Tom & Eric join!
Lots of practice to play a first gig in just two weeks at the Roscoe Louie gallery July 12, 1981 Record Release party!
Mean review in Seattle Sun: Tom “lacked scope.” Gretchen becomes frequent supplier of said mouthwash to Tom. The photo was from the review article.
Larry Reid and Tracey Rowland were amazing at creating a scene. It was a tiny place, but every event was packed to the gills with excited people. I once watched performance artist Alan Lande jump off a ladder through a plate of glass at about eye level.
Showbox, benefit for KZAM AM new-wave format radio station.
Lots of bands, no audience, Helena in brownshirt and jodpurs. Lots of press excitement: are these punks Nazis? Hardly. Born in the Netherlands, Helena's parents both spent time in concentration camps in World War II.
Danceland, no-one there. Seems shocking, with a poster like this. Review of show mentioned Eric’s particle board, “a slab of Weyerhauser’s finest”. Eric’s bus-driver date and would-be girlfriend wondered why we “sounded so angry.”
There were at least 2 other big multiband Danceland gigs, which WERE well-attended. One of them was the still-famous incident where the Refuzors front man Mike produced a dead cat out of a bag and whirled it around over his head while playing their song “Splat Goes The Cat”. He was known as “Mike Refuzor”: everybody in a band acquired the band name as their own last name. I think these were benefits for something – at least one for the Aradia Women’s Health Clinic on Capitol Hill. I think someone from the Blackouts did the Three Stooges poster, and someone from the Refuzors did the hand-drawn one. It was common for each band to make their own poster, and sometimes each person in the band made their own. The venues were hit and miss on making any posters ever.
This looks like it was in Bellingham, but I don’t recall it at all. Eric remembers another show with Lost Architects at a loft in Pioneer Square, where they played behind a big piece of plate glass that was gradually covered by a live painter. We liked The Lost Architects a lot: guitar, bass, and vocals, that’s it. Lots of space, and reminiscent of Young Marble Giants. I don’t recall their names, and the internet reveals nothing of their existence.
1982 was a pretty good year for us. We got this nice press in the local music-oriented rag, The Rocket, based on our single and some good shows. Each of had opportunities opening up: joining other “side bands”. Helena & John played with Stedi-5 a Phil-Otto-led band that had very open, dub-reggae sound that got a lot of good press for a while. Eric invented a motorized string instrument, the “Thumper”, which got him an invite to play with Audio Leter. Audio Leter already’d had a bunch of alumni members: John and Helena, , James Husted, and Tracy Rowland (of Roscoe Louie Gallery and the Little Bears From Bangkok Band). Before key members Sharon Gannon and Sue Anne Harkey moved to New York in 1983, the group performed a lot, each show improvised and different, with Eric, Jeff McGrath, Bob Jenkins (Buzz Gundersun), and Paul Hoskin. And Eric did live music for performance art with Pat Graney, Kathleen Hunt, and Sharon. But in looking through all this archival stuff, I also notice we weren’t getting opportunities for more exposure by opening up for touring acts, unlike a lot of our peers. Too weird? Hard to categorize? Rubbed people the wrong way? Not aggressive enough with self-management? Who can say? Toward the end of Tom’s time, we did actually sort of hire a manager, someone Helena and John met and decided on. I forget his name, but I don’t recollect he helped change our fortunes much.
And then there was this review in The Rocket. The line “Three quarters of this band could carry a group by themselves” really dumped Tom’s morale. I admit at the time I was pretty high on receiving praise directed at me and the project to appreciate how crappy a review it was. And, as we later discovered when we tried to perform as three, it wasn’t the same and it wasn’t true. Two guitar bands are often challenging: you need different sounds, and different approaches, and each needs to create space. Helena and Tom complimented each other and played remarkably well together. But Tom entered as number two, and it was always going to be that way. And he also saw clearly that the arc of the band (or any band, really) as ultimately limited. He told me around the time he left that a friend advised him: “If your band hasn’t gone forward in 2 years, move on.” And he did.
The comment about singing is bang on, and I sometimes wonder what might have happened if we’d taken singing lessons. Of course, we were broke...
