Features & Columns

Two Worlds

Two disparate influences— easy listening and punk—co-exist at San Jose Rock Shop and Seeing Things Gallery
black flag HARDCORE: Bill Daniel's action shot of Black Flag performing in Texasin 1982 is on display at Seeing Things Gallery in San Jose.

In previous crystallizations of this column, I have contemplated the San Jose condition through many a combination of polar opposites: native/exotic, luxury/gutter, urban/suburban. I would now like to take things one step further. Thanks to some new downtown San Jose establishments, this time the dichotomy is one of easy listening and hardcore punk.

We begin with the emergence of San Jose Rock Shop at 30 N. Third St., an idea long overdue. Ever since Guitar Center moved to Stevens Creek Boulevard back in the '80s, there has not been a legitimate musical instrument shop in the neighborhood. Now there is.

Located just north of a Hispanic-owned colon-cleanser retailer and around the corner from a cheap Vietnamese tailor, one finds 8,000 square feet of instruments and amplifiers, rehearsal space and repair services.

Yes, the building formerly occupied by WORKS/San Jose years ago is now reconfigured and replete with guitars, strings, keyboards, drum sets and more. Lessons are offered, consignment gear is available and bands can rent rehearsal space. Also inside is a private club, a la 924 Gilman in Berkeley, which presents all-ages live shows with no alcohol. From Third Street, one can look right through the front window and see the gear. As its moniker suggests, the place rocks.

With no effort on my part, one half of the polar opposition manifested itself. A few weeks ago, I slithered inside San Jose Rock Shop on a chilly afternoon and flipped through a stack of cheesy '70s songbooks filled with piano/organ arrangements of TV and movie themes, easy-listening hits, pop schmaltz and campy lounge classics from before there was such a genre—exactly the stuff I grew up playing on a Lowrey Genie organ and exactly the material I played while originally taking keyboard lessons at Stevens Music.

That stuff has been an integral component of my psyche ever since. My admiration of camp humor and the ridiculous side of everyday life can perhaps be traced to playing that cheesy material for years. For most of my younger years, I could not explain to any of my music circles why I was literate in and appreciative of easy-listening crooners and crappy sitcom music.

It gets even better. To exemplify how the other half operates, a previously unnoticeable door exists on Third Street, right next to San Jose Rock Shop, leading one into an adjoining room. It is there that Jai Tanju's Seeing Things Gallery now sits. I didn't even have to knock. The door was open—I searched, and I found.

Fittingly, the grand-opening party at Seeing Things Gallery this month featured the '80s hardcore-punk photography of one Mr. Bill Daniel. Gritty live-action shots of Black Flag from 1982, nearly 4-by-5-feet, exploded off the wall for everyone to see. Daniel shot the band on ancient whatever-millimeter film, and the images convey the aggressive, brutal nature of Black Flag shows back in the day.

I never saw Black Flag live, but their seminal violent masterpiece, Damaged, was the first punk album I ever bought, even though I snagged it right about the time hardcore was essentially dying.

Experiencing Daniel's photography of Black Flag from the Damaged tour brought it all back. The dark, disenfranchised isolation conveyed by that slab of vinyl altered my universe, and I don't think I ever went back to popular music afterward.

When first playing that LP, I remember looking at my record shelf and thinking that none of it was interesting anymore. Black Flag was where I wanted to be. My entire identification with punk and the dark side of the quotidian world can be traced to that album, which I purchased as a teenager. Right now, at 30 N. Third St., one can look through the front window and see Daniel's photographs.

So you can imagine the two windows I'm looking through. One goes into San Jose Rock Shop, while the other goes into Seeing Things. What a concept. For all of my life, I feel like I've been trying to reconcile those seemingly opposing parts of my psyche—easy listening and punk rock—and there they were, right in my own 'hood. No need to look outside or elsewhere.

I have 30 N. Third Street to thank. A sense of integration has emerged, binary opposites are transcended and the grand synthesis is now at work.