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by Michael Lucas [OBIK: I think...he later claimed to have driven the fun bus, didn't he? The article is uncredited.]
Midnight, early February 1979, a little alley behind the Chronicle Building in San Francisco. Mysterious figures mill in the street, gather in the shadows, and watch as their belongings are loaded into two white vans parked along the curb. Surly muscle-bound characters carry huge, unwieldy Marshall stacks and drum cases out to the vans from the seedy rehearsal studio.
Uniformed men hover about, supervising the proceedings, their badges glinting In the light from the street lamps. The call to board is heard. The motley group of bystanders staggers and clambers into one of the vans like extras from El Topo, chains rattling, cameras swinging, the air redolent with the smell of crazy color, leather and Budweiser.
The uniforms get in a van by themselves. Its headlights switch on as it pulls out into the street. Suddenly, it lurches to a halt, the side door flies open, and The Ripper jumps out and runs to the passenger window of the other van. "Anyone got any snoo?"
No dice. He jumps back into the van, the door slams shut, and with that, the Crime Fun Bus extravaganza plunges into the night towards unsuspecting Los Angeles.
Denny's, somewhere near Pesmo Beach, around 4:00 am that morning.
(Note: The stoicism of Denny's waitresses remains one of the unsung virtues of the human character.)
The uniforms sit at a table by themselves. The Fun Bussers occupy two large booths and appear in remarkably fine feather, their finest attempts to crack the waitresses' iron clad cool all to no avail. Green-glo hair, screaming lurex, spike collars, black eyes, skull fetishes and paramilitary regalia a common sight in the road houses of America? Vader, who is seven feet tall and hails from another planet, one he calls Zeta, tells the joke about women's legs and snail trails in a loud voice with a thick Slavic accent.
The party quietly rises, pays and leaves. All activity in the restaurant had ceased, replaced by a dull, dangerous blanket of silence following the punch line. Signs of life were restricted to some coffee spills at adjoining tables. Vader was not heard to utter anything even vaguely resembling human speech for the rest of the trip, save for the frequent repetition of the Zetan motto: "Crime is ze best focking bant in ze focking world!"
The van carrying Crime and their equipment led the way, with the Fun Bus close behind, its driver mercilessly blaring pseudo-punk and rockabilly tapes at full distorted volume, seemingly hypnotized by the red tail lights of the van ahead and the arcing of the smoldering cigarette butts flicking out of its windows every 3.25 minutes.
After a brief sojourn for breakfast-by-the-sea in picturesque Santa Barbara (Julian, an unassuming young ax-murderer type from Hayward notable for the little ceramic skuil pins he had manufactured and distributed for the trip, was the only one to ingest anything other than coffee; he had lime Jell-o in which little bits of carrot and fruit salad were suspended), the Fun Bus vans arrived at the Tropicana Motel in Hollywood and discharged their passengers.
The uniforms, of course, had a suite to themselves. The rest of the crew was spread out around the motel in pairs that had been predetermined by the Fun Bus Social Director, Hank Rank.
A bit of background: Crime booked several dates in the Los Angeles area in early February of that year. A daring new approach to touring new territory was devised. Rather than risk flopping miserably, why not persuade your hardest-core fans to accompany you, insuring a crack team of drunken maniacs in the front pogo ranks at every single show? The Fun Bus concept originally included a chartered Greyhound-style bus, but the limited number of takers made it necessary to use a passenger van emblazoned with the Crime logo, much to the consternation of the California Highway Patrol and the rural niafs of the pastoral California fishing villages along the way.
Among the names on the Fun Bus passenger list were Ginger Coyote, Sue Brisk, Jeorgia A. Artmovement (who proved to be the only modern woman anywhere in sight), the aforementioned Vader, Bruce Conner, local-girl-makes-good Lawless, Michael ("Lord, it's on the right, we must be intellectuals") Lucas of Junior Executives renown, and Published Author Becky Wilson nee Hesia, or vice versa. Target Video's Joe Rees missed the bus, but was scooped up at LAX in time to shoot the Troubadour date as well as the remarkable party at the Tropicana afterwards. The rest of the entourage has requested anonymity, which complements my inability to remember their names.
