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Detroit, Michigan, United States
I'm a punk rock guru from Detroit. Part skinhead, part crusty, part metalhead, part hardcore kid, part party kid, 100% punk rocker.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Right, or Rawn? The "worship" of Rodney "Rawn Beauty" Barger


The legacy of Cold as Life is rather storied, as many know.  Tales of Jeff Gunnells, Roy Bates, and CYTC are a part of Detroit hardcore folklore, to an extent.  The band is undoubtedly one of the most well-known punk bands to emerge from the city, and that is because of their skills and their stories.  The skills are a completely separate story, best reserved for an album review.  Multiple demos, two full-lengths, and a compilation CD are displays of beyond-par hardcore straight from the inner city of Detroit; Detroit, however, is and always has been (since the 1960s, at least) an irregular mishmash of wasteland, developing neighborhoods, yuppy-fied sections, and fully developed neighborhoods.  Cold as Life lived somewhere between the two former sections.  One story places an early version of the band at a home next door to a crack house, back when they were known as the Mattress Rats.  At this point, the band found its focal point of their sound and stage presence:  The ferocity/ intensity of embattled frontman Rodney Barger, who went by the name Rawn Beauty.  Even some 23 years after the formation of the Mattress Rats, which became known as Cold as Life, the band is still best remembered by most as a mythological, somewhat hyped band.  This hype doesn’t necessarily entail untruth, but a basis of reputation upon anecdotes, hearsay, and “you had to be there” moments.  When Detroit was at its worst reputation (amidst former mayor Coleman Young’s final reigning years), Rawn Beauty was, no doubt, a central figure in the Detroit hardcore/ punk scene at that time.  Two decades later, he’s still revered as an impossibly great hardcore frontman, whose life was tragically taken by a roommate (who is on the lam to this day).  But, is that the whole story?  Not at all.
That’s not the whole story; a simple inquisition of “Why?” to the reason Rawn was murdered opens a floodgate of factual ambiguities and a plethora of lunatic apologists and arguments.  Why was he killed indeed?  It’s exceptionally rare, even for man, to kill without cause.
Who has positive things to say about the embattled frontman?  Surely those who knew him best must know the man at both ends of his emotional spectrum.  There are those who did not see a legacy of a band tainted by the personal life of the frontman.  One such witness to the band’s rise said that “[Cold As Life] were, back in their day, worth going to see,” specifically referring to the era when the band “played, AND filled, the Magic Stick.”  Some decent-sized praise, especially from the source, a respected, though reserved frontman himself.  Notable CTYC crew member known as “Beast”, though somewhat biased by his affiliation with the crew, had valid praise for the man too, though it did come with a couple of barbs (he noted that Rawn was “full of piss and vinegar”).  Having been party to his company personally, “Beast” has witnessed Rawn’s dogged defense of his friends and crew, putting his dukes up, so to speak, in defense of them.  Another member of the scene, Jeff Uberti, has remarked that Rawn was “an energetic, commanding frontman”, noting that he had a reputation for more than just his folk hero/ enemy figure.
