You Live Punk – Fred Pierre
December 1, 2022
You started hanging out at the Storeroom in ‘94. It was a small, Seattle bar two blocks north of the Offramp with regular punk rock and grunge nights. Musicians flexed; you stage-dived from the bar. You’d never seen a jukebox with punk, grunge, metal, grindcore and Hank Williams for later at night. Sweet escape from the university scene, and a chance to rock out. Shep owned and tended the bar. He was muscular and tightly wound. Patrons said he was black belt; the minimum required for a punk club and after-hours speakeasy. Sometimes Shep had to expel an offender. You’d seen him throw out Nazis, gay-bashers, raving drunks and a woman who climbed on the bar to dance naked. She looked dreamy like she was on ecstasy.
It was never dull at the Storeroom. Across the street was the freeway. Cheap beer, pool, and loud music came with a coating of auto exhaust. Above were five floors of apartments, and a thriving community made up of society’s outcasts. After-hours the party moved upward and before long you were smoking pot in the penthouse.
That’s where you met Phil, a punk-rock trombonist and gentle, true, creative soul. Three months later he overdosed in a closet. Flashback to Phil on the corner. He looked like an angel was about to arrive. “Waiting for my man,” sang Lou Reed. That night Phil played punk trombone at the Offramp for the sing-along, “Black Label Me.” Some flames burn brightest before they expire. You were angry. Who sold him the junk? Was it someone you knew? When a second friend disappeared after binging on crack, it sank in that this wasn’t just a big party. Death hunted us by addiction.
When Nirvana played the Offramp, you walked over from the Storeroom. Grunge made you ecstatic. Nirvana’s mosh pit beckoned. Deep bass notes blurred your bodies, drenched in sweat, ecstatic in motion, and bathed in community.
Did you know about Kurt’s troubles back then? You heard Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood had OD’d. Cobain wrote about his stomach pain and the sweet relief he felt when he was using. But that was later. Back then it was all about music. You were joyously high and exuberant. Fuck you Reagan-Bush! Burn the system if it wouldn’t listen. Do you remember the Battle of Seattle? Nirvana whipped you into a frenzy.
You sat smoking a cigarette and a young woman came over, her long, brown hair draped over flannel and tie-dye. She said her name was Lydia. She loved music. You started to see her at the Storeroom. Her smile was enigmatic. She liked to drink and had great taste in music.
Lydia was independent. She didn’t care what anyone else was doing. She did what she wanted. If you followed along, you might jump from a bridge to swim in the ship canal, party on the gabled roof of a historic church, hear Eyvind Kang play electric fiddle with the Deformations or ecstatically glorch to the Melvins.
Her punk creds consisted of her standard greeting, “Fuck you,” and the mysterious tattoos hidden under her flannel. Her favorite song was Slayer’s Angel of Death. Friends said she was dating Shep but they didn’t act like they were together. You were crushing on her and you didn’t think about consequences. You weren’t deterred by disdain. You asked her out, but she said she had plans. You offered a ride but she preferred to walk. A sensible person would have figured she had other interests, but her funky smile invited you, becoming a raging grin as the wild night seized her. Her joy bubbled over. Her hard shell was suddenly pervious. You could tell she’d been hurt but she’d reclaimed her power through punk. “Go fuck yourself!” she yelled. “Fuck the System.” That’s the freedom of Punk. Punk speaks truth to power. It cuts through the bullshit to what really matters: Rocking out, stage diving and moshing.
You loved to create and you shared your illustrations with Lydia. You drew psychedelic cover art for your favorite band’s album, but they broke up before it came out. Lydia said she was an artist too and you told her about the Art/Not Terminal. You joined the co-op gallery by working gallery hours and paying a membership fee. Every month, they drew straws for the featured artist. When you won, your art hung on the big wall. Lydia didn’t come to your show.
The Storeroom house band called themselves the Piss Drunks. They were big-band punk with two guitars and two bassists, sometimes even two drummers, along with a trombone, saxophone, or a trumpet. Hanging out with the Drunks was a guaranteed good time. They knew all the local bands. They sent you down to the Lake Union Pub for a punk show; said beer’s cheaper down there. Cheap enough to throw pitchers on the dancers. A Henry Rollins look-alike shoved you into the pit so hard you broke your nose. Six-foot punks drenched in beer, on a rampage, crowd cheering. No one wants to be tasked with that cleanup.
Lydia wasn’t the only woman in the punk scene. There were painters, musicians, body artists and sex workers; some punks were all that, but Lydia was different. She had a dom. While you chatted her up, drinking beers in the booth, you could see Shep shoot her the evil eye. You figured she was his girlfriend, but Carlin said she was his slave. You couldn’t believe it. She was a wild creature, so how could she serve him? You heard they had an agreement.
