Originally published in Paraphila Magazine, Tagada: http://www.paraphiliamagazine.com/
Cooking Frogs with Don Bolles by dixē.flatlin3
Don Bolles has been a fixture in the Los Angeles underground scene since the late-70s. On drums, he was a member of the legendary punk band the Germs and a founding-member of 45 Grave. However, Don’s musical abilities are limited only by the amount of hours in the day. How I happened to meet Don Bolles is rather random. Although he has long been an iconic image in the Los Angeles scene, I did not encounter him in this way, so that part of it was out of context to me. Several friends and I were deciding on where to go eat to cure the post-drunk munchies, after last-call in the clubs of Hollywood, when something on the radio caught my attention. I do not remember what it was, but for some reason I picked up the phone and called the number that had just been broadcast. The person who answered was very friendly, funny, and invited us down to the station. We loaded into a car and headed out to Santa Monica where MARS FM was located.
Don was working the over-night shift at MARS, doing The All Night Truck Driver Show. MARS had not been on the air that long and there wasn’t a lot going on at 3 a.m. when you’re stuck in a control booth. Thus, we brought the entertainment to him. This occurred during the rave heyday in Los Angeles, I was often at massive warehouses where way too many fucked up things were taking place in every nook and cranny and the designer drugs were flowing like water. After some of these adventures, I would wander over to the MARS FM studios and hang out with Don. Which meant I got to play intern and answer phones, take requests, screen calls, etc. In preparing for interviews I have noticed that the artists are often asked the same questions, repeatedly, and these questions are typically regarding a specific era. The public likes to pigeonhole their idols and I quickly found most of the material readily available online. I have heard that fans can be defined as liking one particular thing and wanting the artist to deliver more of that same product. I can only imagine how stifling that is for those who are truly artistic. Don seems to have taken this with a grain of salt and is unapologetically honest and opinionated.
Jimmy Michael Giorsetti was born on July 30, 1956 in Oakland California. Around the age of two he developed what he described as a “respiratory weirdness” and his parents moved him to Scottsdale Arizona. The strange and prolific recommendation to move to a dry climate from medical professionals is the reason a lot people came to Arizona. However, this allowed young Jimmy to land in a place where his weirdness could expand and grow, unfettered and uninfluenced by the trends of the big cities. Isolation seems to do this. Scottsdale may as well have been Timbuktu in the 50s and 60s. Young Jimmy got his musical start in Top-40 cover bands, making the rounds of the greater Phoenix area. He described his uncanny ability to mimic voices and tones as the main reason for his success in this genre. He also possessed a true appreciation for all things esoteric and weird about music. With the hopes of starting a band he embarked on a short-lived stint in San Francisco, where he met Rob Ritter (later Rob Graves). They tried to form a punk band, but the pair never managed to find any other musicians there to play the sort of music they were interested in, and he soon returned to Arizona, and Rob went back to Detroit. Once back, he was asked to play bass for the Consumers while their bassist recovered from being hit by a car on his ten-speed bicycle. Admittedly, he was horrible on bass, but “it was punk rock and I thought it didn’t matter.” As soon as the regular bassist recovered, Jimmy found himself out of the band. At that point, as he says, “I just decided, well fuck it, I’m just going to start my own stupid punk band.” With Jimmy on bass, the drummer from his Top-40 band and a guitarist, the trio moved into a house in downtown Phoenix. Once there, he quickly made the drummer and guitarist switch instruments, “to be more on my level,” and they went to work writing songs that they then recorded live in their living room. He called Rob Ritter in Detroit and played him the tapes over the phone; Rob flew out to Phoenix to join the band almost immediately.
Hearing that another band, called the Exterminators, was starting up in the area is what led Jimmy to the drums. As he said, “What, a punk band here in Phoenix without me in it? No way!” He called them up and asked if they needed a bass player or a guitarist, since he had recently started playing guitar. They said no, but they did need a drummer, and he said, “Ok, I’ll be right over.” After borrowing pieces of a drum kit, he went and auditioned in a rented storage warehouse, and became a member of that band too. Soon Rob joined the band on bass and they began playing shows in the Phoenix area. Jimmy, who changed his name almost daily back then, became Don Bolles in early 1977, during a phone interview with a local radio personality, who had called to discuss this new thing called “punk rock.” The assassination of investigative reporter Don Bolles in Phoenix on June 2, 1976 was still headline news there at the time, and the details of the mafia-related car bombing and Bolles’ subsequent ten-day hospital stay and numerous limb amputations before his death were apparently at the forefront of young Jimmy’s mind when he answered the interviewer’s questions:
“’So, what’s your name, sir?
Yeah. No relation. Kind of weird, eh?
Uh…yeah, I’d say! That’s quite a coincidence!
Yeah, I guess so.
So, Don, what’s the name of your Punk Rock band?
The Bloody Stumps…”
And thus the name, if not exactly a legend, was born. With the help of a small trust fund bequeathed to him at the age of 21, he and Rob set out for Los Angeles. The two packed Don’s Chrysler Newport Custom full of stuff, which included a stolen drum set.
When I first spoke to Don about doing this interview, we chatted briefly about the resurgence of interest in his old band the Germs. Specifically, what did he think of the movie?
