Kristin Casey’s life, from high school to today, has been the embodiment of William Blake’s adage: “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” From her days as a teen outcast in San Diego and Amarillo to her initially blissful immersion in the 1980s punk scene in Austin, then consorting with violent drug thugs, dropping out of college, stripping in upscale ‘gentlemen’s clubs’, seven years as ‘soulmate’ to Joe Walsh (Eagles, Ringo Starr All Stars), finally to sobriety and writing and counseling. Kristin takes PKM readers along for her rollercoaster ride in search of a tribe.
I arrived in Austin, Texas, in June 1985, just in time for Woodshock—the annual punk music festival—but too late for Raul’s, Club Foot, the departed Dicks, and disbanded Big Boys. I was seventeen and as excited to move to the Texas punk mecca as I was relieved to escape my hypercritical mother and the conservative Texas panhandle. I was also scared, anxious beyond belief that I wouldn’t fit in. That I’d accidentally do or say something to signal I was an imposter, a poser, or just too lame for their celebrated, rarified punk scene. On that long, hot, nine-hour drive from Amarillo, with nothing to see but tumbleweeds, Dairy Queens, and 27 roadkill (I counted), I mentally catastrophized for eight and a half of them.
I’d become a punk two years earlier, living in California. My time in the scene there had been brief—a blink really, though not entirely without incident—before my family suddenly up and moved to Texas. In Amarillo there’d been no scene at all, so I hadn’t exactly been around. I’d seen The Vandals, Social Distortion, Battalion of Saints, the Toy Dolls from England, and Raw Power from Italy—five shows that served as my résumé and punk rock street cred. I’d also been beaten up once, which I thought must count for something. How to fit that into a conversation I didn’t know, but it made me interesting and that gave me comfort. I’d lost three earrings in that fight, after all. (Whatever recondite review process I imagined Austin punks put newbies through, I apparently hoped to pass it with this bullet-pointed list of tough- chick exploits.)
In truth I had an ideal setup. My best friend, Marc Savlov, had moved to Austin the previous summer. A super smart, wickedly funny, infinitely likable writer and budding journalist (he’d go on to write for the Austin Chronicle for 30 years), Marc had spent the year skateboarding around town, seeing shows, making friends, and basically paving the way for me, his best friend, to have a new, turn-key community. It’s just that I wasn’t someone who trusted that sort of thing. I wasn’t the kind of girl who believed there was a welcoming tribe out there for her… or even that she deserved such a thing.
My first exposure to the punk scene was at a party in 1983, in San Diego, where I grew up. A sophomore at Our Lady of Peace high school, in North Park, I was a skinny, freckled, flat-chested redhead on the fringe of the popular crowd—my one foot in and one foot perpetually out directed there myself (whether I was conscious of that or not). I was restless and insecure, but smart and fiery too, and it was those latter traits that triggered my boredom every time I gained full acceptance in the cool crowd. Next thing you know I’d do or say something contrary or uncool—like go through a ska mod phase or turn down a date with the cutest jock at Saint Augustine, our all-boy brother school—and promptly be nudged halfway out again.
Aside from the red hair, freckles, and romantic fickleness (I wasn’t fickle; the boy was just too darn sweet and together for me), my defining feature at the time was that I was tribeless. I didn’t fit in anywhere—not at school, church, or home, even among my siblings (where as the “loud, rebellious” one, I’d been assigned the scapegoat role by age three)—so the impact of that first party on me was hardcore, to say the least. Surrounded by ten or twenty teenage punks with their spiked hair, shaved heads, torn t-shirts, and studded jewelry, my first thought was this is where I belong. This is my tribe. This is home.
My first friend there was Jon-Jon. Then came Thayne, Kenny, and Kenny’s runaway girlfriend, Debbie. I’d already lost my virginity to Casey Barber, the coolest punk boy at Saints, but Mark Zizzo, an angry, pouty high school dropout, was the only one I really dated—if you could call a few stolen screws behind his girlfriend’s back “dating” (though, since he’d told me they’d broken up, I was under the impression we were having an actual storybook courtship). Anyway, they all—except, interestingly, the one I was screwing—were welcoming enough, but it was Jon-Jon who made me feel truly liked, as if I fit in and was one of them. By the third or fourth party, it all came crashing down when Mark Zizzo’s girlfriend, a beautiful, blond Amazon, one year ahead of me at OLP, sweetly cajoled me outside to “talk,” then promptly beat the crap out of me. The rest of the party gathered at the window to watch, having been made privy to Stacy’s planned trickery—all except for Jon-Jon, but what choice did he have other than to hold back silently and watch with the rest of them? Only a fool would risk his own spot in the tribe to stand up for an awkward, expendable newcomer like me.
