You never forget your first band.
But you do get old …….and then everything starts to get fuzzy.
I was a teenager when my first band started. Before the internet. Before cell phones. Before Star Trek The Next Generation.
It was called The Reign of Lee Kwan. Lee Kwan was mentioned in the original Star Trek as the next world dictator after Hitler. There was no consensus on how to spell it, so we spelled it many different ways- Li Quan, Lee Kwan, Leigh Kawan etc.
But luckily, due to fate, and in part to the new technology, I’m still in contact with two of the three other original members. And we were able to meet up a while ago and piece together what happened 35 odd years ago……..
Cast of Characters:
C= Carmela (me). Lee Kwan was my first band. I went on to play in some other bands (see other blog posts if you survive this one.)
Jean= Jeanie M. Lee Kwan was Jeanie’s second band (first was A Happy Death). After the Kwan broke up she continued working in visual art, including her mouse sculptures and the she went on the create the Road Kill Calendar.
Jan= Janis Tanaka. Lee Kwan was Janis’ first band. After, she continued to play music with the Jackson Saints, Stone Fox, Hammers of Misfortune and Pink, as well as many others.
E=Erik Meade. Erik is/was a friend of the band and guitarist for The Jackson Saints, and many other bands.
Michael (not present) Michael was in the band for about half the time we were together.
C: So, I was thinking about this as I coming down here…like as far as our shows. I don’t remember like actually being onstage. I can remember kind of before we get onstage, or maybe going to the show, and then after, maybe talking to people. But the actual time on the stage is really gone.
Jan: That happens to me a lot.
Jean: So, you don’t remember the fact that, we actually got up and played musical instruments? Like you know, Janis would come over and sit on the drums, and I would pick up her bass?
Jan: Yeah, because we changed instruments so much. And the set, you couldn’t even do it where we were on the same instrument twice for two songs.
C: So, we switched every song? I don’t remember.
Jan: Pretty much, a lot. We switched a lot.
Jean: I mean, I couldn’t I couldn’t play drums very well but….I can never can play guitar because I’m left handed, and so it always upside down and backwards. So, I didn’t play a whole lot of bass.
C: You played bass?
Jean: I did but not a lot.
C: You didn’t play guitar.
Jean: No. I could never figure out how to do a guitar.
Jan: I switched a lot.
C: (something starts coming back) I think I played guitar on one or two.
Jean: Well you definitely did.
C: Did I ever played drums on anything?
Jean: That’s a good question.
C: Janis did you play drums?
Jan: I played drums for sure.
C: You must have when you (Jeanie) were playing bass.
Jan: Okay so if you made up the song on the instrument- that’s the instrument you had to play for the song. Cause nobody else could play it.
C: When I listened to that recording that we have of the show, the live performance, at the end of it I’m pretty sure that’s Dirk Dirksen (legendary promoter and emcee at punk club The Mabuhay Gardens).
Jean: Could be
Jan: That’s the Mab.
C: You said the Mab was our first gig. But I don’t think that tape could have been our first gig because that tape was actually pretty good.
Jan: Our first gig was at the Mab, I thought
C: Did we play the Mab more than once?
Jan: Yeah. Because the second time I had some lumpia, and I met Ness Aquino. (legendary owner of the Mab. It’s all his fault there was a punk rock scene in San Fran) He was weird. The lumpia was not good. I didn’t have the lumpia the first time cause I was just nervous.
C: (horrified) You ate lumpia from the Mab, like, from the kitchen at the Mab?
Jean: Yeah, I remember that we played some bike messenger bashes at the Mab like at 5:00 o’clock and I was just like “Why? Who is going to come to a show at 5:00?”
C: Bike messengers
Jan: Yeah, exactly. Those were great.
C: We played the Utah (Hotel Utah, a bar that still exists today) I think twice. Yeah. That was because of Adolph and the Gassers (a friend’s band).
I mean, again I don’t remember actually be on stage. But I remember at the Utah the first time we played, when I came off the stage, a guy that I knew (who I can’t remember now. I can see his face but I can’t remember his name). He was like “Oh my God. We’re all on acid and you guys are amazing.”
Jan: I didn’t know him (before the show). But I remember him.
C: Yeah. He wasn’t a bike messenger but he worked like in a bike messenger office or something. I don’t think we worked together but that’s how I kind of knew him.
And then I saw him like a week later or something and he said “You got to tell me when you guys are playing again because we’re all going to come and take acid again. Because that was amazing. You guys were so great” And I was just like “Okay…….cool?” Like it’s cool that you like us, but I don’t want to be a hippie band. I don’t want people coming in and twirly dancing to us or whatever.