“I think the guy’s dad is an über-powerful entertainment lawyer, so it was going to get made regardless of what anyone said or thought.” He went on to elaborate that although the producers had declined to license or option the book Don had written on the topic, Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs (Feral House), they had ensured there were plenty of copies to go around on the set of the movie. Don also noted that many of the ‘consultants’ used during the production were bit-players in the true history of the Germs. “They did get a lot of the random details right, thanks to Bill Bartell.” This renewed interest allowed the remaining members to regroup and play shows with the actor who had played Darby in the movie, Shane West. While some met this decision with harsh and vocal criticism, it did not have much effect on Don. I mean, he is a Germ, what the fuck does he care what anyone thinks about what he and the others choose to do with the Germs?
“Besides,” adds Bolles, “It’s just so Warholian… I mean, how cool would it have been, Pop Art-wise, if the Doors would have gotten Val Kilmer (who played Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors”) to sing instead of Ian Astbury? I think it’s awesome that we have Teen Idol Shane West fronting the Germs! Lucky thing for us he does a really great job as the Germs singer – better in real life than in the movie, even. But it’s so ridiculous, obviously; and I’m sure Darby would love it!”
Much focus has been placed upon the one person who has been dead for ove 30 years now. Again, the fans like the one product and they want more of the exact item. If it involves a person who died, then it becomes sacrilegious to ever play it again. Which is the exact reason I have chosen to avoid the topic altogether. If you want to read a history of the Germs and Los Angeles punk rock, read Don’s book; Give the artist his due and pay for the knowledge or nostalgia you seek. The book itself was surrounded in controversy; even though he was a member of the Germs, he had a hard time getting people to speak out on the record about the events of long ago. Don described the ordeal:
“When we started doing the book it was really tough to get people to talk about the Germs for some reason. It was like a sacred cow to a lot of people. They just did not feel it was even right to discuss it in public. I was like, really? Not even with me, and I was in the band? Most of them finally did, but it took a while.”
The recording of the infamous, final (and arguably best) Germs’ performance at the Starwood is available on Rhino Handmade. Despite Darby’s insistence that it not be recorded, Don admits to having his friend, Lee Rickmers, go into the sound booth with Paul Cutler, who was doing the sound that evening, and record the show. “Lucky thing,” Don told me. Within a few days of this show, Darby was dead.
“Without Darby and the Germs there was suddenly this void, because he was the nexus of the scene at that point. There was a parody of Slash magazine called SLUSH that ran a piece called ‘Top 10 things overheard outside punk shows’ or something, and the number one thing was ‘Wow – did Darby think it was cool when you told him that you did that?’ That’s kind of how it was! But by mid-1980 the new crop of ‘hardcore’ bands from Orange County were coming up and getting more popular with the younger people. It was like a stripped down sound. They kind of took off from the Germs and Black Flag, but they stripped it down and they started doing that ‘oompah’ beat that I hated, because you can be a total buffoon and still play that oompah beat really fast. It was always a pet peeve of mine, that fucking oompah beat. I still hate it to this day.”
Filling the Void
Even then, Don was usually in several bands at once, and was actually kicked out of the Germs a few months prior to their ‘reunion show’ at the Starwood, for his participation in various side-projects, most notably Vox Pop, which had him dressing in Runaways’ style drag. Not long after moving to L.A., Don soon found himself a member of the recent Phoenix transplant band the Consumers, who had just beat up their singer onstage at a Whiskey show and kicked him out of the band. Don knew their songs and could sing, so he started practicing with them in the basement of the Canterbury apartments, where he and many of the other L.A. punks lived. It was then that a young, blue-haired Girl Scout named Mary Simms approached him to be interviewed for her ‘zine.
“There were these two weird teenaged girls that had this little Xerox fanzine called Nihil, and they wanted to interview me for being in the Consumers. One of them was Mary Simms. We kind of liked each other right away, and I ended up moving out of the Canterbury and in with her and her mom and aunt, who initially didn’t want her to go out with me because I had an Italian last name, but I guess Mary put up quite a stink, so I got to move in. Then the Consumers broke up for and everyone moved back to Phoenix, except me. Mary and I would drive out to Phoenix to play music with (former Consumer) Paul Cutler, because he was this awesome Avant-garde improv noise musician guy, (besides being a great guitarist and classically trained pianist) and I enjoyed doing that stuff. She got a taste for it as well, so we would take her aunt’s car and drive to Phoenix a lot. Eventually Paul moved back to L.A.. He lived in my broken down van in the driveway of Mary’s aunt’s West Hollywood home.”
“We had turned the garage into a weird, soundproofed practice space and we ended up doing a lot of jamming there and recording a lot of stuff. And we started working on some ‘pop’ songs. A rock guy named Jeff Dahl had just moved to L.A. from Hawaii, and he had heard that we were into Blue Cheer and early Alice Cooper, which was true, so he called us out of the blue and told us he was looking for people to back him up for a show at the King’s Palace, which later became Raji’s, on Hollywood Boulevard. So we said sure, come on over, and we got really messed up on drugs and drunken and banged out some songs and recorded them live in the garage, and that became the band we ended up calling Vox Pop, which was a corruption of ‘vincebus vox populi’, Latin for ‘control the voice of the people.’ We were trying to copy Blue Cheer’s first album title, ‘Vincebus Eruptum,’ which means ‘control the chaos,’ but we couldn’t just use that.”
