ON Klub

[Just found this amid the drafts, it appears to have been pieced together from various bits and might be ten years old, and some of it perhaps twenty or thirty years old, I don’t remember. It’s a rough draft, obviously, but I’ll leave as is.]

Someone asked about the ON Klub. In Silver Lake, right? On Sunset? Facebook archaeology. Look for the old people that remember. A few of us did. Had actually been there even. I could even recite the address, though how I have no idea. But it was 3037 W. Sunset. Silverlake–it was one word then, though it’s back to two again now–was terra incognita then. People knew Hollywood, and people knew Echo Park was next to Dodger Stadium, but Silverlake was an amorphous area inbetween, and it’s stretch of Sunset Blvd was dimly lit and dark shadowed as night fell, dingy old gay bars and botanicas and liquor stores and abandoned storefronts. Everything old and if not quite falling down, aging less than gracefully. You could tell that a generation or two before this area had been something. If you dared to turn left or right and chugged up the steep hill in whatever beat up seventies lemon you were stuck in (it was the end of a decade of terrible American industrial workmanship, when everything was built just to break down, and a whole nation was topographically divided by whether the car could make it up that hill or not) the darkness would close in around you, the houses hidden behind steel bars and lush foliage, the apartment buildings peeling and battered, and who were those sketchy guys on the sidewalk? The streets twisted upon themselves immediately, dead ended or narrowed to the width of a single car and Sunset Blvd disappeared somewhere back there and you were lost, instantly. We were new in town, just a year or two, and lived in East Hollywood with the Armenians and Mexicans and gays and losers and ancient people who tended roses in yards in front of old clapboard houses they’d lived in since the silent days. We never explored Silverlake. We’d pass through it on the way downtown till we figured out a quicker route. But that was it.

Our car had died and we were dependent on the RTD–now MTA–for transportation for a year. That was a drag. You miss a lot of things that way. At some point we scraped up enough cash for a car and bought a Pinto. They were homely and cheap and deadly in a collision. Ours was blue and it rattled and it never saw the fast lane of a freeway. But it was wheels. I’m pretty sure this was the car we first went to the ON Klub in. We kept reading about the place in the LA Reader–never bothered with the LA Weekly back then, the Reader was much hipper and Matt Groening wrote the music column–and all these bands I’d hear on KXLU occasionally seemed to be playing there. Weird bands, crazy bands, punk rock bands that annoyed everybody. We had to go there. It was a Saturday night. We’d worked our shit jobs that week and collected our paychecks. Put almost enough in the bank to cover the bills, and the rest in our pockets. ATM cards didn’t exist yet, and credit cards were beyond most of us. It was a cash only economy at our level. Cheap restaurants, cheap clubs, cheap beer and rag weed. We had apparently just smoked a whole joint’s worth because I remember being stoned out of our minds as we crept down a darkened Sunset Boulevard looking for the address. We went right past it at least once, turned around, and headed back. 3037 Sunset, that’s it. There was a marquee I think above the door. I think it said Oriental Nights. Maybe it said ON Klub too. I can’t remember if that K was to make it punk rock or if it was some affectation left over from its history as a rather notorious gay bar from the days before Stonewall. Silver Lake–two words way back then–had been a center and hide out for Hollywood’s gays since the twenties. Fyl once described a bus trip down Sunset sitting behind two elderly queens. As the bus made its way slowly along, these two kept pointing to their old haunts and reminiscing. Remember that place? Oh and that one? Mary, this, Mary that. The Silver Lake Lounge. The Black Cat Tavern. Oriental Nights was one. They giggled and whispered something about the place. By the time she got off the bus downtown she’d had the whole tour. But that was twenty years later. I have no idea what we thought the place had been as we entered that night. You didn’t really ask questions about punk rock clubs, you just took them as they came, hoping it would last more than a week. When you’re twenty something the past isn’t especially important anyway. Or shouldn’t be.

