In 2005, I was working in Los Angeles for a few weeks on an outdoor collaborative project with an art group called Temporary Services that I was part of at the time. We were gathering materials and building structures on a vacant lot in Echo Park, across the street from a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. After a particularly hard day of unseasonally scorching temperatures, which we’d spent lugging discarded shopping carts full of garbage to our stockpile, I saw one of my colleagues beginning to suffer from what looked a lot like heatstroke as he frantically started to paint an alley mattress. (No one should ever try to paint a used mattress with wall paint, even in the name of contemporary art.) I threw up my hands and walked to the library to enjoy the aggressive air-conditioning and relative solitude.
I was reading back issues of various California newspapers in the library’s handy “state of the state” periodicals display when I stumbled upon an engrossing SF Weekly article by Garrett Kamps titled “Marty Anderson Is Okay.” I learned about a sometimes housebound man in his late 20s with a debilitating case of Crohn’s disease (and possibly other issues), who was nonetheless fiercely dedicated to making music—even when reduced to asking bandmates to record in the house he shared with his parents. Anderson has made music in traditional indie bands with other people (most notably Dilute), but he’s probably best known for the albums he’s made by himself, recording all the instruments and all the vocals in his home studio. He’s done this under the names Jacques Kopstein and Okay. When he’s been able to play live, guests from bands he’s friendly with have helped out.
After finishing the article, I left the library and set off almost immediately to Amoeba Records to buy the twin LPs it mentions, High Road and Low Road, both billed to Okay. The LA location of Amoeba didn’t have the records on hand, but it could get them shipped to my house in Chicago. Anderson’s music follows an indie-pop template I like (thoughtful lyrics that sound like dialogue from a great movie, plus electronic experimentation coupled with power-pop jangle), and his song “Now,” the second track on Low Road, stands above all the others to an extreme. It feels ripped from some deep core moment of angst in my own body.
Anderson repeats the phrase “If we still have control,” his voice rendered robotic by a filter, as a bouncy guitar rhythm backs him. When the song breaks into the bridge, its bright melody and rhythm guitar now joined by tinkling synth and drums that sound like a mid-80s Casio keyboard, Anderson sings “Oh yeah” with the same machine-enhanced vocals—it makes me feel like something bad is still happening, even though it’s not sinister music at all and the sun is shining. Anderson’s next words are no surprise: “And there’s no way out for you and me / There’s no way out for you and me now.”
“Now” has been speaking to me again in the past two years, with all their highs and lows. I’ve experienced the euphoric release of vaccinated happiness and returned, masked, to some of my favorite haunts, only to have close friends and heroes pass on suddenly. Even the newspaper that introduced me to Anderson in the first place has sadly been put to pasture. Life has been as relentless as the guitar rhythm in “Now,” but like Anderson, all I can do is keep it moving and continue to make things—even if it’s mostly from home, and even if I’m not feeling like it.