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Halloween 1981
“The ‘A’ Bomb Woke Me”
The Swimming Pool Q’s 
1979 — Gator from Another Planet
((( New Wave )))

swimming pool q’s

The Simming Pool Q’s founder Jeff Calder, from Athens, Georgia recalls his band opening for Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics at the 1981 Halloween Ball. Calder’s first person recollection of that year’s Ball is another entertaining description of UF’s notorious Halloween Festival.
Don’t Make Any Sudden Movements
Gainesville, Florida
By Jim Calder (UF 1974)
Swimming Pool Q’s (Guitar, Saxophone, Vocals, Theremin)

In the late 70s and early 80s, The Swimming Pool Q’s trips to Florida were like raids across the Mexican border. The interaction of New Wave and Punk with the natives — and their often-strange ways — usually produced some sort of existential drama. One never knew what might happen next, and this uncertainty kept a touring band perched at the ready, sabers up.

Take the 1981 Halloween Party held at my alma mater The University of Florida in Gainesville. The annual outdoor event was headlined by New York City’s The Plasmatics, and it would become the most terrifying engagement of The Swimming Pool Q’s’ career.  Fronted by the forceful bosom of Wendy O. Williams (d. 1998), The Plasmatics were metal-punk commandos known for their violent stage orchestrations. The Q’s were confined to an extremity of the stage; an old Plymouth occupied the other end.  The “Hollywood team” that wired the car with pyrotechnic devices warned us to refrain from any sudden movement.  “The car,” cautioned a Plasmatics roadie, “will definitely blow.” 

And so, to witness the scene: 25,000 Florida fuck-ups, made mean by root of Mandrake.  Prior to our entrance, a record company go-getter had distributed hundreds of 12-inch singles to the jittering mob in front of the stage. Midway through The Swimming Pool Q’s set, they began to treat these promotional gifts as Frisbees, which the musicians had to dodge–without any sudden movement because of the potential car bomb–as one flying discus after another shattered across the amplification backline. Slivers of vinyl began stacking into small black mounds.  Then the monitor engineer engaged the side-fill system without first checking the instrument levels.  The concussion that followed led us to believe there had been a serious automobile explosion, stage right.  The shock wave created undulations in the air that only enhanced our great disorientation and panic.

As we staggered in retreat, the emcee caromed out, hoping to keep things moving.  Just as he reached his mark, he was struck on the forehead with the flat side of a whiskey bottle; he dropped to the stage with a sick thump.  Next, Charles Rocket and His Heavy Metal Accordion ambled out and plugged his bellows into a Marshall two-stack.  It sounded exactly like you think it would, heightening the tension even more, though somehow Rocket charmed the more medieval quarter of the audience that, moments before, seemed bent on The Swimming Pool Q’s decapitation. 

In due course, The Plasmatics appeared and Wendy O. Williams, a vegetarian, yanked up her chainsaw, lowered the guide bar with purpose, and cut something into more than one piece.  Then the Plymouth went off like Krakatoa, the blast multiplied many times by the University’s monstrous (and recently-purchased) PA System, that, as had become evident during The Q’s set, no one really knew how to operate properly.   The thousands who became momentarily deaf wore the stunned expressions of overfed cattle lost in a stockyard trance.  As detailed the following year in theUniversity of Florida Alligator (10/29/82), one rape was reported, a student kicked in the face, and another shot in the head with a BB Gun. 

This was Florida.  Why would you want it to be any different?

ADDENDUM

The Halloween Festival at the University of Florida had become an annual event by 1972, when I was still an undergraduate there.  The entertainment was mostly local, featuring artists like Tom Petty’s group Mudcrutch and a popular Lakeland power-trio, Power.  At the time, the Festival was held on a commons area called The Plaza of the Americas, which had been enhanced in the 1920s by the famous architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.  It was well attended by the Gators andGainesville town-folk who, generally, were not too much into Nixon.  While open to the public, outsider knowledge of the free-zone event was limited to Florida’s insider underground. Hipsters drifted in from around the state to get high and stumble around the Plaza’s population of live oaks and exotic trees, with helium balloons bobbing under the crazy-quilt canopy in a type of stop-motion peculiar to the era.

By 1981, the Gainesville event had lost its down-home hippie gentility, having moved to a shallow sandy bowl on the edge of campus.  That night, the darker side of Buffett and boogie was on display, but the out-of-control rodeo seemed to coincide quite well with The Plasmatics’ anarchist agenda

On the run-up to the gig, the person in charge of the school’s booking phoned to say The Q’s were going to be bumped because The Plasmatics’ contract was said to have a provision barring from the bill any band with a member who might share the same gender as Wendy O. Williams. This meant Anne Richmond Boston.  While my pleas against the restrictive clause seemed unpersuasive, the issue soon faded away as the promoters confronted what I think would have been more significant problems, e.g., trying to locate some jackass in the insurance field crazy enough to indemnify the University.

Of course, The Plasmatics turned out to be very nice people.  Looking back, I doubt Wendy would have approved a no-girls-allowed rule, but you never know; the old Vaudeville games die hard. Occasionally we’d bump into one of the group’s guitarists around Manhattan.  He had a blue Mohawk with a tattoo of a chainsaw on the side of his head, and we’d joke amongst ourselves about putting a small log up to his ear.  The Plasmatics are under acknowledged today as a prototype for the punk spectacles that came later in the 1980s, like Nine Inch Nails and GWAR.

On Charles Rocket: Earlier that year he had been fired from the cast of Saturday Night Live for improvising the word “fuck” on the air, though it’s not hard to imagine he could just as easily have been a fall guy for the show’s bad ratings. In my recollection of our brief encounter, Charles was confident and friendly, with the startling aspect of a matinee idol.  He had an interesting career which began at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he had been a peer of David Byrne’s in the early Seventies. (Accordion-ly, he played on The B-52’s EP, Mesopotamia, produced by Byrne.) His sad, mysterious early death in 2005 was officially ruled a suicide. One final note: At the 1981 Halloween Festival, Charles was accompanied by Lenny Ferrari, who later drummed for Lou Reed when we toured America with him in 1984.

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Jeff Calder Personal Archive
1970s Florida
Making music, Professor Harry Crews, and campaigning for senator Walkin’ Lawton Chiles.