Panic In Detroit

greystone

I posted a blog earlier about my recollections of an incident at the Greystone Hall in Detroit on July 4th, 1987. At the time the event just seemed like part of the fabric of the odd world of punk rock touring. Recently I was asked about the blog posting by someone doing a documentary. But was my recollection the truth? Considering this was over 30 years ago, I went back to primary sources for another experiment on the accuracy of memory. And as always with Tom and Greg, hilarity ensues:

C: (starting off with my memory of the incident) For me, I was upstairs so all I heard was the bang, and the building kinda shook, and then you (Greg) ran upstairs.

Tom: First of all, were you (Carmela) getting or giving someone a haircut?

C: I was giving one of the guys from the Electric Love Muffin a haircut. He had curly hair. And when the car hit the building, we didn’t know what was going on cause we we upstairs. But it was either the sound or the shake that scared me so much that I stabbed myself in the hand with the scissors.

T: Really?

C: Cause I was cutting his hair and I was holding out a curl, and BAM !!… it startled me. I had a fucking hole in my hand for a while. And then I think it was you (Greg) who came upstairs. And you were like “Oh my God, have you been up here the whole time?” And we’re like “Yeah what’s going on?” And you said “You missed everything!” And then you told us the story of what was going on downstairs. I think maybe some of the other Muffins ran upstairs with you because they were looking for us, or their guy.

MI0001404477

(The Electric Love Muffin, back in the day, note the guy with curly hair behind the front-man)

T: Do you want to start back earlier in the day?

C: Yeah let’s start earlier. I think the whole day was kinda a trip.

T: I don’t remember anything about the building, but I remember us showing up and getting in there. And there was Big Scary (the club promoter) and a smattering of little punk rock kids that were hanging out, all seated on the floor. And he was like “Bad news, The Descendents blew the P.A. last night”. We had been playing a lot with the Descendents so we were like “Oh man, kicked in the face by them again”. So there was gonna be no show. We were disappointed, and we had nothing to do but hang out with him all day. I do remember he said, “Oh you guys are supposed to have food, and we don’t got any food. What are you? Fucking Californians? And eat avocados?” And he was making cracks like that.

C: He called us “California Faggot Vegetarians.” Is that what you remember?

T: Yeah “Faggot vegetarians”

G: Didn’t he have salad for us?

T: He had something.

G: And wasn’t he cooking? The thing that I remember, the first memory I have is “Wow the show’s off, but it’s kinda cool the guy’s here. And he did have, I’m almost positive, some salad. Cause I remember looking at it, and it was the weirdest salad ever. Because there was like, tin foil, on this table, with salad spread out over the whole table. And there was dressing on it, and it was like, baking. Like drying. And I was vegan at the time. Weren’t they cooking meat too?

C: I thought when we pulled up, he was barbecuing.

T: He was barbecuing

C: We got out of the van, and he told us the bad news. And he was barbecuing.  And he said “ I hope none of youse are a bunch of California Faggot Vegetarians because we’re barbecuing.”  And we were all sorta like (looking at our shoes) “oh, yeah, uh….”  Nobody said anything but we were all thinking like “Oh my God…..” And I think later on you (Greg) said “Yeah, we’re all California Faggot Vegetarians”. And he said “I knew it!! I knew you would be faggot vegetarians! And that’s why I got this salad for you!” I remember there was salad.

T: There was….. quite a spread!  And immediately he’s like “We need beer for the band.” And he literally picked one of the underage punk kids up, and shook him upside down by his ankles until the change fell out of his pockets.

C: I don’t remember that.

G: That’s great!

T: So, he literally shook these kids down for money. Then we got the money. Me and Kary went in his car to the liquor store. It was my only foray into Detroit. I had a little bonding moment with him, and he was telling me like his history, and weird biker shit. And we got to the liquor store. And I remember going to a KFC, but I don’t know…..maybe that’s blurring in my brain.

G: It sounds like that would be a delicacy, if you went to KFC!

All laugh

G: And we’d be pissed.

T: Well the liquor store had the big, thick 4” glass, which you kinda see now a little more often. But then it was like, whoa, I’m not in California. “Holy Crap, what kind of war zone is this?” He was telling me how bad ass and dangerous Detroit was, and all the craziness.  I was like, simultaneously impressed and thinking “is this guy some kind of a blowhard?” at the same time.  And when we got back and later in the evening, I was like “Holy shit, this is Detroit!”

G: I just remember thinking, it was kinda of nice of him to do all this.  We could have shown up, and just been told that it was canceled. I always like it when they blame the P.A. on the band. Um, you’re twiddling the knobs there.

T: It probably was the big fucking skinhead road manager that the Descendents had. Remember that dude? That big ginger guy we had to kiss ass to all the time. He hated us.

G: I thought the club name was Graceland.

C: Oh, I didn’t even remember the name of the club until I wrote the first blog.

T: Yeah till this happened. Well, what else I was gonna say about his weirdness? I can’t remember. God it’s terrible being me.

C: It’s ok, we’re all in the same boat. This was 30 years ago.

T: Well anyway, we come back (from the liquor store). So there’s beers.

G: There wasn’t a lot of people, right?

T: No there were just kids hanging out. We don’t know if they were left over from the previous night, or they showed up every night. Or they came to see us. They were young, punk rock kids and there was this big, fat biker. It was weird. So you (Carmela) started doing haircuts, and I was happy about it too. Like, this was kinda nice.

G: Yeah. It was a break.  I remember that.

T: I’ve been around some dangerous people. You know some people, when they are dangerous and drunk, you just kinda feel like anything could happen? I did not get that.

G: No,  I didn’t get that either.

T: I knew he was a bad-assed kind of guy.  I didn’t get a bad vibe from him, like it was going to go sour. Like Bob Noxious or someone like that. Like, this could get weird any second.

G; Like pulling out the knife and stabbing the air conditioner.

C: He seemed more like a Monterey Mark. A very tough guy but underneath was nice and kind.

T: Ok here’s my thing, so you guys are upstairs giving haircuts and I was downstairs. I remember sitting in a room, and I think I was against a wall. And hearing the slam, and really not knowing what it was. But for some reason, in hindsight, I knew what happened. But my memory thinks I saw the wall come in. I don’t know if that’s a false memory or not. But what I do remember is this:

BOOM!!!!!! And somebody running to the door, looking out, and coming back in and saying what happened and Kary doing this (Tom mimics someone pulling a gun out of a holster and pointing and firing.) And I don’t know where the gun came from, but he stood up and drew it like “HUZZZZZAAAAAAAHHHHH” Like a pirate that pulls his sword.

And all those the fucking Detroit kids hit the ground like they’d been practicing it, you know.  Greg and I still had beers in our hands, because we were a little hammered by that point and we’re like “What is going on??” Not knowing whether it was a joke. Later in the evening I understood there was some sort of previous friction between the guy who drove through, but I thought it was just an accident. Big Kary talked a like a bad ass, but he was a lovable guy, and now he’s kinda my new friend…..and OH MY GOD… he’s pulling a 45 or whatever that big hand cannon was. Holy cow, the kids hitting the ground was awful.

G: Do you remember the aftermath of that at all?

T: I don’t think there was much.

G: I don’t either

C: Did he fire the gun?

T: No

G: No

C: (To Greg ) Is that your same recollection (of  Tom’s account) ?

G: No.  My recollection is that I was on the main floor, it was almost like a rec hall type place, in a rectangle. I just remember a few people came running through the door, from the front door, and you could see fear on their faces. You know what I mean. And they spread out and went to the sides. And so, I ran, or we ran, or whatever. The guy (Kary) was there and he was kinda running, but like walking, and he says “Get my gun.” And he went to the office, that’s where his gun was, and he came back with it.  The car came through, but I thought someone was coming inside with a gun.

C: So, you didn’t see the car?

G: The car came through.

C: You saw it?

G: I heard it when I was running. But I thought it was a person.

T: But you never saw the car.

G: I did see the car.

T: See, I just thought I saw the wall move, get shoved in.

C: You saw the wall move, and did you know what had happened?

T: Not until the kids went out and checked, or came running in like Greg said. And they said “someone ran into the place”. I don’t think anyone knew what was happening. I didn’t realize he went to the office for his gun. I thought it was in his belt or something.

G: I remember him saying that “Get my gun”, summoning somebody, ya know?

T: Those kids were his minions.

G: But I think the false memory is that it (the car) actually came through. But, you heard it, and the fear, you could see the fear in the people. Except for the guy with the gun.

T: Cause when I learned it was a car, my brain was still trying do the Canadian thing…. “No one’s upset, there’s no trouble here. There’s an accident. Someone accidentally drove through.”  I still wasn’t wrapping my head around that somebody was vengefully trying to fucking drive into the club. I thought it was just another screw up.

Imagine if that happened, if we had the show. And.. (of course, talking about false memories)….and the club was full. There probably would have been 8 more people then were there.

C: Imagine if that happened now?? He probably would have shot somebody, right? Cause nowadays if somebody was barging into a club like that, you would think it was a terrorist attack.

T: Well if it happened nowadays, Kary would have gone to jail for having a gun.  There would have been SWAT teams there for the club. The police response for anything now is so over the top then it was then. You know what I mean? It’s crazy.

G: Yeah, it’s a cliché but no fries, it’s the way we go about certain things, we come in heavy now.

T: Yeah, like helicopters

C: Did either of you guys see the person in the car?

G: No

T: No

C: Did the guy get out of the car and run away?

G:  I never saw him, …uh

T: Did the guy even leave the car? Did he pull the car out, and drive away?

G: He probably pulled it out and drove.

T: Yeah, I kinda feel like that’s right.

G: But I think we left really quickly.

T: Left? Where did we go?

C: So, after the car hit, and you saw him (Kary) pull the gun out, and everybody dropped… I guess the guy left?

G: Yeah, we went back , and he (Kary), with the gun, was walking towards the car. So you wanted to be away from that.

T: Yeah, so that’s why we went upstairs

G: Did we leave quickly or did we stick around?

T: Go where? I thought we spent that night in the club?

G: Did we sleep there?

C: I have no memory after you coming up and telling me about it. As a matter of fact, to be honest, I thought we played. I thought this all happened after we played. I don’t even remember that there was no show that night.

T: I seem to recall, just that feeling of, you (Carmela) being really upset because there was a gun involved, and this is clearly not safe because we’re in Detroit and people are driving their cars through walls. And the owner is pulling a gun out. And being bummed because I was drunk, a little buzzed, and wanting to continue on with the evening. Like, “the guy’s gone now, the gun’s away, everything’s fine. Let’s go back to normal, we still got some spaghetti! Everything’s fine now.  Everybody be happy again. Don’t trip”

G: “There’s still beer left!”

T: “We’re not driving to Wisconsin!”

G: Where would we have gone?

C: (To Tom) Did you come upstairs?

T: We may have both come upstairs. I remember the guy on the stool and you cutting hair.

C: I remember you being just blown away that we were upstairs the entire time, and we missed the whole thing basically. And you were really excited.

G: I mean….a car coming through… a guy with a gun……ya know

T: That as big excitement! That was the most….

G: Isn’t tour all about distractions?

T: A distraction from the fact that all you got paid for this night was some dried out lettuce and some hotdogs!

G: I have to say, which is really pitiful too, is that I have a fond memory of this.  I think part of it was 1) we got a break and 2) we got to hang out together in this weird scene and 3) (pause)….. there was food.

C: And beer!

G: Yeah and that was something you struggle with all the time. And so, it was nice.

T: Yeah like whenever we have food and beer, its like, we’re in the motel, we’re in our happy place, let’s stay there.

G: Let’s stay there and enjoy this as much as we can.

T: Cause we were really good with having fun…..with beer.

G: Yeah

C: Well, I had had a really bad experience with a gun probably 2 years before that, so I could see me…

T: oh, yeah , over at Dogee’s (a friend of ours)

C: Yeah, so I could see me freaking out and not wanting to stay there, if there was a gun there.

G: I think we left

T: But where did we go?

G: I don’t know but I think we left

C: Did we go get a motel?  Motel 6?

T: I do remember that it was in Michigan that you (Greg) found out that Burger King had vegan grease. So we’d buy their French fries, we’d all eat their French fries and all our farts would smell the same. So no one could tell “Who did that?”. (everyone laughs) Michigan was where George first went off the vegetarian bandwagon and had McDonald’s, remember? And we were like “Don’t do it!!” And he ended up getting so sick.

C: I remember him having the bag, and Greg said something like “I’m not judging you George, but I just have one thing to say”.  And he said “What?” and you said “Rainforest.” (everyone laughs)

And then he opened the bag and started eating, but I could tell he felt bad about it. But it was too late.

T: It’s like, “I’m eating the Rainforest.”

C: So did we stick around? Did the guys in Electric Love Muffin go with us? Or did they go back home?

G: Were we heading towards Michigan? Or were we heading towards the East Coast?

T: I think we were heading towards Wisconsin.

G: Wisconsin, so we might have gone up 40, or whatever it is, and found a place there.

T: Just grabbed a motel?

G: Yeah

C: Was George with us?

T: I’m still having that feeling like “I’m bummed we didn’t stay at the club! We can’t give up on Kary like that!”  I think we stayed at the club, but I could be wrong.

C: Did we have George with us?

T: Yeah, that was a George tour.

C: Where was George?

T: George was there.

C: Was he downstairs with you guys?

T: I don’t know. Where was he? In the room?

C: Was he off with some girl?

T: George got laid more than anybody.

C: Remember he slept a lot? He might have been asleep in the van the whole time.

T: I think he was either upstairs with you or downstairs with us. He was there. God, I wish we could ask him.

C: I know. I don’t remember him running up the stairs with you. So maybe you and he were still downstairs.

(we all discuss how great George’s drumming was, especially as he was so young)

C: This is the picture that I found (shows the pic of the front of the club bashed in)

G: Oh, is this the place?

T: See how Carmela does it? She gets the story then she feeds you a little actual memory

C: Does that look like anything you remember? That was obviously the front and we came in around the back. I remember being in the back of the club.

G: Yeah I don’t remember the front at all.

T: These are fun, because what I remember about that room is that there was a lot of red. Red carpet, red walls. That’s all I remember

C: Kinda like the On Broadway? (a club in San Francisco)

T: I remember the upstairs room was painted like grey and blue, where you were giving the haircut, but that’s all I remember. I don’t remember anything like this.

C: I don’t remember that, because I don’t think we were ever outside the front. I think we pulled in around the back.

G: I don’t even remember the front being open. I just remember it like being locked, and everything was based around that.

C: The back door was open and we parked in the back.

G: And that might have been it, the person might have gone through the front door because it was locked.  Meaning nobody was out front.

T: It’s interesting to think that the reason this is boarded up is because of that night . I don’t think that that is the case, but it’s kinda nice to think that.

G: And it looks like from that that a car, even going a slow speed, would go right through that.

T: But the guy wasn’t, you know what I mean, He was like “Fuck you man”, he wasn’t throwing a punch, he was shoving, If he wanted to drive the car through, he could have done it.

C: So it was just a warning? Somebody was mad at him? (Kary)

G: “So I’ll fuck up this car a little bit, but dammit I’m gonna be able to pull it out!” He must have pulled it out, just backed up and left.

C: My memory is that the car was still there when I came downstairs, and the guy wasn’t in it.

G: That’s mine too but I don’t know if that’s true.

C: But you don’t remember that? (to Tom)

T: What?

C: I thought that the car was still there when I came downstairs.

C: (Reading the article found online about the club). So FYI, Scary Kary his last name was Safarian, like Rastafarian.

T: Ha

C: It said he took over and was booking bands there , it mentions Boom  (a friend of ours from Detroit who was in bands there), and it says “In the end Sagafarian was on the way down , deeper into narcotics deals and by 1988 the club was falling apart and was mismanaged . Not long after, an angry drunk smashed the front doors of the hall in with his car.”

