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Anarchy In Slow Motion

by Ashley McGee 2 months ago in extended family · updated about a month ago
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Fatherhood In The Aftermath of Punk Rock

My partner, Bart Howell (aged 39), with his newborn son, November or December 2008. Photo by his ex.

During some of the most turbulent years of his life, Bart Lynn Howell and his friend, Shane, were siphoning gas out of the tanks of cars on their block with a rubber hose and a gas can. Was this altogether intelligent? Probably not considering these two were not unknown in their tiny hometown of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and they were both high on some substance, and more than a little giddy from swallowing some of the fuel they were trying to steal.

Too exhausted to continue, they laid beneath the car they were stealing from. Bart glanced at his friend.

"You know what this is?" he asked, "This is anarchy in slow motion."

20 years later, Bart's son, the baby pictured above, is 13 years old. He's still too young to write of the exploits of his father, and is perhaps not aware of some of the more harrowing of those exploits. As his father's partner and his stepmother of 9 years, I'll be happy to tell his father's story for him. Bart's son, like many of the children born to those on the brink of death, came not merely as an unexpected surprise between himself and the boy's mother, but as his father's savior.

This is the story of how my partner went from being Fort Dodge, Iowa's rising celebrity to a father of two almost over night.

Also he's still alive, by the way.

***Trigger Warning: Drug use, addiction***

The Age Of The Stumbletons

The years leading up to Bart forming The Stumbletons is a story all it's own.

From losing his mother at the age of five, a turbulent youth, and formulating a heavy amphetamine addiction, Bart returned to Fort Dodge from Kansas City and a failed relationship. In no time, fueled by a passion for producing a sound and feeling no one has done before--and no small amount of drugs--Bart rounded up three of his life-long friends and brought them a less than modest proposal: start a band.

One of the many posters of The Stumbletons. Photo by Bart.

From the beginning, the work was easy. Bart admits he might have been the least experienced person of the group. The drummer was a professional musician, and all of them had been in a number of bands already. Bart had no formal training, and no real experience as a band member, but he had stories, the stuff that songs are built on. Chemistry between the band members was warm and the work was fun. The Stumbletons could walk into a place--like Junior's Motel, a recording studio in Otho, Iowa--set up, and work through songs together. Their process relied on no single member. Everyone contributed to produce a unique experience that bands like Nirvana had popularized, but that the labels were quickly mass producing.

"We didn't sound like everyone else," Bart says, "That's what made us different. That was the whole point of the band."

Compilation of photos from Bart's time in The Stumbletons. Bart was--and is--heavy into art installations, and was at work on one of them when he stabbed himself in the forehead with a prop scimitar.

A Stumbleton's show was not just live music. It was a punk rock experience. Bart loved to tell lurid jokes between songs; they drank heavily, and drew crowds larger than any other local band playing at the time. People came to see what fresh devilry Bart would bring to the stage. Some jocks sat at the table reserved for the band's girlfriends. Bart threw it over on top of hem. He threw a pizza mascot off the stage for taking the microphone from him to plug the pizza place. He looked like Sid Vicious with his black spiky hair, but ran the stage like Johnny Rotten, singing like neither of them. The music was good--no, it was better than good. It was good enough to sign with Columbia Records, though their project was eventually shelved.

Though he was inspired by the punk bands he loved as a young adult, Bart sought a different direction for The Sumbletons. He was criticized for not being heavy enough by the thrash-metal loving guitarist, and was often encouraged to take the band's sound somewhere more familiar. It was once suggested to him that the band needed to sound more like the Deftones, which Bart immediately shot down.

Compilation of photos of the band members of The Stumbletons. From top left to bottom right: Bart Howell, Ned Johnson, Kai Hobb, and Jay Bratland.

The Stumbletons clashed and clanged their way through songs in major key about addiction, betrayal, broken hearts, and broken homes. Their sound juxtaposed the turmoil of Bart's soul with up-beat melodies that left the crowd hollering for more. Proof of the band's lasting impression on the region was Iowa Jam, with The Stumbletons opening for White Snake. The headlining band--not that great to begin with and jealous of their opener--ran The Stumbletons off the stage when the crowd began cheering for a third encore. The band resumed the show back at the Brass Monkey, taking half of White Snake's crowd with them.

