I stayed out way too late last night at one of the most depressing bars in the world, Lucky 13. It’s a testament to my laziness and my hatred of Haight St. bars that I have numerous stories to tell about this horrible place.
If Disneyland had a "Punkworld", it would look a lot like Lucky 13. Depoliticized, but with an eye for certain punk details, it’s a weirdly selective and sanitized vision of a "hip" place to be. It always holds the promise of being amusing. I love watching people uncomfortably act out roles, whether intentionally or not. But the evening always ends in my feeling disappointed and dirty. And not dirty in a cool punk way.
The bar’s painted all black, has a decent jukebox and beer selection, and the walls are covered with "punk" posters, some old school and some Kozik pseudo-retro ones. The boy patrons tend toward the later-period Social Distortion look: lots of black clothes, bullet belts, wallet chains, and tattoos. Ok, I know you’re saying "That sounds like the way YOU dress Gordon." But it’s really a little different. There’s a very studied adherence to gender roles at play here, the boys trying more for the tight pants ‘50s thug/mean mechanic look. But very clean in a I-wear-these-clothes-to-go-out-on-the-to
wn way. Dress code for girls is a lot more lenient in a please-come-in-however-you-look-we-need-m
ore-girls-here way. Actually, It’s the most heterosexual bar I frequent (If once every 3-4 months can be called frequenting).
There small balconies with seating where it is tempting to observe the sociological rituals of the patrons. misscallis
, her boy, and I actually observed the hilarious mating rituals of a few 30ish guys and some seemingly underage girls one night. The seemingly underage girl with one of those horrid one-shoulder-bare shirts(like "Flashdance" or Jessica Alba in this year’s "Dark Angel" commercials) kept rubbing her butt against one guy’s pelvis. When she would get up to take her pool shot he would pull down his shirt or hold his beer in his lap to hide his hard-on. "YOU AREN’T FOOLING ANYONE!" I wanted to yell.
But those moments are few and far between. I actually had a good time there when my ex and I celebrated our 13th anniversary there. 13th anniversary, Lucky 13, heh heh. Tempting superstition, we asked our friends to bring us tales of horrible relationships and breakups since it was our 13th. We began breaking up a couple of months later.
So last night I returned with an old friend from the ‘80s punk/anarchist scene. It was a cold, rainy SF night and I was too lazy to go far so I suggested Lucky 13 for the amusingness of seeing our culture sold back to us while we laughed in its face.
But the de-fanging of culture got the last laugh.
Sure it amused us to sing along with "Let’s Have a War" by Fear and "Diane" by Husker Du once we got really drunk. And we discovered our mutual love for not only Hank Williams, George Jones and Patsy Cline but also "new country".* But hearing (someone else) put Dead Kennedys on the jukebox depressed us both. Wondering whether anyone else in the bar had ever seen them, while a valid question, wasn’t the point. Questioning whether any of them had ever risked their safety to go to a punk show that was threatened by rednecks**, skinheads, or cops can sound just like maudlin bar talk the next day.
But playing a political punk band in Lucky 13 highlighted the patheticness of the bar and, in many ways, the failure of punk. At that moment I realized that we’d spent an evening of jukebox listening at a punk -themed bar and that was the first political son we’d heard. We were the only ones who looked sad though a couple of patrons sang along half-heartedly. Old Friend and I both come from a punk scene where political action and punk were inseparable. That it was hard back then to figure out which was more important at times points to its own set of problems, but the idea that one day we could go to a "punk" bar that may as well be an "Irish" bar or a "sports" bar was unfathomable.
But there we were. I don’t know if she was reliving memories while "Police Truck" blared out through the bar, but I thought about the 1984 Democratic Convention protests, cops busting kids coming out of punk shows in North Beach for curfew violations, and listening to punk to fuel and release the rage of the Reagan years. Punk was one of the only ways I could see to fight back against dying in World War III, impending US fascism and the coming theocracy. Finding other people who felt that way created a weird, vibrant community that warned of the coming future but allowed some of us to feel possibility for the first time. Part of being punk at that time also meant living in a very different reality than other people did.
Looking around the bar started to make me mean and depressed. We went to laugh but the joke was on us.
And Old Friend said that she was served the worst gin and tonics of her drinking life, even when she stepped up from well to Bombay Sapphire.
*Making me ask if things would have worked out differently if our anarcho-tourism soundtrack was country instead of punk. . .
** The first time Dead Kennedys played Novato, then a semi-rural town, in Marin County just north of San Francisco redneck youth showed up in force and armed with axe handles to stop the show.