Photo by Jack GouldLinda Jemison would be the last person to point fingers, so I'll do it for her:
You killed Linda's Doll Hut. You, and you, and probably you. All those nights you showed up at her legendary Anaheim roadhouse and didn't buy beers. I was behind the bar at a Cadillac Tramps show. You people should have been loaded. But bartenders Yvette DeSpain and Greg Antista got to watch the entire show unmolested by pesky requests for drinks, with nothing to distract them from lead singer Gabby's enormous belly.
And then there were all those nights you didn't show up at all. Last year, almost no one attended the Alejandro Escovedo gig. Jesus, Thelonious Monster played to an empty house last month—Linda lost her ass on that one, promoting it six weeks in advance, for nada. You didn't show up for Hank Williams III either—probably, to be fair, because you figured he'd cancel again as he canceled his first two scheduled appearances. (He's got his granddaddy's legacy to live up to.)
And not just Linda's Doll Hut—your neglect has winged Club Mesa, too, with its punk rock quicksand floor that was almost as legendary as the vomit-stiffened carpets at the Hut. And Long Beach's Lava Lounge? Well, Snoop Town City Councilman Frank Colonna gets to mount its stuffed head on his wall, but I wouldn't be surprised if all of you were in cahoots. And whatever happened to In Cahoots, anyway? Is it still there? And where were you when they shot Kennedy? Kennedy killer!
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And if you weren't enough: Disney construction diverted drivers around the Doll Hut. Her core clientele aged, had babies, stayed home more often. Then there was the natural, undeniable pull of outside interests (bands to promote, a deal with Time Bomb records) and romance in Linda's life, forcing her to transform a one-woman operation into something a little more complicated. And expensive.
No, Linda (hereafter referred to as "Linda" in blithe disregard for Associated Press style because Linda does not need a last name in this county) will never point her finger at you or give you the bitch slap you deserve. She won't blame outside factors—not even Disneyland. It's not her style. And even if it were, she doesn't blame you anyway. This is not a story about what a well-respected and universally beloved sweetheart Linda is. For a thousand stories about that, do a Net search. This is a story about what she created. Linda's Doll Hut has been (as my colleague Jim Washburn said in the OC Weekly's very first issue) the jewel in the belly of OC's music scene for the past 12 years. And now it's time to bow out gracefully. Linda's Doll Hut will close its doors Aug. 31.
A bunch of us are sitting in the small living room of Linda's pretty Fullerton apartment. While the Doll Hut may be a dank, windowless hole whose walls remain plumb only because generations of band stickers serve as mortar, Linda is, in fact, a girl. Her apartment is carpeted in springy greens instead of Coors. There are Winnie the Pooh toothbrush holders in the bathroom she shares with her grown niece, Ashley. There is a table full of lovely refreshments, and we are telling tales about the Hut.
Jimmy Camp, now the political director for the California Republican Party, was in the Earwigs: the first band to play the Doll Hut, a week after Linda opened it with her then-husband in 1989.
"This cute girl was fliering for her new bar," Camp says. "The fliers read, 'A beer bar by and for musicians.'" (Linda began drumming when she was 12.)
Camp continues, "The grand opening had 25-cent beers. Everyone we knew was there. We told her she needed music, but she said they weren't gonna have any. So we totally lied and told her we were from Austin and were only gonna be in town for a week. I told her I'd go to City Hall and take care of the permits and everything. I never did. We played all night."
That set the stage—or lack thereof in the case of Linda's Doll Hut where, through a kind of utilitarian aesthetic or democratic impulse, there is no stage, just a single, small floor bifurcated by the bar in a house that really is no bigger than a hut—for Social Distortion, Thelonious Monster, U.S. Bombs, the Muffs and Southern Culture on the Skids; for the Adolescents, Billy Zoom, Brian Setzer, Candye Kane and Everclear; for Exene and John Doe, Jonathan Richman, Hot Club of Cowtown, L7, Lee Rocker and Lit; for Mike Ness, Mike Martt and Mike Watt; for the Offspring, Reverend Horton Heat, Wayne Kramer, Weezer and the Supersuckers; for every band that's come out of Orange County. Linda gave people their first gigs straight from the garage. Big-time rock stars found at Linda's the chance to feel connected instead of bloated and isolated in their jewel-encrusted mansions.
"Tour managers and roadies for professional bands hate us!" Linda says with a laugh. "There's no stage, no back line, no dressing room, no food."
Steve Soto, who sometimes runs the door and used to handle Linda's band bookings, chimes in, "They wanna fax us a stage plot. We don't have a stage."
"A few bands pull up and go, 'Uh, we're gonna go get some food,'" she says. "They never come back."
When Bad Religion played—Soto guilted them into it after they recorded a song very similar to one by his band, the Adolescents—the band's management was expecting to roll in at 3 p.m. to take care of equipment and sound checks and all that. Um, there's really no need, guys. Just come back at 9 p.m., plug in and play.
