June 18th, 2012:
On Friday evening, Cindy took Spider and me out to dinner. We went to a downtown restaurant called V, a Thai nouveau restaurant. We started off with cocktails (rum and pineapple and banana liqueur) along with some sides (fried spinach, sautéed mushrooms and broiled asparagus) followed by our entrées (Cindy and I had pad Thai and Spider had bamboo, green beans and eggplant in a green curry sauce). The food was delicious (everything was prepared fresh and was full of flavor). After dinner we stepped outside to the patio (a long narrow space sandwiched between tall buildings and under a giant skyscraper, decorated with candles and Zen-like decor) and sat and listened to a jazz band (all the musicians looked to be high school age, but played like seasoned pros). The desert night air was gorgeous and the music was great.
It’s fun to stroll around downtown Tucsonon these warm desert nights. The city is really coming to life, a cool destination for hanging out with more and more restaurants and nightspots to choose from off Congress Streetand along 4th Ave and elsewhere.
Technically, Spider and I don’t live in Tucson proper, rather we live in Oro Valley which is northwest of Tucson, about 16 miles from downtown. Oro Valley is an upper middle class bedroom community nestled at the foot of the beautiful Catalina Mountains, lots of pueblo-like and Spanish style track homes built around golf courses, with some horse properties and open desert and the usual businesses, not to mention a handful of four-star resort hotels. The whole town is painted in desert colors (required by law, even the signage for the businesses must be in teal). It’s very safe here with very little crime, and as Spider and I have lived so much of our lives in rough neighborhoods, it’s kind of nice not having to worry about shit, other than the occasional annoying letter from our home owner’s association reminding us to trim our tree back or pull some weeds. One of the best things about living here is that there are purposely no street lights, so one can see all the stars at night.
On Saturday afternoon we had a little preview of a monsoon with lots of thunder and lightning and gusty winds, but not much rain here in Oro Valley. The desert gets so hot at this time of year (we’re expected to hit 108 degrees this week) and so we pray for our summer rains which can’t arrive soon enough, spectacular storms that flood the desert and the city and bring cool relief from the intense heat. The monsoon usually starts in mid-July and last through early September.
In 1969, Jay Sebring was brutally murdered along with Sharon Tate and others by the Manson family. Jay was a hairdresser to the stars with a salon on Fairfax, and a decade after his death, a gay couple named Dick and Tom came along and transformed Sebring’s abandoned salon into a gay glory hole club called Basic Plumbing (a club frequented by many TV and soap opera stars and those who worked behind the scenes in show business) although Sebring’s name remained above the entrance. If it weren’t for Basic Plumbing, there never would have been a Red Wedding. You see, Spider was the club’s manager and both Marc O and little John worked there as doormen. That’s how they all met.
Once, back in 1979, Hey Taxi bass player Jim Kaiser asked for a ride to a rehearsal and Spider and I went over to pick him up on Waverly Drive, and I couldn’t help but notice the house directly across the street from Jim’s apartment building as it looked strangely familiar to me. I asked Jim about it and he explained to me that it was the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, the couple who were victims of the Manson family the night after the Tate killings.
June 16th, 2012:
I had to go back and reread all of my blogs this afternoon and take down notes because at this point I’ve shared so many thoughts and stories that I can’t keep track! That is, I don’t want to start repeating myself!
One night after a Red Wedding rehearsal, we were all sitting around in a circle talking and passing around a can of Old English 800 and as we got down to the bottom, the beer began to taste funny and then we noticed that there was something in the can. So we poured out the rest of the beer and turns out it was an old cigarette butt in the bottom, the paper all dissolved, only the filter left! Guess someone at the factory was smoking a cigarette and tossed it into the brew! I thought we were gonna die laughing and after that, Old English 800 became our official band beer, the only beer we drank at rehearsals.
Spider is definitely an alcoholic. Not a bad alcoholic, but he loves his two or three or more glasses of red wine every night and can’t sleep without it. He doesn’t like it very much, but I monitor his drinking most of the time, making sure he doesn’t go overboard. The truth is, he’s not the only alcoholic I know. I consider many people I know to be mild alcoholics, although only one do I consider to be a major alcoholic (the kind of person who has blackouts). It seems to me that everyone has an addiction to something be it booze or drugs or food or sex or smoking or gambling or power or collecting Hummel figurines. I myself am not much of a drinker these days. It’s not for trying, but my body just can’t handle very much booze. If I drink two beers within an hour, I’m drunk, and if I drink a third, I’ll probably be sick. I used to be able to drink a lot more, but that has changed. Spider, on the other hand, can still drink like a fish and not even show the signs of being intoxicated.
