Thursday, March 31, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 8. Your Mama, CHP

By Greg Kim

New Method Laundry warehouse sat on a corner parcel at 36th and Adeline in Emeryville. County maps had the property half in Oakland and the other half in Emeryville. I never saw the maps—it was more of a verbal history passed on through former tenants. Jug Liquors #3 was across the street; they sold crack pipes from underneath the counter. #1 and #2 were a block away in different directions. To the south, I-580 ran parallel with the second story windows for the length of the building.

A block away on 35th, hookers lined the street that led to the freeway on-ramp. If you didn’t lock your car doors and the traffic light was red, they would jump in your front seat and ask you for a date. If it was locked, and you were unlucky, they would lift their dresses to reveal a panty-less vagina or penis. And if you were really unlucky, they would rub their genitals against the passenger side window. I was unlucky once, which was enough to make me investigate alternative routes.

The neighborhood was a mixture of various industrial warehouses, rundown residential houses and abandoned buildings in various stages of disarray. All windows and doors were covered in bars, and fences were fortified with signs warning of big dogs. It was what you would call a bad area, ravaged by the crack epidemic of the 80s. When guests from out of town visited, they were told to always go left, if they went outside at all. To the right were the panty-less hookers and the worst of West Oakland; to the left was slightly better.

New Method was shared by two groups and one individual: Peace Punks (us), a spa company, and Dave the Foundry Guy. The spa company occupied the west side of the building and we were in the front. On the roof was a propped up, life-size Jacuzzi with two mannequins waving to the freeway traffic. We would regularly reposition the mannequins to simulate sex, doggy style, and alter their hands so they appeared to flip off the cars on the freeway.

We slowly moved into our space in November of 1985. I moved in first, sleeping in a sleeping bag on a large stack of plywood, which would eventually be the floor to the 4 bedrooms we were building. It would be the only modification to the space.

My roommates, Joseph and Nancy, lived upstairs in another space; Frank and Steve were not moving in until the bedrooms were finished. None of us knew each other except Joseph and Nancy, who were boyfriend and girlfriend. We all came together from mutual friends and an ad placed in a local punk fanzine.

The first week of November before construction, I woke up on my bed of plywood, surrounded by two inches of water. It had rained heavily the night before. Hundreds of leaks from the roof dripped onto the second floor and found its way to the concrete foundation where my bed rested.

I tiptoed through the water and out the front door, to alert Joseph of the flood. In the hallway was a deeper lake that came into through the parking lot, running down the hallway a little past our door, stopping at the foot of the stairs that led to the other spaces. Most of the water in our space came from the hallway.

We called the landlord and his lackey appeared the next day with tubs of tar to patch the second floor roof. We asked him about the flooding in the hallway and he said there wasn’t much he could do, as our space was lower than the hallway and the hallway was lower than the parking lot. The lease was for three years and we had just signed, giving over first and last month’s rent. That was all the money the landlord ever received from us. We took pictures the water, gave them to some hippie lawyer with a ponytail and stopped paying rent. He said we should put our rent money in an escrow account. What he didn’t know was that we never planned on paying rent past our initial down payment, regardless of flooding. Also we had no idea what an escrow account was.

Due to the flooding, a plan was devised to raise the first floor off the concrete by a few inches. Working with a budget of zero, and with materials mostly stolen from construction sites, we decided to use pallets to raise the floor, and leave the hallways as exposed concrete.

Finding quality pallets proved a tough job. You never realize the difference in quality in pallets until you start looking. We found the motherlode of good pallets across the street, under the freeway, in a fenced-in area used to park large construction equipment. We scaled the fenced at night and tossed over 32 of the heaviest pallets in the yard. It was hard work and took hours. Because of limitations imposed by the pallets, each of our rooms was exactly eight pallets large.

Joseph had worked construction, so he led the project. During one weekend, Steve, Joseph, Nancy, Frank and I framed the rooms, hung sheetrock and installed doors with no locks or handles. It was easier than I thought. Not knowing what to do about the flooding in the hallway, we employed skateboards to ferry us through the water and stacked two-by-fours end-to-end like a tightrope to get us to the stairs or out the front door. Luckily, the three years that we lived in New Method, it was relatively dry.

By mid-January we had moved in and began living as an Anarchist Vegan Collective. Since we didn’t pay rent, we had lots of time to pursue multiple anarchist activities:

1) Music. The band was called A State of Mind—with all the As circled for anarchy. I played drums and acoustic guitar. We labeled ourselves as anti-music, as we were about the message, the music being the medium to get our ideas across.

2) Mail Order Business. We distributed pamphlets and books on feminism, veganism, animal rights and generally anything we deemed anarchistic. Woman was spelled womyn and corporation was spelled corp(se)oration.

3) Record Label. Mind Matter Records put out records from bands that had anarchist lyrics; music was irrelevant.

4) Destruction. This is where we shined. Late at night we would spray-paint businesses that dealt in animal flesh, throw bricks through windows of fast food restaurants, glue the locks of banks and generally wreak havoc on anything that pissed us off. We were one step away from bombing and arson.

Around the time we moved in, we started seeing posters and flyers for an action in April called “No Business As Usual.” It was a national event sponsored by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). The flyer listed scheduled events: protest at Bechtel, Die-In at 5pm downtown, etc. Even though we despised the RCP and the money behind their full-colored flyers and posters, we decided to take part in the event; however, instead of being part of the die-ins and protests, which we found too pedestrian for our anarchist ways, we decided to plan our own unique actions to coincide with the event. This would involve some planning.

Over the next few months we came up with the following plan. Since the day was about stopping business, specifically corporations in downtown San Francisco, we decided to block the Bay Bridge during the morning commute. Instead of advertising for a group protest at the foot of the bridge, and then walking up the on-ramp to the bridge, which had already been done, we wanted to abandon a car during the height of the rush hour and throw as many tires on the bridge that two cars could hold. One car would be left on the bridge and the other would be used as the getaway. That getaway car would be ditched somewhere near a planned protest in progress, where we could blend into the crowd. None of us took into account that the car would probably be abandoned around 7:30 am. There was a pretty good chance that no well-attended protest would be that early. Protesters are notorious late sleepers, as were we. Getting up early would prove to be the hardest part of the action.

Once we abandoned the second car, we would split up. We thought it was a great plan and creative.

First we had to find two cars that were not registered to anybody we knew, or, preferably, stolen. None of us were thieves or possessed the skills to steal cars, so that was out. We settled on fixing two of the abandoned cars in our parking lot. There were plenty of working class punks hanging around the warehouse, who had enough skills to get a car to run for at least a half hour. We would enlist them under the guise that the car would be sold to help the anarchist cause. Whether you believed in our politics or not, if you were punk, you somehow found a way to empathize with our politics. It was part of the contract.

With that settled we moved onto acquiring used tires to throw on the bridge. There were plenty of tire shops, who were more than willing to let a few “art students” take some tires home for an art project.

With the tire and cars secured, we waited until the day before the action. That night, we painted the tires with slogans: Fight War, Not Wars; Destroy Power, Not People, and my contribution: Your Mama, CHP! (even in my most dogmatic hour, I still had a sense of humor) and loaded them into the cars. Tara, Joseph’s new girlfriend would drive alone in one car and the rest of us (me, Joseph, Steve and Frank) would follow close behind in the other car, Joseph driving.

The night before the action, we stayed up late, as usual, cooked fried potatoes (without boiling them first) and listened to music. Around 5 am, we went to bed, only to get up an hour and half later.

Joseph, the responsible one, woke early and got us up. All of us slept till noon every day, so it wasn’t a pretty morning. We put on the clothes that we wore the day before and the week before that—ripped black pants or jeans, multiple ripped black or white shirts, usually dirty, cloth shoes of some kind and some sort of black jacket, standard issue for peace punks. Tara wore the same or multiple loose dark colored house dresses. Women Peace Punks either looked like the guys or like peasants. Layering was big. The first time I saw Tara in a single T-shirt, I was amazed that she had breasts. I was so used to seeing her in so many clothes that I had no idea what her body looked like.

We wandered out into the morning half asleep. The cars were still caked with a decade’s worth of dirt, so we borrowed Dave’s hose and washed the windows, scraping the dirt off with newspaper.

While the cars warmed up, we loaded the last of the tires into the trunks. I saw my tire and smiled. It was a cold morning and we stood around the back of the car in silence, our hands in our pockets.

Tara got in her car and the rest of us piled into the other. It was a little after 7 am.

As we approached the toll plaza of the bridge, the traffic was lighter than expected. None of us had ever commuted, so we just assumed that it was bumper-to-bumper-every morning.

The plan was to dump one car and tires on the SF side of the bridge, at the highest point of the span.

Once through the toll plaza, we stayed in the middle lane, going 55mph, the flow of the traffic. As we got nearer to the top of the span, adrenalin replaced our sleepiness. As with most actions, doubt started to creep in.

“The traffic is going way too fast.” I said, hoping that we would just keep driving. I was too nervous to get out of the car and knew that if we got caught, we’d be in deep shit.

As planned, Tara slowed down as she approached the apex. We were both in the middle lane and slowly came to a stop, like a train pulling into a station. Cars on both sides sped past us with angry faces, confused as to what we were doing. Carefully opening the driver’s side door, Joseph shimmied his way to the trunk and opened it. We followed suit. Traffic was backing up behind us and the rubberneckers had slowed commuters to a standstill. As fast as we could, we threw the tires all over the bridge, blocking all five lanes. When the tires were gone, we moved on to the trunk of the car Tara was driving. She had already opened the trunk and was waiting in the driver’s seat with the engine on. She was the getaway car. After emptying her trunk of tires, Joseph threw the keys to our car over the guard rail and into the Bay. I looked at Joseph and he had a huge smile on his face. We ran to Tara’s car. As we sped away, we all looked out the back window at our handiwork. The tires had successfully worked as a wall, stopping the traffic dead.

A man in a Honda got out of his car and picked up the closest tire. He walked to the edge of the bridge and tossed it over the side. I remember thinking, “Stevet, I hope there’s not a boat passing under the bridge.” The floodgates opened, and others joined the guy, moving the tires to the narrow sidewalk. By then, we had already exited on Harrison and were speeding toward Market Street.
Just past Mission Street, Tara pulled into a metered yellow zone. We abruptly exited the car, leaving the doors unlocked. Walking briskly toward BART on Market Street, Tara tossed the keys into the first garbage can. We slipped into BART unnoticed and vanished, taking the first outbound train.

