As the 5 freeway makes one more long curving dip Southbound, say around San Clemente, the Pacific suddenly appears over your starboard shoulder.
I love that part of the drive, when you leave the numbing concrete of the suburbs and you finally see the landscape give way to the vast blue ocean. Even better when yer in the back of the ol Blue and White Chevy, cold Coors Banquet in hand, 999 casette playing distortionally full blast on the Blaupunkt. Loud as the music plays, it is still no competition to the roar of the crew: Duane’s braying laugh, Kimm and Larry arguing out a set list, Chris yelling at all the backseat drinkers to keep their beers down on the fuckin’ freeway. A chick is screaming from somewhere in the gear compartment, begging for a bathroom stop. We’re going to San Diego to play with Black Flag!
After the call from Kimm, I went back out to the Fmart parking lot where Richard was still glaring at the stray cart lodged up against the Datsun. I stepped around him and pulled it back, wiped off the black scuff mark with a spit moistened thumb. No Harm Done. “Heh. Sorry about that Richard. No more calls, got it.”
“Get back to work Magrann. You just lost your break.”
“Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. What’s the chance of cutting out early tonight?”
He looked like I’d just asked to shit on his beard.
My work day-in fact my entire career in the food services industry- ended 90 seconds later with my vest and clip on tie draped over Richard’s fat head. As I waited for the blue and white to pick me up out on South Street, I looked back and saw Black Chuck walking out to the parking lot, his head hanging low, resigned to the task that was now his. Heh.
An hour 15 minutes later I was sipping that cold Coors Banquet and watching the sun being pulled into the blue sea, singing along to Titanic Reaction. And an hour after that we pulled into some rec center outside of downtown San Diego.
The promoter was hopping around the parking lot, relieved we’d finally made it, yelling at the kids to throw away their beers and get inside the club. This was some last minute gig, and he thanked us for being able to make it down on such short notice—also, something about Black Flag trying out their new singer, some out of towner named Henry. Oh, and we were supposed to be onstage, like, now!
We loaded the gear in and up a flight of stairs, right onto a low stage facing a hardwood dance floor. We set up fast and tuned guitars with shaking hands, trying to look like we didn’t care in front of the SD punkers who didn’t know much about us. Maybe they heard the EP, but we looked a lot goofier than the record sounded-that’s true.
You could smoke indoors back then, and the air was blue with Clove cigarette smoke. Kimm and I checked the stage volume, someone cut the Buzzcocks off the PA, and we turned to face the crowd. We kicked it off with Got a Gun.
Sometimes when you play a gig everyting goes wrong, and you remember that. Pants split on stage, someone kicks the mic right into your face and splits your lower lip in two. But truthfully, most of the time the shows are like the rest. You play the songs you’ve rehearsed a thousand times and you do the set on auto pilot for a bored crowd, then you pack it off the stage and look for a cold beer.
But sometimes, sometimes it all goes right.
On this night the crowd wanted to hear music, they wanted it, to connect their boredom and rage with loud guitars and drums. The guitars stayed in tune, Burton didn’t forget any countoffs, the pit grew with every song. Though the stage was low, the ceiling was maybe a standard 8 footer and covered with acoustic cottage cheese. With every windmill of my arm (because now we’re feeding off the boiling crowd and pulling off the rockstar moves that have been performed only for the bedroom mirror), I would hit my knuckles right up into the ceiling. With every song my knuckles grew bloodier, and the pickguard of the Rickenbacker was soon spider webbed in red.
We end the set, soaked in honest sweat and breathing hard. When we get the guitars back to the shared dressing room, Dez and Chuck actually come over and talk to us!
Understand- Maybe 13 months earlier, Kimm and I stood in the back of the Fleetwood and watched a Black Flag set.
It was a frightening and exhilarating thing to behold, and truthfully made us wonder if we had the sand to exist in this world.
Now, I’m standing there with Dez, and he’s shaking his head as he holds my bloodied hand in his.
Chuck and Kimm continued talking, a conversation that would lead to our first real tour of the Southwest. Henry Rollins came over and introduced himself, he seemed a little keyed up for the gig, one of his first with the band. He said he’d heard the EP and liked it.
A loose and magical night. Later, when they went into Revenge, Henry tensed up those neck muscles like only he can, and screamed the words into the mic: It’s not my imagination, I’ve got a gun on my back! But the band didn’t kick in on cue, just turned to each other and laughed as Henry almost fell off the riser with the momentum unanswered. I don’t know…standing there on the side of the stage, we felt like we were in on the joke, musicians.
We loaded out of the club early Sunday morning. Wet with sweat, gulping at the fresh air, dizzy with the promise of, well, anything! after a gig like that. The local punks were on our side, helped carry out the gear. One crusty even surrendered Burton’s cymbals that had been swiped and hidden in the pizza oven. Nights like this don’t come often to a young band, and I think even then we knew that.
The promoter was pleased and pledged more great gigs in the future.
He made good on his promise, but with the very next trip down to San Diego we fucked up everything.