-ish shows; ot 12 tropes — who’s counting?
10) Lester “Ska” sterling played with the Toasters and tried to nap on two folding chairs in the Cubberley auditorium green room which is a former high school cafeteria kitchen

11) When Brad Nowell died I got a call from an artist manager in LA asking me to hold a date for a proposed benefit for his widow and baby, to feature No Doubt as headliner but the show was canceled because the album came out and did very well anyhow…

12) When Jim Harrington wrote about my concert series for Palo Alto Weekly I wore a Goldfinger t-shirt to the photo shoot. They killed the cover photo because I flashed fake gang signs — “W” for Weiss, West Coast or maybe Leonard Nimoy — and shot the redo wearing a coat and tie but making a angry too serious scowl. The black and white interior shots with Goldfinger shirt ran, though.

I would have to admit that if you want to do a “Ska History of Palo Alto” you would write about The Edge. Also, if you stretch the category to rock bands with horns you can add New Morty Show, New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, Cake, and maybe Train. Also, I want to recall that Brad Johnson, who was a popcorn jerk at Stanford Theatre, and a librarian in Palo Alto and recorded with Allen Clapp under the name Variable Stars, a friend C___ recalled that she thought of Brad as “The Ska Guy” because he was always for a while talking up the next ska shows. There was a woman in Hayward who kept a “Ska-lender” a calender of ska shows; I think she was briefly my student when for a matter of weeks I was the volunteer advisor to the Tennyson High School paper. I think it was the Lancer Legend but the kids wanted to have an underground paper called “DANK”. I also had a project called Stanford Ska Project, where I briefly corresponded with a horn player from the Stanford Band, but she moved to Japan. Joshua Roseman did a jazz show at Stanford called “Ska (something)”. And Charlie Hunter did a jazz show in my series that was a jazz re-working of Bob Marley (which is also on Blue Note). Reggae. I want to say I gave Banks Lowman and Tom Drake a ride to Keystone Palo Alto to see Toots and the Maytals but was not cool enough to want to go. I noted “Jump Up” in a James Bond movie recently, Byron Lee. Plus I saw Lee Scratch Perry at Montalvo and was tripping on his sax player Ms Eisen.

Seems like from Aaron Carnes’ book if he had put the exact same amount on energy into his band, they would be well-known. I like that they call him “Carne” — Spanish for “meat” — even though he is Irish. Also, I think Rick Bonde of The Tahoe Agency was from this area and went to Menlo College — he gave me an early Blink 182 show, on Earth Day – -we gave away a new bike from Softride.

I want to say that I read something about Isaac Green who I knew of and had his number in my book, “Isaac Green and the Ska-Lers” — maybe he is an artist manager or something in business but a journalist outed him. Also, I recall that Dave Hawkins of Engine 88, Cahn-Man Management (Green Day) and Lost Weekend Video told me once that part of the reason they threw in the towel of Engine getting signed to a major was that labels wanted to sign ska bands – -his company ran 510 Records which signed Dance Hall Crashers. Travis Barker of Blink 182  was not in the band when they played The Cub but I recall that I recognized his name when he joined Blink because he was in a ska band that had played the Edge; also, No Doubt’s horn section was in a local San Jose ska band. There are two Spring Heeled Jacks, one from here one from England that is more techno. Has there ever been a Jewish ska band that sang in Hebrew and used a ram’s horn shofar?

I found a short video of Goldfinger at The Edge, 1997 and full set of Fugazi – -not ska — at the Edge in 1999 — they should put Feldman’s photo on the wall at 260 California Avenue offices

and1: One of the projects I did to stay busy, stay hopeful, stay sane during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 was to collaborate with Veronica DeJesus to do a series of memorial portraits of musicians who had played my concert series. I did not know Lynette Knackstedt and doubt I spoke with her at the show but she did play at Cubberley once, summer of 1997, my second Palo Palooza show. Aaron Carnes’ book has some passages about her, including a crush by another fan, which she handled gracefully even though she was a lesbian and he was straight. Maybe an author like Carnes should tell her story. 



About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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