Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mark Metz of Children of Denial and Survival Research Laboratories


Project update: Postcards are done, 9" x 12" prints are done, flies have been sent to the editor, rewrites being made...it has been busy over here at Punker Bob. You can still support the project by pre-ordering the book and get extra goodies by visiting: http://bobrobart.bigcartel.com 

Mark Metz is one of the people form the Denver punk scene that wanted to take his music endeavors to the next level. He stared out fronting the band Children of Denial, a great group I only caught a couple of times. They had a straightforward melodic punk sound and made them a local favorite for a short moment in the early months of 1985. One of their more famous shows when opening for Broken Bones/Battalion of Saints at the Art Department came to an abrupt ending when the Denver Fire Department arrived on the scene . Indicative of promoters taking creative liberties in spelling band names every which way, they have been listed as: Children of Denile, Children of the Nile, and my favorite, Chillin of de Nile. Mark initially went under the moniker Scurvy and once proclaimed the group was a “teenage rage disco band” during an interview in Der Moderate Times.

Mark’s brand of humor and attitude of “anything goes” found himself befriending some of more underground and notorious characters in the scene like Paul Dickerson who schooled and mentored him in industrial music along with situationist shenanigans that kept Denver’s creative outpourings fresh.

After much experimenting, Mark eventually realized his shortcoming with substance abuse and alcoholism and refocused his creative energies on building destructive machinery by teaming up with Survival Research Laboratories in San Francisco.

It should have been curtains long ago for Mark, but his will to continue and overcome is a remarkable story he shares below.      

Children of Denial. Original photo from Der Moderate Times.
Brush and ink drawing by Bob Rob (Medina).
Where in Colorado are you originally from?

I was born in southern California, but only lived there until I was about six. Basically, I went from LA in the 1960’s where there were 20 TV channels, freeways, and everything else to a ranch near Grand Junction in western Colorado—that’s where I went to high school. I moved to Boulder in ’81 to go to college. It was really just an excuse to get out of Grand Junction, I had no interests in education and I was definitely more interested in partying. I spent a couple of years in Boulder, one-year flunking out and the next hanging around and getting into trouble.

About that time I was into collecting records. I moved into the dorms and I immediately became friends with a fella living down the hall. I had been listening to the Talking Heads and other new wave bands. He had a couple of records…one was the Sex Pistols and the other was Run DMC. It was hip-hop and punk rock all at once. I felt, "Whoa, damn! The world is changing!” There was always a lot of music involved, but I was more into the drug and party scene. Things got pretty haywire up in Boulder. I was hanging with this hippy girl and her friends who were selling pot and coke out of the apartment. One night we got held-up at gunpoint. She was ready to get back in the coke business the next day so I cut off my hair and said, "Fuck you hippies" and took off with a backpack full of peyote buttons to hitchhike to New Mexico. 

Children of Denial?

I heard that punk rock was starting to happen in Denver and my brother was living there. I got the hell out of Boulder and went to stay with him for 2-3 months before I started going to shows and hanging out at Wax Trax. I remember the first show I went to in Denver was the Festival of Pain. It was an industrial show in a basement...there was a railroad track with violin strings and guitar pickups and everyone was making a bunch of noise. I think they were playing Throbbing Gristle on the sound system. It blew my mind, mostly because my friend in Boulder had given me a little packet of what was going to be the next big thing. I asked him ‘What is it?’. He said people were calling it different names...it's MDMA. He gave me a pure quarter gram of what would later be called ecstasy in the 90's. In 1983 it was still legal and nobody had ever heard of it. I tried it that night and that's why the show left such a mark on me. I'll never forget sitting there by the wall melting down to ‘Discipline.’ Was another ten years before that came back around in a big way.

I met Chris Kieft, a hotshot guitar player at a record store and we both wanted to start a band, so we became Children of Denial. One of our songs was ‘Sacred Hatred’ which nearly became our name. Our heroes were Iggy Pop and Nick Cave, or maybe Motorhead and Venom. Our practice space was a vault in a building in Capitol Hill. It was my first squat. I could go stay with my brother, but this was the place I could just hide, no one is going to say anything if I sleep in here. Of course the goal in those days was to use whatever money you got on partying and not on anything you can put a lock on or steal. So that is where we played and I lived. We never had a PA system so I would scream over the guitar and drums...we thought we were hot shit, better than any other band in town. We only played out a couple of times in front of people. Our bassist was a Latino guy and he was into dealing drugs so he was in and out. Our drummer was a powerhouse named Martin Day. Any one of us could be the weak link in the band. Bad mood, hangover, girl trouble, jail… When we had it together it was rocking.

