Talking with Duane Peters is a test of the reflexes. It might even make you moist. You'll be listening to Duane regale you with his many tales of inebriation, stupidity and excess, not wanting to disrupt the neck-vein-popping rhythm of his impossibly deep, gruff voice with your meddlesome questions, when—whizzzzz!—something flies past your ear. A wasp? A gnat? The ghost of Sid Vicious? . . . zoommmSPLAT! . . . There it is again. But this time, it kisses your cheek and sticks—what the hell? So you nonchalantly take your hand and wipe your face—all the while looking Duane straight in the eyes so he doesn't notice—when you suddenly feel between your fingers a goo of phlegmatic proportions . . .
Duane's been spitting on you! Especially when he's worked up—which is often!
But the guy has no front teeth; he can't help it. You don't mind—much—and you really don't want to call Duane on it. That might make him feel all self-conscious and sensitive and apologetic and non-punk.
And there are worse people to be gobbed on by than Duane Peters.
These are some basic things you need to know about Duane Peters, Orange County Punk Icon. He lost one front tooth from a mistossed or otherwise uncaught microphone, the other in a fistfight. He's been in myriad OC punk bands, including the Exploding Fuck Dolls, which may have had the greatest band name ever. He currently splits his band time between the U.S. Bombs and the Hunns, and he runs his own indie imprint, Disaster Records. He's put out three full-length albums in the past year, two with the Hunns (Unite and Tickets to Heaven) and one with the Bombs (Back at the Laundromat). He's a champion skateboarder. He has lots—no, an artist's catalog—of tattoos. He likes saying "fuck" and "shit" and all their variants. He's done jail time. He chain-smokes like a mutha: sucks 'em right down to the filters, he does—and if his fingers were more easily combustible, he'd smoke those, too. He has two teenage sons living in Arizona. He hates most girl-band singers who aren't named Debbie Harry or Chrissie Hynde; query him about the merits of Gwen Stefani or Monique Powell, and you'll get pummeled by a slobbering faceful of nasty expletives. He's on an endless-loop videotape in the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, talking about the origins of skate punk. He isn't as scary as some people think, even though he made the OC Weekly's list of the county's 31 Scariest People last year. He's just turned 40, which is about 120 in punk years.
He'll be punk rock until the day he croaks. And by all rights, the man should have died a long-ass time ago. But here's Duane Peters now, looking fine and healthy on a nippy afternoon in a Costa Mesa coffee hole, adorned oddly in a green, high school letterman's jacket. A well-worn Clash tee peeks out from underneath, and tattooed beneath that, the words KILL ME I NEED THE REST run across his back, which is in full view when Duane takes his shirt off during Bombs and Hunns shows. POGUES and 101ERS (Joe Strummer's first band, if you must know) tags color the sides of his neck, right where his jugular pumps. The letters S-T-A-Y are inked on the fingers of his right hand, while A-W-A-Y are tatted on his left hand digits—just to make sure you get the message if Duane ever has to cock his fists at you someday.
That becomes less likely, it seems, as Duane gets older. The AIDS death last year of longtime U.S. Bombs guitarist Chuck Briggs changed Duane, made him a mellower, even more spiritual person—though he had to first wallow through a period of alcohol-soaked depression to cope with the pain. "Chuck was my best fucking friend, and it tore me up," he says, taking a long drag off a cigarette. "For four months, I couldn't get out of bed. I just smoked weed and closed up shop. But I did a lot of heavy thinking, too. I just think there are other levels you have to go to do good and redeem whatever the fuck you haven't done in other lives."
Not counting Duane's nicotine fetish, he's been eight months' sober—no booze, and certainly none of the hardcore intoxicants he once imbibed. His clearer head is like a new high, he says, and the future looks pretty fucking good. This year, there will be more Bombs and Hunns tours, including return jaunts to Europe. "A lot of kids, like in Ireland, they know our lyrics fucking verbatim," Duane says. "I've smoked hash joints with these kids, and it's an emotional thing. I left Ireland last time crying because these kids were so fucking poor that they'd thumb it four days to get to our show. It was fucking real. There'll be more songs written, more records put out, more half-pipes conquered. Next year, he'll be getting married to longtime girlfriend Trisha Maple. During our talk, Trisha comes around with her daughter, and Duane's scary exterior instantly melts away, revealing a contented, surrogate punk rock papa.
