Meet Derrick Bostrom
MSL: At what point did you get into the IT stuff, the computer stuff?
DB: In 1994, I lived next door to a guy who had a Mac, and he wanted to sell his Mac and get a better one. I, by 1994, had a good system going. That year we were touring pretty much constantly for the entire year. We weren’t getting paid, but we were getting $25 per diems, plus there was food backstage. We were also getting fed food in the backstage. So I was pocketing those per diems. By mid-summer of 1994, I had saved up, like, a thousand bucks. Cuz you go to the backstage with a bag and throw all the bananas and the waters into a bag and throw them back on the bus, and you’re covered. So I bought this computer off of my neighbor and began to stay up twenty-four hours trying to figure-out how to make it work.
Around this time, the Internet started mainstreaming, so I got on the Internet. Did a website for the band starting in 1995. I gotta tell you, back then you actually had to know something to get on the Internet. I remember it took me months to figure out how to get my computer to make a dial-up connection for free.
So I started doing websites. I met my wife through...she was also a web designer. We got to know each other. So we were both into tech. I thought the Internet was great. I got access to stuff that I’d been wondering about forever. I slowly but surely watched it build up into the hype machine that it is today.
I started trying to get small design jobs. Back then, if you knew how to make a break tag...is the joke among us oldsters...if you knew how to write a break tag you could make a living. So I was doing web development and stuff like that right up until about 2000. I got a job doing graphic design work for a friend of mine, a start-up. That company died in the dot-com bust. For a while, I was a lead designer and an art director for a company, but for just a very short time, less than a year. Then I took odd jobs and realized that you had to do an inordinate amount of client service, and you had to hustle, and you almost never got to do the stuff you wanted to do. And I sucked at it.
So after being unemployed for too long and struggling for too long, about the same time the money ran out from the band, I took a job working at Whole Foods cuz they opened one near my house. Started at the bottom slinging produce and slowly but surely worked my way up to the reasonably exalted cul-de-sac of a position that I have now as a middle manager.
MSL: What about some of your other artistic interests? You like to take pictures, right?
DB: Well, in 2003 or ’04 I began to read a blog called Forty-three Folders, which was a productivity blog that I’d read about in the New York Times. I began to become exposed to the notion of not wasting time so much. This was a discipline called Getting Things Done by a writer named David Allen. I started getting into that for a while, and I began to take stock of some of the stuff I was doing. I was like “I’m going to fire all of my remaining clients, and I’m gonna start a website and only do what I want to do.” I think we call those blogs. I was a latecomer to that. I needed an excuse to write, anyway, so I began to try to publish something on the blog at least once a week, and there’s still a lot of it up there and a lot of it shows what you come up with if you are extremely unproductive and you give yourself a one-week deadline. I did a lot of sharing albums that I had ripped from my thrift store collection or scans of funny stuff I’d collected over the years.
I started getting more interested in some of the history of Phoenix and my own interest in older buildings. I started taking pictures of stuff that I was afraid was gonna get knocked down. I got myself a small camera and started reading up on photography, digital photography. By the time my first point-and-shoot died, I decided to get a proper camera and started paying a little more attention to taking pictures. I started going out and taking mostly pictures of buildings in Phoenix or other locations in the state that are in danger of getting knocked down. Some of the stuff has gotten knocked down. It’s just a hobby.
I have been super-super-busy at work over the last couple years as we are in the post-recession period, as we struggle to expand. So I don’t do as much creative stuff as I used to, but I have written substantially about the Meat Puppets. Some of it I’ve published on my blog, some of it I have not. Some of it is still gestating.
MSL: Like you say, many of your photographs are of old buildings, decaying buildings. Is your main interest in preserving history, or do you just have an interest in buildings that are falling apart?
DB: I tend to like them better before they get renovated. I have a soft spot in my heart for the buildings right before they’re gonna get knocked down. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve ever snuck into a building more than once or twice that was, you know, closed. But there are a lot of urban spelunkers out there. Part of my interest is fueled by looking at some of these sites. There’s a lot of documentation of Detroit, for instance. I’ve been to Detroit, and I can attest that it’s an amazing sight. They say that Detroit is the greatest collection of mid-century skyscrapers in America, largely because they don’t have enough money to knock ’em down. Whereas a place like New York, they knock their old stuff down. Phoenix is definitely a growth engine, so a lot of that stuff gets knocked down. But obviously there’s nothing here on the level of Detroit.
So, just in that spirit sometimes, I’ll get the itch, I’ll go out, drive around. My wife does not like me prowling around the slums with a camera. So I only do as much of it as she can stand. I’m not one of those teenage hardcore kids who sneak into abandoned warehouses at midnight.
