And When I Move I Won't Stop For Anything
Abington & Boston, 1986
If it weren’t for Joey Marck, I’d probably still wear my hair in asymetrical bangs like a pony’s forelock over one eye, rocking one lace glove and embodying the tough secret lez of Wendy and Lisa. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, although my predilection for Prince and the Revolution was seen by my parents to be the root of all of my teen behavioral issues. Joey Marck was a quiet, tall kid with a low sensuous purr of a voice, dark hair and pretty nondescript, avoiding both cliques and negative attention in the halls of high school. He maybe was tangentially a band kid, but I knew him from my neighborhood, where his family lived up the other end of Lincoln Street. His older sister, who came home on occasion from college, Framingham State or something, was a distant, dark shadow of coolness. Her tall spikey hair and Eye of Horus mascara was just a passing blip from car to doorway, but I watched her quick trajectory between the oak trees along the Marck’s driveway with a longing and curiosity I couldn’t name, wishing she’d come out and talk to us, throw us a lifeline. Her knifey goth looks let me know that there was something out there beyond our little town, that there was more than this. A confined herd of wild ponies stamped and snorted in my blood, calling me away, my eyes always compassing toward the distant horizon. I was afflicted with a constant, unnameable yearning to be somewhere else. Joey Marck’s big sister was proof of the bountiful frontier.
One day, maybe Junior year of high school, Joey Marck invited me to an all-ages show at The Rat in Kenmore Square.
“What kind of show?”
“Hardcore,” he said. “A hardcore punk show.” His mom dropped us off at the Braintree T station at the end of the line. Somehow I was able to secure permission to go, which must have been because Joey hadn’t yet seared into parental memory as a bad influence, hadn’t been involved in any of my previous wrong-doings. Plus, it was just a matinee show, we'd back before dark, even.
The Red Line train swayed and clicked north, rocketing us toward Boston. South Shore trees parted to thin tendrils of land saddlebagged on all sides by marshes and inlets of murky saltwater, thundering underground and springing back above the crust. To the West crowded the rear-ends of three-flat houses, laundry flapping off of back porches, the population thickening. We rattled along to JFK/UMass, the city rising above, and then again into darkness. We transferred to the Green Line at Park, and then we were there, Kenmore Square, humming with cars and students, shoppers and pan-handlers, the smell of hotdogs and human shit, sag paneer and perfume, the already-open bars wafting the dank rot of spilled beers, endless cigarettes, and regret.
Out front of The Rathskeller a line of kids already waited, a dark horde bristling with Knox-gelatine Liberty spikes, leather jackets with favorite bands’ logos painted on in cracked white acrylic, shaved pates glistening in the early day glare, mohawked kids crowing and pecking like roosters. Skinheads leaned against buildings smoking, lean and tough in tight maroon flight jackets and bluejeans, their tall Docs laced as secure as corsets, a secret language in their shoe-lace colors. The girl-skins were buzzed close save for bleach-blonde curtains of hair combed down straight over eyebrows and temples; their eyes tough, obsidian sharp, flickering up from beneath their fringe bangs as they dragged hard on smokes pinched tight between black-nailed fingertips. Here even the goths and death-rockers were harder, tougher, freakier, their skin pastier and their make-up more theatrical. They practically traveled under their own personal stormclouds. The death-girls were ornate and beautiful, hot vicious ghosts, but I’d glance away sharp and shy whenever one cast their Elvira eyes across me.
We walked past a gangly, dreadlocked homeless guy who pointed at us and smiled until we flashed nervous smiles back, and then he ripped out an lavish lick on his guitar.
Hey, Mr. Butch, some of the kids called out to him. He waved and smiled.
“Who’s that?” I stage-whispered to Joey Marck. A kid standing in line wearing a too-big Minor Threat teeshirt locked eyes on me.
“Mr. Butch?” the kid said, “He’s like, the King of Kenmore Square.”
