And those who survive receive their sacrament
In the blood and the flesh and the steel
Sliding in and out and in again
I know how sweet you feel
No matter what may happen
At least for right now
You don't have to feel any pain
And won't that hit just set you right
Just a spoon, some liquid and a spike
Smiling into your white warm night
-from the A3I song
"White warm night", 1986
Will's white warm night came to an end on December 9th, 1987. Accidental overdose. A Bay Area native, Will was a fiture in the scene long before most people had even heard of punk. His first band, Negative Trend, was one of the first and best of the San Francisco groups from its beginning in 1977 until Will moved on to help founf Flipper in 1979. The Trend's wild, confrontational performances inspired fear and loathing in promoters, and fanatical devotion in their audience.
I just got back from the meathouse
They got all our lovers hanging there
I took a look into the meathouse
They package all our heroes there
I don't like seeing old friends
It's never quite the same
We used to have such fun
But somehow people always change
Now they hang and I stare
And I can't tell them apart
Old friends or old enemies
Or just people that I knew
-from the Negative Trend song
For many, Flipper was the band to end all the bands; warm, intelligent and very influential, it broke all the rules and dogmas of punk convenionality with those droning, dirgelike tunes and personal, compassionate lyrics. In an increasingly sleep-inducing scene, a Flipper concert was always good for a whack in the head, and often pure magic.
I saw your face
I saw your face as you heard my words
And you left me
You left me to hold yourself
And I've got to strip this flesh
from my bones
I've got to hammer this wall with my hands
...with my hands
The lights have all gone out
The lights have all gone out
But I saw you
I saw you shine
-from "(I saw you) Shine"
Flipper existed only sporadically since the fall of 1982, as each of the members felt compelled to pursue other projects. Will's included an unnamed studio band with his old friends Craig Gray from Negative Trend (and later the Toiling Midgets), and Any Three Initials, which he formed with some pals from Bad Posture. The Shatter-Gray project concentrated on Leonard Cohen-influenced originals and a cover of Cohen's "Diamonds in the Mine". Will loved Cohen's poetry and music, sometimes giving out tapes of his favourite cohen songs to friends. They recorded two very moody and interesting songs (one being 11 minutes long) before Craig went off to Europe, ending the project.
Any Three Initials (the name was a goof on all the hardcore bands using 3-initial monikers) played many shows around SF and even did a short Southwest tour, Will wearing his trademark cowboy hat at every show. Despite his enthusiasm and a set of truly remarkable songs, including uppdates of Flipper's "Boom Boom Boom" and Negative Trend's "Mercenaries", A3I was never able to make much headway in the dog-eat-dog, hustle-and-kiss-ass club scene. Fortunately, before disbanding they managed to record an album, "Ruins of America".
Tina Walker was sixteen years old
When she struck her teacher in class that day
Tried and guilty, assault and battery
Sweet sixteen, Tina got three years in the state
Brenda Spencer come out and play
We all hate Mondays, see those teachers,
blow the suckers away...
But don' turn off the light
No don't turn off the light
The future is with these children
Born to inherit fear and brown eyes
Too young to know the harm that they are done
Family, church, school,
the three-headed monster
I look around, I look back,
I get so damned angry
I love life but the nager makes me stray
So be my searchlight,
be my beacon in the night
Be my candle in the window, show me home
-from the A3I song
"Don't Turn Off the Light"
Will Shatter the person was just as fun and just as real as Will Shatter "the image" would lead you to believe. His speaking voice was just like his singing voice, and he was funny as hell. (Will at a club full of gnarly skinheads: "It's the chemotherapy that makes their heads look that way.") Totally without the usual rock-star pretentions you would expect from someone in his position, he was always genuinely interested in others, always ready to listen and learn.
For a while, he was on a dumpster-raiding kick, and his old place, a storefront on the 6th Street that he had shared with his then-wife, Jeri, was the Disneyland of Dumpster-Finds... a stack of misprinted Beatles posters with a building superimposed over the faces; strange clothing and bits of cloth everywhere; Hello Kitty paraphernalia and stickers; odd broken toys; boxes of ancient, bizarre books; a boar's head painted fluorescent blue and mounted on a slab of wood; mobiles that he'd made out of salvaged pigeon skeletons; odd statuettes of various Hindu deities, a gigantic book full of photos and descriptions of pills; pet cats; pet rats; pet fish; and if you dug through everything you could find Will's fantastic collages, featuring photos and drawings cut from old Catholic textbooks (he was fascinated with a couple of bizarre ones from the 1920's he'd found), books on insects, electrical manuals, newspapers and magazines, all spliced meticulously together to make biting political and personal statements.
Will drew much of his philosophy from Situationism and Wilhelm Reich. although reluctant to "preach", Will did a lot of thinking on social and political matters, and when asked, had definite opinions. His political songs were not strait-jacketed by ideology and were accesible regardless of one's particular brand of anarchy or discontent. It was important to him that they worked as songs as well as messages, and when he cared enough to write a song about a subject he could be very eloquent.
Can you see the fresh blood
Steaming into the soil
As our patriots
Fathers and mothers and lovers
Admire the military style
Praising Gods and State
Crying tears of pride
For the sons and lovers
For all the fools slaughtered
For the maimed, the dying
And the dead
So the nation will live
So the people will remain as cattle
They demand a sacrifice
Will did a lot of drugs. They were a big part of his life and art, and he defended his right to use them, at the same time cautioning others not to take his use as an endorsement. He struggled with his heroin addiction for many years, as both a comfort and a curse. Will wasn't depressed or suicidal, but while seeming in control of his habit, he know that to use is to skate delicately around the edges of death. Ironically, it seems he died because, being in the final stages of detox, he was particularly sensitive to a dose that would otherwise have had little effect.
Now every day there is that sickness to beat
Well just think about it
Think about your life
Wasn't there always some kind of
pain to beat?
Now everyday you've got to hustle and deal,
And all those frieds who surround you
Won't life a finger
Couldn't give a fuck
Just like you, they're feeling kind of ill
And they can't think of anything
but getting well
-from the A3I song
"White Warm Night"
Will had been in great spirits before the overdose, and he and his girlfriend Janette were expecting a baby. It's sad that Will was never able to experience fatherhood firsthand. His enthusiasm abou his future fatherhood was just one aspect of his passionate enthusiasm for life.
His words, music and art have been a perceptive mirror of the times, helping to transform the way we think and act. Living a life on the edge, without compromise or pretension, he could be both a warm friend and coldly honest. Certainly no saint; just a regular guy struggling with life's pain, bullshit, joys and hopes. His absence is a great loss to those who knew him.
I too have sung death's praises
But I'm not gonna sing that song anymore
Cause I found out what living is all about
It's life! Life!
Life is the only thing worth living for!
See you on the other side, Will.
-The Subterranean crew
(Steven Tupper, Gregg Turkington, Lizzy Gray)