Year 50 Day 265

Me sitting on a grey couch with orange and grey pillows; I’m wearing a Batman logo t-shirt.

Day 265: Watched the first hour of the Antiques Roadshow Alaska episodes. Didn’t see anyone I knew (not surprising, since it’s been almost 23 years since I left), but it was fun to see the Alaska-related artifacts. And I was amused that, while we got the requisite Rolex watch and Fender guitar, the sports memorabilia wasn’t baseball or boxing and was actually very cool and setting appropriate (Susan Butcher’s 1990 Iditarod win trophy), and in what may be a first for any Antiques Roadshow episode I’ve watched, no firearms (particularly surprising given Alaska’s high number of gun owners, but perhaps being a bit far away to have Civil War-era firearms helped)!


Everyone: When it’s time to vote, GET OUT AND VOTE.

The list below (originally found on Facebook) focuses on Alaskan elections (Alaskans can be particularly prone to the “my vote doesn’t count so why bother” mentality, particularly in Presidential elections where Alaska has few electoral votes and the races are often called before polls have even closed in Alaska), but I’d be willing to bet good money that similar close results can be found in whatever region you live in (I’ll admit that I haven’t taken the time to personally research and verify each of these specific instances, but I have no immediate reason to doubt them).

Also, you’ll notice that most of this list has results not from high-profile Presidential elections, but from local elections, from as broad as gubernatorial to as local as school district races. Sure, that’s because those races often deal with smaller voting populations, but those are also the races that are often far more directly impactful to the people who are (and who should be) voting. They may not be as “sexy” and exciting as big-ticket races, but they’re just as important — and not infrequently, arguably more so.



1845: ONE vote brought Texas into the Union.

1868: ONE vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.

1876: ONE vote gave Rutherford Hayes the presidency of the United States

1939: ONE vote passed the Selective Service act.

1960: ONE vote per precinct elected John F. Kennedy President.


1978: Jay Hammond won the nomination for Governor over Walter Hickel in the primary election by just 98 votes statewide. That’s less than 1/4 vote per precinct!

1978: ONE vote elected Tim Kelly to his Senate seat in District F.

1982: TWO votes gave the nomination for State Senate in District J to David McCracken in the primary election.

1984: ONE vote gave Mary Ratcliff the nomination for State Representative, House District 12, in the primary election.

1986: 17 votes (less than one vote per precinct) elected Rick Uehling Senator from District H, Seat B, out of 14,389 votes cast.

1988: SIX votes elected David Finkelstein to State Representative, House District 12 in the primary election.

1990: TEN votes elect Terry Martin to State Representative, District 13, Seat B. Just ONE vote per precinct.

1990: Four contests in the general election were decided by a margin of less than ONE PERCENT of the votes cast in each contest.

1992: FIVE votes gave Al Vezey the nomination for State Representative, House District 32 in the primary election (less than ONE vote per precinct).

1994: 1.1 votes per precinct elected Tony Knowles as Governor and Fran Ulmer as Lieutenant Governor out of 216,668 votes cast.

1996: ONE vote gave Ann Spohnholz the nomination for State Representative, House District 21, in the primary election.

1998: A TIE was broken by a flip of the coin to elect Wayne Morgan after a runoff Election for a school board seat in the Kuspuk School District.

2003: 14 votes gave Mark Begich the 45% plurality threshold needed to elect him Mayor of Anchorage.

2006: A TIE was broken by a flip of the coin to give Bryce Edgmon the nomination for State Representative, House District 37, in the primary election.

2016: In the Anchorage municipal election, Proposition 9, Girdwood Police Protection, passed by THREE votes.

The Decline of Northern Civilization

NOTE: This is a piece by Josh Medsker, originally written for and published in the Anchorage Press in October of 2000. When I first found this, it inspired my “Back When Anchorage Was Cool” post. Unfortunately, at some point since then, a redesign of the Anchorage Press website took Josh’s article offline. Recently, he was kind enough to dig the article up, dust it off, and pass it on to me. With his permission, I’m re-posting it here.

The Decline of Northern Civilization, Part 1

By Josh Medsker
Originally published in the Anchorage Press, Vol. 9, Ed. 42, October 19-25, 2000

I was 11 years old when I saw my first punk rocker.

It was 1983, and I was huddled in my bedroom, watching music videos on my four-inch TV. Crazy music like the Clash and Eddy Grant’s pop-reggae number “Electric Avenue” came out of the lone speaker. Then a guy with a mohawk–a lime green mohawk, nonetheless–appeared on screen, wearing a ratty t-shirt that read “Bombshelter Videos.”

“You’re watching Catch-22,” he said.

Mr. Mohawk’s name was Frank Harlan, and though I didn’t know it at the time, he was the impresario of a thriving underground music scene. If I’d been old enough to go to shows then, I could have seen local legends like Skate Death, or the Psychedelic Skeletons, instead of building space ships out of Legos.

Watching Harlan that night, all I knew was that he represented something new, intense, and different. Something I wanted to be a part of.

There have been bar bands in Anchorage as long as there have been bands in Anchorage. My interest then–as now–was not in bar bands, but underground bands: Punk. Metal. Techno. Industrial. Rap. And the undefinables.

They all share this much: They and their fans are outsiders, and they know it.

This is their story so far.


Any history needs a beginning, and the history of the Anchorage Underground begins inside The Wherehouse, a two-story structure at 1515 Karluk Street in Fairview.

The Wherehouse was an actual warehouse built shortly after W.W.II. Anchorage artist Wendy Jones bought the place in the early ‘60s and encouraged local bohemians to rent it out.

In 1972, a group of young, radical activists moved in. They called themselves themselves “The Ad Hoc Organizing Committee For Young Democrats.” One of the first Ad Hoc actions was a protest of nuclear testing in the Aleutian Islands. The group also helped several of its members get elected to the State House (Ad Hoc alumni include Governor Tony Knowles). One of the group’s members, George Lichter, brought up national acts like Canned Heat and the touring company of “Jesus Christ Superstar” to perform at Ad Hoc fundraisers.

Ex-New Yorker Greg Granquist, now 52, moved into the Wherehouse in 1974, just as the complex’s inhabitants were shifting from the Ad Hoc activists to a strange mix of militant vegetarians and pipeline workers.

“The winter of ‘75, ‘76, there were about 18 people that were living in this one warehouse that had, basically, about seven separate rooms,” says Granquist. “There were like, makeshift sleeping areas, bunk-beds, all kinds of stuff just thrown together.”

The Wherehouse crowd became famous for its wild Halloween parties, complete with elaborate invitations and themes. In 1979, the Wherehouse denizens dressed up as a fictitious street gang, the Karluk Warriors, and descended upon a competing Halloween party thrown by Anchorage Daily News editor Howard Weaver. The Karluk Warriors showed up in full gang regalia, demanded first place in the ensuing costume contest, and won.

Such exhibitions represented the do-it-yourself zeitgeist that would serve as the foundation for regional underground music scenes all over the country. In Anchorage, the Wherehouse was the spawning ground for that attitude.

THE GLORY YEARS: 1980-1987

“I was called ‘faggot’ more than I was ‘Frank’,” says Frank Harlan, the mastermind behind Warning fanzine, the DIY publication that brought punk rock to Anchorage’s young and culture-starved masses.

Harlan, now 41, moved to Alaska in 1975 with his parents, and graduated From North Pole High School, near Fairbanks, in 1977.

After working as a park ranger and a haircut model, Harlan (who used the pseudonym Bill Bored) moved to Anchorage. In October of 1982, he and his girlfriend, Polly Vinyl, published the first issue of Warning, while “Mr. Frank” worked as a clown at children’s parties.

A product of its time, Warning’s articles were pounded out on typewriters, and the underground publication’s design was literally cut-and-paste. Its look was suited for the scene it documented, however, and at its height, Warning clocked in at over 40 pages of reviews, interviews with bands, political rants, and photo coverage of punk shows at the National Guard Armory and Carpentier’s Hall, Anchorage’s two perennial underground music venues.