It was such a wild time in Denver. Are there still cities in the world where young people can just go and basically fuck-off, have fun, live on a super low budget, and be creative? I was a big alcoholic in those days and I also knew how to wait tables. I managed to keep a part-time waiter job to keep a few bucks coming in, and because waiting tables is the best drinking on the job job there is. There was certainly no long term vision, no goal...it was, "How much money do we have, and where’s the party tonight?"

Flier collection of the author.
What was it like living in the vaults?

I didn't explore the tunnels much as most were sealed up. The vault I was in, you went down into the basement and there were all these storage rooms with wooden shelves. It was open from the main hallway. In the back with all the shelves was the vault door, like a bank vault. In there was a just an 8 x 20 foot concrete room, a long and narrow space. We had the band gear set up in there plus I slopped a couple of mattresses I would crash on. I had a way of getting in there at night and fixing the door to make it look like no one was in there.

How did you get away with squatting and playing down there?

Chris made some sort of agreement with the manager of the building to let us practice down there; he knew we were using it as a practice space. He definitely didn't know one of the band members had moved in. I wasn't too concerned about taking showers or using the bathroom. It was a place to go crash out after I was done drinking.

How long did you live down there for?

Maybe 6 months off and on? I still went out to my brother’s place on West Colfax once a week to take a shower and eat a real meal. The squat was right smack in the middle of Capitol Hill where all the action was. In those days, you didn't pull out your phone to figure out what was happening. You got out and went down to Wax Trax, or the Mercury Cafe or Muddy’s—you got your fliers, and you figured out what was going on that night. You got around on foot, we just all roamed around the hill.

When I left Boulder, I decided my driving days needed to be over. I had to make a choice, drink or drive. I couldn't do both so I gave up the driving. (Laughter). I left my last car for several years up in Boulder.

The squat was cool, we practiced a couple of times a week, plus living there but it all came to an end real fast. There was a firebug going around on the hill lighting fires. Whoever it was, I don't know if they were malicious and knew I was in the vault or just some crazy arsonist looking to light-up places. One night I woke up smelling smoke and I'm like, “Holy Shit!” I got up and pushed open the vault door. I was about 20 feet from the main door of the hallway. Someone had come in and thrown gasoline on the wooden shelves and lit them while I was sleeping. When I opened the vault door it was one of those split second decisions; dive through the freaking flames and survive or roast like a marshmallow. I dove headfirst and plowed through the fire, it scorched me a little bit. I landed out in the hall coughing and spluttering...at that point, I guess they knew I'm living there. Within 10-minutes the alarm had gone off and the fire department was there. They sprayed our amps and my bed down with water. That was the fastest eviction I ever had. I don't think anything was salvaged. I don't think we ever practiced after that, though we might have played a show. Something happened to Dave our bassist; I think he had to disappear for a while. There wasn't a lot of mojo to keep the band going.

After the vault burned up I needed another place to live. I met several people and found the Leonard. About that time I met Paul, browsing the industrial records section at Wax Trax. I was always into noisy stuff, punk was great, wild, and crazy, but what's even wilder and crazier? The industrial noise was louder and more edgy. Paul and I hit it off real quick. He schooled me a lot on the industrial stuff going on like the culture. He had all the RE/Search books, records...I don't know if he was the first, but several folks from Port Huron moved to Denver: Kelly, Burt...They all brought their whole industrial music repertoire. Human Head Transplant got underway and they started doing their noise band. Paul and I became two of the weirder characters of the whole scene. Since the punk band wasn't happening anymore, Paul and I were doing a lot of dumpster diving in the alleys when I found a folder from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. It had what became the We Never Sleep symbol on it. We were like, "Man, that's us." So we named our band or whatever you want to call our conceptual art thing that. It wasn't just getting together and making noise, we had a poster campaign going on.

I still was hooked up with my Boulder connections and that is what made me pretty popular down in Denver. The punk rockers loved psychedelics—the kind of drugs the Grateful Dead fans take. I was able to run up to Boulder and get all set up. People were coming over to our place to get some serious stuff.

Did you ever visit our apartment at the Leonard?

Flier courtesy of Trashistruth.com
No.

