STREET CRED: From left to right, in all their glory, the members of the Guttersluts are Alison Wonderslam Slut (guitar), Jessica Madonna de la Slut (farfisa), Tami Teener McSlut (drums), Jillstone Starchyld Slut (bass) and Suzanne von Slut (lyrics/vocals).
A two-day blowout relives the glory days of live music at the San Jose club
By Gary Singh
FOR MUCH of the '80s, South First Street in San Jose functioned as a small-town red-light district, a dingy peepshow paradise and a ghetto where washed-up hookers went to die. In 1986, Ed Sugitan opened a humble bar and grill called Marsugi's at the corner of First and San Salvador streets and about a year later began hosting live bands on a makeshift stage at the front window.
After experimenting with a variety of entertainment, the club opted for rock music, and a few folks from KFJC-FM (89.7) at Foothill College joined in to help book the place. Together with the other venues that soon followed—the Cactus Club, F/X and Ajax—Marsugi's launched a thriving alternative music community. Everyone knew everyone else and the bands all supported each other. In short, a wholly organic music scene is precisely what transformed the neighborhood from a porno district—something the politicians were not able to do.
As a result, national touring bands that would previously only stop in San Francisco were now regularly coming to San Jose as well, and several that went on to achieve significant stardom played at Marsugi's when they were nobodies, sometimes while just a few dozen patrons imbibed and watched. Right at the time when the Seattle scene was just beginning—before anyone used the word "grunge"—most of those bands came through Marsugi's.
Countless local bands got their starts at the joint, and to this day, many now-settled-down ex–crusty rockers will cite Marsugi's as one of the first legit bars they ever played at. Just about any band could get a show at Marsugi's, and all walks of eccentric life were welcome. The regular Marsugi's customer was one who wanted to swill cheap booze, watch eclectic bands and, in particular, be as far away as possible from the cologne-soaked mulletheads and fashion slave-ettes who populated the few mainstream nightclubs that already existed.
But as time wore on, Marsugi's just couldn't compete against the widespread infestation of DJ dance formats and couldn't navigate the ever-increasing layers of bureaucracy from the city and its Redevelopment Agency, both of whom didn't want loud rock music interfering with their plans to make downtown safer for the yuppies. Thus, Marsugi's held its last gig on Feb. 28, 1993.
"I got aced out," Sugitan told Metro last year.
To revisit that golden era, six bands that regularly played and drank at Marsugi's—the Spit Muffins, 187 Calm, Oilfish, Mute Angst Envy, the Guttersluts and Kerplunk—will reunite for two gigs this weekend at the Blank Club. KFJC will sponsor the event and air a preshow special from 7 to 10pm, on Thursday (Jan. 30), co-hosted by yours truly.
Filling a Niche
Over coffee before a recent rehearsal, the members of the all-female garage pop-punk band the Guttersluts explained how they began entirely as a joke in 1988. All were DJs at KFJC and together they created fake Guttersluts station IDs and T-shirts on a whim, only to have the fake shtick eventually achieve local popularity. So the band went legit, recorded at the old Streetlight Records house and then became, essentially, one of the house bands at Marsugi's, gigging on a regular basis.
Keyboardist Jessica Madonna de la Slut, who attended SJSU during the days immediately before Marsugi's, recalls the scene. "As a KFJC person first, and then a band member, Marsugi's filled a niche," she said. "There was nothing to do in San Jose. ... You didn't walk around First, Second or Third Street then. It was a porno district. There were hookers and it was a good place to go if you wanted to buy bad speed. But other than that, there was nothing. And suddenly there was this club. ... You could see some great music for a small cover and a good bar with no BS and no foofoo drinks. And it became a community and you didn't have to spend your whole life going to San Francisco."
Debauchery at Marsugi's was legendary. Spit Muffins axman Herbie Gray recalled playing his first show at the bar in 1988, as part of Mike Hauser's makeshift act who opened up for Gwar and Touch Me Hooker. Gwar was known for wearing costumes and spraying unidentifiable fluids everywhere.
"We left a piece of equipment there and we called back the next day," Gray says. "[Sugitan] was just livid because [Gwar] had mixed up fake blood in the bathroom, and I guess it had gotten everywhere and it was all over the stage."
Primarily a dive bar, Marsugi's was not known for luxury sound equipment, and the place rarely had functioning stage monitors. Oilfish bassist and vocalist Jim Brusseau says he developed a love for the place only in hindsight.
"The truth for me was, although I enjoyed drinking and seeing live music there, I didn't have the kind of respect for Marsugi's that it seems like I should have," Brusseau says. "Marsugi's, in the small network of downtown clubs, had the worst sound system and stage. It was a dingy, poorly kept place. One of the most vivid memories I have of Marsugi's is all of the metal chairs they had for seats, that always seemed to be strewn around in a mess."
"With that said," he concludes, "it was the first place two bands I played in performed. It was the first venue where most of my friends' bands performed. Marsugi's had a laid-back atmosphere, and like a friend that has passed on—or maybe that old drunk eclectic uncle—I wish I had realized how important it was to me, before it was gone."
Since minors couldn't get into Marsgui's, people would often watch from outside on the sidewalk.
"I always thought it was kinda cool to see bands playing in that window from the street, even if that ugly piece of foam was blocking most of the view," said Jodi Durst, 187 Calm's bassist. "It's a shame the place closed down. That was the place to play in San Jose for up-and-coming bands."
Gray agreed. "It was just the cornerstone of the music scene," he said. "It was the real learning ground for me and probably a lot of bands. If you don't have something like that, what else are you going to do? If you can't get into places to play, how are you going to learn and grow and stuff? I think it was really important in that aspect. Just having that playground for bands, you know?"
THE MARSUGI'S NIGHTCLUB REUNION takes place Friday (Jan. 30) at 9pm and Saturday (Jan. 31) at 9pm at the Blank Club, 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $5. (408.29.BLANK) (Full Disclosure: Metro is one of the sponsors of the event.)
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