Public-access television has long been a way for offbeat music to reach the homes of appreciative weirdos around the country. I remember checking out Virgil Porter's Burn My Eye broadcasts on all the cool music-related things going on in San Francisco (2002-2003, now available online), and when I lived in Seattle, Live Eye TV moved from indie television to a video blog featuring many a San Francisco act. These shows hit on the West Coast underground zeitgeist of the time (bands like the Locust, the Numbers, Pink and Brown, and Blood Brothers), capturing them in their live element or with on-the-spot interviews.
But who has time for TV anymore, especially when you can waste precious office hours burning your eyes online? The fledgling San Francisco series Forest City Rockers takes the artsy curatorial attitude of the punk public-access shows of yore and adds important new twists of Cartoon Network–quality animation and a wicked sense of (juvenile) humor.
The Forest City series (available at www.forestcityrockers.com) is the brainchild of San Francisco artist and zinester Jay Howell, a name well known in BYOB art gallery circles. His cool '60s-looking pen-and-ink art flirts with smartass skater humor. His illustrations of dudes with boners and heshers rocking out have circulated around town (from 111 Minna to Fecal Face and Needles and Pens) and the country, fetching upward of $600 for an original print. But the guy also has great taste in music, as anyone who follows the recommendations on his blog Punks Git Cut (punksgitcut.blogspot.com) knows. Beyond the Web, Howell regularly DJs at the Attic and the Casanova, has played in "a bunch of shit bands," and is part owner — with Mark Kaiser of Sacramento's hardcore/art punks Mayyors — of the vinyl label Mt. St. Mtn.
For Forest City Rockers, Howell teamed up with Jim Dirschberger of Eighty Four Films and a small team of writers, animators, filmmakers, and sound engineers to bring his drawings to life (the idea originated in a motorcycle comic Howell created 10 years ago). He unveiled the animated series last summer, the most recent installment of which went live just before Christmas. The episodes so far follow the same format: Cartoons about hairy biker numbskulls trying to get wasted are interspersed with live video footage of a band and a fake commercial for products like Punk as Fuck beer or a "man bike" (a bicycle made completely of "man parts"). At ten minutes a pop, they're easy to sneak peeks at (practically the length of a smoke break), and mix music, art, and humor into an entertaining grab bag.
Only three videos are currently available ("The Original" is a quick preview, explaining the premise of this motorcycle gang with only one motorcycle – "everybody else runs"). "Episode 1: Party Time" shows the cartoon rockers boozing up the strength for a graveyard gathering — but before they arrive, there's a live video of the Mayyors strangling mikes and guitars. "Episode 2: 420 Friendly" shows the lengths to which these bikers will go in order to get stoned, including lighting up a gas pump. Paisley garage poppers Thee Oh Sees provide the performance clip, as well as the soundtrack for the best cartoon trip since Lisa Simpson's wild ride at Duff Gardens.
Howell says his goal was to tear apart the typical pop culture garbage out there, DIY-style. "Smash all lameness with your ideas," he says of the Forest City Rockers manifesto. "Get some skills, 'cause if you don't, some dickhead with terrible ideas and no knowledge of anything awesome will force their crap on you forever." He has a wish list of acts he wants to include in future episodes, including the Melvins and locals Ty Segall, Ezee Tiger, Hightower, and Sic Alps. By Episode 7, he plans to compile a DVD and curate a show with all the contributing bands at 111 Minna. "It's a ton of work, but it pays off in fun and getting to work with our favorite bands," he says. "I'd like to be the new Beavis and Butt-head. Seriously."
For now, Episode 3 is almost in the can. According to the teaser on Howell's site, it promises a mishmash of lowbrow comedy, a performance by French punks Crash Normal, and, well, "boobs." Because of course, whether your punk variety show comes via TV or a computer screen, nothing attracts viewers more than tits and assholes.