Exorcising punk demons
POSTED: Monday, February 02, 2009
"Anarchy in Hawaii Kai / is coming sometime and maybe
Start a knife fight / in the plate lunch line
You stole a queech / at the luau beach
'Cause I'm gonna be—anarchy!!"
It's a spirited goof on the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the U.K.," but one Raoul Vehill took to heart as performer extraordinaire with the legendary punk band Devil Dog.
"Hawaii Punk," Raoul Vehill's thinly veiled fictional account of his life as a punker in Honolulu, is rife with the expected sturm und drang of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Ah, yes, good times—but at some cost to Vehill.
| On the Net:|
» Dave Carr's Web site, www.comrademotopu.com, includes a Hawaii '70s-'80s Punk Museums section. You can also hear Devil Dog's 1986 album.
Vehill has tried to stay a creative force, throughout his time in the islands, then Chicago, and now Denver, where he's serving time for an 2005 felony committed during his period of being "drunk an' high."
One friend from Hawaii that he still keeps in touch with is Kit Grant, an outsider art type who's now director of outreach and development for the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. Grant is still a self-professed "painting, drawing and performance geek," being the lead instigator for her performance-art "ohana," the Elmer Gantry Society for Future Reference.
Grant, Vehill's housemate at the lively crashpad they called the Manoa Hilton, drew the Devil Dog punk skeleton that's on the book's front cover. It's a piece of historic art that originally graced the band's one and only studio release, from 1986.
"Raoul was, for all his punk-rock stardom, and his well-deserved reputation for being a wild, anarchistic (element), a very genuine and kind roommate, passionate about film and art—and has been a great friend ever since," she said via e-mail.
"Really, the only time I have ever seen him yell was on stage."
He encouraged up-and-coming bands, Grant remembers, was always willing to talk about writing and playing music. "Kids in the requisite leather jackets and stiff, colorful mohawks would sometimes shyly come to the door on a quiet Manoa afternoon and ask for Raoul. He'd spend some time with them in the living room, doing interviews for (fanzines), or just talking about their bands.
"He thought well beyond the punk 'uniform' and really pushed people into expressing their own creativity in a more truthful way."
But Grant also used Vehill's hell-bent energy in her own performance-art pieces. She recalls one at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, circa 1985, that depicted blindfolded cavemen swiping with poles at a large "bomb," as a staid "nuclear family," complete with a live, painted dog, was having a picnic beneath it. The museum staff was understandably nervous.
"Raoul had discovered some large jugs of cheap wine that had been stored in a closet, and decided that if I was going to make him perform in a student art piece with just a fur bikini on, he needed something to take the edge off. I came in to do final direction, and there was Raoul grinning ... with a gallon jug of cheap booze balanced on his shoulder, looking like a Neanderthal hillbilly male model. ...
"The performance was well-received (Raoul was perfect, if an enfant terrible), and the organizer of the event told me I'd never work in this town again. (Heh.) Raoul encouraged (sometimes goaded) me as an artist immensely and I adore him like mad."
VEHILL, now 47, was born just outside Oakland, Calif., but was raised in Denver. He came to Oahu in 1980 to attend Hawaii Loa College. The rest is punk-rock history.
When he started writing "Hawaii Punk" in 2005, Vehill said, he exorcised his Honolulu experiences.
Well, did the "exorcism" do the job? "Yeah, it worked," he replied. "But even if I could be 23 forever, a person's got to change. How can I not miss Honolulu? Every place I've lived ... has been becoming more culturally varied. Oahu's mix seems that much more dynamic because the melting pot is geographically smaller. Also, because of the climate, there's a laid-back sort of subconscious hedonistic attitude I've not found elsewhere."
Would he have done anything different, in retrospect?
"I want to say yeah, but I can't go back. I've done some stupid things. Is there anybody who hasn't? If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have been the same person. I can only keep in mind how and why I've made mistakes in the past and use that to do the best I can today."
Despite all the substance abuse, "the only real medical issue I have is a seizure disorder, brought on by a concussion that I don't remember, which due to a preponderance of evidence, must have happened between 2003 and 2005. I take medication and it's not a problem."
Vehill is doing promotions and marketing in the United States for his U.K. publisher, and is saving up for a professional digital camcorder and gear to record weddings, make real-estate videos, and start filming his no-budget movies again. He may return to Chicago after he serves his sentence.
All the while, "I meditate, go to (Alcoholics Anonymous), have a sponsor and work the 12 steps."
On March 2, Vehill will have been sober for two years straight.
The Devil Dog has paid his dues.
From "Hawaii Punk" by Raoul Vehill
"We're God Dog. Do me, baby." I say into the mike.
We zip into "Anarchy in Hawaii Kai." Right away the UH Punks, 3D Mods and Punks and Bobos start to pogo. The lyrics seem hard to hear and the whole mix sounds dirty and not loud enough but the crowd seems to get into it. It's like driving down a smooth dirt road when you're used to highway. We do "Skin You Alive" too fast, then slow it down with "Spell on You" and I spit fire. I start to sweat and take off my shirt. Next we do "Pig Rock" fast and a real thrash pit starts to churn. Then we do "The Quick and the Dead." I stand on 1 of the folding chairs. Dan does a gnarly solo during the bridge that he's never done and I realize what a badass guitar player he really is. We then blast into "Play That Funky Music," I stay up on the chair, Kevin gets up on 1 too and I notice he's taken his shirt off also and I see that 3 UH Security Sentries in blue uniforms rush into the rec hall toward the front.
I shake around and keep singing louder. I grab the bottle of rubbing alcohol from the floor and get back up on the chair and open it to spit fire again, spilling some on my hand. When I light the lighter and spit a fireball my hand starts on fire and I try to shake it out but my chair collapses and I fall forward onto the door and bang my forehead on it. When I get up my hand's gone out.
I guess another 1 of the UH pigs finds the breaker box because the amps and PA go silent and work lights go out. When the lights come back up the 4th Guard comes from a utility closet at the back of the room.
"The party's over kids! If you're not a dorm resident get off of the dorm grounds or we'll call HPD and have you arrested!" 1 of the Local Guards calls out loudly.
The crowd doesn't move at 1st, but in a minute start to make for the doors. The Guards actually deal with Mark, Dan, Kevin and I pretty calmly and after checking our IDs and calling them into the police station or wherever let us just load up and roll out.
"We could have you arrested for arson, but I don't need the hassle." The senior pig informs us.
They don't even make us rat on the guys who threw the party.