Longform

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE PARTYPHOENIX'S PUNK PROGENITOR REACHES THE END OF THE LINE

ON THE EVENING of October 26, Phoenix artist Rick Bertoni stood in front of a mirror and used makeup to transform his face into a facsimile of a ghoul from the movie Dawn of the Dead.

Had he survived till dawn, the onetime godfather of the Phoenix punk scene might have appreciated the irony of what he was doing.

Of course, if he had survived, there wouldn't be any irony.

FOLLOWING BERTONI'S death at age 35, friends and acquaintances are struggling to understand the man who did as much as anyone to ignite the underground cultural explosion that erupted here during the late Seventies and early Eighties.

While observers quibble about the exact impact Bertoni had on Phoenix's underground scene, everyone agrees on one thing: If Bertoni had never moved into a sprawling, ramshackle house in the 300 block of East Palm Lane, there never would have been a scene.

Located at the edge of the Coronado district, the decaying stucco manse was the perfect setting for Bertoni's dream commune.

Three of the four bedrooms were big enough to serve as artist's quarters, while the huge master bedroom was sufficiently spacious to double as a music rehearsal studio. The huge dining room/living room, with its original wooden floors, was a dance hall just waiting to happen. And the small cellar--whenever it wasn't under three feet of water--became an outlaw nightclub called the Detox Lounge, an intimate show room where, if the spirit moved them, patrons could chase cocktails with spoonfuls of prescription cough syrup.

It was sometime in 1978 when Bertoni forked over the first month's rent (reportedly $125) and nailed the front door shut. The Hate House was open for business. Watch your step as you crawl through the window.

"The Hate House was the hub of that entire scene," says longtime Valley musician Dan Clark, now keyboardist for Victory Acres. "All the bands had ties to it. The Meat Puppets rehearsed there. JFA got started there. The Feederz, Mighty Sphincter, International Language, the Consumers, the Deez, Killer Pussy. A lot of out-of-town bands stayed there, too--45 Grave, the Gun Club and Dream Syndicate. Name any band from that time--they were all there."

Although the Meat Puppets would eventually become the best-known group to emerge from the Hate enclave, Puppets' bass player Cris Kirkwood recalls that the group's first brush with Bertoni's inner sanctum was far from auspicious.

"We were this little backyard band at the time, but we'd heard about the Hate House," says Kirkwood. "One night we got up the nerve to take some fliers over there. When we got over there we could see some band playing through the window and I don't think we made it to the porch. We tossed the fliers on the lawn and took off. The Hate House was a special place for special people."

Yes, and they didn't come more special than the members of the Hate House crowd, a group that looked like a road company of Pink Flamingos. There was Marcie Murder, the house ditz who once commemorated a hot date with Iggy Pop by having the singer's love bites permanently tattooed on her back. Self-styled "enemy of the people" Frank Discussion nailed rats to the floor while performing with his band the Feederz. And who could forget Charlie Monoxide, the Addams Family wanna-be who made headlines when Tucson police charged him with drinking the blood of a dead parrot during a botched burglary attempt.

"Rick had a real talent for people," says Kaydel Wilcox, a longtime Bertoni buddy who operated a punk clothing store of the era. "All sorts of people gravitated towards him--like a magnet. Maybe that's why he became the center of the Hate House, which was a giant bonding experience for all these highly creative people who were out there on the edge."

The house was decorated with Bertoni's large, pop-art portraits of punks--and a big self-portrait of himself with a 45-rpm record draped over his right ear, grinning goofily while shooting up heroin.

In a 1980 profile that appeared in Uva (a short-lived local arts tabloid), self-avowed "relentless punk artist" Bertoni described himself as "proprietor of Phoenix's exclusive New Wave boarding dump." And whether tromping around the house in his trademark uniform of shorts, shades and cowboy boots or greeting party guests in more formal evening dress (say, skintight leather pants and electrician's tape), Bertoni apparently relished those roles to the hilt.

"Rick was a great guy, the perfect host," recalls Victory Acres vocalist Mary Alice Clark, who lived at the house after Bertoni left. (Clark met her husband Dan at a Hate House function.) "I always liked the way he'd make a big vegetable buffet for all his parties. That's a lot of work, you know, all that chopping."