“We used to do 2500 issues, and send probably half of them to Seattle,” says Harlan. “I live in Seattle now, and there’s a lot of people who, when they realize you’re Bill Bored, or something like that, or that you lived in Alaska, they go, ‘Oh, did you do anything with Warning?’”

Through the Seattle connection, Warning got news from Alaska out to the rest of the country and vice-versa. In addition to local coverage, Warning printed scene reports from the Northwest and beyond, and a wealth of record reviews of independent releases by underground bands from around the country. This gave Anchorage underground music fans the emboldening sense they were part of a larger movement.

Warning also promoted concerts at the Armory, showcasing early Anchorage bands like the Angry Nuns and the Shocks, the latter featuring Rick Kinsey, who would go on to form numerous Anchorage bands in the ‘90s. Newer bands like Skate Death and the Clyng-Onz also began playing out.

At the same time he was producing Warning, Harlan was a late-night VJ for a local music video station called Catch-22. Starting in 1983, Harlan hosted his own program, “Bombshelter Videos,” featuring rarely-seen-on-MTV bands like Black Flag, P.I.L., Siouxsie and The Banshees, and Skate Death.

“I was only on Catch-22 for like, 10 months. Then they let me go because I was too weird,” says Harlan.

By then, though, “Bombshelter Videos” had become the favorite eye-candy of Anchorage punk rockers, so Harlan took the show to local access cable, and launched a new theme show, “The No Wave Hour.”

In 1984, Harlan helped bring up Southern California skate-punk legends Suicidal Tendencies, the first major punk band to play Anchorage.

That landmark event was bookended by some of the first releases by Anchorage underground bands–The Clyng-Onz put out their first tape, “Hide Your Eskimos,” in 1983, and, two years later, issued a split record with arty punk rockers the Psychedelic Skeletons. Then, in 1985, Skate Death put out the classic slab of Anchorage ‘80s punk, “You Break It, You Buy It,” which has become a pawn shop gem.

By the end of ‘84, the Wherehouse, which Greg Granquist re-named “The Eighth People’s Werehaus Republik,” had become a work of underground art in progress.

Each wall of the complex was adorned with a mural painted by each of the residents, from flaming skulls to graffiti and haphazard geometric patterns. The bathroom was painted to look like a cave full of bats. Found-object sculptures hung from the walls and lurked in the corners.

“The Wherehouse kind of evolved into the center of the alternative music and punk rock scene here in Anchorage,” says Granquist.

Skate Death, the Clyng-Onz, and the Psychedelic Skeletons played regularly at the Wherehouse, along with newer groups, like The Exhumed, who professed to be disciples of Aleister Crowley. Canadian punk legends D.O.A. came up to Anchorage in 1985; they crashed at the Werehaus for an entire weekend.

In 1986, though, the scene began to self-destruct. Frank Harlan published the last issue of Warning in the fall. The next year, he moved to Seattle. Wendy Jones sold the Wherehouse, the new owner tripled the rent, and an era ended.

“I wished I’d had a million dollars and could have just purchased the property,” says Granquist, who moved out in May of 1987. “[Now] I think it’s someone’s garage.’”


With two of its main arteries cut, Anchorage’s underground scene hemorrhaged until gradually, a new crop of bands staunched the flow: The Drunk Poets, A.B.D.K. (A Bunch of Dead Kids), The Subterraneans, The Guests, Hyperthermia, and an embryonic version of T.S. Scream (with original bassist J.D. Stuart, later of Grin and Broke).

Without the Wherehouse, though, Anchorage suffered from a dearth of quality venues. Shows were limited to house parties, the Fairview Rec Center, and the occasional warehouse concert.

In the winter of 1990, Dylan Buchholdt opened the first incarnation of the Underground Bar, below a steak house in Midtown. After about a year, the Underground moved to its classic location, at 3103 Spenard Road.

Another venue that opened in 1990 was the Ragin’ Cage, a dive across Spenard from the Fly-By-Night Club. The sound at the Ragin’ Cage was bad, and the decor was non-existent, except for the neon paint splattered on the black concrete floor, and dilapidated couches in the corners.

The Cage–home to regular shows by Hessian (featuring lead singer Brock Lindow) and Ted “Theo” Spitler of Heavy Season–quickly became infamous for its violent patrons. The owners eventually put a chain link fence up around the stage to protect bands from their audience.

Ragin’ Cage became a hang-out for skinheads. Vox Populli, a local underground publication, started out as a straight-up punk ‘zine before gradually turning into a platform for editor Mark Watson’s white-power views, and a rallying cry for Anchorage skinheads.
“There have never been many SHARP skins (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice) in this town,” said Jennifer Morris, who was host of “Amber Waves of Ska” on KRUA. “It’s mostly been nazis.”

In the winter of 1991, local promoter and musician Trey Wolf opened a new warehouse space called Spatula City on Orca Street in Fairview. Wolf had attempted throwing a few shows beneath the Sawmill Club before deciding he needed his space.

“My motivation was to completely get out from underneath anyone with a standard, normal idea of [having] a club,” says Wolf.

At the time, Wolf was in a noise band with Rex Ray, a small-business owner and musician, called FSUNJIBLEABLEJE.

One early FSUN show at Spatula City sticks out in Wolf’s mind. The band took an abandoned car off the street, and they and the audience members took turns wailing on it with saws and hammers.

Spatula City hosted a hopping roster of bands, including T.S. Scream, Wolf’s classic punk band Green Eggs And Spam, FSUN, the bizarre, pulsing metal of Thanx A Million, the jangly alternative-pop of The Disastronauts, and local punk-metal legends, Sonic Tractorhead. Overwhelming debt forced Spatula City to close its doors near the end of ‘92.

Nineteen-ninety-two was also the year the rave scene broke in Anchorage. DJ Fuzzy Wuzzy began spinning techno at Sharky’s on Fifth Avenue, and DJ Drewcifer was spinning grooves from Bauhaus, Ministry and Throbbing Gristle at the Mirage in Spenard.

It was also the year KRUA 88.1 came on the air. KRUA was born a few years earlier as KMPS, a campus-only radio station, but on Valentine’s Day KRUA went FM. KRUA was a strong supporter of the local scene from the station’s inception, and hosted “Local Edge Live” shows at the Underground Bar, and the UAA Pub. Other shows, like “The Metallion,” “The Fred Show” (‘80s music), and “Kirk’s Show From Hell” (your worst acid nightmare), had audiences rivaling those of the commercial stations.

In the fall of 1992, in a small art gallery next to Spatula City, several blocks away from the old Wherehouse, a group of artists and scenesters gathered, forming the core group that would dominate Anchorage for most of the coming decade. The B.A.U. (Business As Usual) Gallery was run by Brian MacMillan, a transplant from Boston known to most as just “BMac.” The gallery had been around in various locations for a year or so before, but reached its peak of creative usefulness during 1992, as a haven for alternative artists and entrepreneurs.

The B.A.U. was home to Dan LaPan’s shop Subterranea (which sold clothing, Doc Marten’s, and small dead animals in jars), Sinister Urge (a store run by two girls named Lisa and Leanne who sold used clothes), and Wrek Lard Clan, Rex’s small mail-order business that sold hair dye, punk t-shirts, and body piercing videos.

The B.A.U. Gallery also hosted free-speech nights, KRUA listening parties, and live music. The Gallery was short-lived, however. The Municipality shut it down for good in early ‘93, and the small clan of business-owners migrated to the Reed Building, next to the 4th Avenue Theater.

Around the same time the B.A.U. was closing, Trey Wolf of FSUN started a new warehouse, Industry 13, home to many legendary shows. At one show, Wolf suspended himself by halibut hooks through his hands to a cross made of old computer parts. With Wolf dangling above the crowd, the rest of the band created a violent soundscape behind him using electronics and found metal objects.