It didn’t matter. Before the school year was out, I learned my family was Texas bound, to a shit-hole in the Panhandle where there was no way I’d fit in, but where my loathing for the place ensured I’d never want to. I met Marc Savlov my first day there. He’d hunted me down after the school became abuzz over this weird new girl with the “punky” hair and clothes that were surely a sign of some West Coast, big-city devil worshipper. (No lie, that rumor persisted until at least Christmas break.)
Marc was a well-liked student and longtime Amarillo resident who’d spent the previous summer in Europe getting his own punk exposure and transformation. Once I arrived, Amarillo had its first two punk rockers ever, and we stuck to each other and our small group of friends like glue, hanging out daily and getting plastered every weekend, until he abandoned me for Austin nine months later. I still had senior year to complete. Once that was done, I followed him to Austin and UT where we were both RTF (radio, TV, and film) majors. The main difference was that Marc had talent and self-confidence, whereas my only confidence was that I was talentless and would fail at any creative endeavor I attempted, especially filmmaker or writer—something I wanted more than life itself.
My parents hadn’t infused me with the same self-assurance or personal value Marc’s had; it wasn’t in their nature. I came from a long line of bootstrap-pulling, emotion-stuffing Northern Europeans who’d settled in the coldest spots in the country, where they farmed the damn land and kept their fears and dreams to themselves. My father and his five siblings had shared a single outhouse. Dad delivered newspapers as a kid, in the snow—the route uphill both ways. Neither of my parents had been to college. I went for two reasons: UT offered to foot the bill and I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
With $2,200 per semester in grants and loans (full tuition plus books back then), and a phone soliciting job secured by the Austin-residing sister of my friend Trish—a punk girl who’d recently transferred to Amarillo from Belgium—it was for me as close to the red carpet treatment as it gets. A smooth transition couldn’t have been more assured, yet somehow that’s not how it worked out.
My first night there, Marc took me to TSOL at the Continental Club. Hopping onto my roach-infested kitchen counter, he announced gleefully, “I got us some X!” But, being tired and tense from the long drive, plus embarrassed over my ignorance of the mysterious X, I shrugged and feigned disinterest, to poor Marc’s bewilderment. I then kicked myself for weeks afterward, once I learned (through copious experimentation) about the amazing love drug that was 1980s MDMA (back when it was an intensely sensual, empathetic experience versus the annoying, speedy rave accessory it’s become).
Still, TSOL wasn’t a bad “welcome to the city” gig. And before the night was out Marc had introduced me to most of my new social circle: Renee, Lynda, Kelly, Sasha and her brother, Martian, whose parents opened The Black Cat Lounge on 6th Street that year. I already knew about Jim Straightedge from Marc’s letters back in Amarillo, and that night after the show, to my nervous delight, Jim walked up and introduced himself, in his oxblood Docs, red braces, and white T-shirt, a rolled up Maximum RocknRoll sticking out of his back jeans pocket. I’d died and gone to heaven—TSOL, cool new friends, and the hottest guy on wheels flirting with me. It was overwhelming and surreal and one of the best nights of my short life.
I dated Jim for a couple weeks—if you could call two or three painful (and painfully detached) fucks interspersed with countless monologues on all things straightedge, punk rock, cool/uncool, and righteous/not righteous “dating.” Still, through Jim I met Oi Scott and Scott’s stunningly witchy girlfriend, Adrian, who lived upstairs with him at Atomic City (shoes, toys, and various “neat stuff” store and the only place to buy creepers and Docs back then). Through Scott I met budding local artists Richard “Crowbar” Mather and Frank Kozik, whose many philosophical and political discussions with Scott I’d come to enjoy, if be forever intimidated by. Soon afterward, I met Elbo (short for El Baracho—as well-earned a nickname as they come) and JJ Offender, a man not given to deep philosophical discourse but someone who’d affect my life more than the rest of those men combined.
