Praising Arizona

Sun City Girls survey an unwieldy legacy
By DEVIN KING  |  June 10, 2008

VIDEO: Sun City Girls, "Apna Desh"

When you’re poking around YouTube for footage of the (in)famous performances of Sun City Girls, one of the first things to turn up is a section from their video The Halcyon Days of Symmetry (see above.) Dating from the late ’80s, it shows the band playing the Sun Club in Tempe, in their home state of Arizona. The song they’re performing, “Apna Desh,” is a cover of the title track from a 1972 Bollywood movie. In the original Bollywood version, a solidly built man with a Burt Reynolds moustache and white velour pants sings to a vampy blonde who wiggles all over the floor, shakes her breasts, and is visibly happy to behold the mustachio’d fellow.

Things are a little different in the Sun City Girls version. It’s almost as though the two (actual) brothers of the band, Alan and Richard Bishop, were attempting to play the characters: Alan as the winking hunk, slinking his hands over his bass and singing; Richard, donning a purple lab coat, writhing his upper body in circles as he plays guitar, happy to behold the audience. As the camera pans between the two, a drum set comes into focus with the largest ride cymbals I’ve ever seen. It’s so large, it almost obscures the drummer. Suddenly, the video jumps to the end of the song, where a bespectacled man with a moustache (looking like an evil scientist out of Dr. Who) is in the midst of a serious drum solo. His hands move furiously, his eyes widen from behind his lenses, he bares his teeth while his hands race faster and faster over the toms and cymbals. Then the video just cuts off.

That drummer is Charles Gocher, a member of Sun City Girls, the adopted brother of Alan and Richard, and, in February of 2007, at the age of 54, a victim of cancer (after a prolonged fight). As a tribute to the man and a goodbye to the band he was a part of for more than 20 years, the Bishop brothers, as Brothers Unconnected, are touring the country, showing clips of films Gocher made throughout his life, and playing an acoustic set of Sun City Girls songs. They come to the Brattle Theatre next Thursday.

Writing about Gocher for the on-line magazine Perfect Sound Forever, Alan Bishop says, “Some have called Gocher the last great beatnik. Others have called him a mad genius. Several still believe he was a serial killer who was never caught. Many people were afraid of him or had no idea what to make of him. Whatever he was, few of you deserve to know of him.”

The contrarian vitriol of that statement is key to understanding Sun City Girls. Founded in Phoenix in 1982, the band took their name from a retirement community (along with its grumpy denizens), and they’ve continued over the years with an inspired insouciance. Mixing the instrumentation of a rock trio with musical styles taken from Eastern music (like the aforementioned Bollywood cover and a reliance on the drones of sitar and oud music) and playing shows that were often more akin to performance pieces or happenings than the merch-moving pop-song model, the Girls have consistently been written off as too esoteric, even while enjoying their small rabid following.

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Related: Sun City Girls + Fire on Fire, More different than alike, Frontrunners, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , William Shakespeare, Burt Reynolds, Richard Bishop,  More more >
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