What of the negative parties?  Who had something to counter the positivity of Rawn’s musical endeavors as the frontman for Cold as Life?  There are, no doubt, critics of his character, almost all of which relate directly to his personal life and not his tenure in the band.  Numerous are the stories of Rawn’s temper, anger, and drunken antics that often included some kind of beating; a critic remarked that despite the band’s great, well-deserved reputation, he “liked to get drunk and beat the hell out of people all the time.”  Everyone’s had their bad moments, their drunken moments, and their bad, drunken moments; however, when these moments are frequent and incorporate isolated, aggravated violence against others, it begs the question as to what kind of person does this without just cause.  His fists of drunken fury were not limited to rules and showgoers; yet another source quoted two anecdotes of misogynistic violence- one with a significant other of Beauty’s, and one against the sister of this significant other.  This was not one knee-jerk reaction punch, quickly regretted and reprimanded; this was an externally visible, full-fledged attack.  How much longer until the boys in blue take this assault-addicted musclehead away for his personal violations?
The history of violence with regard to Rawn is a story best exemplified in a neutral eyewitness account from mid-1993, as told by Jason McGregor, then-vocalist of local peace punk band Social Outcast, who saw this outburst of Rawn-rage at a show at the 404 Willis (paraphrased from a third person point of view):
Rawn arrived at the show, and Jason asked a mutual friend of his and Rawn’s if there would be any trouble, knowing Rawn’s historical temperament.  The friend replied that there wouldn’t be any problems, as he wasn’t in the mood for any of his usual antics, he was just there for the show.  The two bands (Chaos UK was scheduled to play, but cancelled), Public Nuisance and Social Outcast, played with no problems and the show went off without a hitch.  Perhaps things would finally return to a level of normality in the Detroit scene…
Nope.  Upon discovering the identity of the now-calm Rawn Beauty, one of the local hippies who helped to run the 404 Willis began verbally abusing him in true condescending, pacifistic hippy manner.  As she continued, Rawn would repeatedly ask others, “Can someone please get this girl out of my face?” or requesting to the girl directly to do so.  Eventually, it came to an ultimatum, where he stated that he was going to clock her unless she ceased her verbal abuse.  Needless to say, she persisted, and was swiftly knocked out by just one of Rawn’s fierce punches (he should’ve gotten into boxing).
With this, it seemed that it was time to “get Rawn” (he had accumulated a number of enemies over time, and this was towards the end of his reign), and all hell broke loose.  Not one, not two, but FOUR punks pulled out baseball bats and closed in on Rawn.  One at a time, he knocked each one back, and as more of his enemies descended on him, some of his boys joined in on the fight- it looked like one of those old-school beat ‘em up games from the 1990s, like Final Fight or Double Dragon, where one or two people are fighting against ten.  One of his adversaries, a bigger, more muscle-y man, approached him, ready to “bring it”.  In one punch, Rawn reached back, swung his fist and the man’s jaw, and broke it.  The man reeled back, blood gushing from his face, his jaw indeed broken in one blow.  This fight eventually dissipated, a strong highlight of the violence lived by Rawn Beauty on a frequent basis.  To end Rawn’s story, he was shot three times in cold blood by roommate Richard Werstine as he slept on August 15th, 1993.  Though the killer was apprehended, he skipped bail and has been on the lamb ever since.
This is not an article meant to dismiss Rawn as a heartless, soulless monster who was deservedly put down by someone who was supposed to be his friend, nor is it meant to be a glorification of a frontman who happened to have his demons with which he struggled valiantly.  The Cliff Notes of his life include that he was an eternally loyal friend with a substance abuse problem that caused him to harm others, and despite his fantastic presence as a frontman, his antics caught up with him, and his legacy still lives.  However, do ponder this as one comes to a conclusion regarding value judgment:  If the column had been started with only the description (not the name) of Rodney:  a drunken, meat-headed ogre of a hardcore singer, who assaulted his girlfriend and his friends, most would be up in arms condemning the sociopathy of this man.  Why should that change if the man’s name was Rawn Beauty?
-Aunty Social

