17th & Bainbridge

Dizrythmia plowed on through the rest of the summer of 1990 with great energy, joy, and enthusiasm. We got together at the insulation warehouse at least once a week and blasted out our repertoire in the stifling humidity. The place was maybe 3 or 4 degrees cooler inside than out in the sun, but no less swampy. Jamie would come up with bass riffs and Erik and I would quickly respond with parts to play along with him. Lauren would start singing from pages of lyrics that we all contributed, and before we knew it, we had about 10 or 11 original songs. “We should play a show at 17th and Bainbridge!” Jamie exclaimed. “What’s that?”, we asked. “My friends Ken and Troy, and Chuck have a house down there. They have bands play all the time!” That sounded great to us. A basement show. The opportunity to play in front of some people, but not too many people, because it would be in a basement. This all sounded very manageable.

A few days later Jamie called me and told me the deal. September 7th would be the day. It was the Friday of the first week back to school. I had been dreading the start of the school year, but now I had something to look forward to. The plan was, at 6 o’clock, I’d drive around and pick everybody up, and we’d head downtown. We only had to bring some of our gear because they already had some drums and a few amps down there. Another band was gonna play with us that night. Jamie’s old friend, Bunky now played bass in a band called Prometheus Trashed. The band also included a guy named Kurt on drums, and a guitarist and singer named Steve & Tavis, respectively. Hmmm, I wondered if this was the same Tavis & Steve I had heard frightening stories about. My girlfriend, Stacey Marbles had told me a bunch of horror stories about her and her old boyfriend, Wally being harassed by some other punks on their way home from school. Punk on Punk aggression. I couldn’t comprehend it. Between the jocks, the skinheads, crackheads, guidos, window warriors, siblings, and squares, didn’t punks have enough hassle not to need it from one another? Stacey had implied the trouble started because Wally had rebuffed the advances of Steve’s younger sister, a purple haired witch named Nora. “Hey Jamie, does Steve have a sister named Nora?” “Yeah, he does. Sweet girl!” He replied. I was so confused.

Senior year of High School began. I had dyed my hair black at the beginning of the summer and dyed hair was not allowed according to the “hair code” at my fascist, pedophile catholic high school. Home Stretch, I thought to myself as I shaved my head and stared into the mirror at the dick with ears looking back. Once school began, I actually did notice a slight difference. I didn’t have the “WE RULE THE SKOOL” mentality, that most of my asshole classmates seemed to have adopted, but there was an unfamiliar ease to it all. By this point, there were no older students to hassle us. All of my classmates were kind of used to me and the small community of weirdos that I rolled with. Another thing I noticed immediately was that our numbers seemed to have grown. A few of the preppy kids and a few of the metalheads started to gravitate toward the punk side. Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction was the great unifier. Even the jerk off teachers seemed a little less eager to break balls. I really didn’t like high school at all, but senior year seemed like it was gonna be vaguely bearable.

Friday arrived and I was so excited I was jumpin’ out of my skin. I was so nervous and excited to show off my new band to a basement full of drunk punk strangers. I threw my guitar and amp in the trunk and drove to Jamie’s house, grabbed him and his bass, then we drove toward the river and got Erik and his cymbals and snare and kick pedal. Then we headed down to Kensington to pick up our vocalist, the lovely Lauren. I don’t have any idea how or why, but my girlfriend opted not to come. Not only would I be spared the general misery of being around her, but I also wouldn’t be caught in the middle of a potential reunion of her and her prior tormentors. You would think that if I felt such relief from being able to have a few hours away from her, that I’d put two and two together and dump her sorry ass and get on with enjoying my life. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that bright. Besides, she had me convinced that if I ever left her, she’d kill herself. Again, looking back and knowing what I know now, I shoulda said, “go ahead.”, but it’s easy to say that now. At the time, my dysfunctional ass craved being “needed” in that sick way.

We got on the highway. I was still a new driver and being on 95 made me kind of nervous, but everything was cool. As we neared the Calowhill exit, Jamie erupted in a fury. “KAIR and PRAEZ went over ZIGGY!! What the fuck!?!?” Apparently, the two biggest Philly graffiti writers of the moment had gone over some “legendary” bomb from the early 80s. He wouldn’t stop ranting. He was truly, deeply upset. Me and Lauren & Erik were lookin at each other like, who gives a shit? I think he liked to be outraged sometimes.

As we rolled into the center of the city, the sunset over Callowhill street was a golden orange glow. A warm breeze blew lightly and the late summer/early autumn heat began to dissipate. Rush hour was winding down and although the traffic was still far more dense than anything I would encounter in the northeast part of the city, the downtown area was beginning to empty out. In those days, Center City Philadelphia was not a nightlife destination. It was a place where people came to work, then for the most part, they went home en masse, leaving the metropolitan hub to the bums and the rats and the art school students. I drove south on 17th street by the newly completed skyscrapers, One & Two Liberty Place. I looked up at the massive glass structures and felt a cool chill as the day became the night.

We crossed South Street and everything started to look fucked up and scary. “Here it is! 707” Jamie said. There was a parking spot right in front of the house we were going to. I was relieved. I didn’t want to be walkin’ around this shitty neighborhood. There was an abandoned looking hi rise housing project tower across the street looming over everything and the place had a distinct ‘end of the world’ vibe. I executed my impeccable parallel parking technique and we got ourselves and all of the gear into the house.

The House was a magnificent shithole. A massive, (to me) three story, two bathroom, five bedroom, row home townhouse. It had high ceilings and smelled like a hangover. I was immediately introduced to a smiling, kinky haired string bean of a fellow with wire framed glasses named Ken and a tall, dirty blonde, wooly haired hessian named Troy. They were two of the four or five dudes who lived here. They were also, I would find out later that night, the two guitarists of the OTHER band Jamie was in; a punk/metal crossover band called INVID. We took all of our crap down to the dank basement. There were already several guitar amps down there, but there was no PA, so I offered my amp to be used for the vocals.

We were gonna be the first of the two bands to play that night, so we went ahead and got set up. As we set up our gear, the place started filling up. Soon the house was very crowded. Everything smelled like body odor and spilled beer. There was a keg in the kitchen and soon everybody I encountered was drinking. I didn’t drink at the time. It wasn’t some big straight edge moral imperative, I just didn’t have any interest in alcohol. As I continued to get plugged in and set up the mic and the gear, people began filing into the basement with beers and sitting on the floor. They were waiting for ME to play music for them. They were actually excited about it. They looked up at me expectantly. I got super nervous all over again. At the same time a feeling of inevitability washed over me. The thought came into my head, “you couldn’t run away now if you wanted to. The exit is literally blocked with sweating human bodies.”

“Ya ready?” Jamie hollered at me, snapping me out of my daze. “Uh…yeah…” I replied. I looked at Lauren and we all looked at Erik as he clicked his sticks: TICK TICK TICK TICK…..

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