When I think of Gilman Street what comes to mind are flying dead animals, doing stretches with Mr. Chi Pig, and the visual of Boom King running around with a large garbage can on his head, singing his heart out, pants falling down around his ankles.
Was all of that Tim Yohannan’s intention when he planned to start a club?
Tim Yo was a bit of an institution, having compiled Not So Quiet On The Western Front (one of my fave high school comps) and writing and editing Maximum Rock N Roll fanzine. In high school I stayed up to the wee hours to listen to Tim and the MRR radio on KPFA, but I think I first met him was when he interviewed Short Dogs on same show. Kent Jolly hooked us up with an interview- super helpful for an unknown, unsigned band about to go on a full U.S. tour. When I got back I would often see Tim at shows, holding a tall can of Bud, and smoking a cigarette. He always had a smile. Short Dogs had a song titled “Don Juan” that was really short, maybe 60 seconds tops. Tom changed the lyrics from “Don Juan” to “Tim Yo” and serenaded him at our first appearance at Gilman Street. Tim laughed so loud I could hear him above the P.A.
We were actually involved in a tiny bit of the early Gilman planning sessions. I think the initial idea was kept on the down low as they looked for a space – they wanted it to be in S.F. but finding a location that would tolerate noise and people hanging out was proving to be difficult. SF was also expensive. When they were fairly certain that they’d locked down the space at 924 Gilman, they started having small meetings, asking bands and fans’ opinions of their “ideal gig space”. Being budding alcoholics, we told Tim there had to be alcohol at gigs. But we also wanted all ages to be able to attend. Tim liked his Bud too, but in the end getting approval for minors and alcohol proved too difficult. The kids are alright. He invited everyone to help out, and most pitched in a hand to build the space. I volunteered to pick up the drywall. When I got to the yard, I realized it was going to take about 50 van trips to move it all. I loaded as much as I could, but they had to arrange for a semi to take the rest. Janis and Erik put in some of the electrical stuff, and helped build out the toilets. There were some skilled people who were able to tell the unskilled what to do. The work got done.
Tim wanted Gilman to be an event space that people would just go to automatically, no matter who was playing. He didn’t want any advertising, or for bands to tell friends they were playing. Another thing Tim wanted was an arbitrary lineup, i.e. the bands would play in a random order.
Looking back now I understand that Tim saw this as an experiment- how long would people come to a space without knowing who the bands were, or what order, or if there would even be music at all? Would people stay and give new bands a chance, and learn something? And it would have been a great experience. But for the bands, this was our time, and we couldn’t take the risk of being a social experiment. We had to go on tour, and it was really rough out there. So there was advertising, and headliners. And like every good thing, people took the club for granted.
One thing that was odd for an anti-elitist like Tim was that one had to become a member of the club in order to go in. It cost $5 for a lifetime membership. I think it had something to do with codes, rather than exclusivity.
We played the first month it opened. Years later, I couldn’t tell you how many times we played there, but recently my brother gave me a book called “924 Gilman” which includes the history of Gilman Street up to 2004. There are first hand accounts from Tim, Martin Sprouse and other people involved of how the project got started. My memory is subject to flights of fantasy; luckily someone had the vision to try to document the history from several sources.
According to the book our first Gilman show was in 1987, on Jan 10th. In the back of the book there is a list of all the gigs and lineups- that really helps jar the gray cells. That date reads Short Dogs Grow, Feederz, Mr. T Experience and Undesirables. I think Feederz headlined. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Gilman gig where they brought a bunch of dead animals from the pound and threw them out in the crowd. But in my mind that’s what I see when I think of this gig-flying stiff dogs. I heard someone say one animal had a collar on with the owner’s phone # and a punk called and told them what was happening. Would someone actually do that? Was there actually a pay phone at Gilman? There were a lot of animal rights activists/vegans in the crowd who were really offended and the Feederz were big on offense. But…don’t believe everything you hear…..or read…or even witness. Were they real dogs?
SDG-Gilman March 15th, 1987
Book says the next gig we played was on March 15th 1987, the Jail Jello? No Way! benefit (officially called No More Censorship). Jello was being sued for the HR Gieger cover of Frankenchrist. Luckily Jello didn’t become Lenny Bruce, obsessed with the trial, ruining his career. Book says the lineup was SNFU, Short Dogs Grow, Forethought, Honor Role, Corrosion of Conformity, and Social Unrest. According to my flyer Corrosion of Conformity didn’t actually play (didn’t I say don’t believe everything you read?). In my mind Green Day filled in however Martin Sprouse pointed out that was too early for Green Day (although Wikipedia says they formed in 1987). Maybe it was the Lookouts? They were very young kids.
