Red Wedding Memories
Claudia Miles – currently a psychotherapist in Marin County, Northern California
“Twenty years after the fact, I still remember the first time I saw Red Wedding. It was at Madame Wong’s East and I had gotten one of many free tickets with which clubs used to paper the places back then. I was 20, single and passionate about what was known then as the underground music scene ( I certainly had no use for the popular bands of the day such as Journey or the Eagles).
The moment Red Wedding began playing, I was transfixed. The style, the sound, the physical beauty of these boy-men hit me hard. Ultimately it was the music, though, that kept me in my seat, eyes riveted. I was floored by the echoes of Roxy Music and Bowie that had been fashioned into something new, yet oddly familiar. The Edwardian dress reminiscent of my childhood idol, Mick Jagger, circa 1971, the dramatic makeup, the lanky, charismatic singer, and a guitarist whose technical skill (he’s still up there with Jeff Beck and Mick Taylor in my book) was matched note for note with a Hendrix-like passion, completed the picture.
I was in love. The lyrics appealed to my love of imagery and poetry and mystery. Though I couldn’t make them all out at the time, I heard shards and lines and phrases that were evocative of Bryan Ferry and poets Rimbaud and Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. Those writers’ poems, along with Ferry’s lyrics, were highly visual, richly opaque and carried multiple layers of meaning. That’s what I was hearing here, too. And the more I got to know the lyrics intimately, the more I knew I was accurate in making these comparisons.
The keyboard player also caught my eye; he had one of those sculpted faces with high cheekbones, alabaster skin and, again, that androgynous quality I’d always admired. Was he gay? If I thought about it at all, which I doubt, it only made him that much more appealing. (Yes, I was one of THOSE girls – I despise the term “fag hag,” as I find it insulting to all concerned, but I’d always had many gay men as friends.)
I approached the bass player, probably the most approachable of the bunch as he was young and small and vulnerable. Do you have a manager? Do you need one? I had spent two years in the music business and had always followed my gut. My desire to manage the band was simple: I believed in these guys, I was passionate about the music and I had overwhelming urge to help these guys “make it”. Eventually, this led to a meeting with the band and an agreement that we would give it a try. They were cautious, at first, waiting to see if I was reliable, if they could trust a 20-year-old with their careers, yet once I was in, I was in.
Michael became one of my best friends and Marc O became my obsession. The first gig at which I was officially their manager was at the Brave Dog sometime during the mid-summer. That first night, Marc O and I “made out” in my car. He was enraptured by my total admiration and perhaps a bit curious. (That was the extent of our actual romance, the rest was conducted in my head.) I was in love….I thought, something which became increasingly painful and caused the dynamics between Marc, Michael (Marc’s best friend) and I to become infinitely complex.
I now see it as a fantasy love, an obsession with the unobtainable and self-destructive for me. Despite that, there was something intense between Marc and me for as long as we were friends. He did have an attraction to me in some strange inexplicable way – his nickname for me was Glamour Puss — and he loved to advise me on clothing and makeup. I was his mannequin at times and at others he was Narcissus staring into the pond of my adoration while I reflected back to him his captivation with himself.
My relationship with Michael was quite different. We were very close; we could see each other every day and still spend an additional hour on the phone talking about everything from religion, music and politics to how much we hated the sun and hot weather ( I find it amusing that Michael now lives near Tucson!) I also shared my inner struggles with depression and my loneliness with Michael and he was always there for me.
Most people saw me as upbeat, outgoing, self-confident and unafraid. Michael was one of the few who saw my vulnerable side and loved me still. At the same time Michael was my confidante, in my role as manager, I was his rock. Michael shared his panic and fear about each upcoming performance with me, and I would reassure him night after night, before and after each gig. He worried about his performance, his voice, the band and the material. The fears were unjustified, I knew, but being insecure myself, I understood his feelings and could intuitively offer him what he needed. I felt endlessly patient with Michael and believe he knew I loved him unconditionally and believed in the band completely.
In a way, I relished my role as the one he could rely on for reassurance for two reasons: First and foremost, I felt this was my contribution to the band’s actual performance; before each show everyone knew that Michael needed me and if I wasn’t already backstage, I was summoned (Get Claudia! Michael’s freaking out! was a familiar refrain); second, perhaps selfishly, I loved being needed. It gave me a sense of fulfillment.