The Rat was a low cave in the underbelly of a building. My boots scuffed and slipped on the alternately gritty and wet floor. I wandered inside after Joey, close and overwhelmed, someone just off the train in a foreign country. My eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom from the bright outside. Silhouettes of architectural hairstyles swum in the haze, terrible predators swirling in a primordial sea. The music was ear-popping. It entered my body through every orifice, every pore, electrifying every follicle, every cell. On the stage the band Slapshot hunkered down, the thick neck of Choke, the singer, was roped in bulging veins. He screamed into a mic and brandished a broken hockey stick in his other hand. Every half-note of rage I’d ever swallowed down was given permission to be voiced, a terrible faucet I was reluctant to open for fear that I might never be able to crank it shut. My anger and the anger of the group pooled with the anger of all kids everywhere who thought the shit continuously spoonfed them as gospel truth was a bucket of lies. I shuffled to rear of the mass of bodies knotted closest to the dance floor, peering through the hairdos and past the leather and tattered denim, the odor of sweat and cigarettes.
Slapshot was followed by Verbal Assault, and then the headliner, Dag Nasty. One band blended into the next, my brain on audio-visual over-stim. Kids were flying in the pit, a teeming throng of bobbing heads. Fists, elbows, and knees shooting out from torsos in an anarchic martial art, skanking to the furious beat of the music. There was a current, a counter-clockwise tide churning bodies in a centrifuge, an undertow that could rip you right off of your feet. Every so often, a boy—never a girl—would launch himself onto the stage, and flip from it as if into a public pool. A mass of hands formed a conveyer belt, moving the boys in Christlike repose across the throbbing miasma of bodies in motion. Whenever anyone got sucked under, the violent whirlpool bent and scooped up the fallen one without a single break in rhythm.
I stood there in the back, on the edge, in my Revolution-angled bangs, my temples shaved, my denim jacket painted on the back with the word “Prince” in violet acute-angled Purple Rain typography. I had on brown pointy boots to which I’d fashioned loops of chains around the ankles. I felt like a little kid who had just woken up to the fact that the world existed outside and around them, with or without them.
On the train back to the suburbs, the cheap metal trumpets of my ears rang loud white echoes, the quiet became louder than the noise. Joey Marck slid over close to me on the plastic bench.
“What did you think?” His eyes studied my face closely. He was that kind of kid, a watcher, a payer of attention.
“That was fucking cool.” I didn’t have anything more erudite to say about it. I always needed some time for experiences to absorb in to my psyche. I knew I’d heard the tolling bell of change at the show, but I didn’t quite know what it meant yet.
Joey nodded, always patient, kind. He pressed a wrinkled, thumb-smeared newsprint magazine into my hands. The Suburban Voice. Gritty black and white photos and text, cut and pasted together like a ransom note, yelled out from the cover.
“You should get into this stuff.”
“What is this?” I held up The Suburban Voice. I hated not knowing anything. It was pretty much the worst feeling, but Joey didn’t sweat me for being a rube.
“It’s a ’zine. It covers the punk scene. Music, shows, record reviews, other ’zines. Stuff like that. I think you’ll like it.” And just like that Joey Marck introduced me to the world beyond our town.
I ditched my Prince jacket and shaved a small patch of hair off one side of my head at the temple. My mother, with her ever-scrutinous eagle-eyes, spotted it immediately and gave me a sound yelling at. I took off and hid out in the fort in the woods all day and into the night and when finally I got cold and tired of being cramped up in the small damp plywood structure I went home. I was getting a little old to hide out in the fort, but I knew she wouldn't pursue me. She left me alone when I came back. I had to knock so that she’d unlock the door to let me in. She left me a note, the first written apology I ever received from her. You’re almost an adult, you can do what you want with your hair, it said. But I had to play it cool. I was still living at home, still in high school, still in Abington. My first ever all-ages punk show might have changed me, but my surroundings and circumstances were, for now, still the same.
My father smote the kitchen table with his fists and whipped a hot buttered English muffin across the kitchen at my face when I said I didn’t want to go to summer school. For a small, light object, the muffin caused quite a bit of pain and I held my fingers to the point of impact. I had to go for algebra or risk being held back from senior year. Being kept back a grade was worse to my parents than a ruined summer was to me, it appeared. In the high school office I went to register for summer school and one of the teachers turned and loud enough for everyone to hear said, “Aren’t you supposed to be our senior class president?”
“Yeah,” I said, filling out a form on the counter with a Bic pen.
