Sex (not so much), Drugs (not much of that either) and Rock and Roll (yes, lots)

Sex, drugs and rock and roll.  Such a cliché, probably because it’s true; the three go together like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.  In rock and rock autobiographies, it’s practically required to recount your overdose and paternity lawsuit in the first chapter. But for me, well I’m not saying that in the past I was an angel, but Hammer of The Gods it was not.

Sure there were drugs around- mostly bad biker speed and lots of extra-strength pot. But at the start of Short Dogs Grow,we were mostly drinkers. The rock and roll was obvious- everyone I knew was in a band, used to be in a band, or was going to be in a band, man, that was gonna rock.

As for sex, well I’d love to say that I had throngs of groupies, but that wouldn’t exactly be the truth.  Actually, I was pretty shy and a bit of a prude (years of Catholic schooling).Before our first tour, Tom sat me down for a serious chat, something out of character at our tender ages of 19 and 20 years old.

“Now Mellie, it’s okay for us guys to sleep around on the road, that doesn’t raise an eyebrow. But you can’t. If you sleep with someone, everyone will know. Everyone will talk about it” I laughed.  He continued, “C’mon, you know how people are. You don’t want that to be what people remember about you.”

Ok, double standard aside, Tom did have a point. There were only a handful of women playing punk music then, and very few touring. Like it or not, I would stand out, and that was never my goal. I didn’t want to be singled out as female, or as the girl who slept with so-and-so. I didn’t wear sexy clothes or makeup on stage (or in day to day life either). I was (and still am) a feminist, who jumped around, played hard and wanted to be judged on my own merit. I was not a joiner and would never have been a Riot Grrl (way past my time anyway). Still I was often told “not bad for a girl”. Bleech.

But Tom didn’t need to worry. Besides being shy, and a bit of a prude, I kinda had a boyfriend: Greg Adams, the guitar player of The Rhythm Pigs. They had moved recently from El Paso to San Francisco to release their first record with Ruth Schwartz’ new label, Mordam Records. Ruth had great taste in music. Her first record was Faith No More’s We Care a Lot. I loved Faith No More, and even got Billy to give me a couple of bass lessons.  Rhythm Pigs were slated second, and her third was Victims Family’s Voltage and Violets. What a hat trick she played.

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Flyer from VIS lounge. What an awesome lineup.

I met Greg at the VIS Lounge- a former Fillmore blues bar on its dying legs. It’s now been remodeled into The Independent, but back then it was two floors- the upstairs was the backstage. I think it was near Valentine’s day so I was handing out sugar hearts to everyone. I gave one to Greg, and we chatted.  A few days later I found a package on my doorstep- it was a paper bag with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it, and inside was a little plastic motorcycle and some candy. Someone had written on the bag “from your secret admirer.”  I had no idea who it was from. I didn’t have a boyfriend, and not many people knew where I lived. Most people I knew lived in the Haight Ashbury, lots of people jammed into awkward Victorian flats. But I lived in a tiny studio in-law apt in the Castro, in a building my parents owned. It was an illegal unit, invisible to the outside of the building, although there was a door bell for me.  I found out later that Greg had somehow gotten my address, rang all the bells, got in, and left it on my doorstep.

I can’t remember Greg ever asking me out- we didn’t date in those days. You basically got drunk with a guy and if things went well, presto-now he was your boyfriend. Greg was the sweetest guy- always positive, never backstabbing, very supportive. He was an amazingly talented guitar player. The Rhythm Pigs’ album was released quickly and they planned a long tour to support it.

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Rhythm Pigs first record. You can see where they changed 1984 to 1985 underneath their name,as Steveocide had done the artwork the year before the release.

Although Short Dogs did not have a record, we booked a tour as well. Greg left about a month before I did. The morning he left was pretty sad as we didn’t know when we’d even be able to talk to each other again.  And we didn’t know if he’d actually be coming back to S.F., it would depend if they got optioned for another record. Imagine going on a cross country trip without a cell phone, without the internet, and without having an answering machine at your house. Imagine only being able to call from pay phones if your  “questionable” credit card number obtained from an Anarchist bookstore was working.  That’s what it was like. I had their tour itinerary and he had mine. All was subject to change.

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Greg and I, just before he got in the van. We smiled for the camera.

We decided we’d try to call at certain points and see if we could find each other- the Where’s Waldo of punk rock USA.  I did manage to catch Greg when I was in New Orleans. I called a club where he was playing and they were able to get him on the phone.  A few minutes later I heard Greg’s voice for the first time in almost two months.