Apparently the next gig was April 3rd, 1987 with Rabid Lassie. Ah…. Rabid Lassie, and their hit song “Anal Thermometer”. I loved those guys. Next gig- July 18th with Half Life, Terminal Choice, FBI and Shattered Youth. No recollection of that night (no animals being launched I suppose), which is too bad as that was the last time we played there.
Our next gig was supposed to be Oct 9th, but we cancelled the show because our van broke down, or maybe it was the time when someone smashed the windshield and stole the two front seats (we deserved that for parking it in Hunter’s Point overnight). I’m not sure what happened when Greg called to cancel; he might have joked that we were cancelling because we were going to see Motley Crue and Poisin the next day at the Oakland Colisuem. But they thought we cancelled TO GO SEE Motley Crue and put a note on the door for the show saying something like “Short Dogs Grow cancelled tonight because they wanted to see Motley Crue”.
We then found out that we were now banned from playing Gilman Street for this discretion. We were invited to the next members’ meeting to address our banning. We elected Greg to defend us. Greg was the best choice, because 1) Everyone likes Greg, even when he’s being a jackass, 2) He was the only one in the band who could articulate a complete thought and 3) He was still involved with Mind Matter, who they respected. At our next practice Greg gave us the news that we were still banned. He said they actually wanted to forgive us, but they posed a hypothetical -“Would you have cancelled if it had been Soul Asylum on the bill” Greg honestly said “No.” As a reward for his honesty, we sailed across the Rubicon and out of the hearts of Gilman. (I found a flyer that we played there after that, but I don’t know if it was a joke, or if we actually snuck in and played. It’s listed in the book, but again I have no recollection of it.)
It certainly took the wind out of Gilman’s sails for me. I still went there to see some favorite bands, but it didn’t belong to me anymore. Then one night when I walked in, saw lots of people riding around on big wheels, turned around, and went back to San Francisco.
I didn’t go back for a couple years. Jessie’s boyfriend was playing there and she wanted be supportive. I’m sure I couldn’t figure out what to do without her for one night. I still had my membership card in my wallet. While I hadn’t been following any of the Gilman drama, I knew Tim had passed the lease onto a collective of music fans. I wasn’t sure if MMR was still footing the bills or if the collective had to be self-supporting. We showed our membership cards to the guy at the door and he said they were no good- we had to buy new ones that were only good for a year. When we started to explain to him the meaning of “lifetime membership”, the guy yelled in our faces “I’M SO SICK OF YOU OLD TIMERS COMING HERE AND SHOWING THOSE OLD CARDS. IT’S A DIFFERENT CLUB WITH DIFFERENT RULES!!”
I was mortified. Old Timer?? I was only 25. Did I really look that old ??? Jessie just got right back into this face and jerked her thumb at me. “She hauled the dry wall to build this club. Why don’t you have a little respect?” I grabbed her arm and went back to the band van. Eventually we went in, the band having smoothed things over on both sides, but I didn’t go back for a long time. When I did finally go, it was to see the Bar Feeders. This time I knew not to take my card. The membership fee was voluntary and I happily paid it. I paid it for my friend who came with me too. I knew I was old. We were at least 10 years older than the average person in the club. My Gilman era was truly over.
But of course, I did play more time. My band Psychology of Genocide was asked to play a Gilman benefit for a battered woman’s shelter in Berkeley. I mean, how much of an asshole could I be to say no to that? So we agreed to play, and the people putting it on made some pretty cool flyers. About a week before the gig, I joked to our singer Boom “I was banned from Gilman Street in the 80’s, so they might not let me in. James may have to play bass. “ Boom then told me that he too had been banned from Gilman, along with our guitar player Mike. They were in the same band at the time- The Idiots. Boom had said something about gay people on stage, and the folks at Gilman took offense. Boom told them “I can make jokes about gay people because I’m gay myself.” But that didn’t appease them and they banned his and Mike Fuentes’ gay asses from playing there again.
3/5’s of the band having been banned for the past transgressions of listening to hair-metal and pretending to be gay, Boom suggested that the whole band play the show with paper bags over our heads. We would probably have been banned for impersonating the fabulous SF rock band The Paper Bags. Unfortunately it didn’t matter if we were recognized or not. Only about 5 people showed up for the gig. A benefit for a needy cause in the most socialist city in the United States and no one shows. You could have swung a dead cat in there without hitting one leftist-leaning liberal young punk idealist.
return of the banned- Boom, Carmela and Mike back onstage at Gilman, 2011