"Bwian," I say to my pal Brian -- because of the Monty Python film Life of Brian, but who I really like to call Emerald Brian since I know so many damn Brians -- "who all is playing again?"
"Smut Muffin, Shark Pants, Dirty Babies, and other punk-rock bands," replies Emerald Brian over the phone as I'm taking more painkillers in search of relief from my bloating abdomen, which is now at the point of either releasing an alien baby or exploding in a huge filthy mess straight out of The Meaning of Life, another Monty Python film.
Waiter, a bucket, please.
"Sounds good," I tell my pal, and promise I'll make it down to the show the following night.
"You need anything special?" Emerald Brian asks.
Just those words out of his mouth almost bring tears to my eyes. Emerald Brian is that kinda guy. Who would do anything for his friends. And has. And I've seen it, firsthand. The guy is more generous than Santa Claus, and unlike Mary Tyler Moore, whose smile couldn't turn on a light bulb, never mind the world, Brian's smile could make peace in the Middle East.
Plus, his roommate Kim rules. She worked over at the Mason Jar and booked all the bands. Poor her. But she's neat, unlike Mary Tyler Moore's neighbor Rhoda, who has got to be the worst Long Island JAP I've ever seen next to my stepmother.
Every time she's on TV, I change the channel and bitch and moan about how much I hate her. Spoiled rotten, can't accept good men, wears polyester shirts that you know have to itch. Fuck her. And my stepmom, too.
Fuck. Where's my shrink's number again?
The next night, I get a ride over to the Emerald, and as usual, I'm dressed in my black punk-rock utility vest with the U.S. pins. I can't drive myself because I'm in too much pain, and on too many painkillers. I fear that if I were to be behind the wheel, I'd forget I was in Phoenix, and start thinking I'm in some video game like Grand Theft Auto or Twisted Metal, and start running over people. Not that they don't deserve it. Walking in the middle of the night in the middle of the street dressed in dark colors. What the fuck is wrong with them? Yes, we should have more traffic lights around so people don't have to jaywalk, but you have to be almost suicidal to try to cross a street at night in this town if you're not at an intersection. This place is DARK. In New York, we have streetlights -- well, until we shoot them out with BB guns. But here? Frank from Blue Velvet must love this place. "Now it's dark."
Anyway, I'm greeted at the door by my friend Mike. A big, tall, bald guy who has enough good karma around him to light up Las Vegas during a blackout. Actually, he likes to be called Mike Red. So Mike Red it is. Why not? We got The Baron, Jersey Mike, and Emerald Brian. Mike Red isn't gonna break the bank.
But Cean does. That's pronounced "seen."
He works behind the bar with Emerald Brian. When I ask Cean why his name is spelled like that, he tells me his parents were hippies or Gypsies or whatever. That whole 1960s thing.
I sigh and nod my head in agreement, remembering the bad STD I once caught from a chick named April Mary Sunshine.
I'm still talking to Mike Red near the entrance of the bar when the show finally starts. I've already seen him play twice in his band Sound of Birds, so he tells me about his other projects: Sonorous, and some other group with the word Tijuana in it. I try to remember the name, but images of Herb Alpert just keep popping into my brain.
The Dirty Babies take the stage to play their very punk-rock brand of rock 'n' roll, with guitar leads that are simplistic but do the job perfectly. They sort of sound like The Heartbreakers meet The Stitches meet Electric Frankenstein meets The Dead Boys, and I find myself sort of grooving to their whole sound and the Emerald Lounge's whole vibe. The place stinks of spirit.
And cigarette smoke. Maybe Mayor Bloomberg had one good idea?
Anyway, the whole club is filled to the rim with punk rockers. Mohawks and leather jackets everywhere, and it's summer. Yeah, February does count as summer around here.
The room is so loud it's hard to concentrate on the conversation I start with Emerald Brian behind the bar.
He's wearing a black long-sleeved shirt, worn-out blue jeans that look like mine, and a cap with an ad for some cement-mixing company. I ask him if he's dressed up "punk" for the night.
