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Jan 2005 / media shoegaze :: email this story to a friend

Life, Underground
By Sue Zeilstra

It all started with the song "Popcorn," which was one of the first electronic songs created.

Sue Zeilstra I don't remember the name of the band that performed it, if there was one, but I remember playing it on my parents' record player as a girl and thinking it was the greatest thing ever. So here I am, many years later, at the Red Sea listening to a band called "The Boo-Rays" and the guitar player, Mark Stephens, launches into the main riff from "Popcorn" and I am laughing hysterically because I know what he's playing. There might have been one or two others in the audience who knew what it was, but I kinda doubt it. I was at the show because my ex, Tim Rose, played in a band called "The Sun Sawed in 1/2" and we had seen the Boo-Rays' super-cool posters around town, and we knew that they had to be a cool band because the posters were so cool. It turns out those posters were illustrated by Mark Stephens, and he agreed to play a show with The Sun Sawed in 1/2 at the Red Sea. This was way back in the day when everyone was hanging out in U City and the old Cicero's was everybody's hangout. I met Mark's girlfriend Bruk at that show and she was dancing all night. We got to be better and better friends as we followed around our significant others' bands. Then one day we said to each other, "Hey, we love music so much; we can dance, we must have some rhythm; let's start our own band instead of just dancing to other people's music!" After that it all happened pretty quickly. Bruk decided to learn bass, I decided to learn drums, and we hooked up with Patti Loth whose brother Chris Bess (currently playing with Southern Culture on the Skids) was playing in Enormous Richard along with Chris King (who is currently the editor of the St. Louis American). Anyway, Fred Friction got wind of our little project and offered to let us open for him at the old Cicero's while he was playing in the "Friction-Camp Experience."

So now we really had a challenge, at the time we only knew one song, sort of, and it was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" which we would play over and over again because I don't think we knew how to end it. Anyway, we knew we needed more songs, so we got to work writing our own and started out with about 12 or 13 original songs for that first show on Valentine's Day. Oh yeah, our band was called Ouija.

Meanwhile, in the other half of my life I was pursuing a career in film and video production which is what I went to school for, but I was mainly still working as a PA (production assistant, a.k.a. gofer) on a freelance basis. I worked on many different shoots including "America's Most Wanted," "Rescue 911," and commercials for clients like Hardee's ("Hardee's Chicken is Rippin'") and Schnucks. Through this work I got to be friends with a gal named Breezy, who is a make-up artist, and she invited me and another friend who worked in video production as a prop wardrobe stylist, Lucy Harvey, to come down to the South Broadway Athletic Club to see her boyfriend wrestle.

He was known as Dr. Blood and sure enough, when he came out for his match blood was dripping down his face from where he'd cut his forehead. Quite an interesting experience, if I do say so myself. That is how I met the artist Wayne St. Wayne, formerly known as "Dr. Blood."

As time went on, Tim and I split after writing some good songs together; the Boo-Rays split and Mark went on to form the Highway Matrons with many different members, but consistently Freddy Friction, who referred to Mark as Mr. Terrific. Mark and Bruk split too, but my band with Bruk, Ouija, continued to rock. We all decided to start a record label/cooperative one day back when Mark and Bruk still lived in their house on Utah, and we were all thinking of names with different meanings (like Enormous Richard) when Freddy came up with Rooster Lollipop. So we all released our albums under that label. By this time, the cool place to hang out was now the Way Out Club on Cherokee and Compton. The owners, Bob and Sherri, were excellent supporters of local music and gave all of us shows there. I think that maybe Bob realized that musicians are some of the biggest drinkers of all, so if you give them a place to hang out you're bound to sell a whole lotta beer. In reality, he really loved local music and knew it should be recognized and appreciated on its own, not just in conjunction with out-of-town bands.

The Way Out Club Eventually the old Way Out closed, and Bob and Sherri found a new location on Jefferson. Meanwhile we continued to play Ouija shows and made friends with lots of other bands who joined us on the Rooster Lollipop label (at least for a while) including: Free Dirt, The Phonocaptors, Tinhorn, Rocket Park, The Homewreckers, Sexicolor, the Trip Daddys and many more. I got to know many other bands as well, including the saw player Heather O'Shaughnessey's band.

Ouija eventually ended up going on extended hiatus and Bruk started playing with a new group of girls including Heather O'Shaughnessey (the saw player), Jill Aboussie (on drums), and Sunyatta Marshall (on guitar). Sunyatta had married Mark Stephens and they were both going by the last name Marshens for a while. Anyway — that band was called Maid Rite.

Meanwhile back to me: I wasn't playing in Ouija and wasn't in Maid Rite yet, and so I needed a project. That's when I remembered my original goal when I was in college: my plan was to get a full time job and then do my own film/video projects on the side. My other ex (Steve Zeilstra) and I had talked about a show about the meaning of life, and I saw an article about the CALOP program in the U City paper. I lived in U City for over ten years, and decided to combine my love of my crazy underground world with the meaning of life idea — and thus "STRETCH - The St. Louis Arts and Entertainment Underground" was born. I rounded out the idea for the program with another aspect of underground culture, the unexpected world of backyard boxing personified by promoter Steven Fitzpatrick Smith. So the sum total of the project involved interviewing different friends about what gives meaning to their lives and why they are driven to do what they do as artists, musicians, entertainers. My main subjects were: Wayne St. Wayne, painter; Mark Stephens, singer/songwriter; Sherri Danger, Way Out Club owner/KDHX radio personality; Heather O'Shaughnessey, tattoo artist; and Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, Hoosierweight boxing promoter.

Eventually, I ended up playing with Maid Rite, too; I just can't get away from being a musician, I guess. So some of my interview subjects are in my band now, including Bruk (who talks about Sherri), and Gretta Ganter (who talks about Hoosierweight boxing). Other people who are interviewed in the film include Freddy Friction, boxer Thomas Crone (who was a music critic for the RFT way, way back when in the old days of Cicero's basement), Ray Brewer (formerly of the comedy group Brand X), and many other people who are part of the underground.

I'm glad that I did it. It was a helluva lot of work, in the parlance of our times, but worth it in the end. As Wayne St. Wayne says in the film, "I don't know what happens after we die: some people believe in Heaven and Hell, or reincarnation, but I really just don't know, so I thought I'd better leave a lot of cool stuff behind." Hopefully my film is one of those cool things that people can discover years from now, available to be checked out from the U City Public library; and they may wonder to themselves, "What was St. Louis like way back then?" and they'll have a pretty cool view of a small slice of the culture that is out there, the underground culture. Maybe somebody will tune in now to watch it on HEC's Liquid Light program (don't ask me when or what channel; I don't have cable!), and maybe it will inspire someone to pursue their dreams, pursue what they love to do, or maybe it will just inspire someone who feels like they are the only freak on the planet who wonders what the hell it's all about to realize that hey, you're not alone, there are plenty o' other freaks out there too.

Thanks to the City of University City, the CALOP board and Charter Communications for providing the funding to produce my film.

Sue Zeilstra probably has another film project in her, but is enjoying being done with STRETCH for the moment.

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