"By the end of the set, my shirt's gone. Ruckus is naked. I'm on the pool table, out of my mind, yelling; they're throwing drinks at me. They couldn't get me to turn off; they finally just unplugged my amp. I ended up leaving there, coming to the shop and just trashing it. I wake up on that couch, no recollection of anything."
Dirk Vermin, kicked back in the desk chair of his Pussykat Tattoo Parlor's piss-green office, eyes the tan loveseat a few feet over. Rough-jawed and compulsively clad in a black tank, the vocalist/guitarist sports a shaved head, barrel chest and stomach like a mini-keg.
"I hadn't paid taxes in a decade, and I had a meeting the following morning. One of my guys comes rolling in. He thought the place got robbed, I destroyed it that much. I asked him, Have you seen my shirt?' I walk over to the little clothing store over there, buy a shirt, have to walk to find my car. I drive to the tax guy. I reek of too many cigars and too much alcohol, my eyes are bloodshot, and I'm still a little drunk. I go, Uh, I had kind of a rough night. Be gentle.'"
We played a show at the Double Down, and this piece-of-shit bitch smashed my bass," Ruckus remembers. "She was crazy, just came out of the audience and literally smashed my bass. I decided I wasn't going to play at the Double Down, but Dirk got everybody in the tattoo shop and at the Double Down to put in cash. They had a surprise party for me at the Double Down. I walk in and the banner over this whole wall says, F--k you, Ruckus.' And they gave me this brand-new bass that they bought. That was one of the coolest f--king things anyone's ever done for me. Just goes to show how much of a heart the guy has."
Growing up on Vegas' west side, Vermin attended Bonanza High School, aka "punk-rock high." Raised on Elvis, the rebellious student began pissing his parents off early with AC/DC, Van Halen and Ted Nugent. But once bands like Self Abuse, A.W.O.L. and Subterfuge sprung up in and around Bonanza, Clark and Valley Highs in the late '70s and early '80s, he found a whole new way to rebel.
One afternoon, having told the principal they were a country band, Self Abuse played Bonanza's quad. First song, their cowboy hats flew into the air and something clicked inside the boy who would one day croon, "Yeah, I think I knew your mother/Found her facedown in the gutter/Underneath a pile of shit/Oh, aren't you dazzled by my wit?" As he recalls, "Anthony Hudak was the bass player at the time. He looked like Sid Vicious to me. He had the dog collar, the lock and chain around his neck."
A few years down the road, Hudak—now a drummer—would approach the young musician about starting a new group. Vermin From Venus began gigging frequently, then released the 1986 single "The Attack of the Killer Virgin Prom Queen," one of the very first, and wholly independent, Vegas punk records.
The band lasted off and on for 10 years. A stint with mostly-covers band Knuckle Sandwich followed, then a similar project called Godboy with Ruckus. "We brought him in and started jamming with Hudak, and it changed our entire sound," Vermin recalls. "He was such a good player, and the music I was writing was so much more darker and aggressive than the Venus stuff, which had a little bit of a metal edge to it. Vermin from Venus had to go."
"Originally I had gone to school with his sister," Ruckus says. "When they put out the Vermin From Venus 45, they had something on there that was very similar to a [fellow punk band] 5150 45, like All copyrights will result in death,' or something. I told his sister that it took off of the 5150 thing, and then when me and Dirk met one night at the club, he was going to beat my ass.
"And now we're an item. He's my heterosexual life partner." Says Vermin, "The comedy and the interplay between me and Ruckus is insane. That guy's my soul mate, man. It's too bad he doesn't have tits."
Over the course of 12 shit-talking, beer-spitting years, The Vermin have released three full-lengths on Wood Shampoo Records (Hell or Las Vegas; The Vermin Vs. You; Loose Women, Hard Livin' and The Devil); brought in Turbo Proctor on drums; played five-plus-hour sets; shared a stage with ("... and in a lot of cases, blown off the stage") Circle Jerks, D.O.A., The Adolescents, T.S.O.L., Fear, The Reverend Horton Heat and The Horrorpops; and been kicked out of every joint in town.
