Teach your children well, their parents' hell did slowly go by ...
Crosby, Stills and Nash
Beat on the brat, beat on the brat, beat on the brat with a baseball bat ...
True story: last summer, dozens of Houston's punk rock and post-punk cognoscenti gathered in a single room to eat pizza, drink Diet Coke and listen to animated forest animals crank out Happy Birthday tunes from a mechanized stage. Skeeballs dropped into concentric circles and fluff hammers pounded on fluff gophers over the buzzing backdrop of screeching kids, a P.A. rattling off food orders and flashing red lights. Persons who at other times might be seen sporting green hair and ripped shirts iconic of their end-of-the-cultural-line punk status accorded just enough thought to the future to trade diapering tips and discuss the relative merits of breast feeding, or the advantages of natural childbirth, or the best bets for finding a baby sitter on gig nights.
This was never supposed to happen.
Punk -- at least in the eyes of its progenitors -- was the ugly, lost generation, signaling the evolutionary train's last stop.
Punks were supposed to die, young and wasted.
Johnny Rotten sang "no future for you," and
a generation punched a safety-
pin through its
collective nose, thumbing it all the while.
Punks were not supposed to breed.
But there they were, all the punks, dropping cash at Chuck E. Cheese, escorting their young offspring as they celebrated the birthday of a peer. There they were: authority figures with "Question Authority" bumper stickers; role-playing role models; slacker disciplinarians. Tattoos, nose rings, strollers and pacifiers. The punks were having babies.
Punk rock parents. It's a hell of a phrase -- the alliteration, the inherent ideological conflict. You can see the picture in your head: the leather-clad, walking pincushion of a mom or dad, sneering into the lens with apocalyptic bravado, cradling the innocent infant who little knows it has been born to adults perpetuating an attitude of teen defiance.
Still -- with sex being what it is -- is it so surprising that punks, like everyone else, should find themselves approaching middle age with babes perched and mewling on their knees? Maybe it's one of those cultural phenomena -- like Urkel or Kate Moss -- that doesn't mean anything at all. It just looks weird.
There are, of course, celebrity punk parent models -- from Hole's Courtney Love and her oft-questioned mothering skills to the cutie-pie incongruity of fortysomething Sonic Youth couple Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon and their two-year-old daughter Coco. But as examples, they tell you more about the public's self-held prerogative to judge private lives from a safe distance than about anything of real substance.
Go instead and talk to the parents who paraded through Chuck E. Cheese for the next generation's birthday party, mopping up the sugary spills of their offspring, and you'll find out quickly enough that unlike their celebrity contemporaries, marginalized by fame, street-level punk rock parents aren't -- horror of horrors -- really all that different from the garden-variety mom and pop.
Some are married. Some are divorced. Some are single. They work, like everyone, for varying rewards, and like everyone else, they do their best to make ends meet with what they've got. Like everyone, the manner in which they make their living spills over into their private lives as parents. They make what they dutifully call mistakes, they sometimes cling to bad habits. Like a perfect little cross-section of the populace at large, they hold diverse opinions on issues from welfare reform to drug use, and they worry about street crime and television violence and educational decline, just like their buttoned-down counterparts in the non-punk world.
Punk rock parents juggle a daytime of domestic science with an after-hours world of smoky clubs and beer-soaked stages and rock and roll all night long. They live two lives, offering sober guidance by day, venting adolescent kicks by night. Some try to keep the two worlds more or less segregated: they don't go around piercing their kids' tongues or blowing pot smoke into their sons' and daughters' fresh little faces. Others revel in the child-rearing options of the "alternative lifestyle."
Of course, there have always been show-biz kids, and they've always faced lives a little different from those of their peers, whether that difference came from being born in the trunk of vaudeville performers or hitting the cafe circuit with jazz elders. But punk rock parents stand out even in this company. Punks, almost by definition, maintain a tenuous relationship with traditional norms of responsibility, and for punk parents, it's likely to be a relationship in the throes of dramatic change. The theory behind punk has never suggested a particularly clear ideological path toward maturity. If punk has taught them anything, it's to always stay true to themselves, warts and all. Now, parenting is teaching them that "No Future" is just a phrase.