The place was a dive. It was old, built into a hillside, almost a cliff, it was almost like it was built into a cavern. East Hollywood was flat as Kansas but here just two miles away weird bars were excavated into bedrock and the neighborhoods clung to hillsides along streets undulating who knows where. It was a different world. Gays and hippies and vatos, ancient bohemians and chattering Filipinos and breathtakingly beautiful Latinas that returned your stare with a sneer. It didn’t feel like home, yet, but I liked it. We found parking along Sunset somewhere near the joint and went in.

Think the place began booking punk around 1981? But only for a couple years. It was there for years afterward, first an empty shell, lonely and sad and weed choked, and then was a film studio storage place or something for decades, might still be. I don’t remember as much ska there as later at the ON Klub in Hollywood. I remember some really nuts underground shit, though. Nip Drivers in 82 or 83 remains one of my favorite shows ever, it was demented, plus some guy was fucking with Fyl and she poured her drink over his head, but it was the wrong guy, and he got mad, and Fyl told him to fuck off, and he got madder, and she told him to fuck off, bitch, so he got even madder, all dripping and sticky, and I told him to leave (think I just pointed at the door) which he did, but he wrote us a nasty personal ad in the LA Reader, called me a “hulking boyfriend”, which we still have pressed in a photo album somewhere. I loved punk rock.

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Sham 69

I saw Sham 69 at the Whiskey (the Dead Kennedys opened) back in 1979. Right there on the Sunset Strip. Great set. I loved Sham 69. Loved that first album. OK, it was dumb. Way dumb. The Ramones looked like intellectuals compared to Sham 69. What about the people who are lonely?/You don’t really give a shit/People that you never meet. It wasn’t exactly poetry. It was oi. Oi! None of us Californians had ever even heard somebody say oi! before punk rock. Now snot nosed rich punks from Pacific Palisades would say oi! Oi? Yeah, oi! It was a very deep time. The hippies had Dylan. The Beats had Ginsberg. And punks had oi. Well not all punks. Just the less coherent ones. Swilling beers and yelling oi! They don’t say it now, though, they are lawyers. But this was 1979, and they were all here at the Whiskey for Sham 69. Though criminal as they tried desperately to look, none of them stole the microphone when Jimmy Pursey, the singer, stuck the microphone in the audience for the sing along. A bit of English football camaraderie, that. If the Kids are United we all chanted, they shall never be united. Deep stuff. Rhymed even. To this day when I hear that ferocious guitar riff I can’t help singing along, me, a very late middle aged jazz critic, singing if the kids are united, they can never be divided.

Sham 69 did White Riot in their encore, too, the Clash song. Jimmy Pursey stuck the microphone into the crowd again and the kids all sang I wanna riot, a riot of my own! They repeated it. Repeated it again. And started to repeat it one more time when the microphone cut out. Jimmy pulled the microphoneless cord back from the crowd and shrugged. They’ve stolen the microphone a stage hand yelled. The band roared on, Jimmy grabbed another mic and finished the tune. The audience was mad with testosterone, swirling, bouncing, pushing and shoving. It was a moment of punk rock heaven. Meanwhile the stage was flooded by stage hands and sound men and bouncers peering into the boiling mass, looking for the culprit. No one leaves till we get the microphone back someone announced over the PA.

Let me explain. I was in a punk rock band then, the drummer, and we had drums and guitars and amplifiers and even an avocado ranch to practice at. But we didn’t have a microphone. Our singer had to scream bloody murder to be heard above our proto hardcore din. Suddenly right there in front of me was this beautiful, state of the art, zillion dollar microphone. Being a drummer, I didn’t make the connection between it and us, but my guitar player–who shall remain nameless, as he has three beautiful daughters and a grandchild–did. Take the mic, he yelled into my ear. What? Take the mic! Steal the mic! We need a mic! So I stole it. It took a tug or two but it came off the cord. I stood there in the packed crowd, staring at it. Hide it! my guitar player yelled. Hide the mic! Stick it in your pants! So I did, hoping it would pass for a rather impressive hard on.

