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.

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