WHERE WERE YOU IN 1986?
A History of the Memphis Hardcore band DISTEMPER.
"Moving to Memphis in 1984 was the awakening. 1985 was the blending, and 1986 was the culmination." George Cole
DISTEMPER was a Memphis hardcore band who met and organized in 1985 but recorded and played live in 1986.
PRELUDE TO ANGER
GEORGE COLE and I had met in 1982 in design class at Northeast Mississippi Junior College. I was soon enlisted as the newest member of George's post-Booneville High School band THE ROCKROACHES. However, this power pop band (with fellow players JOHN PRESCOTT joining the Navy and BILL EAKER going to Mississippi State) fell into hiatus as George and I prepared to move to Memphis in the summer of 1984, re-form the band and play the ANTENNA CLUB, Memphis' oldest alternative music venue (and quite possibly the oldest in America.) After several trips to the Antenna (a swill-scented, black lit, tv-laded den), this was our shared obsession.
What happened instead was a little more realistic, and a little more noisy.
THEY WERE ANGRY
"Several weeks ago, I was looking at a painting in the regional gallery of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art when I heard a burst of thigh-slapping behind me. Three young men who had apparently never been in a museum before were whooping it up as they surveyed the gallery walls. They were at least responding, although they were not relating. They were angry."
"Something Alien In The Park"
On the eve of our moving to Memphis, we had been written about by local Memphis art critic DONALD LaBADIE. from his safe vantage point, he went on to say, "The fact that they couldnt relate to what they saw was like a slap in the face, a personal insult. ...The majority of humanity is disturbed by the appearance of something alien on their everyday horizon."
Touche'. For us, this was a one forgetful afternoon of blissful sarcasm in the Brooks Museum of Art, for the art critic it was a sign of the apocalypse. George and I were referenced, along with our friend John, as virtual barbarians at the gate. That glorious gate, in hindsight, was the Mississippi-Tennessee state line.
I've read as much as I can into this defining moment. This timid but objective voice, a so-called 'intellectual' had called us "angry" but had been afraid to ask us why. The fourth wall had kept him from approaching us. Were we that intimidating? Did we reek of the Antenna Club after only two visits? How was LaBadie to know that we were Steve McGhee's mohawk come back to roost.
Having spent my entire school history in Mississippi education (until Junior College) with nary an art program, having a newfound grudge against my parents for not telling me I was adopted (I found out on my own), and having found junior college, new friends, and punk, sheerly by accident, I suppose you could say I was angry - about missed opportunities and alternate realities. I was an accident and everything good that ever came my way was by accident. Without the bliss of childhood, I feared the eighties would be no better.
Pop culture-wise, I could see that the eighties were not going to be as fun as the seventies. It was in everything we read. It meant there wasn't going to be as much "fun" to be had. What was left to say? Maybe "No Fun" was futuristic: THE STOOGES were really singing about the Eighties, not the Sixties! ELVIS PRESLEY died and the internet was created! Those Reagan years in the middle spent lookikng for meaning in an Orwell book or climbing fifty foot letters that spelled POST-PUNK in search of identity and manhood rituals.
What I didn't realize is that when you are young and angry, there is plenty left to say.
189 NORTH AUBURNDALE, APT. #11
With the "Something Alien In The Park" article as our calling card, George and I took up residence at 189 North Auburndale off Poplar Avenue. George signed a lease with landlord WOODY DEMETRIO and moved in sometime before me on June 15th, 1984 with only a yellow lawn chair and a lantern (later seen (then lost) in my "TEENAGE TUPELO").
George got a job at Kraeger Business Systems, designing shelf space. I moved up in late summer with a comic book rack defiantely strapped to my car. Driving at night in my Chevette, my senses rattled by fear of the new, and no sense of direction, I wound up in tabloid city West Memphis, Arkansas. Faced with a fork in the road, I luckily found my way back, and as my first week unfolded, I started class at the Memphis Academy of Art and got a job at Fed Ex, loading planes over night.
At first George and I preferred to stay in our apartment and watch repeats of TAXI, bemoaning the recent death of ANDY KAUFMAN. Waves of homesickness kept me going 100 miles back and forth from Memphis to Tupelo, burning into my conscious mind, THE REPLACEMENTS "LET IT BE", HUSKER DU'S "ZEN ARCADE", and R.E.M.'s "RECKONING". All good music came from George's turntable.
