Mendocino Talking: Penny Marchand
by Dave Smith, July 30, 2015
Penny is a fixture at the corner of Perkins and School streets in Ukiah where she has worked over 15 years for Mendocino Book Company. She is surrounded by books and has sold thousands of stories to many of us. And she has been living one of the best stories of them all. Here's Penny…
When you’re a mom with two great sons that are both successful, it’s strange to hear people refer to one of them as a rock star. I think both of my sons rock. So, if anyone had told me that my first born son, David, would actually become a rock star, I would have thought they were crazy.
At the time David was born, there really were no rock stars. There were rock bands, in the sense of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones… with their great lead singers… but Rock Star wasn’t a term that was used back then. Well, little did I know that my sweet, innocent, baby boy, who eventually took the stage name “Davey Havok” would actually one day be referred to as a rock star. It’s still hard for me to believe, and there are many times that I keep it to myself. It can be a lot to carry and a lot to take in.
Raising Havok is not what I anticipated. I assumed that David would be the average young man, smarter than most (that’s what all parents hope for) and that he would become a professor, or an attorney, and of course marry and raise a family. You know, the “normal” thing. Well, the “normal” thing turned upside down on both of us early in David’s life when his dad, my husband Ernie, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Ernie went in and out of remission and died when David was five years old. While I was caring for Ernie, before his death, my parents were helping me care for David, and they had a huge impact on his life, especially my dad. We all called him Dick, and Dick was the first person to put song into David’s heart. Dick was either singing or whistling around the house constantly. He was a tenor, and sang in a Barber Shop Quartet in Rochester New York where we lived. David grew up listening to Cole Porter tunes, Broadway musicals and crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
My Dad planted the seed for David’s singing career, and I nurtured it along. I introduced him to many songs. One of his favorites was a song I learned at camp, called Mr. Moon: “Oh Mr. Moon, Moon… bright and silvery moon, won’t you please shine down on me?” I would hand David a wooden spoon that my mother used to stir the pasta sauce with and he would use it as a microphone and belt out that song. This started when he was about three. My parents, and my extended family always encouraged him, and the wooden spoon came out of the sauce and into David’s hands a lot. My uncles would often slip him a fifty cent piece or a dollar bill after a rendition of Mr Moon.
So, how David went from singing that sweet tune to writing and singing tunes like “Hey Miss Murder can I… Hey Miss Murder… can I… make beauty stay if I… take my life?”
I really don’t know. I can tell you what I do know though… He started in on rock and roll early. He was five years old when he asked for the AC/DC album Back in Black. At the time I was pretty naive about hard rock or punk rock and when I heard the record I was shocked. Why would my sweet child want to listen to this kind of music… the lyrics clearly suggested killing your mother. Of course they didn’t suggest that… but that’s what it sounded like to me. What happened to those days of Mr. Moon? I didn’t get it… and that was pretty much the beginning of not getting it for quite a long time.
After Ernie died, David and I moved to Sacramento where my sister lives and we started a new life together. It wasn’t too long before I remarried, and David had a new dad who adored him. A few years later on his eighth birthday, we gave him a baby brother, and no… he was not thrilled about getting a brother for his birthday. All he wanted at the time was a pet rabbit.
Well, life goes on… And it did. Our family ended up moving to Ukiah in 1986. David attended St Mary’s Of The Angels school when there were still nuns there, and when he reached the eighth grade, during a parent teacher conference, Sr. Elizabeth told me that David was doing very well academically, was kind and respectful, and got along well with his piers. There was just one problem. Sr. Elizabeth was concerned that David was a devil worshiper… a Satanist. During free dress days he wore T-shirts with punk bands on them. He also drew upside down crosses on his notebooks. How she knew who these bands were… or what the upside down crosses meant, was puzzling to me because I didn’t know. But hey… maybe nuns take a course in Satanism.
I did know, however, that it was not a good thing for your child to be considered a devil worshiper at a Catholic School.
As it turned out it was much ado about nothing. David was no devil worshiper, and he graduated at the top of his eighth grade class. He also sang Silent Night like an angel at the annual Christmas Programs. This was the first real indication to me that David was a dichotomy— appearing one way, and in reality being totally different than he appeared. I think the nuns would be surprised to know today that not only is David not a devil worshiper, he is an outspoken advocate of the vegan and straight edge life style— a lifestyle which is drug and alcohol free.
David went on to attend Ukiah High, where he pretty much stood out in the crowd of jocks and goat ropers and all the other various groups. His hairstyle and color varied from week to week. His style of dress was uniquely his own— a lot of it coming from second hand stores. With his love of singing, he signed up for the choir class directed by Rick Allen, and David learned a lot about singing.
