PUNK: Lonesome American Memoirs

12. Fucking Liar!

When I was five years old I told everyone on my block that I was from England. That this was my first time in America, and I didn’t like it here. The kids in the neighborhood attacked me. They chased me home in tears after Mr. Dolphin said that while it was possible to “grow and English accent” it was unlikely to happen unless you were actually in England.

Next I tried wrapping my arm in masking tape, and using a kitchen towel as a sling. I walked up to the bus stop with pride. I had a pen in my pocket so that everyone could sign it. They laughed at me, and punched the phony cast asking, “Does that hurt?” It did hurt. But I just kept saying no.

I was a very creative little boy. My imagination was much more interesting than the real world. I escaped into drawing, singing, stuffed animals, super heroes, comic books and the little worlds my mind seemed to inflict on me. I never had many friends. One at a time was the best I could do. I really liked spending time with my mother. I really liked being alone.

I was allergic to grass. I had terrible eczema all over my body as a baby, and into my pre teen years. By the time I was seven or eight it had retreated to my armpits, behind my ears, and in any soft, warm fold of flesh on my body. I would lay in bed at night and just scratch myself until blood came, and the crusty skin cracked. That was the only relief. I would show the scabs to people privately and tell them I had mange. Or that it was a rare skin disease, and I would die soon.

I’d been at a Christian youth camp as a punishment for a summer, and there I began to experiment with an alternate version of myself. Without even thinking about it I just started speaking with the best English accent I could come up with. The councilor I’d traveled to Canada with asked me about this at the dinner table one night.

“I see you’ve begun to develop a little bit of a Canadian accent.” smiles flashed around the table.

“What do you mean?” I asked calmly. As if I had no idea what they were talking about.

“Well it seems that your voice has changed since we met you, that’s all.”

With everyone staring at me blankly I explained, “This is the way I really talk. I was just pretending before.” And while I was as sincere as I could be, no one at the table was buying it.

But I made a lot of friends up there. More than I’d ever made before. I slept with a very pretty girl who blew the most delicate bubbles with her spit. It was like magic. I slept with another girl, right out on the ultimate course in broad daylight. I was occasionally the center of positive attention on smoker’s rock, lead a few sing-a-longs, and got everyone weeping around the camp fire when I told them the story of my poor lonesome mother, and how she’d lost her beloved husband and son, my older brother, to the Viet Cong and been left penniless to raise me all by herself. I was the heart of the group hug.

So I didn’t give a shit what a few ass holes from California thought about me. Not when Meghan and Rachael were fighting over me, and Alethia and I would walk out into the pine and redwood forest after dinner, find a quiet little spot and sit, and she would stroke my hair while I told her stories about England.

I’d started trying to change my story at school. Mainly because when I’d bolt and spend a week in the city I would make like I was an older, English punk. And spend days with people. And then I’d come back home, go back to class, and it would be lame. It was just me again. The fat kid that everyone hated. The fat kid that I couldn’t stand being.

That abruptly ended one Monday morning when I should have been in Math class. I was walking down the cement path from one building to the other when I saw Scott McNeil headed toward me. Scott was the first punk in our city. He was a pioneer, and a legend. But while I was getting into Punk, he was over it. He was smart, and sincere too. There’s nothing worse than a smart punk. Whenever I saw him my heart would leap. He was everything I wanted to be. Cool. Respected. Left alone. My Britannia bell-bottoms were sticking out the bottom of a slimy green down jacket that fit me like a dress. I wore a single little button on the jacket that just said “punk.” As he got closer, I could see that he was staring at me. Scott had these watery blue eyes and naturally white hair. He was a Johnny, and I was a Sid. But not in my slimy green down jacket. Not here. Not at school. As he passed me, I kinda raised my chin at him, like saying “Hey.” Scott looked sharply at me and just said “Liar!” and kept on walking.

When I hit the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley it was just common sense: Hate yourself? Not good enough? Make something up!

I tried a few different things. But the best one was just a kind of a lilted accent that people couldn’t really work out. I’d started off with the full on learned-off-a-record accent, but I couldn’t explain myself.

“Oooh, I just love your accent! Where are you from?”

“Um…” I’d be fucking sweating already. “Totnumshire.” I would say the most English sounding thing that came to mind.

“Totnunsher? I’ve never heard of Totnumsher. Where exactly is that?”

“Near London.”

Sometimes I’d get lucky, and the reply would be a happy laugh and something like “Oh, but everything is right near London isn’t it?” and we’d have a knowing laugh and get away with it. Sometimes people would nod and smile as if they’d spent every summer since 1957 in good old Totnumshire. I liked those people the best.

I met a band comprised of three Cal students and two not students from LA who were living at Barrington Hall. They were actually pretty good for a new wave band. I laid it on way too thick with these guys, telling them stories of the 100 Club, My personal friendship with Sid Vicious, brawling with Mods and Rockers on the King’s Row.

“Isn’t it King’s Road?

“Yea… wright. ‘at’s wot I said innit? Kings Row?”

Nervous laughter. You see it was my accent. They had misunderstood me.

One night after some serious bong hits we were laying on our backs watching the ceiling. I said, “Fuck, I am so stoned.” In a completely typical Californian voice.

“What did you just say?”


“Say that again?”


“You just said that you were stoned without an accent!


“You did, you fucking did! Say that again man.”

“Wot, I’m so stoned?”

“No… Man, just say it again naturally, like you did before man.”

“You’re fucking stoned mate.”

“No, you’re fucking stoned man. That’s what you are.”

That was a goddamn close one. I had to start seriously thinking about an emergency evacuation. Time to change the story. Time to change the scene.

