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Gonzo Report: Finding the spirituality of the setting - HR (Bad Brains) plays The Holding Company

The reggae hardcore act has influenced bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, and Living Colour.

HR holds forth at The Holding Company.
HR holds forth at The Holding Company.

January 15, a rainy Sunday. It’s 1 pm; my friends Ted Winter, Sandra McBride and I are pregaming by drinking Heinekens and doing White Runtz bong hits. At 1:45, I get a text from my friend Mark Lebowitz, aka Libby, who has procured my ticket for me: “Yo, where are you? I just parked and am walking.” That’s our cue to drive from PB over to OB; we’re going to The Holding Company (THC) to see the legendary Paul Hudson, Joseph I, HR (Human Rights) — the throat of Bad Brains. The reggae hardcore act has influenced bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, and Living Colour. HR was my idol as a teenager and young adult. There was such a spiritual charisma about him. In his earlier days, his energy could not be surpassed: he snarled and screamed his lyrics, and he could do a standing backflip. You never knew what you were going to get at a Bad Brains or HR show — or not get. Bad Brains was supposed to play at Soma back when it was off Morena, in or around 1995. Darryl, Dr. Know, and Earl showed up, but no HR. I’m sure others have similar stories. (What was not known, back when he was going through problems and demonstrating erratic behavior, was that he has schizophrenia. He also needed brain surgery in 2017 for SUNCT Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder causing sporadic, excruciating headaches.)

We arrive in OB at 2:05 and decide to park in the Hodad’s Parking Lot for $25.00. Not a bad decision, considering it is starting to rain heavily and street parking seems scarce. My friend Libby is waiting for us with our tickets. Lo and behold: as we’re walking inside to meet him, HR is walking out. He says “Greetings.” I respond, “Blessed we are.” At least we know he’s shown up for the gig. I’m in a haze, so I’m not quick enough to ask him for an exclusive interview. Drat. Inside, Libby leads us to my other old friend Tommy Wieneski, who is with still another old friend, Preslee Foster. I can’t mention Bad Brains and HR without recalling the days of skateboarding, drinking beers, smoking pot and listening to the band with the likes of Libby and Tommy.

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Michael Williams is my attentive bartender, back where it’s light. The room gets darker as you get closer to the stage. There is a cute girl walking around, managing the sound system. There is a smoking area outside in the front. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Sunday and I’m at church. MC Ras Mike jumps on stage to get the party started. After announcing the lineup, he shouts out, “No smoking in here! I already tried that, and they didn’t like it; go outside to smoke!” He then welcomes the first act, T. Irie Dread. They play reggae, plus funk and soul, including a blistering version of “Red Hot Mama” by Funkadelic that has everybody shaking their rump.

I spy HR walking around and settling in at the bar area. I use this as my opportunity to approach him. He has his back against the bar, facing out. I introduce myself and let him know I’m covering this for the Reader. He nods, as if to say, “cool.” I ask, “Is there anything, any words of yours I can use for this story?” He give me a wide, closed-mouth smile and bobs his head up and down. I tell him I’m going to quote him word for word. That gets a little laugh out of him.

Amalgamated comes on after T. Irie Dread and plays a cool ska set with some reggae grooves sprinkled in. Then it’s time to hit the smoking area. I encounter Ras Mike hitting the pipe and ask him for a hit. I liked his interaction with the crowd. As I’m taking a big hit, my friend Libby comes out and I spill some of my beer on him. “I was standing here to trying keep my feet dry and you spill beer on them!” he complains. As I’m smoking with Ras Mike, saying that I’ve learned to expect the unexpected at an HR show, two women approach us. I ask them what brings them there. Shannon, the voluptuous one with jet-black hair and ice blue eyes, shouts, “HR $12? Hell yeah!” Her friend’s name is Sara. I ask her if it’s Sara with an H. “Sara with an H is an asshole!” is her response.

I see Ras Mike walking back in, and he turns and says, “Follow me in, it’s time.” Ras Mike announces the band and HR as if he’s announcing the starting lineup of a basketball team. HR comes out with a mismatched Adidas suit and big dark women’s sunglasses with flowers on the rim. He no longer has those dreadlocks with the two big ones on the back of his head. He looks borderline frail. But while he may not move like he used to, he’s still performing and touring. His manner and posture serve to remind the crowd of the spirituality of the setting. He ends his set with the songs that I used to end my nights with: “I Love I Jah” and “Leaving Babylon.” How fitting.

