Interview in Razorcake Magazine

5 May
A couple of months ago, Martin Wong and Todd Taylor interviewed me for Razorcake 
about our play “Falling On Deaf Eyes” our upcoming punk rock/deaf community documentary “Live At The Deaf Club”, and balancing being an ASL Interpreter with being a musician. The interview is now available online, below and on Razorcake’s Website Thanks again to Martin and Todd for taking the time to do this interview.

When Justin Maurer introduced himself to me at a Save Music in Chinatown benefit show last winter, I was already a big fan of his garage punk band Maniac and knew a little about Clorox Girls and Suspect Parts, too. But it was news to me that he and his Deaf filmmaker pal Delbert Whetter whom he also introduced, were making a documentary about the San Francisco Deaf Club. Like everyone else, they were excited about seeing The Dils play their first show in four decades, adding that they wanted to interview Chip Kinman for the movie, too. The Dils had played the social club for Deaf people with Catholic Discipline during the first wave of West Coast punk. Wow!

Not more than a few minutes later, my wife and sister were excited to tell me  they just spotted the guy who was all over the news doing American Sign Language interpretation at the LAUSD teacher strike rallies. To us parents of elementary school students and supporters of public education, he was a big deal. And he turned out to be Justin!

We became friends. Over time, I’d notice Justin signing at appearances by big-time speakers like Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, as well as local concerts by punk legends like Alice Bag and The Avengers. It was sort of a combination of the two worlds when he signed for my daughter’s band The Linda Lindas at a benefit gig my family helped organize to get educator and activist Jackie Goldberg elected to our school board. That’s when Justin told me he was going to make a play about his life as a punker and a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA) and bringing the subcultures together.

Sure enough, just a few months later, my family attended the premiere engagement of Falling on Deaf Eyes at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The totally DIY production told his life story with punk rock, signing, and incorporated a Deaf director, a Deaf producer, and a Deaf actress who played his mom. I loved how the piece showed underdog cultures overlapping and supporting each other in unexpected and wonderful ways, and I thought it was too good and too important to reach just the handful of people who caught performances in the shoebox-sized theater in East Hollywood. So I brought Justin to Razorcake HQ for a chat.

Introduction by Martin Wong

A quick note from Justin: Someone who identifies as culturally Deaf (big “D” Deaf) stems from Deaf cultural traditions: story telling, values, literature, and theatre. These capital “D” Deaf folks consider American Sign Language their native language. Big “D” Deaf is more Deaf-friendly. Medically—but not culturally—deaf folks when discussing purely medical hearing loss usually spell deaf with a lowercase “d.” It’s a political thing or a personal preference.

Martin: Justin, your life seems pretty random, but even crazier is the fact that you wrote and acted in a play about being a punker and a child of Deaf adults that ties the two subcultures and makes sense of them. Can you tell us about that?

Justin: Well, I was born in L.A. and went to high school and middle school on Bainbridge Island, Wash. I’m what you call a CODA: a Child of a Deaf Adult. My mom is deaf and my aunt and stepdad are also Deaf, so I grew up with sign language. And, being the oldest in my family, it was my job to interpret for my mom.

Fast forward many years later through punk rock bands and touring and everything, and I started working as a sign language interpreter. I started in Long Beach, and now I work all over L.A., Orange County, and Ventura County.

I met Delbert Whetter last year, and Delbert is a deaf filmmaker. I found out he‘’s doing a documentary on the San Francisco Deaf Club. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it was actually a hangout for the deaf. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, passed, and before technology. So if deaf people wanted to meet up, they would just go there and hope their friends would be there.

To pay for the club, you’d have to have a membership card and pay your dues, but they were running low on money and—at the time in the late ’70s—there were hardly any clubs for punk bands to play. The Mabuhay Gardens and Dirk Dirksen kind of had a lock on the early San Francisco punk scene, so the manager of The Offs, whose name was Robert Hanrahan, went to Taqueria La Cumbre on Valencia and saw across the street a sign that said “hall for rent.” He went in, found out it was the Deaf Club, and communicated by writing on a piece of paper back and forth with the deaf people. They said, “Fifty bucks a night and it’s yours.”

So he started throwing shows at the Deaf Club, where the deaf people ran the bar and the door. He booked pretty much every single major West Coast punk band—The Bags, The Germs, The Dils, D.O.A., The Zeros—’78 to ’79 played the Deaf Club.

It was two marginalized communities that somehow came together and, even though they wouldn’t normally be in the same room, the deaf people liked the punks and their strange clothes. And the swearing didn’t bother them.

Todd: You told me before that they could touch the speakers and feel the volume of the punk rock in their bodies.

Justin: They would hold their hands on top of wooden tables or go right up to the PA speakers or sometimes hold a balloon in the air to feel the vibrations. The Deaf people at the bar who weren’t interested in the music could talk through it because sign language is their mode of communication.

Martin: They’re reading lips and saying, “Stop yelling at me! I got your order!”

Todd: “Rum and Coke, I got it!”

Justin: The punks would order Budweiser because it was the easiest thing to lipread. And maybe for the price: I think it was a buck a beer or something. But they would write it down on a piece of paper or say “Bud” really clearly to be lipread or make the sign for beer, which is just a “B” up to your chin.

Anyway, Deaf folks at the time were marginalized. They weren’t required an interpreter by law. For example some landlords wouldn’t rent them apartments—discriminating against their disability. It was fairly common that employers wouldn’t hire Deaf people, thinking that it’d be too hard to deal with their disability in the workplace. The ADA didn’t exist yet, so this was their sacred space and the fact they invited the punks in was a big deal. This went on for about a year. Last year I met Delbert and he said, “I’m doing a documentary about the Deaf Club. I’m like, ‘No way!’”

Todd: A dream job!

Justin: Afterward, I took him aside and said, “My background is playing in punk rock bands, and if you need help with the documentary, a lot of these people are still around.” So we did the first round of interviews.

He also wants to show it half from the deaf perspective, but the deaf people were ten to fifteen years older at the time so a lot of them have died off. And because of the pricing in the Bay Area, a lot of them have moved. It’s hard to track a lot of them down because this was pre-social media, so it’s all word of mouth.

Martin: That’s why you gotta do it now.

Justin: We did the first round of interviews: Penelope Houston from The Avengers, Chip Kinman from The Dils, and Hector Peñalosa from The Zeros. So we’re on our way.

Martin: What an amazing soundtrack it will have, whether you hear it or hold your hand up to the speakers!

Justin: And so, fast-forwarding a tiny bit, I was the sign language interpreter for the L.A. teachers strike.

Todd: And how did that happen?

Justin: I had interpreted for the teachers union before because there are probably one hundred deaf teachers in L.A. and each division—they call them chapters—has a chapter chair. One of the public schools has two Deaf chapter chairs and for the union meetings, they needed sign language interpreters. I met them by interpreting a few of their meetings. I was interpreting at a funeral—and I’m the worst person to do that—when I got the call.

Todd: Why is that?

Justin: I’ll just burst into tears because I’m facing the audience and every single person is crying—and it’s probably the Deaf client’s family members who passed away. So I got a message asking if I could be in Downtown L.A. by 5 PM and I said, “Sure, I can do it.” And it was them announcing their strike. I got along well with them and they found out that I understand Spanish, too, and that I could do Spanish to ASL, so they wanted me for the duration of the strike for that reason.

So I was doing press conferences in the morning and afternoon, marches in the rain, and the rallies with musical guests: Wayne Kramer from the MC5, Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine, and Latin hip-hop guys like Ozomatli. I was thrown into the fray and it was like interpreter boot camp!

But Delbert’s brother Jevon was a teacher on strike. He’s a teacher at CSUN and also at East Valley High School. I met him there, and we got along. Then I found out he had a background in theatre. He had been on tour with the National Theatre of the Deaf and Deaf West Theatre out here in L.A., and had been involved in all these productions. Now he’s a filmmaker with his brother.

So working every day with the Deaf community, I realized that none of my events are deaf accessible. If I do a book reading, it’s in a bookstore, and there’s twenty people. There’s no interpreter and there’s no way a deaf person could come and enjoy it. If I play a punk rock show, sure, deaf people could come and probably enjoy it, but there’s nothing to really invite them in and no interpreter provided, if anyone would want one. So I wanted to put on a show that could bring in the deaf community and the hearing community.

Martin: Did you have any theatre background going into this?

Justin: I hadn’t done theatre since high school, but I had done a lot of writing and written a lot of autobiographical stuff, and wanted to do a show. I noticed one-man shows, like right now in L.A. John Leguizamo is doing his Latin History for Morons. It’s possible to write something and you don’t have to rely on these flakes who you play music with. And maybe you can tour and maybe there’s some kind of future for it, and I love storytelling.

A friend of mine said, “Deaf people aren’t going to be interested unless there’s a deaf person on stage.” I said, “Good point.” So we got a deaf actress to play my mother and two sign language interpreters. One is to sign for me when I was voicing and then for the other half of the show when I’m talking with mother, I sign and talk at the same time, which is called sim-com. And then there’s another interpreter for the deaf actress. It became a whole production—a clusterfuck.

Martin: It sounds complicated, but it all really works like a well-oiled machine. At first you’re figuring out that this person is signing for that person, but then you don’t even think about it and it becomes natural after a couple minutes. It’s ingenious. How many months did it take to put this together?

Justin: It was my new year’s resolution to do the show, and I wrote the first draft in probably a day. I figured I wanted it to be sixty minutes…

Todd: Sixty pages…

Justin: So I banged it out in a day and then I bugged Jevon Whetter. “Will you please direct this?” Because I really wanted to have a pair of Deaf eyes on the play, which I ended up calling Falling on Deaf Eyes, which is based on something my mom used to say. She’d be able to know if I came into the room. I’d say, “Mom, you didn’t hear us walk in. How did you know?” And she’d say, “I saw the curtain move just a little bit. Be careful, I have Deaf eyes.” She could always tell if I’d been somewhere where there was cigarette smoke or if there had been drinking—she could smell it. All of her other senses were just honed.

Martin: Like Daredevil!

Justin: When I was growing up, my friends’ parents wouldn’t want their kids to ride in the car with my mom because they’d say, “Oh, she can’t hear sirens. It’s dangerous. Or “Don’t go over there because she won’t be able to hear the smoke alarm.” “She won’t be able to hear you guys getting into trouble.” I don’t think they notice that Deaf people use their other senses, and my mom would be the first one to pull over because she could see the sirens coming from a mile away.

Todd: She could see flashing lights, reflections…

Martin: Everyone else is blasting music and can’t hear anyway!

Todd: Or just completely distracted: “I’m just driving my road couch…”

Justin: Which was a benefit, when my mom was driving. I could play Minor Threat’s discography at full blast at twelve years old and it didn’t bug her.

Martin: That’s one of my favorite parts of the play, where you talk about turning it up when you were practicing and how you could do that because your mom was Deaf.

Justin: She started to get upset when the neighbors were calling the police and the cops were showing up once or twice a week.

Martin: So was the crowd at your play as divided like you hoped it would be, with a lot of Deaf people and a lot of punks?

Justin: It really was! I really made a point to have interpreters, and I think we had interpreters for four out of the seven shows. And we really tried to promote it to the deaf community as much as we could. In Southern California I think there’s from 800,000 to one million Deaf and hard of hearing people, most of them in L.A. County. And, Jevon, being well connected, and our actress, Lisa Hermatz being well connected, she teaches at Pierce College and Glendale College—the Deaf community is small so they spread the word. I’d say we had some nights with a 50/50 audience. In the end, I’d say we did the show for almost four hundred people.

Todd: That’s fantastic.

Justin: It was a small theatre, but we packed it on most nights, which was cool.

Martin: It was the size of the Anti-Club or something. It was pretty small, and it felt like you were going to a punk rock show because you’re waiting outside and then sitting on wooden benches in a room with no air conditioning. And then there was loud music!

Justin: We actually found the air conditioning switch around halfway through the performances. And, like a real show, I almost smacked some people in the front row with my guitar kind of like I was actually playing!

Martin: Do you feel like you got a lot of press? Did people talk about it as much as you hoped?

Justin: We were part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival and they had almost three hundred shows this year, which was a lot of really stiff competition. Even though, I think our show was unique. We were the only show that had interpreters and a Deaf actor, Deaf director, Deaf producer, and sign language as part of the show rather than as an afterthought.

Martin: I liked seeing wheat-pasted posters around the neighborhood, too. It felt like a show!

Justin: One of the guys from Form Rank did that. I won’t say whom, but he asked me if I wanted that done. I was like, “Well, I don’t really want to get fined.” He ended up doing it, but he was smart because he left off the name of the theatre, so it was just the name of the show. That was right off in Hollywood on Highland, where you see all these “Post No Bills” signs and they’re cracking down on that.

Martin: So around four hundred people got to see it, including me, and we’re pretty stoked on it—enough that I want to talk to you about it here. So who gets to see it next?

Justin: I want it to go on tour, but it was such an expensive show to do because of everybody involved and hiring interpreters. I paid for it and maxed out all my credit cards. It really screwed me up financially but, in the end, I was glad I did it. It was my first time producing a play.

Martin: We were still talking about it a week later, and there are so many things you can get out of it. The use of DIY to support deaf people—no one would imagine that! So after the play, it’s not like you’ve discovered there’s this scene of punks and deaf people, is it? Did you discover there are more people like this or is it just one crazy unicorn wandering around the forest?

Justin: We’re in L.A. so there are pockets of everything. People will travel across L.A. County to go to a destination to see a band play. I think Deaf people, too, have their little pockets and they’re spread out. Because this was one of the few events that had sign language in it that was part of the show and had deaf actors and a deaf director, it was something special. So deaf people traveled. One person was from Minnesota. Someone else came from Oregon. People came from Riverside and San Bernardino and the Valley. People made the trek to check out the show, which is really cool. Whereas L.A. people, they’re like, “Hollywood? That’s too far!’

Todd: Did you tone down any of the punk rock stuff for the deaf community?

Justin: What I was worried about was knowing there were a lot of kids coming. Even Martin’s kid. I thought, “Should I take out the swearing?” And I was like, “No! It needs to be in there.” I was trying to make it authentic to how I would have talked as a teenager because I’m a teenager in the play. It’s weird because I’m in my thirties playing a teenage version of myself, and I found my old punk clothes from that era: the same leather jacket, the same denim vest that says The Jerk-Offs with the sleeves cut off…

Martin: How about the flyers on the wall?

Justin: Those were actual flyers off my teenage bedroom that I happened to find in a box.

Martin: What were some of the bands on them?

Justin: Mostly local bands. I went to high school on Bainbridge Island, Wash., so the bands were like The Rickets, Pud, The Scandals, The Unabombers, The Cleavers, and my high school band was called Maurice’s Little Bastards.

Todd: So I have some questions going back to your personal history. Did you ever feel like you have to separate punk and the Deaf community? Growing up around  Deaf people and being around Deaf people, did you feel you needed to take a break? Was that one of the things you rebelled against when you were growing up?

Justin: I think the experiences of a lot of children of Deaf adults and first-generation immigrants are probably very similar. Like a letter may come in the mail: “Hey, this letter is important. Tell me what it means.” And they’re asking a six-year-old kid. “Hey, there’s a meeting at my work and they can’t find an interpreter. You’re coming with me.” When my parents got divorced I had to interpret for my mom’s lawyer, and I was like nine years old or something.

I started playing in bands and went on tour with people ten years older when I was fifteen, and it was something where I was able to have my own voice, rather than being the voice for my mom.

Todd: Being the interpreter.

Justin: Yes, exactly. So I didn’t really think of it as rebelling, it was just an outlet that I needed to have. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties when I thought maybe I can bring them together onto one stage where both parties can enjoy it.

Martin: I don’t want to spoil the play for people who haven’t seen it, but there’s this part where you have a series of crappy jobs and then you realize you can be an interpreter—that you are an interpreter. And it just kind of happens naturally where you see that it’s a tool. It’s a gift.

Justin: When you do your whole life in sixty minutes, it’s an abbreviated version. But I was a traveling dental supply salesman. I was a graveyard shift delivery driver. For a lot of people in L.A. now, you almost have to have a side gig or second or third job just to survive. That’s almost everyone I know, and it isn’t just for musicians. And you don’t even think about music as something that brings in money because it probably doesn’t.

Martin: Multiple jobs used to be poor people coming over or people without a lot of dough or connections, and now it’s normalized. It’s so crazy.

Justin: I live south of Koreatown, so my neighborhood is mostly people from El Salvador, and everyone in my building wakes up at five in the morning and works two or three jobs. And on the weekend they’ll set up a shop in the doorways of their houses to sell clothes and shoes. And anyone who says that immigrants are not hard working… {shakes head}.

People are hustling hard.

Martin: It’s really interesting how you compare being a child of Deaf adults to being a child or immigrants. I never thought of that.

Justin: I grew up with a lot of people whose parents came from Mexico or Central America and it was them who had to interpret the phone calls, letters that came in the mail, and stuff from bill collectors and banks that maybe kids shouldn’t be involved in. And, to me, growing up with a Deaf mom it was the same thing. She was like, “What is this letter?” “It says they’re going to repossess your car, mom.” Or, “You’re three months late on this bill” or “They’re going to turn off your electricity.” Then it becomes your problem.

Martin: How many bands have you been in? I’ve heard maybe three, but I know there are way more.

Justin: Maybe ten?