“In July 1980, Vox Pop went in to Media Arts studios to record two songs for a 7-inch single; that’s the studio where Black Flag recorded with their engineer/producer, Spot. We left the settings up on the mixer from some Black Flag single, ‘Jealous Again,’ I think, that was mixed earlier that day, and we told Spot not to change anything – we wanted to see what it would sound like if we mixed our tape with the same settings. We also started playing on a Public Access show called New Wave Theatre. We had a bunch of other songs that weren’t really right for Vox Pop, so we started a ‘pop’ band, which ended up being 45 Grave. Keep in mind, we were living at Mary’s mom and aunt’s house and they had helped us soundproof the garage and told us that we had to let Mary in this new band or we couldn’t jam in the garage anymore. That was fine with us, because none of us wanted to sing – this was back in the day when people would loogie (gob) all over the bands at punk shows, and I was perfectly content to be in the back behind the giant cymbals and drums. She turned out to be a pretty good lyricist and not a bad singer, and we worked on these songs and practiced them a lot. To round out our set, we appropriated a lot of the Consumers songs, because Paul wrote most of them, anyway, and since they broke up the Consumers weren’t going to be using them anytime soon. Rob Graves played bass, Paul played guitar, Mary – soon to become Dinah Cancer – sang, and I was on drums.”
Don has always had a flair for coming up with names. His first vinyl recording as bassist with Phoenix improv pop band the Yvonnes was done under the name of Scary Como. It was also his idea to call the band 45 Grave.
“So we had this other band and we didn’t really have a name for it, but it was like my dream band that I’d finally kinda gotten together. My favorite bass player Rob (Graves), and then Paul who was my favorite guitar player, he and Pat (Smear) actually — Pat was sort of in the band, too. After the Germs broke up, we had him play in the band , but he didn’t last very long. He just didn’t want to do anything-musical right then, which was understandable, since Darby, his BFF and partner in crime, had just killed himself. And it felt redundant, anyway, because with Paul Cutler and him it was like we had five guitarists! So we were working on the band and our songs in the garage over at Mary’s house where we lived. We were all staying there, sort of leeching off her aunt and her Mom — that’s who raised her because her dad ran off, apparently when she was three, went to the liquor store and never came back. We were hanging out on Christmas morning, 1980, and Paul had gotten me a little present at a thrift store – he hands me this package, I open it up, and there’s this big button, about three-inches in diameter. It looked like one of those generic buttons that you could just go and have made somewhere. It said ‘WE DIG’ on top, had a huge number ‘45’ in the middle, and under that it said ‘GRAVE.’ WE DIG 45 GRAVE. I said ‘what the…’ I was just looking at this thing like it’s this mystical object from space. We were laughing our asses off! ‘What the hell is this?’ All of us were just dying, Mary and Paul and Rob and I. And I said, ‘Well, obviously 45 Grave is now the name of our new band, and this is obviously our first fan club button.’ And everyone said yes, of course, obviously. So that’s where the name came from…”
During Don’s hiatus from the Germs, he and the others in 45 Grave had developed a tight set list that was exactly 25-minutes long and practiced it every day for hours, and their practice paid off during their first show.
“Luckily, when the Germs ceased to exist, we already had this incredibly fast, crazy band, with no oompah beats, that was ready to go. So we just leaped into that void and soon did our first show at the Hong Kong Café, with the Bush Tetras and Human Hands, which had David Wiley and members of the L.A. Free Music Society (LAFMS), with whom I also played with a lot, I was in a few of their bands, including noise orchestra Airway. It was something the Germs derisively dismissed as ‘hippie art noise.’ They didn’t like those guys, but, whatever, I enjoyed hippie art noise quite a bit. Anyway, for some reason most of the earlier 45 Grave shows were with New York bands; the Bush Tetras, Delta Five, D.N.A., and I think we played with 8-Eyed Spy, one of Lydia Lunch’s post-Teenage Jesus bands. I don’t know why we always had to play with the New York bands, but we did. We played with the Misfits too.”
“So 45 Grave kind of jumped in and filled this void left by the demise of the Germs. We were pretty formidable; I mean, there was nothing like what we were doing when we came out – nothing. Nada. We were fusing elements of metal, punk, classical, Avant-garde improv noise, instrumental surf; we even had a ska part or two in a couple of songs. We just created this weird thing, with sort of a horror rock look; we wore crazy makeup, I often did mine like a skull and wore fezzes, and we all dressed really weird. We were really into Alice Cooper and that sort of showed. Then we recorded the ‘Black Cross/Wax’ single on a four-track in the garage and it sounded amazing, way better than our stupid album sounded; we should have just done everything on our four-track, and in fact we did, but that didn’t come out until later on the ‘Autopsy’ LP, which is way better than any of the other records, except the 7-inch and the three songs on the ‘Hell Comes To Your House’ compilation. We put out the 45 Grave 7-inch single on our own, with some help from Michael Sheppard, who put out the Vox Pop 7-inch but for some reason the artwork took forever, because we didn’t have computers, and to get the design we wanted it had to go through all these weird processes, basically all it was was putting lettering over an image, which would take any moron 30-seconds to do on a computer now. Well, it took us three months then, and unfortunately, we gave an acetate of it to Rodney Bingenheimer, to play on his Rodney on the Roq show, and he played it all the time. Rodney’s show was what everyone listened to and you had to know about his show if you were into punk, because that is the only place you were going to hear it unless you were playing your own record or listening to a cassette. Flipside magazine ran a chart called the Rodney Chart and we were number one for requests on his show for like three months running, and still the record didn’t come out, because the artwork wasn’t done. (laughs) Do you remember the artwork on it? It was an upside pentagram with a goat head in it, the ‘Baphomet,’ the same one that was on the cover of the ‘Satanic Bible.’”
