Dope, Guns, and Settling Down

How Amphetamine Reptile changed American music--and then went into the bar business

By the early Eighties, hardcore was steaming forward creatively on the margins of Middle America with a momentum that British punk had lost, and Hazelmyer was swept up in the tiny local scene dominated by Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. He met Peter Davis and future Babes in Toyland drummer Lori Barbero in Goofy's Upper Deck, an early all-ages punk club upstairs from a strip joint in what's now the parking ramp behind the Target Center. Davis had helped book the Minutemen, Discharge, and others into the club, and Barbero offered her house on 23rd and Garfield as a crash pad for visiting bands. Hazelmyer eventually became friends with both longtime punk movers, practicing in the Troublehouse basement as a member of Tod Lachen and Otto's Chemical Lounge, who were already learning the value of collector-geek chic. "Otto's couldn't afford the $40 a month rent they paid for the basement," remembers Barbero. "So they gave me one of ten T-shirts they made and said, 'Here, take this, it's worth a lot--we only made ten.'"

Hazelmyer stunned his bandmates one spring day in 1983 by announcing that he had decided to join the Marines. "I wasn't going to go to college," he says. "I didn't have the attention span for school. All my punk-rock friends and buddies were saying, 'Reagan's gonna send us to war.' And I was this snotty 18-year-old punk kid saying, 'Yeah, I'm gonna get to shoot people.'" But for a nonpunk whose instinctive iconoclasm rivaled Bob Mould's, Hazelmyer was likely acting on impulses other than a newly cultivated enthusiasm for weaponry. "I think he saw the military as an indispensable step in creating himself," says Rod Smith, who got to know Hazelmyer during his leaves from duty in the mid-Eighties. Not unlike our current governor, who shares the former punker's drive and tough-guy sweetness, Hazelmyer speaks of his military experience as the key to every arena of discipline that informs him.

Stationed in the Pacific Northwest, Hazelmyer drove a pink Cadillac to punk-rock gigs on weekends with Seattle's U-Men, opening for noisy AmRep precursors Big Black, the Butthole Surfers, and Scratch Acid. And during his stays in Minneapolis, he formed a new band, Halo of Flies. Drawing on the same moddish tunefulness and psychedelic noise fueling Hüsker Dü, Haze's smarmy whine and gorgeously caterwauling guitars were prototypical AmRep in their arch attitude and high adrenaline. And when every indie label Hazelmyer approached turned him down for a deal, he decided to put his savings to use by cutting his own records. By the time he was honorably discharged in 1987, the label was snowballing, with no small help from Davis's new booking business, not to mention the steady championing of AmRep bands in the nationally distributed Your Flesh.

Grumpy's old men: Punks-turned-restaurateurs Tom Hazelmyer and Dave Peil
Craig Lassig
Grumpy's old men: Punks-turned-restaurateurs Tom Hazelmyer and Dave Peil

Incidents like the Big Mac jag, or such habits as Hazelmyer's gun collecting, may have helped cultivate the jingoist macho image that dogs the 34-year-old to this day. Certainly, the art adorning the Dope, Guns AmRep sleeves, with a bird of prey holding a gun and a baseball bat, was enough to give one pause. And he was at least physically forceful enough to use his muscle when necessary--once putting two fighting members of UFO-rockers Supernova in a headlock, for example. But friends say it was his occasionally impolitic manner as much as his conservative politics--Hazelmyer calls himself a libertarian--that fed the baseless rumor that his shirt was a lighter shade of brown. "I think on some level, he enjoyed the fact that people thought of him as this person that he wasn't," says Mike Wolf, a longtime AmRep employee now living in New York. "He's obviously not a Nazi. And he's not violent or a drug fiend--quite the opposite. He speaks his mind, and he has moderately right-wing beliefs. But he'll argue with you intelligently."


More than a few Cosmic Psychos fans know the other alcohol-induced anecdote, the one about Hazelmyer getting ejected three times from his own label showcase at New York's CMJ Music Marathon for charging and tackling the band's bassist onstage. But friends will tell you over and over that, the rare bout of drunken madness aside, Hazelmyer is just an ordinary, good-natured guy. The dyed-in-the-industry musicians in Helmet and Nashville Pussy will testify that Hazelmyer is an anomaly in the business, a plain dealer who makes sure bands are paid, and paid on time. This is no small praise in punk, where label owners from the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra to Black Flag's Greg Ginn have been accused of swindling their artists. When Kozik once flew up from Texas to Minneapolis to hang with his patron for a week, he found the AmRep Mafia don's life "pretty normal." By the Nineties, Haze was married, living in the suburbs, and remarkably levelheaded given the killer image usually hung on him. "Most people who run a successful label have that adult, responsible side and are pretty conservative in their personal life," says Kozick. "They're not out getting fucked up every night. I've met plenty of those people, and they tend to go down in flames."

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