Todd: I first saw you in the Clorox Girls at Juvee. That was a fun show… So your dad was in a punk band, too.

Justin: They were called The Defenders. Yeah, I guess more like new wave. They’d play clubs where the skinny tie bands would play like Madame Wong’s West and places like that.

Todd: Are there any legacies, besides the Deaf Club, of Deaf folks playing in bands or has it just not happened?

Justin: There’s been a few. Most famously, there’s a band called Beethoven’s Nightmare. They were in a documentary that came out recently.

Todd: Wow. It just seems that most music is played on the radio or podcasts. And that’s terra incognita for Deaf people.

Justin: There are also different levels of hearing loss. It’s not one-size-fits-all. I’m sure there are people who are Deaf in one ear or people like Beethoven who became deaf at a later age. The bass player in my dad’s band The Defenders became deaf at a late age and they started the band after he was diagnosed as more deaf than hearing.

Martin: But if you turn it up loud enough, he could still totally play?

Justin: Well, as a bass player, you can feel the low end. My mom liked feeling the low end. We used to go to a Deaf church in South L.A. They had the speakers for the organ underneath the wooden pews and they would completely vibrate. It was a crazy feeling, and I’m sure multiple women got orgasms from it.

Todd: Or were creeped out.

Martin: Men, too.

Justin: Deaf people absolutely loved it. Now they have a lot more interpreters doing shows, so Deaf people feel like that can be part of the experience.

Martin: Tell me about doing translating for The Avengers and Alice Bag.

Todd: Did you know the lyrics ahead of time or were you just riffing?

Justin: I was at the show at Alex’s Bar, and Alice Bag was like, “So, when are you going to interpret for me?” I was like, “I don’t know. Tonight?” So she wrote out the lyrics for “Gluttony” on this tiny piece of paper and said, “Okay, it’s going to be the last song.” I did the best I could.

Usually, you’d need to prep. For Martin’s daughter’s band, The Linda Lindas, I got to go to practice and know the set list beforehand. When you see interpreters just killing it, they probably prepped for at least a week and practiced at home and became familiar with it.

Todd: Almost like a conductor, emoting and knowing what’s happening?

Justin: Well, it’s an actual translation because ASL doesn’t have a written form. It’s usually written to English but it doesn’t follow English word order. If you’re doing that on the fly, the quality will suffer if it’s music because it’s usually a little more artful.

Martin: Usually you have to do a GoFundMe to get lyrics from an artist like Alice, so I hope you kept that…

Justin: I did! I have “Gluttony” on that little piece of paper.

Martin: I also love how some of the words are your call. Like for “I Wanna Be Sedated” with The Linda Lindas, you had a choice of how to sign for “sedated.”

Justin: Sure. “Sedated” could be taking a pill or having something injected into you or just calming down. I chose the injections sign, so it was eleven-year-old girls playing and I was signing “I want to be on drugs.” But I thought that was the best translation because he’s not talking about being given a pill; I’m imagining him in a straightjacket getting the injection to calm him down.

Martin: It must be a different sort of energy signing at a concert than… well, you’ve signed at some pretty big speaking engagements for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren recently.

Todd: How are you on their radar?

Justin: I’m freelance, so when there’s an event where there’s a sign language interpreter requested each agency has contracts. It’s the organization renting the hall or maybe something like that.

Todd: And do you get their speech prior? Or do you read off the teleprompter and interpret?

Justin: In those two cases it was just on the fly.

Todd: Has anyone ever come up and said, “You killed it,” or, “You got a couple of things wrong there, buddy.”

Justin: Um, my mom.

Todd: [laughs]

Justin: And that’s why a lot of interpreters don’t want to be on TV because you can be picked apart because you’re doing multiple voices, it’s live, it’s on the fly, there are TV cameras on your face, and you just have to go, so there will be some mistakes.

Todd: I think just doing a language translation is hard enough because you’re hearing in one ear and talking simultaneously.

Justin: And it’s quick or you might hear something wrong or there’s ambient noise. After doing it for a while, if you want me to do this, I need a binder with laminated speeches on a music stand with a light clip. I need a headset monitor or floor monitor, just like if you were performing, so you can hear everything and know what’s going on. It’s like your set list when you’re in a band.

Todd: So you are in your thirties and you’ve been around the Deaf community for your entire life. What are some advances in technology that have really changed or improved the quality of life for Deaf people?

Justin: Well, think about something like Facetime. Deaf people can Facetime each other on their smart phones and sign language live in the moment. There’s something called the Video Relay Service. For a Deaf person to make a call, an interpreter will pop up on their computer screen and make the call for them. They’re on a headset and they’ll speak for the deaf person and sign directly back to them.

Before, the technology was called TTY and it was a relay service, so you’d call up and they’d say [in a slow robotic voice], “This is relay operator 5414 with the call.” And then there would be a long delay. And then you’d hear [in a slow robotic voice], “Hi, Justin, this is your mom. How have you been?” It would drive me insane. “Mom, mom, I’ll see you later,” and just hang up.

It was below phone booths in train stations and airports, and it was phone book-sized. It would pop out and you’d set the phone on it and it would make noises like a fax machine.

Martin: Like an old modem.

Justin: Yes, and it would convert the sounds into letters and there would be tons of typos. It was really hard for deaf people to make phone calls, and—the Americans with Disabilities Act, in the early ’90s with George Bush I, finally started to be enforced—so deaf people had to have professional sign language interpreters for job interviews, work meetings, and all of the above. But before that, it was just deaf people mainly using their  kids friends and neighbors who were hearing to interpret for them.

Martin: We see pictures of you signing for Michelle Obama, but aren’t most of your jobs for employee meetings at Kaiser and stuff like that?

Justin: Yeah, anywhere a deaf person has a meeting, an event, a workshop, training, or a lecture: government meetings, Social Security, doctor appointments, dental appointments, hospital ER—all of the above. We take our ability to communicate for granted, and that’s the limitation for deaf people: communication. Interpreters bridge that gap and provide equal access.

Martin: Suspect Parts is your most active band now. Earlier you mentioned that you’re in bands and you have shows, but there’s not a lot of access. Since this play, have you thought of ways to change that?

Justin: Sure, but the amount of money a band gets paid isn’t even enough to cover one interpreter for their half an hour set! Unless they’re volunteering, and  Deaf people are into the visceral experience, too. Delbert grew up in Oregon but went to college in D.C. at Gallaudet—one of the only four-year liberal arts colleges for deaf people in the world—and would go to shows at the 9:30 Club. I think the first or second time he went, the friend he went with got a black eye, and they both said, “This is the best thing ever!”

Todd: “We’re going next week!”

Justin: Exactly, and he was hooked for life. That’s how Delbert got into punk, and he was one of the  few deaf people from Gallaudet who would go to the 9:30 Club and check out all these bands. How to bridge that gap? I think the key is that if deaf people go, they just have to let people know. Then you can arrange the interpreter.

Todd: I feel the same way. With the punk rock that we’re involved in, it’s limited in financial resources, period. If somebody expresses a need and it’s reasonable—you’re in a wheelchair, we’ll try to get you in—we got it. That makes sense. So I’m sympathetic to both sides, and the big thing is people wanting to work with each other. Everybody should have equal access.

Justin: Absolutely. If it’s a venue like the Echoplex or even Alex’s Bar, if they send an email and say, “Hey, there’s going to be a few Deaf people showing up, can we provide interpreters?” Then it is on them, legally, to provide it. Under the ADA, they have to. Whether a lawsuit will be filed is another story. But they should, and probably could, find a volunteer or something. If someone said, “Hey, Justin. We don’t have a budget for this but would you mind interpreting for this event?” I’m more than happy to do it, but for music it takes preparation. For Penelope Houston, I know “We Are the One.” I’ll do that one, okay? And she says, “Okay, it’s the first song.”

Martin: Not many people can say they’ve been onstage with Alice and The Avengers. That’s really cool.

Justin: It’s really cool. As a teenager, I never thought I’d be up there doing sign language for The Avengers or Alice Bag. No way. But if someone asked me to do rap or something, nah.

Martin: Although you’ve done standup.

Justin: Yes, I’ve signed for standup comedians.

Todd: How did the jokes land?

Justin: Unfortunately, no Deaf people showed up! I was hoping they would. It was rough, and I was wondering if some of the humor would translate, like any language, like Spanish to English or Japanese.

Todd: For people who have mobility issues, a large thing that has happened in the last twenty years or so is doing curb cuts in sidewalks so people in wheelchairs can go all over the city. And when we look at it, people don’t know that’s the reason why it happened. They’re like, “Oh, I get to pull my luggage over that thing,” or “Oh, I get to push my shopping cart over the curb now.” Is there something the Deaf community pushed for and everyone benefits from now, like having closed captioning.

Justin: Yeah! That would be one example—closed captioning or subtitles.

Todd: I prefer watching TV with the subtitles, reading along.

Justin: And feel like you don’t miss something. Or Americans watching British TV. I need it but also I want to know what they’re saying.

Martin: Or some of us go to a lot of shows and our hearing sucks now.The Razorcake community, right there, benefits.

Justin: One thing I’ve really noticed is that you can say about twenty-five percent of Americans have some kind of disability, whether it’s dyslexia, ADHD, or visible or invisible disabilities, which includes deafness. And it’s now becoming part of the diversity conversation.

Here in L.A., every single film studio now has a diversity and inclusion department, and now they’re finally starting to consider the twenty-five percent of Americans with disabilities. Why not have an accurate portrayal of that on camera and behind the camera working on the set? Steps are being made to employ people with disabilities, including deaf people, and I think deaf people have been a vocal part of that, saying, “Hey, you need to make stories about us. Show us on screen. We want to see ourselves.” The next Avatar has CJ Jones, a deaf actor, who is creating a type of sign language for that planet and he’s in the movie as well. And Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress, is going to star again in a sequel to A Quiet Place.

Martin: Spoiler alert! So Suspect Parts has a new 7”and some of you are in the U.S. and some of you are in Europe?

Justin: Well, when Clorox Girls fell apart, we were really badly in debt. So rather than go back to no job, no girlfriend, and no place to stay Portland, Ore., where I lived at the time, I went to Madrid for a couple of years and taught English and deejayed. I started this band when I was living over there because Chris from The Briefs had moved to Germany, and so we ended up getting together and recording a 7”. Later, we recruited Sulli, the guitarist who lives in London, and Andru, who lives in Berlin.

Martin: So three of you are in Europe, but not even in the same city.

Justin: Chris was in Berlin before, but now he’s in Munich. For a while, we were getting together once a year to record and tour, and this was our last recording. This year, because of the play and the Maniac tour, which lost a bunch of money, I’m not able to go back and do that again. I’m nose to the grindstone right now.

Todd: Are you fully employed signing now?

Justin: Yeah, I interpret five to six days a week.

Martin: And took a night off to do this interview. You could be out there right now.

Justin: There was a request from a hospital in Glendale.

Todd: Is there anything you say no to?

Justin: Interpreting math classes isn’t my favorite thing, although I just said yes to one.

Todd: That’s interesting because a lot of math is so visual.

Justin: But I just struggle with it myself. Plus my back is to the board, so when the teacher’s saying something I have to crane around to interpret it correctly. And if it’s a concept I’m really terrible with, like advanced, college-level math… But the rudimentary stuff is okay.

It all depends on the personality of the interpreter. Some don’t want to see blood, so they don’t want to go to the hospital or dental office. That doesn’t bother me, and I actually find medical interpreting to be rewarding because if you tell someone the wrong thing, it could literally be a life-or-death situation. You can’t be shy. You’ve got to get in there, and you can be in some gnarly situations sometimes.

Martin: That’s okay. Some interpreters don’t want to go to punk rock shows, so it all balances out. In a strange way, do you feel more whole than ever before? Because all these parts of your world are connecting now and there’s a narrative to it—one that you’ve even shared.

Justin: In screenwriting, they say, “Find your authentic voice.” Well, my authentic voice coming from a Deaf mom but growing up with punk rock, too, and to be able to bring both of those worlds together in some way. I’m still figuring it out, but I’m thinking about adapting the play into an episodic miniseries. From the stage to the screen, doing something like that could be really interesting. I’m thinking about writing a book, which is the extended version of the play but it’s different formatting and tweaking things. What can you do on the page that you can’t do on the stage? What can you do on screen?

Martin: And out of all these options, you have to think about the one that loses the least amount of money.

Justin: Right.

Todd: Start with that one first.

Justin: I think the fact that Hollywood is starting to tell Deaf stories from a Deaf perspective is really exciting. And I’m excited to be a part of that in a small way, whether it’s being an interpreter on set, writing something original that gets made, or being part of production with a Deaf director or producer like Jevon or Delbert is really cool.

Todd: Or all of the above. So I have a question: What can we do as an organization to be more Deaf-friendly?

Justin: I think just printing interviews online. It’s that simple.

Todd: Why online versus print?

Justin: Just because someone who is in Northridge or Riverside may not have access to a print version. And they might see a band on the cover of the magazine and have no idea about them. But online, there’s access to everybody. Not only Deaf people but international people.

There are so many apps now that it’s a pain, and I struggle, too, but once you figure them out, add subtitles to YouTube or Instagram videos. And if you’re a band, just putting the lyrics on videos makes a big difference to deaf people. On the Suspect Parts music video I made sure we had lyrics as subtitles so it’s not just a talking face. You know what I mean?

Martin: But bands out there should probably work on having good lyrics before putting them out there!

Justin: [laughs]

Todd: And some bands are intentionally cryptic and don’t want their lyrics out there.

Justin: Sometimes direct is good. Rock’n’roll has a lot of dunderhead lyrics that are sometimes great and then you realize, “That’s what they’ve been saying the whole time?”

Todd: The entire Ramones catalog.

Justin: I was listening to Tom Petty on the way here and he’s very straightforward. If it were said out loud, it would sound stupid. But because it’s to the tune of the song, it just makes sense.

Martin: The difference between poetry and a song, pretty much. I don’t know what else to say, but what you’ve been doing blows my mind.

Todd: I really appreciate you coming in. I think that a lot of doors are opening right now, and people are going to have a lot of conversations and share things. And making a living off these things is very important because we don’t want to fetishize people or tokenize people. But I want this to be a larger conversation for the entire culture—recognizing other people and taking steps to being more open.

Justin: Sign language is being offered in more schools than ever before and popularity is so high they can’t keep up with the demand. In Southern California, a lot of the high schools now offer ASL as part of their foreign language credit. A lot of community colleges are offering it. Cal State Northridge is the school with the third largest Deaf population in the U.S. So it’s an exciting time.

And for people who are interested in learning sign language, it’s possible to learn for free off of the Gallaudet University website, off of YouTube, or a cheap or free class from GLAD, the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness.

Martin: I also think it’s cool how punk rock was a way to rebel when you were a kid, and now you can use it to rebel against this other hierarchy. As an adult, you can use it to address this huge problem we have where people assume that everyone is the same, hears the same, and listens the same.

Justin: I think the good I can do—especially working with people like Jevon and Del as filmmakers—if they go to an event, how do they network if there’s not an interpreter there? Everyone’s talking and meeting people: “Oh, what are you working on?” Communication’s a real pain in the ass. Being able to help out really  talented filmmakers like that and getting their dream told…

I think I’m allowed to say this, but they’re making a feature film right now about Jevon, who was on the Oregon School For The Deaf’s track team who won the state track and field championship in 1986. I’ve been interpreting for a lot of the meetings and events. The momentum is going very well for them and hopefully that will be made. If so, it will be the first Hollywood movie with a Deaf director and a Deaf ensemble cast.

Todd: Again, thank you so much, that was really interesting.

Justin: Hopefully, people will like it and won’t be bored.


One Year Anniversary of the LA Teacher’s Strike

16 Jan



Normally an ASL interpreter is not supposed to post photos on social media when she is on the job due to our code of ethics and the most important part of our profession, confidentiality. We’re also never supposed to self promote- as our job is about our Deaf consumers and the Deaf community that we serve as a bridge of communication for. However, in this case I will make an exception and share this story, as this is such a unique situation.

1 year ago I was fortunate enough to have been a small part of the largest teacher’s strike in US history here in Los Angeles. Between 30 and 50 thousand courageous, driven, principled people were in the streets of LA in the pouring rain for 6 days. They were fighting for the rights of LA Public School Students and demanding dignity and respect for those who educate them.

UTLA, the LA teachers union was committed to equal access to communication for the Deaf educators on strike and for the Deaf parents, students, and community members affected by the strike (some numbers show that nearly one million Deaf and Hard of Hearing people live in Southern California, many of them in LA County). By the end of the 6th day, we were all like family and I really feel honored to have been treated like a fellow family member.

All of the passionate Deaf educators at Marlton School and across the district were so wonderful to work with. A few other ASL interpreters worked with me during the strike including Jamila Cantor-Guerrero, Allie Kauling, Jann Goldsby. They were all wonderful team interpreters and deserve acknowlegement. Sign Language Company Interpreting agency also deserves acknowledgement for their fine work.