I think it’s no surprise to Michael and Spider that today I am a professional psychotherapist. I didn’t know I would end up here, but it’s where life led me. There’s far too much to tell than can be contained here. I did all I could for the band, getting them high profile gigs, a fair amount of press and a small record deal. I do believe this: Had it all happened 10 short years later, they’d have been picked up by a major label. The music business changed drastically from 1980 to 1990. In 1980, labels were looking for bands that could become mega-acts, ala The Rolling Stones – they were looking for hits and chart-toppers and stadium fillers. By 1990, labels were much more willing to nurture a number of smaller scale bands on smaller scale tours – witness Ben Harper, Cowboy Junkies, Mazzy Star – rather than looking for one big band that could make or break them.
I left the band due to personal problems – depression and heavy drug and alcohol use in particular – and it was hard and in many ways devastating; I remained friends with Michael for some time, but my relationship with Marc faded. I think he was angry with me and that, perhaps my obsession with him had “grown tiresome.” Tragically, we were estranged when he died. I still miss him. I didn’t think I could stay sober and remain in the music scene, though I’ll never know if that is true. What I do know is that my association with Red Wedding was an exceptionally significant time in my life – I shared my youth and my wildness with the guys and they shared theirs with me. It was magical. So was the band.”
Greg Miscikowski – now living in San Francisco and working as a medical manager
“In early 1982, my lover Stephen and I moved into the apartment next door to Spider and Michael on Bellevue Avenue in Silverlake. After a “welcome to the building” joint tossed down to us by Michael one afternoon from the shadow of the upstairs balcony (he wouldn’t come out into the sunlight) while we sat playing in backgammon in the backyard, numerous encounters in the hallway, and cards and gifts left tapped to our door (which displayed Michael’s quick and rich sense of humor), we became fast friends. Not even their cat, Pumquat (to whom I was deathly allergic, but always insisted on being in my lap), could stop me from hanging out with these guys.
I was 21, in college, hated the disco-driven gay scene that prevailed in Los Angeles back then and was awed by Spider and Michael’s gay-led alternative band, Red Wedding. The first time I saw them perform was at Al’s Bar on July 9th, 1982 (Spider’s birthday). I saw them numerous times over the following years at places like Cathay De Grande, the Whiskey, the Roxy and the first Theoretical at the One Way bar on Hoover. I was there at the listening party for the release of their first EP in 1982 (we partied till the sun came up at Marc O’s apartment on Oxford across from Paramount studios) and at the listening party for the release of their second EP in 1984 (at the Anti-club on Melrose).
Stephen and I broke up in 1983 and I moved out of the Bellevue apartment, but it didn’t keep me (along with my friend Karen Schneider — the character featured in the song “Scarecrows”) from hanging out with Red Wedding, holding court at their shows, and on other evenings going out dancing with Michael, Spider and Marc to various clubs or to parties given by Jack Marquette, Jim Van Tyne, and Jim Yousling. No matter what the occasion, we would always end up eating Thai food on Hollywood Boulevard at 4:00 am, while Marc and Karen (both originally from Baltimore) entertained us with their colorful ‘Bal’more accents!
After Red Wedding broke up, I remained friends with Michael and Spider (now Jim). I ended up living in the Valley and they moved to Long Beach. It was through them that I kept in touch with Marc O, and, after Marc’s lover,Tom, died in 1990, I moved into Marc’s house on New Hampshire in Los Feliz to become his roommate. Sadly, I was there to witness Marc’s final days before he succumbed to AIDS in January of 1992. He had changed from the days when I first met him. Always a person full of energy and a strong lust for life, he was very tired and angry when he died.
I will occasionally play one of Red Wedding’s records, and I am immediately taken back to a time that I will always treasure. Those days had their ups and downs, but it sure was a lot of fun (and thinking back – seemed so innocent).
Jeff Anderson – now living in Lansing, Michigan working as a machinist
I have known Spider and Michael for most of my life (Spider is my cousin – duh). My young teen years were made bearable by getting to hang out with these two highly creative people. They taught me a great respect for all music, and they took me to my first concerts – Patti Smith, Blondie, The Cramps, the infamous Elk’s Lodge riot where Spider was hit in the throat with a baton courtesy of the L.A.P.D.
