Horror and Loss in Glamorous Hollywood

by Robin Crane

We were being driven to Hollywood in the drummer’s mom’s minivan. We were two 16-year-olds and a 14-year-old in one awful-sounding punk band called Lime Rickey. I was by far the weakest musician, but I was the lead guitarist, the leader, even though I’d discontinued my guitar lessons the second I’d learned enough to get by and before even learning what a bar chord was — that’s how eager I was to just get up on some stage and earn strangers’ love.

We’d never even been to a punk club, but we were going to play our first show in one. I don’t recall how I’d heard of this club, The Natural Fudge Company, or even what the conversation went like when I spoke with the venue owner; I can only guess that it was just a whim of hers to make us the headliners. A more-bizarre aspect of her decision was that the rest of line-up included three well known skinhead bands, featuring grown men with muscular bodies and a violent fan base — in tragic contrast to our teenage bodies and the 10 or so friends who came to watch us perform.

A week or so after our show at this dump, Fox 11 news would feature it in one of their lurid news exposés, on violence within the punk community.

Anyway, I thought that once we were on stage, my fingers would sturdily hammer the right strings against the right frets, and that my personality, my me, would win people over. When I would be in another band the following year, my persona would be “quirkiness mixed with bitterness and a butch aesthetic.” In my band in college, I would play the part of a female Iggy Pop, and my lyrics would be all glib double entendres. Here, though, this night and this Lime Rickey, my persona was that of a worldweary girl-mother, trying to shush the self doubt of the young female characters (including me) in my songs. Here are the lyrics to a song I called “Queen Bee,” for example:

Do my clothes reveal the real me? Do my clothes reveal the real me?
Would you guess that I’m the queen bee? Would you think that I am ugly?
Girl, come with me and tell me that you can’t keep a secret, and I will tell you why I lie, I kissed no boys, it made me cry.
Do my clothes reveal to real me? Do my clothes reveal the clean me?
Do my clothes reveal the teen me? Do my clothes reveal the dream me?
Girl, come with me because they don’t have a clue,
they ask what’s wrong with you,
miniskirt and tight shirt too.
Tell them, smell them, drink too much,
he can make the bitches strut,
Tell me what to wear,
Pretend I don’t care.

I was a 16-year-old feminist, and I wouldn’t grow into my looks for at least five more years, which may or may not have played a part in what happened later. The drummer was a soft-voiced freshman with large breasts and fashionably vintage-style makeup, with a cunningness borne of insecurity, and the destiny of dating one of the guys who kicked me in the stomach, less than a month after the incident. The bassist was a girl who first caught my attention in the fourth grade in the girls’ restroom, by doing the type of gymnastics that can break your neck, fantastic swings from the top bar of the bathroom stalls. We were close from then on all the way to high school graduation day, but it was a sisterly closeness; we didn’t enjoy each other’s company as much as we relied on it.

Many of my adult friends at the time, who’d befriended me because of my amusing precociousness, were at the show that night, as were a few acquaintances from school and their moms or dads. Also in attendance was a woman who’d seen a flyer we put up around town when we were still looking for a drummer, and who’d been filming us since our first practice. She’d come over and sit on the drummer’s bed among a dozen or so stuffed animals and a stack of Seventeen magazines; I was using a home karaoke speaker and microphone for my vocals, a Christmas gift from my dad a few years earlier. She used to send me friendly postcards about the progress of the film, but I never heard from her again after our show.

The rest of the people there in the audience were homeless and pretend-homeless punk-rockers, and non-racist, predominately Latino skinheads, some older or younger than me, all drunk, all fans of the other bands playing. For a couple years before that, my best friend and I had been taking the bus to Hollywood after school, usually on a Friday, to hang out with some of the punk runaways who sat in front of the McDonald’s next to Ripley’s Believe it or Not. We could spend hours in that McDonald’s with them, buying them fries and caramel sundaes with our allowances, savoring the fact that we were in the middle of this nimbus of poetic danger. The sky would eventually turn that transitional day-to-night dusky dark, and my stomach would start to sink because that period of the day depresses me; that’s when we’d take our leave of them, those fucked up kids we romanticized as interesting, even loyal, rapscallions. The most high profile of our runaway friends was a girl named Heather, who must have been a journalist-magnet because I’ve seen two “What’s life like living on the street?”-themed interviews with her in magazines. She was at the Lime Rickey show that night, but when I ran into her in the restroom with the overflowing toilet, she was instantly hostile.