I’m a CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult), and it was such an honor to serve Deaf Educators during their historic strike. I was so humbled by all of the courage, passion, and commitment I witnessed during the strike. It was a truly life changing experience. I grew up with a Deaf mom, a single mother who was a public high school teacher. As a part time public school teacher, my mom often struggled making ends meet when my siblings and I were growing up. This made the strike personal for me, it really resonated. I really do have so much love for all of you teachers here in Los Angeles and am so grateful to have served you during your strike in my small way. Big hugs to everyone and happy 1 year anniversary! – Los Angeles, California Jan 15th 2020



Yellow Rose Of Texas

6 Jan


I saw Buckle’s Lounge (Western Bar, Dancing) out of the corner of my eye as I pulled into town on I-40 West.  Most of the hotels and motels in Amarillo were only about thirty bucks for a night, but I remembered Cezar’s spider bites in El Centro and thought I better rest my head in at least a three star hotel, one or two star hotels being breeding grounds for bed bugs, fleas, and anything else you can catch for thirty bucks.

I found a three star hotel for sixty bucks and they even had an available room on the ground floor as I requested.  The lack of stairs made it much easier to load amps and guitars into my room.  I promised Cezar I’d take care of his gear. I didn’t want my guitar stolen either.

For those of you who haven’t been to Texas, your perception has been molded by its outsider reputation. The first time I traveled through the Lone Star State as a seventeen year old punk rock musician in 2001, my guitarist’s parents’ faces became considerably more white when we told them we were headed through Texas.

“You’re driving through Texas?”


“Just be careful in Texas. It’s just… we come from the Easy Rider generation.”


For those who haven’t seen Easy Rider, see it.  I hope I won’t ruin your cinematic experience by letting you know that both Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s characters are killed by shotgun-toting, pickup truck-driving rednecks at the end of their road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans.

In Tucson, Arizona in December 2019, this conversation seemed to repeat itself.

“You’re driving through Texas?”

“Be careful, just don’t get shot. They shoot people out there.”

yellow rose

Where does this reputation come from?  In 1836 between 182 and 257 Texans died defending The Alamo in San Antonio. Around 600 Mexicans were killed or wounded. A man in Hico, Texas claimed to have been notorious outlaw Billy “the Kid” who raised plenty of hell in the late 1800s. In the 1930s, Dallas, Texas’ own Bonnie and Clyde committed over 13 murders, along with their burglaries.  In 1963, JFK was assassinated in Dallas.  In 1993, 76 members of the Branch Dravidian Cult were killed during a siege in Waco, Texas. In August 2019, at an El Paso Walmart, a gunman shot and killed 22 people, injuring 24 others. Plenty of terrible things have occurred in other states, but like they say, “Everything is bigger in Texas.”


As a touring musician who traveled through Texas quite a few times, I found Texans to be genuine polite people who had real respect and admiration for original music.  I found country music dance halls to be fascinating, where people of every stripe – black, white, Latino, young, old, all dancing the Texas two-step, couples amicably switching without complaint, the continuation of  dance being the most important thing.  People seemed to treat each other with an old-worldly respect.

ernest tubb texastroubadours

Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours

People say, “Please, thank you, ma’am, and sir.”

Real gentlemen still exist in Texas.

As a traveling dental supply salesman I was also fortunate enough to spend time in San Antonio and Austin.  For several years, my old punk band Clorox Girls would travel to the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, where we’d almost always spend a week crashing with friends.  We enjoyed the hospitality and the breakfast tacos.  California does breakfast burritos, but Texas does breakfast tacos, scrambled eggs and chorizo on a heavenly, fluffy, buoyant, stretchy warm flour tortilla.

Many of my favorite musicians come from Texas, including but not limited to Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lefty Frizzell,The Dicks, The Big Boys, Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Towns Van Zandt.  I’ve attempted the Texas two-step in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas.

Amarillo, yellow in Spanish, known as “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” is named for the yellow wildflowers that blanket the panhandle during spring and summer.  My trip from Irving, Texas to Amarillo had taken me through a number of one-horse towns, one road, one movie theatre, one church, one gas station.  Being a fan of the films “The Last Picture Show” and “Tender Mercies”, these one-horse towns fueled my imagination.


Pulling into town I had to find a budget hotel that didn’t have bed bugs with a ground floor load-in for the amps and guitars weighing down my poor 2013 Honda Civic.  Found one for sixty. Three star.  A couple blocks away from my hotel was Bikini Players Club.  That would be my second stop.  First things first, haul ass over to Buckles and see what it’s all about.

A few pickup trucks dotted the parking lot.  I pulled my Honda Civic with Bernie Sanders bumper sticker right in front of the place.


“Fuck it,” I said to myself, and swung the front door open.

There was a group of young people playing pool to the left, one of them a woman wearing a black wrist brace.

I sat down at the bar. A very large man was asleep at the bar next to me.  Across at the other end of the bar a couple of guys with square white beards were deep in conversation. They could have been stars on the show “Duck Dynasty.”  One of them had on a Texas Longhorns hat.  To their left was a guy with a cowboy hat and a mustache smoking a cigarette and nursing a Bud Lite.

The girl with the wrist brace came up to the bar next to me.

“Claudette, a couple more Ultras with Limes, please?”

Michelob Ultra with a lime was the pool players’ drink of choice.  The Duck Dynasty guys were drinking large Bud Lites in metallic blue bottles.

I ordered a Shiner and a shot of tequila.

“What’s your well,” I asked Claudette.

“Juarez,” she responded.

“I’ll try that.”

Terrible choice.  Juarez did not go down smoothly.

“$6.75” Claudette said.   A bargain.

The large man next to me was suddenly awake.  It appeared that he wasn’t sleeping, he was just chatting quietly into his cell phone, cupped in his gargantuan hands.  He had to drown out Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blaring above.   Country Western bar indeed.

I must have looked road weary enough to fit in.

The big man turned to me, “You work around here? You look familiar.”

“No, I’m just passing through.” I said with a grin, the quadruple shot of Juarez beginning to kick in.

The man’s name was Mike.   Mike was smoking a cigarette and nursing a Jack and Coke.

“I’m a retired trucker on disability.  But I still drive under the table. I’m leaving for Tracy, California tomorrow morning.  The last time I went out there I stayed in one of the cat houses outside of Vegas.  Not for the hookers, but just ‘cause the hotel is cheap.  I met a 19 year old girl there.  She didn’t wanna be there.  So I took her outta there, gave her a ride to Phoenix.  When I pass through, she lets me sleep on her couch.  I have another girl in town here. She has two different kids by two different black guys.  I just bought her a new washing machine.”

“It’s good to do things for other people,” I said.

“I used to be the doorman at Billy Bob’s over in Fort Worth. I saw everybody there. I mean everybody.”

“Willie, Waylon, all those guys?”

“I mean everybody.”

Mike coughed a little.

“Man, I got sleep apnea, real bad. They tell me my heart stops in the middle of the night. So I got this oxygen respirator.”

Mike took another drag of his cigarette.

He told me a little bit about his ex wives and grandchildren and how his truck needed some repairs before he drove out to Tracy in the morning.

“So, are you a fan of Mister President?”

“No, I am not,” I replied calmly.

It wasn’t brought up again. We just kept chatting. This is how political conversations should go. Just talk about something else. I respected Mike for that. Our countrymen should follow his example.

A Dominoes delivery guy showed up.


“Yup that’s me!”

Mike signed for the pizza.

“You wanna slice of pizza?”

“No man, I’m good, thanks. I just ate.”

“Hey Claudette, you gotta try a piece of this pizza!”

Mike had a couple of slices. Claudette took one.

“Now Claudette, I’m gonna need you to make me an orgasm.”

“I don’t know how to make that one.”

“Look it up on your phone!”

She did.

Claudette came back with an icy fluorescent drink in a highball glass.  It had a pink shot next to it.  Mike took it down.

“Ah that’s good!  You made it right!”

He went back to his Jack and Coke.

Mike was sniffing a little bit.  I didn’t ask.

A Latino trucker came in who was sniffing quite a bit more.

“Hey, do you have any wine?”

Claudette dug deep into her freezer and pulled out this urine-yellow bottle of Chardonnay.

“This thing has been in here for like three years.”

“I’ll have that,” Latino trucker said, nearly chewing his lips off.

“I Could Just Kill A Man” by Cypress Hill came on the jukebox.  Latino trucker began slapping the bar with two open palms, in tempo with the music.  No one flinched.  I ordered a second shot of tequila but went for something a little more higher shelf than Juarez.  It was Hornitos.  Better than Juarez but not by much.  Ordered a second Shiner Bock to wash it down.

The next song was Rage Against the Machine covering Cypress Hill’s “I Could Just Kill A Man.” Someone put the same song on the jukebox twice.

Wrist girl came up to the bar again, standing very close to me. She gave me a sideways smile.

“Claudette, two more Ultras with Lime please.”

I enjoyed chatting with Mike, but I after two giant shots of tequila and two beers, I figured I might get into something deep if I stayed.  I had six hundred miles to drive in the morning.  I shook Mike’s hand goodbye and wished him a safe drive to Tracy.  He looked me in the eye and had a firm grip. I value these small things.

I thought about going into Bikini Players Club for a last drink.

“Fuck it,” I said to myself and went in.

download (1)

There was a small cover charge at the door. A nervous looking skinny white guy was in line ahead of me.  He pocketed his change anxiously.

The door girl was a cute Latina with a big smile.  I paid the cover and went in.

Bikini Players Club was about half full. It was mostly black guys in there with a sprinkling of Latinos and white guys.  I ordered another Shiner Bock , paid in cash, tipped a buck and sat down near the stage.  The first dancer was a black girl in a bikini who was pretty unenthusiastic, no one paid her much attention and she only made about five bucks in tips. I sipped on my Shiner Bock and surveyed the room.  There was a group of black guys who had their own table front and center, looked like it was someone’s birthday party or bachelor party.  They had their own personal waitress who brought them another round of drinks on a tray.

A white guy two seats away from me got swooped up by a girl who offered him a private dance. He agreed and was quickly whisked away to a back room.  The next dancer was a Latina with a one piece bathing suit which served as a thong in the back.  She was a real lady with stretch marks and all.  She stood on all fours and made her exposed parts jiggle and shake.  A black girl in nurse’s scrubs, came up and put a few dollars inside the hip of the woman’s bathing suit and gave her a light spank.

“Thank you, hun,” the dancer said.

My Shiner Bock was empty, and I had seen enough. I figured I was next on the chopping block to be pulled into the back for a dance.  I had six hundred miles to drive in the morning after all.  It was a chilly walk back to my hotel, I figured it was about 30 degrees.  I went through the Whataburger Drive Through and took the food back to my room.

I couldn’t sleep, but “Vacation” with Chevy Chase was on TV.  Man, they sure went through hell to make it to Wally World.  They had to tie Aunt Edna to the roof of the car when she died.  Good stuff.   Clark gets caught naked in the pool red-handed. Good stuff.

In the morning I had an egg and chorizo breakfast burrito.  Nothing else in there. Just scrambled egg, chorizo, and the best flour tortilla known to mankind.  I hit up a Mexican grocery store and bought two four packs of Topo Chico in glass bottles and some warm flour tortillas.  It really doesn’t take too much to make me happy. I’m a simple man.  Just give me the open road, a cold Topo Chico, some warm flour tortillas, and Ernest Tubb on the car radio.

Amarillo seemed like a lawless place. A trucker town, a border town, a meth town, a Texas panhandle town. I loved it. Driving across the state alone listening to Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly brought me into a tranquil, meditative state.  A lady working the counter inside at a service station (unleaded gasoline was $2.50 per gallon), asked me if I played the guit-tar.

“I used to have a guit-tar.  My ex boyfriend kept it. Miss the guit-tar, but he was a nice guy. It’s been so long.”

“It’s never too late to pick one up again.”

“Yeah, I donno. Maybe.  You have a safe drive.”

There were a few Mexican bars that I wouldn’t mind stopping in.  The pawn shop was sure to have something good in it.  Passed the local TV station building.  I wondered what was on Amarillo’s local news today.  I wondered how much rent was.  I wondered if I could find work in Amarillo as a sign language interpreter.  I imagined what my little house in Amarillo would look like.  Maybe I could play country music Thursday nights at Buckle’s.  Maybe a late-night radio station would let me DJ some tunes.


Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo

Passed Cadillac Ranch on the outskirts of town. I never did have that free seventy two ounce steak at Big Texan that had been advertised on billboards for hundreds of miles.  Mike told me that it was a scam anyhow. He told me two people had died trying to eat it all in one sitting.


The Yellow Rose of Texas disappeared in my rearview.  It kept a chunk of my heart, seventy two ounces worth.  I knew that I’d be back soon.



Tacos, Tequila, and Spider Bites. Cezar & Justin Tour Diary 2019.

3 Jan
cezar j 1

Korean Friendship Bell, San Pedro. Photo by Andrew Zappin

Tacos, Tequila, and Spider Bites.

Cezar & Justin Tour Diary 2019.

I first met Cezar Mora about ten years ago in Long Beach, California. We had a mutual Canadian friend, Vancouver artist and musician Justin Gradin. This creative Canuck introduced us.  Justin Gradin would eat a California Burrito (carne asada with french fries) from Burrito King in Echo Park daily, but that’s beside the point. 

burrito king

Burrito King, Echo Park.

Cezar told me that we could make a lot of money playing low rider car shows as a Beach Boys cover band singing in Spanish. We called ourselves Los Long Beach Boys and attempted our first song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” in Spanish.  The translation was difficult, the rhymes were difficult, we were both frustrated.  After a couple sessions of attempting to kick off Los Long Beach Boys, we scrapped the idea and formed a band that played original songs instead.  We called ourselves LA Drugz because our drummer James Carman said that the best music is like a drug. 
LA Drugz

LA Drugz outside of Harold’s Place, San Pedro. Photo by Emilio Venegas, Jr.

There was already a band called LA Drugs from Boston, so we called our selves LA Drugz with a Z. It was partially a tribute to The Plugz, and also LA Guns.   LA Drugz recorded some fantastic material, released a 12″ EP and a digital EP and toured the west coast of America, but we were ultimately short lived.  We reformed to tour from Texas to San Francisco with England’s Fat White Family, and that tour ended with our tour van being broken into, all of Fat White’s equipment, suitcases, and guitars stolen, and those guys basically left in windy freezing cold San Francisco all wearing their only item of clothing which were matching LA Drugz T-shirts.

Fat White Family on the first date of their UK tour, the only clothing not stolen out of their suitcases in SF being their matching LA Drugz T-shirts. Photo by Polly Braithwaite.

When  I was a teenager, my Dad had a friend from Morro Bay, California named Fran.  He was belligerent and a drunk and he would frequently get into fistfights with surfers on the beach. He would only date black women, citing his preference for their shapely asses.  Fran loved blues and country music and when I told him I liked it too, he would tape me this radio show from one of his local stations.   The cassette tapes that would arrive weekly in the mail would have stuff on them like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Lefty Frizzell.   To me, blues and country were just as honest as punk rock.  Country music was American rural storytelling, songs about all night drunks, failed marriages, lost jobs, broken hearts. It was a truly adult form of music as opposed to a teenage type of music like rock and roll or punk rock.  I didn’t truly understand it until I was divorced in my early 30s.
I played in touring punk rock bands from 1998 til 2018.   In my mind I wanted to play punk rock when I was young and country music when I was old.  A few years ago I went to the White Horse in Austin, Texas and saw young guys with long hair and feathers in their hats playing real country music. I thought, “Jesus, if these guys can do it, then I can too.” What am I waiting for?  It turned out these long haired guys were Croy and The Boys, Croy being a roommate of my old friend Mark Janchar of Hovercraft Records. Small world.
When I my relationship of 8 years ended in divorce, country music was one of the few things that helped me through it. All of these singers had felt my pain too. They drank to cope just like I did.  They made mistakes just like I did.  They fucked up and hit rock bottom just like I did. They got back up on their feet just like I did.
In Los Angeles I found a small but thriving country scene at venues like The Echo, Harvard and Stone, and The Escondite.   At Cowboy Country in Long Beach I saw a great young pedal steel player named Kevin Milner. I got his contact information.  I asked Cezar Mora if he wanted to play in a country band with me.  He was one of my only friends I knew who loved both punk rock and traditional country music.  We both really dig the Bakersfield sound, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and classic stuff like Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, Eddie Noack, Willie, Waylon, Loretta, George Jones, you know, the good stuff.
Angela Ramos from San Pedro surf band Bombon agreed to play bass, and Luis Herrera (from Rough Kids, Sonny Vincent, and many more) on drums. We called ourselves The Wayward Chapel, released a live album, and played 3 shows.  Our debut on 4th of July we rode in on the back of my neighbor Francisco’s flatbed tow truck. It was truly epic.  Then Angela had a baby, Cezar started a plumbing business called Camco Rooter, and I started freelance ASL Interpreting full time.  We stopped playing.

