05 September 2006

Big Green Monsters

For about six months now Blogger wouldn't let me post pictures, and it's still trying to stop me doing so. But I think I may finally have found a way around its electronic obstinacy, and in trying to test my theory, I grabbed a photo at random and pasted it here. If it works - and that still remains to be seen - I guess I should say a little about the contents.

It was taken at Gilman Street, probably in late 1988 or early 1989, and almost certainly by the great Murray Bowles, who singlehandedly documented most of the early Gilman scene. Every weekend, virtually without fail, Murray would be there, the only guy in the pit with both a beard and glasses, looking more like a high school science teacher than a punk rock photographer. Between sets he'd hang out in the store or on the edge of the stage while people clustered around him waiting their turn to look through his box of photos from the previous weeks. If you saw one of your band, or your friend's band, or just one that might look cool in your fanzine or your scrapbook or the kitchen wall, it was yours for a quarter, which, Murray claimed, was exactly what it cost him to print them. Sometimes people would be so appreciative that they'd try to give him something extra, or maybe all they had was a dollar and they'd say, "Keep the change." But no, it always had to be a quarter, no more, no less.

I seldom get to Gilman these days, and I haven't seen Murray there in years - in fact the last time I saw him was on Avenue A in the East Village, outside Doc Holliday's, where he was playing a show with his country/bluegrass band, the Shitkickers. He plays the viola. I didn't ask, but I imagine in this digital age he doesn't sell a whole lot of photo prints anymore, though I could easily be wrong. He's still out there taking pictures all the time, though mostly of bands that I'm not familiar with, and tending more toward the thrash-metal side of things, which I believe Murray always had a soft spot for.

Anyway, the photo reproduced above contains a whole raft of Gilman luminaries. On the far left is Kamala, who you may have heard of in the context of her bands, Kamala and the Karnivores and the Gr'ups, among others, or the Screeching Weasel song, "Kamala's Too Nice." She was also a legendary tour booker back in the days before most people knew it was possible for unknown punk bands to tour the country (hence the line in the Screeching Weasel song, "Won't even ask her to book my band"), and set up the one and only Operation Ivy tour in 1988. Haven't seen her in years, but apparently she's now got a master's degree from Berkeley and is working in the field of transportation planning. Oh, and one last Kamala tidbit: when we were petitioning the City of Berkeley for permission to open Gilman Street, her dad, a very responsible and middle-class-looking fellow, came along with a bunch of us punks to make an impassioned speech to the City Council that just may have turned the tide.

Next to Kamala is Todd Wilder, who played drums in Stikky, a maniacally frantic and hilarious band who were big favorites at Gilman. They had an album out on Lookout, but it never came close to capturing what they were like in person. There are demo tapes which do a better job, but good luck finding them. Todd later went on to form a white reggae band that had some success, but that's the last I heard of him. He's leaning on the shoulders of Jesse Michaels, the singer and lyricist for Operation Ivy. Behind Jesse is Kaz, who was in a couple bands, neither of which I can remember the name of right now, and who was a constant presence at Gilman for several years. Crouching down in front is Marshall Stax, longtime KALX DJ, sometime Gilman sound man, and member of Blatz and Subincision. Marshall is also the only person I know who was at the last Beatles show (Candlestick Park, 1966) and the last Sex Pistols show (Winterland 1978).

The guy on the right, with the guitar, is me; unfortunately the other two Lookouts were obscured from view. It's impossible to tell from a photo, of course, but most likely we were singing "Big Green Monsters," a song co-written by Tre and Kain that always seemed to inspire the crowd to swarm up on stage and sing along with us. It was probably the goofiest song we did - amid a whole raft of ├╝ber-serious political songs and attempts at punk anthems - but it was the one the people loved. It also helped me begin to understand that hooks pretty much always trump polemics.


AdRock said...

This is great! I found it after Googling "Kamala Karnivores" on a whim--I crashed one time at the apartment she shared with Matt Freeman and a guy named Tony when I was passing through town in 1989. I remember she was affectionately referred to as "Queen of the Scene." And a very nice person--nice to hear she's doing well. Thanks Larry, I used to order records from you back in the day...

fluke said...

it was a matter of my pride.

Anonymous said...

Ah... i love the internet. Kamala takes me back to the late 80's when as a teen living on Vanden Air Force Base, & later Vacaville i'd always be listening to KDVS (college station that played lotsa punk,etc) at night. I think it was Saturday nights when they would give 2 hours to the punk 'zine Maximum Rock & Roll, based in sort of neary Berkeley. Tim Yo himself would come on, play great new 7" & tapes records people sent them, DJs would review the betters ones, and they had fun, cool banter.... Kamala was one of the DJ's (of the band Kamala & the Karnivores) who helped host the show. Awesome chic... i miss those days.
Great radio... now that i'm on the east Coast there's WFMU... thank god...