Crime at the Troubadour: The house is about three-quarters full as the intro tape (sirens, explosions etc.) comes on. The crowd is made up of LA punks who amused themselves during the grotesquely inappropriate and hideous opening band (some combo with "Nu" something in their name and a lead singer with a fringed leather vest and pot belly) by lobbing the Pizza Hut-style red glass candleholders backwards over their heads into the laid-back waitresses.
The red and blue squad car spinner lights switch on along with the regulation roadie-operated whoop siren, and Crime takes the stage in full New Centurion gear. The Crime custom cheering section rises, knocking over tables and chairs at random, and competes with the home team for spots at the front of the stage. Judging by the number of beer bottles, candles, chairs and ashtrays which were deposited on stage in the face of a security frenzy, LA was charmed by the boys in blue and their drum riser, Marshall stacks, black Les Pauls and Flying Vs. The sound pressure levels at stage front were not measurable with any technology available in 1979, easily surpassing AMA endurance-of-pain thresholds.
At all the LA dates, Crime was as stark as ever in performance. As stone-faced as any street gang, as polished as the June Taylor Dancers, they worked the stage with the gum-chewing impassivity of real cops. All of their repertoire in those days was based in Stooges/peak-period Stones guitar clash. Hank Rank pounded out the straight fours from his riser with a look of grim determination on his face. Ripper stood lock-legged in one place nailing down the bottom with stolid efficiency, no overplaying, while Frankie and Johnny held the front, mugging and posing. The effect was one of workmanlike zeal, in the same league as a construction crew putting up a wail of sheet rock, or firefighters mopping up a storefront blaze; intense, dedicated, just doing their job. The excitement generated was of the sort one experiences when a car skids out of control and then regains the road. Then everyone goes home and hears telephones ringing in their ears for two days from the volume assault. There is no virtuosity in the show. No guitar leads, no drum solos, none of the 1975 heavy metal cliches. Just power chords and the refinement of every macho pose and posture imaginable. Short songs, with titles like "Flyeater," "Yakuza," "Lost Soul," "If Looks Could Kill," "Rockabilly Drugstore," "Bloodsucker."
The best of the LA Fun Bus shows was at the Vanguard Gallery in downtown LA. The openers were a nondescript punk band from the environs followed by the peerless Mentors, who had just moved down from Seattle to find fame in Hollywood. The Mentors are a three piece led by the portly Il Duce. Il Duce's drum kit consisted of about thirty-eight mismatched drums held together with wire and a cascade of cymbals with bullet holes and bite marks in them. The Mentors wear black Illuminati hoods (their motto is "New Wave Ties Suck; HOODS Are In'"), and they play what they call "rape rock." The songs, with carefully enunciated titles like "Macho Package," "Come Pool," "Secretary Hump" and "Butt Crust," were enough to cause hardcore Angeleno punks to leave the room in frenzies of disgust, petulance and righteous indignation.
They changed all of our lives.
The party at the Tropicana after the Troubadour gig was the stuff of legend, the sort of party you hear about and hope to someday run into after a show.
Envoys from every LA band plus several English touring bands who were staying at the motel were all present. Many more people than the suite was capable of holding, advanced stages of intoxication, Joe Rees' video monitors glaring and blaring, periodic forays to other Fun Bus rooms for restocking of supplies and reinforcements, endless tossings of people and property into the pool, etc. After it was over, Dede of UXA and I pulled the sofabed out over the impressive pool of vomit in the middle of the floor and went to sleep. We were too drunk to fuck, and she left the next morning without a word, or even a groan.
The return trip was uneventful except for the appearance of an earnest young hippie who, when he saw the license plate holders on the vans marked "Blimpo Ford, Visalia," thought we were from Visalia and pulled out what looked like a quarter pound of some alkaloid-type substance and told us to help ourselves.
That was the Crime Fun Bus, it was a plunge to the edge of danger and back. It was what your parents would call "a good experience."
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