“Hi Stacey!”

“WHO IS STACEY??!!!!”

“Hey, OMG is that you?  Where are you? How are you? How is your tour going” Greg was always pretty excitable.

“WHO IS STACEY???!!!” I could not be moved.

“Oh, she’s helping with the booking. She’s adding the shows on the end of the tour.”  He sounded pretty convinving. He was a bad liar,so I figured it must be true.

We made plans to meet in Washington D.C. the following week.

Short Dogs was staying for a few days with Tom’s brother, Bob,in D.C.  He was out of town when we arrived, but left keys with the neighbor and we settled in pretty quickly. Bob, a busy Georgetown law student, had an Apple computer. Being bike messengers, it was the first time any of us had seen a pc.  Tom turned it and sat down on the desk.

“Don’t touch it!!!” I yelled.

“Why?” Tom asked.

“You don’t know how to use it! You’ll break it! They are very expensive!” Tom brushed me off.

“My father paid for this. I’ll probably get it when Bob’s done with it. Hell, it’s practically mine already”

We all huddled behind him. There was a blue screen , empty except for a little garbage can at the bottom. Tom tried typing some stuff on the keyboard, but nothing happened. We all made suggestions. I offered “run computer,”  (I had seen an IBM computer in 8th grade and knew this one DOS command) and after no response we got frustrated and typed things like “Fuck off” , “You suck”, and “where is Bob?”, but all that happened was a few beeps and a blink of the garbage can. Obviously, we would not be retiring early as dot-com millionaires.

The next day the Rhythm Pigs picked me up and we headed  for Pittsburg. They were playing at the Electric Banana, the town’s punk club. They had played there before, and told me that the owner was a Mafioso. He carried a gun and would often threaten bands when they went to get paid. Ed said that this time they would count how many people came in and would demand the correct amount. It was a far cry from the punk DIY promoters that I was used to.  We made it on time to the show, and a lot of people showed up. I could relax and enjoy the music. And the end of the night, Ed went to get paid. An argument ensued about how much the band earned, and the promoter pulled his gun. He basically told Ed to take what he’d offered, or take nothing. Ed, being unarmed, took the money and returned to the van, pissed.

“I’m tired of this guy’s bullshit. We’re gonna wait here until everyone leaves, and then we’re going to get our revenge”

“What’s the plan? “ Greg asked.

Ed mulled it over. “We’ll pull the van up on the sidewalk, just under the neon sign. Then I’m gonna jump up there and clip the wires, and we’re taking the sign with us.”

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The famous neon banana, where the club took it’s name.

The Electric Banana had a huge neon banana above the front door. It was a landmark. Greg and Jay agreed that this was a good idea. I disagreed.

“Are you out of your mind? This guy is Mafia!!! He has a gun! He’ll have you killed.”

Ok, I’m only half Italian, but I had seen the Godfather.  I knew how long Italian people could hold a grudge. Oddly enough, Pittsburg was voted “the Most Livable City in the USA” that year, and here I was, not going to live to see my way out of it.

He pulled the van around the corner, and we waited. Finally the neon sign turned off, and the owner locked up, got into his car and left. Ed brought the van back around. There was no way I was getting out of the van, and told Greg to stay inside. Ed and Donnie(roadie) got on the roof and started cutting wires.  There was a huge POP POP and then a shower of sparks rained down the side of the van.  A light went on in the club. I was certain Ed was dead, either shot or electrocuted. Greg jumped out of the van, to survey the damage.  Ed and Donnie hit the ground and hurled themselves inside, while Greg scrambled into the front seat and drove off. Sirens wailed in the distance. We got on the freeway and after a few exits Greg pulled over.  Ed said that there must still have been juice running to the sign, and they shorted it out when cutting the wires.  Although he didn’t get the sign, he felt pretty good about his revenge. Ed took over driving and we headed back to D.C. to drop me off. It was about 4 in the morning.  We all fell asleep, and about twenty minutes later I woke up with a start. The van was weaving all over the road, and I could see Ed in the driver’s seat, passed out.  I yelled his name and jumped into the front passenger seat. Ed said “I’m awake, I’m awake”  and, now, so was I. I stayed up front, and talked his ear off till we got to Bob’s house. I had survived Pittsburg, dammnit, and I was going to survive the ride back.  Getting back to D.C. was bittersweet, as I didn’t know when I’d see Greg again, and we made our goodbyes. But I was so happy to be able to lie down on Bob’s couch,with no guns, no oncoming traffic, and no Mafiosos hiding in the corner.

