In the summer of 1988, I went on my first ever rock-n-roll tour with a band. Below is the tale of wide-eyed teens and musical instruments crammed into two vehicles traveling through the midwest and east coast. Still available: Denvoid and the Cowtown Punks: A Collection of Stories From the '80s Denver Punk Scene Click on the link to order a copy. http://bobrobart.bigcartel.com
The Acid Pigs/Short Fuse split EP was released in the spring of 1988. Maximum RocknRoll gave the record a favorable review, plus Kaleidoscope and Caroline-two East Coast companies were distributing it. Since I had established a few East Coast connections, I thought it would be ideal for both bands to hit the road together. I brought up the idea of a Midwest/East Coast tour with Arnold, who played guitar in both bands. He was into it. After we convinced all the members of both bands to suspend their normal lives for the month of July, I devoted the remainder of late spring to booking our tour by calling and sending out promo kits to prospective clubs and promoters. The method behind my madness would be to cram eight people plus instruments into a Ford Bronco and an old VW van.
The Acid Pigs/Short Fuse Summer of 88 East Coast tour started with a hiccup; Short Fuse’s vocalist Todd was scheduled to fly into Denver’s Stapleton International Airport at 6:30 on the eve of our first show. Once he arrived the plan was to pull an all-nighter and drive to Lawrence, Kansas. After waiting around for a bit, an announcement over the intercom informed us his flight would be delayed an hour. By the time 8:00 rolled around, the gate agent announced the flight had been diverted to Colorado Spring and was scheduled to land around 9:00. The agent assured us the passengers would be bussed to Denver.
Acid Pigs/Short Fuse Record Release show. Collection of Author.
The coach bus finally pulled into the airport parking lot a little after 11:00. Todd with his meager carry-on bag was ready to hit the road. We got into the Bronco and headed east on the stormy I-70 for the next nine hours. We were both wired form dining on Gatorade and sugary snacks from gas station gourmet isles. The drive was quiet with an occasional stretch of rain showers and lightning storms on the distant and flat horizon. To curb our boredom, we played padiddle, the road game that involves looking for trucks and cars with a one headlight then punching your opponent in the arm.
Daylight broke just as we pulled into the sleepy college town of Lawrence. The air was thick and the ground was still wet from the previous night’s rain. We were both beat, and all we wanted to do was stretch out and catch a little sleep. After crawling through downtown, Todd spotted a park with a gazebo. I made a comment that we had just stepped into an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. We parked, found our pillows, and slept under the shade and safety of the gazebo until later that morning.
In the early afternoon we headed over to The Outhouse, the club we would be playing at later that night. We were scheduled to open for the seminal SoCal punk band, The Vandals. The Outhouse is an infamous, small, one-room structure converted into a club a few miles outside of town in the middle of a cornfield. The Acid Pigs had already arrived by the time we showed up. They told Todd and me they had found young pot plants in the back of the club. A couple of Acid Pigs drove to the convenience store down the road to nuke the plants in a microwave to dry the leaves to smoke them. It was a long and hot summer day with little else to do. The excitement didn’t get underway until The Vandals arrived in their posh Winnebago. They introduced themselves and handed us a brick of bottle rockets so we could fire them off at each other in the parking lot.
After loading in, Short Fuse set up on stage last because we were the opening band. Our sound check was horrible. I walked out of the club around dusk, and there were a couple of skinheads acting as sentries, standing on the wooden posts waving American flags at the entrance to the club.
By the time we hit the stage, it was dark, and 80 degrees with punishing humidity. The heat made us insane; we played like demons writhing on the ground drenched with sweat. The Acid Pigs played a rocking set. After the show, we met some people who were having a party at their house, and they offered to let us stay there. Everyone in the bands slept well, and we woke up to a hearty breakfast prepared by our host.
The following afternoon, we loaded up our vehicles and said our goodbyes. The Acid Pigs needed gas and pulled into a nearby station. After filling up then waiting to cross the intersection to catch up with us, a motorcycle behind them impatiently tried to pass. Their VW bus sideswiped the bike. The doomed motorcyclist laid on the ground unconscious, bleeding from the head wound; Jack of The Acid Pigs took off his shirt and wrapped it around the guy. The police and the ambulance finally arrived and rushed the cyclist to the hospital. The roadie/driver roadie was issued a ticket. This incident set the tone for the remainder of the tour.
