Ace Backwords: rock critic

For a couple of years I did a monthly record review column with my friend Mary Mayhem. It was patterned after Siskel & Ebert at the Movies — Backwords & Mayhem at the Records. And we’d both review the same records, giving them thumbs up or thumbs down. Usually I’d just tape-record me and Mary talking about the records as we listened to them. Then I’d edit the tape down to the column. Mostly it was just an excuse to hang out with Mary, drink beer, and listen to music. And you know me, I love to gas off with my opinions. So it was a lot of fun.

I’d mail the column out to various zines and alternative newspapers across the country. I think at its peak we were reaching about 100,000 readers a month. Didn’t make much money. But the real perk was, free records.

I mailed out copies of the column to every record label I could think of. And pretty soon I was getting like a hundred free records in the mail every month. I didn’t have time to listen to most of the records. Usually I’d play thirty seconds of the first track, and if it didn’t grab me by then, I’d take it off and go on to the next record. Ha ha. Half of them I would sell at the local used record store. And most of the rest of them I’d give to my friends.

With the smaller, independent record labels, I’d make an effort to plug them. Because most of them were operating on a shoe-string, and it cost them money to mail them out. But the major record labels, I just looked at as a big tit to milk. And years after I stopped writing the column, they still kept sending me their latest records every month. . . Once you get on the promo list of the major record labels, you’re on the gravy train, baby.

The Hof Brau

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The building formerly known as the Hof Brau.

 

So many buildings in Berkeley have sentimental value to me.

This building used to be the Hof Brau restaurant for many years. They had big slabs of beef and ham and turkey and other delicacies behind the counter. And they would dump a big plate of hot meat and mashed potatoes on your plate. And you’d be good to go.

And 25 cent cups of coffee, with 10 cent refills, if I remember right.

I used to go in the Hof Brau with my pal Duncan sometimes. And when the guy behind the counter was carving up a plate of meat for Duncan, trimming off the fat, Duncan would always say: “Give me as much of the fat as you CAN!! I LOVE the fat!!” So the guy would put a big mound of fat on Duncan’s plate (they were just gonna throw it out anyways) along with the meat. . . I think about that every time I walk by that building. Duncan and his fat. Isn’t that stupid?

Another time, around 1986 — when we were still young and beautiful — I was hanging out in the Hof Brau with my punk rock friend Mary Mayhem, drinking pitchers of Budweiser. Looking out at Telegraph Avenue from the window seat. And there was this guy who was sitting across the street from us, sitting on the sidewalk with his friends, leaning against the Berkeley Market building (also gone). And he had these cardboard signs, and he was holding them up, rating all the women who passed by on a scale of 1 to 10. On their attractiveness. Like it was an Olympics event or something. And him and his friends are laughing and joking and having a good time making comments at the expense of all the women who passed by.

And Mary — who could get pretty feisty — kept getting more and more pissed as she watched this spectacle playing out. Finally she announced: ‘I’VE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS SHIT!!” I guess she thought it was “sexist.” So she bolted up out of her chair, ran across the street, confronted the guy, grabbed the guy’s cardboard signs, and tore them up. And gave him a little kick in the ass for good measure. Came back and sat down at our table in triumph. And we continued drinking our beer. Ha ha.

The only other thing I remember about the Hof Brau is that this guy Kevin Freeman used to sit at a table drinking pitchers of beer by himself all the time. Freeman was a local Telegraph wingnut. He had the hippie hair and beard and almost no forehead which made him look like a werewolf. And his face got really red as be drank. Freeman used to get locked up at Santa Rita all the time for various minor fuck-ups. And one time they put him in this cell with a psycho who beat him to death and splattered his blood and his brains all over the walls. It was a big local story at the time. And all the newspapers and TV news did features on it.

And that’s pretty much all I remember about the Hof Brau.