Jan: I thought it would be funny
C: I don’t really know how many shows we played. Did we play anywhere else besides the Mab and Utah?
Jan: We played the Sound of Music (club in the Tenderloin, see my other blog post about it) Yeah, we played there once, and then we played there for our last show. It was Short Dogs Grow’s first show. That was the one that when Marc was singing and someone from the street came in off the street, and grabbed a chair and ran at him with it. Marc’s singing, and he just was looking at the guy. The guy stopped like two feet from Marc’s head and then laughed. He walked back halfway down the club, and then he ran back. He did it twice. We were just like….. whatever….Marc didn’t stop, and he didn’t move. I think he might have raised his hand, like “what’s going on?” The guy left.
C: I don’t remember that at all.
Jan: That was weird. It was a good show. You guys (Short Dogs Grow) played great and we were like “Wah”.
C: Yeah. Didn’t the cops come in and stop it?
Jan: Was that the show where the cops took the girls away all handcuffed together, or was that at a different show? I knew there was a table of underage girls.
Jean: And it wasn’t us? (laughs)
C: I remember working the door at the Sound of Music and telling people who were underage, “If the cops come just go run into the women’s bathroom, they’re not gonna go in there”.
C: That was the plan because Jessie was under age. I think I might have been under age or I was probably pretty close. I was like 19 or 20.
Jan: Well you turned 19 when we were in the band.
We digress into a story of the cops trying to bust me for buying beer underage. I ran from them to Janis and Jeanie’s house and hid. Our guitarist Michael, not present, came to my aid.
C: Yeah the cops came, and I ran into the house and just stayed there. They were down there for a while. Michael went down and just said “She’s not going to come out. How long do you guys want to wait?” Michael really had balls that way.
Jan: He had balls.
C: You know, I kind of think of him as sort of mild-mannered guy. Well, not mild…
Jan: But quiet. He was pretty ballsy doing things I wouldn’t even think to do. And if I thought of it, I wouldn’t have done it.
Jean: Yeah, but laundry made him upset.
Jan: Very ballsy that way. Which was surprising for someone who watched so many soap operas. You kind of don’t put the two together right?
Jeanie shows us a pic of our friend Erik
C: Erik came to see us play… was Erik at our first show?. He was at our first show.. wasn’t he? I remember when we met him, and we were playing that night.
Jan: We met him in Marin, on that scooter ride. You were on that ride.
C: That was the Hotel Utah that he came too.
Jean: So that would have been right around when I turned 21.
Jan: We should ask him. He has a good memory.
C: I remember meeting him in the park as we rode over with Roy. Roy Wonder was the dispatcher at Lightning (a messenger company that I worked for).For some reason he was going to Marin or something… and we were like “Yeah we’re all going to ride to Marin.” Yeah, we were on our scooters, and Roy always had some Franken-bike. You know, I don’t know why we went over.
Jean: Cause we wanted to go for a ride.
C: I’m pretty sure that we were riding with Roy for some reason. Oh I don’t know. That’s about all I can remember.
Jan: And then Erik was on the bridge, and he had records, and I said “What records do you have?” And he said, “Ian and Sylvia records”. And I said, “I love Ian and Sylvia!” And he said “I do too! But he bought them for his parents because it was old stuff. And I love them and he said “I do too.”
C: Is that because he thought that you were cute and wanted to impress you?
Jean: It was right before I turned 21 because he came down to see our show, and then he kind of ended up hanging out with us.
Jan: He had decided to be our groupie. Yeah that’s what he said. Yeah.
We decide to call Erik to get his memories, as we are wondering what others thought.
Phone starts ringing
Jean: If he’s there I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.
Jan: Yeah. We’ll turn this (computer) in case it’s blocking sound.
E: How are you?
Jan: We’re on speaker phone with Jeanie and Carmela. Fine . How are you?
Jan: Are you busy?
Jan: Okay. We have some questions for you.
Jean: So, Carmela is putting together these histories. We’re trying to remember what the hell we did when we were in Lee Quan. So, we’re asking people what they remember because we can’t seem to remember half the stuff we think we did.
C; Will you tell us Erik, what you remember about meeting us in the park, and then seeing us play? And if you can remember where you saw us play.
E: I saw you at the Hotel Utah.
C: Was that the first show that you saw?
E: Well that was the first show I saw of you. And I think that was the night that Janis jumped on that guy who hit Michael.
C: Oh! Tell us that story. (much laughter)
Jan: None of us remember that.
E: Yeah, yeah that was great. That was the whole reason why I just thought you (Janis) were so great. You were playing, and it was first time I saw you do that thing you do.