One night, T.S. Scream was playing at Industry 13, and the entire band was lit. Guitarist Scott Ferris called out to the audience to “bring him a six-pack.” Someone bought a couple six-packs of beer at a nearby liquor store, brought them back to the warehouse, and the audience passed them above their heads to the band. It was so hot and crowded inside the warehouse that night that someone opened the giant garage door in the front of the building. Everyone piled out into the street, with the band continuing on.

The lack of funds still plagued Wolf, and Industry 13 ground to a halt in the fall of 1993.

The next warehouse, P.S.I. (Pure Survival Instenkt) was run by both Wolf and Rex, and lasted only two weekends in the winter of ‘93, before skinheads smashed out a window in the shop next door, forcing Rex and Wolf to shut it down.

In February 1994, at the same military bunker in Kincaid Park where Suicidal Tendencies played 10 years earlier, a cluster of new bands, (Cucumber Lang, Phillipino Haircut, The Clap, Buttafuoco, Freedom 49, Kaos AK, and Tuesday Weld) debuted over the course of two weekends in a gigantic music fest called “Bigger Than Jehovah.” Among the stalwarts also playing were T.S. Scream (and their offshoot Superball), Green Eggs And Spam, Drt Wagon, and Swingset. Another set of Spenard-area bands sprung up around this time, featuring longtime Anchorage scenester Rick Kinsey, who had played in the Ambassadors and Trauma Groove in the early ‘90s; Mike Holtz, who had previously drummed for Grin, Dr. Zaius, and Hopscotch; and Zall Shedlock former guitarist in the ‘80s thrash-metal band, Hyperthermia.

In August of 1994, the last warehouse run by Trey Wolf or Rex, the Apokcalypse Lounge, came and went in the space of a month, closing due to noise complaints by neighbors and feeble turnouts. However, there were rumblings of things to come when Justin Dexter and Chris Beavers’ noise-band Buttafuoco lit themselves and their instruments on fire. About a year later, in a show at the UAA Pub, Buttafuoco lit a vacuum cleaner on fire, and drove it around the hardwood floor, damaging it, and were banned from the venue.

Around the same time Apokcalypse Lounge was shutting down, Dylan Buchholdt and partner Dave Kincaid were opening Mea Culpa, a cafe and live music venue on Fireweed Lane. Mea Culpa was very popular with music fans of all stripes and all ages, and shows by Swingset, the jazz group Sasparilla, The Phillipino Haircut, and Green Eggs and Spam were well-attended

Some bands had a few things to say about Mea Culpa, however. “It was kind of yuppie to us,” says singer Sam Calhoun. One night, at the end of a sweaty, rockin’ set, Calhoun and members of her band, Phillipino Haircut, purposely threw up on stage and in the bathroom. They were kicked out of Mea Culpa indefinitely. “We actually tried to projectile vomit on stage,” Calhoun recalls. “It was just [us] being young and being punk.” Many of the up-and-coming scenesters would go to Mea Culpa every day and just hang out, and drink coffee, and never missed a show on the weekends. Mea Culpa received numerous noise and violence complaints, however, and had shut down by the end of 1994, leaving the Java Joint on Spenard Road virtually the only remaining music venue.

The Underground Bar had shut down for good in the fall of 1993, after Duane Monsen from Broke was killed inside the bar. Monson had been involved in an altercation early in the evening with a couple of drunk and belligerent patrons, and was later stabbed. From all accounts, The Underground quickly lost its appeal, and its patrons.

Author’s Note: Stay tuned, as the history of Anchorage’s underground continues with the rise and fall of Gigs Music Theatre, kids doin’ it for themselves at UAA, and heathens and Christians square off.

The Decline of Northern Civilization, Part 2

By Josh Medsker
Originally published in the Anchorage Press, Vol. 9, Ed. 43, October 26-November 1, 2000

When Mea Culpa shut down at the end of 1994, the local music scene stagnated. There were a lot of bands fresh from the previous spring’s Kincaid Bunker festival, “Bigger Than Jehovah,” but they had virtually nowhere to play.

Basically two clubs were available: The Java Joint on Spenard and Benson, where bands like Dr. Zaius, Beefadelphia, and Bytet performed, and The Captain’s Club beneath the Beef and Sea Restaurant in Midtown. Heavy rockers 36 Crazyfists played their first shows at the Captain’s Club, as did T.C. Ottinger’s brand new roots-rock band, Hopscotch.

The drought of local music venues ended in March of 1995, when Gigs Music Theater opened.


Gigs was owned and run by Mike Sidon, Scott Emery, and later Mark Romick. Gigs, along with the Java Joint and the UAA Pub, were pillars in the local music scene for the next several years, though Gigs intended to be more mainstream than it turned out to be. “It kind of gravitated toward being a punk rock place,” says Emery.

Gigs thrived at first, with shows from the sloppy, classic punk band Phillipino Haircut, the hardcore Beefadelphia, Hopscotch, 36 Crazyfists, the ska/punk band McSpic, the unclassifiable, insanely loud Contour Chair, the rap-rockin’ Freedom ‘49, and the punk trio Liquid Bandade.

In the beginning of 1995, things seemed to be looking up, but during the summer, even with the heady new Gigs scene, longtime bands such as Kaos AK, Beefadelphia, and Tuesday Weld, began breaking up left and right. Some bands, like T.S. Scream and 36 Crazyfists, fled to the lower 48.

Renewed enforcement of a decades old curfew law–1 a.m. for those under 18–didn’t help any. It got to the point where cops were hanging around Denny’s looking to bust kids.

By the beginning of 1996, there was conflict between local punk rock bands and their hard-core fans, and younger kids who saw Gigs as more of a hangout than a legitimate venue. In retrospect, some say the punk bands were elitists and didn’t support anyone other than their friends and themselves. Others say they didn’t want to be hanging out with a bunch of 15-year-old kids who were just going to Gigs because it was ‘the thing to do,’ rather than see bands. Whatever the reason, the friction meant trouble for Gigs.

Gigs also had a skinhead problem in January 1996, when Subjugated Youth and G.F.Y. were pepper-sprayed by two skins at a 36 Crazyfists show. The entire top floor of the club filled with the spray, and clubgoers stampeded down the stairs, while the bands rushed to get their friends some water.

There was also a spike in heavy drug use in the local music scene. Heroin was the drug of choice. Several local bands, such as the Mainliners and Legitimate Edgar, had members who were messed up on heroin.

“Having the junkie look was almost fashionable,” says Sam Calhoun. “There was a lot of that stuff going on back then. A lot of potential and real musical talent went to shit because of smack.”

Although bands like Liquid Courage and Subjugated Youth continued to play constantly throughout ‘96 and ‘97, and were the two most popular bands for the bulk of the time Gigs was open, the heart of the local scene was either dead or dying.

After nearly two years of solid shows, Liquid Bandade called it quits at the end of ‘96, due to internal band struggles. A few new bands appeared at the beginning of 1997, such as Die Klout, Nowhere Fast, the Strokers, the Fred Savages, and the El Santos 3, all of whom played well-received shows at the UAA Pub, and short-lived Roosevelt Café next to ‘Koot’s.

D.I.Y., BABY: 1997-2000

By mid-1997, the local music scene lacked a cohesive center. Gigs was floundering, bands were splitting up, and no new warehouse had opened since 1994. Ben Roberts, from Nowhere Fast, felt that Gigs had become too mainstream. “What Gigs did, inadvertently, was destroy the warehouse scene. By having two shows a week, every week, there was no reason for anyone to rent a warehouse, and get a P.A., and throw a big show, because you could just go to Gigs.”

Enter the UAA Coffee Club: The Club had been inactive for several years, and the money allotted to fund the club’s activities was about to be reabsorbed by the University until it was discovered by Roberts. The Club threw its first show in March 1998.

