This piece is part of Strange Currencies Music’s month-long celebration of the 1990s.
I missed the boat on Sparkle and Fade. I’m not sure what my excuse was, other than the fact that I was in 7th grade when I first heard “Heroin Girl” and I was more concerned with avoiding bullies in the halls and on the walk home from school than with seeking out the CD it was on. I did love that song, though. I liked all the singles from that album. I was a perfectly middle-ground, casual Everclear fan. I liked the hits, I knew they lived in my town and I knew that the singer was a guy named Art Alexakis, but that was the extent of my fandom.
For years, my deepest connection with the band, or at least the frontman, was based on something that happened to me in high school.
(Cue flashback sequence)
When I was 16 or 17, me and The Guys (as my dorky friends and I were known to ourselves) would often pile into one car and drive around at night with no destination in mind, shout-singing along with Green Day or Weezer and occasionally finding something like an abandoned baguette on a bus stop bench and claiming it as a trophy for being the biggest dorks in town. One time we drove all the way to the coast from Portland in the middle of the night. When we got there we realized that just hearing the ocean while squinting into a black void of nothingness was not quite as satisfying as being able to see the ocean, as one would during the day. We weren’t the brightest bulbs, but we had fun.
Only one of us could actually drive, so Josef was our honorary chauffeur. The five of us usually cruised around in his tiny yellow VW Beetle, but on this night we were in the big red family station wagon. We were destination-less as usual, but we were on SE Hawthorne and felt drawn to the Ben & Jerry’s. In the tiny parking lot was a vintage Corvette convertible, top down. A man with bleached hair and a pretty blonde woman had just gotten out of the car and headed inside. I don’t remember getting ice cream that night. I’m not sure any of us actually did. But we noticed that the man with the bleached hair was Art Alexakis.
When you’re a dumb kid, and even sometimes when you’re a dumb adult, you don’t know how to react to celebrities. There’s an instinct to follow them, see where they go. Once, in my early thirties I think, I and a handful of other Ween fans saw Gene Ween leaving the Crystal Ballroom after a show. He walked right past us at a quick pace, and we just….walked after him. About ten steps behind, for several blocks. I think the unspoken notion was that he might go to a bar, and then we could accidentally also be in that bar and accidentally start hanging out with Gener. But when he stopped walking it was because he’d arrived at his hotel. We all felt a little creepy so we scattered like startled rats.
When The Guys and I saw Art Alexakis we didn’t exactly follow, but we certainly hovered. There was a seating area outside the ice cream shop and we sat there while Art and the blonde lady (his wife, I think) were inside. Just teenagers hanging out at the ice cream shop, like it was the year Art’s Corvette was made. We didn’t have a plan, but we thought maybe we could accidentally be in the same space as Art and accidentally start hanging out with him.
By the time Art and his probable wife came out of the Ben & Jerry’s, I’d had a minor epiphany and I knew exactly what to say:
“Would you folks like to buy tickets to a concert?”
I was in a band at the time and we had our first “real” concert coming up at the infamous Paris Theater. The deal with the Paris was, when you booked your show you got a stack of tickets from the venue and you had to sell them yourself. And if you didn’t sell them all, you had to pay the difference back to the venue. Clever way for them to sell out every show, I guess. All I know is that we didn’t end up selling all the tickets, but somehow we walked away with some cash after the show. The owner wasn’t working that night, so I assume whoever got left in charge either didn’t know he was supposed to rip us off or was nice enough not to. Anyway, back to the ice cream shop:
“Would you folks like to buy tickets to a concert?”
My epiphany was not just that I had a perfect excuse to talk to Art, but also that the way to do it without being obnoxious and embarrassing myself was to pretend that I had no idea who he was. I might have even prefaced my question with “Excuse me sir,” now that I think about it. Just a teenager hanging out at the ice cream shop like it was the year the Corvette was made, inquiring as to whether the nice strangers would like to attend a show in a historic local venue.
After an excruciating moment wherein I’m sure the rock star was deciding whether or not we were worth his time, he walked toward me.
“What’s the show?”