Mini tour stickers posted on gas pumps and in pay phones booths across America.
Collection of Author.
We finally escaped Lawrence during rush hour and headed into the darkness of I-70. Hours later, outside of St. Louis on the opposite westbound lanes, Todd and I spotted the burning cab of a semi truck with the silhouette of the trapped driver inside among the flames. It was a terrible sight. We coined our tour as “The Tour of Death.” We pulled into town and met up with the other van. It was time to put this day behind us.
None of us had ever been to St. Louis, so we thought we should visit the Gateway Arch and check out record stores. I wanted to get a pulse on what people did at night for fun. One record store employee told me he and his friends watch the folks in East St. Louis use the wood from boarded-up buildings to burn the city down. I waited for the punch line; he never flinched or offered a half crooked smile. When we left later that evening we drove east towards the glow of a fire on the horizon. Another wooden building gone, I thought. The record store clerk wasn’t bullshitting after all.
It was onwards through Illinois, Indiana and up north to Toledo where “Toledo” Pat was anxiously waiting for our arrival. He and longtime scenester John Stain had booked a show for us, but the venue had fallen through. Pat scrambled and spent all day trying to find a hall and pleading with people to throw a house party. He eventually convinced a friend, Sinbad, to let us play in his basement.
Toledo flyer. Collection of Author.
The house show was in full swing minus the brief glitch when the boys in blue stopped by. It was the place to be that Friday night. Pat did a superb job getting the word out and passing out copies of our music. Several people knew our songs, and we played a solid set that night. This would be the best show of the tour.
Unfortunately, The Tour of Death continued in Toledo when we crawled past, rubber necking like the other cars in front of us, yet another accident. This time the injuries and fatalities were within arms’ reach. It should have been an indication to turn back; the perpetual gloom and carnage was beginning to weigh in. This was coupled with several shows starting to fall through.
The following night was Detroit. The show came about because we had help from Joe “Hardcore” Picolli, a longtime Detroit scenester, and his brother of Jerome, the original vocalist of The Acid Pigs. The club was called Blondie’s, which was primarily a heavy metal club on the edge of what seemed like a war zone.
Detroit is a rough town. While I was out picking up a bottle of Gatorade at the one of the convenience stores near the club, I experienced my first opportunity to place money into a revolving drawer at a counter completely enclosed by two-inch thick Plexiglas. A couple of other places we wandered past barred the entrance into the store altogether; you had to ask and point for what you wanted, hand the cashier the money through a slot, and then you’d receive your item(s) through a cage-like structure. It could have been a scene from a post-apocalyptic film.
Short Fuse opened the show followed by The Acid Pigs, Dave of the Pigs was stoked to be playing on the same stage that some of his favorite heavy metal bands had played on. After our set, I was outside in the driver’s seat of the Bronco, going over paperwork when a huge black guy with a deep gash in his forehead and blood running down the sides of his face put his head on the hood. He looked at me, shouted a couple of words, then stumbled off into the darkness. I cautiously walked back into the club to catch a couple of songs from the headlining band Ugly But Proud. Accompanying them on stage was a vagrant submissively seated in a chair while the band played its loud and aggressive metal-influenced punk. The band kept the man supplied with a brown paper bag of tallboy-sized beers as payment for his mascot services. When he finished one can, a member of the band would hand him another.
We returned to Toledo for a couple of days before heading towards Philadelphia. Todd’s parents lived on the outskirts near Doylestown. The Acid Pigs’ van was typically somewhere behind us and somewhat in the vicinity. They were a little more adventuresome and would disappear for days at a time until it was time to meet up for a show. Although we were on tour together, they existed as a separate entity. Our drummer, Warren, was like a kid with two parents who shared joint custody. He would spend half the time with us if he thought he could squeeze a bed and shower out of the deal, but for the party component, he would tag along with The Acid Pigs. He was probably the smartest guy between both groups.
Since we were within throwing distance of Trenton, New Jersey, Todd, Warren, and I drove over to meet up with concert promoter/booking agent Randy Now. Randy was hosting a radio show on the Princeton campus. He invited us to the station for an interview and spun our record. We asked about jumping on a bill at City Gardens. Unfortunately, we were a week late. He could have put us on the D.O.A., ALL, Government Issue show if I would have called him earlier.