The Wayward Chapel’s First show on top of my neighbor Francisco “Tow Life”s flatbed tow truck. 4th of July 2016

My little brother Jamie recently moved to Dallas, Texas and there was a loose plan for my family to visit him there for Christmas.  I thought about going on tour solo, playing some acoustic shows on the way to help pay for gas.  My second thought was to recruit Cezar Mora on 2nd guitar, harmonies, and some lead vocals of his own and we could do a stripped down country set of originals and covers. To my surprise. Lord Cezar Mora agreed to join me on this Los Angeles to Dallas journey.  In the end I had a lot of trouble syncing up dates with Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Marfa venues, so the tour was booked as far as Tucson, Arizona, and Cezar would fly back from there. I’d drive the remaining 952 miles myself.  This is our tale.
LA poster
Friday Dec. 13th Los Angeles, CA @ Fais Do Do
A few hours before our LA show our promoter Ryan Platero got in touch to tell us that Fais Do Do had cancelled the show because they had no PA System.  He scrambled and was able to move the show to the Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown.  The other bands and DJs scrambled and posted on social media, texting people, frantically spreading the word about the last minute change of location.
Cezar and I donned our hats and boots and arrived a little early, schlepping our stuff up the flight of stairs.  Little did we know, the downstairs bar at the Grand Star had a techno party downstairs. The blaring techno was drowning out the opening act Blanca, but as she was versatile, she was able to stomp her feet and adjust the tempo of her songs so that it matched the tempo of the throbbing kickdrum below.   Cezar and I were up next and it was the first show we had ever played as a two piece.  The techno totally drowned us out and I felt like I had to scream over it.  Some folks in the crowd started talking and between the techno and their talking, it was all I could hear. I couldn’t hear myself, couldn’t hear my guitar amp, couldn’t hear Cezar, couldn’t hear our vocals.  It was extremely difficult to get through.  We played a cover of “Dead Flowers” and that’s when I got into my punk rock mindset.
My inner voice started chiding me,
                       “Man, what if this is the last show you ever play? How do you wanna go                                   out?
                         You gonna give up?”
Luckily Ryan our promoter told us we only had time for a couple left.  Ending that set was like ending torture trying to play over the techno downstairs.
Before we ended our set I said, “I don’t condone violence, but in this case I will make an exception. Will someone please go downstairs and shoot the DJ multiple times?”
I don’t condone violence but I did wish death on whoever was torturing our existence with bad house music.  It was Friday The 13th after all. Did we pass the test? Who knows. We survived relatively unscathed.  People seemed to love our Cactus t-shirts designed by Matthew “Snake” Davisand screen printed by Kid Kevin Carle at Calimucho Screenprinting and we sold a few.
long beach poster
Saturday Dec 14th Long Beach, CA @ 4th Street Vine
Our friend Jim Ritson owns 4th Street Vine in Long Beach and a couple other bars too. God bless him. Our good friend Paul Gonzalez had recently had his car stolen in front of the place while he was working. His records, turntables, and DJ Mixer was inside his car. It was devastating for him as DJing is his 2nd job and one of his loves.  Long Beach rallied and raised a few thousand bucks for him on GoFundMe.  God Bless Paul.
Cezar and Paul were drinking across the street at The Social.  Cezar had his black Stetson Revenger on.  He looked killer.
We had a couple drinks and then headed over to 4th Street Vine as we were on first. People seemed to really listen to our tunes.  It was nice to not have to try and play over throbbing techno.  Our set felt good, pure, the way the songs were meant to be heard.
TJ flyer
Sunday Dec 15th Tijuana, BC @ Casa De Vilma
I picked up Lord Cezar at 10am at his pad in San Pedro and he wasn’t there. He had parked his van at his Aunt’s place in North Long Beach (down the street from Snoop Dogg’s parents’ house).  So far the communication on this two man tour was off to an excellent start.
Made the 20 minute detour to North Long Beach, found Lord Cezar and his van the Green Goblin.  Made the tetris pack into the back seat of my 2013 Honda Civic and we were off!
The drive to Tijuana was relatively painless.  That stretch of 5 freeway near the San Onofre power plant and the view of the great Pacific Ocean is so beautiful.  We stopped in San Isidro, the last US stop before Mexico to buy Mexican Car Insurance, the one thing that I forgot to do.  Typically your US car insurance provider won’t cover you for accidents down in Mexico.  We had our guitars and combo amps with us and I asked my insurance people about theft.  Geico told me that I had to buy renter’s insurance to be covered for theft, but everything in both my apartment and my car would be covered.  I thought it was a good deal, and remembering our good friend Paul in Long Beach and his recent theft of all of his DJ Gear out of his car, I went ahead and bit the bullet, buying renter’s insurance.  Now that our car and gear were fully insured, we said fuck it and crossed into Mexico!
Our friends Marco and Gabriela’s pad is over in Playas Tijuana, and to get there, you cross the border and make a hard right which leads you through this windy, hilly freeway which parallels the massive border fence to the right.  This fence is rusty corrugated steel and is about the height of 20 Honda Civics.  In between the initial Mexican border fence is the death strip, and then the US border fence.  You can see US Border trucks driving back and forth just on the US side of the fence.  The huge fence leads all the way into the Mexican side of the Pacific Ocean which ends up right at Playas Tijuana.
In Playas the fence has these murals painted onto it. They’ve made it into a kind of park.  I like it that they’ve done that.  Turned this ugly steel fence into something a bit more pleasant.  From Playas Tijuana you can literally see the skyline of San Diego in the distance.  The border is such a farce, man. It’s literally for show.  People who cross the border daily have family on both sides.  It’s people’s aunts, uncles, grandparents, neices, nephews who are crossing to visit and stay with family on the other side.  Gabriela, who lives with Marco in Playas Tijuana is studying to be a Veterinary Technician.  She crosses almost daily to study in San Diego.  Marco is studying to be an educational administrator and nearly has his Master’s Degree from one of the many excellent universities in Tijuana.

Our host Marco’s face after I convince him to try a little taste of Gran Centenario Plata

We found our host’s house and I cut my finger open on their sliding gate door. My friend Cezar told me that I was going to get tetanus or lock jaw and have to sing the rest of the tour through my teeth with my jaw stuck shut.  Nice guy, isn’t he?
We met the doggie, Vilma who their house is named after.  Marco was preparing a carne asada BBQ in their back yard.  Playas Tijuana is mellow and pleasant and a nice breeze blows off the ocean.  It was time for Cezar and I to get in our hats and boots before people started arriving the party.  But first things first, we bought a bottle of Tequila Gran Centenario, Plata from the corner store nearby and enjoyed a tragito with our hosts.
Damian Fry aka Profeta de Ajo (“Prophet of Garlic”) opened up the show with some beautiful tunes from South America.  He had an assortment of different instruments and he played and sang beautifully.
Damian Fry TJ

Damian Fry aka Profeta de Ajo.       Photo by @isabeology (IG)

Up next were Los Rattlesnakes, Tijuana punk scene veterans who recently started an acoustic side project.  The dudes later told me that they had called the band Los Rattlesnakes because of the theme of rattlesnakes in the Ritchie Valens biopic film “La Bamba”, which is also a favorite of ours.  My old friend Sulli and I got Ritchie Valens tattoos on a trip to TJ awhile back and I told them the story about it. They were stoked.

Los Rattlesnakes

Los Rattlesnakes

Your pals Cezar and Justin were up next, and the room full of TJ punk rockers surprisingly dug our set of traditional country western music.


Our set was followed by a lively afterparty and we managed this group shot before things got too rowdy!  Gracias a Marco y Gabriela and all of our new friends!  Saludos Amiguitos!!
tj afterparty
el centro poster
Monday Dec. 16th El Centro, CA @ Strangers Bar
Our poor host Marco had to jet off to work at 6am for a 7am start at the school he’s working in.  I loaded the Honda Civic as Cezar had disappeared off somewhere.  Poor Cezar slept on the couch with no blankets.  Someone finally draped some blankets over him.  I had the guest room where their roommate had just moved out and repainted the room. At first I was alright, but halfway through the night the paint fumes got kinda overwhelming and I opened the window and let some cool Playas De Tijuana aire in.
First things first, breakfast.  I remembered a place where Gabi and Marco had taken Irwing and myself on an earlier visit.  We found the place.
CJ Tj4 (4)

El Heisenbergo aka Lord Cezar has his breakfast

After much deliberation I ordered the crab omelette.  Cezar ordered chilaquiles with machaca.   I had a freshly squeezed orange juice that was cold and mildly sweet. Goddamn, it may have been the best orange juice I ever had.  The Crab Omelette was absolutely fantastic.  They had this dangerously picoso salsa roja, and I put too much on my little crab omelette tacos I made with my side of frijoles.  I was worried I might pay the price later.  It wouldn’t be until Phoenix, but oh a price I would pay.
Our hosts in TJ mentioned that the drive to Mexicali might be dangerous. My personal experience driving in Mexico is to take the toll roads and drive during the daytime.  That was the advice given to Clorox Girls during our Mexican tour in 2006, and this advice has served me well.  Lord Cezar had some misgivings, but we decided “fuck it.”
We took the toll road past Tijuana, past Tecate, and into the rolling rocky hills before Mexicali. The drive was beautiful.   I caught some shots of El Heisenbergo in his natural habitat.
Here’s what I wrote when I initially posted the photos.
Cezar and Justin made a succesful camino TJ a Mexicali y estamos en El Centro. The rock formations on the way to Mexicali were amazing. My shots of El Heisenbergo y las pinches piedras are here. The border is just for show, Los Mexicanos are our brothers and sisters. California was Native American, Spain, Mexico, THEN the US. We share history, food, culture, music, literature, art. It was our pleasure to share our music with our hermanos en Baja California. El Centro tonight with The Mellow Dicks from Mexicali at Strangers Bar. If you live here, come!
After a gorgeous drive and less than $6 in tolls, we finally hit Mexicali where we enjoyed some tacos.  There’s something special about flour tortillas in the desert: stretchy, buttery, sanguine. I don’t think I’ll ever think of flour tortillas in the same way again.  Viva Tortillas De Harina!
Our friend Ernie Quintero roadied for Clorox Girls during our Mexican tour in 2006 and he shot and edited this video.
Ernie is now a father and owns 2 businesses in El Centro, one being Strangers Bar. He told us that a Monday would be perfect, and said he’d donate all of his tips to us. What a good dude.

Ernesto had some pizza from his partner business Strangers West, and they put charcoal in the pizza dough making it dark and chewy.  Definitely interesting, definitely good!

strangers west

Charcoal pizza crust from Strangers West, El Centro.

Mellowdicks from Mexicali were a little nervous to play acoustic as this was their first attempt at doing so. They pulled it off!

Mexicali was where that stretch of the railroad came to an end, so there’s loads of Chinese Restaurants with Mexican ingredients.  There’s also loads of lovely frauliens who are half Chinese half Mexican.  A few beautiful frauliens were surprisingly at the bar in El Centro on a Monday night.  As our set ended many of them left as we imagined they had work in the morning on Tuesday. It also could have been because where we were playing blocked the bathroom.   Ernesto booked us a cheap hotel in El Centro where we were able to rest our heads after enjoying some pizza and beer at Strangers. Gracias, Ernie!



Tuesday Dec. 17th Tempe, AZ @ Yucca Tap Room


In the morning in our cheap hotel room, Cezar realized he had been attacked by spiders in the night. He had these insane spider bites all up his left and right arm.  I was spared from the spider attack.  Upon closer inspection we confirmed that they weren’t fleas, not bed bugs, not mosquitoes, definitely spider bites. Holy shit.  Poor guy was itching and scratching until we finally got him some cortizone in Tempe.

In the morning in El Centro, we had to hit a drugstore for a stomach malady I had. Old men on tour. (Don’t know why we didn’t buy cortizone here?)   Cezar made me a bet that they wouldn’t have a Nerf football in the drug store. I found a fucking football in there but Cezar claimed it wasn’t Nerf brand, so he didn’t have to pay up. Classic Cezar.

Homeopathic stomach malady video here

As we got into western Arizona, we waxed poetic on the marvels of the Saguaro Cactus.  It never fails. It takes them hundreds of years to grow and they live forever. God bless the Saguaro Cactus.


Tuesday in Tempe was pretty quiet other than me dying a slow death in the Yucca Tap Room men’s room.

After my death, I had to get in the right head space to play – which required tequila and a couple beers.   Sound was fantastic and it was amazing to hear ourselves through monitors. It may have been the first venue with actual working stage monitors.   Thank Allah for stage monitors!


Our pal and promoter Harry Jerkface opened the show with his own tunes.


Michele Lane played next and unfortunately didn’t snap any photos. Her best tune was her ballad “I love you, Bob Cantu.”  Was good to see Bob there, our old pal from Redwood Bar in Downtown LA.

After our set which felt great, Cezar and I saw two girls making eyes at us and whispering in each other’s ears, but I talked too long to the sound man about his funk band and they left.  Yes, I blew it. And no, Cezar would not let me forget about it.

We burned a little midnight oil with Bob, Michele, Harry and DeMonica.   DeMonica told us a bit about growing up White Mountain Apache and we tried learning some Apache phrases . 


Cezar’s arms were looking pretty bad from the spider bites and DeMonica found some cortizone for him.  She also suggested slicing open the bites with a razorblade and letting the poison drain out.  We vetoed this idea.

In the morning Harry made us one of his Hawaiian classics, Spam and Eggs.  I never had spam before, but it was kind of like a sausage.


Harry’s Spam and eggs were even more beautiful than this photo as he had a side of spinach and mushrooms.  Great stuff.

I had to bite back the hair of the dog that bit me. I bit hard.  This is called burning the midday oil.


Wed. Dec 18th Tucson, AZ @ Sky Bar


The drive from Tempe to Tucson was relatively painless at about 2 hours.  We hit up Tacos Apson in Tucson which was just fantastic.


Again, it’s those desert tortillas de harina that are just absolutely wonderful. We would have a couple of sonora dogs later on.   For those of you who don’t know about the Sonoran Hot Dog that originated in Hermosillo, Sonora, they typically have pinto beans, tomatoes, green salsa, jalapeño, mustard, mayonnaise, avocado and cotija cheese. Want one yet?


Down at Sky Bar we found out that it was open mic night and there were about a million dudes with acoustic guitars waiting to play.  Cezar spotted a woman with a marionette who was also on deck to play.  Cezar then spouted forth the best quote of tour:

“Fuck, now we have to play with a fuckin’ puppet show? What the fuck, man?”

Our buddy Issac Reyes from Lenguas Largas showed up with Matty from The Resonars (“Gone Is The Road” might be the best song of 2019) and our opening band The Gem Show.  Apparently our show was separate from the open mic, thankfully.   We had to fortify ourselves with some Tito’s and soda water in our tour van, the 2013 Honda Civic.

It was down to the 30s in Tucson, folks told us it was the coldest day of the year.  We met a girl from Ireland who had one of those Gaelic names that are very difficult for us doltish Americans to remember or pronounce and her friend, Jenny Calento, who had black hair with bangs and a lovely smile.  Jesus, this black haired bang thing really does me in.

We played our set followed by The Gem Show who were loud and excellent.

Sky Bar paid us very fairly and Gem Show even kindly donated their pay to us. God bless you guys.  Ben Asher from legendary Bainbridge Island punk group The Captives showed up, it had been at least 20 years since I’d seen him.  We didn’t get to chat too much. Sorry about that, Ben.

Afterwards we went to another bar with a couple of Lenguas Largas, Gaelic fraulien, and Jenny Calento.   They were playing modernish country pop which Lenguas and Gaelic did not enjoy.  Gaelic fraulien was friends with the bartender and asked me what traditional country music she should try to turn her onto.  I told her to go with the classics like Hank Williams. I also noticed some Dwight Yoakam in her playlist so told her to keep it up with the Dwight Yoakam, and noted that some of Dwight’s favorite singers were Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and George Jones.  Thought that was a good introduction to more traditional country music and the Bakersfield sound!

It was a birthday party at this little bar in Tucson and “Dirty Old Town” by the Pogues came on. The whole bar sang it.  What a fitting end to tour.

Me and Cezar’s tour playlist top 2 hits were probably “Beer Drinkin’ Blues” by Eddie Noack and “A Million Miles From Nowhere” by Dwight Yoakam.

Give unto God what is God’s and give unto Lord Cezar what is Cezar’s.

After burning some serious midnight oil with Matty Resonar and him introducing us to the excellent Mike Judge animated series “Tales From The Tour Bus” (absolutely hilarious, you gotta watch it),  I dropped Cezar at the Tucson airport and drove 526 miles to Pecos, Texas.  The next day drove 421 miles to Irving, Texas to my little brother’s place.  Had a family Christmas without much fighting or controversy which was a success!

Then drove 354 miles to Amarillo, Texas, and the next day 608 miles to Flagstaff.  A couple of days later did 256 miles Flagstaff to Tucson.  Then a couple of days later 485 miles from Tucson  to Los Angeles.  Those are some serious miles!

In Flagstaff I hit a snowstorm but was able to visit with some old friends Alex and Oakley and their 2 dogs.  Check the snow out!

My wildest night was in Amarillo, but I won’t bore you with it here!  Thanks for reading!

Happy New Year!







“Falling On Deaf Eyes”

12 Jun


FODE Postcard

A teenage punk, a single deaf mom, a small town. What could go wrong?

Buy tickets here

“Falling On Deaf Eyes” is an autobiographical Dramedy about Justin Maurer, a rambunctious teenage punk rocker living with his single Deaf mother and hearing siblings on Bainbridge Island, Washington in the 1990’s. After a harrowing divorce from Justin’s overbearing and controlling father, his Deaf mother faces extraordinary challenges as a single parent of three rowdy hearing children in a small provincial town. Through punk rock, Justin embarks on an adolescent journey to cope with the challenges of straddling life in a hearing and Deaf world simultaneously. “Falling On Deaf Eyes” is a unique, one-of-a-kind show, an inspirational and universal portrayal of human courage and survival. (the first 2 and last 2 performances will have ASL interpreters available).