“Well.” He looked at me like someone just farted. “We’ve never had a senior class president wind up in summer school before.” I didn’t want his goddamn boot on my neck. I ran for office just to be a pain in the ass to the kids who cared—I won. My hand went to my cheek, where my dad’s English muffin had left a hot-buttered road rash. I was deemed a gifted and talented kid early on, but it seemed clear to everyone, myself included, that my gift expired. I wasn't bad enough to be a bad kid, I wasn't fucked up enough, as least as far as anyone could discern, to merit intervention. I was now relegated in to the energetic rubbish bin as a lazy kid who wasn't living up to their full potential. The culture of silence was so effective that no one ever had to tell me not to reach out for help, to make steps to foment change. It was by osmosis that I knew not to tell people about my problems, that it was our cultural inheritance to endure. Without direction or options, I decided to apply to art school once I got this crummy summer school session out of the way.
“Well, it’s a whole new world I guess.” I passed the form over to the receptionist and walked out of the office. I tried to imagine what holding my head high would look like, and did that.
I saved up my money from my job at the local supermarket and bought a cheap leather biker jacket. I painted it and over time encrusted it with countless pointing things, like a pier piling under the sea, more and more matter barnacled onto it until the jacket became its own ecosystem. For my birthday, Eric gave me a pair of black leather monkey boots he mail-ordered from London. I wore ratty jeans etched with band names in ball-point pen, patched at the knees with scraps of a cut-up American flag, or spattered with stark white dapples of bleach that before long eroded into holes. I shaved my hair around the sides with hair clippers and ratted out the long top with Aqua-net and a steel comb. My dyed hair hovered above my head in a noxious cloud. Here I found a uniform of disenfranchisement that gave me a moat of space, a prickly uniform of individuality that afforded me a physical buffer equal to the volume of alienation I felt. I recast myself in a subset, placed myself in a bin of broken toys.
My new uniform meant something—a tough fuck you I couldn't yet muster aloud, a tangible manifestation of my rage and disenchantment. Most important of all this uniform served as a disguise, with my gender missteps neatly hidden beneath other transgressions. The outlandish hair, the armored pointy jacket, the rings of black eyeliner casting lunar eclipses over my clear blue eyes, the mounting number of sewing needles I poked through my left ear until there were ten tiny holes with metal hanging from them, the scraggly tattoo of an ankh, a symbol of eternal life that I etched into my pinky finger with a safety pin and India ink—I was reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead after we covered the art of ancient Egypt in a survey course at art school—all of this worked as dazzle camouflage behind which my inability to present as sufficiently female could hide. There were exceptions to this, sure, but now there was a large swath of people, based on my outward appearance, that I could fit in amongst. Girls and boys alike looked similar to each other and to me. Yeah, there were the clean-cut skinheads who were just jocks with tall Doc Marten's on one end, and on the other pole of the spectrum, the unbelievably ornate, spooky, gorgeous goth girls. But in the middle of this noisy rookery many of us appeared to be flavors of each other, with fucked up hair and silkscreened band teeshirts, jangling metal bits, creaking musky leather, smudged and weepy eyeliner. It didn't really matter what was between our legs. My pointed and shadowy veneer allowed me to be both a girl and to feel like myself. Looking like this I finally was able to telegraph out into the world how fucked up and not a part of the fucked up world I felt.
Being punk meant hanging out. Near the steps of the Boston Public Library in the cold months homeless folks lay in gray bundles on huge sidewalk air vents staying warm in the exhalations of some great subterranean beast. Lots of places to lurk about inside and be warm but the point was to hang out and be seen. So you'd shuffle back and forth on your boots and stuff your hands deeper into your coat pockets, trying to warm up and be seen. There was the BPL steps, where I felt heroic standing near the great seated bronze robed figures, the thinker and the artist. There was Copley and Kenmore Square, but I picked The Pit at Harvard Square, a brick and concrete depression on the back of the Red Line stop, as my primary roost because I got a job making copies at a store up on Brattle Street. The place sheltered a mix of annoying polo-shirt wearing angry young skins, older ska punks with thick forearms and thick-lined tattoos, gothy-death rockers, and kids looking to score or sell drugs sat around, the confluence waxing and waning throughout the day, rising around dusk, the number of kids reaching critical mass on Saturday afternoons. Some punks spare changed, something I never did and judged. They could fucking work. Sure, it was harder to get a job looking like any of us did but not unheard of in the parts of Boston where we all hung out. Some kids with large fin mohawks or liberty spikes tended to tamp down their exuberant hairstyles with a comb and a hat for their workdays.
