If you’ve read Sunset Trip, you will know the story of Solarstar, the fantastic London-based eighties' post-punk group. Fronted by Dead Boys-obsessed American vocalist and rhythm guitarist Mark Jennings, and Sussex-raised guitar hero Matthew St. James, the band released a self-titled album to much acclaim on trendy London indie label Cherry Smash before nightmarish drug habits got the better of them. St. James recovered from his crippling heroin addiction and by the turn of the century become a huge star, playing his maudlin orchestrated ballads to Robbie Williams-sized arena crowds. Jennings had it tougher, struggling with cocaine and alcohol throughout the nineties. While London rejoiced in its Britpop revival, Jennings hid away in Hollywood, crashing and burning multiple times as he tried to get his life and career in order.
In ‘97 Jennings would go to rehab the last time in the quaint southern California ocean-side town of San Clemente where he would meet down-and-out rock ‘n’ roll journalist Drew. The two would bond and reconnect two years later when Drew quit an investor relations job and joined a reformed Solarstar on tour. Mark was the only original member of the new lineup, his supporting cast from an assortment of Los Angeles psychedelic rock bands. While on tour, Drew interviewed Solostar for Alternative Press magazine. All these years later, that piece is considered the definitive article on the band. Drew was kind enough to let me and Obliterati Press include the entire transcript for the book.
So, what more is there to say? I told Sunset Trip from Drew’s point of view, neglecting to mention that I crossed paths with him and Mark when I lived in Los Angeles. When Drew started working as a publicist for Cherry Smash Records, who had relocated from London to L.A. in the early ‘90s, he hit me up to review some of the acts he was working with for my fanzine Vendetta. What fascinated me most was the story of Solarstar. I was blown away by what would have been their last performance at the Troubadour in late ’99, so much so that I thought I could be the one to write the definitive bio of the best band that never was. I had many chats with Mark and even a few with Mathew when his people would let me. However, events didn’t unfold the way that any of us planned and my notes were shelved away until many years later when the genesis of Sunset Trip came to me on a Marrakech rooftop in September 2016.
I don’t think I will be giving anything away if I tell you that my old friend Drew is currently residing in Morocco, living a vampiric rock ‘n’ roll life that I heard inspired Jim Jarmusch to make the film Only Lovers Left Alive. I sat down for mint tea on Drew’s roof top riad one evening and let the recorder work his magic as we talked about Solarstar, their legacy, what could have been. As we said our goodbyes, Drew took me to a small room where he keeps many of his music mementos.
“Take this,” he said, handing me a weathered 45, the words “Solarstar,” “Bullet” and “Uppers & Downers” written in sharpie on a blank sleeve. Drew went on to tell me that this was an early demo that would become the definitive album tracks. He gave us our blessings to share these recordings in all their raw glory. While not as polished as the album masterpieces, one can’t help but soak in the majestic Velvet Underground-tinged ballad “Bullet” or the primal punk pop of “Uppers & Downers”.
Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction, fan-fiction if you will. Solarstar was brought to life, entirely due to my Cleveland friends John Petkovic and Dave James who were part of seminal Cleveland garage punks Death of Samantha. They read the novel and tapped into the soul of the best band that never was. You can read a 5000-word feature on Death of Samantha in the most recent issue of Ugly Things magazine. John and Dave wrote the music and I wrote most of the lyrics with a little help from John. Enjoy.