Billy’s book is getting ready to go to the publisher. I’m excited and wonder if it will make much of an impact. To my knowledge, no one else has really talked about the gay scene within the L.A. punk and postpunk scene, and Red Wedding was the only truly openly gay postpunk band in those days. As mentioned before, I just hope that what I contributed to the book doesn’t come off too bitchy and mean-spirited. One might think that I hated everyone, but that wouldn’t be true. I just hated the phony and pretentious people.
Greg from Artifix Records sent us a copy of the article he wrote about us to appear in Record Collector News (perhaps in the next issue). It’s a great article, very thoughtful and well written (based on an interview we did with Greg as well as his own research). The title of the article is- From Punk to Soundtracks and 40 years of togetherness: The story of a couple and their quest for a life in music.
Back in 1973, Spider created his own unique guitar by combining a Gibson SG guitar body with a Stratocaster tale piece (whammy bar) and pickups. He called his invention a Strat-o-g. He was obsessed with this guitar, constantly fussing over it for months trying to get it “dialed in” to the point where it began to drive me crazy. Then one afternoon, we got into a big argument in which I accused him of loving his damn guitar more than he loved me, at which point Spider picked up his beloved instrument and smashed it on the floor. I mean, he totally trashed it. The only thing left was the neck and chunks of wood dangling by the strings. I was totally freaked out, speechless. Spider said – “Now do you believe I love you more?” I started to cry.
Spider and I rarely argue or have fights, but when we do, it’s all out war. I can have quite a mouth on me and when I’m mad, I can say some pretty below-the-belt stuff, and Spider can get so angry that he wants to hit something. Of course, Spider has never hit me, but he has gotten frustrated with me to the point where he has punched holes in our walls and pulled doors off their hinges. However, we usually kiss and makeup by bedtime.
Spider is one of the most mellow people I have ever known, but trust me, you don’t want to get on his bad side. I’ve seen him go after a few people in the past, people who got too wiseass, and it wasn’t pretty. Spider grew up in rough neighborhoods and he can be a mean fighter. Even now, with Spider at the age of 60, I wouldn’t want to be the person who goes up against him.
June 14th, 2012:
Segment from article written about the Brave Dog Club and Red Wedding
“The Brave Dog, October, 1981. Black walls, steel plating along the bar and stage, dining-room chairs upholstered in leopard skin. I’m talking with a petit-guignol punkette named Kristina. Eyes saucered like a lemur’s in heat, angular to the point of anorexia, Ritt Plum Dye #12 dandelion-going-to-seed ‘do like a nimbus around her Ensor-expressive face, she looks like the prima screema in some pop-corn schlock shock-o-rama, Attack of the Zombie Nymphettes, say, or something equally bizarre. Someone catches her attention. “Oh, Miiiichaeeellll,” she banshees, the syllables sliding off her miniature oil slick of a voice. “Hey,” she urges, “just look at that guy move!” The l’homme fatale in question is one Michael Ely, lead singer for the Romantidelic quartet Red Wedding. Michael’s backside is currently twitching its uppity way toward the Dog’s rear exit. “See that,” says Kristina. “That’s the walk of a star!” “Don’t you mean Superstar?” I wonder, invoking the famous Warhol label. Kristina laughs. “Yeah, the atmosphere’s like that, like the Factory, isn’t it? All these intense creative types coming out from under the rocks and asking us to pay attention.”
— Paul Kibble,
L.A. Reader, October 1981
June 13th, 2012:
God I hate that I have diabetes. I need to go and get my blood tested this week to check my A1c number (which reflects my average blood sugar levels over the past several months), and I think my number might be in a bad range. Also, my daily blood sugar levels (when I prick my finger) are higher as of late. Although I’ve lost a good deal of weight when I was first diagnosed last year, I still need to lose fifteen or twenty pounds more to be where I want to be, and it’s a struggle. I guess I have food issues as I tend to want to overeat. On the positive side, I haven’t gained back any of the weight I’ve lost and I’m exercising by walking these days, and that’s a good thing, but I still need to be in better overall shape. The scary part about diabetes is that a person can feel perfectly fine until there is a problem and then it can be too late, and people with diabetes are much more likely than the rest of the population to develop heart disease or have a stroke, not to mention there can be kidney disease, eye disease, neuropathy and tissue damage (which can lead to limb amputation). It’s a bummer.
In response to a sexual morality book written by an American nun considered to be too lenient on masturbation and homosexuality, the Vatican stated yesterday that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action and that homosexual relations are acts of grave depravity. This once again proves, in my opinion, that the Catholic Church is still living back in the dark ages and that the pope (the same pope who ignored cases of child abuse by Catholic priests) has his head up his ass.