“Hey, C____, check this one out,” Crazy Todd said, trawling in the deep pockets of his beige trenchcoat to retrieve a book. He handed it to me in his mallet hand. The cover looked like sci-fi meets Carlos Casteneda. Neuromancer, by William Gibson.
“Original cyberpunk,” he said in his way of talking, which felt like staring even though he didn't make eye contact with me. He hoisted himself up onto the wall beside me. The young skins looked away, even though one of them had just been trying to mouth off to me a second before Todd sauntered over.
Crazy Todd didn't look punk at all and yet all of the punks regarded him with a type of nervous deference and swiveled out of his way when he came to hang out and sit on the wall in The Pit. He was just a couple years older than me but he seemed far older. He spent most days out in front of a cafe in the Square that had chessboards carved into the tabletops, playing against the aged chess masters who brought their own game pieces and timers. In addition to his tan trenchcoat he always wore a ubiquitous hickey on his neck. He also often sported the bluish remains of a black eye. He and I got along well and he always wanted to talk to me about the books he was reading, which he fished out of the bottomless reaches of his trenchcoat pockets and presented to me in his large raw-knuckled hands. I marveled at the way Crazy Todd's violent-looking hands held a trade paperback with such ginger tenderness. Knowledge was important to him.
“Read it,” he said, “Borrow it.” I was about to tell him that I didn't much care for science fiction, but then I didn't want to refuse this small kindness from Crazy Todd.
When no one else was around I would find a spot in the sun in Harvard Square and draw or write in my journal. My journal was a constant companion, I always sketched in it and wrote down the minutiae of my days. People engaged me and my journals as if we were conjoined twins. When people referred to my journal as I was writing, I wrote that in my journal too. Writing was my companion and I never felt alone when I scrawled thoughts, ideas, and images into the black hardcover books.
On days I worked at the copy store I'd grab a slice of pizza or if I had enough money, a felafel from The Garage, and wander up to Allston Beat and examine the overpriced leather and spikes imported from England, or the rack of second-hand vintage clothes, where I'd either be ignored or flirted with depending on the salesperson. Hey, nice Creepers. I like your leather jacket. Did you paint that? Or: silence, sneers. Then a stop into Newbury Comics to look at records, and a spin through The Pit. If it was only the clean-cut younger skinheads I'd keep walking and make a round through the Harvard Coop and say hi to Eric or Sluggo if either of them were working at the frame shop. But if it was Boots or any of the other punks I would eat my food sitting up on the wall in The Pit. And then I would go sit in the sun and write in my book. It was while alone I was approached by strangers. Hey, can I take your picture? I appreciated good manners. But I always forced myself into a serious face and asked them for a dollar.
Every Saturday night at midnight the Rocky Horror Picture Show was screened in Harvard Square and that was a good place to hang out too. It was hard not to have a boner for whoever was Magenta that week. It was fun to go with Eric. He hated the singing but loved the shout-along audience participation parts. It's like being in a room full of people invited to heckle. He usually brought not one but two rolls of toilet paper. I hated musicals, but liked all the men in fishnets and the tough girls with arms akimbo up on stage before the movie screen. I was glad I didn't work in the theater, what a fucking mess.