27 comments:

  1. The way I heard that tale is that Rawn actually obtained a bat in the melee. I love those stories...its kinda like the Bill Brasky skits on SNL.

    A good buddy of mine used to book hardcore shows in the late 80's and at one of his gigs in Flint (Chain of Strength show) he and his buddies were expecting problems with a bunch of Northern Hammers. Their idea was if reason didn't work, to bring a bunch of golf clubs and hockey sticks to defend themselves with, which they did. This defense would have been a weak one (which they knew) so he couldn't have been happier to see Rawn Beauty and some of his cronies show up half in the bag with the soul purpose of beating up Northern Hammers. One of the only times he was happy to see Rawn, from what I understand.

    Never met Rawn, but I will say that the majority of people I know who were around then speak of him as a violent bummer, whose exact location at any punk rock show was constantly monitored out of ones fear of physically crossing his path. I know of one story where a small black skinhead kid was beat up and had his boots taken at Saint Andrews Hall for no relevant reason, and another where a friend of mine had a Crass shirt and almost got pummeled because he was a "fucking hippie". Regardless of how good his band was at the time (fantastic) and how energetic he was as a front man(couldn't speak from experience), he sounded like someone my father would say "always had it coming". Sucks that "it" was what it was.

    I know how stories get passed along and mutate into something completely different than the actual event in discussion. In the mid 90's we had a couple of similar characters who made names for themselves as tough guys and the stories i hear about them these days differ slightly from history. They had their good points, they loved their friends and one-on-one they were great to talk to. Much of their problems stemmed from immaturity and poor parenting. I suspect Rawn was the same in that way and he looked after his own. Friends of mine old enough to have known him say that as well.

    I digress. Rawn Beauty is thee Paul Bunyan of Detroit Hardcore. The campfire stories are entertaining and the proof is in the pudding that his vocals made Cold As Life so damn good...I'm just glad I never met him (and many other names from that era).

    -f

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  2. (2/2)

    and Social Outcast wasn't a peace punk band.

    -f

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  3. I was one of the gals he adored, and I enjoyed many nights eating popcorn and watching late night tv together. No sex, no fighting, no craziness. That's the Rawn that I miss.

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  4. Rawn was a tough guy, but he was an amazing friend... I am one of those girls who was lucky enough to know him and that will defend him always, he was my mans close friend, but became my freind quickly... he protected me several times, even from my man when we fought... he loved my cooking LOL, he was funny, he had a caring side, and was more loyal to those who were worth it then anybody I had ever seen. I miss him and always will.

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  5. Many of us were outrageously violent in those days.
    Mostly we fought men who wanted to fight, men who tried to fight back, as futile as their efforts may of been.
    Rawn's misdemeanors stand out historically because he was murdered, was he still alive today most of that shit would be forgotten.
    Someone told me at his funeral that Rawn once said he was scared of two men, me and another. I was shocked as I was terrified of him. Nevertheless he was my mate.
    Rawn wasn't an out out of control maniac neither was he a great bloke - he was capable of being both.

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  6. Aunty social....first of all...You got the story of mattress rats/cold as life ..sooo off...I threw up in my mouth reading it.second.you have the stories of Rawn so fucked up..that made me spit the puke outta my mouth..(well most of it)...It's great how we can just blog crap...and make up stories..(or what ya heard).
    You should actually sit down with someone that was there. Not the cling ons that came waaay later...and called themselves c.t.y.c.. Because most of those guys..the band laughed at. (trust me)
    And for the stories about Rawn..he was a bully..but he was my boy...we all had our issues back in the day..but before you spew a bunch of ctyc stuff...get the story fn straight..cuz sounds like your one of the guys we laughed at..folklore shit..

    Thank you Phil for sending me this nonsense..and thank you aunty for making me puke..and laugh at almost the same time...I'm not doggn ya...it's what ya heard..but it's wrong...way wrong (well most of it) cool to see people still talk though..well funny...lol....

    If you ever want to hear the true stories..come by..I'll send ya my email..and we can talk...but most of this stuff is nonsense...

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    1. Go right ahead- I'll agree to disagree for now, but send me your e-mail address- I'd like to hear more of what you have to say. I can also be reached at auntysocialdri@yahoo.com

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    2. I was thinking about Rawn tonight and googled cold as life and this came up. Most of it total fantasy. The most tragic thing about his death is this. He told me shortly before he was murdered by that coward that he really wanted to settle down and be a good dad. I saw him at his wildest but we also talked privately about life and why I was done with hardcore shows. People who didn't know him can call him a monster or whatever they want. I got to have heart to hearts with him, I'm probably not the only one either. I always took pride in the fact that he trusted me enough to talk to me about real shit.

