Aug/Sep 1998 Miscellany

Brother, Can You Spare Some Herpes?

by Michael W. Dean

We brushed it off as a disturbing collective hallucination. But we could not shake the possibility that it had been real. There was an unspoken agreement that we would never again speak of this. I'm not sure why it disturbed us so. Perhaps we were worried that someday we would be desperate enough to fuck a pumpkin.

Community college is just high school with ashtrays. I was bored in Wehauqua. I barely made it through my first year at school. At the end of the year I got to go put on a cap and gown and receive a diploma (which I later burned at a party my first week into the summer after graduation) with a public school class that I had not seen in five years.

Wehauqua is an Iroquois word for "Place where one was lost." That sort of described how I felt at that juncture, no matter where I was situated geographically. That's why I kept moving.

We stopped along the way and Trip double-parked while I ran into a store and bought cereal and candy with food stamps, and produced a double-take by the cashier and bag boy as I walked out and jumped into the Jaguar convertible. We ate government-subsidized junk food and blasted the Blaupunkt as we sped south towards my new life.

When I first got in the car, I hadn't thought much about what was in store for me, or how long I'd stay.

Trip and I whiled away the drive-time by talking about punk rock. Now understand. . like my hick Ithaca roommates, my first knowledge of punk had also come from "Rolling Stone." That magazine had painted punk as an ugly scourge of disaffected Brit-youth who loved to fight and hated Pink Floyd. I loved Pink Floyd and at the time, hated even the idea of violence. At first, I had no clue that the American version of punk rot could hold a place for me. . . .

But Trip painted a pretty glowing picture. . .that the DC punk community was a place where misfits were not only readily accepted, but celebrated for their rogue attitudes and caviler approaches. He told of a brilliant, spontaneous network of kids who had decided to throw away convention and make their own rules. . .he spoke of band-run record labels, teen-organized gigs, alternative (back when the word actually meant something) radio shows, etc.

He talked about a wonderful record label called Dischord, and the idealists who operated it. I was especially curious about the twenty-year-old CEO, Ian MacKaye. Trip said that all the kids revered Ian, and took his word and opinion as law. Trip said that if Ian liked you and your output, you could pretty much write your own ticket in that town.

About three hours into the nine-hour trip, I had begun to form my own grand scheme for world domination: Tonight, I would arrive in DC. Tomorrow, I would find some rich senator in search of a young, blond, long-haired boy to keep as his pleasure-pet. I would move into his mansion, and he'd would give me lots of spending money. I'd take the third day off, drinking in the opulence of it all, ordering around the servants. By day four, I would start a group. I would enlist the most cutthroat, insane young musicians I could pull out of the squats. They would be blistering players, but lacking in direction. They would trust my crystalline vision and follow my word as gospel, and revere me as a god.

Day five would see my group setting up residence in the Senator's mansion and composing a blistering set of supercharged, antiestablishment youth anthems. I would be the main singer, but we would all yell along on the choruses, in true egalitarian spirit.

On the sixth day, we would record a demo of these songs.

On the seventh day, me and the band would relax, and sit around the Senator's pool, drinking martinis and daiquiris, and seeing that what we had done was good.

The following Monday, we would storm the Dischord corporate offices on Beecher Street and demand an audience with Mr. MacKaye.

We would march right up the stairs of that modest, three-story office building and introduce ourselves to the young, attractive, punky-looking receptionist. She would be dressed in all black, with her bleached hair shaved on one side. She would be sporting a nose ring and a "Minor Threat" blacksheep tattoo on her bare ankle, just above her combat boot. We would announce that we had to see Mr. MacKaye immediately. We wouldn't take no for an answer.

We would play our rough boombox tape for Ian, and he would be smiling as he pulled a two-page contract out of his large oak desk. We would review the terms. (The contract would be very much in favor of the artist, and would give a modest living stipend to those members of my band who badly needed it.) We would sign on the spot. Ian would say "I'd offer you a cigar, but I don't smoke, don't drink, and don't fuck."

I would quip, "Well, at least you can fucking think." Me and my group would go and cash the first advance check, and drink tequila at "Poseurs" to celebrate.

