Vague directions whispered in the night.
Crude maps hastily drawn upon cocktail napkins, set aflame after committing route to memory.
Groups of drunken Marines staggering down Avenida Revolución, one Lance Corporal holding a bloodied elbow against his torso.
His screams still echo in mind: That fuckin’ chimp took a bite out my arm!
Yes, we are here in search of the mythical Cantina de Chango: The Monkey Bars of Tijuana!
It’s a fine sunny Saturday as we meet at the Pierview in Oceanside, one last headcount before the border crossing.
It’s a first for us, playing south of the border, and we are traveling with our pals in Walk Proud and Skaal as backup.
And, yes, we are always eager to spread the ol CH3 gospel to new lands and all that.
But also the chance to drink alongside a shrieking Gibbon or perhaps a rotund Orangutan? Well!
We number fifteen or sixteen, and vow to not leave a man behind.
Well, maybe Paulie or Arvin, we could probably spare those guys–but that’s it!
From the swanky Rodeway Inn it’s a quick walk to the pedestrian border crossing and we’re in country!
We chatter, giddy as school children, each holding hands with our designated buddies: sweaty palms sealing this pact.
We imagine the doors opening to a darkened bar, and the denizens turn as one to inspect the new comers.
Azure spots dance before our eyes as we adjust to the darkness.
We finally make out wee forms smoking and drinking at the bar.
Dwarves? Wizened old wisemen?
No, these are certainly Hominoid creatures, yet somehow…furry.
We are corralled aboard a creaky yellow trolley and barrel deeper into the city.
The blue haze of wood smoke hangs in the air, the nightclubs along Revolución coming awake now as sun sets toward Wild Sábado night.
We peer out the windows for any sign of le Pub Monk, but nothing.
Ah well, we are here to do a job, and soon load into the TJ Arte and Rock club off Avenida Miguel Negrete.
It is a proper club, big old PA, lights……fog machine!
I don’t know what we were expecting, perhaps a cartel-run chop shop, or an outdoor stage of pallets with amps powered by generator?
But we find this Tijuana a very cool place.
To a person, everyone we run into is courteous and happy.
And the clubs are even nicer due to the lack of Guerro Bros from SDSU!
Past trips to TJ, the only dangers were obnoxious fratboys treating the town like a disposable playground, acting like drunken……well, monkeys!
After load in we head out for Tacos and beverage:
Our SD local bub Dennis guides us over to tiny Ruebens, and though we are initially disappointed that no one is swinging off the fixtures or flinging feces about the room, it turns out a jolly little haven!
The night is alive now.
We make our way back toward the club, passing packed restaurants and clubs full of life.
We peek hopefully into dim alleys and darkened doorways for any sign of prehensile tails, listen for the tell tale shriek of haplorhine primate boozing.
Alright then, Showtime!
Systematic Abuse is ripping it up when we get back to the club, and then our buddies in Walk Proud take to the stage:
It isn’t long before Steve lights up a smoke onstage and Karl shocks the crowd by stripping down to a tiny thong.
But that’s the beauty of this place–freedom!!!
And then we’re pushed onstage and do the thing once again–ándale!!
There is tequila, oh yes there is.
We end the night skanking to 45 Revoluciones and hugging it up with a dozen new pals.
All too soon, we’re corralled back into the shuttle for the border, but not before walking the tourist gauntlet for mandatory supplies:
Bacon wrapped Hot Dog? Check!
Liter de Patron? You got it mate.
Switchblade and Homer Simpson Cookie Jar? Handled.
Some wise guy brings the ubiquitous surfing monkey onboard, but this only reminds us of our failure to drink à la Jane Goodall.
We make it back across to the boring old USA and are soon snoring away, a syncopated symphony of restless sleep.
We dream of a world where the apes serve a jaunty Moscow Mule, then light your fag with a snap of the Zippo.
But until that day, we have indeed met the monkey, and we are them.
*News Item, Chicago Herald. Dateline April 1, 2007:
April 1st is widely known as April Fool’s Day, but it is no joke that in Illinois, it is also ‘National Cheap Trick Day.’ In October of 2007, the Illinois Senate passed a resolution designating April 1st as Cheap Trick Day in the state. *
We’ll for the moment ignore the fact that those crackheads in the Illinois Senate also designated April 11 as Official Crohn’s/Irritable Bowel Syndrome Day and Oprah gets the whole first week of February.
And let’s not get shitty about them giving our boys jokey April 1 as their special date.
I guess that comes with the territory when you still dress like a Bowery Boy at 67 goddamn years old!
For this has become, ironically, an underdog band. And they deserve all the recognition they belatedly receive.
And fuck the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they dare to put Green Day in there before our heroes?
Listen, Green Day better get to the back of the line, and no cutting in front of the Toy Dolls either bubs!
We were kids with brand new driver’s licenses, a concert bong and warm tallboys of Olde English 800.
The burgundy ElCamino wore a camper shell, we wore Puka shells. Life, it was good.
There we are, lazing about the Santa Monica Civic parking lot for a Runaways concert.
After drinking up every hideous malt liquor and smoking mersh weed until we achieved righteous headaches, we actually made it into the venue in time to catch an opening act we’d never heard of before—yeah, you got it brother!
Then CT came out on stage and went into Hello There-a blistering 90-second song, this in the day of the bloated 12 minute rock-a-ganza.
Robin Zander and Tom Petersson up there, the very image of 70’s cool, Rickenbacker guitar and 12 string bass, white suits and clogs–clogs!
