An Oral History Of Crime
JOHNNY: Frankie and I knew each other from the East Coast. He moved with his mother to Napa. Meanwhile, I was getting into minor trouble with the law back in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Just a lot of little stuff-truancy, possession of marijuana, malicious mischief – but all these problems were adding up, and there was this one juvenile officer who wanted to put me away. So, I needed to get away from there, and I was pretty anxious to get away from the small-town atmosphere as well. At first I thought about moving to New York, but I decided it wasn’t far enough away, and I’d be tempted to come back. Growing up in the East, moving to California and getting away from the cold winters is a big dream for a lot of kids, and it seemed far enough away that I wouldn’t wind up going back. So I did, and I never have gone back. I settled in San Francisco and got back in touch with Frankie. He’d come down from Napa and we’d listen to records. We were listening to a lot of 50s rock and roll, early British invasion and the American bands who were copying the British invasion. That was our biggest inspiration, bands like ? And The Mysterians, The Count Five, The Shadows Of Knight and The Sonics. Then I went to England to check out the glam scene, and when I got back Frankie and I both got guitars to start a band.
We each learned a few chords, and taught each other to play the little we knew. We had one of those Play Guitar With the Ventures albums, but that was too advanced for us, so we decided to write original songs with our little amps turned up all the way. When the neighbours complained, they said: “Why do you play ‘Batman’ so loud, over and over?” We called ourselves the Bloody Children and played strictly instrumentals with names like ‘Monster X10023’ and ‘Monster X10024’. Somewhere along the line we changed the name to the Space Invaders, and Frankie had this wacky idea that we’d shave our heads and find other people who were willing to shave their heads to join the band. I dyed my spikey hair red, but was only willing to shave my eyebrows. Frankie went ahead and shaved his head and took to wearing a self-designed space suit, complete with a battery-powered flashing belt.
When the New York Dolls came to San Francisco, their manager stood by the door and invited various people, including myself, and my girlfriend, back to their hotel for a party. The party was a free-for-all, with every possible drug floating around. I spent most of my time there talking to Johnny Thunders, and told him about the band I was trying to put together. I told him I had a Stratocaster, and he adamantly advised my to trade it in for Les Paul, because it was louder. I followed his advice, even though Frankie and I had matching Ibanez Flying Vs for a short time. I drove Thunders, Sylvain, and Johansen to the next night’s show in my green 1952 Buick Special.
The New York Dolls look was, to me, just a logical extension of Modism, or maybe a mutation. Musically, they were a great rock’n’roll band, but far more developed than us. Even though we came from a glam background, Frankie and I were much more primitive musically than any of those bands. I think that if you get to be too good of a musician, you can become showy, and lose your edge. Notice that groups’ early efforts are, a lot of times, their best.
At some point we looked around for band members, and started to write lyrics. We wrote a song called ‘Crash Baby’ and came up with an instrumental called ‘Sound Wars’, where one of us would play some short burst of noise, and then the other would answer, and it went back and forth. As it turned out, the glitter era ended without the Space Invaders bursting onto the scene. What we did do was take a lot of Quaaludes, dress up in fantastic outfits, and hang around at the Cabaret with the androgynous crowd.
By 1975, we were rehearsing our songs in my apartment, in Buena Vista Terrace. We had one mic taped to a bookcase, and one of us would sing and play rhythm guitar, while the other made stabs at primitive lead guitar. We felt we were getting pretty good, and decided to make another attempt to put a band together.
I was working at a disco down Columbus Street called Dance Your Ass Off. Occasionally, I’d see someone interesting, and ask if they played an instrument. I met Ripper, who I remember looked like a musician on the skids. He said he could play guitar, bass, drums . . . anything. He was a spacey cat. We always figured he had taken more than his share of acid in the sixties. Ripper had been in many bands, including the Chosen Few, who later became the Flamin’ Groovies. Ron always resented not being taken along when they became the Groovies.” -> -> ->