Country Doctor benefit with Audio Leter, Life in General, and Rally Go. One of the best moments playing live in the band came at (yet-another) benefit for the Country Doctor free clinic up on Capitol Hill. Very large audience, one of the biggest three of four we ever played. Rally Go were some kids (by our very adult standards), and they had a song “Mass Brew Action”, that lit up everybody. Life in General was the renamed X-15 band, with a great front guy, Kelly Mitchell, and great songs. Their “I Wanna Be Vaporized” was THE hit from the Seattle Syndrome LP. They achieved some local success by sticking together for years, but they’re a typical example of a band that had everything in place to be widely popular, except their location: Seattle in the early 80’s. Great show, with those two bands on before we played. We closed with “Saigon” as an instrumental (it was brand new, but we knew it had something). The crowd kept amping up during our set, and the entire room, several hundred people, was vibrating during this. I remember Bob Jenkins coming on after – his band Audio Leter, was closing out the evening – and just shaking his head. “How are we gonna follow that?”
I think Tom made this poster.
We were part of a four band lineup in the HUB Ballroom at the University of Washington. I think it was a benefit (we played a LOT of benefits). It was a really big show, in a big room, and audience, probably one of the largest we ever played. We arranged to have Moon Food (Sharon Gannon & Kathleen Hunt) dance on stage for this, and my friend Mare & I prepared a special light show. Using a small, living room type of slide projector, we shaved off colored pieces of wax crayons and sealed them into slide frames. This looked awesome when projected on a wall in the house: the heat from the bulb would melt the crayons, and the liquid would run together. Supercool. Well, at the big show, Mare was stationed with the mixing board, well towards the back, at least 50 feet from the stage, and I kind of remember there wasn’t even a stage backdrop – there was just dark open ballroom behind the stage. So , the lighting effect was a bit like holding a single lighter up inside a stadium: onstage, we were in the dark. The dancers did their excellent best, but it was a big letdown, and we knew in the first 5 seconds. Bleh. The crowd response was tepid. I recall Helena saying, over the PA system, “Just because you go college, doesn’t mean you have to be stupid.” She was pretty mad at herself for that after. Kind of sums up a lot of what we were up to. Throw stuff up against the wall, and see if any of it sticks. Brave, experimental, figure it out for ourselves, fight again another day.
I had a funny conversation with my pal Mare this week about this droplet in time. The song, the dance, the slideshow, it lasted about three minutes, that’s how long the music is. Yet, out of the ten million three minute segments that make up the aggregated life of a 62 year person, they’re almost all forgotten. Not THESE three minutes, though. Mare remembers how great the slides worked on her living room wall. And realizing in the first second of the presentation, there in front of hundreds, that it wasn’t working, and trying to do anything and everthing she could to will it to work. Was the slide projector not warm enough to melt the colored wax crayon shavings to get them to run? She actually put her hands over the projector’s heat exhaust fan to make it hotter. And she advanced to other, non wax slides ahead of schedule. Of course, none of it worked, the lamp of the projector was just not capable. The pro guys running the sound board next to her were just shaking their heads. And Helena’s comment? Mare took that as if it were directed at her, personally. She told me she’d tried for a while to make Helena a friend, and was always rebuffed, and this was the end of her trying. The things you find out 40 years later.
Wrex with Blackouts Eric and Tom have orange hair, an attempt at going blonde that failed. Tom wears Judy’s pink jacket. We think this is also where Tom walks onstage with a 30 inch tall chorus girl hat with pink feather and sequins, purloined from the Music Hall, where Quentin got a bunch of us a week-long gig building a stage for a production that folded right away, and we never got paid. Wrex was the place where I saw Student Nurse some months before I joined, so it was a thrill to play there.
I’m sure we played Wrex at least a couple of other times. It was by far the most credible new wave/punk bar/venue in town.
Wrex with Romeo Void. Ben, the sax player, was particularly nice to us.
UCT, another time, with Mr. Epp and the Calculations first show. Mark Arm, Jo Smitty, and the other guys were goofball Bellevue High kids that used to frequent John and Helena’s little 2nd floor used record store, Rubato Records, over in Bellevue. John liked them and gave them this gig. They were unpredictable and fun to watch, like a slow motion train wreck.
UCT was “United Commercial Travelers”, a trade union of traveling salespeople. It was an awful room, just a box, with puke green carpet, wood paneling, and a pay phone. Bands set up right on the floor. The fact that John had a small PA that the other bands could use no doubt helped us get included in the gig. Plus, good exercise hauling it around.
UCT another time, with Little Bears from Bangkok and The Fastbacks
UCT with Joe Despair & The Future and Food 12/11 ?
Pink poster silkscreened by Helena, slightly assisted by Eric
John & Helena had a used record store in Bellevue called Rubato Records. Looks like we played there once, although I don’t recall it AT ALL. Randy Johnson, the famous Seattle Mariners pitcher, used to browse for obscure heavy metal at Rubato. And the kids from Mr. Epp got their toe in the music door here.
