Big Nate knows what to get me for my birthday, year after year
George Dickel ® Tennessee Whisky
Pabst Blue Ribbon ® beer
Skippy ® Peanut Butter
Sweet Georgia Brown ® pomade
Pinaud Clubman ® After Shave Lotion
Some of the most interesting responses I got since starting this blog were not about any person, place or thing, but about the rat on my shoulder in the picture of me and Jim Jones that I posted a few weeks back. Seems that people love rats, and rightly so, they are pretty remarkable little creatures. When I first started keeping pet rats in the 80’s it was a total punk rock thing, you know, a show up at the club with a rat in the pocket of your hoodie deal, but over the years I’ve developed a real appreciation for the kings of all rodents.
Case in point, the rat in the picture. Her name is Eloise, so named only so that we could call her “Wheezy” ala The Jeffersons. She is the daughter of the best rat I've ever owned, Curtis Mayfield LaVella. Now Curtis, who is getting up in years but is still with us, is such a great rat that we just had to keep the line going, so in December of '06 we went out and got him a wife. A quick internet search revealed that the late Curtis Mayfield’s real life wife is named Altheida, so that’s what we called her. A mere 28 days later, the Mayfield line would indeed continue, as baby after baby started dropping out of her one Saturday afternoon. We fully intended to name their 12 rat litter after all of their actual children, but could never come up with that info, so we more or less named them after their personalities. For instance, the biggest and meanest male was named Tarmo, after Estonian strongman Tarmo Mitt, and so on. We were able to find good homes for 8 of them, and kept 4 for ourselves. Rats live best in same sex pairs, so the idea was to keep a male for Curtis (which ended up being the aforementioned Tarmo, who is mean to everyone except Curtis, who he obviously respects and still grooms daily) and a girl, which ended up being Wheezy, for Altheida. We also have two other males, Virgil and Zeppo, who we call “the twins” because their markings are nearly identical. So, six rats and everything is going great until the day we saw a lump growing in Wheezy's belly. It turned out to be a tumor, which is very common in rats. Within a month it grew to almost the size of a golf ball, and even though we read that that it wasn't fatal, she was obviously in discomfort, and we couldn’t just stand by and watch her drag that thing around. So off she went to the Broadway Pet Hospital in Oakland, a place where they take rats as seriously as dogs and do fine work, for surgery. It was cheaper than we thought, and except for the week where she had to wear the comical conehead so that she wouldn’t chew out her stitches, it pretty much went off without a hitch. So yeah, I’m the kind of guy who pays to have surgery on a pet rat, just though you might get a kick out of knowing that.
Soft Machine (seen here makin' noise in 1967)
Kraan (First 2 records anyway…)
Real Enemy @ The Electric Banana 4/20/83. Photo by Eric Bauer
April 20th 2008 marks the 25th anniversary of the first time I ever took the stage in a band; specifically it was the first Real Enemy gig at (where else?) the Electric Banana in Pittsburgh, PA. Real Enemy was formed right after I took a road trip to D.C a month earlier, where over a three day period at the 9:30 Club I saw The Cramps, The Gun Club, and perhaps most importantly, a now-legendary hardcore matinee with The Necros, The Faith, The Meatmen and Hate From Ignorance that took place on Sunday March 27th. There are pictures from that show in the book Banned in D.C., and yes, you can clearly see an 18 years young, wide-eyed MLV in the crowd. Looking back today, the really remarkable thing is that after seeing that show, I went back to Pittsburgh, put the band together, quickly wrote up a whole set, and we were playing out a mere 24 days later. 8 days after that we played with Husker Du, and two days after that, we opened for Flipper. Those were the days…
Real Enemy consisted of the angry young me on vocals, Vince Curtis, who would later join me in Half Life, on guitar, boy genius Steve Heineman, who still makes his living playing music on bass, and the veteran of two great Pittsburgh punk bands – namely Radio Hanoi and Ground Zero – Russell Smith on drums. In the next 6 months we would go on to play with everyone from Ultra Violence at CBGB’s, to my hardcore heroes The Necros, before self destructing at a gig opening for, perhaps appropriately, No Trend. But back to April 20th, 1983…
