By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
IN MY ROOM
Anton Newcombe's climb to the heights from which he would leap to mainstream-career destruction began in the cluttered garage of the even-more-cluttered, one-story cottage where Newcombe grew up on Costa Mesa's gritty, working-class west side. His grandparents lived in a nice house in an unincorporated area near Newport Beach's Upper Back Bay, but Newcombe lived in his mom's garage—according to his friends, it was the only part of the house that wasn't stacked full of furniture, newspapers and trash. It was also where Electric Cool Aide used to practice.
Newcombe and friends spent countless unsupervised hours playing music, getting drunk, tripping out on acid and occasionally huffing Freon from a refrigerator. It's an era that Newcombe seems to have fondly recalled in his song "Hyperventilation," a droning, tripped-out track with a chorus that goes: "In my room! In my room! In my room! Sniffing glue! Sniffing glue! More than you!"
Newcombe's former band mates recall him as an inspired visionary with little musical talent and a surfeit of creative energy whose tendency towards bullying tirades earned him the nickname "Hitler." They say he didn't leave the band so much as he was kicked out after he physically attacked one of the other members. And they say Newcombe is mistelling the story of Mark McGrath, too—that McGrath was never a member of Electric Cool Aide, but rather just a fan who begged for an opportunity to audition and wasn't invited back.
But Newcombe's mind has been something of a playground from the get-go, says Jamie Reidling, Electric Cool Aide's former drummer, who met Newcombe in the second grade.
"He was a Boy Scout and I was a little surfer kid," says Reidling, who went on to become a founding member of OC's Cadillac Tramps, and is now a member of two Duane Peters bands, die Hunns and U.S. Bombs. "He was weird at a young age. He was the kid that always brought little animals to school in his Boy Scout uniform."
Like the rest of the band, Reidling refers to Newcombe not as "Anton"—a name Newcombe seems to have invented after he moved to San Francisco—but as "Tony," his original nickname. Reidling says he and Newcombe became friends because they were the only punk rock kids in their school and were constant targets for bullying by older kids.
"I got my ass kicked and so did Tony," he says. "It was tough. You had all these little hippie kids who are probably in prison now who would beat you up, and if you were a punk rock kid you didn't have too many places to hang out. We hung out in his garage, getting drunk."
As for Newcombe's family life?
"I never met his dad," Reidling says. "His mom never left the house. I saw her twice, I think. You could tell it wasn't the greatest family life. He had no parental supervision whatsoever. He always had this little psychotic switch in him, and that's why we used to call him 'Hitler'—how he always got people to buy into him. He had absolutely no talent, whatsoever. But he's very energetic and has this persona that you want to see what he's doing. He really can't sing or play an instrument but he can get people to come and pay attention to him."
Electric Cool Aide guitarist Nate Shaw, who's also a member of die Hunns and U.S. Bombs, met Newcombe in grade school in Costa Mesa. "He was in eighth grade and I was in sixth," he says. "He got me in so much trouble I think I ended up getting suspended from school for disrupting classrooms. Tony always had a gift for fucking with people, and the teachers always kind of played right into his plan. I remember him fucking with a math teacher until the guy broke down and cried."
The first time Shaw visited Newcombe's home was unforgettable. "He was always into Nazi mind control books, Charles Manson and cults," Shaw says. "His bedroom consisted of a garage filled with all these yellow-paged books. The first time I went there, Tony and some guys had taken the Freon tank out of an old refrigerator unit and had attached some hoses to it in hookah fashion. We sat there sucking Freon, breathing that shit until we'd see red and start talking about music."
Newcombe's mother had an old upright parlor piano in her house. "Tony started playing piano pretty young," Shaw says. "He was a terrible piano player, and he would be in my parents' house playing his terrible piano compositions, and my parents got a kick out of him. At the time it sounded terrible and a waste of energy, but I have to give him credit, he was tenacious as hell."
Nick Sjobeck, Electric Cool Aide's bassist, also met Newcombe in junior high. They used to cut the feet off dead pigeons, cover them with lacquer and fashion them into earrings. "The cops hated us," Sjobeck says. "We'd get arrested for truancy almost every weekend. Tony and his mom had a weird relationship. He was distant from her; she was always gone. I only talked to her once or twice."