Paul decorated the front room-he took the Charles Manson face that was on the cover of LIFE magazine and wallpapered our entire front room, three out of our four walls with little 4” x 6 " Charlie Manson’s. He took a Barbie doll and little miniature scissors and fake-blood and did the whole reenactment of the Sharon Tate murder scene. On the wall was a Sharon Tate memorial. People would come over to the house on acid and walk into this room and see Paul sitting on the floor with a shaved head doing what he was doing and listening to impossible music they couldn't understand. (Laughter) One night we were at a party in an upstairs loft and this young skinhead who had it in for Paul for some reason comes charging up the stairs below me. In one of my more violent split second decisions I cold-cocked him right between the eyes with a full Heineken and rolled him right down the stairs. He actually came to our door later with bandages on and apologized, I forget what the original hassle was about. Another time I’ll never forget was when we worked with Tom Headbanger to produce the Einst├╝rzende Neubauten show at the junkyard. We had Blixa Bargeld as our houseguest to get some rest before the show-he was traveling with a black trash bag for luggage, and smelled worse than any gutter drunk or junky I had ever encountered.

For a couple of years Tom Headbanger was the building manager there so to speak. His job was to collect the rent each month and pass it along to the building owner. One month the money didn’t make it to the owner...so he lost his job. That’s when Big Billy Satan took over. The building started to take a little more of an occult flair. They were all up into their own occult mojo so to speak...Church of Satan...that sort of crap.

One of the most remarkable memories I had of the Leonard was the whole skinhead contingent. They had their own aesthetic, agenda, and they were into speed. Back then, that stuff was rare. Most people did acid or mushrooms, occasionally coke, but the skins seem to be the source of the speed, maybe they had some sort of connection to the Hell’s Angels or another biker gang. Of course since our moniker was We Never Sleep, we were right up there with them on taking anything that would keep us going for a couple of days. Some of the skins lived a couple of blocks from us. One night we heard all this commotion. There was a big church on our block and it was on fire. I remember running around and knocking on everybody’s door yelling: "The church is on fire! The church is burning!” We all ran up on the roof of the Leonard at two in the morning with bongs, beers, and lawn chairs. All these crazy people are up there watching the church burn. The story at the time was the skins or punks had something to do with the fire. It felt like an end of an era with the church burning. Things were changing in Denver, how far was this going to go?

At what point were you done with Denver and decided to move to the bay area?

Paul and I organized a mail art show in Denver. In those days there wasn't the Internet. We had all these underground records and cassettes from all around the world. They all have some sort of address on the back of them, so we xeroxed up 100 trippy little invites and sent them all out to every address we could find. The letter stated that it was an erotic mail art exhibition and solicited pieces from people. It worked out well; we had 30-40 people send in stuff. Some of the pieces were elaborate and others were cheesy and silly. I did an installation for the show. I found a calf's head out in the pasture; it was pretty gnarly with skin still on it. So in the corner of the gallery I set the calf's head up on the torso of a mannequin body. I went to the butcher and got a bunch of tripe and guts, whatever I could get. I ended up doing a Hindu/Hare Krishna looking altar with the garlands around the neck of the deity made of raw meat…. It was a little Denver spin on Krishna.

Did you go to the Krishna temple for the free Sunday fest on 14th and Cherry?

Yeah, we did that in Boulder, Denver, and later San Francisco. That was the joke, we're a bunch of anarchist that go and eat free vegetarian food. Anyhow the mail art show hooked us up with people from around the country and world. One person we became acquainted with was GX Jupitter-Larsen and his associate Black Humor up in Vancouver. The noise stuff he was doing, The Haters, when I heard it I thought, "Wow, this is the next level." What he was doing was pure explosions montaged together, the sounds of destruction. We all hit it off well. In the summer Black Humor told Paul and I to get ourselves up to Vancouver to house sit since he was going to be gone for a month. Paul and I hitchhiked all the way up there on less than a $100. We booked a We Never Sleep tour and played in a couple of galleries. I remember the Seattle show; the gallery was so upset—we weren’t what they expected. They were begging us to stop. They thought we were going to be calm and sophisticated and we’re thinking, “How can we make as much racket and be as offensive as possible?” (Laughter).  

We ended up in Vancouver and spent the month at Black Humor's apartment. He pretty much had the first commercial digital sampler and when I saw it, I knew at the time this was going to change the world. It was a big black box that could only do an 8-bit sample. We understood the implications of it. This was going to turn the music industry inside out.

You didn’t have much money, how did you eat?

I don't know how they let us across the boarder, we hardly had any money and we told them we were only going for a couple of days. We went down to the alley behind the Granville Market and dumpster dove for veggies and other outdated food.

