Chapter 0: the prequel
There is some advantage to living in a house that is adjacent to one frat house and across the street from another. Primarily being, that the police take little convincing that the person puking on someone’s car came from one of them, not from us.
I met Craig in the dorms, but his father made him drop out of college because he only made a B-. After that, Craig was working as an electrical journeyman, hauling heavy shit and grabbing bare wires until his terminal nerves were decaying.
After all that, he needed a break, and I was living in cow-town college for the summer, so I invited him to come up. I had a few summer credits, and with aggressive hay fever in the middle of corn country, I spent the entire time in a OTC drug haze. When, of course, I wasn’t in an illicit drug haze.
Memorably, we spent one weekday evening in a local bar, drinking $1.50 crap beer pitchers; I spent the evening in an antihistamine fog, talking(?) with a guy who was on pain meds. Both of us were on beer, so it worked out, but I am glad this was before hand held video was widely available.
Chapter 1: the setup
In any case, Craig showed up on a Thursday. We were already on the porch, drinking heavily. Have I mentioned that this house was closer to the liquor store than it was to the campus? We had our fucking PRIORITIES, man. We would put the speakers out on the porch, start cleaning a fair amount of pot, and send people repeatedly up to the corner for beer, until inevitably someone decided that it would be easier to just get a barrel. We had better pickup parties on a Wednesday or a Thursday than the neighboring frat houses could do when they were planning.
I think I should explain a bit about the town. Mining town; of course, miners were notorious for their desire for drink and prostitutes. So one of the earliest statutes in many mining towns did not allow taverns or restaurants on the Main Street.
Now we should mention one of the idiosyncracies of American planning history. When a village hits the threshold to become a town, the primary street in the community is named something significant; Main street is very common, of course, but often it is based on other elements; Smith street, or Mine Street, Water street, so on. But nearly without fail, after the primary street is named and laid, the next cross street goes down, and is called Second Street. And thus, Second Street is the most common street name in the country.
And since the community wouldn’t not allow taverns on Main Street, they all showed up on Second Street. Immediately. And after the Mining College morphed into a nearly-full fledged Land Grant State College, the Students found this clever planning to be convenient. “Second Street” was our euphemism for “frog-fighting, knee-ealking drunk”. There was a bit of friction with Townies, as is the way, but we usually hung out in the local biker bar, so it was of little concern.
So; after getting pre-twisted on our porch, when Craig showed up, we immediately moved down to Second Street to begin drinking in earnest.
After a few hours of that, we came back to the house, and Craig decided he needed to move his motorcycle to the back of the house; we tried to dissuade him, but have you ever tried to dissuade a Craig? so he did. Move the motorcycle, that is. It sounded something like:
vrooom vroom vrooom clank. grrrrrrrrrr rowr eerrrrrrrr ……thud. OW!
Craig came back around the corner of the house with a couple of new scrapes, we continued drinking for a while, and we all passed out in good time. Craig passed out on the porch, with his feet pointing downward over the front steps. We tried to get him to sleep on one of our couches. Honest. But as drunk as we were, how much could we try? He had made his choice.
Chapter 2: the heat.
Oh god when you wake up from a cheap beer drunk, can there be anything worse than a 90 degree, 80 percent humidity heat wave? No there cannot be. We went down to the grocery store and got gallon jugs of generic Orange Drink, and started mixing it with brandy. Orange Crud, we called it, and we drank it until we ran out of orange, and crud, and ice. We played a weird-ass version of croquet around the house, until the frat-bastards next to us got irate.
In our half-hungover, half-early drunk state, we just kind of started pouring ourselves down the street. It was all downhill to the bars. On the way, we took a detour to the local musical instrument shop, but the owner got tired of the way we bashed up his instruments pretty quickly, and when actual musicians showed up, we were back out into the heat.
Finally rolling up into the Hoist House, which was the only bar on Second Street with A/C. yeah, right, an ancient window unit over the door, clanking along. What the hell, though, you know, any port in a storm and this port had beer.
So we got a pitcher of Augsburger Dark. Which was the ABSOLUTE WRONG THING to drink on a hot afternoon when you’re hungover. But dammit, Craig and I are fucking troopers, and we worked it for all we were worth. Until….the bartender served up a couple of ginantonics to adjacent patrons.
Oh. Holy. Hell.
I am not a huge gin fan, but on that day, with that heat; seeing that glass full of ice and alcohol and lemon and sweating condensation nearly made me pass out. We pounded down the beer and started in with the sweet gin, and the afternoon started to make sense at the same time it started to fade….
Somewhere in there, my room mate Dave showed up with his new girlfriend. Now, you must recognize that Dave grew up on a farm, and was a pretty big stoner; his girlfriend was going kind of preppy. She was wearing a LaCoste shirt. Remember those? I, being a proper punk, greeted her warmly, shook her hand, offered her a drink, and then leaned over and ripped the fucking stupid alligator off her shirt with my teeth.
yeah, it was over the line; but I had been drinking for several hours at that point. Dave laughed; his gf laughed, I bought her a drink and we all kept the afternoon going.