T: Wow so it was a big incident then.

C: “Safarian left the Greystone and it closed for good. In 1990 Safarian found himself facing 54 years in jail for robbing a pharmacy. He has been in jail since, for almost 22 years”

G: Jesus

C: But the guy who emailed me said he had just gotten out recently.

T: I thought he died.

C: I thought he died too.

T: I will say this about the car. I think the car pulled away. I feel like the car pulled away. But I still have in my brain I see the big, squared off, old 1980s chrome bumper, light brown, like sedan, Dodge Dart kinda shape car.

G: That’s what I think too. 4 door.

C: A big American car, I was going to say, kinda of a dirty mustard yellow.

G; Yep that’s it. Brownish.

T: Wow maybe it was still there then.

G: That’s the color that I have too.

T: But I also remember this : Being perfectly ok with staying there, and partying on, and drinking beer and there being a gun on the premise, and big Kary swinging it around. But I didn’t want to go out the front door. That’s the front lines where all the guns and car guys are shooting each other. I don’t want to stick my head out there and see. When we went to the store, me and Kary talked about drugs. And he sort of played it off like he was an ex-Junkie . Like all drug addicts do. Like “I used to, and I’m not into that anymore. But let me tell you what a badass I was, and what it was like to cop heroin in Detroit.”  And that was like a bonding thing, because I was a drug user, and we had that conversation to the store. I do remember that and sort of thinking about his crazy drug addict Michigan life. As opposed to telling him about California. Like “we just call Mexicans, and they come to the door and deliver!” But apparently out there you had to rob pharmacies.

G: With a guy like that, you can see, there were huge cultural differences with us . But there were huge cultural differences with us everywhere we went . We were just, kinda feral. We had an accent. We looked Californian .

So it didn’t open after that? That was the last show? Last non-show?

T: That never occurred to me, it was just another night.

C: I asked the guy who contacted me.  He said, “Kary went off the deep end and robbed a store, went to prison. And he only got out a year and a half ago. “

I said “wow that’s a long time to be in prison. Were there any shows after the crash?”

And he said “I’m trying to figure that out. I believe there were some shows after, but I wasn’t going to shows that year.

T: “I’m giving up shows for Lent!”

C: (corrects) “I wasn’t going to a whole lot of shows that year.”

(still reading) “My buddy and I were going to put on a show there in 1988. We had to scramble and get a hall in Hamscramick (or something like that) because the Graystone was closed by then.

He said “that story of the guy hitting the building and knocking the wall back is extraordinary, even for this crazy town “ and he sent me the pic as well.

T: It didn’t seem that crazy at the time.

C: At the time, I don’t remember it being that weird.

T: It’s another example of thinking we’re a tiny ripple, and it turns out that we’re a splash in the puddle.

Update: After looking at our tour calendar, we played in Minneapolis the night before Detroit and Chicago with the Descendents the day after, so we likely headed to Chicago after the show and stayed with our friend Motor there. The Doughboys and MIA played with Descendents at the Graystone on July 3rd, so hopefully the Doughboys got to play before the P.A. blew. Today the club is a laundromat.

greystone today

There are some videos of shows at the club. Hard to see what it looked like in it;s hey day, but this one of Black Flag from 1986 at least has some good sound quality:

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Hot Animal Machines! Short Dogs look back.

I interviewed Tom and Greg at my house on June 10th, 2018.  I’ve noticed over the years that we remember things differently and remember different parts of events. I  asked the guys to participate in an experiment – I gave them two specific times to conjure up in their memory. The first was a show we played in Pensacola, FL, and the second was a gig we played about a week later in Daytona Beach, FL (which had a stage behind a chicken wire fence.) This all happened about 30 years ago. I wanted us to take turns recalling, without the interruption of each other’s memories. After a little clarification of what show happened in what town, we were ready. Mike was present to film the session. Let’s see how we did……..

Tom started with Daytona Beach.

T: My memories are little tiny snapshots. There’s being in the parking lot besides the Henry Rollins’ guys, and realizing that they were like really together, and making us feel very disorganized. I don’t really remember playing behind the chicken wire, but I remember after getting off and going out and seeing Henry Rollins play, I thought “why didn’t we think to do this”?  He was crawling up on the chicken wire front, tearing it off and putting his face through it. We were like “AAAAAHHH….That guy is so intense! ROOOAAARRR!!!!!.

I don’t remember the Doughboys that well, but I know we were friendly with them. And then after the gig I remember the three big things were 1) drinking with the Rollins band, trying to get them to drink. They were scared about it because they thought they were going to get in trouble. We were like “C’mon we’re all grownups, let’s party!” So we coerced them to drink, and then they wound up getting in trouble by Henry.  2) The Rollins band not wanting the pizza cause it had meat on it, and we were like “We’ll take it!” Well, you wouldn’t (to Greg who was vegan at the time.) And they threw it away, which pissed me off to no end. And (3) Henry coming in after his set, by which time I was pretty hammered. Henry coming in, and changing completely while me and Carmela were standing there, And he’s completely naked, and then getting dressed and walking away. I said, “Did you just notice Henry Rollins getting completely naked”? And Carmela says “What?” It was like two feet from you, the man’s stripping down!  And then continuing to drink, and Henry’s coming in and out and getting annoyed with his band for having fun with us! We were having fun.

And then at the end of the night Greg getting up and saying to Henry’s band “You’re the mother-fucking hot animal machine, not him! You’re the mother-fucking hot animal machine!” You grabbed your guitar cases, took one step and the cases crossed and BAM , you flat on your face. And I was like “That’s rock and roll!”

hot animal machine

G: Yeah that was awesome.

T: That’s how you party motherfucker!

G: And everyone laughing.

T: Everyone laughing with you.

G: Yeah that’s a good memory of mine.

C to G: You wanna tackle Pensacola?

G:I only have one memory of Pensacola. I don’t remember the show. All I remember is a memory of the beach and how the sand was sugar.  The width of the beach was extremely small and the sand dunes were extremely small.  And I only have the memory of me looking left. Not right.  That’s the only memory I have of Pensacola.

T: Left side of the beach

G: As I was telling Mel, I just see scattered pictures. Also, I was thinking with my memories, is I get these pictures, then I fill in the blanks, and so I remember when we were in Missouri, and what’s the college town there that we played?

T: Kansas City?

G: No.

T :Lawrence?

G: I have a written account of that. Then Tom Galbrith (the drummer for Field Trip) wrote something and it was really different from my account.  I believe his account. I omitted stuff that I would have loved to put in my account, you know because I didn’t remember it- like what’s-his-name from the Gun Club.

(You can read Tom’s story here: http://www.spinesis.com/tom-galbraith-we-thought-he-was-going-to-kick-this-guys-ass-2/ )

T: Oh God, Jefferey Lee Pierce

G: Yeah , all that.

T: How about us ordering 20 pizzas to the radio station? (everyone laughs at this)

G: You know what also is weird is what I remember from that radio station- I remember kinda being assholes.

T: Yeah.

G: And feeling, you know when you are on tour, confident, even when you are playing to nobody, you’re a gang, you’re moving forward. And I remember saying “fag” on the radio.

C: Hmm.

G: Calling Janes Addiction “Fags”

T: Which was a playful sort of thing, ah….

G: Yeah, but I do remember that and when I think back, that becomes a bad memory. It’s almost like my memory of Daytona. We’re swimming in the ocean, after the gig, and it’s low tide.  But when I think back I have this visceral feeling like “someone could have died.”  You know, because we were drunk. And if it was high tide one of use would have died. You look back as an adult and you put upon these fears.

T: Oh my god, I look back at being a motorcycle messenger and shudder. I actually get like “Oh my god!”  It gives me chills to think of the ridiculous physical risk I put to myself through on a minute to minute basis.

G: I remember the Doughboys, we were friendly with them, they were real nice.

T: They had dreadlocks.

G: Yeah they were from Philadelphia, or they were Canadian.

C: Canadian.

T: Montreal.

(Here is a pic of the Doughboys I found online. If you look closely, the Doughboy on the left is holding a Short Dogs Grow t-shirt.)

doughboys-penrods

G; I was thinking about the Electric Love Muffin.

G: They were like Life Sentence, those damn shirts everywhere. They were good promoters. But I think they opened that show.  I felt competitive. Not something I would ever say to you guys when we were there, but I felt competitive like Doughboys were on our level, you know what I mean.

C and T: yes

G: We hadn’t jumped to Rollins’ level, so it was like ok, we’re opening or they’re opening. I wanna be second. I don’t remember the playing a lot, I remember the afterwards. And that’s a weird thing.

T: I was thinking that same thing. I remember very few actual onstage moments, couple in Vancouver, that one party in Spokane where we played for an hour and a half.

G: “Everybody Rock and Roll the Place!”

C: I think that maybe because we played so much, it’s hard to isolate the actual shows, not that we played the same set each night. These two gigs, I don’t remember being on stage at all. I remember a couple of shows where maybe somebody stage-dove and smacked into me or something like that. But not the actual playing.

G: But with Rollins, I remember you (to Tom) and I being very confident going through the crowd drunk, and I remember seeing these three guys. They were like this (Greg folds his  arms across his chest), and they had jeans, black t-shirt, sort of tribal tattoos, sort of a brush cut, like punk. And I remember seeing them and thinking “they’re here to see Rollins” (everyone laughs). Engineer boots, not punk really, but maybe post punk. It was almost like, “we’re becoming irrelevant”. Like, times are changing. On Instagram, I’ll find somebody who documents scenes. And you can see how fast 1982 to 1987, short hair to long hair- it went really fast. And if you were playing hardcore in 87, you could be left behind. We weren’t hardcore, but that was still sort of the only thing going. We were post punk.

T: If you were playing hardcore, you were going to have to wait another ten years for it to come back!

C: Well, the Pensacola gig, I have no recollection of playing at all. I found the name of the club-it was called DMZ. So neither of you guys remember anything of that night. I only remember the parking lot. We went out to the parking lot and the van wouldn’t start, and so we were stuck. So then we made George find us a place to stay. It was one of the first few gigs we played with George. And he did; he found two girls. They lived in Mobile, AL. They didn’t live in Pensacola, and we went and stayed with them.

G: Yeah, and I hooked up with that girl.

C; Yeah, I wasn’t sure, there was something about a pair of coveralls, whether they were yours or hers, I don’t know. One of you gave the other a pair of coveralls.

(in the photo below, Greg is wearing the coveralls, and I believe a tube top around his neck. This photo was taken in Gainesville around the time of these shows.)

gainsville (3)

G: Yeah I wrote that down too.

C: Yeah and I remember they had a ferret.  And for me, a troubling memory- like when you were mentioning saying “Fag” on the radio.

G: Yeah.

C: I was with the girl, not the one you liked, but the other girl, the one with the Mohawk I guess

T: Right.

C: I don’t remember a Mohawk, but I remember she had dark hair. She took me to the mall to buy hair dye. And when we were in the mall, you guys weren’t there, it was just me and her. It was raining, it was a really bad storm, and there was a huge clap of thunder. This guy was walking outside, near the car and he jumped-he was just scared. And she said “Look at that N-word jump”. I just remember being shocked. I’d never heard anyone use that word before. Ever.

And she was a punk rocker with a Mohawk! And I can’t remember now, and this really bothers me, I can’t remember if I said anything. I remember wanting to say something.

T: You were like “Holy shit we’re in the south!”

C: Yeah, but I think I was so shocked, that I just was mute. And I don’t know if I ever told you guys that.

G: Nope, I don’t remember.

T: No.

C: I thought, partially because she was so hardcore,  how could that come out of somebody?

T: The presumption of someone with a Mohawk.

C: I remember thinking at the time about how Janis told me that she heard someone use the N word, and she went ballistic on them. I remember thinking “if Janis were here, Janis would kick her ass.”  But I’m staying at this woman’s house and I gotta be nice.

G: She had air conditioning!

C: That was my biggest memory of that, but we were with them for a few days. And I did write down that we went to see movies.

G: We based out of their house

T; Yeah we were there for a few days. And that ferret kept stealing our money.

G: Wallets.

C: Yeah, the ferret stole our money.

T: Who did we play with at this club DMZ?

C: Well I have written down that we played with a band called Gruel

T: Who?

C: Gruel.

T: Gruel.

C: But the next night we went back because the van, this is my memory and I don’t think this is right, but the van was in the parking lot, and you fixed it.

T: That sounds right (sarcastically).

C: No, it was really funny.

G: Joe Pethoud wasn’t there?

C: Joe wasn’t there because he had quit the band a week before.

G: Yeah and he fixed our starter before he left.

T: I love him.

C: You (to Tom) took a wrench. You came running out yelling “I fixed the van I fixed the van!” You were so excited about it. And I was so excited.

G: I was extremely excited you fixed the van.

C: And I said “how did you do it” and you said you took a wrench and pulled on something in the engine and freed it.

G: The engine was between the seats.

T: Something was shorting it out I think.

C: You had a wrench and were yelling” I fixed the van”, and we were like “Yay Tom!!”

T: I probably hit the battery once with the wrench.

C: The Accused were playing. I remember meeting them, and they had roadies and money, and they were going to camp because they were really excited about this particular campsite nearby.

G: Are you thinking about Murphy’s Law?

C: No, it was the Accused from Washington.

T: Weren’t Adrenaline Overdrive from down there too?

C: We played with Adrenaline OD in Texas or something . The Daytona Beach was the show we played with Rollins Band.

G: That was a big show.

C: Yeah it was a big show. The promoter Tommy, I think his name was, confirmed that show long before. He was a professional and had it all set up, but he didn’t say anything on the phone about the chicken wire. When we got there, I remember he made all the bands get together and everyone had to say “We will not touch the chicken wire”.

T: That’s right.

C: He had  a huge deposit on the chicken wire, or rather on the show. There was no place to play there anymore so he had to put this huge deposit, and we all agreed.  I remember seeing Rollins in the parking lot with the barbell, sitting there for hours working out and the mom coming over with her kid. And the kid introducing Rollins to the parent. I can’t remember if he was mean or nice.

G: I remember that.

C: Doughboys played first, then we played. Then MIA played and I hated them, just because I didn’t like that they were playing after us. Cause they were touring with Descendents. I think Descendents might have been touring with Rollins too. Then Descendents played and then Rollins played. I found a couple of pictures. Rollins tore down the chicken wire.

T: Which is way more punk and fuckin ballsy, and I remember now that you say that thing about the deposit. Which is of course why we didn’t touch it.

C: We needed the money . We had $100 guarantee, which was A  LOT of money then.

T: And we were super polite and nice and didn’t want to piss those people off

C: That too, and also we didn’t want to ruin their scene, cause we didn’t live there. And afterwards he came up to us, might have been you (Tom ) and I, or maybe all of us, and one of the Doughboys, and he said “I’m paying you guys. I’m not paying Rollins, Decendents or MIA.

T: What????

C: So we got paid

G: Really??

C: He said I’m paying you guys because you’re both from out of town and not part of the package.

T: And I’m looking at your van .

C: And how skinny you guys are! No, he paid us and the Doughboys.

G: Wow.

T: That may be why Henry was such an asshole at the end of the night. I’m a little more forgiving then just “Stop making my band drunk”.

C: He knew, he agreed, everybody agreed. Even the Descendents didn’t touch the chicken wire

T: Well it was worth it because he rocked

C: It was great. I remember as soon as he came on the stage; I remember him putting his fist through it.  I think I was with you Tom, and you yelled “Holy shit he’s doing it!”

At this point I pulled out some pics I found on the internet of Henry onstage at the Daytona beach gig. This is the pic of Rollins onstage and there is still some chicken wire .

rollins-at-penrods (1)

In this one you can see the chicken wire is gone.

henry-rollins-at-penrods-daytona-beach-1985 (1)

T: Oh my god.  Now how does that phase your memory? When you actually see it right?

G: Wow.  That really changes everything.

