remembered by Barry Spradling [July, 2000]
It was on this very website that I learned that Gerardo was dead. I sat in disbelief just staring at his name on the screen. Soon a gusher of memories and past conversations began to swirl about in my head. I could hear little snippets of his voice, but not clearly enough to be intelligible. I couldn't sleep, it took on haunting proportions to the point my imagination began to run wild. I thought I would've heard about this way before now.
Back when the eighties were just starting, I started checking out the club scene with a friend of mine who lived in my building. He was in his mid thirties and divorced, and I was in my mid twenties, and in a destructive relationship that was coming to an end. My friend was going to the clubs to check out bands regularly, and kept a list of who he thought was crap and who was worth seeing. It was funny because his son was in school with members of Redd Kross at the time. Eventually this lead to us finding Al's Bar and the Brave Dog. We used to keep tabs of interesting band names we would see in the club listings in the L.A.Weekly, and see if the band was as good as the name. One of the band names that I kept hearing was Nervous Gender.
I had no idea what kind of sound a name like that would have, but I always liked it. I found a compilation album on the Target label called "Live at Target". Nervous Gender was one of the bands on it, so I bought it. Their sound was almost industrial, and not pretty. They weren't the typical punk band, and all the instruments except the drums were synthesizers, and the lyrics were very intense.
Today I would describe them as an Iconoclast noise pop band. One night they were playing Al's Bar, so a bunch of us went down to see them. I didn't know at the time they were L.A. based. I recognized Don Bolles as the drummer from The Germs, Gerardo and Edward (Stapleton) both had shaved heads and looked very sinister.
They opened their set with a song called "Monsters," that went :
"...I was born beneath the muffler of a fifty-five Ford
My mother had to bite off my umbilical cord.."
While this was going on, my friends had decided that this band was crap, and had moved outside and wanted to leave just as soon as I had heard enough. I sort of liked what I was hearing, but I wasn't driving, and one of the women that was with us was an absolute BITCH, and I sure didn't feel like listening to her all night.
The following week I went to the Brave Dog. I had my ex-partner with me as we were still living together for some odd reason, and he wanted to go out with me. I didn't feel like spending the evening arguing why I didn't want him with me, so I brought him along If he promised not to make a scene.
The Brave Dog was an interesting mix of people both gay and straight happily mingling. We were waiting for our beer up at the bar, when I happened to notice this shaved headed figure with a swastika emblazened leather jacket, standing at the bar. I asked him if he was in Nervous Gender. He smiled and said he was, and I introduced him to my ex, and the two of them could've cared less (meow!). I told him how I only got to see part of his set, and that I had the Target album. He started telling me about that experience, and the new album they had coming out called "Music From Hell."
A conversation with Gerardo would quickly become a lecture on philosophy and theology. He was raised in Catholic school and he had this sense of little boy mischief in totally dismantling sacred foundations and ideals. He delighted in telling how he would like to have a religion where everyone would get high and masturbate en masse to an Adonis type god. I had never met anyone quite like him before, and I took an instant liking to him. He asked to put me on his band's mailing list and I gave him my address. Within a week he'd sent me a letter with some older fliers from shows they had done, almost like joining a fan club. He also sent me his phone number. He wrote that he had a gig coming up at the Brave Dog, and would I like to be on the guest list? I called and said yes.
He lived with his mother in a house in East L.A. She spoke very little English, so if he wasn't home, she would say "Gerardo no hum! Whas you name?" If you spoke slowly and clearly she would try to write down your number. She was a typical older, very religious Latina mother. My car was dead, so I talked another friend of mine, who was not into any of this type of music, but was open minded, to drive me to the Brave Dog. I told him about the one price, all you can drink beer policy, and that was all the convincing I had to do.
The entrance to the Brave Dog was at the rear of the building, there a woman named Claire would take your money and stamp your hand. I spotted Gerardo instantly, and introduced him to my friend. He told me he was happy I made it, and that they were just about to go on. He also introduced me to a friend and ex member of Nervous Gender named Mike Ochoa, who was in a number of other bands, one of them being Vox Pop. Don Bolles came walking past us with a striking feminine make up job on his face, and what appeared to be a fifties style police uniform. My poor straight friend stopped Don and said "hello!" thinking he was a girl, and Don replied "Hi!" back to him in a manly tone.