When Spider and Michael decided to leave The Tracers and branch out on their own, Michael allowed me the honor of naming their new band – Hey Taxi. On October 15, 1979, Hey Taxi performed their first gig at the Hong Kong Cafe. Although it was just their first show, they sounded like seasoned veterans. The band kicked ass in my opinion, but Michael was a little hard to sell on this. He was very nervous and chain smoking cigarettes before, during and after the show. I reassured him that the band was well received, but I don’t think he believed me. Michael continued to be a nervous wreck at every Hey Taxi show. I would speak to him over the phone the following day and he was always on the verge of quitting. On stage he was mesmerizing, but off stage he hated himself. He didn’t like the way the band sounded, or the way he looked, or the way he sang.
Fortunately, he also had a great sense of humor and would always end up laughing about it. Hey Taxi gigs came and went, but the band kept their raw energy while growing tighter and always faster (Michael was rather obsessed with playing short, fast songs). Spider played a cream colored epiphone copy guitar that was splattered with red paint dripped from a shot glass. Damn, he could make that thing sing. I don’t think I ever saw Michael wear the same outfit twice. Like Bowie, Michael was the ever changing chameleon, always changing his hair, his clothes, his attitude and his lyrics.
When Hey Taxi recorded their only single, I had an orgasm singing background vocals on “Queen Bee.” I was able to get the A-side of the single (“I Hate Dogs”) played on Rodney Bingenheimer’s KROQ Sunday night show. What a thrill. It also meant a lot to me that the band used many of my lyrics. My favorite tune was one that Michael and I penned together called – “I Know I Love You, But I Know You Love Somebody Else, But Why Can’t You Love Me Instead?”
Whether it was hanging on Spider’s guitar chord or Michael’s coattails, I was having the time of my life! Michael looked after me and at times tried to play the mother hen, but he would always end up letting me run amok! Because I was way, way under the drinking age, Michael or Spider would take beer away from me, but I would always find a way to get more. Hey, the beer always made it easier to dance! Like some dumb ass once said, “All good things must come to an end,” and in the summer of 1981, Hey Taxi metamorphosed into Red Wedding.
Last night I cranked up an old Hey Taxi rehearsal tape and listened to some of the old songs: “Mommy Was A Cop,” “Mastercharge,” “Refrigerator,” and “Shake.” Spider and Michael were something else! I’m so glad I got to be a part in their lives.
Billy Ingram – creator of TVPARTY.com and graphic artist living in Greensboro, North Carolina
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Hey Taxi perform. It was Friday the 13th, the first of two in 1981. I was writing a rock and roll column and reviewing a array of New Wave bands ( such as the Toasters and Wendy O. Williams ) for Data Boy magazine, an ad rag that was distributed in gay bars and ignored by anyone under the age of death. For a change of pace, I decided to go and review two hardcore punk bands – Hey Taxi and the Smog Marines – at a new downtown club called the Brave Dog. This despite a report I saw the day before on KCBS that proved, scientifically, that the rhythm of punk music was delivered at the same beat rate as a person’s heart and would, by effect, cause young people to gyrate uncontrollably and go into violent rampages. It was physiological anomaly!
That night was superb. There was something poetic and harsh when Hey Taxi took over the stage. Michael’s wild movements and disturbing lyrics meshed perfectly with Spider’s raw, no-detour guitar style. Here was something more than just straight-ahead punk rock, something more intelligent and more searing. I was under the spell of Spider and Michael from that moment on. When Hey Taxi evolved into Red Wedding, their musicality soared to fantastic heights, but for some reason they never got that elusive “record deal,”which is probably just as well. I remember doing shots of cinnamon Schnapps (Michael’s favorite) before an afternoon radio interview on KXLU in 1983. How funny it was when they asked the members of a notorious gay band to read a public service announcement for Big Brothers Of America….”Somewhere out there is a young boy in need of friendship and guidance from a big brother.” We all got a laugh out of that one! Then there was the radio DJ in Glendale who interviewed the band in 1984, who couldn’t pronounce Rs or Ds – “Let’s welcome Wet Wetting!”