This unique production is an exciting multi-media theatrical experience incorporating music, sign language, storytelling, and theatrical visuals, with a team of sign language interpreters to ensure access to the deaf and hard of hearing. While hugely entertaining and accessible to music fans, the Fringe community, and the Deaf community, “Falling on Deaf Eyes” will also educate and inform the general public about American Sign Language and some of the daily issues facing the deaf and hard of hearing population. The show will enjoy its world premiere at Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019. All shows will be at McCadden Place Theatre – 1157 N McCadden Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90038.

Sometimes harrowing, often funny, but always compassionate in its depiction of a family in transition, “Falling on Deaf Eyes” is a unique, one-of-a-kind show and an inspirational and universal portrayal of human courage and survival.

Sunday June 9 2019, 8:00 PM * w/ ASL Interpreters (Preview)
Saturday June 15 2019, 5:00 PM * w/ ASL Interpreters
Sunday June 16 2019, 2:00 PM
Thursday June 20 2019, 11:30 PM
Friday June 21 2019, 7:00 PM
Saturday June 22 2019, 6:30 PM * w/ ASL Interpreters
Sunday June 23 2019, 2:30 PM * w/ ASL Interpreters

Running time: 55 minutes
TICKET PRICE : $20 – buy tickets here
WHERE: McCadden Place Theatre – 1157 N McCadden Pl, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Falling On Deaf Eyes

10 Mar
Justin Maurer headshot 2 photo by Imke Wagener

photo by Imke Wagener

My name is Justin Maurer and I want to invite you to join us in mounting the debut production of Falling on Deaf Eyes, an autobiographical play I’ve written about my family and a very pivotal and formative period in my early life.
Please donate here to help this happen!


When my parents divorced in 1992, my deaf mother, Sherry, suddenly found herself overcoming extraordinary personal challenges as a newly-single parent raising a family of three hearing youngsters in a small provincial town. Each of us – my mom, my sister Jenny, my younger brother Jamie, and I – were forced to find ways to cope with new circumstances in unfamiliar surroundings. This is our story.
deaf eyes
Sometimes harrowing, often funny, but always compassionate in its depiction of a family in transition, Falling on Deaf Eyes is a unique, one-of-a-kind show and an inspirational and universal portrayal of human courage and survival.
Falling on Deaf Eyes is an exciting multi-media theatrical experience incorporating rock n roll, sign language, storytelling, and theatrical visuals, with a team of sign language interpreters for every performance to ensure access to the deaf and hard of hearing. While hugely entertaining and accessible to families, music fans, the literary community, and beyond, Falling on Deaf Eyes will also educate and inform the general public about American Sign Language and some of the daily issues facing the deaf and hard of hearing community.
With the talent we’ve assembled, Falling on Deaf Eyes promises to be a remarkable and timely production. Now we need additional funding to make it happen! Please help us make it a reality.  Thank you!
Please donate here

Suspect Parts Tour Diary 2018

15 Sep


pointy finger suspects

Suspect Parts in Kreuzberg Photo by Imke Wagener

SUSPECT PARTS released our debut album in 2017 on Oops Baby Records in the USA and Taken By Surprise Records in Germany. In August/September of 2018 we returned to Berlin to embark on another tour and to record a new single with Dr. Smail Shock at his analog recording studio Smail Shock Produktion Studio B .  In PART ONE I discussed my arrival a few days early in Berlin and my 3 day tour of the city. I enjoyed visiting the Stasi Museum, the Treptower Park Soviet Monument, Bernauer Strasse, Teufelsberg and more. You can read about my 3 day Berlin adventure in PART ONE

Suspect_Parts_Tourposter_2018_online - FINAL.png

With Andru and Saskia’s flat in Friedrichshain as our home base. I decided to jump the gun and shoot a solo episode as the debut for Season 2 of our travel show Guten Morgen Deutschland much to the chagrin of my co-host Sulli.

German Vocab. 1:

Rampensau – “Ramp Sow” (Someone who is comfortable with strutting their stuff on stage)

Lass Die Sau Raus – “Let Your Sow Out” (Be comfortable with yourself onstage)

Du Giele Sau – “The horny pig?”  “The cool pig?”

Menschen schlange – “People Snake” (a long line, “eine lange schlange”)

Geizig – Frugal, stingy

Spiesse – someone who is boring, a jobsworth

Speck Gurtel – a bacon girdle, a bacon belt – the area around a city – the suburbs

Du machst dich breit – you take up too much space

Sulli shot back with his own solo episode of Guten Morgen Deutschland 

Chris finally showed up and Suspect Parts were back in town!


The Boys Are Back In Town Photo by Sulli

We rehearsed like crazy for 3 days. We even did some “trudging” a la Black Flag for a 2nd day of practice for 8 hours.  We practiced 3 new songs to record with Dr. Smail as well as rehearsing our hits like “Run For Your Life”

Practicing for 8 hours is rough on the back so it’s important to stretch.


While practicing for 8 hours it’s also very important to take an ice cream break.


Thanks to Berlin Blackouts for letting us use their practice room!


Suspect Parts and Berlin Blackouts

Perhaps most importantly, we had to get our fashion together.  Andru decided to go with polk-a-dots this time around. Our band lampshade “Lampo” is wearing a blue vintage cowboy shirt with a “Timmy Whitey” sport coat.


Handsome Devil Andru Bourbon Photo by Saskia

We hit up some army surplus stores and I found 2 jackets that I liked. The jacket on the left was sorta like Inspector Gadget meets Gestapo and the jacket on the right reminded me of something Stephan Remmler from Trio would wear, so I got that one. It was affectionately referred to as “Remmler,” for the rest of the trip.

If you’re unfamiliar with the genius of Stephan Remmler and Trio, besides their hit “Da Da Da” you should also check out their other material. A personal favorite of mine is this one:


My friend Tim Muller gifted me this white jacket which was affectionately referred to as Timmy Whitey” for the rest of our trip

While practicing for 8 hours it’s also important to take a beer break.

sulli 1

Justin wearing “Timmy Whitey” enjoys a beer outside of the Ramones Museum. Photo credit: Sulli

As Suspect Parts are an egalitarian band with no designated leadership, we wanted Chris and Andru to sing at least one song each. We decided on a couple of covers. Chris decided to sing  “IOU” by The Replacements and Andru “Hundsgemein” by Ideal. If you don’t know Berlin 80s new wave/punk band Ideal, you should definitely check em out!



The Interior of Komet, Hamburg. What a great place to hang out!

Our favorite Schwebish guys Jens and Michael run Wild Wax promotions in Hamburg and also work with our favorite Italian, Franz of Otis Tours.  They put together an annual festival in Hamburg right off of the beautiful Reeperbahn called “Get Lost Fest.”  Jens was kind enough to ask us to play the pre-party at Komet Bar on Thursday night.

We jumped in the van with Tine our driver and tour manager, and arrived right on time to enjoy Jens’ chili (it gets better every time) and to enjoy Jens and Franz banter and argue. They are like a comedy duo – Schwebish and Northern Italian, you think it wouldn’t work well together, but it seriously does.


In the parking lot of an Aldi en route to Hamburg

We loaded in and sound checked in the Komet’s keller and got ready for a big night!  The opening band were from Catalunya and had no gear with them so they had to borrow our drums, amps, and even guitar.  They managed to break a string on our backup guitar and had to borrow my trusty ESP Viper afterwards.  I didn’t mind too much but also noticed they had placed beers precariously on top of the amp. My anger began to run a little deep as I imagined the beer tipping over and spilling on top of my borrowed tube amp on the first night of tour before we played.  Luckily no beer was spilt. Why cry over unspilt milk?

We managed to play for folks all over Deutschland and Europe.  It was a fabulous 1st show. The crowd seemed to love “Alright With Me” and “Flowers of Evil”.  Someone named Angie Action filmed us playing one of our new tunes “You Know I Can’t Say No”

Upstairs at Komet they were DJing fantastic music.  Komet is one of my favorite bars I have set foot in. Upstairs they had these airplane chairs, great old movie posters, fantastic music, great Gin and Tonics.  When “You’re Gonna Miss Me” came on, I had to cut a rug. I grabbed a beautiful fraulien and we burned some serious midnight oil on the dance floor.

Even Andru complimented me on my dance moves. My own band mate saying something nice and not making fun of me? What a great start to tour!

German Vocab 2:

Durchschnittstyp – average guy

Ich bin kein durchschnittstyp – I am not an average guy

Wir sind Dauergaste in den Hitlisten – we have a permanent slot on the hit list

Elefant im porzelan laden – Elefant in a china shop

Teufelskreis – Devils Circle (Vicious Circle)

Der rote affen arsch – Red ape ass

Der rote pavian arsch – red baboon ass

FRANKFURT @ Dreikönigskeller

We had a long drive from Hamburg to Frankfurt so we sat in the back enjoying ourselves, making bloody mary’s from our van bar, telling stories, making sandwiches, and inventing our own society, culture, and language.

If there’s one thing Suspect Parts excel in it’s supermarket shopping for our van kitchen and bar. Andru, our Minister of Mustard is excellent at picking out the best van food and drink. As it was incredibly hot, popsicles AKA “iced lollies” were a part of this list as well as various items for the van bar.

“Can I request a quick supermarket stop to get water? Water aka beer”
  • Andru, in the van


“I think if I was sucking my lolly, everyone would like to see that.”
  • Andru, outside Aldi

In a non-air conditioned van on a long drive it is important to stay cool. I recommend putting your head out of the window.

Pavianistan is the nation of Suspect Parts who speak a patois dialect of Pavianisch (a blend of German and English).  Pavianistan is an egalitarian society with no designated leadership although appointed ministers do exist in this banana republic such as:

Minister of Mustard: Andru Bourbon

Minister of Media and Gherkin Handler: James Sullivan

Minister of Moving Schiesse: Chris Part

Minister of Maneuvering and Merchandising: Tine Ones

Minister of Müll and Miscellaneous Bag – Justin Maurer

The Pavianistani National Slogan is:


Wo erdnusflips sind ist party

(Monkey See, Monkey Do, Monkey Strong. Erdnusflips are party)

We also managed to shoot an episode of Guten Morgen Deutschland and were rudely interrupted by frigging wasps!

German Vocab 3:

Schiess die Wandan – “shit on the walls” (an expression used for general discontent)

Arsche Krampe – “pain in the ass” or literally “ass cramp”

Feierabend Bier – “beer that you would have at the end of your shift or when finishing a job”

Arsch Geige – “Anus Violin” (someone who is a pain in the ass)

Du bist eine echte arsch geige – “you are a major anus violin”

Da wird der hund in der pfanne verruckt – “There become the dogs in the pan crazy”

Schliessmuskel Sphincter

On that note, we pulled into Frankfurt and Tine and I saw a very suspicious middle-aged couple driving a convertible BMW. We thought they might steal the equipment in our van.  We also thought that their license plate said “FKK” (Freikörperkultur, the East German nudist and open body culture that was prevalent in the GDR and still exists throughout German culture).

Our hosts Dennis and Mieke made us a lovely dinner and offered us the local apfel wine and some apfel schnapps as well as some coffee. They had hosted friends of ours Red Dons, Piss Test, Macho Boys, and the Chemicals all from Portland, Oregon! (Germany is a bit obsessed with Portland, Oregon for some reason. They absolutely love The Wipers, Dead Moon, Poison Idea, and Exploding Hearts. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just interesting! Especially interesting to me ’cause my old band Clorox Girls also lived in PDX.)

After a great dinner, we headed down to the venue, Dreikönigskeller (3 Kings Cellar). We were warned that the bar owner Nico was a little bit strange and that he didn’t like it when people ordered multiple drinks at once. Apparently the secret was to order one at a time.


Justin and Andru in Frankfurt Photo Credit: Sulli

When we arrived the bar, Andru ordered 1 beer from Nico and it took about half an hour to get it.  Nico was the only person working there and moved incredibly slow.  We were told they (by they, I mean Nico) wanted us to soundcheck on the tiny stage, and we agreed. It took us all of 10 minutes to set up and we were ready to go. Nico was working at his own snail pace. It seemed like there might be a method to his madness, but then again, maybe not. He was shuffling behind the bar, not really getting anyone a drink, but just moving things around.  The audience was already in the bar and we hadn’t sound checked yet. The DJ’s were there and had all of their gear set up.  I told the DJs they should just go on. People started smoking in the cellar and I was worried it would fuck up me and Sulli’s voices (people smoke indoors at all shows in Germany. Most of these shows are in little windowless concrete basement venues. The audience especially loves to light up right in front of my microphone).

Nico told the DJs that they couldn’t start until soundcheck was done. He then looked towards the stage and said that we had to give the Veltins plastic beer crates that Sulli had stacked his amp on back to him.  Sulli lifted his amp and I gave Nico back his beloved Veltins crates. Nico seemed pleased.  We sound checked for about 30 seconds doing the “Na Na Na” part in “Land of 1000 Dances”

Nico finally allowed the DJs to start and the place filled with music and cigarette smoke. I wanted a fucking beer.  Somehow Andru convinced Nico to give us 4 beers at once (Minister of Mustard strikes again).

We played our set, people seemed to like it.  Afterwards DJ Dirk Klotzbach played some hits including “Food Fight” by Village People and “Big Time” by Rudi.  Tine ran onto the dance floor to boogie to “Big Time” and I joined her.

A guy wearing a Harrington jacket was hanging out by our merch table.  A few folks went out to the shop to buy us some traditional Apfel Schnapps (or was it peach schnapps?) and gave us the drink with the fruit soaked in it.  We drank it.  The schnapps itself was pretty harsh, but the fruit combination thing was decent. The Harrington jacket guy asked me why I was wearing a white denim jacket. I told him that Chris had a black one, Sulli light blue, Andru dark blue, and that we couldn’t all wear the same color. He said, “Maybe you are a loser since you are the one who wears white.

Ah, sometimes I love Germany.

A woman from Frankfurt hung out by our van and told us her stories about going to Berghain, a notoriously debaucherous night club in Berlin.  She said the first time she went there, her gay friend went into the pitch-black orgy room to get it on with some guys. She was on the dance floor and said that everyone whipped out their pimmels and proceeded to abspritz onto a slip-n-slide type thing then everyone slid around in the abspritz. This story got me laughing out loud. It was the best conversation in Frankfurt.

Dennis tried to buy a bottle of apfel schnapps from Nico at the bar and Nico said no. He would only sell him a bottle of Jim Beam. Is there a method to Nico’s madness? No one knows.

Someone from the techno/hip hop dance club next door partially blocked the driveway and we couldn’t get our van out. A motley crew of “helpers” from our show got in and out of the van all giving conflicting directions. Suddenly there were like 20 people in our van.  This completely hammered Italian guy with dreadlocks kept opening the sliding door and stepping out, finally going to the drivers side and claiming he could do a better job at backing up.  He tried to get back into the van and we wouldn’t let him in. The rest of the folks in the van got out and decided to get cabs instead.  Luckily there was a very friendly Bavarian guy who rode with us to show us the way back to where we were staying.

In the morning, Dennis and Mieke made a fantastic breakfast out in our back garden and our very own Chris made some homemade hummus.  It was a lovely and civilized breakfast and we enjoyed it immensely.

dennis frankfurt

Suspect Parts and Dennis outside Tine’s “The Ones In Charge” van in Frankfurt


“How many minutes until we’re there?”
Andru begins immediately rooting around Mobicool Maxi for a beer to crack
  • Exchange between Andru and Sulli on the outskirts of Freiburg
sulli and sulli freiburg

Sulli’s mug on the Freiburg show poster

Freiburg is a wealthy town in the Badish region of south western Germany near the borders of France and Switzerland. We were told that the show would have to end pünktlich (on time) at 10pm. While a Saturday night show ending at 10pm seemed quite preposterous to those of us living in Berlin, London, and Los Angeles, we didn’t complain, it would give us more time to drink after our show.  Tine our driver and tour manager pulled us in and we loaded our stuff quite early.  We noticed a very beautiful girl on a bicycle who parked her bike and sashayed into the building next to the venue. I called her “Inge.”  We hoped she would come to our show, but of course she didn’t.

Andru tried to decide which outfit to wear that would best compliment his handbag:

After loading in, changing into our stage clothes and shaving, Sulli and I had a beer outside hoping that Inge would come out, see how handsome we were, and come to our performance that ends pünktlich at 10pm which would give her plenty of time for any other evening plans she might have.  We noticed this sign and I just had to break at least one rule in Freiburg.


Our show was written up in the cultural section in Freiburg’s local paper which brought out some norms to the show which was a completely welcome surprise. The little place was packed and people even danced!  Dancing in Deutschland? Verboten!

We had a great time playing and finished pünktlich at precisely 9:58 pm.  We were pleased with the exact calculation of our set (we’re turning a little more Deutsch every day) when one of the show organizers asked me where our driver Tine was. I told him that she was selling some records and t-shirts to some happy customers. He told me that she had to move our van immediately so that we could load our equipment out.  The staff then began running around like mental patients hauling tables and chairs and trying to reset the bar interior while our equipment and the other band’s equipment was still in there.  We heard a loud crash.  The unsettling noise was clearly the sound of an amp falling down hard.  Sulli and Andru went to investigate.  Phew, it was only the 1st bands amp.  Someone had knocked it over while rushing around carrying a table.  Nice one.  I’m sure rushing around to reset the bar is worth injuring someone or breaking a 1000 Euro amp.

