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Show flyer

A couple of nights after that visit, Cindy and I saw Lucas for the last time. We were sitting at a table by a window in Juanita’s, a popular Mexican eatery on Coast Highway in Leucadia. Lucas walked by, spotted us, and made funny, joyful faces at us through the window. Later I learned that he’d been on an LSD trip with friends and that that was the night he disappeared.

From show flyer

The tireless phone calls Voiles and other members of the North County music community made (to every music scenester in town and even to some in Chicago) yielded no information. Nor did the flyers they handed out and posted all over town. On November 10, 1994, eight days after any of Lucas’s friends had last seen him, a body, decomposed beyond recognition, was found on Carlsbad State Beach. The next day the body, which was estimated to have been in the ocean for a week to ten days, was positively identified (by comparing fingerprints taken from the missing musician’s instruments and other belongings, and later via dental records) as Denver Lucas.

Belly Up show poster

Music scenes are held together by common interests and tastes and aspirations, but when you look closely at them you find a web of friendships and what could be called business relationships based on the sort of accidental encounters and almost random circumstances that shape most social networks and life situations. Lucas was the type of person who wants (and expects) all his friends to like each other, so presumably he would have been pleased that my opportunity to grow closer to and get a better sense of the North County scene he’d been part of came as a result of friendships I made at his wake, a large gathering of his friends and one family member, his mother, in a Leucadia house a week after his body was identified. After that I found myself invited to a series of wonderful, mostly acoustic performances at local homes by members of Heavy Vegetable and Boilermaker and other North County bands as well as visiting musicians from related youth music scenes elsewhere in California and other parts of the country. Music for the sake of music. A language in the process of creation and discovery.

Casbah, early '90s. "Half the room full at the Casbah was very, very exciting for us. It was a leap into recognition."

Most of all, I got a glimpse of the texture and character of this local scene by interviewing my new friends Gabriel Voiles and Lucas’s former roommate and coworker at Lou’s, Lia Friedman, about the history of Powerdresser. (The history of the Beatles or of the Dave Matthews Band might sell more books or magazines, but when you get inside these stories of musical outfits and the scenes and situations that nourished and directed them, there’s a universality that’s both surprising and reassuring, as though there really were a consistency in the forces that shape our lives, the ways we all, superstars and foot soldiers alike, get from there to here.)

Lou Russell of Lou’s Records: "Denver and Gabe and Lee drove into our parking lot on a Saturday or a Friday and jumped out, set up, played for 20 minutes, then jumped back in the car and left. It was like a kamikaze in-store."

“When I met Denver,” Voiles of Powerdresser told me, “I was still in junior high. I went to my bus stop in Normal Heights, on the corner of 35th and Adams Avenue, and there’s this little kid there; I’d been going to school with this kid since I was a little kid too. He had a trench coat on. He was really skinny and short. Like me. And we weren’t particularly good friends. We didn’t become good friends at first and then eventually figured out that we lived, obviously, in the same neighborhood. And somehow I fell in with him, and Matthew Connelly, and Keith Whitcomb, and Dan Reinharts. We all had bad punker haircuts. There were a couple of girls who hung out, Sarah J. and Suzie N. And we, uh, we listened to punk rock music, the Germs, things like that.

Gabe Voiles and Denver Lucas. Voiles: "He went through a lot of crap and was perpetually tortured by communication with people."

“Denver made me tapes. He’d play this crummy fifth-generation dub of New York thrash on one tape deck and press ‘record’ on another one sitting in front of it, and he’d give me these tapes. I’d get these tapes, and I had no idea what was on them. I listened to them constantly. To this day, I hear things and I go, ‘I know this song. I know every note in this song. I listened to it a million times when I was 15, and I put every ounce of angst I had into it.’ But I don’t know who it is; and I’ll ask, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s the Circle Jerks!’ And I go, ‘Oh, okay, the Circle Jerks. I never knew that.’

On November 10, 1994, eight days after any of Lucas’s friends had last seen him, a body, decomposed beyond recognition, was found on Carlsbad State Beach.

“He’d make these tapes, and we’d hang out at his place. He lived with his mother, and she was busy a lot, so we had a lot of…a little too much room to do what we wanted in. She’d give him money for food, and we’d buy as little food as possible and spend the rest on whatever was going to entertain us for the evening. We’d run around and terrorize Normal Heights, being the local punk-rock…basically, assholes is what we were. Denver had a band called the Seizures, in which he played drums. Matt and Keith were in the Seizures. John Watkins played bass.

“The Seizures had one gig, at Stacey Dow’s 16th birthday party, and they took the bus to it. They took the drums on the bus, out to Crown Point or something like that, and they played a song — they did ‘Louie Louie’ à la Germs, I think, a really horrible version of ‘Louie Louie.’ Keith was pretty nuts. Keith was the guy that you’d say, ‘Keith, go break that,’ and he would go break it. He was the singer, of course. Keith would sing these foul, horrendous, the most obscene lyrics he possibly could to ‘Louie Louie.’ Every time. They’d yell at him, ‘Keith, stop that!’ They’d get on the stage and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do “Louie Louie,” Keith, but whatever you do, don’t sing that…don’t sing those foul, offensive words,’ and he’d say, ‘Okay, I won’t.’ And he would. He started singing about everybody’s mother, and they were playing on some stage out in the middle of the park by the bay. And Stacey’s older brother’s band was, um…an old San Diego band, might have been Mitch from No Knife’s old band Funeral March. They came up and started plugging in and playing along on ‘Louie Louie.’ Eventually they unplugged the Seizures and threw them off the stage.

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