Absolutely Zippo & Blatz

Berkeley is My Baby (And I Want to Kill It)

Billie Joe Armstrong: Me, Robert, and Sean walked around Rodeo one night. Robert had this old flimsy Budweiser or Miller Lite hat, which he had turned inside out and written “Isocracy” all over. And he was saying, “So you’re in a band? You’ve got to play Gilman!” Whether he knew it or not, Robert was the impetus for a lot of suburban kids to get into Gilman and punk rock. He was always so enthusiastic about what everyone was doing. I got really enthusiastic about it pretty much due to him.

Jason Beebout: Robert grew up down the street from my parents’ house in El Sobrante. He was two or three years younger than everyone else. We didn’t really know much about him. All of a sudden he popped up and he became Eggplant. His level of I-don’t-give-a-fuck-edness was so much higher than everyone else’s. He wasn’t there to look cool. It was whatever he could get out of it. Go to shows and parties and meet people, that was what he cared about.

Janelle Hessig: Robert lived across the street from my junior high school, so I would be out there in my little gym shorts in P.E. class and I would see him ride by on his bike with his blue mohawk, and I would think “That’s the thing!”

Jason Beebout: His sister Phaedra was the really cool chick in town that knew about Goth music. We called them Scary Marys, the girls with dark makeup. She was like their queen. She started hanging out in Berkeley, and knew Tim Armstrong long before he even started playing with Basic Radio. So she’s been a link between El Sobrante and Berkeley, even before Gilman happened.

Janelle Hessig: We all went to Pinole Valley High. Me, Eggplant, Billie Joe and Mike from Green Day, and my friend Hollie and James Washburn. Eggplant was my boyfriend in high school for freshman year.

Robert Eggplant: Janelle mentioned that her dad worked for the FBI. She had blue hair in junior high, but by the time she came to high school she was definitely way above it all.

James Washburn: Eggplant was really easy to talk to, and he had tons of fuckin’ records. He was just way more educated on the music. He had so much badass shit.

Robert Eggplant: My sister went to see the Dead Kennedys and the Clash and stuff like that. A guy that she liked a lot took me to my first show. It was 7 Seconds and Counter Culture.

James Washburn: When I met him, the doors were just kicked wide open. Between Eggplant and going to Gilman for the first time, I had no idea that world existed.

Robert Eggplant: My dad bought a house in Pinole, which is where I started doing Absolutely Zippo. And we had parties at my house.

Janelle Hessig: His house was pretty crazy. People did a lot of drugs there. One time me and Hollie stayed over there, and in the morning I came into the living room and she was sitting there watching cartoons while Eggplant’s dad and his friends were doing lines off the coffee table. It was just kind of that kind of scene.

James Washburn: We thought his dad was super cool at the time. But as an adult we look back and think, “Damn I wish he didn’t do so much speed, because he’d still be with us.”

Janelle Hessig: There was a lot of shows in the backyard, people falling down the hill.

Robert Eggplant: The house show that Op Ivy did in Dave Mello’s garage, that was inspiring. So I asked to do one at my dad’s house in Pinole. Op Ivy, Crimpshrine, Isocracy and Surrogate Brains. We announced the show on KPFA, Maximum RocknRoll.

Billie Joe Armstrong: He ended up having these big parties with ten bands playing at his house. He would print up flyers.

Jeff Ott: There would be all these heavy metal kids from Pinole. It wasn’t really their style of music but it was this compared to, say, go to high school. There’d be tons of ’em out there.

Ben Sizemore: Crazy parties. We’d all pile in our van and drive up there.

Jeff Ott: The house had partially burned down. We played in a garage. All the walls were gone. The framing was all scorched. The electricity still worked. And anybody could drink beer. Somebody would just see the cops coming and everybody who was underage would set it down and walk away. There was sort of an extreme permissiveness in the household that allowed things like shows to happen there. It was totally awesome that a parent would let all this stuff go on. It was very different than my parents.