From the forthcoming
Boredom Was The Reason:
The irony does not escape me that a man who might have read two books in his whole life wrote this cock-and-bull story. I've got ADHD with an OCD chaser and the attention span of a chimpanzee on a triple espresso. Reader, beware.
Two words created me: Punk Rock. Fearless in all of my endeavors, I have always felt that if you don't like something and have the ability to change it, then do it or shut the f--k up. It is criminal that the punks on the pages that follow were almost forgotten. But we ain't dead yet.
This was a specific time with a small group of people who made a big noise. The friends you will meet in this document are lifelong. Every time we run into each other it's like a secret handshake. This is our Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but Mr. Thompson was an outsider and used a certain license with the truth. No names have been changed here to protect the innocent.
Not many people get a chance to be part of something they actually believe in, something they would fight for. The punk scene that sprouted up at the end of the '70s in America was a product of the times. And we'd kick your ass if you didn't agree with us. We had enemies; the cops, Reagan, our parents, Rockabilly boys, Nazi skinheads, metal dudes and, of course, hippies.
"Punk rock died in the '80s, man." This is true. That's why old bastards like me write—to set the record straight. Las Vegas had one of the most active and thriving punk movements in the country. We ran our own shows, printed our own flyers, recorded our own music and caused our own demise. Whether or not the scene persisted is irrelevant. It happened then and it happened here, so f--k off.
This will actually be two stories; (1) a history lesson about surviving the punk scene; and (2) the first book ever written about actually growing up in Sin City. These words are based on memories. Memory is a subjective resource, but I don't want a chronicle of just facts and dates. I want you to feel the passion of the punkers who endured those reckless years.
Why is it that the parents' music is so revolutionary and the poor kids are forced to listen to horseshit? Things sure have changed. You shouldn't live in the past, but you shouldn't forget it, either. When you can run down to the mall to grab your Anarchy T-shirt and bondage pants next door to Orange Julius, punk rock just doesn't seem that special anymore. And technically it's not. Like everything else that eventually becomes part of the mainstream, it is now watered-down shit, spoon-fed to the masses for easy consumption. The Ramones and The Clash are now car commercials and The Misfits are action figures. Joe Strummer must be spinning in his grave like a rotisserie chicken.
The majority of bands who wear the punk moniker today are about as punk as an Osmond family reunion. I hate this so-called new punk so bad I won't even repeat the names of these soulless, limp-dicked morons. There's nothing revolutionary, exciting or original about any of it. Emo and pop should never preface the word punk, as far as I'm concerned. Thank you, MTV, for sucking the life out of a music form that once had so much integrity. Your job here is done.
Rather than dwell on how things were better back in the day, I present a time capsule of this unique decade. If you missed it, I'm sorry and hope you can enjoy this history lesson. For those of you who lived it, then this is a well-deserved trip down one f--ked up memory lane. Say hello to M.I.A., Self Abuse, A.W.O.L., Subterfuge, T.M.O.A., F8, Young Rebels, Bad Attitude, F--k Shit Piss, Social Destruction, 5150, Ruckus, Abeyance, Vermin From Venus, Substance D, The Remains, R.Z.M., The Atomic Gods, Schizoid, Poor White Trash, Lethal Injection, Personal Regrets, Shakin' Dominoes, Smart Bomb, Agua Fritas, O.T. Factor, Pap Smear, Sausage Hostages, T.P.U., Intentions Of Hate and special guests.
We had no cell phones, Internet, cable television, HIV scares or white boys who think they're black. Hell, compact discs hadn't even been invented yet. If you wanted a record of the newest band that you heard on KUNV, you ordered it from the Record Exchange, or you drove to California and bought it. The majority of people in the country and in Las Vegas right now are unaware that we had this much history. I hope with some humility (a trait I'm not known for) that these words and pictures fix that injustice.
On a cynical note, it's 2007 and I don't even know my town anymore. Property values are through the roof, traffic and road construction are endless, and the homeless stop you at every storefront. Turn on the evening news and every day someone is murdered, abducted, beaten or raped. "And now, here's Dan with the weather." I know this is happening everywhere, but this is my home and it hurts to watch. This is a Las Vegas I knew 20-some-odd years ago. I'm not here to talk about the Rat Pack, strippers, gambling, the Mob, the entertainment industry or old Vegas vs. new Vegas. These topics have been covered ad nauseam. And if one more Vegas reality show pops up on my television, I'm goin' postal.
