PUNK: Lonesome American Memoirs

10. Disco Punk

You gotta fucking promise not to tell anyone, but I’d always liked disco. Disco was my first choice. I loved the way the Bee Gees sang. That song ‘Night Fever’ made me feel wonderful, and girlish inside. I was heavily into disco before I shifted my appearance to try to blend into the crowd a little better. But there was a navy blue polyester disco suit in my closet back home. I got into the roots of hip-hop as well. Kurtis Blow, the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash. They were incredible. The combination of disco beats and spoken word just took everything up a level that had been missing for a long time.

Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stage
You know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell
Can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out
I guess I got no choice

Rats in the front room
Roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley
With a baseball bat

I tried to get away
But I couldn’t get far
‘Cause a man with a truncheon
Repossessed my car

Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle
Sometimes it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under
Uh hu-hu-hu

I completely related to the blank, lonesome tones of disco, every bit as much as I related to the disco beats and blank rhymes of rap lyrics. As a kid, in my suit, with a hairbrush for a mic, dancing and singing along in my room I could move myself to tears. I was aching inside, and ‘Freebird’ just meant nothing to me. ‘Stairway to heaven’ reminded me of being next in the hands of a curvy babysitter who just couldn’t leave my little body alone. Her boyfriend liked it too. So rock said nothing to me. Rock fucking sucked.

But disco and rap were not socially acceptable. I think I was one of three or four people I ever met who had the balls to admit that they liked disco when it was a commercially successful form of music. Punk came along and cleared all the cobwebs away. Like a bullshit detector going off on top of the television, you couldn’t ignore it, and it was loud. If I had never tried to blend into the “stoners” at school, I don’t think I would have undertaken the path of a punk. For all their big talk, heavy eyelids, and trippy music, the social order of things was really pretty much the same as the jocks, or the nerds. We just operated outside the loop. We were physically away from the rest of the people, but it was the same crap. Blake was the cutest, Tommy was the meanest, and Brian was the biggest. Everyone else was a secondary character. Same was true for the ladies. Margie was the meanest, and the prettiest, Diane was the hardest and best connected, and that was that. Anyone else was secondary, out of the question. And if they put on too much light blue eye shadow, or over frosted their feathered hair, then there was going to be a fucking girl fight, because that slut didn’t know who she was messing with, ok? What a bore.

So in every way, Punk medi-vac’ed me out of the cesspool and into the sewage treatment plant. It gave me a reason to live.

Of course that didn’t account for Alissa and her sister, or their friends. They would listen to funk, and a new kind of disco from England. They wore crazy makeup, and flowing pants, pretty scarves, and their shiny bangs would flop over their romantic eyes in a coy gesture at will. They went dancing. They would show up on the Avenue the next day exhausted, often still high from the night before, but happy. They were the only people I’d ever met who would smile freely and laugh about things that weren’t angry, or malicious. ‘Course they also liked punk rock, and generally mixed in with the same crowd of people that I did.

What began as me making vicious and angry fun of these girl’s affection for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, ended in getting down to some serious disco and funk with them in my jack boots. It turned out that there were parties all over the city, and sometimes in Berkeley, where people would just play twelve-inch dance singles and everyone would dance. It was mainly girls. Girls liked to dance. And I went wherever the girls were. So I’d let them drag me down to the social, and I’d stand there for an hour with my arms folded, watching these women with mohawks, bandannas tied around their arms, cowboy boots, spiked belts and wrist bands shake their thangs together. The quality of drugs here were a lot more experimental and interesting too. I tried my first doses of Seconol, Deladed, Darvon, MDA, and Quaaludes at these parties.

I would pout in the corner, defiantly refusing to openly enjoy the music, my friends would dance over and flirt with me. I really liked that, but it would only go so far unless I agreed to join them on the dance floor. Eventually someone would arouse me enough to get me dancing, and for a little while I’d get into it. Holding my arms up in the air, and moving my hips to the music. I got lifted by it, but only for a little while.

Suzie or Becki would be the ones I usually attached myself to. They were pretty girls, and they loved to dance, but they had a shyness about them that I really liked. But once I got on the dance floor, they would start spending their energy flirting with other guys who weren’t dancing. I’d stop dancing and go back to pouting, Alissa would come over and say “Come on!” or something encouraging, but the girls I liked best would never come back. Sometimes I would dance all night. But that was usually drug induced. I could never sustain a night of disco and funk without ending up mortally self-conscious and feeling sorry for myself.

The promise of sexual exchange, or some further exploration of something hinted at in the flirtation to get me out on the dance floor was flat, and rarely developed further. I made better time laying unconscious on the women’s bathroom floor at the On Broadway.

But disco re entered my life. It was a secret. I liked it a lot. When no one was in the record store I worked for, I would ask the guys behind the counter to put on all kinds of songs and albums. We all liked it really. But then when a customer would come in, the disco would come screeching off the platter, and a punk album would replace it as fast as possible.

“What’s this shit?” They’d ask if we got caught.

“Some bullshit.”

“Disco sucks man.”


The two worlds were closer together than any ordinary punk rocker would probably admit to. We shared the same clubs, for the most part. Most punk clubs either were bankrupt, or part time discotheques, and sex clubs. With the exception of the Mab, which was a restaurant, Tenth Street Hall and the Temple, which were both churches, in the late seventies and early eighties, I rocked out; disco danced, and had sex with strangers in the same clubs on different nights.

The sound of music was a 100% sleaze bag disco. It made no pretenses about it either. They were a disco club with a capital “D.” Glitter decorated the ceiling, a mirror ball spun in the middle of the room, and all the photographs on the wall were of disco singers, and disco bands who had performed there. It was a tiny little place, barely held two hundred people, and the backstage area was about the size of a Pacific Heights walk in closet that opened up into a 12-car parking lot. Down on Turk Street, in the tenderloin, you could make some money off the guys at the corner, sell your bad drugs to the tourists, and then slip into the back door of the sound of music without paying and check out the Undead, or some other band.

We were like ghost ships passing silently on a party pier. People would get on and off of the barges, as long as they were close to the dock. But no one was going on for the whole ride in either direction. Even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t survive the trip.

Although many would actually try. Seeing Dennis years later walking up University Avenue without his teeth, and dating a fourteen-year-old girl was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. No more unpleasant than watching all of my friends who blended blood, needles, sperm, veins, mucus membranes, and instincts with anyone and everyone, begin to blow away in the bald and unforgiving sunlight of the following decade. Men, women and children who were calling for life. Longing to finally fucking live. They died.

These ships were ghost ships. It didn’t matter if Sylvester or The Sleepers were playing, not many people would find the lifeboats. And even if they did, it didn’t guarantee that anyone would get out alive.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five ‘The Message’


Table of contents
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20, Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, Chapter 24
Musicology, Errata