On the train, we stood amidst the commuters and silently reflected on the morning’s events. We were tired, very tired. Getting up this early proved to be the hardest part of the action and I was questioning if it was worth it. What had we really achieved? Pissing people off?

As the train jerked forward, I thought about the man who threw the tire off the bridge and fretted that it may have hit somebody.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 7. Pussy Galore

By Greg Kim

My first apartment in San Francisco was a three-room flat in the Haight Ashbury district. I lived in the only bedroom—a small, dark 15-by-12-foot room with the only closet and one window looking into the wall of the adjacent building. Henry and Jessica, my roommates, lived in the den and living room, which was divided by a sliding door. This was a normal layout for most SF apartments. The kitchen was a small sliver off the living room that dumped into the hallway leading to the front door.

Henry and Jessica were my sister’s friends, a little older and wiser to the City’s ways. They took me in and were patient with my transition from big suburban ranch house to small city apartment. When I didn’t do the dishes—a symptom of living on your own for the first time—they would gently remind me that my mom didn’t live with us. They also taught me how to bake a potato, so I wouldn’t starve.

Even though Jessica and Henry were first-generation SF punks, when punk was a little artier, gayer and people still pogoed, they tolerated my enthusiasm for hardcore punk. While they drank beer in the back of the club while seeing the Circle Jerks or Flipper, I would be in the front thrashing and stage diving. Every few songs I’d take a break, to catch my breath and see what they were doing. I would be bloody and beat to hell. They’d laugh. I got lucky with them.

Henry was a dispatcher at a bike messenger company and sold pot on the side. He had gone to school in the central valley of California and lived in the dorms. When his first dorm roommate moved out, he littered the floor of the room with garbage until it was about 18 inches thick. Everybody that the school sent to live with him refused, so eventually they gave up and he was able to live by himself until he graduated. I never asked if he cleaned the room, once the threat of a roommate was over. I would assume not. Henry was a shit stirrer before I knew him, but I only knew him as the smart, soft-spoken guy down the hall.

Jessica worked with Henry as an order taker at the same messenger company. She had flaming, red, curly hair, bunched up on the top of her head, falling in her eyes like a long pompadour. Despite it being a nuisance, it was part of her like her eyes and nose and her vanity prevented her from cutting it. For some odd reason, we called it her “poo-tang" (not poontang). Jessica had no problems with the name and adopted it.

Jessica was fond of saying, “Gregory, my poo-tang is bugging me,” blowing the hair from her face. I knew that she meant her hair was bugging her, not her crotch. This inside joke would backfire on her.

Jessica met a suave black man named Marvin at San Francisco State University. He convinced her to go on date with her with the line: “Come on, Jessica. A little wine, a little women, it’ll be nice.” She fell for it and Marvin came to our apartment the following weekend with a single red rose and leather loafers, reeking of cologne.

While Jessica fiddled about her room looking for a black cardigan to go with her black outfit, she nervously brushed away her “poo-tang” from her face. Marvin patiently waited. As she fluttered about the room, she absentmindedly said to Marvin, “Man, my poo-tang is bothering me,” pushing her hair off her forehead. Jessica saw Marvin’s reaction to the comment, and feebly tried to explain that poo-tang was the tuft of hair dangling in her face and poon-tang was between her legs. She tried but irony is impossible to explain. They still went out and I think Jessica gave Marvin a little wine, a little women and I’m sure it was nice because every once in a while I saw Marvin being led past my room late at night.

Since both my roommates worked at the same messenger company, it only made sense that I worked there, too, as a bike messenger. Henry got me the job and we would ride our bikes to and from work like a little family. At first I didn’t have a bike, so the company lent me a heavy one-speed with a basket in front, which was status quo for messengers back then.

Through being a bike messenger and Henry’s dealing, I met a fellow messenger and pot smoker named Tom. He would come over to the house to buy pot and would usually stay and hang out. Eventually he and I were going out all the time.

One Tuesday, Tom, Jessica and Henry and I went to see Tales of Terror and White Flag at the Mab. We crowded into my small car, picked up my sister in the Mission, got burritos and headed to the show. On the way, we pulled over and got a 12-pack for the road. It was customary to either drink beer in the car before the show or take it up to the club and find an alley to drink it. This time we chose the car.

Lisa had been drinking before we picked her up, so she was quite drunk by the time we got into the show. Lisa wasn't a mellow drunk—she was feisty, loudmouthed and opinionated. I wasn’t looking forward to babysitting her and keeping her from fighting, which was usually with guys. In situations like these, the only thing she had going for her was sexism: most guys wouldn’t hit girls.

Lisa, Jessica and Henry went to the bar and Tom and I went to the front of the stage. There weren’t many people there and we were able to get close enough to avoid the few punks thrashing about in the pit. Tales of Terror were playing, led by their singer Rat’s Ass, who was a notorious SF punk. He was notorious for two reasons: one, because of his name, and two, because it was reputed, by his own admission, that he had a tattoo of Elvis on his dick. This begged many questions: Was the tattoo on the head of his dick? On the shaft of his dick? Was he erect when the tattoo was inked? I was oddly curious.

After a song, Rat’s Ass unzipped his pants and announced: “I’ve got a tattoo of Elvis on my dick.” I pushed toward the front—finally, the question was going to be answered. He stopped halfway, then zipped it back up. Tease. Switching gears, he taunted the crowd: “Someone hurt me. Come on you fucking pussies, someone hurt me.” A guy in front of us grabbed the microphone stand and slammed it into Rat’s Ass’ face, the microphone careening into his front teeth. Stunned, Rat’s Ass stepped back, leaning over with his hands pressed against his mouth. He regained his composure, approached the microphone and said, “That did it, that fuckin' hurt!” His eyes were glassy, watering.

Tom and I retreated to the back and found my sister, who was having problems with a longhaired guy. “What the fuck is that?” my sister yelled at us, looking over our shoulders. The guy had tan, muscular arms and longish blond hair, and was wearing a sleeveless shirt that said Pussy Galore in large colorful letters. "What the fuck does Pussy Galore mean? I’m gonna rip that fuckin’ shirt right off him.” Luckily, the band was playing, drowning out her screams. The object of my sister’s hatred had no idea that a crazy woman was about to attack.

“Lisa, calm the fuck down, Pussy Galore is a band. It’s just a fucking band.” I pleaded. There was no stopping her, I had seen this behavior before and it was pointless trying to rationalize with her. Plus, she was wasted, having spent most of her time at the bar. Between the alcohol and years of Women’s Studies classes and yearly subscriptions to On Our Backs, I knew there was nothing I could do to stop her from attacking this guy. “Jesus Christ, Lisa, calm down!” I pleaded with her.

Tom and I watched as she walked toward the guy, his back turned. She immediately grabbed the top of his shirt and yanked downward as hard as she could, ripping it from the collar to the pit and then some. He turned around and yelled, “What the fuck?” He was pissed and rather confused. He could’ve kicked all three of our asses.

Tom and I grabbed Lisa and pulled her out of the club, leaving Jessica and Henry at the bar, who were oblivious to what was going on. She went reluctantly, screaming, “Fuck you, dude. Fuck you, you dick.” He returned the insults with, “Fuck you, bitch. What the fuck?” not sure why this crazy woman was trying to rip his shirt off him. But he stayed put, not following us. Just in case, we dragged Lisa halfway down Broadway, past Montgomery and down the hill until we couldn’t see the club.

When the coast was clear, we let go of her. She shook her arms, looked at us with a smile, thinking she had done something good, and said, “Fuck that guy, what the fuck did he think he was doing?” Before she could finish, I pushed back, “Fuck you, Lisa. That guy was gonna kill you. And probably me.” Tom chimed in, “And me too.”

Just then, a large truck drove by. A cowboy looking dude in the driver’s seat yelled, “Devo, B-52s!” It was something that straight people yelled at us all the time.

Lisa flipped him off and yelled, “Fuck your mother.” The wheels on his trucks screeched, throwing it into a skid. We grabbed Lisa and ran down the hill, making a left on Sansome and darting into the two-tiered free garage where we always parked.

“Lisa, you’re a fucking idiot. I’m sick of you doing this.” She was drunk and moving from feisty to apologetic and pathetic.

“I’m sorry, little brother.” At the end of the night, my name usually changed from Greg to Little Brother. “Fuck, I know, I know, but that guy was a fuckin' idiot.” She wasn’t giving up but she was fading quickly, slumping in the back seat. I failed to respond. “Come on, Little Brother. Don’t be mad at me.” We rode home in silence—me stewing in the front seat and Lisa slumped down in the backseat.

Driving down Market, past Van Ness, Lisa’s head popped up: “Pull over, I gotta throw up. Pull over.” I jerked the car to the right and turned off the lights, keeping the engine running. It was midweek and late, so there wasn’t much traffic. Lisa lurched out the back door and walked in front of the car, bending over where we couldn’t see her.

Tom and I sat motionless in the front seat, waiting for Lisa to reappear. Even though I was drunk too—drunk enough to get a DUI—and drawing attention to the situation could lead to all of us going to jail and the car getting impounded, I decided to pull back on the high beams while simultaneously laying hard on the horn. Lisa was really bugging me and I felt the need to get back at her.

There weren’t many people on the street, but the ones who were near us noticed the drunken woman crouched down, throwing up in front of a car. Tom and I laughed hysterically. After a few seconds, we figured she would appear, stumble back in the car and tell us to fuck off. No, this wasn’t my sister’s style. A lone finger—the middle one—slowly rose beyond the hood like the sun in the east. I stopped honking. Her middle finger stood stone like, pointing toward the sky. It was followed with a mumbled, barely discernible yell:

“Fuuuuuuck Oooooofff!” That's my sister. Defiant to the end.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 6. Go Back to Russia

By Greg Kim
The transition from big-fish-in-a-small-pond of Pleasanton, California, to little-fish-in-a-big-pond of San Francisco was not easy. As a big fish in Pleasanton, I was a spectacle turning heads on Main Street. I felt special and enjoyed the attention, even though most of it was abusive. In San Francisco in 1983, it seemed like everybody under 25 was punk, and I was one of thousands of grubby miscreants going to shows and starting bands.

