The party never stopped for the legendary LA punk rocker, and drug companion of John Belushi. Though warned off Derf by John Densmore of the Doors, Nora Novak jumped in with eyes wide open for a wild ride in the 1980s
“Run down to Gil Turner’s and get me a pack of Marlboros, a pint of Jack and a Pepsi,” growled Derf. It was around two in the afternoon on a blistering hot, smoggy L.A. day in 1983 as I tried to rouse Derf Scratch, the original bass player of the punk rock band FEAR, back to life. I found a crumpled twenty-dollar bill on the floor still crusted with residue and stuffed it down my bra.
“Put on some Tom Waits before you go,” he mumbled.
I met Derf Scratch on the set of Get Crazy, a rock’ n’ roll comedy directed by Allan Arkush, known for Rock’ n’ Roll High School, featuring the Ramones. Get Crazy featured an eclectic cast led by Malcom McDowell and numerous rockers, including Lou Reed, Lee Ving, and the Doors’ drummer John Densmore. This film, however, would not be as successful as Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, as it was panned by the critics and did not live up to its predecessor.
The trailer to Get Crazy (1983):
Before the filming, I had been introduced to John Densmore, who had taken me out for Thai food and brought me back to his beautiful home in Brentwood. A big Doors fan, and having seen them in their prime at the Long Beach arena in ’68, I was excited to go out with John, and get to know him and experience a tour of his Doors memorabilia and hear his legendary stories. Intelligent and gentlemanly, he was very gracious, and invited me to come back and visit again.
Upon my next arrival, John was playing drums in the garage for hours, while a few other musicians milled about, so I wandered into the house to see what kind of trouble I could get into. I combed the cabinets and drawers for liquor and drugs, only to discover an extensive and varied assortment of herbal teas in the kitchen. Disappointed to find no rock’ n’ roll excess whatsoever, I told John I would see him on location at the Wiltern Theater on Wilshire Boulevard where Get Crazy was being shot.
I had been cast as an extra by Janet Cunningham, the Hollywood Godmother of alternative casting. I was to play a groupie to the rock star part originally played by Russel Mael, lead singer of Sparks, who I’d had a brief fling with a few years earlier. Allan Arkush wanted to shoot a wild backstage dressing room fantasy scene with all the girls throwing themselves at Russel. He got us all drunk on cheap champagne at ten in the morning and encouraged us to strip down to our G-strings as we pounced on the unsuspecting Russel. Lying in a frenzied heap of half-naked drunken girls, the distressed Russel was clearly miscast for the part.
He was soon replaced by Malcolm McDowell, a much better fit to play ‘Reggie Wanker.’ Naturally, Malcolm had no problem portraying an over-the-top rock star with gusto.
I roamed the Wiltern location in between takes clad only in a black bra, panties, and a leopard print garter belt. This fashion statement was due to the fact that Allan paid accordingly, his motto for the groupies being “the less you wear the more you make.” He also told me toward the end of filming, with a rather smug attitude, that he kept the backstage dressing room footage of us girls for his own personal use.
Clutching onto a flimsy pink cotton hospital gown I’d snagged from wardrobe and with nowhere to go, I approached John’s trailer.
“Hey John, let me in.”
“I can’t right now, I’m about to start my meditation.”
“Oh c’mon,” I pleaded, “I’m out here in my underwear. I’ll be quiet, you won’t even know I’m here.”
“No, I’m sorry,” he said in a serious tone. “I have to meditate now, come back later.”
I couldn’t believe it; he would not let me in. Wondering where to hang out for the next few hours, the trailer directly next to John’s caught my attention with the sounds of acoustic guitar, and girls’ loud laughter. The whole trailer seemed to be vibrating as sexy groupie extras came spilling out on the steps wiping white powder off their faces. That’s the trailer I needed to be in.
I knocked on the door, and there was Derf Scratch; a vision of wild-eyed punk rock, staring at me with an intense gaze like it was mad love at first sight, for him. He beckoned me in, told me he was in the band FEAR, offered me a rail of blow, grabbed his guitar and started singing “I’m a Man, spelled M-A-N,” the Bo Diddley version. I felt a jolt of excitement, although I did wonder when he’d last showered. He proceeded to play some Stones songs for me and I was hooked.