Here’s Carrie Brownstein on Rubato Records. Q: What was the first independent record store that shaped, inspired or merely catered to your musical tastes? (If you’ve never set foot inside an indie record store, I urge you to head to one on Saturday and see what you’ve been missing!)
A: I have two: Rubato Records and Cellophane Square, both in Bellevue, Wash. I couldn’t believe that these places existed in a suburb of Seattle known mostly for fancy cars, soccer moms and shopping malls. I would drive from nearby Redmond and spend about an hour at each store. The owners of Rubato would literally tell me what to buy: Television, Shocking Blue, Bobby Bland, Tubeway Army. I was obsessed with punk and riot grrl, and they forced me to branch out and trace my influences back to the beginning, to the progenitors. Over at Cellophane Square was where I stocked up on the local bands, from The Posies to the Go Team to The Fastbacks. Cellophane Square also had posters, buttons and stickers, all important assets back when I was trying to define myself solely by my music preferences. https://www.npr.org/sections/monitormix/2010/04/in_celebration_of_record_store.html
I’d guess this photo shoot is from pretty late in Tom’s time with the band. We arranged for a shoot with a now-unrecallable photographer down in Belltown, back when it was a place frequented by artists. Kind of hard to imagine in 2020, as the broke artists have been chased out by the condo overlords. Eric is wearing a pair of yellow painter’s pants splotched with india ink blots, his grandfather’s world war two bomber jacket, and has one shaved eyebrow, which he did at about three in the morning while making ice cream with his co-worker and friend Johnny Calcagno at the Cause Celebre Cafe. Do not shave your eyebrow. It’s very scary and regrettable.
Polish Hall on Capitol Hill with Joe Despair & The Future. Ward Despair had a badly superglue repair job on his guitar, which he’d broken stabbing a TV set. Hardly anyone there, which is what you’re likely to get when you gig in a room that hardly anyone in your scene ever goes to.
I learned a couple of years ago that Jimi Hendrix played that same Polish Hall stage as a youngster in Seattle. Who knew? Definitely would have made the gig 100% more exciting. It’s still a cool room, rather intimate and ornate.
Lincoln High School Gym, one of many many benefits we did for causes. We certainly could have used our own benefit. :) This one was for the Crabshell Alliance, a very well-organized and successful anti-nuclear power group. with Life in General, and the Color Twigs, Gordon Rapheal’s band (he went on to some fame as a producer) . A beer can flew over Eric’s shoulder past his ear while playing. A door broken by punks and thedeposit and proceeds went up in smoke, not the only time this exact thing happened. This was probably the show when Eric and John were moving big metal risers for a stage in John’s van, and the load shifted getting off Aurora, and clocked us both pretty hard in the back of the head, hard enough to crack the windshield. And the Christian group that managed the place was absolutely stone cold insistent at the event being over at midnight. I think Life in General, on last, got to play 3 songs. They were really nice about it, but must have been pissed. Poster designer lost to time.
University Church basement in U-district with Sundance, Audio Leter, Fartz: a great eclectic show: reggae, improvised art, power pop punk, and superfast punk. The Fartz were one of the first bands anyone had heard that evolved into hardcore: 60 second songs of political rage. Their first release, “Because This Fuckin’ World Stinks...” had 9 songs packed onto a 45. And Sundance was THE reggae band in town, with righteous political songs. Everybody playing right on the gym floor, no risers, audience equal with musicians. A beautiful benefit for CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador). At this time, the tiny country of El Salvador was at the pointy tip of the spear of US foreign policy. A brutal program of political assassinations and terrorism promoted by money and torture expertise from the states. We tried to do something, however small and ineffective, about it. Eric made this poster with the “no swastika” symbol, which he was gratified to find hanging up in Larry Reid’s Fantagraphics comic book store, about 2010. I have a memory of some deposit being lost, again, through some unnecessary property damage by punks.
Eric (above) and Helena (right, photographer unknown) at this CIPES benefit show, although all I’ve got anymore is a xerox of xerox. My students 30 years later generally would not believe that it was me in the photo. Ground Zero was a small free-for-all coop art gallery with a store front window on the outskirts of Pioneer Square where all kinds of amazing things happened. Audio Leter played there frequently, including the final show of the Seattle incarnation, which took place among heaps of hanging rusty metal junk with no clear pathway through. We arrived and each musician had to create a space to stand by pushing junk out of the way. I recall the audience turning into participants, banging on the metal in a crescendo of din so loud that when the band stopped playing, the volume continued unabated. Eric and Tom did a performance with synth whiz-kid David Hoskin, although details are hazy. I also remember a “Knights of the Turntable” performance organized by Rob Angus featuring musicians screwing around with turntables making noise. I took apart a thrift store record player, and figure out how to make it play backwards! Another time, Paul Hoskin organized a “horn festival”. I couldn’t play saxophone - a bicycle accident a few years earlier had taken out my lower fron teeth, exactly the ones crucial to biting on a reed. So I made a board with piezo buzzers that mimiced horrible saxophone playing, and made myself rather unwelcome.
