An Oral History Of Crime
JOHNNY: Over the next few months, the Mab gained some notoriety as the Punk place to play in San Francisco, and some guy named Pat Paulson, who rented out a couple of rehearsal studios and had put out a rather weak alternative newspaper called Psyclone, worked his way into the Mab, and sponsored a show with Blondie. Ness asked us if we wanted to play with Blondie, and we agreed, figuring that we were so different, that it would be a good show.
This seemed like our first real show, in some ways, since other people were promoting it, and Blondie would be the main attraction. The night of the show found Frankie, Ripper and myself backstage with the place packed, and no sign of Ricky. As it got closer to show time, we became frantic and depressed. Some guys from Blondie started arriving, and we explained the situation to them. The drummer for Blondie offered to play drums for our set. Ten minutes before we were supposed to go on, we started running through our songs for him – two minutes before we went onstage, Ricky showed up, looking stoned, as usual.
I can’t remember if we were any good, or not, but I do remember halfway through the set, in the middle of a song, not hearing any drums, and looking back to see Ricky walking off the stage! We kept playing to the end of the song, and then stalled for a bit. Eventually, much to our relief, Ricky walked back on stage, as though nothing had happened. After the set, he told me that he had had to shit. I thought he was having an asthma attack, because he was using inhalers all the time. He was a garbage can drug user, and seemed to be deteriorating. Once I found him in my bathroom taking my girlfriend’s birth control pills!
We started keeping Ricky prisoner before shows. We’d deliver him to Ripper’s place in the Excelsior, where he lived with his parents, in an old house which was full of clocks, which Ripper’s dad collected. Ricky hated going there – he’d always look terrified when we’d drop the two of them off. We were driving down Divisadero one night, and Ricky was passed out in the back seat. We stopped at a traffic light nearby, some guy was standing around while his dog was pissing. Ricky suddenly woke up, and looked out the window, blurting out “piss on your dog”, before passing out again. That became the title of the only song that Frankie and I wrote together! We were anxious to learn new material and get tight, but Ricky started missing five out of six rehearsals. We finally told Kowolski to tell Ricky to come around and pick up his drums.
Among the people I met hanging out at the Mab was one guy who was always there, and said he was a drummer, and had been in various bands, the most interesting sounding one being the Circus Pimps. I invited him to play drums and he agreed. This was Brittley Black, who regarded himself as a latter day Keith Moon, and whose parties (and drunken Cadillac accidents) are legendary, for people who still talk about such stuff. Brittley, whose real first name was Larry, was the son of a semi-famous jazz drummer who had played with Turk Murphy, among others. Brittley was a real drummer, having taken lessons from his dad since childhood. In a way, it was almost a problem, because Brittley wanted to do so much on the drums, and this egged Ripper on to greater eccentricity, and forced Frankie and me to play a little bit more complexly. Rehearsal sessions often consisted of Frankie and I talking about the aesthetics of rock’n’roll until we finally wore them down, and they would play more basically for a while. This is the line-up that recorded our second single, ‘Frustration’/’Murder By Guitar’, at Mills College, early 1977, with Novak producing, and it worked out nicely on those recordings.
Dirk Dirksen, who had become Ness’s partner at the Mab, and taken over the booking, told us The Damned were coming to town, and asked if we wanted to play that show. We agreed, and went to work on a poster, billing ourselves as the headliner. Dirk and Ness freaked out when they got wind of the poster, and called us saying: “For Christ’s sake, the Damned are the headliners!” We didn’t understand, I mean, we packed the club anytime we played. ‘Hot Wire My Heart’ was getting good press in the English music papers, Melody Maker and the New Musical Express had us on their charts, so surely The Damned knew who we were. For our audacity, we were quietly taken off the bill, but we still put up the CRIME-as-headliner poster! We actually did open for the Ramones, at the Old Waldorf, where we were completely fucked by their soundman. We weren’t getting much volume out of the PA, so we had to have our amps a lot less loud than we were used to. Then the Ramones came on, and the PA was twice as loud!
We were always fairly responsible about rehearsing three nights a week, but Brittley began to miss rehearsals, and then stopped showing up completely. We finally confronted him at the club, and he explained that he was being wooed by Howie Klein and some other asshole to play drums for a pre-fabricated band called the Readymades – they were promising him money, and other bullshit. We told him we thought he was an idiot, and when the Readymades made their debut, we were proven right. It reminds me of something The Screamers, who had a good sense of humour, said: “San Francisco is the four H’s: Hippies, Heroin, Howie and Homos.”” -> -> ->
HANK: “I knew Novak through the whole Mills Center for Contemporary Music scene. Other Music, which I co-founded while I was in college, played on a variety of home-made instruments, and had a member, David Doty, who was enrolled in a post-graduate program at Mills. In 1976, what had been called New Music (a term which, oddly enough, wound up, several years later, synonymous with New Wave) for several decades, was showing a certain punk influence. Phil Laurie had a band called The Scientists, who were sort of a precursor to Devo, who came out in white jump suits, and wielded battery-operated electronic instruments of their own invention, while running through the audience. This was his thesis concert! Of course, there was a whole body of work that laid the groundwork for this stuff. Bruce Conner, who was a Mabuhay regular in the early days, told me about performing in LaMonte Young’s thesis concert in the late 50s, or early 60s. Bruce’s role was to stand in the back of the theatre and yell the word: “Green!”
At any rate, it was interesting that there were people from the New Music scene like Phil Laurie and Novak who were thinking in terms of groups, and of course, a lot of the early Mabuhay groups came from some sort of art school orientation. Novak and his associate, Megan Roberts, told me that they were in this band, called Novak, and that they were playing this club, the Mabuhay Gardens.