Later that summer, another new club opened up in the back of south Anchorage’s New Directions Church. Holy Grounds catered to the growing number of Christian-oriented alt-rock and punk rock bands, such as Arsis, God Helping Alison, and *Subject To Change. But a rift developed between the punk and Christian bands, and neither group seemed to give the other any slack. Only a few groups, such as the Roman Candles, with both Christian and non-Christian members, were able to bridge the gap.

Gigs shut down in August of 1998. And while no one was looking, or cared anymore, the Java Joint (now The Firehouse Café) was torn down. (Like Mea Culpa before it, it’s now a pawn shop.)

By the end of 1997, more of Anchorage’s seminal underground bands had moved away. Trey Wolf left Anchorage in October of 1997 and eventually settled in New Orleans with his wife, Emily Harris, a member of Cucumber Lang. Rex shut down his shop and left the state about the same time. Freedom 49 left for Los Angeles. Craig from Liquid Bandade moved to Hollywood to work on his new stand-up comedy career, and from last reports is working several nights a week at Mitzi Shore’s Comedy Store in Los Angeles.

Some faces from “back in the day” remain, such as T.C. Ottinger, who has a new band, the Tall Cool Ones, with Joey Fender. Ottinger feels that a lot of the current disinterest in the local scene is warranted because bands have become boring. “You gotta put on a fucking show,” says Ottinger. “I don’t care if you have to strip down to your skivvies to do it.”
Also, after a two-year hiatus, nearly all the original members of T.S. Scream are back playing together. From 1995 to 1998, T.S. Scream played and lived in Portland, breaking up in 1998 when lead singer Steve Mashburn moved back to Alaska. Guitarist Scott Ferris returned to Anchorage in May 1996. Gil X followed suit soon after. With the addition of a new bass player, T.S. Scream made a triumphant return to the stage in August of this year.
New bands have sprung up lately, such as Crypto Fascist Clowns, Billy DirtCult, Sinking Feeling, the Born Losers and Fats Tunamelt and Friendz (with ex-Phillipino Haircut and Green Eggs and Spam members). There have been a lot of good shows lately, by Mallaka, and Parallax, and Yolanda and The Starlites.

And, expatriates 36 Crazy Fists recently inked a deal with Roadrunner Records to record three albums, and tour. It seems some of the old excitement for local music has returned after a long hiatus. Whether it takes off again is anybody’s guess.

It’s hard to determine what exactly causes some scenes to thrive while others wither. Maybe it takes being connected to the rest of the country, or not having your creative energy drained by the long, dismal winters. Sometimes it takes just one person to put their ass on the line. That one person will inspire someone else to start the band they’d always wanted, or the ‘zine they’d always wanted, and something, somehow gets started.
Lindow says 36 Crazy Fists will return to tour Alaska, after they tour Outside. “We’ll be from Alaska forever,” he says. It’s difficult to put into words what Anchorage does to people… I still haven’t come to any solid conclusion. I think it’s got some sort of shambling, unsophisticated beauty that people love. You know, frontier spirit and all that crap.

Dedicated to the memories of J.D. Stuart, Duane Monsen, Billy Rasey, Cody Hughes, and everyone who couldn’t be here to reminisce.

Sarah Six-Pack, Part Two

A bit of an update to Sarah Six-Pack, thanks to an article reposted by my dad that’s been carried on a few news sites.

Sarah and Todd Palin, who are just like everyone else, and going through hard economic times just like everyone else…

  • Have a combined income of nearly a quarter-million dollars, five times the median household income for Wasilla.
  • Own a single-engine plane, two boats, two personal watercraft and a half-million dollar custom built home on lakefront property.
  • Have an established 401(k) retirement account.
  • Own four other lakeside private recreation sites, covering 35 acres and recently appraised at $102,700.
  • Pay $7,662/year in taxes on their five properties.
  • Report no debts other than their home mortgage.

See? Just like everyone else.

The Last Trip I Took

“This is it,” I thought as I huddled under a pile of musty sleeping bags, ratty blankets, and discarded coats in the back of my friend’s mini-van, trying desperately to find some warmth and stop shivering. Despite the warm mid-afternoon August sun pouring through the tinted windows of the van and the weight of layer after layer of material pressing down on me, the tremors continued to wrack my body, and I knew that this time, there was no coming back. I’d gone too far.

I’d spent the past two years dropping acid on a regular basis. One to three times a week, placing the small squares of paper on my tongue, tasting the slightly metallic tang of the chemicals as they leaked out of the hit and into my body, feeling the paper dissolve into a mushy mess in my mouth until I spit it out and waited eagerly for the familiar sensations of an acid trip to take hold. “Seven hits and you’re legally insane,” we’d remind each other as the drug started to take hold, laughing as we tried to calculate just how many times we’d tripped and how many hits we’d taken. Soon our nerves would jack into overdrive: each touch a new experience, sending us questing for the perfect texture; sounds would sharpen, gaining depth and dimensionality undreamt of on more sober days; colors brightening, shimmering and dancing before our eyes; and sometimes — though less often for me than for some of my friends — our minds, unsatisfied with the paltry sensory input we were providing, would start to invent their own and the hallucinations would kick in.

This time, though, it wasn’t fun. Instead of acid, my usual drug of choice, I’d instead embarked on an altogether different trip — the ticket this time being a full eighth of the dry, foul-tasting fungus known colloquially as ‘shrooms. Curled in the fetal position in my improvised shelter, hearing the muffled sounds of friends and strangers laughing and partying outside the van, I knew that this had been a mistake, and feared that it was one for which I would be paying for the rest of my life.

My friends and I were at Alaska’s annual Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival, an event that, for many people, has more to do with round-the-clock partying and indulging in intoxicants both legal and illegal than it does with folk music. Two hours’ drive north of Anchorage in Katie’s borrowed mini-van, surrounded by the tall fragrant evergreens and birch trees of the Alaskan wilderness, a large parcel of land had been plowed into the festival arena. Beyond a gate made secure more by the Hell’s Angels standing on either side than by the orange plastic security fencing stretched across simple wooden poles was the official festival area: a large stage in front of a trampled dirt field, with gaily colored booths set up around the perimeter to hawk everything from gauzy handmade faerie wings to glassware pipes (conspicuously missing the “For Tobacco Use Only” signs so prominent when sold at smoke shops in the city) to plump, succulent sausages.

This area was dwarfed, however, by the campground: seven football field sized swaths carved out of the surrounding forest containing thousands of cars and enough people to make the festival the third largest community in the state of Alaska for this one weekend each year. Dust-coated sports cars, SUVs, station wagons, mini-vans and full-size campers competed for space with tents, blue tarps, and all manner of improvised camp sites. Leather-clad Hell’s Angels would roar through on ATVs, barking at campers to move their sites this way and that so that more cars could inch their way through the narrow, muddy lanes, made all the more impassable as each new carload of people emptied and and began wandering throughout the site. Campfire smoke would mix with the sweet smell of marijuana, one campsite’s techno would battle with another campsite’s Metallica, and with nightfall, sudden explosions of sound and color appeared as fireworks flew randomly above and about the campgrounds. In short, chaos — made all the more incredible when experienced from far outside the rational norms of sobriety.

Since LSD takes a couple days to work its way out of the body, and Friday had been an experiment with “day-tripping” (an unusual experience for me, as I generally preferred to spend my acid trips in dimmer light — a ‘cockroach,’ according to my friends), dropping another hit or two of acid wasn’t an option. So, when an acquaintance sauntered by our campsite and mentioned that he had some mushrooms available for interested parties, it didn’t take me long to decide to give them a try. I had tried mushrooms twice before, neither time with much success, merely getting mildly irritated and going to bed. “Well, if a sixteenth didn’t do much for you,” advised Chad, “try an eighth.” As these things so often do, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Money changed hands, and I was handed a plastic baggie with four rather unimpressive looking shriveled brown mushrooms inside. I sniffed them and made a face. “Man, these things smell like shit!”

