******Talkin ’bout my g-g-g-g-******
My less solipsistic friends on the buff-list have been going on at length about the Clash in the wake of Joe Strummer’s premature demise. A few are showing their age by demonstrating their ignorance about who the Clash were or what their place was in punk culture, about which the alter kakhers seem similarly to have no clue.
Such ignorance was further exemplified in the NY Times today, where an article about Joe Strummer was accompanied by an egregiously captioned photo of Mick Jones. Joe’s probably rolling in ‘is grave.
I was converted to punkdom on my 14th birthday (1978), when a friend of my mother’s (with whom we had lived, seven years earlier, in a communal house on 17th St. in San Francisco), gave me a copy of The Ramones’ _Rocket to Russia_. We had been living in Marin County for many years, and, while I loved living in far west Marin, in Bolinas, reveling in the ocean, the flora and fauna, I was less satisfied with life in Fairfax, where we moved when I was eleven. There I was, adolescing in a place where all the guys wore aloha shirts and Jackson Browne moustaches and the lifestyle was based on a kind of decadent hedonistic “mellowness”, sans the nature-worship and total insularity from the larger culture I had enjoyed in Bolinas. I had no youth movement of my own, was totally uninterested in disco (which I now — like everyone else in my demographic — love — who knew?) and unable to feather my Semitic hair. I listened to Dylan, Donovan, Hendrix, Joni Mitchell — my mother’s music!– as if I could enter my teens in a kind of generational time warp. Luckily, I didn’t have to. Punk gave me what I needed — CRITIQUE — at exactly the time that I needed it. It was a tonic — roaring, rushing, seething, pushing up and out or in and way down.
I may, in a historical sense, have been a little late. The Sex Pistols had just broken up. Their Winterland goodbye was very much in the media at the time. I missed it, and I still regret that, but in the next few years I was so thoroughly immersed in the local punk culture that I made up for it, I think. It was an easy step from the Ramones (my “gateway” band) to the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Generation X, Patti Smith, the Buzzcocks, The Slits (my faves), and scores of other bands I’ve now forgotten the names of .
More interesting was the living punk scene that was a simple bus ride into SF. Luckily, I had graduated with my California Proficiency Exam diploma when I was thirteen and didn’t have to go to high school. I went to College of Marin, but increasingly sporadically as the underworld over the Golden Gate Bridge became more and more compelling.
I was a regular at the Mabuhay. I don’t know how it was that Dirk Dirksen, O great impresario that he was, didn’t get busted for letting minors into his club. Among the bands I saw there: The Avengers, the Nuns, the Sleepers, the Dils, Negative Trend, the Liars, the Readymades, the Dead Kennedys, the Zeroes, the Mutants, the Screamers, D.O.A, Flipper, X, the Middle Class, the Germs, Winston Tong, the Situations, and again, more than I can remember at my advanced age.
I want to emphasize that the Dead Kennedys were never cool. Biafra (no one called him *Jello*) was a geeky puppy-dog-like college guy who wanted attention. They seemed almost suburban ( “new wave”) compared to some of the other bands that were around at the time. It is true that Biafra was regularly pantsed. Their music was energetically imitative of many of the more senior bands on the scene. They were, in their way, great, but they never approached the heroin trance of the Sleepers, the insanely sped-up fury of the Middle Class, the political conviction of the Dils, or the playful nihilism of Flipper.
They did play in my ex-stepfather’s huge living room in Fairfax once, along with the Screamers from LA. I apologize to all my friends who have heard this story so many times. But it really was fun. My stepfather would put on semi-private concerts by the likes of G.S. Sachdev and Hamza-el-Din, so it seemed only fair that I could have *my* music too. We rolled back the beautiful carpets and slammed around (in early punk’s milder version of a mosh pit) in that giant living room with its big windows looking out on redwood trees. I think a few figurines went missing that day.
If you think I am making all this up, have a look at the re-published issues of the SF zine “Search and Destroy”. You can see a picture of me at fourteen in there, with my crewcut and miniature biker’s jacket I had found in a thrift store. Another picture of me and my two best friends at the time, Susy and Caitlin, singing into a mike together. I think we were singing with the Avengers at a show in Berkeley somewhere: “I believe in me/ I make my dreams real” — what corny lyrics for a punk band!