Chapter Three: the Gig
At some point, we noticed that a few guys were setting up musical instruments. Interesting. But we had gin to drink, did we not? So we were not overly concerned. Until at a later point (and don’t ask me the time or anything, for fuck’s sake; we were drinking gin all afternoon) a guy came up and asked us for a cover for the band. Actually, we were kind of drunkenly nonplussed; in the little cow-town, cover charges were kind of unknown.
However, these guys were ostensibly from Madison, and were looking to score gas money. We were kind of working our way toward the door when the bartender, in mind of the amount of booze we had bought all afternoon, told the band that he would comp us. Actually, he was kind of laughing at our inability to comprehend paying money for a band, so he decided to help us resolve the issue.
This started out as a story about Craig, and I have all kinds of weird stories about Craig, but it ends up being a long story about alcohol and drugs and good times and the way sometimes you remember things. We got righteously, royally twisted and fucked up that night, indeed. I guess that’s not that surprising, considering we started drinking when we got up at the crack of noon.
Craig was a tremendously good friend of mine, a smart and talented guy, and it was unconscionable to me that his dad made him leave college based on only-mediocre grades. Fuck, I nearly flunked out at one point. Well, maybe I am a bad influence. Anyways. I met Craig when I was a sophomore and he was a freshman. In later years, he came back to college in Milwaukee, after he spent some time in the military, and he was never the same.
In some ways, it is kind of surprising that I remember anything about that night. But in some ways, it is the kind of stuff you never forget.
Oh yes, the band was Free Hot Lunch.
They took the stage in their hawaiian shirts, and we heckled them, and they treated us like experienced comedians treat hecklers. And we laughed, and they laughed; they played wonderful music and we bought them shots. In fact, as fogged as my memories are, I remember Craig with a tray of like 20 double shots of tequila, wandering through the crowd like an alcoholic easter bunny…
I remember songs that I had never heard before, but loved immediately; I remember laughing, laughing all night. Songs like I Hate To Wake Up Sober In Nebraska. Like Reiba’s Cantina. Tequila Sheila. Trees in Love. I remember drinking tequila, between jinnantonnyx. The first ever Punk-folk tune, My Wife And My Best Friend’s Girl. The lovely Sailor’s Prayer.
At the end of the set, I bought a shirt, and a poster and an album; I ran into one of my other room mates at another bar; he was amused at my drunken slobbering about the band. I went home and wrote a long, perplexing letter to the girl I was courting about the band; eventually she was able to see a FHL (Wa-Ha) show and GET IT.
Oddly, I do not recall how Craig ended up the night. I am pretty sure that is not the night we had to bail them out….
Chapter X: the aftermath
Free Hot Lunch had a good strong regional run; but they peaked at a time when music was dictated by labels and radio stations. I would suspect that if they were going at it these days, they would be able to take advantage of the digital medium to make a decent go of it. Fuck, they got 50 or so people to travel to Hawaii with little advertising.
Here we are gathering outside Shank Hall before a 2007 show…. Zelmo was inside, scoring us the ENTIRE FUCKING FRONT ROW OF TABLES for the show. I harass Zelmo a lot, but he redeemed himself in perpetuity for that one.
For years, people would look at me oddly (shut UP) when I would play these albums; but eventually we would go to a Wa-Ha show and the confusion would disappear, to be replaced by drunken shenanigans. Toy chainsaws and prop inflatable pool toys.
Craig recovered and went back home; eventually (at his fuckhead father’s urging) joining the military. After basic, he came back to Milwaukee, and we gave him a welcome back party which freaked him out so badly that he hid in the back bedroom. After he trashed another friend’s apartment over a girl, I confess I lost track of him. I keep on eye on the casualty lists from Iraq and Afghanistan….
I spent like the rest of my life going to see Free Hot Lunch. I saw them at many many Summerfest shows. We saw them at Shank Hall, we saw them at the Landing (this is going to be a short set, to get you out before the looting starts). we saw them on a New Years Eve show at Club De Wash. We’ve seen them in Hawaii, we’ve seen them in Florida. This Bar Flies.
My most favorite music is punk. And then metal. And then prog. And over and above all of that is the music that these three weirdos from Madison made; more than anything else, the underlying subtle soundtrack of my life.
The tragedy in this entire story is that my friend Craig went full goose bozo right wing loony after this. He suddenly started to ridicule anybody who received some kind of assistance, and also suddenly was vocally opposed to any gay rights. It was not pleasant for me, because while Craig was a really good friend, so were my other friends who were gay and women and not-white. And Craig, dude, you were wrong.
The most bittersweetly amusing thing about the whole obsession is that nowadays, after FHL is pretty much gone and done, is when digital recordings and distribution are so easy. One of my good friends has given me recordings he did at Shank Hall, and in Florida; the band itself did a DVD of their own, recorded at Barrymore Theater; guess who is visible front row throughout.
This whole post was inspired by a couple of Brando’s Vegas epics. After getting this far, I realize that I suck.