It was exactly 31 years ago tonight that Red Wedding made its debut at the Brave Dog, and I remember it all as if it were yesterday. The club was very crowed that night, and I was extremely nervous, shaking in my boots and holding on to Clare for dear life (Clare literally had to push me up onto the stage). We opened with the “Red Wed Theme” (our own twisted version of “Here Comes The Bride”) and as I stood there on the tiny stage (so tiny that I could not move in any direction) I was still visibly shaking and I decided not to try and hide it, rather I made it a part of my performance, the frightened and nervous singer. After our opening theme song, we went right into “Pink Night Mirrors,” and because I could not move, I focused on using my hands in order to act out the song. Other songs in the set that night included “Candle On My Cake,” “Think About It,” “Drums,” “Capsules of Love” “In Between” “Marsha In Pictures,” and for a cover, we did our own version of Lou Reed’s “Vicious.” The audience (which included a lot of Hey Taxi fans) was very supportive from the very first note, and I could feel their energy and enthusiasm growing with each number and my nervousness dissipated. I felt totally in control that night. I also felt very real on stage. That is, I wasn’t pretending or playing to the audience, rather I was simply being myself, a story teller sharing dark and romantic stories that contained real elements of my life and the lives of those around me. After we finished performing, I dashed out back to the parking lot to smoke a cigarette and Craig Lee (from the band The Bags) followed me. He told me that he thought our performance was wonderful and he wanted to set up an interview with us for the L.A. Weekly. I felt on top of the world.
I was always nervous at our gigs, not so much on stage, but before and after. I couldn’t handle having people around me especially when people would get right in my face, sometimes several people talking to me all at once. My poor brain just couldn’t handle the attention, the feeling that everyone wanted a piece of me. It caused me to have severe panic attacks, and so I would go out of my way to avoid people at the clubs, often hiding out in dressing rooms or surrounding myself with a circle of trusted friends. I guess that’s why I got the reputation for being aloof. To those of you who protected me … thank you. It was not an act.
June 11th, 2012:
Story written in 2001 by Jeff A. for the Red Wedding website:
”I have known Spider and Michael for most of my life (Spider is my cousin - duh). My young teen years were made bearable by getting to hang out with these two highly creative people. They taught me a great respect for all music, and they took me to my first concerts - Patti Smith, Blondie, The Cramps, the infamous Elk’s Lodge riot where Spider was hit in the throat with a baton courtesy of the L.A.P.D.
When Spider and Michael decided to leave The Tracers and branch out on their own, Michael allowed me the honor of naming their new band - Hey Taxi. On October 15, 1979, Hey Taxi performed their first gig at the Hong Kong Cafe. Although it was just their first show, they sounded like seasoned veterans. The band kicked ass in my opinion, but Michael was a little hard to sell on this. He was very nervous and chain smoking cigarettes before, during and after the show. I reassured him that the band was well received, but I don’t think he believed me. Michael continued to be a nervous wreck at every Hey Taxi show. I would speak to him over the phone the following day and he was always on the verge of quitting. On stage he was mesmerizing, but off stage he hated himself. He didn’t like the way the band sounded, or the way he looked, or the way he sang.
Fortunately, he also had a great sense of humor and would always end up laughing about it. Hey Taxi gigs came and went, but the band kept their raw energy while growing tighter and always faster (Michael was rather obsessed with playing short, fast songs). Spider played a cream colored epiphone copy guitar that was splattered with red paint dripped from a shot glass. Damn, he could make that thing sing. I don’t think I ever saw Michael wear the same outfit twice. Like Bowie, Michael was the ever changing chameleon, always changing his hair, his clothes, his attitude and his lyrics.
When Hey Taxi recorded their only single, I had an orgasm singing background vocals on “Queen Bee.” I was able to get the A-side of the single (“I Hate Dogs”) played on Rodney Bingenheimer’s KROQ Sunday night show. What a thrill. It also meant a lot to me that the band used many of my lyrics. My favorite tune was one that Michael and I penned together called - ”I Know I Love You, But I Know You Love Somebody Else, But Why Can’t You Love Me Instead?”
Whether it was hanging on Spider’s guitar chord or Michael’s coattails, I was having the time of my life! Michael looked after me and at times tried to play the mother hen, but he would always end up letting me run amok! Because I was way, way under the drinking age, Michael or Spider would take beer away from me, but I would always find a way to get more. Hey, the beer always made it easier to dance! Like some dumb ass once said, “All good things must come to an end,” and in the summer of 1981, Hey Taxi metamorphosed into Red Wedding.
Last night I cranked up an old Hey Taxi rehearsal tape and listened to some of the old songs: “Mommy Was A Cop,” “Mastercharge,” “Refrigerator,” and “Shake.” Spider and Michael were something else! I’m so glad I got to be a part in their lives.”
(now living in Lansing, Michigan working as a machinist)
June 10th, 2012:
Back in the heyday of Red Wedding, I usually smoked three to four packs of cigarettes a day. I was a total chain smoker, lighting one cigarette off another, sometimes accidently lighting up two cigarettes at once. Obviously I have a thing for cigarettes, and if my health would allow it, I’d still be smoking today.
