Theme from an Unfinished Novel: Behind the Scenes


Here I invented a punk band from scratch, using the Minutemen, the Germs, and Violent Femmes as templates/inspiration, for a supernatural L.A.-centered music-industry novel I’ve been tackling off and on since leaving Rhino in 2007. This is a brief peek into the group’s backstory. (Real scene vets will scoff.) As for the overall book, imagine W.P. Kinsella at the corner of Hollywood and Cherokee.

Distant Suffering
(1980s)

Years Active
1980-1985

Hometown
Pico Rivera, CA

Genres
Rock
Folk
Protest
Anti-Folk
Avant-Garde
Jazz
Funk

Members
Jason “Broken” Sanchez
Dennis “Deep” Patton
Simon Arch

Discography
1980: Four Square Alarmed [EP] (Skydog Records)
1980: Will Pay Damages, Even If Physical [EP] (Skydog Records)
1980: Come Out Screaming [Live EP] (Skydog Records)
1981: The Greatness of Man Is Genocide (Skydog Records)
1982: Lies, Betrayals, Swindles & Laws (Skydog Records)
1983: Idiot Christ (Skydog Records)
1983: The Tide of Disruption [EP] (Skydog Records)
1984: One Nation Under the Thumb (Skydog Records)
1985: Society Eats It, Excretes It, Defeats It (Skydog Records)
1985: Simple Simon Met the Pie-Eyed [split 7-inch, limited] (Lost Sanchelez Records)
1985: Never Let Them Hear You Think (Skydog Records)

Excerpted from Distant Suffering’s All Music Guide biography (author: Thom Josewski):

According to legend, Distant Suffering literally collided into existence at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, California, in the spring of 1979. Eighteen-year-old Jason Sanchez, known derisively around campus as “‘Broken” Sanchez (short for “Heartbroken”; Sanchez eventually discarded the apostrophe) for his failed attempts to seduce female classmates with overwrought poetry, was leaving the school’s parking lot in his 1974 Chevy Nova when he metal-kissed classmate Dennis Patton’s 1978 Plymouth Duster, pinching its tail-light into a blind squint. Sanchez scribbled a quick apologetic note (“Will pay damages, even if physical,” which would later provide the title for DS’ breakthrough EP) with his address and telephone number and stuffed it under the Duster’s left wiper. Taking the note’s contents literally, an incensed Patton raced to Sanchez’s quiet suburban home looking for a fight. Instead of fisticuffs, the two discovered a mutual but definitely unspoken affection for the punk rock then emerging from New York and blossoming on their own coast, thanks to exposure on Rodney Bingenheimer’s Rodney on the ROQ, a popular program on Los Angeles’ KROQ-FM.

After their high school graduation in 1979, Sanchez and Patton became fixtures in Hollywood during the dying embers of punk’s infant glow. They were a familiar sight at the corner of Hollywood and Cherokee avenues, where they busked for bus fare home. “We weren’t very good,” Patton recalled years later, “but no one strummed an out-of-tune acoustic guitar like Sanch. He made it scream. We made five, ten bucks a week easy.” Their site selection had a strategic purpose: Across the street was Brendan Mullen’s club, The Masque, burrowed in a downstairs basement thrumming with bass. Just up Cherokee’s steady incline were the notorious Canterbury apartments, where L.A.’s punk glitterati squatted rent-free for years. Patton would fondly recount watching Darby Crash wobble up the sidewalks, legs rendered rubbery by the mountainous trek up Cherokee. “He spewed a beer river near my shoes one night,” Patton laughed. “He said, ‘Don’t take it personally. Your music’s fine.’ When Darby died I put those shoes in a closet like religious artifacts.”

Unlike most street musicians, Sanchez and Patton’s hit parade were improvised real-time sociopolitical streams or juvenile screeds against women who’d turned the corner only moments before, noses aimed high. “Our songs were spur-of-the-moment meaningless,” Patton once quipped, “but they were ours.” Only one of those improvisations survived to be recorded (launching the invective-laced fury of debut EP Four Square Alarmed, in fact), and the full band encored with it at every live performance until the end. “We’d come back out onstage and whip on our beat-up acoustics,” Patton said, “and the old-timers from the scene went apeshit.” The song, of course, was “Fuck You (Cop Car),” two breakneck minutes of expletives stumbling down a verbal mountain until somersaulting into the cathartic yelp “Cop car!” The instant perennial was born in the fall of 1980, with Sanchez, belly warm with spirit, yelling and strumming “Fuck you!” in a furious one-word roll until a black-and-white materialized at cruising speed down Hollywood Boulevard. “Cop car!” he shouted after it. The duo made it an inspired duet, both bellowing the denouement whenever 5.0 glided past. Passersby would often request “that ‘Cop Car’ song” and respond giddily when their favorite part came. “We knew it was a hit right away,” Patton later recalled, noting that the song accounted for 70 percent of their tips. “‘Cop Car’ got me bus fare, Big Macs, and Iron Man comics,” he said, “so, yeah, it’s been good to me.”

