In Search of Internal Combustion at the HoeDown

We get to the Port damn early, pulling into the backstage parking lot before the morning mist has yet to lift from the harbor.
A huge tanker chugs past, like a block long condominium set adrift by a jolting shrug of the San Andreas fault.
I pause a moment, guitar case in hand, as we unload.
I squint up at the stacks of containers moving past, then down to the waterline where the filthy port water is churned turquoise by the prow of the ship.
Propelled forward by submerged violence, I wonder at the sheer horsepower generated within that steel hull.
The miracle of fuel re-imagined as power, the massive screws twisting endlessly in battle against distance and time.

Nick got there even earlier, and has already staked out a prime spot near the stage.
We have room for not only our pop-up and merch table, but also for Nick’s straight axle gasser, Dethtrap.


It gives our staked space the cool feeling of being back in the pits, of those 1970’s evenings out at Ascot or Orange County International Raceway, where we would race under the lights on the tight MX track while just beyond a chain link fence the garage built cars smoked their tires.
The night air perfumed with the acrid sweet funk of melting rubber.

We’ve pulled an early set time, but that’s okay.
It’s just a thrill to be back here at a festival, though Tucker went through hell pulling this one off.
Through re schedules and band changes, the fest remained a torn flag on the horizon, a beacon to end this nutso Summer.
There is still the delicious vibe of chaos going on.
But the bands are indeed piling in and the stages have been set, and it looks like against all odds this thing is going to launch.
We get up there and do the thing:




We play alright, though it it is always interesting to air our setlist under the midday sun.
Forty year old songs of longing and desperation, nocturnal as raccoons.
Perhaps they are better suited to the late nights in sweaty nightclubs?

I wander the festival grounds, the vast space starting to fill in with all the people who have sensibly arrived after our set.
People come up and apologize for missing us, ask how it was.
I assure them it’s all good, though a shame they have missed one of our all time great performances.
We walk away from each other, each reassured by the white lie, faces intact.

Casey

Familiar faces everywhere, there is a sense of relief in the air.
The lines snaking up to the food trucks start growing long, the port a potties start reeking with their astonishing stench. By god, it is a music festival after all!

Farrell with PR Karaoke


Back at the merch stand we huddle beneath the pop up, watch as Paul grumpily rejects another potential customer.
We don’t have that one in that size he repeats yet again.
But most people stop by not to look at our meager selection of T shirts, but at the car.
Nick stands by Dethtrap like a proud papa, pulling the pins to tilt forward the hood again and again to show off his build.
A mild ’61 Dart repowered and rebuilt to 357 cubic inches of primitive power, 500 horsepower atop a 2900 pound car.
It is Southern California.
As people stop and look at the car, the sight of it seems to conjure sweet memories of their own late nights in the garage.
Huddled over engines or flat backed underneath: a pal’s reassuring hands gripped upon their ankles to pull them out on the dolly, a four speed transmission cradled heavy upon chest, precious as an unexploded ordnance.


My brother JB comes by and I watch as he and Nick talk, and I know he is telling the story of his own ’72 Nova that he built and rebuilt, the most notable marker of his high school life.

Love Canal


And those memories are mine as well.
The nights pestering him for a look by shop light at the hulking big block, until he would finally send me to a corner of the garage with valve seating compound and a suction tipped wand to grind down the valve seats on a cracked head.
I haven’t thought of such things in decades, but I am instantly back in that Cerritos garage, long before we had the notion to egg carton the walls and turn up the amps.
I smell the upturned hubcaps filled with gasoline to soak dirty parts, hear the clatter of tools dropped out of reach and the string of cuss words that followed.

Untouchables!

The three stages go non stop and the crowd sweeps back and forth with each changeover.
Every set seems a victory against the threat of a shutdown, under broken security lines or viral load.
The day gains terrific momentum, like pistons unleashed of gravity, sending propulsion to crankshaft with each miraculous ballet of intake and compression, ignition and exhaust.

The HoeDown lineup features several acts that tend toward rockabilly and sleaze rock, their mirrored audience looking like a generation longing for the days of leaded fuel and cigarette machines at full service gas stations.
Pinup dreamboats that look like they should be perched atop the classic rods and the greasy haired rockers who look like they should be underneath in the grease pit.

Suoersuckers
Throwrag

Back in the pits, another crowd has gathered around the gasser.
Marshall, my old pal who spent his career as a Ford mechanic, comes by and looks it over grimly, like a man who’d be happy to never peer at another greasy motor in his retired life.  
But then Nick opens the hood and Marshall grins, and he goes, aw jeez, what have you done here….and then they are both pointing and talking.

An old punker stops in front of the car.
In typical uniform, short pants and Vans, a faded Suicidal Tendencies Tshirt washed thin through the years and stretched tight over expanded waistline.
He holds hands with a young boy, and though I first assume it his son, I do a quick calculation and realize he is my age, and therefore that is a grandson.

His eyes come alive with memories of past cars, the sweet torture of working part time jobs and counting a pile of soft bills weekly until he could buy his own ride
And then, in the time honored tradition of So Ca Speed, he starts customizing.
We take what we love and then immediately want to change it.
Faster, and louder.

The boy squints at the gleaming motorwork and tilts his head in wonder.
He has looked under a hood but once, that at his Mom’s Mercedes E Class wagon.
He discovered only a bland sheath of plastic cowling covering a small city of computers and injectors.
He knows only of the sewing machine efficiency of vehicles, bland couches that transport him to soccer practice, silent as a block in solitary.

PopPop points at the motor excitedly, relieved to finally show his grandson these things, to be able to explain how the gas goes from there, and mixes with the air here, and explodes there, and exhaust comes out there.


“That?” he asks in response to his grandson’s whispered question.
He squats until his face is level with the child’s.
They both point to the chrome contraption crowning the motor.
“That’s a carburetor,” he says, as if showing his grandson the last of a near extinct seabird.


And later this night, he will hold his grandson upon his shoulder as the pit rages for Suicidal, and the boy will look wide eyed at the sweet violence, pure as the blue spark that ignites gasoline and propels us onward.

Awesome concert photos by Ron Lyon @Ronlyonphoto

Our Last Gig: Commissary Costa Mesa

I stand at the bar waiting for a Red Bull.
It’s past ten o’clock, you see, and I am unused to being up so late.

I stifle a yawn and try to snap back into nightclub mode, for we still have a set to play.
For the past glorious 18 months I would usually be tucked in bed by this ungodly hour, playing Golf Clash on my Ipad until it slips, finally, from my loosened grip.
Another day ends with a sigh and snore even before the tablet clatters to the ground..

The Daughter is suddenly at my elbow.
She has has migrated toward Dad With His Wallet Out, opportunistic as a hyena sidling up to a lioness chewing on the haunch of a downed wildebeest.
I sigh, ask the bartender to hold up, and ask what she’d like.

She is apparently fetching a round for her crew as well, and she recites an order of highballs and fruity seltzers that sounds like an incantation to summon fallen Indian warriors:
White Claw, Moscow Mule, Seabreeze, Ice Pick……Geronimo!
The bar space before me is suddenly cluttered with slim cans and cocktails concocted from cinnamon whiskey and fluorescent mixers.
I slide two twenties across the bar, and when the bartender looks down at my cash dubiously, surrender two more bills.


The Daughter has already danced back into the darkened depths of the club with her arms filled with drink, while I shell out my last cash for a suitable tip.
But I smile, for I am, at least for a single shining moment, a useful Dad.

