Punked-Out Punk: The Merciful Conclusion

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Trey Oswald and Paul Bakija of Reagan Youth

Ugly scene at the punk show.  Gurz and I wound up going at it.  Savage exchange.  Dude fights dirtier than me.  Beat me to the salt shaker.  Then beat me with the salt shaker.  Right there on the dance floor.  While the band played on.  I thought I’d met my match, but remembered a move called Monkey Steals A Peach.  That took the proverbial wind out.  Cops showed up and arrested us both for felony assault.  Essington posted our bail.  We paid him back by stealing his car.

Hmm.  It’s a good start for this piece.  I mean I really like it.  Right away we’re up to our elbows in action.  The writing is snappy and scrappy.  Lean and tough.  I get to work in a salt shaker and Monkey Steals A Peach reference.  Getting busted is rich.  The evil burn there at the end, too.  The whole paragraph is so me.  We’re talking signature shit.

There’s only one little problem.  It’s a balls-out lie.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with that.  It’s just that Gurz or Essington might yap.  Then everybody will think/know I’m a liar.  Which would suck.  And oh yeah, I’m supposed to try to be as honest as possible, in order to help stay sober.

Fucking staying sober.  Always tripping up my game.  Saving me from humiliation.

You want the truth?  You think you can handle it?  Well handle this-

I went to the show and had an okay time.  Got along with Gurz and Essington.  Nothing crazy happened.  Was asleep in my motel bed by 2AM.  Had a nice breakfast with Brisa and Dennis the next morning.  Came home.  The end.

After all that build up, that’s all you get.  I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.  No drinking.  No drugging.  No fist-fights.  No stage-diving.  No strippers.  No hookers.  No cops.

Not so hot on the truth now, are you?  Yeah, it’s easy to pay it lip labor, but another thing to have to endure listening to it.  Or in this case, having to read it.  It could set you free, but the truth just might lull you to sleep.  Like a bellyful of antihistamine-fed turkey, cold hard facts can be quite soporific.  Plain old boring truth.

Here’s some more boring truth-  I hate writing music reviews.  Mostly because I suck.  I’ll write “they sound alright, like some band I can’t remember the name of, only more hoppy-boppy,” or “the chick playing bass looks like someone my buddy went out with, back in Santa Fe, during the 90’s.  A real clingy, emotionally needy, pain in the ass.  The girlfriend, not the bass player.  I don’t know what her story is.”

I’m no Lester Bangs.  And don’t want to be.  First off, he’s dead.  Second off, I recognize my limitations as a writer.

Add that to the fact that nothing amazing, funny, or insane happened at the show, and you’ll know why I dragged ass getting here.  This thing became a book report I couldn’t find the Cliff Notes for.  I kept putting off writing about the show with a Part One, Part Two, Part Three, hoping I’d find some angle to make it interesting.  Well, the angle never came.  That’s when I decided to try to lie my way out.  Like a cornered rat.

Sure, lot’s of uninteresting things happen to me, all the time, and it’s never stopped me from writing about them.  But there’s usually some internal component, some gleaned insight or entertaining thought process to report.  Not this time.  The only thing I remember thinking was, “this music is okay, but I’m ready for it to stop now.  It’s starting to hurt my ears.”

Not much to hang your hat on.  Even for Lester Bangs.

Reagan Youth

Thank God, Michael Essington was there.  He can write about music.  Or anything else.  He’s prolific.  Smart.  A natural writer.  Very readable.  In real life, a solid down-to-earth character.  No posturing or posing.  And that comes through in his work.  I wish we could have talked more that night, but the music was…too loud.

Anyway, while I hemmed and hawed, waiting for some God Machine to descend from the sky, he banged out a review of the show.  You can read it here.

Okay.  That gets me off that hook.  No need to review the show.  And that should be lesson to all you kids out there.  Sometimes procrastination pays off.  So don’t put it off.

I’ll will add that while Essington was jumping hurdles trying to get to the show, I saw the whole thing.  13 Scars and Reagan Youth managed to tap into the wellspring of youthful angst and delivered the notice.  Especially noteworthy, since both bands are made up of generally older dude types.  It was good to see middle-agehood could still shred shit up.  Good for morale.  A mighty hammer blow struck against the evils of ageism.

But like I said, at one point my ears just gave out.  It wasn’t the musicianship, or even some age-crisis induced introspection, but the physical discomfort of decibels relentlessly beating against the skull that made me ready to bail.  But I didn’t.  I clung on to the bitter end.

And am a better man because of it.

