It seems apparent that once a rock act reaches a certain point of acceptance, new avenues open. Rockers not only can be all they can be; on occasion, they can even be themselves.
Remember John Cougar? He did so well that now he can afford to be John Cougar Mellencamp. Then there's John Kay, who used to be Steppenwolf; Arthur Lee & Love, who used to be just Love, and lots of others. Which gets us to Keith Morris' Bug Lamp.
Morris, you see, used to be a Jerk. A big Jerk. The main Jerk. The head Jerk. He was co-founder and lead singer for the Circle Jerks, a band that lasted a decade, toured incessantly, broke up more times than Bette Davis in the '30s, came back more often than Dracula, and left a trail of dazed and bruised slam dancers from sea to shining sea.
The Jerks are dead (for now), but Bug Lamp lives and Morris is getting top billing. Now, the only difference between Morris and Mellencamp is about a thousand decibels and a few million zeros on that bank statement.
"The last Circle Jerks tour was the last Circle Jerks tour," Morris said in a recent phone interview. "We're going to do two shows in Hawaii pretty soon and then that's it. That's sort of like a present to ourselves after 11 years."
Morris' new band is coming to Santa Barbara tonight and it probably won't be quiet about it either. Just because Morris looks like some mellow reggae dude, with all those dreads, he's not. Bringing earplugs (Bug Plugs?) would make sense.
"We're not going to do any Circle Jerks songs," Morris said. "Some of the guys in the band wanted to, but we're not. We do a Garland Jeffries song and a Soft Boys song--that's old Robyn Hitchcock stuff. This band has a few more variations than the Circle Jerks, some mellower moments and some aggressive stuff. But mostly, we're very exciting and very loud. If it's too loud, you're too old."
With the Circle Jerks, Morris played in Santa Barbara many times--just a few months ago, in fact.
Tonight's gig at The Pub on the UC Santa Barbara campus will be a first for the former Redondo Beach resident. Will it be the last? Will Gauchos be killed, trampled, maimed, deafened or rendered otherwise unavailable for class Friday?
"The campus girls will be glad to see us," Morris said. "They'll be quivering with excitement and will probably see us for the sex gods and studly rock dudes that we are. And anyway, how can you go wrong for two bucks?"