The Reign of Lee Kwan

The band left to right: Michael, Janis, Carmela and Jeanie.

You never forget your first band.

But you do get old …….and then everything starts to get fuzzy.

I was a teenager when my first band started. Before the internet. Before cell phones. Before Star Trek The Next Generation.

It was called The Reign of Lee Kwan. Lee Kwan was mentioned in the original Star Trek as the next world dictator after Hitler. There was no consensus on how to spell it, so we spelled it many different ways- Li Quan, Lee Kwan, Leigh Kawan etc.

But luckily, due to fate, and in part to the new technology, I’m still in contact with two of the three other original members. And we were able to meet up a while ago and piece together what happened 35 odd years ago……..

Cast of Characters:

C= Carmela (me). Lee Kwan was my first band. I went on to play in some other bands (see other blog posts if you survive this one.)

Carmela and Scooter, Vespa Rally 180

Jean= Jeanie M. Lee Kwan was Jeanie’s second band (first was A Happy Death). After the Kwan broke up she continued working in visual art, including her mouse sculptures and the she went on the create the Road Kill Calendar.

Jeanie

Jan= Janis Tanaka.  Lee Kwan was Janis’ first band. After, she continued to play music with the Jackson Saints, Stone Fox, Hammers of Misfortune and Pink, as well as many others.

Janis

E=Erik Meade.  Erik is/was a friend of the band and guitarist for The Jackson Saints, and many other bands.

Erik

Michael (not present) Michael was in the band for about half the time we were together.

Michael

C: So, I was thinking about this as I coming down here…like as far as our shows. I don’t remember like actually being onstage. I can remember kind of before we get onstage, or maybe going to the show, and then after, maybe talking to people.  But the actual time on the stage is really gone.

Jan: That happens to me a lot.

Jean: So, you don’t remember the fact that, we actually got up and played musical instruments?  Like you know, Janis would come over and sit on the drums, and I would pick up her bass?

Jan: Yeah, because we changed instruments so much. And the set, you couldn’t even do it where we were on the same instrument twice for two songs.

C: So, we switched every song? I don’t remember.

Jan: Pretty much, a lot. We switched a lot.

Jean: I mean, I couldn’t I couldn’t play drums very well but….I can never can play guitar because I’m left handed, and so it always upside down and backwards. So, I didn’t play a whole lot of bass.

C: You played bass?

Jean: I did but not a lot.

C: You didn’t play guitar.

Jean: No.  I could never figure out how to do a guitar.

Jan: I switched a lot.

C: (something starts coming back)  I think I  played guitar on one or two.

Jean: Well you definitely did.

C: Did I ever played drums on anything?

Jean: That’s a good question.

C: Janis did you play drums?

 Jan: I played drums for sure.

C: You must have when you (Jeanie) were playing bass.

Jan:  Okay so if you made up the song on the instrument- that’s the instrument you had to play for the song. Cause nobody else could play it.

C: When I listened to that recording that we have of the show, the live performance, at the end of it I’m pretty sure that’s Dirk Dirksen (legendary promoter and emcee at punk club The Mabuhay Gardens).

Jean: Could be

Jan: That’s the Mab.

C:  You said the Mab was our first gig. But I don’t think that tape could have been our first gig because that tape was actually pretty good.

Jan:  Our first gig was at the Mab, I thought

C: Did we play the Mab more than once?

Jan: Yeah. Because the second time I had some lumpia, and I met Ness Aquino. (legendary owner of the Mab. It’s all his fault there was a punk rock scene in San Fran) He was weird. The lumpia was not good. I didn’t have the lumpia the first time cause I was just nervous.

C: (horrified) You ate lumpia from the Mab, like, from the kitchen at the Mab?

Jean: Yeah, I remember that we played some bike messenger bashes at the Mab like at 5:00 o’clock and I was just like “Why? Who is going to come to a show at 5:00?”

C: Bike messengers

Jan: Yeah, exactly. Those were great.

C: We played the Utah (Hotel Utah, a bar that still exists today) I think twice. Yeah. That was because of Adolph and the Gassers (a friend’s band).

