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Back in the late '80s I worked at a mall in Marin. It was an outdoor mall -- not one of those smelly, never-see-the-sun, Dawn of the Dead places -- but still a pretty horrible place. Never having secured a real "anchor tenant" it was not a very busy place. Most of the stores had the stench of retail death. On our lunch breaks we handicapped which one would go under next.

I swear this mall had -- for a few months -- a store called "Primarily Pillows". Fittingly enough, it sold nothing but pillows. This led to my co-worker (can't remember if he's ok with being outed on LJ) dreaming up his plan for a mall tattoo parlor called "Primarily Panthers". Nothing original available, just hire teens at minimum wage to trace panther designs from the wall. Extra staffing for the hours after the mall bars closed on Fridays and Saturdays. "Do you want the #24 or the #33?" Maybe some Taz too. Possibly some roses for the ladies, but that would work better as a sister mall store. "Really Roses"?

That was the mall that had the scam non-profit guy selling rainbow colored tile to decorate the Waldo Tunnel before he skipped town with the Marinite money. It had the rib place that mysteriously went out of business one night amidst rumors of bad drug problems. It had an Unknown Jerome, whose "Jerome Sandwich" cookies I still mourn. I worked at the one hour lab -- talk about a dying business...

The bookstore there -- before it went out of business -- was my favorite in Marin. Us young mall workers stuck together and when the bookstore opened a cafe within a few months we were allowed to just fix our own coffee drinks before hours. That was my favorite place to kill some hours when the work was slow or my boss was having a manic episode and yelling too much.

These days, I see one of the bookstore cafe workers -- a punk just a little younger than me -- regularly since he's a bartender at my local. Last week, while I drank my Anchor Liberty, he came up to me and asked if I remember the band Negative Trend. Negative Trend eventually became the infamous Flipper (my first punk show was Flipper on the day Dan White was released from prison!) and I actually was a huge fan of the only Negative Trend record, a 4-song EP, released in 1978 or so. I said, "Yes!"

"Well, they just reformed and I'm singing for them. Come see us play at Annie's"

So, I think I will be here on February 28. Should be fun and old school. ("Black and Red" was my favorite song of theirs. Plus they're playing with the incredibly underrated No Alterative, another old SF band.)
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Was is two or three years ago that so many of us went to see Joan Jett at the Marin County Fair? Let's look through my LJ archives... Oh, here it is, 2006

Well, she's coming back. July 2. Admission includes all the usual County Fair crap! Whoo-hoo! Who's in?

I'm tempted by the Steel Pulse appearance on July 3 also. Especially since it seems to be National Front hunting time again.

(I couldn't find a vid for "Jah Pickney" but here's one for "Ku Klux Klan":)

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Since Joan Jett never changes, it’s either really easy or really hard to review her show at the Marin County Fair last night. I’m going with easy. She played all the "hits" . She played enough songs of the new album to have made a good faith effort to sell some copies. She wore something tight and black. She growled. She smiled. She sneered. She winked, at times enough to make it seem something was in her eye. She played power chords.

She was the object of lust for the entire audience which I’d have to guess was a lot more queer than the usual county fair. Hell, I saw more people I recognized from SF than at most shows I go to back home. Even people I just know from the cheese counter were there. At one point some folks got on other people’s shoulders to display their homemade bed sheet banner that read (as far as I could tell, I was behind them and off to one side), "Dirty Dirty Queerdos Love Joan Jett" with a sweet portrait of her. I felt Joan could have been more appreciative beyond her smile and nod.*

I went with my brother and his wife. My brother and I spent the previous few hours watching the Minutemen documentary together including all the extras.** I told him about my LJ so hi Jim!

I hadn’t been to the Marin County Fair since 1985 or so and except for the huge Ferris Wheel it was pretty much exactly the same. Except you couldn’t rent paddle boats anymore. That was my favorite part of the fair! I didn’t know how I felt about being in Marin, but I figured I was sure to run into some high school people. Fortunately, the reunion made me realize that I probably wouldn’t recognize them if I did.

We crammed in up front and almost imediately the woman on my left starts eyeing me. "Don’t I know you?" she asks. I think my, "Ugh, did you go to Redwood?" answer wasn’t very friendly but no, she had gone to Novato and was a few years older than me. In fact we didn’t know anyone in common and we tried. She introduced me to her husband who said, "Redwood huh, did you used to go to Lark Creek Inn *** at lunch?"