“It was the back of that single that took so long the way that we had to do it, because we had black letters that were going on dark grey on this image, so what I had to do was put the black lettering on a transparency and then I had to take a pencil eraser and erase everything underneath the transparency… anyway, by the time the record came out, everyone had already taped it off Rodney’s show months before. It did ok, but it would have done a lot better had it come out sooner. It bummed me out too, because it took so long to come out that other records came out before it using that exact same image. I went to a record store and saw a new Venom album with the very same Baphomet, then the Plasmatics did one, too. And Motley Crue, who were huge fans of 45 Grave and went to almost all of our shows, ended up putting an upside down pentagram on the cover of ‘Shout at the Devil.’ It was a drag. Ours was ready first, but not out first. It got re-pressed in the early 90s, and it’s hard to tell those from the originals we made, so it’s not as rare as it could be. Good record, you should pick that up.”
“So, with the Germs gone, 45 Grave and our friends the Adolescents, whose ‘Amoeba’ was a huge hit on the Rodney show, as well, became pretty much the biggest things in L.A.. We ended up playing a bunch of shows, and dabbled a little too much in the heroin, which didn’t really help us, and did an album with Craig Leon, who produced The Ramones’ and Blondie’s first albums and the first Suicide LP. He did a really good job on those things, but for some reason ours ended up sounding like a cardboard-shit-version of what we were trying to do, with bad sounding 80’s keyboards all over it. I dunno, I never liked that album much, the ‘Sleep in Safety’ album. It was alright, I guess, but nowhere near what we had envisioned. Then the history of the band got rather twisted and convoluted, with people kicking each other out of the band and such. Dinah Cancer and I broke up, and she and Paul Cutler got married, so the power structure of the band changed pretty drastically. She and Paul kicked Rob and I out of the band because we were horrible junkies, which was a bit ludicrous because both of them were just as bad. We went on a couple of U.S. tours and finally broke up in 1984.”
I ask Don his thoughts on the resurrection of 45 Grave without him in the lineup.
“I don’t know why she doesn’t just use the other name I thought up, Dinah Cancer, instead of using the band name I thought up, when she’s the only 45 Grave member in the band. At least Dinah Cancer was a name that I thought up for her; she can use that all she wants, and it’s fine. But 45 Grave — I thought of that, as stupid and random as it may be, for our band. Now I’m not a litigious person, and I’m not going to go and try to sue everybody for everything, but for her to use that name when it’s just her with a completely different backup band — it’s a bummer. I love that she’s doing stuff, more power to her for that; I’m sure she needs the money– who doesn’t? She’s great and all, and Frank Agnew (from the Adolescents) who plays guitar in it now is a cool guy and an amazing musician, but I just don’t think it’s right that she calls what is actually her solo thing with a completely different band ‘45 Grave.’ I think she should just be Dinah Cancer, because that’s a perfectly fine name. I don’t know. There was one point when the Misfits wanted 45 Grave to open for them on a U.S. tour, but they wanted the band to have at least two original members, so she asked me to drum, and I immediately said yes, even though I wasn’t at all sure about the other musicians at the time. Then that fell through because her manager, who also managed Mary’s Penis Flytrap band, was making all sorts of ridiculous demands, until the Misfits finally got sick of dealing with them and just said ‘fuck you’ and got somebody else, and that was the end of that. She started being all weird to me because of some boyfriend she had at the time, who was evidently retroactively jealous. I guess I was her first lover, so maybe that’s why. Dinah Cancer was 17, a virgin, and a Girl Scout when I met her; but she was also smart, weird, and really into KISS, so it wasn’t like she was some totally innocent cherub or anything. She listened to Rodney’s show all the time, and had a bunch of tapes of his shows and other cool shows that KROQ had in those days, like ‘The Young Marquis and Stanley,’ which was absolutely hilarious, and ‘Hollywood Nightshift,’ which was also kind of hilarious, and featured Frazier Smith along with Phil Austin from the Firesign Theater. Great radio.”
