Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Animal Houses

Residents and friends of 414 S. Seventh St., circa 1993. The anti-man sits stereo right.

In the fall of 1990, I moved into a house at 361 N. 10th St. in downtown San Jose and the rest of that decade went either downhill, uphill or sideways, depending on one's perspective. In various downtown houses, I would spend the next 10 years living a dual life—half academic, half rock & roll dude—with a schizo "never the twain shall meet" identity fueling my creativity.

After leaving Tenth Street, I lived near the SoFA district, then moved to N. Sixth Street, S. Seventh Street, S. Fifth Street, S. Ninth Street and then finally a friend's living room on Second Street as Y2K emerged. Beethoven lived a similar life in Vienna, moving from place to place. Same thing with Kafka in Prague. So they've got my back.

Together, all of the dwellings served as fodder for novels I started and failed to finish, so now I'll reflect on some of the highlights I think influenced columns in the current era. At 361 N. Tenth, for example, each of the five roommates paid about $200 a month to live in the house. We converted a detached garage into a venue, where bands played at our parties. One band, The Nowhere Men, featured a pre-Rancid Lars Frederiksen along with a singer that now works at Metro.

Later, in April of 1991, I moved into a house a few blocks away from the newly-christened SoFA District. My roommates had just been issued an eviction notice right before I moved in, although they didn't tell me at first. This was back when Cactus Club, Marsugi's, Ajax, and F/X all hosted bands that would later vault to worldwide stardom. Other groups, usually the ones with no shot at stardom, would use our house for the aftershow parties. The wreckage throughout that subsequent summer rivaled any classic punk rock party house anywhere. A friend next door met her future husband somewhere in the middle of the whole mess and they are still married to this day.

After the sheriff forced us out of that house, I moved in with two female roommates at 144 N. Sixth Street. For two years, they were the sisters I never had. Even if we bickered like siblings, I either had their backs and protected them at shows when we were all wasted together, or I walked them home. Sometimes they had to walk me home.

All of this unfolded as I lived a separate life at San Jose State, in the music department, writing C code to make excruciating noise collages on SGI machines, or smashing amplified shopping carts on stage, or studying 20th century avant-garde composers like Edgard Varese, Stockhausen and John Cage—a life unknown to my friends in the rock clubs. By day I sped up drum machines to sound like machine guns or wrote Satanic lyrics for assignments in 16th Century Counterpoint class, and by night I got wasted while Urge Overkill played for 10 of us at Marsugi's.

Then everything came to a glorious peak during three years at 414 S. Seventh Street. Not to blow my own kazoo, but people still talk about that house. If you've read Incredibly Strange Music from RE/Search Publications, well, that book should have included our house because zillions of old tacky thrift store LPs graced the walls and we drunkenly blasted the worst easy listening music we could find. This was a block from the SJSU Event Center and we'd charge concert-goers five bucks to park in our front yard so they could avoid the parking garage. As a result, they'd buy us beer in exchange. It was creative urban placemaking long before anyone at City Hall used that term. After getting my bachelor's degree, I even walked from that house all the way to Spartan Stadium for graduation.

After losing various campus jobs and girlfriends and being the last dude left at 414 S. Seventh, I lived on Fifth, Ninth and then Second Street, but emerged with a master's degree and a traveling life that connected me to music professors, programmers and audio experimenters the world over. Not a moment was wasted, even if I usually was. Everything was preparatory material for the current moment. And the current column. Happy New Year.

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