Friday, July 31, 2009


Today Allie went to Home Depot to buy some polyurethane for a floor project. We're going to decorate a bathroom floor stenciled patterns of paint.

She wanted to make sure she was getting the right kind, so she tracked down one of the people in the orange aprons. The one she found had a big beard and looked like the kind of guy who rides a Harley. She told him what she had in mind.

"What are you gonna stencil on the floor?" he asked. "Some little guns and knives, and maybe write 'Leave Your Guns and Knives at the Door?'"

Allie laughed and said: "That's an idea I hadn't thought of. But no, just some flowers."

He chuckled to himself and said, "Imagine hand-to-hand combat with flowers." He did a hand-to-hand combat motion with his hand.

Allie said, "Okay, well, thank you for your help!" and started to walk away.

As she left he asked her, "Do you know how to make fried chicken?"

"No," Allie said, of course.

And he winked at her.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

the 80s: diy, mf!

I was a one-man media empire at age 15.

I was the owner, publisher, editor, staff writer, graphic designer, typesetter, printer, folder and stapler for the esteemed publication, Nasal -- where you could read interviews with all the top punk acts who'd made their way to Colorado (that had gigs on nights I could break free from home). Can't remember who all I interviewed, but I know I scored exclusives with Die Kreutzen, Flipper and Ill Repute.

Punk's gotta be the coolest hobby for a kid in his midteens.

I think I only printed one issue of Nasal. My mom let me use the copy machine at her work on a weekend. It ran out of ink, and we poured the wrong ink in it and broke it. She got into trouble for it. So that was it for Nasal.

But by then it was summer and I was off to Indiana to start a band with my old buddy Andy and to become a concert promoter.

Our band was called Rellik -- killer spelled backward. Andy played guitar. He was pretty good, but mostly into heavy metal. I wrote the lyrics and sang. Or I screamed and writhed, actually. The only song I can remember was called "Detention." And that's all I remember, the title. And the inspiration for the title. I spent a bit of time there my freshman year.

We were gearing up for our first gig in late summer. This was to be a multi-act event headlined by Jodie Foster's Army. I spent all summer working on it. I reserved the venue, an American Legion Hall, I think. I had flyers and tickets printed up. And I booked all the bands by calling them myself. Their numbers were printed for all to see in the pages of Maximum Rock'n'Roll.

The gig never happened. I only managed to sell one ticket. And boy was that guy disappointed.

Rellik fell apart too. Or I did.

But that's another story unto itself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

the 80s: hardcore

The first all-out punk show I ever saw was the Circle Jerks at the Rainbow. I went with my buddy Dave. There were something like five bands on the bill, but the only two other ones I remember were Peace Core and the Frantix.

The place was maybe half full, with most of the audience crowded down toward the front, in the space between the seats and the stage.

Dave and I stayed out of there. Every time a band kicked into a new number, the crowd started roiling like they were in a blender, everyone smashing into one another.

I can still see it, if you can believe that: the skinny lead singer of Peace Core leaning out over the edge of the stage, screaming into the microphone at the audience, while this great big fat skin head stood in the middle knocking down every poor bastard who got shoved toward him. One-man wrecking crew.

In my opinion, the Frantix were the best. The lead singer seemed positively insane. At one point, someone hurled a shoe up on the stage. He picked it up and examined it as if her were an ape, like he was trying to figure out if it was edible or something. And then he reared back and through the thing as hard as possible at some fan's head.

I was mesmerized. So much energy. And it seemed like a movement or something, that I, at that tender age of 15, could actually be a part of. I might not have had the guts or the muscle to dive into the mosh pit.

But I could start a fanzine if I wanted to, which I did. Or I could start a band, which I did. Or even become a concert promoter, which I tried to do.

Didn't matter if I had talent. In fact, talent was a shortcoming. All that mattered was the raw, violent, do-it-yourself, fuck-Ronald-Reagan energy of punk.

So long Waldorf! I'm hardcore now!!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

the 80s: dave and another green world

I first met my buddy Dave on the bus to a cross country meet in Ft. Morgan.

The coach chartered one of those big comfy buses and we all had rows of seats to ourselves. Dave happened to be sitting in seats across the aisle from me.

Like me, he had his Walkman out and tapes laying on the seat next to me.

He asked me what music I was into. I rattled off a bunch of new wave acts and a couple of punk bands. He really laughed at the name The Circle Jerks.

Then he told me what he liked. It was all 70s Prague rock. Yes. Emerson Lake and Palmer. Crap that I couldn't stand.

But then he looked through my tapes and found one that he recognized: Brian Eno's Another Green World. He had that in his collection, too, at home.

