Echoes and Reverberations: "Snapshots From The Spectacle of Sickness"
The original Nervebreakers lineup.
Defining moment: For a suburban teenage kid from North Dallas in 1977, a delirious new underground movement called punk rock inspired a profound and urgent departure from the regular routine of cruising Forest Lane or hanging out at the Gemini Drive-In movie theater.
It was a Ramones show on a snowy night at Panther Hall in Fort Worth that lured me headlong into the lifestyle; 16-year-old Joan Jett and her band The Runaways were the opening act. Vern Evans' parents drove us to the show and waited all night out in the parking lot. I couldn't stop laughing in the car on the drive back; everything was funny because I was stoned and these punk rock people in leather jackets had just totally rearranged my musical and artistic priorities.
I bought the Sex Pistols debut record without having the faintest idea what the word "Bollocks" meant; had no idea what "Belsen" or "EMI" or "Anarchy" was all about. I was still a kid. Still stupid. They were screaming about God knows what. All I knew is that is was loud as fuck and sounded important. From that point on, I started going to every single punk rock show that happened in town.
There was often great risk involved:
The legal drinking age in Texas was still 18, which meant I was still
two years away from being able to get into the Hot Klub. Linda Lee, the
wife of promoter/owner Mark Lee, ran the front door, and she knew that
I was underage.
I soon mastered the art of sneaking in the band's load-in door. Once inside, I still had to hide.
At shows by The Stranglers, X, Lords of the New Church and Iggy Pop, I spent the entire night looking over my shoulder, hoping that Linda wouldn't notice me inside the room. When it was over, I'd sneak back out through the side door.
When Black Flag appeared at the Hot Klub, a friend from high school named Steve Lanier and I went down to the venue early on a rainy afternoon to see if we could maybe meet the band. There was no one on hand to open the club for load in, so we ended up taking them up to North Dallas to visit Bill's Records. They spent hours in the store digging through the T-shirts and posters.
Lanier's Mom was out of town on business, so we offered them a place to crash for the night. Smelly, tattooed bodies in sleeping bags were strewn all over the living room and hallway. Henry Rollins stayed up all night, sitting at the dinner table, squeezing a cue ball. He was not a pleasant kid. The band showed their appreciation for Steve's hospitality by stealing all of his family's bath towels.
While gaining entrance to the Hot Klub was always tricky, they didn't ever check IDs at the door of DJ's. The owner, a woman named Delores, apparently thought that I was cute. She always kept a six-pack of Dr Pepper on ice in a Styrofoam cooler for me behind the bar. I was golden down on Lower Greenville.
The first wave of Dallas' own area punk bands scared the shit out of people. The Vomit Pigs, The Doo, Superman's Girlfriend, The Telefones, Stickmen With Rayguns, NCM, The Ralphs, Hugh Beaumont Experience, Quad Pi and The Assassins were all regulars at both DJs and the Hot Klub.
Just writing their names conjures up the smell of puke and piss and beer and smoke. These people were misfits and freaks, with fake names and raggedy-ass threads. Some were intelligent artists who had grown disgusted with prog-rock and ornamental affectations; others with terrible players who couldn't get gigs in regular rock bands. Everybody was making it up as they went along. Nobody was doing it to get rich or famous.
I was also spending a lot of time in Austin back then, where local punk bands like Butthole Surfers, The Dicks, Big Boys, Toxic Shock and The Offenders were playing at clubs like Raul's, Club Foot and Studio 29. There were always a lot of Dallas faces in the crowd. The two music scenes seemed to be existing on parallel tracks; a lot of people from both cities would cross paths making their way up and down I-35.
Texas was actually the perfect place for punk rock to mutate from the established NY/London leather jacket and combat boots aesthetic, to something like say, The Dicks' Gary Floyd in a tutu, or the Nervebreakers' Tex Edwards in a tacky cowboy outfit. All of us clearly had lots of baggage that needed to be addressed, and we were wearing our sickness on our sleeve.
Punk rock was crafted to shock the shit out of the oblivious. If it wasn't frightening or anarchistic, then it was mindless and inane. You didn't dance, you ran into people. You didn't sing, you screamed at the top of your lungs.You didn't aspire to shoot music videos, you lived to shoot dope.