I told him. First gig. Paris Theater. They’re making us sell the tickets ourselves. The whole thing. He listened, nodded. And then it became an actual conversation. He started talking about “pay to play” shows back in LA, and how awful they were. He talked about his tattoos. He was working on sleeves on both his lower arms, and he said one was for his daughters and one was for him. One arm would feature only Bettys: Betty Boop, Betty Cooper, Betty Page. I don’t remember what he said was in store for the other arm but if you look up his tattoos now, one sleeve is decked out in Powerpuff Girls and Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t see any Bettys on the other arm, so he either never got them or had them covered up. In any case, the rock star and I had an honest to goodness chat. And, by the way, this was in 1998 or 1999. We’re not talking 10, 15 years after Sparkle and Fade came out. We’re talking like three. When I say “rock star,” he really was.
Despite my proximity to a famous guy, I continued to play it cool. I never hinted at the fact that I knew who he was or that the only reason I tried to sell him a ticket in the first place was to try to get a rock star to see my band play. I’m sure he knew the truth but I’d like to think he appreciated the effort.
“Yeah, I’ll take two tickets.”
I’m fairly certain it was later that same night that The Guys and I found that baguette. A productive evening, all in all. I have no idea if Art showed up to the concert. None of us saw him, but the Paris was a dark, dank dungeon of a place where even a rock star could probably slip in unnoticed.
Weirdly, this experience did nothing to intensify my fandom of the band. It endeared me to the frontman, but it took me another 21 or 22 years to actually listen to an Everclear album all the way through. And that was only because of an extremely dumb Twitter joke I tried to pull off during the 2020 presidential primary.
I don’t want to give anyone traumatic flashbacks or start any fights, but at the time I really, really wanted Bernie Sanders to get the nomination. I decided that I would only tweet Everclear lyrics until Bernie was the Democratic nominee. Absolutely no one cared that I was doing this. It would make no difference in the election. Just a funny little gag for me to chuckle to myself about. The only problem was, I barely knew any Everclear lyrics by heart. So I did some research. I listened to Sparkle and Fade over and over, as well as a few spins of So Much for the Afterglow. I looked up lyrics. I was trying to find the jokes. Simply popping into people’s threads with non-sequitur replies of “I KNOW” wouldn’t cut it. An occasional well-placed “I don’t wanna be the bad guy” would only get me so far. What I really wanted to do was post a picture of someone giving a high five with the caption, “I just wanna see some PALM,” but I never found the opportunity.
What I did find was some pretty decent lyrics. I know Everclear can seem cheesy or hickish to some, but the man is kind of pouring his heart out in these songs. Art doesn’t come off like some brooding genius who would appeal to indie rock snobs. He’s just a blue-collar dude who resents “smart-ass college fucks” and has a utilitarian singing voice. But the man puts it all out there, and he has an undeniable gift for earworms. I always enjoyed the radio singles, but my dumb little Twitter project was exposing me to album cuts that I’d never heard before and have grown to love, like “Summerland” and even, yes, “My Sexual Life.” There’s a melancholy to the songs. A sense of introspection and regret. And the occasional brilliance of lines like “the world resolves into a death’s head grin” that come out of nowhere.
I once heard Everclear described as “indefensible.” That’s ridiculous. And I’m not just saying that because Art Alexakis gave me ten bucks once. Remember, I hadn’t listened to Sparkle and Fade until like a year ago. Maybe my enjoyment of songs like “Heartspark Dollarsign” or “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” is based on teenage nostalgia, but I’m telling you, in my fresh opinion as a full-grown grownup: the whole record is good. Just today, I realized how good “The Twistinside” is. There’s no chorus. Just a bunch of relatable words about being an immature adult who knows he’ll have to exorcise his inner demons sooner or later, followed by a bunch of loud guitar stuff. Beautiful.
If nothing else, Everclear released banger after banger in the 90’s and there’s no point denying it or being embarrassed about admitting it. So let yourself go, crank up their hits and make peace with the fact that they’re damn good songs. At the very least enjoy a flashback to a simpler time, when those songs were big. The days of unclaimed bread and brushes with fame.