I slept with all of them except Martian. Mostly we hung out at Atomic City, house parties, and shows. That year, I saw GBH, Black Flag, DRI, Circle Jerks, 45 Grave and loads of other touring bands, plus locals like Scratch Acid, Criminal Crew, the Butthole Surfers, the Offenders, Hickoids, and Poison 13 at the Continental on South Congress, the Ritz on 6th, the Beach in north campus, and Liberty Lunch in the warehouse district. Marc and I regularly took mushrooms, acid, and X—still legal at the time—trudging through fields, parks, and graveyards, drinking beer some other friend had wahoo’ed from HEB, laughing our asses off for hours at a time, keeping it Austin weird and growing so close we could, on occasion, read each other’s mind. During the day we nursed hangovers, ate beans and rice at Les Amis, and bought records at Inner Sanctum, known as the best, coolest indie store ever. Through June, July, and August, I lived my perfect life, little by little growing comfortable with my new friends and even a tiny bit in my own skin. Just nowhere else in the world.
UT intimidated me. The place was massive and my classes spanned campus. Running from one to the next in my new Army surplus boots (I couldn’t afford Docs yet) gave me painful blisters when I got lost more often than not, and covered miles in them that first week. Other students seemed to instinctively know their way around, in more ways than one, and I couldn’t figure out how. I’d always been a straight A student, yet couldn’t follow half of my instructors’ lectures, especially that bitch who refused to speak anything but French in class. I liked sociology and Intro to RTF, but would get C’s, D’s, and “Incompletes” in everything else. I started going to class less and less.
That year, I saw GBH, Black Flag, DRI, Circle Jerks, 45 Grave and loads of other touring bands, plus locals like Scratch Acid, Criminal Crew, the Butthole Surfers, the Offenders, Hickoids, and Poison 13 at the Continental on South Congress, the Ritz on 6th, the Beach in north campus, and Liberty Lunch in the warehouse district.
One of my new friends had introduced me to crystal meth shortly before classes started, a gorgeous little purple-haired, punk rock waif I’d’ve done anything to impress. Though she used a syringe, she said it was cool if I just snorted it. It was like she didn’t know me at all (she didn’t). I’d been dying to try every drug I’d ever heard about, and though I’d never heard of crystal, when JJ Offender turned out to be her dealer, how could I not let that punk rock James Dean stick a needle in my arm? I called JJ myself days later, more to fool around with him than his drugs, but they were a package deal, as they would soon become with me. When I couldn’t get speed from JJ, I’d buy from the girlfriend of Chris Gates, bassist for the Big Boys and Poison 13 (who, 33 years later, would invite me to lead an AA speaker meeting at the rehab center he manages). Eventually, I hooked up with the scariest motherfucker in the Austin scene—a former San Francisco Skinhead, or SFSH adjacent ex pat, supposedly on the run from a murder rap. The night I met Nick the Dick in the parking lot of the Beach, I fell for him hard and fast, tongue-tied and trembling from the sudden flood of infatuation and dopamine. What he saw when he looked at me? Attraction and in time genuine fondness, certainly, but above all a target, thanks to my boundless naiveté.
By Thanksgiving, I couldn’t fly home without bringing speed with me. By December, I’d lost my job and was shooting up almost daily. My new friends were concerned, Marc apoplectic with worry. By January, I was unrecognizably emaciated, and had been robbed multiple times by Nick and JJ—my stereo, camera, record albums, and everything else of value I owned down to my favorite Anthrax poster. Also my tuition, in an ill-fated, get-rich-quick scheme of Nick’s to “buy in bulk, skim off the top, and sell the rest in small quantities for a huge profit.” I’d cashed UT’s check and handed it over thinking I can never tell Dad but wouldn’t he be proud… after all, I’m an entrepreneur now. I skimmed plenty; Nick skimmed far more. How much he sold? I don’t know. How much money he returned—principle or profit? Next to none.