I went with Tine to grab our van as the atmosphere in the place was a little intense and we parked in front of the venue.  Someone immediately came out and said we had to re-park the van.  As instructed, we began to load out our equipment, and someone else told us that we couldn’t block the bike lane that was on the sidewalk.  I’m not sure how to load heavy objects from a door to a van without setting some of these heavy objects down on the sidewalk (which would temporarily block the bike lane), but some of the folks began to grab our equipment and move it out of the bike lane onto the street or the other part of the sidewalk.  We all thought this was mental.

I began to sing “Life In The Bike Lane” to the tune of “Life In the Fast Lane” and danced at oncoming Freiburg bikers as to disrupt their right of way.  Needless to say, they loved it.

The music in the bar was a bit erratic. They’d play 2-3 great tunes then 2-3 bad ones. We asked one of the promoters if there were any more rock n roll bars in Freiburg. He said not really. He then asked us why we would want to go anywhere else when we could drink there for free. We thought this was a very good point.

The bar was long but ordering happened at the far corner which blocked the stairway to the bathroom. This made it extremely awkward to wait in line for a beer. I wondered why no one was ordering from the other side of the bar which would clear the pathway for people going up and down the stairs to the bathroom. Oh well, when in Freiburg do as the Freiburgians do.

We played some fooseball (Do not set beers on the Fooseball table!)  and I even won a game before getting unspeakably crushed by some locals.

We were staying in the apartment of a band called “Enraged Minority” I noticed that the guys in the band were 4 white guys from Freiburg. The irony of their name must have been lost somewhere.  Their apartment had 4 rooms with a massive outdoor balcony. It was one of the nicest band flats I have ever seen. One of the rooms had thousands of Euros worth of fine single malt scotch bottles and even multiple bottles of designer cologne.  The decorations in the place were posters of Karl Marx, Lenin, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and even an AK-47 hung on the wall.  Next to the single malted scotch and the designer cologne was a piggy bank of Karl Marx’s head.  Apparently the irony of this must have been lost somewhere.  We found a children’s book and decided to read the story of Pippi Longstocking before going to bed.

In the morning one of the band members from Enraged Minority came to make us breakfast with his small daughter.  The breakfast was lovely. As always, we appreciate hospitality and it was very nice of the guys to let us stay in their apartment and cook us breakfast.  After returning to Los Angeles, I received a message from one of the guys saying that their Pippi Longstocking book was missing. The message was insinuating that it was stolen.  For the record, Guten Morgen Deutschland never steals any props for our television program.  For the record, we are an egalitarian movement with no designated leadership, we are not communists, but we are theoretical comrades in your struggle to free the working proletariat of his capitalist chains.


We had a very long drive to Dresden and drank some bloody mary’s from our van bar

Flash, a competent, sensible, and reasonable sound-man was our engineer in Dresden. Flash patiently worked with us during sound check while saying encouraging words along the way. He had our various levels on perfectly logical settings that fit the caliber of Chemifabrik, the concrete former chemical factory that we were playing. No one was deafened or frustrated. Multiple members of the audience complimented the professional sound quality of our performance.

They gave us some watermelon before the show which was a welcome surprise.

watermelon in dresden

In the morning we met Bodie Johnson, an HB Surfer lost in Dresden:

The last time we were in Dresden, I almost pissed myself not being able to find the bathroom in the middle of the night in the pitch-black band flat.  Tine told us a story about previously driving a band and one of the guys, drunk, pissed in a corner in the middle of the night.  In her words:

“It would have been so great if he’d pissed on the promoter”
“I like your sense of humor”
  • Tine then Andru, describing the potential for confusion when searching for bathrooms in the middle of the night
sps with tine

Suspect Parts and Bodie Johnson with tour manager and driver Tine





Wir steh’n in der M 10 …





Taking the S Bahn to shoot our music video. Saskia video producer and Lampo our most important prop in tow!


suspect imke photo

Suspect Parts in the basement of The Franken, Kreuzberg. Photo by Imke Wagener.

We had to load an entire PA, speakers, mixing board, and more in and out of a van and set up everything ourselves. Special thanks to Mutti, Andru, Tine, and Hugo for setting up the PA.  We moved all of the tables around at the direction of Franken owner, Alice, and finished moving schiesse. Imke Wagener took some photos of us after we finished setting up everything and checking sound.


Sulli and Chris have a quick rest outside of Franken with the staff of Mutti’s booking Buro and Alice, owner of the Franken. Mutti’s dog also there, but forget dog’s name. Sorry hund!

The show went really well and loads of friends came out. Franken was filled to capacity. Thanks Alice and thanks Berliner Freunden!

sulli in franken basement by imke

Sulli prepares for the Franken show. Photo by Imke Wagener


Trickster is near the Ramones Museum so we joined our friends there for a coffee and some gin and tonics before the show.

cake in ramones museum

Justin enjoys cake and a coffee at the Ramones Museum


sulli and andru ramones

Sulli and Andru enjoy some cake and coffee at Ramones Museum

At Trickster we played with Love Lanes. The place was packed and we played what was our best show of the entire tour.  Everyone was singing along and clapping and dancing. It was a fantastic atmosphere. Thanks very much to Oihane and Laura and everyone at Trickster. We even did a “Down With Dons” photo shoot! We love you Berlin!

Tour Journal Outtakes and More German Vocabulary:

“Döner macht schöne – aber nur mit Soße” (Andru’s favorite Doner shop slogan)
Breznak beer = gut
“I was hoping for more of a Willy Wonka vibe rather than this Auschwitz vibe”
  • Sulli, outside the Berliner Luft factory
“That’s damn good Luft”
  • Sulli, after drinking a Luft
“Guten Morgen Deutschland is gonna get me laid”
  • Justin, considering his fraulein situation
Verzweifelt – desperate
Bumshöhle – fuck cave
Klöten – balls
“Nothing funnier than this”
  • Chris, on the death of Udo
“I like guzzing”
  • Justin, after guzzing a hund
“Man cannot live on erdnuss flips alone”
  • Chris, while eating erdnuss flips alone
Fusspils – road beer
Santa cantina

Posh teckel

Sommersprossen – freckles
Bummeltriene – the last person to do something in general
Reudig – scruffy
Bun bo hue
Nickerchen – nap
Weichblase – weak bladder
Du miststück – you son of a gun (someone mischievous or slightly naughty)
Knecht ruprecht – Santa’s little helper

Part I: 3 Days in Berlin

14 Sep
suspect imke photo

Suspect Parts in the basement of The Franken, Kreuzberg. Photo by Imke Wagener.

Disclaimer: Berlin’s vibrant and frequently turbulent history includes two world wars, war atrocities, surveillance, torture, rape, murder, and of course an incredibly positive transformation into one of the world’s most culturally vibrant cities.  I will discuss all of these subjects as they struck a nerve as I dug into Berlin’s stimulating history. 

My Brief Background:

In 2008 I was living in Madrid teaching English, singing in the band Mano De Mono, and working as a DJ on weekends. My American rock n roll band Clorox Girls had broken up, and my heart was aching to write and play some new music. My friend Chris Bell from Seattle punk band The Briefs had been living in Berlin in-between touring, and he suggested that we start a side-project. I recorded some of my new songs on a cassette tape and mailed it to Berlin. A few months later we recorded the Suspect Parts debut single in the cold of a bitter Berlin winter. Behind the dials in the engineer booth of a small analog studio was Smail from legendary Berlin punk band The Shocks.  After the single was released, we recruited James “Sulli” Sullivan from UK teen heart throbs Ripchord on lead guitar and Smail on bass. After a couple of tours and a couple more singles, Smail was replaced by the affable and ever-capable Andru Bourbon from Berlin kamikazis Radio Dead Ones on bass. Our band was complete.  Since then Berlin has been Suspect Parts’ home base and we meet up once a year to rehearse, record, and tour.

Even though I have been spending time in Berlin over the last 10 years, it is usually a whirlwind trip with most of our limited time spent in rehearsal rooms, the recording studio, in the tour van, and at night getting drunk with old friends in Kreuzberg. I was ashamed to say that I had not seen many of the sights in Berlin and had not had a chance to really dig deep into Berlin’s complicated history.

Here we go!

My cheap flight from Los Angeles was on Polish Lot Air with a change over in Warsaw. I originally planned on staying in Warsaw and taking a train south to Krakow. I planned to have a 1 week mini-vacation in Poland before I had to get to Berlin to rehearse with the guys.  Sadly, I tore the meniscus in my left knee in 2 places, so I cancelled my trip to Poland and decided instead to rest up at my bass player Andru’s flat in Friedrichshain and see some of  Berlin’s historical sights for the first time.

Andru greeted me at Tegel airport with a bottle of Berliner Luft. Pfeffi, a peppermint schnapps of East German origin is the official band schnapps in Suspect Parts, but Berliner Luft often fills in. Andru also brought a couple of bottles of ice cold Berliner Kindl stored in Mobi Cool mini, our band’s official cooler. What a good man.



Oberbaum Bridge Photo Credit: Liz Weselby

Andru and his girlfriend Saskia both had work in the morning, and after having coffee with Andru, I decided to see the East Side Gallery and take a boat trip down the River Spree as a way to both see some sights and rest my torn meniscus knee.  Before I left Los Angeles, I decided not to purchase phone service in Germany and instead to rely on my Wifi. This was definitely a mistake. While I pride myself on my sense of direction and my old school navigation capabilities, obviously a smartphone is such a useful tool especially when trying to navigate unfamiliar streets and Berlin’s daunting map of their S Bahn, U Bahn, bus, and tram system.

I wandered down to the river Spree. The East Side Gallery is a fantastic 1.3 kilometer-long collection of art that covers the former Berlin Wall. Most parts of the wall were dismantled after 1989, but the 1.3 km East Side Wall remains as a symbol of freedom (Hasselhoff “Looking For Freedom” anyone?). The graffiti art displays political messages, artistic visions and messages of hope after the fall of the Berlin wall.

east side gallery

“Mortal Kiss” by Dimitri Vrubel, showing Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev in a lip lock

To rest my knee, I bought a ticket on the first 2.5 hour boat ride down the River Spree at 10:30am and had a coffee and a sandwich while I waited.  I foolishly turned down the 3 Euro English translation, and on a boat full of German tourists, sat on the top deck in the sweltering summer heat while the monotone pre-recorded tour played in German for 3 hours. (I caught that Adolf Hitler did something off to the right of the boat, the German tourists stood and took photos. I really wanted to know what happened).


The boat trip was gorgeous. We did a loop on the Spree through the heart of the city. Berlin’s summer has been unusually hot and atypically long, so there were plenty of shirtless rotund German men sunbathing in Berlin’s many parks alongside the river.  Through the canal we went through Kreuzberg, past the Technology Museum (Deutsches Technikmuseum) and up through Zoologischer Garten and Tiergarten before passing Museumsinsel (Museum Island) with a beautiful view of the Berlin Dome.

On the boat they served Beer, coffee, and food. After a coffee I had 2 beers during the course of the 3 hour tour.  While Germans are strict rule takers and rule givers, they are extremely relaxed about drinking and smoking. The staff of the boat lit up cigarettes on the top deck around the small children and old people. The smoke even seemed to bother some of the older women, but they didn’t say anything. If it’s not against the rules, why bother complaining?

The boat captain smoked cigarettes and drank a Red Bull. He told some jokes in German in between the pre-recorded tour and the mostly older German tourists laughed at his jokes and gave him a hearty round of applause at the end of the tour.  As Berlin is a capitol of culture as well as counter culture, the stereotype is that everyone in Berlin has dyed hair, piercings and tattoos. The boat conductor and the two men working on the boat all had prominent tattoos and piercings,  so maybe the stereotype exists for a reason.

stasi museum

The Stasi Museum, in the former Stasi Headquarters, Lichtenberg, Berlin. Photo Credit: Gordon Haws

After the boat ride, I decided to check out the Stasi Museum. The Stasi Museum is located in the headquarters of The Ministry for State Security (MFS) AKA The Stasi. Three floors of exhibits take you through the offices of the Stasi showing their various surveillance devices, their infiltration of all parts of East German society, their brutal methods of blackmail and extortion, and the intact office of Erich Mielke, the last GDR Minister for State Security, which is preserved in its original condition.  It was an extremely powerful and interesting museum, with an unforgiving presentation.

There’s something uniquely creepy about walking through this building, through these offices, seeing the faces and the names of the Stasi and their official duties. It was a frightening time. In Berlin they seem to excel at presenting these vicious facts in a unvarnished way.  It’s a way of respecting the victims of oppression while holding those responsible to naked accountability.

The museum presentation is direct and brutal – just like the perpetrators of these inhumane offenses were. I would highly recommend visiting the Stasi Museum to fans of the 2006 film The Lives of Others (original German title: Das Leben der Anderen). When I get back home, I’m going to watch the movie again for a fresh perspective after being inside of Erich Mielke’s office. (Edit: After nursing my travel exhaustion at home, I re-watched the film and loved it even more. If you haven’t seen it, please do watch The Lives of Others. It’s available to rent on YouTube in the States for $3)

Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, and his office in The Stasi Museum. Photo Credit: Alamy

What particularly stood out to me about Mielke’s office was seeing his extremely rigid breakfast demands. He provided a crudely drawn but insanely specific diagram for his secretaries. Mielke demanded that his breakfast be served in a strictly particular way. The bread, eggs, and other breakfast foods had to be placed on a specific part of his plate (or else).  The secretaries kept his hand-drawn breakfast paper for any new hires to learn how to present this megalomaniac with his breakfast and not be subject to his certain ruthless castigation. His child-like drawing is displayed just outside of his office.

The heat was even more intense in the Stasi’s old HQ and after 3 floors of this stifling environ, I was ready for a beer.

I bought 4 trips on the S-Bahn (Stadtschnellbahn – city rapid railway) ) and U-Bahn (Untergrund-bahn  underground railway) which was given to me on four separate tickets.  A ticket has to be punched to validate it before boarding the train and they love to inspect the trains and give stiff fines to anyone who doesn’t validate their ticket.  I thought that my ticket just had to be punched once in the morning, but I was incorrect and a fare enforcement official forced me to depart the train while he printed me out a 60 Euro fine. A ticket has to be punched every 2 hours (unless a day pass is purchased) which I did not know. This 2 hour rule was not clear on the ticket machine or the ticket, and as I’m not fluent in German, I did not know this.  The ticket guy was very friendly, however and chatted with me as he printed out my fine paperwork. (I didn’t pay the 60 Euro fine. We’ll see if they mail it to me)

Wowsville_1 (2)

In my familiar stomping ground of Kreuzberg, I strolled over to Coretex Record Shop where Andru my friend and bass player works, and he had already left for the day. I went down Wiener Strasse to visit my old friend Oihane at Wowsville Record Store and Bar, turned on Ohlauer Str. and had a very lovely couple of beers there. If you love old rock and roll, then you will love Wowsville. (I have yet to try Wowsville Pizza across the street although everyone tells me that it is great)

In the evening, my old friends Tim and Imke invited me to a BBQ on the rooftop terrace of their flat in Kreuzberg. Their whole apartment building seemed to have the same idea, and there were four separate groups of friends and family all enjoying Berlin’s extended summer. The rooftop had a great view and Tim’s BBQ sausages were excellent. We drank Sekt, German sparkling wine, and some white wine, then had a Campari and Soda after dinner while enjoying their rooftop view of Kreuzberg. Excellent stuff. A fantastic close to my first day in Berlin.

tim imke roof

Me and the neighbors enjoying the rooftop sun. Photo Credit: Imke Wagener



Soldier, statue, and banner at the Soviet War memorial in Treptower Park. Berlin. Photo Credit: JoeP

On the recommendation of a few German friends, I went to Treptower Park to see the largest Soviet monument outside of Russia.  Soviet Troops experienced the highest number of casualties out of all the Allies during WWII, 8.7 million. 20,000 Red Army troops were killed in 1945 during the final month of fighting in Berlin.  In Treptower Park, the Soviets built the monument to honor their fallen troops during the war, and 7000 were buried there. Stark, patriotic, and massive, the monument is truly something to see.  I had conflicting feelings on the monument after reading about the brutal rape of German women at the hands of Soviet troops. From Wikipedia:

Estimates of the numbers of German women raped by Soviet soldiers have ranged up to 2 million. According to historian William Hitchcock, in many cases women were the victims of repeated rapes, some as many as 60 to 70 times. At least 100,000 women are believed to have been raped in Berlin, based on surging abortion rates in the following months and contemporary hospital reports, with an estimated 10,000 women dying in the aftermath. Female deaths in connection with the rapes in Germany, overall, are estimated at 240,000.Antony Beevor describes it as the “greatest phenomenon of mass rape in history”, and has concluded that at least 1.4 million women were raped in East PrussiaPomerania and Silesia alone. According to Natalya Gesse, Soviet soldiers raped German females from eight to eighty years old. Soviet and Polish women were not spared either. When General Tsygankov, head of the political department of the First Ukrainian Front, reported to Moscow the mass rape of Soviet women deported to East Germany for forced labour, he recommended that the Soviet women be prevented from describing their ordeal on their return to Russia.

When Yugoslav politician Milovan Djilas complained about rapes in Yugoslavia, Stalin reportedly stated that he should “understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle.” On another occasion, when told that Red Army soldiers sexually maltreated German refugees, he reportedly said: “We lecture our soldiers too much; let them have their initiative.”