It had been building for quite some time. I knew I had to leave and so did my parents. Everything sucked to me—the town, the people, the schools, my friends—but I didn’t want to do anything about. I needed a push, which came in the form of the Pleasanton Police.

Around 11pm on a Saturday night I decided to walk down the block to my friend Bob’s party. Bob was one of my oldest friends, but since my conversion from burn-out to punk our friendship had soured. It wasn’t a conscious thing; but when my favorite band was Minor Threat and his was The Doors, there wasn’t much we could do to salvage our relationship. He didn’t understand my change and I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t want to change.

I walked the short block just to make an appearance and say hi, hoping that his younger brother Craig was not around. Ever since my punk rock coming out, Brian was always aggressive towards me. Even though he was a skinny kid, he was mean and had disapproving eyes, and was fond of calling me faggot. I had witnessed many Bob and Craig all-out brother fights, where Craig would get pummeled, but he never quit. I figured if he came at me he would act the same way.

By the time I got there the cops were breaking up the party. There was one police car out front and one pulling up. The front door of the house was open, the bright hallway light spilling onto their front lawn. Streams of people exited the house in an orderly manner, walking to their cars. Unlike Hollywood depictions of high school parties, no one was running or jumping over fences.

I pushed past the people leaving and looked for Bob. I knew the house well and searched for him, but I couldn’t find him. After checking the back yard, I left, stepping into the flow of humanity that was exiting.

The front yard was filled with small groups of people discussing where the next party was, while the police threatened them with incarceration. They moved on, replaced by new groups leaving the party.

Leaning against the side of their car in front of the house, two policemen watched me as I walked down the steps and into the yard. I kept my head down, paranoid, but something told me they were watching me.

“Hey, Comrade,” one of them said as I approached.

Not sure how to respond to such a stupid statement, I grunted, “Huh, what?” looking perplexed.

In an angrier tone, he finished his thought. “It's because of people like you…parties get busted. Go back to Russia.” His words followed me as I walked by. I turned and indignantly replied, “Dude, I just got here.” I would later learn that cops didn’t like to be called dude, or homes.

As I quickly walked out of the Bob’s cul-de-sac, I heard the cop indignantly say, “Dude?” Looking over my shoulder, I knew this verbal exchange between the Pleasanton Police and I was not over. As expected, they got in their car and slowly followed me. It was like an excruciatingly slow chase. They never moved in front of me, careful to loom in the background like a storm cloud.

I thought of running, but I had nowhere to go except to my house, which needless to say would be bad. So I slowed my pace, looking back at them, shaking my head. I knew this would piss them off.

Walking across the lawn of my house, I picked up my pace, making a run for my door. They hit the gas and screeched to a halt in front of my house. I quickly opened the door and slammed it shut, running to the den to peek out the window.

They were halfway up the lawn and moving toward the door. The doorbell rang. My parents were out for the evening, but my sister Lisa was home. I ran out of the den and to the bathroom, where Lisa had just taken a shower.

“Get the door. What’s going on?” she questioned. She could tell by the look of fear and excitement on my face that whoever was at the door was there because of something I did. I quickly explained what was going on. “Bob was having a party. When I got there, it was getting busted. I went in to say hi, but he wasn’t around, so I left. As I was leaving, these two fucking cops told me to ‘go back to Russia.’ And they followed me home.” I knew this information would piss off Lisa.

Not one to think things through, Lisa moved to the door, wearing a lush, white robe and towel around the top of her head, hiding her hennaed hair. With her chin high, she seemed to savor the anticipation of confrontation.

“Yeah, what?” she said, opening the door a crack, exposing her turbaned head. The entry way was dark—she didn’t turn on the light—and I assume they thought they had disturbed my mother while taking a shower.

“Well, uh.” They stuttered, not expecting this. They were expecting someone a little more mom-like, not my angry sister.

“Leave him alone, he didn't do anything. You’re harassing him because of how he looks.” That was it. She shut the door and walked back to the bathroom as if nothing happened.

I ran back to the den and watched them get back in their car. Lisa ruled! But I had had enough. I had outgrown my hometown of Pleasanton. Three weeks later, I moved to San Francisco.

Monday, March 28, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 5. True Punker

By Greg Kim

We were from different sides of the tracks and would have never met if it wasn’t for work. If there’s one good thing about work, it's that it forces people from different cultures and classes to mingle, which is rare, no matter what Berkeley liberals tell you. Face it—all of our friends are little clones of ourselves and we rarely venture out of our comfort zone. And if we do, it’s usually forced and contrived.

For the most part, Greg and I were identical: we went to grade school together, lived in the same town and shared the same white, suburban culture. We went to different high schools and when we came back together during the summer after graduation we had changed.

He was essentially a burnout—stringy brown hair, dirty flared jeans, Vietnam army jacket and various concert T-shirts. I was a suburban punk: quarter-inch bleached blond hair, Vans and pegged, ripped jeans. While the difference in our appearances was a big point of contention between us (neither of us wanted to be seen with the other), our musical differences were greater. At this age, identity is everything; you define yourself by what you listen to and what you look like. Greg was rock and I was punk. Oil and water.

For example, four years earlier, at the age of 14, my friends and I almost came to blows with a few friends-of-a-friend (FOF) over the band Foreigner. We were at my friend Chico’s house listening to the Rolling Stones on my boom box. While we weren’t looking, the FOFs changed the tape to Foreigner. They just assumed everybody liked Foreigner and it would be ok.

Before the first verse of "Hot Blooded" had been sung, the tape was flying through the air, landing on Chico's bed. The FOFs were stunned at our intense reaction to the band. They didn’t understand why we were so angry and ready to fight over such an innocuous incident. I told them that the boom box was ruined and that we’d have to throw it out. They quickly left, grabbing the tape off the bed, bewildered and shaking their heads. Once gone, we didn’t laugh or call them pussies like most 14-year-olds. No, we seriously lamented their actions and discussed actually throwing away the boom box. At 14, music was identity, even if it was the Stones we were defending.

Because of our differences, Greg and I were forced to make a strong effort to find common threads between us. Sports and weather were usually safe, but neither of us cared about sports, and discussing California weather, where almost every day is clear and warm, would only take us so far. So, we settled on the great common denominators of 1982: Pot and Aerosmith. Even though Aerosmith was a rock band, they were my favorite from childhood and I still clandestinely listened to their old records. I wasn’t much of a pot smoker—that was Greg’s thing—but I would compromise in the name of harmony and smoke with him. I learned that pot went well Aerosmith.

For a big stoner, Greg was kind of nelly and goofy. There were no pretentions or teenage posturing to him, unlike me, who was proving his identity around every corner.

He didn’t call me by my name; rather, he enjoyed calling me “True Punker,” emphasizing “Punk,” with a higher than usual note. It was so weird and he enjoyed it so much that I just went with it. In reality, punks hated the word “punker.” When saying it, you kind of outted yourself as a poseur. Staying cool and punk was not easy—you had to know the rules. But behind the costumes and punk vernacular, Greg and I were essentially the same person.

Greg and I worked as janitors. My mom got me the job through a guy that cleaned her office building. He owned the company and looked like Tommy Lee Jones in The Executioner’s Song. Greg was already working there and took me on as his partner. Before work, we’d meet at a pinball hall near the Alameda County Fairgrounds. Whoever got there first would play Aerosmith's "Kings and Queens" and "Draw the Line" (their punkest song). We’d play one game of KISS or Evel Knievel pinball and then caravan to our first stop: a Catholic church near the Livermore/Pleasanton border.

Having no janitorial experience and no passion for the job, we did the bare minimum and sometimes nothing at all. If the place looked clean, we’d empty the garbage cans and pick paper flecks off the carpet. That was it. This behavior led to our demise.

One Sunday in October while cleaning the church, Greg and I decided to smoke pot on the pulpit. He grabbed his bag and retrieved his bong. Smoking pot at work had become one our rituals, although we usually did it in his car.

Like most bad ideas, it seemed like a good idea at the time. He “fired up a bowl” and we both took multiple hits, very proud of ourselves. Smoking pot in a church was like the drug equivalent of having sex in public. Afterwards, we went about cleaning the main church. The place was dirty so we actually had to work.

As the industrial vacuum cleaner roared like a chainsaw, and the sun filtered through the stained glass windows, washing the pews in a kaleidoscope of colors, I felt a wave of paranoia and fear rush over me. What if there was a God? Maybe I was just plain scared of having offended God, but something told me that Greg was feeling the same way. There was a presence—internal or external—that was none too pleased. We kept looking over at each other, wanting to stay close, but not wanting to admit we were scared.

Finally, I said something: “Dude, let’s get our here. This place is freaking me out.”

We quickly gathered our cleaning supplies and vacuum cleaner and headed toward our cars. Once outside, we divulged our fears and vowed never to smoke pot in the church again. We were both stoned and paranoid, but we quickly got over it once we were in our cars. We were teenagers and really only cared about ourselves.

The next day I got a call from Tommy Lee Jones, my boss. He said I was fired—not for smoking pot in the church, but for not cleaning a dentist office that was our next client after the church. Supposedly, the dentist hid in the office and caught us doing only the bare minimum—emptying the garbage cans. We spent most of the time in the office trying to turn on the laughing gas. We were caught.

The next day, I drove to Tommy Lee’s house to give back the cleaning supplies. He met me in the front yard, took the supplies and then threw me against my car. He had on jeans and a tight white T-shirt that accentuated his muscular frame. I found him very intimidating and didn’t resist.

Pressed against the car, unable to escape his grip, he said I was a little asshole and that my actions cost him the dentist account. Behind him, his teenage son made faces and flipped me off. He finally let go and I sped away, as his son ran alongside the car, banging on the passenger side window, continually flipping me off and calling me a pussy.

Seven years later I was taking a piss at a Guns 'N Roses/Aerosmith concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. In the next urinal was Greg, looking exactly as I left him in ’82. He looked over at me and said, “True Punker.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 4. Deal Breaker

By Greg Kim

I met Janet at a Halloween party. She was dressed as a witch and I was dressed as Johnny Bravo, Greg Brady’s alter ego on the Brady Bunch. With a shaggy wig, a jean leisure suit and white patent leather shoes, I felt the part and played the obnoxious role of cool guy. I was young, give me a break.