Michael Essington and David Gurz

Michael Essington and David Gurz

If you read part one of this saga (and my stats show that’s not likely) you’ll know that I went primarily for the book-signing, Essington and Gurz were doing for their joint effort,  Under a Broken Street Lamp.  It was good to finally meet Gurz.  A deeply troubled individual.  Dangerously deranged old punk.  Ex-con.  Ex-heroin junky.  Street survivor.  You’re just not going to find a more subterranean creature.  If I had a stick that night I would have poked at him, just to watch him claw and hiss, the madness and menace glinting in his eyes.  A fascinating specimen of Demonous Nocturnous.

And all that comes through in his work.  But lots of other stuff too.  Sinister resume aside, Dave is a sweetheart.  Intelligent, funny-as-fuck, and–oh, he’s gonna kill me–sensitive and caring.  That’s right.  He’s what is known in folklore as a Noble Scoundrel.  Standard archetype, really.  What the turn-of-the-century criminal, Jack Black, called “a good Yegg.”

Anyway, we’d been corresponding and talking on the phone for over a year before this, so it was great to actually meet in person.  And not be able to communicate.  But hang out anyway.

That’s what this whole odyssey was about.  Making the effort to connect with friends.  Going against my selfish inclination for the apparent comfort and safety of isolation, and coming out to the show.  Just to be there.  To hang out.  To talk loudly to somebody who can’t hear you, and then not hear them tell you that.  To build that bond that comes from nodding and shrugging at each other.  Clueless.  While droplets of blood roll from your ears.

I wouldn’t trade it for all the treasure in Timbuktu.

Okay.  That’s not true either.

Damn.

Anarchy Transformer

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Punked-Out Punk: Part Two

Needing a fix.

“It’s a beautiful day.”

I pointed the Mercedes punkeast and smogward.  La Ciudad de Los Angeles.  The City of Angels.  Ha.  That’s rich.  The bitchy irony starts at the name, and doesn’t stop until the wino piss puddles around your Hollywood sidewalk star.  Always hated the place.  After 20 years of trying to make it work, you just know, Los Angeles, it’s not me.  It’s you.

Where else will you see a fifty-one year old man driving a Mercedes to a Reagan Youth show?  Like I said, always with the bitchy irony.  Just a nasty city.

Turned off the satellite radio.  Too many choices.  I’d rather listen to nothing.  Nothing but the sound of my mind grinding gears as it pushes boulders up steep inclines.  Only to have them roll back down.  Crushing and destroying everything in their path.  Including the equipment operator.

Deep in thought I was.  Too deep for tunes.  Dint want the distraction.  Twas a busy day at Monkey Mind Construction.

So what’s the deal here?  What’s the angle?  How do I approach this little outing?  What do I have to do?  More importantly, what should I not do?  How can I avoid having any regrets?  Am I too old for this?  Am I still “punk as fuck?”  Is eight car lengths safe enough?  Is it too late to invest in the Gerber Baby Grow-up Plan?  What if I have to fight a guy with an ax?  What do I have in the car that would give me a chance?  How about one of the dumbbells in the trunk?  Really?  Against an ax?  Why not one of the ten pounders wielded like a war-hammer?

Maybe.

Why am I planning on having to fight a guy with an ax?  When that almost never happens.

Just a lot of questions.  Few answers.  I didn’t need the Margaritaville or New Age Spa station to interfere with hearing any either.  Silence was golden.  Especially before tonight.  I had a sneaking hinky that I was in for an aural assault.  Reagan Youth, 13 Scars, Dust Angel, and a couple of other bands.  I estimated about at least five hours of music beaten into my skull before it was all over.

Yeah, we’ll keep the radio off.  Save the ear bones a little wear-and-tear.  Good chance to pay attention to my driving.  Hands at ten and two.  Ankle holding the pedal at a steady 70.  Check rear-view.  Side one.  Wup.  Brake light flashing 2.500 feet ahead.  Ease up on the gas.  Hover over brake.  Not required.  Continue to depress accelerator.

Only thirty-two more miles.  I just might make it.  Is that a cop?

Even with a valid license, current registration, proof of insurance, and not being drunk, I still drive like I could get pulled over and hauled off to jail.  Can’t help it.  Some groove I cut deep into the limbic part of my brain.  I remember getting a flat tire the first year I was sober.  I was by the side of the road changing it, when a CHP pulled up behind me.  Oh fuck.  Both my feet jerked hard left, ready to start running across the ice plant.

Hold on.  You haven’t done anything wrong.  Nothing is wrong with you.  And you don’t have anything wrong inside the car.  You are merely a motorist in distress.  And not over the fact that Xanax slows down your backwards ABCs.

Well, he had pulled over to see if he could help.  Even let me use his jack so I didn’t have to deal with the Japanese can-opener that came with my car.  We had some laughs over that.  He turned out to be a cool copper.  It felt strange waving good-bye to him as I drove off.

Good citizenshiphood is a trip alright.  And not too bad a deal.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against outlaw stuff.  I remember this one time I broke a law.  And it was deeply satisfying.  It’s just the constant tap-dancing required to maintain the life-style that gets tiring.  So does getting busted.  Being broke.  Hungry.  Hunted.  Haunted.