“They should,” laughed my source. “They’re grown in it!”

Knowing I wouldn’t be able to stomach just popping the foul little things into my mouth — I’m not fond of eating normal mushrooms, let alone mushrooms that so pungently betray their origin — I dug into our food supplies, poured a large bowl of applesauce, and crumbled the ‘shrooms into the bowl. Picking up a spoon, I put the first bite into my mouth — and discovered to my dismay that the tart sweetness of the applesauce hardly disguised the foul taste of the fungus at all. In fact, not only did the concoction still taste foul, but the mushroom pieces had become quite unpleasantly moist, sliding down my throat like slightly spoiled oysters. Still, I was determined to give ‘shrooming one last attempt, and I managed to work my way through the bowl.

Three hours later, and I was regretting my decision unlike any other I’d made to that point. While the initial sensations had been not entirely unlike those of an acid trip, things soon took on new and uncomfortable tones. Even though the late summer sun was still shining down on us, I kept getting colder and colder. Sounds became more and more disjointed, leaving voices and music muffled until they grew close and suddenly exploded into full volume within my head. I soon retreated into the back of the van in an attempt to gain a little more control over my surroundings. The sensations continued to increase, however, forcing me to close the back gate of the van and crank every window shut so that as little sound as possible would leak in. After a few minutes of digging through bags I had every piece of fabric I could find wrapped around me. Still, I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into the effects of the drug — and for the first time in my years of drug use, I was scared.

Unable to do more than huddle in a ball and let the drug run its course, I listened to the sounds of the festivities outside. “Is he okay?” I heard someone ask. I wasn’t, but I couldn’t unclench the aching muscles of my jaw in order to say anything, and soon I heard their voice fade away after they gained friendly reassurances from my campmates. “He just needs to be left alone for a bit,” I heard, and I felt my fingernails cut into my palms as another spasm of shivers ran through my body. To be alone was the last thing I needed right then, but there was no way for me to let them know. All I could do was lie there, wait, and hope that there was going to be an end to this.

Four hours later, it slowly dawned on me that I hadn’t actually felt things getting worse in a little while. Cautiously, I unclenched my fists and moved some of the pile aside, pushing myself up to lean against the wall of the van. The sun, on its long journey toward setting, was peeking between the trees, sending stripes of shadow across the windows. As one enthusiastic campsite a few cars down sent an early roman candle shooting blue and red balls of flame into the air, I realized that the shivers had stopped. I wasn’t anywhere near sober, but I had peaked. I’d made it through the worst of the trip, and had finally started the long, slow process of coming down.

As I pushed the back gate of the van up, the outside world seemed to pour back into my shelter. Music, conversation and smoke drifted in. Chad looked up from the stick he held over our campfire, and a little bit of marshmallow dripped down and sizzled on the glowing coals. “Hey. You okay?” I nodded. I would be okay, or at least I was pretty sure I would be, and that was close enough. After a short pause, Chad nodded back, then turned back to blow out his marshmallow and add its gooey white stickiness to the in-progress S’more in his hand.

For the rest of the night, I sat in the van, watching people walk by outside, listening to the random snippets of conversation and music, and occasionally exploring our food reserves for tastes and textures that I could handle. Letting the rhythms of the ongoing party outside wash over me, I turned my thoughts inward, prying open all the musty mental boxes and psychological cubbyholes that I’d constructed over the past few years, pulling out the contents, shaking the dust off, and investigating whatever I uncovered. As rain started to fall and passersby slogged through the muck of the suddenly soggy campsites, I slogged through the muck in my mind, facing demons I had hidden from during the years of self-medicating my way out of having to cope with the world around me.

As the morning sun broke over the treetops, I stepped out into the crisp morning air and found Chad and Katie. “It’s time to go home.” They nodded, Chad grabbed the keys and took the driver’s seat, and we slowly worked our way back out to the highway. While Katie slept in the back, Chad and I talked about my night. “I’m done,” I told him. “It’s been a fun couple of years, but it’s time for me to start facing things again.” We fell silent as Chad drove, and I watched the light flicker through the trees and the gentle curves of the road unfurl before us as we continued into Anchorage, the rising sun at our backs, and a chemical-free life before me.

Paper number three for ENG101. On the one hand, as this was a ‘personal narrative’ essay, it was right up my alley — not only is it one of my favorite forms of writing (purely creative), but after the number of years I’ve spent babbling on this website, it’s one I have a lot of practice with. The downside, though, was picking a topic — after the number of years I’ve spent babbling on this website, I had to find something I hadn’t rambled on about already! Eventually, I settled on a story I’ve been meaning to tell for some time now: the last time I did any sort of illegal narcotics.

In the end, I got a perfect 4.0/100%, and JC asked for permission to hold onto a copy of the paper to use as an example of good writing in future classes.

Yay for drugs!

Skinheads I Have Known

Back in the mid- to late-’90’s, Anchorage used to have a fairly active skinhead community. I can’t say how they might have compared to similar groups in other cities, but as far as Anchorage went, they were well-known, and fairly “hard core.”

For a long time, I didn’t have a whole lot of contact with them. I’d see them around town every so often, but usually, that was about it.

A few years before, back in high school, a girl I knew was dating one of the leaders of the skinhead scene and I ended up having a couple chances to talk to him, as well as another skinhead a few years later at a party. Those conversations ended up being a lot more interesting than I expected them to be, too, as these guys weren’t your typical skinheads. They’d each gotten into it when they were younger for all the usual reasons that kids are drawn into any sort of gang culture: power, community, a sense of belonging, friends. For people like these guys, the racism aspect of the typical skinhead persona had little to do with why they joined.

In the case of the second guy, who I spent time talking with at a party, he never really developed the racist bent that so many others in the scene did, and instead delved more and more into the roots of the skinhead and nazi movements. Eventually, while he still carried the look and general presence of your typical skinhead, he ended up approaching it not as a reason or excuse to denigrate other races, but simply his way of recognizing the history and background of where he came from. He had pride in his family and his personal history, but he wasn’t racist at all — in fact, his girlfriend was a beautiful asian girl.

I wasn’t entirely sure why he chose to continue to wear the uniform, as there is certainly a very strong (and often not undeserved) stereotype associated with the skinhead look, and for whatever reason, he didn’t run with the SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Predjudice), but that was his choice. In any case, it was a very interesting discussion — while the skinhead stereotype generally tends to include double-digit IQs, some of them are amazingly intelligent. It’s how they choose to apply that intelligence that can make all the difference between whether they’re interesting or frightening (for a good example of the latter, see American History X).

Of course, all too often, people like that are the exception, and I ended up having a couple of memorable run-ins with the Anchorage skinhead crowd.

One night, I and a couple of friends were hanging out at VINL (Village Inn, Northern Lights), our general place to go when we didn’t want to be at home, but didn’t have anything better to do. We had a booth along the outside wall of the smoking section, and had been there for around an hour or so.

About five tables away from us were four of the local skins. We didn’t pay much attention to them at first — either letting sleeping dogs lie or wrapping towels around our head, pick your mental image — but after a while, it was obvious that they were paying attention to us. Glances were shot our direction, and the occasional muttered “faggots” would drift our way.

To this day, I have no idea what caught their attention, or why we became the subjects of their ire. The only even semi-reasonable prospect I’ve ever come up with was that I was wearing a shirt for the band Black Happy — but that explanation seems a little far-fetched even for me to count as probable. Whatever it was, though, when they stood up from their table, rather than leaving, they came over to us. Three of them stood at the end of the table, blocking us in, while the leader of the group sat down next to me.

I don’t have a really clear memory of the next few minutes. The goons were standing mute, while the leader spent a good five minutes spouting off, giving us a good long spiel, about how we should be proud of our race, stand up for our fatherland, and so on. The usual jingoistic propaganda that you tend to hear from either skins or Karl Rove.

