PUNK: Lonesome American Memoirs

1: Getting my look together

I’d like to think that I came out of nowhere. That one day my six foot, three and a half inch frame came sloping up Telegraph Avenue in half-heeled jack boots, and a black and red leather motorcycle jacket, leering at everyone and spitting all over the place. On a good day I was pale as a cloud, my hair stood up in all directions without even so much as a hint of its natural curl. On a bad day my hair was an immovable triad of soapy forms that seemed to be thoughtlessly discarded on my otherwise bald head, thus, explaining the scowl on my face.

I did not (unfortunately for you) come out of nowhere. Rather, my long, thin, slept on, and very angry look was the product of several years collecting, observing, and learning not to try.

The first incarnation that actually worked out had been a vinyl jacket (complete with the marvelous smell of long term indoor storage, general filth, decomposed polfyibre lining, and youthful B.O.,) a generous helping of Vaseline for my hair, a lamp chain around my arm, and a pair of black cowboy boots that I’d taken great care to apply black sharpie marker to every last stitch of the white thread which decorated them in an effort to disguise their origins. Cowboy boots were not cool. High-tops were for new wavers, trendies, and general college students, and so, lacking any other resource, I pulled my pant legs down over the top of each boot, and wrapped dog chains around the ankles, hoping no one would notice.

The very first incarnation of my punk rock self was a convertible affair. I was headed to Telegraph Avenue with my friend Steve and his kid brother. They were heavily into rock. Hair to their shoulder blades, Levi’s whaler bell jeans draped over their identical red-laced “shit-kickers,” they wore the “stoner” uniform of baseball style concert t-shirts worn under long sleeved, denim, button-down shirts. And of course they each had combs. In the summer of 1978 every self-respecting young long hair sported a ‘Goody’ comb in their right rear pocket. If you fucked up and stuck your comb into the left pocket it meant that you were a fag. Not that being a fag was such a bad thing really, but advertising it in any way was just about the biggest mistake a young man could possibly make.

My mission was to travel to downtown Berkeley with my two rocker friends, black long sleeved shirt buttoned up, flared jeans pulled out over my boots, buttons and chains in my back pack, hair left alone (maybe some water to make it lay down) and then ditch them somewhere between the Bart station and the pastoral center of the U.C. campus where I could duck into a public toilet, unbutton my shirt (revealing my Andy Gibb t-shirt soaked in beet juice, and a safety pin though his face,) wrap my bellbottoms around my ankles and stuff the excess fabric into the tops of my boots, wrap my wrists in dog and lamp chain, comb out my fro, and affix two dozen buttons tot he front of my shirt. Then I would slip on my Vuarnets, and I’d be ready for action.

The next question, no doubt, is an easy one: What the hell would posses someone to set such bizarre goals? Why would anyone want to look like that? What the hell is the matter with you?

Good questions. Perfectly fair (under the circumstances.)

As a means of explanation I can offer first a little pre-history, followed by the moment itself, and the rest is just going to have to be your responsibility. Because I will have washed my hands of it entirely by the time I’m done writing this, in theory quite some time before you have the occasion to read it. I know that’s more or less a cop out, but I don’t have much else to offer you in the form of a disclaimer here. Sorry dude.

The summer I started smoking pot it looked like I was on the fast track to the back field of life. I had long hair, a blank expression, and thought the only thing more exciting than Margie Lundstrom in a pair of sky blue dittos was a pair of tickets to see Alice Cooper at the Cow Palace. One night I was sleeping over at my friend Richard’s house, we were pretty stoned, listening to Led Zeppelin III, watching television with the sound turned off. I picked up a copy of Cream magazine, totally expecting it to be companion reading to Penthouse, or Oui, and started looking at the pictures of Iggy Pop in a tutu, smeared with peanut butter, and the Ramones standing around against various walls. I grabbed another copy and discovered an advertisement for an album by The Damned. The picture was of four guys with short hair covered in what liked like pie, or whipped cream. I thought that was pretty fucking cool.

Richard grabbed the magazine out of my hands and began to make fun of it. “Punk rock sucks!” He announced decidedly, and dropped the magazine back onto the pile, shooting me one of those sixth grade looks which just dare you to disagree.