I loved punk rock, but not enough to ever jab a needle in my arm. The static noise was enough to get me off. But a lot of people died before their time. Deep Ellum happened and tastes changed. Punk rock took a bath and became a sitcom.
But enough about all that. Now I'm gonna shut up and let a few other survivors share their therapy.
Paul Quigg (The Nervebreakers/Superman's Girlfriend): "The Dallas punk scene flickered into existence a bit sporadically at first. The moment of spontaneous combustion occurred when a woman named Michelene Kerfont threw a party for the opening of a new clothes store on Lower Greenville called Eclectricity. The band that night was The Infants; for many, it was a life changing moment with regards to local popular culture. There had been some underground type shows scattered here and there, but that party was pivotal--and from that moment forward, the crowd and musical offerings at DJ's were changed. Owner Dolores Nolley saw the kind of loot that came with it, and was persuaded to begin booking from Dallas' underground community."
Greg Synodis (Lithium X-Mas): "The first time I walked into DJ's, I had no idea what to expect. On the dinky stage by the front entrance was a band called Snakes On Everything featuring vocalist/character Mike Vomit (of the legendary Vomit Pigs) performing a song called 'I'm in Love With Karen Ann Quinlan'. This was an ode to the first girl whose parents wanted to pull the plug on her comatose body on life support. After that song, it was the one-chord anthem 'This Is Punk Rock!' The band would just keep playing and singing those same words over and over again, while simultaneously urging the audience to throw money at them--as a veiled threat that the song might not stop unless they threw enough. Pretty brilliant theater, actually. No going back to Rush now."
Ken Shimamoto (Fort Worth Weekly): "In January 1978, my drummer from college called me in New York and told me, "I just saw the Sex Pistols and they sucked...but this Dallas band called the Nervebreakers opened, and they were great!" He went on to tell me that, in Texas, you didn't need liability insurance on your car, and you could drive up to a cop with a beer in your hand and he'd just wave. I moved here six months later. So, in a way, I suppose you could say the Nervebreakers changed my life. That summer, I started working at Peaches Records and Tapes at Cole and Fitzhugh with Mike Haskins."
Patty Mayes (Nerverator): "In 1976, I was working at Peaches Records and met Mike Haskins. We took a lunch break together one day and he said 'I've got this band...' Who are these guys? Well, I went to see them and thought 'Whoa! I had no idea THIS was happening! Great! 'I was an instant fan. I went to many of their shows and got to watch their growing success as they opened for The Ramones, The Clash etc. (I only HEARD them open for the Pistols. I'm short, the stage was low and it was too crowded with camera people to see.) Their version of 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' was just killer, though!"
Flier for the now-legendary Sex Pistols/Nervebreakers show.
Curtis Hawkins (record store owner): "I saw the Nervebreakers
open for the Sex Pistols at the Longhorn Ballroom in January 1978, and
I knew Thom Edwards from hangin' out in record stores. They made a big
impact that night, but it was at DJ's that I became enamored with the
Nervebreakers' sound, power and presence. DJ's was one of the most
intimate rooms outside of your den. Of course, the place stunk and was
funky. On any given night that the Nervebreakers were playing, the place
would be packed. All of the other bands that weren't playing elsewhere
were in the house as fans and or watching what the competition was
Lisa Taylor (Dallas Times Herald): "My memories of those days started when I was a freshman at SMU in 1979. My roommate happened to be a punker from Connecticut. Laura Earnest who dated Pogo--they spent most of their time shooting up at the Ambassador downtown. She was the one who took me to DJ's for the first time. I learned to hold her off so she could shoot up whatever she was doing, which I never tried (never liked needles). I learned to pogo, which came in handy when I started covering music in 1983 for the Times Herald. Bobby Soxx's girlfriend Nancy now coincidentally lives three doors down from me here in Oak Cliff."