Spider is up on stage, and it’s good to see our old pals once again.
The room is ruled by youngsters, dancing out of sheer joy and pent up energy.
Elbows fly, legs pump.
The club adopts the giddy vibe of a dog park, the butt sniffing attendees going crazy and off -leash.


It’s our old bandmate Alf up there on drums, slamming the skins and having a blast.
He plays with a renewed energy, and I have to admit it is bittersweet.
Like seeing an old flame now thirty pounds lighter and remarried, happily moved on from a hilarious yet doomed relationship.

It occurs to me that Alfie was the first to be a Father, though he is years younger than me or Kimm.
He started a family admirably young, and now counts Grandkids among his audience while he sips bronzed beers during his Sunday patio sessions.

I wander to the cordoned off backstage area, where Nick huddles with the other drummers.
They warm up their wrists and complain about singers.
Steven from Shattered Faith catches us up on his rockstar twins from The Garden, and their plans to play at vast halls on their upcoming Fall tour.
I wonder aloud if they perhaps need some aging punk rockers to open the show, or maybe even sell merch.
No response.

Bobby shows me photos of his own grandkids on his phone, unable to resist gushing while he talks of their crawling adventures.
Punk rockers reduced to big old softies, I tell ya.

I wonder about my own legacy.
“Now here’s a record your great grandpa made, waaaay back in the 1980’s,” I imagine a future offspring saying.
A toddler chews on the corner of a faded 12″ EP sleeve, my photo on the back: a long dead numbskull grin searches for a trace of dignity in the future
“Oh, here we go. Here’s a song grandpa wrote, it’s called Wetspots. It’s about pre cum.”

The Shattered boys hit the stage, and it is always wonderfully jarring to see Branden up there stage right.
He appears as if a hologram from their younger selves amongst their graying heads.
His slim Thunderesque guitar posing is a cruel reminder of what we all once were.
But he stands next to Pop, and Spencer looks over at him with fatherly pride.

As Anthony tunes his bass backstage, he eyes the cans of Modelo floating in the melting ice water.
I can tell he is tempted to grab a couple for stage, then hide the rest under seat cushions for after the show.
Usual backstage etiquette.


But tomorrow he and Amy will be hosting a party for baby Nova’s first birthday, so he grabs a Monster instead.
After taking a sip he makes a face as if he has just tasted the tears of a sad, sad clown.
It will be our first time meeting his kiddo as well, having watched her grow up these past twelve months by cell phone photos and emailed video clips, isolated safely while the world went about it’s deadly viral business.

I will watch his baby destroy a birthday cake with her bare hands, have her first astonishing taste of sugared icing.
And the world, it will suddenly open up to her, with all its sweet joys and bitter consequences.
I resist reminding Anthony that soon he will be Dad With Wallet, but by the time his daughter is drinking age a round of drinks will cost the same as a 12 volt Lithium car battery.
And he will pay it, and gladly, if just for the chance to stand next to his Daughter for a moment before she disappears into the night.

We play and it is one of those nights.

The bass drumhead breaks, I forget half the words to forty year old songs.
We are off by just that much, a millisecond of groove lost after the long layoff.
But Who cares? seems to be the theme of the night, as people are happy to just be out and together.
During our third attempt to play You Lie I look over and Alf is up onstage again with us, shouting along to the chorus.
He conducts us successfully to the end of it, and I hug him in grateful relief.

When we play Make Me Feel Cheap we bring up Max, Kimm’s son to join us onstage.
He stands next to Pop, and the eyes get a little weepy out there on the dancefloor.
Max, the spitting fucking image of Kimm at that age, straps on Kimm’s Gold Top and joins in with ease.
The crowd loves it, senses how much we love it, and we keep him up there for the set closer of Got a Gun.

With Max up there I have an unnerving sensation in my periphery, that jeweled corner to my left, where for the past forty years I have felt the reassuring presence of Kimm next to me on stage.
I see him as a young man, and imagine that I am young once again as well.

But we get to the final choruses, and I find that I am winded.
Out of practice, out of shape, I croak along to the final shouts, then finally just step back from the microphone.
And it does not matter.
The song blasts on, and young Max steps up to the mic and sings my part.
I watch as the pit boils and the crowd yells, while a new generation carries on.

Our Last Gig: Vaxxed and Unmasked

Kimm and I head into the club as The Berzerkers start their set.
It is dark and packed, and it all comes back to us in an instant.
That throbbing visceral pulse of bass beneath shrieks of drunken joy, the air thick with humidity, dancing bodies sweating in close proximity.
It all feels so distant yet immediately familiar, like the bitter arguments of parents heard through the drywall of a childhood bedroom.

Berzerk!

We are both wearing masks, though we quickly abandon them, as no one in the entire club wears them.
It is less a sign of confidence than we don’t want to be confused as Anti-Vaxxers, or perhaps some other cowardly cult that believes in things such as witch burning or the flatness of the planet.
No, we have come cautiously to this first night back, tentative as monkeys first encountering open flame.
We’ve spent the ride down to San Diego hyperventilating, the truck cabin air perfumed with hand sanitizer.

Oh, we’d been offered some earlier gigs, sure.
Thought of doing one of those streaming shows, those odd sets that are performed on a sterile soundstage, rendering the band tame as a 3 a.m. dog act on the Jerry Lewis telethon.
A drive in show? A fucking podcast?
All of these things seemed just desperate half measures, the rationing of Punk Rock while the atmosphere still teemed with deadly microbe, each of us huddled in our caves around the reassuring glow of Netflix while we waited for GrubHub to make with the Pollo Loco.
We got vaccinated at the earliest opportunity, wore masks until told we were safe, lowered them before putting them back on again.

But it was our old pal Arab who persuaded us to finally make a date with the stage once again, a night to celebrate the astounding Hostage Records compilation album we were invited to join, as well as a benefit for the venerable Casbah club and its staff.

We prepared for the gig grimly, as if for battle.
Taking out the gear stored over the past 16 months since our last gig.
I found the strings on the Rickenbacker corroded to rust, had to consult YouTube to remind myself how to restring the wonky tailpiece.
When I unpacked gig bags left untouched since the Viper room, I found a sweaty T shirt that had moldered into a wad of gray, like a hairball coughed up by a shuddering jungle cat.
We practiced, and during breaks we rushed out to gulp at the sweet night air, so out of shape were we to yelling lyrics over roaring guitars.

Ant flexes his sore digits, his fingerpads unused to the cruel thickness of bass string.
His hands now familiar only to the keyboard tapping of home office and the gentle head cradling of infant Nova.
Nick searches his phone for clues to these songs unplayed for so long, somehow keeping them separate from the setlists of Lower Class Brats or Final Conflict in that file cabinet brain of his.
Kimm and I, we just ask each other the same question yet again: Are we really ready to do this?


The Berzerkers wrap up a quick set, the HB crew killing it with their melodic take on frantic Punk Roll.
Familiar faces start floating up to say hello, and I instinctively back away.
I have become enamored of the 6 foot radius clause, have begun to think it shall remain my own personal no fly zone for the remainder of my days.
But the people come in closer, 2 meters then one, and suddenly I am in within spitting distance of these old pals I have not seen in so long.
I hold out a fist, the expression of combat now turned safe greeting, but it is ignored as my hand is grasped in sweaty handshake.
What’s more, that hand is pulled in body tight, and I am suddenly wrapped in a bro hug, body to body with another living human, the thing we have been taught to regard as a Hefty garbage bag full of germs intent on your destruction.
But I somehow survive the hug, and we pull back amazed, amazed at a night out among friends, each of us wearing a smile that even an N95 mask could not hide.


