Monday, June 23, 2014

Chapter One: My Introduction To Punk Rock... And The Starwood



by Hanson Meyer
 
It was 1976… and a half a world away Punk Rock had started to take hold in London. I, Hanson Meyer, was unaware of the impact it would have on me just a few years later.
 
I was small for my age during my adolescent years and found myself bullied by most of the larger kids… usually those associated with sports. In 1976, I was 12 and our family moved from Costa Mesa, California to the mountain community of Big Bear in the local mountains. It was a big, but welcome change to escape from the stigma of being the smallest kid in the 6th grade. Unfortunately, I soon realized that my relocation was not a solution and my problems were compounded with the fact that now, not only was I the smallest kid in the 7th grade, but I was also the “new kid”... let the bullying resume. My father decided that he was tired of seeing his son coming home battered, bruised and depressed so he enrolled me in a Karate class. By the time I was a sophomore in high school my body had finally caught up to everyone else and even had passed the average height of other kids my age at that time. Because of the fact that I was bullied early on, I seemed to isolate myself and didn’t conform to the social norms that everyone else seemed so keen on creating and maintaining. I never did fit in with any of the social groups in high school… nor did I want to.

Me Learning How To Ride - Sep '79
Fads usually took their time to make their way up into our mountain community, and in 1979 disco was finally in full swing. And while everyone else was either learning the latest dance moves or clinging on to the worn out rock bands of the early 70s, I along with my best friends, Scott Boyd, Mike Curtiss and Scott Brett, were listening to new music coming from the student run Clairemont College radio station broadcasting from Pomona as KSPC 88.1 FM. Because we were so far away in the mountains, the signal was very weak, but we listened through the static and absorbed what we could. We tried to hear the DJ announce the band names and songs so we could special order records from Village Music, which was our small local record shop. Also at that time, Scott Boyd and I had built a small skateboard ramp at my house with lumber we had “liberated” from local construction sites and the ramp continued to grow in size over the course of a year until I had the largest, smoothest quarter pipe ramp that eventually even had PVC pipe for coping. (To view more information and photos on the Big Bear Skateboard Ramp in a new window, click here: Big Bear Skateboard Ramp )

Scott Boyd Riding The Ramp - Sep '79

It was also around this time that my dad took me on a trip to visit some family friends who lived in Mission Viejo located in Orange County. They had a son named Jeff Barnes who had a skateboard… so of course I brought mine along for the trip. While I was there, Jeff’s mom took us to Big-O Skatepark in Orange. It was an amazing place with one of my heroes, Duane Peters, from Skateboarder magazine actually skating there… all this while I heard all my favorite music being played through the overhead PA speakers. I wanted to live there so badly… these were my people! 

Blaise Ugolini Catching Air on The Ramp
In late 1979, two new skater kids who were brothers had moved up from Los Angeles, Blaise and Cam Ugolini. Blaise had been skating semi-pro for team Variflex but unfortunately, he had to give it all up when his family moved up to Big Bear. He and his brother both still had long hair as did I and my friends. I wanted to cut my hair so badly, but in this community at that particular time it would have been suicide. You have to understand that at that time the masses were not open to radical ideas and looks... there was a large barrier up and once you had made the conscious decision to cross it, there was no way of coming back. And believe me, there were consequences. You were truly alienated and people would stop being your friends. There was no way that any girl would consider dating you and you had a target painted on you by everyone from the football players in high school to the biker gangs who considered Big Bear a biker haven. You had to truly believe in what you were doing to make that kind of abrupt change and subject yourself to daily harassment and ridicule.

