Like piranhas on a pig’s carcass, it only took the crowd five minutes to tear down the chicken-wire cage that kept the band out of harms way.
Once the wire was down, it looked like we were playing the gig from a two-by-four jail cell.
Truth is, the chicken-wire was never going to hold this crowd back.
It was really more of a suggestion than a deterrent. It did it’s job to keep beer bottles and other projectiles of mayhem from hitting us, but when a drug fueled punk is determined to storm the stage, you’re going to need a whole lot more than some two-by-fours and chicken wire.
But it was cool. We’d gotten used to it.
After spending the whole summer touring with Black Flag our band was finally coming into our own. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger by the gig.
As the opening act, our job was to warm them up and we didn’t disappoint.
But as crazy as things got for us in the opening sets, it paled in comparison when Henry Rollins hit the stage.
His presence was larger than life no matter how big (or small) the venue. His raw energy and power could turn the scrawniest nerd into a mosh pit psycho.
And to think Henry didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. He was just a burning man, long before there was a Burning Man.
But as for Billy, Stitch, Mule and me, drinking and drugs were part of the territory.
That was until Mule started beating members of the audience at one show after another. He had a drug fueled rage that kept us in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Snuffing out our rising star before it hit the sky.
Everything started back in our junior year.
Mule had just moved from Fresno. We met in homeroom, started talking about different bands, and just hit it off. We were into the same misfits and outcasts. Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Agent Orange, Joy Division, the Ramones.
We were quickly inseparable. All we talked about was forming a band. I’d been playing the guitar since I was seven. Painfully shy, and skinny as a rail, I knew a band would be the best way to pick up chicks.
Mule would sing. And at six-foot-two, two hundred and twenty pounds, he cut the perfect frame for a messenger of angst and rage.
It didn’t hurt that his biting lyrics added fuel to the fire.
By Christmas, we’d recruited Stitch on bass and Billy on drums. In less than four months, Toxic Insight was born. And the next two years were oblivion.
The punk rock life played hell on my grades. And my parents ended up kicking me out my senior year.
So the four of us got our own place, down in Echo Park. It was rathole, but with the money from three shows a week, we made it work.
That was until the Mule lost control.
We’d just signed with Black Flag’s label, SST Records. And I think Mule let it go to his head. The drugs got harder and so did the onstage antics.
Like the time in Culver City when a guy hanging off the stage tried to grab Mule’s mic. In split second, the guys face was hamburger and Mule had thrown him back into the mosh pit.
After the ambulance came, so did the cops. It took us a week to get the money to bail Mule out.
Once out. He was right back at it. Heavy drugs, heavy music, heavy fists.
It got to where every show was ending in violence. And the Los Angeles Police Department had us and the SST offices under surveillance, 24/7.
They then started harassing venue owners to keep us from playing the clubs. And if we couldn’t play, we couldn’t get paid. And if we couldn’t get paid, we couldn’t eat.
So I quit. That was 25 years ago. And Mule hasn’t spoken to me since. Back then he told me I was a traitor, blasting me for abandoned the band when the times got tough.
But those times were more than tough, they were out of control. And Billy and Stitch felt the same. Within month’s they were gone, and Toxic Insight was dead.
I’d touch base with Billy and Stitch every once in a while. And they would fill me in on Mule. I’d wanted to reconnect, but they said he wanted nothing to do with me.
Years passed and we all moved on.
Stitch had landed in a grind core band up in the Bay Area, made a bunch of albums, and ton of money.
Billy became an accountant for Deloitte and moved with his family down to San Diego.
And me, I went the most radical route of all. After college, I became a pastor, married my college sweetheart, and raised four incredible kids. And just last month I released a fourth bestseller. A book on restoring relationships and healing resentments.
I’d sent Billy and Stitch a copy with with a note to call me, just as I’d always done.
The book was an excuse to connect. And since I usually wove our punk rock days in there somewhere, it was always fun to get their take on what went down.
But when I got the first call, I was shocked at what I heard.
“Hey, it’s me… Mule.”
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Dogwood Daniels…
Bootleg footage of Neurosis playing at The Masquerade in Atlanta on August 14, 2015
As recorded by Dogwood Daniels.
This is the first 56 seconds of the song, “Locust Star.”
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Jinn Zhong, Dogwood Daniels and Me) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Sundays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.