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PLUCKER, teacher, donor and fry

Juneau musician releases new album, balances jobs, art and health

Posted: Thursday, September 04, 2008

Been feeling busy lately? Does your life seem a little hectic? You don't know hectic. Now, Bridget Cross - her life is hectic. But she's used to that.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

The past 20 years of Cross' life have been so hectic, in fact, that the best way to represent them is in a bulleted list. Among other things, in no particular order, she:

• has performed with a legendary punk band;

• was in three influential alternative bands;

• became a yoga instructor;

• dropped out in the desert;

• got a paralegal certificate;

• donated a major organ;

• played at Lollapalooza;

• went to prison;

• helped start a restaurant;

• was involved in a fight with Rage Against The Machine, having something to do with some missing salsa;

• became a glacier guide;

• moved to Alaska, and some other places;

• got a dog

• wrote and recorded a (mostly) solo album;

• met Tom Jones.

But Bridget Cross' life cannot, as it turns out, be summed up in a bulleted list - that was a stupid idea. A better approach may be to simply tell her story.

This reporter was able to get a couple hours of Cross' time outside of the restaurant called FryDays she helps run with her boyfriend - it's that bright orange fish stand that is usually parked outside of Western Auto.

"When I was growing up in College Park, Maryland ... I was getting into music at a really fertile time for the music scene there," Cross said. "There was an awesome radio station that I could get from the University of Maryland called WMUC, and I constructed an elaborate antenna in my room so I could pick it up."

Cross was a devoted fan of one show hosted by university student Mark Robinson, who she called often for requests.

"I told him I was a senior, but I am sure he thought I meant in college, not high school. Anyway, we struck up a friendship based on music and we are still working together."

Cross started playing bass and singing lead vocals for a band called Velocity Girl while in college at Maryland. That band released some singles with Cross on vocals, and then she joined Robinson's band, called Unrest. Velocity Girl went on to become a well-known alternative band in its own right, and Unrest also hit the big time.

"We had some really fun tours and played some big places. We played one of the Lollapaloozas, when Primus was headlining. We shared the same stage with Tool -I remember those guys brought their workout gear and were bench-pressing before they went on. That was weird," Cross said. "At one show, Rage Against the Machine came into the backstage area and ate all of the salsa we had brought. That ended in a shoving match."

Unrest also had stints headlining tours in England and played as the support band for a tour with the Breeders. They also played in support of D.C. punk legends Fugazi.

"(Fugazi) ended up writing a couple of songs that they specifically wanted me to sing backup vocals on, and that was really a fun thing to do," Cross said. She appears on the Fugazi tracks "Full Disclosure" and "Life and Limb."

But the rock-and-roll lifestyle had its pressures.

"It is a strange lifestyle, especially when you get to a bigger stage and there is a lot more money at stake," Cross said.

She and Robinson left Unrest at the height of its popularity to start a new band called Air Miami.

"Unrest had been involved in a bidding war with major labels all lining up to sign us. We ended up turning down a $200,000 record deal to take a much smaller one with a company we were more comfortable with. That seems like a crazy decision now. But we wanted more control and thought we could get it with the company 4AD," Cross said. "That's not really what happened and after we released the Air Miami CD 'Me Me Me,' the promotion machine of the label began to freak me out a little bit."

Cross said this led to a "lost" period for her.

"I think the combination of the lifestyle and the pressure kind of blew my mind a little bit," she said. "I got interested in an extreme yoga group whose main guru was in Yuma, Arizona, so I went out there and basically got lost in the desert. I retreated from that back to the East Coast."

Cross ended up in Alaska soon after that on a family cruise and fell in love with Southeast. The next summer, she drove to Skagway and got a job working for a bike rental business. But instead of finding a peaceful and more stable existence than the rock-and-roll lifestyle, Cross soon found herself in the worst situation of her life.

"I was going out with a guy who unfortunately got into a bar fight," Cross said. "He ended up stabbing a guy, and then we panicked. I ran out of the bar with him and we drove away."

They were stopped a few miles away and Cross ended up in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, where she remained for over five months.

Cross said that prison was an experience that affects her to this day.

"Some individuals in there were fine, some guards were respectful and some of the inmates really looked out for me. But as a whole you are treated like dirt and you end up feeling like you are dirt."

When she got out of prison, she got a job as a housekeeper at a hotel, and started taking courses at the University of Alaska Southeast.

"I wanted to know more about the legal system, so I got a paralegal certificate. I also saw the beauty of this area, and I knew I wanted to get up in the glaciers, so I took outdoor study classes."

Those classes led her to answering an ad at Temsco Helicopters for glacier guides. "I wound up working on the glacier for five seasons for Temsco. They were so good to me and continue to be - they gave me respect and allowed me to feel like a regular person again."

But prison had an unintended positive result for Cross. The members of her former band Velocity Girl held a benefit concert on her behalf back in D.C. - and got great response. It ignited renewed interest in Cross and a few years later she joined Unrest for a reunion show in D.C. That experience made her think about recording a new album of her songs, and that resulted in the new album under the band name Maybe It's Reno, recorded in 2005.

And the rest is just a slow and steady life of making music and enjoying Alaska, right? Not so fast! This story has at least one more hair-raising twist.

Cross met her boyfriend, George Kuhar, in Juneau in 2006 when he was working at Heritage Coffee. By 2007 it became apparent that something was wrong. Kuhar was extremely fatigued. The diagnosis: chronic kidney failure. Last October he was medivaced to Seattle and immediately put on a regimen of dialysis treatment.

After hearing that receiving a donor kidney could take three years, Cross asked about her ability to be the donor.

"I didn't take it lightly, but when you're faced with the ability to help someone you love, it isn't that difficult of a decision to make."

The operation took place in May, and after a fairly intense recovery period, it has left Cross with minimal long-term effects. But there is a marked difference in Kuhar.

"His energy level is so much higher now - it is really wonderful to see him regain his strength with my healthy kidney in there," Cross said.

And on top of all this, Cross has released her CD, "Maybe It's Reno," the first that features all songs written and sung by her.

"It's your basic album about death, relationships, road trips, drugs, prison and mountains," jokes Cross. "I've had a lot to write about and the lyrics from these songs span a 15-year time period."

With evocative titles like "Gravestones and Christmas Trees," "Venice Itch" and "Drunk Pilot," a pop-laden sound driven by great bass lines, and precisely sung vocals honed during her 20-year music career, Cross shows she has lost none of what made her a pivotal part of the '90s music surge from D.C.

Now, as she continues to recover from major transplant surgery, works at FryDays, teaches yoga, works part-time at Temsco, writes more songs, plans a small tour of the Northeast with Maybe It's Reno, and hosts a radio show of her own on KXLL - aptly called "Hectic Eclectic" on Tuesday nights - Cross seems to have finally come full-circle and to some peace.

But the kidney transplant left a backwards question-mark-shaped scar on her belly and it seems to beg the question: What's next for Bridget Cross?

• Andy Kline is program director at KXLL FM radio in Juneau and music critic for the Hooligan. He can be reached at andy@ktoo.org.



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