Morose By Any Other Name . . .
After hitting rock bottom, ThisFunctionAll offers hopeful message
A little more than a year ago, Laguna Beach guitarist/singer/songwriter Chris Cook and his fiancee, Marsie Wilkinson, were sleeping in an Aliso Viejo parking lot, their makeshift "bed" surrounded by shopping carts.
Cook had been arrested and jailed for selling and possessing meth; the couple had been evicted from their Rancho Santa Margarita home. Today, they're still without a fixed address, but they're in a decidedly better mind state, clean and working three jobs between them. And Cook—under the name ThisFunctionAll (a twist on dysfunctional, which describes his upbringing)—has a new six-song, self-produced CD titled Time to Turn It Off, which converts the rancid lemons of his past into the delicious lemonade of his hopeful present.
Listening to ThisFunctionAll's satisfyingly glum songs, it's apparent he's gone through some serious shit. The 36-year-old ex-punk—he led the Coachella Valley-based Lung Cookie from 1991 to 2000—hit rock bottom mentally.
"I've been to the point where I thought every single thing on the earth would benefit from me not being around," Cook relates. "My [11-year-old] son would have a better life without me. My family. They wouldn't have me dragging them down."
Those punk years were a blur of excessive booze and drug consumption—and probably some regrettable tattoos. Lung Cookie recorded two albums, played some Warped Tour bills and endured several NOFX comparisons. (Before that, Cook was a professional snowboarder, but a broken leg ended that endeavor, and he joined Lung Cookie soon after.)
After Cook quit Lung Cookie, he worked as a sound engineer for Warped. "I decided I never wanted to hear music again," Cook admits. "There were 113 bands daily on that tour. All the bands I was doing sound for, I didn't see it anymore. I thought the music was lousy.
"So I almost literally locked myself in a room for two years," he continues. "I got heavily hooked on meth. I would play guitar in my room, but always other people's songs. It got really bad when I started making a living with drugs—selling and doing 'em. It became such a huge struggle. I finally got caught. In 2007, I was arrested three times. I was enrolled in [drug classes]. I never made it to them. I didn't take it seriously."
In desperation, Cook called his sister, who secured a hotel room for him and Wilkinson. He cut his hair, shaved his beard, took and passed those classes he had skipped, and then got a job as a checker at Pavilions in Laguna Beach. Finally, over the past few months, Cook recorded some powerfully moving songs DIY-style with a lousy, broken-necked acoustic he obtained for free while purchasing 10 guitar strings from Guitar Center.
"I was amazed at how quickly things were turning around. Then my mom told me that one of my best friends whom I'd grown up with had killed himself. I still don't know what [caused it]. I didn't go to the funeral," Cook says, his voice verging on tearfulness.
"He always wanted me to teach him to play guitar, but I was always too busy. I decided then, I have these feelings and everything that's turned around that I've locked myself from. . . . I have a lot to say, and I want to say it now. I don't want to hide in a room and pretend it doesn't exist anymore. I want to talk about all the problems that I see. I want people to hear and hopefully understand. That's what got me going again. But I didn't think it was going to come out as good as it did. I was thinking I would have a little CD of my own and for a couple of friends because a lot of it is about the hardships we went through."
Cook has transmuted the pain from those awful times into good art that oozes pathos. Mostly recorded in hotel rooms with acoustic guitar and ProTools, Time to Turn It Off recalls the gently gloomy, subtly orchestral folk-rock of Nick Drake, American Music Club and Mark Lanegan. Cook's deep, lugubrious voice invests his songs with a well-earned gravity. The minor-key melodies casually insinuate themselves into your memory and stir emotions; they seem destined to appear on quality indie-film soundtracks. (That's one of his goals, and he's using a service called taxi.com to try to place his songs in films, TV shows and label bosses' ears.)
Creating music is therapeutic for Cook, and his songs effectively convey his message: "It's never too late to change. I've written hundreds of songs, and [for a long time] every song I'd write, I'd say, this is the beginning and this is where I die. The end. I die in every song. I chose not to do that anymore."
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Cook has grand ambitions, but he's realistic about his chances to make a living from his art. "I don't want to get my hopes up and be crushed again," he says. "I don't want to end up in a hole again. I'm sure I'll never use again, but I just don't want that rejection again."
I, for one, predict Cook won't be working at Pavilions much longer.