Saturday, November 7, 2009

I'm on my way, just set me free, home-sweet-home


Holy Shit Stefan and I are a machine. He processes, I shoot, he interviews, and off we go. We are getting so good at this that we don't really even need to talk to one another while doing it. Nods generally work. A wave from across the room, too. It is nice to be one half of a team that seems to function with such synergy. Don't get me wrong, we still get into tiffs here and there but, fuck, he and I are adults. We power through the little things. And, for what...? Well, I shall tell you what... Imagine being given the opportunity to sit in a room with a person, or some people, who generally do not sign on to be interviewed about things that happened 30 years ago, and then imagine that what they say, almost at every step, is a total revelation. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Yeah, for that. Kira, Morris, Dukowski, Reyes, and many more have been kind enough to invite us over to their homes on this leg of our mission and allow us to set up shop and interview them, to pry information from them, and to revel in their story; which happens to be the story of this book.

LA is the birthplace of so much awesome mythology. Think X, the Germs, Fear, the
Circle Jerks, and Black Flag. Then, think of so many more awesome bands and awesome people, and how their contributions to the American Punk Rock ethos have afforded all of us the ability to be part of this lifestyle, subculture, and cultural imperative. So, I guess that it is safe to say that I am willing to overlook little things in order to revel in these moments. And I do.

Our LA host, Phillip Acala, is a tattooer. Not only is he a tattooer, but Phillip apprenticed with Rick Spellman; an oldschool tattooer that has tattooed folks from X, from the Misfits, and from Black Flag. So, imagine my surprise when Phillip says to
me, "Hey man, would you be interested in photographing Rick Spellman tattooing London May (drummer for Samhain, Dagnasty, etc) here at the house...?" Um, hey Phillip, FUCK YES, FUCK YES, FUCK YES... And it was on.

Our last day in LA went as follows. Wake up, walk to the taco shop, meet some guy with the bars on his neck and ask him to come back to the house, walk home, set up
shop and shoot Phillip in his driveway, get into the car, drive to Hollywood, interview and photograph Keith Morris, drive home, set up shop and shoot Rick and London, sleep momentarily on couch, get into long discussion with London about punk rock and Baltimore in the early 80's, look at his Black Flag "stuff" collection, wait for call from Chuck Dukowski, get it, get in the car, drive to Venice, get lost, get to his house, set up shop, interview Chuck Dukowski, take pix of him in his livingroom, get back in car, drive back to LA and drop off Sweettooth so that he might make it back to SF in time for his morning class, drive back to Phillip's house, go to sleep.

If that sounds like a lot of stuff to you, it was way more than you can even imagine. It was even more than I can imagine and I am a pretty productive person. It was intense
int he best possible way. So, in looking back all that I can say is this; if it were not for meeting Phillip and being part of a fucking amazing crew, I am not sure any (and surely not all) of what we accomplished could have been even remotely possible. So, to Phillip, Sweettooth, and my man Stefan I present my heart-felt grattitude.

The next morning we were up early and ready to roll to San Diego (meaning whale's vagina I think???), and most of the coast between LA and SD. Long, slow, chill,
sunny, breezy, laid-back drive down the coast; something that I've always wanted to do but was never given the chance in the bands I was in prior because we were always in a hurry. In what seemed to be a 8 hour period we meandered south making it to San Diego in a relaxed state. There were some driver changes and all, but the vibe was quite pleasant.


I've always loved San Diego. One of my early favorite hardcore bands, the Batallion of Saints, was from San Diego, as were many of my mid-90's favorites (Antioch Arrow,
Swing Kids, Heroin, etc), and so I always dream of finding my way there whenever I can. Arriving in SD we made our way to our host, Mike's, tattoo shop (Metropolis Tattoo). For me, my arrival in SD also signaled a re-connection with a friend that I haven't seen since 1991 named Lisa. I met Lisa in Jackson Hole back when I was in college, and now she is a rather brilliant photographer living and work in SD. So, yeah, my pleasures were manifold.

After a while we made our way to Kadan's, where we set up shop and shot some really,
really, really killer folks, and some brilliant tattoos. Between shoots I was pulling people under the lights (including the lovely and talented Fatima once more), Lisa, Mike, Stefan, and some old folks that were wandering about the bar. What a fucking brilliant night of collecting stories.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nothing to See here folks...


Having grown up on the East Coast, or the Right Coast as I like to call it, I've had itsy-bitsy California dreams on occasion; but it was nothing serious. I woke up, shook off the cobwebs, and found myself right where I started. I was still on the East Coast. Don't get me wrong, I fucking love my coast and would defend it if the western part of the US (led by Texas, obviously) decided to break away from the union and begin a civil war. I would fight like hell for my rights to be offensive, loud, mean, evolutionarily-stalled, and somewhat unfamiliar with the basics of the English language. Yo, You'se, Whut(?), What'chu lookin at, and the like, would be used as a sort of secret code to help us defeat our mortal West Coast enemies. Honestly, we are just so much fucking meaner. Plus, on our coast time just moves so much faster. So, while the west coast army prepares to move forward into battle, well, we'd already have wiped them out just so that we would be home in time to see the Phillies win the World Series. We just wouldn't have the time to dally with strategy because, well, we just don't have the time. We are in a hurry. Period.