The wild sex that went on in the parking lot of the Brave Dog, the Theoretical parties, the San Diego shows and our day at The Zoo….good times and good drugs. In the mid-eighties, it became tougher to get good gigs as all the punk clubs gave way to the Underground (proto-Rave) dance clubs.
Red Wedding played the last night of the infamous Odyssey nightclub in 1985, before it was torched by the owners. Now Red Wedding’s music exists for those who remember and by modern punkers who come across one of their EP releases. Someday, some rock star will have a hit with one of Red Wedding’s songs, probably after we’re all dead and gone. If there was a time machine in existence, I would set the controls back to the days of Red Wedding and the Brave Dog, and I swear I would never come back!
Terry Carnes – now living in Portland, Oregon and working as a dental hygienist
Michael and Spider have been two of my closest friends for years. I first met them in the early eighties when I was living down in San Diego (working as a topless dancer), and Red Wedding was playing at the Spirit Club. They were SO popular down there. The crowds seemed to worship their every move. Red Wedding was a great band, the perfect mix of glam, grunge and gloom. Spider was an incredible guitar player. On stage, Michael seemed so intense and aloof, but off stage he was such a sweetheart, with a wonderful sense of humor. I was in love with Marc O’s looks. I could barely take my eyes off him when the band was performing.
Michael and I used to go out dancing in those days. We made quite a pair, me in my tight bondage dress and Michael in his baggy black suit. People in the clubs would actually gather around to watch us dance! In 1983, Michael invited me to dance with the band on stage at Club Lingerie. I wore an old vintage wedding gown that was splattered in red paint. On the train coming up from San Diego for the show, a woman noticed the bloody gown I was carrying and totally freaked out. She thought I had had a miscarriage on my wedding night! That evening at Club Lingerie, I overheard a group of guys making nasty statements about those “Red Wedding fags.” I told Spider and he got REALLY angry. He immediately went over and confronted them. I thought for sure that Spider was going to throw a punch, but the guys quickly backed down, like the real wimps they were. Guess they learned that you don’t mess with a “fag” like Spider.
Jack Marquette – freelance writer, graphic designer and website designer in Los Angeles
I first saw the band as Hey Taxi! at a little Mexican truckers’ dive called Jacaranda’s on 7th Street in downtown L.A.’s produce market neighborhood in 1979. My friends in “Party Boys” played there every Saturday and would invite one or two other bands to join in the festivities.
Hey Taxi!— a band featuring a gay couple (Michael: lead singer; Spider: lead guitar) was a pretty new idea, just as being out of the closet myself was a fairly new idea. I instantly loved the band for their looks, attitude, musical and lyrical skills. It was probably good that the local regular patrons did not fully get what this band was about. But to the English speaking faction it was a real breakthrough experience, sans West Hollywood stereotypes.
Soon enough I found myself moving into the nascent loft community there and spontaneously, the idea of developing a venue specifically for this audience, had begun to dawn. I teamed up with a lovely woman, Clare Glidden, and a year later we were well on our way to opening a small club in Little Tokyo that would cater to our ideas of new music and art. No fad labels like “punk” or “nu-wave”, we were shopping for unclassifiably good new “art.” More of a “salon” concept than a typical night club.
We were remodeling “Brave Dog” from what had previously been an abandoned private Japanese men’s club next to the infamous Atomic Cafe. A completely cool location, just as AL’s Bar was about to open a few blocks away and a huge explosion of revolutionary anti-commercial artists and musicians were discovering cheap warehouse space in the surrounding blocks. Clare and I were parental snobs about our venue and we began casually shopping for special “talent” carefully during the six months prior to the club’s anticipated opening. We scoured “the scene” all over L.A.
“Madame” Wong’s (just up the street 2 miles) booked anything that would pre-buy tickets (a real pay-to-play whore house of a club if ever there was one!). But next door, every week or so, there was a more interesting stage to shop at The Hong Kong Cafe and I got my chance to introduce Clare to this out-of-the-ordinary band then called Hey Taxi! And after another hard day of electrical work on the soon-to-be Brave Dog, Clare and I got to this show that quite simply clarified our vision of what Brave Dog could be.
I was stunned by how far they had progressed since the earlier show on 7th Street. On that stage I saw something poetic, vulnerable and intense that spoke to me and most of the people I considered friends in immediate, personal and contemporary terms. We were awe stuck and spine-tingled. This would be the band to open the club! Not because they had a “draw,” not because they fit some imagined new market… just because we loved them and wanted to share them with the new creative community.
