February 1991 was a great month for us. We did a live performance at KUSF radio on Valentine’s Day and were scheduled to play at the Warfield that evening for the opening day of the Gavin Convention.
4 Non Blondes “Train” February 14 1991 from christa hillhouse on Vimeo.
We played a stellar set at the Warfield that night. After the show backstage was on fire. It was our first experience being “shopped” and all of the A&R people were chasing us around, smiling, schmoozing. It was weird. I felt powerful. That show launched the process of finding a label. One thing I quickly learned about record company executives is that all it takes is for one to be interested and the rest all line up like cattle. But we needed a label that could handle our personalities and would just let us do our thing. We were different than the other bands around, we didn’t fit into any existing genre. I remember one record executive said his company wanted to “develop” us – which we interpreted as an intent of controlling us. We felt that we had power, and with power came options; and we were counting on those options to rescue us from the bullshit.
The word around town was that we were going to get signed, the press was all buzzing about it. It was around this time, in March 1991, that I was confronted by the band about my drug use. I had been doing speed for a while, burning it at both ends, and I suppose it was obvious. I wasn’t shy about it as I had been using drugs of one kind or another on and off since the age of 13 and just really never thought too much about it. But I was getting pretty aggressive after drinking and doing lines, and I was living in a situation that fed my addiction. I didn’t do drugs before the shows, but afterwards things would often get pretty crazy. If you do speed with any regularity you stop going into REM sleep and that can make you edgy. And I am a person who displays plenty of intensity without stimulants. The drugs starting getting the best of me, as they always do.
One evening the band confronted me and said shit was getting serious and I needed to deal with my drug problem or they would fire me. Wanda had a friend who was a drug counselor at a facility called Waldenhouse, and I entered day treatment on April 1 1991 – coincidentally the date was my 10 years-to-the-day anniversary of moving to San Francisco.
Waldenhouse was no celebrity rehab scenerio. It had a deserved reputation as being hardcore; there were residents who were probated from prison and parents who risked losing their children. We were urine tested often – and not in private. There was always a counselor watching you pee into the cup because dope fiends would try to sneak clean urine in. When I ran my drug history for the intake counselor she wanted to put me into a residential facility. But then I would not have been able to rehearse or play gigs. They reluctantly allowed me to attend day treatment under the condition that I wouldn’t get any second chances. I spent about 8 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week at the facility. I threw myself completely into the program, which included AA and NA meetings in the evenings. Being a client of Waldenhouse qualified me for welfare so I could pay my measly rent and eat. My life became very simple: play music, recovery, eat, sleep.
On April 4 1991 – three days after I entered drug rehab – we attended the Whammie Awards. The Whammie was S.F. Weekly and the whole local music scene’s answer to the Bammie Awards (Bay Area Music Awards/BAM Magazine), an event that had earned a reputation as being out of touch with the local scene and more often than not giving awards to celebrity musicians who happened to live in the Bay Area – as many did. Move to Napa Valley and win a BAMMIE. So the Whammies were the awards that counted in our scene.
We won the highly coveted Best Rock Band award. I remember being pretty fragile as it was only my 3rd day clean and sober. It was a crazy party but I managed to survive with my sobriety intact. After we had won our award I remember going backstage for interviews. Linda was really drunk and jumped on Germ’s (KUSF DJ) lap and he winced in obvious pain as she exclaimed “Is that chapstick in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”
4 Non Blondes – Psycho Pussycat 051891 from christa hillhouse on Vimeo.
A few months earlier Wanda had shown up to a gig drunk. And it wasn’t just any gig – it was the first time we headlined at Slims. Slims is a famous music venue owned by Boz Skaggs. And it was a sold out show. Soundcheck had gone well and we all parted ways to get dressed, etc. and when we came back to the club we noticed Wanda had been drinking – and she was wasted. And Wanda wasn’t supposed to drink at all; she had been perscribed Annabuse for quite a while already. Needless to say Wanda played like shit. We managed to pull off the show, but we were in shock. I was so bummed out and disappointed. I remember sitting at Linda’s feet on the beer stained stage carpet during the encore as she sang a solo version of “Drifting”. It served as some kind of healing meditation for my woes.
I never really understood what happened to Wanda that night. I can’t remember what she could have possibly said when confronted about it, what reason she would have possibly come up with. Nerves? We had been in high pressure situations before. I have heard of a person sabotaging themselves. I think that’s what she did, but I have never really understood what happened or why and I suppose I never will. All I remember is that things were happening really fast and we just kept moving forward. The current of the band, the press and the gigs were in control.
Wanda had a long history of on-and-off drug use and problems with alcohol. With both of us in the same treatment program it made the odds that we would both stop using statistically impossible. The percentage of people who walk into the doors of any recovery facility and actually work the program and then remain free of drugs and/or alcohol for any extensive length of time is something like 2%, so chance of us both walking out of there successfully was not going to happen.
In May we played the Haight Street Fair. Tom Whally, the A&R guy from Interscope Records, and his assistant Leslie Gerard were at the show and we planned to have lunch afterwards with our lawyer, Brian Rohan, and manager in tow. As we prepared to leave the Haight for the restaurant Shaunna and I noticed Linda being whisked away in a limo. Linda being singled out in this way made us both take pause; the foreshadowing couldn’t have been more obvious if we were making a B-movie. When we met up at the restaurant I remember thinking “divide and conquer”. I think they would have signed Linda to her own contract right then and there had she been willing.
We did sign with Interscope records. I got a two thousand dollar signing bonus and used it to pay my rent for a few months. I also bought my very first CD player (boom box) and some CD’s.