When I was 16, my best friend, Dana, and I spent a lot of time ditching school, thumbing rides from our Denver suburb to Boulder, and hanging around pretty much the dirtiest, smelliest people of the entire early-70s freak scene, the STP Family.
When I was 16, my best friend, Dana, and I spent a lot of time ditching school, thumbing rides from our Denver suburb to Boulder, and hanging around pretty much the dirtiest, smelliest people of the entire early-70s freak scene, the STP Family. We first met the STPs one spring day while walking from the Hill up to Beach Park. We were trying to score, or find a toke, or just have a destination because when you hung out in Boulder you walked around endlessly looking for fun, trouble, or drugs. In 1970 an ounce of pot cost $15 from the kids in your school, but in Beach it was even cheaper—or free.
Halfway there Dana yelped and felt her head. "I just got hit with something." A second later I got hit too. Titters were coming from the porch of the house we were rubbing our heads in front of, where a couple of freaks were tipped back in kitchen chairs. One was skinny with matted blond hair that hung past his nipples. The other was built like a marine, in an oily-looking vest, with what appeared to be a small animal skull attached to his head at a jaunty angle, like an Easter bonnet. They showed us how they'd tied a rock to a fishing line, draped it over a branch, and for laughs were dinging whoever walked by. This was Skrat and STP John.
We spent the afternoon with them, konking CU students on their way to campus. Skrat and John were maybe ten years older, but they judged us to be entertaining, and soon enough we were dropping by the main STP house a few blocks over, passing around crummy port wine and sampling the acid that perpetually spiked a jar of honey in the hallway. Take a swipe, you'd be good for the rest of the day.
The house was an excellent tripping locale, an ongoing carnival with a dozen heads crashing amid its maze of Victorian parlors and bedrooms. Owing to the transiency of hippie life, the STP Family was a loose one. A few other underage kids wandered through, runaways who'd gravitated there from word of mouth. But the STPs were mostly adults of indeterminate age. Sallow-skinned women with tangled hair and lit-up eyes, and men with the gleeful/cracked expression of newly minted Vietnam vets, which a number of them were, and which maybe explained their penchant for guns.
STPs drank a lot. Cisco and 20/20, but also Strawberry Hill and a sugary apple wine named Annie Green Springs that made your teeth buzz. Schlitz and Miller of course, and a memory-wiping concoction created from grape Kool-Aid and Everclear, called Purple Jesus. The partying was loud, to say the least, and intense. The alcohol and the guns didn't always get along, either. The only time I've seen a gun aimed at anyone was in the kitchen of the STP house. Honestly, it was something about an outsider swiping a bag of rice.
I met people named Deputy Dawg, Grody, Patty Rotten Crotch, LB, Wabbit, Candy, Charles B. Beard, Daisy May, Asshole Dave (of the affiliated Asshole Family), and Chuck and Mike Motherfucker. You might say this was the street team, up and out in the late afternoon with their dogs to panhandle, shoplift household items, and dive dumpsters. Even in wide-open Boulder their appearance on the street was head-turning, like a hairy mountain theater troupe with a grimy, destitute sense of costuming.
The story I heard was that the original STPs had come to Boulder from New York City. They'd been sort of the junior league of the UAW Motherfuckers, who were among the hardest longhairs on the Lower East Side. The Motherfuckers pushed all manner of anarchy and had a reputation for being fearless when it came to the police. The STPs were younger and dealt, yep, STP, an Owsley variant of MDA that could have you tripping for three days at a dose. In 1969, when a wave of busts came down in New York, part of the STP Family headed to Boulder, a known freak haven. Once established, they became infamous for their full-throttle routines and their aversion to soap.
"Dirty hippie" is mostly a myth. OG hippies liked taking baths and showers and washing their hair with Herbal Essences as much as anyone else, after which they might even anoint themselves with patchouli. In contrast, the STP Family embraced the stereotype. They were filthy. Some of them reeked—of not only BO but cigarettes, liquor, pot, and piss. It was their calling card.
