Today's SFist Memoirs is set in the late '80s hard core punk scene, as told by Eric Becker, husband of Rene Becker, last week's SFist Memoirs contributor. Eric has quite the knack for winding up in interesting, movie script-like situations, such as attending a GBH/Stevie Stiletto show and a Chinese supperclub in the same night and experiencing an altered state amidst a swarm of rollerbladers and meeting "that one girl from that one band." Luckily for us, he's a great storyteller, and we're featuring him in two parts. So, stay tuned for part two next week!
In the '80s, I was a hard core kid. I was born in Chicago and moved to San Jose when I was about 12. I spent my teenaged years in San Jose, and San Francisco seemed like a magical world. It was a real city, it was big, and it provided anonymity, opportunity, mystery, excitement, and fear. So, we used to come up here a lot.
At that point in time, I think in 1988, there were one or two places on Haight Street that sold Doc Martens. So, at least every couple of months there was a pilgrimage up here to buy somebody their boots, back when that was the de facto footwear for hard core kids and skinheads.
After the show was over — it was a weeknight, and we all had to go to school the next day. We decide — the naive little 16- and 17-year-olds that we were — "You know what, we're gonna hang out with GBH and party with them." We waited and waited and watched the doors and waited and waited, and they never came out.
At this point, it was getting pretty late. We were about to leave when we saw a commotion in the building next door, which was a Chinese bar. A guy came sprinting out the door, hauling ass down the middle of Broadway. It was about 1:30 on a Tuesday night so the street was empty. Five seconds later, about six guys came running after him, and they were pissed and yelling in Cantonese. One of my friends had noticed that the first guy had dropped something, and it turned out it was a wallet.
When we returned it to them, they invited us into the bar for a drink. We were obviously underaged and had mohawks, earrings, and leather jackets. The bar, which later became the Crowbar, was a strictly Chinese supperclub at the time. And there was one guy on the stage playing a Casio to a room full of these Chinese couples dancing.
It was really surreal. Here we were coming out of one environment that was all drugs taped to a Christmas tree, "leather bristles, studs and acne" — a GBH slogan — and into a whole other world right across the street, of middle-aged Chinese people quietly enjoying themselves at 1:30 in the morning on a Tuesday to the one guy on stage with the Casio.
I didn't know what to order. I knew that Long Island Ice Teas are particularly strong, and the bartender laughed and filled it all with liquor and gave it one shot of Coke at the end to give it color. I couldn't feel my face on the way home.
I remember the Summer of Haight, when the skinheads temporarily claimed control over Haight Street, in '86 or '87. At the time there hadn't been any factionalization yet. There was an awareness about the white power aspect of it, but most of them wanted to be like Skinner from Suburbia. They all got chased out of town in pretty short order. A lot of them wound up in Portland or the countryside around it.
Around 1990, my friend and I wanted to come up here to experience an altered state while watching the Spike and Mike Animation Festival. So we prepared ourselves for this altered state. When we got there we discovered that the line was way too big, and we were never going to get in. While we were trying to figure out what to do with ourselves because we were entering into this altered state, 300 rollerbladers with flashing LED lights — this was at the Exploratorium — came out of one of the archways and skated by us. We said, "We can't stay here."
So we went to North Beach because there were lots of flashing lots and we could be entertained without interacting with anybody. When the altered state hit me particularly hard, I sat down on a curb. Then the door opened at the club behind me, and 15 guys in drag filed out. It was weird because they all had a very uniform look like their ensembles were coordinated. And I was mesmerized. Then out came 7 or 8 girls dressed like steampunk motorcycle messengers in top hats, goggles, and leather waistcoats, and I was completely bowled over by this. "Wow, they're dressing the same as each other," I thought.
One of the women came and sat down next to me, and asked, "How ya doing?"
And I said, "I'm doing pretty good actually. I'm alright. How are you?"
She said, "I'm great. It's my birthday. We're having a good time."
I'm having this conversation with her while impaired, but I notice after about three minutes that there's this hint of recognition sinking in. I say, "Hey, you're that one girl in that one band." And it was Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes.
And she said, "Yep, that's me." Then they all jumped into a cab, and she said, "Have a great night tonight!"
Stayed tuned for more of Eric's memoirs next week, as we see what he was up to in the '90s!
Everyone has a story. If you've lived in the Bay Area 15+ years, tell us about it: [email protected]!GBH, Credit: Ian Harper