Back then, bands had to play two sets, and we needed another band on the bill to fill up an entire evenings worth of “entertainment.” The choice was obvious for us, as Vince was also a member of Plastic btls, the ‘Burgs premier industrial band, who were fronted by Lee “Mr. Destruction” Skirboll. The door price was $1, and I clearly remember that 83 people paid to get in (1983 – 83 people – easy.) Draft beers were 50¢ until 10 PM, so I’m pretty sure the crowd came early. What that must have been like for them, a brutal set of industrial (in the Nurse with Wound / Whitehouse sense of the word children, no Thrill Kill Cult here!) music, followed by a brutal half hour of angry hardcore, followed by more industrial then, hey, why not? more hardcore. With the exception of Real Enemy covering “Teenage Lobotomy” and resurrecting the Radio Hanoi burg-classic “Jody is a Lemonhead” it was all original material, none of which any of the audience could have ever heard before. Were they intrigued? Disappointed? Happy to have something to do for a dollar on a Wednesday night? I’ll never know for sure, because I was way too interested in creating “the scene” (as opposed to making “a scene”) so that we could do it again and again. I dreamed that there would be lots more bands, people that wanted to publish fanzines, start radio shows, make flyers, create indie record labels and so on. All I wanted then was for Pittsburgh to have a real hardcore scene like Washington D.C., which eventually did happen – and it all started on this particular evening, 25 years ago today when the first ever local hardcore band took the stage for the very first time. Someone had to go first, it just happened to be us.
Not since I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh in the 70’s, when the Steelers famously dominated the NFL, winning four Super Bowls in the process, have I had a team I could truly call my own. I lived in San Francisco for a decade, but it never felt right to me. Then I was off to the East Bay, first it was Alameda, then later Oakland that became my adopted hometown, and for better or worse, The Golden State Warriors my team. The similarities between “Da Burg” and Oakland are many; amazing architecture, including deco masterpieces inexplicably sitting empty with fading "For Rent" signs in their windows, dominate the downtown landscapes, and rich musical histories, from Billy Eckstine and The Marcels in Pittsburgh, to Sly Stone and Tower of Power out here, to name but a few. But nothing unites a city like a team, especially if it’s a scrappy bunch of perennial underdogs that are all heart, who play every game as if their very lives depended on it, and that describes Golden State perfectly. As my cousin Cassie (a much more recent transplant from Pennsylvania) observed, “They are the Bad News Bears.”
About a year ago the Warriors shocked the world when, for the first time in history, an 8th seed knocked off a 1st seed in the first round of the playoffs. “We Believe” united this town in much the same way The Steelers gave hope to a faltering steel town on the verge of economic collapse, with unemployment numbers at all time highs. You can take away a lot of things from people, but pride is a funny thing. Sometimes the harder you get kicked when you’re down, the more resolve you actually have, and when the Warriors with their 42-40 record finally made the playoffs after a 13 year drought, the city exploded in a frenzy that made national headlines. They measured the sound at Oracle arena with decibel meters, where the crowd frequently pushed the needle past the threshold of pain. We had finally tasted success, and we wanted more… badly.
This season, a younger, and in many ways improved, GSW squad had an even better record; an impressive 48-34. In any other year, that would have easily put us in the playoffs, possibly as high as a 5th or 6th seed, but this year the West was so completive, it just wasn’t enough to make the post season. To put things in perspective, if we were in the Eastern Conference, we would be the FOURTH seed, finishing with a better record than the much more media scrutinized LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but out here we find ourselves on the outside looking in. I’ve always been a “glass is half full” kind of guy, so rather than sulk about it, I’m thinking about the positives.
First of all, we still made history, as our record ties for the best ever for a team not making the playoffs, so even in loss we win. But most importantly, during the regular season, I watched breathlessly as the Dubs beat virtually every team in the Eastern Conference, including powerhouses like the high-flying Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic and the aforementioned Cavs, and with the sole exception of the Utah Jazz, every team in the extremely competitive West, including the Lakers (twice actually, including a victory at the Staples Center where they hadn’t won in years,) The Rockets (twice,) The Spurs (twice,) The Suns (twice,) The Hornets (in New Orleans no less,) The Nuggets, and last years evil foes, the Dallas Mavericks. So no matter who is holding up the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy at the end of this NBA season, I’ll be thinking “Yeah, but The Warriors beat them” and, as Timmy Lupus famously said, “Just wait ‘till next year.” In the end, sports are entertainment, and there is no team out there that could hope to entertain me more that The Warriors did this year. So thank you Baron, Jack, Monta, Kelenna, Andris, Mickael, Marco, Matt, Austin, Al, Patrick, Brandon, C.J., D.J, Troy, Chris and Kosta, it’s been a hell of a ride.