Paul and I used to do this trick that we learned from Headbanger. Taco Bell used to have salad bars, you could go there and for $1.99 get the salad bar. Tom had big military jackets with huge pockets. Literally that was the scam: you would go to Taco Bell, spend the $1.99, and eat as much off the salad bar as you could and then you would load your pockets with everything. I'll never forget Tom putting salad dressing right into his pocket and eating salad right out of it. (Laughter) We pulled that kind of stuff on the road. We listened to the Charlie Manson song, "Garbage Dump” - it was basically the dumpster diver's anthem.

While we were in Vancouver we saw the Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) videos and I was like, "These people are really blowing shit up!” The guys weren't just talking about tearing things down; they were doing it with flamethrowers, robots... Paul and I heard SRL was doing a show in Seattle. We found a number for Mark Pauline and called him at his workshop in San Francisco. We told them we could come down from Vancouver and volunteer to help set up their show. They were, "Of course, we love volunteers, see you there." Paul and I hitchhiked down there and found the parking lot where the show is going to be and there was absolutely nobody there. We literally slept underneath a flatbed semi truck in the pouring rain. The next day they showed up and we were there on-site for a week getting ready for the show. We dived right into it—helping them make props and putting things together. That was our first show with SRL. A couple of weeks later in San Francisco they did a show at the opening of a nightclub, DV8 under the freeway. Keith Haring did a big mural inside the club for the event, I met him drinking champagne on the back stairway. The show was insane; they almost had to shut down the freeway. It was one of most dangerous feeling shows we did because it was packed and people were really close to some extremely dangerous shit. Somehow Mark Pauline has amazing luck because he has never killed anyone in the audience in all these years. Those were the two SRL shows Paul and I worked on together. The We Never Sleep tour was pretty much over.

It was decision time; Paul was going back to Denver. I had my taste of flames and metal and decided I'm working with Mark Pauline and SRL. I stayed on and rolled up my sleeves. Six months later Eric Werner was throwing away a car, a Pinto and I said, “Let me take it and I'll try driving it to Colorado.” I needed to go back and get all of my records. I remember when I left I had a crate of 200 records and hocked them to Duane Davis. (Laughter). I'll never forget, he put them up on a shelf in the basement. I think he gave me $100 to travel on. Paul and I went separate ways from that point on and I never looked back to Denver.

During my early years at SRL I was still drinking and partying hard, taking whatever kind of drugs I could find on the street, squatting, living in cars. You see homeless people now and they don't look like they're having much fun, but in those days we were homeless-it was intentional, it was anarchy, it was a party. I knew about all the soup kitchens and the places to eat like the John Coltrane Church of Jazz where you could get free red beans and rice and figured out how to get on San Francisco's cheap-ass welfare system. They would give you $300/month, so I faked a foot problem. For a long time my life was living on the street and every two weeks I would get a check for $150. First thing I would do after cashing it, I would run right up to Haight Street and make the best deal I could and spend at least $100 on acid, usually getting two sheets and then I would sell singles to people. In those days, I was the most entitled fuckhead of them all, I had a trench coat, shoplifting my Courvoisier and caviar, eating in soup kitchens, living in a squat...SRL was an anchor for me. I would go on binges for several days, then crawl back into the shop and slowly come to. They’d let me sleep up on the tool loft and get me a burrito and put me to work for a couple of days and then I’d go back to where the party was. Mark was cool, he never judged me for being a waste case back in those days as long as I could see straight when I picked up a power tool.

SRL started to have some pretty significant success and I had cleaned up my act quite a bit by then. We had a tour to New York, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and another one to Barcelona. I ended up full time with SRL and did about 30 shows over a period of 5-6 solid years.

The best squat I ever had in San Francisco was because of an SRL show. We did it at the old Yellow Cab warehouse south of Market. We did the show in the parking lot and on the corner there was this big metal building that was the old garage. Inside the building there was an office that had its own locks on it so we had access to that. On the outside there were bathrooms with running water. When we finished the show and moved all the machines out, I saw my opportunity, so I changed all the locks and sealed up the place for myself. I had it for almost a year and in a squatter’s life that's a long time. I didn't have electricity. I had an old 12-volt television that I found somewhere and I would go and jack car batteries and run my 12-volt TV between the channels so it would have static and white noise on for light. And I had a tape deck in there so I could listen to music. I had a couple of sofas and I slept up on a loft on top of the shelves.  I actually had parties and brought dates there. I made a massive ‘art’ installation out of empty oil drums in the garage.

When did thing start to change?