Six months of steady busking resulted in the duo’s first serious booking. The Masque had shuttered by then, but the Starwood was at full steam — and one night found itself in desperate need of an opening act for the visiting Lemminz, a short-lived Polydor act from Manchester. Someone suggested the scruffy, melody-assaulting teenagers who’d transformed the Hollywood/Cherokee T-section into a Dylanesque nightmare for foot traffic. “We were supposed to be a novelty,” Sanchez said in 1982. “They thought they’d get us onstage and we’d be cute for a few laughs. Me and Pat decided, ‘Fuck that — we’re gonna be a real band.'”

Excerpted from “Sanchez Breaks,” Fuckin’ Up #4, June-July 1982:

Q: So Simon comes in.

A: Yeah. What happened was, some guy from the Starwood just came up to us and said, “We hear you guys are really good, and everyone talks about you, and we’ve got this band coming in, but they need a local supporting act” — you know, that trip, which we loved. What the hey, right? We’re 19 years old. But we also knew why they asked us to do it. We weren’t totally stupid. We were supposed to be a novelty. They thought they’d get us onstage and we’d be cute for a few laughs, like, “Hey, it’s those guys! What are they doing onstage? That’s some funny shit.” Me and Pat decided, “Fuck that — we’re gonna be a real band.” We were serious, you know? We wanted to be legit.

Q: Did you think of Simon right away, like “We know just the guy”?

A: Kinda. We knew about Simon; he was the same class as us. But he was a jock. One of the untouchables, you know? Girls liked him. Moms liked him. Everyone liked him. He had a bad-ass Corvette. He had these thick fuckin’ surfer arms. He was good at anything with a ball. He wasn’t punk to us at all. But Pat knew he played the drums, so that was one advantage he had. Cuz we didn’t know anybody else who played anything!

Q: So how hard was it to approach the “popular” kid?

A: You know, I thought it would be hard. He’d laugh at us and kick our asses or something. But Simon was really cool about the whole thing. We’d graduated, so all that status stuff was meaningless. He was working at Pioneer Chicken back then, right up front where the chicks could see him. The owner got off on having a local celebrity athlete hawk his grub. Pat went in one night — we decided he’d be the one to do it, since he once said, “Hi” to Simon at a Jeff Deaver party that summer — and pushed his way past the tits and ass and said, “Hey, man, wanna be in our band?” Simon was like, “What kind of band?” Pat’s like, “We make a bunch of noise to piss people off.” And Simon says, “Sure.”

Excerpted from “Interview with Simon Arch,” Long-Gone Suicide #12, December 1986:

SA: I didn’t know those guys at all. They were off my radar in high school. My priorities were totally different: pussy, football, surfing, and beer. I’ve crossed football off the list since then [laughs]. I knew about Sanch because of his nickname. All the kids called him Broken Sanchez. Most people think it’s a punk name, but it goes back to before punk. They called him Broken because he couldn’t score with chicks. Maybe his dick was broken, maybe his heart was broken, or maybe the little chemical mechanism that made him attractive to women was broken. Or maybe he couldn’t communicate with them properly. I don’t remember. Today everyone’s like “What a cool name,” but for many years Sanch didn’t think it was so cool. He made it his own, though. Pat I think was just a run-of-the-mill stoner with rich parents. He had a nice car, which Sanch nicked. Which is how the band started, as you know.

MICK DIXON: What did you think when Dennis Patton asked you to join his band?

SA: I thought, Why the hell not? I didn’t have anything else to do that summer but drink, fuck, and surf. Variety is the spice of life. [laughs]

MD: What did you think of punk rock? Were you aware of it?

SA: Not really. I’d seen pictures of all the Mohawks and safety pins and whathaveyou, and honestly, I thought it was some fag trip. I liked Led Zeppelin. John Bonham. Keith Moon. Billy Cobham was my man too.