Flyer from a Lee Kwan gig with our bros Adolph and the Gassers

I mean, again I don’t remember actually be on stage. But I remember at the Utah the first time we played, when I came off the stage, a guy that I knew (who I can’t remember now. I can see his face but I can’t remember his name). He was like “Oh my God. We’re all on acid and you guys are amazing.”

Jan: I didn’t know him (before the show). But I remember him.

C: Yeah. He wasn’t a bike messenger but he worked like in a bike messenger office or something. I don’t think we worked together but that’s how I kind of knew him.

And then I saw him like a week later or something and he said “You got to tell me when you guys are playing again because we’re all going to come and take acid again. Because that was amazing. You guys were so great” And I was just like “Okay…….cool?” Like it’s cool that you like us, but I don’t want to be a hippie band. I don’t want people coming in and twirly dancing to us or whatever.

Jan: I thought it would be funny

C:  I don’t really know how many shows we played. Did we play anywhere else besides the Mab and Utah?

Jan: We played the Sound of Music (club in the Tenderloin, see my other blog post about it) Yeah, we played there once, and then we played there for our last show. It was Short Dogs Grow’s first show. That was the one that when Marc was singing and someone from the street came in off the street, and grabbed a chair and ran at him with it. Marc’s singing, and he just was looking at the guy. The guy stopped like two feet from Marc’s head and then laughed. He walked back halfway down the club, and then he ran back. He did it twice. We were just like….. whatever….Marc didn’t stop, and he didn’t move. I think he might have raised his hand, like “what’s going on?” The guy left.

C:  I don’t remember that at all.

Jan: That was weird. It was a good show. You guys (Short Dogs Grow) played great and we were like “Wah”.

C: Yeah. Didn’t the cops come in and stop it?

Jan: Was that the show where the cops took the girls away all handcuffed together, or was that at a different show? I knew there was a table of underage girls.

Jean: And it wasn’t us? (laughs)

 Jan: No.

C: I remember working the door at the Sound of Music and telling people who were underage,  “If the cops come just go run into the women’s bathroom, they’re not gonna go in there”.

Everybody laughs.

C: That was the plan because Jessie was under age. I think I might have been under age or I was probably pretty close. I was like 19 or 20. 

Jan: Well you turned 19 when we were in the band.

We digress into a story of the cops trying to bust me for buying beer underage. I ran from them  to Janis and Jeanie’s house and hid. Our guitarist Michael, not present, came to my aid.

C: Yeah the cops came, and I ran into the house and just stayed there.  They were down there for a while. Michael went down and just said  “She’s not going to come out. How long do you guys want to wait?” Michael really had balls that way.

Jan: He had balls.

C: You know, I kind of think of him as sort of mild-mannered guy. Well, not mild…

Jan: But quiet. He was pretty ballsy doing things I wouldn’t even think to do. And if I thought of it, I wouldn’t have done it.

Jean: Yeah, but laundry made him upset.

Jan: Very ballsy that way. Which was surprising for someone who watched so many soap operas. You kind of don’t put the two together right?

Michael, Jessie and Jeanie on what looks to be Cal Trains

Jeanie shows us a pic of our friend Erik

C: Erik came to see us play… was Erik at our first show?. He was at our first show.. wasn’t he?  I remember when we met him, and we were playing that night.

Jan:  We met him in Marin, on that scooter ride. You were on that ride.

C: That was the Hotel Utah that he came too.

Jean: So that would have been right around when I turned 21.

Jan: We should ask him. He has a good memory.

C: I remember meeting him in the park as we rode over with Roy. Roy Wonder was the dispatcher at Lightning (a messenger company that I worked for).For some reason he was going to Marin or something… and we were like “Yeah we’re all going to ride to Marin.” Yeah, we were on our scooters, and Roy always had some Franken-bike.  You know, I don’t know why we went over.

Jean: Cause we wanted to go for a ride. 

C: I’m pretty sure that we were riding with Roy for some reason. Oh I don’t know. That’s about all I can remember.