("The Underdog" by The Stumbletons, edited by Tim "Shadow" Pingel". Possibly NSFW language and gestures--it is punk rock after all.)

Having gained some notoriety as local celebrities, the band members began to balk at the thought of leaving the region. In a small town like Fort Dodge, the guitarist could get away with only knowing four chords. It was easy to hide heavy drug use and addiction when three gigs a season made the band enough money to pay their rent for half the year. They were a big fish in a small pond, but Bart was certain they could do better. He offered to take vocal lessons, and had tried to get clean twice by the time tribulations among the band members began. A major hurdle on that score was the fact that Bart was living with his girlfriend in a meth house. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't escape it, even when he wanted to--desperately.

The band members grew more and more nervous of Bart's insistence that success was possible. The band was like a group project in school and Bart was the only one doing any of the work. He was creating flyers for gigs, and working in a t-shirt shop to produce shirts to wear on stage. He arranged photo shoots for the band and got them an interview at the local college radio station--which you'd think would be a matter of public record, and I know a lot of folks who would give good money to hear that show.

The Stumbletons. Counter clockwise: Bart Howell in the sunglasses, Kai Hobb, Jay Bratland, Ned Johnson, and Myk Sweeney. Photographer unknown.

(The following is grossly over simplified, and what you may read here is a less than glamorous depiction of some members of the band, which few of their close friends will appreciate. However, all of the information expressed here is a matter of common knowledge. Though difficult to present publicly, this is, nevertheless, a true summary of the end of The Stumbletons.)

From all outward appearances Bart was doing everything right, and it was this stubbornness that led to the band's demise, for no sooner had Bart begun envisioning a future for them, the band secretly began looking for a new singer behind his back. When confronted with the betrayal, the band cited Bart's near-crippling addiction, erratic behavior, and unpredictability as reasons for letting him go. This was all nonsense. The bassist was equally addicted to meth. The guitarist remained an alcoholic until a blood infection after a hip replacement surgery caused him to be clinically dead for two-and-a-half minutes, landing him in a nursing home in 2020. Bart believes, and rightfully so, that he was ousted because he couldn't be forced to change direction. In short, Bart was in complete control. He was admired by local kids just starting out. He was full of good ideas that never failed. He came close to collaborating with Shawn Crahan of Slipknot, and by his teen-aged years had won several awards for his artwork. Bart was unstoppable, and the other insecure members of The Stumbletons couldn't stomach it.

The band was essentially broken. Bart continued to lose himself to addiction until he escaped the meth house, taking himself to his brother's house to try to recover. One night, hounded by police and desperate to be away from Fort Dodge, Bart hopped a bus to Dallas, Texas, and did not look back.

The Change Of A Lifetime

Bart moved into an apartment with his brother-in-law, the former drummer of a band called July Alley, whom Bart had roadied for in the '90s. He began working odd jobs in construction, demolition, and roofing. Bart carried himself with the air of a rock star, and had already made an impression on several girls. Though he had escaped meth addiction, his work with construction teams was sliding him back towards cocaine and pills. In 2007, he took a job at a health foods market, where he met a young red-head who was only too happy to make his acquaintance.

As it turns out, this lady was Fertile Myrtle. Within a few months, she announced her pregnancy. The chance of a lifetime presented itself without warning. A baby was coming, his baby. Bart quit the apartment with his brother-in-law, and took his newly pregnant girlfriend and her four-year-old out of the slums to live with him in a slightly better part of town. Within a few months of that move, his girlfriend's ex decided to take their son to Austin, claiming that she would come down there to him if she wanted to be near the boy. They paid for the move in true rock star fashion, taping Cheaters episode 21 of Season 8 as Jason Conner and Zoe Mason.

Fatherhood Is The New "F word"

Bart and his son circa 2009.

With his baby on the way, Bart erased his addiction, and has been 14 years sober from drugs, four years sober from cigarettes, and two-and-a-half years sober from alcohol. He threw himself into parenthood, reveling in each day from the moment his son slid into the world to the present. Though he wasn't leading a rock star lifestyle anymore, he was filled with purpose and joy. Days passed more slowly, with work during the night and his days spent cuddling his precious boy. He took on his girlfriend's son as his own, and for four years, the couple lived together as a family of four.

