Dont Blame the Dead Boys

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The story of the positive impact punk music has had on my life, how I got there, and a little bit about the characters I met along the way.

Submitted: January 05, 2014

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Submitted: January 05, 2014

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Don’t Blame the Dead Boys

“How the hell did you get involved in punk?”

The question eventually comes up every time I have an extended conversation with someone about music.  It was not something you heard on main stream radio in the early days.  It was, and for the most part still is, relegated to specialty music shows in the large cities.  My answer inevitably evokes further conversation about the effect music has had on the other person’s own development in their formative years.  In addition to relating my experiences here, I also hope to conjure up similar memories in the reader.  If you find yourself thinking “I remember hearing (or doing) that when I was…” then mission accomplished; and, you’re welcome.

I happened to be raised during the magical time when 45 RPM singles ruled the airwaves and the record store bins.  I have rather vague memories of my parents leaving my younger brother and sister, and myself, with a babysitter in Templeton, Massachusetts.She pulled out a portable record player, loaded the stack with singles and we all danced around the living room right up to bedtime.For some reason The Archie’s stick out in my mind and, since that was released in 1969, it would have put me at about five years old.  At the same time, my Uncle Donald had discovered the hippy movement and relocated to a commune.  He was the coolest uncle because he dressed differently than everyone else and listened to music through the large cupped headphones constantly planted over his ears.  I was banned from the headphones by the adults but he did sneak me listen once; the 5th Dimension’s Age of Aquarius filled my brain for a few moments until my grandmother yelled to take them off of me, right now!  I was thrilled to no end with the ability to gain access into a little bit of his world and the musical freedom he was experiencing.

Apparently, we were sickly children so my parents packed up the family and we moved to Florida a few years later.  Music throughout the early 70s had little effect on me, with the exception of screaming occasional Beatles lyrics while standing in the lunch line at school.  It‘s a longer story not much worth mentioning.  I think the big change though, occurred when I was about ten or eleven when my brother and I discovered a few unknown gems in my parent’s record collection.  They had bought and played albums during our childhood; most of which consisted of 50s and 60s pop compilations with a few Ventures and Roger Miller thrown in for good measure. 

The two records that specifically caught our interest were Steppenwolf ‘s For Ladies Only and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.We listened to, and quickly tossed aside, the Steppenwolf LP.  The Black Sabbath album, on the other hand…  We were blown away by this very adult sounding music that I had not heard since my uncle blasted the Age of Aquarius into my skull.  Fort Myers in the 1970s, was not the progressive juggernaut of a big city like Tampa, especially in the music department.  That music, I Am Ironman, had somehow escaped my grasp, and to think it had existed in our home, for who knows how long.  I never did ask my dad how, or why, the hell he had that record. 

At the time I think my music collection consisted of the Groovie Ghoulies (the original Groovie Ghoulies from the cartoon) and KC and the Sunshine Band.  It was then that I began listening a little closer to what was really out there in music land.  As with most kids in the mid-70s, my brother and I soon found ourselves enlisted in the KISS Army.  While I don’t remember ever being officially enrolled in the fan club, we both collected everything KISS related.  The timing of this discovery is also rather expected, as it occurred upon the release of the Destroyer album; an intentionally contrived and merchandised release.  I was aware of the first three albums but fund availability limited the music purchase to the Alive album.

If I had to guess I would say this is about the time I began to really listen to and collect the 70s metal bands.  My dad had dropped my brother and me off at the National Guard Armory for our first show: Black Oak Arkansas.  It was quite different than the Porter Wagoner performances I had previously attended at the county fair, and I was hooked; Jim Dandy to the Rescue.  My dad even went as far as getting tickets to the KISS Dynasty tour all the way across the state in Hollywood.  For my money, of which I had none, there was nothing that could beat a live show.  The crowds and the excitement building as the lights dimmed and the first chord ate through the stacked speakers.

