Grave City

Bobby Glenn Calverley would have turned 46 next month, on December 29, but there will be no birthday party. Instead, on November 5 at Bar of Soap, there will be a wake: Last week, Bobby died of liver failure. At 2 a.m. on October 23, the doctors at Baylor University Medical Center pronounced Calverley dead on arrival; he drank himself to sleep, as usual, only this time he would not wake up. Those who knew him best never expected him to live to see 46 or, for that matter, 36. Some thought Calverley had died a long time ago; they heard rumors, whispers that he'd been shot to death, stabbed, or that he had died in prison. Others thought he would never die; he wore the scars of the indestructible. When word began circulating late last week that he had stopped breathing, many of Calverley's oldest friends shed few tears. They shrugged, as if to say, Finally, Bobby Soxx is dead.

"Death couldn't touch him," says ex-Nervebreakers guitarist Barry Kooda, once part of the local punk scene that birthed Bobby Calverley's alter ego--Bobby Soxx, lead singer (shouter? screamer? growler?) of the band Stick Men with Ray Guns, which existed throughout most of the 1980s. "It sounded like something totally made up when I heard he died of liver damage, because the guy was bulletproof."

Bobby Soxx is that very definition of local legend: More people have heard about him than have actually heard him perform. Everyone who knew him in the late '70s and '80s has one story, if not 100, to tell about him--the time he pissed on this guy, the time he punched that guy, the time he got so fucked-up at one bar that he drank candle wax off of patrons' tables. They are tales that, over time, become the stuff of mythology--for better or worse. Those who knew nothing of his violent temper and had heard only of the name Bobby Soxx (or Stick Men with Ray Guns or Teenage Queers, his first band with the Dirkx brothers) worshipped him, if only because he was there and, somehow, survived.

It's understatement to say Bobby Soxx had lived through a lot: He had been shot at point-blank range; stabbed by burglars, who punctured his lung; incarcerated in Huntsville's prisons and Terrell's mental asylums. He fought with audience members, with members of other bands, with members of his own bands. He drank and drugged so much he insisted that he remembered few of the bad things he did during his lifetime, including the night he beat his live-in girlfriend with his fists, then a tire iron, before urinating on her crumpled, battered body.

"You probably must think I'm a pretty bad guy, that I'm probably twisting the truth, because there's a lot of bad shit going around about me," he said when I met him, shortly after he'd been paroled for the May 19, 1990, beating. "I may have done the most despicable thing in the world, but, fuck, I don't remember it, and I can't help it. I'm the classic case of some guy who fucking went to jail and really don't remember what happened."

Nobody liked to tell stories about Bobby Soxx more than Bobby himself. When I interviewed him in the fall of 1994, he talked about how he had doctors scattered all over town who supplied him drugs for various ailments and injuries, most of which he manufactured himself. He recounted, quite giddily, how he and some friends would cruise Greenville Avenue and have "tourist terrorization night, terrorize those sons of bitches." And he told about how, when he was 24 years old, he had been committed to Terrell State Hospital because he was "in peril."

"I was in the ward for the criminally insane," he said, with not a small amount of pride. "I was locked down, 'cause I fucking went wild, Jack. Pillaged, vandalized, destroyed most of the fucking malls in Dallas, like Valley View, NorthPark. I wanted to fucking take shit. I don't know why. I was just fucking crazy. Fucking went wild. Fucking ape shit...[In Terrell], I'd take all these tests. Man, I'd fly through them. The doctors would ask, 'Have you ever excreted a black tarry substance?' 'Hell, yeah! Fuck, yeah!' When all the questions were done, the psychiatrist would talk to me about shit. This one told me, 'You need to find a way to get all this out, whatever's inside of you.'" Bobby insisted the doctor told him to join a band.

Until this year, it was nearly impossible to locate any Stick Men recordings; the rare single, among them the Teenage Queers' "Hate in the '80s," would sell for $50 among collectors. Earlier this year, Stick Men guitarist Clarke Blacker released the CD Some People Deserve to Suffer, a collection of 16 songs (among them, "Grave City," "Christian Rat Attack," "Pee Pee in the Disco Mommy," and "Nazi Cowboys") performed at such places as the Hot Klub, the Twilite Room, Theater Gallery, at a Rock Against Reagan concert in Houston in 1984, and in rehearsal spaces. Much of the disc is nearly unlistenable--the recordings are crude, and Bobby's bark sounds like so much howled static--but it hints at how such a man could become legendary. Bobby sounded less like a man playing a part than he did a true believer in mayhem, the punk who lived the same offstage as on. "Chain them shackles of sin on me," he sang to "Satan Baby," and it's not hard to believe he got his wish.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky