In 1994, I picked up a double CD compilation called The Best Punk Album In The World… Ever! with some credit I had from a return at Circuit City. Sandwiched in between the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” and Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ “Blank Generation” was the Tubes’ “White Punks on Dope.” This was my introduction to the Tubes, and it had me wondering what the compilers were thinking, as this song seemed to be lampooning the “punk” movement in much the same way that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s We’re Only in It for the Money skewered hippies in the late ’60s. Plus the Tubes were clearly better musicians than most punks. Imagine my delight when I learned that I had the opportunity to receive guitar lessons from the Tubes’ own Bill Spooner when I moved to San Francisco…
Of all the things that drew me to San Francisco – the weather, the cultural diversity, its rich musical history, its public transportation system (all things that are taken for granted, and worse – regularly maligned – by locals here on a daily basis) – something I didn’t count on was stumbling upon the Blue Bear School of Music during my search for new outlets and people for my amateur guitar/bass/vocal ambitions (if you can even call them that).
Spooner is a unique figure at Blue Bear, not the least because his former band, the Tubes, is perhaps the most well-known group represented by the many professional musicians who make up Blue Bear’s staff of instructors (including Hawk West from the New Up, from back in Episode 14). Hang around Blue Bear enough, and you’re bound to collect your own Spooner stories, which you can freely trade with your fellow students. My favorite is the time someone from the theater company below Blue Bear’s practice space barged into one of my band workshop sessions and confronted Spooner over the noise we were generating. Conflicting accounts resulted over the spat (which involved a microphone stand and a dude in a wife beater), but the funniest was when the theater company claimed it understood why “the kids” would unanimously back Spooner’s side of the story. At the age of 29, I was the youngest of “the kids.” I know we look young, but come on!
Of course, Spooner has amassed plenty of his own stories, and hearing him tell them is just as thrilling as watching him play guitar or having him show you the way to play a complex riff that you just couldn’t figure out yourself. Which is exactly how I would describe the feeling of hearing Spooner tell his abbreviated side of the story of the Tubes’ history with major labels, especially when it came to working with producer David Foster when the band was signed to Capitol.
But what gave this particular shoot (which took place at Spooner’s home in Vallejo, California) the greatest resonance for me, beyond recalling his glory years with the Tubes or even his current project with his son Boone, was hearing Bill speak of his work with the late oral historian and anti-racism activist Lani Silver. Spooner’s work with Silver generated some local coverage and highlighted not only the issues for which Silver wanted to raise awareness, but also the creative culture that is encouraged at Blue Bear. With Spooner’s guidance, Silver amassed her own body of work, providing another medium to get her messages across long after her death.
As for Spooner’s own music, he has released a few solo albums since the downscaling of the Tubes, and continues to work on a new project with his multi-instrumentalist son. As Spooner describes it, the work is inspired by members of his family – “For Pete’s Sake,” for instance, is about his father (can you guess his name?). Check out Bill’s MySpace to hear some of his latest works in progress, which are pretty far removed from his Tubes days – but still unmistakably Spooner.
The performance footage, however, finds Bill digging back into his past with an old Tubes song that he describes as “the story of my life.” “Strung Out on Strings” first appeared on the Tubes’ third A&M album, Now, which was also notable for the appearance of Don van Vliet, a/k/a Captain Beefheart, on the Spooner-sung cover of Beefheart’s own “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains.”
Bill Spooner – “Strung Out on Strings”
Bill and Boone Spooner – Young and Rich (an acoustic version of the title track of the Tubes’ second A&M album)
Bill and Boone Spooner – Italian Plastic (an acoustic cover of the 1991 Crowded House tune)