By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
On 30 January 2000 at 8:38 p.m., I listed a 45 rpm record by a band called the Maids on eBay. I included photographs of the front and back of the paper sleeve and the following description:
The Maids were a short-lived Berkeley garage band that had a minor reputation based on this DIY single they issued in 1979. It features the sometimes covered “Back to Bataan” with “I Do I Do.” This is pure raw driving music from a trio that featured John Ritalin (6 strings & v’s), Red Snapper (4 strings) and Chuck Menses (no strings). The record label was the Maids‘ own Anemic Records, and this was their only release. The single comes in a paper picture sleeve that is yellowing and wrinkled around the edges. There is an original lyric sheet inside along with the record. If you like Green Day, Rancid and the Offspring, this might work for you, but you’ll need a turntable that handles 45‘s.
I asked for a minimum bid of $7. I went to bed. I checked eBay the following morning, and the high bid was $137. I thought there must be some mistake. Six days later, when the auction closed, the winner had bid $212.50. Now I was positive there was a mistake. What made this single so special? And who exactly were the Maids? I had no idea how to answer the first question. But I will try to answer the second.
In 1977 I came back to the United States after living in Italy for a year. The Italians had a word for my occupation. They called it “a bum.” Returning to the U.S., I had no job, no prospects and no idea what I wanted to do. So I took up my Italian occupation again. Before going to Italy, as well as after my return, I lived at one of the more infamous anarchist communes in Berkeley, “Parker Street” (named after the street it was located on).
Parker Street consisted of two large, two-story wood-shingle houses, the Brown House and the White House, a four-room cottage behind the Brown House and two detached garages. The first time I visited the commune there was a black flag flying over the Brown House and a large sign mounted near the front steps that blinked “Smash the State.” A 2-foot-tall white plaster statue of Chairman Mao stood at the foot of the stairs. The facade of the White House (just next door) was adorned with the black spray-painted legend “Abolish the State.” Later I learned that socialist folk singer Malvina Reynolds lived a few doors up the street.
As an anarchist commune, Parker Street had seen its heyday long before I arrived. In its prime, a Who’s Who of Berkeley figures (Black Panther Bobby Seale, China and Tibet expert Orville Schell) had lived there or passed through its portals. But that was then. In the mid-‘70s, the sophisticated offset press in the basement of the Brown House that had produced full-color brochures such as “Don’t Vote -- It Only Encourages Them” stood idle. There were still various police mug shots of commune members pinned to a bulletin board in the Brown House kitchen, but they were now simply a memorial to past demonstration heroics.
The sad truth was that someone had had the inspired alternative idea of selling drugs to support the commune. So the wily anarchist activities of its best and brightest turned to dealing. (Though the team did rally to produce “The Fuckin‘ A’s” T-shirts that looked just like the Athletics‘ logo of the era, “The Swingin’ A‘s.”) And as those things go, drugs became the be all and end all for some members and an anathema for everyone else. By the time I arrived in the fall of 1975, there were three coke dealers living at Parker Street and one person who grew and sold magic mushrooms.
One of the non-dealers was Mark Ryken. The first time I met him I was riding BART to San Francisco, and he sat across from me holding a violin. No bow. No case. Just the violin. His face looked familiar to me, very much like a lady I worked with at a newspaper in Oakland. I asked him, “Is your name Ryken?” He said it was, and the lady I knew turned out to be his mother. I asked him if he played violin. He said, “No, but I figure if I carry it around, I’ll learn.” During our conversation I mentioned that I needed a place to live. He said he might know of something.
Mark was one of the founding members of the commune. An architecture major at Berkeley, he outfitted the garage behind the White House with a shower, sink, tiny stove and heater. A toilet bowl stood exposed just inside the front door, and there was a sleeping loft that was accessed by an aluminum extension ladder. The loft contained a 3-by-5-foot skylight rigged with a pulley so its corrugated fiberglass cover could be lifted to reveal sky. Mark and his companion, Patty Frazier, lived there with their daughter, Carman. (Carman was born at Parker Street and her birth weight was originally determined by taking her to the nearby Safeway and weighing her in the produce scale.) However, the loft proved a dangerous place for a toddler (she fell out once), so the trio relocated to the recently vacated cottage behind the Brown House.
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