James Washburn: When I was 12 years old, I was 6’2″ and 260 pounds, and so then to try and not be a fat ass, I lifted weights a lot in high school. And then enter punk rock. When you start addin’ all that together, it’s like if somebody pisses you off, you fuckin’ handle it. It’s not like I ever went lookin’ for trouble.
I have no clue how Benicia ever got any punks in it to begin with, but somehow Benicia became this really strange element in East Bay punk. I fell off the roof once at a Benicia show. We were in a moss fight. There was all this moss growing on the roof and I remember walking along digging in the gutter of the roof to get chunks of moss. I was like scoopin’ it and throwin’ it, and I backed right off the edge of the roof.
My feet hit the garbage cans which flipped me back so the first thing to hit the concrete was my head. But I got up, “I’m okay!” People were saying, “What the fuck? You can’t be okay. No one can be okay.” I was asking, “What happened? Why does my head hurt?” They said, “You fell off the roof!” “I was on the roof? Why does my head hurt?” I kept repeating myself because I couldn’t remember what I’d just said.
The only person I would talk to was Jesse Michaels. At the time he was so peaceful and his voice was very calming and he was explaining to me, “James, you can’t remember because you just hit your head really hard.” And then I started getting really mad and angry and confused, and like “Why is everyone looking at me?” So Jesse stayed with me, drove me to the hospital and I made Jesse come with me or I was gonna fuckin’ freak out. Over the next four days the memory slowly started coming back. That was probably the most significant damage I ever got from a head injury.
Because I’m the big guy, I always get fuckin’ picked. Or they pick on the little guy, and I step in, “Leave him alone!” Only once do I remember getting my ass whupped. I never really got hurt that bad. But I’d get bottles broken over my head and stuff. I have lots of scars. My head’s like a dot to dot, mostly in the back.
I got a hole in my skull. I got shot pointblank in the back of the head. That’s kind of cool. You can stick your finger in it if you want. Makes my head kinda tingle.
This was in Richmond where I got shot in the head. Ironically the guy tried to kill me across the street from where I was born. Some Mexican dude was tryin’ to get into a gang. That’s the initiation into the gangs around here. You have to murder someone. So he shot this store clerk in the face. And then came in the store and proceeded to battle with me.
I attacked him to try to take the gun away. After he shot me he just relaxed and waited for me to drop, but I didn’t. I grabbed his arm and slammed it against the ground, pulled the gun out of his hand. Pointed the gun at him and just started pulling the trigger. The only bullet in the gun was the one that went in my head. He just ran out of the store, got on his bike, and rode away. The rival gang got him with a shotgun a week later.
That’s when I started getting away from doing drugs, and realizing, alright, flowers do smell better when you’re alive! I started seeing a lot more beauty in things and realizing how precious the people around me were. Had a lot of wonderful people that I didn’t know cared about me.
When I was in the hospital with the bullet in my head, there must’ve been 25 people that showed up before I went into surgery. Jason Beebout was there, and Lucky Dog came there. Green Day was on tour, but I remember Mike calling me from Japan. This was ‘95, and they were killing themselves touring the world, trying to make it work. I was in the hospital for like five days. That was probably my biggest wound.
Turns out, my skull is just about 1/3 thicker than an average man. It’s a one-in-a-million abnormality. The surgeon said that 1/3 is why the bullet didn’t penetrate my skull. So if I got shot again, as long as they don’t shoot me in the same spot, I might be okay.
As it is, if something falls, it always hits me in the head. If I’m walkin’ down the street and a lamp post falls over, it ain’t gonna hit the fuckin’ car, it will hit me in the head. I don’t know if the ADD comes from that, or if it’s genetic, but I do my best. Punk rock, thick skull.
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