“After 45 Grave broke up for good (we had originally broken up in 1984, but were doing reunion shows in the late 80s and early 90s, until Rob died in 1991 and we figured out that nobody could really replace him so we stopped) Dinah had a band called Penis Flytrap, which did all new, original songs; they put out a few records and did a lot of shows around town, and were kind of popular, even. Then that band broke up, and she started a different one that did mostly 45 Grave material, using the name Dinah Cancer and The Grave Robbers, and calling it a ‘tribute’ to 45 Grave, which isn’t exactly accurate because she was actually in 45 Grave. But then she asked her ex-husband, Paul Cutler, if it would be okay with him if she just called it 45 Grave, which I thought was strange because I was the one that thought of the name. But he said he didn’t care, and that was good enough for her, so she’s been calling it that ever since, much to my chagrin…”
The Rat Has Spoken
Having been in bands that are considered founding influences in both punk and deathrock, Don found himself in and out of drugs and various other bands, like Nervous Gender, and the Silver Chalice, but nothing really stuck.
“I wasn’t doing a whole lot musically after the demise of 45 Grave. When we broke up in ’84, I got a job doing sound at the Cathay de Grande, a seedy basement punk club in Hollywood; that was a lot of fun. Doing sound there was difficult, because the entropy factor was so extreme; every night speakers would blow, tweeters would pop, power amps and monitors would die, the mics would get trashed, yet the people that ran the club would never fix anything, so I had to somehow make the bands sound just as good one night to the next, even though the P.A. would be more and more broken all the time. To make matters worse, a lot of the bands that played there were hard core criminals and thugs who did not take kindly to having their sound (such as it was) be less than stellar, and would not hesitate to hit you over the head with a mic stand if things didn’t sound right, which they almost never did. It was a great education in how to get decent sound from shitty, broken equipment.”
“Eventually someone suggested I could get a messenger job at the L.A. Weekly, so I did, and while I was there one of the editors asked me to write something for them, and I was like, ‘me? Write things? No way!’ I dropped out of high school when I was 15, and never even bothered to write the occasional postcard, but I finally turned in my two paragraphs and hoped for the best. I had heard horror stories of what the editors there would do to your stuff, but they ran it completely unaltered. So I did that for a while, and actually had kind of a second career, making money, even. Then there was this band called Celebrity Skin, who were these really cool-looking people I had been seeing around town; I wondered who or what they were, because they were like nobody I had ever seen, not in real life, anyway. A couple of them were in a band with Pat Smear and a sort of famous L.A. punker chick named Gerber, called Vagina Dentata, and we had once bonded over Mott the Hoople and T Rex songs in Reno in the back room at a party after a 45 Grave show. They asked me to play drums for their band, or at least write a review about them, since they knew I wrote for the weekly. I had seen them live and thought they were terrible, so I feigned being too busy and thanked them, but they kept pestering me to review them, anyway. I finally went to see them again; they had practiced a lot, and had gotten really good. Weird how that works…so I gave them this really glowing review, and then they stopped by my apartment and asked me to be in the band again. I had this pet rat in a cage, and just as they asked me to be in the band and were waiting for me to say yes or no, we all noticed that the rat was ricocheting like a bullet off the walls and ceiling of its cage; it was crazy – we were all watching it, sort of amazed. Finally this rat stops its insane antics and just stands up, looks at us, and then falls over dead. So I said, ‘yeah, ok, I guess that’s a sign that I have to be in your band now.’ It was the weirdest thing. I had a really good job right then and I had just bought this nice motorcycle and had a nice apartment and a girlfriend, and they told me that if I did decide to join the band all of those things would be gone within a few months. But the rat had spoken — I had to join. Sure enough, they were right. It all happened just like he said. But it was still totally fun; Celebrity Skin was like a weird alternate universe. Oddly enough, I was completely sober the entire time I was in Celebrity Skin, except for one time when Gary, Tim and I accidentally ate some pot brownies in Oakland. Tim hid in his girlfriend’s room for 2 days, and Gary and I were out driving the van around San Francisco, and started feeling really weird, but didn’t have any idea why. I thought, ‘Wow – Gary sure is weird…’, and Gary was thinking the same about me; we tried to go to a punk show at this place called The Farm, but when we got out of the van and saw people we got scared and ran back to the van, and drove until we saw a John Waters’ film festival, where we went and watched John Waters’ movies for six-and-a half-hours, until the weed wore off. We got to meet John Waters afterwards, and luckily weren’t all crazy stoned and paranoid anymore by then… I think I joined the band in ‘86 and we kept going until ‘91.”
I mention that I had seen Celebrity Skin open for The Damned on their initial reunion tour in 1989.
“45 Grave opened for The Damned too, those guys were always awesome. Celebrity Skin was pretty good — too bad the album doesn’t really bear that out, but the live shows were unbelievable, and once again, there I was in the biggest band in L.A. That was three in a row. Our manager was Rick Van Santen, the guy who ran Goldenvoice, a huge L.A. concert promotion company, and he certainly knew how to make us the largest act in L.A., even if the rest of the world still eluded us. I was pretty stoked about it all; but I still didn’t have any money, and I wasn’t even spending anything on drugs anymore.”