When I took off my wig, revealing pink hair and some poorly pierced ears, and she took off her pointy hat and make-up, revealing a pale face and a new wave haircut, we still decided to give it a try. New wave girls were curious about punk guys, using them as leverage against strict parents, and punk guys were notorious for not dating their own kind, preferring cute new wave girls. So, on paper, this was a potential match. I would never take her to a punk show, and she would never take me to a party; our friends would never meet, but this was ok. It was a selfish relationship at its finest.

One weekend she invited me to the blessing of her senior class by a priest at St. Augustine’s, a local Catholic church. She knew me well enough to know that this was something I wouldn’t want to attend. All her friends would be there and inevitably someone would put it together that the weird-looking guy in the back was there for Janet. I sure as hell didn’t want our “coming out” party to be at church.

I protested, saying I had previous plans, and considered breaking up with her, but she was persistent, claiming she never asked me to do anything, which was true. Then she revealed the real reason: she was playing a song on guitar at the ceremony. She had me. Breaking up with her to get out of going would be cruel and, as non-committal and casual as we were, she wanted to share her guitar playing with me. And I was a little intrigued.

I asked her what song she was playing and she said it was a song about “passing time.” What the fuck does that mean? To postpone the inevitable teasing, she wisely withheld the name of the song. She knew me well.

I arrived late, waiting in my car until the throngs of people milling about went inside. I sat near the back and put my feet on the footrest, which was supposed to be for kneeling when you pray. An old Catholic admonished me for this. Janet sat in the front with her friends and the rest of the class.

The service began and I slumped down in the pew, looking around for a clock. Not even a minute into the service and I was already bored and full of regret for agreeing to attend. It reminded me of my family’s ill-fated attempt at religion.

We were Presbyterian for a short time when I was in 5th grade. It lasted a couple months, long enough for my sister to wear a white dress with other girls her age and stand in front of the church for communion (or whatever the Presbyterian equivalent of communion is). Whereas Lisa was a willing participant in this religious thing, I was prone to disappearing 15 minutes before it was time to go to church. I would hide in the woods, peering out through thick foliage, watching my dad traipse through our neighbors’ yards, in his slacks and patterned shirts, yelling my name in a loud whisper. Gregory? Goddammit, Gregory. This became a regular occurrence on Sundays. Depending on how pissed he was, I would either come out and go to church or stay hidden in the woods.

Our last Sunday as Presbyterians started out normally: I hid in the woods, my dad got pissed, I came out and we went to church. Because I was utterly bored in church, borrowing my dad’s watch to see how long I could hold my breath, my parents put me in Sunday school.

I don’t remember much about Sunday school except how it ended. The Sunday school teacher, an unassuming man in his early 30s, assigned us characters from a biblical play, which we were to read aloud. This was supposed to be a reward for being good students. My part was small, only one word: “Yes.”
As we practiced the play, I meticulously followed the dialogue. I didn’t want to screw up. When it came time to say “yes,” I blew my line. I was embarrassed and everybody laughed because they knew I only had to remember one word. I projected my embarrassment, calling the teacher Mr. Fag. Because of this, my parents had to have a sit-down with the teacher and somebody from the church. This was all too much for my parents. They gave up and we stopped going to church.

Thirty years later I found myself back at church, searching for a clock and waiting for my not-so girlfriend to sing a song about time passing.
The priest led the congregation through the service. We sang songs (most everybody knew the lyrics) and replied with “Amen” when the priest said something good. When it came time for communion, I got nervous. People either kneeled on the footrest or approached the front. I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, a nice woman at the end of the pew noticed my anxiety and said, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to take communion if you don’t want to.” I was relieved and thankful for her kindness. Her Presbyterian-dar must have been on high alert.

The priest blessed the class and announced that a student would sing a song. There was an awkward silence while Janet set up, the microphone crackling over the cheap P.A., as she pulled it closer to her guitar. Her singing partner sat quietly next to her. After a brief pause, she started the song. I never had seen her play guitar so I was immediately impressed by her finger picking. I recognized the song, but I couldn’t place it:

Life, so they say
Is but a game and they'd let it slip away
Love, like the autumn sun
Should be dyin' but it's only just begun

It wasn’t until she sang the chorus that the song came back to me. It was “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” by Loggins and Messina, a song I had heard countless times on AM radio.

I watched in disbelief as people cried and related to the song, feeling that this special moment in their lives was coming to an end and that hope and optimism awaited them. I silently mocked them.

Janet closed her eyes as she played and leaned back when reaching for high notes. She earnestly sang each line, grimacing like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn—white bluesmen—when emphasizing certain words. It didn’t sit well with me. I looked around for support, craning my neck to see other denizens, but all I saw were rapt individuals. It wasn’t a good sight and I knew the visual wouldn’t leave me.

Janet received a raucous applause, a few people standing. She was last on the agenda. People filed out after the song, commenting on Janet’s voice and how appropriate the song was for the occasion.

I waited at the far end of the parking lot, reading a paperback that I kept in my back pocket for these occasions. Parents and students talked out front. This was her territory and I knew my boundaries.

Janet eventually came over and we greeted each other awkwardly. I told her that I was impressed with her guitar playing and sarcastically said that the song was one of my favorites. She smirked and said she was going to a graduation party and asked if I wanted to come. This was odd—she was breaking the rules. I declined and asked her to call when it was over. We were a very Valley Girl couple and I just couldn’t deal with making small talk with Janet’s preppy girlfriends and jocky guy friends. I was sure a drunk friend would either threaten me (“If you hurt Janet, I will kill you") or ask me what I was doing with Janet, like I was working some angle.

Our relationship had grown complicated. She wanted me to take her to punk shows, invited me to high school parties and suggested double dating. This was breaking the rules. I liked Janet and was amenable to most of these things, but I just couldn’t get over the visual of her leaning back while singing the Loggins and Messina song. It was a deal breaker.

I promptly broke up with Janet after the “blessing,” citing Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton as the reason.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 3. Sick to Death

By Greg Kim

My mother came home from the mall and boasted, “Greg! I saw a punk rocker at the mall today. Do you know him?” To most inane but well-intentioned questions like this, I would have replied, “Duh mom, we don’t all know each other,” but the punk scene in Pleasanton was small to nonexistent so her query wasn’t that far-fetched. I asked her to describe what she saw: “Gre-yeg” (my mother has a strong southern accent so she pronounces my name in two syllables), “I don’t know, he had brightly colored pants, a checkered shirt and checkered shoes and funny looking glasses.” Of course this description offended my punk sensibilities. “Jesus Christ, Mom. That’s not punk! Do I dress like that? That’s totally some poseur!” Poseur was a big putdown in the punk scene, a word you didn’t want flung your way. The popular thought was that if you were punk and lived in the suburbs you were automatically a poseur. I lived in the suburbs, so, of course, I projected this same sentiment to everybody who didn’t live up to my punk standards. According to me, this was pretty much everybody. I was punk as fuck. And also, by definition, a poseur.

My sister had paved the way for me to be punk, so my mother didn’t really blink an eye at my brightly colored mohawk and the hardcore music spewing from my room. She let me graffiti my room from floor to ceiling and even found a way to accept that my favorite band at the time was called Millions of Dead Cops (MDC)—she even printed out a huge banner bearing the band’s name at work, every letter encompassing one 8½ x 11 sheet of paper. It was the early 80s and computers were used to print large volumes of documents on dot matrix printers, so this was exceptionally unique. Upon seeing it in my room, people would ask, “Wow, how did she do that?” Followed by, “Man, your mom is cool.”

I put the banner over the graffiti in my room. It was so long that it covered two walls, forming a dogleg between “Dead” and “Cops.”

Pleasanton was exceedingly normal - you could count the number of punks on two hands. There was Andy, Jerry, Sue, Carrie, Jane and that was pretty much it (or at least they were the only ones we knew about). All my sister’s first generation punk friends had moved to the City (aka San Francisco), leaving us to fend for ourselves.

Andy was a year younger than me and looked like a British punk sans the leather jacket and fuck-with-me hair: tall and skinny with pegged jeans, snug T-shirt, black high-tops and a three-row, studded wrist band on his left wrist. His hair was cropped short and naturally brownish blond. Without hair products, his hair puffed up like a Chia Pet. His parents were hardcore Christians so he had to be home every day by 5 pm for dinner, no matter what; therefore, we referred to him as Andy Be-Home-By-Five.

Jerry was a mod and hung out with us because there were even fewer mods than punks in Pleasanton. He was angry, liked to spit and say fuck you. He smoked clove cigarettes, had one of those mod jackets with a Who target on the back, wore rectangular shades like Paul Weller and played a Rickenbacker bass.

Sue was my girlfriend. She wasn’t punk, but was sassy and was what we liked to call a “punk sympathizer” and a budding punk. She liked Peter Gabriel and Todd Rundgren and called them Gabe and Todd, like she knew them. This was a big problem in our relationship. She also wore dirty saddle shoes every day.

Despite being my age and in the same grade, Carrie and Jane were more my sister’s friends. They graduated early and moved to Hayward to be with their working class punk boyfriends who were in Social Unrest, a very popular punk band in the Bay Area.

Even though we were all very different in our outsider status, we were united by circumstance and geography. Only in the suburbs will you see punks hanging out with hippies hanging out with mods hanging out with theater geeks. There were just not enough freaks to go around, so you had to put away your subculture prejudices and stick together.

Like all good punks, me, Jerry and Andy formed a band. I played guitar, Jerry played bass, and Andy sang. We had a rotating door of drummers—punk drummers were in high demand and almost nonexistent within 20 square miles of Pleasanton. We always had to settle for rock or new wave guys that didn’t look the part. Image was very important, no matter what anybody said.

Most rock guys had long hair and idolized Neil Pert from Rush, which wasn’t a good thing. They tended to consider themselves “musician types” and always pushed us to show off our musicianship. One suggested that we played the Peanuts theme song. He didn’t last long.

The new wave guys always thought they knew what punk was, but they didn’t. They wanted to play “modern rock” and incessantly pestered us about adding a keyboard player. They never lasted either.

