Forget triumph and clarity and the larger-than-life spectacle that some folks want out of their rock 'n' roll.
In 1995, the Orange County rock scene was a lot like life itself: promising yet frustrating, a muddled, jumbled, compromised, hard-to-fathom ball of uncertainties and contradictions.
But, like life itself, O.C. pop was irrepressible. Performers in all genres found nooks and crannies for live shows within the county's perpetually inadequate venue infrastructure, and they churned out recordings so industriously that, for the first time, it became impossible for one harried observer (namely your humble scribe) to keep track of all the local releases that deserved attention.
Quality was not hard to find, starting with "You Came Screaming," the memorably tuneful, passionately philosophical debut album by folk-rocker Mark Davis.
Thanks to the Offspring, the year began with O.C. in the vanguard of the great punk-rock gold rush of 1994. The Offspring stayed hot in '95, touring for much of the year and pushing sales totals for its "Smash" album past the 8-million mark worldwide.
Perhaps predictably, given the long odds against any pop act gaining gold or platinum sales and a place in the national spotlight, no other local band was able to break through to star-magnitude popularity.
On the other hand (as was only fitting in this year of "yes, buts"), '95 found more O.C. bands than ever before getting a chance to take a fair shot.
Success stories included Huntington Beach band Korn, which took its wrathful punkish metal on tour and came home with the year's top-selling local album other than the Offspring's. "Korn" peaked at No. 99 on the Billboard's pop-album chart and sold 300,000 copies in '95; an upcoming arena tour opening for Ozzy Osbourne figures to propel the band further.
As the year closed, two veteran O.C. bands, No Doubt and Mr. Mirainga, were making headway on the modern-rock radio charts with cuts from solid new albums.
Social Distortion, the artistic and sentimental favorite to follow the Offspring to household-name status (at least in households where punk rock is played), held off the big push until next year as it slaved away in the studio for much of 1995. Important, long-missing pieces of S.D.'s past were excavated from the vaults with the reissue of two CDs of out-of-print material from 1981-83, as well as a previously unavailable documentary video from the same period.
A long list of O.C. alternative rockers released records on or signed deals with major labels or respected independents.
On the other hand, landing a record deal is like getting admitted to college in hopes of one day becoming a brain surgeon: It entitles you to take all the freshman pre-med courses, but the chances are slim that you'll ever get to saw through a cranium. The ambitious melodic-rock band Water was an all-too-typical example as its strong debut album for MCA failed to find a niche in the marketplace.
While O.C. advanced its reputation as a hotbed of punk rock, the scene's estimable contingent of roots-rockers and country singers had a productive 1995 that yielded a good chunk of the year's best local music.
Chris Gaffney, O.C.'s king of (broadly defined) country music, released his third album, "Loser's Paradise," and toured nationally for the first time, bringing his distinctive songwriting and eclectic style to a small but growing audience.
Our country queen, Jann Browne, finally got her fabulous 1994 album, "Count Me In," released in the United States. Rick Shea came through with a splendid debut CD, "The Buffalo Show," and Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys toured far and wide after putting out "Swingin' West," another vibrant, lighthearted album that mined the past (in this case western swing) with fresh-sounding results.
Good new records by the James Harman Band, the Walter Trout Band, Lee Rocker's Big Blue and David "Kid" Ramos made it a notable year on the O.C. blues scene. Ramos landed a high-profile gig as guitarist for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and another local veteran, Robert Lucas, joined the national act Canned Heat, which already had an O.C. flavor thanks to the nimble guitarist Junior Watson.
The punk/alternative bands and the roots contingent found their point of intersection at Linda's Doll Hut, the county's smallest grass-roots venue, but by far its best.
These basement shows were played by some of the finest local musicians--including the Offspring, which gigged at the Doll Hut in its scuffling days and returned in December to play a secret performance to kick off the venue's annual round of Christmas benefits for abused children.
On that inevitable other hand, the Doll Hut was far too small to fill the great void in the O.C. scene: a club to replace the now two-years-defunct Bogart's as a focal point able to serve both as an incubator for local talent and as a shrewdly programmed showcase for prime attractions in the nationally touring vanguard of (broadly defined) alternative music.