C: Maybe Rollins went before Descendents because this is Milo without the chicken wire onstage.

You can see in this pic, no chickenwire.

descendents-at-penrods-daytona-beach-1985 (1)

T: I seem to recall Rollins going before Descendents.

C: I thought Rollins played last, but look- there’s no chicken wire.

G: Yeah Descendents played last.

T: Yeah cause they were the bigger band. Rollins had just, that was his first or second tour.

G: That was Search and Destroy or whatever it was.

T: That was Hot Animal Machine.

C: This was the flyer that I had from that show. (I show them the original flyer from my flyer collection- shown below.)

rollins

T: YOU’RE THE HOT ANIMAL MACHINE!!!

C: I remember going backstage, and I remember you telling all the guys in the Rollins band to drink a beer.

T: There was a big garbage can full of those elephant beers. I definitely remember you were on the left, and Henry was on the right and he was soaking wet with his soaking wet shorts. And I took a little peek over, and OOOOOHH Naked Henry. I didn’t sign up for this!

C: I didn’t see anything.

T: I saw pubes, the whole thing.

So Tom may be the only one of us who really knows who’s got the 10 ½. We’ll leave  you contemplating that imagery. Stay tuned for more stories of broken vans and tube tops… 

Flag who got the 10

We sure do miss our buddy George.  We love you George.

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I Get Pulled Over So Much, I’m Not Even Here Yet

Comedian Chris Rock takes a selfie every time he gets pulled over by the cops.  Oh…if only I could go back in time and do the same.

breaux bridge

SHORT DOGS GROW: BREAUX BRIDGE, LOUISIANA

First time we got pulled over on tour was on our way to New Orleans. We had just crossed over into Louisiana with Tom at the wheel and I remember Tom saying “If we keep this pace up, we’ll be in New Orleans before it gets dark!”. Seconds later we were pulled over. The officer got Tom out of the van and into the squad car. We followed in the van to the station where Tom was locked in a cell. For speeding. We were driving the 64 Ford Econoline. To be fair, I can’t think we were going much over the speed limit, because that van, loaded with band and gear, couldn’t go much over the speed limit. The bail was something like $200. No way we had that on hand, so Greg had his mother wire the money.  After posting bail, Greg asked for a receipt. The officer wouldn’t give him one. Greg’s mom said she was going to call the Breaux Bridge, Louisiana station and bitch the officer out for busting broke poor kids. I think she was going to call the Mayor too.  Now we know where Greg got it from, although I highly doubt Silver ever bricked any ATMs.

thirdking

CAMELTOE: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Catherine, guitar player in Cameltoe, had a sweet Dodge Swinger that we used in our video for song “Take a Wild Ride”. But at some point the Swinger got too expensive to repair (I think) and she had to sell it. After that she had some questionable cars. My favorite was a dark grey car that she called the Stealth Bomber. It was from Canada, procured by her husband from a family member or friend. The car couldn’t be registered in the U.S. without paying some crazy tax or fixing the emissions. Catherine took the license plate off and drove without registration or insurance. Might as well go all the way. For a while she flew under the radar- I don’t think she even got any parking tickets when parking illegally…..as there was no plate ( NO PARKING TICKETS IN SAN FRANCISCO!! Not likely to ever be replicated). One night on the way back to our studio after a gig, driving down 3rd Street , she got pulled over. She was panicking somewhat and Emile was telling her to stay calm- all they could do was tow the car. The officer looked in the car with his flashlight, saw me in the back with guitars and amps, and asked what the deal was with the musical equipment.

“We’re in a band” Catherine said. ‘We just played a gig at The Bottom of the Hill.”

The officer seemed excited. “You’re in a band?” he asked. “Do you know Metallica?”

Catherine hesitated only briefly. “Yes, we know Metallica.” And then handed him her license, and said something like she hadn’t had a chance to register the car yet.

The officer went back to his squad car and got on his radio. I heard him say into the radio “I just pulled over these girls who are in a band and they know Metallica!”

He came back a minute later and gave her the license back. “Say hi to Metallica for me” and let us go. No moving violation, no lack of insurance fix it ticket, no impound for an unregistered vehicle.

“Yep” Catherine said “The Stealth Bomber strikes again, flying under the radar of even the SFPD.”

Thank you, Metallica. Who we never have met.

denton_texas_water_tower600x350px

CAMELTOE: DALLAS, TEXAS

We played a gig in Dallas, and I told our drummer Joe at the start of the gig that I wasn’t gonna drink tonight because I’d be getting pulled over later. Joe wanted to know why I was getting pulled over. “This is Texas, Joe. That’s what they do here.”

After the gig we had to drive to Denton- an hour or so away, and where we had a place to stay. I was keeping a close eye on the speed and making sure I signaled every time I switched lanes. I told Joe to keep an eye out for the cops. He pretty much laughed at me, until…..

(Siren noise) I got pulled over. I asked the officer “What did I do?” Seriously, I was perplexed.

“You don’t have a light above your license plate. I don’t know what ya’ll do in California, but in Texas you have to have a light over your license plate.” Luckily he let me off with a warning.

Joe was shaking his head in disbelief. I said, “This is Texas, Joe. Don’t mess with Texas. ”

seattle_kerry_park

HELLFIRE CHOIR: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

Eric and I flew up to Seattle after work for Friday night gig. We had a beer at SFO before getting on the plane. We picked up a rental car at SeaTac, and drove to the gig. Shelley and Michelle had driven up with the gear earlier. I had looked up the address of the club, a place we hadn’t played before. Eric and I seemed to be driving for a long time, but SeaTac is south of Seattle so I figured we’d have to go some distance. Finally we get to the club, and it’s a little bar out in the sticks. Not many people around. Eric called Shelley, and we figured out that the stick bar and the rock club had the same name. We were now about an hour away from where we needed to be. And we were only 30 mins from our set time.

I pulled out of the stick club parking lot. Eric had Shelley on the phone- she was navigating with him. People at the rock club were helping her with directions. The fans were in on the game. Minutes later, we get pulled over. I can hear Eric narrating the experience to Shelley and the fans. “Ok we’re heading south now on (some street). Ok, there’s some sirens behind us. Oh shit we’re being pulled over….”

The officer asked me if I’d been drinking. I looked at Eric and then back to him.  “I had a beer on the plane. But that was a little while ago.” Actually it was before the plane, it had to have been about 4 hours previous, but I started to panic because I wasn’t sure if that was enough time for the blood alcohol to clear. The officer had me get out of the car. I walked the line. I touched my nose. I was praying he wouldn’t ask me to do the alphabet backwards because I can barely do it the right way. Meanwhile Eric is still narrating to everyone at the club. “She’s walking….ok, yeah, she’s doing pretty well. Now she’s touching her nose with her ring finger…..” Finally the officer had me blow into a breathalyzer.  “She just blew…we’re waiting for the results………” The officer came back and said I blew under the limit so I could go. “She passed!! We’re free!!! (crowd roars)”. The officer said when I pulled out of the lot, my lights weren’t on, so he had to pull me over. I switched the lights on, and we (safely) hightailed it to the club. The club pushed the set times a little so we could play. Everyone in the club congratulated me on passing the test when I arrived.

I later learned that 90% of people driving without their lights on at night are intoxicated. Watch out for them.

 

steamboat springs

HELLFIRE CHOIR: STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, COLORADO

Driving from Colorado Springs to Steamboat Springs, Shelley was at the wheel when it started to snow. Of course I was freaking out, and luckily we got pulled over for SPEEDING.  After the cop gave us the ticket, Michelle took over.  A harrowing drive through the whited-out Rabbit Ear Pass ensued, but I was somewhat relaxed with Michelle behind the wheel. We made it into town and Michelle stopped at a stop sign. The car behind us couldn’t stop and plowed into us, bashing in the rear door.  No one was hurt. The next day we wheeled our rented gear back to the music shop from the rear parking lot so they wouldn’t see the gear had been in a car that had been in an accident.  It all seemed pretty funny until we took the rented van back to the airport rental place. The rental agents took a look and told us that we were the lucky ones- one of their rentals had driven off the mountain in the storm the day before and all four passengers had died.

monterey

COOKIE MONGOLOID: SAN FRANCISCO

Exited 280 onto Monterey, shortly thereafter the siren went off. I really had no idea what I’d done. It was probably around 2 in the morning and I was going home after a gig. The officer came up to the window.

“Coming home from a gig?” he asked.

“Yes sir” and a pause. “How did you know?”

“I looked in the back of your truck and saw your guitar in there.  Metal band?”

I laughed. “yeah, it’s a heavy metal tribute to Sesame Street.”

He said he thought metal when he saw the guitar case because I had “hit it a little hard coming off the freeway”. He told me to slow down a little, and let me off without a ticket.

I didn’t even get a chance to tell him that I know Metallica.

 

STING’s BASS

 

I was listening to a podcast interview of Flea yesterday and was amused by his opinion of the Police. He’d loved them when they first came out, but recently he revisited their music and felt like it hadn’t held up over time. They are the only band he’d loved “back in the day” that he can’t listen to now. He told a story of how he’d gone to see the Police in concert. He was able to get behind the stage to watch Stewart Copeland play drums and he saw that Stewart had written “Fuck Off You Cunt” across his toms. He said it was directed at Sting, who Stewart hated by that time. (listen to the interview here:

http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episodes/episode_656_-_robert_trujillo_flea_aziz_ansari

stewart copeland

Stewart Copeland circa 1983?

It’s kinda of a sad story because I can’t imagine being in a band with someone who you hate so much, you would write that on your drums. But the story also made me laugh because it reminded me of my only connection to Sting: STING’s BASS.

In 1988 we did a somewhat hectic SDG tour. I’d quickly booked us cross country to meet up with MDC in West Virginia to do a couple of weeks with them. MDC was able to get gigs in places where I’d tried repeatedly and had no luck- exotic places like Salt Lake City. If we would let MDC use our gear, they would let us open for them. It was a worthwhile deal for us. We also wanted to get a NYC show so our east coast label people could see us. Rough Trade NY were able to get us a gig at CBGB’s. The date they got was a bit rough with the schedule, but I made it work. We would have to leave immediately after our gig in New Orleans (always money maker for us) and deadhead to NYC. It would be rough, but it’s CBGB’s (!) and our NY could people see us.

Somewhere between the two cites (a big blur) we stopped and called our SF label. We were in the middle of being sued (also part of the hectic-ness) and needed to check in. Our label rep, Steve, asked Tom to look in our van, and see if my bass was in there. Tom yelled from the pay phone “Hey Mellie is your bass in the van? Some guy in New Orleans says he has it” Someone from New Orleans had called the label, and said he had my bass. He would send it postpaid to the label if I wanted. Panicked, we pulled everything out and sure enough, no bass. Steve said don’t worry about the bass, he’d sort it out; don’t worry about the lawsuit, we’d sort it out; don’t worry about the government, just get your asses to NYC. (thank you Steve and thank you nice bass-returning guy. He did send it back). I’d have to ask the other bands at CBGB’s if someone would lend me a bass. I didn’t think it would be a big deal.

bass 80's

The bass that got left behind……..photo by Methanie.

Turns out the east coast is not as mellow as the west coast. There were about 5 other bands on the bill. The first band was a country guy named Tim Lee. The other bands included Michael Stipe’s sister’s band, kind of a hippy thing. As I watched them load in I saw they had about 8 guitar cases. They had three bass players in the band and no guitars. For sure I thought they’d help out a fellow bassist. Everyone in that band said no. All the other bands on the bill said no. Tim Lee finally said yes. He really wanted to leave after his set (we were on last), but he stayed till 3am so I could have a bass to play. Thanks Tim.

After our set, everyone was gone but our label people and the club folks. We were packing up and the club manager came up to me with a guitar case. “Does this belong to you?” he asked. I knew it wasn’t ours but I said “Let’s take a look”. He opened the case and there was a bass inside. I don’t think it was anything fancy, but IT WAS A BASS. He knew right away it didn’t belong to me and we figured out from the stickers that it has to be Michael Stipes’ (ok,ok, one of his sister’s, but he probably paid for it). We were playing with her band in Boston the next day so I told the manager we could take it to them. He said “no way” He knew I didn’t have a bass, and being an east coast kinda guy, figured I was trying to pull a fast one.

The next day Greg and I went to a music rental place. We were playing with some of the same bands in Boston, and I didn’t think anyone was going to have a huge change of heart and let me borrow a bass. We walked in looking like the broke musicians we were, and asked about renting a bass. The guys told us the price (something like $50 a day which was huge to us but we had to do it). So Greg pulled out his credit card and said let’s do it. The guy asked me what kind of bass I wanted. Christ I didn’t care, just anything with four strings. When we looked dully back at him at the question, he tried a different strategy. “What kind of bass do you play?” Greg told him it was a 70’s P-Bass. He shuffled off to the back and came back with a vintage 60’s P-Bass. He opened the case with a flourish, and let us feast our eyes. I took a look and said “Don’t you have anything else?” It looked kinda fey to me. He freaked out and started yelling “This is a Vintage P-Bass. This is the best bass in all of NYC right now. STING just used it for a recording, and when he brought it back he offered me $$$$$$. STING WANTS THIS BASS BUT I WON’T SELL IT. Because it’s the best bass in the world”. Greg said “ok ok we’ll take it” more to shut the guy up then anything else.

For the next two days we referred to it as STING’s BASS. Since we had a huge deposit on it (on the credit card), we had to make sure it came back intact. I never let it out of my sight. When we got to the Ratt in Boston we saw Stipe’s sister and her bandmates in the parking lot. We asked them if they knew they left a bass in NYC. Their roadie (yes, they had a roadie that I’m sure Michael Stipe paid for) freaked out, went to check the gear and realized one was missing. I did tell him that we offered to bring it with us, but the club said no, since you guys weren’t cool with letting me borrow it. The roadie looked rather bummed, and then got in their van and spent the next 8 hours doing a round trip to NYC.  They had spare basses (which you know who probably paid for) so they didn’t need to borrow one, but Greg did say “We’d let you borrow ours, but STING lent it to Carmela and he’d be pissed if we let anyone else borrow it.” They thought we were full of shit at first but once they saw the bass, and how we kept calling it STING’s BASS, at some point I think we had them going.

I couldn’t watch their band. George had more of an open mind and tried to get me to give them a chance. He thought they were doing something interesting. But to me, the only thing worse than a hippy is a stingy hippy. I just googled Michael Stipes’s sister and her name is Lynda Stipe and her band was called Hetch Hetchy. They pretty much fell apart after that tour.

You can formulate your own opinion:

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/mn0000673641

Turned out that STING’s BASS was actually a pretty nice bass. If we hadn’t had such a huge deposit on it, I would have been tempted to keep it. When we brought it back, I apologized to the guy and said I really liked STING’s BASS. He got a kick out of our nickname and started to refer to it as STING’s BASS as well.

I was ok after that because our next gig was in West Virginia with MDC. We’d already told them on the phone what happened, and they said no problem, I could use Franko’s Rickenbacker. So I was Lemmy-like for two weeks. Didn’t sell me on Rickenbacker however. I was glad to get back to my P-Bass, which was there when I got home. (thank you again New Orleans guy).

mdc sacred hate 1988mdc sdg dayton 1988MDC

 

franko bass

That’s me playing Franko’s bass in Salt Lake City. You can barely see Franko at the bottom of pic. Thanks Franko..RIP.

Remembering The Sound Of Music And Punk’s Tenderloin Roots

This article, written by Mark Hedin, was originally published in Central City Extra’s October 2015 issue (pdf). You can find the newspaper distributed around area cafes, nonprofits, City Hall offices, SROs and other residences – and in the periodicals section on the fifth floor of the Main Library.