"No, they’d deliver it straight to our Beamers," I replied.

God I’m glad I don’t live in Marin anymore. In fact the only person I saw from high school was a small scale rock star who’s an awesome drummer in a million garage bands. I know her mostly through others and she was in a group so I didn’t say hello. The Novato woman and I did laugh together when Joan tried to say something specific like, "Wow, Marin knows how to rock!" or "Do You Wanna Touch Me, Marin?".

So I know it came up in this space before that Joan Jett plays USO shows in Irag and Afghanistan. Is she a war supporter? Just there to show the working class kids she’s on their side? Desperate to sell records? I don’t know. I heard there’s some kind of anti-Bush song on the new record, but I haven’t heard it. And that doesn’t really make a controversial statement unless you sing country. At one point she swapped out guitars and her backup one had a Gits sticker, a leather flag, and a Dean for President one. Clearly, I’ve never looked to Joan for consistent political leadership. Cop out? Maybe.

But I do enjoy the irony of seeing someone who was a childhood idol, singing in basically my hometown at the most wholesome event possible, when back in the days (before " I love Rock and Roll") I lived here liking Joan was enough to make someone yell "Devo!" out of a car window at you. Social ostracism comes back around, I just wanted to be there to witness it.

*A quick internet search shows Dolly Parton to have been more receptive, A group of women towards the front waved a bed-sheet sign that read "Dirty Dirty Queerdos Love Dolly" to which she replied, "Well, I love you too."

**One of the best music videos ever made was the one for "This Ain’t No Picnic" (It’s starts about 3:25 in on that link). Found government footage of Ronald Reagan shooting at, then bombing the Minutemen as they try to sing about the interests of the working class. Made for $900!

***If it’s not made clear by the New Yorker cartoon, it’s one of the most expensive restaurants in Marin
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I know only three of you out there will care but ... The Bit O' Honey is closing for good tonight! It was sold and going to be transformed into a clothing store.

First the pool hall, then Nave Lanes, now this. Novato is dead to me, dead.
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My hometown is claustrophobic and strange. Even though I grew up there, I can’t feel relaxed. I’d like to say that I never did, but that’s not really correct. I was always alienated from it to be sure, but I used to know how to blend. It’s just not true anymore.

It’s changed a lot since the last time I lived there full-time which was 1985. It was a rich suburb when I was growing up but even richer now. Not a single friend from high school still lives there that I know of, everyone moving to the cheaper Bay Area cities or suburbs, further north, or out of the state entirely. Nothing I used to do is still there, my favorite hippie café located right near where [livejournal.com profile] kittynitro grew up, closed down a few years ago. The mall where I worked is still there but the photo lab is long gone. The hills I used to hang out and drink on top of are now covered in multi-million dollar houses.

Mostly I just go through Marin to get to Sonoma County or to go to the coast. I’ve still never seen anything more beautiful in the world than the West Marin part of the Pacific ocean. But when my vacation plans fell through I found myself house-sitting my parents’ house for a couple of days. They were attending their 50th high school reunion. Yes, they started dating in high school, in New Jersey. They probably felt some similar alienation having not returned there for 40-some years.

I drove through Marin on 101 a couple of weeks ago with [livejournal.com profile] twomartinis and felt like I had to keep saying "used to". That’s where we used to hang out. That used to be a bowling alley. That’s where the hippies used to live. Those used to be marshes before the malls were built. The "used to" is funny because it’s not like I ever wanted to stay where I grew up. I wanted to move to San Francisco as soon as possible. But even if I never wanted to stay, I can recognize that it was still better, you know, back then.

The best description of Marin I can think of is simply linking this entry by an old friend. "Kinda late for sitting outside" . Novato is rumored to have more SF cops as residents than SF does and it makes the local cops try harder. It’s not like when I lived in Ithaca, NY and the cops simply told people they didn’t like "Leave town or else". But all the visible Novato punk rockers lost their licenses, motorcycles, and at times their freedom for the way they looked. But that was the ‘80s and I thought punk was cuter and more acceptable now. Marin is hassling a 35 year old mother of two teenagers for doing laundry and smoking a cigarette after midnight.