“Then I got offered a job by my friend Freddy Snakeskin, who was the program director for a new commercial station called MARS FM. He had a pirate station back in Phoenix that I was on called KDIL, before I was in bands and stuff. I would hitchhike across town, with my records under my arm, and go to his place; in the room where the equipment was there’d be a joint of the best pot in the world and a couple hits of acid waiting for me on the mixing board. And we’d be on the air all night, it was pretty crazy because it sounded like a real radio station. We had a jingle agency do all the jingles for us. It sounded so real, except that we said we were broadcasting live from the Satanic Tabernacle in Wickenburg Arizona. Of course, no such place existed. It was a great station, a lot of prank phone calls came from that station. We broadcasted illegally for years and never got caught, wouldn’t be that easy now. So, we both eventually moved to L.A. Freddy ended up on KROQ, where he worked through the 80s. When KROQ was sold to ClearChannel, for a then record amount of money, Freddy talked the former owner, Ken Roberts, into purchasing another station, and he hired Freddy as program director, which is the person responsible for hiring and scheduling the ‘air talent.’ I had never done real radio before, and even though I was comfy doing the late night whatever-I-wanted-to-play show I was originally hired to do, I was a little apprehensive about the idea of doing a regular slot where I had to work from a playlist. The other jocks were seasoned pros, and I had no idea what I was doing in that more structured, ‘normal’ situation. But Freddy allayed my fears, telling me, ‘It’s much easier to teach a guy that has a personality how to do radio than to teach a guy that knows how to do radio how to have a personality.’ He was a genius. The other advice he gave me was simple, but effective: ‘Brevity is the essence of effective communication.’ I never forgot it, and soon my ‘airbreaks’ ended up being pretty funny and tight. The station mostly played techno, industrial, and alternative rock. You remember MARS, right? (laughs) The definitive MARS FM type song was probably ‘Sex on Wheels’ by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, if there would have been a lot more songs like that, of that caliber, the station probably would have done very well.”
“I was still in Celebrity Skin at the time, and we went on tour while I worked there. Where other program directors might have fired me, Freddy made it into a running bit – ‘Don Bolles – In Search Of America’ or something. I called in daily from the road to Freddy’s show with an on-the-road update. That was a fun time, but the station had a lot of problems. The signal was a huge one, but it couldn’t reach the valley, or a lot of other places. Then they hired a new General Manager, who promptly fired everyone in the programming department, which we found out when we showed up to the work one day and the locks on the door were changed and there was a gigantic uniformed security guard. Prior to this they had attempted to dump techno music, which was ridiculous, since that was our particular niche. That led to a huge outcry from the listeners, so they begrudgingly let techno back into the playlist, but it was all down hill from there. I mean we were playing ads for Cadillac dealerships and Gold Bond Medicated Hemorrhoid cream to teenaged rave fans in between all the techno and industrial hits. It was a pretty radical station, in its way. We were actually the first commercial station to play Nirvana, unless you count Rodney’s show. Right after they fired everyone the station changed to a hideous ‘mellow jazz’ format, which lasted about a month.”
“So there I was without a job, or a band and no radio career, which was nice because then maybe I could have a social life again, because I had to be up all night and sleep all day when I was working at MARS. The times you saw me were probably the only times anyone saw me. So I was kinda glad to get my life back at the time, but it wasn’t much of a life. I was trying to DJ at raves and things, but the music I played nobody wanted to hear in Los Angeles. I was playing the stuff from the All Night Truck Driver show, German techno, Detroit noisecore, NYC Acid, and proto-Gabber from Rotterdam and Belgium; the shit I played was all really hardcore, noisy, and weird. A fan once shouted, ‘It’s not rave – it’s RAPE!’ He meant it as a compliment. I’d have a Merzbow noise CD in one channel and a Stockhausen album in the other channel, with a bunch of crazy electronic sounds, and I’d just turn the Merzbow channel on-and-off to make a beat, so it was this huge white noise jackhammer beat with all this crazy electronic noise over it. They loved it in Phoenix, though. The Phoenix rave promoters would fly me there with all my records, pay me a bunch of money, and fly me back. And people went nuts – there were kids on acid all over the place, freaking out and having them a time, heads in the speaker cabinets and glow sticks in the air. But in L.A., I couldn’t pay people to let me play this shit. All anybody in L.A. wanted to hear was “deep house.” Horrible stuff. And the people that would show up and dance to it were even worse – it was all these cocaine sniffing blonde ladies with their jerk, English boyfriends; yugh. Yeah, it was just terrible here for me and my records.”
“Then I started doing this thing called Kitten Sparkles using shortwave radio noise, because I got really into Japanese noise stuff, and I thought I could make better noise myself with just a shortwave radio and a tape recorder. I recruited my friend Joseph Hammer, who was from the LAFMS, to do tape loops while I ‘played’ the shortwave radio; we got some big amplifiers and started doing shows. The first one was at Jabberjaw, a legendary 90’s coffeehouse, alternative venue that put on a lot of great shows – Nirvana played there during the Bleach days. Then later I added a strobe light to it, to go with this one pulse that I got from the shortwave one night. Basically all of our sounds were shortwave radio static. Some of it was pretty fucking intense; while I was gathering sounds from the shortwave, I got to hear a lot of those ‘numbers stations’ in the night. I had heard these since I was a kid, which is when I first started recording shortwave radio sounds and making them into some kind of thing. It’s really trippy stuff in its own right, but I didn’t really use any of it in the shows. You know about these spy stations, right?”
Don demonstrates his amazing mimicking skills by doing a creepy rendition of the artificially generated voices that were once used for telephone call error recordings.