But what set the STPs apart from the other Boulder tribes was their clothes. For example, photos of that era often show hippies in patchwork jeans and jackets. The STP version looked to have been worn for years by someone who was regularly dragged through gutters, peed on, then dropped down a coal mine.
I remember Wabbit would arrive on the Hill in grime-burnished patchwork bells, aged to near disintegration, worn over a stained, pissy union suit. On top of that was a wool suit jacket, ripped vertically down the back and belted at the waist by means of a braided rope tied in a knot above the butt. His feet were shod in oversize engineer boots. The heels were so worn down that Wabbit always looked to be walking uphill.
Or there was another STP who I once saw begging change outside of Canyon Liquors, a favorite spot. She had on a child's baby-doll dress as a top and greasy leather biker pants at least six inches too long. She'd made slots at the bottom of each leg so that her toes fit through, with the remaining inches ragging behind her.
The best STP accessories were obtainable in the nearby mountains—animal furs used as patches and bleached skulls worn as hats. I actually only recall seeing the latter twice, the first time by Skrat on the porch and then by an STP at a free show in the park that used to be on the road to Boulder Canyon. There was a 1930s band shell, and on Saturday afternoons cosmic boogiers like Zephyr (featuring a teenage Tommy Bolin) jammed for hours on things like "The Creator Has a Master Plan." The STPs came with bottles of Platte Valley corn mash; they would drop and drink, then roll in the grass grumbling and hooting. One Saturday Dana and I were tripping hard when a sunburned STP walked by. He wore cutoffs with a turquoise maxi-fringe stash bag on his belt and had thick, shaggy hair over which was the top half of a horse skull. The jaw fit snug like a bike helmet. Dana remembers him shouting "Fuck the lucky duck!" over and over at the stage.
Dana is still in Colorado, one suburb over from where we grew up. She has a better memory for the details than I do.
Vice: Do you recall the guy in the park, with the skull headdress?
Dana: I'm thinking that was, uh... Deputy Dawg. He was the one murdered by a cop, actually pretty soon after that.
Yeah. I'd blocked that out.
Did you know the cop finally confessed to it on his deathbed? About ten years ago. His reason was that he couldn't stand Deputy Dawg. He just took him out and shot him in the head, then dumped the body around where the STP camp was.
The STP camp was the other important place. But let's talk about high hippie fashion.
There was so much stray creativity going on with some of those people. I mean a lot of them were your run-of-the-mill grimy street heads...
Some were pretty genius. Living in Colorado, I'd been more into the mountain-girl look. Shearling jackets and 501s. Desert boots. But up in Boulder there was the STP influence on top of that, and then people like Lady Jane and Russ from Brillig Works. You could see those people coming down the street at 200 paces.
Describe for our readers, please.
Where do I start? [laughs] OK, one of the wildest things. One time at a day festival at Hidden Valley Ranch I remember Russ in this long cape made up of leaves and twigs and burrs and mud and bugs and probably shit and piss. I couldn't tell what held it together, but I remember it was really magnificent to see. It trailed on the ground behind him and people were just... But you know how those guys were. At some point he and some other winehead got into a tussle and [Russ's] face was bleeding. He was one of those too-ripped-to-care guys, and the more he fell down in the mud around the stage, the more the cape became a cocoon. And then at night around the bonfires he was this stumbling, like, burrito.
I don't remember that. I just remember eating the brown-rice goop they were handing out on a raw cabbage leaf. But you also mentioned Lady Jane?
Well, Jane was my hero. I wanted to be her best friend, but I was just this little teenage baby. Jane was the first chick I saw go topless in the park. But her breasts would be falling out of a pristine white Victorian dress with lace draped everywhere. You could choose to notice or not. And the doll makeup. I always thought that later on she would have fit really well into the punk scene.
She was something. The black parasol with candy glued all around the edge.
Sweet Pam came through Boulder around then and met STP John. Jane told me that he later showed her photos of Pam and the Cockettes, who were just starting to get known on the coast. Remember Rags?
Rags, the little magazine? They did a spread on the Cockettes.
