Brian Grillo: Signs You Don’t Belong in 1970s Suburban Torrance, California, first appeared in DINOSAUR Vol 1, Issue 2, Fall 2015, “The Issue That Fell To Earth.” Part 1 of Brian’s First Person essay is below.
The athlete illustrations on your freshman year high school Pee-Chee folders have been transformed into rock icons: six-inch Frankenstein platform shoes, faces adorned with heavy Rocky Horror makeup, long Gene Simmons serpent tongues, Suzi Quatro leather jumpsuits, song lyrics, and band logos.
Your single mom gives you money to buy school clothes at the Del Amo Mall, but instead you hit the thrift stores in the old downtown section and have enough money left over for Tower Records, where you purchase the new Runaways album packed with songs about all-night parties, teen angst, and Hollywood!
Instead of going for a “surfer layered haircut” like all the other kids, you take a photo of David Bowie to the barber, and, with a somewhat perplexed expression, he does his best to emulate the look.
You and a few of your adventurous rock ‘n’ roll outcast pals frequently ditch school to hitchhike to Hollywood and hang around all the nightclubs and hotels you’ve read about in the pages of Creem, Hit Parader, Rock Scene, and Circus magazines – in hopes of spotting one of your musical role models.
By junior year you become best friends with someone who also listens to Rodney Bingenheimer’s Sunday-night radio show on KROQ-FM. He spins the latest punk-rock bands, many of whom are based in the numerous decaying suburbs throughout Southern California.
Your best friend has a used car. You begin sneaking out on school nights,. You wait in the alley behind your house until she pulls up.
Teenage hormones pumping and music blasting, heading up the freeway to see a “right now you should be at home studying” show in the city.
You meet new friends. Broken homes, parents too burned-out to care or notice their underage kids are hanging out at the record store parking lot across the street from the Whisky a Go Go, or behind The Masque in the alleyway behind buildings that line the Walk of Fame, till the streets grow empty.
They read books, paint pictures, and write songs trying to make sense of it all. They live in shadows… until the son goes down and the music kicks in.
Girls who look like silent-movie starlets: lips and cheeks stained in shades of black crimson bougainvillea and kohl-rimmed Navimova Gloria Swanson eyes.
The guys – post-World War II lanky pale mosquitos. Raised on a diet of Captain Crunch, TV dinners, and serial killers. Dressed in their finest postwar, pre-trade-agreement, made-to-last jeans and sharkskin suits. Beach Boy dreams gone bad.
Sun-drenched, pissed off, dropped off on the side of the road with a ransom note and a film noir demeanor.
You manage to make it home most nights without getting caught, and it’s back home that your mom and siblings are not too happy with the change in you.
Little do they know that, for the first time in your short life, you’re starting to feel comfortable in your skin. It’s only a matter of time until you, too, will be up on a stage attacking the microphone.
PART II of Brian Grillo’s First Person essay will be published soon.
Brian Grillo, photographed by Jamie Betts, in Los Angeles. jamiebettsphoto.com