In the old days, the place was a lunatic asylum. Regulars sat around in their underwear, watching porn and smoking cigars on Sundays, when the bar was closed.
Remember the time that girl punched Linda in the face? She had Linda down on the ground and was punching her and punching her until somebody Maced her.
Remember the time that guy pushed Linda? "Did he die?" someone asks.
Remember when CC was standing on the bar, hanging his ass out at everyone? Some guy stuck his finger right up there, like an experienced urologist performing CC's first prostate exam. CC's eyes lit up like a slot machine. He rounded on the poker, and the poker prepared for a fight but broke his ankle just standing up from his barstool. The two sat back down and kept drinking.
Remember the time the Cadillac Tramps' Gabby kicked that Marine's ass? The cops came, and Gabby sat down on the curb and started crying. "'I'm just a punker trying to go to the show, and he's fucking with me,'" Soto quotes Gabby as whining. Gabby peeked up, and one of the cops was Mexican-American. "'He called me a beaner,'" Soto recalls Gabby saying. The Marine went to jail.
But in 12 years, Linda says, that incident is one of just three times the cops had to be called. "We took care of it all in-house," she says.
Michael Eckerson, a graphic artist, insists no laws were ever broken. "There was never any nudity, ever. Jimmy never shot flares off the roof. And we never went over capacity." For anyone who's been wondering, the Hut's capacity is 49. Stop laughing!
In the fall of '98, the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) reamed Linda's for a video game that had full-frontal nudity. The fine was $3,000, and they had to cancel a TSOL show because of it. The Hut was under surveillance for the next four months.
"They were the worst undercovers ever," Soto says. "They'd say things like, 'I bet you could get a lot of cocaine around here!' Or 'So, do you ever get these girls real drunk and take 'em out to the car . . . ?'" But Linda had her own Drug Enforcement Agency policy: meth guys—actually, any drug guys—were beaten and banished. Speed freaks are no fun.
The group remembers Pittner and Joe, the terrible alcoholics who worked at the machine shop across the street. Linda's Doll Hut had been open a while before she met the pair; they'd had a bet going to see who could stay on the wagon the longest. Finally, they both came over and declared the game ended.
Once, the two machinists were in the men's room for a long time before someone went looking for them. Pittner was peeing, and Joe was charging him with the vacuum cleaner. They were peeing on the walls and laughing and laughing.
The pair turned out to be object lessons for Doll Hut regulars. Eckerson says, "I used to work nearby, and I'd go to Linda's for a liquid lunch. It was a treat to go hang with those guys at the bar in the afternoons. But, man, you didn't want to grow up to be like them."
The group bickers over the wording of an actual quotation from Pittner. The closest they come is, "I'm not eating corn on the cob anymore 'cause when I shit myself in the shower, I gotta push the kernels down the drain with my toes."
Once, Linda was picking glass out of his head when he reached around and grabbed her ass. He always bragged about it afterward. When Pittner died after pretty much going on a mission to drink himself to death, his dog Bo curled up under a truck and died the same night.
The place isn't an asylum anymore—maybe because the punk rockers have become old punk rockers. And maybe that has something to do with declining bar revenue. Linda and her friends are 36 and wiser not 24 and stupid. They're marrying and having little punk rock babies. Mikey Hobbick recalls that he stalked Cher at the Hut for a year. "I said, 'Linda, you gotta get me a date with her!' She had a boyfriend, but he was in rehab."
Cher breaks in: "Mikey and Jimmy's number was actually on the wall in the ladies' room. 'For a good time call . . . .'"
(Dave "The Chairman" Mau says his number, too, was on the womens' room wall. It read, "Dave will eat you all night long." For about three months, he kept getting giggling, drunken, 2:30 a.m. phone calls.)
Mikey and Cher's first date was at the Hut, on a Valentine's Day. There was champagne and flowers for the ladies. They have been married for almost three years and have a very nice little baby. And there are at least 20 couples like them, who met and married because of Linda's Doll Hut. "The marriages are lasting. That's the weird thing!" Linda exclaims. Rikk Agnew owns the Doll Hut couch on which his daughter was conceived, the crowd swears. There's a placard over it.
A few days later, Linda and her pretty niece Ashley are sitting by the pool behind her mom's house. Linda is talking about her debt, the red ink she acquired trying to keep the Doll Hut going. Once she was rear-ended, and the $20,000 settlement went straight into the Hut. When she used to scout bands for Time Bomb Records, her paychecks went straight to the Doll Hut's landlady.
"Maybe I'm not a very good businesswoman," she admits. And she's not speaking of the debt-ridden business she ran as a labor of love. Now that she's calling it quits, she doesn't want to sell the Hut but bury it. "Selling it would be the right thing to do from a business standpoint. I'm not about the money, but I need to get out of debt," she says. "My ego would love to think that no one else could do what I did." She laughs. "But not selling it would be like junking a car that still runs just so no one else could have it."
