Subject: mountain mystery + acid rain
Time: 06:21 pm
Preparing for my NorthWest signings this week made me realize that the one and only time I was up that way was in November of 1992 when I was touring with Helios Creed doing light and film projections.
Helios was the guitar player in Bay Area industrial-space-punk band Chrome (1976 - 1983), a huge sonic obsession of mine to this day. The viewer pic above is me circa 1987 and that's Helios' face on the upper right side of my jacket. Helios formed his eponymous heavy psychedelic noise trio in 1984 after Chrome's dissolution. I had been drawing "Red Time Overload" a long comix story inspired in part by Chrome and Helios' concepts and lyrics (a version was later reprinted in Cathexis). I wanted to give Helios some copies of Z/Xero, my self-published comix magazine but didn't know where to send them so I went looking for him during a visit to San Francisco in 1986. He was living in a bus at the time and proved difficult to get a hold of as he also didn't have a phone. Steve Tupper from Subterranean records kindly agreed to pass my work on to Helios and gave me a copy of Chrome's "Anorexic Sacrifice" single - a record that was a kind of unholy grail to me at the time. Helios did eventually get in touch and we struck up a friendly correspondence that continued through my eventual move to SF in 1991. During the '90's, I drew posters and flyers for Helios' local gigs and often did light shows for their live gigs, projecting 16mm animated films that I had originally created for my own short-lived music/performance projects, Mud Sirens and Lurch.
In 1992, Helios had just finished the "Kiss To The Brain" lp and had booked a three show NorthWest mini-tour that November which I was invited to join. I hadn't been to Washington, Oregon, or even northern California yet so I jumped at the chance. We loaded up the van - a.k.a. The Green Monster - at 4:30 am and left San Francisco from the Bartlett Street practice space which was just around the corner from my old place in the Mission.
The drive up through northern California and Oregon was beautiful. I saw dawn break on the 505, the sun like a big copper ball blazing away with endless plains and mountains to the west and ripped up purple clouds to the east. Further north, near Grants Pass and Crescent City, the orange leaves in the woods looked like gold spills and the mountain ridges and plateaus were all around us, riding on banks of blue fog. We passed through weird little towns with names like Weed, Talent, and Drain. Somewhere between Canyonville and Elk Dick, the right front tire on the van blew out and we were stranded on the highway median strip for several hours (pre-cell phone days, kids) until some wigged-out speed freak guy towed us to a local garage. With a new pair of too-big tires on the Green Monster, we ran into a massive traffic jam just outside of town and inched along for a few more hours, barely making the gig with any time to spare.
After dark, downtown Portland looked pretty much like any mid-sized city. The only place I got to spend any time was Satyricon - a dingy hole on a crack whore-infested street in Chinatown. The management decided that the gig wasn't worth turning the heat on for so it was equally freezing both inside the club and out. I hung a big white sheet on the back of the stage and gaffing-taped my 16mm projector to a bar stool perched on top of some milk crates so I could get the projection beam to clear the audience's heads. I remember a slim and achingly beautiful woman with hair like black straw tending bar that evening and that one of the opening bands was some act called Everclear. HC blasted the place out and we left for Seattle at 3am right after the show ended.
Another of the openers from the Portland gig, a local goth band Scar Crow, put us up at their place in Capitol Hill - an airless apartment with dim green light filtering through the blankets covering the windows and lots of Diamanda Galas photos on the walls. Seattle was gray streets and kind of deserted feeling. Many of the stores were closed up for the holiday. I got my first taste of wheat grass (and a big stomach ache) at a local coffee shop. It was Thanksgiving and we had a night off so we headed over to Chris' house to join the Scar Crow gang for an inter-band dinner. Helios had gotten ahold of a harmonica some place and started playing the spaceman blues as we walked the tree-lined streets in the autumn gloom. We cooked up a huge feast and watched "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". I was somewhat crushed out on Cindy, a porcelain-skinned red head with a nose ring who also happened to be the girlfriend of Scar Crow's sound guy. Later that night, Rob (Scar Crow's vocalist) played me a bunch of his sound experiments - repeating loops and grooves he created by burning and melting records and taping the results. I remember thinking my old Mud Siren band mate Bob would have loved this stuff.
The following day, we all went out to flyer and poster for the gig that night (a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's birth) and got to see the part of the Seattle waterfront and wharf. I recall it being mostly crowded and commercial with little pockets of rootsy weirdness interspersed here and there. We got stoned on a wet and cold ferry ride out into the harbor and stopped off at the Comet for more flyering, booze, and a quick game of pool before heading over to the venue: the Weathered Wall which turned out to be a cavernous and vaguely gothic dance club in it's third-rock-show infancy. The band room was a deserted second floor lounge filled with huge mirrors, gilded cupid decorations and faux baroque furniture, a trashed low-rent throne room.
For this gig, I had an actual projection booth to set up in, complete with a light board, strobes, and a fog machine. I ended up doing lights and projections for both Scar Crow and HC who had a good but uneven show. The grunge scene was still in it's ascendancy so there were plenty of rocker kids flying the flannel, old and young stoner dudes, punks, a smattering of goths, and the general undefinable run of humanity. At 2am, the rock show was abruptly shut down as the disco-mating scene crowd took over. I have a very distinct memory of Helios standing in the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by gyrating clones, looking extremely morose in his long black wool coat.
Later, we went party-hopping in various Seattle neighborhoods which I cannot for the life of me recall where we drank a lot and met many cool and friendly people. Things ended on a bad note when around 4am, we pulled over by the cops because the Green Monster was missing both head and tail lights. Helios' friend Lonnie, one of the few black people I met in Seattle, made the mistake of opening the passenger door and the next thing we knew, we had guns pointed at us and were being told to put our hands in the air and surrender our i.d.s. Helios, who was missing teeth from a previous encounter with the law, was really pissed and getting very vocal about it to the cops. Fortunately, a breaking and entering call came in on the scanner and the cops took off, rightly concluding that a kicked-in door took precedence over hauling in a van full of long-haired freaks on a traffic violation. We were definitely rattled by our close call and not in the greatest of moods as we headed off for the next gig in Olympia, once again in the company of the Scar Crow guys and girls who were our companions throughout.
Weather-wise, Olympia was not much of an improvement on Seattle - freezing fog and colder than the tit of any witch I have ever known. Once again, we arrived after dark to a town that seemed both closed for business and empty of life. At first, it seemed like this was going to be a real Spinal Tap affair. The "club" was basically a pool hall with a makeshift plywood stage and a shitty rented p.a. I had to set up my projector on a pool table. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the best show of the tour. Maybe it was all the pent up frustration and fatigue but the band totally ripped and the audience was going wild. Lots of people came up afterward to say how much they liked the music and the films including two guys from Utah who were frying on acid. A lovely ice-blonde mini-goddess who was tending bar (the Portland woman's positive/negative soul sister perhaps?) gave us big pitchers of ice water without being asked. We had one final 3am feed at Denny's with the Scar Crow crew and we all got to watch a drunken frat boy rumble in the parking lot, complete with fake kung-fu moves, before saying our farewells and beginning the long cold foggy drive back to San Francisco.
It's funny - as soon as I started writing about this, the memories came flooding back (having the sketchbook I brought on the trip with me helped a bit too). Sometimes going to a place only once can leave an even stronger impression on me than repeat visits. Hopefully, my Portland/Seattle trip this week will be equally interesting and involve fewer encounters with the police.
Currently listening to: HELIOS CREED "Kiss To The Brain" (Amphetamine Reptile)