I’m a retired financial district broker now, living the life of an expatriate in the Yucatán but once upon a time I was one of the original punk rockers in the nineteen seventies. I named myself Spike and started a band with Lucy Mad (Madelyn Ropner), Ron E. Fast, Edwin Letcher and Johnny Thumper (JohnPam Hart) called Publik Enema, sometime around 1976 or 1977. Lucy dropped out after about a year or so and went on to front a number of other bands and she made quite a name for herself.
I stayed on as the lead singer (screaming to the beat, mostly). We were together until about the end of 1979 or the beginning of 1980 if I remember right. It’s all pretty much a big blur in my memory but I know we got very tight and played a lot of gigs up and down the coast of California from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
In those days “enema” was one of those words that simply was not uttered in polite society. We wanted to rock the boat and let me tell you we did get noticed. We were certainly not the first but notoriety spread like wildfire. At the same time, bands from other parts of the world began to pop up. All at once, people were saying the words “punk rock”. The Sex Pistols came over from London. Black Flag emerged in Southern California, the Dead Kennedys in San Francisco and time went on. The public’s reactions ranged from mild amusement to disbelief to outrage and sometimes even to calling the cops.
I ended up in LA during the early 80’s and really got into the underground music and art scene. I went in with some friends and rented an old abandoned hotel downtown on Winston Street, near 5th and Los Angeles streets. I haven’t been there in the last few decades so I don’t know what it’s like now but at the time it was skid row. We knocked out a bunch of walls and made it into 5 or 6 loft spaces. Ellen MacKay from Ape Leather was one of the early tenants.
One day Brick and Phyllis Beane-Wahl and I were having cocktails at my loft. They told me about Brave Dog, a new club that just opened next door to Atomic Cafe, a famous Punk hangout in Little Tokyo.
Brick said that Michael Ely and James Taylor (Spider), the stars of the band Hey Taxi had formed a new band, it was called Red Wedding and they were going to make their debut at Brave Dog that night. Clearly this was history in the making and not to be missed.
We gathered up a few other people and we all went to Brave Dog that night. I immediately hit it off with the proprietess, the fabulous Clare Glidden, Queen of Heaven. I spent many Friday and Saturday nights there. I thought at the time that I was an undergound star but I may very well have been just another poser. Clare and I remained loving friends until she passed away in May of 2010, leaving me devastated. I will mourn the loss of my dear friend for the rest of my life.
I got to see a lot of bands in their early days at Brave Dog, some of whom are very famous now. I remember the Red Hot Chili Peppers had their first or second gig there. Anthony was about 16 years old, or at least looked like it. He was wearing a white chef’s apron. That’s it. Maybe a pair of shoes, nothing else but his cute little back-side hanging out.
I was in a few other bands during the Winston Street years, sometimes singing and sometimes playing keyboards. One of my favorites of the bands I was in was World Zero, with my dear friends Debora Ballabio, Mikaleno Amundson, Sally Mander (Sarah Lee Paulk), Sweater Robert, Metro, Edwin Letcher, Caycee Cole and a few others who came and went. Sort of early post-punk / new romantic music although those terms hadn’t been coined yet. We had quite a following of fans and our shows were always sold out.
We never produced an album although many hours were spent in recording studios and some very high quality audio tapes and super eight films are out there somewhere. Metro had the masters of all those World Zero tapes. He guarded them ferociously and I doubt they have ever seen the light of day. I lost track of Metro several years ago and the last thing I knew, he was living in seclusion as sort of a self-styled enigma, somewhere in South America. I’ll always have a place in my heart for him and I hope he is alive and well.
You won’t find much about us on Google and probably nothing on YouTube but in those pre-internet, word-of-mouth days, it was a heady time of instant stardom, trend setting, cult notoriety and a whole lot of fun.
At some point I realized that fame was not for me. I dropped abruptly out of the scene in April of 1984 and moved to San Francisco to begin a life of contentment and obscurity. I’ve never regretted it. Every time I’ve gained or lost weight, discovered a new wrinkle on my face or found myself in an embarrassing situation, I’ve thanked heaven that nobody was reading about it in tabloids in the supermarket checkout lines.
I should make it clear that not all who stayed either imploded or died tragic deaths. Although many did, there are still a huge number of us who are alive and well, living in Los Angeles and other parts of the world. Many have gone on to do great things or to become world famous far beyond our underground cult scene.
Nowadays I live a very nice relaxed life in my adopted city of Mérida, Mexico. I spend a lot of time walking around enjoying the lovely ancient Spanish architecture, interacting with the locals and hanging out with my fellow expats. I haven’t performed in public in over thirty years but I love to play my old piano and entertain friends here at home.
We all trash Facebook and other Social Media but I’m grateful that an opportunity has been provided to reconnect and stay in communication with literally hundreds of people whom I have loved and lost during all the phases of my life. I recently had a conversation with a dear friend from the punk rock days. I’m paraphrasing here but she mentioned something about those of us who survived keeping the flame going to share the stories and memories of those who didn’t make it. My memories come and go. Now that I’m retired with time on my hands, I try to quickly write them down and share them when they do pop up.
Hmm, something triggered another memory. I’ve always known that the last song I ever sang on stage was House of the Rising Sun. It was the only cover song I ever did and I sang it many times throughout the years but I couldn’t really remember the last performance.
This new memory is of me on stage at Brave Dog at what might have been the last show before they were shut down. I have no idea what band it was but I can remember that as soon as I started singing people came up onto the stage and began to rip my clothes off. The next thing I remember is standing there in my underpants belting out something about one foot on the platform and one foot on the train, going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain.
Well, that’s one way to end a career.