Punk rock parents, like the Cosmo girl, want it all, and what follows are slices of four lives cobbled together, like punk fashion, out of bits and scraps, connected with safety pins and electrical tape. Four tales of parents weaned on punk rock's demanding selfishness -- Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! -- adapting, in whatever way they know best, to responsibility for a young'un with a better claim to the available attention. Combined, they tell one story about how having a child changes you, and also about how it gives you a reason to fight to stay the same.
Jordan Consorte-Moore was with her mom Rachel when they went shopping with Rachel's sister, who was buying a bed. Jordan is almost three and a half years old, with dark, sparkling eyes, and she asks "why?" a lot.
"Why are you buying a bed?" she wanted to know.
"Well, so I don't have to sleep on the floor," her aunt explained.
"My daddy sleeps on the floor."
Daddy is Brad Moore, 28, singer for the Keenlies, house sitter, couch surfer, Montrose man-about-town and himself the possessor of intense, sometimes wild eyes. Sartorially, Moore seems to favor whatever clothes he woke up wearing, and you wouldn't want to be his hairbrush. His resume doesn't look like a father's, but his demeanor when Jordan is around is unmistakably parental.
Moore was in Chicago, in the midst of one of his then-frequent national couch tours, when the news came over the phone that his girlfriend Rachel was pregnant with Jordan. They'd been together four years, and Moore freaked so hard that he spent the entire night cleaning his Chicago friend's apartment.
"It's scary, but once it starts rolling, it's really natural," he says now. "By the time she's born you're looking forward to it. You have a child now. And it's not because of the things you've read or the things people have told you, it's just there. It's innate."
Jordan lives with Rachel -- her parents married, then divorced -- where she has a new computer with an oversized child's mouse and a Lion King CD-ROM. Moore is the production manager at Amy's Ice Creams and Coffees, and when he's at Amy's, Rachel and Jordan visit. Rachel goes to school and works and has a stable home. Moore's freelance all the way. "I think it's good to have that separate thing, but connecting," he says. "Rachel's world and my world and our world."
So Jordan gets the best of both worlds?
"She's got it," Moore insists. "There's definitely something to be said for the stable family unit, but I think since we're both around, it might be even better the way it is."
During Jordan's infancy, the restaurant where Moore tended bar folded, and unemployment benefits let him live as a house-husband for a while. He started writing songs to keep himself from sitting in front of the TV all day. Having a child, he says, focused his energy, and what came out was the Keenlies, who take their adrenaline rush from early punk and funnel it through Moore's skewed slack-daddy lyric sensibilities for one of Houston's most danceable grit-pop confections. Jordan loves them, even if she has seen enough bands at her daddy's knee to choose another local, de Schmog, as her favorite. She dances like a whirlwind.
Moore is -- there's no gentle way to put this -- a scenester, and he and Jordan are an institution in certain social circles not generally associated with children. In this, Jordan is something of a pioneer. "Being one of the few, she's very special, and she gets treated very special by a lot of maniacs around town," says Moore. " 'Maniacs' being positive. Just ain't no normal people, no gaga-goo-goo pinch-the-cheek people. She's not scared of people that a lot of grownups are scared of."
But it's what Jordan absorbs from the interaction -- not the freaks playing with the baby -- that Moore thinks is his, and his lifestyle's, greatest contribution to fatherhood.
"Jordan," he says, "gets a lot from her 22- to 30-year-old rocker friends. I hate to use the term 'hanging out with creative people,' but she does. I was never able to get on a professional drum kit until two years ago, and Jordan has been playing a thousand-dollar Pearl kit since she was one and a half. Congas, blowing into a tuba, whatever's lying around. Going to Commerce Street and watching a bunch of her friends run around in papier-máche rhinoceros masks. She's just so part of it, and it shows. The light is on."
"I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed; I'm pretty normal." That's what Stinkerbell singer Christi Workman says, sitting on the floor in the Heights home she shares with her husband Dan, wrapping blood-red cellophane around decorative straw baskets filled with cosmetic products. Workman's been selling the cosmetics to friends and at markets for a few months now -- it's her new business.
She looks pretty normal, with nothing but a short shock of reddish hair plastered to her head to indicate an allegiance to a punk fashion somewhat at odds with the contents of her decorator gift baskets. Workman's 32, and she's also owned a clothing shop, worked at a bank, clerked at a record store and mothered her five-year-old daughter Joe Ann, who thinks the gift baskets look better with eight or nine or maybe ten expensive little bows arranged along their handle tops. When Workman tells Joe Ann that I'm going to ask some questions, Joe Ann fixes me with a sly grin and says, "We don't have any answers." The little punk.