Jason Beebout: Everybody would go to parties in Berkeley, because Berkeley’s near the campus and cool shit happens there. But Robert started moving people out into the suburbs, and people started realizing, “Wow, Pinole’s a really weird shithole place because you can do anything and there aren’t any cops. No one’s going to fuck with you.”

James Washburn: My 17th birthday party started at Eggplant’s house. We had five bands, four kegs. The cops busted it up after like 12 hours. The people who ran Gilman were all at my party, so we were like, fuck it, let’s just move it to Gilman. We had the sound engineers set up full sound for us, set up the monitors. We dropped the keg into the middle of the floor and had a pit around the keg. It was full on.

That birthday became legendary. In my head it was epic. I went through four kegs, got all kinds of gifts, and then had a threesome with my girlfriend and her sister to end the night. So that’s not bad for 17. Some people wish for all those things in their lifetime, and I had them all in one day.

Jason Beebout: How do you get the fuckin’ name Eggplant? The most undesirable vegetable. It’s not round, it’s funky shaped.

Janelle Hessig: Claude was on acid and just looked at him and was like, “You look like an eggplant.”

Robert Eggplant: Claude was the person who took me to the shows. I wasn’t there when they named me, they were walking around on acid. The state will call me Robert Burnett and the punks call me Eggplant.

Lenny Filth: I knew his sister in high school. You gotta admire the guy because he didn’t follow any trends or anybody’s bullshit. He’s honestly himself, all the time. And I admire him for that. To this day, he’s still like that.

Jennifer Rose Emick: Eggplant was such a burnout. The first thing he ever said to me was “Got any pot?” I said “No, sorry,” and he just walked away. He was copying Zippo at Kinko’s and handing it out at school. One particularly pissed off the principal. He printed a list of all the liquor stores where you could buy underage. There was something else, some dirty picture from a porn mag. He was suspended for distributing underground literature.

Robert Eggplant: Some of the Mad Punx thought the zine was amusing. By the third or fourth issues, people like Aaron and Jesse Michaels were willing to put stuff in it.

Ben Saari: The glossary in Zippo, the Alphabet and the Dictionary, that was pure Jake and Jesse. It was utter brilliance. It was the most retarded, regressive, stupid thing. “The Pit, noun. A place where true punks create anarchy and eliminate poseurs. Example: ‘See you in the Pit, man.’”

Jesse Michaels drew a cover for it: “Absolutely Zippo Proudly Presents ‘How to Shoot Up East Bay Style.’” It was some punk rocker with a hole stabbed into his arm and a tourniquet tied around it, with a funnel stuck in, dumping a bag of smack into it.

John Geek: In the early early ‘90s, there was the idea of an East Bay/West Bay rivalry. It didn’t really exist. At Gilman, all kinds of bands would play together. There was no separation. But people made it into a funny thing in all the zines. Absolutely Zippo would make fun of all that kind of stuff.

A lot of people weren’t enough in on the in-jokes to realize they were totally jokes. So people would be like, “Oh, yeah, East Bay/West Bay. Fuck those West Bay fuckers.” People would make fun of their friends. Jake Filth would make fun of Jesse Michaels and call him a “ska boy.” And then after punk broke and Green Day started to get huge, a lot of people actually took that shit really seriously. And then there was a real rift.

Ben Saari: I never even knew Billie Joe. But from a distance, I was like “Oh, I don’t like that guy, he’s too nice and too pretty.” One day, me and Eggplant were hanging around UC Berkeley and these two kids came up to him and started hanging out. I wasn’t really paying any attention to it. We wandered around, and it wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized it was James Washburn and Billie Joe. I spent the whole day having a great time. And I had already decided that I didn’t fucking like those guys.

That was what Eggplant could do. He would cut through all the social bullshit and introduce people to each other and help them have fun together. It’s not like this guy had any sort of master plan, that was just what he did.