Mark Ridlen (Quad Pi/Lithium X-Mas): "Props to Buddy Magazine and its Musician's Unclassified section: This was where I placed an ad for a guitarist for my Irving high school band Quad Pi. David Townsend answered it and became our gateway drug to the spotty punk scene spreading around Dallas like day-glo mold. Our 16-year-old drummer Reagan Eskridge (R.I.P.) persuaded us to play for a prom at his school in Mesquite. We were told it was an annual fundraiser for retarded kids. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were to perform as well. When we arrived, we found that the entire group was mentally challenged and disabled. They were all in formal tuxes and gowns and their parents sat sternly glaring and hissed at our shabby punk duds. John Painter wore swim goggles and some type of codpiece over stained pajama bottoms. David was chugging Jack Black straight between songs and had painted mascara on his eyes to look unintentionally Mongolian. The prom reached surrealgasm when Jim Nabors, Linda Shaw and Teresa McGee showed up to gawk and support us right before we went into our set closer 'Shrivel Up' by Devo. As the song peaked, Jim threw himself down on the dance floor and started writhing spastic and wormlike. At this point, most of the kids were transfixed by our every move and followed his cue by falling limp and wiggling with joy while a scowling teacher lunged at the one extension cord that powered us all."
Flier for a Nervebreakers show at DJ's
Don Foote (The Devices/Loco Gringos): "When I moved to Dallas in '79, I
didn't know anyone. I soon found my way to DJ's New Wave Café--I read
about the failed DJ's New Wave Festival in Buddy Magazine. The stories
from DJ's are endless, but I got to know Dolores, who ran the place. I
started helping behind the bar one night when they were busy and this
turned into a part-time job that I think paid $15 a night (plus tips,
and there weren't many of those). One of my duties at this job was to
collect the plastic cups from the night before and wash them to reuse
that night. Dolores booked a wide range of bands. I remember tending
bar there when Stevie Ray played; the few people that were there were
falling asleep (OK, nodding off) at their tables. By then, I think the
Hot Klub had opened and she was trying anything to stay in business. But DJ's is where I saw the Telefones, the Skuds, the VD Generates, the
Teenage Queers, the Nervebreakers and all the early bands. Working at
DJ's, I met Tom Hansen and Colin Fite of the Evacutees. Their band was
breaking up as some of the members were graduating high school and
moving away, and they asked me if I wanted to be in a band with them. I
had never been in a band, but said "Sure!" and the Devices were born in
Jonathan Lacey (musician): "The Nervebreakers gigs always seemed to be HOT and crowded and everyone shouted and got wasted. It was a fucking party! A hot, swinging rock and roll party. Superman's Girlfriend were like the B-52's sitting in with Richard Lloyd after a three-day speed run. By that, I mean that you and Richard Lloyd and all of the original B-52's go out on a speed run together, doing ALL the things people do on speed runs, stay awake for three days doing that, now sit down in a dark hot nightclub with other delinquents and freaks to watch your partners play--always intense. All of these folks were making it up as they went along, paying the price and reaping the reward, often in the same day. Times were strange and creative and, many times, dark. We were all at least a little damaged."
Ken Shimamoto: "The Nervebreakers were great to watch onstage: Tex hanging off the mic stand, acting totally blase; Barry bashing out the chords and singing backups in his Army helmet and pistol belt (he was actually a sniper in Korea, '71); Bob jumping up and down with the enthusiasm of a fan who got to be in the band; Carl the symphony percussionist, pounding away at his skins; and Mike, the hottest guitar-slinger to come out of the whole Texas punk development, whom we always used to give shit at work because he looked like Donnie Osmond. I moved to Fort Worth in the summer of '79 (right before I moved to Austin), and I saw my favorite Nervebreakers show there, when they played at Tootsie's with the Fort Worth Cats. Back then, clubs in FW used to stay open till 4 a.m. I forget what time it was when the police showed up, and the Nervebreakers gradually stopped playing when they realized what was up--except for Mike. He kept playing until the lawman physically removed the guitar from his hands. It was one of the most rock 'n' roll moments I've ever witnessed!"