It’s been 40 years since punk rock first reared its snarling, safety-pinned head. Although San Francisco’s thriving punk scene doesn’t always get its due, the rebellious music and community flourished here, characterized in large part by bands such as the Avengers and Dead Kennedys, whose pointed social commentary and songs of protest and angst placed them along the trajectory of creative dissent that, as poet-about-town “Diamond” Dave Whitaker has often said, went from “the beatniks to the hippies to the punks.”

While the spotlight — and sometimes searchlight—focused on the “Fab Mab” Mabuhay Gardens and other North Beach clubs such as the On Broadway and, to a lesser extent, the Stone, down in the Tenderloin, the underground of the underground found itself a home. Anyone who was anybody could gig at the Mabuhay, but to play at Celso Ruperto’s Sound of Music club at 162 Turk St., you had to truly be a nobody.

Photo: Jeanne M. Hansen/Lise Stampfli

“The Sound of Music was a dump, the sound system sucked, but it was a club where about anyone could play and most people could get in free or cheap,” White Trash Debutante singer Ginger Coyote recalled. Coyote has remained active in the punk scene over decades now, leading her band and publishing Punk Globe magazine out of L.A..

Today, the site is as quiet as it was loud back then, with a retractable black metal security gate stretched across the front and inside, mattresses, a ladder and debris visible through the glass façade, a real estate agent’s sign stuck on the exterior.

Photo: Google

In September, a collective calling itself the Punk Rock Sewing Circle organized a series of events in San Francisco and Oakland celebrating 40 years of Bay Area punk. Among them were four walking tours, of the Tenderloin, SoMa, the Mission and North Beach. If you saw a group of about a dozen people standing outside 162 Turk on Sept. 24th, led by a fellow with a microphone and small speaker — not Del Seymour — that was it.

Other stops included the site of the Market Street Cinema, the Crazy Horse strip club next door to the Warfield, Oddfellows Hall and the 181 Club.

Sound of Music stalwarts Frightwig, Flipper, Toiling Midgets and Vktms were among the Punk Rock Renaissance acts appearing in concerts at 111 Minna and the Mission’s Verdi Club over the course of the week, and Sound of Music flyers were plentiful among the hundreds displayed at the various events.

Club owner Ruperto, usually known by his first name, took a cue from fellow Filipino Ness Aquino, the owner of the Mab, and began booking bands in late 1979 or early 1980 as an alternative to the drag shows he’d been hosting, said Ian Webster, who worked at both venues.

With the city bursting at the seams with misfits and outcasts, there were plenty of willing performers and before long, the Sound of Music was mostly a rock ’n’ roll club, providing a community for those kids.

“They really made it a place where we could go and be safe, because there was always shit going down, just like now,” said Paul Hood, who played there often in Toiling Midgets.

Slam dancing to the band Society Dog. (Photo: Bobby Castro)

“For me it was the antidote to the shit of the ’80s: typical high school, ruled by the wealthiest kids with nose jobs and BMWs. Once I found the weirdos who liked to dress up and be silly, I felt liberated,” said Michele, an exile from the Peninsula. “When I think back on it, we were given four more years to play and not have to grow up. “I have a terrible memory. But for sure that time was super-important to me. I grew up on the Peninsula with friends I had known since kindergarten. In high school they morphed into assholes. It felt oddly akin to the entitled gentrification that has been going on in S.F. now. I felt very disenfranchised and chased out of my own life by rich, self-centered, clueless kids who were out of control, yet in control. I found my heart, my music, my politics, my values and my best friends in the punk scene.”

Many punk bands were already too big for the Sound of Music when it opened its doors to the scene a few years after the first wave broke. So no one saw the touring bands from New York’s earliest days of punk there: The Ramones, Cramps, Patti Smith, Television, Blondie and the like, nor the English bands that followed — the Sex Pistols had played Winterland in January 1978, after all. And the Avengers and Nuns, locals who opened that show, had already dissipated before Sound of Music even got started.

But for newer local bands such as Faith No More, Flipper and Frightwig, who went on to make names for themselves in the ’80s, the Sound of Music was an important launching pad.

“There was a movement happening there at the time and it just grew and grew and by ’82, the Sound of Music was happening in a regular way,” recalled Hood, who worked as a bike messenger, along with most of his Toiling Midgets cohorts to support himself while frequently gigging there.

“They started to bring in bands that could really fill the place — Gun Club from L.A., for example. “Some of these memories are hazy, but we played there with Flipper a lot in ’80, ’81. We were always paired and put together. We would be considered one of the bigger bands because we could put more people in the club.”

Other frequently appearing acts, such as Translator and Romeo Void, Hood recalled, reflected a transition that began to take hold moving away from punk to edgy new wave and pop. If a concert fell through for some reason somewhere else, there was always the Sound of Music.

Coyote recalled: “When Agnostic Front was going to play the Mabuhay Gardens, a certain female who ran a distribution company used all her pull strings to get the show canceled. She accomplished in getting Ness to cancel the show. But it moved to the Sound of Music and was a sell-out show.”

Mia Simmans, who still performs around the city as Mama Mia and was back on stage with Frightwig at the Punk Rock Renaissance show at the Verdi Club, wrote of those early ’80s days: “Frightwig used to practice at Turk Street Studios, right across from the Sound of Music. One day I went into the club in the afternoon and asked Celso for a job. He looked me up and down and said I could start bartending that evening. I was 17.”

“I saw all of the bands of the era during my stint there — it was great fun, loud as sin and about as dirty. Bartending was easy, as all everyone ever wanted (or could afford) were the $1 cans of beer, with the occasional shot of nasty bourbon thrown in on special occasions. Everyone was broke, pissed off about everything and having the time of their lives. If I didn’t like a band, I would throw half-full beer cans at them from the bar.”

Flyers from the ’80s for Tenderloin shows. Adolf and the Gassers got some legal heat when aSecond Street camera store noticed their name.

“The Sound of Music was more democratic,” Webster, who performed there, booked bands and worked the door, recalled. Also, at a time when the Broadway clubs were being harassed by the administration of then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein, nobody in officialdom bothered much with the Sound of Music. In the 1979 mayoral election, of course, Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra had challenged Feinstein, who’d become mayor the year before when Dan White murdered Mayor George Moscone in his office, taking down Supervisor Harvey Milk as well.

Along with serious proposals such as banning cars downtown or requiring police to be elected from the precincts they served, Biafra vacuumed leaves in Feinstein’s Pacific Heights neighborhood to mock her publicity stunt of spending a couple of hours with a broom sweeping Tenderloin streets. Biafra came in third behind Feinstein and Quentin Kopp, with 6,591 votes in the general election. Which is not to say the club entirely escaped the attention of authorities.

Drummer Jane Weems recalled walking out of the bar one night and into the glare of police spotlights, shining on a man standing in front of the club with a needle in his arm, poised to inject. Instead of the suspect pleading with police to “Don’t shoot!” this time it was the cops shouting, “Don’t push that plunger!” But, Weems said, he did anyway.

“You saw fucked-up shit all over the place,” she said. “You were a young adult who could be up at night, who could go to shows, etcetera, and you could see the nightlife for the first time and it was crazy.”

“One afternoon, while I was setting up the bar,” Simmans recalled, “two police officers came in and asked me for my ID. I said I needed to go get my boss, and ran down the narrow stairs calling ‘Celso, you gotta come up here now!’ He met me halfway up the staircase and I told him the cops were here and that I was 17. He didn’t bat an eye, and told me very seriously to go downstairs and not come out until he came down to get me. I did as he asked, and, unfortunately, never bartended there again. The Sound of Music was not shut down as a result of my age, and Celso remained a gentleman and a friend.”

“Frightwig played our first show there and many times after. It was a great club that welcomed us in all of our freaky flavors, never asked for a demo, just embraced the entire scene and swallowed it whole!” Carmela Thompson, a former bike messenger who still performs around town in a number of bands when she’s not working as a genetic consultant, remembers how at her band Short Dogs Grow’s first-ever gig, at the Sound of Music, they only got to do about three songs before the police shut it down over underage kids in the bar. At their next gig, she found herself working the door, telling underage kids, “If the cops come, just go hide in the bathroom.” “It was pretty loose,” she said. Of the band, “I don’t think any of us were 21.”

Thompson and Webster both described Ruperto’s haplessness as a businessman. Thompson eventually would insist that there be a doorman hired and adequate supplies of beer for sale before her bands would agree to play. “He’d run out of beer. He’d go to the store and buy beer to sell at the club,” she said.

Hood remembered how Ruperto let teenage artist Kim Setzer do some “really raw” murals of boxers, and now-deceased Toiling Midgets drummer Tim Mooney about seeing a car burning in the back. He saw someone in there, but it was “too hot” to attempt a rescue.

Webster remembers doing battle with the TL’s dope dealers who wanted to ply their trade in the club’s bathrooms. Maybe that was why, as another patron recalled, the women’s room had no locks.

In the basement rooms across the street from the Sound of Music where bands would practice at Turk Street Studios, burglary was a constant problem. Eric Bradner, who led the TL walking tour during the Punk Rock Renaissance program, told of bands outside the Sound of Music being offered their own gear, freshly stolen from the studios across the street, at bargain prices.

Bass player Lizard Aseltine said, “I used to swamp the bar so I could see shows. I loved seeing Tragic Mulatto. I remember Gayle’s green, duct-tape bra. They were fantastic. I liked seeing Eric Rad’s band Sik Klick — an obvious reference and reverence to the Lewd’s Bob Clic. Another great memory was seeing the Contractions. I was a huge fan of Kathy Peck and I loved watching their drummer with her electric drill. There were many a great time.”

Bassist Peck went on to in 1988 cofound H.E.A.R. — Hearing and Education Awareness for Rockers, a nonprofit that battles hearing loss, especially in teens — after her own experiences with hearing loss and tinnitus. The Contractions appear on the only known record from the bar, 1983’s “SF Sound of Music Club Live, Vol. 1” which also included Repeat Offenders, ELF, Arkansaw Man, Boy Trouble, Defectors, Ibbillly Bibbilly, Dogtown, Katherine and Farmers. You can’t even find it on eBay.

Tragic Mulatto, Webster said, “was one of our go-to bands. There were only three of them. When there was a gap in the bookings — and there were many — I’d walk across the street to Turk Street Studios. And if the show was advertised in advance, they could draw a pretty good crowd.”

Eric Rad, whose band Housecoat Project was another mainstay of the scene, died of a heart attack onstage at the Mab. His wake was held at the Sound of Music. He is remembered for wearing long dresses to work in the copy shop in the lobby of the Mills Building, 220 Montgomery, long before Boy George took that style mainstream. Two of the incredible, industrial-looking guitars he designed and built from random metal and plastic parts, with innovative features, are now displayed at the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, donated by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, who bought them.

The Sound of Music was hardly the only locus for punks in the Tenderloin and Civic Center, though. Out at the Civic Center, the Ramones played a free concert in August 1979. At the corner of Eddy and Taylor, the upstairs after-hours 181 Club hosted occasional shows in its bordello atmosphere, where patrons could bring in a bottle and pay $10 for a setup. And there were plenty of punks hanging out on Polk Street and sharing cheap flats. “I remember seeing Faith No More at the Sound of Music, and that it was small and grimy, and later going to 181 after shows to dance with the drag queens,” Michele said.

Images of burning police cars from the White Night riots of May 21, 1979, outside City Hall were featured on the cover of the Dead Kennedys’ first album, “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” released later that year — rumor has it that the protest was somber and uneventful until some punks decided to start breaking City Hall windows and torching police cars. Ruperto died in Reno in 1990, reportedly of a heart attack.

According to Coyote, Ruperto, who dressed and lived like a pauper, left half a million in his bank account. Included in the Punk Rock Sewing Circle’s Renaissance week events was a tampon drive, organized with St. Anthony’s. A pair of mannequin legs with fishnet stockings was placed at venue doors, calling attention to the collection of sealed boxes of tampons and pads, or cash for a cause. More than 550 boxes were donated.

The Sound of Music hosted its last show in 1987, Webster, who worked there almost to the end, said. It’s currently vacant and “available,” according to signs posted on its windows. Upstairs is the Helen Hotel. Next door, as ever, is a vacant lot on one side and an auto shop on the other.

Most recently, it was a thrift shop. And across the street, bands still practice at Turk Street Studios, although these days it’s one of 600 spread across four states owned by a company that calls itself Franciscan Studios. The beat goes on.

San Francisco Politics: Jello Biafra and Sister Boom Boom

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In 1979 Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco. It was a dark time. Jonestown and Moscone and Milk’s assassination occurred about a year earlier. The election for mayor was bringing up a lot of bad memories. Everyone was affected in some way- had known someone who died in Guyana, was a friend of Milk, or like myself, went to school with Moscone’s daughters. Dan White’s trial had just happened and most people were upset with the lenient sentence.

My parents had a deep distrust of politicians, most likely stemming from Watergate. Upon reading about Jello my father said something like “He can’t be any worse than the people in there .”

I thought it was fantastic. It was so …………..unexpected. I was young, and had never heard of anyone that young or nutty running for office and dammit San Francisco could use some levity at the time. It must have resonated with some other people too because Jello came in fifth place (6591 votes) and you know there weren’t  6591 punk rockers in S.F. with their shit together enough to go voting.

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A few years later I was given an assignment for my civics class to volunteer for an election campaign and write a report about it.  Jello was still political and was organizing events like Rock Against Reagan, but unfortunately he wasn’t running for office at that time.

But there was someone else running: Sister Boom Boom, one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

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The Sister were a group of gay activists (kindof) founded in 1979, around the time Jello was running for mayor. I would see them in the Castro- campy nuns. They got your attention. They raised awareness on queer issues like the fag-bashing that was going on in the Castro. They raised money for Cuban refugees, and organized the first AIDS fundraiser. They also brought some levity to the city. I remember a few Sisters on the corner of Castro and Market handing out pamphlets that said “Make Plants Wear Pants” lampooning ……who knows? The flyer didn’t say.

Ok, it wasn’t Jello Biafra, but a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence had to be pretty interesting.

The voter bulletin had an address for Sister Boom Boom’s campaign headquarters, but no phone number, so I figured I’d go there to volunteer. Luckily a classmate needed to do the same project and was game. We went to the “headquarters” together- a multi-unit apartment building, no names on the door. We hung outside for a bit, then noticed an open window on the ground floor with a curtain gently blowing in the breeze. We penned a note on a scrap of paper found on the street and pinned it to the window with one of our punk rock safety pins. The note read something like:

“HI! WE WANT TO VOLUNTEER FOR SISTER BOOM BOOM. PLEASE GIVE HER THIS NOTE. WE HAVE TO DO THIS FOR SCHOOL ASAP. HELP! HELP… WE DON’T WANT TO FAIL CIVICS. (plus phone numbers)”

To my complete surprise, Sister Boom Boom called the next day. He said his name was Jack and could use some help handing out flyers. We arranged to meet in the Castro. How cool, I thought, handing out flyers to all the interesting people in the Castro.

When we showed up I think he was a little surprised that we were straight white girls.(a little punk rock, meaning we wore black trench coats which made us look a bit like little old men)  He probably thought he was getting two frustrated queer youth, not a couple of Catholic girls. But he was pleased because he was going to capitalize on it.  He said he’d over campaigned the Castro, and wanted to hit more “straight areas”.  We were going to hand out flyers at Stonestown.

Ugh, this was the mall in the part of town that I lived, and where we went to high school. There would be no one interesting in Stonestown. I knew that already. But we did our duty and handed out flyers. Some people were amused but a lot were offended and would hand the flyers back. It wasn’t fun, but I sure learned about shock tactics and politics.

Afterwards Jack took us to lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory on Castro Street. I can’t remember much about the conversation but he did mention he was an astrologist and he thought he should have run for School Board because he could really make a change there. We probably probably talked about how much school sucked and that we couldn’t wait to graduate so we could go see the Dead Kennedys at the Mab whenever we wanted.

I never talked to Sister Boom Boom or Jack again. I would occasionally see his astrology column in a paper –maybe the Chronicle or possible the SF Weekly. He retired from the Sisters about 4 years later and became a Muslim.