Our physical exposure to real punk rock kids had been limited to sightings at MONGO'S PIZZA on Highland where THE MARILYNS often played or a few peaks inside local MALICE fanzine or at Tom Graves RARE RECORDS where I would hear my first cd's. In adopting an extreme style, you become intimidating, even if you are only a pip-squeak high schooler. We would not approach these crazy looking kids, these self-defining punk rockers.
Likewise, we had not connected with the peculiar homegrown legacies of TAV FALCO or ALEX CHILTON (i.e.: PANTHER BURNS) and only by figuring out later what THE REPLACEMENTS were into, would I begin to discover my own city and the epiphany that much like Elvis, Chilton was a 'guitar loner'. Frankly at that time, even Memphis itself was lost and alone and homesick, unable to connect to the unequaled music culture it had created. The child it had sent into the world had not yet come back.
MEMPHIS ACADEMY OF ART LIBRARY
A schools primary responsibility is not to educate, it is to facilitate. Most of the British Invasion bands, it would seem, had met in Design Class. I had met George in Design Class in Junior College. Indeed, my education has left me but my collaborations have not.
One night on library work study (my second job), I met brash, fifteen year old JONATHAN PEKAR, looking to make free copies while his dad RON PEKAR taught a night class. While I watched Pekar recreate Winston Smith-like collages for his new fanzine "WHY IS THAT?", we struck up a conversation about music. When I revealed what was in my roommate's record collection, Pekar, in an excitable frenzy only capable of a teenager, went immediately five blocks down the street that night to meet George Cole. I called George to warn him that a some crazy kid wearing a home-made DIE KRUZEN t-shirt was headed his way.
We had met our next singer. From John Prescott to Jonathan Pekar. And though I did much of the singing when Jonathan was out of town with his folks (to the point where Jonathan was no longer in the band near the end), Jonathan wrote most of the lyrics and was the impetus behind the band. I remember taking Jonathan to get his very first drivers license. Mine and George's first fully evolved KID ANARCHY and sidekick SHERMAN KRELLBERG graced the covers Jonathan's WHY IS THAT #2 and #3, three years before Fantagraphics published them in comic book form.
(More Alex Chilton references: Jonathan told me that his dad Ron designed the neon lettering that spelled "Big Star's Number One Record" for their 1972 LP cover. The Pekars were living with Alex when Jonathan was born. Also, Ron Pekar (along with Ellis Chappel and Bill Womack allowed me to draw comics for my art degree.)
EVERYTHING WAS DEAD
Hindsight documentaries on the American hardcore scene will tell you that "hardcore" was over by 1984. Guess what? So was everything else. Rock and Roll is a rise and fall creation of the American middle-class (which allowed the marketplace freedom of blacks sounding white and whites sounding black) but trends like hip hop and metal (and urban country) align themselves with the the anti-assimiliating extremes of rich and poor ... and never go away. With the death of ELVIS PRESLEY in 1977, so was the death of progressive Pop Culture in America. Nothing of any original value has occurred in American pop culture since Elvis died and all things afterward may be traced to something that occurred during his lifespan from 1935-1977. Other era's are worthy in their own ways - but the timeframe to which I refer is the Golden Age of American Pop Culture.
SOUTHERN ROCK IS REDUNDANT
The South lost the Civil War, but created rock and roll. This was our natural progression of race relations, a painful healing process foretold on vinyl and radio, long before the North enforced it. In the South we are the first to fire the gun and the last to hear the effects of its' echo.
Why, everyone agrees that CBGB's is the oldest punk venue in America. It must have happened up north where 'punk' was defined. What if we were to really find out that the little hole in the wall club at 1588 Madison Avenue, serving under half a dozen names over the decades, was in fact the oldest punk venue in America? And certainly, in the South.
ANTENNA CLUB 1588 MADISON AVE
If Punk was decadent Glam, then Hardcore was both a decadent and romantic take on Punk; decadence via skinheads and romantic via the vegans. The straight edge movement spoke to both. Furthermore, documentaries about hardcore may have been over by ANOTHER STATE OF MIND.