Love Canal goes on next, Bosco playing guitar as well as singing tonight, Arab serenely holding court over the rowdy night that he arranged.
The band is tight and hot as the dancefloor mutates into pit. I am pushed against the back wall by a windmill-armed skanker, someone throws a can into the lights, sending a spray of fruity seltzer down my shirt.
And suddenly all thought of airborne toxicity vanishes from my thought.
Oh yeah, I think. This is a gig!
The soundman asks the guitars to turn down, someone is hustled the back door, his collar collected in the bouncer’s meaty paw.
These things, the Déjà vu details of a thousand nights before; the smell and sights, the noise and filth.
By God, I’ve missed it.
And I just know if I go into the bathroom, the toilet will be overflowing with piss and unspeakable flotsam.
And it feels alright, ya know?

Love Canal

It is our time to set up on the stage, and I surprise myself by being nervous.
We are here to play a set of songs rehearsed to instinct, some of the tracks dating back forty fucking years.
We have replayed this scene so many times, the hectic exchange of gear on and off stage, the quick hellos between guys rolling and unspooling guitar cables. We will tune and line check, squint down at a printout of a setlist and do it all once again.
But it seems new, and we have to pause while arranging the backline at one point, not able to remember if my amp usually sits stage right, or was it left? (It’s right.)
The soundman cuts the house, and the crowd comes in from the smoking patio. I turn to face them and suddenly realize I am not nervous, but excited.
Honored, really, to get to do this once again, to play for these people who have come out to join us.
And I tell myself to remember this, in the futile hope that I will never take it for granted again.

Bain Photo

We play and it is over too quick.
The crowd was great, drunk and happy.
As if they are immune.
Immune to any more bad news.
To the new variants, to the warnings of another drought, to a Western sun bloodied by firesmoke.
For all we know we may go back once again, back to a lockdown.
But for one night at least, we are given the chance to see friends, play some songs, remember what it was like—how it should be.

A guy comes by just as we finish loading.
He introduces himself and says great set, asks if we might take a photo together.
As we say good bye, he holds up a fist, expecting that very least of human contact, knuckle to knuckle.
But I surprise us both by grasping at his hand and then pulling him in, and giving a total stranger a hug.

Eating the Midwest

It’s Thursday and we’ve somehow lost two hours of our lives up there.

We hit the terminal running in Minneapolis, determined not to surrender any more of our precious senior years to the Central Time Zone.

Into a rental minivan, onto the 35 West.
Google Maps is set to Glueks downtown.
We hit scan on the FM and it skips along the unfamiliar stations.
Christian Rock gives way to Classic Oldies. NPR, Banda.
Stop at a station dropping the hip hop hits of the 90’s.

We’re down, apparently, with OPP.

We haven’t snacked since a surprisingly decent breakfast pizza at LAX.
Some raw almonds and ginger ale aboard Southwest flight 728, saving ourselves.

For this is a Midwest swing, and we are fully prepared for our dietary pyramid to be reduced to a mere rhombus containing only the two vital food groups: Meat and Cheese.

A gorgeous Indian Summer day is finally giving way to the shadows.
We stroll up First Avenue now, torsos packed with sausage and pretzel.

We pull up to Mortimers and find a nice crowd for a Thursday. Our pals Alisha and Norm kick off the night with their new act UFO TOFU, the kids belting it out like the hardcore Sonny and Cher.

We play and it’s a great set, confusion and noise, feedback screaming out of the unfamiliar borrowed gear between songs. Just how we like it.
The guitar cables are soaked in beer as we roll them up at the end of the night.

We load out into the cool Minneapolis night humming the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, considering the musical greats borne from this city of lake and snow.

The crew at Mortimers reminds us to take our meals that they have graciously kept warm in the kitchen, and we retire to the AirBnB with the luxury of meatballs and braised meats upon sturdy breads.

Halfway to Chicago, but the schedule just cannot justify the 45 minute detour to descend from Waukesha to hit our beloved Mars Cheese Castle.

Not to worry, as there are many palais de fromage along the 94.

We stop at Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet to test our lactose tolerance.
They, along with several of the cheese huts we pass, believe the common deer mouse is the prime mascot for their silky wares.

It is an odd campaign, when you think about it:
Our product is sure to attract thieving vermin–IT’S JUST THAT GOOD!

It’s just a vat of tailgate spread and some water crackers, thanks, for just across the street is a Culvers, home of the motherfuckin’ Butterburger!

We continue down the highway toward Chicago and its gift of Friday afternoon traffic.
We are insane: We dip fried cheese curds into the Cheddar spread.
We inspect each morsel for the telltale pellet of mouse endorsement, but sadly find none.

Naps at our fave dive, Heart O Chicago (no blood tic tac toe on the mirror this time-boo.)
Then it’s up and toward Liar’s Club and whatever hijinks Herb has in store for the night.

The White Castle on the corner of Ridge sits there like, well, like a castle.
We’re stopped next to it at the light, make jokes about the hideous food, memories of late nights we fell onto the sacks of wee burgers like tweakers upon air conditioning units.
The food is disgusting, we all agree.

We pull through the drive through and order sixteen of them, then avoid looking at each other as we gobble them down.
Shameful, as if eating small sparrows intact.
Onward.

Oh, Liar’s Club, you goddamn slut of a bar. We love this place.

We walk in to find Herb and the crew have outfitted the stage with bombastic sound gear and lights that make it look like a Ozarks strip club.

Hazardous Youth and our pals Destroy Everything kick it off proper.
It’s loud as fuck in there.

I know the fellas are trying to keep a lid on things, but Herb keeps pushing water glasses of Jameson in their faces, pulling the night further into madness.
Silliness ensues.

We play and it’s a good one, like playing in someone’s basement after sitting in the hot sun drinking beer at a Cubs game.


Pics: MXV!


Pics: Patrick Houdek

Yo, Rod Stewart! Oh no, what the fuck up with your hair?
The girl behind the counter reaches out toward Kimm’s head.
What? Lemmee touch it. It’s stiff right? I bet it’s stiff.

She tousles his hair and then turns her attention to Anthony standing beside Kimm.

Alright, alright then. So what you want, you fuckin’ Keanu looking motherfucker?

Our dear mate Roy suggested a trip up to the famed Weiner’s Circle for a late night snack and some verbal abuse.

Anthony immediately falls in love with the place, going back in for yet another char dog and to trade more insults with the crew.
Soon he starts insulting the other customers as well:
“Hey, don’t wait on this ginger motherfucker,” he tells Rhonda behind the counter.

“You shut the fuck up and sit down, I got this,” she says.

Shoreline Drive and it’s Saturday.
We decide to dive into the touristy center of town.
We show Nick the sultry Chicago River, then the parking structure Bob Newhart used to sleep it off after a long lunch with Jerry the pervy dentist.

We hit Harry Caray’s and take pictures with the holy cow.

We act like caffeinated tourists without a trace of shame, the sly benefit of growing older and simply not caring.
If there was a giant foam finger nearby we would put it on.

It’s nap time in the Dodge Caravan as we set cruise control to 78 and hit the 90 East.
Now the sky darkens, clouds pregnant with mysterious moisture.

When the rain comes, it falls in angry sheets.
The Bridgestone Dueler S/Ts plow into the pooled water on the highway, then release hold on the asphalt and hydroplane the length of a shuttered shopping mall.
We drift across two lanes and it is thrilling.
I check the rear view as we regain traction. The lads snore peacefully still, unaware of the miracle of life.
I dip a water cracker into our trusty glovebox cheese spread to celebrate.

Now That’s Class , our home in Cleveland.
Paul stocks a full line of the finest fortified wines;
there are pallets of Olde English 800 in the basement.

