Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Unbelievably Tragic Life of Punker David Rubinstein

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Some stories are so sad as to be almost unbelievable.  If God indeed exists, it's biographies like these that make one question whether He/She has any empathy or humanity at all.  

Dave Rubinstein--son of two Holocaust survivors--was the lead singer & founding member of hardcore/punk band Reagan Youth, which was a staple at CBGB's in the 1980s.  While the band never reached mainstream success, they toured with famous acts like Dead Kennedys, Beastie Boys & Bad Brains & performed at Rock Against Racism throughout the early '80s.  The name "Reagan Youth" was a satirical take on the hypocrisy of the so-called Moral Majority of the conservative Christian/Reaganite era.  They were a decidedly leftist group in a world of predominantly right-wing bands, eventually making them outcasts as punk rock morphed into a more Nazi-tinged hardcore scene.  

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Promotional poster

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Reagan Youth in their heyday

By the end of the decade, Ronald Reagan had left office & the group disbanded due to lack of income & general exhaustion.  Rubinstein also had a pretty serious heroin habit which he dealt drugs to support.  He was still attempting to record music with his newly formed band House Of God during this period, though he ran into a major roadblock when he was brutally attacked during a drug deal gone wrong.  His former bandmate Paul "Cripple" Bakija describes finding out about the situation as follows:

He told me that Dave sang two tracks on each song before he left, and that he said he'd come back to fix up all his weak spots, which were many, let's face it. But days went by and soon they turned to weeks and it became obvious that Dave wasn't in any rush to come by the studio. As the lead singer, laying down vocal tracks are important, but as the leader of the band, mixing down the record was just as, if not, more important. Nicky had been so patient with us but by this time his patience was just about gone. So Nicky asks me what should be done and I tell him "Just go use whatever we have" as I figured Dave would call up eventually, outraged that he didn't sort through and edit out all the bullshit. Basically, to come in and give it a final mix. I was pissed something fierce at the way Dave was behaving, so my thinking at that time was "Let Dave go bitch to Nicky about how it can't be released like that when he finally decides to show up". I knew in the back of my mind that Nicky would allow Dave to do that, but unfortunately, Dave never ever did show up at the studio.

Soon after that I get this phone call, but it's not from Dave or Nicky. Some police officer is calling to ask me what I know about Dave. I ask him "What happened?" and the cop says "You tell me" like some real wise ass. So I'm like "Okay, so Dave's in jail?" and the cop says "No, no, no. He's not in jail". Next I ask "Is he dead?" and the cop chuckles at that one as he says "Oh no, he's not dead". I take a moment to think what's left and I say "So he's in rehab?" and the cop says "Nope. He's not in rehab". At this point I'm all out of ideas so I'm like "I give up, so where is he?" and the cop tells me to "Go call his parents if you want to find out", and so I do. I get Dave's mom on the line and she tells me that "Someone beat David up with a baseball bat and he just came out of a coma".

The next day I visit Dave in the hospital and boy is it tough, he looks like hell. Dave's eye lid was swollen so much it reached all the way down to his upper lip. His parents were there and I find out that he needed a lobotomy to save his life. Eventually, he gets discharged from the hospital but Dave now has stitches going around his forehead from ear to ear. When Dave finally recovered, as best he could, I asked him what happened. Dave told me he couldn't remember anything. Neither Dave nor I insisted on getting back the tapes and giving it a real final mix. 

Yep, you read that right.  David Rubinstein was given a lobotomy...in the late 1980s.  

For those who don't know, lobotomies involve taking an ice pick or similar device & hammering it into the eye sockets, scrambling the frontal lobes of the brain around randomly & hoping for the best.  Why this particular procedure would be chosen to alleviate brain damage is a mystery, as it was considered dangerous & cruel by the 1950s when meds like Thorazine hit the market & it was discovered that lobotomy turned people into vegetables more often than not.  Yet it continued covertly "well into the 1980s" in America & other countries.  

Retro Report: Lobotomy

Not much info can be found about who performed the procedure on Rubinstein...or why.  I would be interested in "picking their brain" (pun definitely fucking intended) to understand their reasoning.  Did they bother consulting with the family first, or did some lone nut doctor just take it upon him/herself to lobotomize an already brain-damaged man?  While it's unlikely Dave's leftist politics came into play, his "lowly" status as a drug addict might've made him more vulnerable to predatory practices like that.  That he was a child of Holocaust survivors only makes it more chilling to think about.        

Understandably, Dave was no longer himself after the beating & lobotomy.  His new band House Of God never took off due to his personal problems.  He became lethargic & continued using drugs, marijuana primarily but eventually dope again, & was abandoned by most of his old music scene friends.  Around this time he started a relationship with a prostitute named Tiffany Bresciani who supported their drug habit by stripping & sleeping with men for cash.  What happened next sounds like something out of a Law & Order SVU episode.  

Dave after the beating/lobotomy, circa 1990

Tiffany went off to meet a familiar client one warm night on June 24th never returned.  Rubinstein called police & searched all her local haunts & hospitals to no avail.  A few weeks later, Tiffany's decaying body was found in a truck after a car crash during a high-speed chase.  The killer was notorious serial killer Joel Rifkin.  He was later linked to the murders of numerous prostitutes in and around Long Island.  Tiffany was only 22 years old when she died.  

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Tiffany Bresciani (1971-1993)

Unfortunately, David was unable to emotionally recover from this terrible loss.  His mother had also been killed in a car accident recently, so on July 3, 1993, less than a week after his girlfriend's body was found, he committed suicide with a lethal drug overdose.  

Today, Reagan Youth still perform & maintain social media accounts albeit with a different lineup.  Andy "Apathy" Bryan died of an overdose in 2002 while most of the other original members went their separate ways for other reasons.  Founding member Paul Bakija appears to maintain the brand but it'll never be quite the same without their passionate frontman Dave "Insurgent" Rubinstein.  

Is there a moral to this story?  Aside from "don't do hard drugs" or more specifically "don't sell drugs or your body," I don't think so.  Dave & Tiffany were victims & victim-blaming has no place in the 21st Century.  R.I.P.  





2 comments:

  1. I doubt a lobotomy needed to be done. He was probably discriminated against for who he was and what he was into. The doctor probably seen him as a filthy punk rock druggie with a bad attitude. Punk was not as accepted and we didn't have the rights we have today. If you are being discriminated against today, all you gotta do is tell about it online and you get a firestorm going. There was no such thing as social media and internet back then.

    Bit it is sad what happened to Dave. Reagan Youth was an awesome band and they had great songs like Miss Teen America, Jesus was a Communist, It's a Beautiful day, Heavy Metal Shuffle, New Aryans, Queen Babylon, Degenerated, and USA. Sad they should have gotten mire credit for their part in punk history and should have gotten their share of money for what they did.

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  2. Psssh, lobotomies NEVER need to be done! They literally turn the brain to mush using an ice pick. The fact someone was still doing them in the '80s is a fucking scandal.

    I was shocked when I read this. Makes me wonder how many other people were experimented on/medically abused like this in my lifetime. I knew it went on in the "old days" but certainly not so recently after the procedure was proven to be inhumane.

    Will have to check out their music on my next day off. Thanks for the heads up.

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