Picture the scene:

I was twenty-four. My San Francisco band was on tour. The night in question: we’d just finished playing the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis, opening for The Celibate Rifles. The show had gone extremely well. Me, manning drums. Dave on guitar, Jim on bass. A great big rush and blur of wailing voices, whiskey and heartache-strung guitars, adrenaline drumsticks. Think thrashy folk music: the bastard lovechild of REM and the Violent Femmes after a long night of ecstasy and crank snorting.

Post-show, I hardly knew what to do with myself. Like other nights when we’d played well, I had so much energy, so much elation that I could hardly contain it. At the time, I knew only one way to calm my emotions, keep my environment in check.

I started drinking.

A S.W.A.T. team of teetotalers couldn’t have torn me from the bottle. Beer after beer, my body weather grew calmer. A little less tornado; more sweet, sudden summer downpour.

A guy approached me. Compared to others in the crowd, he was quite conservatively dressed—Polo shirt, Dockers shoes, khaki jeans cinched up with a brown leather belt. Think Robert Chambers; less the murder rap, more punk rock. “Great show,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“If you guys need a place to stay tonight,” he said. “You can crash with me.”

The guy turned out to be pretty cool. Lee was his name. Was an environmental lawyer. Knew the Hüsker Dü and Replacements musical catalogs inside out. Could recite all the words to the Dead Kennedys’ “Stars and Stripes of Corruption.” He bought my band mates and me numerous rounds of drinks and shots, then we headed to his place.

Once there, that’s when all the beers and tequila I’d pounded performed their weird juju on me. Within minutes of my arrival, I was in Lee’s bathroom, puking my brains out. I was so shit-faced that if you’d said the word “Jägermeister” my stomach would’ve dropped through my ass. After my intense ralphing session, I was so physically spent and head-spun I couldn’t move. I crashed right there on the cool porcelain tile floor.

Lee popped his head inside the bathroom. “You okay?”

I nodded weakly.

“Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine,” I uttered. “I just need to stay by the toilet.”

He considered that one, then said: “I think I know exactly what you need.”

Next thing I knew he was leading his beautiful Irish setter, Daisy, into the bathroom. She lay down next to me. Smelled like baby shampoo and fresh hay. Her eyes: bright as lightning bugs sparking dark. She licked me on the ear; right over the scar I’d earned after a safety pin piercing back in high school.

It took all my strength and concentration to stroke her deep red coat. It was silky smooth, a vibrant pulsing of warmth and life. Lucy licked me again. And again. Each tongue-touch was slightly more soothing and life renewing. Think Florence Nightingale; less medical pioneer, more Canis lupus familiaris.

Lucy stayed with me throughout the night, through my numerous rounds of puking and groaning. Every so often, she’d lick my forehead, my cheek. I’d groan a thank you, and offer a coat stroke. Come the next morning, when Lee’s other dogs, and everyone was up and about eating breakfast, talking music and politics, Lucy was still in the bathroom. Right by my side.

Had I not already been familiar with the words that would’ve been my first object lesson in true devotion and healing.


The panty hose was the hardest to get on. Every inch of the way, the elastic material constricted movement, bound blood, itched the skin. Next came the Flamenco-style dress: luscious red velvet worked carefully over my outstretched arms, head, and shoulders. After that: female hands lovingly applied mascara, rouge, eyeliner, and lipstick. A mirror was finally held before me. I gazed at my reflection and ran my tongue across my lips. They tasted cherry: very, very cherry.

The occasion: my band was opening for one of the hottest all-girl bands in LA—the Screaming Sirens. From the very first time I’d seen them masterfully wailing on their instruments, while decked-out in those sexy dresses, I wanted to be just like them.

Wish granted.

During the show, every swing of my drumsticks, every vocal wail and spastic body thrash, led to more and more makeup cascading down my face. Dark streaks of mascara and sweat soaked the now ripped dress.

Between songs, a skinhead standing at the front of the stage howled: “It takes a real man to crossdress!” He bought me six shots of tequila. By the end of the set, I’d downed them all.

Once done playing, I teetered to the bar. Spotted two young women hanging out by a pinball machine. One was a bottled blonde decked out in a long, fur-trimmed coat, while the other, a brunette, wore a Catholic schoolgirl uniform. They were with some guy in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, and an equally tacky moustache.

Every so often, the girls would glance over at me and smile.

Me, feeling like a Rock God—albeit a drunken Rock God in a dress—would smile back.

When the guy took off to the bathroom, I approached the girls. “What’re you doing with him?”
“What?” they said. “He’s not bad.”

“Yeah. Not bad for a guy that looks like Tom Sellick’s uglier brother.”

That one made them smile.

“I’m Marlene,” said the one in the Catholic schoolgirl dress. “And this here’s Debbie,” she said, motioning to her friend.

“Well Debbie and Marlene,” I said. “I think you should be with me instead.”

“What?” said Marlene. “A guy in a dress?”

“Not just a guy in a dress,” I slurred, now feeling the full affects of the alcohol I’d consumed. “But a musician in a dress.”