We just sat and listened, saying as little as possible. In my head, though, I was going off on the guy — and as I’d just spent the previous summer in Germany, I had a whole spiel ready to go in German. Never opened my mouth, of course, as antagonizing the guy didn’t seem like the brightest approach…but it was brilliant stuff, I tell you.

At one point during his diatribe, one of the other three went out to the parking lot, got their car, and drove it around until it was parked directly in front of the window we were sitting by. He then switched over to the passenger seat and got something out of the glove compartment. I don’t know what it was, but he was being very careful to keep it down and out of sight. Draw your own conclusions.

Eventually, things wound down. The guy stood back up, tossed a few last verbal threats our direction, and then they went out to join their friend in the car. They didn’t leave, though. At first, they just sat in the car, talking and watching us. After a little while, they drove off, only to circle the block and come back to park in the parking lot again. This went on for about another half hour, until they finally left.

More than a little shaken, we stayed put for another hour or so until we were pretty sure that they were actually gone, and then went home.

Later in the year, I talked my way into my first public DJing gig. A new all-ages club, City Lights, had opened up in town, catering primarily to the top-40/hip-hop crowd. I started by just dropping by every so often with a couple friends to check things out, and struck up a conversation with the bartender. After a few visits, she got me in touch with the guys running the place, and I managed to convince them that there was a fairly large untapped market in the local alternative community, and eventually they agreed to give us a chance.

Things went well for a couple months, and then one night about an hour after we opened, who should come in but the four skins that had harassed my friends and I — only this time, they were accompanied by the leader of the local skinhead community. I wasn’t terribly sure what to make of this, but they didn’t look like they were out to cause any trouble, and they just walked to an open table against the back wall of the club and sat down to watch.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, the leader walked up, with the guy who had been the primary antagonist at VINL trailing behind him. “Hey — can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure,” I said, and cued up a slightly longer song.

“Look — the guys told me what went down a while ago. They want to say they’re sorry,” he said, and gestured over his shoulder at the guy behind him, who was studiously avoiding looking at me, preferring to scan the crowd on the dance floor.

“Oh,” I said, more than a little unsure how to proceed from here. “Um…okay.”

“Eehh, don’t worry about it,” he went on. “They were a little drunk, just blowing off some steam — nothing serious.” I just nodded — I wasn’t entirely sure I bought the explanation, but I wasn’t going to start arguing, either. “Look, we were wondering if you could play a few tracks for us,” and he held out a stack of three CDs.

“Um…well, yeah, sure,” I said, and took the CDs. “Why not?”

They went back to their table, and a few songs later, I tossed in the songs they had marked. All three songs were really high-energy, aggro skinhead punk. The skins moved onto the dancefloor (which cleared out rather quickly), and spent the next few minutes lightly pounding each other in a quick high-speed mini-mosh. The songs ended, and as I put something else on, four of them went back to their table while the leader came back up to the DJ booth to get the CDs.

“Thanks a lot, man,” he said as I handed him the CDs. “No hard feelings, right?”

“Sure, no hard feelings,” and I shook his hand.

“Good. Look, you ever run into any trouble, or need a hand or something — get ahold of us. You’re a good guy.”

“I appreciate that.”

And back he went to the table.

I never had to take him up on his offer, but from then on, anytime I ran into him around town, we’d say hi and chat for a few minutes. He and his boys occasionally showed up at the club, but never had me play anything for them again. They’d just walk in, grab a table, hang out and chat with each other for a while, then leave, never causing any problems. And for a year or two, if I’d needed it, I could have had the skins at my back.

It’s a weird little world I live in sometimes.

Stupid Practical Jokes

News from Oregon of a practical joke gone wrong

A couple of guys in Oregon who started drinking early in the morning thought it would be funny to stage a murder scene.

But by the end of the day, they weren’t laughing. They were jailed and so was their friend, the subject of the prank.

An alarmed Daniel Maerz told police he walked into the house and found 31-year-old Adam Vickers dead from a gunshot wound. He believed his friend had been killed by his roommate, Kyle Wisdom. After his emergency call, police rushed to the scene, ordering a lockdown of a nearby elementary school on their way.

But after realizing their house was surrounded by police, Vickers and the roommate decided they’d better go outside and explain it was all a joke intended to scare Maerz.

Vickers and Wisdom were jailed on charges including initiating a false report.

Maerz was also arrested, on a charge of methamphetamine possession. But police said he was happy to learn his friend wasn’t dead, even though he was upset with his friends for pulling the prank.

This reminded me of a couple stories I was told by a teacher I knew in high school — he wasn’t one of my teachers, but he was friends with another friend of mine, so we hung out a few times. The man had a somewhat odd sense of humor and a fondness for pranks, which landed him in trouble from time to time — and to be honest, I’m somewhat surprised he never got himself fired.

There were two stories he told us that I still remember (names have been changed, of course).

The first was actually somewhat similar to the above reported story. The teacher was a science teacher, so there was an auxiliary room attached to the classroom used for holding supplies.

One day he invited one of the students in to help him get some supplies, and then once they were in the room, he quickly explained what he had in mind. The two of them immediately started staging a huge ruckus, yelling at each other, banging on things, and generally making sure to get the attention of as many of the kids in the classroom as possible. After a few minutes, things got really quiet, as the student stretched out on the floor and the teacher doused him with some fake blood.

Unfortunately, when he opened the door, expecting to shock the group of students gathered around…it was the school’s principal of security who was the first to greet him.

Obviously, this didn’t go over very well. This wasn’t the worst unexpected outcome he told us about, though.

During one of his classes, he had a student that was apparently completely unable to stay awake during class. Whether she’d been out partying too late the night before, or just hadn’t had enough sleep, or just didn’t care enough to pay attention, he kept seeing her nod off. After seeing her head droop one too many times, he stopped the class for a moment and asked to talk to her.

“Look, Rachel, I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m tired of seeing you falling asleep, and I don’t want you to do it again. But I want to make sure the other kids pay attention too…so we’re going to have some fun with this.

“After you go back to your seat, wait a few minutes, then start to nod off again. I’ll throw a fit, threaten you with detention, and you’ll promise not to do it again. Wait a few minutes, then start to droop one more time. This time, I’ll make sure none of the other kids are watching, come over, and pretend to slap you across the face to wake you up. We’ll have some fun, freak the other kids out — and then I want you to pay attention from now on, okay?”

She agreed, and went back to her seat.

A few minutes later, her head started to droop. Mr. Nolan immediately blew up. “Rachel! Dammit, I’ve told you too many times, I want you awake for my class! Now if you can’t stay awake and pay attention, I don’t want you here, and I’ll flunk you out. Do you understand me?”

Rachel nodded, and they went back to their lesson…for a few minutes.

Sure enough, not much later, she was nodding off again behind her book, and Mr. Nolan went nuts. He slammed his book down on the desk. “God_dammit_! Everyone! Page 356, now. Heads in your books, and I don’t want to see any of you looking at anything else.” As the kids scrambled to find the right page in their books, he stalked across the room to Rachel. “Look, I’ve told you before — Richard, eyes in your book, now — you’re in my class to learn, not to sleep. This is my classroom, and you will do as you’re told!” With that, he slapped his hands together, and Rachel went tumbling off her chair and onto the floor.

The classroom went dead.

Mr. Nolan turned and stalked back to the front of the room. All eyes were on Rachel as she shook herself off, got up off the floor, and sat back down in her chair. Mr. Nolan reached the front of the room, turned back around, and glared across the class room.

“Well, Rachel? Have you learned anything today?”

Rachel sat straight up in her chair, and looked her teacher dead in the eye.

“Yes, Mr. Nolan.

“Pain turns me on — do it again!”