So we had one album in common.

Truth be told, I didn't much like Dave at first.

Maybe it was because he really liked me. At a cross-country meet a couple of weeks later he was following me around, bugging the hell out of me. I won the meet and I was all high on myself. But on my way home, my mom kind of made me feel guilty. "That Dave kid wants to be your friend," she said.

I'm not sure how we got past my snobbiness. He must've said something I thought was cool. I can't remember. At any rate, we became best friends and remained so throughout high school and for the first couple of years after.

We went through a lot of changes, most of which revolved around music. First punk. Then a sort of post-punk, a la the Meat Puppets and Husker Du. Then acid rock and the Grateful Dead. And then, I guess, anything and everything, so long as it was interesting and unpopular.

But through all the different phases, Another Green World seemed to fit in our record collections. It's the only album I know of that remained a favorite throughout. Even when we were all hard-core-punk, it was our guilty mellow pleasure.

We drifted apart when I was in college. Our paths crossed a couple of times, mostly at his initiative, but I was off doing my own thing, uninterested, more than a little snobby.

I hadn't seen him for months, maybe even more than a year, when a mutual friend got in touch with me to say he'd died of a drug overdose. He was 25.

After the funeral his mom asked me and another friend to meet her at Dave's apartment. She had to deal with his estate, such that it was, and I think we were the only two she could think of to call. I'm sure she remembered me from our teen years, when Dave and I were inseparable, and that's why she asked me.

She didn't want to throw anything away, of course, so I wound up going home with a van full of stuff, feeling more than a little guilty. Truth be told, I'd actually been sort of a judgmental jerk to him the last few times I saw him.

But among the things I got that day was his copy of Another Green World. That night I popped it in my CD player, sat on the floor and listened to it straight through..

The album came out in 1975, but I feel alright including it in this 80s retrospective because that was when I was really into it, and because it paved the way for the kind of 80s music I liked. It's heavy with synthesizers and traditional rock instruments that are distorted to sound otherworldly, with simple melodies that aren't quite pop and aren't quite not. And in some parts it's just plain weird, like on the breezy ballad "I'll Come Running to Tie Your Shoe."

The music takes an ethereal turn toward the end, with a handful of spacey instrumentals and a softly sung, sad reminiscence of life called "Everything Merges with the Night." And it was during "Becalmed," that I really felt the full weight of Dave's death.

The song starts with the sound of breeze. A light piano melody fades in, slowly building and then is topped by an organ that sounds kind of like one you'd find at a funeral parlor in a distant galaxy.

Listening to it, I couldn't help but imagine the moment of Dave's death, when he slid past the point of being high and off into whatever is out there. In my little fantasy, or whatever you want to call it, I surmised that he knew he'd made a mistake and that he regretted it. As he drifted away he wanted to come back.

But perhaps it was just me wishing that he could have. Maybe he liked what he saw on the other side and just took the plunge. Who colud blame me for wishing? He died before I could do right by him, and I was left to deal with my, I don't know, shame? Guilt? Unfinished business? Loss? Yep. All that.

And I wanted him to keep going on this green world, to see where life might take him.

For a long time after his death I'd hear new music and think, What a shame Dave isn't around to hear it.

A long time indeed. Because I still do.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the 80s: waldorf goes punk

I moved to Colorado the summer before my freshman year in high school. I was double nervous. New, big town. New, big school.

For the first day of school I got dressed up real nice in my coolest Polo gear. Despite my affinity for edgy music (edgy for Northern Indiana, that is), I dressed totally preppy. I even had big, round, tortoise shell, horned rim glasses.

So I get on the bus that first day, and I see everyone with their feathered hair and Ocean Pacific shirts staring at me, and I hear laughter.

The next day I get on the bus and everyone yells in unison: "Waldorf!"

This happens for one or two more days and then abruptly stops. I think the bus driver laid down the law.

Not a good start for my new big-city life. And it wasn't helped by the waves of laughter that seemed to follow me through the halls.

I tried to make the most of it. I enrolled in challenging classes. Read Catcher in the Rye. Lettered in cross country. Made a few friends. Kept dressing preppy.

But I couldn't shake the feeling that society hated me. And you know what? I hated it right back.

And I caught some glimpses here and there of a way out. Of an identity that could help me shake the nerd image real fast. There was this upper classman who had a great big mohawk. And there were a couple of younger dudes who had their heads shaved real close. They both wore tattered old combat jackewts with words written on them, stuff like Ill Repute and I don't know what else.