MSL: What about your show on Luxuria?
DB: I’ve had a weekly show on Saturday afternoons at Luxuriamusic.com, which is devoted to essentially oddball, squir-rely stuff. Occasionally I’ll get on their chat room during my show and people will be like “This is awful!” It’s from a long time interest I have in oddball novelty music. I used to work on a magazine called Breakfast without Meat with a fellow who works with [comedian] Neil Hamburger. He used to put out Neil Hamburger’s records before he stopped doing a label. Also the guys in Monitor. Monitor were the first people to really turn me on to that kind of stuff. We used to hang out with their friend Boyd Rice who called himself “Non” back then. He had a passion for certain types of teenage pop and so did the guys in Monitor. I started getting into it from there. I started collecting stuff from thrift stores. Of course nowadays you can find so much of it on the Internet that you can have an international scope. Probably around the time the band broke up, this kind of late-sixties, easy listening music started getting played in clubs. Luxuriamusic.com, the first incarnation, was part of that bandwagon. They were the greatest thing on the Internet for me for the two years that they were in business. Then they got bought out by Clear Channel. They basically bought their Internet assets cuz this was at a time when everybody was trying to figure out how to make the Internet pay.
After a couple years of being off the air, they reconstituted themselves in a much more standard kind of record collectors, oldies-pop history-enthusiasts kind of a station with much less of a focus on that lounge core trend. But I still like the lounge core stuff. I still like extremely schmaltzy instrumental easy listening music. My show on Saturday afternoons still reflects that.
MSL: Is it live or do you put it together ahead of time?
DB: It’s recorded. When they were reconstituting themselves they did not even have a studio. It was only prerecorded shows. They now have a studio, but it’s in Los Angeles, and the only time I ever go to L.A. anymore is for work meetings, so I’ve never got a chance to go out there.
The station is still hanging in there. It’s still going strong. It’s still listener-supported. It’s still just a labor of love. It’s pretty much not-for-profit. We all donate our time to play the music we love on it. It’s a very cool group of people that do it. They give us very little hard time. They let us be as whiny as we want and reign us in very infrequently. It’s a great station. I wish I had more time to listen to it, but, honestly, I don’t listen to Internet radio much, but I still find the time to put together a show for them. I do a new show and then a rebroadcast—I’ve been doing it since 2006—so I do two new shows a month. Usually I have to take a day off work to record everything, edit everything together, write all the bits, and press them and stuff. It’s time consuming.
Although I’ve talked with Derrick a number of times on the phone, always within the context of an interview, I’ve only met him in person once. It was at Northwestern University in February 1994, and the Meat Puppets were in the midst of their “Munchies” tour in support of their biggest selling album, Too High to Die. They were playing a free afternoon gig in the Norris Student Center. Along with being a graduate student in Sociology at Northwestern, I was a DJ on WNUR, the school radio station. I had already interviewed Cris Kirkwood and Derrick by phone for my dissertation (a study of selling out), and I thought I’d take advantage of my position as a DJ to get a radio interview with the band.
I made it to the Norris Center on time, just after the band had set up, but before they were ready to play. I admit that I was a bit disappointed that Derrick was the only Meat Puppet coming to the station with me for the interview. I was hoping, of course, for Curt, the band’s “leader” and publicly most charismatic figure.
On our walk over to the station, Derrick and I talked about Arizona. (I had lived in Flagstaff for six years while working on my BA and MA degrees.) We talked about the heat wave that hit Phoenix only a few years earlier during which the temperatures reached 120+ degrees Fahrenheit, closing Sky Harbor Airport. Derrick told me that that was the summer he stopped doing drugs.
Thinking myself tricky and witty and trying to show my expert knowledge of all things Meat Puppets, I opened our interview by asking, “Have the Meat Puppets sold out?” I don’t remember his exact response; the undergraduate college DJ in the station at the time forgot to push “Record!” I do, however, remember it being a vintage Bostrom response. He was direct and to the point, letting me and our Chicagoland listeners know that the very idea of selling out was absurd. He was a professional musician in a professional rock band. My insinuation that by making a professional-sounding record they had somehow compromised anything artistic was silly at best and most obviously misinformed.
It would be seventeen years before I’d talk with Derrick again. I’ve interviewed him by phone or Skype six times in the last three years (mostly for a book I’m working on). In those seventeen years, Derrick has made a full break from his life as a working professional musician. He’s “settled down” as they say; he’s a married, vegan, mid-level manager. But he hasn’t lost his artistically progressive vision of the world. As evidenced in this interview, he is keenly aware of the social and cultural spaces in which he lives, has informed ideas about how these spaces got to where they are and about where they are headed, and he documents these ideas in numerous creative ways.