I’d never heard punk rock before, but it almost didn’t matter what it sounded like. If it looked like The Damned, and upset people as much as it seemed to upset my friend Richard, then punk rock didn’t just suck, it was my destiny.

I spent the next few months making Saturday and after school trips to Berkeley, reading and listening to everything I could find which looked even remotely punk to me. I discovered the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Clash, Generation X, the Vibrators, the New York Dolls, and a handful of other bands. While it was easy to tell what was actually punk and what wasn’t, a whole new world opened up to me. The landscape of black light, velveteen posters and elaborate bongs melted away revealing air brushed postcards of two women kissing, black and white posters of people with pale skin and spiked hair, safety pins and a little green button that said only “fuck you.”

Then one day, standing inside the Music Faucet, in the middle of asking the guy behind the counter if Siousxie and the Banshees were a punk band or not (because their first album hadn’t made it clear to me,) a group of young people walked in. They were dressed in yellow pants, dirty t-shirts, their hair stood up just like in the pictures I’d seen. One of them had spray pained his shoes day glo red, and they nodded at me.

“Those are punks!” I thought to myself. “Real live punk rockers!” I was pretty stoked.

One of them walked right up to me and asked “Are you going to see DOA tonight?” It was as if I were one of them. I tried not to stammer, and just nodded my head indicating that of course I was.

“Cool.” He said. “You can come with us if you want to.”

I scanned them all, one by one, and said, “Cool.”

There was no obvious opportunity on the bus ride across the bay, or on the walk from First and Mission up to Broadway to ask my new and still nameless friends who DOA were, or even where we were going, but I went with them. I was, for the first time in my life, included.

Of course that’s not exactly what happened. And although this is a work of fiction, per se, where I could easily add a few inches to my boyish equipment, or invent some good-time back stage memories with old Joey Shithead and Chuck Biscuits, what’s the point? The truth, in this instance, unfolds in a way that may prove to me somewhat more utilitarian (at least in my opinion.) So if you were hoping for some road tripping with Randy Rampage, you might as well loosen up your safety harness and just try to relax.

What actually happened was that when this real live punk rocker asked “Are you going to see DOA tonight?” I froze.

I stammered a little, and finally said,”Probly not.” The kid looked surprised and asked me why not? And right there and then, with all four of the first punk rockers I had ever met staring right at me I admitted, “Because I don’t think my mom’d let me go.” And if that weren’t self-effacing enough, I added, “Besides, I’m only twelve. How old do you have to be to get in?”

The four punks consulted one another quietly. Finally the tall one with cheetah spots in his hair said “I think you gotta be eighteen ta get in.”

Awkward silence followed. I just stood there with a hundred questions swirling around in my mouth like goldfish. I felt exactly the same way I’d always felt when cornered by a bully. Fucked. Just plain old backed up against a wall, totally exposed and helpless. But I was goddamned furious about it!

Then I heard a surprisingly familiar voice call out. “Dude! There you are!”

I wheeled around on my cowboy boot and realized immediately just how busted I was. Steve and his little brother were standing there in the doorway of the record store, their feathered hair shining in the afternoon sun. I just stood there for what felt like three years, trying to digest this moment, with a gallon of boric acid rising up from my stomach, and white noise between my ears. But nothing happened.

Then Steve spoke up. “Dude, what the fuck happened? Did you change into your halloween costume in the Bart station or what?”

The guy behind the counter laughed first, but soon everyone was cracking up. Even Steve’s kid brother, who never seemed to make any kind of facial expression whatsoever, was laughing at me. And there I was, all six foot, three inches of me, standing there in the coolest record store in the world with bell bottoms stuffed into the cowboy boots my mom bought for me, my bedroom lamp chain and dog’s choke chain wrapped around the ankles, sweating my ass off in a beet juice soaked Andy Gibb T-shirt.

“Let’s go.” I said, and walked out of the shop. Steve and his brother chased me up the street shouting stuff like “What the fuck dude? Come on!” and “So are you a faggot now or what man?

I just kept on walking.

The Damned ‘Smash It Up’


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