“Basically, it would be total static, and then you’d hear this announcement tone or fanfare a couple of times and then you’d hear a string of numbers: (creepy voice) 1, 7, 8, 8, 3, 6, 9, 0, and it would repeat it over and over. The language and voice would vary, and you could tell that the voice was sampled; everything was exactly the same, so it was really weird, and it often came through really distorted. A CD collection of these numbers stations came out in the late 90s, and was pretty awesome. (The Conet Numbers Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations, released by Irdial-Discs, England, 1997) Anyway, I ended up taking this really boingy shortwave pulse, that had a lot of weird reverb on it, from the shit bouncing off of the ionosphere before it got to my receiver, pretty intense. So I took that pulse and matched a strobe light to it and the two were sort of at the dreamachine frequency. If you looked at the strobe light with your eyes closed, it would flicker on your eyelids, like the Brion Gysin dreamachine, and you would hallucinate, or at least see all these crazy mandala patterns; it was pretty trippy, and it put you into an ‘alpha’ state. It effectively hypnotized everyone who was in the room. And I came up with this way of doing it where I’d have the room completely dark, everyone was comfortably seated and I start with these shortwave drones that I had recorded, not the pulse, but these beautiful, lush shortwave drone sounds would start filling the room and they would gradually get louder and louder. It was relaxing, it pulled you in, very spacious sounds, not annoying and ‘coming at you’ sounds, and the volume would get raised really slowly; it was like cooking a frog. If you threw the frog into the hot water it would jump out. But if you throw it into the nice, regular water and just turn the heat up slowly, he’d stay in there, not realizing what was going on until it was too late and he was cooked.”
“It was the same thing with this, people would just sit there in the dark, with their eyes closed, lulled into this somnambulistic torpor, with this beautiful, lush, ongoing, ever shifting, but always similar sound, and then I would bring in the pulse, through a bigger amp, and it would take over. By then the volume was excruciating, but no one knew, because it had been brought up gradually, and nailed them into their seats. It didn’t seem bad or annoying, so people would still be sitting there, very relaxed, but they didn’t realize the volume was intense. Then I’d bring up the boingy pulse sound and the strobe light, that were about the same frequency, and at this point they had been in the dark for about 20 minutes, maybe more, so their eyes were adjusted to the dark, and I pointed the strobe light right at them and they had to keep their eyes closed because if they didn’t it would hurt. And there and been nothing to look at anyway because it was dark. So everyone just kept his or her eyes closed and thusly, the Gysin dreamachine effect occurred, and everyone was hypnotized into this psychedelic space trance, and this typically went on until the power blew. Then it was over. It was a weird thing that I discovered, kind of by accident, but I don’t think I have ever done anything more effective than that. After the fact, I heard that girls tend to have spontaneous orgasms during these shows too.”
“About the same time I was doing these shows, I moved in with John Aes Nihil, the Manson archivist, out in the valley and started going to swap meets and doing a lot of record dealing. I really got into records; prior to that I wasn’t much of a collector. I started amassing quite a record collection. I had a ton of children’s records, so I did a kid show on KXLU with my friend Professor Cantaloupe, called The Kids Are Alright, playing both religious and secular kid’s records. We also had a psychedelic audio collage show called Glossolalia later the same night, every week. I wasn’t really doing a lot of music, but then I moved in with a guy named Nandor, who had this friend named Deathy, who we used to see at the swap meets; he looked like Beastmaster or Thor, and was always handing out these photocopied rants that you’d usually see crazy people putting on phone poles or something, but his were particularly weird. It turned out he was in this band called Deathbred. They perpetually needed a drummer, and they really wanted me to do it. But the guy was like this tweaker, junkie, alcoholic. (laughs) As was the other guy in the band, bassist Heavy Thundarr; but they were really sweet guys, besides being really weird and crazed, and the songs were amazingly good. Deathy played guitar really well, and was the best singer I’ve ever been in a band with. He was pretty industrious for a homeless guy; he decorated every place he would stay with black garbage bags, little strobe lights and bloody mirrors, until it looked like some crazy space cave. In fact, he customized everything in his world with black, chrome, fake blood, mirrors, and weird stuff he would find on the street, like silver hubcaps and such. It was pretty intense. He was a very original character. He made his own clothes, including these giant bellbottom things that he stuffed with foam; you couldn’t see his feet, ‘cos these things went all the way to the ground. They were made out of car seat covers; he’d stuff them with foam and attach them to his legs with giant radiator hose clamps. He called them ‘Mammoth Combatakons.’ He was in the Army Airborne Rangers for a while, then spent some time in jail over bad checks; when he got out he was homeless, and had found religion, of a sort — he was really into this weird version of Krishna, a Krishna who insisted that he do drugs all the time, ‘for the kids.’ Basically he was kinda nuts, but he wrote all these really great songs, so that’s when I started playing drums again. He insisted that I play double kick drums, and I didn’t know how to do that, and never wanted to do that. I have a really fast right foot, so I never had to. Then I figured out through him it’s not really about doing it fast, it’s about doing it evil and steady, with a certain vibe that you can’t duplicate with one kick drum. Deathbred did this amphetamine-space-metal, with a disco feel, and lots of cowbell. When we were on it was a really great band, but unfortunately Deathy was kind of impossible to deal with; he’d spend an hour-and-a-half trying to set up the equipment, and we’d get kicked off the stage before we could even play. We did a couple of high profile shows, like opening for Screamo Kings the Locust at the Troubadour; we even did a mini tour with one of their side projects, Holy Molar. Someone approached us about doing an animated series based on Deathbred, which I think turned out to be Metalocalypse. That’s the not the first time something like that has happened. Matt Groening used to work at the Licorice Pizza record store on Sunset and San Vicente, right by the Whiskey and Joan Jett’s house, and Darby and Pat used to hang out there all the time and cause trouble. Never buy anything, just steal stuff and fuck around. And Matt would eventually have to tell them to leave, but he was always sitting at the counter doing drawings and stuff. Apparently, from what I have heard, the Bart Simpson character was, in a lot of ways, based on Darby, who was like the penultimate bratty kid back then.”
