Shred of Dignity
Tom Jennings: Shred of Dignity started out life as Duke Crestfield and Shawn Ford flyering to get support to stop a city-wide ban of skateboarding in San Francisco.
Shawn Ford: I found this article about the proposed skateboarding ban. I was probably 17 or 18 and I had never been politically active. I talked to my skate friends, but they were kind of apathetic. Fucking hippies, you know? For me, the skateboard was a necessity.
Tom Jennings: Duke made up the name, as a triple-entendre/pun, originally to be a gay skateboarders group. No, I won’t explain it.
Shawn Ford: Duke was in his 20s and had already been politically active, so he set it up and we started collecting signatures. We met all these kids who had never been politically active, and Duke showed everybody what to do. Tom Jennings put down some money for photocopying, and within a week or two, we were taking ramps to the park and having BBQs and meetings, all with the intention of fighting this thing at City Hall.
Tom Jennings: We overturned the ban with some of Duke’s political/theatrical maneuvers.
Shawn Ford: There were news cameras and 100 people or more in the hearing room. Duke wore a suit with his orange fucking mohawk. And we had a copy of the unreleased proposal. This was supposed to be an informational meeting. It ended up being really embarrassing for the city. After we had won, we decided we should stay together as a group and exercise our right to skate on the street.
Tom Jennings: Shred mutated into a number of things in its brief existence.
Shawn Ford: I was homeless at the time, living in a storage closet. Duke and Tom said, let’s get a warehouse. I was just along for the ride. So we found a warehouse on Shipley Alley. Blacklist Mailorder and Alternative Tentacles were right across the street.
Tom Jennings: Shipley was two blocks long. We lived in the respectable half. Old folks from the Salvation Army home across the street got mugged a lot, but the other block had street sex, drug deals, and the annual dead body. More than once we had really unpleasant people walk in unannounced, stinking and crazy.
Shawn Ford: Duke was a structural engineer. He drew plans for an enormous loft inside the warehouse. The front was to be kept open so we could have ramps and projects. Our biggest quarter-pipe was set up on one side and the smaller quarter-pipes were on the other. You could drop in from the big quarter-pipe and then carve up the wall on the other side. A lot of people skated at our house.
Tom Jennings: We built it out ourselves, including the loft, stairs, and kitchen.
Shawn Ford: Duke found billboard pieces in some fucking junkyard somewhere. The panels were like seven feet wide and 12 feet long, and plastered with ads for Campari, Marlboro Man, Virginia Slims. They were the perfect size.
Tom Jennings: From ‘86 until we moved out in summer of ’90, we usually had five or six people officially living there at one time, plus dozens of house guests and bands.
Shawn Ford: When GWAR came through for the first time and played the Covered Wagon, a couple of their band members crashed at the Shred warehouse. Those were the best shows in the history of the world. To be covered in GWAR vomit and piss was an incredible experience.
Tom Jennings: We were a project-oriented household. We put on shows, skateboard events, weekly dinners, zine publishing. Homocore, plus peripherally Pavement Of Surface, Shred Of Dignity Skaters’ Union Ragazine, Warning, and others.
Shawn Ford: On several occasions, we set up a half-pipe in the DMV parking lot between the Upper Haight and the Panhandle. Duke figured out that only state police would have jurisdiction over the parking lot. So we would load these huge quarter-pipes into Duke’s tiny GMC truck and all these kids would pile on top and hold it down. It was a hilarious sight. Totally dangerous.
Tom Jennings: We did about four hit-and-run shows, where we’d pick a safe-looking place, rent a generator and Hernan Cortez’s sound system, arrange for one or two bands, and flyer for a free show.
Shawn Ford: Tragic Mulatto were the superstars of the hit-and-run series. The lead singer dressed up like a big multi-colored chicken with feather dusters sticking out of her ass. She had them duct taped so they wouldn’t fall out. And nothing but pantyhose over that, with a hole cut out. She was a freak. God bless her. The bass player wore a dress and he was just the ugliest, ugliest fucking woman you would ever see in your life. They were so fucking good. It was a weird dichotomy.
Robert Eggplant: The first outdoor hit-and-run show I saw was with Mudwimmin. They were punk in spirit, but not always in sound, very feminist and awesome. Maybe 15 people showed up. One cop car drove by and just looked at us, kind of like, “Have a nice tour.”
Shawn Ford: There was beer and open containers and all these young punks just loitering around in the sun. Even when the cops made us shut down, Duke and Tom were really good at stalling. By the third year, they were wise to us.
Tom Jennings: I lived off Fido Software during this time.
