Punk

By Neva Knott

It’s sweaty. I’m pushed right up front against the stage, to the right of Andrew’s drum kit. I don’t care about the little groupies trying to get his attention. Caitlyn’s here, too, and we’ve been his best girls for 20 years, so our vibe is move over, cute little things. I’ve been standing in this same spot at Dead Moon shows since the band began in 1987, and have no intention of losing my place now.

It’s sweaty and suddenly, the whole crowd pushes at once and I am pinned. Out of nowhere, our old friend Lyndsey stands behind us, creating a barricade and keeping Caitlyn and me safe from flying elbows and body slams. Better to be up front than in the middle of the mosh. The push always happens right about now on a Dead Moon night. The first chord is struck, everyone at the bar slams a last drink, and the night begins.

Andrew’s sweaty, and his curly long black hair is hanging over his face. As he hits the drums, he glances through the strands and sees me and Caitlyn. He catches my eye. I smile and dance. He smiles and hits his drums.

As I watch him play, my mind drifts across memories of our long friendship…

…all the nights at Satyricon watching bands…the time we left the VC and almost ran hand in hand to get to the club in time to see his favorite band, The Rats…the time we went to The Fuse, one of Portland’s first live-in loft galleries, where we sat on the floor, Andrew cross-legged and me in his lap, with his arms around me, and watched performance art. I could see the dish rack in the next room and thought it was the coolest way to live I’d ever seen…the days we’d go from bar to bar, bumming cigarettes and listening to the stories of the old men who gave them to us…the time we went to the river and I swam in my emerald green bra that I thought would pass as a swim top and someone made fun of me and Andrew told him to shut up, telling him, your dick is the size of a pea right now…the time I shaved my head and the guy at 7-11 called me Sinead and Andrew told him to leave me alone, that I still had a pretty face…the hot, hot, blistering summer day we went to Sauvie Island to swim in the river and it was so hot the cow ran into the river, bleating and crazed. That was the day I met Andrew’s mom, and she told me I was a blessing for taking him and his girlfriend to the river…the early days, when we were all still 20 something and we’d go to Sauvie Island on Sundays, to swim off hang-overs and nap on the beach…the time we went to The Highwaymen: Johnny Cash, Wayon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristopherson, and we were two of the only people dressed in black, everyone else seemed to be wearing pink, and I tried to drink shot for shot with Andrew, until I ended up in the bathroom back at Satyricon, puking into a bucket while Andrew sent in Debbie and Ann Marie to check on me…jamming up to Crown Point in Ann Marie’s jeep with she and Rod to escape the city on a beautiful summer day, top down, Rolling Stones blaring…the time I got off early from a bartending shift and met up with him and we stayed out all night, playing pool and I neglected to call home to tell my boyfriend I was ok…he times we were lovers, off and on, throughout my college years.

He was the only person I wrote letters to while I was away at college and the first person I’d find as soon as I blew into town to escape Olympia and college life for awhile.

Andrew was my first friend in Portland.

I moved to Portland from Olympia in 1980, just a year after high school, with my high school sweetheart, Terry. Though I’d travelled extensively with my parents from the time I was six until about eighth grade, I was shy, and didn’t like new places. I tried to get to know our new neighbors, I tried to make friends at work, and of course, I tried to know Terry’s work-mates. But nothing stuck. Honestly, I didn’t like many of the people he brought home. So my social circle remained friends from high school, his sisters and my sister, who all lived in Olympia–but we visited often. Terry worked rotating shifts: two weeks of days, two weeks of swing, two weeks of graveyard, and I worked retail hours. I spent too much time by myself, watching 80s detective shows: Hart to Hart, Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., and Murder, She Wrote. I was lonely and scared and lost. I was also only 19.

I spent another three years trapped in my isolation. Our relationship ended just before my 22nd birthday. I moved out. The package of my freedom included a one-bedroom apartment, a couch, dining table and bed, a car, and my job as an assistant buyer for a local chain of jeans stores. And more empty minutes.

Jodi, a girl at work, befriended me. My loneliness matched hers, but she had different ideas than TV nights and girl talk. She introduced me to the scene. Portland in 1984 wasn’t the hipster, sustainable lifestyle, artisan mecca it is today. It was smaller, much smaller, and downtown was the core. Outer neighborhoods hadn’t been gentrified and the Pearl was just the warehouse district, where some of the guys I met lived in a space that was so large they had to skateboard to the bathroom. Most of us were too broke to have phones, but there were so few places to go that by word of mouth we all got to the right place for whatever was happening.