I’d been a blackout weekend binge drinker through my last two years of high school. I’d had a drinking problem in San Diego at the age of 15, one year after my first drink ever. No one talked about the “disease” of alcoholism then. Drug addiction? Sure, but I was an angry teenage punk rock chick who’d been failed by every authority figure she’d met. I was invincible and would get the moderation thing down yet, dammit. I really needed to be seen as a tough chick. I mean, I didn’t but thought I did, so I put myself in positions to prove I was, then failed spectacularly nine times out of ten. Like my attempts to make friends with the speed freaks in the scene, Nick, Angie, and JJ. If I could be accepted by them, I’d have it made, I thought.
I’d cashed UT’s check and handed it over thinking I can never tell Dad but wouldn’t he be proud… after all, I’m an entrepreneur now.
When I was with Renee and Lynda, my girlfriends in the scene, I saw their closeness and felt outside of it. They had what I had with Marc, except Marc was going places—that guy was dynamic as heck. I couldn’t keep up, didn’t have the same thirst he had. I needed to feel safe and protected first and didn’t have that either. So no matter how accepting everyone was, you couldn’t convince me it wouldn’t disappear. Like that time Colin from GBH grabbed me after their gig, insisting I hang out with him the next day and “go sun-baking weeth us.” I showed up, tracking him down at the diner next door eating breakfast with the band, stone sober and with no apparent recollection of inviting me over the night before. (I slinked away from the diner, tail between my legs.)
In late January, I saw the insanity I was living. At the tail end of a three-day binge, tweaking my brains out, I had a shouting match with Nick that scared me shitless. I drove home in the left lane with my headlights off until I almost crashed head-on into another car, and swerved off the road. I quit speed the next day, slept for a week, then started stripping to make rent and pay back UT. Two weeks in, with a purse full of cash, I was jumped outside my apartment by JJ Offender and his posse. They beat me, abducted me, and stole my jewelry (minimal) and rent money (every penny I had). JJ’s girlfriend, Sita, drove the getaway car while their other two accomplices continued beating me in the backseat. Meanwhile, in the front, JJ repeatedly and off-handedly debated whether to kill me. I got away by promising them objects of value from my locker at the strip club, then with the help of a quick-thinking doorman wrested free and ran inside. When the cops arrived and I told them the ringleader was my former drug dealer, they put away their notebooks and refused to take my report. I went home, packed everything I owned and moved across town, miles from the punk scene—the only tribe I’d ever known.
To say I found an unlikely redemption in a strip club is an understatement. And while I didn’t find a new tribe, I finally started to find myself. I had hoped to fit in with my stripper sisters but never really did—not once in what became a 14-year career. Instead, I found a kinship with the men, and not just bouncers and DJs, but the customers I’d expected to be most alien—at some point coming to the strange realization I might be more of a middle-aged man in an 18-year-old stripper’s body than I was a member of the stripper tribe (an anomaly customers commented on and the other girls picked up on in time).
I quit speed the next day, slept for a week, then started stripping to make rent and pay back UT
But so what, I was having the time of my life. Stripping encompassed my three favorite things—music, men, and money. It not only saved me financially, it provided a much-needed space to explore my identity and the power of female sexuality. If the mid-eighties phenomenon of “upscale gentlemen’s clubs” was a newly-discovered universe, then Sugar’s was the mothership calling me home. I was paid to dress up and show off to generous men in a rarefied era of decorous hedonism. Eighties customers kept their hands at their sides, relinquishing control to a teenager who’d never been in control of anything in her life. To my mind, in celebrating my sexuality they celebrated me. It was an intoxicating environment that, right or wrong, largely defined me.
After two early slips I stayed clean off meth, partaking only of occasional X, mushrooms, and acid. I was offered blow twice that first year, by two different customers. Both bumps were small, just enough to make me alert and completely nonsexual. Turned out snorting coke killed my sex drive, an effect I did not care for (nor, coincidentally, did either of the men who’d given it to me). Speed had been different, heightening my arousal while demolishing everything else. I had no taste for either drug at that point, but six months into work at Sugar’s I was introduced to crack through a fuck-buddy DJ coworker. Rare weekend binges soon became frequent three-day crack runs, until my lust for Freddie’s drugs overtook my lust for Freddie himself. Thankfully, another dancer caught his eye, ending our fling and my crack habit both. I’m done with drugs, I thought—well, hard drugs anyway (no reason to go overboard). It’s not like booze is a drug, right? Immersed in strip club culture, it couldn’t have been more normalized. And even if it didn’t feel like a tribe, the strip club world was my life.