Thanks to music magazines such as Circus and Creem I soon moved on to other acts such as Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, and Aerosmith.As the eldest sibling I had no musical mentor to look up to; my uncle had left to find his own way during the move to Florida.  Most of what I discovered was of my own available resources.  I collected more like-minded friends and records through middle school and high school, eventually hooking up with Tom Clark.  Tom had something that my other friends did not, an older sister, Kim, who was eighteen and really into music, and pot.  She not only had most of the records I had but about five times as many. 

Over the course of the next two years or so she regaled us with her travels around Florida and the bands she caught along the way.  I was especially hooked on a new band she saw open up for Black Sabbath in Miami; they were called Van Halen and had just released their first album.  Over time, Tom and I grew apart, mostly because families moved to different parts of the town and we ended up at different high schools.

During that time, my meager record collection began to grow with much help from the Columbia House Record Club.  If memory serves, their membership authentication methods were essentially nonexistent.  They would send a batch of records to anyone with an address who sent in a card.  Kids used to get ten or fifteen at a time just by sending in that little three by five inch paper.  I am sure that many of that era remember the anxiety of scanning the pages of whatever magazine you happened to find the card stapled inside, searching for just the right mix of albums you were looking for at the time.  What went on the list and what was not included?  Those were big questions for a teenager with plenty of disposable time.  I fulfilled my obligation to the club and rejoined again when my requisite limit had been reached.

High school was also the pinnacle of my arena concert going years.  The freedom of driving and earning my own money meant that we could load up the car every couple weeks and head out to the Lee County Arena to see the big names passing through town.  I still have a fistful of ticket stubs from Styx, Molly Hatchet, Heart, and tons of others.  Some I liked, some I didn’t care for, but went along for the thrill of a live show.  That is also the time I discovered you can have too much of a good thing.  It happened the first time at a Blue Oyster Cult show.  The first hour was great.  The second hour waned a little.  By the third hour I was done.  By the end of the arena days I had become tired of the nine minute song with three guitar solos (and I really love guitar solos).

Sometime during this music frenzy I reconnected with an old acquaintance, John Bevins.  He was the older brother of a friend of a classmate, Steve.Steve was one of the first kids I met at school when we moved to Florida and our adventures will be detailed elsewhere, statute of limitations permitting.  So, John was somewhere around twenty-two and still lived at home in a back room of his parents’ house.  He was never without a knit tuque covering the Dutch boy haircut on his plump noggin; unintentionally resembling a lost McKenzie brother from The Great White North skit on SCTV.  At about six foot tall and two hundred thirty-ish pounds, he was a lumbering bulk of big kid.  He also bought plain tee shirts and used colored markers to put his own designs on the front, back, or wherever he thought it needed something.  Some would call him odd or slow but I would consider him more the idiot savant type.  He intuitively knew more about electronics by studying on his own than I did during my entire career as a technician.  He would fix radios and amplifiers that he found and turn them around to pawn shops in town.  He even took a preamplifier out of an eight track tape player and installed it into a guitar to create wicked sound effects.  In a nutshell, I thought he was a genius. 

He was also into some of the music I had not heard; mostly girl groups, and even better if they were lesbians.  Needless to say he was a huge Runaways and Joan Jett fan.  He also introduced me to the likes of Suzi Quatro and other not so famous underground rock icons.  We also started hanging out at Camelot Music and eventually the Record Bar.  Camelot was a better place to steal records from because the staff were not that bright, but their record stacks left a lot to be desired.Although Record Bar was in the mall, they had a better selection and we could actually talk intelligently to the staff about music.  For the most part I stuck to the topics I knew and conversations were held to a minimum.

So, sounds like a relatively normal existence for a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, and you would be right by most accounts.  The interesting thing is that, although I was listening to a lot of music I didn’t care for much of it.  I fell asleep during a midnight showing of Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same.  Much of the music I was listening to felt untouchable and did not represent me as an individual.  I was beginning to feel the stifling effects of “corporate rock,” not so much as repression but as an untenable goal for anyone in my circle of friends.  I was more into the making of the music than I was the hero worship that had taken over amongst the popular groups.

