It’s 5am in Los Angeles as I write this, which is appropriate, because this is a ‘crack-of-dawn’ tale. As in, I woke up at some ungodly hour on October 22, 2002, and drove out of Cleveland, Ohio—my home since August 1990—into the blackness of the western sky, heading for a new home in Los Angeles, California. Never to return.
This was the biggest change I’d ever made in my life up until that point.
I’ve told you about my Move to L.A.—a year-long process where I began extricating myself from the only place I ever felt welcomed or at home: the Cleveland underground art and music scene.
Our hub, Speak In Tongues, closed on New Year’s Day 2002 hastening my withdrawal.
The truth is I had already purchased a semi-disposable vehicle (my trusty 1989 Camry wagon) to carry me west before that happened. I was already preparing. And it was almost like Cleveland knew I was thinking about splitting, and sent someone to steal my car—to foil me!—just before the SIT Holiday Party. But I got the car back, and steeled my reserve. (Probably drank some Steel Reserve to celebrate—it was Speak In Tongues after all.) That was it—a line had been crossed. I was definitely leaving.
To leave on a high note, I hosted and attended a whole mess of shows at Pat’s In The Flats, including an infamous one with Misty Martinez which made me NEVER want to host shows EVER again (of course I later changed my mind).
There’s an old Cleveland axiom that folks who talk the most about leaving—the ones who complain the loudest about Northeast Ohio—are the most doomed to remain. It’s all very Twilight Zone but I took the old wives tale seriously and rarely spoke about my desire to move on, even as I was assembling all the pieces and parts of my move-out plan. I was methodical—you can see how I documented everything.
In the spring, I visited L.A. as a roadie for 9 Shocks Terror and that trip changed my life! I had a shocking first encounter with L.A. icon Don Bolles—of the Germs, 45 Grave, Celebrity Skin, Fancy Space People, et al—on that same trip.
After my L.A. ‘preview,’ I was filled with wanderlust and roadtripped all over the Rustbelt. I showed my Pride in DC, jammed out to Electroclash in the Flats and told The Pit to FUCK OFF. But the die had been cast: Southern California was the only choice for me. The Midwest just didn’t seem like a challenge any longer.
I started saying goodbye to friends. I saw 9 Shocks Terror at Ryedood’s Cleveland Fest with Arab On Radar, Flying Luttenbachers, Lightning Bolt, The Locust, Wolf Eyes and Aloha, and I thought that was the last concert I was going to see in Cleveland. It was one of the best concerts ever—that’s for sure—but I did kept seeing shows after that.
My band Sean & Ian put out a CD and we celebrated with Coffinberry. My dear friend, roommate and business partner Michael Shumaker joined big Emo band Hey Mercedes and we said goodbye to our recording studio business, The Invisible City.
Now I’ll start telling you some stuff that no one knows. I’ve never revealed a lot of this before. This is how I made my move—and you can too. It’s scary but not that hard:
Hot tip: Pack small.
Eventually all my stuff was packaged up in mocha mix boxes from my coffee shop job at Java Jive in University Hospitals. The boxes were manageably-sized—easy for a soon-to-be-solo person to handle and carry.
I packed every single U.S. Rocker issue, book, album, CD and tape I owned. All my possessions, basically, were various kinds of media. Hmmm.
I thought back to how we got a discounted mailing rate for ‘media mail’ when we mailed out Rockers to subscribers each month.
I did some cost calculations and called the Hollywood post office at 1615 Wilcox Ave (still at the same address in 2022) and got a ‘Hollywood, CA’ post office box. Then about two weeks before I hit the road to SoCal, I schlepped 40+ boxes to the Cleveland Post Office down on Orange Ave and mailed them to myself in Hollywood. I saved SO MUCH money. The Post Office workers were SO MAD at me—the boxes, though small, were ridiculously heavy. But I had followed the rules: the boxes were all media.
Voila! A bargain move for book and music lovers.
Everything else got packed into my car:
And look how packed it was—jammed with junk.
The last night I was in town I managed to see 9 Shocks Terror one last time at the new location of a classic Cleveland club.
After the show—after dropping my keys to The Invisible City in the landlords’ mailbox—I was, for the first time in my life, homeless. It felt liberating. At first anyhow.
Ian let me crash on his sofa. All my shit was in my car on the street in Ohio City, where my vehicle had previously been stolen. So I tried to sleep but I couldn’t. 4am came quickly and I let myself out as quietly as I could. I was already being fanatical about saving money so instead of Starbucks I said goodbye to Cleveland with a cup of genuine AM/PM black joe from the corner gas station. And I was off!
First stop: visiting my old friends Peter and Sandy Risser and their young family in Cincinnati. Pete had been my best friend during the Case Western years and we did a show at WRUW. I was the best man at his wedding ten years earlier—now they had kids! The Rissers cushioned the trauma of my first day, post-partum blues. I didn’t have to drive but a few hours and I was with old friends.