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HR holds forth at The Holding Company.
HR holds forth at The Holding Company.

January 15, a rainy Sunday. It’s 1 pm; my friends Ted Winter, Sandra McBride and I are pregaming by drinking Heinekens and doing White Runtz bong hits. At 1:45, I get a text from my friend Mark Lebowitz, aka Libby, who has procured my ticket for me: “Yo, where are you? I just parked and am walking.” That’s our cue to drive from PB over to OB; we’re going to The Holding Company (THC) to see the legendary Paul Hudson, Joseph I, HR (Human Rights) — the throat of Bad Brains. The reggae hardcore act has influenced bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, and Living Colour. HR was my idol as a teenager and young adult. There was such a spiritual charisma about him. In his earlier days, his energy could not be surpassed: he snarled and screamed his lyrics, and he could do a standing backflip. You never knew what you were going to get at a Bad Brains or HR show — or not get. Bad Brains was supposed to play at Soma back when it was off Morena, in or around 1995. Darryl, Dr. Know, and Earl showed up, but no HR. I’m sure others have similar stories. (What was not known, back when he was going through problems and demonstrating erratic behavior, was that he has schizophrenia. He also needed brain surgery in 2017 for SUNCT Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder causing sporadic, excruciating headaches.)

We arrive in OB at 2:05 and decide to park in the Hodad’s Parking Lot for $25.00. Not a bad decision, considering it is starting to rain heavily and street parking seems scarce. My friend Libby is waiting for us with our tickets. Lo and behold: as we’re walking inside to meet him, HR is walking out. He says “Greetings.” I respond, “Blessed we are.” At least we know he’s shown up for the gig. I’m in a haze, so I’m not quick enough to ask him for an exclusive interview. Drat. Inside, Libby leads us to my other old friend Tommy Wieneski, who is with still another old friend, Preslee Foster. I can’t mention Bad Brains and HR without recalling the days of skateboarding, drinking beers, smoking pot and listening to the band with the likes of Libby and Tommy.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Michael Williams is my attentive bartender, back where it’s light. The room gets darker as you get closer to the stage. There is a cute girl walking around, managing the sound system. There is a smoking area outside in the front. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Sunday and I’m at church. MC Ras Mike jumps on stage to get the party started. After announcing the lineup, he shouts out, “No smoking in here! I already tried that, and they didn’t like it; go outside to smoke!” He then welcomes the first act, T. Irie Dread. They play reggae, plus funk and soul, including a blistering version of “Red Hot Mama” by Funkadelic that has everybody shaking their rump.

I spy HR walking around and settling in at the bar area. I use this as my opportunity to approach him. He has his back against the bar, facing out. I introduce myself and let him know I’m covering this for the Reader. He nods, as if to say, “cool.” I ask, “Is there anything, any words of yours I can use for this story?” He give me a wide, closed-mouth smile and bobs his head up and down. I tell him I’m going to quote him word for word. That gets a little laugh out of him.

Amalgamated comes on after T. Irie Dread and plays a cool ska set with some reggae grooves sprinkled in. Then it’s time to hit the smoking area. I encounter Ras Mike hitting the pipe and ask him for a hit. I liked his interaction with the crowd. As I’m taking a big hit, my friend Libby comes out and I spill some of my beer on him. “I was standing here to trying keep my feet dry and you spill beer on them!” he complains. As I’m smoking with Ras Mike, saying that I’ve learned to expect the unexpected at an HR show, two women approach us. I ask them what brings them there. Shannon, the voluptuous one with jet-black hair and ice blue eyes, shouts, “HR $12? Hell yeah!” Her friend’s name is Sara. I ask her if it’s Sara with an H. “Sara with an H is an asshole!” is her response.

I see Ras Mike walking back in, and he turns and says, “Follow me in, it’s time.” Ras Mike announces the band and HR as if he’s announcing the starting lineup of a basketball team. HR comes out with a mismatched Adidas suit and big dark women’s sunglasses with flowers on the rim. He no longer has those dreadlocks with the two big ones on the back of his head. He looks borderline frail. But while he may not move like he used to, he’s still performing and touring. His manner and posture serve to remind the crowd of the spirituality of the setting. He ends his set with the songs that I used to end my nights with: “I Love I Jah” and “Leaving Babylon.” How fitting.

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Locals gracing stages in La Jolla, East Village, Little Italy, Linda Vista, and downtown
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