MD: It’s funny you mention Billy Cobham, because ordinarily you wouldn’t think a jock would be into fusion jazz!

SA: Well…I mean, the dumb jock is something of a stereotype, just as much as punkers being a bunch of violent douchebags is a stereotype. The guys had to get over that too. I had to keep telling them, “You know, just because I was All-State doesn’t mean I don’t care about nuclear war.” [laughs] But I’d actually been drumming since I was seven, so I could appreciate people who did it well or just flattened me as musicians. I knew my way around the kit, which gave me an advantage over the guys when the band first started rehearsing. They were used to just strumming whatever the fuck they wanted. I had to rein them in and show them how to stay on beat and write some hooks, some riffs. At first they were pissed, but, actually, I was just talking to Pat the other day and he said, “Simon, you were the discipline we needed,” which made me feel real good.

MD: The famous story goes that you were working at Pioneer Chicken —

SA: Yep. Right there on Whittier Boulevard in downtown Whittier, California. It’s gone now, I think. I haven’t been back to Whittier in years. But, yeah, I was working there and one day DP comes in and says, “You play drums, right?” I told him yeah, and he said, “You wanna be in our band?” I asked, “Well, what kind of music do you play?” He goes, “Noise.” Boy, was he right about that!

MD: What was your first impression of them?

SA: Total shit. Sanch thought he was Bruce Springsteen, but old Bruce, back when all he did was write a mess of words and hope the music came close, like “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” and shit like that. They both played guitars, but only Sanch had any promise whatsoever. I told DP, “Maybe you should play bass.” He said, “Fuck that Geddy Lee shit.” [laughs] I had to inform him that he would have to sell his soul and both balls to ever be as good as Geddy Lee, so we fought for a while about that, until I asked him to play the line from “Spirit of Radio,” which he couldn’t do. Your honor, I rest my case! [laughs] Sanch had rhythm, but because he now had an electric guitar instead of an acoustic guitar, he thought every song needed a solo. “You don’t have the chops!” I remember yelling that at him throughout our first rehearsal. “You don’t have the chops! Stop wanking off! You suck!” [laughs] Boot camp had begun!

I’m making it sound like it was terrible, but, really, it wasn’t a total loss. When they played me “Cop Car” for the first time, I couldn’t wait to pound on that motherfucker. It’s that song that made me want to join their band. It blew my mind. It was so simple we could play that song forever. Real genius. But we had our work cut out for us. Two weeks to get our shit together for Starwood. Sometimes I just told them, “Hey, they want your street act. Just go do your street act!” They said no, they wanted to be taken seriously. This was their Dylan Goes Electric.

From Stopgap (Vol. 12, No. 6):

Who The Fuck Are The Lemminz,
And Why Do They Think They’re Punk?

by Jeff Stoppard

If you happened to open the Starwood doors last Friday night, I hope you were wearing waders and holding your nose, because the swill that spilled out was the toxic chum of bullshit corporate punksters the Lemminz, about the faggiest name for a talentless haggle of sooeys since Blue Oyster Cult. Imagine the Byrds with Desi Arnaz Jr. trying to perpetrate a Dicks fraud. Their lead singer looks like he barely escaped Blue Cheer with his potbelly intact. I swear someone in the audience saw the bass player flailing away, pretending he didn’t play the instrument for 200 years in Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and asked, “Dad, is that you?” Behind embarrassing song titles like “Lost Little Punker Girl” and “What the Cool Kids Don’t Know,” Polydor thinks they’re the second coming of the Pistols. I think Polydor’s A&R reps should stop mixing airplane glue with highballs. Better yet, they should all throw themselves under trains. The only saving grace was opener Gilby & The Dilholes, the professional moniker for a couple JDs who stand like statues in Hollywood harassing tourists with songs about mayonnaise and pigs (cops). They’re young and they can’t play for shit, but we all lustily bellowed along with the showstopping “Cop Cars,” [sic] which sounds amazingly hardcore with recent addition Simon Arch, obviously a real musician, drilling holes in his kit (drums, you sicko). Now if only the Lemminz would do the same to theirs (you’re right this time). Not a total waste, but management needs a spanking for that headliner. Bleargh.