After that… things got wild. I wish I had photos. This was the height of the post-9/11 paranoid era. America was starting to act real crazy and I was genuinely frightened being a solo gay guy on the road through the heartland. I had all my stuff in my vehicle and was very vulnerable. I did not have a cellphone (I bought one just as soon as I got to L.A.).
I had planned to take my time driving across America. Gas was still $1.59/gallon—soon it would be $4 for the first time in history as we geared up for our illegal invasion of Iraq.
MAGA hates George W. Bush nowadays, but back then all the proto-MAGAbillies loved W. and were frothing at the mouth with hate for Muslims, gays, brown people, women… you name it. ‘USA! USA!’ It was not patriotism. It was fear and contempt for the other.
My car, so terribly weighted down, broke down and I spent half the money I saved for Los Angeles getting a new transmission installed. I will never know if I really needed a new transmission or not. It was that classic trapped-in-the-middle-of-nowhere situation where the hicks at the garage in Missouri had me over a barrel and I had to pay them nearly $1200 (more than the vehicle was worth!) to fart around for half a day under my car.
Eventually we were rolling again, but now all my leisure-tour plans for seeing America were completely shot.
You can see my vehicle. There was no room for anyone but me to sit. I couldn’t even sleep in there except upright, or slumped on my side. So why sleep? I was fueled up on caffeine pills and cheap heartland gas—it was time to zoom!
I did take a few breaks. I was 30-years-old and completely sex-obsessed—it was like I was going through second puberty, I was so horny all the time. I had a fantasy of a hot truck stop hookup. I had read about these. But when I went into a porn store near Oklahoma, everything was softcore and wrapped in yellowed cellophane. Ancient porno that looked like it fell out of a time warp. There were no other patrons inside. The video booths were ‘out-of-order.’ Maybe I was there the wrong time of the day? It was super awkward and nothing was happening. I said ‘thanks’ to the lazy-eyed clerk who was two steps behind, following me around the place and backed out the door as quickly as I came in.
So I just kept on driving. And driving. And driving. For 2,500 miles. It was supposed to be a leisurely ten day trip but I was so panicked I got to Southern California in under four days even with the car repair. What?!
As I zoomed into the L.A. area, passing by Palm Springs, there was a freak rainstorm that lasted only a few minutes. But lo-and-behold, the barren desert on either side of the I-10 freeway instantly began turning a light minty green color. Plants—teeny tiny ones!—were exiting their dormancy and pushing up through the sand to catch the droplets. I had never seen anything like it. I took it as an auspicious sign…
I knew from my tour with 9 Shocks that I wanted my first stop to be Griffith Park. My car groaned and groaned as we lugged up the steep hills to get this amazing view of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. We made it!
After a little picnic (ie, emptying a package of gas station peanuts down my throat along with a Red Bull), it was back down into the city.
Remember that there were no smartphones back then, and no Google Maps. I had AAA guides and printouts from Mapquest to get myself around, but it immediately became very obviously that it was inefficient and totally unsafe in hectic L.A. traffic to read a map and negotiate a route through through the chaos at the same time. I had to keep pulling over and back-tracking and my car was making weird noises again—I had to get all this junk out of my vehicle right away.
I somehow found myself in this neighborhood called ‘Echo Park.’ It’s hilarious that I was so naive that I had never heard these words together before. I kept saying ‘Echo Park’ like a mantra. Later, with Pehrspace, the neighborhood became my number one stomping ground but I still think of the magical image the name conjured in my newbie brain.
I did find a storage place on Glendale Boulevard and I crammed all my junk in there. But now I felt even more scared. Now I had no home, and no stuff.
It was a liberating but scarifying time, to be sure.
I checked in at my el cheapo Hollywood Boulevard hostel, where I immediately got fleas from another traveller (welcome to the jungle!). But the price was all I could afford. And the gregarious Australians and Germans who filled the joint (why are hostel travelers always Australians and Germans?) seemed cool with me being the ‘old guy’ (hostel travelers seem to be exclusively 23-years-old—or 55+… I guess I was misclassified in the elder category but I didn’t mind).
It was time to hit the town!
I was pretty amped because, since I had accelerated the timeline of my trip and shown up in L.A. days earlier than expected, I was going to be able to catch my old friends Cobra Verde at The Roxy opening for Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis.
In an unbelievable example of beginners luck, I drove from the hostel to The Roxy—and somehow got the one available parking space on the entire strip, right in front of the club. You have to be from L.A. to appreciate this, but trust me when I say this is exceedingly rare.
I jump out of my car, and who’s the first person I see smoking and bloviating to the assembled masses on the sidewalk as I step onto the scene for the first time? Why it’s none other than dear Ed Sotelo, Cobra Verde bass player and longtime friend, who had attended all of our going away parties before I left.