With both types of drummers, our comments were always the same: , “Play faster, play harder!” We called ourselves Plastic Jesus, eventually renaming ourselves Anti-Social Youth. We figured Anti-Social Youth covered three of the most popular themes in punk rock: anti, social and youth. Why not put them together?

We practiced in my garage until the neighbors complained and then we were forced to move to my sister’s vacant room. With songs like “Reagan Country” (an ode to the president who kept punk rock relevant in the 80s); “Red, White and Dry” (a sexist anthem about the female anatomy), “Sick to Death” (a nihilist ditty about suburban boredom), we planned to record a demo so we could start playing out. Knowing absolutely nothing about recording, we chose the easy and cheap route of a boom box: press record and then stop.

On the day we recorded, we recruited Sue to push play and stop. Robert, my 9-year-old neighbor and big fan of the band, was there too, in his second Anti-Social Youth T-shirt. The first shirt was confiscated by his mom, with the threat of punishment if he continued to hang around us. We encouraged him to wear the shirt and defy his mom. I even offered to keep the shirt for him in my garage, with the garage door unlocked, so he could wear it at any time. He liked this idea and started wearing it to school, stopping by the garage to pick it up every morning.

Finding the right placement for the boom box was hard. In the open room, the condenser microphone was overloading, which resulted in one long sustain of white noise. We weren’t an art band, so we tried many spots in the room until settling on the closet with the door a quarter open.

Sue pressed record and we launched into “Sick to Death,” our unanimously agreed upon best song:

Sick to death of the live I’m living
Life’s troubles just pass you by
I don’t want to see your face
This is where it all begins

The lyrics purposely didn’t rhyme. I felt rhyming was conventional and not punk.

We didn’t have a P.A. so I had to sing directly into the boom box to be heard. After much experimenting, I found the perfect spot was about 18 inches from the microphone. On my knees and leaning down, I shouted at the boom box, while playing guitar. It was not easy and by the end of most songs, I struggled to maintain my position.

The quality of the recording was horrendous—only we could discern the drums, guitar, bass and vocals. To pretty much everybody else, it sounded like pure noise. Even so, we packaged the cassette with a lyric sheet and information about the band and gave it to friends. We recorded three other songs but chose "Sick to Death" to send to the Maximum Rock-n-Roll radio show, which was the punk rock radio show that ran from midnight to 2 am on Sunday nights.

Three weeks later at 1:55 am—the last song of the night—they played our song. Without an introduction, it followed a band from Fairfield, California (an even farther out suburb of San Francisco) called Carnage. I was ecstatic and moved closer to my clock radio. It was the first time—and one of only a handful of times—I heard my music on the radio.

It was loud, distorted and barely recognizable, but I loved it. The blood rushed to my face, from fear, anxiety and excitement. The song stopped, started, slowed down and sped up, as was the custom of many punk songs at the time. For a little over a minute— the length of the song—I was riveted. It ended with dead air. Thinking the song wasn’t over because of so many starts and stops, they let the silence go on for way too long. Finally, a loud, over-produced song screamed from the radio. I recognized it immediately and was mortified. It was a song by Yes called “Don’t Kill the Whales”—possibly one of the worst, most over-indulgent progressive rock songs of all time. When we recorded, I had taken a used cassette from a pile of tapes and didn’t check to see if anything was on it. Obviously, this Yes cassette predated my introduction into punk rock.

They quickly yanked the song and sounds of laughter filled the airwaves. They thought it was funny, not recognizing the song. If they did, it would have been a different story. After all, my punk credentials were on the line, and I knew everybody in the band plus a few friends were listening.

Tim Yohannon, one of the founders of Maximum Rock-n-Roll, came on and said, “That was Anti-Social Youth with “Sick to Death” from Pleasanton, California. It’s happening everywhere, people—even in Pleasanton.” Those few words were what I was waiting for. Acceptance in to the punk scene by the punk authority, I went to bed smiling.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 2. Dad, I’m a Lesbian

By Greg Kim

This is a repost from a month or so ago, with minor changes. Sorry, but after my grandstand play yesterday ("I'm posting my whole book in sequential order!!"), I wanted to include it. If you read it, sorry.

Her name was Sara Lee. I couldn’t get over the fact that she shared the same name as my favorite cake. She was our family counselor, paid to deal with the lesbian problem my sister was having. Like all counselors and therapists, she had a peaceful way about her. She dressed in loose clothing, and closed her eyes when conversation turned combative, gently nodding her head up and down. Her empathy rating was off the charts. Once when it was raining, she looked out the window, nodded and said, “Rain cleanses the earth and the soul.” It was intended to be a metaphor for our situation, but it fell flat and no response was made. Even my sister, who was open to that get-in-touch-with-your-feelings crap, was dumbfounded. This hippie introspective talk kinda freaked me out and was the antithesis of my feral suburban upbringing.

To me, at the age of 17, Sara Lee looked like some old hippie I would see on Telegraph writing poetry in a clothbound book when I shopped for records at Rasputin’s. It would be some time before I utilized the services of therapists. I was still a well-adjusted suburban punk, void of guilt, self-reflection and culture. I was ignorant and life was good.

My sister Lisa called me at home and left a message with my mom to call her back. She was in her first year of college at San Francisco State, majoring in Women’s Studies and living in the dorms. I figured the call had something to do with who was playing the Mab or the On-Broadway, as most of my weekends were spent going to punk shows with her friends and sleeping on the floor of her dorm.

I called back and Lisa said, “You know I love you, Greg.” This sort of declaration was not unusual for her. She was young, expressive and enjoyed playing the role of mentor to me. Knowing my sister and her propensity for extremes, I prepared for information about a pregnancy or perhaps a pre-operation procedure to become a man. Either possibility was conceivable with my sister. She continued, “I wanted you to be the first to know…I’m a lesbian.” I knew that it was extremely hard and frightening for her to tell me this, but I was 17 and had known she was gay for a long time or at least fluid in her sexuality like so many Women's Studies majors across the planet. My response reflected this: “Duh, Lisa.” She laughed and said, “You knew?” I said, “Well, of course I did. I didn’t figure all those bull-daggers you were hanging around with were married and living in Pleasanton.” I embraced the situation as it gave me the oppressed credentials that I so desperately needed: “Dude, don’t fuck me with me, my sister’s gay.” Without it, all I had was, “Dude, fuck off, I’m from Pleasanton.”

In fine Lisa fashion, she came out to my Mom on Christmas Eve. We were standing in the kitchen cooking dinner and talking:

“Mom, I want to tell you something.” By the tone of her voice, my mother stopped what she was doing and looked at Lisa.

“Ah Jesus, Lisa. What is it?” Bracing for bad news, her face was blank, almost like she flipped a switch and turned herself off.

“I’m a lesbian, Mom.” It was the second time I heard this and her delivery was exactly the same. I assumed that Lisa had consulted some of her “professional” lesbian friends for advice in this matter.

Mom’s response was quick: “Jesus, Lisa. Did Scott turn you gay?" Scott was my sister’s last boyfriend. They had recently broken up. When they were together they were very affectionate—always sitting on each other’s lap and inappropriately touching each other, even when performing mundane tasks, like going to the supermarket. Because of this, I wasn’t fond of being around them as a couple.

Laughing at the absurdity of the response, Lisa replied, “No, Scott didn’t turn me gay, Mom. I’ve always been this way.” She was as gentle as one could be in this situation. I reveled in the fact that my mom said “turn you gay.”

My mother continued on, processing this new information on the fly and reacting without thinking. “How are you gay, you’ve had tons of boyfriends? Why would you choose to be gay? It’s not an easy life.” It was like she was referring to a handbook on why people are gay.

She saved the best one for last, turning her attention to me: “Well, I guess Greg is gay, too.” This took me by surprise. I was happy being a spectator, but not a participant. I gave my sister a look that said, “Deal with this.”

My sister sassed back, enjoying the brief diversion of attention, “Well, why don’t you ask him?”

I preempted her question: “Yeah, I’m gay.” Even though it wasn’t true, it was the obvious answer in this situation.

Lisa stepped in, seeing that this admission could lead to a regrettable medical emergency: “Mom, calm down. Greg’s not gay.” My poor mother. Lisa and I laughed. “But I have one other thing,” she continued. The mood quickly soured. Without a pause, Lisa continued, “I’m in a relationship with a black woman!”

“Oh Jesus, Lisa. You always take things to the extreme, you always have.” My mother was right. Lisa was not one for temperance.

True to her nature, when my sister came out, she exploded. This was typical in my family. Lisa and I had a family motto: “If things don’t get better, make ’em worse.” Many times we made things horrible. Lisa took this motto into her first year of Gaydom. She, of course, embraced separatism. It was the logical stepping stone from hetero to gay. It was the 80s and all the lesbians were doing it. She proudly strapped on penises and wasn’t afraid to talk about it. When we were out at punk shows, she would get in fights that I almost always unwillingly got involved in. She was a big bull-dagger separatist pain-in-the-ass that took no shit.

On a smaller scale, I understood this extremist behavior. When I first got into punk rock, I gathered my Pink Floyd and Police records and purged them from my collection. Instead of selling them at the used record store, I threw them like Frisbees from our front patio, watching them shatter into hundreds of pieces when they collided with street. It was a cathartic act.

During the year of her coming out, we started seeing Sara Lee. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but once a week for a month or so we made the trip to Sara’s practice, a newer building in a small business park off the freeway. Sara arranged the chairs in a circle, where everyone was equal. We dutifully took our places each session, staring at our feet or staring straight ahead, stone-faced. For a very normal family that was loving but not used to sharing their feelings, this was as hard as it got. I was the only one that appeared to be enjoying the theater of it all. Essentially, I was there because the therapist’s title had “family” in it, and I was, well, family.

Sara Lee did her best to broker middle ground between the two factions. Both sides argued history and nature: my parents used my sister’s promiscuous past and her desire to be marginalized; Lisa argued this was how she was born and that her heterosexual beginnings were due to repression. I sat between the two, siding with my sister, knowing it would be blasphemous to side with my parents. Lisa and I were alike in that we were both looking for some sort of self-imposed marginalization, which we found in the opposite of everything that was around us and our upbringing. This is very common in white suburban kids. If being gay and black were a choice, we would have both willingly changed. And, looking back on it, my sister’s desire for significance probably swayed her fluid sexuality from one side to the other.