Jan: And then Erik was on the bridge, and he had records, and I said “What records do you have?” And he said, “Ian and Sylvia records”. And I said, “I love Ian and Sylvia!” And he said “I do too! But he bought them for his parents because it was old stuff. And I love them and he said “I do too.”

C: Is that because he thought that you were cute and wanted to impress you?

Jan: Yeah.

Jean: It was right before I turned 21 because he came down to see our show, and then he kind of ended up hanging out with us.

Jan: He had decided to be our groupie. Yeah that’s what he said. Yeah.

We decide to call Erik to get his memories, as we are wondering what others thought.

Phone starts ringing

Jean: If he’s there I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.

Jan: Yeah. We’ll turn this (computer) in case it’s blocking sound.

Jan: Hello?

E: Hey?

Everyone: Hi!!!!!!!!!!

E: How are you?

Jan: We’re on speaker phone with Jeanie and Carmela. Fine . How are you?

E: Hey.

Jan: Are you busy?

E: No

Jan: Okay. We have some questions for you.

Jean: So, Carmela is putting together these histories. We’re trying to remember what the hell we did when we were in Lee Quan. So, we’re asking people what they remember because we can’t seem to remember half the stuff we think we did.

C; Will you tell us Erik, what you remember about meeting us in the park, and then seeing us play? And if you can remember where you saw us play.

E: I saw you at the Hotel Utah.

C: Was that the first show that you saw?

E:  Well that was the first show I saw of you. And I think that was the night that Janis jumped on that guy who hit Michael.

C: Oh!  Tell us that story.  (much laughter)

Jan: None of us remember that.

E:  Yeah, yeah that was great. That was the whole reason why I just thought you (Janis) were so great. You were playing, and it was first time I saw you do that thing you do. 

That thing you do….. Janis and Jeanie at the Hotel Utah

C: That thing you do? What is it?

E: Some guy was standing in front of Michael, and he shoved him or something like that. Michael turned around, and the guy hit Michael.

C; In the face?

Jan: What did the guy say to Michael?

C: The guy was harassing Michael?

E: The guys was harassing Michael. And Janis threw her guitar off, and jumped up off stage and landed, and hit him, and like knocked him to the ground.

C: Awesome!

Jan: Good, good…..

 E: She was straddling his shoulders, and then she started punching him.

Jan: Whoa!  What?

E: Yeah

Jan: I must have had a drink.

E; And I was like “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”.  Then well that’s pretty much like the main thing that I remember. I remember you playing. Somewhat.

C: You don’t remember what we sounded like? If we were really bad or anything like that…

E:  Uh…..You were very minimalist, I remember thinking. I wouldn’t say it was bad because I was thinking that it was kind of like everybody’s punk band that first got started.

C: You cut us some slack, is what you’re saying here.

E:  But I mean, you know there was a lot of kind of more interesting bands, like the Slits or something. Like where it’s kind of shocking and weird but uh………… Let’s see. It’s funny cause I don’t remember a whole lot beyond that except, I don’t remember if it was this that same night  or maybe it was the next time I saw you guys which I think was the Hotel Utah again. Maybe it was the same night. Because I do remember going out with you guys somewhere. And I was riding on the back of Janis’ motorcycle.

Janis and Erik at Buchanan St.

Jean: That was my birthday.

E: And we went to Clown Alley (a hamburger place).

Jan: Clown Alley?

Jean: Oh. Now maybe it wasn’t my birthday.

C: Are you sure that wasn’t when we played the Mab?  Because the Mab was right near Clown Alley

E: Well maybe it was. Did you play the Mab?

Jean: We did.

C: Well do you remember?  Because I don’t remember playing at the Mab at all.  But Janis does. She actually had a recording of us that she gave me, and I’m pretty sure that it’s Dirk Dirksen on the end of the tape, talking. Sorry, Jeanie. Jeanie had the tape. So, it’s like Oh my God, we must be at the Mab. Where else would Dirk Dirksen be?

Jean: We played bike messenger bashes there.

C: Yeah so everyone remembers different stuff and so for some reason I’ve completely lost the show at the Mab, but I definitely remember the Hotel Utah. Remember more than once.