Jesse Luscious: Eggplant and Joey and this other guy had formed Blatz for a Christmas show at Gilman, or something. It’s kinda hazy to me.

Marshall Stax: I was on bass, Eggplant was guitar. Another guy just beating on paint buckets for drums. Eventually, we got the drummer. We named it after the cheapest beer in Berkeley.

Jesse Luscious: They were practicing at Gilman, and at the time I lived right down the street. They were like, “Do you wanna try to sing with our band?” I had a couple of sheets of lyrics from the band I was in. And they became the songs “Fuck New York” and “Hustler.”

Anna Joy Springer: I was booking shows at Gilman, and Jesse asked me if I wanted to try out for the band and I was like, “Oh my God, yeah.” Even though I’d seen the band and how in the world would I ever be part of this band? The first time I saw them play, Jesse had a wrench or pliers, and it really looked like he was castrating himself. I got super scared and freaked out. And also excited that this guy was basically tweaking off his balls as part of the show.

Jesse Luscious: We decided we wanted a female vocalist. And so they knew somebody named Annie. But somebody else thought they said Anna. So both Annie and Anna were asked if they wanted to join Blatz. We had two instead of one.

Janelle Hessig: Jesse came from Philadelphia, he had that bleached blonde hair and little brown sideburns, and he was pretty snarky. He’s very responsible now, very on the straight and narrow. But back then he was pretty bonkers. He liked to push people’s buttons a lot.

Billie Joe Armstrong: One night at Gilman it was packed. Jesse Luscious was in a foul mood and someone put on “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield. He came running up: “Turn that shit off right now!” It wasn’t Jesse’s style to get pissed off at something like that.

Greg Valencia: I always thought he was a funny dude. His bands were terrible, but I liked the fact that they didn’t care.

John Geek: I really liked Blatz. Eggplant is actually two years older than me. He was a hero of mine when I was 15 and he was 17.

Janelle Hessig: Anna Joy was a really big influence. She started this club called the Pussy Posse. We would just go take over the men’s room and drink. She would show the younger girls stuff.

Marshall Stax: I started at KALX in ’76. I’d always wanted to be in a band, my whole life, and it just never worked out.

Aaron Cometbus: Marshall Stax, the sound guy, was pretty much subpoenaed by Blatz. “Can you play bass? Good — you’re in our band.”

Anna Joy Springer: We were so bad, people started throwing stuff at us pretty quick.

Robert Eggplant: We opened a show with NoMeansNo and the Doughboys. For some reason we threw blue paint out into the audience. Everybody was either horrified or really liked it. So that gave a precedent of us being messy.

Anna Joy Springer: It was gonna be a grueling, embarrassing, disgusting experience for everyone. We filled these blown-out eggs with cat food and chucked those. Nobody could get rid of the smell for a long time. At one show, as a sign of appreciation, a guy came up and puked on me. He’d been trying to get himself full of stuff all day so that he could throw up. He really went out of his way. It felt like the pinnacle of success or something. Afterwards he was beaming.

Jennifer Rose Emick: Eggplant and Annie and I were friends from high school. We would look for creative things to throw at them. Pickled frogs. Cans of sauerkraut. Jello water balloons. “Okay, what can we do next?” Marshall got pissed because we got whipped cream on his vintage amp.

Aaron Cometbus: Marshall was already in his 40s or close, and had never been in a band before. Pretty soon he’s up there in diapers with dead lizards being thrown at him.

Jennifer Rose Emick: The best time was when Kevin went to an adult shop and bought this huge blow-up sheep, and filled it with blue cottage cheese.

Jesse Luscious: It came out of the ass, of course. It was really disgusting. Gilman smelled like the wharfs after that.