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  7. ctyc....brightmoor punxAugust 17, 2013 at 11:49 PM

    Ahhh thanks for the crap ya wrote about SBLC...you call yourself a punk?? Lol...really...come.on..bro...and no where near a.skin...just come to terms with what YOU ARE...and NOT WHAT U WANTED TO BE...LOL..it's ok.. Viva la punx

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  8. I don't know how well I believe these stories. I could just ask Dougie and Byrd how true they were, but I don't really know them well enough to ask what really happen. The only thing Dougie ever said to me about it was "All 3 of us lived together, and Rick shot him".

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  9. SBLC is back playing now with members from (Cold As Life, & Speedball) playing November 23rd....4541 Dixie hwy (next to king queens tattoo shop) feel free to come on out...love to talk to ya... Rawn and I grew up together way be4 Cold As life...and was still boys at the end. As skateboard dude said rick shot him?...dudes name was Rich..he hung with us for a long time..if you wanna here real stories.. and not fake fairy tales feel free to come to show (playing with Disgust&Rebel Spies)

    If not here's my email (mxpitbullz@Gmail.com) be glad to talk to ya..

    Cheers
    Keef

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  10. yeah..huh. Rawn was one of my boys. Could Rawn be an asshole? yeah. Ive seen him go off on a drunken-dumb fuckin tangent. Hes pulled his shit with me a few times. Did he deserve to get shot? No. Maybe an asswhoopin, but who didnt back then? Haa haa....

    glad to see SBLC getting back together. And Keef, though i signed in anon, just know its one of your boys, and im hoping your doing well bro. i think back to the good old days off Dolphin street when times are hard like right now. I miss you guys.

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  11. I'm a member of the O.T.Y.C. The Older Than You Crew. I've known Jeff G and Roy since we were in grade school. Rawn came along later and yes he was a bad ass mother fucker. But as long as you played it cool around him you would be fine. We were all just a bunch punk kids trying prove how tough we were. Funny how unimportant all that shit is now. One person people seem to forget is Jeff West (aka J Way) he wrote most of the music that CAL played and was a true talent. He left the band when things started to get fake and all the posers started hanging around. Todays version of Cold As Life and CTYC is nothing but a bunch of wanna b's. Those were the good ol days of the Detroit scene but those days are gone. Most of us are dead or in prison so don't glorify that shit. Be original and don't live through stories from the past. Make your own stories!

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    2. Worth noting, Jeff West and Jeff Gunnels were both from the comfy suburbs of Plymouth/Canton Michigan, not Detroit. They are not the street thugh baddasses they pretended to be. Especially Gunnels, he's a mommy's boy through and through.

      I knew Jeff West when he was 13, very talented and still plays locally around Ypsilanti.

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  12. Rawn was nothing but a super sweet gentleman. On more then one occasion he kept drunk idiots away from me. I met him at Blondie's, my man was in the Trash Brats, it was one of those first shows where the Brats were mixing crowds with SBLC, ALD, and the like. That summer was awesome, I think is was 1989. Rawn was sweet as sugar, I think about him often to this day, his smile, his brotherly love. Sometimes I can still hear his voice over the crowd.

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  13. Jeffs in jail! http://mdocweb.state.mi.us/OTIS2/otis2profile.aspx?mdocNumber=877406

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  14. Things are different now...Rawn was my boy..and could be an asshole..but he was what he was...but at times..you're glad he was your friend...but to talk about the dead....come on...we ain't got nothing better to do?...let it be....SURVIVING BROTHERS...DFL...SBLC

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  15. TRUE THAT!!!!!! J WAY.

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  17. I grew up and went to school with Rich in Southfield, and I go back to the very beginning of his and Rawn friendship, I met Rawn when he lived in Rich's parents basement on 9 and Telegraph, I spent many good times with those two and saw even more,I was truly hurt when I got the news of what happened between those two,even tho everyone has there opinions it was fucked cause 2 families were never to be the same again,

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  18. Man, this takes me back in time. I played guitar in a couple of bands that were friends with CAL. We used to practice in the same storage unit area. Always loved hanging out with those guys but it was always fantastic idea to stay on Rawn's good side.

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  19. Grew up with Ron in Sterling Hts. Ron was a good and loyal friend who is loved and missed by many. R.I.P. Ron.

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