Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | March 4, 2010

BEZERKLEY

It was Sunday night, November 23, 1980 that my friend Tim and I went to see the all girl, new wave/punk band The Slits at the Keystone Berkeley. They were one of the early acts signed to Rough Trade records and I would listen to anything Rough Trade put out. I first fell in love with their single “In the Beginning There Was Rhythm.” Then purchased the two albums they had released up to that point.  I turned Tim on to them, so we were both really jazzed at the chance of seeing them live.  Now this was a Sunday night and we both had to work Monday morning but Tim had a car so he was driving us across the Bay from San Francisco and we figured that we might get in a little late but it would be worth it.
The Keystone Berkeley was not a particularly large club and so was a good size for hearing music.  The Mutants opened the show and got everybody jacked up and ready but it was The Slits we were waiting for and they were fantastic, every bit as good as we’d hoped.  They had the whole place up and dancing like one big sweating, throbbing, kinetic entity and when they did “In the Beginning There Was Rhythm”my night was complete. We were drinking and had smoked a couple of joints so we were primed for the show.  In the excitement of the crowd and the music Tim and I lost track of each other and didn’t reconnect until after the last encore which was probably well after 11:00.

When I found Tim, among the sweating, exhausted exiting crowd, he was searching all over for his jacket; he had taken it off in the frenzy of dancing and dropped it at his feet.  When the show was over, it was gone. I joined him in the search figuring that it shouldn’t take us long to find it. The house lights were on full, so we could more-or-less see adequately.  I figured it’d probably gotten kicked around by the people dancing and would be up against the wall somewhere.  Possibly beneath some benches against the back wall.

After a while Tim found his jacket, bunched up under a bench, wet from spilled drinks and dirty; unfortunately there was now a new problem.  After parking the car and locking it, Tim had stashed the keys in a button-down pocket in his jacket.  They were gone.  Now we were searching for the keys, slowly going over every inch and corner of the hall, hoping that they had worked their way out of the pocket and were lying there waiting to be picked up. Trying not to consider the possibility that they had been taken and that somebody was, right now, out there on the street sticking those keys into one car after another until they found the one it opened.  Those little computer chip locks that you can hit to find your car in a crowded parking lot had not been invented yet, so if someone was looking for the car it would not be easy.

By this time the club had pretty much cleared out and the employees were pressuring us to leave as well.  The band had finished packing up their equipment and one of them overheard the conversation between a club employee and Tim as he was trying to get us to leave.  She then called the other band members and, taking pity on us poor silly yanks, The Slits themselves joined our search for the missing keys.  This caused the club employees to back off the pressure on us to leave. The band members were friendly, personable and without pretense.  They joked with us, asked questions and really did help us look for the keys even though they were visibly tired, exhausted from the high energy show they’d just put on.

Picture sleeve for the single of "In The Beginning There Was Rhythm" - Rough Trade Records

But it was all for naught. The keys were nowhere to be found and we finally had to give up.  We thanked the members of The Slits for their kind and unexpected assistance, trying to act cool and hide our excitement at actually getting a chance to meet and talk to them. I’m not sure we succeeded.

A club employee ushered us out and locked the door behind.  We walked the couple blocks to where the car was parked and stood staring at it, uncertain what our next move should be.  We proceeded to discuss, with our stoned, drunken logic, various ways we might get into the car. Finally we abandoned that line of thought because, even if we were able to get into it, we wouldn’t be able to start it without the key.  Since neither of us had a background in car theft we were at a loss as to what to do; I mean, there are a lot of wires under the dash, which are the two you cross to make the car start like they do in the movies?

So there we were in Berkeley at about 1:00 in the morning, on a work night, with no way home, hanging around a locked car on a nearly deserted street.

We soon attracted the attention of the police, who saw us trying to get into the car. We told them the whole, sad story.  I’m not really sure if they believed us are not.  We were half hoping they might help us get into the car. But of course we were still drunk and kind of stoned and were probably not the most credible appearing people a cop might encounter on the graveyard shift.  They told us to stop messing with the car and directed us to a bus stop. They said a bus to San Francisco would be by soon. Resigned to our fate we headed for the bus stop and there we sat on a bench: cold, hungry, frustrated but still buzzing from alcohol, pot and the great show so, in spite of the situation we found ourselves in, we were in fairly good spirits.

We had been sitting there for an hour and a half or so, watching the traffic thin out to practically nothing and trying to think of things to talk about to take our minds off of the whole mess.  We hadn’t seen a single bus yet. The wind was picking up from off the Bay and it was getting colder than a street preacher’s smile. Then we saw a single dark figure coming slowly down the street toward us. A tall man dressed in black leather from head to toe – black motorcycle boots with chains around the ankles, black leather hat with metal studs, tight pants and jacket both full of mysterious zippers and silver studs. We looked at him, then at each other, and the same thought hit us both: now we’re gonna get mugged. At that point neither of us had any experience with people who looked like that – I’d know better now, would recognize it as leather drag. But at that time, this guy scared the shit out of us.

He stopped behind our bench and stood there for several minutes, not doing or saying anything. Tim and I were too afraid to move.

Then he spoke: OK. No carrots for you guys. He said.

I cannot adequately describe the effect those words had on us. A combination of relief that we weren’t being mugged (yet) with a new fear that we had an unpredictable nut case on our hands. His voice was completely unexpected, soft and pitched on the high side, not the gruff, guttural threatening sound we were expecting at all.  This guy suddenly sounded harmless and I was hungry and hunger won out.

I turned around and looked at him: Carrots? You’ve got carrots? I’m starving.

He reached into one of the many zippered pockets of his black leather jacket. Pulled out a fistful of carrot sticks and passed them to me. Then, without comment, he turned and walked away.

Tim wouldn’t touch them, but I ate them – they were fine.

I had heard Berkeley referred to as “Bezerkley” before, but for the first time I felt like I understood why.  From that night on it has been Bezerkley to me.

first draft 04/14/05, Santa Rosa
rev 09/26/09-03/03/2010, Sebastopol

P.S.

Ari Up of The Slits died on 10/20/2010, see NYT – see also John Lydon’s webpage

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Responses

  1. Much more adventurous than our hitchhiking trip to the Cincinnati Jazz Fest, dontcha think? Played Keystone Berkeley with Billy Joe Shaver in ’80. Not much of a crowd, especially after our reception at the Bread and Roses show at San Quentin a couple days prior (a story well worth a blog entry of my own). But struck up a friendship at that show with Charlotte Stewart, who worked in a couple films, most notably “Eraserhead” (and I’m convinced she also played Lee Greenwood’s wife in the ‘God Bless the USA’ video), which continued for a number of years, although now have lost track of her. As well as lost track of Tim. Was thinking of his parents recently, probably now long gone, and the madness we visited on them night after night in their basement. Great story, Joe.
    Danny D

    • I tried to contact Tim’s mother several times — the phone number was disconnected and there was no new listing in the Cleveland phonebook — at least not as of five or six years ago when I last tried — I have not heard from Tim himself since shortly after Jim’s memorial — several times I have tried to locate him since I moved down here to Sonoma County but there are an awful lot of Tim, T. and Timothy Hughes in the Bay area telephone directories and an ungodly number of them on Facebook – it must be eight or nine years since I went looking for Ma Hurley – I went to the house, but there was some strange woman there who said she had been living there for several years and knew nothing about the former tenants — I tried looking up Laurie, George and Richie but couldn’t find phone listings for any of them —

      I remember Mrs. Hughes poking her head into that basement room with six or eight of us in there and asking us straight out “Are you boys pie-eyed?” a euphemism I don’t believe any of us had heard before – of course, we were…


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