Back When Anchorage was Cool

Believe it or not — and these days, many people likely wouldn’t — Anchorage used to have a pretty active underground scene. I spent many, many years as part of it, both as a spectator and as a participant, and it went a long way to shaping the person I am today. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of those times.

Yesterday in my post about Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers, I mentioned Anchorage industrial/noise band Fsunjibleableje (eff-sun-jib-lee-ah-ble-juh). Phil asked if I had any .mp3s of their work, and unfortunately, I don’t — to my knowledge, they never recorded anything. I was prompted to do a quick Google search of their name to see what I could find.

There weren’t a lot of results (though, amusingly enough, the third result was for my old DJ Wüdi propaganda page), but one of the results I got sent me on a long, fun trip down memory lane. Back in October 2000, the Anchorage Press (Anchorage’s version of Seattle’s Stranger or Seattle Weekly) published a retrospective of the Anchorage scene by Josh Medsker — [The Decline of Northern Civilization].

The article is a great look back at the rise and fall of the punk/band scene in Anchorage. Josh is a year older than I am and discovered the scene a bit earlier than I did, so the first few paragraphs are good historical information, but aside from knowing many of the names, I wasn’t around for much of the early events. By the time Josh gets to the early ’90’s, though, I had started to get out of the house and explore the world around me.

Another venue that opened in 1990 was the Ragin’ Cage, a dive across Spenard from the Fly-By-Night Club. The sound at the Ragin’ Cage was bad, and the decor was non-existent, except for the neon paint splattered on the black concrete floor, and dilapidated couches in the corners.

The Cage — home to regular shows by Hessian (featuring lead singer Brock Lindow) and Ted “Theo” Spitler of Heavy Season — quickly became infamous for it’s violent patrons. The owners eventually put a chain link fence up around the stage to protect bands from their audience.

Ragin’ Cage became a hang-out for skinheads. Vox Populli, a local underground publication, started out as a straight-up punk ‘zine before gradually turning into a platform for editor Mark Watson’s white-power views, and a rallying cry for Anchorage skinheads.

“There have never been many SHARP skins (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice) in this town,” said Jennifer Morris, who was host of “Amber Waves of Ska” on KRUA. “It’s mostly been nazis.”

I never made it into the Cage, though I went by it a couple of times. Unfortunately (well, possibly fortunately), every time I drove by, there were fights going on just outside the front door — often skinheads pounding some person that had ticked them off in one way or another — and I and my friends always decided we’d go somewhere else for the night. The skinhead clientele of the Cage was so well known of around town that I heard more people refer to the club as the “Racist Cage” than by its proper name.

As for the skinheads…I’ve had a few run-ins with them, which I’ll probably go into more detail about in a separate post later on. Briefly, though, I was fortunate enough to meet a couple very intelligent, well-spoken skinheads that I had some very interesting conversations with, and I was unfortunate enough to be threatened (though not beaten) by a group of them, so my experiences ran to either extreme. I ended up with a slight fascination with the subculture, though, and while I’ve never invested a lot of time or research into that particular scene, I’ll often keep an eye out for movies that explore that side of the underground culture (John Singleton’s Higher Learning, Russell Crowe’s early film Romper Stomper, and American History X are all worth watching).

The above-quoted Jen Morris, by the way, was a friend of mine at Bartlett High School. A few years older than me, I got to know her while on tech crew for the theater department there, and kept up with her off and on over the years before I left town. I also had quite the crush on her for a while, though I certainly never told her that (though, me being the oh-so-subtle type I was back then, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she knew).

The article soon turns to the Anchorage warehouse scene, which dominated the underground scene for quite a few years, usually in spaces run by Trey Wolf and Rex Ray. Amusingly enough, the very show that I mentioned in my post yesterday — Fsun’s car demolition performance — is mentioned, along with another performance I attended which culminated in Trey’s crucifixion on a cross made up of circuit boards.

One early FSUN show at Spatula City sticks out in Wolf’s mind. The band took an abandoned car off the street, and they and the audience members took turns wailing on it with saws and hammers.

…at one show, Wolf suspended himself by halibut hooks through his hands to a cross made of old computer parts. With Wolf dangling above the crowd, the rest of the band created a violent soundscape behind him using electronics and found metal objects.

I truly think that I have Rex, Trey, and Fsun to thank for my fascination with early industrial, “noise” and experimental bands like Einstürzende Neubauten. While even at that age I’d never been much of one for the pop scene, and had started searching out some of the lesser-known, darker, “alternative” bands (ranging from Violent Femmes to The Cure to Shriekback, Bauhaus, and many, many others), here was something so bizarre, so unstructured, so primal, and totally unlike anything I’d heard before that it blew me away.

Nineteen-ninety-two was also the year the rave scene broke in Anchorage. DJ Fuzzy Wuzzy began spinning techno at Sharky’s on Fifth Avenue, and DJ Drewcifer was spinning grooves from Bauhaus, Ministry and Throbbing Gristle at the Mirage in Spenard.

Both the Mirage and Sharkey’s were all-ages, non-alcoholic clubs. I hit the Mirage from time to time, but I practically lived at Sharkey’s during the time it was open. Originally a top-40/hip-hop club, word started to spread around town that the owners of Sharkey’s were considering opening their basement to the alternative scene. I, along with many other of the kids in town, started dropping by on random weekend nights asking about the rumors, and was always given a “We’re thinking about it…” response — until one weekend, another door was open. I went in, sparing only a quick glance at the upstairs, headed down the stairs, around a corner…and found my home from that night until the club closed.

In some ways, there wasn’t really much to Sharkey’s. The owners had done little to nothing to prepare the basement for use outside of clearing it out and installing a DJ booth and speakers. There was one main room with the dance floor (that had a concrete support pillar smack-dab in the middle of the floor) and space around the side for standing and watching, and two smaller rooms towards the back with a small selection of ratty couches and counter space for kicking back and hanging out. Over time, people brought in paints and decorated the walls, the floor, and the entire space, and as it was all unplanned and uncontrolled by the owners, the decor tended to change from week to week as new paintings went up, stayed for a while, and then were covered by the next round of artistic outpouring.

Steve Kessler, who I’d gone to high school with, got his start as DJ Fuzzy Wuzzy at Sharkey’s. He was one of two or three regular DJs there (unfortunately, I don’t remember the others), and eventually went on to form a promotion company that kept the Anchorage rave scene going well into the early 2000’s (though my fondest memories of that particular scene all stem from its first few years in the late 1990’s, before ‘raves’ started becoming reported as the latest evil to befall the youth of today).

I’d be at Sharkey’s every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night, hanging out with friends, dancing, and at that time, going a long way towards exploring who I was outside of the manufactured “trying to please everyone” anti-personality that I’d been saddled with for many, if not most, of my younger years. Eventually, of course, Sharkey’s closed down, but it will always be one of the clubs that I have the fondest memories of.

[1992] was also the year KRUA 88.1 came on the air. KRUA was born a few years earlier as KMPS, a campus-only radio station, but on Valentine’s Day KRUA went FM.

Another watershed event in my life. Suddenly, there was a station in town playing music that I liked, not just the pablum of top-40! I was a constant listener of KRUA for years, from the day they went FM on. At one point, one of the shows was asking for dedications. Being terminally single at that point, and not particularly happy about it, I called up and dedicated Depeche Mode‘s ‘Somebody‘ “to all the single people in Anchorage.” Years later, while talking with a friend, I found out that not only did they remember that show, but they still had a tape of the show itself, and I got to hear my dedication going out all over again.

In the fall of 1992, in a small art gallery next to Spatula City, several blocks away from the old Wherehouse, a group of artists and scenesters gathered, forming the core group that would dominate Anchorage for most of the coming decade. The B.A.U. (Business As Usual) Gallery was run by Brian MacMillan, a transplant from Boston known to most as just “BMac.”

