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.”
I am such a big fan of Penny. Over the years, she has spoken about her sons in little bits and pieces. Thank you for this article.
Penny, I love looking through your eyes at the story of your amazing son. Beautifully done.
Beautifully written and very interesting to see an article written from the point of view of the parents. Despite all of her concerns, I’m sure its got to warm her heart to know that what her son has accomplished has helped many, myself included.
It’s great to finally hear from the mother of Davey Havok, you did a good job! And even better coming from your perspective. His voice and music is very unique and i love it. I love books and hope to stop by your store in the near future. Great article.
What a great article. I am a fan of Davey’s and it was nice to read about how he was raised and how be got to where he is now. I’m sure you are very proud of your son, he helps a lot of people and has a beautiful voice.
beautiful piece, really wrenched my heart reading this. He’s been such an inpsiration to me throughout my own teenage years- I discovered AFI when I was 11 (I’m 20 now!) and his lyrics have helped me throughout my whole teen years. and if I ever get to see california(i live in the uk) I promise to look for your bookstore.
When Penny read this “live” I was fortunate enough to be there.
It is extremely moving & well told in this article, but it doesn’t due justice to her brilliant performance that conveyed this heart felt story.
How her little boy David evolved into Davey Havok is phenomenal, but in my mind not surprizing because of her love & support for her sons with her own talents is a proof that it’s all in the genes.
I feel privileged to call her my friend.
OMG! I already meet Davey’s mom and, although through an image.She’s beautiful ❤ It’s such a great pleasure to read this article. I could imagine everything while I was reading her lines. I feel so happy after see this article, I know more about Davey’s personal life. ❤
Greetings from Rochester NY! It was great to read this piece and to learn more about your son’s past. Love his music and he was super polite when I met him once years ago. :)
Wonderful piece. It’s really amazing to see how parents are proud of us, their sons, and all the worries they have to pass with our growing up. I’m a proud AFI fan, Despair Faction member, because they are a great band, but what makes me prouder is that this 4 guys that are my idols, people I looked forward to when growing up, are just 4 amazing normal guys, truly nice people (I had the oportunity of meeting them back in 2007 for like 15 minutes. Still one cherished moment of my life) that happen to have the gift of entertaining people, and the gift of creating art and connecting with others hearts, as it results in a really big scale, making them rockstars, with Davey gaining an even bigger place because of his charisma.
How wonderful of you to share your story.
My Daughter Natacia was one of the contest winners of Crash Love. Natacia is a 4.0 honors & AP student who in elementary & middle school was considered the smart kid, not exactly a popular thing to be. She & her small (3 kids) group of smart friends reinvented themselves for high school & became punk. They were wearing black & chains, she being all of 80 pounds at 5′ 9″, was incredibly beautiful & adorable punk. She did meet a lot of opposition, including from teachers, regardless of her intelligence. Your son’s music was a huge influence on her accepting herself as she was & wanted to be. She was never involved in drugs, or partying, because she was straight edge. THANK YOU DAVEY! When she met your son, he was soft spoken, intelligent & kind. He is a wonderful person & influence. You are right to be very proud of him.
Great article Penny. I think it’s great that you supported your son and recognized who he was and what he was good at! Enjoyed the read!
Thank you for sharing this glimpse of your life with us. You raised a rock star, yes — and you raised a son who has become a lifeline for so many of us through his words and voice. I wish you and your family the best… thank you again!
Your son isn’t just a rockstar, he’s also a solid role model – gracious, well-mannered, and well-spoken. He’s composed and graceful in every interview I’ve seen him in – even the ones with less-than-respectful ‘journalists’ like TMZ.
Not to mention his talent for art. AFI meant a lot to me as a teenager and a lot of AFI songs go down as some of my all-time favorites. I’m happy to call myself a fan of both the band and your son.
Thanks for sharing, Penny!
I really enjoyed this article. :)
Penny, much love and respect to you. What a brilliantly written memoir. Fond memories of growing up with your son both with the nuns and in our adolescent years at Ukiahi. Cheers to you for raising such great children/adults! I can only hope that I do as well with my littles. xo
This is a beautiful article. I smiled so many times while I read it.
Mama Havok, thank you for raising such a great guy! I have been listening to AFI for twelve years since I was in the sixth grade during their Sing The Sorrow era. AFI has always been my favorite band and you raised a really special person who is important to so many fans. Even when I’ve had the worst day ever, I can just listen to a few AFI songs and feel a lot better. :) Davey is great, and so are you!
This was such a nice read. I have been a big fan of AFI for over 15 years, and Davey has had a huge impact on my life. I love his fearless individuality, cause even into my 30’s I still struggle with “being myself” a lot. Thanks for sharing a bit about how he became the cool guy that he is.
Wonderful article about Penny and her son. Congratulations Penny on your son’s success. The band is terrific and idolized by so many people. Good luck to them and their future success.