“Deathbred came to an abrupt end when Deathy hung himself from a tree outside a Santa Ana rehearsal place. It was a low tree and his feet were only a few inches off the ground, but his ‘Mammoth Combatikons’ hid his dangling feet, so people walked by his dead body all day long and thought he was just standing there, leaning against the tree and not saying anything. So that killed that band. Then I started doing a thing called Club Screwball at a place called the Parlour in WeHo, with my Burlesque girlfriend Darcey Leonard and our roommate Prickle, a prog musician/transvestite guy who had a bunch of cool records and wore groovy Betsy Johnson outfits. We recruited another really great musical aesthete, Jimi Hey, to DJ, as well. He played all this early-to-mid 70s bubblegum pop from Europe, which I really dug. The songs were just like all the American bubblegum and English glam stuff of that era, and were in English, but since we aren’t Dutch or Danish we weren’t sick to death of hearing them, because they never got played here. It was the dance club of the year in L.A. Magazine. Then in 2006 I started a psychedelic spacerock glitter band with Nora Keyes from the Centimeters, called Fancy Space People. We have a 12-inch EP out on Starry Records, that we recorded at Kerry Brown’s Coldwater Studios; Billy Corgan and the sax player from the Psychedelic Furs guest on it. Some nice little pop ditties about the necessity of annihilating the humans in order to save the world and such. We actually toured the US with the Smashing Pumpkins, which was really weird. A lot of the people that paid like $150 a ticket to see the Smashing Pumpkins did not take too kindly to our glittered up space jams; they weren’t too happy with the Pumpkins not playing just the ‘hits,’ either. We’re working on our first full-length vinyl LP right now; we just did a bunch of shows where we threw out all of our songs and just improvised new ones, and it went really well, so now we’re incorporating more of that sort of thing into the act. Besides that band, I play and/or sing in a few other bands; Thee Earwigs, a tribute to early Alice Cooper (I’m the ‘Alice Cooper’ guy, and Tom 5 from White Zombie plays lead guitar; we do material from Pretties For You, Easy Action, Love it to Death, Killer, School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies, and the title track from Muscle Of Love); the Raw Power Rangers (I play drums, we do the Raw Power LP in its entirety, and I Got a Right / Gimme Some Skin; sometimes we do the first two albums, and I play guitar when we do that), Thee Snowsnake Orchestra (my own 45 Grave/Germs/Vox Pop, etc. cover band), and Death Wizard (sort of the darker opposite of Fancy Space People – very Skullflower-y); Kitten Sparkles is becoming more active again, after a long hiatus, and I still do the clubs here and there. We have a club called Ding-a-Ling nowadays, similar to Screwball, but it’s just mainly Nora and I. I also had a Public Access TV show called ‘The Threee Geniuses’ for many years, starting in the mid 90s. There’s a DVD available that I would highly recommend to anyone that likes to indulge in psychedelics, or even good weed, and watch TV with the volume off and the stereo on. Mandatory stoner viewing.”
We talked briefly about the part he played in designing the iconic image that became the Germs’ first album cover:
“Bob Biggs, the President of Slash records, wanted the cover for the record to be the ‘Germs’ spelled out in jelly beans and meat. This caused us to quickly call an emergency band meeting at my apartment at the Canterbury. Th at’s when Darby and I designed what became the Germs (GI) album cover. He wanted the blue circle on black and I added that it was in the lower, right-hand corner, not centered and then we put the white lines and the lettering that said ‘Germs (GI)’ on it. That record cover became fairly iconic; So many people have done homages to it that it is just crazy. There have been a lot of covers that riff on that, from all over the world; I saw one in Italy recently. Exact copies of the layout, like you’re supposed to just know what they’re referencing. It’s pretty cool when that stuff happens. That’s when you know maybe you did something, when people make fun of it. From what I hear, the villain in Iron Man 3 is going to be wearing a Germs’ shirt, which will be good for the tee-shirt sales. Good choice, I think – way better than having him wear some boring Misfits shirt.”
Don Bolles has indeed ‘done some things’, and continues to do so. Those in the Los Angeles area have the option to drop by any of the weekly clubs he hosts. There are also the live performances of the: Fancy Space People, Thee Earwigs, the Raw Power Rangers, The Snowsnake Orchestra, Death Wizard, an occasional Kitten Sparkles show, and of course you can catch the 21st Century version of the Germs the next time they roll through your town.