Such Were the Joys

The Intelligista do it again

Photo by James BunoanTonight is not a school night for the Intelligista; there will be no more school nights for the Intelligista here in Orange County, and in fact, after a little more time, they will no longer be Huntington Beach's best teenage mod combo. They are getting old. Some of them will be 20 soon. And while in some ways the Intelligista were a scale model of a band—never toured, never released an album, lasted just beyond high school graduation—they were (in all remaining ways) the realest livest band to come out of Huntington for twenty-some years, just crazy, cocky, disciplined kids with a sense for precedent but not proportion. Dave Davies wrote "You Really Got Me" at 17, you'd think, watching them. And now they've come back (from college) this summer to find Kona Lanes still a dirt lot and the Willowz in RollingStone,and so they decided to play a few more shows—the real last hurrah, says guitarist/singer Nick Waterhouse—for the same reason all good bands reunite: to show the kids who came after them what it used to really be like. About, uh, a year and a half ago.

But that's a long time when you're just out of high school—you remember that senior-year summer, right? That goes on itself for what feels like years, and the first semester of college takes another few years (if not a few years off your life), and so you find yourself with a little time to think—that's young man nostalgia, the most potent and poisonous kind. (Wistful, guys? "Aw, no," says drummer AJ Polizzi. "Nick's whole life is wistful," says bassist Kyle Stephens. "I'm a Byronic hero," says Nick. And all this over just a plate of French fries!) But they miss the old days, and they look back on it as pure, says Nick now, a little sheepishly. Because back last year: "We weren't thinking about it at all."

They were one of those serious, hawkish British Invasion bands, completely displaced (chronologically and geographically) but with an identical state of mind: "I get the feeling to/Get up and go!" (take it, AJ, all right all right!). Their last show at the Prospector in Long Beach had AJ tearing open his Keith Moon gear to unfurl a—Misfits shirt? ("I redefined mod," he says. "What?") And their last show ever, till now, at the Knitting Factory in January 2004 ended in firecrackers: a graduation ceremony, though a few of them wouldn't graduate till May, or a prison break, with lots of yelling, lots of smoke, doors kicked open, lights and sirens, you got it.

So then they each moved away. Organ player Kevin Van is becoming one of the best chefs in San Francisco, bassist Kyle Stephens and drummer AJ Polizzi are dueling engineering majors ("Kyle and I got really good at math," says AJ. "Can you put in something about Fourier transforms?"), and guitarist/singer Nick Waterhouse is majoring in English at San Francisco State, picking at his Rickenbacker, filling a notebook with a year's worth of lyrics, and tensing his shoulders when the hippie with the tie-dyed socks who lives across the hall tells him to quit living in the past, man. And so they came back, realizing, says Nick, that there was something to Huntington after all: "Me living in HB—that's something that should have destroyed me, and I won prom king senior year! Freshman year, I was convinced—I told my mom that I'd play D&D on senior prom night, just to spite her, and then this happened," says Nick. "And my band, which in theory NO ONE should have liked, and everybody . . . It was just like . . ."

Just like a movie—American Graffiti,not AmericanPie—orjust like a rock & roll song, because that's the real roots here: millions of people who still want a little bit to be that teenager, driving fast down the surface streets past the beach. The Intelligista weren't outsiders; they were as inside as it gets. Palm trees in the back yard around the pool, BBQ grill on the patio, the kind of 1960s ranch house that, says a friend, just litter Huntington Beach—that's home. And shows at Kona Lanes, demos with Jason Medina when he worked at the Triangle Square Virgin Megastore, making a real vinyl record with Mike McHugh at the Distillery, even getting OCWeeklyto pay for Perrier: that's home too. If I left forever, thinks Nick, that's one less person who'd be there to make things better. They sounded like the Animals, but the whole time they were really a Beach Boys song: "It's automatic/When I talk with old friends," says Brian Wilson, "and I've been thinking/About all the places/We surfed and danced and/All the faces we've missed/So let's get/Back together and do it again."

"Nick, nothing's changed," says Kyle after the first practice, just after AJ's been dropped off at his house. "Nothing's changed since we were 17." And nothing has, says Nick now, finishing those fries late Friday night, saying hi to friends who bounce confidently into the last empty spot in the Harbor House's back booth like someone's been saving it for them. Show tomorrow at Nick's house—wanna go? 3 p.m. Yeah, maybe, I say. They clap shut the doors on a dusty white Volvo (EDISON HIGH SCHOOL PARKING PASS stickers checkerboard on the window) and roll backward onto PCH, slip into the rhythm of the late-night traffic, the car shining under red and yellow and green lights as they drive the surface streets back home.

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