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Spawning

 

 

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Like I said, a lot of the buildings in Berkeley have memories for me. Like the Intermezzo Cafe on Telegraph. Whenever I pass by it I’ll often flashback to a sunny afternoon in the summer of 1982. And, as always, I’ll count the years back in my mind and think: “Could it have really been 35 years ago? How did it all go by so quickly?”

I had left Berkeley for a year. But I had moved back because I wanted to get back with Mary who I was madly in love with. The problem was, she had hooked up with this 17 year old high school punk kid with a mohawk who was her new boyfriend. So, in an effort to win back Mary, or at least shoe-horn my way back into her life, I decided to publish a punk rock underground newspaper. Mary loved music, and she loved the music press (she always had a big stack of back issues of CREEM in her bedroom). So I knew she wouldn’t be able to resist (the things we do for love, huh?).

Anyways, one sunny afternoon in 1982 I happened to be walking by the Innermezzo Cafe. I was crashing in a little room at the Berkeley Inn across the street at the time. Mary happened to be drinking bottled beer at the window seat at the Intermezzo and when she saw me walking by she came running out to the sidewalk to greet me.

“PETER!!” she said (she was one of the few people who still knew me by real name before I got gobbled up by the Ace Backwords thing).

“MARY!” I said.

“Hey, I’m drinking beer with my friend Neil. Come inside and join us for a beer.”

Mary’s hair was short and jet black and spiked in the punk rock style. And she was wearing a black leather jacket with studs on it. And she was on crutches and she had a big cast on her leg that was covered with punk rock graffiti.

“What happened to your leg?” I said.

“I broke it slam dancing in the mosh pit at a punk show at the Elite Club,” she said.

I bought a beer and sat down alongside Mary. “Peter, this is my friend Neil Anderthol. He plays in this band called the Geeks,” said Mary. (everybody had funny punk rock names back then)

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I shook hands with Neil Anderthol. He looked sort of like a punk rock version of the Squiggy character from the “Laverne & Shirley” sit-com. He had the greased back hair of a ’50s greaser. And a black leather jacket. With the plastic arm off a baby doll sticking out of the back of his jacket. I guess as a macabre joke. We both looked at each other warily. I could instantly tell that Neil had the hots for Mary. He was doing this big, exaggerated performance trying to impress Mary with his witty and humorous quips. I could always spot that kind of fake act. Because I was doing the same thing. Going out of my way to try and impress Mary.

Mary was an incredibly sexy young woman. She oozed sex appeal from every pore. And she effortlessly attracted a band of suitors everywhere she went. They would be circling around her like a pack of wolves. And Mary loved nothing more than to pit them against each other, competing for her affection. Mary was into blood sport. You gotta take your kicks where you find them.

“I interviewed Lee Ving of Fear backstage at the Elite Club last weekend,” I said. Name-dropping to impress Mary

“Oh really. That is so cool!” said Mary, impressed. (Neil slumped noticeably back in his seat — score one for ole Ace)

“Yeah it’s gonna be the big feature for TWISTED IMAGE #1,” I said. “Hey Mary would you like to be the record review editor?”

“Boy would I!!” she said.

I finished my beer, shook hands with Neil and Mary. And made my exit. And the whole thing was like the opening scene in what would be a really exciting movie.

Neil Anderthol went on to write a love song about Mary called “Spawning” where he likened falling in love with smashing your head against rocks in the hopes of getting laid. Mary would have that affect on more than a few men over the years.

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Turn on, tune in and geist out

 

 

I just heard the film director Tobe Hooper, who made the movie Poltergeist (among other things) just passed away. I’ll never forget¬†Poltergeist. Though my memory of it is a series of fragmented images.

