Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rocky Mountain low, more

I am still reminiscing about these old times....

In the batch of British 45 records that my friend brought to Colorado directly from the scene in England was one of the Adverts 'Gary Gillmore's Eyes'. It was a song about someone who got a serial killer's eyes in a transplant and was a good song. But what electrified me was the sleeve with a photo of Gay Advert, the girl bass player. She had Egyptian eyeliner and looked totally cool. She looked sexy and dangerous and accomplished. In a minute I decided I wanted to be just like her. I realized that punk rock didn't just have to be for the boys.

You should never underestimate the importance of a role model.

The other thing I was thinking about was when my second band played around Colorado, we made money. We were usually opening up for a friend's band (unless we put on the gig ourselves) and perhaps the other bands were being unusually nice, but for a good evening we would get $300 or more. I think the headliner would get $500 or more, not sure. The headlining bands knew that if we were opening we and our friends would be there dancing down in front for their set as well. The bands got the door money or a lot of it. 200 people times $5 or so adds up.

There were bands in Colorado that made their living playing music. People went out to dance and the bands in Colorado had to be danceable. There were some really great country swing bands in every town around there who could really 'cook'. And I don't think most of the bands every left or became known outside the area.

Anyhow, later in San Francisco, for a large gig, a New Year's Eve or a headlining gig at Fab Mab or some club, we'd make $7 to be split 7 ways. Oh, maybe we would get $30. It was pathetic. Many of the shows were benefits. In San Francisco we had a sound girl and a lighting girl to pay too, plus a rehearsal studio. Usually the money just went towards repairing our van, or sometimes for recording expenses. The shows we played in Santa Cruz and Sacramento and maybe even Berkeley made decent money but San Francisco was the worst.

At the Palms the owner would ring up the bar tab at the end of the set to see how many drinks the band sold. At the Stone, the bands had to sell tickets ahead of time to be asked back.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rocky Mountain low-life indeed

I received a copy of Rocky Mountain Low and it is a pretty incredible compilation of early punk rock in Colorado. It has a whole booklet of the history of that time by one of the key players. For Jello Biafra/Dead Kennedy collectors it is a must-have.

My only regret is that the book doesn’t have more about me.

So here is my sordid memoir and more than you'd ever want to know:

I worked at a record store ‘on the hill’, Discount Records [a chain store] in Boulder, Colorado. We specialized in classical records but carried everything. [I got hired as an assistant manager because I had long blond hair and was a rock expert…the manager hired two girls with long blond hair…the other was a classical expert.] Our store was near the indie record store run by Rick Stott that Joe talks about in the booklet.

Joe Pope used to ride around town on his bicycle in long curly hair and long black leather coat—a strange sight—but he was a friendly fellow and knew everyone. Joe was literally in high school, along with John Greenaway [of the Healers] they were pals or classmates (?) with Jello/Eric and Sam [of the Healers].

What Joe neglects to mention is that I ordered many of the import singles, Stiff records and things like the Damned that the other store couldn’t carry and we had them right in front of the cash register because they were cool and expensive. Joe and the gang used to come in and talk to me and possibly stuff records up the back of their shirts. Well, I’m just saying. The records disappeared and the store didn’t sell many of them. I can’t remember if Jello/Eric was in attendance but he may have been. Seemed like he left town really early to go to San Francisco but he returned from time to time.

My intro to punk rock was reading Marc Campbell of the Raver’s electrifying articles for the school paper where I was an art student. I quickly ordered the records he talked about such as the Ramones and on weekends would take the hour long bus ride to Denver to buy more rare records for my collection. I went to the Ravers gigs—alone—even though I was painfully shy…it seemed desperately important. I was also reading Marshall McLuhan at the time and somehow that factored into this life-changing time. Art was old hat...punk rock was the future.

I took the Amtrak to NYC and back for just two days in the city. Luckily I was able to see the Ramones the night I arrived and got a friend from the burbs to accompany me. During the day I bumped into Marc Campbell in ManicPanic though was too shy to talk to him and traded my green jacket for a used black leather jacket. I also saw 2 or 3 amazing art shows...a retrospective of Cezanne and another one of Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers' Washington Crossing the Delaware -- I liked his drawing style.

Rick Stott had a radio show that taped on a reel-to-reel tape deck [I traded an original painting, a Beatle mirror, and a Jackson Brown water bag for the tape deck]. Rick played bands like the Ravers (who I thought he managed), Cheap Trick, Bob Seger, Velvet Underground, Wayne County and the Dictators.

