Excerpt from Gangs of the Fireside Bowl

I hate myself and everyone else

Welcome to Bad Sandwich Chronicles Beyond Thunderdome. I am happy to have you here regardless of your patronage but if you’re into this here thing, consider subscribing. For less than the cost of one cocktail a month you’d be supporting the arts as they say. Okay, enough sheepshit. On with the show.

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I grew up in an extremely vibrant area in Chicago called Boystown which I believe is the first municipally recognized gay neighborhood in the US. Regardless of that, it was a pretty cool neighborhood with lots of different walks of life all doing their thing in the same place.

One day when I was about ten, my mom was taking me to a movie at the Belmont theater on Belmont and Broadway (we were gonna see a movie that, for reasons that you’ll soon understand, I don’t remember what it was). Anyway, the ‘shoe repair’ shop right next door that also specialized in leather repair and sold some token leather items had a big picture window and in said picture window was a picture….uh….maybe six by three FEET of an extremely veiny boner wrapped in leather straps.

“That’s not shoes” I feel like I might have said to my mom, even though I bet I didn’t say anything. “We live in a very interesting neighborhood” is almost certainly what my mom would have said, though this is all cosplay at this point. ANYWAY, from the beginning, wild neighborhood. And I was always a fan of the weirdness.

We had regular homeless including (I think I’ve done this already so I’ll keep it brisk) the dude whose skin was pitch black who wore burlap sacks who slept on our fire escape and who I would have to walk by every morning on the way to school, the old Japanese guy with the long ass mustache and goatee that we called animal chin for obvious reasons (google it), the guy that drove the bus (he just kinda walked down the middle of the street holding a large imaginary steering wheel), dudes like Ed, who I was friends with from 5th grade to junior year when he suddenly uh…I guess anything could have happened to him but he was cool because he’d always buy the beer, and no matter what I asked him for, it always ended up being natural ice (the highest alcohol percentage for the lowest price in this corner shop) and somehow it always cost 20 dollars (nineties money! that shit should have been 10 bucks. There also should have been 12 cans in the 12 pack but what are you gonna do? It’s the price of business, innit?

there was Darren and…whatever. I sang all about this twenty plus years ago and if this is really the part of this you wanna hear about i’m happy to discuss it more but what I’m trying to do is paint a picture of the world I grew up in. And there’s more before we even get to what I’m actually talking about.

One night Chris and I snuck out of my house to go learn how to smoke (the dude at the greek restaurant with the cigarette machine: “yeah, you having a Nic fit? I know how it is. here’s some quarters for the machine,” we were just terrified and 14 and had no idea what the fuck he was talking about. We wanted cigarettes so we could look cool and offer them to girls and maybe parlay that into making out…this never ever happened just by the way).

At the time the area of broadway by my house was all strip clubs and peep shows and greek restaurants with cigarette machines, which is cool, but we wanted to go to the punkin donuts, which was a dunkin donuts with a big parking lot around the corner from the Alley (skateboards, leather jackets, tattoos, dildos, bongs and uh…plaster ionic columns for some reason?) an all ages juice bar called Medusas (saw bad religion on the against the grain tour there!) and also was in my weird ass neighborhood and was very much a punk/goth/queer/etc locale for just kind of kicking it. It was the kind of thing that cops ignored bc it was mostly 14 year olds with their first pack of cigarettes trying to make out with the chubby goth girls that thought said 14 year old boys were adorably naive in terms of who gave a shit about them.

ANYWAY, this night (and we only did this once. Chris and I were actually very good kids. This is, as far as I know, the only time I EVER snuck out) we’re hanging out giving cigarettes that we don’t even know how to smoke away to chubby girls who would rather die than kiss us and looking around at the wild crowd who were mostly from Medusas (the juice bar I mentioned earlier). There was one guy with a huge green mohawk who was clearly wasted beyond all your standard “I can stand up” levels (side note, I was sitting there and a guy in overalls walked by and right at my face level were his balls, hanging through a strategically placed hole in his overalls. [at this point I should overtly iterate that everything i’m saying is true no matter how fucking crazy it may sound]).