When Trip and I actually arrived at his dad's mansion, (in the extremely affluent DC suburb, Chevy Chase, Maryland) I was relieved and amazed. Relieved, because my back hurt from sharing the non-existent backseat of the tiny sports car with a spare tire for nine hours; amazed, because I could never have dreamt that the place could be so plush. The habitation was a thirty-five-room spread of wealth and prominent consumption. I'd met Trip's dad, a powerful lawyer whose specialty was suing the United States government for various corporations. I liked him. . .he played guitar, and he mowed his own lawn rather then paying some kid five bucks an hour, and then joining a gym that he'd never go to, like most millionaires would.

Trip and I wasted no time before breaking out the two hits of LSD that I'd brought for good luck. (Back when I cared about that stuff. . .my motto was practically "don't leave anywhere without it.") We ate huge bowls of cereal as we waited for the legendary stuff to do its legendary thing.

We watched the regal mansion breathe around us (it was exceptionally strong LSD.) Trip had never tripped before. He spent an hour looking at a particularly accurate brass bust of himself make faces at him. (His dad was an amateur sculptor. . .and quite a good one.) I wondered and wandered around the estate in one of Trip's silk bathrobes, pretending that I lived there. We spent about half an hour sitting on the basement floor and staring at Trip's friend's drum kit. Trip finally came up with the hilarious truism, "Drums are the ultimate in, 'What the hell do you do that for?'" We saw a silverfish climb out of an unused basement fireplace and decided that it had crawled up from hell. Then I found a pile of mildewed Time-Life books on Nazi Germany. I spent countless moments enthralled with the act of consuming page after streaming page of holocaust horror show. Then I decided, in a flash of inspiration, that I had to shave off my long Beautiful goldilocks and change my name to "Billy Auschwitz." Why not? No one knew me here—why not begin anew with a completely fresh misidentity? I informed Trip of my plan. He said, "Um, Sasha. . .are you sure you want to do this?"

Hmm. . .the thought of not doing it had never even crossed my liquefying brains.

"Of course I want to do this. Will you help me?"

Trip went upstairs, and then returned from one of the many rooms with the family dog clippers in his hand. We ceremoniously buzzed my head while listening to the only punk rock in the house—The Sex Pistols' "Never Mind The Bullocks." I had never heard it in its entirety, and hopped-up on hallucinatory chemicals, it sounded amazingly vibrant.

I watched in shuddering laughter as Trip deftly manipulated the buzzers across my skull. It felt great. . .and I was astonished to watch the transformation which was taking place in the mirror. With the fall of each blond lock, I was going incrementally from being a soft, feminine-looking hippie to being an extremely mean looking, masculine creature. I kept saying out loud:

"I. . .AM. . .A. . .HUMAN. . .MALE. . .ANIMAL!"

To compound the effect, here and there we left some little tufts. . .the impact of these patches was to make me look like a chemotherapy client or concentration camp victim. I dared the mirror to a stare-down and thrice declared, "I AM BILLY AUSCHWITZ!!!"

We lounged around the Olympic-sized pool, eating more big bowls of cereal. I imagined that the pool, the mansion, the Bösendorfer grand piano—all of it was mine. I strolled around the two-acre grounds and pretended that I owned it and had bought it with the profits from punk rock.

We finally came down from the acid around midnight. I picked a room out of the dozens available and drifted off into an uneasy sleep. I had several dreams of being a punkrockstar and taking the world by storm as Billy Auschwitz.

The next day was July 3rd, 1984. We heard on the news that there was to be a huge two-day punk rock free concert in the park. . .something called RAR, which, depending on who your sources were, stood for either, "Rock Against Racism" or "Rock Against Reagan."

RAR was to be a huge event in the park by the Capitol Mall. Even the location seemed to have an historical consequence to me. . .it was right by the Lincoln Memorial. Anything that takes place a stone's toss from the thing on the back of a penny has got to be important. . . .

And the band names. . .just the uttering these monikers seemed to be treason. Dead Kennedys was playing. So was MDC (Millions of Dead Cops.) For me, these phrases conjured up feelings of "this is new, this is dangerous."

We missed Dead Kennedys' set by five minutes because Trip's friend Ted Malone had to scrub his face. He was an anal-retentive face-scrubber, and we waited in the car for him for a half an hour.

We had to park quite a distance away from the concert, so some punk wouldn't trash the Jaguar, misthinking it to be a symbol of bourgeois decadence.