At the beginning of the new school year in 1980, another kid named Rich Parret had moved up from Huntington Beach. I first met Rich at a public indoor swimming pool and recreation center called Pan Hot Springs in Big Bear City. I overheard these jocks in the locker room talking about how they were going to beat up this new kid because he was a “punker” and he had short hair. I dashed out of the locker room to alert the new kid about his welcoming committee. While I was telling him in the parking lot about the situation, five or six of the guys from the locker room came outside and announced that the beating was going to begin. Although I recognized them because they were popular at my high school, I wasn’t friends with any of these guys or know them on a personal level. They apparently also knew who I was, calling me by name, and that I had a brown belt in Shotokan Karate… word gets around fast in a small community. They told me to step aside that their beef wasn’t with me. I told them that I listened to the same music that he did, I just hadn’t cut my hair yet. I also told them that he was my new friend and he had the right to look any way he wanted and that they were going to have to beat both of us up. Rich really had a mouth on him and egged them on, but they just pointed their fingers at him as they turned and slowly walked toward their cars and told him to just wait until he was alone. In all honesty, I was scared to death. I thought for sure we were going to get massacred… sure I had a brown belt, but in reality that’s all it was… a belt. I had some flashy moves I stole from Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, and I could kick and punch a bag, but I had never been in a real fight before. After they left, he thanked me for my help, but he assured me that he would have been okay without me. He reached into the small pocket at the top of his Levi jeans and pulled out a small razor blade explaining that he would just do what he did before when he got hassled in Huntington. He would let the first guy punch him in the face… each time stealthily swiping the razor blade at the aggressors forearm. Pretty soon, the guy would realize that he was bleeding badly. Rich would then hold up the razor blade, shoot them a crazy grin, and then welcome the next bully. He told me that the group would usually just take off freaked out at the sight of so much blood. Because of the smaller community in Big Bear, it’s good that things didn’t go down that way, and ultimately the end result was that I had found a new friend who was going to open the punk rock flood gates to me and my small circle of friends.

My First Punk Show

Rich really educated us about English Punk Rock and he brought a wealth of knowledge about the Sex Pistols, the Clash and other English bands as well as what was going on in the scene near the beaches and in Hollywood at that time. Although my friends and I were already listening to the Ramones, Black Flag, the Adolescents, Devo, the Dickies and a number of other random bands at the time, he had now introduced us to the full catalog of the Sex Pistols, the Clash and Sham 69 from England as well as just about every other band that we hadn’t heard of who were playing in and around L.A. at the time. Rich told us about how crazy and fun the shows were and that we needed to go to one as soon as we could find a way to get to L.A. So we started scanning the Calendar section of the L.A. Times and listened to KSPC Radio to try to find out what shows were coming up in November or December. I really wanted to see the Germs play at the Starwood on December 3rd, but at the time, there was no foreseeable way to get there and back on a Wednesday night. I had a 1969 Buick Skylark that my grandparents had given to me in June for my birthday, but there was no way that a brand new 16 year old driver was going to drive from the mountains all the way to Hollywood… or so I thought.

Because the Germs show was on December 3rd which was a Wednesday night, and logistically we couldn’t make it at that time, we decided instead to see the Dickies play during Christmas vacation about three weeks later. It was only when we found out that Darby Crash had died on December 7th that we realized that we had missed our last opportunity to see the Germs. Although we were saddened by the news, we were still upbeat about the possibility of our upcoming journey later in the month. 

It seemed like forever to reach Christmas vacation and what would be our first trip to the Starwood. During this time, my friends and I had plotted and strategized on how we could all go to the Dickies show on December 23rd and then be with our families the next night for Christmas Eve. 


There were a bunch of us who wanted to go but some of our crew couldn’t make it for a variety of reasons not to mention there wasn’t enough room in the one small car we had finally procured. Scott Brett, had just received his driver’s license and somehow he talked his parents into letting him use the family Subaru wagon to drive me, Scott Boyd and Mike Curtiss to Los Angeles so we could see the show. We were really hoping that Rich was going to be able to go but at the last minute he told us he couldn’t make it. Rich’s mother moved up to the mountains to get him away from the “bad influences” he had been associating with down near the beach so the last thing she was going to do was to let him go to a punk concert in Hollywood.

Dec 27th, 1980 in my Black Flag jacket


Since I was on good terms with her, I called my ex-girlfriend, Ann Todd, who had recently moved from Big Bear to Hermosa Beach and was living with her mother there. I made arrangements for us to go visit her there and so we could stay at her mom’s house the night before the show. Scott’s sister, Kelli Brett, ended up going with us and filling the last seat in the car as she was friends with Ann and wanted to see her as well. I remember that that same month the soundtrack for The Decline of Western Civilization was released on vinyl. I made it my mission while I was there to go to the local record store in Hermosa Beach and buy it as well as several other records including Jealous Again by Black Flag that had come out a few months before.

When I got back to the house we all congregated in the back yard listening to our favorite bands on a small, hand held Radio Shack tape deck. It was at that time that I made the decision to cut my hair. Kelli went at it with a pair of scissors that Ann had grabbed from a kitchen drawer. It looked like I was attacked by a family of rats! But I was feeling like I finally belonged to something and was excited to finally make it to my first punk concert.