Regarding our impeding suburban Philly show put together by Todd’s friend Jeff. Jeff was the front man for the straight edge band Multiple Choice. The venue was Jeff’s family’s barn a couple of townships away from where we were staying. The barn also doubled as sleeping quarters for The Acid Pigs.
The show was booked for a Sunday afternoon. Arnold hit the bottle early, so by the time we attempted to play, he could barely stand. We took a stab at running through a couple of songs, but the frustration quickly escalated into fisticuffs. Arnold threw his guitar down and swung in my direction while yelling at me. His rage was the collective anger and irritation from the way the tour was unraveling. Shows kept falling through; everyone was running out of money and patience. In retrospect, I did a shoddy job with the booking, and in the end, let down those who had relied on me.
Suburban Philly farmhouse flyer. Collection of author.
We left the farm and drove to New York City, exploring Manhattan through the car windows for a couple of hours. Warren had a friend outside the city in Peekskill willing to put us up for the night. When we arrived, there was something odd about the kid; he seemed distant and lifeless. We gathered around the kitchen table with his friend’s father, and they started talking about the numerous car accidents his son had been in. Warren’s friend showed us his scars. It turned out the accidents involved drugs. The father just sat there with a look of disappointment and detachment. He interacted with his son like he had given up on him.
We went out later that night to meet up with the kid’s friends. It was what you might expect from a gathering of bored and disenchanted suburban youth: lots of drinking and rampant drug use with reckless abandonment. We were parked on the cliff overlooking train tracks going into the city. A couple of the kids were carelessly swinging off the dead electrical and telephone wires hanging over the cliff. Everyone continued drinking and getting high while Todd and I watched in disbelief. Out of the darkness, I heard someone call out “Bob Rob” and when I turned around, it was a former high school classmate. We talked maybe five minutes before calling it a night.
Todd and I were ready to bail on this depressing, life-sucking shithole. When we returned to Warren’s friend’s house, we were told how Stephen King based the book Cujo on the kid’s dogs and warned us about the rats in the basement. When Warren went upstairs to stay in his friend’s room, Todd and I half joked about which one of us was going to sleep outside in the Bronco. Neither of us wanted to sleep in the basement. It was pitch black with no outside light seeping in. We lay flat on the couches with our eyes wide open, taking in all the strange sounds.
The following day was no better. We spent the first part of the afternoon meeting up with a few more of the kid’s friends. We drove to a nearby park so they could score and smoke crack. Afterwards they took us for a drive on the winding roads. All I could think about was the accidents the boy’s father had mentioned the evening before. We ended up at a party, but Todd and I just hung out in the car listening to tapes. Warren was throwing a fit because we were acting antisocial. We went off on him and made it clear we were leaving that night. We drove to a payphone, and I called my friend Mark, the drummer for the band Slapshot to see if we could crash at his place in Boston. He made a few calls and put me in touch with Hank, the band’s roadie.
The initial hope for traveling to Boston was for a tentative show, followed by what would perhaps be our biggest gig at the Anthrax in New Haven, Connecticut, opening for DC’s Ignition. Todd, Warren, and I arrived in Boston late in the evening. Hank got us settled before going out. The three of us were beat; we decided to call it a night. We slept on the floor in the living room and the kitchen.
In the middle of the night, Hank’s roommate staggered into the kitchen, stepped over me, and bumped into the wall. I sprung up to see a large, drunk, naked man holding his dick in his hand, hovering over me. He gave me a half-cocked glance and with excitement in his voice shouted, “Billy Milano! It’s fuckin’ Billy Milano!” Billy Milano was the singer in the then popular speed metal band Stormtroopers of Death. I was on the verge of shitting myself and frantically shouted, “I’M NOT BILLY! I’M NOT BILLY!” With disappointment in his voice and a limp dick still in hand, he apologized and walked over to the back door of the kitchen to urinate off the balcony. On his way back through, he said pitifully, “Sorry, I thought you were Billy.”