We both made it back from tour alive, and were homeless (my in-law had to be gutted, as the building inspectors declared it was illegal). My friend Jeanie had found an apartment on Haight St with her boyfriend. It was a small 2 bedroom, and we all decided to move in together. I think we paid $800 month ($200 each), a lot for those days.  It was a fun house though, and Jessie would often stay on the couch in our tiny eat-in kitchen.  She and Greg loved Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and on Saturday morning I would be awakened at the ungodly hour of 9:30am to her gently knocking and whispering, “Greg, it’s time for Pee Wee.” Many times I would step over bands sleeping in our hallway on my way to school. I went through a phase where I wouldn’t wash my hair, and one day Greg dragged me to the bathroom and held my head under the sink while he shampoo’d my hair.Jeanie laughed in the hallway as she heard me protesting.  Jay, the Rhythm Pigs’ drummer, decided to leave the band, so they recruited Kenny Craun from Dischord Records’ band Beefeater to replace him. Kenny looked more like he belonged in Motley Crue, then Beefeater, a hardcore punk vegan band. Rhythm Pigs were a better fit for him. He spent most of his time in San Franciso napping in a tiny closet in our hallway. I don’t think he every even saw the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Greg in our bedroom on Haight St. I think that’s his gold top lying on top of the laundry basket, partially obscured by dirty laudry.

The band went to Austin to record their second record, Choke On This, with Spot (Lockett), the former SST house engineer and producer of the classic SST albums Jealous Again, Damaged, Metal Circus, Zen Arcade, My War, Family Man, Up On the Sun, New Day Rising etc etc etc. I flew out for the mix, a less hectic time of the recording session. It was the first time I’d been on a plane since age 11 and I was terrified. It was expensive to fly- we split the cost of the ticket. Back then you could smoke on airplanes! And they gave you free drinks! I took off and landed in Las Vegas, Phoenix, El Paso and finally Austin. As you can imagine I arrived pretty drunk, and very experienced in locking my tray table in the upright position. El Paso was a small airport, so they brought an external exit ramp up to the plane door. Greg was waiting at the bottom, and I practiced rolled down the ramp.

They had a song called Marlboro Man, and Ed wanted to have some “squaws” screaming in the background. He asked me to get into the vocal booth and start screaming. I didn’t want to, but Greg was excited that I would get to be on the record too. I got into the booth, opened my mouth, and…..nothing came out. I was not a singer and must have had “vocal booth fright”.  I finally managed to get some squeaks recorded, and Greg was happy, but I doubt you can actually hear me on there.  Spot was quiet, and like most engineer/producers, focused, patient and meticulous.

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The second album Choke On This.

The band planned their next tour and it looked like they would be gone for a year, maybe more. The stress brought about our only fight, and Greg slammed his fist into the wall and broke his hand. I thought that was the end of the tour and recording, but no, the show must go on.  We moved out of the Haight St. apartment- I went to take care of my grandmother’s house as she had just passed away, and Greg went to Amsterdam. We never said goodbye, never broke up, never talked about it. It was just “see ya later.” We talked once when he came back to San Francisco over a year later, and he then he moved back to El Paso.

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Hanging out at Haight St. shortly before we moved out. Note the Ace bandage on Greg’s hand. He would not let them cast it, so he could still play guitar.

In 2007 I went to El Paso for work. I got Greg’s cell phone number from Ed and called. I told him I was in El Paso for a day, and could he meet for lunch or coffee? We met at a local Mexican restaurant. He looked the same and was very happy- he has two kids, owns his own security business, and raises horses on his ranch. After lunch, I hugged him goodbye, and said I was glad he still remembered me after all this time. “Remember you?” he laughed, “of course I remember you. You were the first love of my life. The only one before I met my wife.” Aw…didn’t I tell you he’s the sweetest guy you’d ever meet?

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Postcard from the road to Janis, Erik, Michael and Jeanie. I added a note at the end telling them to have Greg call me at Shane’s house (mutual friend) in Denver on the 29th, if they heard from him. It was a step above carrier pigeon. Courtesy of Erik Meade (thanks for saving it Erik).

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Head For The Border

I wouldn’t call myself an international pop star as I’ve only played outside the U.S. a handful of times.  But, damn, it sure feels like I’ve crossed the border a lot.

