did you become a member of the Units?
I became a member of The Units out of sheer determination, inspiration and abject desperation.
I had been pestering Scott Ryser for years to start another band with me. He was the most creative person I knew. He was making films, and writing fiction, music and lyrics. (He wrote a great novel about being in Ace Jet, his glam-rock band. Itís called Rock and Roll Redding, and should definitely be published) He had the kind of creative energy that I imagined Kerouac had. He kept sending me tapes of this really weird and beautiful music he was writing using his Mini-Moog and an Echoplex.
At the same time, I had been doing crazy comedy sketches and experimental performance pieces that came out of my time at SF State and my partnership with Randy Dunagan. Dunagan was really the theoretician behind a lot of our activity around this time. At the SF State theatre department, along with the standard plays and acting scenes, I was doing a lot of stuff with the creative outsiders. We were working with popular forms like commedia and vaudeville, and circus skills like juggling, acrobatics, and stage combat. With the help and instigation of some renegade faculty members (Corliss Nickerson [sp?]) we did a Dada Cabaret that turned out really great (or "useless" to the true dadaist).
Dunagan, Lori Lorenzo, Amy Weiss and I teamed up to create a performance piece called "Good In One Direction Only Within Time Indicated." We incorporated dance, music, sound effects, poetry, and signs with slogans on them that moved across the room on motorized wires. The audience sat in the middle of the room and things happened all around and among them. We had a great time putting it together and performing it.
Dunagan, Ryser and I formed a collaboration called the Normalcy Roulette School of Performance. We planned a piece that included props like garbage-bag hot-air-balloons kept aloft by hair dryers (Scottís idea), but we never did a performance of it... We did get to do a piece called "Bum Ritual" as part of the J.C. Pennyís Windows performances.
On the way home from a pathetic cross-country Greyhound bus ride to visit an ex-girlfriend, somewhere around the Corn Palace I believe, I had the inspiration to form a musical group that would incorporate some of the performance-art stuff we had been doing. I was desperate to do something new and wildly creative. I had made a pilgrimage to all the art museums in New York City, and the Philadelphia Art Museum. The Duchamp collection there made me feel like I had been abducted by aliens, injected with LSD and deposited at a reading of Howl. Duchamp and three days on a Greyhound bus can do strange things to your mind. I knew our band would be a huge success.
When I got back to SF, it seems like everything fell into place. My friend from SF State, Ron Lantz, was working as the stage manager of the Mabuhay Gardens, a Philipino bar and restaurant on Broadway where Dunagan and I had previously performed in a dadaist revue with Les Nickelettes. When Dunagan and I had done comedy there, the famous punk-rock impresario Dirk Dirksen was running up and down Broadway in a full gorilla suit trying to get tourists into the place to see this crazy, subversive revue. Needless to say, there was no crowd and no money, but we did get some good adobo and lumpia dinners out of the deal...
Iím not sure how it happened exactly, but Dirksen had lucked into punk rock, the club was a huge success, and Ron was there every night. He is a musician, sound engineer, and hard-core music fan with a great record collection. He does audio for network TV in New York City now. He kept calling me up and getting me to come down to hear all these great new groups like Devo, The Screamers, Dils, and everyone. I hadnít been that interested in the British punk movement, but I have to admit that my mind was blown away by the early punk bands I saw at the Mabuhay.
My friends and I got so psyched because here were all of these bands influenced by the same stuff we were interested in, and they were playing great shows to a packed nightclub.
So a whole group of us got together and started The Units, including (I think) Lorenzo, Lantz and Weiss on guitars, I was playing bass guitar and Scott was playing keyboards. Dunagan was singing and rapping on subjects like Aristotle, the decline of western civilization (no, the movie hadnít been made yet), and Oswald Spengler.
Another friend of ours from Redding, Jay Darrah, was playing drums. I went to eight years of Catholic grade school with Jay, and we had been good friends. Jay was the second-best Keith Moon style drummer in the world, next to Keith Moon. He should have played the lead role in the Keith Moon Story. Scott and I were living in the basement of the Venetian Bakery in North Beach, where the band was renting a rehearsal studio. Jay was working nights doing valet parking at the fancy restaurant right across the street, and used to sneak down to the rehearsal studio to play a song, then run back across the street to park a car. After he got busted by his boss for being away from his job, we knew we had to find another drummer. Jay is a writer now. Heís had his plays produced, and last I heard, was working on screenplays for Kathleen Kennedy, the Hollywood producer.
When we needed a new drummer, I immediately thought of Richard Driskell. He and I had played music in the past, he was a great drummer and we got along well. He had a great nickname, too: Ricky the Razor. He was also known as Dick Lexic. At the time, he was playing in a new-wave pop band called Novak, and we recruited him away from them. After The Units, Richard played drums for MX80 Sound, and played drums and synth for ModMach. Heís a music producer now, and plays a Serge modular synth.
About the time we changed drummers, our guitarists and singer left and my bass guitar was stolen.
Dunagan organized an "instrument party" for me, and the band and all my other friends chipped in and donated enough money for me to buy a synthesizer. I still feel emotional that everyone would help me out like that. If any of you read this, Thanks. I am not worthy. Truly. Please know that I still appreciate your gift and your support, and that I try to help people every day...
I bought a used ARP Odyssey for $450, and the synth-punk trio version of the Units commenced...