Split your head down the middle

The Manichean misadventures of Rock Goggle Fantasy

Photo by James BunoanRock Goggle Fantasy is four people with about a billion molecules between them. And they started the band when they felt all those atoms cooling and congealing—that's their native Manhattan Beach crud, the adolescent descendent of the ick that fills your goldfish bowl with sticky milk, and if you don't treat it when you hit puberty, it eventually goos up your brain and leaves you slack-mouthed in a Speedo down at the beach, popping around a volleyball and forgetting to breathe when you pause to grunt, "Dude. Bro. Brah. 'Cuz. Man. Shaka." ("Have you ever been to Manhattan Beach?" asks drummer Jon Hylander, shaking his head.) Seriously, it's scientific fact.

Rock Goggle Fantasy understood; like the Minutemen down the road, they're scientist rock, too. But the cure could kill: the only way out was being in a bad band.

"None of us knew what we were doing," says guitarist Todd Amaral.

"Just thrashing around in a bedroom," says bassist Frank Arenas.

"The sensation of movement and the noise made us happy," says Todd.

So simple: the opposite of static quiet, which is Manhattan Beach and every other town where they name streets after trees and flowers and snake poor people's homes from them under eminent-domain laws.

But right now, we're sitting in San Pedro's Sunken City, where a cliffside neighborhood toppled into the ocean in the '30s, the victim of nature and poor human planning. The band thought it would be a nice place to eat lunch. For the same reason you look at the Hollywood Hills and think about forest fires, we're looking across the refinery skyline and joking about nuclear war.

"This is a nice place," says Frank. "This way, you've got the peace of the ocean. And that way, you've got Los Angeles goin' up!"

For years, Rock Goggle were a bad band under a still-classified name (which is excusable, since they're barely creeping past 21 now, and since they learned to cover probably every Cal punk song from '77 through '81 on the way), and then the dread set in, and they realized they were a bad band, and they decided to become a better band, and they did, but they're still nursing an acute sense of doubt, even though they're good now.

If they sucked once, could they suck again?

"We realize that all too often," sighs Jon.

"Ah, the dualism of Rock Goggle Fantasy," says Frank.

Aaahh, the Manichean nature of the 405 corridor cities, reflected through a rock goggle (definition: those rockin' new wave shades punker extras wore on '80s cable) darkly: the Fantasy, like the vinylistas they are, split everything down the middle. Dangerhouse records back with disco, they say. Paranoid Time back with Nervous Breakdown, we say. Precision rhythm section back with smash-and-grab guitars and vocals, they say. Pretty much, we say. Plus a crazy-skinny singer ("A classically trained gymnast!" says Frank. Really? "No," says Todd, "but he's working on it hard, though.") named Greg "James T. Gregor" Sidman with Tomata du Plenty's taste for the outré and Tony Cadena's golden-toned throat, and what's he split down the middle? Usually his head or the drum set.

Of course, no one likes them. Their seven-inch (Society of the Spectacles with the appropriate Debord parody cover) sounds nothing like Pennywise. They count their friends on one hand, using the thumb for this reporter. And the only way they get shows, says Frank, is when someone thinks their name is funny enough to book them.

But they're observers as much as performers, and they watch a lot of bands—if you haven't seen Rock Goggle play, you've seen them ducking in the club behind you—and they know what they like, which still melts down to the movement and noise. Just more refined movement and noise.

"Not many bands actually do something to you," says Todd. "I mean, some sort of have a feeling, but . . ."

What, we say? What do you want them to do?

But Todd backs off. "I don't know what you guys are talking about," he smiles, maybe confused—maybe something classified got out? But the last show they played was in some stuccoed apartment complex the night before it was supposed to be torn down—parking lot or mini-mall going up next?—and they wiggled into someone's bedroom and thrashed around while kids spray-painted the walls (they probably could have played the Black Flag song to go with it), and they couldn't smell the bass rig sputtering and sparking for all the paint fumes, and only when someone spotted the open flame and yelled, "TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF! IT'S ON FIRE!" did they stop.

"Yeah," says Jon. "For Frank, nothing is truly done until it blows up."

Rock Goggle Fantasy performs with Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, Animal Mannequin and Graforlock at The Centro Cultural De México, 1522 Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 953-9305. Fri., 7 p.m. $5. All ages.
 
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