Sister Boom Boom got 23,124 votes for Supervisor and placed 8th in the election, which goes to show you the electoral power of the gay community. 8th wasn’t enough to serve. But Jack made his mark. The city passed a law the following year that said candidates have to run for election under their real names. To this day it’s known as the Sister Boom Boom law.

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Fundraising flyer for Sister Boom Boom…the broom spells out “Surrender Diane” referring to Diane Feinstein, the Mayor at the time (who Jello lost to.)

924 Gilman Street, or just “Gilman” to me

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?

not so quiet
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?

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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return of the banned- Boom, Carmela and Mike back onstage at Gilman, 2011

Redd Kross Vs. The Melvins

Happy New Year! I rang the new year in with Frightwig, Redd Kross and the Melvins at the Great American Music Hall. Each band, quite different from one another,has been a major influence on punk rock, and on me. The memories flooded back on this show.

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This is the first time I’ve seen Frightwig since their reunion. I was always a little intimidated by them because they had balls. I first met one of the Frightwig gals at the Hotel Utah. After finishing my day as a bike messenger, I went to the bar with my co-worker Paul, and he started chatting with a friend who was drinking alone at the bar.  After she finished her drink she got up and wobbled out the door. Paul shook his head and said “I don’t know how she’s gonna play tonight.”

“What band is she in?”

“Frightwig.”

I wasn’t in a band yet, but I knew if I ever was, I wouldn’t be able to drink that much and do anything, much less play a gig.

Short Dogs Grow played with Frightwig once at the Farm. For some reason I had cut all my hair off the day before.  Tom was disappointed because we’d all been rebelling against punk and growing our hair long, but I hated the in-between stage. The day of the show I went to Woolworth’s and bought a black wig. I told the girls in Frightwig that I was wearing a frightwig in their honor. They thought it was pretty funny. That was the first and last time I wore a wig onstage. Cheap wigs don’t breathe, and I almost melted under the stage lights.

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I wasn’t aware of the Frightwig/Redd Kross connection. Apparently around this time the McDonald brothers were recording Frightwig’s album. I was a big Redd Kross fan from the time of Born Innocent, about age 15 for me. (they were Red Cross back then, before the lawsuit). They managed to captured the feeling of being 15 and an outcast in high school perfectly (most likely because they were also teenagers in high school). I grew up with them. They morphed out of punk and into rock- huge KISS fans and then into psychedelia. I spent many nights in the early 80’s at the On Broadway waiting to see if they’d show up for their scheduled gig. Lots of times they cancelled- the van had broken down, their parents wouldn’t let them go to San Francisco, or they just got busted for something. Occasionally they would get through. I’ll never forget the first time they came onstage with long hair to the middle of their backs and tye-dyed shirts and played a scrotching version of Deuce.  This was in the era of punk rock where there literally was a uniform: short hair, punk shirt, pegged jeans and docs or creepers. For Red Cross to come out wearing hippie garb with long hair was like Dylan going electric. It was the most radical thing I’d seen in my whole life (but remember I had only been alive for 15 years.) The other highlight of that night was Jeff McDonald got his shirt caught on my earing as he brushed by me. He had to stop and untangled himself. I stood there with my jaw open, too starstruck to be able to talk to him.

I didn’t know much about the Melvins, although they lived in SF for a while. I met Buzz in 1993 at the Warfield with Tom. Faith No More was playing and I think Tom got a plus one on FNM’s guest list. Babes in Toyland and Kyuss were supporting. Tom and Kat of BIT had gone out years before. She didn’t like me much. Tom and I were pretty close and I think that bothered her. He told me once that he mentioned over dinner that I was going to a prom,  and she slammed the dinner plate on the table. “Can we have one dinner where you don’t mention Mellie?”  (That made me feel pretty good). On the way over I told him if he ditched me to go backstage I’d be pissed. He promised he wouldn’t, as he really didn’t have any interest in rehashing the past. I wasn’t reassured.

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(I couldn’t find a poster from the Warfield..but this is the tour.)

I had only heard BIT once, for a minute. We’d been in Minneapolis and the folks at Twin Tone gave us a tape of their album. On our way out of town, Greg popped it in the tape deck. After one or two songs, Tom reached over and popped the tape out and threw it out the window, saying something like “That’s the worst shit I’ve ever heard in my life” I’m afraid the band wasn’t much better live. (I will admit,l though, that extreme jealousy probably clouded my opinion). Tom and I went for a smoke after the set and when we came back in we ran into Buzz. He and Tom knew each other, and Tom asked him his opinion of BIT. Buzz was not impressed. There was no spite or malice in his appraisal; he thought BIT’s presence was due to other factors than their limited muscial ability.. I’ve read his opinions on many musical issues, and while I don’t always agree with him, I usually appreciate his assessment. In this case, it was spot on.

As we made our way back into the main hall, Erik Meade grabbed Tom’s arm and said “Kat wants to see you.”  Erik put a backstage wristband on his arm. Tom looked at me, somewhat helpless.”Don’t you dare.” I growled.

“I’ll just be a minute, I promise.” He disappeared down the stairs with Erik.

I was furious. Looking back, I should have just gone to the front of the stage and banged my head to Kyuss-  maybe jump into the pit, and make some new metal friends. But no, I stood, rooted to the spot, revelling in my anger which increased by every minute he was down there. I thought of how he was drinking the free backstage beer, hobnobbing with all the famous rock stars and making time with the groupies. He was probably gone for 10 minutes, but it seemed like two hours. When he got back, I asked him where my free beer was. He said he didn’t drink anything because he spent the whole time talking to Kat.  She asked him what he thought of her band and when he didn’t give her the response she wanted accused him of not liking her band. He said “well, you know, I’m more in James Taylor there days.”  He said she just kept harping on the fact that he didn’t like her band, so he told her that I was waiting for him upstairs, and he really should be getting back. “Oh, Mellie.,” she said ” You’re STILL hanging out with her?”

File me under: Albatross.

The next time I saw the Melvin’s was in L.A. in the late 90’s. My band Cameltoe was playing an evening show at the Garage, and the Melvins were headlining a day gig. We were able to go in and watch their set. I recognized the bass player Mark-he had been the guitar player of a local band Clown Alley, who Short Dogs had played a few gigs with. He also worked for a while at guitar center, which was where I first met him. Since we were playing that night, we were able to hang out with them as they packed up.  He recognized me and we caught up on some old friends. The were playing a few days later at Slims in San Francisco, and he put me on the guest list.That was the last time I saw them.

All three bands have had their issues with drugs and alcohol,lineup changes,label changes,etc.etc. It’s great to see them all still rocking out, playing new stuff and being excited about music.  Redd Kross and Frightwig were having a blast jamming together on Crazy World. I saw Buzz standing off to the side of the stage watching Frightwig’s set. When Steve mentioned that Redd Kross and the Melvins had a lot of common I knew they were gonna break into Deuce.

As we counted down the last minutes and seconds of the year, major memories of my youth mixed with memories of 2013. One of the nice things about being older is knowing that “this too shall pass.” I’m able to watch local bands like Frightwig play and just revel in the moment, no jealousy or animosity that they are playing and I’m not. Hell, they could have thrown Babes in Toyland on the bill, and I would give the band a chance. I’d even offer my hand to Kat to wish her peace in the new year.

Peace…and happy New Year!

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Redd Kross rocks with Frightwig, the Great American, NYE 2014

The Zodiac Killer

Tom and I learned a lot when booking our first tour, and we were determined not to make the same mistakes for the second one. This time, we would be organized. We would be persistent. We would ask for vegetarian food (nicely) as part of our guarantee.

And this time, we had a headquarters. Oh sure, you can book a tour while living in van, while being evicted out of a crazy loft, and while sleeping on your former bandmates couch; we had proved that. But it SEEMED like it would be easier if we had a place to paste up our calendar, our atlas of the United States and our prospective promoter phone numbers.

This place happened to be the in-law apartment in the basement of my grandmother’s house. I was the youngest of her 16 grandchildren, and was named after her. She had passed away the year before and her house was in probate, so my mom asked me to live in the in-law, and keep an eye on the house while the legal stuff was happening.

My best friend Jessie spent many nights at the in-law. Often after gigs she would ride home with me on the back of my motorcycle, getting up the next morning to take the bus home or to school. The bed in the unit was a king size. Tom, Jessie and I spent many nights in chaste friendship sleeping in the bed together. It kinda sucked being the person in the middle, but if it got too cramped we would sing “I’m crowwwwded, roll oooooover” and everyone would shift slightly. I had to get up early for work so after weeknights at the Chatterbox I would tiptoe out to my bike for a 50 mph ride through the streets of San Francisco to get to work by 7:30 am. Most of the time we existed in harmony, but one day I got a call in the morning at work:

“Mel, this is Jess”

“What’s up Jess?”

“Look at your feet.” I glanced down and saw black and white high top Converse tennis shoes, a little scruffy.

“Yeah?”

“Are those your shoes?” she asked, sternly.

“Um, yeah??” But the seed of doubt had been planted. And I thought, any minute now she might call me Carmela, which people used to only do when they were pissed off at me.

“No, those are not your shoes. Those are my shoes. Your shoes are sitting here on the floor at the house.”

I looked again. Well, they did seem a little cleaner then my Chuck Taylors.

“Oops, sorry Jess. Just take mine and we’ll swap later.”

Poor Jess, she had to wear my oversized clown shoe size 7 ½ Converse to San Francisco State University. Meanwhile I started to hydrate my Chatterbox-depleted body, and her shoes began to physically tighten about my feet.

Tom spent many nights at the in-law, working with me on the artwork for our first album and the details of the tour. The apartment had a phone, but you could not call long distance on it. We would walk two blocks to the gas station and use the pay phone to call Austin, New York, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Gainsville…again and again. I won’t divulge how we did it (because there’s no statute of limitation on felonies.) Let’s just say that one person would make the calls and the other would look for the cops.

The house and in-law were in the West Portal neighborhood in San Francisco. I had grown up there, right across the street from this same gas station. When I was a kid I never thought I would grow up to use that phone to plead with promoters named “Scary” from Detroit to give me a show. I did look at the gas station a lot from my window when I was about 12 years old because I had a crush on one of the pump jockeys, a teenage boy with greasy hair and coveralls who looked like he’d just walked out of the book The Outsiders.

West Portal was a sleepy neighborhood back then and you would never run into anyone you knew there. But here I was living in West Portal again, and a few times I ran into a guy I worked with when I was a bike messenger. He was a lot older (maybe in his 40’s, you know, ANCIENT) We called him Captain America because he always wore a blue baseball cap with a red A on it. He would always talk to me at work. My boyfriend Gordon (also the dispatcher) pulled me aside one day, and said that I really shouldn’t talk to him because he has been brought into questioning many times during the investigation of the Zodiac Killer. I backed off a bit then, but when you run into someone on the street in West Portal you kinda have to say hello; it’s like a small town. He was taking care of his sick mother. Often he was going to the movies by himself at the Empire Theater. The library was down the street from the theater, and I would run into him there as well.

One day at the library I checked out a book on the Zodiac Killer. Being a punk-rock liking, black-Converse-wearing, greasy-teen -oving kinda girl, I was an avid reader and true-crime fan. I was about a third of the way through the book when I noticed that someone had gone through it with a pencil and changed the times of all the killings by a few minutes or even hours. Some other details, locations and names had also been crossed out and new info was penciled in. It was a little creepy. Then I started thinking about the FBI profile:

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The Zodiac killer was an older white man.

He was a loner.

He may have lived with his mother.

He liked the movies.

(The police actually created a documentary about the Zodiac Killer and showed it at the Roxie theater. They had a suggestion box in the lobby that asked “Who do you think the Zodiac Killer is?” Unbeknownst to anyone, there was a police officer inside the box who photographed everyone who dropped in a suggestion. They thought the Zodiac would be arrogant enough to go to the movie and write something cryptic for the box.)

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The Zodiac Killer was educated and liked to read.

He wrote to Herb Caen, who was the champion of Bike Messengers (I met Herb while working the door at a Bike Messenger Bash, he loved to come and party with us.)

There was no mention of what type of baseball cap he wore.

zodiac herb caen

I was about half way through the book when I started making Tom come to the phone booth with me to make calls. Prior to this, sometimes I would go alone, or sometimes he would go alone, occasionally we went together for moral support. But halfway through the book, I couldn’t stand to be in the apartment alone anymore, so I would go with him. If it was my turn to go, I would force him to come with me.

Three quarters of the way through the book, I started waking up in the middle of the night because of the sound of the wind and the trees outside hitting the windows.

Me: “Tom, wake up, I think the Zodiac Killer is outside”

Tom: “mmmmzzzzarrrrkkkpp”

Me: “Tom, WAKE UP THE ZODIAC KILLER IS OUTSIDE THE HOUSE.”

Tom: “oh ferchristsakes Mellie”

and so on. This went on for a couple of weeks.

One night Jessie and Tom were over, and  I made Tom come with me to the gas station pay phone. We were there for a long time. When we walked into the apartment, there was Jessie, sitting at the kitchen table with the Zodiac Killer book in her hands.

“Hey guys, did you know that the Zodiac…..”

At this point Tom grabbed the book “THAT’S IT! I’VE HAD IT!!! ISN’T IT ENOUGH THAT I HAVE ONE FREAKED OUT WOMAN ON MY HANDS? THIS BOOK IS GOING BACK TO THE LIBRARY,” At which he grabbed the book, turned around and walked down to the library.

I must admit, I went to the library many times to see if I could get the book to finish it, but it was never there. And I never got a late slip from the library so Tom did return it. Perhaps it’s state’s evidence now?

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).

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.

short dogs van loft

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.

L.A. Chews You Up and Spits You Out. L.A. Story Part II

In the middle of 1999, I had a college degree, blue hair, and a job making genes at a lab in Alameda.  I longed for something a little more….glamorous.  My band Cameltoe had broken up, and I didn’t have a boyfriend. I needed a change. Let’s face it, I needed to reinvent myself.

That wasn’t possible to do in San Francisco. As a native San Franciscan, the city was a huge part of my identity.  I consulted my best friend and confident Jessie about moving to L.A. She was supportive as usual- this was probably the least hare-brained scheme I’d presented to her yet.

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(Jessie and I feign interest in someone’s photo album at the Bounty in L.A. The whiskey sour forshadows that night’s hare-brained schemes.)

She helped me get an interview with a new music production company that needed an “office manager”- their term for a receptionist.   Paul Robb was “the talent”- the person who writes the music. His claim to fame- he was a founding member of Information Society- a band who’d had a number one single on the dance charts “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy).”  I’d never heard of I.S.- but luckily this didn’t work against me in the interview. I got the job even though I couldn’t type more than twenty words a minute, and had no idea how to make coffee.

information society

My first day there I faced the coffee machine.  How hard could it be? I had operated PCR thermocyclers and DNA sequencers. I sat at the front desk reading the coffee maker manual while Paul waited…and began to go into caffeine withdrawal.  “Hey,” he yelled at me, “It’s not MOLECULAR BIOLOGY!!!” And then he walked me through the process- put filter in, load grounds on top, fill water, push button. Turned out that most of the time he’d run out to Starbucks, as we didn’t have an espresso machine (thank God because I don’t think I could have figured that one out either.)

Paul had a great sense of humor and was known for writing the music for BMW car commercials. The new company was owned by the man who wrote the jingle “The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup.” It was a long way from Mercedes Benz, and I remember one night hearing Paul screaming in his studio ,“I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M WRITING MUSIC FOR CAT FOOD COMMERCIALS!”

L.A was rough. I lived in a dive in Hollywood. I’d never lived with cockroaches before, and I suddenly became fastidiously clean, and skinny, as I was terrified to bring any food into the apartment. It didn’t matter really because I was too broke to buy food- my cat got poisoned by the previous tenant’s roach killer powder (left all over the apt) and it cost me $2000 for a week at the pet hospital to save his life.