I was having the time of my life. Stripping encompassed my three favorite things—music, men, and money. It not only saved me financially, it provided a much-needed space to explore my identity and the power of female sexuality.
I threw blowout pool parties at the house of a new rich friend, where strippers, staff, and preferred customers ate barbecue, got drunk, played topless volleyball, and paired (or tripled) off in the bedrooms. In five years at Sugar’s, I made fuck-buddies of two DJs, two bouncers, one manager, one owner, and half a dozen strippers—two of whom I fell in love with and one of whom became my nemesis when I drunkenly tried to beat up her new (Amazonian) girlfriend. Sheena refused to fight me but when my ex-girlfriend cheerily offered to punch me in the face instead, I turned heel and left, tail between my legs.
If the sisterhood exists, I certainly wasn’t a part of it then. As a budding alcoholic, three years from legal drinking age, I imbibed as much as I wanted every night for free. All while making more money than any broke-ass, eighteen-year-old, post-punk chick ever dreamed. I didn’t need sisterhood. I had a better apartment, newer car, fatter bank account, and all the validation I could want from the sea of men around me, a few of whom took me under their wing. They encouraged me to follow my dreams, write short stories, go back to school, and be all I could be. As soon as I did, I began piecing together a sense of my individual identity—that of a creative, ambitious, critically thinking, independent, sexy/smart, writerly film student. Then, near the end of my first semester at ACC (getting A’s again), I met a man whose life and personality were so big and other worldly they not only eclipsed my own but made it seem like that was my destiny.
I’d been in love once before, in high school, with a college graduate named Brad. In four years since, I’d had a string of casual flings and passionate infatuations, but nothing lasting or serious. In the mid-eighties, there was probably no surer path to an active and varied sex life than the punk scene or employment in an upscale strip club. Attractive customers (to me) were uncommon, but smokin’ hot coworkers a dime a dozen, and for years I acted upon the rampant sexual tension bouncing off Sugar’s mirrored walls. Then a friend fixed me up with some guitar-playing rock star named Joe Walsh (I genuinely had no idea who he was) and twenty minutes later I felt with absolute surety I’d found the place I was meant to be permanently.
Like a veil lifting, a moment of clarity came as a voice in my head, stating with complete authority that the man before me was the man I was meant to marry. And, just like that, I was in love. I’ve met my soulmate, I thought as Joe walked toward me. I was too nervous to make eye contact, but when he ducked behind my chair to rub my shoulders, I knew he felt it too. Maybe not the “soulmate” thing, but something. Our spark filled the room. Later, when a plate of cocaine materialized, Joe offered it to me but I declined. He looked so surprised, I tried to explain. “I had a problem with speed a couple of years ago. I quit all that kind of stuff.” Joe just smiled. I don’t think he knew what to say. It was the first thing he learned about me—that I didn’t do cocaine.
Then a friend fixed me up with some guitar-playing rock star named Joe Walsh (I genuinely had no idea who he was) and twenty minutes later I felt with absolute surety I’d found the place I was meant to be permanently.
In two-plus years, I hadn’t touched hard drugs, but that would soon change. Joe and I spent most of the next seven years together, and in that time I released every tie I had to the life I’d been living and person of substance I’d been becoming. Those early years, though, were heady stuff. I almost felt like a traitor to my punk roots, what with the backstage passes, fine wines, limo rides, and such. I followed Joe around the country, catching first class flights on short notice whenever he beckoned. Warm nuts in ceramic dishes, free champagne, hot towels and more legroom than I knew what to do with. Well-dressed chauffeurs awaited my arrivals, holding signs with my name announcing to the world that someone in it thought I was special. Joe usually waited at the hotel but sometimes surprised me in the limo, a screwdriver in one hand, the other pulling me to his side. It never got old; I melted at the sight of him every time. I’d have followed him to Siberia. I’d have flown there in coach.