No one bothered to tell the kids in Memphis that hardcore was over. The 'hardcore scene' in the South was young and had only been glimpsed by me and George at certain ANTENNA CLUB outings.
George had witnessed an older crowd at THE EXPLOITED and U.K. SUBS shows in 1984. He would not hear TALES OF TERROR perform "Over Elvis Worship"; they were a no-show that year. These events were not "all ages" affairs, not did the Antenna Club have an all-ages policy. So underaged punks littered the sidewalk of the ANTENNA CLUB unable to get in. The band may have been playing to the crowd outside. REBEL, the bouncer who often kept his motorcycle parked right outside the door for sheer intimidation, would be nigh impossible to penetrate. Persistence rarely paid off.
Now that disenfranchised element was about to be delivered to our doorstep. Two days following the meeting with Jonathan, George came home from work to find two other young punks sitting on our doorstep. Once George walked upstairs and entered apartment #11, they followed and knocked, wanting to know if George was the guy with the record collection they had heard about (Probably George being Japanese had also tipped them off!).
This was MIKE JACKSON and a mohawked girl KIM HOLLIMAN, two teenagers who knew Jonathan. (Mike put out BULLSHEET fanzine and Kim would continue to run into George for years- with a different haircut each time.)
As 1986 began, Jonathan needed a ride to see N.O.T.A.. George and I were curious too. The event was surreal: No crowded, darkened club, this was a sun-drenched all ages show in the parking lot of the VFW Hall on a sunday afternoon (in late 1985 as I recall). We saw punk kids who we would later come to know like BEN SIZEMORE (ECONOCHRIST) and UNCLE ROY (SOBERING CONSEQUENCES) and I recognized ANDY "Scene King" CAMPORA (RELIGIOUS BULLSHIT) from MONGO'S PIZZA. At the time we kept our distance, choosing to observe, or let Jonathan introduce. More than anything, the incredible sound of N.O.T.A.'s "Taking Away Our Rights" was a heavy melody. George recalls local METRO WASTE was the opener. Jonathan held the kick drum in place.
This was the first "hardcore" show I experienced with George, and was fodder for the burgeoning ideas that he and I would later explore as KID ANARCHY would evolve into a more mature (Southern) auto-biographical story. George would soon cameo Jonathan as a starry eyed punk-child into our last POPCORN cartoon strips,
These kids seemed incredibly younger than us, but they weren't by much. To my way of thinking, these 16 year olds seemed more savvy than my 22 year old self because they had grown up in a city and I hadn't. Most weekends, while George was hanging out, I would go home to a gravel road and decompress, getting lost in a world of 'comic books only' and home cooked meals. But our band was coming together. I would back from a weekend and Jonathan and George would have written another little anthem like "Overrated Frustration" or "Truth About Lies". There was more and more reason to hang in Memphis. I began to get funny haircuts.
It was obvious we would not be the post-punk power-pop ROCKROACHES, nor would we be some one-dimensional hardcore band. We were ridiculous (perhaps even 'stoopid') in that we backed up a sixteen year who sang about (imaginary?) sexual exploits and world weary political views. George put in so many melodic hooks, there was no way we would be confused with a mere hardcore band. This made us the 'darlings' of the bands we opened for, because we were different. George assimilated his influences wonderfully (DEAD KENNEDYS, RAMONES, SEX PISTOLS, BUZZCOCKS, TSOL, HUSKER DU) and was too pop-oriented to sound like one thing over another.
ALL THE GOOD NAMES ARE TAKEN
Initially, we had no name. Then suddenly, we had too many names: From the JACK KIRBY comic CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, we were THE UNKNOWNZ but also later THE CHALLENGERS (timely after the explosion of the Shuttle). We were also HOGANS HEROES and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, In sheer desperation we were GUYS WITH BIG DICKS.
For a few hours we were called KAPTAIN KRUNCH. When Mike Jackson commented "the only place I want Captain Crunch is in my mouth.", George replied "What are you doing after the show?"
We couldn't decide.
So I turned to my Mississippi guru Chuck Moonchow for advice. Chuck, our old D&D buddy, had never heard us play and knew no one in the band but George and I, but that would not stop his bludgeoned brain. Between an afternoon of Rook playing and Frazetta emulation in pastels, Chuck provided the name DISTEMPER.