So I asked my mom if I could have a mohawk. She said no. Asked if I could shave my head. No again. But I did manage to get her to give me a ride to Wax Trax and buy me some t-shirts. I got one that said Dead Kennedys. Another that said the Clash, I think. Or Sex Pistols. I'm not sure. And I bought a copy of This is Boston, Not L.A.

And I took some old jeans and I rubbed them against the pavement in front of the house until there were holes in the jeans.

Monday, July 20, 2009

big music weekend

Caught two shows at the Uptown this weekend. Sonic Youth on Saturday night and Neko Case on Sunday. I've never seen a real concert there (I can't count the three songs of a Schwag show I saw there a few months back). Great venue. Real easy to get good spots. On Saturday, my cousin Jake and I showed up about 45 minutes before the doors open and we snagged spots right against the stage. Last night Allie and I arrive right after the doors open and we wound up about three rows back.

They were both terrific. At Sonic Youth there was a guy to our right and told everyone around that he'd eaten a bunch of mushrooms and he was really feeling good vibes from everyone. I smiled and told him, "Yep, we're all riding the expressway to yr skull."

Then he proceeded to talk for a long time to the beefy security guard. He took down a phone number to find out about getting a job.

When the band got cooking, he leaned over the guard rails and waved his hands around in the air like some Deadhead at a Dead concert. At one point he yelled, "That's so cosmic. I'm in another universe!"

I wanted to yell, "I'm on earth!" But the band started up another song.

Neko is totally awesome. Was. Is. What a great show. She and her back-up singer said lots of funny things between songs, and they sang real pretty.

The highlight for everyone, I'm sure, was when they ended the show with "Train from Kansas City."

Allie and I both bought t-shirts. I got one with a picture of a deer and Allie got the one with the killer wale dressed up like a hunter, complete with shot gun and can o beer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Sorry for the break in the 80s action. I've been working on a story for And now I'm coming down with a cold. I want to get feeling better for a family visits and a couple of concerts this weekend.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

the 80s: first concert

Right before I went into eighth grade, my mom got a job in Colorado. For the first time in my life I was popular in my school. I didn't want to leave. So I wound up spending that year with my grandparents while my mom got settled out west.

During spring break, I flew out to Denver for my first visit. I'll never forget my welcome to Colorado. It was cloudy as I landed. It was raining as we loaded my bags in the car. It started to snow when we stopped at a grocery store on the way home. By the time we got back to our car, there was about a foot of snow on the ground. By nightfall, we were buried under two feet. The next day it all melted away. I thought it was crazy. Turns out it's typical for a Colorado spring.

By that time I was ready to move on from Elkhart. I'd had a bit of a problem year and I was anxious for a fresh start. The thought of moving to big city was very appealing.

Denver looked pretty big to me back then. And they had concerts! Not the humdrum acts that would make their obligatory stop at the Notre Dame ACC in South Bend, like Boston and ZZ Top, or the second-tier hair bands that played at the Morris Civic, like Foghat and Head East. Denver had new wave and punk.

The day after my arrival, I buried my nose in the Sunday edition of the Denver Post, scanning the concert hall adds. I was in luck. Lene Lovich was playing the Rainbow Music Hall that week!

I'd seen her video for "New Toy" on Night Flight. She was good and weird.

Mom bought me a ticket, and she dropped me off at the venue, which was an old multi-plex movie theater with the walls knocked out and a killer sound system courtesy of ListenUp.

I have only the foggiest memories of the show. It was kind of goth before goth even existed. I just remember feeling really cool to be able to see something so un-Elkhart. And thrilled at the prospect of stepping off into this new big-city world.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

the 80s: the in crowd

Junior high was the only time I was in the in crowd. My best friends were the stars of the basketball team. They were all good looking and able to get girlfriends. But I was funny, so I guess they liked having me around.

Most of us in this little clique tried hard to be musical snobs. For us it was new wave or nothing. Everything else, which back then was pretty much everything in northern Indiana, was for sissy conformists or rats. Rats was what we called the kids with the long hair and black concert T-shirts.

A couple of us got real into music, especially me and Todd Eads. He was something like six feet tall, handsome, top jock. He and I used to ride our bikes to this little record store near downtown Elkhart. It was the only place we knew of that carried radical stuff.

In fact, it's there that I got my first punk records.

I first heard of punk a few years earlier. In the mid-70s, I saw a photo spread in some magazine full of pictures of people with their hair sticking every which way and safety pins in their noses and cheeks. I think there was even a shot of Sid Vicious with blood smeared across his chest.

Those pictures scared the hell out of me.

But now stuff like this was starting to appeal to me. It was different, and by liking it, I was different, too. And for the first time in my life, that made me cool.

I bought the Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bullocks and Golden Shower of Hits by the Circle Jerks. I didn't even know what a circle jerk was.

