Three Rooms Press, 100 pages, hardcover, $25.00
Looking west from the shores of Long Beach, California stands the tall cranes of the Port of Los Angeles, and just beyond them sits the small portside city of San Pedro. It was in this city that author Charles Bukowski spent his last years of his life. It’s a place where the films such as Chinatown and The Usual Suspects feature some of their most memorable scenes.
For the punk rock movement of the early 1980s, it’s also the birthplace of the Minutemen. Unfortunately, the band’s existence was cut short when front man and guitarist D. Boon died in a car accident after the band’s van ran off the road in Arizona in 1985. Band mate and fellow San Pedro native Mike Watt went on to form the group fIREHOSE, as well as play bass in the revamped version of The Stooges.
Along with his love for music, Watt also prides himself as being a native and resident of San Pedro (his internet radio show is appropriately titled The Watt From Pedro Show). What is not commonly known is that Mike Watt has a love and interest in photography, especially capturing the environment that surround San Pedro. All of these things are examined in his photographic memoir, Mike Watt : On and Off Bass.
When I think of memoirs, especially those of rock stars and musicians, I think of a book full of stories from the road –- insight on the drama of being in a band, and a look into their youth and growing up. Basically, a book full of pats on the back and self-gratifying praise for being so lucky to do what you love (hopefully) for a living. This book, however, is the furthest things from that.
In these 100 pages, the focus is mostly on Watt’s amazing photographic images of San Pedro, taken from on land as well as at sea (via kayak): early morning shots of the Port of Los Angeles featuring the heavy coastal fog being broken up by the rising sun. Pictures of pelicans, seals, and seagulls resting ashore or on buoys. Images of cargo ships, large cranes, and other industrial equipment clash against the reflection of the water and the clashing of the waves. Watt’s ability to capture both the natural and man-made aspects that make up the community and elements that make up San Pedro really shines through.
Along with these amazing pictures, Watt also gives the reader a chance to read some insightful glimpses into being on and off the road — the emphasis being on the word “glimpse.” The written passages are quite short and small in detail. We also are given a few poems written by Watt. The diary passes span throughout the 2000s, and feature stories about particular performances, encounters with fans, thoughts on life, and his love for John Coltrane.
Mike Watt : On and Off Bass gives you a real down-to-earth look at who he is. It’s a very minimalistic look back at his life, combining the things he cares deeply about: San Pedro, music, and photography. The book proves that you do not need to bash your fans over the head with anecdotes of how great your life has been — this simplistic approach makes for a refreshing and insightful read.