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
But the next day, they actually got to play. “We wake up and the old guy has built a giant chessboard outside in the dirt, using that white lye they use for football fields. And he’s made these giant chess pieces, figurines on top of three-foot wood sticks. We were supposed to divide into teams and move the giant pieces around, discussing each move. I told them I wasn‘t feeling well and went back to my bunk bed.”
The rest of the band emerges for a break. A discussion ensues about the strange foods our respective fathers eat, and the notion that when one reaches a certain advanced age, things that once seemed repulsive might suddenly become appetizing. His curiosity piqued, Brett sends out for a quart of buttermilk to test the theory. Twenty minutes later, we’re all sipping surprisingly refreshing glasses of the curious dairy product.
The members of Bad Religion are feeding at a Hollywood noodle house. Everyone is laughing about a story from back when I was in the band and skateboard legend Tony Alva, on a bill with us playing bass in the Skoundrelz, submerged a stingy concert promoter upside down in a Lake Tahoe snow bank. I offer that touring is probably not so volatile at this stage in the band‘s career, and Greg shakes his head. At a recent show in San Sebastian in Spain, he says, “The entire floor collapsed. During the first song, everyone was jumping up and down simultaneously, and this huge hole opened up, and 900 people fell down a 20-foot drop into a parking garage underneath. Ambulances came for six hours carrying people away. The floor just caved in right before my eyes, people screaming and trying to hold on to the side. Thankfully, no one died.” Everyone nods solemnly. “And in Amsterdam,” he says, “an armless thalidomide baby did a stage dive.”
I stand corrected.
Brett and I are driving through Hollywood after the band has taped a performance for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. A crowd of sunbaked tourists had cheered as the band walked out and blasted through a new song. They had played well, but Brett admits he was slightly nervous. It all feels a bit new for him. We talk about how rare it is for bands to remain vital for any length of time these days, and Brett laments that perhaps it’s just hard to be an adult and play in a rock band. I mention some veteran artists who are still popular, and he says, “Yeah, but you know, they‘re all really still teenagers.”
Just then, we pass an enormous billboard featuring the airbrushed faces of multiplatinum-selling corporate shills Aerosmith. I groan. Brett is silent.
I joined Bad Religion in 1984, when the band had hit an all-time low. There was a sudden vacancy in the rhythm section, and Greg had heard that I was a drummer. That was only somewhat true. In reality, I merely owned some drums. Nevertheless, when he asked me to join I said yes, then went home with a tape of songs and practiced for five weeks until our first actual rehearsal. Punk rock is not jazz fusion. I carried it off, barely, and continued to improve as we went along. With only one original member in the band, Greg, it felt much like being in one of those oldies groups you see touring the state fairs, or, I suppose, the latest version of Guns N’ Roses.
My first live performance was in San Francisco at a graffiti-covered punk landmark called On Broadway. I had been nursing a respectable drug habit off and on for years, and the night of my illustrious debut I soothed both my stage jitters and my withdrawal symptoms by downing handfuls of red pills. My memory is a bit mushy, but I do recall an enormous skinhead perched behind me for the entire set, leaning in and screaming encouragement from an inch away, so other than an earful of beer spit, I believe the evening was a success.
A year later, after the infamous show in Lake Tahoe, we all crashed at the plush vacation home of a teenage punkette whose parents had made the mistake of leaving town for the weekend. Morally infirm at the time, I absconded with a small memento of our short stay, a trophy of a cherubic man swinging a golf club with the creepy inscription “King of the Swingers.”
Within months, I‘d sold all my possessions, pawned my beloved drum kit, and found myself in an empty room with only my shuddering despair and that strange little trophy. After running afoul of the law one night, I was abruptly remanded to an ultrastrict drug-treatment center whose mustachioed and heavily tattooed staff forbade all contact with the outside world. Thus, as I was informed recently by a rather sheepish Greg, it was believed by some that I had left this world.
Several years ago, visiting that same treatment center -- as an alumnus of good standing -- I heard a voice call my name from across the courtyard and turned to see a tall, rail-thin man with a thick, drooping mustache. He resembled a Jewish Doc Holliday. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be Brett, who had suffered his own well-publicized bout with narcotics and was now freshly on the mend.