Trying to find the gun you hid while in a black-out.

“The last thing I remember is thinking ‘nobody will ever find it here,’ then the film breaks.  Please St. Anthony, help me find my gun.”

Having to thank Him after you find it in the microwave.  Feeling weird that you had to pray.  For that.

Yeah, all that shit pretty much blows.  I’ll put on my Mr. Rogers sweater instead.  The loafers too.  Did he change into loafers or sneakers?  I can’t remember.  As soon as I find a safe place to pull over I’ll Google it on my phone.  I watched enough of that show as a kid, you’d think I’d remember.

At night before going to sleep, I’d fantasize about lying down flat across Trolley, so I could ride it through the tunnel into the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  (There’s a Fellini image)  Once inside, I’d run amok and destroy the place.  Twist off King Friday’s head and proclaim myself the new Emperor.  Kid Caligula.  I’d imagine bashing in or burning down every cute little building.  One by one.  The castle.  The grandmother clock in the tree.  The rocking chair factory.  The platypus mound.  The Eiffel Tower.  That rotating columned cake thing that Lady Elaine lived at.  I think it was some museum or shit.  Doesn’t matter.  I would reduce it all to smoldering ruins.  Turn the Neighborhood of Make Believe into…Stalingrad.

Is that a normal fantasy for a seven-year-old boy?  Probably not normal for a normal one.  But normal for me.

Here's what I think of your 'hood.

Here’s what I think of your ‘hood.

Anyway, I turned out okay.  So I don’t think there was any lasting harm in it.  Okay, start signaling for your lane change.  Plenty of warning for everybody.  Thank you Mr. Pancho Villa Mustache Dude for letting me in.  Wave the thank you hand to him.  Did he see it?

“That’s right, bro.  You’re cool!”  Give him thumbs up.  Nod.  Mucho gratitudo, dude.

Okay then.

Did I mention I didn’t want to be driving to Hollywood to see a punk rock show?  No?  Well, truth be told, I’d rather be toasting my moccasins in front of a roaring fire tonight.  Watching some show about living in Alaska or prison.  My girlfriend snoring just enough to let me know she’s not dead.  My cats curled around me.  Both of them radiating their serenity, as my sister described “like two incense cones of coziness.”

Yeah, Mr. Destroy-Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood would rather be home with his woman and kitty cats.

Instead of a punk rock show.

Wow, that sounds really lame.  I need to make sure nobody finds out.  Vault that shit right now.  Right there with The Phone Sex Incident.  Bury it deep.

Fact is, I’m doing this as an act of contrary action.  Choosing to go out into the world and connect with friends.  Instead of continuing to isolate in my comfort zone.  I feel an obligation.  That it’s important to do.  Especially when I don’t feel like it.  It’s my small offering upon the altar of Faith Above Reason.  Connecting without fear of consequence.  It’s pretty insane.  Punk as fuck.  Actually.

Here we go.  This is beginning to feel more tawdry.  Must be getting close.  I need Sunset.  Three miles.  Signal.  Look over the left shoulder.  Right shoulder.  Rear-view.  Side-view.  Right shoulder again.  Begin merging.  Done.

It was sneakers not loafers. Well they were more like deck shoes.  That’s what he changed into after he put on his sweater.  But did he put his sweater on first?  Pretty sure.  Yeah.  He goes straight to the closet, takes off his sport coat, puts on the sweater, then sits down and changes his shoes.  That was the proper protocol.  For a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Glad I straightened that out.  No Google either.

At least I was getting some answers.  Not to anything important.  Yet.  But I should keep listening.

I exited on Sunset and turned right.  My motel wasn’t too far.  Good.  I’ll have time to take a nap.

Before the big show.

(to be continued.)

Mindful motoring.

Mindful motoring.

Punked-Out Punk: Part One

Reagan Youth

Reagan Youth

Went to Hollywood last Sunday to see Reagan Youth and 13 Scars play at Los Globos.  Attached my portable oxygen tank to my walker.  Laced up the Martens and left the Miracle Ear at home.  Always dug Reagan Youth.  They were from Queens.  Aaayyyy! Fuckin’ Ay.  Woodhaven, yo!

However, the main reason was to meet up with Dave Gurz and Michael Essington.  They were going to be there signing copies of  Under A Broken Street Lamp.  Both cool dudes.  Real people.  Interesting thinkers.  I’ve enjoyed their writing.  This would be my first chance to get to hang out with either of them.  The next day, friends from Santa Fe were going to be in Hollywood.  Perfect.  I figured I’d rent a roach box to comfort in for the night, and then see Brisa and Dennis the next morning.

Okay. This was going to be fun.  I had a lot to look forward to.