This brand new cool address was just home. It was a place to grow up, cause trouble and get laid, making as much noise as possible along the way. By the time this gets printed there will be two million people in the Las Vegas Valley. They move here by the thousands to that city they saw on TV, a city I've never met. Silk-shirted, chain-wearing, coke-snortin', club-hopping trendy jackasses with their bleached-blond, fake-tittied arm candy. They ruined Los Angeles and now they're here for you. Enjoy, you poor clueless bastards.
Enough ranting. "Look at me, Ma! I'm writing a book." Not bad for a kid who slept through English class.
"They're always welcome here. They don't go too far; they're not hurtful," says Double Down owner P Moss, who has utilized Vermin's artistic talents for countless promotional posters. "It stays within the broadest definition of good taste. I've always called them the punk-rock Marx Brothers."
Three or four years ago the band recorded a live album that remained shelved due to poor sound quality. "It was recorded in a strip club, so you can imagine the jokes on that one," Vermin laughs. "Naked women everywhere, naked Ruckus everywhere ..."
September's A Fist Full of Hell, a retrospective comprising 30 live, unreleased, compilation, cover and studio tracks The Vermin managed to commit to tape between fast-and-furious dick jokes, has sold roughly 2,500 copies and recently required a second pressing. Independent-music bible Razorcake gushed. New York's Punk magazine, once responsible for heralding The Ramones and The Dictators, spoke in superlatives.
"They finally understand," Vermin enthuses. "Some of the things we're usually criticized for, the misogynist lyrics, all that crap, now they get it. They see that it's tongue-in-cheek. I'm not really that way.
"Well, part of me is, I'm sure."
When we played Hollywood [in February], we played with Lords of Altamont. We hadn't been out there in five years, and we were treated like returning heroes. It was an amazing show. I had a pair of panties strapped on the end of my guitar. There were little 14-year-old boys in the front; I go, Hey, want to smell my guitar?' I stuck it down in his face and said, And now you know what your mother smells like.' There were boos and cheers and everything. His mother approached me after the gig, like, Um, I'm that boy's mother.' I said, Ooh, I am so sorry!' Oh no, I thought it was funny! I thought it was great!'"
Vermin sleeps between three and four hours a night. He's a cigar fiend who enjoys garlic, zombies, Batman and running late. No drugs, but he does combat his raging ADHD with copious amounts of caffeine, whiskey and tequila. His favorite brand of the latter is Don Julio. In fact, when Miami Ink filmed two weeks ago amongst Pussykat's tiki statues and framed concert posters, 305 Ink co-owner Ami James strolled over to the run-down Maryland Parkway strip mall's Super Mercado and bought Vermin a congratulatory bottle.
When the Pussykat opened in '95, tattoo culture was still on the fringes. Vermin took over the shop in '99 as the sole artist; a few years later three were on board. Now the eight permanent artists and rotating guest ink-slingers are forced to turn away walk-in business, and the Learning Channel's most popular program featured Pussykat on its first episode filmed outside Miami (it airs this fall). "Fat, middle-aged women in Wisconsin are watching and thinking it's great," Vermin marvels. "That's the biggest thing going on in my industry, and I'm on it! I don't even know how to talk about it, it's so crazy."
Sure, dealing with that whole Uncle Sam issue was a bitch and a half. But he took it in stride, holding such events as November 2003's Garage Sale to Raise Money to Pay the Taxman and Keep Dirk Vermin Out of Jail Art Show and Cigar Party, at his own short-lived, defiantly lowbrow Gallery Au Go-Go.
"Too many funerals and too much financial shit," is how he describes the recent past. There was the pair of Bettie Page comics he self-produced in the early '90s; they ushered him into tattooing but brought the pin-up's lawyers down on him. There was the acrimonious divorce, about which he rarely speaks. Two decades' worth of music? "Haven't made a dime on punk rock in 25 years. But if I'd ever make money on anything, it would almost ruin it for me."