Workman's divorced from Joe Ann's dad, who helps take care of her on weekends, gig nights and during Stinkerbell's brief tours. The tours have to be brief -- four out of the five members of Stinkerbell are parents -- parents who just released a CD containing the songs "Don't Fuck With Me," "Clit Power" and "976-SLUT." With a sheepish grin, Workman uses the term "slut-rock" to describe the Stinkerbell baby-doll-gone-bad stage show. The CD's called Hissy Fit, and the ironies rush fast and furious.
"Joe Ann," Workman admits, "has never seen us play live. I don't think it's appropriate." Joe Ann has been to rehearsals, though, and her favorite song is "Smoke," an old Stinkerbell single. Workman knew it was Joe Ann's favorite when the tyke was reprimanded by her preschool teacher for singing the song's chorus -- "Who blew smoke up my ass?" -- during class. She's a precocious kid who knows all the words to "Halloween" by the Misfits, likes Beverly Hills 90210 and refers to the full-mouth Frenching of the show's libidinal stars as "the married kiss."
"At least," Workman sighs, "she associates it with marriage."
Workman found out she was pregnant after two beers at one of her then-husband's shows made her sick, so she quit smoking and hanging out in clubs, at least for the duration of her pregnancy.
"Once I got married and had a child, the responsibilities changed," she says. "I want to have a nice, loving home. We do set rules. I have so much going on in my life, trying to make money and raise a child and have a family, that I just have to know what my priorities are." Workman polices the TV, was upset to find out, too late, that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was not exactly her idea of a children's film and worries about the same things most parents worry about. "AIDS scares me," she says, "crack cocaine scares me, teenagers being raped and murdered ... there's just so much scary stuff going on in society."
And the band?
"It all blends in really well," she says. "I can be conservative to a point in my home life, but when I go out to play I can become wild and do it a little different." And how will Workman deal with it when Joe Ann hits 14 and starts going out to play herself? "It makes me kind of nervous," she admits, "but I guess she's just going to have to find out what's going on in the world when she gets that age."
She'll find out then, or maybe she's finding out now. Just the other day, Workman picked Joe Ann up after school to discover that her daughter had taken dull scissors to her pants, cutting them from knee to thigh. She'd chopped holes in her shirt. The clothes were a frustrating loss, but Workman understands.
"I guess that's kind of punk rock," she sighs. "They were tie-dyed pants, too."
Leesa Harrington was 19 -- nine-and-a-half-months pregnant with Careisse and wondering when the baby would finally decide to appear -- when she went to see a Brubek, Wakeman and Howe concert. Halfway through the show, Careisse started kicking so hard that Harrington had to leave. Maybe the unborn critic didn't like art rock.
A home delivery via midwife followed, and six years later, an angelically round-faced Careisse is bouncing on a couch in the suburban rental home that she and her look-alike mom share with a revolving, semi-communal cast of musicians and hangers-on, flipping through Harrington's Ozzy Osbourne autobiography. "Guess which one I like," Careisse asks at every picture, giggling, then pointing at Ozzy. "Show what you learned," Harrington suggests, and Careisse folds the middle digits of her left hand down to the palm, displaying the two-fingered prong of heavy metal Satanists and satirists everywhere, waving the hand in the air and shrieking with laughter.
Harrington is one of rock's last great true believers, her bedroom plastered with concert posters, backstage snapshots and Xeroxed playbills reflecting a catholic array of stoner tastes: Iron Maiden, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Sabbath, Yes, local bands too numerous and varied to mention. As a guitarist and drummer, Harrington's been in most of the local punk rock outfits -- Josephus, Stinkerbell, Manhole, Joint Chiefs.
These days she plays mostly drums, anchoring Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys, a rootsy rock four-piece fronted by a pink-haired Joplinesque singer. Harrington's nose ring and leather studs are minor anomalies in a band that tends to attract a nuevo-hippie element, but the band members are all mutual friends, and Harrington can drum for anyone who needs a solid beat. Besides, the Imperial Monkeys have a small label deal and a booking agency that sends the band across America, and will send them soon to Europe. It's a working band that actually makes money on the road, and Harrington is a single mom with a born musician's drive to succeed on her own terms. "I don't think I'd be a very good example as a parent," she says, "if I gave up doing what I really want to do."
