“Nobody likes us / What a shame / We played the Black Cat / Nobody came / Toured North Carolina / Everybody stayed home / But we showed them / We broke their microphone…” “Black Cat,” Lesbian Boy
It’s a familiar story: One night you find yourself hanging by the legs from the rafters at the Velvet Lounge, no shirt, body soaked with beer, a McDonald’s fish filet sandwich shoved down your pants, singing “Nyquil Party tonight / Everybody gonna get real stunned” when your head collides with the spinning ceiling fan, and it really, really hurts. And you wonder, not for the first time, how did I get here?
Well, maybe it’s not that familiar a story, but it’s my story—the story of my career as a rock’n’roll star. During said career I regularly poured hot wax down my pants, stage dove into nonexistent mosh pits, put out a cigarette on my chest, burned dollar bills—you name it, I probably did it, if it would get me a laugh. I was a cut-rate Iggy Pop for a cut-rate town, and I’m glad it’s over.
But during its time, oh was it glorious. It started the way it always does: Idiots get together to form band, think they’re going to become famous, don’t. We decided to call ourselves Lesbian Boy. We sat down, wrote some songs of deep social import—songs like “Sammy Hagar” with its immortal lines, “I can’t drive 55 / With my thumbs stuck in my eyes”—and then set about learning how to play our instruments. That was the part we never quite got down.
Our first gig was a fiasco. We played a house party—it was my house, actually—and made sure to set up our instruments blocking the front door, so nobody could escape. Unfortunately we failed to block the stairs to the second floor, which is where everyone trapped in the livingroom with us promptly headed. And this despite such great songs as “Song for John Lennon to Sing,” with its lines “I’m just a soldier in the war of Rock’n’Roll/My microphone is my grenade / I took a bullet at Live Aid.”
This is more or less the beginning of how we became DC’s Band Without a Fan. Despite our most earnest efforts, despite practicing a rigorous one night a week, nobody, not even our closest friends, would come see us. But we got our revenge in “Black Cat,” with its lines, “Friends won’t come see us / They think we’re shit / Think we’re pathetic / Yea, they wish we’d quit / Someday we’ll be big stars like Van Halen or Styx / Someday we’ll be big stars / Maybe we’ll let ‘em suck our dick.” Things didn’t improve at our first “real” gig, at a nearly empty Velvet Lounge.
This was back when you played the tiny stage—it was like a stage for dwarves—at what is now the rear of the club. A band of lesbians preceded us; they were very earnest. Then we came on, and I decided to stage dive, despite the fact that there was no one in the pit. It really, really hurt. Not only that, but I inadvertently knocked over the lesbians’ monitor, and they went apoplectic. Chased me around the stage, wailing like banshees. I finally cowered behind the drum kit, and our drummer, who was our very own token lesbian, fully expecting to be savagely beaten by enraged Amazons. But I was also hoping that, what with the shared bond of sexual orientation and all, our drummer would be able to calm them down.
And she did, to an extent; they didn’t kick the living shit out of me, but they did take their monitor and microphones and go home, leaving us to perform an impromptu version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” with no amplification. I was in an unnaturally enthused state—narrowly avoiding an ass-whupping by angry lesbians will do that—and started pumping my fist in the air. And promptly knocked out three stage lights, that’s how low they were on this midget stage. With that, management shut us down and charged us for the damage. We were one gig in, and in hock for about a hundred bucks. But not all was lost. This was how we came to write our “all is forgiven” anthem, “Burn Down the Velvet Lounge.”
After a few shows like that, it occurred to me that something wasn’t working. This was when I decided to up the ante. It was one thing to stand behind the microphone and sing; I needed to do more. Much more. Which is how I came to buy a McDonald’s fish filet sandwich and shove it down my pants, then pull it back out and eat it. And to dive into the drum kit. The drummer wasn’t too happy, but word spread of our antics, and our throngs of three soon became throngs of four. After that, things kind of got out of control. I bought Twinkies and Whoppers and smeared them across my chest. Then I graduated to candles, and poured hot wax down my pants. It really, really hurt. Then I followed up on the wax by sticking the microphone down my pants, something that couldn’t have made the following singer very happy.
