Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Punk cleansed rock and roll’s palette only briefly, and was mostly an excuse for brats of all ages to act out, and then to pretend their having acted out was some sort of artistic statement. In music, it gave a second life to a lot of rotten musicians, many of them refugees from glam. All of a sudden, not being able to play very well not only wasn’t a liability, but evidence that your artistic priorities were in order. In one of his books, the British artists' manager Simon Napier-Bell recounts a group of very middle class (which means something very much more rarefied in the UK than here) prospective clients taking care to step in dog shit before visiting him in his white-carpeted office. The more obnoxious you were, the more you were understood to be in touch with The True Spirit of Rock. It made for a lot of really awful music, little of it as awful as the virtuosity-driven prog that had been so popular a couple of years before.

Though I was 29, an age Johnny Rotten specifically excoriated in The Sex Pistols’ "Seventeen", I was one of the non-virtuosic ex-glam types who seized the opportunity to reinvent myself as a punk. I got my hair cut in a Mohawk, dyed it pink, cut up all my clothing and put it back together with safety pins, renounced personal hygiene as the preserve of hippies, whom we punks loathed (it was nonsensical, but so was the popularity of The Clash, if you ask me), and formed a group called The American Lesions, recruiting three fellow ex-glam poseurs clumsy enough on their respective instruments to be able to claim credibly they’d never played them before. I stood at the edge of the stage in my ludicrous coiffure and safety pins and made animal noises, and agents and managers queued up outside the graffiti- and dried puke-covered doors of our dressing rooms, convinced that we were in touch with The True Spirit of Rock. Soon we were on a national tour with Syphilitic Dyscharge.

In the first nine or 10 cities we played, everything went according to plan. We would play horribly, but very loudly. The misshapen, socially inept, and likewise alienated kids who made up our fan base would lovingly flip us the finger and spit at us as we performed, and the anorexic or bulimic ones, along with the self-harmers, would jump up and down like lunatics because they’d read in magazines that they were expected to do so. Meanwhile, a small group of parents would stand outside telling correspondents for the local TV news that punk was the province of perverts and the possessed, and then everyone would go home happy.

At Tacoma's Loose Stool, though, all that went out the window. We came out on stage to discover that the misshapen, socially inept, and otherwise alienated had been shoved aside by snarling bikers and their mamas, or bitches — whatever the applicable expression is. We weren’t 16 bars into our ritual desecration of ELP’s "Pictures at an Exhibition" before their apparent leader swaggered menacingly up to the edge of the bandstand and yanked our bassist's and guitarist's cords out. He said his date — I remember now: his old lady — wanted Santana’s "Evil Ways". I said we didn’t know it. He said if we wanted ever to see the world outside the club again we did.

We did our best, but didn’t manage a very convincing version. He crushed our respective crania like peanut shells and buried us in shallow graves on the edge of the parking lot.

Years before, when I lived on Skyline Drive in Laurel Canyon near the top of the Santa Monica Mountains, I would on a dark night occasionally hike up toward a big radio antenna just below Mulholland Drive and remove all my clothes. It felt exhilarating to be naked beneath the stars. I think I may have masturbated one time, but that wasn’t necessarily part of the experience. No one ever saw me, or at least no one who called the police or asked if I might want to party.

Is it not exhilarating to realize you never know what you're going to find out about me here?

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