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[whitespace] Peter Case Case of Nerves: Singer/songwriter Peter Case has his eye on flying saucers on his new album.

Busker Case

Two decades after giving California a case of the Nerves, Peter Case stays close to his roots in the folk scene

By Bruce Willey

THERE'S NOTHING QUITE SO CONVINCING as a lone traveling troubadour, singing songs of desperation and redemption, to capture the mythology of American music. Like Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan before him, Peter Case has joined the ranks of singer/songwriters who continue to find and define the flexible backbone of this country's music and carry its acoustic ember right into the digital age. And after 24 years of making music, it's safe to say that Case isn't going to get off the road anytime soon, thank goodness.

He started his wanderings in his mid-teens, packing his bags and hitchhiking to San Francisco, where he played on street corners by day and slept in abandoned cars at night. Despite this unpromising start, Case teamed up on bass with the songwriter Jack Lee and drummer Paul Collins and formed the seminal punk band the Nerves in 1976. But it wasn't until Case moved to Hollywood and formed the Plimsouls that his songwriting talents made the big time. The overplayed early-1980s hit "A Million Miles Away" was the title song of one Hollywood's first teenage angst movies, Valley Girl, starring Nicolas Cage as a sensitive punk rocker. Yet despite the strong album sales of the Plimsouls' Everywhere at Once, something didn't feel right to Case. Getting back to his busking roots, like his fellow solo songsmiths did, he launched a solo career in 1986.

This, while post-punk was starting to wane and New Wave pretty boys and girls ran their course into big-hair metal bands and spiky-looking guitars. The folkish sound of Case seemed to be moving back onto the meager street corners of his youth. But he persisted, playing small venues like the legendary McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, recording three albums for Geffen records and marrying the darling songwriter Victoria Williams. Together they formed a critically acclaimed alliance and lived a life that most folk musicians only can dream about.

Unfortunately, this lifestyle was to end soon. Geffen records dropped his record deal due to slow sales; and though both Williams and Case never discuss their breakup, it was rumored to be painful. Instead of dropping out of the folk scene as many musicians might have done after a long career, Case went even deeper into his predicament and, more importantly, his roots, recording a cover-song album, the aptly titled Peter Case Sings Like Hell, in his living room. Vanguard Records picked it up, and Case was back in business. Since signing with Vanguard, Case has recorded another three albums, including his most recent, Flying Saucer Blues, and is now remarried, with three children, to the writer Diane Sherry.

"I've been lost in the palace, lost in the slums," he sings. "Since I got lost in her eyes, I've been begging for crumbs."

It sounds almost trite to say, but I'll say it anyway, that hearing Peter Case live, hearing his stories and sometime gorgeous hooks, is really the only way to hear him and the old American sound. When Case takes the stage, the kitchen counter or the sidewalk, he takes on the presence of a four-piece band. His threadbare guitar, harmonica, voice and ever-present stomping foot demystify these mythologies of American legends simply because he himself is a legend--right up there with the best of them--still here and so close.

Peter Case plays on Wed, Oct. 4 at Fuel, 44 Almaden Ave, San Jose; doors at 8pm. David Perales and Kristy Kruger open. Tickets are $7. (408.295.7374.)

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From the September 28-October 4, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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