I was just at a party this weekend on the 4th of July out here in LA. It was at our old friend Edwin’s place, up in Lincoln Heights, with a spectacular view of downtown LA and Dodger Stadium, Hollywood and the East Side, and on a clear day all the way crosstown to the Pacific. On July 4th it’s an ideal spot to watch the city erupt in pyrotechnic frenzy. Edwin and I go back quite aways; I’ve known him since the early punk days back in Santa Barbara, from ’78 through ’80.
The party began a little slow but grew incredibly crowded and then wound up absolutely surreal. What a maelstrom of fireworks. They were coming from everywhere. It was wild. Even wilder was the fire started by an errant rocket in the empty lot on the steep slope in front of Edwin’s; the brush and trees went up like mad. Neighbors watered down their roofs as mothers hustled their broods to safety. And hipsters were fleeing in high-heeled panic. Car horns, yells, cackling laughter, sirens, flashing red lights, swooping helicopters. The first load of water they dropped missed the flames but soaked Tracy of the local weirdo band the Hindenburg Ground Crew. He retreated, sopping wet. There was a big Wurlitzer organ on Edwin’s lawn and someone was playing “Light My Fire”. And the Roman Candles and screaming Fizzbusters and bottle rockets and cherry bombs and M-80’s and M-40’s and machine gun strings of firecrackers never let up for a moment. In the middle of all the giddy madness I began joking aloud, and another older guy there made a wisecrack back, and suddenly we realized that we knew each other from a long time ago. It was George, aka Al Poe, a long lost friend from the Santa Barbara daze a quarter century before…. We sat and drank beer and smoked weed and shouted about old times over the din of the helicopters. We laughed a lot and then went over the list of folks no longer around….Chuck aka Kid Basterd, Dan DeManne, Eric Pace. George said 315 was dead. I looked stunned. He said it was in the Santa Barbara News-Press. Someone had told him over the phone. We both grew pensive just for a moment.
Back in those heady and heedless days, when punk was brand new and funny and scary and unbelievably radical, Santa Barbara had a small but frenzied scene that matched, for a fleeting moment, the madness and invention of any scene anywhere, whether London, New York, the Masque in Hollywood. I plunged into it a little late, but there was already a legendary figure–315. I knew his sisters, but Three was just this crazy quilt of stories and tall tales and jokes (such as the acid trip that wound up with his sister Nancy renamed Verandah and Bill rechristened as 315) . My then-girlfriend, now wife, Fyl knew him well, as did George, and, well, everyone. I can’t remember where he had gone to. A few months later the scene in Santa Barbara suddenly went limp everyone split for New York or Frisco or Hollywood (and eventually Silver Lake, where we wound up). 315 showed a few months later in LA. This was 1980-81. I can’t remember where he was staying, but he was with his vivacious and completely mad young girlfriend Mary Toole. There’d be these parties at yet another Wells sister Mary’s house down in Culver City. Everybody high, and everybody talking at once. Crazy crazy music on the stereo. And what a character he was, dominating parties already packed full of crazed personalities. He was older than us, by several years, and that age difference seemed to give his particular form of craziness a sense of authenticity. An electricity or magnetism that comes from sheer iconoclastic orneriness, I guess. I remember Billy Zoom would come by, with his peculiar sense of solemnity. It was all punk and rockabilly and wild conversation and the rarified air of pure inspiration. 315 and I got the drunkest I have ever been in my life at those bashes. Then a bit later he and Mary Toole up and split for Atlanta. We called them a couple times; you could reach them at some noisy watering hole the name of which escapes me now. I remember he was picking up a southern twang. Then we lost touch, and 315 passed into legend. We became completely enmeshed in the evolving LA music underground. And then jazz. Where we remain. But whenever the survivors of that old Santa Barbara scene would gather, 315’s name always came up. And no one ever knew what he was up to anymore, except that it could not possibly have been ordinary. No one had his phone number, or an email address. We just all hoped to see him again. Then, finally, I run into George and he tells me 315 is dead.
It’s hard to grieve much with helicopters circling a hundred feet overhead. All around was anarchy, glorious anarchy–panic on the one side, party on the other. The Eastside sky was lit with pyrotechnics from every stadium and seemingly every backyard as far as you could see. Across the lane Fyl watched the advancing fire, fascinated. Edwin was by turns hosting and trying to get a bucket brigade organized. I watched as a friend was pressed into symbolic service, pointing a waterless hose in the direction of the flames. It’s the thought that counts, I guess. An addled woman parked her car in the middle of the street and then disappeared. A fire truck arrived and pleaded for a parking space. Enormous mega-cherry bombs resounded from somewhere, echoing everywhere. Roman candles burst overhead in red and green. When someone turned and asked me if we should evacuate too and I said “What? And miss all this?” It was “Apocalypse Now” for aging punk rockers. Best 4th of July ever.
The Fire Department got there just in time. No one was hurt, no structures damaged. That Edwin sure knows how to throw a party.
I’m sure 315 would have dug it. Rest in Peace, man. Rest in fucking peace.