Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Love or Hate her: This is Jill Razer.

Growing up I always admired tomboys, to be more exact, tough girls. Mostly because they were as rough as my male counterparts and didn’t mind playing in the dirt, a game of football in the street, or guns around the neighborhood. There was always something cool about that type of girl, even characters from TV shows and movies like Jody Foster in the Bad News Bears. I liked that she was uncompromising.

When I got into punk, I loved the way Exene from X and Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex had character, a sense of self and individualism. They spat in the face of gender roles, challenged the notion of beauty and more importantly didn’t need society’s approval on how they expressed themselves. Their aesthetic was a far cry from the Farrah Fawcett gold standard look of what teenaged boy fantasied about and teenaged girls imitated. The fact that people could just be themselves and bypass all the bullshit commercialism and social constructions shoved in our faces, was what made punk ideal.

When I started attending punk shows, I took note that women in the scene initiated ideas and had active roles, from playing in bands, to making fanzines, to promoting. Witnessing equal contributions by everyone involved quashed any gender stereotyping I might have otherwise developed.

Jill at the Taste of Denver. Original photograph: Cathie Burns (R.I.P): Ink drawing by Bob Rob (Medina).
Love or hate her, one of the staples of Denver punk rock in the 80’s was Jill Razer. Like Headbanger, she promoted a fair amount of shows and would often be at the door taking money or helping out in some capacity. She was tough and showed little tolerance for nonsense such as people trying to scam their way into shows. Over the years our friendship developed, and like other promoters she schooled me on how to successfully book shows, deal with cops, and everything in-between.

At the time, Jill took risks in finding places for bands to play (in-part thanks to Headbanger), getting a P.A. system, making and posting fliers, contacting bands and other thankless tasks. Jill not only faced adversity from the city, police, and other forms of authority, but also from those within the punk community. She did a lot for our scene so we were all able see bands, hang out with friends, and bring like-minded people together in the void that Denver often was. In fact most promoters unselfishly gave themselves for the greater good. It seems more than appropriate that Jill occupies a space in my forthcoming book: Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks.

Jill took the time to reflect and respond on questions I sent her during the past couple of months. This is herstory.   

How did you get into punk, your first punk show?
A friend of mine in Berthoud turned me on to punk back in late ’77.  My first show was the Ramones in ‘78 at the Rainbow Music Hall.

Promoting Shows?
I lived in Ft. Collins and there weren't any shows up there, so I started putting on shows at The Bellevue Grange outside the city in the little town of La Porte. All of the bands were from Denver. I only did a few shows there. Headbanger was a big influence on me. He gave me all kinds of information. I give him credit for becoming a promoter.

Your first show, how did it go? Was there a learning curve?
That first show at the Grange was back in 1983. Most of the audience was from Denver and a few folks from Ft. Collins. It was a packed house. I learned that using a band’s practice P.A. isn’t loud enough for a large hall. Charging $2.50 at the door is not so clever. Always have a bill amount. NEVER USE CENTS. My god, what a pain dealing with all the coins. It’s bad enough having kids panhandling out front to get into show and pay with pennies. Seriously, I've had a few kids pay with only pennies.

Razer's first show at the Bellevue Grange in LaPorte. Courtesy of Jill Razer
Did bands and punks treat you differently because you’re a female?
When I think about it, I was treated a bit differently. At first they thought I was doing this to be the ultimate groupie. After they talked with me, I commanded respect. In a sense I was never treated as a female; I was always one of the guys. This also backfired in many ways, mainly because I never had a boyfriend in all of those years.

What were some of the bigger obstacles you faced putting on shows?
Paying bands a guarantee, finding a venue, trying to do everything on a low budget. I worked as an offset printer so fliers were free.

There’s not much glory in being a promoter. There’s a lot of shit that you have to deal with. What kept you going?
Hell if I know. I became friends with many bands. That made me feel I was doing something important.

Best venue to book a show?
I liked doing shows where there was already a P.A. and all you had to do was fill in the slot. I think the Funhouse was my favorite place. Brian and I were the only ones booking so we did what we wanted.

At the Sonic Youth show at the German House, I remember you jumped on Big John to get him to stop dancing. Were there other times you had to get physical with people?
I didn’t have to get physical with anyone. But then I liked to push my weight around. I was a total control freak. The deal with Big John was that the German House didn’t want a pit, but Big John decided to start dancing/slamming in an obnoxious way. I took it upon myself to take him down and kick him out of show. In retrospect, I could have handled it differently. It did put a riff on our friendship.

