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.

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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.

nye 2014

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.

sdh 001

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.

bit warfield

(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!

rk frightwig nye

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:

zodiac killer

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.)

zodiac movie

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.

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

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

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

Ole Mexico

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

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

Whack. “Mel”

Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”

Whack. “Mel”

Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”

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

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

The doorbell started ringing.

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

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

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

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

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

Oi! Oi! Oi! England!

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

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Pic 5. Crueller sets up merch while Crumb supervises.

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.

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(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.

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(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.

LA story 008

(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.

LA story 004LA story 001

(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.”

green river 003

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.

sdg flyers 001

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.

Mother_Love_Bone_-_Shine

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.

newsweek cobain

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.

green-river2

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

clam dip

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.

new 2001

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!”

soul asylum murray bowles

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.”

SOUL 001

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.

sgd 001

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!!!!”

soul asylum 001

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?”

soul asylum 002

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!

Flag 001

(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.

rool 001

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.