It’s been 14 years since the execution-style murders of Lin “Spit” Newborn and Daniel Shersty, but their deaths are still the first thing I think about every Fourth of July. I got a double-reminder this year, thanks to recent news that three of the people involved in their deaths were charged with multiple offenses related to the murders just this February. Of course, I didn’t hear about this until this week, while catching up on some DVR’ed TV shows from four months ago.
Maybe it’s saying something about how much others have moved on from this that I didn’t see one link to the story on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or wherever. Or maybe I was just out of the loop that week, I don’t know. Either way, I don’t want to forget, Spit and Dan’s families won’t forget, and so here I am again, talking about one of several tragic events that have, for better or worse, served as a cultural flagstone for me, and likely, many others. I was going to link to my 2003 Las Vegas CityLife commentary commemorating the fifth anniversary of their passing, but the CityLife‘s new website has eliminated all articles beyond the most recent month (there is allegedly a way to search the archives beyond that, but I tried, to no avail), so reproduced here is that column from the July 2, 2003 edition:
R.I.P. Spit and Dan
Spit was a madman. A poet. A motherfucker whose good side you’d want to stay on. He was a father, a son, a passionate and dedicated fighter for what’s right.
Spit is dead.
The Fourth of July is drawing near, a time that most people associate with barbecues, fireworks, and maybe — just maybe — remembering what Independence Day is supposed to be about.
But for me, the occasion of our nation’s birth reminds me of one thing: the tragic murder of a friend and local icon. This year’s Fourth of July weekend will mark the fifth anniversary of Spit’s death, and even after five years, the circumstances surrounding it show there’s a long way to go before we can celebrate any true freedom in this country.
I don’t remember the first time I met Lin “Spit” Newborn. I know that it was at the Torrey Pines Cinema, home in the early ’90s to the Rocky Horror Picture Show Friday and Saturday nights. Spit was just one of the dozens of regular freaks who came to “watch” Rocky every weekend. Back then, the Rocky Horror cast and audience represented the core of the Las Vegas underground scene — it was a gateway for the uninitiated into a world of sexual deviation, drug-experimentation and cultural saturation.
Spit didn’t hang around Rocky too often when I was there. He was a close friend with a guy called Spider, who used to play the character Riff Raff in the Rocky cast. Usually where one could be found, so could the other.
Skinhead activity in Las Vegas was pretty common in the early-to-mid-’90s, violent racist Skins making their presence known mostly at punk shows. In response to the neo-Nazi sentiment, local anti-racist Skins — most self-proclaimed SHARPs (SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice) — banded together to oppose racist Skinhead violence. Later, a number of the Skins started a local chapter of the Anti-Racist Action, which counted Spit as a member.
In almost every instance of racist Skinhead violence, SHARPs were there to fight them.
In the mid-’90s, Spit formed a band with some friends called Life of Lies. The band didn’t really play music so much as make a statement with noise. I only got the chance to see Life of Lies play once, but it was probably the defining moment of the short-lived band.
The Huntridge Theatre used to host local band nights in the middle of the week, which usually amounted to little more than on-stage practice sessions for young bands. It must have been a Tuesday or Wednesday night when Spit and his hodgepodge band played to a crowd of about 35 people.
After some faceless punk band finished their forgettable set, Life of Lies took the stage. My distinct memory of who was in the band, what type of music they played or any other superficial details of that night have been overshadowed by Spit’s over-the-top performance that evening. He half-yelled, half-sung poetry or lyrics that he partially read from either a notebook or loose pieces of paper. What Life of Lies’ message was supposed to be, I do not know.
What I am pretty sure of is that Spit was trying to make some sort of statement when he picked up a television and smashed it down on the Huntridge’s stage. It was bold, it was chaotic; it was planned spontaneity. It also got Spit and his band ejected from the Huntridge. Management pulled the plug on Life of Lies, and they definitely were not invited back.
Somewhere along the way, Life of Lies broke up. A few years later, Spit was still fighting against racism — and taking on a new role as a father, to a new baby boy named Nicodimus. Everything came to a devastating end on the Fourth of July weekend 1998. Spit and fellow ARA Skinhead Daniel Shersty were lured out to a desert rendezvous with some girls they met. What Spit and Daniel found were their deaths allegedly at the hands of racist Skinhead John Butler. Butler killed the pair execution style, Daniel right by his car, and Spit after a brief chase through the desert.
The ’90s local underground scene had seen its share of death and violence throughout the decade — from poet John Emmond’s shooting to Ginger Rio’s strange murder — but the brutal slaying of these two young men who dedicated their lives to ending racist violence hit everybody close to home. Spit and Daniel were casualties in a war, an ongoing battle for unity and freedom.
A benefit concert was organized by promoter Romney Smith to raise money for Spit’s son. The noble intent of the show, held at a now-defunct Boulder Highway location called Fat Daddy’s, fell prey to the usual internal conflicts of Vegas bands. A diverse number of acts from various scenes and styles were booked, many of which had a personal history with Spit. But egos got in the way of things working out smoothly, as bands canceled, clashed over time slots and showed up late. The event went over well enough for a local show, but was definitely not the display of unity, reverence and charity that it should have been.
I wonder how often Spit and his family are thought of, as the rest of us move on, lighting up our grills and shooting off fireworks. We have yet to win our independence from the oppression of hate and ignorance — and the deaths of Spit and Daniel are tragic reminders of that fact.