A sign behind the bar: Women in their third trimester drink for free!

We pull into the back and smoke from a BBQ envelops us.
We walk headlong into the beefy perfume, then shed gravity and float along like Bugs Bunny enthralled.
Upstairs now to Paul’s living quarters.

He has food for us–sausages, yes.
Also some chimichurried ribeyes, then some local Walleye recently murdered on the banks of Lake Erie.
We eat and head downstairs toward the noise.

Nick has his concerns with the backline, hasn’t played behind the fortress of cinderblock since his teens.
We tell him it’s gonna be fine, it’s Cleveland.
And it is.
We play again, another set, another rendition of these songs let loose into the ether.

We cannot find anything to eat after the show.
We pull into one drive thru after the next, vacant except for the one cursed soul who is sentenced, apparently, to sit there all night and repeat: We’re closed.

Not a worry, as our action man Beenie puts on his CH3 onesie and pulls out his Seen on TV cooking gadgetry.

We eat, we sleep.

Sunday and it’s a bitch downtown.
The Browns have the home opener, on the thrilling verge of their 18th loss.
But we are just across the plaza at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame , of all places.

Our pal SuLee gets into the building gratis, and we wander the halls both disgusted and humbled.

There is a tote board where you can put in your own votes who should be inducted next.
Reggae pioneers 311 have 20,000 votes, plus.
We cannot find New York Dolls or Starz anywhere on the list.

But I stand before Elvis’ shiny gold suit, marvel at how dainty Prince’s lace gloves sit still.

I’m staring at Joe Strummer’s weathered Telecaster, thinking of the sound and sweat.
I drop a CH3 guitar pick to the ground in front of it.
An offering? Perhaps just proof to myself: we were here.

Closest we’ll ever come.

IMG_20180914_135501724.jpg

Later at Cleveland Hopkins International, the crowds gather around the bar TVs.
The Browns have chased the Steelers into overtime, and now an interception gives them the chance to win it.

The chance to break the shameful streak that this city has accepted, like all its curses, with humor and booze.
It is this close.
These people can allow themselves, finally, the unspeakable image of victory.

But as we board, a unified groan spreads throughout the terminal.
A blown kick, the game ends in a tie.

They didn’t win, but they have not lost.
That’s us.

FotoBlog: boston/NY/CT

5am touchdown, Logan International.

I fumble with my wristwatch to jump 3 hours into the future as we wait curbside for the Rental Car Shuttle to arrive.
It is dark. It is cold.

We’ve done this route before, the thought being we can save a few measly bucks & the early morning airport rush by taking that slutty stepsister of modern flight: The Red Eye.

But when the blast of cold air hits you (19 degrees?! Is there such a thing?) leaving the terminal you curse your former thrifty self.  And then the  unsmiling hotel clerk informs you the rooms will not be ready til 3pm, thank you very much.

Ah but this trip, to save us the usual humiliation of laying about the lobby like shattered refugees, we have the bright idea to use trendy  Air BnB to see if we can salvage some of our dignity.

 

After rousing Anthony from his apneaed slumber, we make our way downtown for lunch at McGreevy’s with our pals Brian and Irene from SF:

A quick walk down Newbury street to visit the usual spots, and the sun is already surrendering to the icy dark.    We report to the Middle East and meet up with our mates in F.U.’s and Silver Screams.

The show goes off well, a surprising amount of hardy locals braving the chill to cheer us on.

It is a rare treat to sleep in without the maids pounding on the door at 10 am, and we lounge about in pajamas sipping coffee before getting back in the minivan and heading South.

The Fall colors do not disappoint, and we stop at charming little towns along the way for the multiple urination stops befitting our age.

One little town square looks so artificially quaint I half expect the giant hand of a 10 year old girl to swoop down and grab us out of her play set.

No such luck.

 

We arrive in Brooklyn and check into the next AirBnB, following the owners’ specific instructions on where to park, where to go, and with whom not to make eye contact.  It’s fine, and get this, parking is free out on the rat infested streets of Bushwick!

With plenty of time to slum around, we head over to  Williamsburg to see what the crazy kids are up to these days.

I am threatened with bodily harm for snapping a pic of a trendoid Supreme pop up store; they apparently do not need the publicity to sell their 75 dollar Hanes Tee shirts.

 

We wander down Grand til we find a bar with a decent bathroom, and are soon shamed into ordering outrageously priced craft cocktails.

We have surrendered completely to the hipster neighborhood now, all scarves and V necks and we sip at spiced hot ciders served in miniature pounded copper spittoons.

We must leave this strange place before  our hair climbs unbeckoned into tidy buns atop our heads.

Showtime at Goldsounds Bushwick, and the joint is packed.  We have the treat of playing with our brothers in The Krays , who in turn bring up Davey Gunner to rip out Kraut’s Unemployed!

It is just great, once again to catch up with all our NY pals.  We’re out at a decent 1am, but the night is not over yet.

Nick has spent the day with neck craned, spying the skyscrapers of Manhattan from a distance.

Nick admits he has never done the goofy loop of Mid Town, so we load up the van and head to Times Square and become the gawking tourists we were meant to be!

 

 

 

Sunday comes to us way too early but this is matinee day-back up the 95 to New Haven CT and our beloved Cafe 9.

On our way out of Brooklyn we stumble across  the diner used in  Good Fellas and proceed to have a hearty breakfast while coughing up lines from the classic.  The waitress rolls her eyes and sighs, as apparently we are not the first clever boys to geek out thus:

We knew we were never going to come back from Florida alive.

The shine box, it was got.

We get to New Haven in time to catch Damn Broads setting up for the matinee set.  The rip through the afternoon as do The Ratz  before we get and do the thing one more time.

 

There maybe 30 people in the room, that’s counting the bartenders, other band members and the 2 guys fixing the walk in freezer.

It is of no concern, though, as these people have sacrificed a fine Sunday of couch and football to come meet us.  We do it once again:

This room always leaves us smiling, a rare and warm little cove, and we get off stage and hang with the locals as long as possible.

Loaded up and back on the road, we have a quick stop at JFK to drop off Ant and Nick as they have foolishly agreed to work Monday morning.

Kimm and I, however, have other plans of the bovine variety in mind:

We sit there at 11pm Sunday night, chewing thoughtfully at hunks of cow, charred and basted of butter.
It is a momentary and shocking lack of movement, to be sitting here amid the butcher block and surly waiters, chairs being stacked as we are among the last of the diners.

It seems we have come to the end of another one of these brief adventures.

We stab toward the windows looking out at the city with stocky steaknives, as we tell each other stories we both know by heart.
We can’t help but reminisce on this city and what it has meant to us.

Dessert comes with coffee, then we push chairs back in submission.

Woozy from too much red meat and tired – finally, admittedly, tired –  we allow ourselves to act our age and look forward to sleep and home.

Remember the Punks

We hit the ground San Antonio and try to remember the last time through this nutty town 82? 83? Never?

Kimm and I talk about crazy nights in Texas and correct each other:  em, no that was El Paso, had to be….no, no-  It was Austin, the girl with one leg…

We continue talking as if we have been here before, but our gray matter has been rinsed and squeezed one too many times to recall.

Punk bands in the “Veteran Class”--ahem, they tend to hold a few key items as badges of honor.
How many years since the first record released, how many shows still per year.
And most important, how many original members ya got?

That’s a tough one, as very few bands are able to count off on more than an index finger and thumb, some even less.

In our own case it’s always been me and Kimm sure, but we’ve been through an army of good lads who have contributed to past campaigns.
But that’s the very nature of this thing, isn’t it?