When negotiations stalled, Sara Lee asked my sister to address my dad. Sara said to my sister, “Lisa, do you want to say something to your father?” Lisa confidently looked at my father, stood and said, “Dad, I’m a lesbian.” Silence permeated the room like tule fog. Even I, the good son with a pink Mohawk, stared at my feet, feeling sorry for everybody in the room. The cat was out of the bag and a new chapter in our family’s history had begun. It was final.

We rode home in silence. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it might as well been a dreary winter day in Cleveland. The coldness was palatable and it wasn’t leaving.

My parents’ relationship with my sister was tumultuous. Mom joined PFLAG, walked in the pride parade and then had a falling out when Lisa and her girlfriend adopted two children. My dad, on the other hand, quietly missed his first born.

Last week I got a call from my sister pertaining to her sexuality. I let it go to my voicemail. The strain of being the good brother and good son took its toll on our relationship. I was sick of being in the middle and hearing both parties bitch about each other.

I retrieved the voicemail: “Little brother, hey, I wanted you to know that I decided to start dating men. I’m dating a guy that looks a lot like you.” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to call her back and say, “What the fuck, Lisa? Please don’t tell Mom and Dad!”

My mom called the next day and said, “Did you hear the good news?” I guess my parents were right.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 1. Musicland



I wrote a book called White Dope on Punk about 2 years ago. It has 19 chapters and an epilogue. I’ve done nothing with it. For the next 20 (work) days, I will post snippets from the chapters (or the full story) in sequential order, editing as I go along. Hopefully this will motivate me to do something with it. Maybe not.

White Dope on Punk
Chapter 1
Musicland
By Greg Kim

Growing up in Pleasanton, California, there was an acknowledged hierarchy of jobs for teenagers.

Number Three Most Desired Teen Job was lifeguard at a pool or beach. Because they were seasonal, these jobs were scarce and highly coveted. The sun was never my friend and I failed Junior Lifesaving in 7th grade, so this was never an option, just a fantasy.

Number Two Most Desired Teen Job was working in a vintage clothing store. For starters, you got first pick of the stuff that came in. You also got to wear whatever you wanted to work, which was very important. Identity is everything to teens and those ripped jeans or 50s house dresses weren’t just your clothes—they were a statement. You also got the added bonus of being able to judge those who came into the store to sell clothes—holding up retro gear, smirking and saying “Yeah, we’re gonna have to pass on this.” This was one job where cattiness was expected.

Of course the Number One Most Desired Teen job was working at a music store. If it was a used record store and you could play your own music, all the better. Nothing gave you more street cred than being “in the music scene.” Seeing as I was exceptionally pale and couldn’t really swim, and not that into fashion, I was destined for bigger things. For one blissful summer I was at the top of the job heap: Sales Clerk at Musicland.

Musicland Records was on the second floor of the Stoneridge Mall. It was book-ended by The Foot Locker and the GNC store, and, as we were told to remind people, “accessible by the northwest escalator that opened up into JC Penny’s.”

GNC was the vitamin store, which also happened to sell bland veggie sandwiches. I devoured these on a daily basis, since I was dabbling in veganism. The Foot Locker didn’t sell the kind of shoes I liked to wear; plus, the employees had to wear those awful striped referee outfits, so I chose to ignore them. At the time, I had only three pairs of shoes: 1) blue Vans, my primary shoes; 2) Vietnam army boots, the ones with the odd green canvas above the ankle; and 3) red Creepers that I bought from a store on Brady Street in San Francisco. These were my favorite, as they looked the weirdest and attracted the most attention. At the time, Creepers were only available in England, so getting them involved finding an import store or convincing a friend that was traveling to Europe to lug back an extra pair of heavy, thick-soled shoes in their suitcase. You would be surprised how many people were willing to do this.

Katy Walrath, my Stevie Nicks wannabe friend from the other High School, held the title of assistant manager at Musicland and encouraged me to apply for a job. She said the Manager was a cokehead and was never around, so it would be fun. I was a little dubious about working with Katy because I suspected she secretly hated me. Anytime she was drunk, and the evening was coming to a close, she would lurch over to me and say, “You think you’re so cool. I hate you. I hate you!” After the third or fourth time hearing this, I tersely replied, “Yeah, I know. You tell me this all the time.” This went on for years. The next day, I would bring it up and she would always shrug and reply, “Watch gonna do?” Eventually it became a joke; although, to this day, she looks at me funny after a few drinks.

I met with the manager, Bruce—a gangly, disheveled fella with a scrappy beard that looked like Hugh Grant’s roommate in Notting Hill. He handed me an honesty test, forgoing any kind of formal interview. That was it. No “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “If I called your former employer, what would they say about you?” He said to fill it out the way it was supposed to be filled out and winked at me. His movements were jerky and he was sweating. I already liked this guy. Katy also encouraged me to lie on the test. I took this as a sign that both of them thought I was honest.

David left me sitting on a mall bench outside of the record store. I opened the test and scanned its entirety before starting. My fears that the test would be savvy enough to detect my blatant lies were unfounded, and lying proved quite easy. The majority of the questions were about taking drugs, drinking alcohol and stealing. Answers to most questions ended with, “It’s illegal in the State of California (Have you taken drugs?)?" And, a variation on the theme, “The legal drinking age in the State of California is 21 and I’m only 18 years old (Have you ever drank alcohol?)” After a while I got bored and inserted phrases like “the great State of California” and replaced “narcotics” for “drugs.” It was actually an enjoyable test.

A week later Katy called and said I got the job. She told me that I was supposed to wear a tie, but I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. Another formality I was told to ignore—my kind of job.

I ignored the tie request, but I did try to look presentable. At this time in my life presentable was relative. Up to that point I had been sporting a pink triple Mohawk. Despite its rebellious implications, this look was actually rather high maintenance. Being very lazy about my appearance, I never took the time to make the triple hawk look good (if that was really an option). Looking good would entail getting up early and spending time in front of the bathroom mirror coating it with dish soap and hairspray until it stuck up in big liberty spikes. I usually chose to wake up late and left the house at the last minute possible. As a result my Mohawk looked more like a scraggly, pink, comb-over than the bad-ass hairdo worn by the lead singer from The Exploited. I decided to make it a little more wash and wear for the new job and shaved it all off except a small, pink tuft in the front. I looked like a skinhead’s girlfriend.

The first day of work I wore the red Creepers, 1950s wool trousers, a vintage short-sleeve button-up shirt and thin suspenders. Not too shabby. Nobody said anything about my outfit, so I continued to dress like this, alternating between the Creepers and the army boots.

It turned out that working there was actually really fun. David showed up only to collect payroll at the end of every two weeks. He was a great boss - he was never there. Katy and I would goof around, play music and act like the unsupervised 18 year olds we were. We gave out free Kurtis Blow 12 inch records to every 10th customer, and told one homophobe to get lost for trying to return a Bronski Beat record because they supported a gay organization. The only problem was that my looks were attracting some attention.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Story by my good friend Kim Coenen

I had been around the block a few times. I usually hung out around Baltic. I went straight to jail more often than not, to visit boyfriends of course. I waited and waited for the chance opportunity to get free parking, I lived in SF and this was the Holy
Grail. I had made my mistakes, lapse of judgment if you will, but overall had a clean heart. At the strong advice of dear friends, I decided perhaps after ten years of circling the block in SF waiting for free parking, Seattle might offer some better options.

Seattle taught me how to live. I didn’t circle anymore. I simply drove. The mountains were beautiful and the rain cleansed me. While I was there I also pioneered the grunge sound. Not really. But I was there.

I returned to SF after four years to complete my Masters degree. I didn’t have a car so I no longer needed free parking and it was liberating. During my studies, I met John. John was wholesome and good. John’s family lived on Ventura Blvd. He was smart and kind. We would have a good life.

We both got our Masters degrees in Political Science. We married, bought a nice bungalow house and had a beautiful daughter. He taught at a community college and I stayed home with our child while waiting to apply to doctorate programs once she was off my boob.

St. James life right?

A week after our daughter’s first birthday, John woke up and said he was leaving. I asked what time he would be home for dinner. He would not come home for dinner. He would never come home.

He died on the fourth of July, Independence Day.

I raise my daughter alone. I moved to Atlantic Ave. where the schools are better and the parking is always free.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Metal On Metal

Inevitably, during every rock show the audience chants some phrase or chorus in unison. Our show was no different. Halfway through the first song, I found myself chanting “Metal on Metal.” I didn’t do it with the gusto of most people, but I did garner enough enthusiasm for the ritual.

In front, the metal heads gave the band the devil sign and everybody else either pumped their fist in unison or followed suit with the metal heads. I was a different story, though. There was some since of misguided pride or age appropriate behavior that stopped me from raising my hands with the horns. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to do it, I wanted to be part of this moment, but I was now exposed in the crowd, away from the safety of the wall and what confidence I had was slowly leaking.

Not wanting to be one of those idiots at concerts that show no emotion while a band is playing, I decided to pump my fist, moving my wrist back and forth, like I was knocking on a door. This failed miserably. My fist hung over the heads of the audience, not like a monument to metal, but more like I was physically challenged. At the last minute, I decided to give the horns; however, I was once again non-committal, so it looked more like I was signing (ASL) or I had Cerebral Palsy. It looked like a fay, limp wrist.

A non-descript man in front of me, next to two 60 plus, white haired, albino guys that looked like a mixture of Kris Kristofferson and the Nelson twins, was also exploring new rock hand techniques. However, he seems more confident and practiced in his rogue hand gesture.

It could only be described as a nod to a goat’s hoof: the 3 middle fingers and thumb of his hand slightly bent, looking like a twisted 4-prong pitch fork, with his pinkie tucked under his ring finger. His hand violently pierced the air, aimed at the band. His face was contorted and demonic. Given that we were at a metal show and metal and goats unfortunately go together, it had to be a goat’s hoof. It was beyond me, but I liked it and embraced his commitment.

2 songs later there was a fight in the middle of the floor, where the obligatory mosh pit waged. Security grabbed the fighter by the back of his neck and arms and walked him to the side of the stage and out the backstage door. Trailing the fighter and security was the goat guy, giving the goat symbol with a demonic smile. It was unclear whether he was part of the fight or not. Either way, he followed them through the backstage door, giving the staff and fighter “the goat” the whole way.

