I remember at the house on Edgecliffe in the 80’s we had hundreds and hundreds of albums but I was so punk rock they were in no order whatsoever. Anarchy, I said. Sometimes if I was tired of hearing the same record every week—we were having parties almost weekly, loud obnoxious drunken punk rock parties that went on till dawn—I’d hide the record way in the back somewhere. Only the most determined digger—The Panther was the best—would flip through hundreds of LPs to find Sticky Fingers. Most would just pick something that looked cool and it might be some frenzied Yugoslavian punk rock or squealing Swiss saxophones or bad Lee Michaels. Then there’d be a drunken screech of the tone arm across once perfect vinyl, a pregnant few seconds, and Brown Sugar again.
So of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of trick or treaters that came to the door in South Pasadena last night, not one was done up as a punk rocker. Not even any of the giggling high school stoners scamming munchies. Punk rock is ancient history to grandkids. Too old. A lot of big inflatable dinosaurs last night, though. So maybe punk rock just isn’t ancient enough yet to be hip. Maybe some day kids will come to the door in big inflatable Sid Vicious costumes and they’ll be adorable and we’ll give them two candies each, one for them and one for Nancy.
[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.
For several years I used to have my record collection–maybe a thousand albums–in random order. Anarchy, I figured. It would drive people nuts at parties. Where’s the Stones? Oh they’re in there somewhere. Though they weren’t, I’d hidden them. And the Ramones. Was sick to death of hearing them at parties. But it was fun to watch the wasted party goers flipping past all these obscure LPs trying to find them. We had parties every week back then, loud obnoxious parties–I would hate living next door to that me now–and every week there was some poor sucker crouched over in a leather jacket looking for the Ramones. Finally I put the Stones and Ramones way at the back in the corner behind hundreds of other records and if anyone had patience enough to paw through the whole pile they’d find them. No one did for weeks. Not even The Panther, who loved the Stones more than life itself and hated Robin Trower (but that’s another story). Then one day while I was chatting up Pat Todd’s girlfriend someone yanked something weird and irritating I had playing off the turntable with a terrible screech. There was dead air for just a few seconds, and then duh duh, duh duh duh da. Brown Sugar. Egad. The whole roomed moaned and The Panther turned and smiled.
My wife made me alphabetize the records soon afterward. The punks were pleased. Anarchy is best left a theory, apparently.
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.
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.
The sexiest of all signs is Merging Buses Ahead. There was such a sign, too, on the Hollywood Freeway. I noticed the sign one night a zillion years ago when my bass player, stoned out of his mind, was driving us to a gig. Looking for a shortcut he suddenly pulled into the bus lane. We whizzed past the mystified people waiting at the bus stop and gunned our way back into the slow lane, saving maybe three seconds. As he was holding at least a quarter ounce, was ripped, had an expired driver’s license and an unpaid traffic ticket or two I thought his act showed unusual verve. Had I known the car was unregistered I would have awarded him even more verve. He always was a lucky bastard, though, and those three seconds seemed important. His luck later ran out when be blew a tire while tripping on acid at the Grand Canyon. Without a spare, he stood staring into the vast and infinite beauty of the canyon. Dusk was falling and the sandstones glowed a brilliant red and the whole universe seemed full of color. A park ranger stopped to help, discovered his DMV rap sheet and cuffed him. A drag, of course, though with all that blotter it seemed at the time rather groovy. Like I said, he was a bass player. Anyway, as we zipped past the people waiting for the bus and muscled our way back onto the freeway I noticed the sign on the left. Merging Buses Ahead. It seemed tremendously funny at the time. It became my sign. Some hippie or lady at work would ask me my sign. I’d say Merging Buses Ahead. It had just the right mixture of randomness and disdain. Made a lot of sense in the punk rock eighties. I’d never explain. They’d usually walk away, or change the subject. I was big and mean looking, wore huge steel toed army boots and had developed quite a glower I’d use when annoyed. If asked my sign and I said Merging Buses Ahead and my wife was there she’d explain. He thinks that’s funny, she’d say, he’s an Aries. Oh you’re an Aries…no wonder you said Merging Buses Ahead. I don’t know my wife’s sign–after 34 years I still can’t remember but it’s either Gemini, Scorpio, Aquarius or maybe another–but she knew mine. She doesn’t believe in astrology of course, not a whit (she’s into astronomy and the two can’t mix…she doesn’t believe in UFO’s either) but at least she knows the signs. But then I’m an Aries. You can always tell an Aries because we don’t believe in astrology. We’re arrogant and stubborn and skeptical and confrontational. Lively, though. Fun.
Somewhere in middle age telling people I’m a Merging Buses Ahead lost its zing. It doesn’t seem to come up much anyway. Recently, though, someone asked me my birthday. I told her. Then I told her all the cool people that have been born on my birthday. A whole bunch: Spencer Tracy and Gregory Peck and Bette Davis and Lord Buckley and on and on. Her eyes lit up. Then I told her it was a cool death day too and ran off Howard Hughes and Chiang Kai-shek and Douglas MacArthur and Kurt Cobain and Allen Ginsberg and Saul Bellow and Charlton Heston…. She looked appalled. You know who died on your birthday? Well, yeah, famous people die on your birthday and it’s in the news and it’s easy. She gave me a look–it’s the people who are born on your birthday that matter. The dead, well that’s just sick. She walked away. Wow. I’d just been dissed by an astrology freak. I didn’t even think that was possible.
I suppose it was too late to say Merging Buses Ahead..