We kept a low profile on the road, a closed circle of three—me, Joe, and Rick Rosas, his bass player and best friend. We partied in our room, Rick’s room, or hotel bars for a change of scenery. That said, work was Joe’s priority and I was honored to be along for the ride. I’d bring a book to sound check and settle in on the periphery, somewhere Joe could catch my eye. Nothing compared to one of Joe’s purposeful looks, especially in sight of his band and crew. I thought it was the most romantic thing in the world. Pre-show, Joe’s dressing room was our private place to chill, cuddle, drink, and do bumps. At showtime, we’d walk hand in hand to stage, where he’d leave me with a kiss next to his guitar techs who’d have a chair for me, though I’d usually stand and sway to the music. At the end of the show, Joe would sweep me up and repeat the ritual in reverse—kiss, embrace, hand-hold, dressing room, cuddle, drinks, and hog rails (huge bumps). At the hotel we’d hang out with Rick, have more drinks, do more bumps, and then at some point, good night, Rick…hello, playtime. At which point I’d be promptly tied up (literally) to be teased and toyed with till sunrise.
Joe became my world, his band members, friends, and employees my tribe—I was finally a member of the herd, grazing on cocaine and alcohol in a lush green pasture at the edge of a very steep cliff. It started slowly enough, then quickened once I moved in. How much of that was the nature of addiction versus my own self-sabotaging? I don’t know; maybe those are the same thing. All I know is, the day I arrived at the gorgeous $1.5M Studio City house he’d bought for me, I walked around in a daze. Could this be real? It took a while to sink in. I had true love, big fun, and a semblance of security. What more could a girl want? I would’ve been satisfied with the first two. I would’ve settled for the first one. But I doubted my deservedness. I’d been reading A Course in Miracles and trying to learn to love myself but needed someone to prove I was worth the trouble first. Joe took that leap by moving me in—and it was a big one.
Less than a year after moving in, I’d blown out my septum and used the dime-sized perforation as an excuse to quit snorting coke in favor of smoking crack. Our already bad fights became vicious, then violent. I wailed on him in the back of a limo after Sam Kinison’s memorial service. He beat me up in a hotel room on Ringo’s second All-Starr Band tour. At that point Ringo offered to put me in rehab but I told him to send me home instead, leaving the safety and comfort of the band family for a bag full of my LA dealer’s crack. In 1992, when Joe got down on one knee and proposed, it was with the stipulation I “quit that shit,” which I very much wanted to—yet couldn’t by then. A year later, after countless fights, storm outs, and short-lived reunions, I moved out for good.
I relocated to Vegas where I knew no one except the hot, jobless drifter I’d moved there with. The second time Majid got rough with me, I had him thrown in jail, then threw myself back into stripping—with a modicum of success despite being more of an outsider there than I’d even been in Texas. Eventually the drinking took over for good, and after yet another failed reunion with Joe (simultaneous with the Eagles’ hugely successful reunion tour), I realized this time he was never coming back. That’s when I decided to drink myself to death.
Twenty-two months later, I came very close to accomplishing that goal, but in a last minute one-eighty got sober instead. That said, the road back to individuation and autonomy was longer than I ever imagined. Among other things, it entailed quitting stripping, because the customer base I once so identified with were no longer decorous about their hedonism, and fighting off mouths and hands all day was driving me insane. I moved back to Texas, got a straight job, learned to make genuine friends, and started (eventually) dating emotionally available men. At ten years sober, I began to see my place in the world and it wasn’t where I was at. So I pivoted from the mainstream by returning to the sex industry once again, and though no more a part of the tribe than I’d ever been, I enjoyed my customers and clients no end. In my forties, I was finally I earning top dollar, living my best life, choosing my own hours, and writing (and publishing) my brains out.
It was a circuitous route to where I ended up. Where I finally truly belong as the person I’d long ago started to become—a creative, ambitious, independent, sexy/smart, writer and sexual healer type. At some point, not fitting in had probably become a point of pride, but by now it just is what it is. A tribal nature may have been coded in my genes, but my DNA has since been rewritten. Having parleyed my extensive experience in the sex industry into a thriving coaching practice in sexuality counseling, two years later I published my first book—a critically acclaimed rock-and-roll addiction memoir, the first in a trilogy of my sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll life story.
Tribes are overrated. Keeping it weird is always valid.