Jane got a lot of her ideas early on from that. So, anyway, you had people like Patty Rotten Crotch and the Skank Sisters, who were funky mountain chicks with dirty hair and whatnot. And then you had Lady Jane tripping up College Avenue with see-through lace Victorian knickers and an ivory walking stick. And they would both be working the students and tourists. "Spare change for dog food?" [laughs]
OK, what about baskets and holey crotches? This was the no-underwear era. Guys in cutoffs up to here like a pussy grazer. You'd see some dude sitting cross-legged with a guitar in Beach Park singing soulfully with his eyes closed, and his dick and balls would be flopped out on the grass.
Ha, I never quite saw that but there was a lot of male flashing, because of the holes. It's interesting that the male genitals were so visible in that time, and nowadays they're so hidden, by either baggy pants or super-tight jeans that cut the crotch two inches below the balls. Now it's about butt. The baggy pants are about the high, round butt, and the stovepipes are about the flat skinny butt. In fashion there are rarely two different silhouettes simultaneously like that.
STPs would also wear long johns as pants.
I loved that. My favorite STP look was Charlie Blackbeard wearing a union suit with a homemade STP t-shirt over it, like in ballpoint pen, and high-button shoes. And the flap on the union suit was stained. It looked like he'd crapped it. I was watching him play pool at Eddie Spaghetti's and every time he bent over the table you got a look at his crusty butt. He had to leave to avoid a fight with the frat dudes.
The Colorado University frats hated the STPs, I remember that. They'd gotten Daddy to send them to one of the biggest party schools and here the town was filled with creeps, longhairs, and crusty butts!
And look what happened to John. [STP John was stabbed to death during an altercation at a fraternity party.]
After that, things went on the same for a while longer, but then they changed. Or the hip style started to change.
Yes, it did. You certainly did.
But I never fit into the STP deal to begin with. The winehead hag look. I was 17 watching these chicks in their mid-20s fuck up their faces and their skin. Daisy looked good but the rest looked like shit most of the time. But really, the brass tacks of it was that the STPs weren't a style. Their look was more along the lines of a national costume. It was born from the environment they lived in, and it would probably never evolve. Wherever Patty Rotten Crotch is now, I bet she still doesn't give a fuck about what she's got on.
Well, that's my question with all this. Was it just us noticing their "style" that made it exist? Or was, say, Wabbit consciously projecting it?
Anyway, we moved on. Marc Bolan. [laughs]
Well, but that complicates things. Because you're bringing in the British.
Anyway, before that Boulder was already changing. LA country glam was coming in, for one.
Gram Parsons's Nudie suits were a revolution. I can't say it enough. No one could afford one, but they influenced everything. Because then embroidery—which had been there all along—went mega. And it went in all these directions, from acid heads to rock 'n' roll kids to even Neil Diamond. There's that book everyone is into from that era...
Native Funk & Flash.
Right. They show Big Sur types in embroidered jeans and shawls, and pre-glammers in embroidered satin and appliqué and makeup. And then people who were into America and Bread and those kind of laid-back pop bands were all of a sudden embroidering on their jeans and jackets too. The book makes it seem like these are all part of the same continuum, and in a way they were.
1971 was when I suddenly noticed freaks wearing chunky heels and tighter, higher-waisted jackets. Long hair started to get shagged. But it was still a street look. It wasn't being fey and calling anyone's bluff the way full-on glam did later. 1971 was also when the ironic t-shirt got going. Maudy's was selling Ed Roth hot-rod shirts. "Wrap Your Ass in Fiberglass." The personality tees with Marilyn and James Dean. Old-fashioned company logos. 1930s cartoon characters.
OK, now Marc Bolan. Because for a long time his thing had been the ultimate ethereal hippie. But when he became such a star in England, overnight he transformed that style into another one, while keeping the original embedded in the new. You know what I mean? The new one was a camp take on the 1930s crossed with earlier eras. The satin and especially the plastic t-strap Mary Jane shoes that were lime green. But his t-shirts had cartoon characters—Rupert Bear and Rooty Toot Toot. It was irony aimed at 13-year-old girls, not his fellow hippies anymore.