"If anybody should write a book, Duane should," says former U.S. Bombs manager Vince Pileggi. "And the stories he could tell wouldn't even be exaggerations. He was in my office the other day answering e-mails from fans, and there was all this blood running down his face because he just tattooed his head. Somehow, he's managed to make a living doing this, and I have a lot of respect for that. He's genuinely just a sweet person."
"I've seen him at the beach with his kids, this punk rock dad, with his lawn chair and his cooler and his tats blazing," says local club promoter Scott Tucker. "He's definitely not a poseur."
"He has a heart of gold," Trisha says. "An amazing guy all around. He never bores me. He's the best boyfriend."
But how did Duane Peters—at least this softer, cuddlier, family-oriented version—get here? Duane Peters was born in Anaheim and raised in Ontario. Most decent punkers—the talented ones, anyway—can trace the roots of their rage to divorce, and Duane is no exception. After his parents split, he moved to Newport Beach with his used-car-salesman father, and started getting kicked out of school for assorted youthful indiscretions, mostly ditching. How to deal with an angry young man? Send him off to live with relatives on a Michigan farm, of course. "It was the fucking country," remembers Duane, taking a long drag off a cigarette. "I went to school every day that year because there was nothing else to do. And if you fucked up, they'd take a switch to you. They were total inbreds—a very small town."
Duane spent a year on the farm and moved back with his dad, but the experience hadn't disciplined him much. At 14, he'd had enough of school and dropped out. By this time—the mid-'70s—skateboarding was still underground. Duane got into it heavily, but, not having the dough to buy a board himself, he improvised by sawing off a piece of wood, nailing on a pair of roller skates and sidewalk-surfing all around Newport and Balboa. "I just wanted to skate all the time and didn't want to have to go to work," he says. "I didn't want to grow up."
Duane started making up tricks, and he got good—very, very good. Then skating empty swimming pools became the rage, which further stoked Duane's youth-gone-wild streak. "We were breaking into people's back yards to skate their pools—even into their houses to make sandwiches—all around [Costa Mesa]. We'd stay until the police helicopters chased us out. Wherever there was an empty pool—all through 1975, '76, '77—that's all we were doing."
When the first wave of commercial skate parks opened, Duane's partners in skating crime lost interest in other people's property. But not Duane. He kept inventing new moves (and breaking about as many bones as his idol, Evel Knievel; Duane's skate nickname was the Master of Disaster). When he was 16, he pulled off what some had thought impossible: a complete, upside-down, 360-degree loop on a 14-foot pipe set up behind storied Costa Mesa punk club the Cuckoo's Nest. "I felt like Evel when I finally did it, but I ate shit every fucking way possible for about two weeks trying." The stunt earned Duane a mention in Skateboarder magazine, which led to offers for paid performances in skate shows. Soon, Duane was doing trick skating in huge rooms like the Forum and the Long Beach Arena. He even turned a loop on the cheesy old TV show That's Incredible! When the show circuits gradually folded, Duane entered contests and won handily.
Then he discovered something else he was good at: punk rock. "I only had one record, Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare," says Duane (still smoking), "and I really didn't play it that much. Everyone in skateboarding at the time was playing Ted Nugent, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac—all that shit. But then one day, I was in a car on the way to a skate show with some guys, and someone put in a Ramones tape. I just went, 'What the fuck?!!' I got into it right away; this was music I could skate to. Then me and about four of us got our hair cut and started getting the shit kicked out of us every day."
