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. 

2 comments:

  1. Fine piece! You could write a whole book on Tom Headbanger's tireless efforts in the Denver Punk scene of the 1980s.

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  2. Spent plenty of nights and weekends with Tom printing up all of his stuff at quik print on 10 th n Lincoln. All pro bono, never paid for a show. Genesis came by in the bus one year and stayed for a couple of days while I printed dream machine templates and other topy stuff. I remember his basement apt with all the tv's, burned plastic babies on chainlink fencing and all the piss jars as there was no bathroom to be had. Ahh the 80's
    Tedzo

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