The music company producer took pity on me, as most people in L.A. “choose” to starve themselves.  She recommended me as a bookkeeper for her husband’s set construction company. He was the original drummer of the Surf Punks, one the first punk bands in L.A in the 70’s, and was also Barry Manilow’s tour drummer.  I tried to get him to dish on Barry, but he never did- he said Barry was a righteous dude who would pay for the band to bring their wives and families on the road. Hammer of the Gods it was not.

BarryManilowJoint

(Manilow proves that he’s a righteous dude.)

I would sit at the front desk, sign for packages, answer the phone, do the boss’ husbands’ books, and play the banjo. I wasn’t in a band in L.A. so I needed to do something musical. My one splurge was taking banjo lessons twice a month at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. But unease set in. While I was working at a “glamorous” place (I even got to meet the Folger’s jingle writer), I felt like my brain was starting to rot. I would call my friend Mari, who’d been my lab partner in college, and listen to her talk about her new great job as a technical support specialist at a biotech company. I liked hearing about the stupid mistakes her customers made, and how she helped them resolve the situation. I told her that I missed science. “Face it,” she told me, “you’re an intellectual.”

About six months into my stay in Los Angeles, I got a call from Shelley, who had been the guitarist for Bimbo Toolshed, one of my all-time favorite bands in San Francisco. “Hey,” she said, “I’m putting a new band together and I need you to play bass. When will you be back?”  She knew I’d been in L.A. for six months, and estimated it would take about that long for me to crack. “Um…let me think about it.” I hung up, and almost immediately my cell phone rang again. It was Mari.

“Hey, they just announced another position open for a tech specialist. You should interview for it. They’ll fly you up here on their dime.”   I emailed H.R. my resume, and they called right away to schedule an interview. When I got home from work, I thought it over. I missed fog, San Francisco style burritos, and walking. The only thing I would miss about L.A. would be the ability to see Jessie just about whenever I wanted. We’d have to go back to a long distance friendship, but we’d already proved we could handle that. I called Shelley back that evening.

“Don’t audition anyone else…..I’m coming home!”

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(Technical support in pit crew lane! My rescuer Mari salutes, as Geoff and I stand by while Jodie warms the engine.)

“We Love L.A!” L.A. Story, Part 1

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Los Angeles. Most musicians have a love/hate relationship with the place. Love it because of the opportunity- the music business, the club scene, the artistic community. Hate it for the dream-crushing reality of competition, scarce resources, and compromised integrity.

Short Dogs didn’t play L.A. on our first tour because we couldn’t get a gig. The closest we came was Isla Vista and Bakersfield.  Danny Sites, the artist responsible for the RKL logo, booked us in both towns with Beyond Possession, a metal band from Edmonton.  The bands spent the weekend at Dan’s house- one long party. I remember one hanger-on young woman smoked some pot and kinda flipped out. She said drinking beer would make her fat, so she started running laps outside around the house.  Each time she passed by the living room window we’d give her a cheer. She was still out there running when we finally passed out. It was my introduction to Southern California, or at least California south of San Jose.

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(A taste of So. Cal- eating Pac-Man soup out of the can..1st SDG tour.)

The next tour we actually did play L.A.  We opened for our friends The Leaving Trains at the Anti –Club, a well-known punk club on Melrose.  Erik, their bass player, looked like he’d just stepped off the cover of the Replacements’ album Let It Be.  He gave me this sage advice: “People don’t care about pedestrians in L.A., so don’t jaywalk. Up in San Francisco, people just wander into the street without looking. That will get you killed here.” Their singer Falling James was on acid and spent most of the show crawling around the stage in a dress, singing into a light bulb. It was the best set I’d ever seen by the Trains, and unfortunately we didn’t play with them again. Falling James kept in touch tho’, and attended most of the gigs I played in L.A.

Tom and I continued playing together after Short Dogs imploded, in a band we called Creep, later Heart Pumpin Bourbon. We paid a local booker to get us some shows in L.A.- thinking we might be able to get some small labels to check us out.  It was a horrible time in L.A.  Guns N Roses were at their peak,  and most clubs were doing cattle call shows- 15 backlined bands a night. Your set was about 20 mins, no soundcheck, no guest list, no drinks, no pay….no fun.  The cover charges were ridiculous.  Coming from the punk scene, we had no idea what we’d gotten into. We did a few of these- the last one at the Whiskey. I sat at the bar,depressed, drinking a $10 beer, and looking at the glass portrait of Jim Morrison hanging above the liquor bottles. I wanted to throw my beer at the portrait and shatter it, and I think Jim would have approved. In fact, he probably would have tossed the first glass.

On that visit we went to see some of Tom’s friends from Vancouver, B.C. who were in a band called Copyright. The band included former members of the legendary band, Slow-check them out (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFIRdq-2Vas and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_urOddVku94 ). Copyright was signed to Geffen and were living in Geffen’s trashed band mansion in Malibu. We thought they would be the next big thing, but after spending a million dollars recording in L.A. and mixing in Wales, album sales were slow, and they were dropped. That’s L.A. for you.

slow

(Back of Slow’s Single)

I cooled on L.A. until I joined a band called Cameltoe. The band already had some So. Cal shows booked before I joined, so a couple of weeks in I was playing at Dragonfly. It was a mediocre gig, but not a cattle call.The soundman dropped a microphone on his sandal-covered foot, and jumped around screaming, “My Toe! My Toe!.” We copted his moves and screams later into a dance, replacing My Toe! with Cameltoe!  Fun shows ensued at San Diego’s Casbah and Costa Mesa’s Club Mesa. I softened a bit towards So. Cal.

The next time we went down, we played the Casbah, Club Mesa with The Drugs, who later become The Forty-Fives, and the Doll Hut, the Reverend Horton Heat’s hangout. I liked the Reverend until I was wheeling my bass cab into the club, and he yelled at me to get out of the way of his pool shot. Thanks dude, the amp only weighs like 300 lbs. Our last stop was  L.A. -a Sunday afternoon gig -Club Sucker at The Garage-  7 ft tall drag queen Vaginal Crème Davis’ (or Vag for short) punk rock matinee.

LA story 003

(Vag walks among us. Note how small the mucisian behind her looks)

The crowd was rowdy and into music.  After we played a band called Woodpussy took the stage. They were dressed in camouflage and had decorated the stage with nets and branches. A couple of songs in, the singer asked the crowd, “Has anyone seen Bigfoot?” Then the club’s side door opened, and 10 Bigfoots rushed in and started moshing with the audience. Mayhem ensued.  Next up was The Upper Crust, a Boston based band who dressed like Louis XIV- tall white wigs and makeup with eighteenth century clothes. They looked kinda fey, but man they rocked. They are still rocking today – check em out at http://www.theuppercrust.org/index.html.

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(Mark McMurtry of The Drugs and the Forty Fives poses with “Bigfoot”)

Woodpussy asked us to play again, this time just the two bands, separated by a magician and his goat. Catherine found out the theme of the show was “winter”, so we dressed in white.  Woodpussy invited us to stay at their house and promised a pre-show bbq. They were originally from Norman, Oklahoma, and just about every Oakie in L.A. was there.  After the bbq we went to the club, and saxophone “player”, Josh rigged some palettes to the ceiling.  Midway through the set, he pulled on the rigging ropes, and plastic snow started falling. Yes, it was snowing inside the club via the magic of Hollywood. Snow was everywhere- in our beers, cabinets, underwear. I found little flakes for years after in my car, amp, and gig bags.

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(Hell freezes over in Los Angeles)

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(Jason Hadley, mastermind of Woodpussy, sports a Cameltoe jumpsuit)

The next day we all went to brunch in Silverlake.  With our name on the waiting list, we ran across the street to check out a clothing shop owned by Exene of X. Our waiter turned out to be a surly fellow who recognized our parched state and kept the water flowing. I needed to flush the fake snow out of my throat.  After we ate, Catherine said “I love L.A! Last night we had someone from the Flaming Lips doing the lights for our band. Today we got to shop at Exene’s store, and have our breakfast brought to us by the singer for the Circle Jerks.” I hadn’t noticed that the surly man was none other than Keith Morris.

We wound up having more adventures with Woodpussy- another show included a giant pillow fight which filled our beers with feathers.  A trip to Burning Man was spent in their camp fusing fireworks to helmets, up to my elbows in gunpowder.

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(Fusing fireworks, and working as safety crew, Burning Man 1998)

They played a gig in San Francisco, all members garbed only in plastic Saran wrap and fake blood. A shower stall was installed onstage which sprayed the unsuspecting participant with freezing cold blood.  Some band members stayed at my house, and the next morning my bathroom looked like a crime scene.

It was all fun and games until I decided to move to L.A….

I Know the Secret of the River That’s Right Baby, the Green River

I was getting ready to go out when I picked up the phone, and Erik Meade was on the line.

“Forget whatever you have planned tonight and come down to the Chatterbox.  I just sound checked the most amazing band and you need to see them.”

“Oh I can’t,” I replied. “I’m on the guest list for Sister Double Happiness at the Kennel Club.” To me, the guest list was sacred. If someone put you on the list, you went. Flaking would be an insult to the person who did you the favor.

While he was a fellow musician, Erik was unmoved. He insisted. Under no circumstances was I to miss this band.  He said he’d put me on the guest list. He even said he’d pay for me to take a cab from the Kennel Club to the Chatterbox. That was serious. The only reason we took a cab in those days was to go to the hospital, and man, you better be bleeding.

Usually I jetted around town on my motorcycle, with my superhero partner Jessie on the back. (our code names were Spazmo (me) and Egghead (Jess, because she wore the shiny silver bell helmet.)) But that night I think we were going to the show with Cindy and Amy, so we planned to bus together to the Kennel Club. I explained the desperate situation to Jess. We struggled with the cab idea, but justified the expense by the fact that we were on the guest list to both shows.  After Sister Double’s great set, we jumped in a cab headed for the Mission, a bit like rock stars being chauffeured to a gig.

Erik approached us as we arrived with a big grin. “The band is just about to start and it’s gonna be great.”  “What’s their name again?” I asked.

“Green River.”

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Erik did not disappoint.  It was the best live show I’d seen at the Chatterbox. Probably the best live show I’d seen besides the Butthole Surfers at the IBeam and SPK at the Russian Center.

After the show, bass player Jeff Ament was swilling from a bottle of red wine.  Club owner Alfie told him he couldn’t bring his own wine into the club.  He got a little huffy, but I jumped in and said “Hey I’ll buy you a glass of wine”.  I told him that Alfie was super cool, but she had to protect the club- she’d been harassed by the ABC. He relaxed. They were a bit broke from being on tour and couldn’t afford booze.  I didn’t want him to think I was a groupie, so I told him I was a bass player in a band too, and was having a hard time getting a gig in Seattle. He suggested I contact the Vogue- they booked punk bands on Tuesday and Weds nights. I set my sights on getting a gig there, I probably even dropped his name to get a gig.

green river flyer

He gave me their second record, which I nearly wore out on the turn table.  I wanted the first but couldn’t find it, so I wrote to him and he sent me one, and a shirt, for a small amount of money.

green river postcard

I told him I had booked a gig at the Vogue and invited him. He showed up at the sound check and watched it. He had band practice later, so couldn’t stay, but it was cool he showed up to say hi and see a bit of the band.  At the start of the gig, Greg raised his arms and yelled “Hello Seattle!!’ and his guitar promptly fell off the strap and crashed to the floor, completing a perfect Greg Foot move.

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After we got back from tour, I heard through the grapevine that Green River broke up. Singer Mark Arm started a new band called Mudhoney, which retained a lot of the Green River sound, while the rest of the band found a new singer and forged Mother Love Bone. My first thought was “what a stupid name” but Tom disagreed.  “It’s good” he said. “It has some vague sexual overtones, but it really doesn’t mean anything- like a blank canvas. You can fill it in yourself.”  Damn that Tom, he was usually right. A Seattle friend of mine who had seen both bands said everyone liked Mudhoney, and no one like Mother Love Bone- that they were sellouts. I don’t know really how you could be a sellout when there really was no money to be had back then, but there ya go.

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Around that time I met Mike Watson who had recently relocated to San Francisco from Seattle. When he saw all the Green River and Mother Love Bone posters in the house, he groaned and said, “it’s like I never left Seattle.” I had even made friends with Michael Larson, who had been Green River’s manager, and had also relocated to San Francisco. I overheard him introduce himself to someone at the Chatterbox and I butted in.

“Michael Larson? THE Michael Larson??  The manager of Green River??????”

“Well, “ he said, “former manager.”

I asked him to manage my band, but he said he was too busy with work. He worked at Lockheed or something, all very top secret, no discussion allowed. Often he would go out of town and couldn’t say when or where. It made it hard to maintain a friendship, and we eventually lost touch.

green river promo photo

Mike knew Stone Gossard, guitar player of Mother Love Bone, from his Seattle bar days. We went to see them play at The Stone, the local metal and hair metal club in S.F.  I had only been in the a few times- to see a Meat Puppets/Minutemen/Husker Du show (can you believe that lineup??) and a GangGreen show.  Tom promptly got kicked out for some kind of illicit activity in the bathroom. He was in a stall and a guy actually leaped over the door and dragged him out. I was unaware- we were down in front of the stage, and when Mother Love Bone came out Mike yelled “STONEY GOSSARD IS A WOMAN!!! STONEY GOSSARD IS A WOMAN!!!”. Stone turned and looked at him, smiled and say “Hi Watson.” I guess it was some Seattle inside joke.

Mother Love Bone was no Green River, but they did rock live, in an Aerosmith-before-the-drugs kind of way  We went to see Mudhoney later, and while I thought they were ok, they didn’t bring the rock like MLB did.

Tom went up to Seattle to hang out with a straight edge preacher’s daughter, you know, as only Tom could do. They’d  met in Spokane when we played there and had stayed in touch. While he was there, he met Stone and Jeff.  I think the preacher’s daughter had dated Kurt Cobain for a few minutes. I visited her a bit later, and she was seeing the singer for Blind Melon. I guess her straight edge magic didn’t work on them.

Andrew Wood died and MLB, understandably dissolved. The remaining guys looked around for a new singer, and Tom tossed his hat into the ring. It seemed like a good match and I think there was some interest. Before Tom got a chance to audition, they found a guy from San Diego who cinched the deal. They called Tom to tell him and invited him to a gig at the IBeam, name still undecided. They played under the name Mookie Blaylock. I told Jeff that Mookie was my dad’s nickname for me. He said Blaylock was a basketball player. To myself I thought “what is it with you guys and the lame band names?” Then they changed their name to Pearl Jam, which to this day makes me think of Miss Pearl’s Jam House, a Caribbean restaurant that was popular in the 80’s in S.F.

PJ got signed and put out a decent record.  Nirvana’s second record came out about the same time-no comparison to Bleach- another record just about worn out on the turntable. Pearl Jam, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were playing the Cow Palace on New Years, and I bought tickets before it sold out. On the day of New Years Eve, my friend and workmate Becca told me she had backstage passes to the show, and did I want them? Um, do you even have to ask? Her good friend was a Chili Peppers roadie, and he sent the passes to her so she could hang out with him. The Cow Palace on NYE was a lot of effort, and since I was already going, why not give the passes to me. (Two interesting facts about Becca: she was interviewed in Social Distortion’s movie Another State of Mind, and she’s currently working on her Ph.D. Btw, thanks again for the passes Becca.)

cow palace poster

Tom and I checked in with  a guy who worked at the Cow Palace. He said the crew passes would get us into the show and backstage, no tickets needed. We sold our tickets at the gate for $100. I think I had paid $40 for the pair. We went in and went searching for the backstage. The Cow Palace is huge, so we were wandering around for like an hour and couldn’t find the janitor, much less drugs, booze, groupies and drunk musicians. Finally Tom had a good idea to wait near the stage, so we could see where the band emerged from. He held the pass in front of my face and said, jokingly, “This is the license to be an asshole. Let’s just see how much power this puppy has.”

backstage pass cow palace

He stormed up the ramp to the stage, and shoved the pass in the stagehand’s face, who, bored, waved him by. I timidly followed. And there we were, staring out at a sea of swaying fans…so many people!! A minute later, Pearl Jam walked on the stage and plugged in. Tom and I looked at each other and then back at the sea of faces. “I guess we can stay,” he whispered. I nodded. They played a great 30 min set. We stood off to the side with just a couple of techs and stage hands. After they were done, we followed them, and finally found the backstage area.