He smiles that Emerald Brian smile, and then we both shift our eyes toward the crowd, which is growing larger by the second.
I'm sure if he wore a Dead Kennedys or AZ Punk shirt, he'd make more in tips. But that ain't Emerald Brian's style. And that makes him all the cooler. We also laugh a little as we watch Cean frantically run around behind the bar trying to play catch-up.
"Kids," we both moan at the same time.
I'm hanging around waiting for the next band, Shark Pants, when I see Matt. I've noticed him around the Emerald Lounge a lot. I remember one night Mike Red was working the door when Matt and his long, hippie, Tiny Tim hair walked in. Now, I'm not making fun of Matt's hair, because, Lord knows, if I were to grow mine out, it would be just like his.
Anyway, Mike Red told Matt that the cover was three bucks.
And Matt and his hair went through the roof. Matt started screaming that there shouldn't be a cover, that there never used to be one, and three bucks is a lot of money. Mike Red tried to explain that all the money from the door goes to the bands, but Matt still complained until he was brought before the King of the Emerald Lounge. But that's another story.
The point is, Matt didn't want to pay and thought three bucks was way too much. I remember last month NOT bitching about a $25 cover in a rock club in New York when I was there.
So seeing Matt, I go ask him about that night. He tells me he was wrong -- that he was drunk, and that in general, he just likes to complain. I told him I'm the same way, and we high-fived each other.
Just before Shark Pants takes the stage, I ask Matt the name of his band again, even though he has told me a bunch of times. My short-term memory has been destroyed from watching too much television.
"The Complainiacs," he tells me.
I should have figured.
Shark Pants are great. Angular guitar riffs played by a gentleman named Isaac, who must know his Gang of Four better than my right hand knows my penis. The guy is amazing. The sounds coming out of his Marshall stack are power-soaked and reek of everything right with the punk rock and wrong with the world. It's a sound that's much more of a painting than anything else. And you have to hear it to see it. The drummer, Dick, plays on a stripped-down set, much like the one used by Boris the Sprinkler, and the bass player is very tight. Cute, too.
About halfway through their set, I run into James Strate, a guy I know from being on MySpace.com. He's a bit older than me, and knows more about punk than anyone I've ever met. He explains to me that he used to work in a record store in Phoenix called the Magic Mushroom in 1977, and the first three albums he took home from the place were the Ramones' first one, the Pistol's first one, and the Dead Boys' first one. He tells me how the other guys at the store couldn't understand the music, but he did.
We then talk about Rocky Horror, and how we're both from that school of The Punk Rock, then he drops the bombshell on me. He's gonna re-form his old band that hasn't played together since 1982, because, according to Mike, "they're all dead."
When I ask him how there could be a reunion with just him and some corpses, he does admit that maybe, just maybe, one more guy is alive besides him.
Anyway, he wants to bring back the band, and when I hear the name of it, I want him to, too. In fact, this is a story I'm going to follow closely. Not only because James is smart, and everything he posts on MySpace (first rule of MySpace: Don't talk about MySpace) rules, but because, well, it's punk rock. Oh, and the band name?
It's called The Very Idea of Fucking Hitler.
Later on, when The Drop-Outs play, Mike Red tells me he loves them. To me, they sound very New York hardcore, and I can see their appeal. But I've been there and done that, and, truthfully, the raw sounds coming from the band are rubbing up against the raw tissue in my abdomen, and and I have to hunch over in pain.
I'd really like to see the band again when I'm in better shape, because I do enjoy hardcore. Especially played well like these guys were doing. But tonight isn't the night.
So I finally break down to Emerald Brian and tell him I gotta go home and miss Smut Muffin.
"No big deal," says my pal. "You've seen them a bunch of times already, haven't you?"
I tell him I have, and that I love them. They are funny, punk rock, and their tunes are actually catchy.
"Well," says my friend the wise bartender, "just write that!"
And so I just did.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Phoenix art and theater scene.