The Starwood Marquis (photo courtesy of Starwood Facebook page)
That evening Scott, Mike, Scott Boyd and I all jumped into the Subaru and headed for the Starwood which was situated on the northwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard. and Crescent Heights. We drove under the Starwood marquis and into the open parking lot. I remember seeing the names of other bands on the marquis for upcoming shows including the Surf Punks, Plimsouls and the Blasters. We arrived there fairly early and took the opportunity to talk to a few other early birds about our punk scene in Big Bear and then listened to them tell stories of all the shows they had been going to around Los Angeles. I also remember people talking about how Middle Class and Black Flag were going to be playing there in a couple of weeks and some other punks were talking about this new band called “Mad Society” that was made up of a bunch of really young kids including a really young singer. I also recall that there were “Plimsouls” flyers glued to all the telephone poles on the sidewalk outside the parking lot as the band was going to be playing there soon as well. 

Very Faint Starwood Ticket Stub with DEC 23 Stamped On It
While talking to a couple of punks next to my car, we noticed others starting to move toward the doors. Filled with anticipation, we made our way with the others to stand in line and wait for the ticket office to open. While talking with my friends in line, I noticed a girl standing just behind me with her girlfriend. She was a cute punk rock girl, thin, powder white with red hair and was wearing jeans and a short cropped leopard print top. Her name was Andrea Sill and we chatted the rest of the time we were in line.

Andrea and I were engrossed in conversation about bands and other shows she had been to when we were suddenly interrupted by the push of people towards the now opening doors. We squeezed through the entrance and we all quickly made our way inside. The club filled up quickly and before I knew what had happened, Andrea grabbed my hand, pulling me away from my friends and dashed toward a small table that she spotted at the back of the club with enough room for she and I and her girlfriend. Andrea and I sat there glued to each other and drank a few expensive cups of Coca Cola while listening to KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer play the music that preceded each band. He played punk rock and new wave records there every Tuesday and Wednesday night which were the Starwood’s designated “punk” nights at that time. After Rodney, we watched the opening band, the Great Buildings. The band was made up of a couple members of the Quick who were actually responsible for connecting Leonard Graves Phillips with Stan Lee making Leonard the permanent front man for the Dickies. The Great Buildings were more of a “power pop” band that really didn’t fit the venue that night so during their set I took the opportunity to get to know Andrea a little better. Although I was enjoying the long needed attention of a cute female, when the Dickies started I felt the need to get out front with the boys and immerse myself in the rough and rowdy experience of it all.
 
Christmas 1980
We were up near the front of the stage trying to better our view with “slamming” going on behind us when all of a sudden a group of punks jumped on a guy next to us with long hair and held him down while another guy set his hair on fire with a lighter. The bouncers jumped in and put the fire out before it could do any damage to his skin, but needless to say, the terrified concert goer darted out the exit doors not to return. For us, the show was awesome on every level. We only got a taste of the true punk rock playground and we wanted more. After the show, we knew we were hooked, so we started planning our next pilgrimage to the promised land on our way back to Hermosa Beach.

The next day, Christmas Eve, I made my way out to my grandparents’ ranch just outside of Hemet to be with my family. Needless to say, they were horrified when they saw my hair, as it was truly butchered and would not do for all the family Christmas photographs… so my mother tried to even it out with scissors of her own. It was still “hacked” but I made it through the family photos. Even though I had a collared shirt on, you could still see the “Sid Vicious” chain and padlock around my neck in some of the photos… 

The week after returning to Big Bear, I modified even further the way I dressed to match my new haircut. I wore jeans and brightly colored shirts with black boots that had chains around them. I also tied a red bandana around my right boot because it was the opposite of where the hippies were wearing them around their heads. Scott Boyd and I cut dog leashes up with bolt cutters to add chains to other areas of our clothing. 

Practicing my Guitar with Mike Curtiss (it must have been cold)
That same week Scott Brett, Mike Curtiss and I wanted to form a punk band.  Besides me owning a CAT SRM Synthesizer (sort of like a Moog) and a Les Paul (copy) Guitar, we really didn’t have any instruments. Scott did find somebody who needed to sell a bass and he was able to buy it for $35.00. Mike had an older brother who was a drummer and had a drum set, but he lived miles away in Costa Mesa. We never did get a band off the ground but it planted a seed with me and I started to practice my guitar… I gained some basic skills that I was able to utilize about a year later.