Anyway, the skinheads come into the Punkin Donuts parking lot and start shaking everyone down but when they see this drunk ass green mohawked peacock they went nuts and just started kinda ground and pounding him (a very bad way that a group of people beat up one person, for those of you unfamiliar with the term).

So I’m fucking HORRIFIED, as is Chris. We have never seen anything like this. The nut sack hanging out of the overalls right by my face was no contest in terms of trauma. Then someone yells “Oh shit! It’s the rude boys!”

I looked at the girl smoking the cigarette we had given her and said “what the fuck is a rude boy?” she said “it’s someone who listens to ska” and I said “what the fuck is ska?”

The skinheads attempted to bounce, clearly terrified, but before they could make a clean exit, these dudes in cream colored suits (billowing sleeves, cufflinks, tan vests, saddle shoes, bowler hats) and brass tipped canes came in and just beat the everloving shit out of the skinheads AND took over beating the green mohawk guy into soup, but in a much more violent way (again, this story is true). I still didn’t know what ska was, but I knew that it was SCARIER than skinheads somehow. And THEN!!!!!

It’s hard to tell this part due to language constraints and general sensitivity to human beings and so forth….at that point, someone yells “It’s the Tr**nies.” I am well aware that this is a hateful term. I am also here to tell you that that was the actual name of this street gang that featured members who were, to the last, women who were six three minimum, in heels that made them 6’7”, very beautiful, very black, and the kinds of ladies who didn’t have to raise their voices at all. The Rude Boys didn’t know WHAT to do. They sat there like kids who got busted sneaking out of school for lunch or something. You could really not fuck with these ladies. They ran the neighborhood. If you spent any time in Boystown in Chicago in the 90’s or early 2000s you know what I’m talking about.

They walked over to the green mohawk guy and said something like “oooooh girl, looks like the skinheads finally got poor gator huh?” then kinda surveyed everyone and politely told everyone to go home. that was how this night ended. No one sane was fucking with those ladies.

that was where I grew up.

So, I bring all this up because when I got a tiny bit older, I started playing in bands and we started being part of what I guess you could call the Fireside Bowl scene. the Fireside was a bowling alley in a latinx neighborhood and when we played our first show there, families were bowling, there was no stage and the families politely clapped after every one of our shitty songs. By the end, it was a den of decadence, the families were long gone, you couldn’t even bowl and it was…I dunno, man. It was truly magical, but I don’t know if the magic was good or bad.

I was in a band called Slapstick. We were notable for a couple of reasons: we were very, VERY young, we played ska influenced punk, we had horns, we quickly became far and away the biggest band of the fireside scene (this was before bands like alkaline trio and rise against and the lawrence arms existed) and as a result, people were nice to us but there was always an underlying “these fucking guys” (eye roll) vibe.

In short, we were part of this community because we kinda muscled our way in and played huge shows (we played the biggest show ever at Fireside. After that show they changed the way the crowd could be let in, preventing something like that from ever happening again [it was truly mayhem]). I never got the feeling anyone in the other bands or anyone working fireside (besides bartender, drummer, brother and dear friend Scotty) liked us very much. But fuck em, right?

So without further ado, here is a round up of just some of the musicians from those days (similar to the gangs and the homeless in their wildly divergent styles) but I’m not trying to talk too much about sound. I want to talk vibe, so don’t panic if you think this is gonna turn into some shitty Spin article about father John misty’s biggest influences or something.

These are the actual gangs I grew up with:

Naked Raygun

I’m starting with these guys even though they weren’t a fireside band. This is the band we ALL kinda wanted to be. When I was 12, these guys were playing to 2500 kids in Chicago like 4 times a year. Even though they never did much outside of the city, they were and remain LEGENDS here.

I said I wouldn’t make this about sound and I won’t, but this band is WEIRD sounding and laid the groundwork for a lot of bands to feel like they could experiment with what “punk” or “alternative” (weirdly, back then, I didn’t know the difference at all) could be.

None of this list would exist without these guys. Fun fact, once at a Naked Raygun show when I was finally uh….

Welp. that’s a hell of a free excerpt, folks, but you’re missing where I talk about all the bands. However, if you subscribe, you can read all about it. thanks for coming either way. xoxo

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