Shawn Ford: When I met Tom, he dyed his hair light blue, with a short fat mohawk down the middle. This is the ‘80s, way before the internet. Tom was talking about writing software and programming computers. I thought, if you make oodles of money and you’ve got a car, why the hell would you quit and become a punker? As I got to know him, I learned that he was an incredibly dedicated anarchist and a very giving person.
Richard the Roadie: He was sort of like a mad scientist, always experimenting with stuff. He converted his car to propane way before anybody, like in ’87 or ’88.
Tom Jennings: FidoNet became an explicit social project for me. I started applying anarchist principles — local, self-organizing, complete lack of intrinsic hierarchy, the ability to communicate utterly independent of others’ permission or goodwill. FidoNet grew at an insane rate. Two computers in spring 1984, 160 that fall, 32,000 by the early 1990s. Each BBS computer had ten to a few hundred users.
Shawn Ford: One day, he got off the phone and he was so excited. He had been writing software and giving it away for free for years. The government wanted his software, but the government could not take it for free. So they convinced Tom to sell them his free software. The Department of Defense was going to pay $50 a copy for the initial order. All of the punks in the warehouse were hissing and laughing at the same time. We were going to be living off the military’s stupidity. A couple weeks later, Tom got a check for fucking $20,000 — the most money I’d ever seen on a check other than on a TV game show. He bought walls, plumbing, and a shower. He stocked the refrigerator and bought beer. He took care of everyone in the warehouse.
Richard the Roadie: I crashed at Shred of Dignity for a few months. Tom was the parental figure. He had a couple years on us. And he’s an absolute genius.
Tom Jennings: We were quite the organizational whirlwind, mostly due to Duke Crestfield and Shawn Ford. We used the “stone soup” method of organizing events. We worked with absolutely minimal tools and components, silk-screening T-shirts with cardboard stencils and spray paint. We did organizing and sound and lights for lots of political events. We have the honor of having the last actual punk show at the original Deaf Club. And all of the Fugazi shows in the S.F. area.
Shawn Ford: Tom was also one of the first organizers for Gilman, and he worked at Blacklist Mailorder. He was real good friends with MDC. When the Pope came to town, Tom was really into it. MDC’s house was right across the street from where the Pope was going to say Mass.
Dave Dictor: We played for the Pope in 1987, on the roof of my house. He came right up to the Mission Dolores Chapel and we jumped on our instruments and played “This Blood’s for You” and “The Multi-Death Corporation.” We all had Pope hats with eyepatches.
Shawn Ford: I had read in a newspaper about the Pope coming to town. It had an activity page for kids, like, “Hey, kids, make a Pope hat!” I decided to make a whole bunch and sell them for a dollar apiece. But the white ones were so boring. As luck would have it, the a gay shop next to the Covered Wagon Saloon would throw away all their old porno magazines. I pasted some of the most blasphemous pictures on one side of the hat, so that from the back, it would be a picture of some guy with his arm up some other guy’s ass. I made a stack, took ‘em to Pope Day and sold them as a Shred of Dignity representative. By the time I was finished, the police had already shut MDC down.
Dave Dictor: The police grabbed us and said, “You wanna fly? You wanna learn to fly?” Then they brought us down to my apartment. It was a punk rock apartment that had been going on for years. They were looking around at the flyers on the walls. Just “Millions of Dead Cops” everywhere. You can imagine. The Secret Service did their whole thing. “You got guns?” I explained, “No, we’re peace punks. I’ve been an angry Catholic since John F. Kennedy was shot.” They turned us over to the San Francisco police, who were like, “Fuck those guys — we’ve been working with those fuckers all week. So you’re Millions of Dead Cops, huh?” I said, “We don’t kill cops. It’s just our name.”
Shawn Ford: Tom started up Homocore towards the end of my time at the first Shred warehouse.
Tom Jennings: From 1988 to 1991, I was the editor of Homocore, along with Deke. We kinda messed with a queer/punk hybrid thing, based upon anarchist principles, discordian silliness, distaste for de-facto-separatist gay culture, and a burning desire to get laid. We also put on a bunch of Homocore shows. It was sort of a big deal for a while, now no one remembers it.
Matt Wobensmith: Homocore wasn’t the first. The biggest and first gay punk zine was J.D.s from Toronto, which was Bruce LaBruce and G.B. Jones.
Tom Jennings: I stole the word Homocore from them. Another major impetus was Maximum Rocknroll. Queer punks wrote in, and to MRR’s credit, they were not actively discouraged. No fag-bashing from the staff. This was a major thing, though it sounds slight today.
Richard the Roadie: Tom was a punk and he was gay, but at that point those worlds didn’t really intersect.
