Girls Scouting

Aug 07, 2012 at 12am
I fell hard for indie pop darlings Girls when I first heard the strains of their mini-hit “Lust for Life” off their 2009 debut album. The corresponding summery and slightly pornographic video sealed the deal for me. The clip was so quintessentially San Francisco, with the fuzz, fog, and scads of 20-somethings frolicking in beautifully flawed old apartments.
I’d catch the group’s former frontman, Christopher Owens (he announced he left the band recently on Twitter), around the city, opening for bigger acts or wandering around the Mission. When the band’s tour schedule got crazy, Christopher was most often spotted on the stages of San Francisco’s grander concert halls, surrounded by flowers.

Girls became something of an international sensation. But given that the city is Christopher’s home base, I looked him up when I found out the theme of Volume 4 of The Bold Italic magazine was Obsessions. He’s a highly creative individual with such a fragile facade, I had a feeling he'd have some interesting possessions, especially given the storied background he slips into his songs (raised in the Children of God cult, writer of explicit lyrics about drug addiction and infidelity).

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Christopher met me outside his tidy Upper Haight apartment building. Decked out in school bus yellow clogs, his gold locks framing his blue eyes, he was holding a few tiny purple flowers he’d haphazardly picked nearby. He led me into his sunny living room and pressed the flowers neatly inside one of his many books.

Next to the overflowing bookshelf was his latest passion, to which this foraged flora would be added: an array of plundered, purchased, and gifted plants. He didn’t know the names of most – and neither did I – but he could recall where he obtained them. He seemed attached to them all, as something beautiful to come home to after spending weeks at a time on the road.

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There was a jumbo four-leaf-clover-looking deal he’d picked in Golden Gate Park and a few slightly limp plants with curved branches. And then there were a few Jurassic Park–size specimens and a little bonsai from a nearby hardware store. As we discussed the latter, he swiftly snipped its branches with scissors. (I couldn’t help noticing his nails were painted robin’s-egg blue.)

As I hung out in Christopher’s apartment for the afternoon, I was surprised to learn this rock star had such a green obsession. The wide leaves of his charges connected in curling branches that stretched across an entire wall. He told me a neighbor came by to water the lot when he was on tour.

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While casual botany is a fairly new interest, letter writing has long been part of Christopher’s routine. In fact, many of Girls’ songs, particularly those from last year’s Father, Son, Holy Ghost, came off as heartbreakingly sincere confessionals to dear friends, family, and harried lovers. His honesty inspired the same in obsessed fans, who sent him handwritten letters, books, and art.

The fan letters are only part of a larger stack of correspondence he collects. Take his prank writings to government officials and celebrities, for instance. Christopher keeps a binder full of ones he’s sent to the likes of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Dear Guv, you are too hairy. I saw a picture of you on the beach in a magazine, and you look like a bear.”) and the former Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, along with their replies.

He always included a $1 bill in the envelopes because, as he explained, “If you put money in there, they’re legally supposed to write you back.”

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Expecting to find more romantic – or perhaps more desperate – possessions (like, say, torn notes from jilted lovers or bawdy Polaroids) within the walls of Christopher’s two-bedroom, it was interesting to see a more eclectic side to the musician. Of all his possessions, Christopher seemed most interested in talking about his high-quality and specialty cooking knives. They were indeed impressive, each one more delicate than the last, with tiny markings and bowed shapes. When he first moved to San Francisco, he worked at a knife store. He seemed pleased with his assortment, which included ceramic styles, a thin, metal fish fillet knife, a carbon steel version that has potential to rust, a variety of cheese knives, and Japanese sushi knives.

As I left his apartment, I could almost picture a night at home for Christopher when he’s back from the road, quietly trimming the bonsai, slicing sushi rolls, and laughing over the absurdity of his old prank letters.

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This story originally ran in Volume 4 of The Bold Italic magazine – Obsessions.

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