That feeling of lassiez-faire ended one afternoon as John and I were perusing the racks of the Record Bar.  While thumbing through a stack of 45s John noticed two people walking through the mall and went over to say hi.  Joe Honeycutt was about John’s age, smaller and skinny.  He had a bandana wrapped around his wrist and another around his head; his short, spiky hair stuck straight up out the top.  Pins and badges decorated his denim vest and he wore combat boots with jeans rolled up pas the ankle.  A style I understood later that he had emulated the look from the Blitz Kids in London at the time.

David Roth (no relation), who was with his seemed rather unexceptional.  Curly brown hair to his shoulders jeans and a leather jacket.  Without much thought he may have been able to pass as John’s younger brother.  What I didn’t know was that Dave was only fifteen.  So there we stood, toque and tee shirt next to denim badge boy next to a big kid in a leather jacket, and of course me in a concert tee from some band I had just seen.  John had known Joe from somewhere unknown and I found out later he lived only a few blocks from John so it is not coincidence that they knew each other.

We all talked for a bit and parted ways.  I immediately wanted to know how John knew these people.  Were there more of them?  Who were they?  He didn’t know much more other than we were able to view on the surface.  I knew of punk music from the little I had read about the Sex Pistols and such but I had not met anyone that actually knew anything about the music.  The closest I had come was the Candy Slice parody that Gilda Radner had done on Saturday Night Live.  SNL had also shown Devo’s Jocko Homo video which I saw when I was very stoned at Tom Clark’s house.  Frankly, it scared the bejesus out of me.  Before departing, Joe mentioned that he would lend John a few records so he could hear the new stuff he had been listening to.

A few days had gone by and I found myself at John’s house again.  As promised, Joe had lent him two albums.  The first was the Dead Boys’ Young Loud and Snotty and the second was Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia.  He also had made a cassette tape for me containing both platters.  He smiled as he put the Dead Boys on the turntable and didn’t say a word.  We sat in silence through all of side one, which took all of about fifteen minutes while I read the liner notes on the cover.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  The raw energy had not been boiled off in the production process.  Most of all, it sounded like they were in the studio having fun; something else that had been missing from the heavily engineered sound of my then vinyl library.  These guys were making the same type of music that I wanted to make.  Somehow it seemed accessible right from the very beginning.  It wasn’t very technical, but then again, it wasn’t meant to be.  It was hard driving, in your face, rock and roll and that’s how I saw it.  I didn’t see a label and to me the minimalist sound immediately conjured up the memories of my parent’s compilation albums of the 1950s tunes.  The excitement and the energy was back with renewed vigor, and I had to hear more.

Cut to Patti Smith.  I understood why Joe had made the choice of these two disks for an introduction, although without the context at the time.  Patti sang with conviction and the guitar riffs were a bit all over the place but when they all came together it was amazing.  I hadn’t thought about using a piano in music the she had on that platter.  Journey and Styx both had keyboards but they failed in both power and effect of that first listen to Pissing in a River; and I wanted to hear even more.  Thus, was born that day, the hunt for the elusive, the search for the limited pressing, of the must have material.

It wasn’t long before I started meeting other members of “the Fort Myers contingent.”  Somewhere along the line I met Michael (Spud), Mike Dawson (Mike), John Keane (Fish), and one or two others who faded in and out.  All lived in different parts of town.  Dave and I were the only ones still in school but I went to Riverdale, way out East and he went Fort Myers High in Central.  Much to the amusement of student and faculty I was the only one at Riverdale listening to punk (when I actually went to school).  My manner of dress began to change and I started to wear badges and hand printed tee shirts with punk mantras.  Even though I had a car, not many wanted to ride to school with me because I would play the 8-track of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music at maximum volume in an endless loop.  For the uninitiated, Metal Machine Music consists of two albums containing nothing but electronic noise and feedback from amplifiers and televisions stacked on top of each other.  No musical content nor any semblance of rhythm; just the turning of knobs for the sake of creating noise.  It got to the point where I could tell which track was playing and how far along in the track it was.