I ran into John later that day and told him I was going to hang out with Derf. He looked horrified, “NOT Derf Scratch, you don’t want to get involved with him, he’s a total punk rock DEGENERATE!”
“Don’t worry, I’m a big girl, I can handle him,” I replied, somewhat amused, not knowing what I was really in for. Fired up to visit Derf at his place, I left my elegant apartment in the Miracle Mile district and headed up Doheny Drive to Sunset Boulevard, to what turned out to be a low-rent building just above Gil Turner’s Liquor’s, right around the corner from the Rainbow Bar and Grill.
Derf’s pad was nothing more than a tiny disheveled single with tattered carpeting, a worn out bed, a metal cabinet with a hot plate on top, dirty ashtrays and a record player on a crate. FEAR posters, flyers, stickers and a Lydia Lunch poster covered the walls. What struck me was one wall that was plastered with headshots and model shots of Janice Dickinson who was in her supermodel glory at the time. I found the incongruity of this fascinating and asked why he had so many of Janice’s pictures up. He said he met her in New York when he was on Saturday Night Live, and, drawn to each other’s outrageous behavior, they became a hot item. He said with his cocksure attitude that Janice told him that Mick Jagger wanted to fuck him. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that claim.
Derf had also been hanging out with John Belushi, who loved FEAR and was instrumental in getting them on Saturday Night Live. Their now infamous set, starting with “Beef Bologna,” sparked total mayhem by the slam dancers causing $20,000 worth of damage to the set. After that, they were banned from SNL.
The mayhem of FEAR on SNL:
Belushi came out to L.A., and he and Derf were partying at On The Rox and doing speedballs at the Chateau Marmont in Bungalow 3 the night Belushi he died. He told me he was the one that let Robin Williams in while they waited for John to return with Cathy Smith. Somehow Derf had managed to escape questioning by the police.
Switching gears, Derf asked, “Have you seen The Decline of Western Civilization?” I’d heard about it but not seen it. He said he would ask Penelope Spheeris, the director, to bring him a copy.
“You don’t need to watch the whole thing, just fast forward to when FEAR comes on, that’s the best part,” he boasted.
Derf proudly whipped out a copy of Rolling Stone. The issue contained a big color shot of his shattered face with a drainage cup attached to the side of his head. The photograph dominated a full page, accompanied by an article about how he had been beaten up at a show by some hardcore surf punk in the mosh pit after he’d spit in his face.
“What a way to get in Rolling Stone,” he mused.
A benefit was held for Derf at the Cathay de Grande to help pay his medical bills right before the premiere of the The Decline. As it turned out, unlike most punk rockers, Derf (which was just Fred spelled backwards), actually had musical training, an orchestral mind and a unique ability of playing ‘in the pocket.’ He then picked up his saxophone and serenaded me with a Mink de Ville song which quickly led to the hottest sex I’d had in a long time.
Derf had his Get Crazy paychecks coming in, which mostly went up his nose, but after filming when the money ran out, my afternoon task was to flirt with the guy directly next-door in unit A, an aging long-haired hippie speed dealer to score some free speed. Meanwhile, Derf would chat up the girl who cocktail waitressed at the Rainbow in unit C for free blow. Around this time, Peter Ackroyd (Dan Ackroyd’s younger brother) would usually show up with some hash that they would immediately cook up on Derf’s hot plate which led them to write the song “Hot Knives.”
A steady stream of musicians, actors, ex-girlfriends and fans would come by every day to get high with Derf as he hosted this constant procession with his magnetic Scorpio swagger, and the stance of a young Humphrey Bogart gone punk. As dusk turned to dark, we ventured out to the Sunset Strip, making pit stops at the Rainbow, the Roxy, the Whiskey and across the street to the Central (now the Viper Room) and back up to Gil Turner’s for more liquor.
The next few years were a crazy and volatile roller coaster mix of passion. This produced bouts of musical creativity as well as drama brought on by Derf’s wildly aggressive, and egocentric, jealous nature. I eventually got off that ride, but the party never stopped for Derf, a true punk rocker of the 80’s. He died in 2010.
FEAR still tours today, with Lee Ving the only remaining original band member.