Good Year for Bad Days

Their record company just dumped them; Fiesta Bowl sponsors think they're dips; but Tempe still love its Refreshments

The catchy melodies and clever lyrics have been both the band's strongest suit and biggest critical liability.

"We never drew a line and said we're going to be a serious band or a funny band," says Buddy Edwards. "Both of them were pretty essential in our approach to what rock 'n' roll is. One of the Kids in the Hall, the TV show, said, 'I love rock 'n' roll, but I also realize how stupid it is,' and from the time this band started, we've always approached it that way."

Some irony-challenged listeners have interpreted Refreshments staples like "Banditos" and "Mexico" as being anti-Mexican. Lyrics in the former, for example, exclaim, "The good guys and the bad guys, they never work past noon around here. They sit side by side in the cantinas, talk to senoritas and drink warm beer. . . ."

Clyne, in fact, meant the songs as homage to a more relaxed and civilized society he perceives south of the border, where he'd rather be. He speaks Spanish, and unselfconsciously peppers his English conversation with Spanish expressions.

The Refreshments could fill any local venue, anytime. However, in local critics' circles, "accessibility" is a pejorative, as if being able to like a song and understand it on a first hearing were a bad thing. They've been called the "Refratments," for their ardent student following, and local memories of their bar-band days.

"For some reason, America believes that unless it smacks of all sorts of pain, unless it's bad, it's not art, and I don't agree with that," says Clyne.

Blush adds, "We've heard things like 'too pop for radio' or 'too hooky,' and those arguments never made sense to me."

Ted Simons, the morning DJ at KZON, calls the Refreshments a "snotty little band putting together quick quirky pop songs."

"I'm not a big fan of clever. I like honest, artistic stuff," he says.
"I think that's part of the reason I can't relate to it," says Mark Zubia of the local band the Pistoleros. Zubia likes the band members, but not their music. "Not that it's not dark," he continues. "It doesn't have as much soul as I like to have in music."

Another local band is alleged to have challenged the Refreshments to a fistfight.

At issue is the Refreshments' rapid rise.
"You have bands that have been playing for seven, 10 years in Tempe, and here's a band that's been around a year and a half that's on MTV and touring around the country," says Charlie Levy of Nita's Hideaway. "People get jealous."

"I'm full-on jealous of all their success," admits Curtis Grippe from Dead Hot Workshop, another popular Tempe band that made the climb from local to national act and back again. "I think it's really cool that they've had success."

Then Grippe turns the tables. "The Refreshments have been very supportive of everyone they've worked with, especially Roger," he says. "In all my years of knowing him, I've never heard him say one bad thing about another band. He's the only musician I could say that about. I love their music. It's good-time pop music."

And there's not a better show in town than the one they put out for their loyal fans.

They finished well after midnight on Christmas.
Buddy Edwards and P.H. Naffah disappeared almost immediately. Brian Blush and Roger Clyne hung out in the small upstairs dressing room at the back of Gibson's to decompress. Blush quietly smoked a cigarette.

Clyne was folded into a couch, looking as if he had been picked up and wrung out by a giant hand, spent, politely trying to focus his eyes on an ardent fan who was prattling happily about Mexico and how good the show was.

Clyne croaked out the proper response.

National music critics paint the Refreshments as if they were playing Yuma and Gila Bend in juke joints that look like TV beer commercials, full of hot tee-shirted blondes in tight jeans.

"Maybe that's what they've got implanted in their minds as to what the Southwest is," says Blush, "a truck stop with a saguaro in the parking lot."

In real life, they worked their way up in smoky Tempe clubs like Long Wong's and Edcel's Attic and especially the Yucca Tap Room.

Still, even local music writers harbor a notion of four happy-go-lucky guys piling into a Suburban with a cracked windshield, throwing beer cans out the window on the way to a weekend in Mexico spent crying over lost loves.

The reality is four pleasant men pushing 30, who live separate lives and come together to make music.

On the road, "It's like touring with the Osmond Brothers," says their former A&R man, Peter Lubin.

Although all of them attended Arizona State University, only one of them is actually from Arizona, Roger Clyne, the singer and main songwriter.

What the four hold in common is an anxious recognition that although they have crept into the musical big leagues, they could be sent down to the minors, especially given recent history. And though they have recorded one near-gold album, they are hardly rock stars. They live in modest middle-class houses with their wives or fiancees; Roger Clyne, who turned 30 this week, has a 10-month-old boy. They eat in taco shops. They make only about as much money as, say, a newspaper reporter, and that is always tentative.

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