My next band after Student Nurse was called VXT (later spelled Vexed, because that was easier for everybody), with Milton Garrison also on guitar, Brad Matter on bass, and Billy Warner on drums. We played there at least once, with a young three-piece band called Soundgarden opening, at one of their first gigs. I recall the drummer taking off his shirt and coming up front to sing. I thought they were kind of weak, with that shirt-taking-off pose in front of a pretty small audience. It was too much like classic rock stuff. I know.
The Cause Celebre Cafe was a “collective” cafe up on Capitol Hill, on 15th. The building is still there, with a large deck facing the street. Back in 1981, when I started working there, it was one of the few places in Seattle where you could get a kind of coffee called espresso. It was a bohemian hangout for all kinds of artists, musicians, and square pegs. A group of partners did most of the labor, and managed it during marathon four hour Wednesday morning meetings. The big seller was homemade ice cream, and during summer ice cream season, lines would often stretch for half a block outside. But money was always minimum-wage poverty level tight, even for the partners. I met a girlfriend working there, and when she left to start substitute teaching, it seemed like she was rolling in money, comparatively. So I followed her, leaving the cafe partnership in the summer of 1984 to enroll in a teaching program at Seattle University. Tom, his ex-girlfriend Maggie, and Sharon Gannon also worked there, so there was a lot of music talk.
It was fairly brutal work: I was always taking on extra stuff to try to make the cafe work. One night a week, I’d stay up all night while the cafe was closed, making ice cream. I’d drive to Tacoma once a week in the girlfriends noisy, hot, slow VW van to pickup liquid ice cream mix from Fleet Dairy. And we started serving brunch on weekends, and I got to be “short order cook”. Get home from a gig at 2 am, smelling like cigarettes if we’d played a bar, up at 5 am, on the motorcycle, over to the cafe to start baking scones. One snowy morning, I actually tried to ride my little Kawasaki 200 motorcycle all the way up Capitol Hill to get to work. Ridiculously dangerous. Another time, I ran the bike out of gas coming home from a gig (this was easy to do - no gas gauge, but it had a goofy hidden mechanical switch on the tank that always offered surprises). In front of me was push the bike up about 10 blocks worth of hill, roll down to the nearest gas station. Choice: do it now, in the middle of the night, or get up really early the next morning, and do it.
The other thing worth noting about “The Cause” is that everybody that worked there was some kind of a lefty, so every person had holier-than-thou opinions about everything and everybody, so it was always some level of tense. Always. We took ourselves way too seriously. Well, Student Nurse played there one time, but it was hardly an appropriate venue, was it?
Dragon Palace, another short-lived, “let’s try booking new wave” places on First Hill. We were happy to play with Los Microwaves, who had at least a bit of a following. Not sure if this was before or after we’d recorded Recht Op Staan with David Javelosa, the keyboard player, singer, and main creative force of LM. I think Tom got some love out of this gig. I remember finding a bowling ball and rolling it across the room during a solo or break, and one of the managers coming in to look disapprovingly.
University of Washington Hub Auditorium: Friday morning show for students. Recall it being a weird time to play loud music, but it turned out fun. Old music pal Marc was in school and dropped by and was very supportive.
Oberto sausage king high school lawn party with spoiled teenage asswipes, with Sundance, a reggae band we were friendly with. Humiliated. Good food, though.
Festival of Weird & Dangerous, Bellingham, with Audio Leter, put on by Myles Boisen and Kate, who later moved down to Seattle and were very involved in the scene. Myles played in Face Ditch. Show was in huge empty theater above Italian restaurant. Eric’s girlfriend does big hippy dance moves throughout show for attention.
Railroad Room, Vancouver, BC: creepy uninterested business people, struggle crossing into Canada with gear, Eric’s girlfriend has performance at On The Boards Sunday afternoon, which they barely got to on time.