While I never got to know BMac well, he and I ran into each other many, many times over the years, either at shows, or through work. As I’d been working evening/night shifts in copy shops for much of this time (first Kinko’s, then a local shop called TimeFrame), I was quite used to helping run of flyers for shows or articles for ‘zines, and along with Rex, BMac was one of the constant (and more successful) ‘zine publishers in town.

Eventually various monetary problems forced the various warehouses into obscurity, and things moved into other venues. Various coffee joints sprung up around town catering to the alternative scene, with the two most known likely being The Java Joint and Mea Culpa. Given the strong punk contingent of the scene, however, things at the coffeehouses didn’t always go over spectacularly well…

Some bands had a few things to say about Mea Culpa, however. “It was kind of yuppie to us,” says singer Sam Calhoun. One night, at the end of a sweaty, rockin’ set, Calhoun and members of her band, Phillipino Haircut, purposely threw up on stage and in the bathroom. They were kicked out of Mea Culpa indefinitely. “We actually tried to projectile vomit on stage,” Calhoun recalls. “It was just [us] being young and being punk.”

That’s a show I missed. I think I’m okay with that, though. ;)

Of course, all of this has been for the all-ages set, either at warehouses where there wasn’t much in the way of rules, or non-alcoholic clubs. The over-21 set had had a good thing going for quite a few years with the Underground bar, which became something of a local legend among those of us not quite old enough to get in. Unfortunately, the Underground died a fairly quick and very sad death after one of its regular patrons, Duane Monson of local band Broke, accidentally knocked over the beer of another patron — who proceeded to pull out a knife and stab and kill Monson. I turned 21 just a couple months after this event, and was able to get into the Underground before it closed on my birthday, but it was obvious that the bar wouldn’t be open for much longer, as there were only eight or ten other people in the bar (including all on-duty staff) the entire night.

However, the Underground did have one last blowout show before they shut the doors that I was lucky enough to attend — twice even, as they had a 21-and over show on Friday night, and then an all-ages show Saturday evening — when the Washington-based Black Happy came through town. Great show, great music, and the place was packed, giving me probably my only taste of what the Underground must have been like in its heyday.

Nature abhors a vacuum, though, and soon, another club opened for the band scene that would also play a big part in my life for the next few years: Gig’s Music Theatre.

Gigs was owned and run by Mike Sidon, Scott Emery, and later Mark Romick. Gigs, along with the Java Joint and the UAA Pub, were pillars in the local music scene for the next several years, though Gigs intended to be more mainstream than it turned out to be. “It kind of gravitated toward being a punk rock place,” says Emery.

Gigs thrived at first, with shows from the sloppy, classic punk band Phillipino Haircut, the hardcore Beefadelphia, Hopscotch, 36 Crazyfists, the ska/punk band McSpic, the unclassifiable, insanely loud Contour Chair, the rap-rockin’ Freedom ’49, and the punk trio Liquid Bandade.

My brother Kevin was one of the members of Beefadelphia (named after a Denny’s menu item). My Beefadelphia paintingBeefadelphia’s logo was a stylized man wearing a fez, which at one point was turned into a painting by band member Aaron Morgan. The painting was given to Gig’s and hung in the office for years. When Gig’s finally closed down and we were emptying the place out, I was able to get ahold of the painting, and it’s been hanging on my wall ever since then. Not long before I left Anchorage, Aaron came by my apartment and saw the painting. Laughing, as he’d not realized that I’d ended up with it, he whipped out a Sharpie and signed it for me on the spot.

Gig’s, of course, along with the Lost Abbey, was where I spent the majority of my years DJing for the Anchorage scene. Each night, we’d generally open around 8pm, I’d play music for a while, then we’d have one to three bands playing with me providing between-set music, then I’d DJ until we closed down (generally around 3am or whenever we ran out of customers, whichever came first).

By 1997 and 1998, though, the scene finally seemed to be on its last legs. Many of the bands had split up, moved out of state, or both. Gig’s closed, and there were few other places providing spaces for bands to play. The rise of the hip-hop scene was in full swing in Anchorage, and I, along with many other friends, came to the sad conclusion that the “glory years” had finally passed us by.

I bided my time in town for the next few years, catching the occasional show here and there, but eventually decided that it was time to find something else, and in the summer of 2001, I joined the ever present exodus out of Anchorage.

Still, with as little interest as I have in living there again, I have many, many fond memories of my years there. Lots of good people, friends, bands, parties, and shows.

Sometimes it can be a lot of fun to go wandering down memory lane.

The Need for Speed

My parents gave me my first car, in my family’s usual style. For my birthday that year, mom and dad handed me a wrapped present, about the size of a shoebox. I unwrapped it to discover the expected shoebox, took off the top — and found a stuffed bunny with its eyes X-ed out with yarn.

A little confused, I raised my eyebrows. “A dead bunny?”

“Close. A dead rabbit.” And dad handed me the keys to his 1981 VW Diesel Rabbit, currently parked out on the street awaiting brake repairs.

I loved that car. I’d learned to drive in my friend Rod’s VW Cabriolet — basically a convertible Rabbit — so I was quite comfortable behind the wheel of that little car. Bright yellow, five-speed manual transmission, a sunroof — and diesel powered, which at that point, was truly a beautiful thing. No emissions tests to worry about, no spark plugs to struggle with, and gasoline was under a dollar a gallon back then.

Now, being a diesel, speed was not high on the list of features on this car. I think the best I ever managed to coax it was around 85 mph, heading downhill (the big run down into Eagle River from Anchorage, just before you cross over the bridge, for all you Anchorage-area readers) with a tailwind. Realistically, this was probably a good thing, as I really enjoy driving, and if there’s a good song on the stereo…well, having a fairly low top speed probably saved me a few tickets over the years. ;)

However, as fun as high speed can be, it’s often no real contest against someone who knows how to drive and how to handle their car in various road conditions.

One winter day, I was sitting at a stoplight in Anchorage, heading down Northern Lights Boulevard towards the airport, when a guy and his girlfriend pulled up beside me in some fancy little go-faster. I looked over, and apparently he took my glance as a challenge, as he looked somewhat disdainfully at my little Rabbit, and lightly gunned his engine.

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.

So I gunned mine. He revved his engine up, and I did the same. After a moment, the light changed, he stomped on the gas — and went absolutely nowhere as his tires spun wildly on the icy street. Meanwhile, I lightly touched the gas and pulled forward, handily making it through the light before he had even managed to coax his little sports car into movement.

He caught up just in time for us to hit the next stoplight, and he started revving his engine again. I laughed — once wasn’t enough?

Apparently not. My little Rabbit beat him off the line three stoplights in a row. He was getting more aggravated with each attempt, and I was getting more and more amused.

Eventually, we made it to the intersection of Northern Lights and Minnesota. This being a more major intersection in Anchorage, the streets weren’t quite as icy, and by now he’d actually started to figure out what he was doing wrong. We sat at the intersection, watching traffic move by in front of us, each of us occasionally glancing over to the other car.

The crosswalk light switched from “WALK” and started blinking “DON’T WALK”. Engines revved up a bit.

“DON’T WALK” turned solid, and the traffic light on Minnesota went yellow.

Red light. Engines were gunned — this was it.


He pulled out, this time keeping control and starting slowly, letting his tires gain traction. I did the same, pacing him for the first half block, then starting to fall behind as his more powerful car started to gain speed. At the end of the first block, as he started to pull noticeably ahead of me, we hit the crest of a hill — and while he let his car leap forward, using the downhill slope to give him one last advantage, I tapped my breaks, let myself fall behind him, and watched his car go flying down the hill.

And a few minutes later, I gave him a jaunty wave as I passed by him one last time. I must say, those pretty little white sports cars do reflect the red-and-blue lights of the police cruisers quite nicely as they sit by the side of the road, waiting for the officer to write out their speeding ticket.

(This was inspired by The wrath of the Evil Elle\~Noir.)