But then, what the fuck? The guitar player is a goof jumping around in wrestling shoes, the drummer looking like an accountant behind a desk of drums, chain smoking like it’s the height of tax season.
At one point Bun E. pulls out ridiculously huge prop sticks and wails.
We are instant fans.
Here was a band unafraid to look silly, great taste in guitars, and able to play riff after amazing riff without making the crapping-your-pants grimace that the other schmucks of the day would make, just to let us kids know how hard it was to play a guitar.
Nah man, these guys were cool–had to be European!
We learned better of course, rushing down to Best Records the very next day to get that glorious debut platter. These guys were from the Midwest?
That fuckin’ record, what can you say?
It was weird, taken in context of the day.
We listened to it and listened again, the glorious pop in Oh Candy, glam and dark touches popping up in other songs. Mysterious is what I always think of that record, dreamy Beatles harmonies mixed with Townshedian guitar abandon and restraint.
I mean, come on! Mandocello?
A sixteen year old boy thinks-what am I hearing?
And when they came back around in a couple months later for shows at the Whisky, we were right there.
We stayed for both sets, caught hell from our Moms when we got home at 3am, and were in the garage the next day with guitars plugged into the home stereo.
Years passed, new albums released, and they would come around again.
And of course the secret was out.
The band rose to the fame we all knew it rightfully deserved, coming around opening for Kiss at the Forum, and by 1979 headlining the New Year’s Eve show there themselves.
When it’s not your band anymore, but the whole goddamn high schools’ favorite….. damn.
You begrudgingly smile at your band’s success but still shake your head at these fakes who only just bought Dream Police.
We were exposing the Poseur, this long before playing the I was there game with the other kids in the Cathay alley:
Where’d you first see Black Flag?
At the Starwood, Fleetwood or Church?!
Maybe it was around this time we cut off our luxurious locks and got the leather jackets, and covered every band name scrawled on our PeeChee folders with angry Anarchy A’s.
For if we weren’t against them we were for them, and all those Zep and Rush records ended up in the used bin at Best Records.
But somehow we just couldn’t let go of that black and white debut, and there was always a Cheap Trick mix tape along for the boring rides across the blasted landscape those first tours.
And it wasn’t even 1983 when even the fucking kids of Fast Times at Ridgemont High were dissing our heroes as kid stuff!
But they just kept playing, and we would still go see Cheap Trick when they’d come back around.
Fender’s Ballroom, the Golden Bear, Houses of Blue: Casinos and fairgrounds, these guys seemed to be on the same circuit as the Ramones, riding their current popularity up and down each year.
Hell, they were playing the same clubs even we were starting to play!
But they still came around, inevitable as Seasons announced by torn calendar page, the size of the room ever-changing but the set as vital as ever.
And then, full disclosure, full circle, we get to actually play with Cheap Trick in 2004!
See, fuckers? Something good came out of those big hair records and those slow songs!
We could pull this off, playing a quick set in front of the Mom Jeans crowd, even if they did bring in cocktail tables to cover the usual swarming pit of the Vault!
Of course on the day we got word of this show, I fell off a mountain bike and broke my rascal scapula clean in two.
My right wing in a sling for 6 weeks, we brought Mike Dimkitch back into the fold to play second guitar, and I was back as a lead singer, God help us all!
But no matter, we were sharing the stage with goddamn Cheap Trick, people!
We spent our soundcheck goofing around on Rick’s pedestal, stealing guitar picks off his mic stand and playing with the pedal that would make his “guitar cabinets” light up like humvees scouring the Mexican border.
Eventually their tech crew shooed us away and we wandered the caverns below the club, but the band stayed on the bus.
Didn’t blame them, really.
Here was a band that saw the heights of 70’s stardom, back when being a Rockstar meant something.
I could imagine them backstage after the Forum gig, maybe doing coke in front of Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s locker while getting blown by Adrienne Barbeau.
And now here they were, on a bus in downtown Long Beach, another faceless gig among thousands, waiting for some aging punk rockers to clear off the stage and go play Surrender for the millionth time.
Just how many picks have been tossed into the nighttime sky?
We played, and I don’t remember anything much about the show other than the puzzled looks from the audience, heads cocked as if encountering a new species of monkey.
That and our bar tab afterward which was exactly 200 dollars more than we were paid.
But I do remember coming offstage and down to the dressing room, and there stood Rick Nielsen himself.
He was just looking around, seemed fascinated by the old vault door that still stood in the basement.
And after all the years shared, years and affection oblivious to him, we finally got to shake his hand.
I blurted out that we’d seen them, that first So Ca show back in 1977 and had seen them ever since.
And you imagine a guy like that, he hears this kind of shit all day long.
How many dressing rooms has he stood in, how many fawning hacks has he had to endure before going to work?
But Rick was gracious and kind, made eye contact and fooled around with us for some silly photos.
A moment in passing for him, a pause on the way to work.
A moment forever cherished to these former teenagers.
You just know that when the Runaways get back together it’ll be on a Coachella main stage.
And if dear Joey Ramone was still with us he’d be a judge on American Idol.
But a band that survives and just keeps plugging away, how do we honor them?
By going to see them at an Indian Casino, but only if it’s on a weekend night?
But they’ll come back around, they always do.
And if it’s at a House of Blues with shitty sight lines or maybe under the full moon at the county fair, we’ll still go see them.
Hell, maybe that’s why they don’t seem to mind those fair stages a bit.
Maybe there’s no better place to see Cheap Trick.
To be surrounded by carnival lights and the scent of frying foods, mixed with the sweet smell of nitro burning speedway bikes.
The sights and smells of our youth, all that’s missing is the soundtrack.