By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I rented the garage from Mark as I started my senior year at San Francisco State. Mark and Patty left behind a kitchen table and two chairs, as well as a collection of trunks, boxes, shelving and an assortment of tchotchkes that completely consumed all the floor space. Among the keepsakes were enough musical instruments to supply a small orchestra. They included an accordion, a trumpet, a marimba, two guitars, a banjo, a saxophone, a violin, a collection of harmonicas, a set of timbales and a piano. With some ingenuity, I squeezed my few belongings (mostly film books) into the remaining space, never realizing that it was in my power to ask Mark to remove his things.
One of the items left behind in the garage was a blond Gibson guitar amplifier (Model GA9) that was smaller than a wastebasket. Though tiny (it contained one 7-inch speaker), when you turned it all the way up it gave off so much sustained distortion that it sounded like a Marshall stack. I didn‘t own a guitar at that time, but Mark had a Montgomery Ward three-quarter-size Airline electric guitar that had a dull gold finish and looked like something from an episode of The Jetsons. In times of trial (every day), I played the hell out of that guitar through that amp and entertained delusions of guitar grandeur.
After graduating from college, I squandered the year in Italy, then came back to roost in the garage. Though it seemed logistically impossible, the garage was even more cluttered when I returned. Just to the right of the toilet, past the extension ladder, a drum set had materialized. It belonged to Ralph, a salesman at Pacific Stereo who dated Nancy, the typesetter from the Berkeley Barb who lived in the attic of the White House. Later, a friend of a friend, Mike Baker, brought over his Vox Super Beatle amp and homemade speaker cabinet for a jam session, and it sat next to the kitchen table for the next three years.
That amalgam of instruments and the fact that neither Mark nor I worked led to a lot of jamming. Another Berkeleyite, my best friend from film school, Steven Okazaki, frequently joined us. Originally from L.A., Steve had a deep record collection garnered from the $1 bins at the old Aron’s on Melrose and a fair amount of high school band experience playing drums. He brought a cheap a copy of a Fender Telecaster into the mix and an excellent knowledge of new wave and punk.
A tremendous amount of instrument switching occurred during our jams. Someone would start out on piano and end up drumming. Mark might whip out the accordion or a trumpet. Ability on an instrument never came into question. It was very loose, and as I never locked the door, open to a lot of scrutiny by the drug traffic from the front houses. Usually someone would enter to find out what all the noise was about, watch for five minutes and then leave in disgust. We never stopped playing to acknowledge the visitors, treating them with the same disdain we had for song structure and overall musicianship.
The playing went to another level following my move out of the garage. After months of lying about, I got a job at a xerographic supply company in San Francisco called Business Products. Being a working stiff, I couldn‘t handle the late-night party scene at Parker Street anymore. The final straw was when one reveler fell off a second-story back porch onto my doorstep. Indulging a lifelong gastronomic fixation, I moved a mile and a half away to a bachelor apartment above Dream Fluff Donuts. The move meant that jamming had to be more formalized, in that it had to be scheduled. What’s more, each of us had to chip in $20 a month to guarantee that the garage would remain unoccupied.
Mark, Steve and I practiced three nights a week. Though he‘d never played them before, Mark took over drums, and Steve and I switched off on guitar, bass and vocals. At first we only played covers. Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” as arranged by John Cale, Kevin Coyne‘s “Eastbourne Ladies,” Kevin Ayers’ “Decadence,” the New York Dolls‘ “Trash” and Garland Jeffreys’ “Wild in the Streets.” Before long, Steve and I began writing originals. These were basically three-chord songs. As I was very much taken with the Ramones, I tried to write and play tunes that were fast and lean. I had no skill as a guitarist, but because Mark‘s Airline guitar had such a short neck, I could execute the fast changes without too much trouble. As to lyrics, I just followed Captain Beefheart’s example: plenty of free association seasoned with puns, the more double meanings the better. E.g., these are part of the lyrics from the song “I Do I Do”:
Cakes coming over the rise
Bet they make it home before the pies
The brewer‘s yeast a real surprise
I’ve got crust in both my eyes
I do I do I do I do