A small army of bouncers began moving through the crowd. Big dudes, muscular, mean. The sound man announced that someone had stolen the microphone and no one was going to leave till it was returned. They began patting people down on the floor. We better return the mic I said, stupidly. My guitar rolled his eyes. Then they’ll know that you stole it, he said. It dawned on me that it was actually me who had stolen it, and it was in my pants, feigning manhood. I must have looked panicky. Drop it on the floor, my guitar player said, and we’ll tell them we found it. So I retrieved it from my pants and dropped it on the floor. He picked it up and yelled Hey! We found it! We found it! He held the microphone aloft for all to see. Several bouncers rushed over. He found it, one said. He found it said another. My guitar player said and since we found it for you can we go backstage and meet the band? The bouncers rolled their eyes. C’mon, we found this expensive microphone for you! He whined like that for thirty seconds. OK, alright, let them backstage for a minute. And lucky felons that we were, we were led through the mass of sweating kids, past several other bouncers and either up or down some ancient stair to the backstage area.

It wasn’t what I expected. No lush chairs. No cocaine on mahogany tables. No greenless M&Ms. And the girls appeared perfectly nice and fully clad. Someone with an English accent said these guys found the microphone and want to meet the band. The girls rolled their eyes prettily. We were led into another room and there, exhausted, was Sham 69. Oh my god, real rock stars. It was like meeting the Rolling Stones in 1965, if the Rolling Stones were midgets. Because Sham 69 were dinky, like five foot tall. Well, five foot four maybe. We towered over them. I remember them peering up through exhausted eyes. Back home guys our size were always trouble, the toughest football hooligans. Here we were just kleptomaniac punk rockers. I shook Jimmy Pursey’s hand. You were great, I said, with genuine originality. Fanks, he said.

Their manager ushered us out again. C’mon now, the lads have another set to do. Back up (or down) the stairs we went, thanking the bouncers profusely. They thanked us for finding the microphone. You guys really helped us out, they said. Most people would have tried to steal it. I still feel a tinge rotten about that. Then they let us out a back door and into the December night, where the punks were chucking beers at passing cars.

Meanwhile a buddy of mine I didn’t know yet mouthed off to the bouncer at the door when they tried to search him for the microphone. I don’t have your fucking mic he said and got worked over good. Beat up by bouncers at the Whiskey for being such a punk. He told me this twenty years later and I laughed it was so funny but I bought him a beer for his pain. When he reads this I’ll have to buy him a whole six pack.

sham 69 buttons

(And I don’t want to use without permission, but there is a great live shot of Sham 69 at the Whiskey by the Jenny Lens here.)

This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.

Raji’s

(2011)

.
Heard the Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Mam” over the weekend and it’s been going thru my head, and just found myself wiki-ing Steve Marriott to see when exactly he died. I remembered he was an old geezer at the time, one of my heroes. Well, that was 1991, and he was the ancient age of 44. I was 34 then. Funny how ten years seemed a much longer time when you’re 34 than when you’re 54. But there was that whole musical revolution between us, too. He was a hippie, me a punk. But goddam was Steve Marriott cool. I remember being hit kinda hard when he died.  I suppose all the Humble Pie I’d grown up on. Then a couple days later when Johnny Thunders died it was more of a thank god he’s finally gone, that pathetic junkie. Harsh, maybe, yeah. But he was. I’d known too many junkies and junkies-to-be that idolized him. Poor Johnny. He might be alive if he was his hero Keith Richards, maybe. The stupid, stubborn fuck. Great sound he had on that guitar, though. One of the great rock stylists. Of course he wasn’t original, but then neither was Keith Richards. So what, it’s just rock’n’roll. Not art, just great rock’n’roll.

I was at Raji’s a couple weekends after the two of them died, at the bar upstairs. It was the coolest joint in Hollywood for a stretch there, God what a place that was in its glory days. Anyway I was at the bar there in the upstairs lobby talking about Steve Marriott dying with some pal of mine, can’t remember who. There was one of those Hastings Hotel junkies standing next to me, listening. He woke up. Steve Marriott is dead? Yeah, man, a couple weeks ago. He shook his head…..oh man. Yeah, he died just before Johnny Thunders died. Silence for a long second. Johnny Thunders is dead? I said yeah. Oh man. He shook his head and you could nearly see emotion on his face, and he slunk off.