That strong innocent spirit guided us throughout the year and half we were able to keep Brave Dog going as Hey Taxi! transformed into Red Wedding on our stage (and others). But they were ours… our special “find;” our “House Band” playing a show just about once a month and dickering among ourselves as to who was worthy to open for them.
But back to that Hong Kong show. The singer and the guy with the guitar. And a white-faced synth player (Marc O.) with an intensely handsome Kabuki theater-like presence. “Something” is a word that reveals how little language can communicate. And That was something. Nervous though I was about schmoozing with “rock stars,” Clare and I were beside ourselves and HAD to meet these guys after the show. They were all amazingly accessible and warm people. We told them what we were up to and took them down the street to see our little dump.
Clare bonded immediately with Michael (who I certainly adored from afar) and I completely enjoyed the randy butch-n-boyish Spider (I never really “bond” with anybody). Spider knew so much about sound systems and acoustics which was exactly the point in the project we were moving toward. His help was boundless and we obtained a decent minimal “Peavey” P.A. system from “The Brat” (a noteworthy East L.A. punk band managed by a sexy, young, intellectual Dan Vargas) for the club— negotiated by Spider) and he helped us install the thing (which was a treacherous job, hanging its speakers from the ceiling).
Some time passed and the physical work on The Dog was nearly complete in mid 1980. The licenses were not happening, though. It was all in hopeless bureaucratic sludge. Finally, we said, simply: “fuck it.” We made up this arguably legal “Private Party” concept and opened in November of 1979 with you-know-who as the featured act. Strange and wonderful acts came and went on and off that stage for about 18 months thereafter, but the Red Wedding shows were the most memorable and created a wonderful clan of followers both for the club and the band.
We did not permit bands who did cover songs. All the material had to be original. I remember a particular show when Clare informed me we were going to make an exception to that rule, but she insisted on wanting to surprise me. Clare attended many more of their band rehearsals than I did— in an old “Tin Pan Alley” hotel on 7th Street— and knew something wonderful was afoot. The curiosity made me pay special attention. Toward the end of Red Wedding’s set came an unusual pause, silence and darkness, and what was probably a flashlight followed Michael’s face alone in the darkness onto stage center.
“I Feel Bad” he softly said. And then again, more lyrically. And then more music gathered behind. And by the time he got to “…though I’ve done nobody wrong, I feel bad.” A huge gasp came from many in the audience as we realized Michael was not just covering Marianne Faithful’s dark depressing hit: he was performing it !… living it more artfully and more personally that Ms. Faithful ever had. More than a few left the club dewy-eyed and sparkling that night.
Ignoring the bureaucratic sludge did eventually catch up with Brave Dog and the L.A. District Attorney’s office hauled us in to court challenging our weekly “private parties” (all the beer you can drink and usually 3 bands for $5.). We had to close, just as the place’s popularity was peaking, with no chance at ever getting licensed. Out of some months of depression that followed we could cheer ourselves up by seeing Red Wedding at other clubs around town as their following continued to build with the help of Claudia Miles’ excellent management.
Then emerged Jim Van Tyne (from a dark, scary leather bar in Silverlake: the OneWay) with the theoretical concept and a utopian vision for a community of creative, uncloned, more-often-than-not gay folks. Not a “gay club” but a gay-friendly artists’ haven. There was just one choice to open up that venue, too:
“Bed Wetting” …as JVT lovingly, yet sarcastically (with a giggle) referred to them.
Yes, it’s true. Theoretical owes much of its vibrant legacy to the band that set the tone for dozens more theoretical events. They made us feel not just good— but blissful— about being disenchanted, disenfranchised and at odds with the ugly growing specter of corporate control over our culture.”
Note: Sadly, Jack passed away in 2008. Though he is gone, he will never be forgotten.
Leslie James – currently a software developer who lives in London
I worked with Red Wedding producing their Nails EP. My collaboration with them began in very different circumstances. It began in LA under a blue black summer sky as I stepped out of the car and onto the asphalt of Madame Wong’s parking lot. My brother Will had just driven us up the 150 odd miles from San Diego. Up ahead four dudes were also stepping out their car. It was getting dark so we couldn’t see them too well, but there was a certain animated in-sync energy as they walked across the parking lot, up the steps, and through the entrance into Madame Wong’s.