You wouldn’t know it by the way I left the house.  You’d have thought I was going out to die for the last time.  I don’t know if it’s old age or being sober.  Probably the synergistic effect of both.  I have a hard time getting my lazy ass out the door these days.  There’s just so many irritating things that can go wrong “out there.”  And nothing that really seems worth it.

Not like here at home.

Sure, if I stayed at home I would probably wind up having to chase out dog-sized racoons from the kitchen, break up a cat-fight between Louie and Boris, poke-out a hissing possum with a mop handle, or swat at bats with a broom.

Actually, I make Lori do that last one.  I have to hold a blanket up by the stairway so the bats don’t fly up to the second floor.  She’s not tall enough to get a good seal.  So that leaves her with broom duty.  I’ll hear her swatting and swearing.  Knocking shit over.  But she always gets them out.  She’s pretty good at it.  That’s because she’s from hillbilly stock.  I’m better behind the blanket.  I’m from Queens. Aaay.

My point is that it can be sheer chaos here at the house, but it’s my own…cozy chaos.

Some might say I like to isolate.  I call it tactically withdrawing from an oppressive consensus reality.  Whatever Post-it note you want to attach.  I prefer desolate places.  Where I can sit hunched on a jagged rock.  Alone in the world.  My webbed wings beaten flat by the Broom of Life.  Now and then sighing deeply.  Beholding the sheer majesty of the Wasteland of Woe.  Bitter winds salting the desert with the dried tears of its victims.

Only friendship could coax to come out from the sorrowful sands of Bou-Saada.  And go to a punk rock show.

It wasn’t going to be cake walk.  Not for me.  Somewhere between February 1st  2004 and last night, I misplaced large portions of my edge.  I needed to prime myself.  But with what?  What was left for me? What could I safely use to torque myself into the proper state?

I bought a bag of Brazil nuts.  I read they naturally raise testosterone.  I think because of the Selenium.  I don’t care.  I just didn’t want to go to a punk show while suffering from low T-levels.  I wanted to get my Agro on.  And everyone knows that Agro is just thwarted horniness–from too much testosterone.  A rage few men over the age of fifty get to enjoy.

These Brazil nuts better work.

So I can want to rip somebody’s head off.

Because I really want to kiss a girl, instead.

Okay then.  That takes care of the head.  Now what about the gut?

I stocked up on salami and beans. Old-school fuel.  Liquor store war rations.  Protein.  Fat.  Salt.  A slow-burning carb.  Plus nitrates to add a toxic edge.  An army can march on a bellyful of that.  No wasting time preparing it.  Or waiting for somebody to bring it to you.  The preferred grab-n-go of go-getters around the globe, Plug.

Motel room service

Motel room service

Before I left, Lori insisted I take her Mercedes.  She was afraid my 2001 Suzuki Esteem wouldn’t make the 47 mile journey.  Well, it’s one of the many things that keeps us together as a couple– being afraid of the same things, so I agreed.  But reluctantly.  I hate to drive her car.

Of course it’s a thousand times better than my rattle trap.  That’s the problem.  I’m scared I’ll somehow wreck it.  I have to be extra careful driving, and Lori already laughs at me.  She says I drive as slow as an eighty-year-old woman stoned on medical brownies.

That’s not true.  I’m just cautious.  I’ve been in so many car wrecks, starting at age five, that the idea of getting into one no longer seems far-fetched.  Not like to the ass-holes weaving through lanes with inches to spare.  They are immortal gods playing a video game.  They don’t care about the sacks of meat hurtling through space in sharp metal boxes around them.

Well this time I wasn’t as concerned about wrapping it around a pole as I was about pulling up at a punk show in a Mercedes.

Besides the ironic social comment it would make, I didn’t want to park it near any roving gangs of anarchists.  I could just see one of them keying “Capitalist Pig” into the side of it.  I don’t know why I could picture it so clearly.  But it made me nervous-er.

One more thing that could go wrong in a scarey world gone mad–having to deal with people like me.  Oh God.

At that point I knew I needed to get a grip.  Stop the frettin’ and knuckle rubbin’ and man up.  Who is this worried little twat?  How did he get into me?

Truth is- that quivering worm was always in me.  Wiggling just under my sternum.  I used to beat it into submission with beer.  But eventually, it learned to beat back.  Now I have to lay the smack down differently.  Have to find a new way to connect with my inner Beasthood.  Then strangle The Worm.

I thought about how I could do that.  Perhaps drink once more from the fountain of Reagan Youth.  Regain the unrealistic ideals of my deformative years.  Recapture the rage.  Electro-paddle the passion back into arrhythmia.

I hit the signal.  Cautiously merged into the Sunday afternoon traffic on the 101.  Slowly dragged my Brazil nuts south for the night.

(To be continued)

Rage on.

Degenerated!