What Harrington does, of course, means that she's sometimes away from home, touring with the band, and since Careisse isn't old enough to go on the road with mom, Harrington sometimes relies on Careisse's dad and the band's extended family to help out. Careisse thinks her mom's nose ring is weird, and she thinks she probably wants to be a teacher when she grows up.
But she also digs drums, and Harrington freaked one day when she walked into a practice space occupied by the Dave Dove Paul Duo and saw that the impromptu free-jazz drummer sitting in was actually Careisse, looking like a 40 percent-sized reproduction of her drum-wailing mom.
"That's something different for Careisse from how I grew up," says Harrington. "My parents were a lot older. When I was born, I had sisters in their twenties. I feel a lot closer to Careisse, just in age, in attitude even. Sometimes we're more like sisters."
Glenn Harper -- everyone calls him Glenbo -- was 19 when punk hit Houston. He went to college on a tennis scholarship, but "within a year and a half I was kicked out of school and had green hair and was working in a club and seeing bands all the time and doing a lot of drugs. My mother tripped on it; I guess she figured I'd grow out of it." For four years now, he's been the drummer for the Poor Dumb Bastards, whose repertoire he accurately describes as "all about drinking or being naked or passing out." PDB's singer and lyricist Byron Dean hits local stages adorned with nothing but electrical tape and a bottle of Budweiser wedged up his butt. There are few bands in Houston more authentically, loudly, stupidly three-chord punk, and every last member is a daddy.
Glenbo met Janice (pronounced Jeanice), who's now 26, at a bar. They got married four years ago and had Audrey a year and a half later. "When Janice was pregnant, she would come see us practice all the time, and Audrey was in there and she'd kick to the rhythm," Glenbo says. "Now she comes and sees us play and she lights up immediately. I think she remembers."
Glenbo and Janice live in a one-story rental house in the Heights with a front porch and bright plastic toys scattered in the yard and a shiny 1992 Ford Explorer in the driveway, a newly acquired concession to collective family need and, Glenbo says, the nicest thing he's ever owned. Inside the house, blond, energetic Audrey flips through children's books from a densely packed shelf while Mudhoney plays through the speakers. Audrey turns to Glenbo constantly, to show him a picture or a toy. He always says thank you.
Glenbo is a bartender at Rudyard's Pub, where just the other night a stranger walked in and punched him in the head. Glenbo's 35, a big guy who can handle himself in a fight, but still, he has to think about these things now. He busted an ankle skateboarding this summer and couldn't work, which scared the hell out of him, since he's got a daughter to support. "You never realize how selfish a person you are when you're by yourself," he says. "When someone depends on you, you have to share everything you have, or give everything you have. It's something that, outside of having a dog, I've never experienced before."
Audrey changed everything. Glenbo doesn't skate anymore. He quit doing drugs. He doesn't drink nearly as much as he used to. He even quit smoking.
A surviving flood of epidermal ink guarantees that Glenbo still looks like a punk, but it's a way of life he won't go out of his way to encourage in Audrey. "I hope she thinks my tattoos are ugly and disgusting," he says. "She's completely the opposite of us, and I hope she keeps growing up that way." Glenbo and Janice both had fractured families, and if you ask them how Audrey's upbringing will differ from their own, Glenbo's "she'll have two parents" and Janice's "she'll have a stable home" intersect in the middle of the room.
She'll also, they hope, get to grow up someplace prettier than Houston, someplace less big-city, and her parents are saving money for a possible move. They like Flagstaff, Arizona, but they're looking at Chico, California, too. Glenbo figures he can't be a bartender forever, and the next couple of years seem critical, especially since Janice is four months pregnant with their second child. They knew they wanted another, but not necessarily now. "We had a baby sitter all weekend," Glenbo says, explaining the conception while Janice laughs in a chair. "We never get to do anything, and we just went on this drunken-rampage-partying-sex weekend."
This weekend, they're taking Audrey to a place north of town that they read about, a place where they can take a hayride into a tree plantation and chop down their own Christmas tree. "That," says Glenbo, still punk, still proud, without the slightest trace of apology, "is what you do for entertainment when you're married with a kid.
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