I'm on Haight Street one day and my friends are looking at me and I'm feeling sick. One of them tells me, "You're looking really bad dude, your eyes are kind of yellow, and you should really go talk to somebody." I was literally across the street from the Free Clinic. I go in and the doctor tells me that I'm showing all the symptoms of Hepatitis or it could be Jaundice. They asked me what have I been doing lately. I told them I was living on maybe one burrito and a half-gallon of Carlo Rossi a day. They told me, "You're basically drinking yourself to death, you're 25 years-old and you’ll probably be dead in a year if you don't pull your head out of your ass." I thought, "Oh shit, I’ve really reached the end of the line."

I had a German girlfriend in the Mission at that point...I stopped drinking for 3-weeks and went back on a bender drinking and doing speed for a week. That time I relapsed really just about did me in. I remember climbing into her room up the rain gutter on Florida street. I finally stopped drinking on my own. I scored a bunch of cheap pot so I could smoke constantly, and went to Rainbow Grocery and got little bags of any herb that could detox me and I started quaffing down huge pots of medicinal tea. I also started eating a lot of ice cream because my liver was craving the sugar; basically I weaned myself off the booze with ice cream, and since I was used to veering into every corner store for a beer I would now buy an It’s-It. I was still squatting, although by this point I’d been flushed out of the Yellow Cab garage and was inhabiting a bed made of dumpster-found leather scraps wedged between the hot-water heater and the stairs behind the flat of some junkies on 14th Street. Most of my remaining street friends were going seriously downhill at this point.

Brian King from SRL and Jeanette ‘Jin’ MacCulloch, a New Zealander whom I’d met while she was a volunteer on our most recent show had a little room with a low ceiling above the garage in their flat on 10th Street in SOMA with heat, which was a big deal for me. They rented me the room for couple of hundred bucks a month. Part of getting that room I knew had to do with flirting with Jin, we were circling around and she needed a green card so she could stay in America for her clothing business. I had started doing part-time work setting up A/V projectors for conferences in order to make rent. She called me up one day at work and said she was having trouble with her green card, "Will you marry me? I need to stay in America" I was, “Um, what the hell, ok, sure!” Since we were at that point officially engaged, we fell right into it and the romance was on. We immediately set up a fabric workshop on a side street in the Mission and within a few months found a tiny shop on Haight Street for $900/mo, a block from Golden Gate Park, which was the first location for the store she named Ameba. I built huge impressive industrial style fixtures at the SRL shop. My luck had totally turned around when I stopped drinking. Someone gave me a 1967 VW Bus. Since I wasn't drinking, I could drive! We used our deposit money to open the shop and were living in the van for the first month we were open. I remember sleeping near Ocean Beach a few times and jumping in the surf in the morning to freshen up before going and opening up shop. It was very bizarre to be both ‘homeless’ and ‘in business’ at the same time. My former street cronies were baffled to see me behind the counter with a broom in my hand scarcely a year since we’d been in line together at the soup kitchen. I was with Jin for about 5 years, and our daughter Isabelle was born when the shop had been open about a year. They anchored me to stay off the booze and drugs for sure and decided to move back to New Zealand in the end.

One day this girl from England named Emma comes into Ameba and says her boyfriend is a DJ named Jeno and he makes “mix tapes.” She tells us it's underground music, acid house, the latest thing in England, and would we like to sell them exclusively under the counter? I was like, “What? Never heard of it, sounds good, sure!” Our clothing fit the acid house aesthetic. That's when I discovered all this exciting new dance music that had been happening. I fell hook, line, and sinker for it. I would dance myself to oblivion in the back of the store at night to the tape called Energy, it was a rough time in some ways and that tape, and remembering how much I needed to dance saved my life. For quite a while I didn’t know there was anyplace to hear it live, and then suddenly there were Full Moon parties on the beach and late-night parties in warehouses and basements everywhere. Our store on Haight became the epicenter of the San Francisco rave explosion. I was about 10 years older than everybody else and had stopped drinking, so the early parties that weren’t in bars and were more psychedelically oriented appealed to me more. It felt like we were part of something on a spiritual tip like the mid-sixties, and I know most of us felt much like the punks did—this was a special time in history that would only be new once. I was lucky to experience, (and survive) both eras.

For me, one thing always leads to the next. I find it much more useful to continually create my personal zeitgeist in relation to the present rather than indulge in nostalgia or historical recreations. Now that the Internet exists, all the genres exist simultaneously forever and I not sure if anything new can possibly happen anywhere. What becomes more clear over time is that humanity crossed a huge tipping point in our dance with technology during those chaotic decades of the 60’s to 90’s. So it’s hugely meaningful and valuable to tell the stories and create the context for all the key cultural moments that will shape us forever and never happen the same way again.


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