The Au Go-Go money pit lasted three and a half years. "This is a very arrogant thing to say, but there's so many things that I did first, then the rest of the town followed, and I start to despise what I created," Vermin says. "That happened with the art gallery. I love something, then I hate it, and I'm f--king done with it, even if I created it. It loses the meaning."
Jasmine, 7, and TigerLily, 4, are the exception. He has them three days a week, often bringing them to the shop, where they'll frequently run back and forth from their drawings to offer alternating hugs, kisses and stink eyes.
"I did not want to be a father," Vermin confesses. "But they made me a man. They calmed me down. With my ego, no one was more important to me than me. But they gave me a reason for everything I do." He's got "Jade"—the middle name of both—tattooed across his right knuckles.
As much as he tries to protect his daughters from the world, Vermin's also concerned there won't be enough danger out there once they've grown.
"When punk rock started filtering into the school, it was genuinely shocking. You could still be surprised," he says of his youth. "It doesn't feel like that anymore. Maybe I'm just playing the old guy in all of this, but I would hate to be growing up now. It's amazing, in my lifetime the things I was into that were so shocking and revolutionary are now so mainstream."
He nods at Jasmine, grinning in her miniature black Pussykat Tattoo T-shirt.
"What is it going to turn these kids into? Who knows?"
Dirk is not really a wild guy," says Moss. "When I first met him, he had a band called Vermin from Venus. They sucked. But Dirk was drawing the Bettie Page comics and T-shirts and album covers, and he was really taking it all seriously.
"When he and I went to New York a couple months ago so he could do his mural [at the Double Down East], it was the first time in a while that he could just go out and have some fun.
"The bar closes at 4, and Dirk, who's loaded, goes out, he hails a cab, he remembers that he has the hotel's card in his pocket. He gives it to the driver and goes, I live here!' He doesn't remember anything else until the next morning. His key was in the door, the door wasn't closed, he's laying there with his pants around his ankles, half on the bed, half on the floor, and that's when I called to wake him up."
Vocalist, guitarist, tattoo artist, muralist—and, as of this summer, he'll add historian to the resume. Vermin's been piecing together a three-years-in-the-making book called Boredom Was the Reason, which, in accordance with his contemporaries' DIY ethos, he'll release independently. Named after M.I.A.'s "Boredom Is the Reason," the effort was originally conceived as a coffee-table collection of flyers but has since expanded to a comprehensive history of Vegas' punk heyday, featuring a host of near-forgotten bands, not to mention those infamous early-'80s desert shows.
"They were very unique to Las Vegas," he explains. "I'm not sure if they even did them in California or Arizona, 'cause we were in a bubble in the middle of our little oasis out here. There was no stage, just a big piece of carpet to keep the dust down. We'd grab a generator, lights and invite major bands down. You'd get donations, and there'd be between 300 and maybe 500 kids out there. Then of course it got out of hand and someone even got killed.
"It was only there one time in history, and when it was gone, it was gone."
In May, The Vermin will record four new tracks to be released as a single. An accompanying Boredom covers soundtrack is also on the way ("We're talking all their songs, and I ain't asking permission"), as is a new full-length of originals. Come the holiday season, their "Santa Is a Cross-Dressing Nazi" will appear on a hush-hush Vegas compilation currently in the works.
By Vermin's assessment, his band is on the right track from here on out. "We have the credibility we deserve; we've sustained. Every flavor of the week that's come and gone, we keep staying the same. If you saw a show 10 years ago or today, it's going to be remarkably similar. In fact, it's going to be the same jokes.
"You get older and you can go in two directions as an adult male: You can be professional and successful on some level, or you can keep f--king smoking pot every day and do whatever. The main people who are the focus of this book, I've had these friends my entire life. All of us are very appreciative of each other. That's an amazing thing to have. You're not going to get that if you've just moved here. And that's part of the reason for the book, to give us a little bit of closure on those years. To remember them fondly is nice, but if you have a document in your hand with the flyers and stories and drugs and sex, it's all right there.
"You know, something to give to my daughters."