The Second Starwood Show

Feb 27, 1981 - The Dickies
It was around the end of January 1981 that we noticed a lot of negative press about the Starwood in the newspaper and heard that it had been closed down until further notice. Apparently, the city forced the Starwood to close down due to “riots” at the Black Flag concerts in January as well as drug use and underage drinking. Even though the club was officially closed, the L.A. Times Calendar Section kept publishing the concert ads. The Starwood's owner, Eddie Nash, probably kept placing the ads with their expected schedule because he believed that the city couldn't keep the club closed permanently. I kept in contact with Andrea and she told me that the club owner fought with the city and won the battle to get the club reopened before the end of February. So my friends and I firmed up our plans to go to the “Grand Re-Opening” of the Starwood on February 27, 1981 with the Dickies and the Blasters performing.

My mother and father had recently divorced and I stayed in Big Bear to live with my mother while my father and sister had moved down to Mission Viejo and so I didn’t get to see them too often. My dad had worked things out with my mother where he could pick me up in Big Bear and take me to where he was staying to spend some time with them. He wasn’t too happy when I told him I wanted to take time out of my family visit to meet up with my friends and go to a concert in Los Angeles. I promised I would see him the next day, so the day of the concert he reluctantly drove me to Garden Grove and dropped me off at the Fire Station Motel where Scott and Kelli’s dad was staying. There I met up with Scott, Kelli, Scott Boyd, Mike Curtiss and Pete Todd. I remember being in this small dingy “drive-up” motel room where several of my friends were doing “whip-its” from small nitrous canisters. After hanging out for a little while, Scott’s dad let him borrow his early 1970s light blue Cadillac Coupe DeVille the rest of the day to take us on our adventure. As luck would have it, within the first 30 seconds of driving the massive American car, another car had run into us in the parking lot. Scott’s dad was surprisingly relaxed about the situation… after all it was the other driver’s fault. I just wonder how he could have not seen such a large car.

Part of our plan was to head back to my ex-girlfriend Ann’s house on 4th Street in Hermosa Beach so that we all could visit with her, including her younger brother, Pete, who was also with us. But before we went there, we made a detour to West Covina. Since the last Dickies concert in December, I had been in contact with Andrea Sill both by letter and by phone and we had arranged to meet at her house there in West Covina before the  show. During this first leg of our journey, a winter storm had moved in and it had started to rain quite hard. Driving and navigating the large Cadillac was quite difficult but we finally made it. Unfortunately, she was not able to go out with us that night, but we were able to spend a couple of hours with her and have lunch at a Denny’s restaurant in not too far from her house. The rain did let up a little, and on the way back to her house, I cracked my passenger window open a little to help alleviate the foggy windows due to the number of warm bodies in the car. Not two minutes later a car drove through a large, deep puddle sending a wave of water our way, most of which made it through the opening in the window... I was drenched!

Once we had dropped Andrea off at her house, we made our way to Hermosa Beach. Fortunately, the rain didn’t return and it was actually dry there at Ann’s house. It was good to see Ann and her mother again. Pete was excited to see the Dickies and knowing about the stories of the punk crowd targeting anyone with long hair, he was determined not to attract any attention that night. I was entrusted to give him his first punk haircut and became the default punk rock barber from that point forward for years to come. I cropped his hair short and lent him what was sort of like a black and yellow “bumble-bee” striped rugby shirt. We decided that he looked “punk enough” and knew that he would fit in fine at the show. Then we asked Scott Brett if he was ready. Scott weighed his choices… One) cut his hair and for ONE NIGHT be safe inside the Starwood… or Two) leave his hair long, and be safe EVERY DAY back in Big Bear. In the end, he was the only one who didn’t succumb to a haircut and decided to take his chances at the Dickies show.

The time had come to make our way to Hollywood. It was Friday night, February 27, 1981 and I was on my way to my second punk show at the Starwood with some of my closest friends: Scott Boyd, Mike Curtiss, Scott and Kelli Brett and Pete Todd (or as we called him, Peeeetodd). We piled into the car, three in the front and three in the back. On the way, those of us who had been before, re-told the stories of the first show as if we were veterans and built up the level of anticipation and excitement. However, it was almost as if this feeling of excitement had some strong nervous overtones. As I mentioned before, there had been a lot of recent press about the violence at some of the punk concerts there at the Starwood, but we still understood it to be mostly confined to the Black Flag concerts and we had convinced ourselves that we were safe in our group and that it wouldn’t be too crazy for this Dickies show.