She seems to be thinking about it as we speak. She says she'll entertain offers and promises that if someone does what she did for the first six years—work behind the bar six nights a week and book the bands herself—money can and will be made. And if the place sells hard liquor—not just beer and wine—they'd make a mint. They'd have to take the name "Linda's" off the sign—it would be false advertising if they didn't—but the Doll Hut has a history dating back to 1957.
Linda's been thinking about it a lot: What went wrong? She's come to the conclusion that—once again—the Mouse is to blame. The Hut's financial difficulties started about three years ago, roughly the moment Caltrans began tearing up the offramps and onramps for the nearby 5 freeway. People couldn't figure out how to get there on any given day. I'd frequently leave Linda's at two in the morning, only to be shunted off the freeway within an exit or two—no signs, no arrows, just cars splintering off in twos and threes until all of a sudden, yours is the only car left, and you're staring at a scarred and scorched pit straight out of Blade Runner, with no earthly idea how to return to civilization. It was a nightmare, all so that Disneyland could get its own offramp and a face-lift.
John Pantle, the Downtown Disney House of Blues' talent booker, agrees. "It's not the economy," he said. "Concerts do better in bad economies, as long as they're not the $40 or $50 tickets. You know what the best concert market in the country is? Detroit, and their economy's been in the shitter for 15 years. And with Linda's, with a $5 cover, it's definitely not about that at all. It's all about location. Linda got screwed by her location."
Linda—who has paid for people's cab rides home for the past 12 years out of her own pocket; on whose couch so many broke or out-of-town rock stars crashed; who has thrown numberless benefits for worthy causes (most especially the Orangewood Children's Foundation) in the past decade—is telling me about a guy she once 86ed:
"He was the new singer for the Stains. They're all big Samoan guys, and he wasn't. I didn't realize who he was, and he ordered a beer, and I accidentally charged him for it instead of buying it for him. I didn't know, and he didn't say anything about it. So they go up to play, and I think, 'Oh, no, that guy's the new singer, and I didn't buy his beer!' Before a word even comes out of his mouth, he kicks in my monitor and bashes my mic down on the bar, busting it."
He was immediately wrestled outside, but not before screaming at Linda, "YOU'RE A YUPPIE BITCH AND YOU MAKE LOVE TO YOUR MONEY!"
"I was furious," Linda says. "I was so mad I offered the bouncer 50 bucks to kick the guy's ass. But he wouldn't do it. He just said, 'Linda, you don't mean that.'"
A week later, the guy came back with a baseball cap down around his eyes.
"He was trying to be incognito," Linda says. "He said, 'I came in to apologize. . . . BUT YOU'RE A YUPPIE BITCH AND YOU MAKE LOVE TO YOUR MONEY!"
For the record, Linda is not a yuppie bitch who makes love to her money. Still, she could use some after all the debt she's incurred on behalf of all of us.
These days, Linda is managing the band Wonderlove, a group of five nice boys with whom she's absolutely besotted—but not in a sexual way. She says she can and will make them famous. Their sound unplugged is beautiful, Beatlesesque melody. Plugged in, they're extremely loud—too loud for my ears.
"They have every element they need," Linda explains. "Bands I've worked with in the past have always been missing one of the elements, whether it's songwriting, or sobriety or just plain luck. They have it all. And they're not self-sabotaging!"
Linda's golden-brown eyes are sparkling. She actually glows when she talks about Wonderlove, as she does when she talks about a man she's seeing who, shockingly, is neither a musician nor from Texas. It's clear she's not a bit sad; it's everyone else who's whining and moaning. She's excited to be able to devote her time to mothering these boys and, she says, "nurturing my personal life."
But the rest of us will no longer have the dirty, vile roadhouse in which to run into our friends and see the latest bitchen San Francisco punk band or a sweaty set by some Austin roots rockers. We won't see Dexter Holland crowd-surf straight through the ceiling tiles (he sweetly sent her a check to cover the repairs). The rockabilly kids no longer have a place to go, dressed to kill, every Thursday night to see Big Sandy or Russell Scott when no other venues would bother with greaser music. There will be no place to go after the Hootenanny, when people like John Doe and the Reverend Horton Heat would come and make music and drink beer after the sun went down.
Things change and scenes die. New ones come along. Entropy and rebirth. Jimi Hendrix played the Golden Bear; it was shuttered in 1986. Johnny Cash played the Foothill; owner Ron Price sold it to a salsa outfit last year. And now, someone else will look at the sea of kids with nowhere to go and decide there's a need to be met. And maybe they'll even do so with Linda's hallmarks of kindness and respect.
Say goodnight, Gracie.
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