By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
"I can't tell you how miserable it is for someone to come up and place one of your prized possessions on the counter with a $12 sticker on it," he says. "I got into the whole separation-anxiety problem."
But Underdog was something people instinctively gravitated toward, a focus for all that unfocused energy. It was a good place to hang out that summer. Kids started making and selling zines that shit-talked Laguna cops. Laguna cops dutifully paid Lohrman 50 cents to buy the zines in which they were being shit-talked. And then a drummer from Idaho named Johnny Sleeper put up a flyer: SINGER WANTED. CLASH DAMNED GENERATION X.
"People would call up and say, 'You really want to do that? Like a Sex Pistols cover band? Well . . . good luck," Sleeper says now. "They thought it was a joke. But for me, that was authentic. The Clash were talented musicians who had something to say and were really smart about it."
Sleeper talks a lot about authenticity when he talks about the Stitches. You can still feel a hint of the frustration he must have felt after moving from a boring nowhere Idaho town to OC at 18 and finding . . . Mayberry by the Sea. He's one of those idealistic guys who really would have crossed the street to talk to a stranger with a Clash shirt, just for the camaraderie. The goof bands in OC disgusted him; the political bands didn't feel honest (and judging from the number of ex-straightedgers in AA now, he might have been on to something).
"People," he says, "didn't really have anything to call their own. I was 18, and there was no place for me to go at all."
But he needed a band, and so he put one together. Sort of. The proto-Stitches played one show with no singer and no name at the Doll Hut (Linda's Doll Hut at the time): Mike Shote on bass, Ted Turnbull on guitar, and Sleeper playing drums and ad-libbing lyrics into a mic. Around the same time, Lohrman had introduced Duane Peters to the rest of a band that would become the Exploding Fuck Dolls; now Lohrman was watching his friend's band take off.
"That made him want to get up there and do a real band," says Vinyl Solution's Darren O'Connor, one of Lohrman's best friends. "The first time we saw [the Exploding Fuck Dolls] play, he told me, 'Man, we gotta make them a record.' And then he said that gave him a burning desire to start a band."
"Duane's band had no one to play with," says Lohrman. "So I answered the ad up in my store. One guy worked in my record store and played guitar, some new-wave surfer dude played bass, and Johnny Sleeper played drums. They had 12 songs. I ad-libbed three, canned the others, and told them the deal: 'I'll sing for you guys, but if I sing, I'm boss.'"
They agreed; Lohrman squeezed out the bass player. He had no time for a shitty garage band, Lohrman told them. This band would go as far as it could. The new lineup (with new bassist Retarded Ron and a second guitarist named Logan) played their first show at Club Mesa in August 1993, decked out like it was 1976. They picked the name Stitches off a list of band names Lohrman had been keeping in his store for months, just in case (they were almost the Nubiles). The headlining band didn't show up, so the Stitches headlined their first show. Sleeper saw it as a good omen.
"[Mike] asked me what I thought, and I thought they needed practice," says O'Connor, who'd been watching the band pull together all summer. "It took me quite a few years to realize how good they were."
But the Stitches were about to get better. Way up the 5 in Sacramento, a 21-year-old Cleveland kid named Johnny Witmer was flat on his back, gluing PVC plumbing into the bottom of Airstream trailers in the worst job he'd ever have, and not so far up the 5 in Anaheim, 24-year-old Pete Archer was switching from guitar to bass for a band called Corrupted Ideals. Lohrman knew Witmer from the dirtball skate tours he and his buddies would take back East. Lohrman knew Witmer played guitar. He lured him down from Sacramento. Sleeper remembers Witmer carrying equipment, not saying much, sitting by the side of the stage watching the band play. By November he was in on guitar.
"I thought everyone out here was pussies," says Witmer now, completely—as usual—straight-faced. "I was pretty much able to kick everyone's ass right away. There were a lot of songs when I came in the band that weren't written by me . . . so we quickly discardedall those."
It's tough talk. Witmer's a tough guy, but even when he's smashing someone with his guitar, he looks very measured and composed. ("I don't come to their construction site and take the hammer out of their hand or unplug their saw.") The younger son of a blue-collar family in Cleveland, he played the snare drum in elementary school and turned on to Devo when he was six. His arrival was the start of the Stitches of today—but in 1993, Witmer was the new guy and Lohrman was in charge.