Always Autumn, Never Halloween

Gabriel Hart is worried that something bad will happen because of the voodoo.

He'd always been sympathetic to the occult, he says, and his neighbors, the transvestite hookers, are really into voodoo. "You walk by their apartment, and you can hear them all moaning in there and stuff," he says. That's how it started. And it worked just fine during the priestly ritual he performed at a friend's wedding in the old Batcave (you know, the one the unambiguously gay duo would barrel out of on their way to boff-zot-kapow! the bad guys). Then it took on a life of its own, and now Hart wants to tiptoe away—because bad things are starting to happen.

"It can have serious repercussions. I've seen it with my own eyes," he says vaguely. He's looking for ways to escape. "The most I do now is like a little good-luck charm—you take a clove of garlic, stick a bunch of nails in it, tie a string on it and put it out by the window—and I got a little grigri bag that I keep in my pocket all the time. I'm trying to stay away from it. I'd rather just leave things up to fate."

So he's worried about the voodoo. But fate, as Hart sings in his star-crossed roots-punk band the Starvations, isn't going to treat him much better. "Believe me, I've tried to write pop songs," he says. "I'll get really scared, almost have panic attacks reading my songs. It's like, fuck, I'm a really dark person and that could probably lead into really bad stuff, so I'll try and write a happy song. But it always has a bad ending."

Every song is completely autobiographical, he says (the voodoo will probably show up on their next album, due to bleed onto tape sometime this fall). The spiky heartbreaker punk ballads on 2000's A Blackout to Remember fairly drip with tearful, whiskey-sodden barstool metaphors, all tangled around a bleary rainbow of sloppy self-destruction. And they've all got bad endings—the only kind of ending the Starvations have ever lived, Hart says.

"You know how there's always one house your parents told you not to go to?" he explains. "That's where we all kind of grew up."

That the house is in Laguna Beach—the Mayberry of Orange County, if Mayberry were gay and thronging with tourists looking for Wyland paintings—ought to worry the chamber of commerce. But there, in a house on Cress Street, the baby Starvations—Hart, bassist Jean-Paul Garneir, drummer Ian Harrower and guitarist Ryan Hertz—burned through their formative years with cheap alcohol and cheap tragedies.

Cress Street looms large in Hart's lyrics, the second home he calls a "hellish hive" presided over by a harpy he called the Queen Bee. "She was like this long-gone alcoholic who just sat in a chair the whole time—couldn't even walk," he says. "And she taught us all to drink."

So of course they were going to be a punk band—what other music would have them? Limned by Hart's ragged lyrics and flayed-bare caterwaul, the Starvations evolved from just one more garage rattler into a soul-spattered slide-guitar band somewhere between the Pogues and the Dils, drowning their heartache in blackout theatrics and lots of red wine (Hart's poison of choice; gin makes him sick and violent). They've got an edgy desperation that grabs you by the neck; they couldn't have anything else, says Hart.

"People who like the Starvations are totally disenfranchised freaks that don't fit anywhere, people you'd find in the corners of the clubs looking all shady," Hart says. "Total misfit kids. We had this kid who would get drunk, and he'd write these long letters to us, like pages and pages, and we finally got one that was like a suicide note from him sometime last year. I was like, 'Fuck, did we connect with this kid so close that . . . ?' You know what I mean? I felt like Marilyn Manson or something."

And did they ever hear from that kid again?

Never, says Hart. He loved the Starvations—but of course he left no return address.

The Starvations perform with the Stitches, the Lost Kids, the Distraction and the Daggers at T.C.'s, 18528 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-7744. Sat., 7 p.m. $10. 21+.

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