They started their set with synths blazing and Gerardo telling the crowd that "we're not Nazi's, we're just fun young adults!" I really liked this band, and they had a good look to them. These guys were really into the do it yourself way of thinking. They did all their own fliers and props, and the songs they had were actually pop songs, with the same chord progressions, but tuned to dissononance, and with a different viewpoint. The synths back then only played one note at a time, so they had one guy named Bill play one (last name escapes me, sorry Bill), and Edward and Gerardo would alternate on synth while the other did the lead vocal. Mary Simms aka Dinah Cancer was in the band from time to time (she's currently in Penis Fly Trap). She would add electronic noises and some vocals.
Once at the Whiskey someone asked from the audience if she was in 45 Grave. She nodded in the affirmative, and Gerardo told the crowd "and tonight, we're 45 Genders!"
During their set my friend was less than impressed and was going on about how "This isn't music! This is crap! You've written better stuff than this!" Around about this time the set was coming to a close, and the stage area was exploding with drums, tape recorded noise, and synths going crazy. Gerardo and Edward stepped off the stage while the rest were still wreaking havoc on the stage. My friend grabs Edward and asks him "What the fuck are you guys doing? What do you call that?" Edward just started laughing at him. He turned to Gerardo and says "I can see I'm alone here in my thinking, but I dont know how you guys can call this music." Gerardo looked at me and laughed, and told him "You know what I call this? I call this people just having a good time."
By the end of the night, Gerardo had had a few beers and for some reason or another began spitting on him. He was a very big fan of John Lydon, He would always refer to him as God. If he had a bit of an alcohol buzz, he would often go into that snarly limey mode that was popular at that time. He got that way with me a couple times, and I'd tell him where to stick that attitude.
I remember when the restroom at the Brave Dog had a line, most of the guys would go out past the parking area where there was this side of a building that hadn't been torn down. This was the pissing post. I was out there and this long haired Latino guy was doing his business, and was asking me "Hey man, you know that guy in that band, I see you hangin' with him, what is he?" I didn't understand what he meant. I asked "What do you mean, as far as what?" He said: "Is he Mexican or Philipino, or what, I keep asking him, and the brother won't tell me man." I told him I didnít know for sure, but I was pretty sure he was of Mexican decent. About this time Gerardo had come out to the pissing post, and the dude asks him "Hey brother, why can't you tell me what you are, I'm Mexican, I'm proud to be Mexican, if you're Mexican why don't you just say you are and be done brother." Gerardo gives this guy a look like he's lower than dog shit, and tells him "I'm not your brother, and I don't have to tell you anything about myself, and why would I want to?" I was wondering if I was going to have to break something up for a minute, and the guy just says "Fuck you man, I'm just asking." And he went back in the club.
By this time we were dating sort of. My car was always breaking down, so I couldn't always get to East L.A., and I worked a lot of overtime, and went to school at night. Gerardo was in college, and worked in the school library I believe. So we had dates over the phone. We would talk for hours into the night. He had all these interesting performance concepts that he wanted to do. He or Edward would get approached to do projects because of their underground status. There was some talk of them doing some type of video project where society was at a point where one could have a person as a pet.
They also ended up on a poetry compilation album doing some homoerotic thing that Gerardo had written. The piece may or may not have been about this never ending bunk bed, where the man on the first bunk was masterbating to the man on the next bunk and so on. They did this show in Venice at Beyond Barouqe with Kommunity FK. They packed the place and did one of the best shows Iíd ever seen them do. They had this torrid love song called "Sometimes I Feel Like Smashing My Face Through A Plate Glass Window."
We were at some promoter or manager's house before and after the show. He lived within walking distance of the place. We had a barbeque and Edward and some other people spent the afternoon in the hot tub. Edward did the show with his bathing suit hanging out of his back pocket. Gerardo came off the stage all pissed off because he thought they sounded horrible. "You couldnít hear the Bass parts could you?" he said. I told him it sounded great. "I couldn't hear the bass at all, and I couldn't follow half the songs, I felt like an idiot up there." Soon every one convinced him it was fine.