C: That thing you do? What is it?
E: Some guy was standing in front of Michael, and he shoved him or something like that. Michael turned around, and the guy hit Michael.
C; In the face?
Jan: What did the guy say to Michael?
C: The guy was harassing Michael?
E: The guys was harassing Michael. And Janis threw her guitar off, and jumped up off stage and landed, and hit him, and like knocked him to the ground.
Jan: Good, good…..
E: She was straddling his shoulders, and then she started punching him.
Jan: Whoa! What?
Jan: I must have had a drink.
E; And I was like “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”. Then well that’s pretty much like the main thing that I remember. I remember you playing. Somewhat.
C: You don’t remember what we sounded like? If we were really bad or anything like that…
E: Uh…..You were very minimalist, I remember thinking. I wouldn’t say it was bad because I was thinking that it was kind of like everybody’s punk band that first got started.
C: You cut us some slack, is what you’re saying here.
E: But I mean, you know there was a lot of kind of more interesting bands, like the Slits or something. Like where it’s kind of shocking and weird but uh………… Let’s see. It’s funny cause I don’t remember a whole lot beyond that except, I don’t remember if it was this that same night or maybe it was the next time I saw you guys which I think was the Hotel Utah again. Maybe it was the same night. Because I do remember going out with you guys somewhere. And I was riding on the back of Janis’ motorcycle.
Jean: That was my birthday.
E: And we went to Clown Alley (a hamburger place).
Jan: Clown Alley?
Jean: Oh. Now maybe it wasn’t my birthday.
C: Are you sure that wasn’t when we played the Mab? Because the Mab was right near Clown Alley
E: Well maybe it was. Did you play the Mab?
Jean: We did.
C: Well do you remember? Because I don’t remember playing at the Mab at all. But Janis does. She actually had a recording of us that she gave me, and I’m pretty sure that it’s Dirk Dirksen on the end of the tape, talking. Sorry, Jeanie. Jeanie had the tape. So, it’s like Oh my God, we must be at the Mab. Where else would Dirk Dirksen be?
Jean: We played bike messenger bashes there.
C: Yeah so everyone remembers different stuff and so for some reason I’ve completely lost the show at the Mab, but I definitely remember the Hotel Utah. Remember more than once.
Jean: Well, we have pictures so that makes it easy.
E: I met you guys in a park in San Anselmo. And you guys said you were going to have a show.
C: I think we were pretty excited that we were playing a show.
Jean: WE’VE GOT A SHOW!
E: Yeah. Yeah, that what it was like really. It’s like the funniest thing. I was coming back from work, and I worked at the used record store in San Rafael, and I had bought an Ian and Sylvia record. Which I bought for my parents. But then Janis ran up and said “What’cha got in the bag?” I said “Ian and Sylvia” And she says “ I love Ian and Slyvia!”. And I was like….”Oh, so do I!”.
C: Was that a little white lie, Erik?
E: Yes. I was like, “So great to meet someone else who loves them.”
E: So let’s see, what else. It’s funny because, now that you bring it up, it is kind of funny how my memories are so limited. Yeah.
Jan: So you were at the Sound of Music show when we played?
E: The funny thing is that I have just the vaguest memories of the Sound of Music, but like not even enough to really piece together any kind of a story. I think what happens is that the things that stand out in our mind are the ones that make the memories. But I keep going back to Janis jumping off the stage. That’s a really vivid one.
C: It’s weird that Jeanie and I, and Janis, don’t remember that. That’s a pretty outstanding thing.
Jean: But You know like when you’re on stage and everything. There’s all this adrenaline and we’re just trying to get through the set so you know, you don’t hardly remember playing at all. Right?
C: Erik, I was just saying that, and this was the same thing when I talked to Tom and Greg, I can’t remember actually being on stage and the “playing” part. Like of pretty much almost every Short Dog show that I’ve ever done. I can remember things like maybe somebody jumping up on stage and bashing into me or, Something like that where there’s a fight that broke out. But same with Lee Kwan, I don’t actually remember playing.
Jan: Maybe because it’s in a different part of your brain maybe. People would say “How was tour?” and I say, “I can list off all the food I ate.” (Everyone laughs) All I can say is I do not remember.
E: It’s true, I really feel that way with a lot of the gigs. You played the Hotel Utah a couple of times, didn’t you?
C: Yeah, we played once for sure with Michael and once for sure without him.
E: Yeah, I remember you were playing with Adolph and the Gassers.
Jan: And The Hot Combs. They might have been on the same bill actually.
C: We might. I think we played with them more than once. I think we played with them at least twice.
