When I was teenager I once put my records outside because I was afraid they were evil. I didn’t want to sleep in the same room with them. I had attended a nighttime church event. The listing I saw in the paper had said, “learn the truth about rock n’ roll!” or something. I went to it because it had listed Led Zeppelin and ACDC. However, when I got there I was surprised to see that I was the only mullet headed rocker in attendance. All of the other young people were there with their parents. The presentation scared the hell out of me! The minister that prayed with me afterwards seemed to feel bad about it. Instead of putting the fear of God into me he tried to talk me down.
The following week I spent a lot of time playing my records backwards (turntable in neutral, turn by hand) and asking around about the occult. The following Sunday I put on my white pants and my most colorful button up shirt and went to the same church above HWY 680 in San Ramon. It was a mistake, not my tribe. I was trying to fit in, but they tried to pretend I wasn’t there.
I didn’t feel dumb about it. I slowly came to peace with Led Zeppelin. I was never fully convinced they were satanic, but the music definitely had a lot of power over me. It seemed supernatural and I was concerned.
A few weeks later I went to my first ACDC concert. I went alone. I was sober and sat quietly in the nosebleed seats. Afterwards my ears kept ringing for days. They never stopped ringing. After about a year I got used to it.
The Gilman Zinefest
Fieldwork Brewing is just two blocks away from 924 Gilman, if it wasn’t for that I probably wouldn’t have gone to this event. Even when I published a zine I never felt comfortable at zine fests. It always feels awkward to thumb through somebody’s life work right in front of them especially if you don’t feel like the target audience. I just went straight to the few things I knew I wanted and bought those. It was a zine fest fail on my part. The wife and I both heard about The Spitboy Rule book written by their drummer, Michelle Cruz Gonzalez. As someone who read every issue of MRR from 1989 to 1999 I remember Spitboy. I didn’t have their records, but I had traded zines through the mail with their singer Adrianne Droogas and I mentioned to the wife that I was sort of hoping she might be there. The reason being I always had this weird satisfaction that the singer of such a quintessentially city oriented hardcore band was from my suburban hometown of Pleasanton.
Commuting to the Punk Rock.
In 1989 I appreciated the aesthetic of punk rock, but I knew it wasn’t me and if I had tried to fit in it would have been much more lame than the mullet on my head. I was the suburbs walking. Once at an intimate show at Brave New World in SF, everybody was dressed to the nines in their finest anti-establishment garb. I stuck out in my polo shirt and white tennis shoes so I nodded to people and said matter of factly, “I’m really cool.” It got a few laughs so that became my shtick for a while.
Ironically, the only time I was ever harassed at Gilman was soon after I chopped off the mullet. My zine partner and I went to see The Muffs. The girl taking money at the door scowled angrily at me the entire time. I noticed, but didn’t think it was about me. Later on I saw that she had written “GO HOME!!” on my Gilman card. Maybe she didn’t like my shoes.
East Bay punks seemed too serious about punk rock. They could have been easy to make fun of with all of their rules, and the uniform, combat boots, colored hair etc. but it was genuine. It was identification with a scene. SF was different, more varied, fun garage punk at Purple Onion, Epicenter was hardcore but clean and friendly, and then a large dirtier, more drug oriented, more fucked up, but also more intellectual Mission scene that I eventually gravitated towards.
In the process of writing this I googled his name and this time actually I found him! He had been missing for years so it was good to see he is alive and well and looks the same! However, finding Rich completely sidetracked this post as I broke out my old issues of Probe. Before that I was concentrating on the city/suburbs relationship and I had a race theme going thanks to reading the Spitboy Rule book.
When I met Rich 26 years ago we were both wearing the same L7 “Smell the Magic” t-shirt. L7 weren’t really a “girl band” as the term is usually applied. Their sex was a heavy influence, but their main intention was to ROCK. I really loved L7. As a matter of fact, I loved L7 so much that I was afraid of them. I was supposed to do the interview with Rich the night we saw them at the Berkeley Square, but I knew that if I were to get personally snubbed it would have made me heartsick. A simple eye roll from Donita or Jennifer would have frozen me speechless. I chickened out and Rich did that interview solo.
With the Melvins and Mr. Bungle I wasn’t nervous because they were dudes.
Riot Girls were Late to the party
As far as girls in bands go, dumb grunge rock was much more progressive than the hardcore punks or riot girl which came later on. From 1989-1991, there was an all girl band or a girl fronted band playing at most shows. However, my memory of this may be skewed because I was friends with Rich. He seemed to prefer the girl bands. I remember giving him a hard time “You just buy every record that has girls in it don’t you?”
Truth is Rich was the real deal. When I met him he was already a show veteran, and like me, a loner. We would just go to whatever show looked interesting whether we were with friends or not – actually Rich never had friends. Rich always had his camera. That was his thing. One night I did see The Fastbacks from Seattle walk over to the table where Rich was sitting just to say Hi. I asked him how they knew him. He said he had been to all of their Bay Area shows so they remembered him. I think they used one of his photos on a record of theirs.
However, the sad part of the story is that Rich was 23 and he had never been with a girl. He didn’t drink or do drugs. He was confident, but quietly so. His personality didn’t match his size. He was overweight and had a little problem with acne. Those were his issues. I can’t remember his race ever coming up.
Then again, maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe the narrative that ran in Rich’s head was that he didn’t have a girlfriend because he was a Mexican who moved into a white town. Maybe Mexican stuff happened to him all the time and I didn’t know it.
So after making contact and finding out what he was up to I sent him a few fact checking emails for this post.
He didn’t respond to my race questions. He said the stuff I brought up was “so remote” from where he is now he didn’t have any thing to say about it except that he looked forward to reading this.
My personal impression at the time was that he left the punk scene because women in bands had taken his heart out of it.