Hey thanks for sharing this! It’s wonderful to see how early life was like for Davey. I’ve been an AFI fan since I was just 5 years old. I remember playing out with my older siblings and the neighborhood kids and them showing me AFI records and stuff.Their lyrics and music overall helped me through the years. In fact I’m actually straightedge too. Davey is such an inspiration and he’s a good role model. So polite and intelligent. I was the only ‘punk rock’ kid who’s smart and nice in school so it made me feel confident to know that theres other people who are like me and share the same interests. Thanks a lot to the band for making me feel like I actually am a ‘somebody’ haha!
Sorry i missed hearing and seeing you read this in person Penny but know that you came from your loving and heartfelt self!! Kudo’s to you for being the kind of parent that Davey could count on and be there for!! It gave me alot more insight into your life and your rock star son’s.
Penny, yesterday I read this piece and was impressed with what a loving and intuitive mother you have been. Your recollections sent my mind off on a little journey back thru my life when I started playing drums at Yokayo Elementary School and the bought my first drum set paid for by my allowance, savings and subsidized by my Mom. I had a little jazz trio and we played our first gig at St Mary’s School. It was then on to the marching band at Pomolita and the Swing band at Ukiahi. During the sixties I formed a couple of different rock groups, nothing serious, just bars and dances in the bay area. I actually earned a living during college.
Later I remember my pride in watching My son Sam’s band perform at the Rathskeller off the UC Berkeley campus. Sam went on to be a partner in a law firm in San Diego. His daughter, Maddie, sings and plays the guitar and just completed her first recording. Sam’s son Max, put down his guitar for water polo and is now the team’s goalie. You never know, you just have to be there for them when they need it and given them your love. Thanks for the memories!
Penny, Where have I been ? I had no idea your son was a rock star! We must not have talked about this in Spanish class. It was wonderful to read this story about your experience “Raising Havoc”, especially after just eating two terrific pizzas with friends last night at your cousin Mary’s place, Medusa, in Philadelphia.
Great writing of a wonderful story!
Oh my! I love this! But mostly I loved you quoting your son’s lyrics at the end xoxo
Your sons strong independence & knowledge of self is something i strive to nurture in my own son …. if he can grow to become as talented, graceful and kind as your Davey, I will consider myself a great mother.
Thank you for sharing part of your world with us, to know a little about the life you share is a rare privilege.
I was ~15 in SF at my first ever rock concert. BFD. I can’t remember the year, but it was post-Napster, I think ;) My dad was with my brother and I, rightfully, to make sure we didn’t get in trouble. Like David, we were very studious, had a church life we didn’t understand, no prospects of really anything besides more young-adult awkwardness. I can’t remember the other bands that day, but there were big names. All I remember is walking around the back venue and at the smallest stage, I heard it…the cries and choruses of what I later learned was “God Called in Sick Today.”
All I can say was my life was never the same.
David and these prophets from Ukiah accompanied me through all my AP tests, into and out of a good college, through heartbreak, a masters degree, and now having a toddler.
Yes, Penny, I’m dreaming of a PhD, but NOT to be a professor ;)
We saw AFI a few nights ago in Seattle. I turned on AFI the whole previous weekend for my first-generation Indian wife and little girl. We’re strictly a Raffi family right now, but I have short videos of both of them banging their heads to Wester.
You can fill in the blanks of how great the concert was, and the tear or two or more I get writing this…but it was Davey, Adam, Hunter, Jade, and you, Penny, that all helped conspire to save the life of a young man. And make it really fun along the way.
Thanks AFI. You saw my sign at the concert. And yeah, maybe I’ll introduce you to my little Janey Havok one day, pending like me, she’s still straightedge and plan(e)t-based, and an honor student along the way to her dreams.
So, I can’t not thank you enough Penny for enabling one life to now touch so many.
As someone who’s been fighting bullying & disabilities their whole life, I know what it’s like having the world make fun of you & you not fitting in. It’s tough, but family supporting you is a huge help in dealing with the world. While not as crazy know dress or personal, my parents raised my sisters & I on love & equality to others. Even I, with my disabilities, was told I was equal to everyone else. They let us dye our hair, play m rated video games, watch r rated movies, dress like Punky Brewster or Gothic or girly… we expressed who we were, made lots of friends, fit in everywhere and were good kids who got good grades & had no criminal backgrounds & remained straight edge & just enjoyed our lives with the love & support of our parents even though teachers hated that we were weird and stood out; it got us into trouble a lot because “our socks were mismatched” or we were ok discussing real events like death because we had already dealt with them thus were jaded to them being sensitive topics to others. I discovered AFI at 13 when I was dealing with Anorexia, my disabilities getting worse, bullying, and struggling to understand that I had a right to go to college even if I was disabled; I felt useless & ugly & AFI’s lyrics were sad sounding but actually cheered me on & pushed me to keep fighting. I fell in love with their music & it has kept me going despite becoming more disabled, getting sexually assaulted, coming to terms with mental illness, dealing with traumatic family /life events, and coping with life. AFI has been great because they make amazing music that inspired people, they’re kind to fans, they put up a lot of energy in shows, and they do what they want for fun but still never become rude people. I’m glad I found them and they’re my favorite band. To see a mother be supportive of her son like mine was is amazing! You definitely helped shape your son into to influential person he is today because of your open mindset & willingness to let him grow. I wish other parents could do that for others. The world would be a more vibrant & nicer place if so.