You almost dare each other, how many days are you willing to take off work, how many vacation days will you give to a sketchy tour in lieu of a trip-finally!– to see her folks back in Des Moines.

And so every year we ask each other if we are ready to map out yet another year out there, the triumphs and humiliations, the hours of boredom interrupted by the jewel-like minutes of sheer joy, playing your music on a stage with friends.

 

Lazy tourists
And so it was a kick to the gut a couple years ago, when our dear Alfie decided to sit out the upcoming year. There were grandkids to think of now, a new interest in hoppy craft beers, Halloween decorations that took four months of planning.

We said our reluctant farewells and set off to find new drummers as we had done a dozen times before, but this felt much different.   Alf had been longer than any other chap in the CH3 trenches.

He had seen us from the garage dicks of the 90’s, just cranking the amps and drinking the beer for our own amusement, to bringing it all back to a touring act once again.  The wild memories we shared, the inside jokes that could bring tears to our eyes with a single word.

But Alf needed some time off and we wished him well.

And so it was a real treat to have a weekend out in San Antonio with the Spider crew who have somehow persuaded Alf to get back up on the stage once again.

We  check into rooms that we have the ridiculous luxury of being in 2 nights in a row!

Can’t remember the last time we were not chased out at noon by the cleaning ladies, and set about making the room into a home:

 

 

Playoff baseball on the road
Then its over to Korova for the Remember the Punks  pre-party Friday night,.

A few last minute venue changes have the bands confused and wary, and we wonder if this is going to be one of those weekends, a disastrous failure we’ve become all too familiar with over the years.

But promoter Angel handles it all in stride, getting us settled and directing traffic.  He never seems fazed all weekend, god bless him, as I can see his phone constantly vibrating like a pocketful of angry wasps.  The booking agents demanding to know what the deal is, the bands asking for their pay up front.

He and his crew handle it all with unflappable charm, and the weekend turns out a success.

We are there in plenty of time to see Spider play, and they do indeed rock it all out, Alf’s familiar ferocious drumming a perfect complement to the guys, Hector’s wild man front man gymnastics out front.

 

.….you’ll break yer leg, kid!
It’s our turn to get up there and do the stuff, and the set goes over well, some gray heads in the crowd nodding to the songs of their youth, some liberty spikes bouncing along as well.

 

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It’s not long before Alf and Anthony are hanging off each other and arm punching like the 2 knuckleheads they are, and KImm and I are sure this will either turn to fisticuffs or homoerotic wrestling as it has so many times in the past.

Luckily, its been a long day for the Spider crew as they are in the midst of a week out on the road and they retire to bed.

We are left to scour the deserted San Antonio streets for melted cheese, and-finally-sleep.

Saturday:

On the advice of the locals we report to Pete’s Tako House for their flour tortilla masterpieces.

Legitimate.

We get back to the fest  in time for our late afternoon set, and play to a moist club.  It feels just right, playing these songs, many over three decades old, to a crowd packed into a sauna mid day.

It’s like we are back on that first swing through TX, what? 1982?!

Sweat pours onto guitar necks, salt blinds our vision, and we wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

 

 

Then it’s catch up time yet again, chattting the day into night with the lads from JFA and DayGlo Abortions, the sparkling Adicts crew and Starving Wolves.

 

 

With Khepi Ghoulie

 

These festivals have become such a nice convention of familiar faces, and we prod each other with stories of decades past, gigs in weird places, funny stories of terrible people we’ve all known.

 

We have a bit of time to kill before sundown, so we grab the crew and do that most touristy of San Antonio things and hit the Riverwalk!

It is like the Jungle Cruise at Disney,  but the wild animals are in the boat, and the guns are real–ammIright, people?   yee haw!

It’s back on dry land for the headliners now, and Adicts and Fear do a perfect job of capping the day.

 

FEAR!

It’s been hot as hell, confusing and loud, but ain’t that what it’s supposed to be?

We sneak to the lounge next door to see the fading hopes of a LA-NY World Series drift away, and are soon joined by the rest of the Spider crew, come to rest their weary feet.

After the Yankees finally surrender their post season to Houston I catch up to Alfie again, and he grabs me around the neck and smooches me a good one on the cheek.

“Ya know,” he shouts into my ear hole, “I love ya guys, love ya!

It’s just grand to see Alf out on the road again, and though we have the bittersweet perspective of having to watch each other from the audience now, it’s worth it just to be out here in America with the nut one more time.

 

 

“Love ya,” he says yet again, as he has been drinking since their noon set.
“Ya know, I was a fan before I joined the band , and I’m a fan again.”

And I take that back with me, through the night and all the way home, one of those  little moments in time that keep us going.

Chi/GB

Joe gettin around-Liars Club Chicago

An 8am boarding call means a 4:30am wake-up call, when yer talking LAX!

Oh sure, we usually take to the skies from our beloved Long Beach airport, where the leisurely small town atmosphere allows you to saunter in just minutes before your flight.

We sometimes arrive in pajama bottoms 12 minutes before doors close and get waved through TSA precheck with just a chiding nod: Barney letting Otis come in to lock himself up after a night of hanging around some white trash moonshine still.

….do you at least have your boarding pass?

But we all fall victim to our sensible greed when choosing those Expedia flights months before.

Why, here’s Spirit Airlines going to Chicago, same time as Jet Blue, and at half the cost!

It’s not until the morning of flight, whilst you are stuck in the middle of a cattle call in front of Marriott’s 40 dollah a day parking that the regrets begin.  That budget airline is now asking for 50 bucks per carry on and  4 dollars for a cup of water.  You curse your former self for not shelling out for the Even More Room seats on Jet Blue-blah.

 

Sir, if you’d like to bend your knees that will be an extra 6 dollars. Debit or credit?

 

Hah–luckily it’s no big deal, these early mornings, as we’ve become infected with that Old Man superpower of getting up way too early every day.

Left to our own, it’s bedtime 9:45 on the Laz boy Recliner as Stranger Things scrolls through a whole season while we snore away , oblivious.  But we’re up and clattering around the kitchen at 6am, whistling show tunes to the delight of every hungover teenager trying to sleep upstairs.

Mmmm! Revenge, is this what it tastes like?

 

 

New terminal 5 LAX

We hit Chicago in plenty of time to enjoy the late Summer weather, but the town is packed.

The ol CH3 luck of booking a show in direct competition to another show across town holds true. Tonight we are the spiky little Liar’s Club, while across town there is some sort of little gathering called Riot Fest?  Hmm, shall have to google that one!

 

But it turns out  a fine night indeed, a packed room of the true knuckleheads of Chicago and beyond.

Our pals in Airstream Futures kick it off with their guitar driven fury. Really excellent stuff, and when their new album is finally released sometime in the next decade you should check it out-hah!

Rock AF!

And then it;’s our Midwestern bro homies, Destroy Everything take to the stage and do that thing: bratty punk vocals over tasteful guitars, a Midwestern sound as familiar as Mom vacuuming outside your doorway as you try to masturbate with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

 

Destroy Everything patrol car.  Yo, where’s Morty?!

w/ Springa and Herb!

Vandalizing the country, one city at a time!

These turn and burns are somehow even more exhausting than proper tours, the constant movement in so little time.

It seems we were just jolted awake by some digital peep minutes ago on the infancy of a new day, a few thousand miles away.  Hours are lost in mid-flight, we play and have precious time to catch up with friends and then it is suddenly 4 am.

We’re now out on the sidewalk alone, and  the sudden lack of movement threatens to topple us over as if the sheer momentum of the planet’s rotation has finally caught up.   A sensible late night snack at Shwarma Inn and to bed by 5am.

