Good Year for Bad Days

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

When Clyne enrolled at ASU, he tried studying music, but he found it too mathematical, too divorced from his experience. "Furthermore, I couldn't do it," he says bluntly.

Instead he took a double major in psychology and anthropology, played in bands at night, and was on his way to a graduate program in psychology that got sidetracked when the Refreshments took off.

In 1992, Clyne and the bass player from his band at the time, and a vagabond friend named Michael O'Hare took off for Taiwan with the hope of getting jobs teaching English.

They blew most of their money on a stopover in Honolulu and had to sleep in the park and play music in the street to earn back enough money to get to China.

When they reached Taipei, they booked into a youth hostel, "Which pretty much ended up being Drug Central," Clyne remembers, "where all the dealers brought drugs to sell to the foreigners, which was us. It was evidently the seediest place you could live in Taipei, because once we got jobs teaching, all our students were begging us to move out and offering us a place to stay with them: 'You can't live in the Taipei hostel.' 'You don't know the reputation the place has!'--which was all the more reason to stay."

They took their instruments to subway terminals to earn the rent. The Chinese were underwhelmed.

"At first we played a lot of songs we thought would be hip over there, pseudo-cool American music--Pixies, Camper Van Beethoven, Nirvana. It sounded really cool in the subway with all that natural reverb. But it ended up scaring the Taiwanese away."

Other buskers suggested that they play Beatles medleys, John Denver and Everly Brothers songs, and then the open guitar case started filling up with coins--illegally of course. Clyne could tell the police were coming when the vendors all started running, and he would pack up his guitar and coins and start running, too.

After nearly a year of teaching English, Clyne and friends booked passage to Thailand. His favorite Refreshments song, "Mekong," unfolds in a bar in Bangkok, where local and international travelers intersect and exchange lies and life stories while waiting for trains and planes.

It's a halfway nostalgic song:
"We flew all the way/From Taipei today/ Still, Bangkok's pissing rain/And I'm going blind again/And I haven't seen my girl, for 15,000 miles."

Then the tempo shifts up:
"Is it true it's always happy hour here?/ 'Cause if it is, I'd like to stay a while."

"Mekong" shows Clyne's sensitive eye: He was touched by the poverty, destitution and prostitution, which comes out in the haunting line, "Smile at the girl in the door/Another four-dollar whore/But don't look her in the eye/It'll break your heart."

To describe the ups and downs of Clyne's life on paper somehow makes him sound fragile or even neurotic. In fact, he's funny and strong, stably fused to fiancee Alisa and son Michael Otis--whom he named after best friend and traveling partner O'Hare, who died a year ago. And he speaks with naked honesty about taking his own sanity to the abyss and back.

When the Refreshments were forming, Clyne suffered from debilitating panic attacks and agoraphobia, and worries of not accomplishing what he needed to.

"I used to fear that if I would go to bed and my life were over and I'd never wake up, that I would have regrets about it."

He laughs at the paradox.
He pulled himself away from the brink, went to his father's ranch, wandering off into the mountains with a bedroll for days at a time on spiritual quests, walking and sitting and fasting and confronting himself and the vastness of the outdoors.

"I really like that feeling," he says. "At once you're all alone and totally vulnerable, and, at the same time, you're part of a different hold that you don't feel in the city. I have to seek that shift in reality."

The Refreshments rehearse in the back of a store on University Drive in Tempe. In the front is an assemblage of amps and instruments and plain junk, some of it memorable: plastic army men from the band's video of its song "Down Together," an empty bottle of Mekong whiskey, a topless airbrushed rendition of the bomber-nose babe on the cover of Fizzy Fuzzy.

The music takes place in a tiny carpet-lined space. Aside from the amplifiers, the only furnishings are a couple of stools and the back seat from a minivan, as if guests could seat-belt themselves to keep from being blown away.

The band warms up with a Tom Petty song, then a couple of its own, before trying out a new song that Clyne has sung into his little four-track tape recorder. Blush and Naffah have heard the tape and are already thinking up ways to slip into it--Blush has a guitar riff he wants to feather onto Clyne's high guitar introduction.

The chorus of the new song reflects the effect that touring has had on Clyne's experience:

I don't know how you got through security,
You picked all my locks by being so low key.
I've never been easy, but I'll be easy for you.
The first run-through is tentative.

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