Punk rock became the subculture within the skating subculture, and Duane, as well as skater buds like Tony Alva and Steve Olsen, joined punk bands, skating to earn money during the day, and slamming, pogoing and getting gobbed on at night. Duane became a regular at the Cuckoo's Nest and remains a proud veteran of the Cuckoo's Nest/Zubie's wars of the era, when the cowboys who hung out at the restaurant next door to the Nest used to pick fights with those goll-durn, freaky-lookin' punker kids.
Soon, Duane adopted another idol: Sid Vicious. This was a baaaad thing. "It was like I heard Sid was a junkie, so I wanted to be a junkie, too," Duane recalls. "A couple of my friends OD'd from the stuff, but for some reason, that didn't scare me. Nothing scares a junkie, though. Once you start falling in, you think it's cool, and I thought it was cool. Then, all of a sudden, you're strung out, and it's fucking not cool. It's a horrible thing. You're sick all the time, you're always wanting to get well, but you never get well. I just turned into that full, gloomy, pathetic heroin addict."
All the money Duane earned as a pro skateboarder wound up supporting his habit—a habit that lasted much of his adult life (he's been clean for just four years). "Once you start popping the needle in your arm, it's completely evil. You see after about 10 or 15 years that it doesn't work—if you don't die first or end up in prison." And oh, did Duane do prison! "Probably about six or seven years all together," he admits, either on possession or trafficking charges. "That's how I used to clean up." When Duane was using, he didn't just cause trouble: he attracted trouble. He points out a part of his hand where he's lost all feeling—an eternal reminder of the time he tried jumping a fence when he was running from some Santa Ana cops. He's broken his collar bone 16 times, all of his toes, all his fingers, a leg, both his arms and both his elbows. Yeah, some of those battle scars are from skateboarding mishaps, but others came from getting beat down by the police and assorted DUI car and motorcycle wrecks—like the time he decided to pop a fistful of pills and go speeding through the streets of OC. Hey, Duane, what's up with that? "Me and some friends were at this keg party, experimenting with Quaaludes, and no one could drive, so I went, 'I'll fuckin' drive! I drive like I skate!' We were flying down Balboa going 85 miles an hour. I bent down to pick up my hat, looked up, and there were all these parked cars, but I thought they were all moving. So I got in my lane, but they weren't going anywhere, and I hit four parked cars. I had to pay that back, or I was going to jail at 18."
That's a good, solid 15-year-run of substance abuse, one that stretched into his mid-30s. Trisha helped Duane kick his bad habits. "I was living in Long Beach for a while, and not in a good part. I figured if I lived in the ghetto, I could write more shit. But every day, the gangs were hanging shoes above my power line, marking my house because I was doing shit like walking to the store in my underwear, pissed and drunk on Captain Morgan, yelling at everybody and making a scene. I was at a gas station, and a lot of gangbangers were there, so I started giving them shit. They were gonna take me out, but Trisha jumped in front of them, crying, begging for my life. And I noticed that somebody loved me—my chick. I just kind of fucking woke up one morning and said, 'I gotta get off this shit.' Now I've been with her for over four years."
Duane got off heroin by getting on alcohol—which was fun until his liver started leaking bile into his bloodstream. "My skin would start to burn, and I wouldn't know what to do, so I just kept drinking. Then someone took me to a doctor, and he told me I had about three months of good drinking left before it was all over. By then, I was just a nightmare drunk. Even my bar friends weren't digging me—that's when I knew something was wrong. So I swore to Trisha that I'd get clean and get off the booze, too."
Other than the relapse following Chuck Briggs' death, Duane has been on his best behavior. It's as if he's found a whole new drug, he'll tell you. "It's like being high all over again—like when you're a kid. I've been so hammered all my life that now I can't get enough work done because there's not enough time in the day. I've got more anger in me than ever, but I'm more on top of my shit. It's supposed to clear up more and more, I guess. I can remember what I did yesterday, and that's pretty cool. I've gotten into cooking and shit like that—casseroles, fish, chicken and Stubbs Barbecue sauce. Barbecue and hot sauces, I love it."