Violence in the punk scene started to become a nationwide problem. What do you think was that root of that? Is punk inherently violent?
Rebellious kids hanging out with other rebellious kids listening to rebellious music. Hormones raging. In the beginning there wasn’t any violence, but the kids started to faction off into their own cliques. See, in the beginning we were the outcasts so we stuck together. The music wasn’t fractioned off into subcategories. The scene grew and people formed their own groups of friends. The difference in music tastes also contributed: there was: Oi, Hardcore, New Wave, Goth, Industrial. Each subcategory of punk attracted a different group of people and when you mix them together sometimes it explodes. 

The Denver Skins; did they impact any of your shows?
There was a group of kids that like to antagonize the punks and the punks wouldn’t stand up to the skins so of course the skins had fun just fucking with them. You know that jock mentality. It just escalated. Their numbers swelled. Not many people would stand up to them. I was one of the few who did. So, yes, there was an impact. If the skins were at a show there would always be an altercation. It was just a fact. The only time the skins wouldn't show up was if it wasn’t a hardcore punk show.

Harassment from the police?
Nope, I was really lucky plus I was always nice and respectful to the police (laughter). Not very punk rock of me. The cops never personally harassed me. I know Headbanger got harassed. There was a time the cops were on a witch-hunt for skins. They stopped punks and asked them questions, looked at their tattoos, took pictures, etc., but we didn't know who or what they were looking. As for cops showing up to shows, I learned a great Headbanger trick to hire off duty officers to be security. They would just wave at the other cops and there wasn't a problem.

Courtesy of Jill Razer
What about the Dr. Know show at the Funhouse?
As for that show, it was before I learned the off-duty officer trick. Another trick was to have a sign saying donations. The Funhouse was an illegal venue. The cops did come and bust that show. It was my biggest encounter with the police at any of my shows. They closed it down by force. I remember Dr. Know was on stage and they were trying to get them to stop and the drummer kept playing and throwing drumsticks at the cops. At that time I grabbed the door money and hid upstairs in a cabinet.  I put a note on the band’s van that I would meet them at my apartment so I could pay them. Well, they never saw the note, so the roadie took a bass amp with them for their services. We did meet up later that night to pay them and got the amp back. Mark (R.I.P.), a cook at Fatz City, came to my rescue that evening and got the shit beat out of him by the cops and was hospitalized.

What club/venue do you feel sentimental about?
Kennedys. There were many great shows there, but froze my ass off. The Funhouse for the same reason, but also froze my ass off there as well. The Packing House: it was well hidden and there were great parking lot parties, though it stunk on days when they burned the blood, bones, etc.  I guess it comes down to warehouses . They made a big impression on me. I love architecture.

At what point did you say, “fuck it” and tap out?
After the Corrosion of Conformity (COC)/BL’AST! show. That was the last straw.

Courtesy of Jill Razer
What exactly went down at that show?
Oh, that was a cluster fuck from the beginning. I got a call from COC they wanted to play Denver. I got them at a $1000 guarantee. BL’AST was on tour also, so I put them on the bill and they wanted a $700 guarantee. Burnt Fase opened. David Lee, bassist of Burnt Fase, was my partner and had money for the deposit. A few days before the show, COC called and wanted $1500. I couldn't make the numbers work so we cancelled. But as in true form I pulled a Headbanger and waited until the show to let everyone know. The reason was because BL’AST could NOT fill the Aztlan Theatre. It was either cancel and lose the deposit or change venues. So I added a local band, lowered door price, and said the COC van broke down. David Lee said he’d handle the security; it was mostly his buddies. The show went on no problem other than a few complaints. The next thing I remember a fight broke out with the skins, and my friend Danica and I got maced. Damn that burned and pissed me OFF! Seats were being torn out and fists were flying. David's security couldn't handle the crowd and the venue brought in their own security to stop fights. The skins gathered outside and decided to try to tip the BL’AST’s van over but only broke the windshield. Two of Denver’s bigger promoters came up to me after the show and told me point blank, “It's promoters like you that give us a bad name.” I never wanted to be a big time promoter like those guys, I liked the grass root DIY underground approach to shows: the only way to know about a show is by word of mouth or if you were lucky enough to find one of the 500 fliers printed. So I had $500 in damages to the hall, the van and sound equipment. Out of pocket if I remember correctly, around $1000. How and why did this happened? COC had on the back of their album Animosity stating: "The only good thing about a skinhead is that they are biodegradable.” 30 years later I’ve had conversations with all parties involved and there are no hard feelings.