Just a snack please.

Out on the road at noon, and we set our inner autopilots North toward our beloved temple of the Moo Cow, the Mars Cheese Castle!

Nicky has not been yet, and we regale him with tales of golden blocks of Cheddar, creamy Bries and nutty Comte’ blends.  Of the communal vat of pub cheese that sits atop the bar, into which Anthony threatens to insert his face and not come out until lactose sated.

But as we pull up to the glorious gates, we are met with disastrous news:

 

Nooooooo!

Anthony jumps out and begins licking the block walls of the castle, though I keep telling  him they are simply asbestos laced cinder block.  He is beside himself, so we mosey over to then neighboring cheese shack and let him gobble up 3 pounds worth of cheese and sausage samples.

 

It’s no castle, but it’ll do!

 

Disaster averted, it’s a short jaunt up the 94 to Milwaukee and the Harley Museum.

 

 

Oh, you know our feeling toward the American brand, its embodiment of Kid Rock in clunky V twin form, but haven’t we always held a soft spot for those goofy AMF years and the  wacky Italian 2 strokes they used to shill under the HD brand?

Why, what I’d do to have that Rapido back in the garage!

 

Imagine pulling up to Hog Night in Van Nuys on this baby!

Besides, they do serve a decent burnt tips app in the cafe, so we call it lunch break before taking the museum tour.

 

 

 

 

The swanky Hampton Inn, Green Bay boasts Serta brand foam top mattresses, decent sheets within the acceptable 800 count range, and hypoallergenic  pillows (available by request).

Do you see people?

These are the things that matter to us now, keep your goddamned minibars and local hallucinogens–we need naps!

 

 

 

But it’s not 12 minutes into REM when we hear the racket from the street–

Tonight only, from Hollywood California, supporting Chicago’s own Destroy Everything…

Ah jesus, now what?

 

Ah jeez, really?

 

And there on the streets of lovely Green Bay, those goddamn Destroy Everything kids have commandeered the very aural airspace to hype the show with their Blues Brother Speaker set on the patrol car.

Sleep is now impossible.

I peer down at the streets, see whole clumps of conventioneers holding palms to their ears, shielding their children’s eyes to the sight.

It sounds like an Ice Cream man reading his suicide note aloud over a continuous loop of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Top o the World Ma!

Ah well, time to hit the night anyway.

We make our way over to The Lyric Room on Green Bay’s revitalized Broadway district.

It’s a proper lounge with a music hall attached, and the vibe is very up indeed for this Saturday night.

We’re not sure why, but we have somehow earned a little pocket of goodwill way up yonder in this tight Wisconsin community.  We’re told that these hearty Midwesterners even forgive us for the outlandish hair and costume jewelry of the Enigma Records era.

Hell, they even seem to enjoy those songs!

And so when Kevin Neal came into the club with the Airborne canvas that his late brother Brian had painted as a young lad years ago, it was a our very honor to hang it up as backdrop for the night.

 

 

Nick in front of the bird!

And that’s the kind of night it was.

In the name of–god help us— Scoobfest!, this was a night of remembrance and reunion.  We were thankful to witness these old friends catching up after so many years, and though we didn’t know every face in the room, it was a true honor to think we may have lent some soundtrack to the wild memories they all shared.

We are taught yet again: a new thing to take home, to take to heart, to guard as a shiny family heirloom given to us with graciousness and with love.

And once again the night has gotten very late, very quick.

We have every intention of begging off, slipping away to the sublime comforts offered by the corporate motel chain, while the party rages on behind us.

But no.

We are, as always, the last in the club, and the last on the deserted street after.

Chatting with the last of the laughing locals, intoxicated on lagers and friendship, amidst piles of guitar cabinets scattered on the sidewalk like toys tossed aside by a cranky child unwilling to go down for her nap.

Plans are made to hit the all night diner for a last meal, a last chat with friends.

Turns out we’re not ready to go down , not quite yet, either.

 

It’s Hot, I’m Dead Fest

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We go right into Manzanar now, and as I grab for the F# I can tell the strings have dropped a half step at least in this heat.   I look out at the sun baked field, where a few hardy punkers have the sand to start a fledgling mid day pit, but the reasonable ones stay back in whatever shade can be found.
A beer can comes sailing toward the stage, and I savor the baptism of a few precious drops of cooling liquid as it just misses my head.

We’ve drawn one of the very first slots of the day, but console ourselves with the fact that the sun is at least at the far reach of it’s radius directly overhead, and the next poor bands will be playing straight into its blazing stare.

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But what the hell, it’s a rare invite to play a big fest, so who are we to bitch about set times?

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Ah, 1982, is that you I hear scratching at the backdoor of my battered hippocampus?

The Eastern Front up yonder Berkeley was indeed our first big daytime fest, but I don’t recall any water bottle filling stations or safe spaces back then, brother!

That day was hot and grimy, and quickly dissolved into a drunken mess, sort of an Altamount for the punkers who would’ve welcomed a stab to the gut over a trip into those bubbling porta potties in the north forty.

A few hazy images, of us drinking from our warm Old English jugs at 10 am and trying to lure a squad of new wave chicks into the Blue and White, while Grant & Bob from Husker Du could only shake their head  at our antics as they walked past.

Stevo got into a mortal battle with a gopher who had the bad idea to poke its head above ground, the Vandals singer ultimately removing the rodent’s trachea with a pocketknife.

Then our boy Duane  decides it’s reasonable to tip one of those fetid Port a Potties onto its side, while a poor punker is still inside intent on the business at hand.  It was only Big John Macias from Circle One stepping into the mob, muscled arms raised, that stopped the subsequent lynching.

The day is mercifully finished at some shitbag motel, where Larry calmly pours a beer down the back of the television set, causing the poor Quasar to spark in protest for just a moment before surrendering its fuzzy image of Fred Mertz to darkness–a proper end to a day spent on the edge of reason,  kids in the wild, animals of the Savannah literally on the kill without a thought of nutrition, hydration or safety.  Punk.

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It’s a new day when we roll into the Glen Helen Ampitheatre grounds for set up.
9:30 am, and we unload drinking sensible grande Americanos, not a 40 of Olde English in sight.

It’s already a balmy 101 degrees as we set up the merch, but everyone is cheerful and relaxed.

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I mean, c’mon!  How can you not grin when you are doing a soundcheck at 11 am and look right across at a Hello Kitty jumpy next to a circus tent.

Jumpies, people-jumpies!

Its our first clue that the It’s Not Dead Festival is a going to be a bit different from that dusty day 35 years ago.  We are taken by golf cart back to the catering area, careful not to make too much noise as the idling tour buses contain the snoring headliners.

We are shown to our air conditioned trailer, and get this–we get the goddamn thing for the whole day!  Usually we are kicked out of  festival dressing rooms as soon as we are done playing, and stand like traumatized first time mothers kicked out of the maternity ward, holding backpacks bulging with energy drinks and waters swiped off the catering table.

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It’s all fine hellos and catching up, as these big bills tend to be.  Call it high school reunion for the graying punkers, or perhaps more of a support group for the survivors.  All I know is that it’s grand to say hello to a lot of people we’ve known a damn long time!

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Kevin Seconds

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Uncle Lars!

Keeping the lucky streak intact, we once again draw the opening slot, so we ring out the first chords of the day on Stage 2 just as the first hardy souls come streaming into the Festival grounds.

The day holds, I don’t know, a million bands?  So the set times are just that: set.