That’s that story. The junkie wandering off into oblivion, all his heroes dead or dying. Nowadays you’d say LOL. Back then we just watched and shook our heads. Sometimes I wonder what happened to all those junkies when they tore the place down? I wonder if any are still even alive. Maybe the found Jesus. Or L. Ron Hubbard. LOL.

Actually, one of the most heartbreaking incidents in my entire life happened at Raji’s, though I didn’t know it at the time. Maybe you remember how the Hastings Hotel upstairs was notorious as a hang out for old queens and the young men who serviced them, the skinniest, creepiest, saddest little fags you ever saw in your life. You rarely saw the old queens, though. They were more into chanteuses and drag bars, like the Gaslight a few blocks over, but the kids, all in their teens and twenties, would sometimes hang inside Raji’s for the rock’n’roll and because so many of them were strung out and hell, so was a lot of the Raji’s crowd, gawd bless ’em. Well, way back in the early 80’s before there even was a club at Raji’s (it was all about the Cathay de Grande then, a couple blocks west) me and my buddy Chuck were trying to put a band together (which was realized in the madness known as Renfield Brick, but that’s another story.) One of the guys we tried out for a while was this kid we’ll call Ron. Ron from Ventura. He was a tall, lanky, good looking rock’n’roll kid, a great guy. He was paired up with Connie, one of those hot Debbie Harry-esque blondes all us guys were so taken with back in that era. Connie (we’ll call her Connie) was a hottie, too, a tightly built badass little thing. Everyone wanted to do her, even girls wanted to do her, but she and Ron were tight, to the point where Ron’n’Connie became like Brick’n’Fyl–one name. Anyway, they all lived downtown in a loft at 5th and Los Angeles, right at the epicenter of Skid Row, this horrible, stripped ancient wreck of a turn of the century flop house. It looked like what was left of Berlin in 1945. A great place for band practice, but a horrible place to live. (Remember the Fear song: “A man with no legs crawling down 5th street/Trying to die or get something to eat?” It was exactly like that outside.) Heroin, you’ll remember, was sold openly–no, blatantly–on Spring Street just a couple blocks over. You put some kids in the 20’s and heroin next to each other and experimentation is inevitable. A little chipping. They still call it that, just chipping a little smack. Just for kicks. Chipping turns into a habit in no time, sometimes just a couple weeks. Every one of the kids living there got strung out. Every fucking one. Even my best friend Chuck, who’s buried on a shady hillside far from all this. But I thought Ron had been spared. He and Connie moved out soon enough, into Hollywood. But Ron had been chipping afterall. Connie hadn’t. You can score junk readily in Hollywood too, a better class of junk off a better class of dealers. Go from that black tar crap to the nice white stuff preferred by rock stars. Soon Ron wasn’t just chipping anymore. I didn’t know that, though, and wouldn’t have believed it anyway. Not Ron. I did hear later that Ron’n’Connie were sundered, split into two words again. But she was a hot blonde chick, and hot blonde chicks who move to Hollywood from the sticks always eventually split their small town men. You can sleep with a better class of men in Hollywood, stars even. Amazing how hard and cynical you get in this town after a too many years living here, but that’s how we saw it then. And I had no idea she split because he was a junkie. Or maybe she split because he was chipping and then he became a junkie. That way you can pin the blame on her. I put the blame on him. My pal on her…but they’d dated somewhere at some point and he was still bitter years later. But who really knows why Ron and Connie split, and I lost track of him completely. Forgot about the two of them. We were busy, our lives full and exciting and that was so long ago and insignificant.

