Chucking It All

Bryn Tustin was an electrician from New Jersey who became a punk-music DJ in Houston, opened a record store and remade himself into Chuck Roast.

This story begins with an escape.
It was 1979 in Middletown, New Jersey, and nothing was happening. Probably nothing was ever going to happen. And Bryn Tustin knew it. He was 21 and was working as an electrician and park ranger, being forced to bust other people for smoking pot. Which was stupid, he thought, since he smoked pot. In fact, that's kind of all there was to do in Middletown, New Jersey: smoke pot and crash parties and sometimes go into New York City and shop for records. Things were just fine. But things were not exciting.

He had to get the hell out of Jersey, he figured. So did Lynda, his girlfriend. So this is what they did: They got in Bryn's red '68 Volvo with the mismatched fenders and a good-sized stash of pot hidden inside one of the car's door frames. They had very little money and some tickets for a couple of Grateful Dead shows. So they left. They went to Vermont and upstate New York; they went down to Atlanta. They lived on $6 a day, eating beans and sneaking into parks to sleep for free. They celebrated Christmas in a campground in Mississippi. Maybe they'd go to California, they thought. But they ended up in Houston, because they had no more money. Bryn got work as an electrician again, and the two of them stuck around. At first Bryn hated it. Everything seemed slow. Maybe they'd leave again. But they didn't.

"If I hadn't left New Jersey, I'd probably still be working in that park," he says. But he did leave. And if he had stayed here doing electrician work, Houston probably would have ended up just like Middletown, only in Texas. But it didn't. Because Bryn did not change one place for the other. He started changing himself. He started getting more into music than he'd ever been. He started organizing punk shows, and people in the Houston music scene started getting to know who he was. Then he started to change the Houston music scene by volunteering at Pacifica Radio, where he had a very popular show. Most kids loved it, and some people despised it, and he kept on doing it. After that, he figured it would be cool to open his own record store, so he did, and it became one of the most respected independent music stores in town. He also thought it would be neat to change his name, so he did that, too. And soon, almost everyone who knew Bryn Tustin called him Chuck Roast. Because Bryn Tustin is a guy who did electrical work in a park in New Jersey. Chuck Roast is someone else entirely.

"I'm sick and twisted Chuck Roast, and I don't think I'm ever going to be an old fart," he says. "I'm always going to be sick and twisted Chuck Roast."

Chuck Roast is sick and twisted, but Chuck Roast is not sick and twisted. He is 40 years old and knows more about punk and avant-garde music than your average 21-year-old pierced hipster. He owns his own business, lives in the suburbs and has three cats. He collects flattened frogs and turtles, and he sees beauty in things that make others retch. He has been married to Lynda, who still calls him by his real name, for nearly 20 years.

Whatever side of the twisted fence you think Chuck should fall on, it is impossible to argue that he hasn't been influential in the Houston music scene. Since he moved here in 1979, Chuck has been trying to make people aware that there's more out there than what's found at Blockbuster Music or heard on the Top 40 stations. Ever since he showed up at Houston punk shows in the early '80s, selling records out of the back of his Volkswagen van, Chuck has been a proponent of music on the fringe. He has helped bring bands as big as the Dead Kennedys to town, taking care of the flyers and the money and booking the venues. His notorious KPFT/90.1 FM Funhouse show went out like a lifeboat to local kids trapped in the suburbs, and when he opened Vinal Edge Records on Veteran's Memorial Drive in October 1985, those kids finally had an outlet where they could go to buy what he was playing.

"He's certainly not your everyday person, but he's a real nice guy when you get right down to it," says 40-year-old Austin Caustic, who deejayed Funhouse with Chuck during the show's reign in the '80s. Vinal Edge, Austin says, carries the really new and different, not just the stuff that has been carefully packaged as new and different by a big corporation. "If it wasn't for stores like Vinal Edge," says Austin. "We'd all be listening to Shania Twain."

While it's true that it is easier to find rare, experimental music than mainstream country at Vinal Edge, Chuck Roast is not the Yberhip record store owner dressed in black who stares at people funny when they don't request the most obscure band possible. He comes off mostly as your everyday sort of guy, albeit slightly wittier. His voice still gives away New Jersey. His hair is short, he tucks in his shirts, and he often wears Converse sneakers, better known as 'chucks.' He looks like someone's quirky uncle. And he can't really say what it is about music that dragged him into the business. He can talk about only sound.

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A small detail but the FUNHOUSE Show on KPFT was started by myself and the late William Steen. I did the show for about 3+ years as PERRY COMA., from 10PM to midnight on Sunday nights. Chuck had a very cool show on at the time but it was on at 2 or 3 AM on a week day. When I quit doing the Funhouse Show I asked Chuck if he wanted to take it over. The rest is history.

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