Being a new student senior year is awkward enough, but my last year of high school was wholly unremarkable because 1) Thanks to hardcore schooling in Idaho, I had to go only half day to meet my grad requirements and 2) There was a teacher’s strike that closed schools for about two months. So while my graduating class is planning the 40 year reunion, one of the only people I remember was Linnea Garcia and that’s mainly because she married football star Mosi Tatupu and gave birth to Lofa Tatupu. I’m pretty sure no one remembers me.
Then we got the news that our mother had terminal cancer- that was about two months before graduation. She died my freshman- and only- year of college. I became a virtual orphan when my father kicked me out of the house because I was 18 and he’d married a woman with two kids of her own. I did a lot of writing during this time.
There was a hippie rag called Sunbums that I’d pick up at Records Hawaii or D.J.’s Sound City at Ala Moana Center. I sent them something I wrote called “Preparing For Piercehood.” It was a humor piece about getting my ear pierced. About a week later I got a
call from a woman named Kathy Hellenbrand, the new editor of Sunbums. She said her and her old man, tattoo artist Michael Malone, had laughed out loud reading my piece together in bed. I came into the office at 525 Cummins Street in Kakaako, a seedy neighborhood of auto body shops and Korean dry hustle joints, and I met Kathy, who now goes by Shanghai Kate. She assigned me a concert review- Arlo Guthrie at Andrews Amphitheater, which was moved to the HIC exhibition hall when Andrews rained out. That was the first music review I’d ever written and I loved doing it.
Basically, Hellenbrand and Malone became my new parents, though I was much tighter with Kate. My time as Rollo’s protege would come a few years later. Sunbums had quite a cast of characters, lead by Kate with her boho fro. There was P.F. Bentley, an up-and-coming photographer who had a pronounced stutter, and Blue Johnson, a black cat from L.A. who looked like Jimi Hendrix. Upstairs was Hank McMonigle, who wrote so many reviews he needed a couple pseudonyms.
Hank was the right hand man of concert promoter John Leonard, whose JFL Concerts owned Sunbums. At first it was a vehicle to promote JFL shows. Well, actually, it always was, but we put a bunch of other cool stuff in there. You look at issues of Sunbums, which came out from about 1974- 1978, and they’re so primitive. Everything had to be done by
hand, every word typeset and cut out and glued, and we were always pulling allnighters when the issues were due at the printers. I basically lived at Sunbums. That was home for me in 1975.
The idea to try to be a rock critic, like my hero Lester Bangs, was solidified more by the scene than the writing or the music. I don’t have adventurous musical tastes: I camped out not one night, but two for Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road” tour. And I’m not intellectual. But I felt that I would always try to have a humorous slant to what I wrote and that it would be as much about the experience as the music.
The first time I ever bought drugs, at age 19, it was half a gram of coke. Kate told me to order coffee at McDonald’s and it came with a tiny spoon/stirrer that was a perfect coke spoon. (Mr. Ever-so-cool, I used to wear a McDonald’s coffee stirrer around my neck on a silver chain.) I got it on the way to review Earth, Wind & Fire at the Waikiki Shell around June 1975. I was surprised to get a backstage pass with my ticket, so I walked back there to see how far it would get me. At each checkpoint they waved me through until I was all the way backstage, in the same area as the band. I went into the bathroom, sitting inside a stall and trying to snort the cocaine when all of a sudden all these people charged into the restroom, slamming the door. “You’re wired, man, I can tell!” one of them was yelling to another. They had a short, passionate band meeting right there, then went out and blew everybody away. And I was hooked. Man, this is what I wanna do, as I stood at the side of the stage. I wanted to be a part of this fucking circus.