Five or six years later (an eternity at that age) I’m at Raji’s. Maybe 1990. This ghostly figure, thinner than thin, pale, made up and in ghastly drag right down to the ridiculous nail polish sidled up next to me while I was watching some band. Hi Brick. I looked and didn’t recognize him but said hi back. He tried to make conversation and if I remember right he even told me his name but I didn’t know who the fuck he was and he realized it and said see ya and so did I, ever polite. I remember he looked kinda hurt but seemed resigned about it. I’d been around the scene a long time and a zillion more people know me than I know them and my memory has been so wrecked by epileptic seizures that I’m used to not recognizing people. He was just another of those people I don’t recognize.  Raji’s was full of freaks, anyway, like all the best clubs were back then, and I was pretty buff in  those days and was used to confused if gutsy queers hitting on me every once in a while (thought typically they wore leather.) But there was something a little disconcerting about this time, like maybe I did know the guy somehow, enough so that it hung with me for a long time. But hey, that’s life in the big city. These were hard ass times, the tail end of the Reagan Bush years. Everyone was broke, embittered, fucked over and surviving despite all that. No room for sentimentality. Fuck all that. The world would end any day anyhow, the streets are full of crackheads, cops are shooting people, AIDS is epidemic and no one gives a fuck about us anyway. We just wanted to rock out, raise hell, fuck and party. Whoever the hell that dude/dudette was certainly never bothered me any.

Years later I was talking with a pal about Ron’n’Connie. Asked whatever happened to them. Connie was married or divorced maybe and working at a studio somewhere, just another aging blonde at some shit studio job in Hollywood. And Ron? My buddy looked at me funny. He’s dead, didn’t you hear? OD’d. They found him dead at the Hastings Hotel. What the fuck? He overdosed? Yeah, he was living there at the Hastings. Totally strung out. He was doing the old queens upstairs just to score enough shit to keep him going. He wore make up and painted his nails and was just this side of being a drag queen. He was a male whore. I looked stunned. Sorry. I thought you knew. No, I’d had no idea. Yeah, man, it was the saddest thing ever. Sadder than sad. It was better that he died, since he was already dead.

Fuck. Ron? Our Ron?

Yeah, Ron.

Holy Jesus.

And suddenly I realized who that ghostly figure had been–or once been–at Raji’s years before.  Why he came across like we were friends. Because we had been. Hell, we’d been band mates for a little while, something deeper than being a friend. We’d made rock’n’roll together. We’d hung out and played records and argued music and drank and smoked big fat joints and watched girls walk by and talked about their legs and asses. All the stuff young men do…. My heart just broke. Man, this town is rough.

Of course, the building that comprised the Hastings Hotel on the upper floors and Rajis underneath is long gone, a victim of the Northridge Earthquake. It’s a parking lot now. Every parking lot in Hollywood was once something else. We used to hang out in the parking lot behind Raji’s and pass joints around. We’d take deep hits and keep an eye out for cops. Then we’d all go back into Raji’s through the back entrance because the bouncer was cool and we’d rock out to the next band.  What a scene. What a blast. None of us knew then that the parking lot in back had once been the Hollywood Legion Stadium, the boxing ring. The stars would all hang there to watch the fights and bet and mingle with the mob. It was one of the hottest places in all Hollywood during Hollywood’s glory days.  Now you’d park your car there. $5 most nights. Today that lot is the Hollywood Athletic club, and where Raji’s stood is a parking lot. $10. Being a parking lot, there are no ghosts at all. Memories blow over the asphalt till the rememberers die. Then there’s nothing left at all. When that time comes, Ron will cease existing altogether. Not a trace left. Not a memory, not a name, not a meme. Like he’d never been.

Nothing beside remains.

Nothing beside remains.

Spike

(2014)

More memories from Spike. He’s now living the life of a retired insurance executive down in the tropics. We could sit over beers with Spike down at his perfect émigré abode in Mérida, ruins of ancient civilizations all around, and discuss old times. Un otra Pacifico por favor. A bowl of chops and guacamole, the sauce is very hot. The fan would spin slowly overhead and flies would buzz and we’d sip the ice cold beer and remember old times, laughing. Until then, though, he’s in Mérida and we’re still in LA and we chatter away over Facebook. He posts photos–I can’t believe all these photos–from thirty some years ago and brings back memories. We reminisce, combing the memories, teasing a narrative out of them. It’s a ball. Good times. Bad times, too, but they turn into good times with time. Younger days, crazy times. He digs up an account of a notorious party, only twenty seven words, and a whole universe comes rushing back, the feel of it, the sounds, sights, smells (cheap pot and poppers, mostly), the raw creativity of it all, in everything we did….

xxx

Craig Lee’s review of World Zero’s debut in the LA Weekly from 1983, I think.