Obviously, heinous war crimes were committed by Nazi soldiers and many atrocities were experienced by scores of civilians during both world wars, but it seems that the rape of 2 million German women, 100,000 in Berlin alone, by Red Army troops, hasn’t been adequately addressed.

That said, its important to keep in mind that out of the nearly 9 million Russian troops killed during the war, and the 20,000 who died during the final days of fighting in Berlin, many of them were undoubtedly good people. They were mostly young men who were conscripted into war without a choice, and they had to kill or be killed. War has the capability of turning good men into monsters, animals, devoid of any sense of morality. 

We truly need to learn from the past in order to ensure that these types of atrocities won’t happen again. Unfortunately when one looks with a clear perspective into Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine, it doesn’t look like we are doing too well learning from our ancestors’ horrendous mistakes. War should be avoided at all cost.

Sorry to be so heavy here, but its a heavy subject. Does anyone need a beer yet?

DAY 2 BERLIN (Continued)


Museumsinsel (Museum Island. The Fernsehturm Berlin – Berlin’s TV tower in the background. This East German TV tower was used to transmit signals to GDR East Berlin and beyond. It remains the tallest structure in Germany.) Photo Credit: Thomas Wolf

In the afternoon I went to the DDR Museum near Museumsinsel. There was a line and it was packed full of tourists. While the hands-on exhibits are presented in an interesting way, somehow the museum didn’t hit me as hard as the Stasi Museum did.  While the DDR Museum tries to present what life was like in East Germany from the 50s to present I don’t think it adequately showed the fear, the stress, the hopelessness of many who lived in the DDR although there were quite a few people who were perfectly happy in the DDR and some even preferred the more simple way of life after the fall of the Berlin wall brought capitalism to the formerly socialist state. I bought a couple of tacky presents in the gift shop and continued my wandering.

I walked over to Museum Island, Museumsinsel to take a rest inside of the Berliner Dome, a beautiful cathedral, constructed between 1894–1905 under the supervision of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The roof was destroyed by a fire bomb during the 1940s and it took many years to repair. The crypt below the church has the bodies of some important folks including various Kaisers, a young princess, and some prominent former members of the church. It was beautiful inside and very quiet which was a nice respite from the extremely frantic tourist activity going on outside.

After resting in Berliner Dome and exploring the crypt below, I headed over to the Neus Museum on the recommendation of my friends Imke and Tim.  The Egyptian exhibit was phenomenal.  The sarcophogi and the presentation on the Egyptians concept of their underworld was fascinating and mysterious. I perused hundreds, maybe thousands of ancient Egyptian artifacts excavated by German archaeologists in the 1800s and 1900s. 

However, the bust of Nefertiti had the most impact on me. Upon seeing her face, I felt like I knew her, it hit me emotionally. It hit me hard. I had seen the image many times before, but standing there, looking at her face, my eyes teared up as if I was looking into the face of an old friend, an old lover, someone I held dear.  It was an incredible feeling.

The Bust Of Queen Nefertiti in the Neus Museum, Berlin. Photo Credit: Getty

In the evening I took a quick rest back home in Friedrichshain then headed to a punk bar called K19 to see local band Berlin Blackouts play with Rotten from the Basque Country. I enjoyed the show and the 2 Euro beers. The Basque punks who had taken over the bar quickly drank all of the cold beer, and when there was only warm beer left, I headed home. Both bands were enjoyable and the crowd reaction to their Basque compatriots was truly wild and rowdy. For a moment I felt like I was in an ocupa in a pueblo in the Pais Basquo, drinking Pacharan with my rat-tailed, mulleted, fanny pack wearing friends.

Here’s Rotten Amairu. This song rules pretty hard…

The word Amairu seems to have been taken from a movement in the 1960s and 70s in the Basque Country to re-establish Basque culture. I have toured the Basque Country a few times and my stepdad Pedro is from Bilbao, the biggest city in Pais Basquo. One of the small town Basque punks at K19 educated me on the 300 Basque political prisoners still held by Spain. While I disagree with any kind of violence including the tactics of ETA (who are/were what the IRA was to Ireland), I can understand the raw emotion behind ETA’s tactics.  The Spanish dictator Franco cut the tongues of people who spoke their own language like Catalan, Basque, or Gallego. People were frequently imprisoned and tortured by the fascists for speaking their own language or practicing their own culture. I understand the raw emotion behind Basque separatism and Catalan separatism, but I don’t think separating from Spain is the answer.

I don’t think that Rotten Amairu realize that their Fred Perry polo shirts from England, their Adidas shoes from Germany, their Epiphone guitars from the US, and their Marshall amps from England are not manufactured in the Basque country, and that separation, like Brexit, could increase the cost of imports double or triple the cost of what they paid for their Oi!/punk gear. Just a practical observation of an incredibly emotional and volatile subject.

Between 1968 and 2002 about 800 people were killed in Spain as a result of ETA attacks, about 2,000 injured. 343 of the 829 people killed were civilians.  I understand the anger towards Fascist Franco Spain, but disagree with killing and maiming innocent people because of separatist politics and also disagree with punk bands who may sympathize with ETA. I cant speak for the punk band Rotten Amairu from Larraga -Tafalla, Basque Country, but I am assuming that they sympathize with ETA. Maybe I am wrong. Please correct me if I am wrong.

That said, the Rotten Amairu song I posted above is pretty damn good. Please check it out. I do have a soft spot for the Basque Holy Trinity of pacharan, pintxos, and brutalll punk rock after all.



Abhörstation on Teufelsberg. An abandoned Cold War-era NSA listening station.

I’ve been everywhere, man…

ON DAY 3 IN BERLIN, my friends Tim and Imke took me everywhere.  Tim temporarily had a rental car because of one of his jobs being located quite far away. They kindly took this as a chance to jetset me around Berlin.  As Tim told me during the high-speed breakneck tour, as Berlin was separated into East and West, Berlin often has 2 pairs: two Zoos, 2 Opera Houses, 2 sets of government buildings, 2 TV towers, and so on.  We were to see many of these pairs today.

I don’t remember the order of Timke’s grand tour de Berlin, but I do remember the key stops:

Kongresshalle Berlin AKA:  Die schwangere Auster: The Pregnant Oyster

imke schwangerer auster

Imke in front of Kongresshalle Berlin AKA “Shwangerer Auster” (the pregnant oyster) PhotoCredit: Justin Maurer

Abhör Station on top of Teufelsberg – massive American NSA listening station from the cold war.

tim imke2

Imke and Tim at Teufelsberg. Photo Credit: Justin Maurer

Kaiser Wilhelm Church: bombed out, bullet riddled and the incredible rebuilt chapel next to it. The pastor in the 1930s and 40s was jailed multiple times for speaking out against the Nazis. The church was heavily damaged in an air raid as well as damaged by scores of bullets and shells during heavy fighting during the final days of the war. The interior of the new church next door is  absolutely breathtaking. It has 21,292 stained glass inlays which were imported from France. The glass, designed by Gabriel Loire, was inspired by the colors of the glass in Chartres Cathedral. As Berliners love to give their buildings nicknames, Kaiser Wilhelm Church is nicknamed “der hohle Zahn”, “the hollow tooth” and the new church is nicknamed “Lippenstift und Puderdose”, “the lipstick and the powder box”.

One fond memory is looking down on the monkeys from the mall next to Zoologischer Garten (rot arsch pavian)

Bernauer Strasse – Berlin Wall Memorial, honors all who died trying to escape with their individual photographs. They also have a simulated view of the death strip with a self-manned automatic machine gun. Seeing the original wall at Bernauer Str. was very powerful.

Screenshot_2018-09-14-11-09-03-1 (1)

Imke at Bernauer Str. Berlin Wall Memorial. Photo Credit: Justin Maurer

The Holocaust Memorial

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas) is also known as the Holocaust Memorial (Holocaust-Mahnmal).

This memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims consists of 2,711 concrete slabs placed on a sloping field. Walking through the concrete maze gives one the feeling of claustrophobia, or feeling trapped, lost. The slabs are organized in rows, 54 of them north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew to contribute to the feeling of confusion, perhaps hopelessness as one wanders through the maze.  An attached underground “Place of Information” (Ort der Information) holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims.

imke holocaust monument

Imke at the Holocaust Memorial. Photo Credit: Justin Maurer

Across the street from the Holocaust memorial is the bluntly-titled Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism (Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen)

Through a concrete slab, there is a video on replay that shows same-sex couples kissing. It is a simple– yet touching monument.

tim imke lgbt monument

Imke and Tim looking at the same-sex couples kissing video displayed in the obtusely titled “Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism”

Brandenburger Tor

Brandenburger Tor, Berlin

Brandenburger Tor AKA The Brandenburg Gate



The Reichstag (Reichstagsgebäude or Deutscher Bundestag – Plenarbereich Reichstagsgebäude) – The house of German Parliament

Das Bundeskanzleramt AKA The German Chancellery serves the executive office of the Chancellor of Germany, currently Angela Merkel.

Das Bundeskanzleramt

Das Bundeskanzleramt (Angela Merkel’s place)



In between we took a break for Beer and sausages at a Beer Garden in Tiergarten Park: Schleusenkrug. (The red sausages were amazing, I’m still dreaming about them)

tim imke 1

And we closed our day with a beer at Beer Hall in Prenzlauer Berg Prater Garten

Prater Garten

Prater Garten historic Beer Hall in Prenzlauerberg

Many thanks to my old friends Imke and Tim for the best tour of Berlin.

tim imke justin reflection at lgbt memorial

Imke, Justin, and Tim Photo by Imke Wagener.


I had so much on my mind about Berlin. All that I could do was let it sink in. Berlin is far from undiscovered territory as English-speaking tourists and trust fund kids of all stripes flood into Germany’s capital. Like most major cities across the world, Berlin is experiencing gentrification, housing-shortages, and major rent increases. Google has even sunk its claws into counter-culture stronghold Kreuzberg, opening up shop on Ohlauer Strasse (much to the chagrin and anger of locals).

That said, a beer in the supermarket is about 50 cents and a beer at the “Speti” is about 1.50. You can still find falafel for 3 or 4 Euros. There’s amazing international food everywhere including Turkish, Sudanese, Vietnamese, and more. The city is walkable, bikeable, and the public transportation while it can be erratic and confusing, for the most part works. The winter is brutal but the spring and summer are gorgeous. Parks and green spaces are everywhere.

At times Berlin can feel like a trendy cesspool full of the worst kind of faux-bohemians. Below this veneer is the real Berlin: full of history, full of culture, full of multi-lingual, well-traveled, well-educated people who care. It can still be a magical place at times. Just don’t be one of those Americans who moves to Berlin and never learns German.  When I was digging around a little looking at other blogs, it was astounding to find people who describe themselves as “Berlin bloggers and freelance yoga instructors.”  Maybe I shouldn’t have a bias against trust fund kids, but sorry, I do. (Kudos to those lucky few who can actually pay their rent in Berlin by blogging and freelance yoga instructing, but seriously, please give me a break!)

I am lucky enough to play in a few rock and roll bands and it still gives me the opportunity to travel sometimes. I’m very blessed. I’m even luckier to have dear friends in Berlin who always make me feel at home. It’s truly incredible to have a city full of friends on the other side of the world.  Thank you, Berlin.

PARTS II AND III Coming Soon! 

PART II: WARSAW and PART III: SUSPECT PARTS DEUTSCH TOUR JOURNAL as well as the complete Season 2 of your favorite travel show, GUTEN MORGEN DEUTSCHLAND! 

Keep your eyes peeled.

Your Pal,





“Song For Sadie”

6 Jul

At my old friend Devon Sampson’s wedding in Mendocino County, I met an amazing violinist, Elizabeth Dequine. We played a few songs around the campfire and I was blown away with her playing. The next day I asked if she wouldn’t mind shooting a quick video for an original song I had written for The Wayward Chapel (country version) and Suspect Parts (power pop version). Elizabeth is 8 months pregnant, and had her other little one running around, who appears in the beginning of the video. Mil gracias a Jake Fernandez for shooting this on his iPhone. We had no rehearsal, she just listened to the chords and joined in. One take. We’re sitting on the front porch of an 1870s Victorian Farmhouse on Jug Handle Farm in Caspar, California. Here’s “Song For Sadie” Enjoy!


“It’s A Long Way To The Bottom”

26 Jun
Photo by Zach Mcaffree _preview

Photo by Zach McCaffree

In 2012 I joined a power-pop/punk group called MANIAC in Los Angeles, California. We recently released our 2nd album “Dead Dance Club” on independent labels Dirt Cult Records and Hovercraft Records .With months of planning, we embarked on a tour of the West Coast of the United States to promote our new album. The tour promotion included shooting a music video for our hit single “City Lights”

Day 1 – Los Angeles, CA @ HiHat with Dark/Light, Fiends, and Cheap Tissue

la 1

As I had a knee injury from playing basketball, I was on crutches. Captain Zappin poked fun when I was at the ATM and imagined a potential newspaper headline, “Gimp overdraws bank account for drugs.”


The HiHat is located in Highland Park on York, the recently gentrified area of a traditionally Latino hood in NorthEast L.A. There’s been loads of heartbreaking stories about grandmothers and small businesses being recently evicted including this article in LA Taco noting Highland Park independent businesses’ rents rising 250%.

However, MANIAC were not in NE LA to gentrify, we were there to launch our white-hot sophomore album “Dead Dance Club” into the hemisphere.  With my bum left knee I wasn’t quite ready to launch anything, but Captain Zappin and his better-half Tamara Eunice helped me carry a bag of ice and a bottle of tequila from the liquor store and up the stairs to the HiHat’s green room where I happily iced my knee and guzzled some tequila. Fiends, Dark/Light, and Cheap Tissue warmed up the crowd, then we had the soundman blare our come-out song “The Ecstasy of Gold” by Ennio Morricone.  In a plume of smoke, I crutched out, we plugged in, and we exploded like a truck-full of Chinese fireworks. (Photos below by Tamara Eunice and Tillie Lams)



Day 2 – San Francisco, CA @ Light Rail Studios w/ Harold Ray & East Side Dynamite & DJ Shannon Shaw

SF 1

As MANIAC live in 3 corners of Los Angeles it was a cacophony of text messages, Lyft cars, equipment loading, and then we finally made it to our buddies AVR, Airport Van Rentals at LAX to pick up our steed who someone later dubbed “The Great White Hope” (ya know, after Larry Bird).  From LAX we flew to Carson, home of our virtuoso drummer, Young James Carman.  It only took about 4 hours to get out of LA, then we had a 5 hour drive north to San Francisco.  Trader Joe’s provided some excellent van snacks, including but not limited to turkey jerky, beef jerky, salmon jerky, nuts, trail mix, dried prunes, dried figs, quinoa chips, rose, beer, tequila, and vodka.  Icing my knee while driving was an excellent reason to always have our cooler full of ice cold beer. Fantastic.

After a quick stop at Harris Ranch for an extremely overpriced steak sandwich and some iced tea, we jetted north to Light Rail Studios, in an industrial part of San Francisco sort of near the baseball stadium.  Crossing the Bay Bridge while being at an 11/10 on the piss scale is always pleasant. Squirming in your seat and enjoying the view of Alcatraz while nearly wetting yourself was how this van driver rolled across I-80 to the 101.

After a sprint into some SF bushes, we found the venue, a very interesting place, recording studio, rehearsal studios, film studio, and bar. It was the boss man Parker’s birthday party, and he was savvy enough to have it be sponsored by a vodka brand, so entrance to the show was free, and the bands and DJ had their own signature vodka drinks being made. I ordered a MANIAC and regretfully it was watered down and weak. Good thing we came prepared with a well-stocked van bar.

DJ Shannon Shaw of Shannon & The Clams and her soon-to-be-illustrious solo career DJ’d some killer tunes warming up for Harold Ray & East Side Dynamite, who ripped it up with old school rhythm and blues with a horn section and all. Jason Morgan AKA Harold Ray is like a white James Brown.

MANIAC did our thing and people seemed to like it. We received some heart-felt compliments including one from Allyson Baker who fronts one of our favorite SF outfits Dirty Ghosts.

Our entire bass-heavy SF set is here c/o Pressure Drop TV if you care to hear a few flat vocal notes and if you want to see what Young James is wearing.

Day 3 – Corvallis, Oregon @ Cloud & Kelly’s Public House w/ Wups and Kawaii Busters

corv 1

It was a 9 hour drive to Corvallis all the way up I-5 North. Our wonderful host Niki woke up early and made us some bacon and eggs. We were up late the night before penning a new hit, “Dwarves In Love”

We found out the Mayor of Corvallis is named Biff Traber. We enjoyed this name very much. When we arrived the venue, an Irish pub, there were families and children enjoying dinner. I made a bee-line to the bathroom to shave. Captain Zappin didn’t feel comfortable shaving in a bathroom where surely fathers and their kids were apt to burst in and interrupt our “me time.”  I just brashly began behaving like a man who lives in a van and lathered up and began to shave. A father and his kids came into the bathroom and I said, “Don’t mind me, I’m just in one of the bands playing tonight, we just drove 9 hours from San Francisco.”   The man said, “No problem, you guys should have a pretty good crowd tonight, it’s the big college graduation ceremony tomorrow, so all of the kids parents are in town.”  This was said while little boys were peeing and while I was shaving. Only slightly awkward.