Jean: Well, we have pictures so that makes it easy.

 E: I met you guys in a park in San Anselmo. And you guys said you were going to have a show.

C: I think we were pretty excited that we were playing a show.

Jean: WE’VE GOT A SHOW!

E:  Yeah. Yeah, that what it was like really. It’s like the funniest thing. I was coming back from work, and I worked at the used record store in San Rafael, and I had bought an Ian and Sylvia record. Which I bought for my parents. But then Janis ran up  and said “What’cha got in the bag?”  I said “Ian and Sylvia”  And she says “ I love Ian and Slyvia!”. And I was like….”Oh, so do I!”.

C: Was that a little white lie, Erik?

E: Yes. I was like, “So great to meet someone else who loves them.”

Everyone laughs

E: So let’s see,  what else. It’s funny because, now that you bring it up, it is kind of funny how my memories are so limited. Yeah.

Jan: So you were at the Sound of Music show when we played?

E: The funny thing is that I have just the vaguest memories of the Sound of Music, but like not even enough to really piece together any kind of a story. I think what happens is that the things that stand out in our mind are the ones that make the memories. But I keep going back to Janis jumping off the stage. That’s a really vivid one.

C: It’s weird that Jeanie and I, and Janis, don’t remember that. That’s a pretty outstanding thing.

Jean: But You know like when you’re on stage and everything. There’s all this adrenaline and we’re just trying to get through the set so you know,  you don’t hardly remember playing at all. Right?

C: Erik, I was just saying that, and this was the same thing when I talked to Tom and Greg, I can’t remember actually being on stage and the “playing” part. Like of pretty much almost every Short Dog show that I’ve ever done. I can remember things like maybe somebody jumping up on stage and bashing into me or, Something like that where there’s a fight that broke out. But same with Lee Kwan,  I don’t actually remember playing.

Jan: Maybe because it’s in a different part of your brain maybe.  People would say “How was tour?” and I say,  “I can list off all the food I ate.” (Everyone laughs) All I can say is I do not remember.

E:  It’s true, I really feel that way with a lot of the gigs. You played the Hotel Utah a couple of times, didn’t you?

C: Yeah, we played once for sure with Michael and once for sure without him.

E: Yeah, I remember you were playing with Adolph and the Gassers.

Jan: And The Hot Combs. They might have been on the same bill actually.

C: We might. I think we played with them more than once. I think we played with them at least twice.

Jean:  We did a couple of bike messenger bashes. where it was like bands that were all messenger bands. Those were the people we could get shows with, the people we knew.

C: I just saw John Thaxton (singer and guitarist of the Hot Combs and the John Thaxton Experience)

Jan: Oh

C:  Yeah I was playing at a memorial for somebody from the bike messenger scene who had passed away, and he played the Western Messenger Girl song. I said to him “Oh my God! I have this tape of Lee Kwan where it’s announces that we’re playing with you at the Mab”  and he was like “oh wow you guys were so great.”

Everyone laughs.

C:  I don’t know if he actually remembered.

Erik, I was telling Janis and Jeanie, that when I was listening to that live tape, I could kind of almost hear like the seeds of something really cool emerging.  And I wish I had stuck with it like to see where it would have gone, although so many other things happened.

E: Yeah.

C: But I think maybe we had something interesting going. I don’t know, maybe it’s a revisionist history.

Jan: I like it! I like it!

C: We had something to create.

Jean: We had fun!!

Jan:  We had a lot of fun. We had good songs.

E: Yeah.

C: Do you remember seeing us at the Mab?

 E: You know it’s funny cause of that I don’t really remember…wait …wait….no… One of the problems with things like this too, is that I was at the Mab so many times.  Again it’s just sort of like everything is kind of a big blur. Like when pictures used to be in slides instead of print. Like layers of three or four slides of different bands flowing into each other. And that’s actually one of the reasons about not being able to remember the actual gigs you played. It’s the same thing with me. I have memories of being on stages and stuff like that, but then I also have to remind myself that I would go to people’s shows and be hanging with bands. So I’d be backstage or onstage. I can remember being at some club in Fresno. It was a big venue on the stage and looking out at the audience. But I can’t remember whether or not that was like a show of ours. Or whether I’d gone down with some other band. Standing on the steps, right side the stage, you know watching you guys. And so that kind of blends with whatever shows like I might have played there.