Excerpt from Westword. Collection of Jill Razer 
What was Nuter’em?
(Laughter) It was a joke band that never became a band. It was just something I would talk about all of the time, but it never came to be. It was supposed to be an all red head/ woman band, basically like a female Spinal Tap. It’s a comment on the music industry. I had these ideas of grandeur of how we would have all sorts of fake press on what manizers (think opposite of womanizer) we were and all of our shenanigans, artwork for ten albums that we released. In reality we had only five songs written and they were covers with new lyrics. Today, it could be a really funny play or a movie. I have a ton of stickers of the band’s logo. I even had the logo tattooed on my arm back then. My friend Marc just had the logo tattooed on her calf 30 years later. Too damn funny.

Stencil of Jill's fake band: Nuter'em. Photograph by author. 
You packed-up and moved to Germany. Was that part of a healing/distancing factor for you?
I had been trying to get rid of the Razer persona for a few years. I wanted to soften up. That really didn’t happen until I moved to Berlin. I was virtually unknown in Berlin, with the exception of the people/bands I went on tour with who lived there. I did a lot of growing and self-discovery there. I learned that I had a talent for teaching children and that I can work in a collective.

You moved from being a promoter to more or less a de facto gatekeeper of a certain time period of the Denver punk scene. Was it something you wanted to do or did it fall into your lap?
It was typical of me wanting to be in control. Plus, I’m a big softy and I wanted a way to stay connected with everyone from the past. It really was a great time in my life. Plus, I have a knack for keeping in touch with people and archiving. It just seemed natural to make the Denver Punk Scene Facebook page. I’m glad I did. I think many great things have come from it such as people getting back in touch with each other, amends being made, memories being shared, and us sharing what we accomplished.

You have love/hate relationship with the scene. Why do you think that is?
You’re right. I do. I guess I’m jaded. I saw so many fantastic bands back in the day but I don’t see a point in seeing them again because it will destroy those memories. I’ve tried to raise money to make a website dedicated to the Denver scene and I felt I was shat upon and didn’t get enough support. I still have the little bit of money waiting for that day where I will make a website dedicated to the scene and Phil The Fan. I don’t see the point of putting my blood sweat and tears into a project that no one gives a god damn about. l have many photos that haven’t seen the light of day.  I figure the page on Facebook will have to do until I get more people who will actually help me build this damn thing.

Special thanks to Monica Zarazua and Ana Medina for editing help. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Headbanger: Denver's legendary punk promoter

Compared with the older kids in high school who were in bands and went to shows, I was low on the punk totem pole during my freshman year. At ninth grade orientation, a couple of the senior class new wave-y looking girls assisting the cameraman who was taking yearbook photos noted my new Kraut t-shirt. They asked if I went to the GBH/Kraut show a couple of weeks prior. They both giggled and said the older punks were going to beat me up. Great.

True, I did catch shit here and there from the older punks, but for the most part they tolerated me. One guy, Martin Day was exceptionally nice. He wore ripped jeans, a t-shirt, black leather motorcycle jacket adorned with a chain, perhaps a couple of spike studs, and punk band buttons. Martin knew a lot about bands and I tried to tag along his side whenever I could. One afternoon during lunch, he was having a conversation with the other punks about upcoming shows. Another punk in the group mentioned something about going to the “Headbanger” show that weekend. In my mind, I was thinking, why would punks want to hang out with headbangers; it was the unspoken rule that metal dudes totally sucked. Someone in the group had to clue me in that Headbanger was the name of the guy who promoted the punk shows in Denver.

Early Headbanger flier. Courtesy of Trash is Truth
That weekend I asked my dad to drive my friend Jimmy and I down to the show at the Packing House. I wondered if Headbanger was an actual headbanger. Before I totally understood what “irony” really meant, I had a pretty good grip on its implications. I thought the punkest thing anyone could do was call themselves something that seemed anti-punk. Jimmy and I paid at the door and walked into the space trying to guess who Headbanger was. Our money was on the guy behind the soundboard with longer hair, wearing a leather jacket, with a heavy fuck the world look on his face. He definitely looked like a road worn headbanger. We ran into Martin who was standing around drinking a beer with a friend. I asked him if that was Headbanger standing over there. He and his friend busted out laughing, “No, that’s Jimmy West of the Rok Tots!” (A couple of years later, Martin became the Rok Tots drummer.)

Martin later pointed out who the real “Tom” Headbanger was. He was nothing like I imagined. He had short hair, awkward mannerisms and made funny comments on stage between bands such as “don’t forget to tip your waitresses.”  Months later, I mustered up enough nerve to introduce myself to him at a show. I told him that I was an artist and that I could make fliers for his shows. He looked at me like I was crazy, but didn’t say “no” followed by he couldn’t pay me if I did. He stood there for a moment processing the idea and ended the conversation that maybe he’d get me into a show if I made a flier he used. I attempted a couple of fliers thereafter, but the drawings ending up the trash bin next to my desk.