He also wore t-shirts of himself. His own face. Bolan's very confusing to talk about in these terms.
Around then was the first time I lived in Ann Arbor. The Michigan people completely got where all this was coming from and where it was going. They always had a more pulled-together vibe in Michigan. Look at the MC5, or even Iggy and the Stooges, or Bob Seger.
There weren't any mountains to romanticize. Nothing very ethereal in Ann Arbor.
So when I'd come back to Denver, the scene on Colfax looked kind of dated to me. I was wearing that fox chubbie and platforms. A Michigan look. Then back in Ann Arbor I'd see these kind of country-rock dudes and you could tell they felt out of place.
I think that's a little later, maybe '72. I agree with you about Denver, though. I remember seeing Zeppelin with, I think, you and Greg. And I'm wearing tight Levis with silver lamé cuffs, with a silver lamé jacket. And I had a bleached pompadour. [laughs]
And some guy was yelling at you—"Man from Glad!"
But why would Michigan be so different?
They were kind of cocky there. And because of Motown, there was this instilled kind of greaser sense of maintaining a look at all times. You might have on a swirling psychedelic shirt with a giant collar and cuffs and puffy sleeves, but you still tucked it in. Stacked heels were theatrical, they took you away from the ground, away from the earth. Ann Arbor is also the first place I saw the embroidery thing become sequins. That was the day hippie died.
Hmm, I don't know. I saw sequins years before that, at a Family Dog show in Denver. There were the light-show guys and they'd hide me in the balcony after curfew.
Diogenes Light Company.
Diogenes Lantern Works. They were from the West Coast and they always had on sparkly stuff, old western shirts with sequined roses.
Well now, I'm getting a flash of the only other person I saw in Boulder with a bone on his head, and this may or may not be part of the Family. I was on the Hill and there were these two fellows. One of them I remember was in an orange, double-breasted military uniform with some kind of glitter piping, and his friend had a spine hanging off the top of his head. He'd wound it around and around with an old rag. He also had on gold lamé harem pants.
Ha, wow. OK, we need to get back to the subject of the article.
When grunge happened I had to laugh. To me STP will always be the center of the grunge universe.
But how did that happen?
That's the thing. I'm still not sure what the reasons were [for being so dirty]. One possibility is trying to ward off evil. The evil of not only the straight world but also other hippies, whom the STPs did not generally cotton to. They had such a harsh sense of territory, and I'd guess that was because they were very uprooted, people who'd banged around the world a while and were in many ways pretty cynical for their age. Dirty was a way to keep yourself de facto separate.
I remember fun and wild dancing.
The best dancers. When they could remain upright. I'd never seen white people so loose, probably to this day. There was a video of them on YouTube, did you send me that? It was a day festival, the Hog Farm event.
At Hidden Valley Ranch, maybe?
They're ripped to the tits and dancing all over this mud hole, and of course there's a fight. But the dancing is so intense. Like funky... writhing. You know how they loved Zephyr, I think it was Zephyr. And I'd be trying to do my little shy-teenage-hippie-girl dance next to the stage and here they were, ROARING next to me. It was like a black gospel church times ten.
How about the campsite outside Nederland [a small town up into the Rockies about seven miles outside Boulder].
The Nederland thing was always more full-on. At the camp, but also in town at the Pioneer.
I didn't have a fake ID.
They served 3.2 beer. That's the bar Marshal Dillon dragged Deputy Dawg out of the night he shot him. People would get wasted and say, "Let's go to the camp." I got swept along [one night] and had a gay old time up there. They had a teepee. I was, like, "A teepee!" And of course it turned into a gangbang.
There was a lot of fucking around the perimeter of STP parties. Woodsy sex. One of the first guys I ever blew was up there. Rand.
Really? Well, I didn't join in. I ran away back to town. Now I kick myself.
A lot of those guys were pretty hot. [laughs]
I'd get really hot watching those dudes with their jeans half ripped off their asses. All the holes and tears everywhere. That was a completely new thing at the time and I really liked it.