Chapter Nineteen: “Rat House”

“ANCIENT BLOODY MARY BASTARDS” 

It was a dark, dreary day in Seattle, one filled with rain and black clouds. Seattle, because of its weather, is a city of indoor pursuits. With rain falling nine months out of the year people congregate inside, sipping strong espresso at cafés, or drinking British Style pale ales in taverns, or sitting in comfortable chairs reading books. It’s also a place where music thrives for the same reasons playing pool or shooting darts are popular, it’s something you can do indoors while you drink.

Clark decided we needed a change of scenery and suggested a road trip to Enumclaw. Why there? He thought it sounded like nomenclature. It didn’t matter much, all we would do is drive to the nearest pub and drink until it got late then return to the Rat House. I was game, I hadn’t been out of town for a while.

The essence of a road trip is good music. At the beginning of the trip we listened to KJET, the AM radio station that played punk, new wave and college radio bands like R.E.M.. As we listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Clash we discussed the future of the band.

“I’m just tired of his awkwardness. Granted he’s gotten better on the drums, but he still isn’t up to par. Eugene is necessary, he’s the perfect keyboard player for our sound. Do you think he’d leave the band if Howard got kicked out?” Clark asked.

“I know Eugene pretty well and he’ll resent us for pushing Howard out,” I said. “He might get angry and leave the band.”

More music, an old Buzzcocks tune. We paused to listen, then started in again.

“I hate to be the one to defend Howard, but he tries really hard and he did learn the songs to the best of his abilities. His awkwardness behind the drums is kind of our trademark. It makes our sound what it is,” I said.

“You may be right, but he’s mentally diminished. He acts like he smokes pot all day, but I know he doesn’t.”

On we drove, south toward Enumclaw. The radio station started to fade so we checked out KCMU and listened to Mudhoney and TAD. Clark fiddled around with the cassette tapes I kept in the car and decided to play Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan, one of my favorite road tapes. Listening to “Temporarily Like Achilles” I wondered out loud if Dylan had problems with women.

“We all have problems with women,” Clark responded.

We drove on, not talking, listening to Dylan play his version of the blues. Approaching Enumclaw we started scouting pubs and found one on the main drag. It was called the “Lane Splitter” and the inside was decorated with bowling pins and the bar was made with the wood from a bowling lane. The only decent beer they had on tap was Grant’s Scottish Ale so we ordered a pitcher of that and started drinking.

The secret to a long day of drinking is to pace yourself. Avoid going outside, if possible, because you might think it’s eight at night only to find out it’s still daylight and only three in the afternoon. Have plenty of cigarettes on hand, if you smoke, so you don’t have to pay the outrageous prices bars charge for cigarettes. I always brought a fresh spare pack.

Clark and I lit up our smokes, poured out the beers, and started drinking. After a pint I checked out the jukebox. Only country and western on the juke so I plugged in some Patsy Cline and Hank Williams and drank another pint. The regulars seemed to appreciate my playing some good tunes and were less suspicious of us, the newcomers. We’d been getting the stink eye from the barflies since we’d entered the place.

After a couple of hours and several pitchers we were well on our way to getting completely hammered. Clark called it “Hammerslag’d” after a business sign he saw from the highway once. Hammerslag’d indeed! Then we got hungry and decided to try the hamburgers. This adventure was starting to get expensive.

The burgers tasted good. I was worried about the expense and mentioned it to Clark. He agreed and we decided on one more pitcher and then drive home.

On the way back I suggested we stop at Jules Maes and drop off a demo tape. Jules Maes was an old Seattle dive bar located by the Boeing airfield in Georgetown. It was like every bar everywhere. We could still have been in Enumclaw or any other part of Washington state. There was Grant’s Scottish Ale on tap along with Olympia and Rainier and Budweiser, the room was dark, country western music played on the jukebox, occasionally replaced by Frank Sinatra. They opened at six in the morning and had a few barflies that would come at that time. When we arrived with our tape it was six in the afternoon and the bar itself was packed with patrons while a few of the tables had occupants. I could see the stage in the other room to the left of the bar when you entered the saloon.

I asked for the manager and she came out and took our tape. She said she’d hand it off to her booker. This was standard operating procedure. I was pretty sure they never listened to the tape, just having one was enough to get the gig. We decided to have one more beer for the road before heading back to the Rat House.

Several days later I received a call from Jules Maes offering us a Friday gig and asking us to pick an opening band. I decided on Swizzle Stick because they came to our gigs even if they weren’t playing with us. This would be their reward. They were young and were constantly carded at the bars they frequented, even though the bartenders knew them by sight. Liquor control board regulations.

We put up posters all over Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and Pioneer Square hoping people would show up. Come that Friday we packed Bill’s truck, covered it with a tarp, and in the rain drove the short distance to Georgetown. Bill and Buzz were actually helpful and unpacked our gear from the truck.

Paula came and brought some of her co-workers and Swizzle Stick had seven people come so we had fifteen people who came to hear music. However, there’s nothing like playing a gig to thirty other people who don’t want you there. That was the general vibe from the regulars at the bar, they found us annoying. I could hear them asking for the jukebox to be turned back on. I felt like Bob Dylan on the Royal Albert Hall bootleg recording where he says, “Play it fucking loud!”  I wanted to make the locals’ ears bleed.

Swizzle Stick played straight up rock and they were even louder than we were. They must’ve been thinking the same thing I was about ears bleeding because they tore up the room with their sound. It was loud, blaring, aggressive rock and my ears were ringing after two songs. I liked it. Now, we had about thirty people in Jules Maes that came to hear us. Meanwhile the regulars kept to their bar stools and bitched and moaned about the young people cluttering up their bar and playing loud music. I had no idea what other types of bands played there, probably country music groups.

Between sets, while setting up, we played Mudhoney through the P.A. just to annoy the old-timers. No George Jones tonight!Then there was a scuffle between one of the younger regulars and a member of our audience. Some words were said to our fan’s girlfriend and it almost came to blows. Instead they grabbed and shoved each other for a few seconds and that was it. A tense moment.

“Thank you and fuck you,” I said into the microphone, not taking anymore shit from the regulars. “If someone offers you drugs, what do you say?”

“NO!” someone shouted from the audience.

“Bullshit! You say, ‘Thank you!’” I said. Appreciative laughter from the audience, stony silence from the bar.

Thus began our set. We screeched and wheezed and bled sound out of our amplifiers that could have raised the dead. I’d never had so much fun in my life. We even played a twenty minute version of “Keep on Chooglin’” in honor of the single we had for sale. We sold ten singles that night.

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