The next period of my life was just so much fun. Politically it sucked, although that provided fuel for us to make some noise. The day after Ronald Reagan’s landslide election in November, 1980, I took myself to the Bayou nightclub in DC to see local crazy man Root Boy Slim (and the Sex Change Band, including Ron Holloway) pull me out of my doldrums. Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter was humiliating. He got outplayed by a crafty (as usual) Republican party machine cynically (as usual) manipulating the Iran hostage crisis, while building on the high inflation that was happening at the time. I felt like the only person in the world who had voted for Carter, but I felt just a little bit better listening to Root Boy sing his song “Rich, White and Republican.” Rest in Peace, Root.
After coming together through our connection to Everyday Theater, Marcus, myself, and Jim, decided to form a band. Richard Spector and his friend Anne Bassen came up with the name Tobey Tomorrow (Anne’s nom de rock) and the Acrylix, with Richard and Anne being Go Go dancers. We shortened it to Acrylix. Marcus played bass and sang lead vocals while Jim and I shared background vocals/sang some leads. Jim’s weapon of choice was the Minimoog synthesizer, but he added a Korg Triton 88 full size keyboard. I played the same Ibanez Les Paul copy – which I had bought in San Francisco a few years previously – that I wheeled down the hill in Mt. Pleasant to play with Joe Stork. I added a Peavey 100W tube amp – the specific model would be called “Heavy as Shit” today, I’m sure. We advertised in the local music rag The Unicorn Times and found a drummer: Rochelle (Shelly) Loconto. Female drummers were not common at that time and that was, well, cool – Karen Carpenter, Sheila E., Moe Tucker (Velvet Underground), Sandy West (Runaways), Gina Schock (Go-Go’s) were a few of the bigger names. Shelly was the perfect fit for us, with a ton of positive energy and NY attitude. She moved to DC from New York with her girlfriend at the time and after settling into the new surroundings started looking to join a band. She got involved with the women’s/womyn’s music scene, including playing gigs with Toshi Reagon. Toshi’s mom Bernice was in the very popular all-woman, all African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. But Shelly was after something else. Sometime in the fall of 1980 she came across our ad, at the very end of which said “no disease, please,” which piqued her interest. She knew that was where she needed to be. The number in the ad was Marcus’s phone, so they spoke for a bit and he invited her to a rehearsal at Jim’s Porter St., NW group house. She and I both lived in Mt. Pleasant, near the zoo and right across Rock Creek Park from Jim. She set up her drums, we played for a while and as she put it: “I felt like I found a home. I believe you all did too. When we finished playing, I think it was Marcus who said ‘So, when is our next rehearsal?’ ----and the rest is history.”
So, the group started in earnest. In the early going, Richard Spector joined us with his brand of stream of consciousness and beat poetry, which was cool, but gradually we realized that we wanted to rock more and louder. So, Richard was out. I gradually lost touch with Richard and he passed in 2007, but I do want to give him a shout out as the guy who started the ball rolling. Rest in Peace, Richard.
We practiced at Jim’s house until one of his roommates started to seriously freak out from the noise. After Porter St., we moved into the Bethesda basement of Al Twanmo in 1981. Al had come to see us play at the recommendation of a friend who worked with Jim at Science Magazine, and he liked what he heard. Al also reconnected with Marcus from their shared time at Georgetown’s WGTB. Al was a promo man for Chrysalis Records at the time and served as our manager in this early period of the band. We also hung out with Mike Oberman, a friend of Jim’s who was in self-imposed exile from the music business at the time but periodically offered helpful insight towards our development. After Al’s house, we moved our practice space to the basement of the home (see photo #26) of Dr. John Letcher and neon artist Marty King, in the Eckington area of NE DC.
I love to work hard and “solve” songs, and it was meaningful, creative work with Acrylix. We wrote and arranged new songs and performed them, and we got to get on stage, try out artsy clothes and hair styles, experiment with looking cool, wear tight pants, party, and play our own music. I mean, how cool is that? We were flying blind and making shit up. I am a rocker who skews melodic, more new wave than hardcore punk; I identified with Ringo’s response in Hard Day’s Night when asked if he was a Mod or a Rocker: “I’m a Mocker.” Having arrived in DC knowing so few people and having to scratch and hustle for friends, I needed to create my own social life. What better way to do that than being in a loud rock band? This sounds like something I read, an art critic’s advice on how to become an artist: “You move to a city. You hang out in bars. You form a gang, turn it into a scene, and turn that into a movement.” Well, we jumped into a movement in progress, but the rest resonates for me. We were a gang. We hung out at the (old) 930 club at 930 F St., NW; the back bar was a great watering spot and between live music sets the playlist was ultrahip, mesmerizing, and intense, playing over muted TVs showing stuff like the original Mad Max or Mad Max 2 – all I remember thinking while watching that was, what the hell??
So, we hung out, got high, danced and had about as much fun as we could. We practiced a lot and got to work on crafting the band’s sound. As I will get into later, we started to have our first gigs and Marcus began to churn out amazing flyers for them, and then with Jim’s layout expertise he came up with the distinctive Acrylix logo (see photo #27).
Now, all we needed were some catchy tunes.