The First Year

by Derrick Bostrom in


I originally wrote this in the early 90s on some crazy old computer I borrowed from my brother. It had gold text on a black screen and held only four pages of text before it maxed out its memory (there was no hard drive). I would then have to print my work out on a dot matrix printer, delete and start over.

When I posted this about 7 years ago on an early incarnation of this Web site, I edited it heavily, removing the parts I no longer liked, but not actually rewriting anything. Thus, it has a choppy, artificial quality, like an extended outline (which it essentially is). All I was trying to do initially was see how much information I transmit using dialogue instead of description. The whole exercise strikes me as awkward now, but the history is still accurate.

"Cris and I went to see Iggy Pop last night," Curt said.

"Really! How was it?"

"Great!" Curt replied as he loaded up another hit. "The guitarist was incredible."

"That was Brian James!" I gushed as I rushed to a stack of records in the corner. "The original guitarist for the Damned!" I put the first Damned album on the stereo.

"Man," I said, "You and Cris ought to learn some of these songs and we could get together and play them."

" I already know how they go," said Curt. "They're so simple, I could play them in my sleep." He picked up my brother's guitar and showed me the chord changes to "New Rose" and "See Her Tonite." He plugged the guitar in while I got behind the drum kit and we jammed for about a half and hour.

"You gotta get Cris over here!" I panted.

Iggy Pop returned to Phoenix later that spring, but this time Brian James wasn't with him. Instead, Phoenix's own Feederz were the opening act. Their leader, Frank Discussion, had gotten married that afternoon. Sitting at a table across the dance floor was David Wiley. Three years earlier, David was singing for the Consumerz and we became friends. The band had broken up, and David had moved to Los Angeles, joining a band called the Human Hands. Now he was back in Phoenix for the wedding. I wasted no time telling them about my new band.

"What are your songs like?" David asked.

"Oh, we just do covers right now," I said.

He was unimpressed. "Gotta do originals. Send me a tape when you write some and maybe I can get you some shows in Los Angeles."

Cris and I got together a couple of days after that to address the problem. First we tried pulling chord names out of a hat, and when that didn't work we made a few overdubbed improvisations and tried fitting melodies on top of them. Finally Cris came up with a bass riff, and while he worked on a guitar part, I figured out some lyrics. Thus, "In a Car" was born. It was actually our fourth original. The first three, "Neutral", "Rodeo" and "Fetus In Pus Sauce" were simple instrumental exercises had all contributed to. Each had a part A, a part B, and a part C, and we practiced them regularly, but we weren't very enthusiastic about them. "In a Car" was our first "song" song.

The originals came easier after that. Curt would usually come over with a lick or two and we would wed them to some of the punk doggerel I'd jotted down the night before. The results were encouraging. We wrote "Reward", "Playing Dead", "Blue Green God", "Love Offering", "Saturday Morning", "Litter Box", "Unpleasant", "Electromud" and others this way.

Soon, Curt was writing his own lyrics to songs like "Big House", "Dolphin Field", "Playing Dead", and "H-Elenore." The song "Meat Puppets" never really had any set lyrics. Curt would just extrapolate while we played it.

"That's it!" I exclaimed when I heard the song title, "That's what we'll call the band!"

Aside from the occasional private party, punk bands still had no place to play in Phoenix. We spent most of our time at our friend Darrell's house making recordings. Darrell had a makeshift home studio: a four track tape recorder, a mixing board, and enough microphones to set around us as we played. By the time we found a club in Tucson putting on punk rock concerts, we had enough material for a killer demo. Soon we scheduled our first professional gig.

"The first thing we have to do is make flyers," I told the brothers. We had dozens of notebooks full of drawings, so we spent the day tearing out fifty or so pages and adding the pertinent information.

"Now what'll we do?" asked Cris when we finished.

"We could take them around to record stores," I suggested.

"Fuck that," said Curt, "It's too much effort, and besides, the gig's not even in this town."

"We could take them to the Hate House," I said. The Hate House, a private residence in downtown Phoenix, was the foremost local punk hangout and shooting gallery.

"I'm not going in there," said Cris.

"We don't know any of those people," said Curt.

"We don't have to go in, " I answered. "We'll just drive past and throw the flyers on the front lawn!"

The Kirkwoods agreed, so we drove over and delivered our message under cover of darkness.

The three of us decided to drive down to Tucson the night before the show. We were too excited to sleep anyway. We spent the day bumming around the university, taking catnaps in the student union, and posting the rest of our handmade flyers around the vicinity of the club (much to the annoyance of the local merchants). That night, the club was packed with packed with our friends, the Hate House contingent, and a healthy Tucson turnout. The only hitch came when a disgruntled local threw a beer bottle through my bass drum, forcing us to end our set with a ten minute noise jam.

A few days later I got a call from David Wiley. I told him all about the show.

"It was a total blast!" I exclaimed. "We played everything three times faster than we'd ever practiced it! I got so excited I bit the end of my tongue off!"

David said his band the Human Hands were coming to the Star System, a Phoenix club that was starting to import bands from Los Angeles. He wanted me to make a flyer for him.

"Are we on the bill?" I asked.

"No, the club already had someone booked," He told me. "But there's a party afterward that you can play at."

So we made our home town debut at four in the morning in an abandoned downtown warehouse using the Human Hands' equipment. It wasn't as fun as in Tucson. We were uncomfortable with the gear and the audience sat on the floor and talked through the whole performance.

Soon after, David arranged our first show on the west coast. We opened for the Mentors, a misogynist outfit fronted by a local luminary known as El Duce, and 45 Grave, a group of expatriate Phoenicians.

The next day, David took us out to a suburban house in Van Nuys and introduced us to Monitor.

Our two bands were scheduled to play together back in Phoenix the following evening at the Star System, so we arranged to caravan together across the desert. Monitor turned out to be great, instantly becoming my favorite band. After the show, I say behind the club with Keith and Michael, embarrassing them with praise.

"I just wish you had played longer than thirty-five minutes," I told them.

"We can't" replied Michael. "We only know ten songs."

Just then, Steve and Laurie walked up. Steve was carrying a sock.

"Well folks," He said, dumping the sock out onto the hood of their car, "this club is now officially out of business. We just drove all this way to play for sixteen dollars and forty-seven cents in change."