Golden Crown, Thanksgiving night. Annie Rose and the Thrillers cancelled and we were asked to fill in at the last minute. Someone’s birthday, fungus applied, very weird show, only our friends there. Can you guys stop playing now? We’re gonna close down. There’s a great colored pencil drawing of the lizard-headed manager available
Wallingford House: August 1981 Tom gets back from east coast vacation. Very sloppy.
Gorilla Room with a Phil Otto band before Stedi-5: Rapid-I
Popeye’s, a dive in Olympia with Geoff Morgan
Jackson St Gallery in Pioneer Square. Eric gets friendly with Liz
We rolled up to Gretchen’s house in Wallingford on her birthday and played in her living room.
We played once at Whitman House, where Eric lived with a bunch of other punky folks after Wallingford House and a brief time in a downtown apartment. Helena’s girlfriend got friendly with one of the punky housemates, and the show ended very abruptly with Helena dropping her guitar going after her. Not great. I think thereafter for a while, the girlfriend was assigned duties at the little PA mixer, so she could remain in sight.
St. Joseph’s: lesbian Gay Sobriety New Years Eve totally depressing gig for which a) we got $200, a huuuge payday, and b) we were asked to stop playing so they could use our PA and play dance records, so we went out in the van and drank beer.
Eagles Hall basement. Eric remembers Little Bears From Bangkok, and a Ray Sage band with go-go dancers in cages on either side of the stage. This poster clearly made by someone from the Little Bears, but this couldn’t have been the ONLY poster. No.
The famous and long-standing Rainbow Tavern in the University District, with Attachments and Gary Allen May 6/14 ?
Rainbow another time. Greinke and Angus on bill, doing live tape delay with unweildy bamboo tripods.
Rainbow, with Steddi-5 and the Hurricanes. I think John & Helena were also playing in Steddi-5 at this time.
Popeye’s: a ridiculously hard to get to on Interbay with Room 9. Tom’s last gig, and a distinctly underwhelming opportunity. This was one of those failing places that gor the bright idea to try “new wave” to see if they could get anyone in their place. We played a similar place up in
Skagit Community College: somehow, completely forgettable.
Stampede (Lake City) Tom was sick and puking in parking lot, but the show went on. We shared the bill with Mondo Vita, a band that we thoroughly despised. They just seemed theatrical in a kind of fake “Look At ME!”way. Probably perfectly nice guys, and we probably could have been nicer. It’s not like they could have been having a great time, either. Eric remembers them doing a song called “Brides of Frankenstein” and the singer pulling a fake head out of a laundry hamper. A 2-night stand. No-one there. Gene wins plastic dancing trophy for never ever dancing. The kind of gig that makes you question your decisions.
Metropolis with Mad Dash 8/13/83
Metropolis was the best of all the short-lived clubs that would spring up and go away during this time. Started by Hugo Piottin and Gordon Doucette assisted by a lot of volunteers, people still talk about the scene it created and the great shows they saw there. It was alcohol-free, which was a great recipe for getting enthusiastic audiences and failing financially. Tom actually loaned Hugo five hundred bucks to keep the place afloat the week before he headed east in his VW bug.
After Tom left:
Not too many more gigs.
I recall a lots-o’-bands festival some goofball scheduled for the Moore theater over Thanksgiving. It was cold and nobody was there and it was kind of awful and I don’t think any of of us felt confident about playing as a 3 piece.
So we brought in Brad Matter on funk bass, and Gretchen on vocals, and I think we only did one gig that way. New Year’s Eve, the Metropolis, Graven Image (Larry Reid and Tracy Rowland’s successor to Roscoe Louie) Ground Zero had a rotating group of bands. Notice the new branding on the ticket: “The Nurse”. We couldn’t think of anything better? It should have been a great – we were scheduled for the Metro at midnight. But somehow, somehow, we were off sitting in a bar waiting, and then we were late, and had to set up in a rush with lots of people mad at us, and it just was not so good. Bad vibes.
And I don’t think we ever tried again.
" Soon we go, out to the Dog Star ! "
Come into the room, stand by the wall.
I want to see you by the light of the fire.
You've been gone for a long time.
Walk in, sit in the chair.
Tell me what is there that's important to you.
Like what you see when you are dreaming.
It doesn't matter that you've been gone.
It doesn't matter that it's been so long.
We know each other, it goes back a long time.
I won't say I don't know you anymore.
I can't ignore knocking at my door.
Some things, they last forever.
Like wind and sand.
Don't scream, don't shout.
Throw all those old ghosts out.
Don't be afraid, it's not like dreaming.
Walk into the room, lie on the bed.
The journey's been hard and you've been gone for a long time.
But now you're back.
A migrant bird's song.
Don't you worry.