To this point in my life, if I wanted a record I could just go to the store and buy it.  Soon after release it was also available from Columbia House.  The records Joe and others were listening to were not available at Camelot or the Record Bar; nor were many of them available in Fort Myers.  Another revelation was the virtually limitless varieties and subgenres of music available to the select few who sought it out.  You also didn’t get any merit badges for listening to a requisite artist.  Joe was into the popular British stuff like Echo and the Bunnymen, Adam and the Antz, and Psychedelic Furs.  John migrated to the New York “No Wave” scene like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks.  Dave was into more of the older obscure stuff like Henry Cow and Captain Beefheart.  My tastes tended to align more with Mike more than anyone else.  We were both into the louder, faster, harder music of the Damned, Stooges, and Vibrators.  Together, we discovered much of the California bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dils, and Dead Kennedy’s.  Finding this type of music required, at minimum, a road trip to Fort Lauderdale and Open Records. 

John Keane could have almost been Joey Ramone’s twin brother and was in a short lived band called Antler Joe and the Accidents.  They put out one single on Killer Sheep Records.For some reason he called his mom the Killer Sheep.  He lived with her in a gated community and looked for any excuse to be out and about.  Antler’s music repertoire consisted mostly of Stooges, New York Dolls, and David Bowie covers.  The band had a small rehearsal space downtown and we all would migrate in and out at irregular intervals.  For the most part it was a place to hang out and drink.  I rarely saw much music happen.  John eventually got a job at the Record Bar and we finally had someone on the inside to order the stuff we were looking for.  We also became friends with the manager who had a record collection that was nothing to sneeze at either; mostly old classic rock but he was into bands like The Police as well.  John was able to order the oddball stuff as long as he was sure we were going to buy it.  One week the Dead Kennedy’s Too Drunk to Fuck was the number one single in the store but they couldn’t promote it.  By that time singles were on the way out, in favor of cassettes and the upcoming trend of compact discs. 

This also happened to be one of those times in life when a group of people come together and collaborate, for that brief moment in time before they split, never to recreate those moments again.  During my tenure with the group, there were about six of us steadily hanging out.  For fun, we would mostly pick one person’s house, play records, and talk about art and artists.  I learned more about life and society in that year or so than the entire time I spent in high school.

If it had just been about the sound I probably would have figured out when and where to get what I was looking for and moved on.  What intrigued me was the content of the conversation.  These kids were not only into who was making the music, but why.  Influences, geography, producers, record labels, and ties to literature and art were all part of the milieu.  I still saw friends from the old crowd but the most interesting thing they were discussing usually involved who had the best weed score that week or the best place to get mushrooms.  With the exception of the occasional joint, the punks didn’t do drugs.  Funny thing is that we were completely different than the Hollywood depiction of the punk scene.  I assume we may have looked rather intimidating and more like a gang but in truth we were harmless. 

That reminds me of the story of the first time the Sex Pistols met the Ramones in London.  If memory serves, either Sid or John had been so intimidated by the band’s looks they asked if they had assurances that they were not going get beat up.  I think the anecdote provides a little insight into the psyche of most punk kids.  Overall, and not to stereotype, it has been my experience that most kids into punk are really introverted and solitary souls.  They tend to gravitate to others because they can be themselves without fear of ridicule or victimization.  I remember going to a club in Chicago to see the Dead Kennedys.  I arrived early, before it had opened and spent some time chatting with one of the bouncers.  He confided to me that he found it interesting that most of the punk kids he came across were the shy and friendly until they got in a club as a group.  My thought is that the music may have had a little to do with the intransigence as well.  In Florida, we had our share of run-ins with hooligans and always came out on the losing end.  Most of the time we would be caught walking somewhere the jocks would be congregating and, if we were lucky, merely recipients of drive by bottle throwing and verbal threats.  Occasionally it would get violent with punches and kicks being thrown.  In the end I think we were more bruised and beaten after slam dancing than we ever had after an altercation with the unknown assailants.