Penelope of the Avengers was nasty to me. Not sure why she singled me out. Once a whole bunch of us, including all the Avengers, took a trip to LA — where we stayed in a crash pad on the Sunset Strip and hung out with X and the Controllers. Carla Maddog (the Controllers’ drummer) tried to seduce me. I remember wearing on that trip a red suede fringed jacket that I thought was really the ultimate in cowpunk style. I’m sure I also wore black jeans sewn into drainpipes (de rigeur) and cowboy boots. We went to parties at rich kids’ houses and hung out on the piers past dark. Penelope teased me because I kept wetting my hair because it looked cooler that way. It was fire-engine red and I could almost make it look like Woody Woodpecker if I kept it wet. I was clueless as to hair products in those days. I know some people poured beer on their upside-down heads to make their hair spiky. That didn’t work for my once (and now again, thank goddesses) luxuriant curliness. But I remember, on that LA trip, having — eccch — FROZEN BEER for breakfast.
I guess I got back at Penelope unintentionally, later, when I was standing around with Vale (editor of Search and Destroy and later ReSearch) and a few others after a very showy performance by the robots of Survival Research Laboratories. I said to Vale that I’d heard that Penelope had a new C&W band, and that they were pretty mediocre. Vale said, “That’s Penelope right there,” pointing to a plumpish blonde with a ponytail standing just near us. I suppose she heard me.
A grassroots group I was involved with, the unintentionally ominously-named New Youth Productions, produced a show at the People’s Temple on Geary St. This was by far my favorite venue, a cavernous former church that had, I believe, been used by both the hippies and the Moonies (can anyone set me straight on its history?). There were plenty of nooks and crannies — including a wonderful balcony — to go hide with cute punk boys in and guzzle fifths of Jack Daniels (ewww! yuck!). Anyway the headliner at that show was none other than… the Clash! I never met Joe Strummer, but I remember that everyone was totally in awe of him. I remember there was a guy named Peter Umpingo (sp?) who had spent some time with Joe in London and talked about deep things. He may as well have had private audiences with the Dalai Lama, we were so impressed. I do remember getting Mick Jones’ autograph. I still have it. And speaking of Joneses, ( I mention this in _Swoon_, I think) I also remember going up to Cotati for some show and Steve Jones, formerly the guitarist of the Sex Pistols, happened to be there, quite drunk. A groupie in a sheer shirt had aimed her sights at him and I hear was successful in managing to fellate him that evening.
Other autographs I have received over the years, not counting poets who have signed their books:
Richard Nixon (but it was fake. I’d sent him a letter when I was four or five protesting the Vietnam war. “He” sent back a postcard in return. Every time I look at that postcard I still try to smudge the signature, to no avail: it’s printed on.)
Cher. Yes, I have Cher’s autograph.
Aki Yashiro (a vixenish japanese enka singer).
A favorite memory of the punk days:
Caitlin and Susy brought Will Shatter, the bassist of Negative Trend and then Flipper, back to my giant house in Fairfax. I think they both slept with him. I remember one of them sucking his nipple. He really *was* anarchy. I never saw him in an unaltered state, without a totally Sid-like sneer on his face (except once when I was making out with him — good kisser! totally abandoned). He certainly wasn’t any different in mellow Marin. We all went down to the sleepy little donut shop the next morning. He was quite a sight, with his leather jacket over his shirtless torso and his long skinny legs, his movements splayed and careless. I don’t think such a person had ever entered that donut shop before. He had, I think, some kind of container of alcohol with him, and he slushed it crazily around. We couldn’t keep him quiet. It was a gleeful feeling, as if we’d captured a wild animal to play with for a while. He glamorized that smalltown hippie world in a way that Van Morrison’s parents (who owned a record shop on the main drag — I saw VM a few times in and near there) certainly could not. Will died of a drug overdose not long after I went to Japan in the late 80s.
Junkies. Strippers. Bike messengers. Self- mutilation. SROs. Vandalism. Indiscriminate pill-popping (unlike most of my friends, I never shot up). Endless flaneuring along Polk St., Castro St., Haight St. The clothes: a real police shirt, spiky boots spraypainted silver, a sweater striped dayglo lime, bubblegum, tangerine, and white, my crewcut hair dyed to match the tangerine stripe. 50s and 60s stuff the thrift stores were still of course still full of. I was afraid of the day when it would all be completely bought up and now it has and you know what, it isn’t so bad. Books: Burroughs, Lautreamont. The latter given to me by Vale of ReSearch. I liked the arty side of punk. The logical extension of Breton & Duchamp into popular daily life.
That to me is the most explicable segue from those strange days into the literary world of SF in the early 1980s… another story…
and alas yet again I have only scratched the surface…