BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, 1978 – It would be easier to drag the bloated, festering corpse of Ehrich Von Stroheim up Sunset Boulevard, around “Dead Man’s Curve, ” past the Palisades, through the winding arroyos of Malibu and toss it into the unforgiving maw of Zuma than it would be to explain what Punk was like in the beginning.
There were few scenes back then where you could make references to Stroheim or: Rimbaud, Nathaniel West, Nick Danger, John Dos Pasos or the original Ronald McDonald who became a beloved weatherman for a major TV network and folks would get it.
Most punks were literate as shit. They would never admit it and would easily say something about stabbing you in the eye with a fork to prove they hate you and whatever you thought was “proper” but, they were sharp, savvy and had no fear of failure.
It is why someone like Johnny Rotten could careen from the sheer anarchic bliss of “God Save the Queen” to something as sublimely deep as any Lamonte Young composition with his Public Image Limited escapades.
Before being a brand and a style “punk” was comprised of misfits, dreamers, makers and that style of modern youth you could find in Pre-Raphaelite opium dens Fin de’ Scicle’ Vienna coffee shops, Wiemar Berlin cabarets or in the Village streets peopled with mad, howling etc.
Punk was any scene throughout history where suddenly everything and anything seemed possible. Despite the best efforts of New York or London, there really wasn’t much of a defining ethos to be found in this new scene that began in the seventies.
Gurl Five was met around a campfire in Western Massachusetts which hosted hundreds of developmentally disabled folk gathered there for a ‘summer camp.”
It all went down in a loose confederation of tents, outbuildings and bunkhouses around a moss-filled lagoon that the Sons of the Pioneers would have punched Roy Rogers in the nuts if he tried to make them stay there on his cattle drive. It was cathartic to say the least.
Kitty Mann (her real name, she showed me her ID) was a cipher with an amazing air of seeming indifference and intense engagement. She was a vegetarian so, of course, all of us seeking to bask in her limelight became vegetarians as well.
She was from Ohio, had been at Kent State when “that thing” happened. She alluded to time underground and spoke of the Parisian “flics” with disdain while mentioning she had thrown more than one Molotov over there “for the people.”
Her husband, she let us know, was the drummer in a punk band in Boston called Ground Zero.
During the first night as all of us “counselors” gathered around the campfire, drinking, making eye contact etc. a cheap, Tandy portable cassette player was passed around and everyone was encouraged to play some of their fave music.
Y’know, it was was one of those stupid “team-building” exercises that usually help you figure out who you despise instead of fostering a team who will not hate being in some horrible job, in a horrible place…together. The friggin’ Eagles. Chuck, fucking Mangione. Seriously, Feron.
Then Kitty popped-in the first P.I.L. Album. Our eyes locked and I said, with the conviction of a pseudo Spartacus. “I love this album!” The next day over lentil soup and buckwheat we laughed and talked about different bands and writers we adored.
She told me that she was looking for “time away” from her husband (there was a LOT of that in the 70’s) and that was why she took the job at this summer camp. That night, she extended an invitation to her tent to “listen to music.”
It was surely a time for her to take your humble narrator and put him in her pantry with her cupcakes and hide it from the kids. Koo-coo-ca-choo in-deed! Then, in a flash, the summer came undone.
Life for a teenaged ex-summer camp for retards counselor without Gurl Five seemed bleak at best. A journey to Boston was made.
After all, bodily fluids had been exchanged and dreams unspooled like a reel of film through an eight-grade film projector showing a film about divorce and how moms and dads sometimes grow apart and new lovers are found.
Ground Zero lived on the fourth floor of a loft on Thayer Street in Boston. It was like a commune or cult. There were about a bakers dozen of them. They were all in their thirties and had been hard-core revolutionaries from Ohio, did hard drugs and worked getting grants and scamming Ma Bell for money to live on.
On the third floor was the first color Xerox machine in Boston that had been pulled through a grant written by a pair of dykes with a gallery called Plastic Image.
The second floor was a film and video (when video was still on reels of tape) studio. It is where bands as diverse as the Contortions, Sun Ra and, of course Ground Zero played.
Kitty seemed nonchalant as could be as she introduced the various denizens and her husband Steve, an amazingly handsome and muscular drummer with a love for hard bop and methamphetamine.
By the way he and Kitty would coo and nuzzle it quickly became apparent that a future wife was not going to be found but a new home was.
A deal was made where, in exchange for a place to crash and some occasional toots the service of an all-around roadie, sound fella, acolyte, and hanger-on would be available. A life in Boston was taking shape.
Your humble narrator Lemuel Pitkin is the main character of “A Cool Million” and known mostly for his inability to conform to society’s standards, or to the “American” way of life.
This is the Fifth of a 52 part series of Arturo Bienewski’s exclusive serialization of his upcoming history of punk rock, “52 Gurls”
Punk rock music can be heard regularly on John Carlucci’s SpeedieJohn program on
Channel 21 of Little Stevens Underground Garage on Sirius XM Satellite radio.
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