But I actually don’t hold much of a grudge. I couldn’t have asked for a prettier place to grow up and it was close to things that I ended up needing and liking. It’s just odd to return to a physical place I spent, basically, the first 18 years of my life in, but that has no roots, almost no friends, and very few visual memories. Especially when it’s only just over the bridge.
These days I expect to be anonymous when I go there, in fact I prefer it. My brother and I went out to a Vietnamese restaurant where they complimented me on my pronunciation when I ordered. Since "my" Vietnamese comes only from sounding out the words, and I guess from living in a city, I couldn’t tell if I had stumbled into correct sounds or if I was being structurally sucked up to as a smart business decision.

But at the very next table there were friends of friends. They recognized me and gave us the "You’re brothers? You don’t look anything alike." line that I’d be used to if I hung out with my brother more. But it was awkward because I last saw them at my friend Ron’s funeral and that sat between us like a suburban hedge. We could kinda see over it, but the effort was exhausting.

The evening ended with my brother saying, "Hmmm, I never thought about it that way," when I remarked that he never got along with our sister whom he never got along with. I’m six and seven years younger than they are, and all I remember about the times when they were both living at home were stereo wars, yelling, and the occasional broken door. "Hmmmm," I replied.

My hometown. There’s not much there for me and it certainly doesn’t feel like home.
gordonzola: (Default)
I don’t know why it took me so long, but I finally got the CD from the punk rock zinester super-group Astrid Oto. The dreadful and exciting thing about memories is that you never knows what will trigger them. I opened the liner notes and got smacked in the head.

"Bringing New Meaning to DIY" concludes with the suicide of Ricky Puke in 1984. Don’t worry, no one out there is expected to know who he is. The Pukes were the pride of the Marin County punk scene*, banned from every club in the Bay Area because of Ricky’s vomit on demand during "You Make Me Sick". They were even profiled in one of those "What is the world coming to?" articles in the local paper filled with the even-then boilerplate "shock" quotes of the Point: "Your generation of generic corporate culture and rich, hedonistic ex-hippies will kill us all in World War 3." Counterpoint: "These kids are sick and need to be beaten and sent to work camps" variety.

There’s a picture of The Pukes included in the liner notes; people I haven’t seen for a long time. The guitarist from my high school who never talked, hid her face with her hair, and gave her back to the crowd the entire show.** Out of shyness not attitude, but it worked that way too. Uncharacteristically, she’s looking right into the camera for the photo.

Actually one of the few people I remember her talking to was my old friend Rachael. Rachael and I and Ricky’s sister*** tried to form a band once. I hadn’t thought about that in years, not even when I was trying to dredge up every last memory of Rachael when she died last year. We played in my parent’s bedroom for an hour before we gave up. I had a medium crush on Ricky’s sister but we were both shy and awkward and about 16. Then her brother died.

Ricky died on a rainy winter night. He was going to school at State and his scooter wouldn’t start, so his teacher said he could spent the night in the classroom if he didn’t tell anyone. Sometime during the night he hung himself. I remember rumors of it being an auto-asphyxiation accident, but that was as trendy an urban myth as the gerbils-up-the-butt thing at the time. It held some weight though because no one really wants to believe a friend committed suicide.

Aaron Cometbus **** describes it much more poetically in the song:
"Rickey from The Pukes with a can of spraypaint
breaks into a gallery in the middle of the night
paints ‘this is art’ then kicks out the chair
and in the morning they find him hanging there."

I’m not sure I’m up to the don’t glamorize suicide vs. the honor and martyr our fallen friends debate right now. I find both schools of thought compelling in different ways. Leaving friends and family devastated is a fucked up and cowardly thing to do. Aaron’s lyrics point to a bigger picture though, including the parameters of possibility in this world, and frustration with trying to change and create. Those were certainly matters dear to Ricky’s heart and obviously on his mind at the time of his death.

Aaron’s writing, which I love, is all about myth-making. It’s about the continual rediscovering that our lives are meaningful and that we don’t struggle, or die, in vain. It’s about creating a broad culture of resistance and support. It’s about romanticizing being in shitty situations sometimes because they can pay off in ways that safer choices don’t. It’s about taking the experiences of others around you and melding them together with yours so both of you can feel part of something bigger.

