A full beer can arced the darkening sky and landed with a solid thunk on the van roof, the sound solid and somber as a coffin lid being slammed shut. I glanced back and saw the shillouettes of the San Diego punkers gathered around the stage door, the tips of their cigarettes whirling as fireflies underneath the lone lightbulb that lit the entrance. You could tell they were regrouping for another assault on the Blue and White, and I asked Chris to get us the fuck out of there as the rest of the crew inside yelled and taunted the punkers across the parking lot.
Time to go.
I would ask you: who doesn’t want to be part of a gang, hmmm?
I don’t know, to one day be asked to sit at the cool kid table at lunch, or to finally- wordlessly- be allowed to walk home with the dangerous guys. The kids who cut classes and smoked cigarettes in their vans.
Who doesn’t want to belong?
Back down the 5 freeway again, sunset after the daylight savings change, and the clouds gather as we crest the San Clemente curve. We’re not listening to 999 this time though, no–it’s an english Oi! compilation, and the beer we hold is not our beloved Coors Banquet but its darker and sinister stepmother, Olde English 800….
The old Blue and White seems always packed with new faces now, and whenever we load up for a gig there are new names to remember, and new hands- heavy with broken knuckles- to shake.
In the months that have passed since our last trip down South, things have changed. We’re a harcdcore band now, and we are to reckoned with, yeah? We’ve had our picture taken in a dozen tough poses, encouraged by the photographers to knock off the goofy grins and look mean!
The Choc thrift store polyester leisure suits have been replaced by leathers, Docs and fanny kilts. My Mom ventured down to Poseur on Melrose and got me some Brit import bondage pants….Thanks Mom!
In the van this time down, we have Chris at the wheel as usual and Duane riding shotgun, but we’re also packing along big Oren, a teenager who could easily pass for a 47 year old longshoreman. Also, Olly and his crew from L.A., maybe a couple other Wollum boys, and some silent punk girls with serious eye makeup and self inflicted cigarette burns. Jeff from Wasted Youth is making out with Larry’s kid sister in the gear compartment.
So how was the Cramps gig ya ask?
Oh, we never played the gig. In fact, I don’t think Kimm or I ever got out of the van.
When we finally pulled into the parking lot, woozily bloated from the Malt Liquor and charged on English football chants, the van door slid open full. The clatter of empty cans hitting asphalt our intro song, malevolent as black hail on a church roof.
Duane led the charge, and seven men jumped out of the van and headed inside the theatre. Kimm and I stayed in the van to change shirts, and maybe have 3 minutes of silence before surrendering to the night ahead.
And as fast as they were out, Duane and the crew came running back to the van, jumped in laughing and cussing, recounting a roundhouse right that someone had just thrown to knock a fool out cold.
The victim? Oh, gee. That would be the promoter.
This was a popular man in San Diego, and as word spread around the parking lot, the San Diego punkers started for the van. Apparently, the Cramps wanted the venue cleared for soundcheck, but our boys wanted to stay and watch! An argument broke out.
Well, what ya gonna do, really? but throw a punch?
And now fights were breaking out all around the van, we are being yelled at to get the fuck out of San Diego and never come back. Cops are on the way.
If you know me or Kimm at all, ya know we’re not known for clearing the room with our fists. We’ve had maybe one physical brawl over the course of our 30 years (and as I recall that was with each other!)
But now we were getting a reputation as troublemakers, thanks in no small part to the manicacs we welcomed along for the ride. We would check with promoters after a gig, only to find we owed them due to the 3 microphones stolen. Or tires would be mysteriouly slashed, and a bartender is threatening to call the cops if we weren’t gone soon.
But, really. Who’s fault was that? Why couldn’t I have the strength to stand and say enough!?
When we first started playing those backyard parties we were the goofy kids, and had a hard time getting the tough guys or cute girls to give us a listen. Now that we had a little cred, not to mention a big guest list and a tank full of gas, we didn’t have much of a problem filling the van.
I ask you again: Who doesn’t want to belong?
We drove away, and I looked over at Kimm across the dark van. We saw each other’s eyes for a moment, not possibly knowing that this one night would be the foreshadow to a couple full years of riots, threats, cancelled shows and animosity with a handful of other bands.
We pulled away from the cursing crowd, and distanced ourselves from an opportunity lost. I like to think that I had the romance to look back at that diminishing light as the van pulled away, that even in the midst of the bleeding and yelling, I was as conscience and forlorn as Gatsby staring at his distant green light at the end of a dock across Egg Harbor.
But we know better than that now, don’t we?
I was too young, too drunk or stupid, to recognize it as anything more than a lightbulb.