"A violent anti-social group representing the ludicrous side of the behaviour of bands that are playing now. We like to think of ourselves as a representative of a new style of band with a touch of rock, heavy metal, and our own unique sound. WE ARE CALLED DISTEMPER!"... Chuck Moonchow.
I drew our rabid dog logo and even drew the band in it's current incarnation. More risky, was traveling down to the wall between THE ANTENNA CLUB and the P&H CAFE where brave souls sprayed graffiti of their bands. I started a masterpiece; the DISTEMPER icon some four feet tall, but fear and common sense prevented me from finishing it all at once. I would have to return.
And I thought the P&H stood for "punks and hippies".
Between all this back and forth, with more and more kids showing up to hang out, our tiny apartment became a club house for BLACK FLAG-style T.V. Parties and a safe-haven for under-age drinking.
189 N. Auburndale, Apartment #11 became DISTEMPERHOUSE.
LEESEL GATALI, a cool girl who worked at nearby PIZZA HUT (she was also present at N.O.T.A and many other shows), entered our phone number to appear as "DISTEMPERHOUSE" to their in-house pizza-computer. It was official. Many respectful people that are now movers and shakers in Midtown Memphis either threw up in our bushes, styled their mohawks with raw eggs in our bathroom sink (Hi MIKE HUMPRHIES!), or watched SUBURBIA, ERASERHEAD, or ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL with us. "VHS uber Cinema." WARNER WITT sent us fan mail from Arkansas and ordered our demo!
One night downtown someone put their high top Converse through a police car windshield. Any witness might have seen a young man with a mohawk fleeing down the Peabody alley. All punks look alike. In fear, everyone wore doo rags for a week.
As word of the apartment spread, teenagers would just show up, some more endearing than others. LISA ROVINSKY (another Germantown escapee) was a frequent visitor and became a good friend as the summer unravelled, with her steady sidekicks DIANA BARBOUR and lanky ROBERT SMITH who had the tallest mohawk I'd ever seen (making him at least 7 feet). Robert, a lifelong Memphis resident, now covered in tattoos, was tireless in attempting to tear down our street sign. His little brother Shariff would crash on our floor and catch the school bus the next morning. Now that was hardcore.
THE LINE UP
We needed a bass player so we met a bass player. Two, in fact, and both were skinheads (eventually anyway). STEVE HICKEY, who wrote the chorus to "Sex, It's Great!" while on the toilet, was our first and last bass player. Hickey had a crappy dorm room and took photography classes at Memphis State. In between Steve's tenure, a guy named JEFF SHELTON played bass, and got us (and himself) in a bit of trouble along the way (but what else would you expect from a skinhead?). More on Jeff later.
(Despite the media wave painting all skinheads as racists, we, who were on the inside, knew better. Both Steve and Jeff were peaceful sorts. I remember "Peace Punk" being one of those (somewhat oxymoronic) terms bandied about at the time.)
Our first drummer was RON HALE, the owner of CHEAPSKATES skateboard store on Getwell. Ron provided his shop for practices and played drums at our first gig at that very same VFW Hall.
George and I had first seen Ron Hale play drums with DAN HOPPER, a Belushi-energized summer-saulting SPIDERMAN freak who sang for the KINGS OF THE WESTERN BOP. We saw them on our second trip to THE ANTENNA CLUB back on Saint Patty's day, 1983 accompanied by CHUCK MOONCHOW, no less.
(Some of our first show was captured on Super 8 film by ERIC PAGE with ALL IN BLACK & WHITE FOR A STAGGERING FEE fanzine cartoonists MIKE WARD and CHAS. BERLIN along for the ride. see FILM)
MIKE SCHIFFER, more thought of as the drummer for METRO WASTE - a band that lived in an illegal fog over on Hale and Merton and kept a pigs head in a beer cooler in their front yard, became our second and final drummer. You can hear METRO WASTE members sneering at Mike Schiffer during our Knoxville performance. Mike (and his motorcycle) would later appear in DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS.