Okay, so here goes nothing. When Lime Rickey got on stage, we didn’t magically start playing our instruments better. The insults started immediately, but it took me a naively long time to realize this night wasn’t going to turn around. Some of the insults I remember: “My dog has bigger tits than you,” and “Show us your tits,” and “Hey, The drummer is actually pretty hot.” There were a million “Get the fuck off the stage”-es. Someone in the audience grabbed my microphone stand and slammed it against my face.

I should have summoned the presence of mind to get off the stage. But all of this, this was unfair. My mom started to scream, “This is my daughter, you fucking assholes, leave her alone,” which ignited a new wave of hostility. People started to crowd around her, not punching, just surrounding her. She was an ineffectual eccentric who’d smoked a joint secretly laced with PCP earlier that night, and the energy radiating from her body was bad, it hung in the air with all the other hopeless badness I hadn’t anticipated. I insulted people, used my sarcastic wit, that useless shield used by congenital readers. Someone unplugged my guitar from the amplifier and I played a whole song without realizing it.

Finally I gave up. The proprietors of the venue were two older people I had been inclined to trust, because the woman looked haggard and witchy, a less spectacular version of Patti Smith, and her husband reminded me in his physical appearance of Neil Young: they were models for how 50-something Bohemians should look. But they must have been drug addicts, or just brain-dead for some other reason, because the woman physically blocked me from getting off the stage the couple times I tried to do so. Later, when the cops came and asked to speak with the owners of the club, we all discovered that they’d locked up and slipped away without making their departure known.

When the show was over, my two bandmates started carrying equipment outside. Most of my friends had left already, sensing some violence that never would have occurred to me. There must have been a sense that it was nobody’s responsibility to keep another person from danger, because my adult friends who’d been to enough shows to know when there was going to be a fight left without giving me a warning or even a goodbye, and this was the last time I would see some of them; I’d inconvenienced them by putting them in the position of being present the night I thought I was going to die.

I walked out the door and the first bottle broke over my head, still filled with dregs of beer. Then a second blow to the head, and this one knocked me to the ground. I was grabbed by my hair and dragged screaming along the pavement, while my audience jeered and felt the exhilaration of such cruelty, kicking at my back, stomach, and head. A girl from my high school who I’d always thought was a poseur jumped into the middle of the crowd and screamed at them to stop; she held my head and covered it from kicks, but they pulled her off of me (later that week, with my back and neck pain preventing me from walking very well, I spent an afternoon with her at her house, and she gave me a silk-covered box that contained a marble, a dried rose petal, and a jagged piece of glass with a blue bird painted on it, a pink sky painted in the background). My mom was also able to make it to me, and she lay on top of my body, a shield. The attackers pulled her off, and now had two women to attack.

I was finally dragged by my arms to safety, inside the club. The glasses I was wearing and one of my earrings were retrieved from the sidewalk. My bassist stayed with me the whole night. The drummer was overheard telling her dad that she was hungry and wanted a burger from McDonald’s; off she drove, the most soulless girl to ever hold a pair of drumsticks.

Later, this night would be the cause of an ongoing quibble between me and my mom, about how I should have given her some of the Vicodin I received at the Emergency Room, since she’d also been substantially injured. My response always was, “Why didn’t you ask them for some Vicodin of your own?”

An internet search about the Natural Fudge Company yielded a VH1 interview with Maroon 5. About their early days, singer Adam Levine had this to say: “Technically, our first gig was the Natural Fudge Company. It was this hole-in-the-wall, old-school burlesque theater. The shadiest woman ran this place and there was a fatal car accident outside the night we played!”

Also, in the online magazine “Separate the Sounds,” there’s an interview with Joe Cardamone from the Icarus Line. Here’s an excerpt:

While still in high school Joe formed a Nirvana-esque outfit with Alvin called Blend, but as their attention turned to the Descendents and the nastier sounds of Black flag, the pair upped the ante by forming a punk band called Kanker Sores. Since Joe was 16 years old and not old enough to drive, his parents occasionally had to chaperone the ‘Sores to their gigs at an all-night dive in East Hollywood called the Natural Fudge Co. Back then, it was a magnet for local and touring punk acts and enjoyed a rough clientele who delighted in brawling, knifings, and the odd shooting.

‘We were thrown into all kinds of adverse situations’, recalls Cardamone, ‘so we were ready for anything after that. When it was time to go on tour it was no big deal to us, as no town could be scarier than our town, so we just thought, ‘what the fuck’ and did it.’

