Compound Fractures

Zig Zag Black guitarist learns how to play with pain

Last week should have been one long highlight reel for Mark Morrell.
Morrell's band, Zig Zag Black, was preparing for the release of its third CD with a couple of special weekend shows and a midweek listening party. It was the culmination of countless hours of studio work and rehearsal time.

Unfortunately for Morrell, he spent part of last week in the hospital, and the rest of it hobbling around on crutches after his right ankle was severely broken in a fracas that erupted at Nita's Hideaway on Saturday, July 19.

Morrell was part of the packed club that night to see local bands Reuben's Accomplice, Mad At 'Em--playing a release show for its new single--and the Les Payne Project. Late in the evening, during a set by headliner Les Payne, Morrell was playing a game of pool when he says he began talking with a girl, and wound up incensing a diminutive male skinhead.

"I said, 'Excuse me' to this guy, and he freaked out about it and had a lot of attitude," Morrell says. "He said, 'Fuck you, I'm talking with this girl.' I was kind of surprised at how the guy reacted, as though I've screwed him in the past. But I've never even seen the guy.

"Sure enough, he went and got a couple of buddies. I tried to talk my way out of it, which is unusual for me. I said, 'Look, I've already said I'm sorry 10 times. What's gonna happen here?' The little guy shoved me, 'cause he had his big friends around. When he shoved me, I went to grab him, and, instantly, one of those guys went right for my ankle and broke it. He stomped on it when I tried to move forward, and then when I fell, it felt like they stomped on it some more."

Apparently, the three guys who attacked Morrell didn't know who he was, or what band he played with. Morrell thinks they simply entered the club that night looking for a fight.

"They weren't there to be cool," he says. "They were there to be pricks."
Ironically, Morrell himself had received a lecture from bandmates only days before, urging him to avoid any trouble with the CD-release shows imminent. Morrell concedes that he can be "kind of extreme," and usually doesn't hesitate to respond to--or occasionally initiate--a provocation.

With that in mind, Zig Zag drummer Matthew Helm was at the club that night looking out for him. The agenda was clear: Steer clear of any injury or incident that could threaten the July 25 show at Boston's or the July 26 show at Hollywood Alley. It didn't work.

With Morrell's foot barely connected to his leg by flesh and tendon, he was rushed to Tempe St. Luke's Hospital in an ambulance. Shortly after getting to the hospital, he passed out, and woke up the next day after surgery had been performed to set his ankle. He returned home after two days, but he's finding his sudden immobility hard to accept.

"When we play live, I'm a pretty physical player, jumping around and beating the shit out of my guitar," he says. "And now I have to play in a La-Z-Boy. All the pain with the leg doesn't bother me as much as the frustration of just having to sit there. I'm watching the other guys in the band moving around, and I'm sitting there, and it drives me crazy."

Police arrived at Nita's just moments after the alleged assailants were pulling out, but Morrell says he has received calls from the Sheriff's Office, telling him that the suspects' names and addresses are known and that arrests will be made. Morrell says he was also told that felony-assault charges will be filed.

Soreness in the ankle forced Morrell to skip out of an acoustic jam at Zig Zag Black's June 23 listening party at Hollywood Alley, but he planned on playing both of the band's CD-release shows.

All the hoopla surrounding Morrell's condition overshadows what shapes up as a crucial time for his band. The band's been a popular hard-rock mainstay in town for seven years, and the bandmates fret that they've been around so long that they're either taken for granted or deemed unworthy of respect.

Their new CD, Full Wave Rectifier on Sourdough Records, shows the band continuing to straddle the narrow line between metal and alternative. Its bigger task in the ensuing months will be to get a fair hearing, to convince listeners that after seven years of playing the local circuit it has something new to offer.

Morrell's less-than-ambulant state may slow down things, but the band plans to press on, increasing its focus on Los Angeles, where a strong fan base is building. Morrell expects to undergo a second surgery on the ankle and should get a walking cast within the next three weeks. Until then, his options are somewhat limited. As he says, "All I can do now is play the guitar and watch my sister paint my toenails."

Who's in town: Ben Lee, the 18-year-old Australian singer/songwriter who formerly fronted Noise Addict, is self-aware and sensitive beyond his years. Sometimes to an alarming degree. In the song "Career Choice," from his new Grand Royal CD Something to Remember Me By, Lee ponders all the occupations that he could have attempted, as though it's already too late to try. Nonetheless, Lee has the gift of absolute honesty, even if his private confessions occasionally make you cringe a bit.

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