We, for the second time in a little over two months, pulled our car into the parking lot of the Starwood. The parking lot was filled with punks and although the doors weren’t open yet, people were starting to gather in a line at the entrance to the club. While in the parking lot, we took notice of a something that was completely strange to us… a group of about ten transvestites trolling up and down the sidewalk continually passing in front of the driveway to the Starwood. They were not there to see the show, but it was almost like they were a gang of she-males there to antagonize the punks… shooting glares from one strange looking group of people to another. We moved from the car to the line and took our place some 20 people back or so. Just as we did, we saw another bizarre sight… This massively tall man in camouflage army fatigues, black boots and large chains wrapped around his chest in an “X” pattern walked into the parking lot from the street with an entourage of about 25 short Asian kids all wearing white T-Shirts with fresh bloody hand prints all over them. We weren’t sure of what message he was trying to convey but he was seriously intimidating to a group of high school kids all less than 17 years of age. While we waited there and the line continued to grow behind us, an Eyewitness News crew
pulled into the parking lot. Anchorman, Paul Moyer, got out of the van with a microphone, bright lights
Paul Moyer - Eyewitness News
blaring and cameras rolling… Starting at the front, he walked down the line asking people what they thought of the violence surrounding punk rock and about this being the first concert there since the club had been recently closed. Paul Moyer skipped past a few people and then the lights and camera landed on Scott Brett. The red light of the camera came on and Paul Moyer asked Scott “What do you think about the re-opening of the Starwood?” Scott looked at the camera and replied, “I think it’s the greatest thing since Melba Toast.” We laughed and then Paul asked me and my friends if we were violent and if we were involved with the “crazy punk antics” that had been going on recently… I think it was right about then that my friend Mike Curtiss spit on Paul Moyer. We laughed and I just remember thinking, “How Punk Rock is that?!?”

Shortly after the Paul Moyer episode, the line started moving, we got our tickets, and before we knew it we were inside again listening to the familiar sounds of KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer spinning punk rock records. The lights eventually came up and this time the opening band was the Blasters opening for the Dickies. The Blasters were okay, but didn’t exactly match the crowd’s expectations. They were spit at and jeered a bit and I think even they were happy when their set was over. After much anticipation, the Dickies came on. The crowd erupted and seemed to be even more wild than the previous show I experienced. We moved up near the stage so that the swirling mass of people was just behind us. Back then there wasn’t really a “Mosh Pit”, it was more of a bubbling sea of people all doing their own thing. Even the term “Slam Pit” wasn’t actually coined as such until Jerry Roach had filmed it in action in its infancy stages at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa later that year. The Dickies played on and we were all having a great time slamming with the crowd singing along with our favorite songs. Scott Brett showed some serious balls by coming out of the shadows to join us in front of the stage with his longer hair. He was only there a short time before the massive punk with chains wrapped around his chest came up and tried to hit him in the face and grab him by the hair. Instincts kicked in and we immediately jumped in between the guy and several others who decided they were going to join in on the ass-kicking. We pushed the instigators back into the melee of the swirling crowd in front of the stage where they disappeared temporarily due to other bodies flying by. Although our small wall of force was only a distraction, it was enough time for Scott to dive down and into the open area under the stage and for the rest of us to find another position where we wouldn’t be hunted down for interfering. In those few seconds, Scott had managed to crawl on all fours staying down low until he was safely off to the side of the stage. He then made his way back into the shadows to avoid any further confrontations but fully enjoyed the rest of the show from the sidelines. We all agreed that it would have been better if he chose to get his hair cut that afternoon and it wasn’t too long after we had returned to Big Bear that Scott finally decided to cut his hair and join the rest of us… and it was a good thing too, because our next punk rock journey would take us to see Black Flag less than a couple of months later.

FOR THE NEXT CHAPTER OF THE STORY, CLICK HERE

This Blog is Dedicated to one of my closest and dearest friends, Scott Boyd... RIP.

7 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Yep... I should have the next blog up soon. I'm tracking down old friends to make sure all the facts are straight... Thanks for reading.

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    2. Chapter 2 just uploaded... just go up to the top of this page and open the Blog Archive.

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  2. Chapter two is under way... including Black Flag in Palm Springs at the Rumors Club in 1981 and then later in the year at the Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa...

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  3. Totally awesome, Hanson! Can't wait for the next installment!

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