Monday, February 23, 2015

A Total Eclipse of The Eclipse

For as vast and convenient as the digital age has become, having immediate and readily available access to information can kind take a bit of the mystery out of life. In an age where nearly every question is Google- able, the charm of not knowing absolutely everything about a previously unknown subject can be a bit deflating. The thrill of the hunt – removing the mask for the big reveal – has been replaced with instant gratification that somehow leaves the curious among us oddly unsatisfied.
In audiophile circles, the mystery of song discovery has nearly been swiped away.  Figuring out who performs an up-until-that-moment-unheard song (or even what the name of this said song actually is) is now a Soundhoud or Shazam smart phone app click away. Discovering a new band also comes with the added bonus of discovering all of their albums, EPs, B-sides, and rarities. It’s almost too easy to know everything you want to know about any given band and musician these days.
Then, every once in a while, life hands your ears a song by a band you will never, ever be able to discover everything about in a discernible capacity beyond its original, hazy, lo-fi source.  Such is the case with a band of bedroom rockers from Carlsbad, California named The Eclipse.
Ocean Howell
The Eclipse came to my attention through a skateboarding video put out by Santa Cruz Skateboards' Speed Wheels division in 1990 titled Risk It! Featuring a near armada of highly talented skateboarding luminaries (Jason Jesse, Mike Vallely, Tom Knox, etc.) over its 83 minute plus running time, this video was a varitible embarrassment of skateboarding riches. It was the parts for two of H-Street Skateboards' at-the-time young gun ams, Ocean Howell and Markus Wyndham, however, that struck a chord with me.

Markus Wydham
At this moment is skateboarding history, Wyndham and Howell were seemingly joined at the hip. Beyond skating for the same team, these two skateboarders were like two sides of the same coin, with Howell's tick-attack technical precision and Wyndham's fluid board control.  The curbs, benches and rails of Southern California could do nothing but oblige these trippy, hippy raver assassins.

Beyond the emerging technical wizardry on display, Wyndham and Howell's parts were notable for the inclusion of songs by The Eclipse, a little-to-unknown band from Carlsbad, California. In an era where punk, metal, hip-hop, and funk were de rigueur for skateboarding videos, it should be noted that featuring dreamy, slightly new wave pop soundtrack-ing your part was pretty ballsy. "These guys rip, but these songs are faggy," was a not-so-uncommon and idiotic remark (for so, so, so many reasons I leave up to you to figure out) upon viewing Risk It with my friends.

I took a different tract with these two songs by The Eclipse. Having just discovered The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen and Psychedelic Furs, The Eclipse's music was something I instantly gravitated to. The two songs featured in this video ("Frogs" for Howell, and "Loves Last Whisper" for Wyndham) had an easy breeziness to them, featuring sedately dramatic vocals over surf-inflected progressive new wave, with just the perfect amount of bass and lead guitar noodling. 

It made sense that both Wyndham and Howell used what, one must surmise, was their friend's band's music for each of their parts, since these songs essentially bridged these hot shots together amid a sea of rippers and legends.  

It's important to remember that at the time (the early 1990's), we didn't have all-encompassing access to the Internet, and accessing any information at all about, say, a very obscure band and what must have been their demo tape, was essentially nil. Trying to obtain a copy of The Eclipse's music was to be my first foray into Holy Grail-ing a band and their music. As I would eventually learn, not even 25 years of online connectivity would put these ever-elusive songs in my hands.

I wrote to Santa Cruz Skateboards inquiring about The Eclipse, but never received an answer. Go figure a skateboard company would have better things to do than track down leads on a band for some goofy kook kid from Sacramento. Eventually the determination to obtain a copy of this band's music dissolved, and the mystery of their music was returned to being just that: a mystery.

But the bug of this band was still there somewhere nearly two decades later, and one day, in a bout of nostalgic wanderlust, I took to the ol' YouTube to watch old skate videos (Video Days, Useless Wooden Toys, Shackle Me Not, etc., etc.) when I stumbled upon both Howell and Wyndham's Risk It parts, along with those good ol' songs. My gawd, those songs! They had aged, but somehow managed to sound timeless at the same time.

Now, here's where the flight of fancy part of my best-intentioned brain took hold, imagining that of course the digital age had caught up with The Eclipse, pulling the curtain back and revealing a treasure trove of material ripe for reissue on an appreciative record label like Captured Tracks or Burger Records. Just dial the band's name into Google and...


Well, not bupkis exactly, but rather a handful of dudes just like me, all inquiring about the whereabouts of this band's music and where copies of it could potentially be obtained. There is a very informative blog entry, but nothing concrete leading to a grand unearthing of the band's music. Even Howell, now an assistant professor at the University of Oregon, couldn't immediately put his hands on the original recording. Perhaps the demo tape was in a crate somewhere in his parents home. Who knows? That was the most promising non-lead lead those of use wanting to get our hands on this band got. And it, to this day, has led nowhere.

And this is where I must, as an audiophile archeologist conclude my search for The Eclipse. Their songs - the only two the world may ever know - exists in their present forms within those two lo-fi, grainy video transfers lasting a less than a combined five minutes,  floating atop some of the most innovative and groundbreaking skateboarding to help change the course of events and inspire generations of skateboarders to follow. So, at the very least, we have that.