A few minutes later security returned sans the goat guy and the fighter. Even though it appeared that the goat guy was not part of the fight, they did themselves a favor and tossed him with the fighter. He wasn’t long for the show.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Jewish Closet



“The Cantor is from Brooklyn, he’s really great,” she said, throwing out Cantor like it was common term. It was a common term except for people like me. Cantor? What the hell is that? Even though I didn’t get Cantor, I was fully aware of the Brooklyn reference: Brooklyn lent him credibility in this world and gave her a little street cred for knowing him. Despite being in the dark, I acknowledged that all the great Cantors were from Brooklyn. Brooklyn? He must be good. She was wearing a sash. There would lots of sashes at this event

We were in Fresno for a Bar Mitzvah and I should’ve Googled Bar Mitzvah and brushed up on the terminology, but I didn’t. Like all things I don’t understand, I nodded, giving off that I was in the club, in the know, stopping short of winking. I had no idea what she talking about, but I would extoll his greatness, if it came down to that. And I was a little worried about being labeled an anti-Semite because of my cultural ignorance. You never know at these things.

We arrived early to get a good seat. I was the Godfather of the Abraham, the Bar Mitzvah boy and, since he was a great, well-mannered, polite, cool kid, I wanted everybody to know that I was just a little more special than them. How do you know Abraham? Oh, I’m his Godfather. Back off.

Yarmulkes lined a table that lead to the Temple. My wife grabbed 2 for Wolfie and I. Anytime I’m doing something Jewish, I never know whether I’m supposed to wear one or not, but I always do because it covers my bald spot. The yarmulke alone is reason enough to choose Judaism over Christianity. Jews should use this as a recruitment tool.

A pew in the third row was open. We sat down and I surveyed the room for familiar faces and similarities to churches. Immediately, I noticed “the Jewish Closet” behind the Rabbi’s area. It was hard to miss and had a Price is Right feel, like the Rabbi would ceremoniously open it and there would be a new car. I knew something good was behind it.

Besides the Jewish closet and the lack of a hanging, semi-clothed Jesus, it kinda looked like Christian church: pews, stained glass, folders for prayer/hymn books (no foot rest, though) and well-dressed people to fill the pews.

The Rabbi, a rotund, red-faced man in his 60s, with a Janet Jackson/Madonna microphone headset, addressed the crowd, chronicling the ceremony from beginning to end. I like the timeline approach, as it gives us something to look forward to - the end of the ceremony. When my parents dragged me to church as young boy, I would take my father’s watch and practice holding my breath - anything to relieve the boredom of church. By the end of the sermon, I was able to hold my breath well over one minute without passing out. I can thank Christianity for my lung capacity.

As the Rabbi came to the last point in the outline of the ceremony, it was easy to decipher what he was really saying: “You gentiles, it’s gonna be a long-ass ceremony. Prepare yourselves. Trust me, I’ve done this a thousand times.” While chuckling, he announced that most kids would not be able to sit through the ceremony and that there was library filled with distractions where they could go to wait it out. He also announced that Abraham would be reading in both English and Hebrew. This last comment was for guys like me – guys that would lean over to their wives and say, “Jesus, Abraham’s speaking another language - Jewish or Arabic or something like that.”

Let the ceremony begin.

Abraham read from the Jewish Prayer book. We stood up, sat down, stood up again and sat down. I pretended to be following along with the Hebrew, reading from right to left, but I was lost. Halfway through I put the book down and didn’t look back.

The Cantor stood on the other side of the stage from Abraham, the Rabbi and the Lady Rabbi, who was dressed in a stylish pantsuit. She turned out to be his Bar Mitzvah teacher – something like that. The Cantor had his own podium. With a short ponytail and barrel chest, he looked like a present day Steven Segal without the grimace. He stood erect when he sang, pressing his acoustic guitar against his diaphragm. If I hadn’t deduced that he was the Cantor, I would’ve thought he was a local opera singer. He was a pro and elevated the Bar Mitzvah from ceremony to concert. I was half expecting him to sell CDs after the show.

This had to be a good gig for the Cantor. I imagined him sitting on a stoop in Brooklyn, with his Cantor friends, talking about the impending Bar Mitzvah:

“So, they’re flying you out to California?”

“Yep.”

“And they’re paying you?”

“Yep.”

“And they’re putting you up in a hotel?

“Yep.”

“Where’s it at?”

“Temple Beth Israel in…Fresno. It’s near, uh, the beach.”

“Wow, can I get your agent’s number?”

The ceremony didn’t get interesting until they opened the Jewish closet. Sitting on the edge of my pew, wondering what the hell was in there, the Rabbi nonchalantly opened the doors. I was hoping he would conjure David Copperfield or at least add a little pizazz, possibly smoke, but all we got was a short tug on the door, revealing something that reminded me of a medieval arms closet, a place where actors at medieval tourist restaurants – the ones where they joust - go to suit up for the dinner shows. I don’t know what I was expecting - an old man with a scraggily beard chipping at a rock? I was a little disappointed.

Back dropped in crushed red velvet, the Jewish closet featured 5 different sized Torahs on pedestals of various heights that formed a backward “V,” the largest on top and the rest sliding down the imaginary arms. I was unaware they were Torahs at the time.

The Rabbi grabbed the largest Torah like a large baby, struggling to bump it off its pedestal. He presented it to the crowd like an offering. Unsure of whether to clap, I sat on my hands and waited. No applause. He returned it to its new resting a place and removed its top, a gold crown ala Burger King and Chef Boyardee and placed it on what looked like an abridged Menorah near the Cantor. It tilted precariously.

Now exposed, I got a good look at the Torah. It was part Hoover vacuum bag, part hookah, part bagpipe and it probably could churn butter with a few adjustments. And it looked heavy, like the vacuum had sucked up some rocks.

The Rabbi called to the stage two women from the church .They would be the first of many people to participate in the service. Gently peeling back the Hoover vacuum bag, the women moved away from the Torah, revealing a scroll. The wooden arms that I mistook as the tenor drone of a bagpipe, the shaft of the hookah and the arm of a butter churner, held the holy ream of paper. They brought it over to Abraham and he read from it in Hebrew.

During the ceremony, the Torah was passed from great grandparents to grandparents to parents and then on to Abraham. Abraham’s Hebrew teacher, the one in a business pantsuit with heels, exulted Abraham’s attributes, going a little too far, saying she really enjoyed their “off-topic conversations during his private lessons.” It was a little creepy.

The Rabbi earnestly spoke to Abraham about representing the Jewish people, doing good for the Jewish people and working for the Jewish people. This was a little too Jewish for me. Abraham is such a good kid, the kinda kid that gives adults hope that all teenagers aren’t douchebags, and he should be shared with all humanity, not just the Jewish people. The Rabbi and I were on the outs after this. Selfish bastard.

After all the good words, Abraham took the Torah on a tour of the Temple. Like everybody else who came in contact with the bulky Torah, Abraham awkwardly paraded it from pew to pew. The real Jews touched the Torah with the Book of Prayer and then kissed the binding of the book. As Abraham came closer to us, Wolfie, my son, and I pushed out to the aisle with our books. As he passed, Wolfie touched the book to the Torah and so did I, but I also kissed the book, pandering to the religion. As I did, I looked around, smiling, seeing if anybody was looking at me. I was proud of my kippah and the kiss I just planted on the book.

Near the end of the ceremony, the Rabbi called my family to the stage. Abraham’s parents told us were part of the ceremony, but didn’t explain what we’d be doing. I was hoping it didn’t involve reading in Hebrew.

The Rabbi positioned us on one side of the closet; the other side was close friends. I positioned myself closest to the handle, in case it involved opening the door. With a little prompting from the Rabbi, we opened the door together and then closed it a short while later. I don’t remember the significance of opening and closing the doors, but it was late in the ceremony, so I assume we were putting the big Torah to rest. I was a little heady from being so close to the closet.

The Cantor sang and the Rabbi pronounced Abraham a man. We got up, stretched and moved to the adjacent room, where the ceremony commenced.

I made small talk with people I kinda knew, knew and had no Idea who the hell they were. I had lots of questions: What is a Cantor? How heavy is the Torah? Do you pay extra for using the largest Torah? What’s the deal with the Jewish closet? Lady Rabbi was was kinda pretty, don’t you think? These questions were reserved for people I knew. Most chit chat centered on the ceremony and Abraham.

At the end of the evening, while I explained to Abraham’s dad in the parking lot that getting a DUI on his son’s Bar Mitzvah wasn’t a good idea, a straggler from the party approached. His car was next to mine. Not getting his fill of small talk, he said in passing, “How about that Cantor? He’s from Brooklyn, you know,”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

White Punks on Hope



Donna was a frequent visitor to our warehouse and supported our stringent anarchist views. Not many people could deal with us because we had such a strong sense of right and wrong. Many nights, she and her friend Judy (a blond version of her) would visit and stay late, eating fried potatoes and listening to music. This night she was there to see a band. Our neighbors rented another space in the warehouse to put on shows on the weekends. Somehow they managed to get good bands like the Meat Puppets, Soul Asylum and Beefeater to play, along with countless hardcore shows.

Since we were anarchist snobs, we didn't always make the scene. We were too busy burning ATMs, spray painting walls and writing “comrades” across the globe to shuffle our cloth china flats downstairs. On this night, though, we had just got back from Santa Cruz. It was 1986, my 22nd birthday, and it was customary to make the sojourn south to Santa Cruz for all of our birthdays. At the time, it was the only place in the Bay Area that sold vegan pizza.

Donna Punk Rock knocked on our door and told us there was a good band playing next door and that we should come down. We obliged and made our way to the downstairs hallway, across the makeshift bridge of two-by-fours and out the knobless door into complete darkness that led to where the band was playing. This is what not paying rent will get you.

As we watched the band, Donna said she had two tickets to see Aerosmith at the Cow Palace and asked if I wanted to go for my birthday. Having been a big Aerosmith fan in my youth, I accepted and off we went across the bridge, careful not to let anyone know where we were going. Aerosmith was definitely not anarchy; however, all of us had bands in our closets that we listened to on the sly. Even bands like Black Flag were considered sexist and not appropriate to our beliefs.