When we got there, Dead Kennedys had just left the stage. There was a buzz in the air, a definite "Wow man, you missed it!" The rest of the day was mostly taken up by lame local punk and reggae groups. The between-band sideshow was a parade of stoned revolutionaries rhetorically calling us to arms. In retrospect, they weren't that compelling, but I was totally revved up by the whole thing. The park police were on their horses, charging at people, arresting punks and hippies alike for smoking pot or for anything else that they could get on us. I saw a hippie get swooped by undercover cops and dragged away kicking and howling, for lighting a joint. Some Rastafarian followed the ossifers to the paddy wagon, bellowing in melodious island cadence. . ."You gentlemen ought to get some honest work. You come to my office on Monday morning, and I'll give you a real job, selling incense!"

July 4th, 1984. It was the celebration of perceived freedom in the year that George Orwell predicted that Big Brother would be scrutinizing every stirring of every citizen. Well, it definitely, defiantly felt like "us vs. them" that day.

A couple dozen park police were attempting to control an estimated 10,000 deviants. They, I mean we, were breaking laws simply by being there. (The disorganized organizers of the event, the Yippies, were denied a permit, but went ahead regardless.) A half-mile away, Wayne Newton was playing the "official" July 4th concert. President Reagan had wanted the Beach Boys to play, but then-secretary of state, James Watt, had feared that the Beach Boys would attract "the wrong element." (There was a huge banner over the RAR stage which read, "James Watt, eat your heart out!")

I walked around the crowd, wearing a white T-shirt on which I'd scrawled in Magic Marker, "Let's start a band. Inquire within."

Some guy named Brian Gay started talking to me. I told him that I was Billy Auschwitz and he seemed to believe me. I told him that I played guitar. He said that he had a friend who played bass, and that she was walking around somewhere. I liked the idea of a female bass player, so I followed him. We finally located her. Her name was Brooke Broke. She was short like me, and totally looked the part of bass player in my imaginary group. She had bleached blonde hair, lips painted Cocksucker Red, leather pants and a T-shirt with Sid Viscous on it. Actually, she looked like a more attractive version of Nancy Spungeon. We talked. I told her I was Billy Auschwitz. She said "What's your real name?"

That caught me off-guard, but I liked it. This lady didn't take any shit. I told her I was Sasha Maduro and that I wanted to start a group. I asked her if she could play bass well. She said, "Of course. I wouldn't waste your time if I couldn't play."

I wanted her to commit right there to being in a group with me. She said "Let's play together first," and we exchanged phone numbers.

We hung out a bit, but I lost her in the crowd. It was dusk, and "Millions of Dead Cops" was about to take the stage. There was a problem though; the park rangers told the promoters that under no circumstances were the groups to play while the July 4th fireworks were happening. The singer in MDC told the crowd, "The pigs say we're gonna get shut down if we play now. I say 'Fuck em!'"

There were cheers from the throng. The singer said, "I say, 'Surround the generators!!'"

About 75 tough punks and skinheads fortified the generators and the stage, and the band played on. It seemed like a truly revolutionary moment to this reporter. The group frightened me with their intensity and vitriol. The singer had a shaved head and was mean and lean and barking invective into the mike like a madman finally unleashed from a cage. The first song was called "Millions of Dead Cops!" That seemed to be the entirety of the lyric, but it was enough.

The bass player was even leaner and meaner than the singer. He was a sexy, sinister Mexican guy with a mohawk and Charlie Manson eyes. He and the green haired guitar player both looked and played like they were in this for life. The drummer, Al Schvitz, looked like a burnt-out hippie with a cheesy mustache but redeemed himself by playing harder than hell and speed-demon tight.

The crowd was wild, and seemed to know all the words. During choruses, the singer shared the microphone with twenty or so boys up front, and the effect was astounding.

They closed their economical set with a number called, "John Wayne Was a Nazi."

I was astounded. This was frightening, this was unprecedented, and this was real.

Trip and I drove the sports car back to the mansion. I was punch-drunk from punk and my head was spinning with new possibilities. We wolfed down cereal as we talked excitedly about what we had seen, nay, what we had participated in that day.

I was feeling blessed, safe in the knowledge that I was the world's most-loved boy. I had been there three days. I was living in a mansion, and I already had a band—at least in my mind.


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