We missed the fight–and the gig–because the little security guard out front wouldn’t let us in. This was Melrose and Western on the fringes of Hollywood in the bad ol’ daze where big scary drag queens hung out and mugged people and the security guard took one look at my big combat booted punk rock hulkingness and my wife’s fearless insults and death stares (not to mention all the beer we were carrying) and he hid behind the gate and wouldn’t let us in. No come in! No come in! There was a lot of commotion inside, feedback, laughter, shouting. Some sort of punk rock catharsis and there we were, out on the sidewalk. We’re invited we said. No come in! No come in! Go get Spike, he’ll let us in! But Spike wasn’t in condition to let anybody in. Spike was bleeding. Not that we knew that at the time. We just thought it was a helluva party. Feedback, shouting, laughter and curses meant good times back then. Go get Spike! No come in, he said. We gave up. I’m sure we were very nice about it. The next day we heard the eyewitness account from Chuck and Ellen. Ellen laughed her famous laugh. Some crazy chick had sucker punched Spike. Blood everywhere. Never did find out why. Did there have to be a reason? When we read Craig Lee’s blurb in the LA Weekly–it’s probably in our scrapbook–we probably said more nice things about the security guard. People said World Zero was good. Said you guys missed a good one. Don’t blame us, we said, we were outside with the beer. Well, you’ll see them next time. Big things were portended. Post-punk. New Romantic? No, post-punk. I was relieved. I loved post-punk, not much into New-Ro (or was it Nu-Ro?). Besides I couldn’t imagine Spike doing anything that wasn’t intense. I remember him in Publik Enema in ’78 or ’79. He blew my mind. I’d never seen a singer like that. Or a band like that. That band helped change everything I thought about rock’n’roll at the time. Like how you could completely reinvent it, and scare people, and blow their minds. At the time there seemed nothing more important. I doubt Spike even realizes the impact he had on me. So I couldn’t wait to see World Zero. Alas, somehow I never did see them. In fact, I had gotten it in my head that they had never played another gig. That there was some spectacular blow up at the party, Spike getting punched out, the band imploding. One of those bands that played one gig and broke up and we still talk about them thirty years later. Actually, World Zero were around a year and recorded a demo and everything. Seems I had gotten World Zero confused with a band with another band with Spike, one that I was in. Think we were called Worm Farmer, though I have no idea where that name came from. We practiced intensely for a gig up in Santa Barbara we weren’t even on. The Goleta Valley Community Center. Every punk on the central coast was there, misbehaving. Someone snuck us on the stage. Spike never showed up. Well, he had, but he and I had stood on the steps earlier screaming at each other–who knows why–and he stormed off into the night. We played anyway. It went well, no one got punched out or anything, no blood, but we never played another one.

We still talk about that gig thirty years later, too. I was in bands in my thirties and even forties that played lots of gigs but didn’t have the same impact on me. I suppose life is much more intense in your twenties. Things are more vivid, they mean more. Everything is new. Thirty years on, we’ve seen it all before. Even if we haven’t it seems like we have. Even writing something like this, I swear I’d written it before. Maybe I did, once, in my head. Or maybe in a scrap of a letter I never sent. Probably not, though. The brain is just so used to hearing the same damn stories over and over it just assumes I’m repeating myself. It probably just reflects the ennui all about us. Just look around you. These are jaded days. Textured. Emotionally distant. Art is all concept, writing is sucked dry by irony, music is trapped in genres. Back then, though, those were different times. The poets, they acted weird as fuck, and the ladies, they made them cry.

