Cultivating a new-wave look that was decidedly British, the Jetzons were the Valley's answer to Talking Heads. Avid explorers of the then-primitive world of synthesizers, the Jetzons laid out lightweight, pop-rock grooves that filled dance floors and made people smile. At its peak, around 1982, the group's eminently danceable riffs were packing venues all over the state and in California. Two years after their New Year's Eve debut, however, the Jetzons succumbed to the one-two punch that kills most bands--drugs and a hassle with their manager. The combination splintered the group just as a record deal was looming. The original version of the band played its last gig in July 1983. What had made the Jetzons great--lead singer and songwriter Bruce Connole--was also what helped to tear it apart. Throughout the band's time together, Connole wrestled with a heroin addiction. Not just another Sid Vicious--a no-talent musician with a drug habit--Connole is a songwriter and performer of real substance who has swung between long periods of sobriety and precipitous slips into darkness. In the spurts when he's clean, Connole has been able to successfully shift stylistic gears, write new music and form new bands. Unfortunately, every time those bands gained momentum and the money began to flow, he'd get hooked again. One of the Valley's most talented rock 'n' roll wunderkinds, Bruce Connole has been the driving force behind the Jetzons, the Strand and now the Cryptics. The Jetzons' lone album still brings back a rush of memories to those who knew the band in the early Eighties. The Jetzons is filled with the band's guitar-heavy takes on the three-minute pop song. Although the long, anthemic "431" was always the centerpiece of their live sets, "You" is the tune that most people remember pogoing to.
Driven by perky synths and its big-hook chorus, "You" was the Jetzons' biggest hit. Written by Connole and the band's keyboardist, Brad Buxer, "You" also became the group's burden. Fans never stopped requesting it and the tune became a standard the band could never equal.
"`You' is so cute and so happy," Connole says. "It's one of those songs that you wished you'd never written."
Connole is tall and thin, and his long hair hangs down near his face and invites constant flicking. Dressed in black boots, black jeans and a black leather motorcycle jacket, he sits in a booth at the back of a downtown restaurant, smoking incessantly and getting more than a few cynical laughs out of his own mistakes. In conversation, he refers to himself as a "has-been." Well-read, Connole spices his conversation with references to Eastern philosophy and literary figures like William Burroughs--every junkie's favorite man of letters. Since the Fifties, when people like Burroughs and Charlie Parker gave it a certain mystique, heroin has been linked to creativity. For the sober Connole, that's an empty illusion. "Contrary to popular belief, you function on heroin, as long as you can get it," Connole says with a grimace, as he shakes another cigarette out of the pack. "Instead of having a lot of little problems, you have one big one. But it was always a handicap. It never made me play or write any better."
Right now, Connole says he's clean. Despite a studied aloofness, he says he doesn't mind talking about his "disease" because so much of his life doesn't make sense without it. His latest cleanup (and the genesis of his latest band, the Cryptics) began in August 1990 when he hit what he calls "the lowest point in my life so far."
"I hit bottom the day [Saddam] Hussein invaded Kuwait. I thought, `The whole world's going down with me,'" he says. "I was bankrupt on every scale you can imagine--the woman I was living with left me, I was strung out and at one point I was so agoraphobic that I had to drink a quart of 151 or something just so I could leave the house and get to the methadone clinic. "I've had thoughts of suicide before, but this time there wasn't even any consideration of what people would say at my funeral. What brought me back from the edge, though, was the old Hamlet thing--if I had known what's on the other side, I probably would have gone for it."
Fortunately, the fear of the unknown kept him in this world. After weeks of fighting the addiction alone in his apartment, he kicked it and has been clean since. He says his 32nd birthday, November 6, 1990, was the first day he didn't have to take a chemical to feel well. The question now, however, is: Will he slip again?