Jean: We did a couple of bike messenger bashes. where it was like bands that were all messenger bands. Those were the people we could get shows with, the people we knew.
C: I just saw John Thaxton (singer and guitarist of the Hot Combs and the John Thaxton Experience)
C: Yeah I was playing at a memorial for somebody from the bike messenger scene who had passed away, and he played the Western Messenger Girl song. I said to him “Oh my God! I have this tape of Lee Kwan where it’s announces that we’re playing with you at the Mab” and he was like “oh wow you guys were so great.”
C: I don’t know if he actually remembered.
Erik, I was telling Janis and Jeanie, that when I was listening to that live tape, I could kind of almost hear like the seeds of something really cool emerging. And I wish I had stuck with it like to see where it would have gone, although so many other things happened.
C: But I think maybe we had something interesting going. I don’t know, maybe it’s a revisionist history.
Jan: I like it! I like it!
C: We had something to create.
Jean: We had fun!!
Jan: We had a lot of fun. We had good songs.
C: Do you remember seeing us at the Mab?
E: You know it’s funny cause of that I don’t really remember…wait …wait….no… One of the problems with things like this too, is that I was at the Mab so many times. Again it’s just sort of like everything is kind of a big blur. Like when pictures used to be in slides instead of print. Like layers of three or four slides of different bands flowing into each other. And that’s actually one of the reasons about not being able to remember the actual gigs you played. It’s the same thing with me. I have memories of being on stages and stuff like that, but then I also have to remind myself that I would go to people’s shows and be hanging with bands. So I’d be backstage or onstage. I can remember being at some club in Fresno. It was a big venue on the stage and looking out at the audience. But I can’t remember whether or not that was like a show of ours. Or whether I’d gone down with some other band. Standing on the steps, right side the stage, you know watching you guys. And so that kind of blends with whatever shows like I might have played there.
Jean: I’m having the same thing because I remember something, and then I’ll be like “Oh no that was Happy Death.” That wasn’t Lee Kwan.
C: Back then, it’s hard for me to distinguish Short Dogs from other stuff. I know I played at the Mab in Short Dogs because I’ve got flyers. But I again I have no recollection of it. I remember the backstage at the Mab which was that tiny little room.
C: But I don’t remember actually being on stage playing, although I know I did. And the same thing with the on Broadway. I can remember one instance of playing at the On Broadway because I fell down on my knees, and so did Tom, at the exact same time. So that’s sort of stuck in my memory. and I remember the backstage at the On Broadway. Yeah. It’s hard with that because I was at the On Broadway every weekend for probably five years.
E: I remember being at the On Broadway. I can remember when I was played there with the Undead, and then watching a million bands- Gun Club, Code of Honor and Black Flag, and the one that really stuck in my head was that….Remember the Live at the Rat album? And Black Flag was doing that song “What’s the matter with Henry?” or “What’s wrong with Henry?”. He was stalking the stage all naked. But I remember being backstage and there was a pool table back there or something. He was holding on to cue ball, and he was sitting in a corner trying to work himself up. He was clutching the 8 ball. And he looked at me and said “What you looking at?”
E: I remember looking at him thinking, “there’s some weirdo crouching in the corner”. I remember that very vividly.
Jean; I have one really vivid memory of the On Broadway. It was me and Janis, and Faith No Man (not an error, that was Faith No More’s original name) was playing, and Courtney Love came on, and was singing. Janis and I ran out of the club screaming with our fingers in our ears and saying, “I never want to be in a band again if this is what music has come to.”
E: That’s hilarious
C: You didn’t know her at that time?
Jean: And then later Janis actually was in a band with her, and she remembered we had this experience. I was traveling around the country. And Janis said “Oh Jeannie you’re going to hate this.” And you were right.
E: That’s so funny, because just last night I was doing a loadout at the Design Center and there was some guy, a fairly younger guy who was wearing a Faith No More t shirt. But he had that original logo you know from the Mordam days, from the Ruth Schwartz’s record. I asked him “Oh,do you know those guys?” I suddenly realized that back in the day, if you saw somebody with a Faith No More shirt, we would just naturally assume that they were friends with them, you know? Because it was all part of our scene. But I was looking at the guy. He was younger, and so I thought, Oh he’s probably more just like a fan, and maybe never seen the band. But then it turns out that it he’s some guy who’s got a shop of some kind over at Soundwave in Oakland. So he goes “Yeah they’re my neighbors.” It’s so funny that You just brought up that Faith No Man thing. I was glad that somebody like this guy actually knows them.
C: It was a different world back then where if you if you saw someone wearing a punk rock shirt, you were like…..