Regarding Steve's bass playing: We are pretty damn tight on the two live recordings (Knoxville/Geronimo's and Memphis/Antenna, respectively). At times it seems Mike Schiffer will take off like a helicopter because he is playing so damn fast. And I am so glad we have a live recording of an Antenna show (our last show) even though it is not as good technically as the Knoxville show, sounding somewhat muffled. Until this 2010 Antenna Reunion, there was no live recording of Jonathan singing, only the June studio demo. Sometimes I don't sing so much as I shriek. But don't forget: I was "angry".
Jeff Shelton, closer to mine and George's age, had no place to live when he blew into town from St. Louis. George had remembered seeing him at the N.O.T.A. show. In true Batpunk-style, George and I took him in as an fellow orphan. Jeff never had money and Jeff never ate meat (well, there was that one time on acid). Jeff bartered and borrowed his bass in the band for rent and bean burritos. Although Steve would play more live shows, Jeff played on the June studio demo "DESTROY MEMPHIS", the first studio recording by a "hardcore punk" band in Memphis, unless you count Elvis, Scotty and Bill.
We recorded the DESTROY MEMPHIS demo at Crosstown Recorders on Watkins/Cleveland in June, 1986. Amazingly, the studio is still there.
I had a factory wood grain Peavey guitar (made in Mississippi) along with a 1980 Big Muff distortion pedal. JACK OBLIVIAN would borrow that same pedal decades later and it would fall into the hands of JOHN WHITTIMORE who would use it on such TEARJERKERS records as BAD MOOD RISING (Sympathy).
Lisa Rovinsky (by this time, the official mascot of the band) loaned George her very pink and lavender Fender telecaster. Lisa's friend LESLIE WHITE (yet another red head) snapped the pictures that day in the studio. Lisa's pet mouse was the only casualty of the recording; forgotten on a hot day in it's cage inside her car. Later we punks dined at Peirotti's, a nice little family place at Poplar and Evergreen which was soon torn down for a Taco Bell.
I wish we could re-mix that demo. It sounds like old hippies are at the controls; fading endings instead of holding the sizzle of the Big Muff - and with no effects on Jonathan's vocals. George recalled that Mike Schiffer prevented us from recording "Ghenghis Khan Killed The Duke" and "Greed" because he had to go a probation hearing. That being said, I am still proud of this tape that never became a record.
No one remembers the name of the rat.
Consider also, my cartoony over the top title "Destroy Memphis". A snide wish based on a pop destruction, a comic book sense of 'anarchy'. After living here for 25 years and watching apathetic politicians disregard for historic preservation of twentieth century buildings, future tourism in regards to the American century, in the town that created rock and roll, I now understand that I was alluding to THEM and the Chinese century in which we are now living (so lets FIGHT IT).
|NEGATIVE SKINHEAD JEFF THE POSER
Jeff also played bass with DISTEMPER at the first all ages show at the ANTENNA CLUB. We opened for DAG NASTY and THE DESCENDANTS. The show took place thirty-two years to the day that Elvis recorded "That's All Right" at the Memphis Recording Service. (Although I didn't know it at the time).
Everything was just fine until Jeff, with the help of a certain Memphis Punk, dropped LSD and stayed on it for a week, threatening to slash Uncle Roy's throat with a razor blade then turning the blade on Jonathan Pekar who raised up his arm and caught the blow. All this went down at the MILLIONS OF DEAD COPS show at the Antenna (followed by a beating from Rebel the bouncer), then later back at Distemperhouse, Jeff promised to eat some kittens that were being given away by our next door neighbor (in that order, mind you, but not all at once).
Thus Jeff became the self-appointed "Negative Skinhead Jeff the Poser."
When asked why he professed to be a vegan while, at the same time, wearing a leather motorcycle jacket, Jeff replied "I wear the guilt."
Other than making a hand-lettered shirt that read "DESTROY CORINTH" (a perfect compliment to my DESTROY MEMPHIS t-shirt and a sentiment that had not been expressed since the Civil War), I intended to impress fifteen year old, freckle-faced KIM ASHCRAFT, Jeff loaned me his leather jacket for the weekend date and It did the trick. In trade, I loaned Jeff my cousin's Viet Nam era combat boots which I've never seen since. (I soon bought my own leather jacket at Burlington Coat Factory on Park for $150, which I have to this day.)
