Rock-n-roll, bodyboards and geography

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Originally Published Oct. 25, 2006

Growing up around the South Bay, I knew a guy who would pay me $20 to clean his CD collection. He was a part-time doctor and a full-time rocker; every so often he would set up his keyboard next to an open glass door overlooking Hermosa Beach and play the blues with some local buddies. He seemed to have known everything, done everything, been everywhere, and still managed a carefree persona.

Here at CSUN, tucked away in the geography department’s windowless corridor of faculty offices, sits one of the brightest personalities on the campus, James Craine: part-time professor, full-time rocker.

Walking to a table outside Jerome Richfield Hall, Craine appears out of place with his leisurely blue jeans, grey Moog music T-shirt, and ear piercing. In the couple of years that he has been here, though, Craine has earned the respect of his colleagues while providing his students with a learning experience that incorporates the philosophies that he has developed from living life to its fullest potential.

At age 53, Craine shows no signs of stopping. He has gone from a seemingly ubiquitous professional music career to teaching in Northridge on the weekdays while body boarding in Santa Barbara on the weekends.

Academia is only his latest profession. He spent the last nine years earning a master’s from CSUN and a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara, and his current career as a cultural geography professor at CSUN began in 2002.

Craine said he always wanted to get a Ph.D., but that could not happen until the music-making was out of his system.

“I always wanted to be a famous musician, and when that was over I went back to school,” Craine said.

He also said his schooling set the course for his career. “If you go on to get a Ph.D., you’ve kind of made the choice to be a part of academia.”

According to one of his colleagues, Steve Graves, Craine’s decision to become a professor was not made for lack of a better idea. Graves said that he and others in the department were afraid that Craine would be lost to a better and more prestigious school.

“(Craine is) the closest thing we’ve got to a renaissance man here,” Graves said. “(He has) been everywhere and done everything.”

Adding to this repertoire, Graves said that Craine also possesses “encyclopedic knowledge about all movies, music, sports . . . and he’s also a huge history buff.”

Graves said what he thinks distinguishes Craine from other prominent faculty members at CSUN is his love for teaching.

“Most Ph.D.s are people too afraid to leave academia,” said Graves, explaining the reason most scholars make the choice to teach.

Craine is not teaching here as a compromise. It was a choice he made years ago when he realized his life needed a change.

Although he says that “the whole ’80s was a big blur” that he hardly remembers and that most of his big music breaks came from the number of “bad lifestyle choices” he made as a young musician, he said that those choices eventually forced him to realize the direction he needed to take.

Craine became interested in music when he was living as a young man in Texas. He was managing a porno stand, but he found the audition flyers posted at the neighboring record store more tempting than the erotica posters at his own.

The first bands Craine played in were black metal, and he was a bassist with a heated interest in local politics. The two main bands he played in were Cultureside and AK-47.

Craine could not help but laugh when he remembered their fate.

“Oddly enough both bands got sued,” he proudly confessed.

AK-47 probably elicited the most public outrage when it manipulated the Houston Police Department’s fundraising bumper sticker that read “The badge means you care.” Their fliers showed the sticker with “care” crossed out and replaced with “suck.” He said his band ran the picture as an advertisement for its own outrage at the level of police brutality in Houston.

As the band got bigger, it received international attention. A label in England wanted to sign them, but Craine was not quite ready to move across the Atlantic. So instead he ended up in New York City with his girlfriend at the time. She was acquainted with Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls and introduced Craine to him.

Craine played bass with Thunders for a little while before finally making the move to London in the late 1980s. There he left the metal scene and pursued his other musical passion. Having been a longtime fan of industrial rock, Craine joined the techno scene.

He said the change was easy to make and not all that dramatically different.

“I found out I could put a beat to (industrial) and make some money selling it as techno,” he said.

That scene ended quickly, but Craine regrets his bad foresight in changing music trends.

“I got bored with the whole techno thing because I mistakenly thought it was on its way out,” Craine said, as he detailed his return from London to the U.S. to continue play bass again.

He moved to Santa Barbara, where he met Tracey Guns, who was a member of L.A. Guns at the time. Later Guns went on to join Guns N’ Roses.

The segue from that point in Craine’s life to educational enlightenment is easily traced. It didn’t happen gradually, but rather in a sudden defining moment.

Driving back from a rehearsal with Guns at a local recording spot, Craine saw the CSUN sign and took a sharp turn into the parking lot and into a new life.

Craine walked to the first person he saw in Sierra Hall and asked, “Do you know where the political science department is?”

The man he met was Robert Hoffpauir, the former graduate adviser for geography, and he was not looking to recruit people for the political science department. Hoffpauir lured Craine into studying geography with what Graves refers to as “the power of the friendly professor.”

Hoffpauir mentored Craine until he died in a car crash on Oct. 1, 2002.

Craine continued in Hoffpauir’s footsteps and is currently regarded as one of the greatest contributors to CSUN’s geography department.

Ron Davidson, who also teaches geography and was hired around the same time as Craine described him as a man of “diverse talents and interests.”

Davidson said that Craine has the exceptional talent of doing two things at once, citing a night they shared a hotel room during a conference in Oregon. Davidson was amazed at Craine’s ability to work on papers while focusing intently on the television.

“He must always be reading, and watching, and processing,” Davidson said.

As with many others who have met Craine, Davidson was not only impressed with his intelligence and ability to multi-task large things at once, but he is also drawn to Craine’s unique similar interests.

Holding up a stack of videotapes, Davidson said, “I was interested in Korean horror movies, and boom, he hands me five Korean horror movie. . . who can do that?”

Perhaps anybody with a membership at the local hole-in-the-wall movie store can come up with something to fit that niche, but knowing Craine, those movies probably make up a small part of a vastly eclectic entertainment collection, tucked away somewhere under his old torn up rock shirts and a couple of BZ body boards.