I continued practicing and joined a brand new band, a band that amassed a 100% White Supremacist following. Brian Baxter, of the locally infamous punk outfit known as NEHC phoned just as I was settling into my summer holiday to ask if I wanted to jam with a few guys who were stopping by his place that afternoon: “I heard you used to be in Lunacy, and I’m putting this thing together. I’m not gonna be in it myself, but thought you might be interested.”
Not long after Pastor Greg’s party (and on my seventeenth birthday, to be precise), I was to learn that I had been summarily disinvited from Lunacy. Someone at school asked what it felt like to be kicked out of my own band. I was having lunch with Steve, whose skateboard rested upside down at his feet. We sat on the planters with Linda, Jill and the gang. And I just stared at him, but he was right: they had a new drummer, a friend from church.
Brian’s band, NEHC, or North End Hard Core, were headquartered out of a garage a few blocks from campus, and they held monthly concerts where all the punks and metal heads in the area convened to watch them perform next to the big oil stain from Brian’s mother’s car. “Tri-Scull Presents” read a flyer, announcing the latest show around campus. The kids were packed in: a few opening acts went first, then NEHC set up. The shirtless and wiry Ron Tidwell smashed the drums; a baseball cap wearing, mustachioed boy called Jason made faces during his guitar solos (just like Chad); and the short, stocky, bleached blonde fireplug Brian played bass guitar with the strings upside down, all the while clamoring unintelligibly with echo effects on his vocals. The trio had but a single recognizable tune mixed in amongst their spasms of heroic noise. The kids were always ready for it.
NEHC could have been a punk rock parody of the Grateful Dead, jamming away, stretching out the scraps of songs and guitar riff molecules. Jason would start, a variation on a chord he’d been experimenting with the night before in his bedroom; Ron came in with a beat accentuated by the cadenced maltreatment of his crash cymbal; Brian’s twisting, fuzzy bass sprang out of the flickering empty spaces as he cried, his pauciloquence resounding, becoming more scratchy and indistinct with each report. The reboation grew almost visibly, the humidity rose. As their set was winding down, Brian obliged them.
“I wonder…” he began, and the speakers rebounded his words back at him. It was enough to make everybody crazy. They hollered, Brian smiled and Jason began the familiar opening riff, studying his left hand on the fret board.
Everyone sang along:
“I wonder if Reagan is related to Hitler”
A group of boys were moving in a widening circle in the garage. Beach coolers and camping gear vibrated in the rafters over one’s head.
“I wonder if Reagan is related to Hitler”
Ron leaned backward, drumsticks near his waist. Brian was leaning up to the microphone. As Jason’s descending guitar riff neared its end, his knee bounced.
“I wonder if Reagan is related to Hitler…’cuz if he is we’ll surely die!”
Brian’s garage was a hallowed place: it was where I experienced punk rock firsthand. Most of the groups were almost professionally amateurish and sloppy, but this was the first live music I had witnessed up close. His monthly gigs were legendary—at least in the North End of Scum Bernardino—and when he called I stacked my drums in the back of Dad’s pickup truck.
I wound up on his mother’s couch in the living room, watching home videos of garage concerts. I waited with a glacier’s patience.
“They’re coming, they’re coming,” he assured me, “any minute now.” After seeing several concerts in their entirety, complete with rewound ‘check this part out’ sections, listening to NEHC’s brand new demo, and being lectured by his mother on the virtues of living responsibly, the others joined us. They all got comfortable on the opposite couch and Baxter began the introductions.
“Jason plays drums—he used to be in Lunacy.”
“At least he doesn’t have long hair,” came the pronouncement from the one with the shaved head and suspenders. Spanky was a teenaged skinhead with Dr. Marten’s combat boots that went up to his shoulders, like something out of A Clockwork Orange. Adrian was a skinny kid of about fifteen with an unbuttoned flannel over a concert t-shirt and his hair growing out from a Mohawk. John, who was Spanky’s older brother, was like me: an anonymous brown haired teenager in a t-shirt and jeans.