I'm not sure what I put in Kim's drink, but she has stuck with me through thick and thin, was my first muse, a nineties starlet, and the mother of our two children. Twenty years later we are still married.
In 1985, George had met MIKE MOORE, an affable side-walk guitar player from across the street who we dubbed "Hippie Mike" because of his flaired pants, silken shirts and long hair. Mike also attended the art school and I had seen him working in the cafeteria, but there was no way I was going to talk to a hippie. Mike was from Birmingham and could play JIMI HENDRIX riffs. Even more reasons! But despite all this, he became (and still is) a great friend. I suggest watching EASY RIDER with a hippie just to get the full impact.
Pre-security guard era PIGGLY WIGGLY (whose parking lot bordered with the Antenna Club) would always put the children's balloon station near the fruit and vegetables. George and Mike would always eat the grapes then take a hit off the helium tank. This lead to forming a brief in-joke cover band called HELIUM GRAPE. The appearance of near-skin (Jeff) , a hippie (Mike), a mod Elvis (George), and whatever the hell I was (a redneck?) would (unfortunately) startle no one by 1986. Helium Grape had no recordings, although we did plug in on Beale Street one night. (Later, under a different line-up, H.G. would record music for my DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS). 'Nuff said.
Another art school mate BECKY BOLDING would drop in to (unconsciously?) tease a lovelorn Hippie Mike and play her VELVET UNDERGROUND records. The slow tempos confused our down stroke brains. I'm not sure we understood, which meant secretly we were repulsed. Only recently had Skinhead Jeff turned me back onto THE DOORS (first album listened to on Coors and eight track in my senior year). All in due time, this strange notion of "punk" within a psychedelic time frame. I had not yet realized that visually, JOHNNY ROTTEN & SID VICIOUS were wilted and weathered attempts at looking like ZIGGY STARDUST. Jeff was cool and Becky was a girl, so we went along with it.
SHE WORE AN ORANGE MOHAWK.
All good things must end, right? And I would add to that, "end quickly".
George and I decided that it was okay for a teen-age runaway to take up some space on our floor as if she were a band traveling from one city to another. She had an orange mohawk and all the necessary black leather and "magic marker" converse high tops. I don't remember her name but she was always at Distemperhouse as George and I came and went. Perhaps she would wash the dishes but never shower. I reminded her that I lived there and Jeff fell in love with her. I'm pretty sure it was mutual.
We vaguely knew that she had left her home in Germantown, the nearby white-flight city that was really nothing more than a suburb of Memphis, incorporated the year MLK was assassinated. Almost all the kids that hung out at DistemperHouse seemed to be from Germantown and were pissed about it.
A private detective hired by the girls parents began to watch Distemperhouse during the summer of 1986. The information that she was there was no secret, not by us anyway.
George handed me a piece of paper from our landlord, Woody. It was an eviction notice. "Why are we being evicted?" I asked George who replied. "It's all right there".Our land lord Woody had been notified that we had housed the runaway, along with other troubling details, like proof of underaged drinking. Even though we had never missed a rent payment, it was reason enough to get kicked out.
The final straw: Negative Jeff had gone out on the second floor back porch, chock full of LSD and beer, pulled out his little skinhead, and pissed on two people entering their apartment down below. There was no getting out of that one.
We had a prolific year but it was only half-over. The first all ages show at ANTENNA was incredible. DAG NASTY'S BRIAN BAKER (former Minor Threat) thanked me and told me personally we were a great band. I didn't need much more than that.
The summer heat was just kicking in.
DOG DAYS: DISTEMPERHOUSE #2
We spent July looking for a new place that might have a basement for practicing. We found it on Garland Street. George and I moved from Distemperhouse #1 and into Distemperhouse #2 by August 1st. Even Lisa Rovinsky helped. The vibe wasn't the same. I believe SUBCULTURE was the only band we hosted the whole time we lived there. They drank and ate everything in the house, including items we had clearly labeled "warning: mono".
This neighborhood sure wasn't the same as the old one.
