September 27, 2015

State of Confusion... A Rambling Oral History of a Little Punk Shop in a Small Town.... (Lancaster 1984-86)

May 21, 1984
by Marylee Schneider, Intelligencer Journal Staff
While high school seniors everywhere are preparing for graduation... one Manheim Township senior has already begun working on her new life -- a "unique" clothing store with a slant toward punk fashions.

"We'll have silk screened T-shirts. We'll be making most of them, " Suzy said. "I'm going to design some clothes, plus we'll have mini skirts and buttons."
The Kinks - State of Confusion

TQ: My first time going to State of Confusion... It was a tiny little place, but packed with cool stuff. That must have been the first time I met Laura and Suzy. I was 15 and never thought of myself as "punk" - there were always other people more punk than me, so I didn't think I qualified, but I liked the friendly little scene that started to form around that store. We spent many late nights in the Cotton family basement ridiculing MTV and doing ... other wholesome activities.

"We were walking down the street and we saw the store was empty," Laura said. I had already thought it would make a nice little store."

"I can't really remember exactly when the idea of the store came to us, but I knew I wanted to go into clothing design," Suzy said. I really wanted to go to Parson's but after not liking high school very much I didn't want to go right away. One thing lead to another and the idea of the store came up and my Mother being the coolest Mom ever supported our crazy idea!"

Laura Cotton: We got the idea to open the store when we saw the peanut stand for rent. I had left Manheim Twp HS at the end of my senior year with no diploma and no idea of what I was going to do. Suzy was getting ready to graduate, and was not sure of her plans either. My Mom's family had owned a candy store in NJ and my Mom knew that it was possible. Since Suzy could make cool T-shirts and stuff, we just kind of got the idea that maybe we could do this. It was just a matter of having some parental support and nothing better to do. We couldn't believe it when we made a bunch of money the first day!

The sisters and about six of their friends are doing all the work on the store themselves. They have scraped the paint off the walls, and now are ready to paint.
Sue White: I remember watching Hessians driving the loop and the jerks lining up to get into Rick's place across the street. I also have vague memories of helping to paint the first SOC. It was pink and we splatter painted white and black. I don't remember how I ended up helping with that.
Seeing all of the stuff that Suzy made to sell at the store was really inspirational to me. I had never met anyone who actually made things that other people wanted to buy. It was the earliest example of DIY culture and seeing someone making money from their art. Now, of course there is Etsy and all kinds of people making stuff to sell but back then....nobody actually made things.

Public Image Limited - Public Image 

TQ: That's around the same time we started screen printing t-shirts in Mr. Gallagher's art class. Definitely inspired by Suzy and the store.
They want their merchandise to be "Unique" and hope to attract "every type of person.... Not necessarily just punks. I think there's a big market opening up for that in Lancaster.
I'd say we are trying to take what we like about Zipperhead, Skinz (Philadelphia), and Trash and Vaudeville (NYC)," Laura said. "We want to take a little bit of each, add what we want and adapt it to what we think would go over in Lancaster. We want something new, something exciting."
The Pretenders at Live Aid - Stop your Sobbing

Laura: When we moved to Lancaster from New Jersey we hated it, and all of the people in my year ('81) were preppy which just disgusted me. I had been into British Rock since I was about 11 and it was just a natural progression. I can remember hearing London Calling and Joe Jackson (Look Sharp) on a NYC radio station when I lived in NJ- and thinking this was something I had never heard before, and I loved it.

The Clash on Broadway
Ha! I always heard I was in this video, but never watched it for some reason. I was 17- the fire marshal
shut down the show and we never got to see the Clash until Mick was gone, and they were past their expiration date. One of the great disappointments of my life! Suzy and I appear at about 1:06.

Shortly after we moved to Lancaster, I saw Tommy and Mark at Park City mall - Mark had a safety pin in his face! Later that day, Jim Tesnar told us that they were in a band The Bodies that was playing that night [more on The Bodies]. The rest was history- having a great record store like Stan's in town definitely helped.

TQ: God bless Stan's Record Bar.

Laura: Amen. My Dad shopped there, and as far as I know it still exists. I know I am old, but as far as I am concerned it was harder, but more fun to find new music back in those days.

The Birthday Party - Big Jesus Trash Can

Gregg Rex Litwin: I remember going downtown when I was in high school and the only stores I went to were Zap and Stan's. Oh, and the hippie bookstore across from Stan's. Ye Olde Bookstore, before it moved up the street and became yobstowne. pawnshop too...

Suzy Cotton: I remember seeing the Sex Pistols on the news when they came to NYC and thinking that they were crazy/cool, and Laura and I were always into music and going to record stores. But I think when we moved to Lancaster and we went into Stan's Records is when I really started getting into punk. I remember buying The Face magazine from England and that got me into Siouxsie and the Banshees and then it took off from there.
Sue and Laura are starting their business with a $2500 budget, a loan from mom and dad. "They're really excited by it. They're our financial backers... with a very low interest." Their mother, a bookkeeper at Allied Surgical Supplies, has some background in business because her parents owned a luncheonette for part of her youth. The girls' father is a truck driver.
TQ: Laura, Speaking of your dad, we affectionately called him the Buddha. He was always in his armchair when we greeted him on the way to your basement. Your parents were so incredibly nice to put up with all that shenanigans downstairs.

Laura: Before we moved to PA. We lived in a tiny flat above a TV store. When my Mom was young one of her friends had a 'rec' room where all the kids would gather, drink soda and dance to records. I think she wanted the same for us, I am pretty sure she didn't envision the style of party that went on down there, but I have to say they were pretty flexible about things! I think they were just glad to know where we were.