Jean: I’m having the same thing because I remember something, and then I’ll be like “Oh no that was Happy Death.”  That wasn’t Lee Kwan.

C: Back then, it’s hard for me to distinguish Short Dogs from other stuff. I know I played at the Mab in Short Dogs because I’ve got flyers. But I again I have no recollection of it.  I remember the backstage at the Mab which was that tiny little room.

E: Yeah.

C: But I don’t remember actually being on stage playing, although I know I did. And the same thing with the on Broadway. I can remember one instance of playing at the On Broadway because I fell down on my knees, and so did Tom, at the exact same time. So that’s sort of stuck in my memory. and I remember the backstage at the On Broadway. Yeah. It’s hard with that because I was at the On Broadway every weekend for probably five years.

E: I remember being at the On Broadway. I can remember when I was played there with the Undead, and then watching a million bands- Gun Club,  Code of Honor and Black Flag, and the one that really stuck in my head was that….Remember the Live at the Rat album? And Black Flag was doing that song “What’s the matter with Henry?” or “What’s wrong with Henry?”. He was stalking the stage all naked. But I remember being backstage and there was a pool table back there or something. He was holding on to cue ball, and he was sitting in a corner trying to work himself up. He was clutching the 8 ball. And he looked at me and said “What you looking at?”

Everyone laughs.

E: I remember looking at him thinking, “there’s some weirdo crouching in the corner”. I remember that very vividly.

Jean; I have one really vivid memory of the On Broadway.  It was me and Janis, and Faith No Man (not an error, that was Faith No More’s original name) was playing, and Courtney Love came on, and was singing. Janis and I ran out of the club screaming with our fingers in our ears and saying, “I never want to be in a band again if this is what music has come to.”

E: That’s hilarious

C: You didn’t know her at that time?

Jan: No

Jean: And then later Janis actually was in a band with her, and she remembered we had this experience. I was traveling around the country. And Janis said “Oh Jeannie you’re going to hate this.” And you were right.

E: That’s so funny, because just last night I was doing a loadout at the Design Center and there was some guy, a  fairly younger guy who was wearing a Faith No More t shirt. But he had that original logo you know from the Mordam days, from the Ruth Schwartz’s record. I asked him “Oh,do you know those guys?” I suddenly realized that back in the day,  if you saw somebody with a Faith No More shirt,  we would just naturally assume that they were friends with them, you know? Because it was all part of our scene. But I was looking at the guy. He was younger, and so I thought, Oh he’s probably more just like a fan, and maybe never seen the band. But then it turns out that it he’s some guy who’s got a shop of some kind over at Soundwave in Oakland. So he goes “Yeah they’re my neighbors.” It’s so funny that   You just brought up that Faith No Man thing. I was glad that somebody like this guy actually knows them.

C: It was a different world back then where if you if you saw someone wearing a punk rock shirt, you were like…..

Jan: Oh, I can talk to you.

C: You’re part of my tribe.

E: I was thinking the same thing because I saw some woman with blue hair as I was walking past a restaurant and I thought, “Oh, there was a time when I would have assumed that was somebody who was part of my tribe.”

C: But now everybody’s doing it!

Jan: There was a time when you could run up to any guy that had just shaved their head, and go run your hand over it and say “OOOHH” and they would go “AAAhhh”.  You know they wouldn’t get mad. Or think you’re a weird old lady.

E: Yeah, I have memories of you guys (Lee Kwan) but they’re like nondescript memories, like memories of standing outside the Hotel Utah and talking.

C: Kind of snapshot memories …

E: More like early early video memories or when you had a Super 8  camera. So, like they’re moving picture but they don’t have sound.

C:Yeah.

