It was around 1984 in San Francisco, in a dark, smoke-filled room, full of crashing, loud noises and random flashes of glaring light and video static. There was writing all over the walls, the smell of spilled beer in every corner, and the distant sound of sirens whenever the grinding industrial music stopped. In this gloomy chamber, a dive bar oddly called The Sound of Music, I met The Zombie Crew.
It was a black time in a normally bright, colorful city. The specter of death rode the night city’s streets, and the most ecstatic escapes of the previous decade turned out to bring horrible, lingering death in the new one.
There was a weekly open mike night which often featured a lady poet named Caffeine, who delivered frightening, blood-stained poems in a sing-song voice. Her best piece was “The Zombie Crew”, describing the nightly rituals of the junkies and meth-heads at her residential hotel. I always thought of the people I met at The Sound as my own Zombie Crew.
The men had parchment-white faces, black lipstick, and black fingernails. Their blue-black hair stood 15 inches off of their heads, banking off in crazy directions, responding to winds and waves unseen.
The women, too, had the blue-black hair, and the pale, powdered faces, but with blood red lips and arches of eye shadow and mascara outlining eyes made almost black by widely-dilated pupils.
They all wore Doc Martens and black leather. Their necks were hung with chrome, silver, and steel – crucifixes and razors, bike chains and bullets.
Sometimes, they moved like the lumbering antagonists of “Night of the Living Dead”, at other times they were more like the spastic, hyper zombies of “28 Days Later”. Some really were the walking dead, because of the threat encoded in the very blood of their lovers and needle-mates. The jaw-clenching drugs they favored made them capricious and impulsive, and their transgressive flouting of the rules of human society left them in a night-world far from Reagan’s “Morning in America”.
I remember one long night hanging out with a tall-haired guy named Dense and his girlfriend, after one night at The Sound. The music was excruciatingly loud, and there were two TVs on – one set to static and the other to a 1930s Charlie Chan movie. Dense and his girlfriend each had a fat magic marker, and they were writing on the walls of the old apartment. All the walls in the house (and the entire refrigerator) were already covered with scrawls, tags, and drawings.
They never tried to bite me or eat my flesh, and I survived the era with few scars. But I often wondered what secret rituals they might have gotten up to when I wasn’t around. And whenever I see a zombie movie, I always watch closely, trying to catch a glimpse of Dense, or Caffeine, or any of the other members of the old Zombie Crew, wandering around the movie dream world, searching for something warm and red to eat…