Despite the fact that’s it’s been 25 years since I dropped out of art school, I still tend to have little projects going all the time. One that I forgot about (until I recently found these pictures) was my “Happy Tom hat” endeavor.
It all started in 2002 when I made my last trip to Scandinavia, which unfortunately was the only one that included Norway, a county I instantly fell in love with. While in Oslo, I stayed at the apartment of Mensen guitarist Christine 16, and it was there that I first laid eyes on thee hat.
Now remember, 6 years ago Turbonegro were not the world wide phenomenon that they are today, but in Europe and hipper rock circles in the US, they were already legendary. They had been broken up for years at that point, but had recently reformed and were about to start playing out and recording again. Apparently at one of their “last ever shows” in Oslo, Happy Tom threw out a few of his trademark sailor caps, and Christine snagged one. I’ll spare you the begging and pleading that went on to pry this precious prize away from her, but I'm sure you can imagine how badly I wanted it, the ultimate souvenir of a rock and roll trip to Norway.
Anyway, she graciously gave it to me, and after that, for the next year or so everyone that came to my house, famous or merely infamous, was forced to wear it while a Polaroid picture was snapped. Here are a few of the results….
Labels: Top 5
Anne – The Stooges
Baby Teeth Marge – Thee Headcoatees
Charlotte the Harlot – Iron Maiden
Classified Susie – The Boys
Diane – Hüsker Dü
Drunken Maria – The Monks
Gabrielle – The Nipple Erectors
Glendora – The Downliners Sect
Jenna – The Riverboat Gamblers
Jenny's in a Sleep World – The Diodes
Linda Blair – Red Cross
Liza Radley – The Jam
Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand – The Who
Mary Long – Deep Purple
Meet Jacqueline – The Troggs
Melody Lee – The Damned
Nita Nitro – The Wildhearts
Rosalie – Thin Lizzy
Sally Sensation – The Buff Medways
Sassy Sue – The Knockout Pills
Sheena Is A Punk Rocker – The Ramones
Sheila Take A Bow – The Smiths
Sue Egypt – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band
Suzie is a Floozie – The Lurkers
Wendy, You’re Killing Me – Ginger
I’m a little late to this party (or wake as the case my be) but I just found out that Pere Ubu guitarist Jim Jones passed away in February. I met Jim back in the mid-80’s when I still lived in Pittsburgh. Back then I used to go to Cleveland frequently, mostly to visit my friend Tom Dark. Tom, approximately my age and also the veteran of early 80’s hardcore bands, was a lot like me in that he befriended all the older guys in the scene. For me, that meant members of The Five, Carsickness and the Cardboards, for Tom it meant The Pagans and the Easter Monkeys, who Jones played guitar for. Tom’s long time housemate was Easter Monkeys singer Chris Yarmock, and it was he who first introduced me to “Jonesy” as they called him. I never got to see the Easter Monkeys, but I was excited for Jim when he joined Pere Ubu, and luckily I saw the line-up he was in quite a few times, on both coasts. I have a very clear memory of going to see Pere Ubu at the I-Beam on Haight street after I moved to San Francisco in 1988, mostly to catch up with Jim. He was always so friendly, which was great because a lot of the “Class of ’77” punks didn’t want much to do with us “hardcore kids” but Jim was no snob. He sent me a postcard from England (or “Jolly olde” as he called it) but I lost touch with him in the 90’s, and I’m sorry I did.
The only picture I could find of us was this one, but it’s significant to me for lots of reasons. First off, it was taken when I was actually moving from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in September of 1988, and it’s one of the only photos that documents the trip –I guess I thought film developing was expensive or something. It’s also the only photo I have of my pet rat Doyle, who actually died on the trip out, in the heat of the Nevada desert. The photo’s not even 20 years old, but I’m the only one in it that’s still alive, unless you count the posters of Iggy on Tom Darks bedrooms walls. Reminds me to tell myself that every day above ground is a good one. Rest in peace Jonsey, you were definitely one of the good ones.