Flagstaff There’s a “Dirty” Steve Kaufman in every town. The kind of true believer in underground music who has spent decades working tirelessly to bring obscure and not-so obscure bands from around the country into local venues simply out of a deep rooted adoration of music. The pay is a thin gruel most nights and chances of recognition and fame in any conventional sense are nonexistent. They deal with rowdy crowds, bands with no sense of punctuality, terrible smells, and flakey bookers night after night simply out of love and are usually still the most jovial, stoked people you’ll meet that evening. Dirty Steve is one of those. If you go to any established crappy punk venue in America and start talking to the old heads about being from Arizona, they almost invariably ask, “Oh, do you know Dirty Steve?” We do and have for the better part of 15 years and after this, you will, too.
Alright, Steve, a little background about yourself… Where’d you grow up?
I was born in New York and my parents were in the hotel industry, so I moved everywhere. By the time I got Arizona, it was my 11th state. Florida a few times, Washington, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Chicago…
What year did you first start going to punk shows?
1994, when I moved to Tucson. I just met the right people and went to Al Foul and the Shakes. There was a huge bonfire next to this house, people were moshing, and, somehow, no one got thrown into the fire. I was blown away. I was like this 19 or 20 year old with no direction, just listening to the Doobie Brothers because that’s what I grew up with and found this incredible music and people. It was an enlightenment moment or what alcoholics will call a moment of clarity when you hear that first note.
Can you tell us about your first band?
It was 1998 and it was a band called C.R.U.D. It was an acronym that had a million meanings like Can’t Rummy Until You Draw. My buddy Ryan Doetry was the bass player, so we had Can Ryan Use The Dodge. Communist Russians Using Demerol was another. The official one was Can’t Rest Until Death. It was a lot of fun. More thrashy punk, like D.R.I. style. That went until 1999 when Gail Mitchell died in a car wreck, he was our guitarist. That was the second really close, good friend that I’d lost ever. He was in Silverton, Colorado, and drove off a cliff. I lived in Brooklyn at the time because I’d gotten into trouble with the law, like most of us did, and I’ll never forget that long drive from rural Virginia where Ryan and I met up to make it back for the funeral and just not being able to process it very well. Just thinking, well, if I only had a band, we could write about this and could figure out better ways to express it, but my band was over. It was just really weird. I don’t know if I ever actually got over that… I still have stuff of his. And I shared some of his loves of music, like I never really liked D.R.I. until I met him, they and Skankin’ Pickle were his favorite bands. The way he did things made the punk rock lifestyle a little more palatable. He was never into dressing the scene, like the big mohawk and liberty spikes, he was just a guy that listened to fast aggressive music and worked check to check and I felt that was okay to do after meeting him. We took a lot of the anger from this and put it into my second band, which wasn’t that great, but was a good transition. There were two singers in C.R.U.D. and we went onto do this band called Five Miles Back, which was terrible. We didn’t last long, just about 10 songs and then we refused to write anymore. Reflecting back, I still do it to this day, I think about how he’d work the songs out with “meows.” Like, “This song goes, ‘Meow Meeow Meow Meow Meeeeooww,” (laughs) It all cats…
Yeah, it wasn’t too productive of a start. Tucson was a lot of drugs, circumstances, and people going crazy from the heat. We never set high goals so we’d never be let down. (laughs) I look at it as whatever doesn’t kill you, only makes you hate it more, and once you get to the point of hating something, just cast it to the side.
What happened from there?
We did three bands total with this guy Shane Peterson who taught me how to sing. I had mass amounts of books of poetry that I’d written for years upon years and he showed me how to arrange it with a four count and write to a tempo. Our last band was Bastard Quality. That was a lot of fun, we’re all still friends. I’m actually in a band right now with the drummer from that band called Magguts, a kinda a hardcore, grind, metal project. But that went on until 2002 when I got out of Tucson.
As you were a poet before a lyricist, who influenced you in that medium?
I guess it was all pretty standard for the time. I really got into the poems from Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft.
The weirdo essentials!
Yeah! Later on, it was Primal Screamer, a couple book from Chuck Palahunik, Stephen King. War of Worlds… Whatever I could get my hands on. I didn’t sleep very well through high school, so I read a lot. (laughs) I read the dictionary when I grounded once.
Real quick, Primal Screamer was written by Nick Blinko of the seminole goth/anarcho punk band Rudimentary Peni. Did you actually own a copy? Those are pretty much impossible to find now…
I still own a copy! He has another book that I’ve never even seen that was written on 250 index cards called Haunted Head. The only copy I’ve ever seen for sale was going for $750 and it came with one of the original cards. They only made 250 copies of the book.
After you left Tucson, when did you wind up in Flagstaff?
When I left, I spent 13 months up in Bellevue, Washington, to get straight off some drugs. I was just pretty much doing everything and had gotten kicked out of 12 houses in a four year span and just couldn’t do it anymore. I moved here May 8th, 2004, and started out living at the top Leroux at (local musicians) John and Greg Casebeers’ place. About a month later got my own place where I started having shows, the FU House, and ten days later, threw my first party. It was pretty much me, the Casebeers, and the bands and the only reason the Casebeers showed up was because I needed a PA and they knew I had free beer. The lineup was Dracolich, Grey Skies, Xerox, and Chonga Mama from Tucson.
Moving into the present. What’s life been like lately? You moved away from the hard partying, punk rocker lifestyle into being a reputable booker and promoter here in town at the Monte Vista. You also quit drinking a while back, how’s that been going?
It took a lot for me to get here. It was just kind of like, maybe that party will go without me. Maybe I’m not going to miss anything. I stopped going out as much and started focusing on things I needed to do. It was, if I get drunk five nights a week, it’s going to always affect how you pay your bills. It’s always going to affect your relationships because you don’t know what each drink is going to do you. I wanted nicer things for myself, not in the keep-up-with-the Joneses- kind of way, but not living scraping off the bottom of the bucket. And, for people coming through town for music, it’s better because you’re actually meeting and entertaining them. I wanted to take care of them, they’re just the greatest people.
Last question… You’ve brought in some of the bigger acts in the underground to the Monte Vista. How do you feel about your place amongst larger venues?
I’m digging it. It was never a goal to book shows and make money. When I was doing house shows, I took away pretty much nothing. Maybe some money for cleaning supplies, some scars, and a few hangovers. It’s cool to be able to offer the venue that I work at now and doing them the service of having bigger bands come through. But just getting the town here is incredible. I never thought I’d be able to book D.R.I. In my head, it’s always been like, damn, this is Gail’s favorite band, I did it! I did it for you! And I want more.
Awesome, thanks so much Steve!