There’s myth-making in the abstract and myth-making when you know someone and see their real life. Ricky’s death in this song is the culmination of a punk life, a final symbolic act. In real life it was also a waste and a tragedy. The song doesn’t ignore that. The chorus, after all, is "Doing it yourself, that’s what it’s all about / You put some hope in your heart and have to rip it out." Sometimes we risk and lose.

But then I can also see my friend Ron, who died in January, being martyrized in a punk song too, though not by Astrid Oto. He was living a punk rock lifestyle and taking chances. But really, the way he died was just stupid. When to honor and show the best, and when to scream at the corpse? It’s one of death’s trickier questions.

Ricky’s face is partially scratched out in the liner note picture. Who scratched it out? Why? Dislike? Angry reaction to his death? I never really knew Ricky, but my oldest friend was their roadie who eventually took over singing duties when he died. The band tried to carry on his "message" but that never works unless you have a "message" like AC/DC. My friend couldn’t puke on demand anyway, so momentum was lost and the band eventually fizzled out.

And for the life of me, I can’t come up with any of their lyrics. *****

*UXB probably should claim that title. They actually had a song on the "Not So Quiet of the Western Front" compilation and caused a jock vs. punk riot at my high school during a lunch time concert in 1983 or so. Oh, the days when punk was a threat. . .
**She had a very distinctive name that sounded like a fake punk one but wasn’t. I just did a google search and the only hit I got was for a yoga instructor in England. I wonder . . .
*** This is definitely not her but they do share a name.
****Someone else who would have been a good example for my last post about scenes turning on their successful members.
*****I’m still mad a Lali Donovan for "borrowing" my Pukes demo tapes and never returning them.
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Weird. That’s how it always is when I return to Marin. In the 18 years since I’ve lived there full time, I’ve lost my ability to blend and sometimes even communicate with my people.

Of course, it’s even weirder when I’m only there to pick up a friend from high school to go to another high school friend’s grave. We stopped to pick up flowers because it, well, just seemed like the thing one does when visiting a cemetery. The florist shop we saw from the car in downtown Fairfax was closed so we walked across the street to the independent natural food store to see if they sold flowers.

It was a store not unlike the one I work at, although about half the size. I saw someone sweeping up in the bulk section. He was a hippieish white guy in his early 20s. "Do you sell flowers?" I asked

He gave me a why-do-I-have-to-deal-with-morons look and walked me over a couple of feet. "Yeah, we’ve got all kinds of flours," pointing out the white flour, wheat flour, oat flour, etc.

"No, no , no, I mean like flowers that grow in the ground, with petals and stuff." I’ll admit my communication wasn’t at its best either. He mumbled something that I took to be "I’ll go check" but obviously wasn’t since he never returned. I saw another worker cutting cheese in the aisle on a small table.* Even more my people I figured: a Marin, health-food working cheese cutter. A request for a florist was greeting with a frighteningly blank look. Not for lack of knowledge, she told us to go across the street, but in that everything-is-a-complicated-existential-question-that-I’m-working-on-bettering-myself-spiritually-so-I-can-comprehend way.** Then she just started looking over my shoulder at nothing I could see.

ComicBookGirl and I left. I felt displaced and odd. I couldn’t tell if I was somehow alienating these people or if I had just forgotten how to talk to them. Was it our non-hippieness? Did we talk too fast? Are we too urban now? We had to pass a café on the way to the car. Many people spilled out of it as well as a number of golden retrievers with neckerchiefs. I was searching for adjectives to describe them later and [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso suggested smug. That’s part of it. Self-satisfied is another. How can I describe growing up in Marin other than when I (and my dead friend Rachael) were getting into No Business As Usual in order to "prevent World War 3 no matter what it takes!", people my parents age, though not my parents, were joining a group called "Beyond War".

There’s some truth in advertising to that, actually. Not much affects you in Marin. I honestly could not hold back. As we passed the crowd at the café, I said very loudly "I’m so glad I don’t live in Marin anymore". CBG agreed.

But I don’t think anyone even noticed.

* Which I do not approve of, for the record.
**You may have had to grow up in Marin for that to make sense. Let me know.


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