We are given a serious lecture about not going over 30 minutes, so it’s all business at hand:  40 year old songs with a few of the new ones sprinkled in to keep the crew on its feet.  There is no time for the usual Rat Pack banter today baby!

We’re over and done while the majority of the crowd is still emptying their backpacks on the security tables, but we played our first set back from the long layoff, and it went pretty good.
We were able to pull off some of the  new songs  without messing up too many parts, kept our bone marrow from boiling over and suffered only minor heat stroke.
Work’s done, and it’s our turn to go be festival fans now!

Lyman and crew put their years of Warped experience to good use with this one, as there were cool-off misters and water bottle filling stations, not to mention a steady bank of ATM machines humming happily next to the merch booths!

Still, I worry about these kids, drinking so much alcohol in this unrelenting heat.
Let’s hydrate!  And sunscreen!  Have you goddamn people ever heard of it?

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It is a major chat fest and band geek out for us, a rare treat to see bands like GBH and Buzzcocks betraying the road map of wrinkles upon face and putting out blistering sets of great sounding classics.

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We eat lunch, do some interviews, huddle in the trailer when the white spots start dancing across our fields of vision.

The heat and the hellos, running from one stage to the next in classic festival juggling act fashion,  the day stretches on into weeks it seems.   Murphy’s Law is on at the same time as Buzzcocks,  Kevin Second’s acoustic set bleeds into GBH downbeat.

The temperature has settled begrudgingly at 106 degrees, as if it’s too hot for heat itself to make any more effort.

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The day continues  and we’ve become a tribe now, communed in a battle against the merciless Sun.  All eyes on the hills above Glen Helen, that will soon be tucking this bastard fireball away for the night.
A resigned cheer goes up as the first shadows fall across the dusty field, and the unlit side stages go dark to the last horn blats of Voodoo Glow Skulls.
The crowd makes its way over to the main stage now, grateful for the relief of darkness, but burnt.

Sinead starts wailing mournfully above the Chieftans for the usual Dropkicks intro of Foggy Dew as the exodus continues toward the sound:  A ghostly landscape of tired legs shuffling in  the dust, as if through  a smoky battlefield.

But there is plenty of laughter and smiles among  all these tired faces.

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We start our checkout of the merch and begin loading out the boxes as Rancid kicks into Roots Radicals, Lars singing his guts out on the last night of their tour.

I walk back to do a  final sweep of the trailer, and pass the Grim crew at their motorhome, a big screen TV showing the McGregor/Mayweather debacle.

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Tim Armstrong is now singing about hanging with Lars on 52nd and Broadway.  For a fleeting moment I sense the confluence as they sing about nothing more than friendship, while the bored looking champ fends off the feisty leprechaun, who is at least putting himself out there and leading with his heart.  I struggle to make the connection, but my brain is fried.

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I step into the empty Star Wagon for the last time today, the little space that has been a godsend on this boiling day.  We had the rare luxury of coming back here to literally chill out, while the masses of true fans stayed in the dust and heat, rolling as one to their favorites.

I take every banana and water bottle left and feed my bursting backpack, as habits die hard, and take one last look around the trailer.
It’s quiet and cold in here now.
I feel that stab of punk rock guilt, to be standing here in comfort while a few thousand kids stand out there in the dirt and heat, singing along to their heroes.

For a fleeting moment, I consider taking one of the last beers out of the mini fridge and pouring it down the back of the plasma TV mounted amidships.
But what would that be?  An uneasy assurance to myself that I am still that carefree and careless punk of 3 decades back, that a true spirit lives on?

Instead I tidy up the trailer and put all the recyclables and garbage into the proper trash cans.

And when I leave I turn off the light.

Our Last Gig: Redwood Bar

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We drive back down Grand Avenue yet again, slow now, creeping along city block like chickenhawks scanning the talent for that telltale bulge beneath mini skirt and fishnet.

The night’s warm, and the lights above stare down on shabby city sidewalks: casting halos of promise and hope, ultimately outnumbered by the expanses of darkness.

But it’s in those deep pockets of blackness that any proper city holds its nighttime treasures.
We’ve seen pharmaceuticals, outlawed since 1979, on sale by the dozen.
Albino Capuchin monkeys on leash?
A rusted tincture of chloroform, along with expired Girl Scout Cookies (Tagalongs!)?
Anything for a price!

Ah, but we’re not in the market, not yet anyway, for the hidden sweets of the city.

Tonight, we seek the ultimate prize: cheap curbside parking!

It’s no fucking use, and we resign ourselves to handing over fifteen bucks for the honor of parking in downtown LA on a Saturday night.

What the hell have they done to this town?

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Was it really that long ago when Los Angeles was a scary fun ghost town on the weekends or any night after 8?
When the streets were wide open, shadowy playgrounds for the punks and bums,
the true princes of L.A.!

We could park on the goddamned sidewalk in front of Al’s Bar, and while the night away.
And only then, after a night of after-hours drinking and stumbling back to the car, would we feel that sweet tinge of danger.
The city would be even more quiet in the early morning hours, and long shadows would suddenly appear across our path.
And that tingle on the back of the neck, someone behind you now, only added to the excitement of the night.

But there seemed to be an unspoken agreement between punkers and homeless crackheads on those streets.
And they shuffled along at a respectful distance in our wake, slow and grumpy as any proper Hollywood zombies.

But now, oh brother, have things changed.
Downtown LA is a wonderland of restaurants and clubs now, lighting up the night with cheerful abandon.

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Tonight the streets are alive with light and sound–the sound of young people

As we herd into Casey’s Pub we’re assaulted by the whoo! and Har! of a dozen freshly minted adults.
Their youthful enthusiasm and cheerfulness grates on us immediately.
I can now appreciate the Grinch casting a disgusted glance down at the cheerful fucking carolers of Whooville…bah!

...is that a goddamned beer pong game I hear?!
…is that a goddamned beer pong game I hear?!

I hate to do it, to fall back on the dreaded H word-hipsters!— when bitch-moaning over another memory shattered.
After all, weren’t we just as guilty of crashing some grumpy old drunks’ soaked reverie on some night 3 decades ago?
Were we any less happy and loud, just to be drinking ironically in the shadows of darkened office buildings?

A few Guinness and snacks put us back in a proper mood, and we even start to enjoy the company of these noisy children drunk off their asses.
Perhaps it was just low blood sugar that had us in a bad mood.
Gotta watch the diet, gramps!

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On the way out, we walk the cool gray slabs of sidewalk toward the Redwood.
But this time, I can see the packs of youngsters giving an occasional glance back, up and away from the smartphones they use to plead with any Uber driver to come rescue them: They’re looking back at us.
They pull skirts down a few millimeters and pick up their pace, and it hits us then:
We are the zombies now!

Now we’re the creepy old men wandering the city streets, our punker casual outfits resembling nothing less than the glad rags that usually come with a hot meal and a bus voucher on Thanksgiving Day.

And as we round Hill Street and walk up to the welcoming buzz of the club, we congratulate each other on graduating to the other side of the cage bars:
Animals all, after all, of the zoo.

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The ship is a-rocking tonight at the Redwood, we’ve got a full crew on hand, the sails are full and the barrels are full of grog and…..
ah fuck it, that’s about all the nautical crap left in the tank, alright?

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Let’s just say it is a grand time aboard!

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After catcing killer sets by The Ex-Gentlemen and The Plexikill, we wander up to the tiny bandstand and set up.

There is a confused lull as we try to sort out amps and tangled cords, for tonight is gonna be a crowded one up yonder.

But downbeat comes and off we go, 3 rival guitar amps joined in sonic sheet, not one man onstage willing to turn down!

