It was recently the birthday of one of my lifelong best friends, Bill Bartell (1961-2013)
Bill aka “Pat Fear” was a walking, talking anomaly, a living Robert Anton Wilson conspiracy theory, a wisecracking character out of a Firesign Theatre sketch, a Discordian trickster imp of the perverse. His credit card even said “The Illuminati” under his name (for real, I swear!). Bill also went by the names “Kixx”; “Sitting Bill”; “Pat ‘Slowhand’ Fear”; “Billy Jo Gun Rack,” etc., etc., and these are just the ones that he used on records! I can’t even imagine the secret pseudonyms he used “off stage.” I also can’t actually believe that he is not still alive. It seems like some kind of shitty cosmic joke. The world that doesn’t get to know Bill is a sad world.
Bill did so much for our culture, mostly by ridiculing it. He was a super mega ultra fan of so many disconnected things. He lived to tear down so many idols. His band White Flag was formed originally solely just to piss off Black Flag (one of his favorite bands). Bill pissed many people off, which was his life’s mission or so it seemed.
He was just SO good at it!
Bill’s side project, but really his life’s work as it was so open-ended was a grouping called Tater Totz. This project dealt with Bill’s obsessions. As it grew, many people from his obsessions wound up on Tater Totz records. Who? Man, so many! Always Redd Kross of course, but also members of the Runaways, Germs/Nirvana, Partridge Family, Sonic Youth, Lovedolls, Tesco Vee, El Vez, The Zeros, The Posies, Jimmy McNichol (!!??!!), Hole, Sator, Starz, Zeros, Melvins, Shonen Knife, Go-Go’s, Adolescents, Pandoras, Roman Coppola, Circle Jerks, Frightwig, Chemical People, Sin 34/Painted Willie, myself and just about everyone else who came into Bill’s orbit. The main focus of Tater Totz was Bill’s Yoko Ono obsession, followed closely by his interest in Os Mutantes, the Beatles, Blue Oyster Cult, even a mashup of John Lennon and Queen. Their greatest moment, in my opinion, was when they showed up at a Beatlefest convention and did all Yoko Ono songs, driving the Beatle nerds to violence and riot! They literally chased them out of the building and down the street like the villagers did to poor Frankenstein’s monster! Part of this is on YouTube and can be seen here on Dangerous Minds (link at bottom of this post). Bill, of course, immediately put it out as a double seven-inch bootleg EP called Live Hate at Beatlefest, one of the best titles ever, obviously.
Bill Bartell also single-handedly turned the entire world onto Os Mutantes, a bizarre Brazilian band from the 60s whose first LP his sister, an exchange student there, brought back to him in the Sixties. Bill went around throughout the 80s with a Walkman with Os Mutantes on it and plopped the headphones on to everyone he met.
This is in fact, how I met him.
He also did this to his buddy Kurt Cobain who, when he got famous, and toured in Brazil, went on the news and asked where Os Mutantes were, and said that his friend Bill who “has a mustache” told him about them. He then held up a drawing he did of Bill. This, from the then biggest rock star in the world! Os Mutantes, who had broken up for decades have publicly stated that their resurgence was totally due to Bill and they came from Brazil on their own dime to play at his memorial in LA.
Yes, as Kurt had mentioned, Bill had a mustache. He had one because all punks HATED mustaches. A damned good excuse for facial hair, no? He also went to hardcore shows dressed as a police officer, quite often causing total havoc. He had a label, Gasatanka Records, a goof on Casablanca Records, the label his beloved KISS was on. He was such a big and annoying KISS fan that they all knew him by name. When my band D Generation toured on KISS’s biggest 90s tour (1996, the year they put the make-up back on) we were on the tour right after Bill’s good buddies The Melvins (he played the lead and bass guitar on their version of KISS’s “Going Blind” on the Houdini LP), and he got off their bus and (pretty much) got right onto our tour bus totally mystifying Gene and Paul who couldn’t believe that just when they thought they had finally gotten rid of Bill, that he was still there like a second round of persistent crabs.
A further reason for Bill’s underground fame is that he “discovered” Shonen Knife and got all of the most important bands of the 90s to get together and do a two LP tribute set of Shonen Knife covers. Bill was heavily affiliated with Redd Kross. He put out their Teen Babes from Monsanto EP and he also put out the first D Generation single. Bill was everywhere. But he was a mystery. So many times we were all going to chip in to get a private detective to see who or even what he was! No one really knew anything about him, but he would hint at the weirdest things ever just to be totally annoying. He knew we thought these things… hell, he wanted us to think them! In the end I got to know about 95% of the truth (and no I ain’t telling!) Bill was capable of just about anything. He was simultaneously a cop, a punk rocker constantly on tour and a competition bull rider among other things! He flew all over the world to every incredible rock show and event ever, but we never knew from where or how he got the money. He would alway say it was his skymiles but that made no sense. Was he a secret agent of some kind?
Here I am in a pink and green polka-dot shirt getting strangled, and you can see Bill miraculously catch a sign his friend threw across the entire club and into his hands with DEVO on it. Bill and all his teen friends from Riverside. California (farmland halfway to the desert and Palm Springs) all wore shirts that Bill made them wear that had some bizarre Todd Rundgren in-joke on them!