Jan: Oh, I can talk to you.
C: You’re part of my tribe.
E: I was thinking the same thing because I saw some woman with blue hair as I was walking past a restaurant and I thought, “Oh, there was a time when I would have assumed that was somebody who was part of my tribe.”
C: But now everybody’s doing it!
Jan: There was a time when you could run up to any guy that had just shaved their head, and go run your hand over it and say “OOOHH” and they would go “AAAhhh”. You know they wouldn’t get mad. Or think you’re a weird old lady.
E: Yeah, I have memories of you guys (Lee Kwan) but they’re like nondescript memories, like memories of standing outside the Hotel Utah and talking.
C: Kind of snapshot memories …
E: More like early early video memories or when you had a Super 8 camera. So, like they’re moving picture but they don’t have sound.
E: I don’t really necessarily remember what we were talking about. Beyond the fact of just knowing that I really liked you guys. I mean obviously, I mean that was a life changer for me. That first time I saw you at the Hotel Utah, I saw life changing after that. That totally just changed the trajectory of my life. You know. I was out in Marin. I was in a big gloomy funk for like a year.
C: You think Erik if we hadn’t shown up in the park that day, we wouldn’t have met? I think we probably would have met at some point.
E: I don’t know. I don’t know if we would have. We might. Well we very possibly might not have. Because I had dropped out of the San Francisco scene although I don’t know why. it’s really funny.
Jan: Because it was so hard to get there.
C: Were you depressed about the loss of your singer? Maybe, or was that much earlier?
E: My best friend Ricky Paul had hung himself.
C: Yeah that’s it. I was referring to that. I’m sorry I didn’t remember him being your best friend.
E: Yeah, he was a really close friend of mine. And then I had broken up with my girlfriend at the time but I don’t know why, but I was just like in this like dark spot. I remember. I remember sitting around, listening in my room to….That whole year I listened to almost nothing but the first two Joy Division records
Jean: Oh God
E: The Meat Puppets records and the first two REM records like Murmur and Reckoning or whatever. And then Meat Puppets doing Up On the Sun, and the two Joy Division records Closer and Unknown Pleasures. And I was off being gloomy and everything like that. And then I was working at the record store. I guess I was I don’t know what’s going on but then I met you and I went and I was just like “this is cool” and I went to go see your band. I think it was cause I was like …I got excited about something.
C: You thought Janis was cute and you wanted to come see …..
Jean: Janis is like bubbly and happy…..
E: Definitely. The reason I was certainly like…. you know… you’re right because she’s so bubbly and happy.
Jean: Everybody feels like, you know you meet Janice and she’s like “I’m your friend” you know.
E: And that’s what I thought. And it was all so cool that you guys came out on your scooters or scooter or something.
Jean: Yeah. We did
E: I remembered thinking that was cool in itself. And it felt like you had some sort of an interesting community. I think it was either at the first time I saw you, or the second time I saw you, I said that I was going to be your groupie.
Everyone: Yeah I remember that.
Jan: I remember you telling me.
C: Yeah. I thought ‘That’s cool.”
Jan: We made it!
C: Oh My favorite memory, Erik-and this was a little bit later on. We, you and I, had decided that we were gonna be alcoholics. Do you remember this? So we had gone out, and I think it was just me and you, or maybe we went out with the whole group. We got really trashed. And we were at Buchanan Street the next day, and I remember waking up on the couch, and you came in with two beers. And we opened them up, and put them on the table, and then we just looked at each other. And you were like ‘I don’t think I can do this.” I said “I don’t think so either”, and you’re like “oh man….we’ve failed at being alcoholics.”
E; Yeah you know what I think? It’s really interesting. I think that our memories are there. It just takes opening the door, because they can be locked up so long. It’s just like if you have everything in the drawer and you actually open it and say “Oh there’s that.” It breaks open the memory.
C: I have read that people store different memories for each other. So like I might store something about you, and you don’t remember it, but I’ve got it there for you. It’s kind of a weird, I guess, like a social memory or something.
Jan: Yeah, I was thinking that on stage there’s no memory – it might be because you’re working with it. It’s either in a different place, or you’re not making short term memory from it.
Jean: Because you’re concentrating. You’re doing a muscle memory thing, you know.
Jan: Either it’s either in a different place or it isn’t committed to being a true memory.
C: Thank you. Yeah. You both are kind of hitting the nail on head. It’s not a short-term memory, it’s a muscle memory. So, you’re just access it’s like a computer- you’re accessing that file and playing it, and it’s not really creating something new.
Jean: Or you know, somebody gets on stage and hits you with a chair. Yeah.