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Punk Family Values 

Meet the Rosenthals: two generations of art stars in one six-story warehouse.

Wednesday, May 7 2008

Page 5 of 6

As soon as Oakland psych folkster Greg Ashley leaves the 710 stage, Henry and Carola get into position. They're not front-and-center-style parents, preferring to stand more casually in the shadows. It's a little less obvious back there. But they have their devices ready to document every second of this big night. Henry stands stage left, camcorder aimed forward. "I don't want to stand too far away," he whispers excitedly. Carola is stage right, camera in hand. Between them is Room 710's soundman, handing Lou Lou a second microphone after the first produces piercing feedback during a hasty soundcheck.

Lou Lou, decked out in a sparkly black dress and pink pigtails, is beaming as she introduces the band with a demure little "Hi, we're Lou Lou and the Guitarfish. You should come listen to us."

Showtime, and the band breaks into action. Lena is the coolly stoic bassist, her face revealing nothing as she keeps steady rhythm. Mark and George, however, play as though the 20 people in the room really number 2,000, confidently eyeballing their audience as they work the stage. The energetic setlist mixes aggressively melodic rock anthems with Lou Lou's sugar 'n' arsenic lines ("Well, rip out my tongue/and put your words into my mouth/You've got some thing you wanna say/You and I both know that we have gone astray"). She's the band's punk princess with bubblegum pop affectations. With a mike in hand, her affable behavior gains a flirtatious edge: Dimples dent her cheeks, and she gives her hair studied shakes as she sings.

But there are technical problems. Big ones. The mike is producing horrible feedback. George and Lou Lou try to take the equipment hassles in stride, tag-teaming reminders about their new record as uneasy stage banter.

Try as they may, there's no getting around it: Instead of getting noticed at SXSW, Lou Lou & the Guitarfish are getting buried — under a mountain of technology failures.

As the set goes on, Lou Lou loses some of her spunk; she seems increasingly uncomfortable. She's still grinning, but her eyes dart over to her mom for comfort. "Every time she flats, she looks at me, and I nod that it's okay," Carola explains.

Tonight, though, flats and sharps merge in a muddled middle on the club's miserable PA system. As her kids step off the stage, Carola winces, whispering, "Well, that sound system was less than ideal." The finale offers a small consolation: The soundman actually walks over and apologizes to Lou Lou.

But the festival's aftermath offers more serious challenges in the days to come. On the flight home, Carola catches a severe case of the flu, which Lou Lou also contracts a couple days later. "I'm trying to take care of her and myself without infecting the rest of the family," Carola e-mails upon her return to San Francisco, "especially Henry, since this flu in conjunction with his cystic fibrosis would surely put him in the hospital."

A few weeks after Austin, Henry takes the kids to play pinball across the bay in Alameda. Lucky Ju Ju offers three decades' worth of free amusement for a flat door fee. The place mysteriously smells like french fries the night they arrive, and handwritten signs warn patrons that there is "No farting" here — unless you're in the bathroom, in which case "Farting is permitted here."

Henry discovered Lucky Ju Ju while looking for a repairman for his bicentennial pinball machine. Tonight he's excited about Gogar, a talking demon game. "When it shakes, it's like Satan's breathing," he tells Lou Lou's friend Ava.

What's remarkable is that on a Saturday night — prime time for teenage socializing — Henry's two kids are hanging out with him without protest. But then again, he has better stories to tell than most fathers.

After an hour of switching among Ju Ju's amusements, the oldies blaring from the jukeboxes start provoking Henry's memories. A Ventures tune reminds him of a riff from the Marilyn Manson "Antichrist Superstar" video he produced (how many parents can say that?). When "My Sharona" by the Knack comes through the speakers later, Henry turns to George and shakes his head, saying, "This song was the end of punk rock."

While the kids are having a good time, though, the defeat at SXSW isn't far from Henry's mind. When the subject of the festival comes up, he jokes, "It's better than a sharp stick in the eye."

"The hardest moment for me has been to watch them play a difficult gig," he says later, "and to see them suffer under that."

Since returning from SXSW, though, things have returned to their regularly scheduled insanity in the Rosenthal household. Henry seems especially busy: He's working on a movie about conceptual artist Jeff Koons, and last month he played a gig with the reformed Crime lineup at Annie's; a box set is in the works. When asked what would signal the end of his time in the punk band, Henry doesn't miss a beat. "I'll keep playing until the Guitarfish get bigger than Crime," he says, "which shouldn't be long now."

In fact, the family just learned the Guitarfish's self-titled debut CD comes out June 24. SXSW hasn't diminished the staying power of the band — or Henry's health for that matter. He never caught Carola and Lou Lou's flu.

Still, Henry is vigilant. Widespread scarring of his bronchial passages has reduced his lung capacity by half. If his cystic fibrosis is left unchecked, he says his degenerative infection "would choke me to death in relatively short order." For now, though, his maintenance routine seems to be working: He is known around his pulmonary rehab clinic at St. Francis Hospital as "High-Functioning Henry."

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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