Some advice from Country Dick Montana helped The Penetrators Gary Heffern (above) get over nauseating stage fright.
Heffern’s a hugger. “The best times were the early days. People don’t realize the hours of rehearsal and also how many parties and benefits we did… Country Dick Montana and I were on our usual walk after soundchecks, and he said to me, ‘Maybe it will help you get over your nerves if you think like I do. We are finally getting paid to show off.’ I burst out laughing. He burped. And I never threw up [before a show] again.”
That’s Gary Heffern, recalling San Diego’s punk heyday, in the late 70s and early 80s. He arrived in the city with his adoptive parents in July 1958, and left the city on Christmas Eve, 1984. He spent most of his San Diego musical career in a band called the Penetrators, purveying punk to people who were sometimes ready, sometimes not.
“The Skeleton Club show — San Diego’s first punk rock venue — was the first one we sold out, where the police came in and shut down the show. This was right after opening for the Ramones. There was the riot after the Unknowns and Dick Dale show, people lighting trash cans on fire.”
“We were blown away that too sold out. Same thing with the Del Mar Fairgrounds. It was great also to bring the Meat Puppets to open for us as we had done a few shows with them in Arizona. They showed up high on acid. It was at the Bacchanal, and people did not know what to think of them.”
But Heffern didn’t enjoy every twist the scene took. “When hardcore kicked in, the innocence and joy of just being yourself became lost. We lost a lot of fans during that time as we were playing bigger places, and everyone thought we were ‘sellouts.’ So I was surprised to see all the original folks come out to our reunion shows.”
Heffern lives in Finland now, and enjoys himself well enough over there. Professor Raul Sandelin at Grossmont College recently shot a short film, available on the web, about Heffern’s life and times.
“I am so grateful to the friends I have and love each and every one of them,” says Heffern. “I know the world is spinning out of control. So many dying, or hurting… I want to come back and spend some time just sitting and talking and laughing and crying and hugging every one of you.”
(Click here for Andrew Hamlin's full interview with Heffern)