Excerpted from “One Night Only: Gilby and the Dillholes!”, Music-Verse Monthly [U.K.] (Vol. 12, No. 10), October 1997:

[Dennis Patton] I’ve had a thousand people come up to me and say they were at that first Starwood show. I know some of them are full of it, cos I don’t recall more than 40 people in the whole venue — and I personally knew about ten of them! Four of them are dead now! Jesus. But it’s become part of the legend. Truth is, it wasn’t that special. People remember it being better than it was because the Lemminz were so bad. You had to be there. I never bought that album of theirs, but someone at their label must’ve been out of his mind. I hope that person got fired, cos live those guys were pathetic. Just awful. I remember they had a song that went — and I’ll never forget this lyric as long as I live — ‘Welcome to the mauling/Our leather spikes are calling’ [‘Pump Your Fists and Rise,’ from The Lemminz Are Cummin’! (1979)—Ed.]. They were, ugh, like bad BTO mixed with Venom. Spinal Tap all the way. Sometimes just for fun Sanch and I would sing that on tour. The audience always got it.

[The band name] was Sanch’s idea. We knew it was gonna be a one-off. We just wanted to get a show under our belt, and it was the first thing out of his mouth. He was Gilby, we were the Dillholes. You could say it was juvenile, but we were 18-19 years old, for Chrissakes. It went with our aesthetic. We’d been the goofy kids from East L.A. in Hollywood, harmless. Now it was time to make our move. At first it was just me and Sanch, but then we recruited Simon, and Simon really worked us to death, shaped us until we were kind of a real band. He was Mickey to our Rocky. We didn’t have quite that dramatic a change, but in two weeks of rehearsals we’d gotten to be a pretty tight unit, so much that when we got to the Starwood people were taken aback. Oh, you know, they’re serious. Which is what we wanted. We weren’t looking to be a joke. We were looking to be an experience.

Untitled interview with Broken Sanchez, Flowers Dead #3, February 1981:

BS: I’d heard stories about the Germs and the Stooges, where the guys would cut themselves up or smear peanut butter all over themselves, but that wasn’t me. I was inspired by that, but that wasn’t me. I felt we had to be memorable beyond that stupid name. So I took it upon myself to become a master showman, ha ha. I’m a pretty big hombre, but I’m agile. I just started bouncing around, pretending like I was throwing my entire body into every riff. I had long, curly hair, which of course went everywhere, like Neil Young.  I’d flick sweat; my entire body would be this wet sheet. You could peel it off me like orange skin. I’d pull at my guitar neck like I was keeping a little kid from getting hit by a train, then shoving him back in front of it. The whole band got way into it too. Deep [Dennis Patton] was rockin’ his ass off and Archie was through the floor. I remember beginning the show by telling the crowd, “The next band blows nutsac worse than us, so cherish this memory.” That little moment before we dismantle your whole world.

Excerpted from “Interview with Simon Arch,” Long-Gone Suicide #12, December 1986:

MD: Then there’s the infamous Starwood show…

SA: That legend is totally overblown, in my opinion. The truth is, we were terrible that night, but we were terrible in an interesting way. Sanch copped to it from the start. He opened by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, we suck, we know we suck, but everyone except our drummer can’t play a fuckin’ thing. The next band sucks worse, and they’re professional musicians. Who wouldja rather see?” [laughs] The Lemminz weren’t too happy about that, but it was true. That was Sanch, always startin’ shit. I spent most of the evening either playing catch-up with Deep and Sanch because when they got nervous, they got really fast, because they wanted to get off as quick as possible — or trying to pull them back into the actual beat. I felt like their fucking dad. [laughs] There were a couple times they got loose and the audience started pulling away, and I’m shouting over the feedback, “‘Cop Car’! ‘Cop Car’!” — our crowd-pleaser — trying to win everybody back. We played that a few times that night, once for about ten minutes. We’d stop whatever song we were mangling and dive right in. Over the years it’s gotten this, like, mythical status, but that night I almost crapped my OPs on pure fear. I didn’t feel very legendary barfing in that grimy-ass men’s toilet, wondering if I hadn’t made the stupidest career choice ever.

From “20 Years of Distant Suffering,” Magenta, Spring 2000:

DENNIS PATTON: “It’s weird. Now that I think about it, the Starwood show was the beginning of the end. It was obvious that we weren’t gonna be Hollywood mascot clowns no more, so that was one strike against us. When we got some decent press that wasn’t ‘Look at these weird dumbass kids playing street guitar,’ but, ‘Wow, what a great band,’ all our original fans started turning on us. ‘Oh, they’re selling out.’ ‘They have ambition.’ ‘They’re recording an album.'”

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