I had seen the Ramones when they played the Keystone in Berkeley, because an old friend of mine, Pete Heimlich, had sent me a copy of the Ramones album. I guess he thought I’d like it, and I did, so, I went to see them, and there was pretty much nobody there. Most of the audience were college kids, beer-drinkers who had come to rock out to the opening band, Earthquake. And when the Ramones came on, we just stood right in front of them on that tiny stage. It was one of the best shows I’d ever seen in my life – they played as if they were playing to an arena. That was sort of a wake up call to me, that everything I’d loved about music in the late 60s, which had died in the early 70s, was back!
So, I went to the Mabuhay. The show was on a weeknight (Monday, 9 May 1977), so it wasn’t very crowded. The scene hadn’t really started in earnest, since punk rock didn’t really exist until a news report on TV showed the footage from England. We sat right in front and Novak did a funny show – they were kind of a joke band, but a good joke band! Then CRIME came out, and did a very impressive and short set, about 15 minutes. Afterwards Dirk came out and announced that CRIME was looking for a new drummer. I’d already cut my long hair, but I went down to a hair stylist to get my hair to look like theirs was on the record. Then I had my girlfriend, Carola, take some Polaroid photos of me with this Hagstrom guitar I had, and I put it in a package with a letter saying: “I’ve seen you guys, I understand what you’re doing, I’m not a drummer but I’m willing to learn.” I sent the package to their PO box, via special delivery, covered in one-cent stamps, so that it would stand out from the deluge that I imagined they’d be getting. Within 24-hours, Johnny called me and said: “We don’t care if you can play – anybody who would do this is in the group”.
Within the next couple of days I went with Ripper, since I didn’t know anything about drums, and he used to be a drummer, to Don Wehr’s Music City. Ripper helped me select a Ludwig stainless steel drum kit. Ripper and I had an odd relationship. He seemed mistrustful of me from the beginning, and we never really melded into a rhythm section in the traditional sense. Ripper always pursued his own musical ideas, regardless of what anyone else in the group was doing. There was no way to control him, or to understand what he was doing. He just did what he did. After he went with me to buy the drums, Ripper was not very helpful. He never told me how to set them up, hold the sticks, or any other pointers. As a result, I had them set in a position where I was constantly breaking open my knuckles on the rims. I held the sticks in the way that felt natural to me, which turned out to be completely wrong, and probably prevented me from ever becoming a really accomplished drummer.
When I bought the drums, the salesman asked me what size sticks I wanted, and I didn’t even know that there were different options. I told him that since I was playing for the loudest band in San Francisco, I supposed I needed the loudest drum sticks that they had. He sold me a pair of marching band sticks that were huge, and ridiculously heavy. I suffered with those for a long time, which probably prevented me from getting up to speed as quickly as I might have. My hands got so blistered and torn up that I had to tape the sticks to my hands for a while, because I could not bear the pain of holding them.
When I joined the band, the next show had already been booked. I had two weeks to learn to play drums, as well as to learn the songs. The songs weren’t very difficult to learn, of course, it was mostly a matter of knowing where the stops were, and how many times things were repeated. And those things tended to change from show to show, so there was a limit to the amount of preparation that you could really do!
When I started taking over the management tasks from Johnny, it soon became very clear that there was an inside and an outside to the scene, and that, for whatever reason, CRIME was always on the outside. The band had all these self-imposed rules and dictates that came back to haunt us. We felt very strongly about not opening for any other local bands, for instance. In fact, it was a very short list of bands that we would open for. While I was in the band, we opened for the Ramones at the Old Waldorf, and the Weirdos in LA. The Weirdos were a band that we liked a lot, and we’d open for them in LA, and they’d open for us when they came to San Francisco – but it was the refusal to open for other local bands that ultimately kept us off the Sex Pistols show at Winterland. We were offered third slot, under The Avengers, which we refused.
The Nuns were only too happy to take that slot. We often lost a sense of perspective, and some things that we felt were important to our fans were, ultimately, not that important. Things that we thought people were scrutinizing us about, I don’t think anybody outside the band was actually conscious of! For instance, our insistence on closing shows sometimes worked against us. There’s a prime time to get on stage, when people are lubed up, but not too drunk and sloppy, and the club is at its most full, and the people aren’t burned out yet. We hurt ourselves many times by insisting on going on last, which we thought was important to our fans – and it wasn’t – they just wanted to see us! We used to torture our fans a lot by stretching things out, making them wait and wait and wait, so that it would sometimes be an hour after the band before us ended their set before we played ours. Frankie was especially into this, because he thought it was whipping the crowd into a frenzy, when it was actually dissipating the energy in the club.”
JOHNNY: “It also probably frustrated the crowd, which was probably why there was so much violence at our shows. Fist fights and police visits weren’t uncommon, and one time the entire front window of the Mab was smashed”.
HANK: “Then there was the whole political thing, where groups looked around for various causes to rally around, like the coalminer’s strike. We did the fundraiser against the anti-gay initiative (The Briggs’ Initiative, Prop 6, of 1978), but after that, the band took a public stance that we wanted no part of the political world. And there was this momentum that was gathering around those bands that eventually really helped them. The political thing was a good hook, a good angle. And that put us further on the outside”.
JOHNNY: “Our response to the political thing was to proclaim the period ‘the Summer of Hate’, and ourselves San Francisco’s ‘First AND ONLY Rock’N’Roll Band’”. -> -> ->