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Entry date: 3-15-2022 - The Bishop Brothers - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Last weekend was kind of incredible. I spent Friday and Saturday getting to know Alan and Rick Bishop. You may know them as 2/3 of the Sun City Girls. I meant to write about this yesterday, but the day got away from me and in a way, I’m glad it did.

Friday night (March 11), we filmed about five and a half hours of interviews with the Bishops. I’m on the board of the Placebo Foundation and we are going to create a documentary about the Placebo Records/Mersey Productions days from the 1980s. The Sun City Girls played a huge part in that story, and I was lucky enough to get to hear a lot of their story Friday night.

We got started around 3pm and, while Rick was visiting a local bookstore, Alan and I talked about his time in JFA and some of the other projects he was involved in while he lived in Arizona. It was amazing to hear about those days, to say the least, but it also made me think of how I viewed performers like him as a teenager. It occurred to me, for example, that I thought of the Sun City Girls as a complete mystery. They seemed so weird and strange to me as a kid.

I remember the first time I saw them. It was a show at the Mason Jar, I think with JFA, but maybe not, and I was mesmerized by them. Charlie caught my attention early on in their set and he kept me transfixed on him for almost the entire show. I had never seen someone attack the drums the way he did, and he was doing his trick where he foamed at the mouth. I learned on Saturday that he would put Alka Seltzer tablets in his mouth to achieve this effect.

That was my first experience with something other than standard rock or punk in a live setting. I had no idea what to think or do with that kind of thing at the time. I wish I could get inside my 15-year-old brain and ask myself a few questions, to be honest. I’d like to think that I would have said that I loved it, but I kind of remember being very confused and overwhelmed by them more than anything.

But there I was on Friday having an in-depth conversation with the two remaining Sun City Girls and I kept thinking about how fucking cool it was. They opened themselves up to us in a way they probably have never done before. They answered every question I had written down and then some. We did individual interviews first, which included Alan singing a funny song he made up about Doug Clark, and then finished the evening with a couple of long interview sessions with the brothers together.

Editing all of it is going to be so difficult. I can’t imagine cutting any of it out. It was that good. I think people who have no idea about the Sun City Girls will find it interesting because they are both fascinating guys. They were able to articulate what it was like to play weird music in Phoenix in the early 80s in a way that I did not expect. It was clear, funny, and in some cases, heartbreaking. The reverence they both had for their peers was touching and provided a first glimpse into what great guys they are as we got the ball rolling.

It's always nice to talk to fellow music fans. To hear Rick, for example, talk about his love for the Meat Puppets was great. He spoke about always wanting to see them play and see what covers they would do. We talked a lot about various musicians, but he lit up when he talked about the Puppets. We forget, I think, as Phoenix music people, about what a great band they were and are still to this day. During our conversation, it was clear that both of the Bishop brothers love music and have devoted their lives to it because there was no other choice.

I feel fortunate to have gotten to see Sun City Girls a handful of times. The last of which was in 2004 in Portland. We went to Berbati’s Magic Pan as part of my brother from another mother Steve Roberts’ bachelor party. I don’t think any of us had an idea that Charlie was dealing with cancer even then and would be gone in a few more years. They were as weird and vibrant as ever that night and Rick remembered that show fondly when we talked.

On Saturday, they performed. It was our first event at Club Placebo, which is a small performance space that is also home to the Placebo archives. Just off Central on McDowell, it’s a cool addition to the Phoenix music and art scene. A lot of work and resources have gone into making the space ready and it showed on Saturday. Everyone involved must feel proud right now. I know I do.

The crowd that showed up for the event seemed to enjoy themselves a lot. It was a mix of ages and while I recognized the majority of people, there were a lot of new faces, too. We started off the entertainment with an hour or so of the brothers talking on stage with Tony Beram (AKA Tony Victor). They were entertaining and the crowd was eating it up.

After a short intermission, Alan came on and did an “Uncle Jim” set. This is a character that is based on the brothers actual Uncle Jim. We learned about him on Friday night, and it seemed like he was a very cool dude. “Uncle Jim” on stage was about an hour of amazing beat inspired poetry. There was a little bit of music at the end, too, but mostly it was Alan just killing it with words.

When Alan got done, Sir Richard Bishop took the stage and destroyed it with his guitar. Holy hell is the guy good. I totally understand why Tony described him as one of the best guitar players in the world. Rick’s set was incredible, and we have it all recorded. I wish I knew what his set list was, but I was too enthralled to care. After a long couple of days, it was just celebration at that point. After a short intermission, Alan joined Rick on stage, and they continued the fun.

While their set was filled with Sun City Girls songs, it was also incredible to see how tight they were. I’m sure to them it may not have been flawless, but to my ears, it certainly was perfection. These guys know how to put on a show and clearly feed off each other. It was after midnight when they finished and I was exhausted, but also elated. I have been blessed in this life, for sure, and to be part of a night like that is something I will always be thankful for while I’m on this planet.

Just wait until you see the video…

See you tomorrow.

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