E: I don’t really necessarily remember what we were talking about. Beyond the fact of just knowing that I really liked you guys. I mean obviously, I mean that was a life changer for me. That first time I saw you at the Hotel Utah, I saw life changing after that. That totally just changed the trajectory of my life. You know. I was out in Marin. I was in a big gloomy funk for like a year.

 C: You think Erik if we hadn’t shown up in the park that day, we wouldn’t have met? I think we probably would have met at some point.

E: I don’t know. I don’t know if we would have. We might. Well we very possibly might not have. Because I had dropped out of the San Francisco scene although I don’t know why. it’s really funny.

Jan: Because it was so hard to get there.

C: Were you depressed about the loss of your singer? Maybe, or was that much earlier?

E: My best friend Ricky Paul had hung himself.

C: Yeah that’s it. I was referring to that. I’m sorry I didn’t remember him being your best friend.

E: Yeah, he was a really close friend of mine. And then I had broken up with my girlfriend at the time but I don’t know why, but I was just like in this like dark spot. I remember. I remember sitting around, listening in my room to….That whole year I listened to almost nothing but the first two Joy Division records

Jean: Oh God

E: The Meat Puppets records and the first two REM records like Murmur and Reckoning or whatever. And then Meat Puppets doing Up On the Sun, and the two Joy Division records Closer and Unknown Pleasures. And I was off being gloomy and everything like that. And then I was working at the record store. I guess I was I don’t know what’s going on but then I met you and I went and I was just like “this is cool” and  I went to go see your band. I think it was cause I was like …I got excited about something.

C: You thought Janis was cute and you wanted to come see …..

Jean: Janis is like bubbly and happy…..

E: Definitely. The reason I was certainly like…. you know… you’re right because she’s so bubbly and happy.

Jean: Everybody feels like, you know you meet Janice and she’s like “I’m your friend” you know.

E: And that’s what I thought. And it was all so cool that you guys came out on your scooters or scooter or something.

Jean: Yeah. We did

E: I remembered thinking that was cool in itself. And it felt like you had some sort of an interesting community. I think it was either at the first time I saw you, or the second time I saw you, I said that I was going to be your groupie.

Buchanan St. house Xmas card. Jeanie and Janis are standing, Michael is crouched at the bottom

Everyone: Yeah I remember that.

Jan: I remember you telling me.

C:  Yeah. I thought ‘That’s cool.”

Jan: We made it!

C: Oh My favorite memory, Erik-and this was a little bit later on. We, you and I, had decided that we were gonna be alcoholics. Do you remember this? So we had gone out, and I think it was just me and you, or maybe we went out with the whole group. We got really trashed. And we were at Buchanan Street the next day, and I remember waking up on the couch, and you came in with two beers. And we opened them up, and put them on the table, and then we just looked at each other. And you were like ‘I don’t think I can do this.” I said “I don’t think so either”, and you’re like “oh man….we’ve failed at being alcoholics.”

Chilling at the Buchanan St. house, left to right Carmela, Jeanie, Erik, Tom and Janis

E; Yeah you know what I think? It’s really interesting. I think that our memories are there. It just takes opening the door, because they can be locked up so long. It’s just like if you have everything in the drawer and you actually open it and say “Oh there’s that.” It breaks open the memory.

C: I have read that people store different memories for each other. So like I might store something about you, and you don’t remember it, but I’ve got it there for you.  It’s kind of a weird, I guess, like a social memory or something.

Jan: Yeah, I was thinking that on stage there’s no memory – it might be because you’re working with it. It’s either in a different place, or you’re not making short term memory from it.

Jean: Because you’re concentrating. You’re doing a muscle memory thing, you know.

Jan: Either it’s either in a different place or it isn’t committed to being a true memory.

C:  Thank you. Yeah. You both are kind of hitting the nail on head. It’s not a short-term memory, it’s a muscle memory. So, you’re just access it’s like a computer- you’re accessing that file and playing it, and it’s not really creating something new.

Jean: Or you know, somebody gets on stage and hits you with a chair. Yeah.

Lee Kwan promo kit. Yes, we were serious.
Lee Kwan lives! At the Jackson Saints Haight St Fair reunion, left to right Kern, Jeanie, Janis, Alfie and Carmela

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Panic In Detroit

greystone

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

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

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

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

T: Really?