I saw so many amazing and life-changing shows with Bill. We were both in the DEVO video for “Come Back Jonee” (above), filmed at the Roxy in 1978 (as was everyone else, including the Germs’ Darby Crash, the Feederz’ Frank Discussion and every other band and weirdo in LA in 1978), we saw the Monks’ first US gig/first reunion gig and a week later we saw The Shaggs together, an unfathomable thought, even two months before that 1999 show.
Another of Bill’s great partners-in-crime was a girl known simply as Tuesday, yet another mystery person. She wore a Yoko Ono mask a lot of the time. She had hundreds of them made at Kinkos. I still have mine. They once got together and put signs all over Hollywood that there would be a big garage sale at Nikki Sixx’s house. They went very early and planted dozens and dozens, maybe hundreds of Yoko masks/heads on sticks on his front lawn and waited for the throngs of fans, followers and weirdos expected to come a-knock-knock-knocking on his front door for the garage sale!! And come they did, leaving quite a lot of confused people standing around a thousand Yoko Ono heads with question marks over their own heads. (How very Yoko, right?) Mister Sixx was mighty pissed (and also mighty confused). This was a true “Creepy Crawl” in the finest Manson Family style (yes, another of Bill’s obsessions).
Tater Totz live LP using the ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ cover with the Yoko Ono mask keeping Frampton (and us) in bondage.
Bill continued to do this sort of cultural engineering, always in new and novel ways, adoring and torturing those he most admired. Without either one knowing who the other one was, Bill actually got Sergio Baptista from Os Mutantes to write a piece of music with him, and then got Dot Wiggin from the Shaggs to write the lyrics and put them together just so he could see their names next to each other in a songwriting situation. (It didn’t bother him to see his own name in there as well.) Bill’s whole life revolved around this sort of stuff, and he touched many people’s lives. More than anyone could ever know. There is a website called Band to Band where you can type two bands or names of musicians and see if and how they are connected and all the steps in between. Bill, because of all the insane people he worked with, could literally be connected with anyone in any band EVER! And because I’m on a record (or five) with Bill, so can I. And so can anyone who has ever appeared on a Tater Totz record. I have yet, in the hundreds of times I’ve been on the site, to type in a single name that I couldn’t be connected to! It’s bizarre.
Every year on his birthday, Bill would literally FORCE all his friends to eat at the most horrible restaurant ever, the old Spaghetti Factory, which he claimed to love but we all knew that he really hated. He just loved to annoy us with the bizarre spectacle of Bill lovingly downing spaghetti that tasted like cardboard. And we went. And we went.Year after year and as time went on, new generations of friends went and it just got bigger and bigger. The giant Spaghetti Factory in Hollywood even closed down (much to our relief) but then he found another one in a city called Duarte and we all trudged out there for Bill’s birthday meal. And we were all happy to do it despite our bitching (part of the fun!)! And we went there the year after he died as well. And in recent years!
A star studded Spaghetti Factory birthday dinner for Bill Bartell
As hard as he made it to love him (and he did), we all loved Bill so much. In the pre-internet days I spoke to him on the phone for hundreds of hours as we all did (an expensive concept, as “long distance” phone calls left you with phone bills as big as rent some months). Later, in the cell phone era, since he lived in Riverside he always called to have you “entertain” him on his way home in his black BMW two seater sports car, which no one could ever figure out how he could afford. Was it from the S&M porno soundtracks we did? I think knot! Bill died on a very very weird day in which two other friends of mine, very close old friends, also died, no connection.
I had a friend named Justin (aka Jells Mayhem) that was my partner in a mash up production group I had called The Illuminoids. I also had another very close friend named Justin. Bill referred to them as the “Good Justin” and the “Bad Justin.” Bill was very involved in the weird Germs/Darby Crash bio pic called What We Do Is Secret. I went down to the set to make sure all the punks looked authentic 1978/79 punk style and kicked out all the ones with tattoos, piercings, GBH jackets, etc. I was the punk judge! The Good Justin played Bill as a teenager in the infamous LA punk riot scene. Bill and the Bad Justin played LAPD riot cops. I took a photo of Bill arresting the Good Justin/teenage Bill in all of Bill’s original clothes. The Bad Justin was looking on in this photo. This was the sort of psychedelic time vortex game Bill loved to play for his own amusement, a very Philip K. Dickian concept, isn’t it, arresting your punk teen self as your adult cop self? As fate would have it the Good Justin posted this photo as his Facebook profile photo and he died on the same day as Bill, so there it remains for Facebook eternity. The drummer of my first band, The Blessed also died that day of cancer. Not a good day.
Left to right: Good Justin (RIP), Bad Justin (still very much alive), Bill Bartell (RIP)
This article could go on for hundreds of pages of Bill’s (and Pat’s) wild adventures and should be a book, or a set of books. All hail Bill Bartell, international man of mystery! There will never be another like him. Thank God!
The three sided White Flag LP Feeding Frenzy.
Kurt Cobain talks about Bill and Os Mutantes in Brazil
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Spastic Ono Band: Redd Kross’ Beatles/Yoko freak-out DID NOT AMUSE Beatlefest attendees, 1988