This city, San Francisco is the first time I have lived somewhere within walking distance of the ocean since the ’90s. when I lived in Brighton, England for three years of college. I have now lived here for five years, with two years spent in Oakland before that. Prior to Oakland I lived in London for a year, before which I was in New York City for close to two years, I moved there from Orange County, California where I lived for a little over two years. I moved to the OC to care for my grandmother, just after I graduated from college in England, where I am from. I moved to Brighton as a teenager from London, the city in which I was born and raised. A somewhat incongruous, sloppy and inadequately put together paragraph to indicate that I started volunteering at MRR shortly after moving to the Bay Area, which is the place I have lived the longest since abandoning my home town, London. Every so often people will ask why I don’t move to NYC or LA, or back to London. As if I am here while I figure out what my “real life” is going to entail in a big city… When I lived in all those other places, I used to think, when things got bad—well, you can always leave.
At first MRR was just something I did every so often, hopped on a BART train and did the radio show a couple times a month. Then I got sucked in, through new and different responsibilities, eventually leading me to coordinator-ship. I think the longest anyone has been a coordinator of this magazine, barring Tim, is Arwen’s six year run. Most other coordinators seem to last around three before burn out strikes. I started in ’08, so I guess if I succumb to the same disease that affected all the others, I’ll burn out in 2011. A year before the apparent end of the world. Hopefully by that point I will have achieved my goal of owning the Foams 45, publishing a fanzine that is not MRR, making mix tapes for all those I’ve promised them to, and finding more new bands that affect me as much as Sex Vid did. Dare to dream…
I have been thinking about all of this stuff partially because of training a new coordinator, and partially because of Bruce’s death. Endings and beginnings. Someone said that Lance Hahn, Tim Yo and Bruce were the trinity of Maximum, that it really was the end of a real and specific era. When I first got my column in the magazine a few long time shitworkers wrote me postcards and emails, commenting on things I was obsessing over. Lance wrote me about going to see Unit Three Plus Venus, an early ’80s band featuring a mildly exploitative stage mom’s attempt at finding fame through her twelve year old daughter. Lance saw them play in Hawaii, when he was growing up, and wrote about going to see anything, any show, any punk event, which I totally could relate to. I always felt like punk was happening far from my eyes, in a different town, a different country. Bruce Roehrs always made jokes about how he didn’t read the magazine, and yet if I mentioned that I was looking for a record in my column, it would come up in conversation somehow.
When he finally got his records out of storage, he pulled out a Desperate Bicycles 45 for me, remembering that I had talked about never seeing their records in record stores in London as a kid. He was thoughtful like that. Kind. Open minded. The kind of man who claimed he couldn’t stand bands with female vocalists, yet frequently wore a Red Aunts shirt. Not one of my favorite bands, or even a band I can understand liking, but an all girl band nonetheless. He claimed he hadn’t eaten a vegetable since 1969, yet went out to dinner to Thai and Indian places twice a week with his best friend Dirk, and Dirk’s two year old daughter. It’s strange writing this, knowing that this month is the last month that this magazine will feature his music writing. I will never have to call him, a week past his supposed deadline, waiting expectantly for the reams of yellow lined legal paper that made up his column, his music reviews. He was supposed to review the new Antiseen CD, the THUG 12” and a Thieves 7” this month. Who else can review Antiseen? The idea that anyone else at this magazine is qualified would have made Bruce roll his eyes, and roll up his sleeves and get to work. He loved both the THUG and the Super Yob records, played them constantly the way he did all the records that came in that consumed him. At top volume, always wanting others to share the pleasure he got from punk, from hardcore, from oi! He loved talking to everyone here about music, from Steve Spinali, to Marissa Magic. He was able to find the common ground, the shared love of sound, that particular feeling that you get when something hits you just right. He never stayed still, was never static, stuck in the sounds of his youth. He always wanted to hear the new bands, the local bands, the support bands. I often witnessed him leaving shows early, just watching the support bands, for whom no one else could spare the time.
Interviewing Fred and Toody Cole of Dead Moon with him was one of the coolest and most enriching experiences of my time here, all of us crammed in the MRR courtyard, asking these legends about how they got to where they were, what decisions they made, how they made those sounds. Bruce sitting there, beside himself with happiness to be in the company of others who loved music as much as he did, who had also stayed true to their idea of what rock’n’roll is, and what it could be. It isn’t an oldies station, playing the same five songs on repeat. It’s in the blood of people like Bruce, like Fred and Toody who are always looking for what’s happening now, at the same time as staying true to what they believe. Connecting the past to the present without writing off either, experience and excitement, being a fan. Music is lived experience, and Bruce was the living embodiment of someone who lived for music, who loved music and was able to communicate his enthusiasm and passion to an audience in such a unique way. Who else could review the new Antiseen CD? No one could give it the review Bruce would have, and that makes me sad, makes me realize what we have lost. A brother, a friend, a true rock’n’roller, a man who lived on his own terms until the end. It’s been hard writing this, trying to encapsulate all the complexities that made up the man, what stories to tell, and what are best forgotton. I have a feeling that the stories are going to keep pouring out, from all over the world, from all the people that were affected by Bruce and his pure love of rock’n’roll as well as his kindness and friendship.
layla at maximumrocknroll.com / whatwewantisfree.blogspot.com