“Ed!” I screamed. I was beyond excited. “ED!” I’m jumping up and down upon seeing my friend. After trekking across dumbass ‘Murica, Ed was a sight for sore eyes. “Ed! ED!” I was apoplectic—why was he not noticing me?
“Oh, hi,” Ed pauses to say, before turning back to his long-winded soliloquy to some random CV fans. Now, in Ed’s defense, like me he had just driven across the country and his band were stars, and in their element outside the rock club. So he was distracted. But my friend’s nonplussed reaction still cracks me up to this day. WTF, Ed?
“Oh-OH!” he finally stammered, realizing that this was not an Ohio rock club that Sean and Ed were hanging out in front of (again… like usual). We were in motherfucking Los Angeles, baby!
Ed gave me a big hug and a hearty congratulations.
Soon singer John Petkovic came out and kindly ushered me backstage into the green room, where he handed me beverages and was just very lovely.
I spied J Mascis chanting all om-like to a little figurine which had no significance to me. This turned out to be a representation of Amma. I mean, watching this Grunge god chant to an action figure for inspiration before he ripped out basic barre chord rock tunes, it was like out of a movie. Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls or something. Esoteric religions and rock stars—how L.A., I thought to myself.
Cobra Verde have always been rock stars to me but at this historic Hollywood club, on this Saturday night, October 26, 2002, they were rock gods. All the pent up fear and anticipation from my journey just flooded out of me. I screamed and yelled with joy.
Cobra Verde sounded amazing, John was electric, Ed was on fire, the band was just smoking hot.
What a night! I sang along to every tune. It was an incredible treat to see my Cleveland friends, on my first night in Los Angeles, bring down the house.
So, with nothing else to do, I became a Cobra Verde groupie and followed them around for the next two days, eventually leading me to Spaceland, and a reunion with some other old Cleveland friends, Biblical Proof Of UFOs—now Kretsch-less, but featuring Duvalby Bro. Joey Shipman on guitar—who had also moved to L.A. and become huge scene stars.
It was really incredible to, once again, be treated to the best of Cleveland on the first days in my new city.
Cobra Verde was transcendently spectacular at Spaceland. I may be biased. I was so amped to be among friends. I was staving off the inevitable: after the show, CV would leave and I’d be on my own with ‘my new life’ and that made me awfully frightened.
After the show, we were standing on the corner outside the club and John Petkovic said to me between cigarette puffs, “Why did you leave Cleveland? You were a big fish in a little pond—you could have stayed there forever.”
I was feeling awfully wistful. Why did I leave? I asked myself as I mentally confronted my new future.
The truth is that sometimes one has to first get smaller, to ultimately grow bigger.
But in that moment, all I felt was fear: The planning phase was over. The moving was done. I had completed my long road trip. Now my CLE music friends were leaving for the next tour stop. There was no clear path forward. I was homeless. I was nearly broke after the car repairs. All that remained was uncertainty.
“I-I-I…” I stammered as I tried to find the words to reply to John. “I need a job,” was what finally came out.
Maybe it’s that Midwest work ethic that we shared, but John immediately understood.
He’s like two feet taller than me, so he put his long lanky arm on my shoulder and turned me around, and there’s this chap who I hadn’t noticed standing behind me in a dress and a tasteful lip-liner and eye shadow combo.
“Nice to meet you,” James says warmly.
“Sean needs a job,” John says bluntly. I nod.
“I know the guy who owns the café across the street right there,” Falling James points. “Meet me for coffee tomorrow and we’ll get you hooked up.” And so I did. And Falling James followed through. And three days into living in L.A., I was waiting tables in Silverlake.
And that was horrible, but that’s okay. I had truly arrived.
I want to say thank you to everyone who’s been reading my retrospective posts this past year. They were all triggered by getting my Y2K / early Oughties drugstore camera pics scanned last fall. I have a ton more to post from my early years in L.A. Many of the events are folkloric at this point—they’ve never been online. So stay tuned. Lots of good stuff to come.
And thanks to Cobra Verde, Ed, John, Biblical Proof of UFOs and of course Falling James for making sure I was okay when I first came on the scene. And my Mom! Couldn’t have done it without her on the other end of the phone, reassuring me. Thanks, all. I love you.
Come celebrate twenty years in L.A. with me and some gnarly bands this November 11:
Friday 11.11.22 at Oracle Tavern – RIG, NOÏ (400 Blows + Federation X supergroup from L.A.), A Lovely Sort Of Death, Paul Lai (of the legendary Upsilon Acrux) & special guest DJ Dizparity from Taipei, Taiwan working his magic before, during & after the bands.
All shows 8pm / $10 / 21+
1640 N. Spring, Los Angeles 90012
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