Fallen Angels

For the Valley's premier power-pop band, retro is all a state of mind

One thing about Jackson--he doesn't change his clothes that much. He washes them, mind you; he just doesn't change them. "I know just how I want to look, and so I always wear the same clothes--the same jacket and boots, the same shirt. The thing is, eventually, they start to rot off your body. And so you get a new set, and it rots, and you get a new set, and it rots. I have a closet full of rotten clothes I use to mark the years."

Jackson has had 32 years to mark, and says that, by now, making it as a rock musician is his only hope for a comfortable life. "I've spent my whole life playing guitar, and I've spent so much time getting as good as I am that it's too late to do anything else. I could never work a nine-to-five."

Three weeks in a yo-yo factory is the extent of Smith's day-job resume. "It almost killed me. I can't do that again--I'd rather be dead than work another job like that. I mean, you hit 28, 29, what are you gonna do, go back to college and feel like a horse's ass walking around campus? Forget about it. This band is it." Brooks agrees. "I tried working at a couple of record stores and it didn't agree with my system."

The only one of the five Beat Angels with a straight job is bass player Kevin Pate, who works in a head shop. Drummer Jon Norwood, widely regarded as one of the best in the Valley, recently took what Smith characterizes as "a fairly serious leave of absence" because of personal problems. The Beat Angels singer says he doesn't know exactly when Norwood will rejoin the group, but that at this point the operative word is still "when" rather than "if," and most likely Norwood will be back before the band leaves in April to tour the West Coast and New York in support of Unhappy Hour.

In the meantime, with help from fill-in drummer Frankie Hanyak (of Serene Dominic and the Semi-Detached), the Beat Angels continue to play out, still professing that the right clothes and hair run a close second to the right music in accounting for the band's success, in the past--the Angels earned a sizable Valley following within weeks of forming--as well as the present and future. "I don't understand the concept of getting onstage looking like you just mowed somebody's lawn," says Jackson, who in contrast to the glam look favored by the band's other members dresses like a London Calling-era British punker.

Smith, who like Brooks lifts his flashy, androgynous fashion cues directly from the New York Dolls, says, "I've looked like this all my life. I was into the look of this music way before I played it. I slithered from the womb dressed like this."

"We get accused of being a lot of things," Smith says, "like fags and posers." He pauses. "Well, we are posers. But it's like, Michael and I go to Circle K and some right-wing cowboy in his pickup truck is like, 'What are you guys, fags or something?'

"I've been beaten up several times in my life for how I look. The last time was about two years ago. I was at a Circle K and I was drunk and I was getting a 40, and the guy behind me was like, 'What's up with that?' So he followed me out to the parking lot and pushed me really hard in the back, and I fell down and my 40 broke on the pavement and pieces of it spread everywhere. I was so bummed, man. But I don't like violence, so I got up and ran away. But I was like, 'Why, man? Because I idolized Keith Richards when I was a kid?'"

Jackson, who looks like he could bench press Smith and Brooks strapped together, is the appointed champion of the band. When "some belligerent, truck-driving son of a bitch" started flak during a Long Wong's show last fall, Jackson cracked him over the head with his guitar midsong.

"You can take the kid out of Detroit, but you can't take Detroit out of the kid," Jackson says, laughing. "The Beat Angels have this ritual. Every time we leave each other after practice, I kind of look these guys over and say, 'Hey, don't get beaten up out there.'"

The Beat Angels are scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 9, at the Mason Jar, with Autumn Teen Sound. Showtime is 9 p.m. Unhappy Hour is available at Eastside Records in Tempe, and at all Valley Zia, Tower and Best Buy outlets.

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