Paula (fan): "Roky Erikson was a legend to the Nervebreakers, and in June '79, they began rehearsing to learn all of the Roky & The 13th Floor Elevators material; they were working on a scheme to drag the mentally ill musician out of retirement and back on stage. Later that month, they backed him up at the old Palladium. They played their own set first before bringing him out. During the Nervebreakers' set, I went in the dressing room for a beer, and the only one in there was Roky. He seemed friendly and eager to talk. He was talking about being from Mars. When he went out to play, it seemed great at first, but then he repeated the same stanza three times before the Nervebreakers quietly cut off his power and covered for him, doing his part for him. I'm very happy to hear this '60s psychedelic legend found the help he needed, and came back from being lost in delusion as he was for so long."
Ken Shimamoto: "For the first couple of years I lived in Texas, I saw the Nervebreakers more than any other band. I was impressed that, contrary to the conventional wisdom about punk, those guys could really play. They wrote great songs that were as smart and funny as the Dictators' or the Ramones': 'My Girlfriend Is A Rock', 'Hijack the Radio', 'My Life Is Ruined'. They were ahead of their time in adding C&W to the punk mix with their cover of George Jones' 'The Race Is On' and they even bested the MC5 for Troggs coverage with their version of 'Strange Movies' (which I thought was an original at first)."
Stickmen with Rayguns
Curtis Hawkins: "Stickmen With Rayguns were playing at the Twilight Room one night. Bobby Soxx had hauled around an E.T. doll most of the day. During the evening's tirade and roll performance, you would see the doll from time to time. At the pinnacle of the show (probably during 'Satan Baby'), Soxx whipped out two thin boards and proceeded to staple E.T. onto the quickly styled cross in a crucifix-like pose. After more musical heaviness, feedback, screams and audience teasing and torture, Soxx, using a can of lighter fluid, squirts his creation dousing it in petrochemicals and screamed 'Fuck a bunch of E.T.!!!', then lit the make-shift cross on fire... taking the tribal ceremonies from zombie trance drone to arson-flickering pre-planned chaos. He left the new punk-rock vaudeville audience wanting more. That's showbiz!"
Casey Orr (Rigor Mortis/GWAR): "Being a metalhead from Arlington, I had no idea about Deep Ellum and the underground scene that was thriving there. My first experience with the Dallas punk scene must have been sometime in '84. A friend told me about this crazy club called the Circle A Ranch, where skinheads and punk rockers with mohawks were slamdancing to hardcore music. We had to go! (RM drummer) Harden Harrison and I made the drive to Dallas, walked up the creaky staircase and paid our couple of bucks to a surly little skinhead named 'Little A', who scoffed at our metal attire and long hair, calling us hippies. Harden called him out on it, asking what the big deal was--we were just hear to hear the same bands as he was. Little A gave a nod and said something like 'You're alright', and in we went. What we saw before us was a hundred or so punks, skaters and skins thrashing in a clockwise circle, apparently beating the shit out of each other! Our first mosh pit! We stood there in awe. I felt like John Belushi in The Blues Brothers, when he's standing in the church and has a revelation. We just looked at each other and jumped in. We purposely went the opposite direction, swinging wildly, with the biggest shit-eating grins on our faces! After a song or two, we stepped to the side to catch our breath. Two tough-looking skinheads came up to us, one of them bleeding a little from his forehead. The bigger one said 'We don't give a shit if you guys wanna come here, but that shit's gotta go', pointing at our sharp spiked wristbands. So I unsnapped them, threw 'em over my shoulder, grabbed the skinhead around the neck and pulled him back into the pit. That was a pivotal moment for me and I believe, the whole DFW Metal scene. Punk Rock and the Deep Ellum scene influenced everything we did from that point on."
Jonathan Lacey: "I ended up at DJ's one night while out on a first date with a young lady and a couple that were her friends. Once I got in, I did not want to leave; I knew that this was the spirit of Max's Kansas City or Andy Warhol's Factory; but it was here and it was now and available. I fell in with this crew as if I had always been here. I was very intimidated to begin with. Most of these folks were 7 to 10 years older than me. But I was included and treated like a valid contributor. I felt as if I had found a home. What made this place so unique and appealing to me was the disparity. By appearance, we were all more different than we were alike. And we were. We were oddballs and freaks and criminals and addicts and those troubled mentally and emotionally. But we were all in the same room making it work."
Flier for the DJ's retreat.