And of course, the Clash. As I mentioned earlier, my uncle already tipped me off to them. I stocked up on all their records and played London Calling over and over again. The were the ultimate. Still are. More than punk, really. But still. This was Elkhart, Indiana, and I was barely 13.

It wasn't all fashion. I actually liked the music. It was raw and real, not overworked and phony like, say, Daryl Hall and John Oates.

It'd be a couple of years before I made the leap totally into punk. Or at least as much as my mom would let me.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

the 80s: hair standing on end

I had this friend named Eric Landis. He was a little older than me. I think he was a freshman in high school when I was just starting junior high. I got to know him because his mom was friends with my mom and we were both latch-key kids. He lived in an apartment a couple of blocks away.

I'm not sure who got it first, me or him, but we had this book about new wave. I don't know if it's still in print, but it looked almost exactly like this. It was our guidebook to an exotic world of nonconformity teeming beyond the outskirts of Elkhart, Indiana.

All this exciting new music was in that book. Adam and the Ants. The Romantics. Souixsie Souix and the Banshees. Elvis Costello. Eurithmics.

It was also a sort of fashion book. No bell bottoms here. Just peg-leg jeans, skinny ties and bright colored blazers. And a lot of the guys in the pictures had short hair. So short it stood up. I wanted hair like that.

We figured you couldn't just go to any old barber shop to get a cut like that. This style was way ahead of Elkhart. Just like the music. You couldn't find Depeche Mode at the record store at the mall.

Eric heard that one of the barbers at a little shop in Bacon Hill could do them. Actually, it was a salon. You needed an appointment, and they didn't give you Bazooka gum when you were done. No spinning striped pole. It cost seven bucks. Seven bucks!

So I got one. It was really just a sort of mullet prototype, a little longer in the back. Eric got one, too. But his hair was kind of curly, so it didn't stick up so good.

When the lady finished up and brushed the last bits of hair from my collar, I looked in the mirror and saw someone truly radical. When the school day rolled around again I was really gonna stand out.

I was gonna transcend this backward little Midwestern town.

Monday, July 06, 2009

the 80s: uncle pete

My Uncle Pete got me Remain in Light for Christmas in 1980 or 1981. He also gave me a Clash T-shirt, one he'd designed himself in a screen printing class. He was my rock and roll uncle. Throughout the 70s he had a great big beard. He used to sit on the floor in the living room of my grandma's house playing guitar.

I have to say, I didn't quite get Remain in Light at the time. I only listened to two songs - "Once in a Lifetime" and "Seen and Not Seen." It wasn't until high school that I was able to appreciate its polyrhythmic groove. But I got the style of it, I guess. I got that it was different from the feathered-hair crap that was all over the airwaves in northern Indiana at the time.

And I felt like a rebel in my Clash shirt. Pete designed a British flag into it. He weren't too far away from the Bicentennial, so that seemed kind of radical. And the name itself -- Clash -- was tough and rebellious. I was just starting junior high, a big jump for any kid. The school's a lot bigger. Suddenly you have lockers. The playground is replaced with passing period and, with puberty mixed in, there's a lot of pressure to be cool, or at least be somebody.

This new wave / punk stuff kind of worked for me. I started making friends with some kids who thought black concert T-shirts and jeans were tacky. We wanted foreign cars, not Camaros. We started dressing super preppy. But with a twist. One day I rode my bike to the little barber shop at Bacon Hill Shopping Center and asked for a "punk."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

the 80s: sara and the new wave

At the dawn of the 1980s I lived in a condo subdivision on the outskirts of Elkhart, Indiana. There was a girl down the street from me named Sara. She had long blond 1970s girl hair that glowed in the sunlight. I was in love with her.

She was completely out of my league, of course. But there was no one else to hang out with in that neighborhood, so she sometimes hung out with me.

She made a point of explaining to me how much cooler she was than me. She didn't listen to top 40 radio. Her favorite band was the Fabulous Poodles.

Fabulous Poodles.

That name sounded so exotic and weird to me. Nothing like the popular groups of the day - The Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Christopher Cross, Linda Ronstadt.

I'm sorry to say that I've never heard the Fabulous Poodles, at least never to my recollection. But I heard some of the other bands she talked about - Devo, the Split Enz, Psychedelic Furs - and I liked it. In 1980 I got a copy of Freedom of Choice and True Colours and I found myself quite happily out of the mainstream for the first time in my life. I even joined the Devo fanclub and started receiving their weird mailings.

Of course, I still liked some of the top 40 stuff - especially Fleetwood Mac's "Sara," which was the third top-selling song that year.

Gee. I wonder why.