DEATH OF A CONTRARIAN : A Eulogy to a Treasured Friend Who Would Take Me to Task for Every Word of It
It’s not that Jac was a modest man. But as I sit down to write this, just a week after he was killed in an automobile accident, it’s hard not to imagine him watching me struggle, rolling his eyes in an exaggerated move, loudly blowing his nose into a paper napkin cadged from Zankou chicken and barking: “Who cares?”
Jac never had a lot of patience. Now I have some idea why.
Jac Zinder was probably my best friend. He was also a journalist, a musician and a club promoter, possibly the still center of the East Hollywood art-punk scene. His floating nightclub, Fuzzyland, drew its following from the Silver Lake gay performance-art crowd, the backwash of the New Wave and the few grunge kids bold enough to find the barrio bowling alley where the club usually took place. His articles in the L.A. Weekly introduced Angelenos not only to twisted-rock icons like Beck, Jon Spencer and Ethyl Meatplow but also to music being made by the millions of Eastern Europeans, Asians and Latin Americans living in Southern California.
Jac was proud of his collection of Mike Douglas LPs, proud that the first of maybe 3,000 rock shows he saw was a concert by ultra-square teen crooner Rick Springfield. As anyone who endured Jac’s enthusiasm for Rod McKuen and Yoko Ono could attest, Jac was a deejay offended by the sight of people dancing, an enthusiast of Middle Eastern culture who preferred the Persian Wayne Newtons and Armenian Michael Boltons to the highbrow stuff the KCRW-listening, world-music crowd likes best. He had a talent for finding the single worst song on any album--that track that musicians are sometimes embarrassed that they have leftover space on the record for--and playing it until it rang as familiar as “Brick House” in your ear. He also had a penchant for taking cardamom-scented ethnic obscurities and making them into dance-floor hits.
I suppose Jac was pure reaction, always testing the limits, which aggravated people who knew him only slightly and kept the rest of us entertained. He was never really happy, I think, unless he was setting someone’s teeth on edge. I like to imagine all the people he motivated through his writing to buy a CD by the dreadful Indian disco singer Bahpi Lahiri or go to a show by the abrasive nerd-chic band Three Day Stubble.
He was so determined not to be trendy that he discarded perfectly good fetishes for poodle paintings, clowns, mambo dancing and pine nuts just because other people started to catch on. I think he was surprised when his writing started to be taken seriously, when Fuzzyland, which he liked to operate as more or less a halfway house for punk-rock has-beens, actually became popular in the last couple of years. Who knew nihilism would come back into fashion so soon?
Jac seemed too comfortable in his role as little brother to the world, beloved for his brattiness, relieved of any responsibilities save the mandate to be bitterly amusing. The worst crime in the world of Jac was to take yourself too seriously.
He was a friend who was always willing to drop everything and drive to a new Pakistani place in Lakewood, who knew how to sort out the welter of gazal tapes in the grocery next door, to swap Punjabi film-star gossip with the counterman at the housewares store, to find the sweet shop with the tastiest spiced cashews. One of the greatest pleasures I had was doing nothing with Jac. About a year ago, trying to explain the appeal of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, a truly annoying New York rock band he truly loved, Jac finally blew up at me. “You don’t get this band,” he said, “because you have a wife and a job and a car. Nobody with a life has the patience for the Blues Explosion.”
But Jac had a life--rich, puzzling and intermittently rewarding and with countless dozens of friends drawn together into the complex fabric of his life. I still can’t believe he won’t be knocking on my door in 40 years, an hour late for dinner and dragging along eight grandchildren he’d forgotten to tell me were coming.
Afternoons yawn empty.