Between all the drugging and drinking, there was punking. Duane helped form the U.S. Bombs in 1994 with guitarist Kerry Martinez from the remains of the Exploding Fuck Dolls, which had, well, exploded. They became known as a blue-collar, '77-era punk band full of dirty, street-smart, scowling, vitriol-spewing toughs with an instinct for political and social messages—a reminder that this music was actually exciting, even revolutionary, once. Sometimes dangerous, too, especially when Duane launches himself into one of his self-abuse extravaganzas that he picked up from skateboarding. He'll do wild falls and backflips midsong.
"It's pretty harsh the way he abuses his body," says Hunns guitarist Rob Milucky. "I've seen him take 10-foot falls onto concrete floors, and then jump right back up again like nothing happened. At the Warped Tour, I saw him take a 30-foot fall down a scaffold, hitting hard metal all the way down. He really is the Evel Knievel of punk rock."
"He's bumpy all over, and things are out of place," says his wife-to-be.
Duane also pens most of his band's lyrics, most of which touch on war, death, insanity and whatever happens to be pissing him off at the moment. On Unite, the standout track was "Nuke H.B.," a rant against the 15-year redevelopment of Huntington Beach's Main Street into something unrecognizable to Duane. "The pier is just a mall/Downtown is really gone/Mix a prison with a gym . . . Surf City is a sewage tank/This beach is gonna sink!/1-2-3 NUKE HB!" On Back at the Laundromat, Duane spits at rave culture on "The Rubber Room," the music industry on "The Contract" and the whole damn government on "Yer Country" ("I ain't no 'tis of thee/I'm proud to be ashamed").
In the truest Clash tradition, Duane gets political by renouncing the political. While his lyrics may not be as blunt as those of, say, Pittsburgh punkers Anti-Flag, he's still trying to clue you in that there's other, bigger stuff going on in the world than what you'd get on a steady diet of Blink-182, which is pretty admirable these days. Last year, Duane even came close to voting. "I was gonna vote, but it got too fucking weird at the end. I was all pro-Nader, but then I started seeing I wouldn't really feel comfortable with him in charge, so then I went back to feeling that my vote doesn't matter. I was telling all my friends, 'Fuckin' vote! You gotta vote!' But then it turned into, 'You know what? I don't give a shit. We're all gonna lose, so fuck it.' With Republicans and Democrats, I can't tell the difference anymore. We've been under democracy for so long, but it hasn't been working for me."
Duane spends so much time on the road—nine months in 2001—that he bristles when told that some people don't really consider him a product of OC punk. "People think we're just fucking outsiders or wannabe rock stars, but the bottom line is that we're out there working. We're seeing the world for free and we get to play punk rock. That's been my dream all my life. During the drug days, I couldn't do that. I could barely leave town, and I was going to be one of these guys who keeps talking about what he's gonna do and then never doing it. So it's like, hey, time's running out. There's a whole fucking world out there."
And, how about this? Duane Peters—big, bad, one-of-Orange-County's-Scariest-People Duane Peters—is down with God. "Yeah. I'm not religious at all, but I believe it's cool to have some sort of fuckin' spiritual tap-in, or you're fucked," he says. "If you think you're the only guy running your own show, good luck. You're just a scared human. But I like where I'm going right now; I've kind of found a direction. I was directionless for years. I just wanted to die like my heroes. It was pretty sad, but that's the truth. I feel good about being 40. I'm still skating better than most 25-year-olds. I still look alive onstage. I don't see me slowing down. I'm just trying to get wiser. I didn't know how to pay a bill or nothing till a couple of years ago. I had to start learning from the ground up, learning how to be responsible. I'm hoping in my 40s, I'll be a little more solid. I didn't plan on being 25 or 30, so it's all gravy whatever I get now."
Right before we both pack up and leave the coffeehouse, Duane Peters tells me one last thing—right after he takes a long drag off a cigarette: "And this year, I'm gonna get me some new teeth."
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