I REMEMBER LISA
On September 9th, 1986 R.E.M. was playing Mud Island, (I had seen them the year before at the Orpheum and would see them the following year at Ole Miss). Lisa Rovinsky had a brand new car, and as was custom, always took George to Joe's liquor store to do her shopping. After all, this was going to be a big night and Lisa loved R.E.M. more than MODERN ENGLISH or THE SMITHS. Leaving the store, Lisa pulled in front of someone. BANG! Lisa and George were okay but her cute little car was totalled. I had just arrived from Corinth with Kim. She met Lisa for the first and only time in tears on Poplar Avenue.
Dead mice and crashed cars were not the final fate of teenage Lisa. We saw MISSION OF MERCY at 20 Cynthia Place and I remember her own band playing somewhere at least once. She kept up with George even after his third apartment move and then she moved way from Memphis to Arizona.
George had written a Rockroaches song called I REMEMBER LISA long before we ever knew Lisa Rovinsky. Memory fails me but I'm sure we must have played it for her at least once.
"I remember Lisa. I remember how she use to be.
THE LAST SHOW
Negative Skinhead Jeff the Poser had lost his job as a dish washer and had been beaten up by cops in a back-alley brawl at Kimbrough and Union. He had to leave town or more problems were going to ensue. I remember the night George drove him to the bus station as I left for work. The Sears building gave witness. Jeff would return and more problems occurred. Finally George drove Jeff to his home in Kennett, Missouri. The last we ever heard from Jeff, he was in San Francisco.
Ignoring new waves of affection and melancholy over Kim (we were no longer a "couple"), I wrote a new (angry) song called BLOODY MESS. Another thrash heavy song WAKE UP mixed post-apocalyptic themes and mistrust of organized religion and girlfriends.
George and I tried out a new drummer named MARK MCDANIELS whose older brother had taken him to see the SEX PISTOLS when he was only 9 years old. Lucky bastard. For some reason, Mark didn't work out and Mike Schiffer returned. Steve Hickey, either by request or coincidence came back into town and we began to talk about one more show, one last show.
That show would be with STRANGE FLESH at ANTENNA on December 30th, 1986 and I would wear long underwear.
PUNKS AND HIPPIES
Hippie Mike came back into town too, to pine over Becky as I was hard up over Kim. We drove around in George's van and listened to THE REPLACEMENTS: TIM over and over again, waiting for the new Replacements (Memphis) record to come out. Kim was actually seeing some new guy named "Tim" so ever time I saw the name on the album cover, I winced.
A few nights before our show, I snuck over to the punk graffiti wall. I was determined to finish the Distemper icon. This time I enlisted the help of skinhead Steve and Hippie Mike. Before we could even shake the spray cans, the cop cars pulled in. No blue lights, and no fanfare. No one from the Commercial Appeal to jot down a few notes. Hippie Mike ran like hell and disappeared into the night. Steve and I weren't so lucky. Thrown in the back seat of the cop car, our lady cop gave us a lovely tour of midtown and asked us silly questions about drugs. Maybe the hardest thing for a police officer to rationalize are the sober people who do crazy things in the middle of the night with no motive. We were let go (sufficiently scared) and at some point hooked up with Hippie Mike, who had hidden underneath a shotgun shake porch the entire time.
I hadn't listened to the Strange Flesh tape in years. I'm so proud to have an ANTENNA recording of DISTEMPER, even if the recording quality isn't as good as the Knoxville show. I do remember a very young JEFF GUNN opening up a guitar case and showing off his new black bass. Their was some talk of him being the next bass player when Steve went away again. The best moments are Mike Jackson's overly long introduction, sixteen year old STEVE SELVIDGE jumping up on stage with me to sing "Sex, It's Great!" and George SMASHING his prized red and black Silvertone in anger (there's that word again) on the final beat of "Youth Should Protest", at the very end of the set list. BANG! It had been screwing up the entire set and George just let it go, the guitar that he had kept since the Rockroaches. You can hear it on the recording.
It hung on the wall for the longest time, an insiders deconstructed dream.