Sarge

(1998)

It was last summer. A Sunday night in fact, in a little East Hollywood dive called the Garage. For years it had been a bath house called the Bunkhouse, all cowboy and leather, back when this neighborhood had been all bad boy and leather. That was before the Plague. I seem to recall wandering into to it once during it’s next, non-deviant phase, the name of which escapes me but it was something collegiate, pathetically so, being that the only college within miles was a battered City College a few blocks away. Then Silverlake came into vogue and someone bought the place and brought back the deviants and began booking bands on Sunday nights. Those Sundays became quite the chic hangout for the hungover crowd. The fact that the corner of Melrose and Virgil was not in Silverlake—not even “Silverlake adjacent” as the realtors say—did not prevent the various national magazines—the Rolling Stone’s and the Buzz’s and the Los Angeles’ and Hirsute Woman’s Whatever’s—from labeling it as such. From then on you could see a smattering of tourists mixing uneasily with the boys in leather and the punks and the jaded old scenesters.  But that‘s all ancient history.  I’m on my way to see the Nip Drivers.

Parking on Santa Monica was fucked as usual. I popped into Jay’s real quick for a burger (better than Tommy’s), then crossed Virgil there (right at the magic invisible line where Hollywood’s southeastern fringe meets Virgil Village; those hills back over my shoulder, that’s Silverlake…) and passed the permanently grafitti’d billboard.  This is varrio La Mirada Locos 13. I quicken my step. This is a marginal neighborhood, but getting better. Still, there’s a pretty unfriendly crowd over at the 7-11 parking lot. But that’s not the reason I pick up the pace. The Nip Drivers are on the bill tonight, and I can hear from a block away that they’ve already started.

You’ve probably never heard of the Nip Drivers. A little more ancient history, going all the way back to the mid-eighties. I’ve been a Nip Drivers fanatic from the moment I heard “Cindy” on Adam Bomb’s old show on KXLU.  Weird minor chords and keening vocals that suddenly lurch into fierce thrash and back again…. We went and saw them at the old O.N. Club (a long since abandoned cliffside hole on Sunset–I think that was the very first Silverlake club but don’t quote me on that) in what must’ve been 1984. It was a stunning show. Really, really weird. Weirdness for its own motherfucking sake. The bassist was so miniskirted skinny she looked frail, with an ancient, tiny, even frailer amp. The skinheaded drummer just wailed away, his kit skittering across the floor in all directions so he had to pull it back into formation after each song. The guitar player was good, laying out big jagged melodic chords. And this demented singer—he spent what seemed like the whole set hiding–crouched down behind a P.A. speaker, singing and engaging in snappy patter with the audience, telling us how much better he looked than us. The audience too seemed from another planet (I recall the late Craig Lee reviewed the show for one of the local papers and referred to the band and its following as the under-underground.)  This one weird looking skinhead in particular spent the entire set vibrating and jerking like an amphetamine St. Vitus dance. We were witnessing yet another example of that stunning reinvention of the whole concept of rock’n’roll that punk had unleashed and that LA’s South Bay was reinventing again through Black Flag and Saccharine Trust now this crazed bunch. It got nasty in the crowded club. The weirdos let loose, spazzing, freaking the normal people who reacted hissily. Some UCLA nerd looking dude bitched at my wife for standing in his way, blocking the view from his table. She dumped a beer on his head. He got up screaming a protest. I stared him down and out of the club. The band continued on its demented way. “Cindy” in particular soared.  This was 1984. America was hopelessly Reaganized. We sought escape and truth in madness in dank clubs dug out of the crumbling hillsides of Los Angeles.

Fifteen years later I pay my five bucks to get into the Garage. It’s maybe two or three songs into their set, the place was packed, the band wild, and I was back, back almost at the door. No idea of who else was in the joint. It was packed far beyond the legal limit. Just smoke and a sea of heads washing back and forth in the mosh. A nasty edge in the air. Very cool, very mid-80’s, and very nostalgic.

