To be honest, I wasn't going to go to their show in Huntsville, AL back in 1997. I didn't know who they were and they were playing with some pretty crappy bands, but the flyer proclaimed "50 MILLION from San Francisco, featuring ex-members of J CHURCH". I loved J CHURCH, so I went to the show just to see 50 MILLION. (tangential side note: Wade from 50M played drums in J CHURCH for less than a year or so and recorded with them on "The Procession Of Simulacra - The Map Preceeds the Territory" 10", which coincidentally is the first record I ever heard by them.) I was more than a block away from the show and heard this loud, low booming voice of a guy talking somewhere. As I got closer, I realized that the voice was coming from this long-haired guy in front of the venue and he was talking a million miles per hour to one of my friends and telling her she had beautiful eyes. He turned to me as I walked up, saw the HICKEY patch on my jacket and introduced himself as "Shellhead". I found out that he was good friends with the guys from HICKEY (who had rolled through town a few months earlier) and they had told him to look for me and some of my friends. It was sweet. I met his brother Wade (the drummer on this tour) and their friend, Bloomie (the bass player). Shell continued to hit on my friend (very sweetly and not at all creepy, I might add. My friend was enjoying it and talking to him all night). It turns out that she was the ex of "J", this bruiser/greaser who had a reputation of starting fights with touring bands, young punks that were smaller than him and anyone who said anything slightly negative to him. He was a fucking jerk. I was afraid of him because I was young and scrawny. He had fought HICKEY, the SPAWN SACS and even tried to beat up my friend Ivy when she had a broken foot and was hobbling around on crutches. World class jerk here.
Anyway, "J" was lurking around in the shadows, glaring at Shell talking to his ex while getting drunker and surlier. It didn't help matters that when 50 MILLION took the stage, they played a HICKEY song and dedicated their sweetest, sappiest songs to the woman.
As far as their live show went, I was sold. They played everything from awesome pop-punk to metallish dirges to feedback-laden experimental noise. They were pretty fucking amazing that night. Also, they set up all of their equipment in front of the band's stuff that played before them, thereby trapping it back there so that the douchey, crappy pop-punk band that played before them had to wait until they were done so that they could load out. I remember watching the members of that band stare helplessly and hopelessly as 50 MILLION played a 10 minute version of "She Is a Monster", making it drag slower and slower until Shell was laying on the floor, making his guitar feedback and Wade was playing something like 5 beats per minute. It felt like vindication for having to watch that crappy band's piss-poor excuse for pop-punk for 30 minutes.
Anyway, at some point during the set, Shell tackled me in a faux wrestling match and we rolled around on the floor in a fake fight. "J" took that as his cue to attack and ran up to kick Shell in the head a couple of times, which he defended as protecting me (totally ridiculous, since that dude threatened me numerous times). After the show was over and 50 MILLION had packed up, Shell was talking to the woman and "J" made his move. He started pushing Shell around and threatened to kick his ass for trying to steal his girlfriend. Wade ran up, jumped between them and threatened to kill the guy, telling him that he would cut his head off. (a little background: Wade had parts of his head shaved off. He's an old Texas bad-ass covered in homemade tattoos and has a nasty disposition, but a heart of gold. On this tour, he looked like a completely deranged, sadistic, escaped mental patient.) "J", for the first time ever, looked genuinely scared of someone. I left with 50 MILLION in their van and found out that Wade had a machete tucked into his pants the whole time. He had fully intended to cut off "J"'s head if he didn't back off. As Wade was driving to my house, he calmly said "I'm glad I didn't have to blow his head off with the shotgun". I turned around and the shotgun was right behind me.
I bought this CD from them at the show, even though Shell told me that it sounded nothing like their live show. I thought it was weird that a band would put out something that was wholly unrepresentative of their sound but I bought it anyway and it bummed me out when I listened to it for the first time. Over time, it quickly grew to be my most favorite thing that the band has ever put out. It's a collection of home recordings by the two brothers that dates back as far as the mid-70's, but mostly sticks to the early-to-mid-90's. A lot of the songs were started by one brother who recorded his part and then sent the master tape through the mail to the other brother to finish. It includes now-classic songs like "Baltimore", "Burn Away", "Egg in the Face", "Evergreen" (which Matty Luv of HICKEY once called "the saddest song ever written") and 22 more. 50 MILLION were (and are) a brilliant band that encompassed the hopes, dreams and ultimate failures of being broke and hopeless, but found solace and comfort in that and learned to be proud of and celebrate their lives, no matter what. They were also drug-addled, drunk and unapologetic, but who wasn't? I'm so very happy that they made it out of the 90's Mission punk scene alive.
...and here is the reason I didn't use "J"'s real name in the story. You may wonder, "Why would you use an alias for some jerk who beat up all of your friends?" Well, a few years after leaving Huntsville, I went back to visit for a few days. Some friends and I went out to the river to hang out and drink a few beers. On the way, they said they were gonna pick up "J" to go with us. I said "uhhh...what the fuck dudes? I don't wanna hang out with this macho fuckwad" (or something like that). They just said it was cool and picked him up. After a couple of drinks, I said "I need to talk to you" and pulled him aside. After all of these years, I had gained some self-confidence and decided to tell him how I felt. I tore into him about how demeaning it was that he beat the shit out of young punks, how fucked up it was that he threatened women with violence and what my friends across the country thought of him. I told him how angry I was at him for all of those years and how much I wanted someone to just beat the living shit out of him. Then, I braced myself for the beating he was about to give me. He didn't. He stood there and listened to everything that I had to say and then he told me that I was right and that he was sorry. I couldn't believe it. This guy had never shown any remorse in the moment or admitted any signs of weakness or apology. He explained that he grew up fighting as a means of survival and as a way of life. As he got older, he didn't see any other way of living and fighting became his only method of solving problems or disputes. He told me that he wasn't happy during that time and worked a lot on changing his behavior to become a better person. He didn't expect me or anyone else to forgive him for all of the harm he had caused so many people, but he wanted me to tell those people that he's really sorry and he wishes that he could make up for it somehow. So, if you ever lived in Huntsville or came through there in a punk band in the 90's, it's highly possible that you know who I'm talking about...and if he fought you for some stupid reason, he's sorry. The rest of that night hanging out with him was great and memorable. I even hugged that motherfucker at the end of the night. Life is strange.
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