That one did the trick. Before the guy had even exited the bathroom we were gone.

We ended up in Marlene’s apartment. “Shh,” she slurred, now pretty wasted herself. “We have to be quiet. If my roommate finds out I have people here he’ll kill me.”

We crept into her room. Debbie promptly took off her clothes. Marlene followed suit. So did I. What amazing luck, I thought. Here I was, ready to engage in my first ménage-a-trois. Wait till Penthouse Forum hears about this one. We collapsed onto the bed in a drunken heap.

Debbie passed out first. Marlene was next. Then me. No sex.

The next thing I knew Marlene was shaking me awake. “You gotta leave. My roommate knows I had people over. He’s pissed.”

I eyed the clock. It was six in the morning. Still drunk, and head throbbing, I stumbled out of bed. Glanced through the partially open door. Spotted her roommate eating breakfast. The guy was a brute. He’d be that brute times ten if he saw me in a dress walking out of his apartment.

I spied a tree just outside Marlene’s bedroom window. “Here,” I said, handing her my dress. “Meet me downstairs.”

“What’re you gonna do?” she said.

“Jump.”

“You can’t do that. You’ll kill yourself.”

“Listen,” I said. “What’s gonna make the better story come Monday? You telling your friends that you picked up a guy in a dress and that he left out your front door? Or that he jumped out your window?”

Marlene considered that one, then said: “I see your point.”

“Good,” I said. “Now meet me downstairs.”

I threw open the window, and stood out on the ledge. Worst-case scenario: if I dove for the tree and missed, I’d break my neck. Short of that, maybe fracture an arm or bust a rib. It was worth the risk. I made a quick sign of the cross then sprang from the ledge in a spastic flight of flailing arms and legs.

The tree grew closer. So what if I didn’t get laid, I thought. Now all I wanted to do was survive. The tree grew closer. I could hear the hum of cars out on the freeway, and the murmur of people who’d gotten lucky the night before, now shifting in their beds. The tree grew closer. With any luck, I hoped, I’d reach that tree before noon.


It was me on drums. Jim on bass. David on guitar. We were three ragtag guys from San Francisco, collectively known as Blue Movie. Our sound was like The Violent Femmes and Husker Du engaged in a threesome with R.E.M.

It was February, the dead of winter. We’d already been touring for two months. We were sick as dogs. We’d chugged so much NyQuil, and had downed so many over-the-counter cold remedies that our stomachs had turned into drug stores.

 

That night we were set to play a small college bar in New London, Connecticut. For three sets of music, the bar was paying us twenty-five bucks and a case of beer.

Seeing as we were all out-of-our minds sick, the band needed to stay sober. One sip of beer added to our already dazed and confused NyQuil haze, and we wouldn’t have been able to pick up our instruments.

So we came up with a plan. We’d simply give away the beer.

But before I tell you about that, I should tell you about my dad.

He and my mom married young. Shortly thereafter, they had my brother and me to take care of. That forced my dad to get very responsible very fast. As I grew older, and became more and more a daydreamer, my personality did not mix well with my father’s ultra-responsible 9-to-5 mentality. For years we simply didn’t get along. Yet when I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Advertising & Public Relations, that’s when my father saw the perfect opportunity for me to finally redeem myself.

The day after graduation, he told me: “Let’s go to J.C. Penney and get you that interview suit so you can get a job in New York City.”

That wasn’t happening. All I wanted to do was to move out to California and play music.

And so I did. And so for a good couple years my father and I rarely spoke. And when we did, our conversations always ended with him saying: “When are you gonna move back east and get serious about life?”

Each and every time, I’d respond: “I am serious about life. I’m in a band. We work hard. And people like us.”

Fast forward to my band recording and going out on tour.

 

My father saw us at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. From the very first song, he couldn’t stop dancing and cheering. Maybe his excitement was due to seeing me on stage for the very first time, or that his own dad had been a musician. Whatever the case, he was hooked. That night my dad became my #1 fan. And the band’s #1 fan, too. He even rearranged his work schedule so that he could follow us as we toured the Northeast. He cheered for us in New York City, Boston, and Providence. Show after show, he’d use his work credit card to buy us meals and hotel rooms.

Now back to that case of beer give away…

My father was at that New London, Connecticut show that night. It was the last show he’d be able to see before having to head back to Jersey.

Just before the band started playing, I got my dad wasted. That wasn’t difficult. He wasn’t a big drinker. Just two beers and he was loopier than a troop of diabetic Girl Scouts in a taffy factory.

After polishing off those beers, my dad looked at me with big shiny anime eyes. “What are you gonna do with the rest of the beer?” he said.

That was a no-brainer. My bandmates and I had already decided to ask the audience beer questions. It was our mission to get rid of the case before we left the club. We’d already had enough problems with cops during our two months on the road. No way did we want to make matters worse by driving around in a NyQuil haze with a bunch of Budweisers in tow.

And so we began our first set…

 

Stay tuned for Part Two:

Just Three Guys On The Road, Playing Music, Chugging NyQuil, and Giving Away Beer (aka: How I Finally Made Peace With My Dad)