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Fuzzymandias: Ty Segall and the Heart of the Golden City

On November 9, 2015

I flew into San Francisco for the first time in 2014. There’s a train station in the airport and it takes you right into town. I dragged my baggage on board and was immediately flooded by glistening skin and glitter and body paint. It was the last day of the Pride Parade and everyone was trying to get home. I saw a short girl wearing a thong and pasties punch a tall man wearing leather shorts and flip-flops so hard that it knocked him out in a beautiful spray of blood. An old woman called the cops but the cops didn’t come.

I had been on the West Coast for less than 45 minutes.

A guitar split strings in the distance. It was dusk by the time I had finally found my way to the Tenderloin. My bedroom overlooked two different homeless shelters and just across the street was a man hiding underneath a shanty he’d built with two shopping carts and a painter’s tarp. He was watching “Firefly” on his iPad. Was he connected to the Internet?

My host asked me how I liked the city so far. I told him it was an adventure, to say the least. I asked him if he liked living in the city and he said he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I asked him how much he paid in rent and he told me and I threw up.

I spent the evening sitting on a small fire escape that overlooked the lower alleys of the Tenderloin, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer and doing my best to calm the warm feeling in the back of my neck. Music played, crooked hum floated out of the apartment and into the night air and it had this immense whirling that seemed to mix up all the dark clouds above me. Who is this, I asked. My host popped his head out the window of his bedroom with eyes lit up by demon fire and screamed “THIS IS FUZZ, DUDE!”

We drank on the fire escape for the entire length of the album. I asked if it was new and my host said pretty much. I hadn’t heard music like this in awhile. I’m from Nashville. My rock n’ roll is clean and rhythmic and born from whiskey and heartache. This music was different.

There’s this strong shadow that hangs over San Francisco. It’s a polluted cloud that lets in sunlight but keeps out heat and it makes everything bright and cold and cooking. It’s the silver lining of a city built out of trash and it isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s dark and it’s depressing and, as I would soon learn, it’s fueling the resurrection of psychedelic rock and roll.

I walked to the Amoeba Records near Haight Ashbury the next morning and bought Fuzz’s self titled LP. The girl who checked me out asked me if I was going to the Ty Segall show later that week and I asked her who Ty Segall was and she looked at me with a shadowy disgust that can only be described as putrid. She held up the LP and THWAPPED the cover with her middle finger.

He’s the fucking drummer. Fuzz is his fucking side project.

I had no idea. If you’re not familiar, Ty Segall is the messiah of The Bay Area. He’s rebirthed and reformed a musical style that so perfectly fits the vibe of the West Coast that it’s all but been accepted as California’s official anthem. He’s young and he’s greasy and he wears the signature flannel shirts favored by skaters rolling through a climate that’s always sweaty, vaguely cold. He puts out—and I’m estimating here—about two full albums every month. He’s acclaimed, he’s mythic, he’s the only thing anyone will talk about when they talk about Fuzz.

It’s the curse of the prolific.

Fuzz worked hard to remain anonymous when they released their first single, and it makes sense when you think about it. There’s this apocalyptic flood that follows Segall everywhere, drowning out any collaborator, forcing any song by Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin or Ty Segall and White Fence to reduce attribution to the singular Ty Segall.

Fuzz is a unique work, but Segall’s vocals are unmistakable. He takes a backseat from center stage and handles the drums and, of course, he’s a really good drummer.

Listening to “Loose Sutures” for the first time can be kind of shocking, especially in an album that’s defined by psychedelic rock set to a cosmic rift. The track includes a rigorous drum solo in its middle. It’s unexpected. It’s this clean bit of class that’s surrounded by dirt and grit.

But it feels natural. Like the cold sweat that haunts you in every corner of San Francisco, “Loose Sutures” is at once foreign and familiar. You’ve heard these drums before, this talent, this preternatural skill beating out into the night. You’ve heard it in jazz and with jam bands but you never thought you’d hear it with Fuzz.

It cuts the record in half, almost violently. You’ve got this build of solid music and then you’re handed something entirely new and different. Something simple, beautiful, complex, born out of a universal electric hum. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a dystopian wasteland, for city where everyone wants to live but no one’s happy, for a place where systems have failed and cops don’t show up and the homeless have wifi.

And there’s a special pride in it, too. Fuzz is born of tension. San Francisco, the Bay Area, California as a whole, it’s a place where things don’t make sense. Where you’re always hot and you’re always cold and it always feels like you’re halfway done with kicking drugs. There’s a pride in living here, in surviving that, in making things work in a place where nothing works. It’s finding home in the hostile and, like taking in Fuzz, it’s extremely rewarding.

A year later I moved to San Francisco permanently. I tried several times to see Fuzz play live but the tickets, like the real estate, were always sold out. And then there was Burger Boogaloo.

Burger Boogaloo is a ruckus music festival put on by John Waters every year in Oakland. There are a ton of off the wall bands and the whole festival is built on this California goth aesthetic. My roommate bought a VIP pass and then suffered a massive hangover, so he gave me his ticket for the last day of the festival.

The only day that Fuzz was playing.

They played in the middle of the day in full sunlight and something about it felt blasphemous. Fuzz emits this psychic energy that draws in dark clouds like a blanket wrapping you up to sleep. Segall plays the drums like Animal from the Muppets if Animal from the Muppets found adderall. It’s amazing, it’s a spectacle, it awakens the undying mosh pit in all of us. Charles Moothart and Roland Cosio ate the bass and the guitar like it was their dinner.

If you were wondering, Moothart and Cosio are the other members of Fuzz. Don’t worry, even I had to Google it. And that’s the best—and worst—thing about Fuzz is that they will always be Ty Segall and two other guys. It could be Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker and it would still just be two other guys. I stood in the crowd and watched Segall’s beach-blonde hair flail like the tendrils of Cthulhu and some girl next to me asked who the drummer was.

I pointed and I yelled. It’s Ty fucking Segall.


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