Do Stop Believin'
By Gary Singh
LAST WEEK the San Francisco Chronicle ran a schmaltzy, syrupy lamentation stating that this year is the 25th anniversary of Journey's Escape album. They called that slab "one of the most popular records produced by a Bay Area band." With slap-happy tippy-toe euphoria, several fans chimed in with their own sugar-coated recollections of who made out with whom during "Open Arms" or who cruised in his vintage Buick while blasting "Don't Stop Believin'." Apparently the memories are endless.
Speaking of memories, allow me to willfully debase this entire dialogue by recalling another Bay Area band who are celebrating a similar anniversary this year. Booze-fueled punk rock legends Verbal Abuse are rereleasing their seminal 1986 classic album, Verbal Abuse Rocks Your Liver. This is the one whose cover featured a gorgeous full color hand-drawing of the band members as rats wearing denim vests, sitting around a table getting hammered at 491 Guerrero in San Francisco, an address that actually makes an appearance in one of the tracks.
Now, this was not the original incarnation of the band, as a slightly different assemblage of sots made noise in the early '80s, but since I didn't stumble into the fold until way later, my memories of Verbal Abuse gigs come from the late '80s. The Rocks Your Liver album was a prime mover for me during a very trying time of my unstable late-teenage youth. If all these folks can carry on about Journey's Escape album, I can definitely seethe poetic about VA Rocks Your Liver, which has now been remastered.
VA dive-bombed upon San Jose one particular time in the late '80s, playing at a dump on Coleman Avenue called the Stagecoach Inn. Hardly a sober person was in the establishment. During their infamous cover of the Elton John tune, "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)", instead of singing the refrain, "Saturday, Saturday, SATurday," frontman Scott Wilkins screamed, "San Jose, San Jose, SAAAAN Jose." Facetiously speaking, it was the first time I ever felt proud to be a San Josean and I have Scott to thank for it, in some insane way.
I saw those guys here and in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley many times, and one time I even drove from San Jose all the way to Nevada City, near Grass Valley, just to see one of their gigs. It wasn't that I was a lunatic stalker or anything. I was just a dorky fan who had nothing else to do that day and the few friends I had weren't around, so I impulsively took off and went. I got blasted with the band afterward and I wound up driving behind their painted-black ice cream truck back down the freeway toward S.F. But I didn't make it all the way. They ended up offloading me at the Denny's in Davis, where I crashed out with my face and arms down on the counter—an image perfectly depicting the aftermath of a Verbal Abuse gig.
Then there was the time when they opened up for Motorhead at the Omni in Oakland. To steal a phrase from Sanford and Son, I got so carried away, I had to be carried away. A few years before that, there was a gig at Pony Express Pizza in Redwood City, a place about the size of my cubicle. The band played, literally, right in our faces.
All this came at a time—and here comes my equivalent of the schmaltzy syrupy part—when I really didn't know what I wanted to do in life. My father had died a few years earlier and I was a self-destructive monster in my late teens who didn't care if he even lived to be able to drink legally. And I played that album to death. This was also at a time when punk was "crossing over" with metal, a phenomenon that people on both sides are still complaining about. Verbal Abuse was right in the middle of it all and I had a blast during those days.
So there you have it. You can quack all you want about how you conceived your kid while playing Journey's Escape album. 2006 is the twentieth anniversary of Verbal Abuse Rocks Your Liver and I have my own dark demons to commemorate. Cheers.