Early on I met Andrew Sharp [we all had so many phony names as we changed them often] who was an exchange student from England and arrived with a fabric bag full of British punk rock 45s. He let me borrow the records to tape them. There were the Adverts ‘Gary Gilmore Eyes’, Buzzcocks first singles, Clash, Sex Pistols—gosh a lot of great stuff.

One day I asked Andrew if he wanted to start a band and he said that if I could write the lyrics for 10 songs by Monday and if he liked them, he would do it. On Monday I showed him the lyrics. He only liked one which went “down down down, down on the floor” but we did start the Teflons. Andrew found me a semi-acoustic bass to buy and a lousy amplifier with a blown speaker. This may be the amplifier that I am using with guitar on these recordings: it sounds like a tuba.

My boss let us rehearse at night in the basement of the record store. Andrew had this theory that one had to practice at top volume. This drove the people who lived upstairs crazy. Andrew’s other theory was that one had to be quite drunk to play punk rock properly. We never had a practice without a bottle of Cuervo or a 12-pak of Old Milwaukie. Andrew found some guy to play guitar, probably in a bar. I studied violin as a kid but other than borrowing my sister’s guitar to play “This land is your land” I really had no idea what I was doing. I broke up that band when I had two guys constantly criticizing my playing. This inspired “You’re always better than me”.

Later one of the college art teachers formed a band [Joey Vain and Scissors] and had a gig in the school gallery at a mail art show. All the ‘punks’ in Boulder showed up and we were drinking, stealing or mangling parts of the art and generally acting what we thought was punk-rocky.

At one point I moved back to New York [got transferred to Sam Goody] with the intention of moving to the lower east side and forming a band, but could never find a place to live that didn’t have roaches the size of dragonflies or that seemed remotely safe in any way. While I was there I saw many of the bands I was ‘into’ from their records: the Police (with brown hair), part of the New York Dolls playing with Sid and Nancy, and later playing when Sid came, out on bail after killing Nancy, and everyone turned around and stared at him until he left, the B52s, Devo, Talking Heads with David Byrne shaking sweat all over me in the 3rd row (could never stand his voice but they had a girl bass player who was an important role model), the Cramps with Brian Gregory, Lydia Lunch…and so many bands. One night I sat across from Springsteen at one of these gigs and at another I met Lance Loud who had a band and had been in the first reality tv show “The Loud Family and at another I sat next to Cheeta Chrome who was from the Dead Boys and yelled really loud to show how cool I was.

I moved back to Colorado about 5 months later and started a fanzine ‘Not New Wave News’ and a band.

I talked the only girl punk rocker I knew, Nicole, into forming the Profalactics and I switched to guitar. She played my bass. We used to write songs by both wearing headphones and plugged into the same lousy amplifier with the blown speaker. Since there was another female punk rocker in town in the Dancing Assholes, Connie Clit, and we borrowed her to play drums. We rehearsed in a room in the student union building.

For our first gig, an all ages benefit that was packed, I got properly lubricated beforehand as per Andrew’s instructions. I had my finger locked in a car door the week before and had to duct tape the pick onto my right hand. Connie was so nervous she was coughing up blood in the bathroom. She bought us all condoms which we unwrapped and wore as jewelry [the first time I had seen a condom actually].

After the show a guy came up to me with a card offering a free guitar lesson. I did indeed take my first and a few more lessons from the guy, and later from some other rocker guy. These guys didn’t understand punk rock. I never did master any of their Chuck Berry licks but I learned the concept of playing notes instead of bar chords.

Later on I taught cartooning in a high school for troubled teens, I met this whole other group of kids who were turned on to punk rock because of that show and went on to play in other bands in LA and various places.
I booked another gig…a dance on campus for the local lesbian club. We got the Guys, the girl band from Denver to headline it since they sounded more like music than we did, but after a few of our numbers, the club’s managers shut us down. They preferred disco. I was surprised at the lack of feminist feelings on their part.

Connie and I cruelly fired Nicole, our bass player for some reason, when we found Sue Digby. Sue was sort of into the Stones and Rock but she was cool and really wanted to play. Sue wanted to finish her degree in journalism before we launched our music career and convinced me to go back and finish up my art degree while I was waiting for her, for which I am still grateful. And then we planned to move away to ‘make it’. I moved into her living room so that we could all save money.

