Note: Originally written 2/27/16
My Night With Billy Pfalmer
Billy Pfalmer was a senior when I was a freshman at Durango High School. I knew of him because he played in a punk band called the Randibles. Billy was certainly a punk. He had bright blonde shaggy hair, he was tall and slim, and his eyes had dark bags under them, like he was always stoned. His clothes were all baggy, and his jeans hung down low, which was the style of the nineties and early 2000's. I had never spoken to him, but I had seen his band play at a school battle of the bands. I didn't understand punk music then, and seeing Billy sing and yell into the microphone while the other band members thrashed and drove through these frantically fast one or two minute songs was a lot for me to take in. The only words that I could understand from their fifteen minute set was when Billy moaned into the mic: "I wish I could have it my fucking way . . ." Nevertheless, the Randibles were a band that I had long known about from my older friends; they were somewhat like local legends in the small mountain town of Durango. Billy Pfalmer was the essence of punk, in my mind, and in the minds of many others. His band was an expression of himself, and the first time I saw him perform, although I didn't understand it, I was impressed while witnessing the legend that was Billy Pfalmer.
The next year, Billy graduated, and I remained in high school. I forgot all about him. When I was a junior, I started doing a few drugs and drinking a bit, and some of my friends that I hung out with were older than me, around Billy's age. One of my friends, Boo Burnier, worked with me at the hot springs near my house in Hermosa Valley, north of town. Boo was Asian. He had a nice car, a red Eclipse; he and I would sit out back of the front office and smoked rolled cigarettes and talk and laugh about things. Boo was super fucking cool; he was older than me, and it made me feel cool to hang out with him. One day, he asked me if I wanted to come along with him to a punk show, and I could drive him home afterwards because he wanted to drink. I said sure, and he asked me if I could drive stick. I said I could, even though I'd never done it before, because I really wanted to go. I had never been to a punk show, but I really wanted to now, because I was partying a little bit and I was starting to feel a little like a punk. Boo picked me up outside my house and drove us to the VFW, where the show was. I was excited and a little nervous.
Billy Pfalmer was there with his new band, The Colorado Folk Revival. There was a punk band that played before, and there was a mosh pit. I jumped in and experienced my first pit, running and stomping in a circle, shoving and moving in a current of punk bodies and teenage aggression. It was amazing -- I had never experienced a high like that. Billy's band played after, they sang some acoustic folk renditions of punk songs they had written, including a pirate ballad: "I'll drink when I'm thirsty, I'll drink when I'm dry . . ." something like that. After the show, Boo went to the bar of the VFW. I followed him, and I saw Billy there, his tall, blonde, slim figure hunched over the bar with a drink, slurring his words at the bartender, something about the turnout of the show. It was cool to see Billy like that; I remember taking a mental picture of him in my head, the punk rock star of Durango, drunk, after his show, in his element. After Boo had a few drinks, it was time to go, and Billy asked Boo for a ride. Boo said that we could all go to his place for a few more drinks. So now, I was driving Billy and Boo back up north towards the valley.
In the nice red Eclipse, Billy was in the back seat, and Boo was riding shotgun. It was soon obvious that I didn't know how to drive a stick shift. The car stalled a few times, I bottomed out coming out of the VFW parking lot. Boo sighed loudly, and began trying to explain to me how the clutch and gas worked.
"It's like finding the g-spot," Boo explained wisely. "You need to just ease into it, with a little balance, back and forth smoothly." I kind of got the hang of it. Billy was in the back seat, pretty drunk.
"Man," Billy slurred. "If I didn't know how to drive a stick, I'd kill myself."
"This kid's cool, Bill." Boo assured him. I drove us through town, praying that we didn't hit any red lights. It was a nervous ride.
"If we get pulled over, I'm running." Billy said from the back seat. "I got warrants."
I finally made it to Boo's house at the Ranch, an upper class suburb in Hermosa Valley. Boo's parents were out, so Bill and him started drinking a little bit more. Billy was swaying back and forth in the kitchen. I couldn't stop thinking about how cool he looked, how close I was to the lead singer of the Randibles; I was a fly on the wall; he was completely oblivious to me being there.
"Man, let's find some sluts!" Billy kept saying to Boo. They talked and laughed and I just hung out, quiet and smiling.
"Fuck, I need some cash," Billy said. "I need some cash for tomorrow." He slurred on: "Boo, can you spot me twenty bucks, man? I'll pay you back. Just twenty."
Boo took a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to Billy.
"Here, Bill," Boo said to him. "Don't worry about paying it back, man."
"No, I'll pay it back." Billy insisted.
"Don't worry about it, Bill. I mean it. It's a gift, man."
It impressed me to see Boo give Billy money, just like that, and expect nothing in return. It added to the coolness that was Billy Pfalmer. A little while later, I left with Boo, and I gave Billy a high five on my way out.
"Later, man." Billy said, slouched in a chair. I felt cool. Boo drove me home. I've never forgotten that night.
. . . . . . .
Maybe three years later, Billy died of a heroin overdose. I was now a punk myself, doing a lot of drugs, living fast and recklessly. When I heard the news from a friend, or from a few friends that he had died, I immediately remembered the night that I hung out with Boo and Billy. I was so glad that I had that night.
I went to Billy's memorial, where there were a bunch of kids that I hadn't seen since high school, they were sad and a lot of them were fucked up. Billy was a huge part of the local punk scene, and his loss was one of huge magnitude for the town. It was a somber moment, but to me, it wasn't that sad. It didn't surprise me in the least that Billy had OD'd on heroin -- that was punk. Billy Pfalmer was the essence of punk rock: he had lived punk, breathed punk; ostensibly, it was all he knew how to do. If I had expected anyone to go out in the glorified punk rock fashion of a drug overdose, it was Billy. I admired and respected him for going out like that. Of course, I felt bad for his family, who had pulled the plug on him after it was clear that he would never come out of his drug induced catatonic state. That was sad.
But what would Billy have done differently? Gotten a suit and tie job? Played in a punk band on the weekends while he slaved away in some office cubicle? In my mind (and I really had no idea besides my own impression of Billy that had been established from only a few glimpses and a single night), Billy had fully committed his life to punk rock -- it was like his religion -- and that was how he would have, and should have, gone out.
I don't know. Maybe not. There very well could have been many different sides to Billy Pfalmer, seen by those that knew him much more than I ever did. But as a teen myself, Billy had left a mark on my life, just from that single interaction we had shared years before; I was proud to have known him only in that single moment, and I knew in my heart that he had lived life by his own rules, and gone out the same way. At the memorial, we all shouted out "Fuck off, motherfucker!" Which was a song lyric of Billy's, and what he probably would've said to all of us if he had walked in to his own memorial that day.
. . . . . . .
Many years have passed since that time, and I have lived many different lives. I too have struggled with hard drugs, overdosed, relapsed countless times; I have felt the pointlessness of life, and felt intense pain at the futility of everything around me. The attitude of punk rock still makes sense to me at times. But I have been able to move past many of my demons and come around to a better existence. I write, I play music, I tour, I make films.
And even now, it amazes me that that single night with Billy Pfalmer is so ingrained in my mind. It always will be.
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