Oh Canada

When I was in Short Dogs, my best friend Jessie put in a good word for us with her Vancouver booker friends, Cattle Prod productions. They booked numerous Vancouver clubs and had the knowledge, patience and ability to legally bring punk bands across the border. Tom was from Calgary and had experience crossing the border, often regaling us with exciting stories of cavity searches, confiscated equipment and jail time. Our first time through, however, was only excruciatingly boring. We sat at the border for 4 hours while they processed our working papers. It made the risk of an illegal border run almost seem worth it.

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Pic 1.Greg takes us to the border

The second time we sat for hours at the border again. There was only one other van next to us, side panel open and a cute girl sitting in the doorway. It didn’t take George long to wander over and start talking to her.  Finally Greg came out with our papers and waved us into our van. George ambled over, (“hurrying” not being a part of his vocabulary.)  I asked him how it went with the cute girl- would she be coming to our show in Vancouver? He said the van was full of chimpanzees.  The cute girl and her partner were trying to bring the animals back across the border, but they didn’t have all the documentation they needed- vaccinations, etc. She talked to the chimps in sign language- they did research but the girl referred to the chimps as her friends.  The chimps signed at George, and she interpreted- they were bored too! She told George that the chimps were cooler than most people and she preferred to hang out with them. I was so bummed to miss the chance to talk with them, but George was probably our best representative, a gentle soul who lacked pretension.  You can’t fool a chimp.

After playing in Vancouver, we went home through the same border, and U.S. guards actually turned us around and sent us back to Canada. They said the van was too dirty for them to inspect, and we needed to clean it out before they’d let us back in the U.S. We sat in no man’s land doing our best to clean it, while the border patrol looked on in amusement.

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Pic 2. The dirty van! The occupants weren’t exactly roses either.

On a later Canadian tour, we thought it might be easier to cross back to the U.S. at a desolate border outpost, so we went down to the Dakotas. The lone border cop had nothing better to do than to ask questions and make us empty our pockets. Mine were empty. Tom had some guitar picks and matches. Greg had an “I Dream of Jeanie” hand mirror, and George had his very thin wallet, which upon inspection by the agent, contained a razor blade.

“Got any nose candy to go with that razor blade?”

We thought he was joking and giggled a bit. But he was using the term “nose candy” FOR REAL.

“Well I’ll have to take it and test it.”

George jumped into action and told the agent that he was a drummer and used the blade to cut drum heads to size. Miraculously, the agent believed him and let us through.  God knows what was on that blade.

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Pic 3. Carmela and George kicking it in the van’s loft.

The last time we went to Vancouver was the worst. We had borrowed a mini-Winnebago from our friends’ band Field Trip (extraordinarily generous and trusting folk). Before we crossed back to the U.S., we cleaned the van from top to bottom. At that time there was a “zero drug tolerance” in effect at the U.S. border. People were being busted for pot dust (they would wipe the dash board with a chemical that turned purple if there were any marijuana residue.) It was possible to have never smoked pot in your life, buy a car secondhand, and basically have it confiscated at the border. We were stopped as usual and waited a long time.  Finally the border cop came out with an empty small film canister and a little tissue swab with some purplish stain on it- a positive test for pot dust. My first thought was it had been planted, but they said the dogs found it under the last seat bench. We were screwed. The Winnie Wagon belonged to Greg’s childhood friends, and the border patrol said they were impounding the vehicle. Greg went pale at the thought of telling Jim Galbraith, the registered owner, and I turned red invisioning dollar signs flying out the window because I knew it would it take a fight to get Winnie back, and we lived far from the border.

We kept waiting- and luck would have it,  there was no place to park the beast. The border cops had impounded so many vehicles since the zero tolerance went into effect that there was no room left in their lot. I guess they hadn’t started to auction them off yet. Finally after what seemed like 12 hours, they told us to take the Winnie Wagon and go home.

Ole Mexico

Short Dogs never played in Mexico, but when our drummer Joe quit the band in El Paso, we went for one last hurrah in Juarez.  In a tiny bar we did shots of cheap tequila with the local drunks. Pretty bar maids selling buckets of Coronas complete with ice were subject to Greg’s high school Spanish. “Como te llamas?” Greg thought he could keep the bucket and a struggle ensued as the bard maid tried to take it back. I decided that 25 cents a shot was too much to pay, and went down the street to the liquor store to buy a bottle of cheap tequilia. Greg came with me and bought a case of Corona to take back to El Paso. While we were in the store it started to rain. It was very hot outside, and as we waited at the stop light steam rose from puddles on the street. “Desert rain” I said to Greg. Later he and Tom wrote a song with that title, detailing our little Juarez adventure.

