It was supposed to be a magic moment. Even though they've announced a pair of reunion shows, Pink Holes bassist Cheese Borger and singer Les Black haven't seen each other in almost three years. Borger and Black were scheduled to meet at Edison's in Tremont for this interview, but Black was a no-show, despite several calls from Borger.
A magic moment of sorts did take place, however, when it turned out that a woman sitting at the bar was a college-radio DJ who had last seen the Pink Holes at the old Grog Shop more than a decade ago. Once she realized Borger was the punk band's bassist, she recounted how not even a black eye prevented her from enjoying the gig.
"I've been hearing [these kinds of stories] a lot," says Borger, 48. "I just want to see those people and hear them yell for 'Proof Is on the Pad.'"
Borger's referring to a Holes tune from their first album, which was recorded live at Cleveland punk dive the Lakefront on New Year's Eve 1983. Guitarist Bobby Richey and Black had started the group in 1982 as a reaction to the burgeoning hardcore scene.
"The hardcore thing came in and really pissed me off," recalls Richey in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "I was in the Offbeats for many years, and we had to eke it out playing the Euclid Tavern or some of those places in the Flats. It was tough to get a gig, and then these hardcore bands come along, and in my opinion they totally sucked. Those guys were noise and were sharing equal billing with us. I thought, 'If you want a shitty band, I'll give you a shitty band.'"
When Borger first saw the group, they didn't have a drummer and displayed minimal talent. Borger figured he was just untalented enough to make the cut.
"I went and saw their first or second show at the Old Brooklyn opening for [Cleveland metal legends] Black Death," he says. "I thought, 'Fuck, I could play bass in that band.' That's how I joined. I never got very good, but if I listen to the old stuff and look back on it, I can tell that we practiced and tried to get tight. Playing live, we just wanted to have fun. That usually meant drinking a shitload. We were very similar to early Replacements. They obviously progressed further. We were happy being the early Replacements."
The band followed up its debut with 1985's Breakfast With the Pink Holes, an album that included its irreverent cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Then Richey moved to Los Angeles around 1990, and the band has played only sporadically since. But in that time, Borger, who says he started going to punk shows to see bands like the Dead Boys and the Pagans in 1978, has become a proponent of the local scene. He's even put out a couple of compilations of previously unreleased songs by area bands. "I've been a very big fan of the scene for 30 years," he says. "I don't know where we fit in. It's hard to judge yourself. I think our shows are fun for everyone in the crowd. We just wanted the crowd to have a really good time. They became our friends and the shows were just a big party." When the band played the Rock Hall in August 2003, Borger thought that would be the end of things.
"From our humble beginning, that was the icing on the cake," he says. "That was a thrill. It was like, how much further could you take the joke?" The band, which also includes drummer Tom Fallon, doesn't have any plans to record again, even though any album it makes would likely have a home on Chicago-based Smog Veil Records, which has reissued both Pink Holes albums with plenty of bonus material.
"If we pull the reunion off, it will be a big victory," says Borger. "There's high enough interest right now, and it's turned into two nights [with Church of the Lazy Bastard opening the first night and Teacher's Pet playing the second]. Hopefully, people can come to one or two and have a blast. It's like a Christmas miracle."