After finding seats inside I had to visit the men’s room. The men’s room was already full of men – the same ones from the parking lot, and they were crowded around a dingy mirror putting on makeup. I remarked on this to Will as I sat down. A couple of bands later there they were again, this time onstage for one of the most mesmerizing performances I’ve ever seen – Michael, two guitars, a beautiful Korg synth and no drummer.
Although this was in fact the very same night that Ms Claudia first met them, I was on an altogether different mission, in LA to research cloning the Madame Wong phenomenon down south. Back home I couldn’t get that music out of my head. I didn’t really want to either, so I put an ad in the LA Reader asking, I think, if they would like to play in San Diego. Before moving to London I began to see them both onstage and off. I reviewed one of their Spirit shows, did some emergency mixing the night they upstaged Bow Wow Wow, and generally tried to make myself useful.
Two things still stand way out from those days. One was at a show in a sailor’s bar long since torn down and forgotten. On stage Red Wedding were in full flight when Spider, instead of smashing up his equipment, smashed up the music. Pure, spontaneous inspiration – an aural crime of passion with a musical soul being ripped apart in front of you, the most extraordinary and original piece of musical theatre I’ve ever witnessed. The other, more subtle, lingering memory is of the cosmic way people materialized around the band. One example, similar to my first encounter with them, was meeting Terry Hier, ‘The Corn-fed Girl’’ on her first West Coast night out. It was at a Red Wedding gig; soon after she became inner circle and their star groupie. There were others.
Eventually I made a trip back to California to produce the Nails EP, which essentially was recorded and mixed over two weekends. The studios were chosen by the band and myself. Tracking was done at Circle Sound in San Diego, while mixing took place at Mad Dog in Venice. Some additional time was also spent at an unfinished studio in the desert somewhere to the east of Glendale or Burbank… I’d sat in on a run through of the material prior to recording, but schedules and resources were tight.
So, although I knew it was good, I didn’t know how it would make the transition to tape. My uncertainty was short lived; what emerged during those sessions was truly awesome. There were two principal factors which went into creating the Nails sound, and which captured the live experience in a way missing from previous recordings. First is the expression of the music; it has an aura of mature confidence and power, characterized by a kind of rhythmic élan running through the songs and identifying them as a body of work. Second was the combination of recording under pressure but using some sophisticated techniques more often associated with inflated budgets and production values.
It was exhilarating, and as Nails took shape, big, powerful and provocative, destiny seemed to be calling with a very big voice indeed. An omen or so I thought, occurred while exploring the studios at Mad Dog. Looking into a small closet or storeroom I glanced at the floor and there piled carelessly, just inside the door where you’d trip over it, was a stack of 2″ tape. The labels read ‘Robbie Kreiger’. Somewhere on a street corner I can remember telling the band how huge they were going to be. Where I don’t know exactly, but I do have memories of walking empty streets late at night in both cities and the odd sensation of contrasting inner and outer landscapes – dark, quiet, nobody around and nothing happening in the exterior, and this ecstatic music and very bright excitement on the interior.
In many respects, nothing within the realms of possibility could have surpassed what was captured on tape. I had wanted to do some arranging, the purpose of which would have been to concentrate the hypnotic power of the music before recording, but unfortunately there wasn’t time or resource for that particular luxury. Also unfortunate was the vinyl mastering – a watery echo of what was recorded. Some factors are crucial to an appreciation of this genre of music unlike say, something like Bing Crosby. Nails is music which needs to be played ‘at volume’. With all the dots connected, from recording and mastering through to playback on a system with grunt, there’s virtually nothing like it. If and when a CD becomes available you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Nails was released in the states, more or less. As an artist, or even an artisan, one strives for perfection and all of us had issues with the finished master. In the end they didn’t matter. Nails won the 91X People’s Choice Award in San Diego and received airplay on KXLU for many years. I was supposed to get a deal for the UK. That didn’t happen. I did however sit in front of some very, and I do mean very, self-satisfied people. While the West Coast couldn’t figure what pigeonhole, the holes in England had somehow heard all before. Walking on the beaches, looking at the Sneeches…