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We'd Like To Ask Why It Is He's Rubbed So Many People The Wrong Way.

By Matt Ashare

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  Honestly, there's a part of me that wants nothing more than to push aside my turkey club, look Art Alexakis straight in the eye, and without the least bit of hedging ask him why it is he's rubbed so many people the wrong way. I mean, other than outliving Kurt Cobain and fronting a band who turned out to be one of the better next-best-things to Nirvana's angsty churn of hooks and haggard looks, Alexakis hasn't committed any Axl Rose-level crimes against humanity, has he? Sure, he admits to having once been a drug addict. And there was a certain incident a bunch of years ago where he hit his girlfriend (who's now his wife). But he repented, went into therapy, and got his act together before Everclear landed in the spotlight -- that much is part of the public record, thanks to several near-muckraking articles that followed Everclear's ascent.

Nevertheless, even Alexakis is aware of a certain animosity. A recent Rolling Stone review takes issue more with Art's personal style than with the sound of the new So Much for the Afterglow (Capitol). Art went so far as to inject the issue into the lyrics of one of the new songs, "Like a California King," where he strains to see himself as others might: "I hear you gave the world a brand new voice/Such a happy melody with a new-wave whine/Yeah I see you hide behind your own noise/I think I've seen enough."

Yeah, so much for the pleasant afterglow of selling a million CDs. And so much for my question, which is sort of beside the point. Especially since 35-year-old Alexakis, who is in Boston to play a midnight show at Tower on the eve of the new disc's release, appears whacked by the previous night's red-eye flight from LA. Besides, it's the kind of thing he's bound to bring up on his own.

"There's no good dirt left on me," he points out over lunch at the Back Bay Hilton, flanked by drummer Greg Eklund and bassist Craig Montoya. "They're bringing up shit from four or five years ago. That's all they've got. I hit my girlfriend in the arm. It was a bad thing. She didn't like it much, I put myself in jail, got out a few hours later, and went into an anger-management course. I didn't like losing control of myself. It wasn't about hitting my woman, it was about hitting someone who hit me first -- that was my nature. I came from a test tube of a housing project where if you didn't hit back you got killed, literally. No one respected sensitivity where I grew up. You got the shit kicked out of you for being sensitive. It's hard to lose that.

"Through the therapy that I went through, that my then girlfriend/now wife also decided to go through after she saw what it was doing for me, it all worked out. You know, 16 months later we got married with a three-year-old kid, and these guys as my best men. But some people still want to go back to the old stuff because there's not a lot of dirt now. I'm a boring middle-class married guy. It pisses people off."

Well, yes, but Alexakis started it. He's the one who's spent the past four or five years writing powerful, first-person rock songs -- really good ones -- like "Heroin Girl," "Santa Monica," and the new "Father of Mine" and "White Men in Black Suits," all of which sparkle with the fading memories of a turbulent, seemingly autobiographical past. "It's wrong to make the assumption that all of my songs are autobiographical," he points out. "On this record there are only three. I do like writing from the first person, but if I didn't think there were universal themes in there, then I'd leave the stories in my diary. Maybe it's a little like I'm going through therapy in my songs. But I think there are also universal themes in songs like 'Father of Mine.' I think people can relate to that song from different perspectives, whether it's as a father or as a mother or as a child. I think a lot of people have some sort of experience where they can relate to abandonment."

And how about "Like a California King," with its scathing indictment of someone who's woven a "checkered past" into a "shining suit of gold"?

"That song is me looking through someone else's eyes at me -- through a critic's eyes. I've heard people say the only reason Everclear are famous is that Art always talks about his past. He's always so confessional. Why does he always have to talk about his drug past? Well, it's because you motherfuckers keep asking me about it. So now, when someone asks me to talk about my past, I just refer them to the phonebook worth of press that's already been written on that."

Good thing I didn't ask . . .

-- Matt Ashare

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