Winter 2013 — THE POTOMAC

A Punk's Life is Short

  Nick Barich

After living his formative years in Winooski, Vermont Mark Nipple knew a thing or two about small town life. If you asked him he’d say he knew a thing or two too many about small town life. In the seventies Winooski was just about as far from a happening town as one could get. The people had a strict routine: wake up, obey, sleep, repeat, die. After a trip to New York in 1975 Mark, a sophomore in high school at the time, decided to live his life differently. In a record store he had picked up Patti Smith’s album Horses and felt a feeling well up inside of him that he had never known before. Disorder filled his mind, leapt from his fingers like electricity, and set his throat aflame. He knew he had to make everyone in Winooski, Vermont know how this music affected him. Mark felt that there was only one place that he truly belonged; up on a stage screaming his heart out and strumming a guitar while a half-drunk bastard beat the hell out of some drums behind him.

In his now rebellious teenage years he was near inseparable from his black 1962 Silvertone 1423L Jupiter electric guitar.  When he wasn’t writing songs he was out picking up a new girl from the town over and blowing the doors off of the Vermont Highway Patrol cars in his souped-up, bright red ’64 Ford Galaxie 500XL. He smoked marijuana cigarettes in his high school’s bathroom between classes with James Cruftly, who everyone referred to as “The Devil” on account of his silver tongue, and Richard Johnson.  Mark, Cruftly, and Johnson soon formed a band, The Shit Kickers, in Mark’s parents’ garage. With Mark on guitar and vocals, Johnson on bass guitar, and Cruftly on drums they played songs about the only things they knew, sex, drugs, and challenging authority. For their first gig they were billed to open for a hillbilly rock ‘n’ roll band playing at the local watering hole. Mark was starting to live his dream. The three of them walked on stage, played their first song, and were thrown out of the place before their second. In this quiet town they were the living embodiment of what was wrong with society and that was exactly how they wanted it. Mark decided that this rigid, two-bit town was too small for them; they needed some space to breathe.

In the summer of 1977, before his high school graduation cap had even hit the ground, Mark was packing his guitar into the back of Cruftly’s ‘73 Dodge Van.  The three of them were headed to New York, New York with what little money they had saved up to rent an apartment. With their middle fingers out the windows as they crossed the town line The Shit Kickers were finally free of Winooski’s gaze. The first thing they did after settling into the crowds of the bustling city was have Cruftly register his van in New York. They were issued plates with the numbers 494348 stamped into them which Mark called his “freedom numbers” as this was just one more way to know he was no longer in Winooski, Vermont. The Shit Kickers pressed only one album and incorporated Mark’s freedom numbers into it, hoping that they would somehow cause it to become a major success. They titled it “Four Ninety Four” and it lasted thirty four minutes consisting of eight crappy songs. Mark even carved the numbers into his precious Silvertone’s pickguard.

Mark spent the next decade in a drug induced haze between the legs of any woman who would let him in. He and the boys were playing the crappy bars and rundown pool halls of New York and going absolutely nowhere in the music industry. Mark didn’t care and considered this smoke-filled and alcohol-soaked freedom heaven. He considered this to be his purpose in life and through amplifiers his electric voice screamed about loose women and police brutality. He wanted to be the center of the hurricane that was class warfare. He wanted to tear society down and start anew.

The trio continued to struggle through the early 1980’s by working shit jobs during the day and practicing their shit songs at night. They continued to book shows as often as they could but every crowd was thinner than the last. Most weekends they played a set to an annoyed bartender and then went home and cooked a spoon of heroin. As their addictions worsened their music only got louder and more unintelligible. Their demons seethed beneath their skin for years before they finally surfaced.

Mark woke up on March 4, 1987 to find Cruftly unconscious and cold on the floor. No pulse. The half-drunk bastard beating the hell out of the drums behind him was dead.  Johnson and Mark hopped in Cruftly’s van, drove home to Winooski, and watched in silence as a preacher spoke a few words over The Devil’s warm grave. Cruftly’s father, Walter Cruftly, did not attend the burial; as far as he was concerned he had no son. With Cruftly six feet under Mark packed up his trusty Silvertone guitar and stowed it away in his parents’ attic. The Shit Kickers were through. Johnson wanted to continue playing music and joined the punk band from the apartment above them in New York. Mark had ten years of his life to make up, he couldn’t stop moving now. Seeing as his work on their album’s artwork was more impressive than the music it contained he decided to get a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design.

After taking a year to sober up under the watchful eye of his mother Mark graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in three years. He found work as a graphic artist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where, within the year, he found the woman he was destined to spend the rest of his life with. They had been set up on a date by mutual friends and hit it off immediately.  

In 1993 he and Anita Carter were married. They honeymooned in Cleveland, Ohio and spent every night in each other’s embrace. Mark visited the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Museum every morning to silently relive his dream of bringing chaos to the masses. Anita knew he played the guitar in his younger days but knew little to nothing of Mark’s actions in the late seventies and early eighties.

In the December of 1994 his daughter, Samantha, was born. She was the most lovely seven pounds and four ounces Mark had ever seen and he melted every time she smiled. After never going without she is eighteen now and attending classes at the University of California, San Diego. She hopes to graduate in four years with a degree in philosophy and Mark couldn’t be more proud. She doesn’t call home as often as he would like but he knows what strict boundaries can do to a child.

In 1998 Anita was pregnant once more. Aubrey Nipple was born on February 28, 1999 to the two happiest parents in Pittsburg. Mark wasn’t too happy about naming his son Aubrey but after seeing his wife in labor for six hours allowed her to name their son whatever she pleased. Aubrey is thirteen now and attending Carrick High School. A violinist in the school orchestra he is considering attending a college in New York and honing his skills. He is passionate about music and wishes to pursue it professionally. 

One cold October weekend, after thinking long and hard about dusting off his old Silvertone to show his son, Mark drove out to his parents' home in Winooski, Vermont. He knows he will not tell Aubrey about his sex and drug fueled decade in New York. That is ten years his children will hear about only when he fears that addictions have crept into their lives. After passing the church he had attended every Sunday for mass Mark decided to make a detour and visit The Devil’s grave for the first time in twenty five years. The grass around his former drummer’s headstone was just the like the man six feet beneath it, untrimmed and wild. As he walked back to his car a familiar name caught Mark’s eye. Chiseled in stone was the name Richard Johnson. Born: January 5, 1959. Deceased: April 18, 1989. Mark knew these were the graves of people who had lived too hard and too fast. He realized that had he not changed his ways he would have been in an identical plot between Cruftly and Johnson.
Stepping back into his car he slowly drove to his Winooski family home, silently observing how the town had changed since he was raising hell on the highways of Vermont. He walked through the creaking screen door, retrieved his guitar from the attic, opened its case to find that his once lovingly adored Silvertone’s neck had warped and its headstock had broken off, and he smiled.

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