Skankin’ Pickle 1991

SKANKIN’ PICKLE: 1991

I can’t say definitively when I first encountered Skankin’ Pickle. I was tagging along with Alex to random punk and ska shows around the bay area and certainly got from him a decent education to ska’s “second wave” bands such as Madness, The English Beat, and The Specials. I know I liked Skankin’ Pickle instantly and struck up a conversation with Mike Park, the band’s singer and saxophone player after the first time I saw them.

Somewhere along the line, I asked if they had any live material out and remembering that my folks got a new Hi-8 camera recently, asked if I could video tape them at their next gig. He quickly agreed and seemed grateful for my enthusiasm. Small and lightweight, the camera also held enough battery power to last a night easily

So, with camera in hand, at their next gig at Slim’s, I floated around backstage, interacting as little as possible, catching glimpses of the goings on. It seems mundane to those working and performing, but to a young, inexperienced man like I was, there was never a dull moment.

I watched as bands came in, did their sound checks, tuned their guitars, ate dinner, drank beer, and goofed off with the other bands on the bill. Being so young myself, I couldn’t appreciate how young these artists were at the time as well, but each had a story to tell. Yet Skankin’ Pickle was a professional outfit, each musician very skilled with their instrument. Though every member contributed to their sound, Mike Park was the front man, singing most the songs and doing most of the talking on stage. I could tell he was smart and very well organized. It came to no surprise, later in life, that he went to found Asian Man records and earned the respect of the bay area music community.

Mike may have been the front man, but Mike “Mr. Clean” Mattingly was the band’s court jester. Apart from being a phenomenal bassist, the guy was a natural comedian. As his nickname suggested, he was shaven bald. However, he’d come out at the beginning of the show, wearing some ridiculous wig and tear it off later, usually before doing his “Burnt Head” song. The faces he’d make would make an undertaker crack up.

Lynette was the guitarist and I was in love. Naturally, I was young and horny and had no idea how to talk to her. Wouldn’t have done me or any of her young male admirers a good anyway, for I found out later that she was lesbian. In 2007, it broke my heart to hear that she died from a drug overdose. 

When the band got on stage, I would scurry around the stage during their show, the camera’s microphone picking up whichever band member I was closest to, being next to their monitor or instrument amp. It would naturally sound better when I was out in the audience, the further back the better, but I liked the way I would get to hear each member one at a time, dissecting their contributions to the song they were playing. 

Editing the video together was a crude process, merely hooking up the camera to a VCR and transferring the best takes of the songs from all the gigs and the occasional backstage material in between them. The VCR wouldn’t exactly stop on a dime, so I’d have to give a couple seconds here and there to time the edits just right. I’d sit in the corner of my folks’ living room, VHS and Hi-8 tapes strewn around me. If anything, the experience taught me the importance of comprehensive labeling.

I was happy with the final project and it came in handy as a project I could submit to a film class I was taking in college at the time. Most students had ten to twenty minute pieces, mine was almost two hours long. Naturally, we couldn’t watch the whole thing in class. Still, it was an amateur piece of work and I didn’t expect the band to use it to sell or anything. I gave a VHS copy to each band member, though I’d be surprised if any of those copies still exist. Frankly, I can’t even find mine anymore.

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