But for some reason, and I cannot explain it, but crossing that border between Oregon and California something happened to me. No more anxiety, no pressure, no freak outs, no more calls home to make sure that everything is alright. I had settled into my moments and had no idea why I should want to relive the past or project into the future. Sure, I could plan into the future, but I would have to be happy with what I got (which is not always the case with me as you might guess).

So, goddammit, I became a California hippie. The border, as borders do, kept the California posi-vibes from making it to my decision center, and so upon making it to the border, well, "dude, I just had to chill out, man..." That is exactly what the doctor ordered. I needed to chill the fuck out... And I did so with great authority. While in San Fran, despite the reasonably poor showing to the shoots, and the absence of promotion, I stayed level-headed. It was amazing. Stefan and I basically stayed at his friend's house for like three days and it felt suspiciously like we were just living there. No pressure, no problem, no nothing. Honestly, at times I feared that once we were on the road again to LA that things would get all crazy, and I would feel like I wanted to lose my shit again. But it didn't. In fact, LA has been a mirror image of the San Fran days. All is chill. All is well.


The drive to LA was divided into two parts; the Stewart part and the Stefan part. The Stewart part included a handful of hours out of SF, across the flat-as-fuck desert-plains, and the Stefan part included more mountains (and more of me sleeping through them). Finding ourselves nearing the city I took over the wheel again and Stefan copiloted me into the Long Beach area for our first shoot.

Dan Habershaw was our host, and on that day we would be shooting at a spot where hot-rodding in California was, well, invented. Masterson Customs is a shop along Atlantic Avenue, and in the back are about 8 or 10 classic cars in various states of restoration, and out front is Dans 48 coupe, also in a various state of restoration. We were amongst hot-rodders.

We were running late, and Dan contacted me to tell me that the woman from LA Weekly, like Elvis before her, had left the fucking stadium. She would not return phone calls or an email, and so I had to deal with not getting any publicity, even if it was to come out after we had left, for the LA area.

Shooting 3 or 4 people, I was thinking, "uh oh, here we go again," but had to keep in mind that we had about a week to organize this shoot. It was from-the-hip, off-the-cuff, and not really that well organized from my end. So, the shots we got were pretty awesome (including a baby with a custom Black Flag fan shirt) and the baby's mom with the bars on her throat), and off we went to Dan's house for a cook-out. Burgers, brats, mac-n-cheese, and some drinks later, we were still in the garage talking punk rock and hot rods, all before Dan stepped inside to be tattooed by a visiting tattooist friend from Oregon.

Trying not to be a burden, I fired off some shots and off we went toward LA proper to hook up with the host of the following day's shoot, Phillip Acala. Phillip is a tattooist who was trained by Rick Spellman (yes, the man who did Rollin's classic back piece, and work on most of the punk bands of the early 80's), and we would get to meet him at some point in our stay as well.

Phillip put us up in his home and we slept our asses off since in the morning we had to pick up Sweettooth (our videographer) at the train station and high-tail it to Kira Roessler (Black Flags only female member, and bassist)'s house up north. We would be cutting everything close but, well, the gods willing we would make everything happen before the photoshoot in Fullerton.

Dammit if things didn't work out perfectly. Kira stands out unique among Black Flag members, not so much because she was their only female member, but because she replaced the irreplaceable Chuck Dukowski. Let's say for a second that you were asked to step into Bill Gates position at Microsoft. The pressure would be on. Wouldn't matter if you were male or female. The pressure would be on. And, remembering events from that time, she did it pretty fucking well. So, it would be my pleasure to interview her and take her statement. Oh, yeah, and to photograph her. Yeah, that was fun.

Anyway, the whole thing went off without incident and we were off to Phillip's house for a nap before heading to Shelter Street and Skate for our show and shoot.

Now, I'd been to Los Angeles before but, fuck, dude, I never remember it being so fucking spread out. I've heard the stories, but dammit, this town is sprawling. I am still lost every time we walk out the door of Phillip's home. So, yeah, I've been getting lost a lot. The drive to Fullerton, well, I might as well have been blindfolded.

Upon arrival, the bands set up, I set up (under a cut little palm tree) and it was on. Non stop tattooed folks for about three hours. Both Stefan and I were so busy that we didn't see each other but for a few seconds at a time. The second I'd finish shooting on person another person would arrive on the scene. After some lighting changes I'd be firing shots off, and then there would be antoher kid waiting over my shoulder. Honestly, it was a bit exhausting. However, the results were amazing.

Between shooting of Barred folks I managed to get off shots of some rather fancy ladies in the crowd, and a shit ton of pix of the various bands. Could not beat the experience with a fucking stick. Loved it. Loved the venue. Loved the show. Loved how great a job Phillip did with the planning of the show. Loved meeting Mr. Spellman. Loved catching up with fellow East Coaster, London May. All tolled, fucking amazing.

Spent today at the beach. Not much to report. We are in LA folks. The cradle of West Coast Punk Rock. When the East Coast beats the West Coast in the next civil war I am gonna steal some land here. Well, not here in LA, but somewhere a bit further north where the women are a bit less uber-hot, and can probably beat me arm wrestling. And where there are no little dogs in purses. Oh, shit, yeah, that is everywhere. Sorry. Fuck little dogs in purses everywhere.