Bart's stepson and baby boy, circa 2009, photo by Bart Howell

Bart was determined to undo the pr-existing trauma of having been a Gen X'er raised by a Baby Boomer. Bart's own father was a truck driver, and when he was home, served as neither supportive parent nor nurturing father figure. Bart resolved to be there for his son. As a result, his son spoke like a five year old at the age of three, could read ahead of his classmates, and now plays the guitar. The boy is growing into a fabulous teenager, out pacing us with each passing day. He is every bit his father's child.

Extended Weekend On Sunset Boulevard

Bart's girlfriend, now his ex, was a wizard at extreme couponing and winning sweepstakes. The couple won a trip to a red carpet walk with the cast of The Bold And The Beautiful, all expenses paid for three days in LA with a full makeover and dress for his girlfriend and the chance to walk the baby through the unforgettable streets of LA. Neither of them gave half a damn for The Bold And The Beautiful, but they put the baby in the stroller and headed to the airport, boarded the plane bound for Los Angeles and the glittering west coast. They met Sarah Silverman at LAX.

Bart, his son, and Sarah Silverman on the family's vacation to LA

At their hotel room, Bart and his girlfriend devised a plan to get out of the red carpet walk, since they had no interest in it and wouldn't be able to ask any questions of the cast, and the event was going to be taped. Bart called their contact at the studio pretending to be a slack-jawed yokel that had won the trip. He declared in a hellish accent that they had tried sushi for the first time for dinner and now both of them were sick and not able to attend the red carpet. The studio bought it, sent along cash compensation, allowed his girlfriend to get the makeover, and asked them to return the dress they had sent for her to wear. Bart and his girlfriend took the cash and made the most of their vacation. While she was at her makeover, Bart met up with a life-long friend, "Shadow", and they walked the Sunset Strip with his son in the stroller.

Before they left for home, the couple and baby stepped into a toy shop, which was frequented by Paris Hilton. The lady herself stopped in to shop while the family was there, and it was clear that the baby was not having any of her.

Paris Hilton with Bart and his son a toy store in LA.

And The Beat Goes On

Bart, 2022, at Hank's. I am the photographer

I've been with Bart and his son for 9 years, and I have the distinct pleasure of being in a position to relay all of this on behalf of them both. Bart doesn't write songs anymore, but he's looking forward to finishing some film projects with his long-time friend, Tim Pingel. Bart is not just a wonderful father, but living proof that babies are the best part of any man, and that fatherhood is at once an everyday joy and a frightening responsibility. Each day brings something knew, even as our son/stepson steps closer to adulthood.

Me teaching Jetty to use chopsticks at Electric Robot in the ATX, 2019, photo by Bart.

We have begun attempts at expanding our family, and we're eager to begin this process again. We anxiously await the baby days, with their babble and books and cars and drool and drawing on the bed clothes with a sharpie someone left out. Bart once again longs for the early days of fatherhood, the naps and cuddles, the diapers and mess and mayhem, the anarchy in slow motion. I anxiously await the day I can give it to him.

The first time we adopted rescue cats, fall 2015.

extended family

About the author

Ashley McGee

Austin, TX | I write GrimDark, Fantasy, Horror, Western, and nonfiction | Tips and hearts appreciated! Team Seb Vettel!

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Comments (8)

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  • Lea Springerabout a month ago

    Apologies for the delay--I couldn't remember my password but finally founded. Great story of redemption--- reminds me of "a little child shall lead them". What an honest, down to earth story!

  • C. H. Richard2 months ago

    What a nice tribute to your partner and how fatherhood saved him. A life lived to the fullest for sure. Hearted

  • Caroline Jane2 months ago

    Simply wonderful! 🥰

  • Cathy holmes2 months ago

    This was fabulous. Well done.

  • Judey Kalchik2 months ago

    This was a gift from you. Thank you!

  • Lena Borondia2 months ago

    Absolutely beautifully written and wow. Just wow. Definitely a Top Story!

  • C. Rommial Butler2 months ago

    Best wishes to you and yours!

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Splendid story!!!💖💕

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