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It’s a rare treat to bring up some gentlemen from our past:
Mike Eldred’s up there now, along with Larry Kelley in fine form.

Maria comes up for Cheap, and we begin to look even more like a Southern Rock band: Go Jim Dandy! indeed!

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And of course, our Euro-man Jay Lansford has been hogging the right side of the stage all night, adding outrageous harmonic riffs to anything that comes across his path!

Guitar overload!
Guitar overload!

We’re having a great time now, playing loud and sloppy.

But it is a bittersweet tour that has Jay here with us tonight.
Just a week before we said farewell to Jay’s lovely mother Sharon.

Sharon who always loved to come to the gigs and cheer her son on, and us as well when we were lucky enough to be in one of Jay’s countless acts.
And it wasn’t just a rare field trip out for her to see the band as it was, honestly, for most of our Mom’s.

Sharon really knew the music, and wouldn’t hesitate to tell you when you were a little flat or a guitar was out of tune.

She’d seen us do the song before after all, and do it better!
So we would always try just a little harder, stand up straighter and play a little better when Sharon was on the barstool, watching.

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And as with any funeral, any news of a Mom leaving us, we all can’t help but take that moment to reflect upon our own losses.
Our own Moms’ absence.

It hits me that we’ve all lost those dear creatures that loved us, and that love we often took for granted if even earned undeservedly.

What else is it we share, beside the years of laughs and music?
We’re Dads ourselves now, and that parenthood bonds us even closer than the years in van and club.

We’re going into the last song of the night now.
I look over to my right and then my left, and see us all up there:
Holding guitars, lost in a shared moment: Motherless.

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It’s well after 2:30 am when we finally get out of the bar.
All the last call drinks have been downed, the amps and guitars have been hustled out to the sidewalk.

And it seems, finally, the city is ours once again.
It’s quiet and cool, the sidewalks free of the high heeled hordes.
There are no lines of people within their red velvet corrals, no more towncars prowling downtown for drunken sorority sisters on their way to Canters.

It’s 2 shades darker now, and that much more calm, just as we’d have it.

We say low goodbyes to each other there on the sidewalk, and go our separate ways for the night.

Walking alone now to the parking lot, guitar case in hand, the old thrill comes back.
Fine hairs on the neck stiffen as shadows appear on the sidewalk.

But tonight, we’re not scared. Not in the least.
We have, each of us, someone watching over us.


Thanks for photos: Martin Wong @ http://www.giantrobot.com

‘Tones and Gears and Flag……oh my!

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As surely as the Swallows return to San Juan Capistrano each year, as inevitable as the spike in domestic violence and gambling-related suicides on Superbowl Sunday, we await each June for the annual return of prodigal son Jay Lansford.

After the Summer Solstice stretches the day long, we find ourselves squinting into the Western sky—-not for a flock of lice ridden birds, ready to shit a new coat of guano on the mission bells, no.
We wait for Sir Jay to touch down upon the blazing tarmac of LAX, bringing back with him the wiry guitar leads and sensible hair products that have been missing, lo, these past 12 months!

OC Slam, 2010
OC Slam, 2010

Alex's Bar 2012
Alex’s Bar 2012

When we released Jay from his CH3 contract, what? almost 25 years ago?—to live among the storied beerhalls of Hanover, it was under the strict condition that he return at least once a year.

Yes, God forbid he forget the taste of proper Chile Rellenos or lose his Southern California dude drawl completely to his adopted Teutonic crew.

Besides, creatures of habit and ritual are we, and it’s a grand thing to have this annual party to kickoff the Summer in proper fashion with The Simpletones!!

Beer and Sausages...bet ya don't have this stuff in Hanover, eh?
Beer and Sausages…bet ya don’t have this stuff in Germany, eh?

The night starts off in the usual fashion:
Icy schooners of Busch and salty fatty specials at Joe Jost’s down the street.
Between bites and burps we go over a tentative set list for the night:

Shall we play True West? Waiting for the Sun?

We shall!

Open with Lord o the Thighs?
Sadly no….not this time.

We are giddy with the possibilities of the 3 guitar attack as we skip back to our beloved Alex’s in time to catch the White Flag fellas ripping it up:

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Has it been that long since we were last kicked out of Alex’s?

The place has been spruced up, a bit of the dusty bric-a-brac stripped from the walls–is that a flat screen?– and I’ll be goddamned if LuLu doesn’t hand me an honest-to-God drink menu when I finally sidle up to the bar…..!

The Jack Rocks comes not in the flimsy urine sample receptacle we’ve grown so fond of, but in an impressively weighted highball glass with craftsmen-select ice cubes…..
ándale!—so hi-tone, Mijo!

...Karl gives us the oooh-la-la after checking our drinks....
…Karl gives us the oooh-la-la after checking our drinks….

Heh.
The night is rolling now, and the knuckleheads have come out of the proverbial woodwork to get in on this blast!

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....take a goat and smile like a drink!
….take a goat and smile like a drink!

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With LA Artist Kiyoshi Nakazawa
With LA Artist Kiyoshi Nakazawa

It’s a rare treat to have The Gears onboard the show, and they get up there before the red velvet and absolutely destroy!

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Ah, a night at Alex’s:
With each band the floor gets stickier, the drinks sink faster and the drunks get louder.

And with the crowd warmed up for the main event, the ‘Tones take to stage and ring in the Summer, proper!

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The crowd knows these songs, of course, and it’s as if they’ve been waiting the whole year to shout the lyrics out at the top of their lungs.

I can only imagine the puzzled passerby out on Anaheim blvd as they pass the cacophonous roadhouse on this night:

Is it a religious revival?
Military boot camp?
Cultists Karaoke indoctrination?

You wouldn’t be far off with any answer, brother.

For on this night we are all Simpletones, joined in song, a collective organism taking place of dear departed Snickers…..!

The fellas cap off the night with Rock and Roll All Night, a fitting theme to this marathon of sloppy rawk….but the night isn’t over yet!
Yes, once again, yer old pals have to go up and bat cleanup.

We untangle guitar cords and try to get 3 guitars within a semblance of tune before the loopy crowd abandons us for Tacos Mexico or Roscoe’s………
Downbeat? 12:30 am!

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I glance to my left, mid-Indian Summer, taken by surprise for a moment by the twin guitar players hacking away.
It is then that I allow my gaze to fall down , and upon the sight: Naked and pale, Euro calves and thighs twitching beneath the klieglights—Gahhh!

Jay has broken CH3 Cardinal Rule 6: No shorts on stage!!

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...what's next?  Shower shoes and bathrobes?!
…what’s next? Shower shoes and bathrobes?!

Heh.
It’s no matter–I guess we can be thankful Jay didn’t show up in a Hasselhoff-esque Speedo, am I right?

I regain composure and we play the stuff–short hair and long! stopping only to address the hecklers and allow people to try on the suspiciously free skate shoes that have been sailing through the air all night….don’t ask!

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...take your time buddy.  Not like we have anything better to do up here.
…take your time buddy. Not like we have anything better to do up here.

It is great fun–surely much more so for us than the crowd watching our shameless goofing.
Brings back the memories of a hundred nights just like this, thick Summer nights, playing loud guitars and not so much singing as laughing out loud.

And mid song, we each look and catch each others’ eye, and we smile:

It’s us back together, and where we should be:
On a creaking stage littered with empty cans and shot glasses, wrangling the rumble of the 3 guitars into the same general direction.

Standing on a stage, in a room full of friends who graciously allow us to act like, if not kids, then grown men half our age.

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Thanks for additional photos: Martin Wong, Deborah Runions, and anyone else ripped off from Facebook.