It was a Thursday night. Pick any Thursday in the winter of 1984, and it could have been that one. We went to the Virginia Cafe for buck night. The line was out the door as was standard, and it was cool to arrive a bit late, but not so late that you really had to stand in line. The bartender’s name was Fern, and the one-dollar drinks were strong. I’d not really been a cocktail drinker before, but you don’t go to buck night and drink beer.

While waiting to order, having finally made it through the door and down the gauntlet to the bar, I looked around, checking out the crowd: guys in tight black jeans and rumpled shirts, some with vintage brocade vests, some with old but ornate cowboy boots. Some with huge jangling belts, and many with dyed-black hair. Girls in short skirts and go-go boots, vintage dresses and coats, worn with black lace stockings with heels. My eye caught this one guy, making his way through the swarm of people and up to the drink line. He seemed to know everyone and smiled as he greeted each person. He had buoyancy to him. He was tall and thin, had black curly hair and he was cute and rich in persona. I looked at Jodi and said, “Who’s that?” His name was Andrew, and I wanted to know him like everyone else in the room knew him.

Buck night at VC was the Thursday night, Saturday night ritual, but the heart of the scene was Club Satyricon. Dark, dingy, loud, punk, Portland’s version of New York’s CBGB. In the early days, the vibe of Satyricon was more that of a corner bar, except we were all young and dressed in black, and the music was live, local, and loud. A decade later, Courtney Love of the band Hole and Kennedy, an MTV VJ, would claim they made the place famous, but if you ask most of us, they were a bit late to arrive, stuck-up pretentious poseurs.

I’d heard of Satyricon from a guy at work. He thought he was a little tougher than the rest of us, and tried to scare Jodi and me from going, telling us we’d get our asses kicked by punk girls. His admonishments had the opposite effect. I didn’t really know what punk was, but I was curious.

The front of the building, painted flat black, looked derelict. The long bar to the left, band posters everywhere, the big red horseshoe booth to the right. The stage was up front, a simple plywood carpeted platform. Every week or month or so, someone would paint the backdrop. It was an ever-changing street-style mural.

Jodi and I walked in and sat down on a couple of chairs up by the stage, in the darkness and waited–for what, we didn’t know. She was busy evaluating the tough chicks, girls dressed in shorter skirts than us and with more skin showing, wearing ripped stockings and big hair, bleached or dyed. I looked around, taking in every texture, gesture, sound. I felt naive and exhilarated.

We started hanging out at Satyricon, learned the cool bands–Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods, Dan Reed Network, the Boy Wonders and later The Jackals, Napalm Beach–got on the good side of the bartender, Melissa, and flirted with the right guys. I’d see Andrew come and go, but didn’t yet have the nerve to put myself in his path.

Summer 1985. Jodi and I found ourselves at an after hours party. Somebody knew there was a vacant townhouse somewhere across town, and that the doors didn’t lock. The whole bunch of us bought six-packs of beer to go from the club and headed over to let ourselves in. Andrew was there. Jodi pointed his attention my way. I was sitting on a roll of carpet, and he sat down by my side. That night was our first as lovers. The next morning Andrew sat propped against pillows in my bed and showed me his match trip he liked to do to entertain his nephew.

Jodi and I parted ways soon after that party. I moved into a studio apartment in Northwest, the area of town populated by college students, artists, and 20-somethings at large. One of my first nights in that apartment, I went down to VC early on a Thursday, wanting just to be out, not wanting to slip back into my lonely evenings with Jessica Fletcher and Thomas Magnum, and wanting some food. I sat at the bar, by myself, something I would have never done just months before. Andrew, without my seeing him, slid onto the stool next to me, and in his casual way asked what I was doing that night. I told him nothing. He said, “Ruby and I are going down to the club–you want to come with us?” That was our first night as friends.

Andrew introduced me to his best friend, Ruby, and at Satyricon that night, the two of them introduced me to Heidi, Katherine and Alison. We girls danced while Andrew blended into the crowd of guys watching the band. In between sets we drank cheap beer and asked those get-to-know-you kinds of questions. As the night wound down, we bought to-go beer and headed to my apartment. I went in a car with Andrew and two of his friends. Ruby went in a car with the other girls. The driver of our car stopped for gas, and we lost Ruby, Heidi, Alison, and Katherine at the turn. So I hung out with Andrew and his friends late into the night.

Friday, I ran into Heidi at the grocery store–in the cracker aisle. As I turned the corner and saw her reaching toward the shelf, I hesitated, not knowing what to say, then walked up to her side and said, “Hi. I was worried when we lost you all last night–we stopped for gas.” Heidi said she was glad I told her and that she knew something must have happened, but that Ruby was mad and had kept saying, “That bitch took off with all the boys and all the beer.”