On the other hand, I also happened upon a website for a band called Common Ground, whose members seem to be the most charmingly self-effacing and humorous group of hippies to ever grace the internet. In one of the site’s photos, a viola player named Marcy wears a blue silk blouse. Her long brown hair hangs loosely over her shoulders. She is apparently laughing at something hilarious and kind a band member has just said on stage; the caption under this photo reads: “Marcy live with Common Ground at the Natural Fudge Company, Hollywood 1980.”

There are one or two nice memories of that night. For instance, one of the police officers who came after the crowd dispersed spoke roughly to me, trying to suggest that this had all been my fault. While he was asking me questions, a young paramedic, a black Jesus Christ who knew just how much intimacy with which to speak to a girl with a bloody head and loose hair stuck in the blood, whispered to me, “Don’t listen to that guy, he’s an asshole,” and smiled. The other nice, or at least funny, memory is of a trio of Latino kids my own age, all dressed like Eddie Vedder, who stood around while I shakily packed up equipment, before the attack, and asked if we wanted to be in a band with them. Stunned by their skewed sense of musicians who’re really going up in the world, I nevertheless gave them my phone number. Their band name was “Useless,” and a couple days later, my dad, checking our voicemail, heard this message, spoken shyly: “Um, this is a call for Robin. We’re useless.”

A couple years later, all of the stories I wrote were thinly veiled memoir about this incident, which I still, obviously, remain obsessed with. They were written in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome-y narrative tone. For instance, I wrote a story about a goddess called Phoenix who chose a bunch of homeless punks to be the only ones to survive a massive earthquake; she chose them because they’d gone through a lot of pain and were therefore more worthy than most people. The punks felt strongly burdened by their exalted status, and this pressure led them to beat people up. One of their victims was fucked up for life, and Phoenix wanted her to understand the nature of her beating, that it was nothing personal, so she sent one of her helpers to follow the girl to college, to befriend the victim-girl and help her stop acting like a post-traumatic nutcase.

I was scared to drive through Hollywood Boulevard for years after the attack. I was even scared to swallow my own saliva sometimes, because I was afraid I would choke on it. I was scared of movies with violence in them. I was terrified of the mysticism of Christianity, because it felt like God was real and he was testing my mettle.

Did you ever see the movie Chinatown? Probably. It’s about a detective who discovers the evilness of a man in charge of much of Los Angeles. The final scene takes place in Chinatown, where the good guy can finally expose the man for all his evilness, having solved the case; the real kicker is that no one even cares about the horrible facts he has uncovered; no one even listens to him. The good guy has been thoroughly defeated, and the only words of comfort that can possibly be given him are: “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.” Basically it means: there are pockets in this world where unfairness looks you unapologetically in the eye like a cheating lover who no longer cares about your feelings, and even slapping it in the face won’t change anything. Similarly, I ran into an acquaintance in the women’s room at work yesterday who casually told me an anecdote barely relating to the conversation we were having; it was a story about her being molested by a doctor when she was a teenager. She just threw the story in, as we were both about to walk back to our desks, and I could’ve told her, “Forget it Susan, it’s girlhood.” But of course, she already knows this.

And yes, in the same way, if the immediate aftermath of the beating had been in slower motion, if I weren’t hysterical and there was someone to sit next to me on the curb and chat with me while I waited for the ambulance, I could have told them that I just want to be famous and vindicated and loved like Kurt Cobain, that I thought tonight would be my night. They would have told me to forget it, it’s Hollywood. And I would reply, “Yeah.” That was how I would feel about Hollywood for a long time, that something inexplicably wrong had happened to me there, but that I had no recourse. The streetlights at night kissed wide-mouthed kisses of beatific light on the awnings of souvenir shops, and at Christmastime, the inscrutable Scientologists dressed the empty lots up in cotton like snow with embedded sparkles of glitter, and it was breathtakingly lovely. But goddamn it hurt me, it bled my head of all thoughts of safety.

Robin Crane is a 34-year-old writer of fiction, poetry, and personal essays, and a public servant by day. Her work has appeared in Scrambler, Poetry Superhighway, Newtopia, Ghoti Mag, Evergreen Review, and All Things Girl. Married with a beautiful baby boy, she manages to maintain her Riot Grrrl ethos. She also has a blog: sweetheartredux.blogspot.com.