There was a bar and lots of people milling about, a few local SF musicians. We found Erik Sandin, drummer for NOFX, and his girlfriend.  They were visiting from L.A. and needed a place to stay.We need a ride home, and worked out a deal. We found Pearl Jam at the bar. The first thing Jeff says to me is “Carmela…why did you dye your hair gray?”  My attempt to spruce up for New Years resulted in my usual botched home hair care. We chatted for a while about how life was changing, and then Tom said we should go back to the stage to see Nirvana. This time the stage hand wouldn’t let us up-“Sorry, too many people already” It was packed.. We went out to the front to the guest seating area. Nirvana played what I thought was a lackluster set, spending most of their set time trashing guitars, amps and drums. I figured Kurt had lost his voice and was just trying to kill set time so they’d still get paid. After they were done we went back to get a closer look. As we were walking to the bar room, Kurt Cobain walked right by us, guitar in hand and Courtney Love in tow.  We vaguely knew Courtney because she had played in a band for a minute with my friend Janis, and Tom’s ex Kat Bjelland, and she did not have a good reputation. Tom and I looked at each other, shocked.  Tom said, “That’s the end of Kurt Cobain.” And he was proved right, because Cobain killed himself 2 years and 4 months later.

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The rest of the night was a bit of a comedown. Tired of the backstage, we secured a good spot for the Chili Peppers.  The Chili Peppers were at the height of Blood Sugar Sex Majick, but Nirvana had passed them in the charts, Pearl Jam were close behind. RHCP seemed a bit passé already. Halfway through the set, I had to pee. As I was washing my hands I heard Anthony Kiedis start chanting, “Ten, Nine, Eight….” I booked out of there, ran up the stairs two at time and leaped into my seat for “Happy New Year!!!” We found Erik and headed home. We’d only spent $2 for bus fare, made $80, drank free beer, and got a ride home. It was a pretty good start to 1992.

I think that was the last time I saw Jeff or Pearl Jam.  I might have seen them at the Shoreline later that year, but all I can remember from that gig is Soundgarden.  They played with Neil Young in Golden Gate Park in 1995 and people were pretty upset that they cut their set short. It made the papers, and my mom called me and said “What’s up with your friends in Pearl Jam?” which was pretty hilarious because I have no idea my mom knew who Pearl Jam was, much less that I might have some connection with them.

In 2008 my friend Shannon thought it would be a good idea to go to Seattle for the SubPop 20th Anniversary show and see Green River reunite. I was very excited about this, and we bought plane tickets and tickets to the concert.  I didn’t know who most of the bands were- I didn’t even know that Sub Pop had continued to put out records that long. There were two stages- one small and one large. Most of the bands we knew, like The Fluid, played on the small stage.

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Green River played the big stage. The set was okay, but my memory of that Chatterbox show would overshadow even the most rockiness of sets. Mudhoney closed the show on the small stage, and I remember feeling like a kid again watching them, reminiscent of the time when the future was wide open, when you still had the freedom and potential to become anything you truly wanted to be.

Shannon and I went to visit my friend Mike Watson, the man who way back when had accused Stone Gossard of being female. He had moved back to Seattle many years before.  For a while after the visit, Shannon got it in her head that we should get back together, but I dismissed her as being silly-  we were just friends now. But I guess Shannon sensed something that I could not, because in 2012, Mike Watson and I got married.  By doing something right, I had proved myself wrong.  Thanks Green River. And thank you, Erik Meade.

mike and I with ukes

Closer To The Stars: Soul Asylum

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When I was in Short Dogs Grow, the band I most aspired to be like was Soul Asylum. They were signed to Twin Tone – the label that brought you Husker Du and the Replacements, they didn’t have day jobs, and they rocked ripped jeans and flannels shirts 15 years before Nirvana hit the scene.  In other words, they were cool. While I think Short Dogs had better songwriting, Soul Asylum toured relentlessly and had a brutal live show.

soul asylum press photo

We opened their Bay Area debut at the VIS Lounge in San Francisco- a club that likely had its heyday in the Fillmore blues scene. As most clubs that hit hard times, it started doing punk rock shows.  They remodeled later, and it became the Kennel Club, now it’s called the Independent. The next night we played with them at New Method Warehouse, Greg Foot’s vegan co-op,located in Emeryville, a “nuclear free zone.” New Method didn’t have a cabaret license, so they hung a banner above the entrance that read “Happy Birthday Bob!”  and sold beer out of a little side room that had a sliding glass window, like a speakeasy. The neighborhood was so dangerous that it was unsafe to walk alone across the street to Jugs Liquor to buy alcohol. There was always some punk hanging around who was happy to escort you. (my favorite was Todd from Christ on Parade.) Today Emeryville is home to Novartis, Pixar and Jamba Juice, Inc.and people drive there just to eat meatballs at Ikea.

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At sound check, Grant Young, Soul Asylum’s drummer, and I chatted on the sofa. He said everyone in Minneapolis was named Karl or David.  We exchanged addresses and he sent me an original cartoon drawing of a googily eyed guy who demanded “more beer!”

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The next year, Tom was hanging out of his window on Pierce Street and spied them walking down the street.  Guest listed, Tom called me to go, but I think I was under 21 and didn’t have a fake ID. Tom went, (he had Foot’s ID) and said they were great. There were only a few people there, but they were important: Jello Biafra, Ruth Schwartz, Tim Yohannan.  We saw them later that year at the Mabuhay Gardens. At the end of the set, Dave left a guitar onstage and wandered off. Erik Meade picked it up and jammed with Dan. A photo was taken, fueling the rumor that Erik had joined Soul Asylum.  Actually, he would have been a great fit.

erik meade with sa

Then they played some shows at the Berkeley Square.  At one, the bouncer grabbed Helga by the hair, threw her down on the ground, and started dragging her out of the club. Jessie jumped in to stop him and another bouncer started dragging her out too. I jumped on Bouncer #2’s back, and wound up tearing his shirt off. They had wanted to see Helga’s ID.  When she couldn’t produce it, they bouncer immediately resorted to violence, which made sense as Helga was a 5’2”, 100 lbs, vegan.  Bouncer #2 turned out to be Hector, the booker of Berkeley Square, and later the drummer of Buck Naked and the Bare Bottom Boys,. We had an awkward conversation about the incident when he called me a few months later to book us with Mr. T Experience.

“You ruined my shirt!”

“You hurt my friend!!!”

“You suck!”

“You suck more!!!”

“Wanna play a show with Mr. T?”

“Ok.”

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One of the happiest moments of my booking life was scoring the opening slot for Soul Asylum at the IBeam.  They only did shows on Monday nights at that time. All that stood between Short Dogs Grow opening for Soul Asylum was the band Bomb. I spend days trying to convince the booker that SDG and SA could fill the club. Finally she dropped them, ha ha.

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Our first gig in Minneapolis was at the 7th St. Entry, the small club next door to First Avenue- the club featured in Prince’s 1984 movie Purple Rain. When we arrived, Tom called and demanded that Dave Pirner come to the show. Dave tried to beg off. He’d just gotten home from tour; he hadn’t seen his girlfriend in 6 months; he’d been drinking all day. Tom wouldn’t take no for an answer; Dave showed up. Grant snuck me into First Avenue. We drank a beer in Prince’s booth and climbed into the rafters. Grant showed me his secret rafter spot where he would sit and watch Prince’s band play. I didn’t understand Prince’s genius at the time, but these guys grew up with him. At the end of the night everyone crowded into 7th St.’s backstage, and the club manager was yelling, “Everyone out! I don’t even care if you are in Soul Asylum, you have to go home NOW!!!!”

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The next time in Minneapolis, we all went  to see mutual friends Electric Love Muffin. It was my birthday and Dave gave me a birthday kiss on the cheek. I immediately ran to the nearest pay phone and called Jessie. When I got home, the only thing my female friends asked about the tour was “What was it like to be kissed by Dave Pirner?”

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All of a sudden they were playing the Warfield. We went backstage, and Dave was distracted- trying to see if he could get a keyboard to play We 3. Short Dogs was getting dropped by our label, and they were playing the Warfield. It was a rough time.

The next year Short Dogs was basically over, and I went to see Soul Asylum by myself at Slim’s.  A friend asked me if I would go talk to them. I said, honestly, “I don’t think they would remember me.” Immediately after that Dan walked up to me and said “Hi Carmela! Wanna have a beer?” My friend just laughed as Dan led me off. Dave demanded to see Tom, but he wasn’t coming, so Dave dragged me to the phone booth in the basement. Tom answered, and I said “Uh…there’s someone here who wants to speak to you.” As I handed the phone to Dave, he transformed from an aggressive madman, to a man speaking gently, as to a child. He asked how Tom was doing, told him he’d put him on the guest list, would leave cab money at the door if he needed it. But Tom declined. Dave had career highs and lows; he understood where we were coming from. After the gig we went across the street to the Paradise. Some of the local rocker girls followed us and, surprise! They actually wanted to hang out with me….and Dave. The girls were begging me to bring him to their house “to party”, the first time they’d ever invited me. Selfishly I asked Dave if he wanted to go- knowing he had a gig the next day, but drunk enough to be manipulated. He said yes, and I told the girls we would be there in 20 mins. As he was struggling to pull my helmet over his dreadlocks, a van pulled up- full of his pissed-off band mates. They had a gig the next day in L.A.; they were leaving NOW; you better get in the van NOW!!! When I got home, the phone was ringing.  The rocker girls wanted to know where we were. Or more likely, WHERE WAS DAVE? I told them the story, but don’t think they believed me. They had probably drawn straws to see who was going to sleep with Dave, and there I was, messing up their plan, keeping Dave to myself.

I didn’t see them play again in the 90’s- they released Grave Dancer’s Union in 1992 and were on MTV.  I wasn’t into the album- it lacked edge.  In 1993, however, I got an interesting phone call.

“Is Tom home?”

“There’s no one here by that name.”

“Tom. Tom Pitts.”

“Oh….” I was evasive, maybe Tom owed someone money. “You can give me your number, and I’ll give it to him.”

“Carmela? This is Dave.  Dave Pirner.”

WTF?

He told me that he was in Amsterdam, on tour, in a hotel and had insomnia. He said he always felt better if he talked to a friend before he went to sleep. We chatted for about an hour. They were opening for Guns N Roses, my current favorite (they had an edge.) I thought playing in Europe, staying in a nice hotel (there was a phone!!!!!), having a hit on MTV, and opening Guns N Roses would be the highlight of my life. He hated all of it. He said he was grateful that they were having success, that he had a room to himself, and that he could call the States (SUPER EXPENSIVE  back then) But he didn’t like playing stadiums- (you can’t see the fans), didn’t like the new label (they went from big fish/small pond to small fish/ocean),and he didn’t like Guns N Roses- (they made fans wait hours for them to come onstage, which he found very unprofessional. Prince would never do that.) He had tinnitus from years of loud music. He sounded terribly lonely. It was a tough transition from the van to the tour bus. As we wrapped up the conversation, he sleepily told me he had two regrets in life. He said  “the first on was agreeing to open for Guns N Roses, and the second is that I didn’t go to that party with you. I should have jumped on the back of your bike instead of getting in the van with the guys.” I laughed and said that he was probably the only person in the world who would lump me together with Axl Rose.

Grant left the band in 1995. They released two more albums in the 90’s. Sadly, Karl, the bass player, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2005 and died in 2006. Tommy Stinson took over bass until just recently because he now plays with…you guessed it…Guns N Roses!!!!!

tommy and axl

Soul Asylum played recently at the Independent.  I bought tickets right away, thinking OMG…..it’s gonna sell out. Scarlett, the drummer in my band, works at the club and put me and Mike on the guest list, so Tom and Cheryl joined us. About halfway through the set I went to use the restroom. As I was peeing, someone on stage mentioned Short Dogs Grow. Scarlett ran into the bathroom and said “Hey Carmela, they just gave you a shout out!” Sigh.  When I got back to our seats, Tom said “Good old Dan- he always liked Short Dogs.” Scarlett got us backstage and immediately we were accosted by their tour manager, an angry, skinny woman, demanding to know who let us back there.  There was no one backstage, no one trying to get backstage, (the attendance at the club was minimal – maybe about 100 people?) and no mob of angry fans. I told her that we were just old friends wanting to say a quick hello. Very uncomfortable.  The door opened and Dave waved me in. He said they’d been talking about us that morning as they crossed the bridge. I told him we met in this location together 25 years ago. Dan, looking pretty tired, smiled and asked if I heard the mention. Tom said a quick hello and then we made our escape. It was all very tense back there. Scarlett told me later that she thought the tour manager and Dave were an item, and that she was trying to keep all women out of the backstage.  Girls are still trying to get him “to party” and miss his ride, I guess. 

My only regret from that time is not being happy for my friends’ successes. I wish that instead of being disappointed in having to work for a living, I celebrated my friends’ victories in the music world.  Being a rock star certainly has it drawbacks- Pirner lost the bulk of his hearing, Kurt Cobain committed suicide, and Tommy Stinson has to deal with Axl Rose. But San Francisco had an insulated, small, special music scene .I wish I had been more respectful and supportive at that time.

soul asylum chills

The Decline Of Western Civilization: Black Flag

the decline of western civilization

Punk rock. I blame Todd Danielson.  In eighth grade, I liked him, and he liked the Ramones. To impress him, I bought the only Ramones album I could find- the soundtrack to Rock and Roll High School, which started me on the Road to Ruin.  We wound up going on two dates: the Ramones at the Henry J. Kaiser, and the Decline of Western Civilization. But that was it, I never talked to Todd again as we went off to different high schools.

The movie introduced me to Black Flag.  The next year I dragged my high school boyfriend, Maury, to the 10th St Hall to see them play- Black Flag, Flipper, the Minutemen and the Stains. I don’t really remember much about the music except that it was loud and fast. We were harassed about our hair and clothes, knowing nothing about the “uniforms” of punk rock. Maury was pretty appalled by the whole experience, and probably hates punk rock to this day. I think he got tired of being dragged to Ingmar Bergman and Andy Warhol films, and eventually we broke up. He later went out with the most normal, boring girl in our class. I don’t blame him for wanting to be with someone who liked romantic comedies and listened to Rick Springfield. You don’t get spit on in that crowd.

black flag at 10th st hall

Then Slip It In came out.  When I met Tom he was seriously into Damaged and the Six pack EP. He was more of a Dez fan; but I loved Henry. I didn’t come to appreciate Dez until years later.  Henry was good looking, he was angry, and his songs were about sexual frustration and hypocrisy, which at the time I responded to more than songs about depression and drugs.

slip it in

So, we loved Black Flag- the band who launched a unique sound, who toured when no one  else did, and who had their own record label.  Short Dogs Grow was just hatching- we had only played one abortive show at the Sound Of Music. Tom had set his height higher and he was a natural salesmen. I was at work when I got the call.

“Mellie, guess who’s playing at the Farm?”

“Who?”

“Black Flag!”

I was excited, I hadn’t seen them with Kira, their new bass player, who also happened to be female ( a phenomenon in the 80s).

“Guess who is opening for them ?”

It had to some other SST bands. “The Descendents? No,wait,  the Meat Puppets?”

