It’s been exactly one month since I spent a boisterous Fourth of July weekend at Burger Boogaloo in Oakland. Like a massive, fatty burger patty topped with bacon and fried egg—it took me exactly 30 days to digest the experience. What follows is my totally scientific (maybe prolific!) rock ‘n’ roll findings.
Reverb and distortion is ripping through Mosswood Park in Oakland. I’m with my friends (who are momentarily distracted) as I wave at a passing Jello Biafra. He’s wearing a T-shirt that is some sort of advertisement for a Bay Area retirement community (really). He looks confused. It’s obvious he’s here to see the bands, not to play—and he’s trying to decide which band to see on what stage. Or maybe he doesn't know where he is.
I want to walk up to him and say hey: “Did you know we played a show together in San Luis Obispo last year?” He stayed in the green room the whole time, so he wouldn’t remember my band or my face anyway. All the same. The only opinion that really mattered to me that night was that of Pete the Roadie. I know I already told you this story. I know!
Anyway, after our set opening for his Jello's band, Pete said to me, “your music brought me back to humanity.” He had apparently eaten some greasy SLO Brew fries and wasn’t feeling so good. He threw up in the green room, that’s one thing I am sure of. By the looks of his health—rail thin and probably nearing his 60s—I imagined there were other issues at play. But it was the nicest thing anyone had ever said about my band to date.
Anyway, back to Burger Boogaloo, where I wasn't playing either. I was a spectator, a dancer, an autograph-book-wielder.
And so I waved with saccharine sweetness to a balding, civilian Jello Biafra while traversing the lawn from the Psychoville Stage to Flesh Land (or was it from one beer garden to another? There were like 10.) So many bands made me wiggle and giggle, especially Shannon & the Clams, King Khan and the BBQ Show (my first experience with them - I was instantly in love with their weird costumes and old school rhythm and blues vibe) and APACHE, who sang about motorcycles, babes, and having a good time. We wore scarfs around our mouths as pits formed…caught a perfect end to FUZZ’s set…and somewhere in the mix, sat down cross-legged like kindergarteners and listened to Jonathan Richman solo on acoustic guitar. With each sparse strum, he asked us to think harder about our lives (it worked on me for 15 minutes or so). At first, I didn’t make the connection that this was the dude from the beloved Modern Lovers. Ha! His earnest, deadpan tone and poetic stream-of-conscious lyrics were a welcome break from the chaos. At one point he stopped in the middle of a song and asked the around of 1,000+ people, “are you guys liking this, or?”
Probably the most surreal thing about the two-day festival was the way John Waters so effortlessly melted in and out our world like a weird fever dream (although he would call it a “wet dream.") You’d be waiting to see a band then bam—as if by magic—Waters would appear to deliver sharp-as-a-tack lines (with zero notecards). He introduced nearly every band, and he did it with such admirable style. After a while, it just became normal. Ah, there’s old John again! At one point, Leslie looked at me and said, “We have to meet him.”
So, we pushed our way out of the crowd and made a beeline for a gaggle of bouncers. A small gate had been erected to keep the riffraff out. A woman that looked like she had been born and raised in an actual dump shimmied through the gate. We were not so lucky. “VIP only.” Why did we think it would be that easy? My new friend Hannah, who had traveled with us from LA to Oakland, actually had a John Waters tattoo on her thigh. Didn’t that count for something? And not just a tattoo of his pencil-mustachioed face. It was a tattoo of his signature. I still don’t know why she didn’t pull the “John Waters thigh tattoo “ card. How many other people could top that?
At one point, I completely lost track of my group, which also included my pal Brian, Leslie’s boyfriend (we had an ongoing thing where Hannah and I would yell “Oh!” and he would respond “Oh, Sheila!”). My cell phone died as I was sitting in a tree drinking a beer and listening to the gnarly garage sounds of the Mummies. See, I was not about to get all up in that main stage pit for the headline band, OK? It was just too crazy. I had spent time in the pit for The Gories earlier that day, and my feet were already bruised, dirt-covered, and throbbing. So—like any reasonable person—I decided I would climb a tree. I got the idea once I saw another guy scrambling up a few branches in preparation for the momentous Mummies set. I had waited years to finally see the Mummies and I was not going to spend the next hour looking at the back of some dummy’s mop. So, I told my group: I’m gonna go climb a tree. They laughed. I went on my journey. Fair thee well, friends!
Here’s the first thing that happened. I walked up to a nearby tree and began to climb it. No sooner had I put my foot on the trunk, I heard the glug-glug-glug of an engine. A Mummy band member dressed in a full-on white mummy costume, of course—sped by on a mini motorcycle. My heart raced. With added gusto, I got back to climbing, until a portly lady security guard who looked totally exasperated and ready to go home shook her head at me in disapproval. I dismounted and found another tree farther away.
A bunch of people were standing by my chosen tree—other timber had already been claimed, and the whole situation probably seemed like “a lost cause” in the bouncers’ eyes. “Hey,” I said to one of the guys standing around waiting for the Mummies. “If I had a teeny boost I could totally get in that tree.” With not so much as a sound, he hoisted be up and—WHAM BAM THANKYOU MAN---I had my own perfect view of the main stage in all of its glory (decorations included balloons spelling “flesh land," a vagina-looking-backdrop and massive, creepy fingers that still haunt my dreams.
In my special tree, all was well and I was joyful. I had to shift my weight every now again, but for the most part, I was living high on the hog. Magazine Dirty drummer Chad even stopped by and gave me a puff of his cigarette—I was truly on vacation from real life. It was a beautiful experience; the Mummies were energetic. People kept coming by and taking my photo. I posed like a wayward flamingo.
When the band was done, I suddenly remembered my cell had fizzled. Panic! I looked everywhere for my group. It was late, it was dark, and it was Oakland. Just before I was ready to give up and look for a payphone (dear god, did they exist anymore?), amazing, sweet Brian found me. He genuinely looked worried. I was so happy, tired, and sweaty. I couldn’t wait to curl up in my hotel bed with Hannah and do it all over again the next day.
But before that could happen, we had to celebrate the birth of our nation. Leslie had brought a few fireworks—baby fireworks—from L.A. We were tired but determined. Leslie, giving zero fucks, decided she would set up our little firecracker party on the sidewalk directly outside of the hotel. Suddenly, the street was alive with light, smoke, and the sound of Brian gleefully jumping over the explosions. What had gotten into him? “Wheeeeeeee!” Suddenly, we heard a booming voice from above:
“Hey you kids, get away from my car! I mean it!”
Brian and I ran as fast as we could back to the hotel room, Leslie and Hannah laughing and trailing behind. “You should have seen your face,” Hannah said. I was just happy that someone had called me a “kid.” Our rag-tag group was either nearing 30 or in the midst of it. We still had it!
We worked hard to get good standing spots for the Black Lips, the festival closer on Sunday night. The sun was going down and we were all hot and exhausted, but happy and well fed beyond belief (Ethiopian and Turkish food treated us well on this trip). People were throwing whole rolls of toilet paper into the crowd—their soaring white tails making ethereal arcs across the sky. The band sounded mildly drunk/tired? But I was here with friends and in that moment I felt satisfied. Yes, I was ready to snuggle up to my husband and dogs back in the country, but there were still a few more songs to be sung. And there was just one very last thing to do. When a roll of toilet paper careened my way, I wrapped myself up good—like the lady Mummy I am—and returned it into the darkness.