Donna was from Mount Vernon, New York, near the city. I stayed with my aunts and uncles in Suffolk County on Long Island. Our plan was to save up enough money to get an apartment together in Manhattan. This was 1979. There was no Brooklyn or Queens. Rents in Manhattan were outrageous, even then, about $700 for a studio.
In order to be together we took a bus to Albany to visit Donna’s cousin Tony. I looked around and it looked like New York City to me, especially the area around Lark Street. We looked at rents and found one right on Lark for $190 a month. I was living off unemployment checks of $79 a week, from when I was laid off from my job as apartment complex custodian in Hawaii.
One thing about the Babylon that was really strange was that it was really big with the gay crowd around Kuhio Boulevard. Jack at Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand and Jerry from Hamburger Mary’s were two of our full-page advertisers. For “Terminal Issue” of the Babylon, we decided that we didn’t want anyone to like us, even gays, so we went all out. We took their ad money, but then the issue had all sorts of gross gay stuff, like one of the events of our mock Gay Olympics was the three-legged race, which was a guy running with another guy’s foot in his ass. Fucking gays loved it even more. Jerry (or Trixie, as he liked to be called) had a secret bar in back called Dirty Mary’s, where straight people were not allowed. At all. No fruit flies. That was our best-selling location. I’d stop by to pick up money and they recognized me from my picture and they insisted on buying me drinks. I was the only straight guy they’d let in. I’d hear so many funny things, like one time a guy was trying to get his friend Randy’s ear and he kept being ignored, so he finally started screaming “Randy eats pussy!” and he got his attention.
Being accepted as a honorary queer in Waikiki didn’t exactly travel to the capital city of New York. I decided to start an Albany version of the Babylon and I called it the Albany Lark after the street we lived on, which was suddenly starting to become hip. Lots of bars and shops as prospective advertisers so I went around and got everyone excited about this new community newspaper for the Capitol Hill area. About 75% of the first issue was geared towards the community. There was a nice photo essay, a story on the crisis hotline center where Donna volunteered, some man on the street stuff. But I just couldn’t help myself. I had a couple of playful gay slaps and when the first issue came out there was total outrage. That material was a mistake in that context and, boy, did I pay for it. Me and Donna were banned from our favorite restaurant when the waitress Gigi (who would later become a good friend) fingered me as the guy who delivered the Lark and collected money for the ad. “I can’t believe it’s you!” she kept saying over and over. I was called a Nazi at a record store and had a drink thrown in my face. Without a doubt the worst period of my writing career. But, fuck it, I was in love and happy. And eventually I was able to wear down the Albany scenesters just by showing up at every crappy gig. I was from Hawaii, where there was one band a night and they played three or four sets, mostly covers. I wasn’t in the suburbs, I was right on Lark Street, and I just soaked it up.
Things started turning around in the second issue. (Yes, I was fearless.) I got an Albany artist named Raoul Vezina to design a new logo and he did a take-off of LOOK magazine that was just stunning. On the cover, were three notorious Lark Street drunks. Unburdened by ads, the copy flowed cohesively and knowing the town a little better I was able to poke with authority. Unfortunately, I went after J.B. Scott’s notorious co-owner Vinnie Birbiglia a little too hard, nicknaming him “Little Caesar” and hammering the unfriendly doormen, so Vinnie had me banned from the best club Albany’s ever seen. I mean, it was a shithole, but the lineup was amazing. U2 played the 600-capacity club on their first U.S. tour and loved it so much they came back a few months later. The Jam played a rare U.S. club gig there, as did the Pretenders. Before the ban, I saw B-52’s, the Specials, Captain Beefheart, NRBQ, the Ramones and on and on. Later I banned myself from 288 Lark when it was the happening club because they stopped payment on a check for an ad when they didn’t like something I wrote. I ended up taking them to small claims court and winning, but I never stepped inside again until about 10 years later when I went up there with the Wild Seeds and Doctors Mob from Austin.
A group of snobby artists approached me about buying the Albany Lark and turning it into their own thing, but they really wanted the logo and didn’t want to pay Raoul extra for it.
I ended up doing five issues of the Lark, while working fulltime at Daybreak Antique Clothing on Central Avenue. David and Maureen of Daybreak were the only advertisers who didn’t flee after the first issue. I found an artist named Brad Whiting who drew great cartoons, giving the paper some needed visual deftness. Unfortunately, I drew poor, unsuspecting Brad into a visit from the Secret Service when I used his drawing of Ronald Reagan to make a crude- and highly illegal assasination joke. Besides getting me in trubbs with the feds, the last issue of the Lark also introduced me to the miracle of speed. I made a little money writing for a paper called Metroland, but I made a lot more money delivering it all over the Tri-City area. My partner owned a pharmacy downstate and after awhile he realized that if he gave me a black beauty (the real ones), he could head home a few hours early because I’d be delivering that shit around the clock and loving every second of it. When I delivered alone, on speed, I would constantly pull over and write whenever I had an idea. Half of that last issue was written on the side of the road with my mind racing.
