12 O'Clock Track: Steven "Jesse" Bernstein, "No No Man (Part Two)" | Bleader

12 O'Clock Track: Steven "Jesse" Bernstein, "No No Man (Part Two)"

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The cover of Bernsteins 1992 Sub Pop album Prison
  • The cover of Bernstein's 1992 Sub Pop album Prison
In some small ways, Steven "Jesse" Bernstein was to Seattle what Thax Douglas has been to Chicago—both often read their poetry at rock shows, and many of their fans came from the rock scene. (Bernstein's most famous admirer was probably Kurt Cobain.) But in other respects, Bernstein was essentially the anti-Thax. He dropped out of school after ninth grade (he'd later earn a GED) and spent his late adolescence in and out of various institutions and jails, becoming an alcoholic and narcotics addict. He worked as a dish washer, ditch digger, and professional musician. He was known to perform spoken word with a live mouse in his mouth. He once pissed on a heckler, and liked to throw things: beer bottles, manuscripts, drumsticks, his wallet, a sandwich.

He was a great fan of William S. Burroughs, for better or worse, and it shows in his gruelingly free-associative imagery and in his loyalty to the ostracized, broken, and lost. His voice was grainy and nasal, his articulation precise (except when he didn't put in his teeth). He'd quit hard drugs by the early 70s and got sober in the early 80s, but his longtime struggles with mental illness continued. He committed suicide by slitting his own throat in 1991, at age 40.

Bernstein released a cassette called Sad Bag on Trigger Recordings in 1990, but I've never seen a copy. Even if you already know who he is, odds are good the only album of his you've heard of is Prison, a 1992 Sub Pop release scored by composer and producer Steve Fisk. Just one song, "No No Man (Part One)," was completed while Bernstein was still alive.

Today's 12 O'Clock Track is "No No Man (Part Two)." Its climactic lurch in tone from innocence and nostalgia to bitter, helpless despair still gives me chills almost 20 years after I first heard it.

This is the official promo clip for "No No Man (Part Two)," the only video Bernstein ever made. The sound quality isn't great, and the profanity has been backward masked, which wrecks the cadence of certain lines.

Here's the same song uncensored, accompanied by a fan-made slideshow.

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