I spent a good part of this morning unsuccessfully looking for an old black & white Halo Benders promotional photo from the mid 1990s. I’ve been working the same type of hustle that I am now for half of my life and, when I was in high school, I spent the majority of my focus on getting companies to send me free shit for my marketing program’s “trade show” projects. The Calvin Johnson founded, K Records was one of the most helpful and provided me with tons of merchandise and materials, including that Halo Benders photo, which was intended to hype the group’s sophomore effort, Don’t Tell Me Now (1996). Two years prior, when Johnson (Beat Happening) first started the side project with Doug Martsch (Built to Spill), I had begun hearing the song “Don’t Touch My Bikini” on the local community college radio station. Both keeping with and ending their pattern of dropping a new album every other year, Halo Benders released their final album, The Rebels Not In, in 1998. That release contained “Virginia Reel Around the Fountain“, a song that is still a regular feature on Built To Spill set-lists to this day. Calvin hopped on stage with BTS for a few random cameos throughout the following decade and the group reunited with a slightly altered lineup for a pair of shows in Boise, Idaho. There have even been some random non-confirmed rumors of a possible new album and/or comeback but, for all intents and purposes, The Halo Benders were a Nineties band. At one point or another during that initial run, the side-project even made an infamous, yet rarely seen, appearance on a quintessential 90‘s television program. Thanks to today’s technology, the footage from that fiasco is just one more thing that has managed to resurface in our current times.
The ’90s were fucking weird, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I spent my Jr. High and High School days during them [every decade is fucked up and crazy in one way or another]. Still… Punk returned, but it wasn’t really punk. Ska broke through, but it wasn’t ska. Almost as soon as it was coined, the term “Alternative” lost all meaning and became as mainstream of a style of music as possible. One thing that still held meaning in the ’90s, however, was “Indie Rock“. It wasn’t until around 2000, when I moved to the Olympia, Wa, (birth place of K Records and Kill Rock Stars) that I truly realized how many other people were familiar with the independent artists and music that I had been exposed to and stumbled across as a teenager. This was also about the time that I began hearing about The Halo Benders‘ brief run in with the law, that had been documented on the program Real Stories of the Highway Patrol.
A lot of people credit shows like The Real World with spawning the “reality show” craze that we have today, but, before “reality” was used to describe methodically edited footage of carefully selected people placed in extraordinary circumstances, there were already shows like The People’s Court and documentary-style programs like COPS. Capitalizing off of the popularity of COPS, Real Stories of the Highway Patrol ran from 1993-1999, approximately the same span of time that the Halo Benders existed themselves. Over the years, the band’s appearance on RSHP had, somewhat, become a part of urban lore. Although many people knew of it’s existence and the details of a marijuana charge, it seemed as if few of them had actually ever seen the episode. In an old interview for what appears to be a now defunct website, one person did get an official answer from Doug Martsch after asking about the validity of the legendary television clip.
Q: “…did Real Stories of the Highway Patrol really pull your van over when you guys were on tour as the Halo Benders?”
A: “Oh…it did happen. Yeah. But I don’t really want to talk about it. But…someone got in trouble. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t Calvin. Well, Calvin got in sort of trouble for smarting off. I never saw the episode. To me it was just a dramatic, bad situation. To some people it’s funny, but to us, it was a bummer.“
Thanks to the power of Youtube, the original video has finally resurfaced for all of us that have been waiting to see it. I first found out that it was available in March, via a Facebook post by my friend Benny P., but have completely slacked on getting it up until now. Unfortunately, Doug Martsch was right about the video, because it’s not as “funny” as I had always been led to believe and it actually is a “bummer” to see another example of how shady law enforcement can be. This is especially true for those of us who have been in similar situations with “the man”. The Highway Patrol officers in this video are from Utah, which may not come as a surprise for many of you. In 2008, a Utah man by the name of Jared Massey successfully sued the UHP for $40,000 after having the shit tased out of him, when he questioned a speeding ticket, and, as recently as last month, another lawsuit was filed against Utah law enforcement who actually managed to tase a man to his death. A stun gun wasn’t busted out on the Halo Benders, but they did handcuff Calvin and they definitely put the kibosh on their Freedom Ride.
[Video below, after this MP3, taken from the debut album, God Don’t Make No Junk.]