This morning I spoke with Betty J. by phone. Betty bought our house in Long Beach when we decided to move to Arizona, and we became friends. It’s sort of unusual to become friends with the person that buys your house, but that’s what we did and Betty has been out to visit us several times, and we keep in contact by phone about once a month. Betty is a very sweet person, kind and caring, and as a black woman, she has dealt with many of the same kind of prejudices that we have dealt with as gay men (people disliking you simply because of your skin color or your sexual orientation), so we understand each other’s hurt. Sadly, Betty lost her beloved dog Micki in a horrible situation last year. She was out walking Micki one afternoon when a loose neighborhood dog came running up out of nowhere and savagely attacked Micki while Betty tried desperately to fend the dog off. Unfortunately, poor Micki died from the attack, and Betty has not been the same since.
I also spoke with Raymond today, and we had a good talk, talking about everything from politics to movies to retirement plans for the future. I always enjoy talking to Raymond. He’s sort of like a kid brother to me, someone I care about very much. In late August, Spider and I and Cindy are going to drive out to California and stay with Raymond and Ociel for a few days. We plan on going to the Getty Museum and Ociel is arranging a tour of the Roosevelt Hotel for us (that’s where he works) and the rest of the time we are simply going to relax and lounge around their pool.
Last evening was Jessica and Craig’s toga party. Turns out it was a rather intimate affair, four couples altogether (Jessica and Craig, Terry and Rex, Wes and Joanna and Spider and myself). Spider and I were the only ones not wearing togas, however Jessica and Terry fashioned a very flamboyant toga out of a silk bed sheet and broach for Spider to wear (whereas I remained in my street clothes). Jessica and Craig live in a townhome with a nice open floor plan and very cool tiki décor (specially decked out with Romanesque flair for the party), and they served yummy food (including pizza and pasta salad) and there was sangria punch to drink. Here I was worried that I was going to have a panic attack, but I couldn’t have been more relaxed and both Spider and I had a great time talking and laughing with everyone, however we had to leave somewhat early because Spider had to work today.
While at Jessica and Craig’s place, Craig took Spider and myself into their garage and showed us his 1967 Volkswagen Squareback, just like the 1968 Volkswagen Squareback that Spider was driving when the two of us first began living together. It brought back such warm memories.
June 8th, 2012:
I don’t put much stock into astrological signs. Having said that, I’m very much a Pieces, overly sensitive and a deep dreamer. I also find myself very much attracted to the ocean (as much as I love the desert, I would live near the sea if we had the money). Plus, my astrological part of the body is the feet, and I love me a good foot massage!
My mother once told me that she never drinks out of public drinking fountains because they are full of germs. I always thought she was being ridiculous, but last evening Spider and I were at the store and I needed a drink of water, and I was standing behind a guy in front of me, and he hacked and spit into the fountain before taking his drink of water, and at that point I wasn’t thirsty anymore. Now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink out of a fountain again. I guess I’m more like my mother than I realized.
I’ve been having a lot of mild panic attacks this week. Not sure exactly what is setting them off, but when you are me, they come with the territory. Often my panic attacks are about having panic attacks. For example, we are invited to Jessica and Craig’s toga party this weekend, and I’m having panic attacks that I’ll have a panic attack when I’m there. Trust me, the fear of having a panic attack is just as bad as having a panic attack.
In Wikipedia (and in the documentary film “We Jam Econo”) George Hurley refers to his former band Hey Taxi as a “new wave” band. Fuck that. Missing Persons was a new wave band. Hey Taxi was not. As long as I’m on the subject, it would be nice if someone in The Minutemen would acknowledge that they “borrowed” their concept of composing little one or two minute vignette type songs from Hey Taxi, but I doubt they have the balls. I still remember the night (after one of our Hey Taxi gigs) when D. Boon came up to me and said – “I’m gonna start a band and all of our songs are going to be really short songs, like just a minute or two, and I’m gonna call the band The Minutemen.” I said to him – “Wow, that sounds like another band I know.” Bass player Watt now claims that the band name was not based on the fact that their songs only lasted a minute or so, that their name was based on the fabled minutemen militia. Whatever. Bottom line is, their early concept came from me.
Sometimes I wonder about what is going to happen to Spider and myself when we get really old. With no children or grandchildren, we won’t have anyone to look after us. Of course, we can take care of each other, but what happens if we are both in bad shape? What if one of us needs to go into a nursing care facility? What if that care facility doesn’t recognize our relationship? Hopefully we will be married by then, but what if gay marriage still isn’t a reality? What if Spider is in a facility and they won’t let me visit him? I still remember the time that Spider was admitted to a hospital with walking pneumonia, and I was banned from seeing him because I was not “family.”
Time is going by really fast. It seems like we were just celebrating the new year, and now the year is half over.