That year Sue, Connie and I were really busy, putting on live shows, writing and putting out a fanzine, having a radio show, going out to see a lot of music, working and going to school. The Dancing Assholes came up with the idea of forming the Students Union for Tomorrow, a campus club, which allowed us to use the spaces in the football stadium for rehearsals and gigs for free and made for some amusing poster censorship issues around campus.

The Saturday all-night punk rock radio show on KGNU was run by the Dancing Assholes, then by Sue Digby, my bass player and later by yours truly. The scene was really small and we thought we knew everyone but tons of people who listened to the radio show. We got calls from people all over. People visited the radio show and we finally got thrown off the air because we were accused of stealing Ramones records. I never could convince the management that we already owned Ramones records but it probably was a case of not watching the guests closely enough.

We spent all our cash on records. Once I got the fanzine going, ’Not the New Wave News’, the first of it’s kind in Colorado… record labels were mailing me disks from San Francisco and elsewhere to play.

There was a guy named Rumor who helped me with the first issue and probably got fired for our use of his company’s facilities. I was inspired by the handwritten ‘Punk’ magazine and wanted to publicize what was going on in Colorado. I put later issues out financed by my student loan. Sue, the budding journalist, handled many of the band interviews. She was a whiz at contacting managers and labels (and eventually spent most of her career booking road trips living in London). We interviewed the Ramones, the Specials [Sue and I sitting on their hotel room bed before their show and smoking about 3 packs of cigarettes), Devo [Sue and pals interviewed them while eating at a diner but the recording was all plate clattering noise], the Police, and others.

I sent copies of the fanzine to everyone I could think of and received a request from ‘New York Rocker to write an article about our scene. I wrote the main copy and asked the bands write their own bios. The ‘New York Rocker’ didn’t believe Jello had been in one of our bands and edited it out but they did run it and called it “Rocky Mountain Lowlife”. By this time there were enough bands touring such as Devo, Elvis Costello, The Specials, Ramones and I distributed the fanzine to kids waiting in line for these shows.

(Later Stan Flouride, brother of Klaus Flouride of the Dead Kennedys, told me that he came to Colorado from San Francisco after reading the article to see the ‘scene’. He could not find any punks though.)

After the Profalactics broke up (Connie probably wanted to focus on her math degree or something), Sue and I formed the Varve with the lead singer of the Guys, the girl band in Denver. When we finally did leave town, most of the other punk rockers in Boulder followed us out to San Francisco. I was reluctant to go to NYC because of the cockroaches, LA was full of hair bands, the Instants had tried England with bad luck, but the Corvairs had been to San Francisco and had great success.

Sue found a drummer and a keyboard player by going up to cool looking girls at our concert and asking them if they wanted to join a band. These two said they knew nothing about music but that was ok with us. Actually our drummer Ann sounded totally original and gave us a quirky sound because she had no idea what drummers did. She could speed up and slow down and play along with another instrument.

We had a garage sale and bought a van. Kelly, Jo Ann, Sue and I put everything in it and drove to San Francisco. Someone knew these city girls who were willing to put us up for one night only. We took turns sleeping in the van on an insane incline. The next day we spread out all across town and managed to find a 4 bedroom apartment in one day. We paid the guy cash. He liked the idea of an all-girl band living upstairs. This was above the Hot and Hunky restaurant on 18th Street in the Castro.

Our house rule was that anyone could practice at any time. I remember listening to Jo Ann learning to play sax night and day. We rehearsed in my bedroom in the beginning as it had no windows but it was directly above the counter where people were trying to order their hamburgers. Hot and Hunky finally asked us to get a rehearsal space which we did -- at Iguana Studios on 10th and Folsom.

We held auditions for drummers and ended up with Kat Apostrophe Cascone who was a good, trained drummer and had been in several SF bands. Our sound changed drastically and frankly it seemed easier to play with a good drummer.

The band Translator “You’re everywhere that I’m not” lived across the street and also rehearsed at Iguana. We became good friends and were often asked to be their opening band.

I’ll stop this here as the Varve didn’t make it on the record and there are too many stories to tell now.

Bands I wish had been included on the compilation were LeRoy’s band—a spin off of the Jonny Three, the Visitors from Fort Collins with whom the Profalactics played a hot tub party, and there was another band on the Denver scene that was pretty good and had a cute bass player that most of the girls were gaga over.

I was happy to hear some old songs that I remembered: I always liked the Nightflames song “All Cried Out” and can remember dancing to it.

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