“No, Short Dogs Grow is opening for them. We are opening for them. On the same stage. At the Farm.”

I was in shock. Tom had gotten us on the gig- we would not be paid, but WHO CARES WE WERE OPENING FOR BLACK FLAG!

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(flyer for the gig, unfortunately we weren’t on it)

We only had about 10 songs at the time. At the gig, we got through about 8 of them by jumping around and making lots of noise. I took a few too many steps backyards and wound up falling down the back stairs of the stage. I was lying in a heap, bass on top of me, and discovered I had pulled all the electronics out. The only other person back there was Greg Ginn. He walked over towards me, looked down at the bass, and said one word.

“Bummer.”

Mortified, I ran back up the stairs. The band went on to play the last two songs without me. I was heartbroken, but later all our drunk friends (i.e. the only people who had been there to see us) said we were great. Needless to say, we didn’t get signed to SST that night.

We did get signed later to Rough Trade and did a few U.S. tours. By then Henry Rollins had left Black Flag and put together the Rollins band. We played with them a few times.  They guys in his band were fun and friendly when Rollins was not around. Greg Foot even managed to get them to drink a beer with him (not cool in the Rollins camp.) Rollins would sit in his van and do bicep curls, and kids would ask him for his autograph.  Apparently I once ran into the backstage while Rollins was completely naked, but I didn’t get to see who had the 9 and 1/2.

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We played a certain club in Florida which looked like the set of a Blues Brother’s movie. The stage was completely encased in chicken wire, spurring jokes about  “both kinds of music, Country and Western!” The promoter called for a meeting with all band members present. He told us that this was the last space in this town that would let him, or anyone else, put on shows. He understood the lameness of the chicken wire, but that was club policy, and he had put down a huge deposit.  Under no circumstances was anyone to fuck with the wire.  If anyone messed with the wire NO ONE, REPEAT NO ONE, WOULD BE PAID THAT NIGHT.  Most of us were starving on the road. It really was “36 dollars and a six pack to my name.” The promoter was cool- so we were cool.  The Dough Boys opened and they were cool. M.I.A were cool. The Descendents were cool.

Rolling gets on stage and about three notes in, he takes his fist and smashes it through the wire. My heart sank. As cool as it looked, I knew we would be leaving with no money that night, and we were broke. Most likely one of us would be calling home for cash.  By the end of his set, Rollins had pulled down the entire cage.

While I was packing up the remains of our stuff, Tom handed me an envelope with something like a $100 in it,  BIG MONEY in those days. The promoter had paid him, and one of the Dough Boys. He said we were cool, had nothing to do with Rollins’ actions and shouldn’t be punished for the Decline of “Country and Western!” Civilization. The rest of the money was going to the club to play for the chicken coop, and an attempt to save punk rock for the youth of Florida.

On Tour with The Descendents

Descendents_-_I_Don't_Want_to_Grow_Up_cover

Pop quiz!

Where you were when you first heard the Descendents?

Which song?

How old were you?

I bet we can all ace this one.  I was nineteen years old, in Tom’s room at Pierce Street and the first song I heard was Silly Girl. We were lying on a mattress sitting directly on the floor, surrounded by empty Budweiser cans filled with cigarette butts, blowing smoke rings at the flies circling overhead,and listening to I Don’t Want To Grow Up.  The punk rock Southern Californian Beach Boys- who couldn’t relate to the angst of “Bikage” and the longing of “Hope”?

Not long after this, we opened for them at the Farm. I think this might have been the show where I hit Marc in the head with my bass and one of the tuning pegs cut him deeply. His girlfriend took him two blocks down the street to General Hospital (conveniently situated near the premier punk rock venue in town) to get stitches, and he was back in time to see the Descendents. A guy from Thrasher magazine took a picture of me jumping off the drum riser.  In the next issue Thrasher printed it with the caption that I was the new bass player for the Descendents.

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“The Descendents blast bombed the Farm recently sporting a new female bass player”

On our first tour we managed to pick up crabs by the time we got to El Paso where we were about to open for them.  As soon as they pull up to the club in their van and got out, Tom yells to Ray “HEY RAY WE’VE ALL GOT CRABS!!” I was completely mortified. Ray ducked into their van and pulled out some industrial strength Kwell and offered it to Tom.  Tom told him we’d already zapped the bugs earlier in the day, but I think Ray made Tom take the bottle, “Just in case”. I spent the rest of the night avoiding Ray because I was so embarrassed that he knew.

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Milo attempts to kidnap me in the French Quarter.

We met up again with them in New Orleans. I remember wearing a pink halter dress with blue flowers and Milo actually said “that’s a really nice, pretty dress you’re wearing.”  Inside the club I was looking around the stage for a place to plug the amps in, and Bill Stevenson chased me around the stage with a flashlight, telling me he was going to get a peek at my underwear. I finally went and changed into shorts and a tank top to discourage the pubescent antics.

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Milo sports his Short Dogs Grow T-shirt at the hottest gig on the planet- midday, 4th of July, New Orleans.

They did have some homophobic lyrics, which surprised me as they didn’t seem like that to me. I saw recently that Milo said he wrote the song “I’m Not A Loser” when he was 17 and has apologized for the content. I’ve also heard they don’t play it anymore, maybe someone who saw them at the World Cup show can comment on that.des2 001sdg descendents farmdes 001rkl 001 rool 001

Punk Rock Prom and beyond..Rancid and Green Day

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Rancid’s 21st anniversary show was last week. This triggered many thoughts of “Another East Bay Night”…..

 

My friend Aaron didn’t have a date to the Berkeley High prom, and being a budding historian, felt that he would be missing out on an important phase of youth if he didn’t attend.  While I disagreed with his motives, I offered to go with him to document the moment.  We met up with his friend who had dragged Tim along as her date. He was pretty drunk by the time they arrived and didn’t want to dance. He gave me a Basic Radio tape, and kept saying we should go out to the limo and listen to it.  That sounded like a lot more fun than being at the prom, but I didn’t want to let Aaron down.   A few years later I went to see Death Angel at Nightbreak, and it was sold out, so I wound up hanging out with Tim (who couldn’t get in anyway because he was underage), sitting on the curb between cars and drinking beer. A few days later someone (Greg Foot?) told me that I’d been spotted making out with a young guy on Haight Street.  Making out in public is not really my M.O. I figured someone must have seen me with Tim and gotten the wrong idea.  Many years after that I ran into Tim when I was with Gary Indiana at the Bammies at the Warfield, and he told me that I have been present at the two weirdest moments of his life- the prom and being nominated for an award (both fairly non punk rock events).  I thought,  wait, what about the time when we made out at Death Angel????

 

I’ve never met Lars, but I stood next to him at the Parkside for a while.  I was selling Psychology of Genocide t-shirts and he was selling Agnostic Front t-shirts. Well, I wasn’t really selling shirts because no one was buying any. He was incredibly busy. I’m not sure if everyone on the planet wanted an Agnostic Front shirt that night, or if everyone wanted to buy something from LARS FROM RANCID.  A guy with many tattoos sat down next to me and started chatting. He asked if I wanted a beer and I said, no thanks, I don’t drink. He told me that he used to be sober but that he was experimenting with heroin again. I asked him how the experiment was going.  “Not too well” he answered seriously. I mentioned that he might want to talk to Lars about that. He said he had, and Lars didn’t think too much of his experiment either.

 I ran upstairs to the backstage room and when I opened the door 10 or so tatted out skinhead dudes stopped talking and looked at me.  “I, uh, I’m just here to use the loo” I stammered. Roger Miret said, “What do we have here?” and I thought he was going to pull a knife on me or something. Then he said “Ah, a New York Doll” and smiled and nodded his head. I smiled back, confused,  and edged towards the bathroom. When I got inside, I saw in the mirror that he had been acknowledging my NY Dolls t-shirt.

 

post prom run-in

GREEN DAY:

I was taking BART home from Berkeley and Aaron (of the prom) got on my train.  He smelled really, really bad and everyone was moving away from him.  Except me.  “Coming home from tour?” I asked. Only being homeless or being on tour with a punk rock band can make you smell that bad (I know from experience. When I came home from my first tour my boyfriend said I smelled like I’d been sleeping in a dumpster).  Yes, he answered.  He’d been out for a very long time with Green Day.  He used to be their roadie, and I want to say he played drums with them for a while, but I could be wrong there.

Many years later I was at a Paul Westerberg show and I saw Billy Joe.  People were asking for autographs and stuff and my friend got caught up in it and said, don’t you know him? Go say hi. I’d never me the dude, but I wound up standing next to him a bit later, so I turned and said “Is Aaron here?” He looked surprised and said ” I left him a ticket at the door, but you know how he is.” And then he said “You’re Carmela from Short Dogs Grow!”. I was shocked and told him he had a great memory. He said he remembered me from Gilman Street.  And then some more fans came over (his, not mine :)), so I was able to make a quick escape.

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What Do You Want From Live?

quay lewd

I must have been thirteen when the Tubes played their “Haul of Fame” show at the Old Waldorf. I guess the Tubes were tired of the lugging about their big stage production of platform shoes, whips, and motorcycles. They had decided to do one last show with all the props, and I had to see Quay Lewd before he retired. I mean, I loved the Tubes.  I even loved Remote Control, their concept album about television, ferchrissakes, produced by Todd Rundgren. Fortune had it that my parents were out of town that weekend.  I was able to go to the show, by myself of course, because I had no friends at that point that were into any kind of non-mainstream music. So there I was, a thirteen year old girl alone at the Old Waldorf-talk about open season for pedophiles.  I shooed a few away, and then luckily a non-threatening guy about age 18-20 sat next to me.  Of course he was a bass player in a band, and they were going to be bigger than the Tubes.  He invited me to see them rehearse.  I had never seen a band rehearse before and thought it would be extremely awesome, you know, rock stars, booze, drugs, a party atmosphere.  He offered me a ride home, but I declined, since it was late and if he tried to kill me nobody would know.  So I told him to pick me up the next day. I managed to lose my keys at the club, thus obliterating the one time I could walk through the front door at 2am, and had to resort to my stand by: crawling through the dog door in the back.  The Tubes were awesome by the way, but I was a little let down by their flippant attitude towards the props.  I was just arriving onto the scene, and the train was leaving the station.

remote control

The guy actually showed up the next day.  My sister answered the door and was like “who are you?” I ran down the stairs and mumbled “Going out..mom and dad said it’s cool..be back in time for dinner” and dragged the guy down the stairs before my sister could really figure out what was going on.  She was 17 and not stupid.  We went to rehearsal and it was incredible!…or should I say incredibly!!….BORING!!!!!. Four guys who barely knew each other, trying to come up with songs. All they could do was talk about how great Bruce Springsteen was (THE BOSS, dude), and how they were going to sound just like the E Street Band. I was the only non-band member there, and there was absolutely nothing for me to do but watch and wince. Every time I heard someone in the hallway I prayed it was Fee Waybill coming to rescue me. The bass guy whacked a tuning fork on the bass’ body and knocked a chip off. I winced more. I showed him how to hold a tuning peg in your mouth so you could hear the frequency in a loud room. I made a mental note never to like Bruce Springsteen (It took 8 years to get over that). I made a mental note to never date a guy in a band (only took about a year to get over that). Finally, “rehearsal” ended. I was over the rock and roll experience by that point and wanted to get away from him AND his boring band. I told him that my sister would kick my ass if I didn’t get home in time for dinner. On the ride home he was fishing for a home cooked dinner invitation. I knew I had to end it with this guy; his band didn’t cut it and there was no way in hell I was sitting through another rehearsal, much less a gig. I had to act fast, so I told him that I was very excited for my 14th birthday party coming up in a couple of weeks, and did he think his band would be ready to play at it?  He turned a little pale and drove a little faster. By the time we got to my house he was telling me about how he was gonna be a rock star, and he couldn’t get tied down to one girl, you know- can’t disappoint the fans. He slowed down just long enough for me to jump out of the car. My sister was at the top of the stairs, “I can’t believe Mom and Dad let you go on car dates. I didn’t get to car date until I was 16 and could drive myself.” “ Hey, just be thankful  you never had to go to band practice,” I snapped back.

Bruce

I talked to Prairie Prince on the phone two years later. He had a listing in BAM that probably was for session work, but I thought he was looking for a band. I told him I’d been playing guitar for a year and was worried that I wasn’t in a band yet (I pretty much thought life ended at 18). He was incredibly sweet, and encouraging.  We talked for about 30 mins, and he suggested that I find people in high school to play with. When I told I didn’t really have any friends at school, I think he understood.  Not that he felt sorry for me, I think he just knew what it was like to be different. He even offered to jam with me. I got scared, so I told him I didn’t know how to drive.”Take a cab.” I think I finally told him I didn’t think I could play well enough. He told me to keep practicing and call him again, but of course I didn’t, although I kept his phone number for years after, just in case I ever got the nerve.

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Prairie Prince, playing with The Cars, 2006

A (New York) Doll’s House

buster poindexter

Once again it was the wee hours of the morning and I was waiting for a flight to LAX for work. There was hardly anyone in the small waiting area.  Next thing I knew, 6 skinny, well dressed, musician-type folk sat down across from me. I instantly recognized David Johansen and his recent version of the New York Dolls, as I had just seen them play a month or so previous.  My eyes bugged out of my head and it was one of those painful “travelling alone” moments when you cannot pinch the person next to you and give the head nod.  So, I did what every punk rock music fan does in these situations- I ran into the bathroom, pulled out my cell phone and called my brother. “Guess who’s waiting for my LAX flight?”  “Who?” “GUESS! GUESS!!!!” He knew it had to be one of my musical idols, but he wasn’t getting close to the mark.  “Give me a hint?” My brother had given me a New York Dolls shirt for Xmas.  “T-shirt” was all I said.  “OH MY GOD! BUSTER POINDEXTER!!”” Only my brother would invoke the alter ego at this point.  “Go up to him and say ‘hot hot hot’!”.  My brother is not shy; he would have sat next to David and talked to him the whole way to L.A. But that’s not my M.O. I did spy a bit. They had just flown from Japan and were making their connection to L.A. They looked very tired and the flight attendant wouldn’t let the guitar player store his guitar in first class. So me, the Dolls and Les Paul all flew coach together. BTW David Johansen is tiny, tiny, tiny.

I went to New York when I was eighteen, just about to turn nineteen.  I wanted to meet The Ramones, David Johansen, The Talking Heads, Johnny Thunders….you know. My first time out of California and first cross country road trip. Being young, we had a loose plan that we would spend the summer with our friends who lived “somewhere in Brooklyn”. I think we knew where one of them worked, but no other info, so when we arrived in NYC we were tired and didn’t have a place to stay.  We needed a hotel with a garage because we had a drive-away car. The only one we found with a room was the Carter Hotel, and I thought it was ridiculously expensive at $50 a night.  As we took the elevator up to the 15th floor, the power went out and the elevator stopped. It was dark, packed with people, and very hot. Sweat was pouring down my sides (New York in June).  A kid next to me yelled out in the darkness,  “WE‘RE ALL GONNA DIE!” I almost fainted. Luckily the power kicked back on and the elevator started chugging its way up to our floor.

After a night of intermittent power and cockroaches, we got rid of the car, and I begged my friend for us to stay in the Hotel Chelsea. It’s where Sid killed Nancy; fulfilling every teens’ “Live fast, die young, punk rock fantasy.”  We got a room for $50 a night, but I didn’t complain. I loved the Chelsea from the minute I got in there….the art in the lobby, the musty smell, and musicians playing guitar in the stairwell.  I asked the next day if there were any cheaper rooms available, because we still hadn’t found our friends.  They gave us one for $30/night, no air conditioning.  I opened the window to get some air and spied a book on the fire escape. The title: Drugs: How They Work and Why.  We found our friends the next day- they had spent the weekend in Martha’s Vineyard. Bitter sweetly,  I left the book on the balcony.

hotel chelsea