Indicative of our streak of bad luck, the Boston show didn’t materialize plus The Anthrax show was a couple of days away, and we still hadn’t heard from Arnold and the other van. We were worried considering the numerous accidents we had witnessed. I finally attempted to call Arnold’s mom, but without success. The day before the show I started calling every couple of hours. Finally, well into the evening, eventually someone answered; it was Arnold on the other end. After a short moment of silence on my end, Arnold matter-of-factly said that he and The Pigs were done touring and had decided to return home. I hung up in disbelief. I walked around Kenmore Square, looking for Todd and Warren to tell them the news.
Post tour: Short Fuse did get back together to give it another shot. Because of the lack of practices Arnold and Todd didn't show put his show. It was the official end of the group. Collection of author.
From the time we arrived in Boston, we had befriended a guy and had been hanging out with him. We told him our sob story about the tour falling apart. He jumped at the opportunity to get on board with us and offered to play guitar for our Anthrax show. We drove over to his practice space and played him our record. We unsuccessfully attempted to belt out a couple of tunes. It wasn’t the same without Arnold, so we decided it was pointless to force the matter. I called the promoter at the Anthrax and left a message that we were canceling the show and the rest of the tour. I also phoned other promoters to relay the same story.
Todd phoned home the same evening and asked his dad, a TWA pilot, to hook him up with a one-way flight back to Philly. The following afternoon, Warren and I drove Todd to Logan International. Now it was only the two of us left with a Bronco packed full of band equipment. Warren and I decided to leave for Denver the following morning. Practically broke, we killed the afternoon bumming around.
The plan was to meet up with “Slapshot” Mark after work and stay over at his house. However, that plan was hijacked when I tried to start the Bronco to the sound of a faint buzz. We ruled out the battery, since it had been replaced the week before. Luckily Mark came to our rescue with jumper cables. While following him back to his place, the Bronco started to lose power, and by the time we entered a tunnel, the car died completely. Mark continued driving, never to be seen again.
Warren and I jumped out and pushed the Bronco onto what little shoulder there was. There was no way in hell we were sticking around a dead vehicle in a tunnel on a Friday night, so we got the fuck out of there as fast as we could. A tow truck pulled up, the driver told us what the deal was; a non-negotiable situation. The police also came by and wanted to issue me a citation for blocking traffic. The cop and the tow truck driver had a little chat, and it was decided if I gave the tow truck driver $100 in cash, I wouldn’t get a ticket. I lost it, mentally check out, had an out of body experience. From what Warren said, I had a total breakdown and blacked out. The only part I remember was shaking and babbling when the tow truck brought us to a garage in Watertown, near where we had been staying with Hank. Hank was our savior once again.
In the morning, the car mechanic asked a bunch of questions about the equipment in the back of the Bronco. He wanted to know if we were in a famous band and what sort of music we played. We didn’t dare say punk. He asked if we sounded like Aerosmith or The J. Giles Band, two of Boston’s finest, right? The diagnosis was that the electrical system in the Bronco was fried, and it would take him a couple of days to replace it. He and his buddy both laughed at and taunted us for driving a Ford and suggested we buy a Chevy next time.
We were stranded. I began selling off a couple of rare records I had picked up along the way just to feed Warren and me. We were emotionally spent and didn’t leave Hank’s house. My dad wired me $500 for the repairs. When the car was finished on the following Tuesday afternoon, Warren and I didn't waste any time; we westbound on I-90 towards Toledo. We arrived in the middle of the night, and I called “Toledo” Pat who had set us up to stay with Dirk from the band Majority Of One.
The following morning, Warren and I made a pact to drive straight back to Denver, no matter what. The only downside was that Warren didn’t drive. We only stopped for fuel and Gatorade. By the time we were in the middle of Nebraska, my eyes couldn’t take looking down the stretch of the interstate any longer. I was losing my mind, and seeing double. We pulled into a rest stop so I could regain a bit of sanity with a few hours of sleep on a picnic table. Warren’s allergies didn’t allow him any rest. He shook me in a panic, telling me that he couldn’t breathe. We hit the road without A/C and the windows rolled up because of his allergies.
We arrived at the outskirts of Denver just in time to be punished by stop-and-go rush hour traffic. In all fairness, Warren wanted to be dropped off across town in West Denver. Warren, like an excited child, jumped out of the car and raced into his grandma’s house. And just like that, I was alone for the first times in weeks; with an empty nest and cooperative traffic I merged into the ebb and flow of cars, thinking about the bed waiting for me on the other side of town.
Edited by Rory Eubank.