Music, as I knew it until I found punk in Portland, was the beautiful tonality and sound that circled out of my parents’ stereo, or was the loud hair band rock n’ roll that my high school friends and I watched strut across the stage of the Seattle Kingdome. Records were objects that people had, tokens of friendship I got at birthday parties. Singing was what my dad did to lull my sister and me to sleep when we were little girls. In Portland, music was more than entertainment or a pastime–it was, and is, the rhythm of the city’s heartbeat.

One Saturday shortly after our cracker aisle meet-up, Heidi invited me to the movie The Unheard Music by the band X. I went, thinking two things–what kind of music is “unheard,” and what kind of a band name is X? I sat in that theatre darkness and watched a woman with unkempt hair and blackened teeth blend her voice with that of a tall, thin man whose guitar seemed to emanate from his person. The songs they sang were songs they, Exene Cervenka and John Doe, wrote. Some were based on ideas, like “Real Child of Hell,” a song about the “true trouble…you never see coming,” and some were imagery-laden and raw in theme, “Imagine a silver cross on a coat of black leather, swinging side to side on the neck of a wolf.” The band’s music was poetry mingled with the slow strum of a guitar.

My life changed. I’d never heard anyone express deep thinking like John Doe’s idea about the real child of hell as a metaphor for hard trouble–I’d never experienced anyone thinking outside of school. Seeing X on screen was the day I saw music as art, and realized art was something people made. The band had formed to “play music that wasn’t bullshit.” Los Angeles, then, was what John Doe called “an open city,” one with no live music. The images in the movie were my introduction to social commentary. As the movie progressed, I learned that unheard music is music denied radio play, music not made for commercial gain. X and their brand of punk was an alternative to the Me generation of conspicuous consumerism foisted upon us in the 80s. That perspective stood in sharp contrast to the quaffed sounds of my teen years. I lost a bit of my naiveté that day; more importantly, I found my creative self in the beat of the unheard music.

A couple of years later, in 1987, I left Portland to attend The Evergreen State College. There, I studied social change, creative writing, and photography. My version of the ethos I saw in The Unheard Music developed. I left Evergreen in 1990, and co-founded Plazm magazine, an internationally known publication that featured work by emerging writers, artists, and graphic designers. In making that magazine, I made the media I wanted to see in the world, created for artists an alternative to commercial galleries and publications. Andrew and Dead Moon played a few fundraiser shows for us, always willing to support my endeavors.

Once, 1988 or so, I asked Andrew if he thought we could ever be together; he replied, “I’d love to be with you but I don’t want to drag you down into the shit I’m in right now.” Shortly after, he asked me to help him get clean so he could fly to Europe for the first Dead Moon show there. Not knowing why he asked me, I still don’t know, I did help him–he kicked in my college house bedroom, and I think we both hoped he’d never go back to that hell he’d been living in. If you know Andrew, though, you know he made his way back to that life of misery and it eventually took from him everything he held dear and ultimately kept us apart.

When I moved home from college in the summer of 1990, we spent pretty much all of our time together, when I wasn’t working and he wasn’t on tour. It was that summer that the band first played at Vera in Holland, their introduction to Europe. Andrew invited me to come on tour with them when they were to go back in the fall. I didn’t, because he showed up at happy hour the day after playing in Eugene, with a girl, and she was telling everyone she was his girlfriend. George, the owner of Satyricon, urged me to go anyway, telling me, “He really wants you to go–he doesn’t talk about girls like he talks about you. You should go, that other girl doesn’t matter.” But, I didn’t; I couldn’t go to Europe with someone else’s boyfriend. Andrew returned from that tour with Kersten on her way from Germany, supposedly to become his wife, the girl from Eugene lost in the shuffle.

That scenario shaped our relationship for years to come. We were always close, always gravitated toward each other in a crowd, valued the moments we spent away from the crowd, running around Portland for days on end, crashing on friends’ floors, making it home to my apartment sometimes, ending up at the river often. But there was always some other girl. I liked and became friends with the girls who became Andrew’s girlfriends, with whom he had actual relationships (and for their privacy I won’t mention names here). I’m still friends with them to this day, so much so that we helped each other in our grief. But I gave up on thinking Andrew and I’d ever be more than close friends.

George sold Satyricon in 2003 after a 20-year run. By then, we–the original denizens–called it “the living room.” The club had become famous as a musical seed-bed, with Portland bands like Dead Moon, Poison Idea, Napalm Beach, King Black Acid, and bands that went bigger, like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Foo Fighters, playing their early shows on that plywood stage. No matter the band, once they started to play, we all crushed up front, sweating, dancing, slipping in spilled beer, bumping into each other, loving life. Andrew, Ruby, Heidi, Alison, Katherine and I–and others we collected along the way–had made a pact of fun by which we lived out our twenties with the club as the epicenter of our world.