Being punk meant taking a break from hanging out and going to places where your friends, or people you wished you were cool enough to be friends with, worked. If they liked you enough maybe you'd get free shit, like a new button for your leather jacket, or maybe something to eat for the five-finger discount or at least half-off. Making the rounds downtown to the underground cave of the little rock and roll shop Stairway to Heaven where a pretty pale girl with perfect Siouxsie Sioux makeup that arched up theatrically into the crevices between her eye sockets and the bridge of her nose would give you sarcasm that felt almost like love as she sold you a button or a black teeshirt. What are you looking at, dicknose? She snorted as she slid the eponymous button across the glass countertop toward me. Why issue them an invitation to read your lapel? Both terrified and thrilled that she spoke to me, I slid her a rumpled dollar and hurried up to the street. Then ride the old elevator with an operator in a red twill vest up to the enormous expanse of Strawberry Records where you could browse the import vinyl section. The operator looked up from his crimped posture and crooned, Third floor: Straaaaw-berries, as he pushed the tarnished lever to one side. The accordioned gate complained when it open to spit you out into the cavernous store. Peruse the import vinyl section and the independent label section. Too expensive. Then down to the edge of Chinatown to where the remains of the old Combat Zone hung on with a couple of tenacious and ragged sex shops, a jerk-off booth movie theater, and a tiny strip club huddled together for safety. Take a gander into the fenced off remains of an ancient and crumbling entrance to the Green Line tunnels, the chipping tiles and rusty gate and the stairs leading down into the mystery of the city's bowels, how badly you want to go down into the dark.
Then back up Washington past the old opera house, the iron gate pulled across the ornate foyer of the place but an observant eye is rewarded by the discovery that the padlock isn't clasped closed, and with a subtle move, in a beat between pedestrians who tend to steer away from this end of the drag, you can slip inside, fish the heavy manual 35 mm camera out from your army surplus shoulder bag, and take black and white photos of the ornate baroque scrollwork back-lit in silhouette by the dim light of the gray day in the gray city. Being an artist was part of being punk. Then finish the downtown rounds with a walk through the Commons and maybe buying a tiny bag of popcorn from a vendor for a dollar and sharing it with the extroverted squirrels who come and lift each white puff from your fingertips with their tiny gray wizened hands and regard you with black eyes as they sit on their haunches and eat with you.
Being punk meant going to shows at The Rat, TT The Bears, The Middle East Cafe, The Channel, Avalon, Axis, Man Ray, The Living Room down in Providence, Rhode Island. You were always looking for shows, looking in the paper, looking at flyers, waiting in lines along the sidewalk til doors opened, trying to scrounge the money for tickets or cover, trying to sneak in.
Hey are you going to see _____?
_________ are touring, did you see in the Suburban Voice that they're playing at T.T.'s?
Aw man, _______ is playing at The Orpheum? It's gonna cost a mint!
Going to shows was a never-ending quest and you always had to go to be seen and know you were alive. If you were lucky a kid would kick open the back door of The Channel to let some cool fresh air in and hold it open with their foot long enough for you to slip into the churning current of kids. It meant getting into bars like Ground Zero even though I was only eighteen because the spectacularly goth Sadie Night from MassArt worked the door and let us all sneak in. It meant getting hammered on vodka tonics and dancing in a circle until you thought you might puke in a swirl of teevee sets set to static and covered with chicken wire and painted black and being too hung over to go to classes the next day.
Being punk meant people saying weird shit to you and strangers touching you or taking your picture or asking questions like why would a pretty girl like you do something so ugly to your hair or face. It meant sometimes people would ask things out of friendly curiosity and sometimes others would ask out of undisguised hostility.
“Hey, what are you, a boy or a girl?” Shouted by some construction workers up on scaffolding alongside a building.
“Why don't you suck my dick and find out!” My response. When several of the burly men in tool belts and hard hats drop quick as panthers down off the scaff to the sidewalk and start tearing toward me, I run faster than I ever imagined possible, my purple hair flapping in the wind, black leather uniform jingling, into a nearby Red Line T station and vault myself over the turnstile and don't stop running until my body is safe inside the propelling tuna can under the city.
Being punk meant spending a lot of time alone, walking about, waiting around to hang out with others, standing around waiting to get noticed, lurking around also to watch. If I could position myself somewhere in the world where people knew my name and would come over and talk to me, perhaps it meant I did exist. If I could see other people turning their heads and noticing me, perhaps I too could be seen.
Cooper Lee Bombardier is writer and visual artist based in beautiful Portland, Oregon, where he grows kale and listens to the freight trains and ships all night. His work appears in several anthologies and periodicals, including Sister Spit: Writing, Rants, and Reminiscence From the Road, Cavalcade, The Rumpus, and Original Plumbing. He teaches writing at Portland State University.