One night we found ourselves playing a dump called the Café Tattoo in a dark corner of industrial Baltimore, with a sidebar of aging barflies and a pile of broken tables and chairs piled high in a dark corner of the club. The average age of this crowd must have been 65, and they had no idea what to make of us until Mary, our rhythm guitarist, dropped her guitar, jumped off the stage, and made a running leap into the pile of smashed furniture. They applauded madly, and we suddenly found ourselves with the world’s oldest fan base. I poured hot wax down my pants, leaped up on the drum kit and poured a pitcher of beer over the drummer’s head, then hurled myself into the furniture too. The Club Tattoo was the first venue to welcome us back with open arms.
We hit the road. We played a lesbian bar in New York City; when I took off my shirt, the entire audience shouted “Put it back on!” Then we grew truly ambitious and decided to do an extensive two-city tour of North Carolina. A tour! Our excitement was indescribable, until we reached the first venue to find it completely empty except for one nonpaying customer, an elderly muttering crackhead. And he didn’t even like us. But hope springs eternal, and we had high hopes for the next show until we found it nearly empty too. To cap things off, I broke the club’s microphone banging it against my head (it really, really hurt), and they actually had the gall to charge us for it. We came back from our tour some 75 dollars in the hole.
So much for touring. We returned to DC, and somehow—somehow—got a show on the Black Cat’s main stage. It was obviously a mistake on the club’s part, but we made the most of it. We made a huge banner bearing Little Richard’s timeless quote, “The only thing I liked better than a big penis was a bigger penis” and promptly flopped. Figures: failure was our forte. Fortunately our next show was at the Galaxy Hut in Arlington, a small venue more suited to our brand of entertainment. There I decided to wander with the microphone and no shirt on out into the frigid February night, where I attempted to serenade passers-by on the street who gave me—can you believe it?—a very wide berth.
I was always wandering out into the night with the microphone to sing, and I never got any shit about it until one evening when our guitarist Patrick and I—who had started a “folk” side project called Tripe and Ego, The Fuhrers of Folk—were playing a bar on 18th Street. I strolled into the street singing our “Woodstock” anthem: “I’d kill my bong for a French fry / Left my poncho in the freakout tent” when the manager followed me out screaming, evidently afraid that I might make off with his precious microphone. What ensued was a wrestling match on a public thoroughfare between a shirtless idiot and an older guy that ended with the older guy wresting the mic from the idiot’s hands. Needless to say, we never played there again. Another time, in Hanover PA, I walked out of a bookstore a friend allowed us to play, congealed red wax smeared across my chest, singing, “Ship ahoy / We’re Lesbian Boys / Love your mother / Break your toys.” There was a wedding party across the street, and my older brother swears he heard one of the guests cry, “My God! It’s Satan!”
Afterwards, I ended up in another band, Jealous Lover Targets, for a while, but it wasn’t the same. They were a better band, musically, but I actually missed the endearing ineptitude of my old one. I still swung from the rafters at the Velvet Lounge, wrote songs like “I Partied with Satan” (“I partied with Satan / Smoked pot through a beer can / He was one evil dude / Saw him do 50 ‘ludes”), and poured hot wax down my pants. But like that Eagles doofus sings, “It was the end of the innocence.”
Occasionally I think of going back to being a rock star. Then I come to my senses. No glorious comebacks for me. I think of cracking my head on that ceiling fan at the Velvet Lounge, and nearly disconnecting my shoulder jumping into a phantom mosh pit, and putting up with the pain of pouring hot wax down my pants, and banging a microphone against my head, and I remember: being a rock star really, really hurts.