WESTERBERG: I REMEMBER YOU
George had turned me onto the Replacements early on. "Goddamn Job" was something I sang to myself every night as I drove to my taxing job at Fed Ex. "I Will Dare" was an ode to a girl I would soon meet. "Bastards of Young" was an angry theme song that spoke to me alone. I wore overalls at the first Distemper gig because Paul had worn overalls during their performance of "Kiss Me On The Bus" on Saturday Night Live in November, 1985. That same month George, Eric and I had driven to New Orleans to see them play (and we met Tommy and Bob Stinson). That show defined what live rock and roll should be: ear piercing, glass breaking, life threatening; a melodious manhood ritual. Later they played the Antenna and I was, again, awestruck. I think I began to realize just how important Memphis was to the history of recorded music when Shelley Butler told us The Replacements were coming to Memphis to record their next record.
Time passed and we knew they were in town. After a night of driving around with a van full of punks, probably thinking we were crazy for liking such shaggy dudes, we found Paul Westerburg at the Antenna. I forget who was playing. We had no money to get in the door, and we were too nervous to have a conversation with him. Shelley Butler was there and saw us hanging outside. She brought Westerburg to us. In an awkward conversation inside the doorway of the club, George and I explained we were just messing around and wanted to say high. I mentioned we couldn't get in anyway cause we were broke. At that moment, Westerburg said, "I know what you mean..." and turned the pockets of his baggy trousers inside out. He had nothing.
A year later, after the dust had settled on The Replacements Warner Bros. record deal and PLEASED TO MEET ME was about to hit the stores (minus Bob Stinson), I recall reading the Rolling Stone magazine article on the band. In the story, Westerburg pulls his pockets inside out in the company of the magazine's writer.
This time Paul had spare change. I took that to mean success.
2006: Twenty years later, the old gang saw Westerburg perform at the New Daisy Theatre on Beale. We even dressed the part. Belted, buckled, and heeled. The show was over and everyone left but me. I waited for a surprise encore which only a dozen of us saw. His last drunken song was finished before the roadies could even plug in his pedal. And then he was gone. Again. I figured for the last time. I eased up the familar backstage steps hoping to give him a copy of my latest movie. (rockstars never expect to be given movies). There, Westerburg stood, swaying to no particular breeze, looking for a cigarette and a push in the right direction home. I told him I wanted to give him a movie I had made, and that when I had last talked to him twenty years before at the Antenna meeting, I wore my very same leather jacket. Paul grabbed my leather in a drunken lunge, bringing my lapel up to his flared nostrils and exclaimed, "...I remember you."
LABADIE & DEMETRIO
In the three year span between LaBadie's "Fanfare" and Demetrio's Eviction, I felt like we had done what we needed to do: Antenna, Art, and Assimilation (Anger?). It made the eighties seem worthwhile (and there was still three years to go!). I'm being very serious when I say that I want to thank these men, Labadie and Demetrio; like the fathers we never knew, in providing us that perfect bookend context.
At the point of our eviction (August '86) George and I should have moved on to the next city: New York or Los Angeles (Jonathan Pekar did). Instead we headed back into old territory both figuratively (with THE ROCKROACHES) and lliterally (I moved back to Mississippi to be with Kim and draw comics .)
We wanted to have a good time, we wanted to make an artistic contribution, we wanted to make the eighties something we could refer to in our own rebellious way.
Thank god no one told us hardcore had ended two years earlier.
We haven't heard from Jeff Shelton in twenty-four years. More than anything or anyone, Skinhead Jeff embodies the spirit of DISTEMPER. There's some reason to believe that he is dead. It's cool to have a dead band member, I suppose. A tradition as old as Brian Jones. In the wake of this coming ANTENNA CLUB reunion, it would be so cool to hear from Jeff, to have him play bass with us on July 30th. Twenty four years after the fact, literally a half-life ago.
Jeff, from this writing, you have about four weeks to get your shit together. and I will call out to you from the crowd in hopes you will hop right up on stage. Might even dedicate the show to you.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 901-486-6325. Anytime. Even if you miss the show.
There is no deadline with friends.
MARCH 23, 1986 ISOLATION (Mike Humphries and Mike Jackson)
MARCH 25, 1986 GUYS W/ BIG DICKS (cancelled)
UNKNOWN DATE-LIFE SENTENCE PARTY @ METRO (WASTE) HOUSE
MAY 3, 1986 - BLUE SHROOMS
JUNE 18, 1986 - DISTEMPER
JULY 1, 1986 - DISTEMPER
JULY 6, 1986 - DISTEMPER
DEC. 30, 1986 - DISTEMPER