Frank Campagna (artist/promoter):
"The Nervbreakers played at DJ's New Wave Retreat, a two-day punk rock
festival on October of '79. This was DJ's owner Delores Nolley's idea,
but everyone seemed to think it was just stupid; we were punks, not
hippies or Deadheads. There were thousands of flyers and T-shirts
overkilling the event before it happened. With bands like the Skunks,
Terminal Mind, The Plugz, The Huns, The Obvious, the Fort Worth Cats
and the Nervebreakers playing, everybody in the North Texas scene
planned to be there. It took place at Yellow Belly Speedway in Grand
Prairie; a makeshift stage was set up on the back of a flatbed truck. A
couple hundred outcasts of the Dallas music scene washing down way too
many drugs and booze in an unprecedented overnight adventure. I left
around 3 a.m. to grab something to eat with a girl I had never seen
before. First, she took me to smoke out on Clyde Barrows' grave before
we hit the Fairmount to eat. By the time the food arrived, the
psychedelics had kicked in, so we got it to go and headed back to the
retreat. As the sun rose behind the stage, Superman's Girlfriend was
onstage. Singer Jim Nabors was wearing a nun's dress. It was a
beautiful, ironic and spiritual moment. A few hours later, the campsite
emptied out and everyone took off to rest up a bit. The Nervebreakers
were opening for The Clash that night at the original Palladium, and
the second night of the retreat didn't happen. In hindsight, this was a
prequel for Lollapalooza or Warped Tour, but was way too early for the
Greg Synodis (Lithium X-Mas): "For Dallas at large, this was a brand new and definite alternate reality that had not quite been seen before. A DIY reality formed by records, magazines, word-of-mouth, misspent childhoods, borrowed scenes from other towns; where the most fucked up--and sometimes genuinely talented--misfits remade/reinvented their fucked up world out of trash, art, drugs, music, generally compulsive behavior and whatever imagination they had left, like it was the only chance they'd ever have to have an effect on a world that they hated anyway. But before it's energy became co-opted by tourists, media vampires, cash-ins or its own WTF chaos--and all other unattended pressures that finally blew the self-made punk monster up--it was really something to behold!"
Curtis Hawkins: "There were other fun bands in the scene--The Infants, The Skuds and Superman's Girlfriend for example--but none with the power and musicality of the Nervebreakers. The audience usually included many of the local colorful personalities, like Bobby Soxx, Shit Cherie, Platinum Paul and or Mikey Vomit. I had a record store up the street (Stax O' Trax) and started hangin' out at DJ's. It was the Nervebreakers that drove the scene more than the other bands at the time. Sure, there were more popular bands like the Telefones. There were also more outrageous bands like the Teenage Queers or the Skuds. However, it was The Nervebreakers who drove home their melodies with a driving beat and a hypnotic delivery."
I sent out an email blast a couple of weeks ago, asking our people for
their favorite memories from the beginning of the Dallas punk scene.
There were dozens of responses, all of them unique in their own way. If
yours didn't make it in, I'd love for you to cut-and-paste your
original email response to me and repost in the comments section below.
Perhaps you were there at my favorite Nervebreakers show at the Hot
Klub, when Tex was whacked out on painkillers and did the whole show
lying on his side on an aluminum folding lawn chair. Or maybe you saw
that famous photo of Barry Kooda in the "Random Notes" section of
Rolling Stone magazine, biting into a dead fish on the night the band
opened for the Sex Pistols. Were you standing in the parking lot when
Bobby Soxx slashed the tires on The Stranglers' tour van? Please weigh
in here and help connect the dots.
In 2009, punk rock has been mainstreamed to death, its Warped Tour/Hot Topic logo feces smeared on every available inch of the pop culture bandwidth. If you were too young to experience the birth of punk rock in real time (back when you were taking your life into your hands every time you went out in public), then you owe it to yourself to come meet the people who were brave enough to do this shit first.
The Nervebreakers will reunite on Saturday night for a show at Club Dada. In three weeks, AllGood Cafe will hosting a reunion get-together of DJ's regulars.
Both of these events are gonna kill. Like a National Geographic Midnight Special, we're off on some turn-back-the-clock-and-rock shit. Revisit the sickness. Soak up the spectacle.
Then wake up the next morning and start your own revolution.
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