by Bobby Cardos (@bobbycardos)
I had wanted to write a longer piece on Bodega Bay last fall, about the band and their then-recent release Our Brand Could Be Your Life, a 33-song album/manifesto released digitally with a mock 33 1/3 book as an optional physical companion. But as I kept thinking about it, the harder it became to do, and as is wont to happen, the ambition fell to the background. Now, having announced their dissolution last week and played their final show last Friday, it seems like a good time to try again, to reflect on a band that meant a lot to me, a band of people I’d like to consider friends, and who made me think.
In 2013 I was first introduced to Bodega Bay by being booked on the same bill at The Flat with another friend’s band, who had set everything up. At the time they were a four piece; no costumes or glitz. They did have the sampler and would loop through the corporate motivational speech samples that would become a staple. The songs were catchy and had a sense of humor and self-awareness to them that immediately appealed to me. It was around the time that I was actually starting to participate in “the scene,” and not yet knowing many bands personally, we started to play together more.
There are a lot of bands that I love for their “band-ness”: being a group of people Doing the Thing, performing well at shows for not much money, touring and recording the songs efficiently and accurately. In the day-to-day of being in a band, it’s those bands that I most relate to and try to emulate. But one of the things I loved about Bodega Bay and Our Brand Could Be Your Life was that, though they were very much a band Doing the Thing, their record and attitude exhibited a larger scope of vision, the desire to do something grandiose and conceptual. And in terms of Our Brand…, one of the most impressive things is that, despite limited funds and an, at best, mid-fi recording situation, they successfully created an album communicating that vision. And an album that is catchy besides. Bloated, perhaps—but at 33 songs, how could it not be? And what is rock if not indulgence?
But so, right, catchy. Most people will probably think of “Cultural Consumer (Part 1)”, “Network”, “Your Brand Could Be Our Life”, the songs with the brashest lyrics, the loudest opinions, and for that reason the easiest to make fun of or dismiss. Which I can understand, but also dismisses legitimate observations about DIY in NYC, whether it’s how it at times risks mimicking capitalist pragmatism of valuing network and connections over artistic merit (“Love to get to love you, but show me what’s your net worth?”) or how one’s self-expression can be alienating to others (“You’re shouting lyrics in my ear/ Your flailing has just spilled my beer...You think that you are dancing, but you’re just beating me up”). Far from being holier-than-though, they implicate themselves as much as anyone else. As a band, they played out all the time and were very much “of the scene.” Their album includes covers from several local bands (full disclosure: mine included). And who isn’t a “Cultural Consumer” if not the band who wrote “Tarkovski”, “16:9” and reads passages from Jean-Luc Godard? As they preface the book component of their album: “The best critique is self critique.”
It’s also not all agitprop. Many of their best songs don’t touch DIY/yuppie critique—e.g. “Second Row Cinema,” a dream sequence from the perspective of a sleeping moviegoer. Or “Realism,” a quick, humorous sketch of a song where a woman prints and destroys photos of her partner, who she’s found to be unfaithful via text. And “Adaptation of The Truth About Marie” is sad and reflective and just beautiful.
As a live act, Bodega Bay was always exciting, from starting as a four piece with gear issues, to swapping out bass/guitar players, adding Josef and Nikki, mannequins, costume, spectacle. I’ve seen them do noise sets with half their line up, had numerous passages of unknown theory read at me during extended instrumental segments. I’ve seen them cover my own songs, as well as other Brooklyn bands like Perfect Teeth or Milk Dick, rewriting verses to suit them as necessary, or “indie” staples like Spacemen 3 and Guided by Voices. I’ve sung along to sets full of their short, infectious songs, and been completely frustrated by meandering jams that disregard allotted set lengths. This inconsistency is one of the things that made Bodega Bay a difficult proposition for some, but it’s also one of their defining features, an implicit mission statement: If you’re going to see a band and you know what to expect, in some sense you’re getting ripped off.
It’s hard for me to explain, and I’m sure I haven’t done a very good job, but to put it this way: I love bands and live music, and consider myself fortunate to live in a place with so many great bands, where so many great bands perform, and to be part of that community in a small way. There are so many bands that challenge me, in the sense that I see or hear them and think: Oh, you have to be better. Because these people are working X hard and are Y good. But Bodega Bay challenges me more in the sense that: Do I like this or hate this? Is this important? Is it important (for me) to do music? Why?
Put another way: A couple of years ago my band was playing a show with Bodega Bay, also at The Flat. Before doors, Ben Hozie (vocalist/guitarist) and I were talking, discussing what we’d been listening to recently. He was in the middle of a Grateful Dead k-hole, and I remember him saying, “The problem is that if you listen to anything long enough, you begin to see its merits.” I suppose at this point I have, and can only confidently say: fuck you, and thank you.