Back in the bar, things were getting out of control, and I decided to leave. In a foul mood,  I walked back over the border bridge by myself. Once across, I realized I had no idea how to get to the place we were staying. Luckily a police officer stopped me and asked me what the hell I was doing alone so close to the border.(where people get killed by smugglers, I later learned). I told him that my friends were drunk in Juarez and I wanted go back where I was staying- all I knew was it was an apartment builiding next to a park.From my meager description he was able to give me directions and I made it back. I got into the apt and collapsed on a futon on the floor.  Five minutes later, the front door burst open and my hostess ran in, hit the tape deck button on her stereo and started climbing the walls. “I’M STILL IN HOLLYWOOD!!!” blared from the speakers. She ran around me, she circled the house, she jumped up and down on the couch, she danced on her bed, all the while singing with Johnette Napolitano at the top of her lungs. Her date had slinked in after her and eventually he got her into the bedroom and shut the door. The music finally turned off. I was just about asleep when the door slammed open again. Greg Foot lurched into the room and fell down next to me. He took his shoes off. Then he started punching me hard in the arm.

Whack. “Mel”

Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”

Whack. “Mel”

Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”

Then he leaned over and puked in his shoes.  He got up, ran to the sink and puked. Then he went to the door, opened it and looked outside.

“Where are you going? Get back in here, you’re drunk!”

The doorbell started ringing.

“Tom’s waiting for me downstairs in a car with the girls.”

“Girls? What girls? The girls you were trying to steal the Corona buckets from?”

No response. He ran out the door and into the night (leaving the door open of course). I got up, closed it and laid back down, too exhausted to chase him because I had walked home FROM MEXICO!  The next morning I got up, resigned to clean up the mess. Greg’s shoes were sitting next to me. But there was no barf to be seen. I walked over to the sink, and…..it was spotless. He must have been full of pure tequila, which evaporated during the night.  My hostess appeared hours later. I could tell she had no recollection of her Concrete Blonde performance, and I don’t think she was too thrilled with the guy she woke up with. Greg and Tom eventually came back to get me and Greg was happy to find his shoes. He thought he’d left them in Mexico. We regrouped and took Joe to the airport. Unfortunately we were now stuck in Juarez with no drummer and the cruelest hangover of all time. I cannot drink tequila to this day. Fortunately we got a call from promoter Mary-she’d found us a drummer, and we left the scene of druken debauchery to move on to……New Orleans.

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Pic 4. Hightailin’ it across the desert to New Orleans

The only time I played south of the border was with Hellfire Choir. We were invited to play a Toys for Tots benefit in Tijuana, run by some San Diego motorcycle gang. The motorcyclists had set a flatbed trailer with all the equipment-we just had to show up with our guitars. We decided to leave the van in S.D. and walk over the border. As we were standing in line to cross the border, Shelley started to worry that they wouldn’t let us bring our guitars in. I told her to relax as I was wearing my mirrored sunglasses (originally purchased for my faux metal band) that made me look like Tom Petty .  “If the border patrol gives us a hard time, I’ll just tell them I’m Tom Petty’s illegitimate son and we’re on our way to Cabo Wabo to jam with Sammy Hagar.” Shelley decided to go to the front of our group to distance herself from me. Luckily I didn’t have to use my celebrity influence; we got through no problem. It was a strange gig though. The locals showed up to get the toys, but had no interest in the rock music. The five or six motorcycle gang people seemed to enjoy it however, so we put on a show for their entertainment.  Tom Petty would have been proud.

Oi! Oi! Oi! England!

The last time I crossed the border to play was in jolly old England. Cookie Mongoloid was invited to play a couple of shows in London by a group called The Meanies (not the Australian indie bunk band) who reassured us that yes, English people were familiar with cookies even though they call them biscuits. Crickey! We only took a few necessities (guitars, drumsticks, pedals). Because we probably looked like a degenerate metal band in disguise, we were searched at Immigration. The guard opened Scot’s suitcase, and resting comfortably on top of his clothes were a pair of drumsticks, a large circular saw blade and a goalie hockey mask. The agent gave us a look of resignation. “We’re performance artists!” I blurted out. Without saying a word, he gently zipped up the case and motioned for us to go through. The British invasion would commence.

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Pic 5. Crueller sets up merch while Crumb supervises.