Rex: Ed was a great man! He treated me like a son! He treated all of us so well! Pat too! Coolest parents doesn't even begin to describe your folks!!!

Laura: My mom was s truly good person, but she had enough Jersey Girl in her to enjoy some minor lawlessness from time to time!

Yes, there are lots of stories- I think the statute of limitations is probably up on most of the shennanigans so we should be OK!

Pete Danz: Except we're not locked in [the store] with the cops shining their flashlights through the windows....

Laura: The time the cops came was our Halloween party on King St. I do believe this may have been the night that Gregg became Rex!

Rex: I became Rex Halloween 1984!!! Totally at the state!!!

Laura: And I hid in the bathroom behind Tom Chang's and got away while Doug Schlemm and Judy got carted off for underage drinking!

Blake Ketchum: That was the best nite, sure we will open the door..... Forgot about the two of them getting busted.

Pete: Was that only one night? I feel like that was always happening.

Blake: At some level yes

Laura: The cops in Lancaster must have been completely incompetent to not have busted us. That is because my dad was friends with all of them from hanging out at the Dunkin Donuts! In all fairness, they pretty much let us party in the alley between SOC and Tom Chang's all night. When they finally showed up we locked down in the store (hidden by a giant stolen American flag hanging in front of the door!)

Laura: Oh yeah. The Chris dressed as Suzy on Halloween. It was the next year..I think the Real Gone played. Tom was dressed like an Amishman and Rex and Schteven wore pleasure suits!

TQ: The State was right on "The Loop" so that was always a culture clash. The hessians were out in droves on Friday and Saturday nights.

Blake: Fucking hessians, love it. Haven't heard that in years.

Laura: One time we were standing out on King Street on that corner by the army navy store, and we caused one carload of hessians to rear end another because they were so busy staring! We thought this was the best thing that had ever happened!

Sue W: I have memories of Suzy dancing to The Cramps, Drug Train, I think using the counter for a mini stage.

Laura: ...with Chris Reimers in the window of the orange and black store on Prince St. dancing to Drug Train and doing these crazy hand motions!

Rex: 23 North Prince State of Confusion Web Of Sound and Kicksville Toys all were at that address at one time or another...

Rex: I was fortunate enough to play 2 concert events at SOC! The Real Gone and also Kenny Gross's Suicide! They were both amazing from a guitarist's point of view! Fuck yeah!!! me, Steve Patton, and Kenny. It was improv magic!!! Plus, I got to do the flyer. That was as great as having an opening at MOMA back then!!!!
[more on The Real Gone and Kenny Gross]

The Pandoras  - It's About Time

Laura: I don't really know what our expectations were... I was just glad I could quit my shitty job at the BP and do something fun, creative and fulfilling.

Rex: It certainly was fun... And you two were way creative!!!

Laura: I do remember making a conscious decision that we were going to be friendly and cool and not be pricks to our customers like the people in Skins and Trash and Vaudeville. I guess we succeeded there. We certainly became a close knit band of misfits and pranksters!

Psychedelic Furs - We Love You

Rex: The mellow attitude went far! Even me being "metal man" at the time, I felt like I met "my" people... it was an instant acceptance I felt. I do remember the Philly stores being staffed with shitty attitude!!! You two had better prices as well!!! Zipperhead was expensive!

Laura: It was, but I am sure their rent was more..I think we paid $250 per month!!

Eric Cleland: I remember the 1st time I went to Lancaster. We went to Stan's and State Of Confusion which was right around the corner in that tiny little spot that I think later became a Chinese takeout place? I was blown away that there was both a great record store and a punk rock store so close.

Laura: Hi Eric! SOC was actually next door to the Chinese place- in the old peanut stand. Shockingly, I think both buildings are still there!

Circle of Shit - The Punks Are Out Tonight

Rustle Noonetwisting: Good Lord, this is like the Close to the Edge/Green Grass and High Tides Forever/Sister Ray of Facebook chats. Thanks for all the photos, Laura!

Rex: Totally a huge part of my life while it was there. Spent lots of time there. Great people. Just look at this thread, we all just picked up right about where we left off.

TQ: It was definitely a home away from home. I was kind of a young one in the group, but I wasn't interested in hanging out with kids at school. I holed up in the ceramics room at school all week and went downtown to the store as often as possible on weekends. I don't think I was a very good customer, more of a shop rat. The only thing I remember ever buying was a Cramps bootleg of Hurricane Fighter Plane. I must've bought some buttons too. Anyone else would have said, "Buy some shit or get out!" Never. My circuit was Stan's, State of Confusion, Water Street Rescue Mission, and back to the State with whatever I found at the thrift store. Later on when Web of Sound and Alexia Books opened up I added them too.

Rex: It's sad how much is gone... State, Alexia, Web, Zap, BBC, Dmz. Even the Water Street thrift store is no more... Stan's is one of the last ones standing..

Laura: If we would have made better decisions, we probably would have been successful in the long term- but getting out of Lancaster was the best thing that happened to both of us, so it worked out for
the best.

Suzy: My students have been looking for evidence of this for years, they will get a hoot out of it if it is on the web! They already know I am crazy!

The rented space, which is 6 feet 3 inches wide and 34 feet long, is costing the duo $250 monthly, including all utilities. "I think that's part of the charm," Laura said about the small quarters. "It's cute, but you can't blink when you're going down King Street or you'll miss it."


Laura: I am thinking about writing a script about a bunch of old punks who retire to a cul de sac in Fla. Like a 'Big Chill' for our generation!

Remember the State? Add your comments below!

 In Memory of Pat and Ed Cotton