Some Headbanger art. Collection on author
I always thought of Tom as more of a Denver punk celebrity. He seemed to have his hand in everything. He had conspicuous style that was signature of his fanzine and flier making. I always wanted to ask him if he was going for a car crash-pileup aesthetic by way of his haphazard approach of collaging his distinctive handwriting and borrowed (and sometimes drawn) images. He even dabbed in fronting the band Da Butcherz. He booked shows in the most unusual places: a junkyard, former car garage (Kennedy’s Warehouse), and everything in-between. The icing was his faux candidacy for the mayor of Denver. He was the poster child for embracing the Do-It-Yourself ethic, but more along the lines of: “Do what you can get away with.”

Tom Headbanger. Original Photograph: unknown Ink drawing: Bob Rob Medina
The most accurate way I would describe his personality on a public level is: a part-time smart-ass with biting commentary. I had a suspicion of those who didn’t like him were intimidated by his intelligence. In interviews he spared no one, calling people out on their ignorance or making far out statement about his knowledge of Nazism or his solutions to humanity. Either way, his outlandishness commanded further investigation. 

Headbanger's punk survey, a precursor to direct marketing. Courtesy of Jill Razer  
Tom was also daring, he possessed the instincts of a hustler by keeping one step ahead of systems that were in place or any person who tried to hinder his agenda. For glory or otherwise, his modus operandi was to make things happen. It was certain he always had a vision, a master plan for his undertakings. There was always a Headbanger story.

In the summer of 1985 I rode up to Boulder with a couple of friends to see a punk show at Gate 10 at Folsom Stadium on the CU Boulder campus. Gate 10 was hardly a club, it was a non-descript empty room tucked away on the side in one of the many entrances into the stadium. Someone had the foresight that it would be an ideal venue for live punk and hardcore music. Headbanger was running the show that particular evening.  

A couple of campus police officers arrived to investigate why loads of kids in leather jackets with crazy hairdos were hanging around the stadium. I stood off to the side and watched Headbanger skillfully explain to the officers that he was just a doorman hired to take “invitations” for the event. That was when two punks walked up to him ready to hand over a fistful of pocket change to gain entrance. As not to get outted for hosting and taking cash for a questionably legal show, he preemptively shouted out to the kids approaching the door asking them for their invitations. The pair stood there looking clueless, glancing down at their coins. He motioned for the kids to move over to the side. The campus cops nodded to one another and walked away wishing for something a little more exciting. With the officers in the distance, Headbanger gestured the kids to move forward. He took their money, stamped their hands, and ushered them inside the room. It was a trademark Headbanger moment.   

Finding places to hold shows in the Denver was a challenge. Tom was a master at it. When it came my turn to carry the torch and promote shows in the later part of the 80’s, I had many years of studying Headbanger’s strategies and techniques under my belt. Truth be told, we were hardly partners on crime. Our interactions consisted of friendly exchanges at shows. Yet, he was indirectly one of my mentors.

Da Butcherz. Original Photograph: Roger Morgan. Ink drawing: Bob Rob Medina 
I was fresh out of high school when I promoted my first show in 1987. I rented a VFW hall on East Colfax Ave. in Aurora and plastered Capitol Hill light poles with fliers. A year later I joined the Fraternal Order of the Eagles up in Thornton. The process for joining the lodge was buying a round of beers for a pair of old veterans camping out at the bar. They checked me up and down and signed off on my application. I did this all in the name of punk rock so I could book concerts in their dingy bingo hall. Count this as another trick of the trade I learned from Headbanger.

Tom inspired a whole generation of ad hoc Denver promoters: Razer, Brewer, Shane from Happy World, Becky from Lick It Up fanzine, and even the Denver Skins. Headbanger showed us that anyone with a little money and a lot of nerve could promote a show, make zines, or indulge in any wild inclinations to be creative within a music scene that had no rules or boundaries.  

As with almost every punk promoter, Tom had eventually ran his course. He, like other original Denver punks, either outgrew or became disillusioned with the growing violence within the scene. One fateful evening at the Packing House he was beaten to a pulp by a group of kids at one of his shows. He was done. He took his creative punk spirit and moved on to something different. He had a good run: creating something out of nothing for all of us who to went to his shows, saw his band, and read his fanzine. In the end, Tom left his blueprint for others to continue. His legend precedes him. 

Business card. Collection of Jill Razer 
Special thanks to Monica Zarazua and Ana Medina for editing help.