It must have been around 1984 and I was watching Poltergeist on TV at my friend Mary’s house. About an hour earlier I had dropped some LSD. And that particular batch of LSD turned out to be a little more pure and powerful than I had bargained for. I began to completely hallucinate. My brains were so scrambled I became convinced that the Poltergeist movie I was watching was actually the 6 o’clock TV news reporting on the nuclear Holocaust in progress. And when I looked out the window I could see all the bombs dropping all over the place and all the buildings exploding. “This is it, Mary, it’s all about to blow up!!” I said. “It’s the end of the world!” Mary looked back at me stoically.
And I was amazed at Mary’s calmness and courage in the face of the end of the world. And then Mary’s house was like the house in the beginning of the Wizard of Oz where it starts spinning faster and faster by the tornado and soars up into the sky. . . The next thing I remember, I realized that I was curled up on the floor sucking on Mary’s foot. Mary looked down at me and said: “Would you get the hell out of here!”

So I give Poltergeist a big thumb’s up. Five stars. RIP Tobe Hooper.

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Synchronicity part II

 

Its a weird story how I met my pal Mary Mayhem. And it really makes me wonder whether life is just a random series of accidents, or if its predestination, or what the hell is going on. It makes me wonder how much control we have over what happens to us.

Some people, like the existentialists, think there’s no rhyme or reason to life. Life is just a random series of events with no deeper meaning (and there’s a lot of evidence to back up this theory, like the seemingly endless series of convoluted messes that make up my daily life). Myself, I’ve always believed there’s an inherent order to human life. I mean, the universe itself is so intricately ordered. The earth is revolving around the sun in an exact order that we can measure, and the sun is beaming light to earth from about 3.72 million light years away (give or take a few feet) which is regulating the tempature here in Berkeley at this exact moment at 72 degrees farenheit. If I jump off a 10 story building, according to the laws of physics and mass and volume and all that crap, my guts will splatter like tomatoes all over the sidewalk in intricate, exact and colorful patterns (and I suppose you could take a photo of the patterns and call it Art but thats another story). So if the physical world is so intricately ordered my great philosophical leap of faith is that life must also be ordered on the moral level and the karmic level (even as I often can’t see the order of those levels). I think it was Edgar Casey who said: “Everything is appropriate.”

Anyways, it was January of 1980 and I had recently turned 23 years old. I’d spent the previous 4 years as a homeless bum in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district and as a bike messenger living in flophouse hotel rooms. So I decided to see if I could elevate my life a little bit. Take charge! Take the bull by the horns! Pull myself up by my own bootstraps! Take bold and direct action! Get MY Shit Together! So I started devising all these master plans to get my life moving in the right direction (even as most of my plans usually went from point A to point B to point Q37 if you know what I mean — the best laid plans of mice and men often turn into comvoluted fucked-up shit). So anyways, I got a nice, clean-cut haircut and I bought a clean pair of clothes and I decided to apply for a normal job and see if I could be a normal human being (I’ll try anything once). So I get the want ads from today’s paper and I get a whole bunch of nickels, dimes and quarters and I go down to the payphone on the corner and I start making all these phonecalls to prospective employers. Pretty soon I had used up almost all my change without hitting on anything. Then I saw this ad for a phone salesman at the Oakland Tribune. It didn’t look very promising, just a minimum wage crap job. But I figured what the hell, if I got one more quarter in my pocket I’ll make the call. If not, the hell with it. Turns out I had one last quarter, so I made the call, I got the job, and I would meet Mary Mayhem at that job, and I would fall madly in love with Mary for the next 13 years. And just about everything that happened to me in the course of my life during the next 13 years was somehow connected to and/or directly effected by Mary (anyone who has ever “fallen in love” can verify that it is a powerful force that can lead you down all sorts of avenues of abnormal psychology).

So anyways, to make a long story short, sometimes I’ll be thinking that I’m the captain of my soul and the master of my destiny and all that crap. And I’ll be plotting and scheming like a chessmaster to figure out how to move my life in the exact direction that I want to take it. And I’ll think: “Yeah, but no matter how much I plot and scheme, my life would have turned out COMPLETELY differently simply if I hadn’t had that one last quarter in my pocket.” The weird thing to consider is that the whole course of my life was basically changed by the flip of a coin.

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