After his L7 interview in Probe #1 Rich sent the band a copy. Donita actually called to thank him for doing it, which was amazingly cool of her. However, after that L7 signed to a major label with Nirvana’s producer so the next Bay Area show was not so intimate. It was a much bigger venue and the place was packed. Rich was up front taking photos as usual when Donita said, “Can we get the fucking photographers out of the front row so people can see!” Rich was dejected. I said, “She didn’t mean you.” He said, “She was looking right at me when she said that!” (I’m guessing she was upset that smaller girls were getting crowded out, in the same way Kathleen Hanna asked guys to go to the back.)
The next thing that happened was that Rich tried to interview the Lunachicks and they were just unnecessarily nasty to him. We made a joke out of it in Probe #2 but Rich took that hard. Rich was a comic book, schlock movie type of guy so the whole Lunachicks scene was right up his ally. He had every single one of their crappy records. Soon after that he moved to Concord to be closer to his $9 hour job drilling holes in bowling balls (He never liked it when I described his job that way, he did customer services at a bowling shop.) When I went to visit him I was surprised at how adult his new apartment looked. The whole record collecting geek vibe was gone. I also stopped seeing him at shows.
In his recent email response to me Rich said, “I have been living in Vegas since ’99, after a short time in Seattle. I’ve been doing IT work for the local health dept. for about 16 years, and loving it.” And he said “Burlesque is a blast. I put on the best shows that you can find outside of a casino.”
I liked the book because it includes stories about a scene that I was a part of but from a different vantage point. Each story was somewhat anticlimactic which I appreciate in the same way that I like French movies because they just end when the story is over. I liked the attention to the dividing line between the suburbs and the city, because that’s how I viewed the scene at the time. Her views of being a woman in the hardcore scene were positive as well as her thoughts on the men in the scene. The only chapters where she seemed to have some bitterness or lingering issues had to do with her “brown skin.” Not so much experiences of racism but of not having her ethnicity acknowledged. She blamed herself for not emphasizing her ethnic identity and went as far as to say that only dating white guys may have been a form of self-hatred.
The story about inviting her band into her Grandma’s house and the racial explanation of what happened there didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I wanted to hear the other side of that story. I think the author may have externalized what was going on in her own head. I can’t imagine, living in California, that Latino culture and class differences could have been that foreign to her band-mates, even if they came from the suburbs.
I suppose it’s possible to stay isolated, but not very likely. Ultimately your job matters more than where you come from. You interact with co-workers everyday. Sometimes you don’t even talk to your neighbors.
That does remind me. Racism does exist, but most of the stuff that gets called out as being racist is pretty ridiculous or overblown.
However, I did have my own “Holy fuck that’s racist!” moment. I was watching the movie “Boyhood” and I literally stood up, pointed at the TV, “Did she really just say that? That’s not a joke?” Then it only got worse the next scene. At this point Boyhood was nominated for movie of the year and I never heard anything about the blatant racism. I heard fawning interviews and reviews on NPR, Slate, and even the Dailey Show so I was little stunned. (Those are the same shows that will have 20-minute discussions on Miley Cyrus and her appropriation of black culture.) I think the reason I may have noticed it is because, before my current job, I spent about 7 years with mostly Mexican co-workers and the last year before my present job most of my accounts were bought by a Mexican family business. The guy portrayed in the movie I related to as “the boss” not a poor migrant laborer. Yeah, his parents worked 12 hours a day their entire lives to build the family business and make a better life for him, but thankfully some lady at the job site told him he was smart and turned his life around! The scene was so condescending the cringe factor was off the charts. There is a giant difference between first and second-generation immigrants. The wage and education gap with whites is completely wiped out within a generation. The man running a four-man crew and doing your estimate won’t be inspired by platitudes. Dumb!
I started writing stories about race but it is too rich and lengthy a topic. I have a story about going to an Easy E show in Oakland back in the late ‘80s (nothing like the movie), some dumb skinhead stories, a race update for Pleasanton, and while living in San Leandro I placed a classified ad in the paper hoping to meet local black women that led to the most uncomfortable cup of coffee in my life – but I’ll save those stories for another time. For now I’ll just include a couple of anticlimactic stories about my ambiguously brown friends.
Like the time we were at the Drake’s warehouse and I convinced my completely non-punk friend Ernie that we should head over to a show at Gilman. He actually said as we rolled up, “there’s not going to be any skinheads here or anything?” I laughed it off and told him it was nothing like that and then on queue someone in a passing car shouted “WHITE POWER!!” at us. I said, “I swear that never happens!” Then I realized I wouldn’t know that first hand.
On the other hand, when I drove an old Buick there was a 3 month stretch where I was pulled over four different times without cause, and each time could be a story. Once I pulled up in front of my own house and I did the thing where I was waiting for the song to end before I turned off the radio. Suddenly the cop spotlight went on behind me and as I started to explain I was at home my car door was slammed. She didn’t pull her gun, but put her hand on it and yelled at me to keep my hands up. She called for back-up. As with the previous stop they wanted to search the vehicle and I politely declined, repeatedly. It was a full 20 minutes before they let me out of my car. She thought my behavior was suspicious. If I were black I would have thought that was some racist shit.
L7’s major label debut was a disappointment, it was bland, nothing like the fun live show, and after that the band slowly left my consciousness. In researching for this post I found out that L7 reformed for a world tour in 2015. Something I was completely unaware of. Then I found Jennifer Finch’s blog. I haven’t had time to read through all of it, but she had a debilitating disease starting in 2008 and then was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. Her instagram page is awesome, a cancer surviving 49 year olds topless selfies are the kind of rock star POWER MOVE that I greatly appreciate!
It’s on a bigger stage than when I saw them but this is the video that reminded me the most of what L7 shows were like.