I stopped seeing him for almost a year, as I went through a period of what I call "religious upheaval." Somehow during that time frame I ended up in this shop on Melrose that Edward worked in. It was that shop Micheal Jackson bought that Thriller outfit (Posuer). I'd also just purchased the "Music From Hell" album up the street at Vinyl Fetish. So I've got this album and now I've bumped into Edward, who is looking at me like why the fuck are you in here. I remember it all being very awkward. I asked if Gerardo was still writing songs. He said "What makes you think he's not writing one about you?" I got a clue and left. Looking back on it, I suppose Edward probably had to listen to a lot of stuff.
I finally decided I wanted to see the band again, they were playing at Al's Bar. I took my neighbor lady who was born again, and a friend of hers from her church. She wanted this woman to see the band that turned her Christian... Nervous Gender. By this time they weren't packing them in at Al's, but I still liked their sound. I started talking to Gerardo again, and my neighbor and her friend were trying to save me from him. This was yet another high point in my life.
Gerardo's hind quarters are revealed by Patrice (of Gobschiet) at Brave Dog, 1981.
Copyright photo by Greg Cloud published with permission.
We started seeing each other again. Gerardo at this point was looking to start his own thing. They'd done a New Wave Theater, and Edward had a spin off group called Gobshiet.
There was a Halloween show coming up at the OneWay, and he had written a few songs and wanted to perform them at this show. He wanted me to help him with the guitar parts, as this would be a departure from the Gender synth sound. I didn't understand most of these songs, as he was more educated, but they were meant to be happy songs, that had a lot of humor, but done with a straight face.
One was something about:
"What do you do/if you're a sodomite
what do you do/if you like kids for sex."
Then there was another one that went...
"When I was a young boy/I was a Fascist Pig
but now that I'm a big man/I'm still a Fascist pig."
He incorporated Latin into at least one of these songs.
It ended with a chant of some kind.
There was another that had stuff like:
"Death to every cynical poet
death to all nonsensical faggots too
death to every Jewish intellectual
... basically trashing all the icons of society. I didn't understand this stuff then, but now I have a better sense of it. I hit a crossroads when he wanted me to wear a swastika on stage while we perform these songs. I couldn't do it out of respect for an old friend's mother who was in a concentration camp. I recently saw the movie "Bent'" and that drives my point home even more. We parted company over this.
I did tape my guitar parts for him. When he was leaving, he turned and handed me a letter. I think he was hoping I might change my mind and join him on stage. He tried to explain the lyrics and the whole concept, but I had made up my mind. I missed him though. The last time I saw Gerardo, was at the Anti-Club. Nervous Gender was doing a rare appearance, and had almost all of Wall of Voodoo in the line up. They did almost all new material, and had a nice full sound. I approached Gerardo who didn't recognize me with a beard at first. I just said "Hi Gerardo." And he turned and said an empty hello and then he took a closer look and put his fingers through my beard and told me I looked so sophisticated. He looked good. We talked for a while. He told me the OneWay show didn't go over well with the crowd and they turned the music up over them when the crowd started booing and saying they didnít want to hear those songs. I introduced him to my partner. He told me he was building electronic stuff.
I've thought of him a great deal over the years. I dropped out of the club scene, but if I met anybody who was still going, I'd always ask if they knew if he was still around. I guess I figured since he was a fixture in the underground scene in that small fragment of time in L.A., that I would have heard about him passing. It must have been some time around '92.
I've never had to endure watching my friends wither and die.
Because I became a home body, and I never really aligned myself with the gay community. I've done a couple AIDS walks for friends that were in other states, but most of the ones I've known over the past decade and a half are couples that have been together a long time. I don't know what he was like toward the end of his life. I know he graduated with a degree in Science and Art a year before he died. I know I liked him as a person, and hope he found some joy in his life. There are people out there who knew him better and for a much longer time frame than I did, and they are more qualified to be writing this than I Am. It is my hope that they come forward and share.
- Barry Spradling
Additional images and prose pertaining to Gerardo and/or Nervous Gender
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