A few months into the new experience someone mentioned that Tim was coming back into town.  Tim Bailey had spent the last few years in England, knee deep in the punk scene.  He had seen all the bands and knew all the people and was someone I definitely wanted to meet.  We all congregated at the Village Inn.  In all I think there were about twelve of us.  I met one or two people I had not known and reconnected with a few I had not seen since I began hanging out.  If you dropped a bomb on the Village Inn that night you would have eliminated every punk person within a hundred thirty mile radius.  We spent the evening listening to stories of shows and bands we only dreamed of seeing.  None of the bands toured outside of England/the United Kingdom and most probably would have been denied entry into the country anyway.  I was hanging on every word, knowing that there was life outside of Fort Myers, and the rest of Florida for that matter, and I resolved to find it.

Epilogue

I think Spud was the first to drop out of the scene.  From what I remember, he and a lesbian friend became more active in the gay scene and were active in forming social networks and clubs downtown. 

Tim lived out on Fort Myers Beach and Mike started spending most of his time out there.  I visited a few days at a time on occasion.  They both eventually ended up back in England, scraping out a living and seeing more bands.  Tim sold me probably half of his record collection before he left. I went to visit them in the winter of 1982 and didn’t want to leave.  We ended up seeing Siouxsie and the Banshees twice and I returned back stateside with about sixty pounds of vinyl in an overloaded suitcase. 

Dave moved to Atlanta and was one of the founding members of the band Insane Jane.  He was an excellent bass player but was never in a band in Florida that I am aware.  I later saw his name as the bass player on a jazz CD that a coworker brought into the office.  She had seen the band in Philly a few nights earlier.  Not sure if it was him or not but it would make sense.

I still keep in regular contact with Tim and Mike.  They were kicked out of England a year or so after I visited and formed many entrepreneurial ventures in Florida upon their return.

Last I heard about Joe is that he was driving a cab and John was working at the Edison Mall in a facilities management capacity.  I stopped in at John’s mom’s house years later with my wife, Regina, and he was outside fixing a car.  His room had not changed one bit since he and I first started hanging together.  He mentioned that he had a girlfriend and that they met at an alien abduction support group.  Sounds about right.

Interesting note about John Keane.  I happened to be at a party at my friend Jimmy’s house in Philly in the 2000s.  Jimmy and I had a radio show at New Mexico State University a dozen or so years earlier.  Upon leaving New Mexico, Jimmy spent some time in Fort Myers working for a television station.  He had some friends come up for a party and we got to talking.  I mentioned my Florida roots and he mentioned that I must know Fish.  I about fell off of the stool.  This was also back when I was drinking so that may have had something to do with it as well.  Apparently, John was still working at whatever Record Bar had become and was still active in the music scene.

Me, I went into the navy about the time Tim and Mike went to England.  I still have the picture of me and Joe with my then girlfriend, Stacy, at the bus station.  I had a chain and lock around my neck ala Sid Vicious and some homemade punk shirt.  The Navy barber seemed disappointed that he had very little to cut off as I sat in the chair in boot camp.My dad mentioned during the time of my departure that I would probably be listening to a whole different type of music by the time I got out of the military.  He was right.  The Navy afforded me the opportunity to travel and become exposed to many more unimaginable types of music and people.  I came out of it with hundreds of new records and experiences that I would not trade for anything. 

I briefly spent time in Fort Myers after my tour in the Navy and on my way to a real job in El Paso, Texas.  John Keane invited me to a house party at some place I had never been.  I was shocked, amazed, and left sullen.  The house was full of kids; goth kids in black, punk kids straight from the back cover of an Exploited album, new romantic kids, and other misfits.  At first I was excited to see the transformation that had taken place in the small Florida town.  I was then broadsided with attitude, arrogance, and the cliquishness that I had not seen since high school days.  Gone was the inclusive nature of our little group of just a few years ago; replaced by the exclusiveness of fitting into the mold of peers.  I resisted the urge to tell them of the pioneer spirit of those before them; kids getting their asses beat in parking lots by the cool kids and paving the way so these pierced nose shits could thumb their noses at others who were not like them.  I didn’t stick around long and found an excuse to hit the road.  I was more disappointed than bitter and just glad to be on my way out of town once again, leaving that chapter of my life behind me forever.

 


© Copyright 2017 Robert Fontaine. All rights reserved.

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