Matt Wobensmith: In the late ‘70s in the Bay Area — San Francisco, especially — gay culture and punk culture were always intertwined. It was never even an issue for people.
Jello Biafra: In the very early Mabuhay scene, many people were openly gay and it wasn’t a big deal. Theater was part of what you did. You weren’t supposed to cop a rockstar attitude, but when you were onstage you better be a fucking star. And offstage you were just a regular person in the community like everybody else. That was the way it worked.
Shawn Ford: I had known members of the artsy gay community through my family. But I didn’t know any gay punks before Duke and Tom. They shattered my illusions about stereotypical flamboyant members of the gay community. They definitely were not that.
Sara Forbes Keough: Greta Snider was one of my favorites there. She now teaches in the film program at SF State and her films have screened at places like the MOMA and Sundance.
Lynn Breedlove: Deke fucked a skateboard in an experimental film by Greta Snider. That we all watched while sitting on the floor, cheering all our friends on as Tom pissed in Josh’s mouth.
Tom Jennings: I went to the 1988 Anarchist Survival Gathering in Toronto. The event was spontaneously about a third queer — a pleasant shock. While the rebelling middle-class kids went off to throw rocks at the police and fervently tip over newspaper boxes, most of us did what everyone does at a conference – network.
Shawn Ford: Tom got really involved with the Radical Faeries movement, and a lot of Faeries started coming through the warehouse. With the Radical Faeries and Homocore, the gay punk identity became a lot more solid and recognizable as a distinct part of the punk community.
Gary Floyd: Those people never had anything to do with me. I never understood why. It’s not like people didn’t know I’m gay. I’m the biggest fucking fag in the world, but I was not part of that scene. I was always happy it existed. I guess by that time I was in Sister Double Happiness, and maybe they thought it wasn’t punk enough.
Tom Jennings: I honestly don’t know why we didn’t hang out with Gary. We liked him, his band and music, and went to their shows. We took great delight that he was queer and out in the music world. He was a self-made oddball cultural hero when there weren’t very many at all! It was probably due to our narrow focus. I am guilty of not including Gary and probably many others. Fuck. I’m sorry.
We moved out after the ’89 quake. The remaining core Shred crowd, Valerie Stadtler, Greta Snider, Dave Rock, Hernan Cortez, and myself moved our tired asses to a new spread.
Sarah Forbes Keough: Down near Toxic Gulf, a ratty old pier/park on the bay at the end of 24th Street. The house had the address 666 Illinois. I thought that was rad.
Richard the Roadie: It was a really old warehouse. It literally still had the gas pumps in the living room.
Tom Jennings: The Toxic Golf Course got its name from the Jak’s skateboard team members who would put on idiotic thrift-store golf fashion – plaid knee socks, those funny hats, mismatched golf clubs – and drunk-bike down there and play golf amidst the weeds, trash, and barrels labeled “Toxic Waste.”
Jello Biafra: When punk morphed into hardcore, and MRR got really doctrinaire and Gilman Street became very anti-rockstar, people became more strict about what music they wanted and how they wanted people to look. It took away some of the flash. People were less likely to be outrageous for the sake of being outrageous. Theater kinda got stamped out. Homocore and the Klubstitute scene, which became connected with each other, brought that back.
Matt Wobensmith: Klubstitute was the home for this drag-punk-weird art-performance-literary cabaret-spoken word thing, run by the Popstitutes. Diet Popstitute, Remix Popstitute, the whole bunch. It was a freak show. I could watch weird performance art and see a punk band.
Tom Jennings: Klubstitute was a huge deal, and spawned many performers.
Matt Wobensmith: I saw the Popstitutes play at Gilman. That was just a blast! It was like getting to see all these worlds meet. I really appreciated what Tom was doing, although the Homocore people were a fair bit older than I was. I was 18 or 19 when I got here and I was just coming out, trying to find some sort of cultural validity. They were so sophisticated.
Lynn Breedlove: I was freshly sober and highly impressed with the integrity and hotness and queerness of them all. Diet Popstitute lived at Shred for a while before he died. One of the many tragic losses of the plague era.
Jello Biafra: In a way Homocore and Diet Popstitute and Klubstitute helped rebuild some of that sense of fun and anything goes. Even if you couldn’t do it so much with sex anymore, because some of the people were dying of AIDS. It brought back the sense of fun that had been missing from punk and hardcore in a lot of ways. It even challenged a newer generation’s attitudes towards different sexual orientations and practices.
Tom Jennings: We finally broke up the household and went our separate ways in 1994.
Lynn Breedlove: There was a big banner across the wall at Shred that said “No assimilation… EVER.” I took it to heart.
Shawn Ford: Leave it to Tom Jennings to figure out what people were waiting for all along.