In my beloved hometown, if you were a skinhead you were of the far-right-wing species. They hadn’t even a clue about the originators of the style: the ones who listened to reggae, soul and ska music in equal doses. You see, true skinheads hate racists more than anybody because of the mark of dishonor that their culture has been given by the neo Nazi crowd. But the teenagers in Scum Bernardino were too ignorant to grasp where the true skins were coming from and too lazy to investigate.
Brian made the others sit through the latest NEHC show on video before we got things together in the garage. And that was when I realized how out of tune Spanky’s cheap guitar was. It gave a head-splitting wail of feedback whenever he wasn’t touching the strings, sounding more like a burglar alarm than something you attempted to make music with. John stood near my drums, calmly plucking the ‘E’ string of his bass and glancing at my hi-hat while we warmed up.
After deciding on a number called “Stepping Stone”, Adrian found the microphone’s ‘ON’ switch: we were reminiscent of someone using an industrial strength vacuum cleaner in a moist sandbox scattershot with pebbles, pottery, and small animals. I was plonking away at a generic, meat and potatoes drumbeat (1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2) on my generic drum set; Spanky wrenched what he could out of the single power chord he had learned, whilst single handedly ruining guitar for generations to come; as John—the only one with even a clue as to what he was doing—followed us into the outermost province of Τάρταρος. Adrian whined, “I-I-I-I-I’m not your stepping stonnne,” in a pretesticular falsetto. Fingernails across a blackboard was Mozart by comparison, and the recording of a prolonged, subhuman fart would have beaten us to a Grammy Award. I could hear a car idling in the driveway between numbers as Brian’s family prepared to move away and not tell him. After half an hour of sonic effluence, he pressed ‘EJECT’ on a portable tape deck nearby, cut a random logo out of a magazine and scotch taped it to a cassette cover. “Here’s your new demo,” he announced with pride, trundling back to find us packing our equipment, looking embarrassed, as though we’d just seen each other naked.
The cassette read, “White Dwarf”.
Swell name, Brian. I was quite certain that a great deal of deliberation had gone into his choice.
“You guys wanna do a show with NEHC?”
He took the silence as a ‘yes’ and went back inside to call his drummer and add us to the flyer for their upcoming gig. Young Adrian caught a ride home, and no sooner had the front door skidded shut than Brian decided that the lad just couldn’t sing. It didn’t matter that none of us could play the same thing twice, I knew a single beat, and the guitar was so out of tune as to appear avant-garde Our vocalist was the problem. Brian waited until he figured the boy was home and told Adrian that we had decided to fire him. Already our incompsemble had been diminished by one—I should have taken the cue to eject myself, because within moments, Henry, our skinhead guitarist’s skinhead cousin walked in. And after another round of spirited disorder, organized to coincide with his German Shepherd vocal style, Henry grabbed a magic marker and scribbled through the ‘D’ and ‘f’ on our band logo when no one was watching.
Before long, I sat in the back of a white pickup truck with the speaker cabinets, guitars, my drums, and a handful of socially disoriented junior extremists. The group’s name had been changed again to Prejustice—whatever that meant—and we’d managed to meet once more in preparation for our fifteen minutes. On the way back to Brian’s garage, we passed a little black boy walking along the sidewalk minding his own business. Spanky and Henry gave their coldest stares, as though the only thing between that child and sudden death was the forward motion of the vehicle. Such astonishing bravery and fortitude on their part convinced me to practice being invisible, which continued as we disembarked.
For a garage concert it didn’t surpass or fall below my expectations. We played with Lunacy and NEHC. Most of the room helped Brian sing “Reagan Hitler”, and everyone enjoyed Lunacy—they actually wrote fully formed songs—but to a gaggle of skinheads Prejustice were likened to das Zweite Kommen. Henry was tugging at his suspenders, ranting about lacing up your boots and getting ready for war and other militaristic gibberish that I tuned out while I focused on my hi-hats, keeping time namelessly. Both John and myself appeared rather out of place, neither of us having bothered to shave our heads or get molested by professional wrestlers. When it was over, Spanky and Henry traded sieg heils and bear hugs with the crowd that paid the host’s mother to get in the front door. A few longhaired kids parked across the street, but the skinheads beat them and their car up before they managed to get out.