Lynn Breedlove: They were so awesome! They were running around naked, and Jesse was clawing himself bloody. It was three singers all up onstage elbowing each other out of the way. It was total chaos, I loved it. Then I saw Anna Joy and I was like, “Heeeyy…”

Billie Joe Armstrong: The first time I dropped acid I was playing second guitar for Blatz and was just freaking out. I kept saying, “I don’t think I can play. I don’t think I can play.” And Aaron was saying, “You’re going to be fine.” So we ended up playing Gilman and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. There was hardly anybody there except local people and our friends. I remember looking down at my guitar and the strings were just going this way and that way. I looked over at Robert, because he was doing the same thing, and he said, “I know! I know!”

Sara Cohen: I hated that band. I didn’t like them at all. They were fuckin’ assholes. The singer followed me around one night. Scared the shit out of me.

Robert Eggplant: Maybe the second or third show Jesse got naked.

Janelle Hessig: Jesse was always getting naked, I don’t know why. One time in Davis at a show, me and Hollie went outside to have a drink and came back in and we saw Jesse running like a sitcom character, naked, and he said something like, “Feets don’t fail me now!” as he ran past.

Jesse Luscious: Blatz and Samiam, it was at a vets hall or something. We played first and we had this mannequin that I was finger-fucking. Kevin Dill had brought rancid McDonald’s fast food, so we were throwing that. I got naked. Anna and Annie were just all over the place.

After the show, I put on my jacket, and walked outside. People were having smokes. And this big old burly skinhead said, “Fuck you, you fucking faggot.” He tried to kick me. I was like, “Holy shit!” I turned and ran in my bare feet, this big fucking guy behind me, and a couple of skater sycophants behind him.

Janelle Hessig: There was this herd of skinheads chasing him, while he was naked. What could be worse than getting beat up while you’re naked? It’s like Turkish prison or something.

Jesse Luscious: He chased me in, and they wouldn’t let him in the front door. I sent somebody else out to get my boxer shorts and T-shirt. The police showed up. Because this Nazi skinhead named Bulldog, couldn’t get inside to beat me up, he decided, “Well, fuck it, I’ll just call the cops.”

The cops were there. I was explaining, “Yeah, this guy tried to fucking assault me. He called me a fucking faggot.” And the guy was like, “Well, were you naked?” I said, “No, I had a jacket on.” And Bulldog the Nazi skinhead was literally 20 feet away from me saying, ” Fucking go back to Berkeley, motherfucking faggot. I’ll kick your ass, you fucking commie pinko,” blah blah blah.

Davis PD, of course, told me to leave town as quickly as possible. They didn’t book him. They said, “We’re gonna charge you with indecent exposure. Take the most direct route out of town.” I ended up going to court. The Davis public defender couldn’t defend me because they were already defending Bulldog in something else. I got this pro bono lawyer who told me, “Just plead no contest. If you go to a jury trial you will get convicted. You were naked.” “But it was art.” He said, “Nah, that’s not gonna work.” But also, he didn’t give a fuck.

I had to pay a fine. So the next time I get charged with being indecently exposed, I would have to become a registered sex offender. Indecent exposure is a crime of moral turpitude. Which means that you can’t be alone with minors. You have to have an exemption to work paratransit, which is something I have done off and on for years. Davis and Yolo County can fucking suck my cock.

Janelle Hessig: There were “Free Jesse” lunches to pay his legal fees.

Jesse Luscious: I decided to leave Blatz because we’d booked a show for a party at 1640, the house where Lucky lived. I showed up right to plan, and there was no band members. I finally get ahold of Joey, he was like, “Oh, yeah, we’re not gonna play.” “We’re on the flyer. I’m here ready to play.” What really killed me was that Marshall and Eggplant showed up later for the party. “You fuckers, why are you doing this to me? I look like a jerk.” Maybe I was, but still, what the fuck?

I was just so sick of that whole thing. I mean Eggplant, we get along fine. But Eggplant’s somebody who, if you ask, will the sun rise from the east, he’s one of those guys who will say, “Well, it really depends on how you look at it.” No it doesn’t. I’m from the East Coast, I don’t handle that kind of shit very well. At that point, I definitely didn’t handle it well.

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