I also did a smaller sized publication called “Mind Camp,” which was basically me writing about what was wrong with Albany and the world. I sent a copy to R. Crumb, whose address was published in Weirdo magazine, and he sent back a nice postcard. He liked the writing, but said I needed to find someone to do graphics. I wrote back, told him about Rollo and gave him some copies of Honolulu Babylon. Crumb shot back another postcard. “Tell Rollo Banks that I’m a big fan of his work.” Well, when I sent Rollo the postcard from his idol, he was completely recharged about the idea of us working together on another issue of the Babylon. “Posterity will love it,” Crumb wrote.
My Sunbums glory year was over by 1976. There were a couple bad years after that. I wrote for a really bad tourist rag called “Hotlines Hawaii” and had my first real fling with the art director Pam Baxter, who had lots of cool stories about living with photographer ex-junkie Bob Gruen. (Another namedrop: Pam started seeing Neil Abercrombie, now the governor of Hawaii, after me.)
One night, about five or six months after we broke up, Pam showed up at my front door with someone she introduced as a friend from her years as an anti-war demonstrator. He was a Canadian who, instead of renting a car, bought a Corvette upon arrival. He had a problem, Pam explained. The Canadian’s brother was a marijuana wholesaler who’d been popped overseas for some reason or other, and he had pounds of weed to sell, but he didn’t know anybody. Could I help him out?
We spent an entire night snipping buds from pot plants that were hanging upside down to dry in one of two timeshares his brother owned. Pam and the Canadian lived in the other one. He gave me two pounds to try to move and I saw dollar signs. I did some math and figured that, at the rock bottom prices he was selling to me, if I sold all the weed I’d walk away with about $2,000. I’d never had more than $200 in my bank account my whole life.
But the dope wasn’t very high calibre. The guys I was counting on turned it down and I ended up giving the paper bag back to Pam’s new boyfriend. Then she called. The weight was light and the Canadian was livid. “He said you owe him a couple hundred dollars,” she said. Then she told me something else. He wasn’t an old friend, in fact they’d just met a few days before she brought him to my place. He had just gotten out of prison and was in the Canadian mob. I tried to explain to her that I hadn’t stolen any weed or kept any money after sales. He bagged up the pot when it was damp and I returned it dry. The weight must’ve been water weight.
So, anyway, I had just gotten a financial aid check for $200 after re-enrolling at the University of Hawaii, but instead of going to school, I bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. I didn’t want to give that psycho a shot at me. When we were airborne, I felt a great deal of relief.
Kate Hellenbrand, then a tattooist at Tattooland in East L.A., picked me up at the airport and took me to her studio apartment in Pico Rivera. I was all up in the L.A. punk scene, taking the two-hour bus ride to Hollywood three or four times a week, it seemed. The last bus to Pico was at midnight from Sixth and Hill Streets, so when I saw punk shows I’d stay out all night and take the 5:30 a.m. bus home. I needed a punk rock name. One morning Kate threw open the curtains and the sun was so bright she just yelled “Yikes!” And I said, ‘that’s it, Yikes! Crawford. That’s my new writing name.'”
L.A.’s Slash magazine and all the fanzines, like Youth Party and No Mag were really influential, so when I moved back to Honolulu after the coast was clear, about five months later, I decided to put out my own fanzine. Jim Wood, the singer for the Honolulu Doggs, a great blues band, had the same idea, so we joined forces for what was originally going to be called the Oahu Lie. Jim did the cover- a close-up of a military man sweating profusely- but then left town for San Francisco, leaving me to finish it. I never liked that title, so I changed it to Honolulu Babylon. Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon” was my favorite reading material on those long bus rides from Pico.
I slid the first issue, 12 xeroed pages, under the door of Mike Malone’s China Seas Tattoo on Smith Street. I was always around Chinatown, so I ran into Malone a few days later and he was raving and ready to take the Babylon to higher creative ground. The first issue didn’t have any visual sense, but Malone loved the attitude of stories like “The Ten Biggest Dildos in Hawaii.”
He went to work on the second issue, which he always referred to as the debut issue, right away and drew that beautiful cover of a hula dancer in bondage. I went over Rollo and his girlfriend Kandi Everett’s house one day and we pretty much cranked it out then and there. There was some heavily libelous stuff in there so Malone went by Rollo Banks. We made up a punk band called Moke Bait and wrote a big article about ourselves and our first single “The Karen Quinlan Shuffle.” Kandi was hesitant to be part of it at first, but it turned out that her cartoon strip was one of the best things in the issue. We did a third (or second) issue pretty soon after that and then I was off to New York City with the first absolute love of my life, Donna Belchou. It was 1979. I was 23 and thought I was going to really set NYC ablaze as I had done with Rollo in Honolulu.