In the meantime, he forged friendships with other guys who shared his love of hardcore punk rock and the alternative music scene. One day he and his friends, Mark and Victor, talked about starting a band even though not one of them owned or played an instrument. Mark suggested that his friend Adam join the band because Adam did own a set of drums and could actually play them. David would be the singer, of course, because he had experience singing in front of people. Remember the wooden spoon? So, for fun and for the heck of it a band was formed and they called themselves AFI, code for “asking for it” — later to become AFI, A Fire Inside. The boys wrote all of their own songs most of which were social commentaries like “Mini Trucks Suck.” They’d play their tunes after school at Low Gap Park, and for the High School Talent Shows.
As parents, we all thought it was great for the boys to have a band. We didn’t understand the style of music, but hey, they were all good guys, and they were being creative and soon all of them would be off to college and that would be the end of that. No harm done. When David graduated from Ukiah High, he showed up at graduation with purple hair to match his purple graduation gown. Today this may sound quite tame, but in those days David stood out like a sore thumb, and sometimes it was really hard on me. I should have followed David’s great example of not caring what other people thought or said, but as a parent, we usually want our kids to fit in with the crowd.
After graduation, all of the boys did go off to college. David went to UC Berkeley. I remember the day we drove him down and dropped him off at his dorm. I was so proud of him, but also sad, that his life was taking off without me. Now, Berkeley is pretty radical, but he didn’t quite fit the profile there either, with his skateboard instead of a bicycle, and his multicolored Mohawk. Oh well, surely he would give all that up, blend in, and become the professor I had hoped for. We would often drive down to see him on weekends and take him out to dinner, and let me tell you, the experience wasn’t always great.
One time, in particular, we picked him up and he was dressed in black, had a huge blue Mohawk, a lip ring, a dog collar around his neck, studs in his ears, black nail polish, and chains hanging from his belt — not at all looking like the Deans’ List Student he was. We walked into the restaurant, and all heads turned. I got a lump in my throat as everyone in there was staring at him. Next, the chef actually came out of the kitchen to see David. He stared at him and laughed. My heart ached. I could barely eat. David, on the other hand, went on enjoying his meal and didn’t give it a thought. I cried all the way back to Ukiah, worrying that he would never fit in and wondering what in the name of God he would become.
What his dad and I didn’t know was that while David was keeping up his classwork, he was also constantly writing music and lyrics to songs that would eventually be recorded and lead AFI to fame. The band had been getting together and practicing in the basement of the Delta Chi fraternity house and they were gaining popularity. It was clear at this point that performing was in David’s blood. He announced to us at the end of his sophomore year that he was not going back to Berkeley and that AFI was going on the road. Yep, dropping out of school to pursue his own dream. What the heck? I was crushed and beside myself. Once again, tears flowed. He was clearly screwing up his life.
So, the guys took off across the state in a van that we rented for them because they were too young. They had T-Shirts and baseball caps to sell, but it was rough being on the road. They lived on $5 a day and slept in the van in parking lots for the first two years but they didn’t care. They loved what they were doing. It wasn’t too many tours later that their popularity spread and their hard work began to pay off. They were starting to draw packed houses and selling their merchandise like crazy. At one point I got a call from David asking me to meet them North of Santa Rosa to pick up the money they had made because they were uncomfortable transporting it. When I did I was stunned to see paper bag after paper bag stuffed with cash. The guys were stoked, and we were happy for them too. But we still had our doubts. After all, how many bands go out there and make it? Very few. And who out there doesn’t want to be a rock star? I think I can speak for all of the parents at the time — we were shaking our heads and wringing our hands. I even had my mother lighting candles for AFI when she attended daily mass.
Well, the band continued on the road becoming more and more popular with record sales increasing. They received their first commercial success with their fifth album “The Art of Drowning.” That’s when they got the attention of several Record Labels and they signed a contract with DreamWorks. In 2003 they released “Sing the Sorrow” which earned them a Platinum Record and it landed David on the June cover of Rolling Stone. He was officially launched as “Davey Havok” and the band had rock star status.
When their next album “Decemberunderground” went platinum, wringing hands turned to applause. The boys had made it. They were no longer just the garage band out of Ukiah. They were now known Nationally and Internationally. They appeared on MTV, SNL, at Universal Studios, and brought in the New Year on Times Square. I attend many of their shows and at each performance David does this thing where he walks off the stage across the top of the crowd and the fans literally hold him, and raise him up, stopping my breath— and we dance, we all dance, we all dance — as we all join in “Raising Havok.”