Rock Star In The Supermarket

A chance encounter with former American Music Club leader Mark Eitzel.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The last thing I expected to see walking up the

aisle of a supermarket was a rock star.

All the same, that's where I came across ex-American Music Club leader Mark

Eitzel, who has been pursuing a solo career for the past few years. Eitzel is the

kind of guy who is often lost in thought, so when I quietly said a word of

greeting, he answered me with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression,

which gave way to a somewhat wary "how've you been?"

Eitzel, who I consider to be one of the great living songwriters (check out his

work on Engine and California) seemed embarrassed, and I felt

awkward. I don't know what he was thinking. I quickly told him that it was great

to see him, and I moved on down another aisle. I wanted to give him his space,

his privacy. It just felt, well, wrong, invasive, to be seeing him in this place.

You're not supposed to find rock stars in markets, or walking down the street, or

at the Laundromat. It breaks the spell, if you know what I mean.

I think of Mark Eitzel sitting in an old Victorian flat somewhere in San Francisco,

writing songs in a well-used notebook. Or in the studio, behind the board,

meticulously overseeing the recording of a track. Or onstage, at the Great

American Music Hall or the Fillmore.

Not in Bell Market. Not holding a bottle of juice, or some detergent. Not wasting

time dealing with the mundane stuff of everyday life.

Punk was supposed to change all that. You know, "anyone" with some attitude

and something to say could pick up a guitar and make their stand. Punks were

supposed to be, well, everybody. Only part of what captivated us was that punk

rockers were as iconic as the rock royalty they wanted to destroy. Anybody

could be a punk rocker, but only some punk rockers could become stars.

Johnny Rotten at Jack in the Box? Joey Ramone at Office Depot? I don't think

so.

No, I think of Joey and his bandmates, dressed in their now immortalized black

leather jackets, T-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes, sitting around a swimming pool

at a San Francisco motel, answering questions with one, maybe two words. The

Clash's Joe Strummer banging on a pinball machine at the studio where he

and Mick Jones were finishing up "Safe European Home." The Minutemen

sitting cross-legged in the back of a van. Paul Westerberg, in the Replacements'

Let It Be days, snorting coke in a backstage dressing room.

In other words, I think of rock stars in rock-star settings. Even when those

settings may, in reality, be mundane, in my mind they've taken on larger than life

proportions.

Thus, it seemed completely natural, in the artists compound at the Tibetan

Freedom Concert last weekend, to find Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Kim

Gordon hangin' out outside their dressing room tent, close to where Sean

Lennon was standing with Wyclef Jean. R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Michael Stipe

and Radiohead's Tom Yorke were bopping in and out of their respective tents,

as mega-producer Rick Rubin walked by. At one point, Pearl Jam's Eddie

Vedder arrived, as did the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And former Jane's Addiction

leader Perry Farrell. And Blues Traveler.

Rock stars in a setting where you expect rock stars. Rock stars looking like rock

stars or anti-rock stars, looking like the photos that have helped turn them into

icons.

One expects rock stars to, well, live different lives than the rest of us. Their

homes are supposed to be larger than life. I remember visiting Lindsey

Buckingham, post-Fleetwood Mac, at his Bel Air, Calif., abode, which was

complete with an indoor "rain room" -- as well as a pool table and a multi-track

recording studio.

Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, back when Jerry Garcia was alive and the Dead

were still a happening band, lived in a roomy house up a winding road on Mt.

Tamalpias -- nearly all of the walls were glass windows, so it almost felt like you

were in an enormous tree house, with trees and other vegetation visible from

every room. Normal people don't live in places like that.

I remember Mark Eitzel telling me, one time, that he rented an office where he

went to write songs on a computer. This didn't seem very romantic, nor very

rock-starish. In my head, I imagined an empty room with a sparse desk, a

computer and Eitzel, typing. But then, as time went on, I thought about this over

and over, and pretty soon this seemed offbeat, unusual, arty. A fresh and unique

approach to songwriting. I had romanticized the ordinary, I made the most

ordinary of scenes feel special. Mark Eitzel, at work on a song, in the rented

office where he went each day. How out-of-the-ordinary. How unique!

Already, that image of Eitzel in the supermarket is changing, evolving. I see this

lone figure, this artist, standing there -- a tragic figure, perhaps. And though he

actually was just standing in that market, in my mind he now seems removed, as

if he had been beamed down, for just a moment, and would soon be

transported back to that place where rock stars and other artists dwell. Far from

the likes of you and I.