By walking through Satyricon’s doors, I found my way into the heart of the city I’d been so afraid to embrace. I found genuine and creative people there rather than mean punk chicks posturing to beat me up. None of us were the headline-making angry skinheads; in fact, we shunned them when they’d try to come onto our turf. Through the friendships I made at that dark, loud, and dingy punk club, I overcame my shyness. I owe my ability to gracefully slide in and out of social situations to that place and to Andrew. He taught me how to read people and how to hold my place in the world.

By the time the club closed, adult life had seeped in. Ruby was raising her son and daughters, Heidi and Alison had moved to California, I was teaching, and we’d lost track of Katherine. Andrew still lived the rock n’ roll life, a Portland legend, a famous punk drummer. He hadn’t had a “job” job since he bartended at Satyricon way back when, and I’d come by on a Monday or Tuesday for a burger and a bottle of beer after taking a night class at the community college.

Mid- to late 1990s. As I settled into my career, I went out less and less. Teaching made it hard to stay out late and get up early. But, whenever I made it to a show, no matter the band, I knew Andrew would walk through the door. A wall of people would glad-hand him on his way in and through the crowd. Always witty and energetic, he had the ability to make each person feel special. He would smile, make a joke for each one of them, then would slide onto the barstool by my side and squeeze my hand.

During the dark times in my life, when I was struggling with my career and family and relationships gone wrong and the betrayals of false friends and collective the shit of adult life, I’d think, “If I could just find Andrew and spend some time, it’d all be ok; I’d be ok.”

A few years ago, maybe a decade ago, probably longer ago, maybe it was that night we stayed out and played pool, I gave Andrew a ride home. He’d asked me to take him to an old room-mate’s on the way so he could pick up some bags of his stuff. In those days, his running free bachelor days, he called home the place with his “most bags of shit.” I helped him carry them, big black trash bags full of clothes and what-not. The knot in bag in my hand slipped loose. As I worked to re-tie it, something inside caught my eye; I’d written Andrew letters while I was away at college. I mailed them to Satyricon and he always got them. There they were, probably 10 years old, in that bag. All of them.

Late summer, 2014. Heidi came to Portland for a conference. After the meet-and-greet, she and I headed down to Dante’s, the city’s one plausible stand-in for Satyricon, to meet Ruby, her boyfriend Rod, and Andrew. Just as we stepped in the door and looked to the bar, I saw Ruby’s face. It lit up, framed now by grey curls, and she smiled. Two steps later, we three girls were all in each other’s arms, laughing, talking, hugging, mostly smiling. We made our way to the bar, still in a jumble. Andrew was there, waiting. I asked about Rod and Ruby pointed–he was out on the dance floor, watching the band. I watched him, sun-baked, braids as long as Willie Nelson’s, tall, ever-moving. He’d nod his head a bit, spin around, move to another spot, shuffle his feet. I joined him and we danced swing.

December, 2015. X played in Portland. Andrew and I went, the first time we’d been out together, just the two of us, for years. I was in the pre-Christmas funk, overwhelmed by all the commotion of the holidays, so I welcomed the step into that other world, the one of friendship and music. The Blasters opened the show. We stood up front and hung on every note played, every drumbeat, every lyric sung. In between songs, Andrew leaned in to give me his commentary on the history of the band or people in the crowd. There were no cute little things to push out of the way that night. Neither of us knew anyone in the audience and the show was hollow–people just stood and stared straight ahead at what they’d come to see. Andrew kept saying, “Don’t these people know they’re at a show? It’s The Blasters and X…” He was disgusted that the audience was at a punk show and were just standing around. For me, though, when X took the stage it was 1984 and 1992 and 2004 and a movie theatre and this club and Satyricon all at once. I was with Andrew and the rest of the world shrank away.

Shortly after that X show, Andrew called me one evening and told me he loved me, that he always had. Said he didn’t like how his life was going, that he regretted we’d never gotten together. He asked me, “Will you come stay with me at the rock n’ roll show in Seattle next weekend?” I did. Ruby came to Seattle too, and in the hotel room Andrew teased us, saying “Everyone must be mad at me…I have all the bitches and all the booze.” After that weekend, we stayed together through the cancer diagnosis and radiation and the sobriety rehab, until his he took his last breath this spring, March 8, 2016, my head on his chest, just the two of us in that hospital room, holding hands.

           

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s