The opening band had ponytails, backpacks, and canteens. Someone mentioned that they looked like a bunch of school shooters. They most definitely had similar taste in men’s fashion as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.   They played thrashy, screamy music. We came out with napalm in our hearts and there was even an all-girl mosh pit going for a song or two.  Portland/Corvallis celebrity Chris Crusher gave us the lowdown on Corvallis and told us about the new book he is writing about his travels in Eastern Europe. Captain Zappin and I looked for some late-night cuisine and found a kebab truck as the only available option. The kebab was lackluster, but we sucked it down and our new friends took us to what they told us was the diviest bar in Corvallis “China Delight” AKA “China D’s”.  

“What goes on that is so sketchy there?”

“Dude, they pour the drinks directly in your mouth! One time, Mike from Defiance got stabbed in there.”

“Sounds great to us!”

No one got stabbed or drinks poured directly into their mouths by the bartender, but we did enjoy a few extremely fair priced drinks ($3 beer, $5 well, no tax). Our drummer Jimmy got some frozen Chinese food heated up in a microwave. (photos below by Chris Crusher excluding the photo of Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber)



Day 4 – Portland, OR @ Green Noise Records AND Lay Low Tavern

green n pdx 2

One of our label bosses, Chris Mason of Dirt Cult, set us up with an in-store at Green Noise Records new location on NE Killingsworth as well as a late show at Lay Low Tavern in deep South East Portland.

On the way we stopped by to visit our friends Jonny Cat, Cecilia Meneau, and Ben Corman at their stall at a classic car show at Portland Meadows. As the show was winding down, Jonny Cat invited us to an impromptu BBQ at his place. With the help of Alaskan Fisherman and Portland Cab Driver Kenton McDonald, we purchased some provisions for the BBQ.  Present at the BBQ were members of Portland punk royalty, including but not limited to Ryan from The Rickets, Tina from the Trashwomen, Ben from the Cormans, and more.

We shotgunned some beers and ate too much and that sort of got us ready for our in-store at Green Noise Records.  Opening the show was me, reading a story from my new chapbook of short stories “Mutant Maniac”. I had to promise the owner of Green Noise that there wasn’t anything too bad in the story as it’s a safe space for POC, women, etc. I agree fully with the principles.  I read the story “Aberdeen Skins Never Say Die”. 

green noise

Opening the show was Muscle Dungeon and Ad-Noids. There were a lot of little kids in attendance wearing ear protection. It felt like being in an episode of Portlandia.

The PA kept overloading when we sang backing vocals, but we played a buncha songs and people seemed to enjoy it. Green Noise is the distribution hub for Dirt Cult Records and we really appreciate the support.


Later that night we were at Lay Low Tavern, and it was a free show. We were to get 10% of the bar take. The Bloodtypes and Public Eye opened up this one. Both bands put on a great show. We were exhausted from the show earlier but had food, coffee, and alcohol and tried to get enough gusto to kick ass. We did indeed. Thank you very much to Doug and Courtney Burns who enlivened me with tequila and encouragement. Later that night was a blur. Very blurry.


Maniac label bosses Chris Mason (L) and Tim Janchar (R) of Dirt Cult and Hovercraft

Day 5 – Tacoma, WA @ The Valley


We passed through Vancouver, the hometown of Richie Stitch from Red Dons who managed to miss all 3 of MANIAC’s Portland shows and headed north to Tacoma, WA, home of the mighty Sonics and the Wailers.  Our soundtrack on this drive was highlighted by Sir Mix A Lot’s 90s hit, “Bremelo.”

We ate some seafood on the water at a place called Duke’s. The food was overpriced and wasn’t too good and it pissed off Captain Zappin. He was on fire with quotes such as “All of the chowder tastes exactly the same, they are just a different color. It was probably brought in frozen from Omaha, Nebraska.” There was a man behind us who didn’t much care for our laughing and carrying-on.


We did have some nice dirty gin martinis though! And we met a very nice middle-aged lady who used to play Al’s Bar in LA in the 80s. She ended up coming to our show which was pretty cool!

It was a Sunday and this was a pretty quiet night. We played our little hearts out. The promoter Logan was a very sweet guy. Nothing much to report.  The absolutely stunning Rachel Barrett from Rare Forms came out and it was  great to see her as always.


MANIAC enjoy some dirty gin martinis at Duke’s in Tacoma.


Day 6 – Bellingham, WA @ Boscoe’s Tavern

The boys partied with Kicks from The Briefs in Seattle and I caught up with an old friend. We met up in Seattle’s International District and once we made it through the Seattle-Everett traffic snare it was a beautiful drive up I-5 through Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom counties.

seattle kix

Jimmy at Kicks’ pad in Seattle. Photo by Andrew Zappin

I saw the band Girl Trouble in Bellingham years ago, and for some reason I still think of them every time Bellingham is mentioned.

We arrived at Boscoe’s 3 hours early, and so we had some time to walk around. We snapped some fotos at the boat yard. Jimmy spotted a crab in the water.

The opening bands were all very friendly and many of them donated to the tip jar. The lovely promoter Sean made sure we got 10% of the bar in addition to tips and it ended up turning out very well for a Monday night.  We decided to cross the border that night and James gave Sean his ganja joints to hold onto until we crossed back.

MANIAC has had missed results crossing the US/Canada border. The first time they let us across without any problems and we played the Biltmore. The 2nd time, two years ago, we were denied due to Zache’s DUI 9 years ago and our friend Cezar’s equally ancient DUI.  This time we had all of our paperwork in order but there was one SNAFU. Zache applied with the Canadians for an entry VISA, sending all documents showing that his 9 year old DUI was since resolved, he’s been granted his license back, etc.  However, the Canadians informed him that it would be 9 months to process.  We decided to try and cross the border anyhow.  After hours of waiting and multiple rounds of questioning (think Hillary Clinton’s 11 hour Benghazi hearing), the border guard convinced Zache the correct pronunciation of “Biltmore” was “Bitmore” and told him if he paid $200 Canadian, he could be granted a 48 hour temporary VISA into Canada.  We paid and also had to declare merch at customs which was a few buildings over in some Indiana Jones warehouse building.  We fucking made it!  We celebrated with some cocktails from the van bar and a cold wrap at Tim Horton’s.

Our very kind host Josh from Fashionism and Chain Whip stayed awake til 3:30 in the morning to greet us with a 6 pack of Pilsner. He told us to watch out for his Pitbull and his Bearded Dragon.  In the morning, Josh made coffee and croissants for us before he had to head to work. Tops Tops host!

Day 7 – Vancouver, British Columbia @ The Astoria


We spent the morning wandering alongside the water in Stanley Park. There were a lot of fit people walking and jogging and biking. I was limping along like Quasimodo. Medicated with a little Trader Joe’s rose and that helped a little.  We saw otters and cranes, boats, and bridges. We even got sunburned! Captain Zappin and I spotted a filmic moment straight out of “7 year Itch” which was truly glorious, and especially fitting, being that we all were experiencing 7 days of tour itch.

Marilyn Monroe In 'The Seven Year Itch'

After a wonderful MANIAC band meal at a lunch special sushi place in Gastown ($25 Canadian for a 45 piece party platter of sushi), we went to visit our friend Jeff from AUTOGRAMM.  He has a gorgeous backyard with a skate ramp and we watched him skate for awhile while drinking some ice cold frosty dogs.

It was a perfect afternoon hang. We headed to The Astoria on Hastings.  We loaded in and sound checked, then I had a casual dinner with an old flame, the lovely Sadie Olchewski. It was wonderful to catch up with her (secret fact: Pretty much every song on all 3 Clorox Girls albums is about her).   The other MANIAC guys ended up accidentally eating in the same restaurant with CC from Autogramm which was a hilarious coincidence. On tour, privacy and personal space are quick and fleeting privileges.

You’re in a band now/you’re not behind a plow/you’ll never get rich/you’ll never get rich/you’re in a band now

Opening up the night were Corner Boys who is Patrick from Hosehead Records and Joel Butler from Nervous Talk. They played great catchy late 70s style punk/pop reminiscent of Northern Ireland’s Good Vibrations Records.  They asked me to sing The Simpletones “TV Love” with them and Patrick asked me if I knew the lyrics. I lied and said “Yes.” I know the song, but definitely don’t know the lyrics by heart.  Luckily Patrick backed me up. I spilled some beer on stage and had a serious banana peel moment when I tried to do a high kick and fell directly onto my ass. Luckily the move looked like it was previously planned. Again, another injury nearly avoided!

Fashionism were up next! They are Bobby Beefy, Robin, Jeff from the Tranzmitors and Josh (our wonderful host who I mentioned earlier) newer band. They recently returned from a successful tour of Finland and North Eastern European former Soviet-Bloc countries.

MANIAC did our thing and were followed by some more of our pals Needles//Pins. We most recently hung out with Tony, Macey, Jesse, and Adam at San Diego’s Awesome Fest. It was very nice to see them!

All of our pals from THE BALLANTYNES showed up (Jarrod, Vanessa, Jennifer Wilks  Corey, Max, and Mick).  Jarrod had been rammed by a police car while on his bicycle and had his arm dislocated in the scuffle that ensued. Poor fella! Hope that he heals up soon! MANIAC hearts the Ballantynes.

Jimmy and I grabbed our cooler on wheels and burned the midnight oil over at Macey’s under-construction penthouse apartment with a cast of characters from Sore Points, Needles//Pins, Corner Boys, and Ballantynes.  Macey made these great gin cocktails with freshly cut fruit. Our cooler was emptied, cigarettes were smoked, every drop drank.  Young James and I traveled by cab back to Vanessa’s place where she kindly put us up on her couches.


J Mau & Joel Butler Photo Credit: Andrew Zappin

In the morning we had a lovely breakfast with CC, Jeff, and Macey, and we took this lovely photo afterwards.


On the US border side, we were stopped, had to go inside to immigration/customs, and had to pay $13.52 for the merchandise that we sold in Canada. This made absolutely no sense, but we did it anyway. The border guard looked like Egon from Ghostbusters.

Day 8 – Seattle, WA @ Funhouse


We stopped in Bellingham to pick up Jimmy’s ganja joints from Sean who promoted our show at Boscoe’s.  We also found our smoke machine inside of Boscoe’s. Double luck!

We had a short visit with my Uncle John who taught me how to play my first few chords on guitar in 1994. He was smoking weed in his car parked in an Olive Garden parking lot. He was also dressed like a pirate. Here he is making out with my neck for no apparent reason.


Underneath the freeway underpass near El Corazon/The Funhouse was a tent city where the folks underneath were doing all kinds of unsavory things including but not limited to drinking malt liquor, smoking crack, and shooting heroin.  We saw evidence of all 3.  The venue wouldn’t let us load in because security wasn’t there yet, but we had a very nice hang with the Brain Drain and Donzis folks out front of the venue and invited Will Donzi into our van bar. I went to high school on Bainbridge Island with Jeremy and Andy from Brain Drain. It’s a small world after all.


The tattooed doorman at Funhouse was extremely rude and uncooperative. A few police cars pulled up and began questioning him about something. We overheard something about a gun, a scuffle, something strange being afoot at the circle K.  The tattooed doorman soon left with what seemed like were a bunch of office supplies in a box, as if he was just fired from his office job and another door guy took over who seemed like he didn’t know what was going on. He was slightly friendlier than the first one.

Donzis opened up the show and absolutely ripped it up!

Brain Drain were next. They’ve recently released an excellent album.

The sound woman was in a rush and she said that we had already eaten 6 minutes into our setup time. I told her we’d play 6 minutes less.  Lars from Bread and Butter bought me a shot of well tequila and I found myself in the bathroom dry heaving before our set. Nothing was coming out, just a steady and slightly painful heave.  Nick from Downtown was in the bathroom and I asked him how he mustered enough energy to play without drinking.  He told me it was all nerves and nervous energy.  I ran back out and we jumped on stage and brought the fire to Seattle.

I tried a stupid jump off of a raised part of the stage and fell, also knocking my guitar into disrepair.  I also knocked over a microphone much to the disdain of my fellow Maniacs. Somehow I was able to turn up and make it work for the rest of the set, but my guitar’s input jack was hammerschlocked and kaput.

Nearly all of our friends from Seattle were there, it was probably the best energy of any show the whole tour. Everyone was all smiles and very supportive. We fed off of the energy and brought the hammer down.

Afterwards we parked the van and then things got real blurry.  A lot of beautiful people were out with us that night including but not limited to Conor St. Kiley, Ursula, Chris Costalupes, Rachel Barrett, Will Donzi, Miles and Emi, and many more.  The blur blends and it is a positive blur.  We ate some tortas and the mole torta gave me epic heartburn, the clutching your chest and almost crashing the car kind of heartburn.

Day 9 – Portland, OR @ Black Water Bar


On the way down Jonny Cat convinced us to stop by his place for another impromptu BBQ.


The Jonster, Kicking cancer’s ass one day at a time with his self-designed “cock sucking dick” t-shirt

Zache and Andrew had dinner with Zache’s mom who lives just outside of Portland.


Seve from Autistic Youth and Public Eye came out as well as Alaskan Boat Skipper Kenton McDonald.  It was very enjoyable.


At Black Water we bumped into Dark/Light and the Stops and had pleasant conversations with them.  Zache and I were nearly losing our voices, and Candy from Dark/Light gave us a bunch of lozenges and other remedies.  Doug from Red Dons, Clay from Clorox Girls, Zach and Samantha from Piss Test, and loads more were out and about.   STOPS and DARK/LIGHT were great.   MANIAC brought the fire again and torched the place as best we could.  It was a quiet night and everyone slowly dispersed.  The kind gents from MUSCLE DUNGEON put us up in their place. We had a very nice walkabout and had some pizza and a last drink before bed.  We slept on floor and couch and army cot.


Our hosts from Muscle Dungeon in PDX

Day 10 – Eureka, CA @ Siren’s Song Tavern

It was a 7 hour drive to Eureka from Portland, and we stopped at Guitar Center in Eugene to have them repair my guitar and restring Zache’s bass.  After we cut over from Grant’s Pass it was a gorgeous drive, winding alongside a river and through the forest. Past Crescent City was a grove of Redwood Trees and an impossibly picturesque cliff side forest along the coast. Words can’t begin to describe how beautiful it was and how amazing the untamed northern California coast can truly be.

I had been in Eureka over 10 years ago and I recall it being full of tweakers, meth, and speed.  This Eureka we pulled into was completely different. Farmers markets, nice shops, clean and bright-eyed people.  We had some pozole at a Mexican restaurant and shared the stage with Nico Bones from Long Beach and Material from Vancouver, Canada.   The bathroom was clean and perfect for shaving.

Nico Bones was recently a contestant on American Idol with this hilarious audition:

MATERIAL from Vancouver had Skidge on drums, a fella who had promoted some basement shows in Vancouver for some of my bands 10 years ago. Their singer Laura had seen Clorox Girls play in her hometown of Calgary when she was “a little kid” in 2007.  I was 24 years old in 2007 and this made me feel old. She asked me why Clorox Girls stopped playing and I told her about 3 guys living off of a ziplock bag full of change in London, thousands of dollars in debt, multiple van breakdowns, record release snafus and all that other stuff that leads to bands breaking up 🙂

Our host and promoter Nick brought us to his beachside shack that was straight out of the pages of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.  He had this little kitten that was absolutely adorable and we all fell asleep peacefully after chowing down on chile verde burrito leftovers and fucking up our voices with more cigarette smoking.

In the morning we walked over the hill to the beach in Manila (are Manila clams from Manila, California?)  I realized that my high school punk band Maurice’s Little Bastards had played the Manila Community Center there in the late 90s or early 2000s.

Day 11 – Oakland, CA @ Golden Bull Tavern

Our last show of tour was in Oakland.  It was another gorgeous drive through the Redwood Forest and the Avenue of the Giants.  The soundtrack for this drive was this JAM:

Niki shot us pre-show at Mike Dirnt from Green Day’s Rudy Can’t Fail Cafe in Downtown Oakland.

Italian Cherry is Jason Patrone from FM Knives new outfit. I LOVED FM Knives. If you dig the Buzzcocks and The Boys, you’ll dig FM Knives… here’s their 1st album

The woman working the door was extremely unfriendly and uncooperative. She seemed annoyed that we existed and answered our questions with a heavy sigh, roll of the eyes, and even glares.  MANIAC take pride in our degree of politeness, we always say please and thank you and make eye contact.  She took the cake for the most rude and unpleasant door person of the whole tour.   Before we played she thrust $22 into Captain Zappin’s palm and told him that was our pay. She then rushed out the door and took off into the night.  $22 was the most pitiful pay that we have possibly ever received on tour.  The other 2 bands felt bad and gave us their $22 and the sound man gave us $20 out of his $100 pay.  I wonder what the door lady’s pay was?  Out of an $8 door 3 bands receive $66 pay on a Saturday night in Oakland?  It really made us appreciate our Sunday night in Tacoma and our Monday night in Bellingham.    MANIAC will not be playing the Golden Bull again. Dulcinea and Camylle from Midnight Snaxx had some great compliments for us and it meant a lot.   Local celebrity Morgan Stickrod made it out and our Bay Area photographer Niki Pretti snapped some shots of us.


It was the last night of tour!  We went back to Niki’s place in Albany with Drew from Personal and the Pizzas in tow and we burned some serious midnight oil. It’s probably best that it ends like this.  Comment below if I forgot anything.  Love you all.


Justin and MANIAC

Oak 1 niki

Photo Credit: Niki Pretti


Photos below by Niki Pretti: