Every day before I caught the bus to elementary school in the early aughts, I’d shovel Cocoa Krispies into my mouth and watch MTV. And in fall 2001, the music video I wanted to see the most was Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” a total departure from the typically glossy and glamorous visuals the channel played at that time.
The stars of “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” weren’t stars at all (and neither was the band, though it had scored some chart success with previous singles), which made it unique. Cake’s fourth album, Comfort Eagle, eventually hit No. 13 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” clip’s heavy rotation. The band ducked out of appearing in the four-minute video, instead opting for a low-budget man-on-the-street montage where everyday people gave their unfiltered takes, sometimes negatively, of the song as they listened to it on a portable CD player. Not everyone liked it, and that was OK. That was the point.
The clip’s simple formula, which the band replicated three years later for “No Phone,” elevated it to an MTV Video Music Award nomination for Breakthrough Video in 2002, though it lost to the White Stripes’ Michel Gondry–directed “Fell in Love With a Girl.” It’s since become a neat relic of the pre-YouTube era, when a video that looked like this could be lauded for creativity, not derided for being reductive and bland. As such, it is perhaps incredibly still a source of sporadic attention for some of the clip’s 28 “stars.” I tracked down five of them and asked them to tell the story of how they got involved.
Bruce Thiessen, Ph.D., PsychologistCake
Notable Comment: “As a psychologist, I’d have to say that it has therapeutic value because it releases something deep inside.”
Then: In 2001, Thiessen was a psychologist who often hung outside a Sacramento Starbucks and wrote rapid-fire songs about the day’s top news stories on his guitar. The local TV news crew knew this, and they’d sometimes recruit him to do it for broadcast. The morning of the video shoot, though, Thiessen was recruited to listen to the Cake song instead, partly because some of those same news crew members worked on the video. His wife, Roxie, thinks that this particular Starbucks was where the “unusual” people congregated, “and [Cake] like to include unusual people in their musical projects,” he told me in an email.
Now: Not long after the video premiered, Thiessen said he’d get stopped “three or four times a day” by people who recognized his face. Later, he ran into Cake singer John McCrea in a grocery store, and they talked for a bit. “He was very nice,” Thiessen said. “He told me how much he appreciated me being in the video.” Thiessen — who now goes by the musical moniker Dr. B.L.T. — even wrote a song about his experience in the clip called, naturally, “Short Part/Long Cake Music Video.” Thiessen currently heads up a rock music therapy group at a prison outside San Diego (where some inmates have recognized him) and frequently pens quick-take songs under the Dr. B.L.T. name, which you can check out on SoundCloud or his website.
Aaron Sugg, CartoonistCake
Notable Comment: “I don’t like the ‘na-na-na’ part in the chorus. I think they could cut that shit out.”
Then: Aaron, then 19, had stopped to buy weed in Berkeley one afternoon with a friend when he was approached by the film crew. “I had been drinking beer and tequila all afternoon,” he told me in an email, “so I believe the piece of footage they used of me might have been the sentence with the fewest cuss words.” (That friend, Rafe, also appears in the video at 3:15.)
Now: Currently a chef based in Oakland, California, Aaron was a Cake fan prior to the video and calls their 1998 album, Prolonging the Magic, great house-cleaning music. He still gets hit up occasionally on social media by people who recognize him. And of course, he’s especially pumped to have been censored on MTV for saying “shit.” “Totally a bucket list item,” he said, though for the record, he’s totally cool with the ‘na-na-na’ parts now.
Deirdre Fitzpatrick, News ReporterCake
Notable Comment: N/A
Then: “The backstory was that Cake wanted to do something totally different and something that wasn’t like crazy-high production value,” Deirdre told me over the phone — and she would know. “All the clips that were shot in the Sacramento area were primarily by photographers that I work with.” She’s been at Sacramento’s KCRA-TV for nearly two decades, and part of the reason she got pulled into the video shoot that day was because the filming crew spotted her outside a Starbucks (sound familiar?). The crew needed faces for the video, but the other people outside Starbucks weren’t biting. So Deirdre was the first up, with a sacrificial shot that resulted in two quick nonspeaking moments in the video. The only problem? As on-camera talent at KCRA, Deirdre was limited in what she could appear in for other outlets: “The video comes out, and I just didn’t say anything because I thought chances are my bosses don’t watch MTV.”
Now: A news veteran who’s covered nine Olympic games across the globe, Deirdre has a very recognizable face, but the fleeting frames of this one music video still bring her attention on social media from people “all over the world.” As she said, “No matter what I do, I will still be the girl from the Cake video, and I think it’s just awesome.”
Jim Soper, Retired ArchitectCake
Notable Comment: “I don’t think it’ll get to the Top of the Pops.”
Then: I reached out to Jim using the only contact information I could find: the restored Red Lion Hotel at the Crich Tramway Village, just south of Sheffield, England, which is the architectural project he’s made his life’s work. He doesn’t use email, so he sent me a three-page typed letter that detailed the history of this massive undertaking — basically, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, he took structural components of the hotel from its original spot west in Staffordshire back home in his car to wash and restore them piece by piece in the building’s current location. The project was completed in 2002.
Now: Jim’s living in West Yorkshire and apparently taking the time to send personalized letters to curious culture writers halfway around the world. We did not talk about “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”
Robbyn Seat, Jr. High School StudentCake
Notable Comment: N/A
Then: A Chicago native, teenage Robbyn was exploring the boardwalk in California for her first time when a crew member asked her to listen to the song. In the video, she stays pretty poker-faced with the headphones on, furrowing her brow in the sun and blinking a bunch of times, not giving away too much in her face about what she thinks of it. Eventually, though, there's a (brief) smile. Cake has taken hold.
Now: "I remember living on Catalina Island [later], and that was the big thing, me being in the video," she told me in a Facebook message. I'm not the first one to ask her about it, she said, and I very likely won't be the last.
Jens Wallat, German TouristCake
Notable Comment: “I miss the rising action a little bit. The voice is good. It rocks, the song rocks. It’s good, but a little bit, I miss the rising action.”
Then: After I hit up Jens on Facebook, he wrote me back: “..sure. send me your email. I will tell u in my perfect english,” and threw in a cry-laughing emoji for good measure. I never got a full response after I replied, but I’ll take the initial recognition to mean I found the right man.
Now: Based on his Facebook info, he lives in Germany and just recently got engaged in June. Congrats, Jens! I hope you found love, life’s true rising action, in your bride-to-be.