You sat in the booth across from Lydia. She stared deep in your eyes. She smiled; her voice sounded like music. She shared a personal story and laughed unselfconsciously. You felt like you might kiss. Her lips felt magnetic, then Shep vaulted over the bar and pressed her down in the booth, his whole body on top of her, then he growled and released her. He walked back to the bar and said “We’re closing early.”
You’d been invited upstairs for a party. You’d smoke pot with some opium. The knot in your gut would unravel. Did you recognize your addiction? Your friends went upstairs, but you buzzed with emotions. Shep’s attack made you shiver. You reached for Lydia, “Come on. Let’s go,” but she pushed you away as she shook her head, “No.”
“Everyone out, I’m locking up,” Shep shouted. His bouncers ejected the lingering barflies. You tried again, “I’m worried about you. Come upstairs with us.” Lydia wouldn’t look at me. She said “I’ll be fine.” Carlin, said, “I’ll keep an eye on her.” You were drunk and you needed to clear your head, it was time to get high, so you followed your friends up to the penthouse where you broke bread, grass and poppy sap, drank craft beer and talked punk rock. “Who was the first punk?” you asked. Joe said Bessie Smith.
You were satiated, but a thought nagged: Was Lydia getting raped by Shep and his bouncers? You’d let your friend down and you couldn’t ask her forgiveness. You didn’t stand up for her safety. Cell phones were the size of a bread loaf back then and you couldn’t afford one so how could you call help? But you knew that you should have done something.
The next day you were angry; you needed to know, to ask Lydia what the fuck happened. You stopped by the Storeroom, but there was no sign of her. You sat down and Shep comped you a beer. He was quite animated, talking to a young woman. Suddenly Lydia came in, raging. She walked up to the woman and punched her hard in the face, knocked her down, and was about to climb on her. Shep grabbed Lydia’s arms, whirled and dragged her out of the bar, shouting “You’re banned for life!” as his patrons’ jaws dropped.
You sat there, flabbergasted. What just happened? Carlin told you where to find her, shooting pool at the old bowling alley. Lydia said she and Shep were done; now she was with Carlin, who showed up and you all played pool. You couldn’t blame Carlin for making his move. Lydia banned from your hangout? Shep was the world’s biggest asshole.
You went home in a funk, meditated and had an epiphany. Number one, you’re an addict. Perhaps we all are. There’s a hole in your gut filled with cigarettes, booze and now opium. Crawl into your soft, furry nest and ignore the violence around you. It’s easier when you’re sedated. Number two, you seek out abuse. “Fuck You” makes you feel loved. Your father was dying of rage turned to cancer, so why were you killing yourself? Number three, you’ll break free from what’s holding you back. Punk promises liberation. You painted a heart with a glow that could break any chain – beat addiction, swap negligence out for attention, heal trauma, don’t stress about money. Release the restraints you tie yourself down with. You poster-glued “Love Breaks Chains” to the door of the Storeroom.
Now something weird happened. You didn’t visit the Storeroom for a while, then one day you stopped by to see Lydia. The barflies said she’d moved on. Shep had scraped off your chain-breaking posters. He’d put in plexiglass cases with mannequins dressed up in fetish gags, spikes, whips, cuffs, and real chains. Shep was producing his own line of bondage gear! In the jukebox, grunge had been swapped out for dark techno. The old regulars gone, Shep welcomed a new clientele.
You never found out how Shep’s plan worked because you went to hang at the reggae club, where the elders rolled spliffs and shared wisdom. The vibe was peace, love and dance. Alcohol wasn’t popular; instead ganja smoke filled the back room. The DJ spun dancehall and rap reggae: Tony Rebel and Mutabaraka. Why not take a turn for the positive and share irie vibes? Four hundred years of slavery doesn’t dissolve overnight, but hard times polish us. You learned that we’re all supposed to shine.
You heard Joe Higgs sing. Burning Spear played the djembe. Punk rock’s fun, but your bliss found you reggae. You cut back on the booze, told yourself drink more water. You took your power back. You spoke up for workers and got fired from your job, so you freelanced design and repaired home computers. Your girlfriend got angry drunk and accused you of slacking.
You saw Lydia one more time. With her head shaved completely bald, she looked masculine. She said she had art up at the Art/Not Terminal. You were moving in three days and you didn’t have time to stop by. You couldn’t even imagine her art. No doubt it was controversial. You never went back to the Storeroom. The Offramp had closed. You moved to Ohio. Kurt blew his brains out and all of grunge flatlined.