It was definitely time to go when the guitarist’s girl friend broke out the British Road Atlas and was puzzled because she couldn’t find Totnumshire anywhere on the maps.

“It’s a really small town.”

Sure it was. So small that it couldn’t be found on a map. It only existed in my mind. It was a shroud. It was protection. My own private Willoughby.

Embarrassed and paranoid about what I’d told to who, it was time to tone it down. I’d tried French, Russian, Ukrainian, Swedish and a few other dubious nations. But not speaking any other language apart from English put a plug in that leak. The fantasy is over as soon as she asks how do you say…

One night on the F bus a bunch of us were having fun riding home from a show. We were hawking up luggies and hanging them off the roof of the bus. We’d been picking on this new wave couple. I was really mean. And this guy I’d never seen before in a Sinatra hat and a tie calls me by my name. He starts telling my story. Mocking me. At first I was obnoxious about it, and tried to laugh him off. But he got mean, and was seriously coming after me.

“What do you think you’re bad? Do ya?”

I just stared at him.

“You little faggot liar. I know all about you man.”

Who the hell was this guy?

“Fuck you, you fucking think you’re so bad. You little fucking liar. You aren’t fucking English. You’re a faggot little liar is what you are.”

His friends calmed him down and said, “Come on man, that’s enough. Leave him alone.”

Who the fuck was this guy?

I sat there and burned a hole in his stupid hat with my eyes. He stared right back at me. When they got off the bus at the first stop in Emeryville all my friends were like “Who was that guy?” And I didn’t know.

I would have happily gone back in time and never told those lies. I would have been better off if I’d just been myself. I was crazy enough. I really didn’t need to fuck with my age, or my place of birth. No one really gave a shit anyway. Not really. But it was way too late. I’d already told everyone I knew that I was English. I’d also added five years to my age. I needed to be 19 to get into the Mab and a few other clubs. Plus, I really liked the idea of being older. Cops couldn’t hassle me about being out after curfew, I was legal. So I slowly allowed the accent to fade. I didn’t let it drop altogether, but ever so slightly over the course of a summer; I just let it gradually depart. It’s harder than you think.

By the end of the summer I was free to speak normally. Most of the people I’d really worked it up to were out of the picture anyhow. I was involved in a tight, and very cool group of people. They knew I was English, and nineteen, and that’s all they needed to know about me. That’s all I was gonna tell them.

Until one day we were all laying around in someone’s dorm room on the campus. I was laying on the bottom of a set of bunk beds. Julie and Harald were up on the bunk above me. Sean and Matt were sitting at the desk, and whoever’s room it was was laying on the twin bed across from me. We were talking about stuff.

Julie said, “You know what I hate?”

“What?” I asked.


“Oh totally, me too.”

“Don’t you just hate fucking liars?”

“More than anything else in the entire world.”

“Really? You hate them too?”


There was a weird silence in the room. I was clueless. I just didn’t see it coming.

“Then why don’t you tell us the truth?”

“Don’t do this here.” Harald said quietly.

“Fuck you. I’ll do this wherever I want. Come on. Just tell us the truth.”

I was quiet for a long time. Everyone was quiet.
“What difference does it make? I mean, who cares where I’m from?”

“Ok well then what about how old you are? Dude your fucking voice hasn’t even changed yet, and there you are trying to tell me that you’re fucking nineteen years old? There’s just no fucking way.”

“What difference does it make” Who fucking cares how old I am?”

“I do.”


“Because you’re a goddamn liar, that’s why.”


“You’re our friend right?” Says Matt.

“Right.” I reply. But I don’t take my eyes off the bare wooden slats on the bottom of the bed above me.

“Well, how can we really be friends if we don’t even know where you’re from or how old you are?”

Silence again.

“You can’t do it, can you?” Said Julie.

I didn’t say anything.

“Look, I’m gonna give you this one last chance. Just tell us the truth. If you can’t tell us the truth then I am not going to have anything to do with you.”


“Would it make any difference if I were seventeen and from Canada?”

“No, because I’d say that was bullshit too.”

“What if it were true?”

“So what if it was? There’s no fucking way I would believe you.”

Julie drops down from the top bunk, grabs her shit and says, “Let’s go.” Everyone gets up and follows her. I got up too, but after everyone else left the room. I put on my jacket and walked out the door, down the back stairs, and out onto Durant Avenue. I Walked away from the Avenue, down in a direction that we never went in, found a cement bench, sat down, spit a couple of times and then started to cry.

I buried my face in my hands, and just let it all out.

Within a few minutes the whole crew appeared on the corner. They were looking at me, but I wasn’t invited. And they weren’t coming over to collect me. So I just sat there staring at them all with tears streaming down my face. I was furiously miserable. But I felt that way anyway. What the fuck could I say or do? Julie was right. And I couldn’t tell them the truth. I couldn’t tell them the truth. Not that the truth was so horrible, or embarrassing or anything. But because I had needed to believe that I was somehow special. And those two little lies made me special. I wasn’t asking for so much was I? Was it really so much to ask to be five years older and from somewhere cool? I wasn’t even telling stories about the UK anymore. I was just keeping my mouth shut, letting my lousy accent wear off.

Harald came back a little while later and sat down next to me.

“What do you want?”

“I just came back to see if you were ok.”

“Well I’m not fucking ok.”

“Yeah, I can see that.”

“Look, you are my best friend man. And you just let he fucking do that to me right there in front of everyone. And now I can’t even be friends with you guys anymore man. Some fucking friend you are.”

“Well look at it this way. How can we be best friends if I don’t know anything about you?”

“You know me man.”

“Do I?”


“I just don’t know what to believe.”

Believe me man.

“That’s the trouble.”

“What is?”

“I don’t”

The Sex Pistols ‘Liar’


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