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

MI0001404477

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

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

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

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

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

T: Yeah “Faggot vegetarians”

G: Didn’t he have salad for us?

T: He had something.

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

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

T: He was barbecuing

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

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

C: I don’t remember that.

G: That’s great!

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

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

All laugh

G: And we’d be pissed.

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

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

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

G: I thought the club name was Graceland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G: No,  I didn’t get that either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: I don’t think there was much.

G: I don’t either

C: Did he fire the gun?

T: No

G: No

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

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

C: So, you didn’t see the car?

G: The car came through.

C: You saw it?

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

T: But you never saw the car.

G: I did see the car.

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

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

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

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

T: Those kids were his minions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: Yeah, like helicopters

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

G: No

T: No

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

G:  I never saw him, …uh

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

G: He probably pulled it out and drove.

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

G: But I think we left really quickly.

T: Left? Where did we go?

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

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

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

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

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

G: Did we sleep there?

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

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

G: “There’s still beer left!”

T: “We’re not driving to Wisconsin!”

G: Where would we have gone?

C: (To Tom) Did you come upstairs?

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

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

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

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

G: Isn’t tour all about distractions?

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

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

C: And beer!

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

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

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

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

G: Yeah

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

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

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

G: I think we left

T: But where did we go?

G: I don’t know but I think we left

C: Did we go get a motel?  Motel 6?

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: I think we were heading towards Wisconsin.

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

T: Just grabbed a motel?

G: Yeah

C: Was George with us?

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

C: Did we have George with us?

T: Yeah, that was a George tour.

C: Where was George?

T: George was there.

C: Was he downstairs with you guys?

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

C: Was he off with some girl?

T: George got laid more than anybody.

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

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

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

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

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

G: Oh, is this the place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: What?

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

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

T: Ha

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

T: Wow so it was a big incident then.

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

G: Jesus

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

T: I thought he died.

C: I thought he died too.

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

G: That’s what I think too. 4 door.

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

G; Yep that’s it. Brownish.

T: Wow maybe it was still there then.

G: That’s the color that I have too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T: “I’m giving up shows for Lent!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

greystone today

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

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

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

breaux bridge

SHORT DOGS GROW: BREAUX BRIDGE, LOUISIANA

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

thirdking

CAMELTOE: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Metallica. Who we never have met.

denton_texas_water_tower600x350px

CAMELTOE: DALLAS, TEXAS

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

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

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

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

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

seattle_kerry_park

HELLFIRE CHOIR: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

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

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

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

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

 

steamboat springs

HELLFIRE CHOIR: STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, COLORADO

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

monterey

COOKIE MONGOLOID: SAN FRANCISCO

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

“Coming home from a gig?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Remembering The Sound Of Music And Punk’s Tenderloin Roots

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

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

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

Photo: Jeanne M. Hansen/Lise Stampfli

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

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

Photo: Google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco Politics: Jello Biafra and Sister Boom Boom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flyer from VIS lounge. What an awesome lineup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi Stacey!”

“WHO IS STACEY??!!!!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t touch it!!!” I yelled.

“Why?” Tom asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the plan? “ Greg asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The second album Choke On This.

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

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

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

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

Head For The Border

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

Oh Canada

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

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Pic 1.Greg takes us to the border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

short dogs van loft

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

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

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

Ole Mexico

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

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

Whack. “Mel”

Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”

Whack. “Mel”

Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”

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

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

The doorbell started ringing.

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

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

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

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

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

Oi! Oi! Oi! England!

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

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Pic 5. Crueller sets up merch while Crumb supervises.

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

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

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

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

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

information society

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

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

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

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

BarryManilowJoint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

“Well, “ he said, “former manager.”

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

green river promo photo

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

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

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

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

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

cow palace poster

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

backstage pass cow palace

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

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

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.

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

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

mike and I with ukes

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.

What Do You Want From Live?

quay lewd

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

remote control

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

Bruce

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

Prairie-prince-with-the-new-cars

Prairie Prince, playing with The Cars, 2006