The moshing had gotten a little heavy up front, apparently. That inchoate bouncing electrons style, instead of the more ritualized swirling hurricane of the ’80’s.  Kids these days.… Then something about the bouncing bodies set me off that a brawl had broken out. A tremendous crush of leather clad punks and pretty boys came washing back, surging like a wave. The bar narrows towards the door, and the panicked bodies in front of me began piling up, so I went into the standard unlock-the-knees edge-of-the-pit stance. On they came. Some of that there’s-a-riot-goin’-on thrill began surging in my gut. The wave was on me, bodies actually lifted up off the floor, and there, where the floor narrowed down almost at the door, it crested and broke and spit out—Sarge!  Flying backward past me, bouncing on his ass, with a knot of six hardcore-looking dudes trying to untangle themselves to get at him. I couldn’t believe it. The nostalgia swept over me like deja vu.  Sarge picked himself up, ran up to me, yelled “that motherfucker hit me over the head with a bottle!” and threw himself right back into the maw. He grabbed one—apparently THE one—and threw him up against one of the booths and made to clobber him so hard that assuredly the stupid bastard’s jaw would’ve been busted clean, teeth scattering across the floor like chiclets. But half-a-dozen arms reached out and grabbed his arm, yanking it down. They then combinedly hurled him backward once again, past me, on his ass.  Sarge scrambled to his feet and made to go at them again. Now I had been watching this seconds-tick-like-minutes scene more bemused than alarmed. I’ve known Sarge for years, through his many fights.  I was there the night he was jumped by two big Huntington Beach punks at the Anti-Club, and he dispensed with them readily, biting off an earlobe in the process. (The sight of these big, spoiled rich thugs searching that filthy floor for the missing lobe is something I’ll never forget). And I’ve broken up a few of his confrontations when they were turning ugly or bad. But this was Sarge’s movie, and a great one it was. Sarge vs.half-a-dozen stupid punks (they would have been stupid metal-heads in ‘79) and beating a couple of their asses in the process. Still—there was one problem. So, as he got to his feet next to me I said into his ear— “Sarge you got two kids now.”  He looked at me. “But that motherfucker hit me on the head with a beer bottle!  Look!”  There was blood on his fingers. I just shrugged. He glared at the little motherfucker, now bottleless and scared silly. The motherfucker’s friends never moved, either. They kind of slunk back, feigning more interest in the show. It was a goddamned draw. Sarge vs. half-a-dozen punks. Sarge roaring—”If I ever find that sonofabitch by hisself I’ll kick his ass!” And he went outside to nurse his sore skull on the curb and complain loudly to all that would listen.

Some homeless black guy had been hanging out front, lackadaisically spare changing, mostly just talking. He went up to Sarge. “It ain’t worth it man. I been there, too. And it ain’t worth it.  Anymore violence ain’t gonna do you no good.” Sarge thought about it. “Thanks, man”, he said, “you’re right. I got kids.” And he reached into his pocket and gave this itinerant wise man a few bucks and went home.

Inside, the Nip Drivers just tore that place up. One of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

315

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.

(2007)

The Anti-Mogul (aka Long Gone John of SFTRI)

(Written for Noise Works, a Washington D.C. music zine, 1992)

The Headquarters of Sympathy For The Record Industry–perhaps the world’s pre-eminent truly independent label–is in Long Beach, California in a smallish house crammed to the eaves with record boxes and artwork and tapes; but also with paintings and wacky looking statues and ghoulish dolls and odd photos and little figurines and beggar’s bowls carved from human skulls. Everything. The office, far in the back, is the most crammed room of all–spikey death bronze pagan ritualistic voodoo punk rock’n’roll souvenir shit from floor to ceiling so that it’s almost sacred in some tattooed way–lots of weird funny cartoon art on display or in piles–Sympathy records and discs and paraphernalia everywhere…oh, and a desk, a little clutter of papers, a calendar and Long Gone John, self-proclaimed Anti-Mogul.  “Where’s your files?”  Dumb question.  “What files?  Here’s the receipts, here’s some mail.  There’s a couple of boxes in the garage….”

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