The early 80s were a dark time for Aerosmith. Steve Tyler was in the throes of heroin addiction and Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, founding members, were long gone, pursuing failed musical projects.

As expected, the show was horrible. Half the seats were filled and the people who did attend mirrored the ragged bunch they had paid 30 bucks to see, but I was happy to be away from the warehouse. It was my birthday and seeing Aerosmith conjured memories of Creem magazine and Day on the Greens.

During the encore, they played a new song called “Angel.” This was the first of many soft rock, over emotional ballads Aerosmith would churn out in the next two decades; although this one never became that big of a hit. As the piano started, a giant neon “A” (for Aerosmith) lowered from behind the stage. Of course, “A” was my favorite letter; I even referred to myself as an “A,” short for Anarchist.

Perched behind Steven Tyler’s head, the “A” was like a full moon. I raised my hand in the air, touching my thumb to my ring finger, forming a circle. I lowered my hand a few inches in front of my squinting right eye and circled the giant “A” on the stage. Since the circled "A" is the symbol for Anarchy, I believed that every “A” should be circled. All around me, people were holding up Bic lighters. Donna looked at me and wondered what I was doing. I chose to say nothing, keeping my outreached hand extended. It was my own personal not-so joke. I was a very serious young man.

We drove back over the bridge listening to Flux of Pink Indians, transitioning from has-been arena rock back to warehouse punk. Appreciative that Donna took me to the show, I invited her up to our space. Christ on Parade was playing across the hall and we peeked in to watch a few songs. Having seen them hundreds of times, I suggested that we leave and see what my roommates were doing. On the nights of shows, our place served as sort of a backstage or VIP lounge for our friends and the anarchy intelligentsia. Our warehouse had an air of mystery and clout, which people gravitated toward. For a Pleasanton punk, I had hit the big time.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rowland with a W

By Victoria Jaschob

Paris can be unbearably hot and sticky in the summertime, and 1982 was
no exception. I was nineteen and living in a big apartment on the Left Bank,supposedly studying film at the Sorbonne. During the day I worked in my flatmate’s reggae music store, and at night I ran the lights for my other flatmate’s tiny theater. In between, I smoked Silk Cut cigarettes, drank “33” beer, and listened to music: reggae, punk, and Edith Piaf. The thing I wasn’t doing, my actual reason for being in Paris, was going to film school. But I didn’t care. In those days, all I really cared about was music, drinking, and boys.

One drawback to living in Paris, especially in the summer, is that you get a lot of people you don’t know showing up unannounced, wanting you to take them to tourist spots like the Eiffel Tower and Shakespeare and Co., the American booksellers. My flatmates and I hung out with reggae musicians and pirate radio DJs, male prostitutes and British actors. Cool people. The last place I wanted to go was somewhere like Shakespeare and Co., with all the bloody tourists. So my heart sank when I answered the phone one hot night in July, to hear a male voice with an Australian accent telling me he was a friend of so-and-so’s from London and she’d given him my number and he was coming to Paris in a few days and could we meet up?

Merde, I thought, Shakespeare and Co.

I could barely place the connection – a girl I’d stayed with for one night on the Isle of Dogs the winter before. I’d completely forgotten her, but apparently I’d given her my phone number, and she’d passed it on to this dorky-sounding Australian. No way was I hanging out with this guy - his name was Bingo, for a start.

“So, Bingo, what brings you to Paris? On holiday?” I asked without
enthusiasm.

“I’m touring with a band, actually. I’m sort of like their…roadie.”

I pictured a pudgy little guy, carrying the snare drum for some passe act
from my parents’ generation, like the Inkspots or someone. I asked who the
band was, and when he told me their name I was instantly all attention. It wasn’t the Inkspots. In fact, I’d just seen them on the cover of the NME, the British music journal that was my personal bible. They had an unusual look, to put it mildly: the bass player dressed like a cowboy by way of the Village People; the singer was a Neanderthal with a jet-black porcupine of hair; the drummer looked like the head boy of an English boarding school; and the guitar player, well, he looked like nothing on earth. I thought he was the most exotic thing I’d ever seen: a fragile woodland creature who’d just crawled out from under a fern. The article described their sound as chaotic, visceral, dark – even dangerous. Without having heard a note of their music, I knew they were going to be my new favorite band.

“They’re called The Birthday Party,” said Bingo. “I’ll put you on the guest
list, ok?”

Come the day of the show, however, I was in a foul mood. The weather
was particularly sultry, and I was convinced I’d make the trip all the way across town only to find I wasn’t on the list after all. I was in no mood to be humiliated by the club’s notoriously rude doormen, and accordingly I’d made up my mind not to go. But about six o’clock the phone rang. My flatmate answered.

“It’s for you, Tricky. Some Australian.” (Tricky was her nickname for me.)
I reluctantly picked up the receiver.

“It’s Bingo!” said the slightly breathless voice on the other end. “I put you on the guest list. You’re still coming, aren’t you?”

I gave in. “Hi Bingo. Sure, I’ll be there.”

“So, how will I recognize you?” he asked.

“Um, I’m short, with spiky blonde hair…how about you?”

“I’m 6’ 5”, and I’ll be wearing all black leather,” he replied.

Well, you shouldn’t be too hard to spot, I thought. The evening was
looking up.

I got to Bains-Douches, the snooty club built inside an old bathhouse, and
not only was I on the guest list, there was a backstage pass waiting for me as well. It just didn’t get any better than this. I breezed past the glaring doormen, bought an over-priced beer, and stood in front of the stage. The club wasn’t even full – I had a clear view of whatever was about to transpire on the low platform. The Birthday Party didn’t actually start their set - no tune-up, no count off – they just sort of exploded: “Hands up – who wants to die?” Tracy, the bass player, bent his spine back into a perfect arch, cowboy hat firmly in place; Mick bashed out complex, gut-churning rhythms on the drums; Lydia Lunch sang a couple of numbers; and I think there was a saxophone at one point. It was
everything the NME had described, and then some.

Nick, the singer, launched himself into the crowd at every opportunity,
limbs flailing, and it quickly became clear that Bingo’s job was simply to haul him out when it looked like he’d had enough abuse from the audience. But I couldn’t take my eyes off Rowland, the guitar player, who paced around the stage like a caged animal, while his Fender made noises like all the demons of hell. The sound of it did something to my insides, and the way he looked added to it: he was a starved urchin with porcelain skin and cheekbones that could cut glass. He and Nick danced around each other like a deranged Astaire & Rogers, the perfect couple.

When it was over, far too soon, I felt like something in my DNA had been
permanently re-arranged. I was standing on the dance floor in a sort of daze, when Bingo saw me and motioned me over. He was unmistakable - freakishly tall, dressed in black leather from head to foot, with a bushy mop of curly brown hair. He took me backstage, got me a beer from the band’s stash, and we chatted. He was effusive, despite his somewhat alarming appearance. I didn’t say much; I was still full of the music and busy absorbing the backstage scene.

A whiny French journalist kept trying to approach Nick – first he wanted a
beer, then he wanted an interview – but it soon became clear that whatever he wanted, he wasn’t getting anything. Finally Nick stood up, grabbed him by the hair, dragged him across the floor, and threw him out the dressing room door. At that point, I started to feel guilty about the warm Heineken I was drinking and tried to make myself as unobtrusive as possible. Unbelievably, after a few minutes the journalist came back and cowered just outside the dressing room door. Bingo excused himself, loomed up in front of him, and said, quietly but firmly, “Don’t. Upset. Nick.” The journalist slunk away, for good this time.

Then Bingo came back, sat down next to me and cheerily asked if I would
join him and the band upstairs for dinner. When I hesitated, he assured me it was no problem, they wouldn’t mind at all. He was persistent, but I was more than a little intimidated, not to mention star-struck. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t bring myself do it. I didn’t want to be like the French journalist: just another sycophantic, parasitic creep sucking up their oxygen. Also, I was a little nervous about Bingo’s expectations.

“Thanks anyway,” I said. “I think I’ll just go home.” I walked all the way
back to my flat through the warm night, reliving every minute. I knew that nothing I’d experienced musically up to this point had prepared me for the onslaught of The Birthday Party, and nothing that came after would quite measure up.

At the end of the summer, I went back to the States, moved to the Mission District, and dropped out of film school. I bought all the Birthday Party records I could find, and spent hours lying around my hot, cockroachy apartment on Shotwell Street, listening to their music and staring at the guitar player’s photo. He was my dream-man: androgynous, mysterious, tragic. Even the way he spelled his name was perverse: Rowland with a W.

The Birthday Party finally came to San Francisco a year later, shortly
before they split up for good. The night of the show, I dressed carefully in the height of Goth Girl fashion: black thrift-store dress, backcombed hair, rosaries and crucifixes draped around my neck. Walking down Haight Street, I came upon a smashed vase on the sidewalk, apparently fallen from the apartment above. The flowers were fine, though, and without a thought I scooped them up and carried them into the club. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I stood at the front of the stage, directly in front of my guitar hero. The band was still great, maybe not quite as mind-blowing as the first time (what is?), but Rowland’s guitar still howled and squealed in that way that got to me deep inside, and once more, I was transfixed.

As soon as the show ended, still clutching my flowers, I went around to the
backstage entrance only to be confronted by a black man the size of a small
mountain guarding the door. Obviously the club had hired extra security, given the band’s reputation for mayhem. I just stood there. The guard looked me up and down, took in the hair, the rosaries, the now-wilted flowers – then, miraculously, unhooked the rope and ushered me through. Just like that, I was in the sanctum sanctorum. Rowland was slumped in a chair with his head resting on the table in front of him. He looked like a broken-winged angel who’d tumbled down from heaven and landed right in the middle of the I-Beam’s dressing room. I gently laid the flowers on the table where he could see them.

“Thank you,” he said in a small voice, without raising his head. It was all I needed to hear.

I spotted Mick, the drummer, and went over to say hello. I asked if Bingo
was touring with them this time.

He looked startled. “How do you know Bingo?” he asked.

I explained to him how we’d met at the show in Paris the year before, and told him about hanging out backstage afterward, drinking beer with the band. He nodded, and thought for a minute.

“You should have come to dinner,” he said.

March 2011