Monday, November 30, 2015

David Johansen: Showdown at 14th Street & Success Blvd. [1981]

Text by Alvin Eng / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

David Johansen is more than a cult musician, he is both an icon of underground denizens and a hero to most of the respected musical artists on rock / punk / blues scenes, especially those over the age of 30. As if his tenure as the vocalist / harmonicist of the New York Dolls wasn’t enough, there are probably multitudes more who know him as his alter ego, the bluesy Buster Poindexter. The origins of Poindexter can certainly be found towards the end of this interview. When this took place, he was in a solo career between the Dolls and Buster.

But here is a story about Johansen that isn’t about him directly: In 1979 or ’80, when I was 24 years old, I was working as an usher at a movie house in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, called the Alpine. Occasionally, I would go diagonally across the street and have a sandwich at a corner luncheonette. One day I was there by myself, eating and reading a paperback titled Billy Lives, by Gary Brandner. It’s a cynical story about a dead rock star and how his death was marketed. In the edition I had (and the reason I bought it in the first place), the front of the book was a bad illustration of the New York Dolls, even though they had nothing to do with the story.

So I was sitting at the counter, and a middle aged woman turned to me and said, “Excuse me, is that David Johansen on the cover of that book?” Remember this is 1979 or so, and I said, of course, “Yeah!” She said, “My daughter used to date him years ago, when he still lived on Staten Island.” I don’t remember if there was any more of the conversation, but it seemed so incongruous to me then.

The first time I saw Johansen play was one of the last Dolls shows, which was at On the Rocks on November 4, 1976, sharing a bill with the Brats. Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan had already left the band. There were a couple of other times I saw him perform, including at Johnny Thunders’ Memorial Show at the Marquee in 1991. The last time was an invitation-only show of the reformed Dolls at Tower Records in 2006 to celebrate the release of their One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This LP.

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by mega-Dolls fan Alvin Eng. – RBF, 2015

America and art make strange bedfellows. Most often than not it is finesse which makes art fine art; however, the star spangled approach often balks on finesse diverting to excessive sweat and struggles to assimilate the mold. David Johansen is one performer with a genuine care for his art that is totally void of the stars and stripes syndrome plaguing many of his peers. From perfecting perplexed pouts with the New York Dolls to redefining style on his own, Johansen remains the rag doll who can make magic out of seemingly worthless scraps. Just witness the verve in which he’ll transform a tattered hat into an ideal stage piece by carefully tilting it on his head with the right grin to match.

The following interview took place June 25, 1981, at the “fabulous” Malibu club shortly after his third solo LP, Here Comes the Night, was released. This album promises to end the popularity crisis In Style and David Johansen couldn’t. Whether Johansen becomes a national star or a national “cult” figure, he’ll continue to be one of the most inimitable singer / songwriter / showmen of our time. Before getting “too flashy or neat,” let’s proceed.

FFanzeen: Well, it’s been a year since we last saw you. What have you been up to?
David Johansen: This is like the Barbara Walters show. Well, what have I been up to in the past year, besides procrastinating?

FFanzeen: Well, I’ll start you off. What became of the video, Thau in Love that you’ve been working on [I can find no record of it ever being released. – RBF, 2015].
David: Maybe we’re gonna try and show it on TV, and maybe clubs. We don’t know what we’re gonna do with it yet.

FFanzeen: Did it involve your script only, or is there music too?
David: Yeah, music and new songs, and I directed it.

FFanzeen: I understand (comedian) David Street of Natasha’s [clothing store on St. Marks Place run by Natasha Adonzio during the 1970s-80s – RBF, 2015] is in it.

David: The thing isn’t finished yet so we don’t know who’s gonna be in it. But we have a lot of film on a lot of people.

FFanzeen: Have we seen the last of you, Syl Sylvain and Elliot Murphy as the French Ticklers?
David: I think so. You know what happened with that was we were just gonna play and it would be a normal night at Tramps with our friends there, and stuff like that. So they said, “OK, open up for this group called the Fabulous Thunderbirds,” and I never heard of them, so I figure who gives a shit? We got there and it turns out this is a very popular group and there was all these people there to see ‘em. And we came on and they didn’t want to see us at all. We had to do two sets, and we were breaking strings and fuckin’ up all the songs because we hardly even practiced.

FFanzeen: Rolling Stone got a hold of this and said it was great.
David: They probably weren’t there.

FFanzeen: Also, last year, you appeared on Garland Jeffrey’s Escape Artist.
David: I think I did. A lot of people tell me that.

FFanzeen: I think you’re on “Innocent,” the low voice saying, “We’ll let you go this time.”
David: Oh-oh-oh, it’s all coming back to me; that’s the one. (In a deep, judicial voice) 400 years for you!

FFanzeen: Have you known Garland a long time?
David: Well, he lives on my block.

FFanzeen: Your only release last year was “Flowers of the City” for the Times Square soundtrack.
David: That was the last one with the other guys. We did that one for Stigwood and he paid us handsomely for it, so I didn’t have to work for a few months. So I took that opportunity to –

FFanzeen: – Fuck around and hit the beach?
David: Yeah, I did that, but I also took that opportunity to write the songs.

FFanzeen: The most important thing you did last year was that you hooked up with Blondie Chaplin.
David: Yeah, well, we met in California at this place in Costa Mesa called the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s run by this cat named Jerry Roach, who’s a good friend of mine and he’s a good friend of Blondie’s, so he introduced the two of us and it was kind of like his idea. We got along really great and we just started working together.

FFanzeen: Let’s talk about Here Comes the Night. In the (New York) Daily News, you said that this album best captures you.
David: Well, I think it captures my spirit and my style. You know rockers is really what the people what from me and that’s what I think the album is, mostly.

FFanzeen: But on an overview, it seems like a lot of the songs are looking outward rather than drawing from personal episodes, like before. Like this time it seems you’re more storytelling than drawing out your own self.
David: What can you write unless it’s something you know about, really? I don’t write about nothing I haven’t experience or wouldn’t want to, you know what I mean? So, um, I don’t know what to say. I think that they’re similar; they’re just happier – you know what I mean? ‘Cause I’m a very happy person.

FFanzeen: It seems that way now. You had a lot of anger in your other two albums.
David: Well, I don’t know if it was anger. Maybe frustration.

FFanzeen: So, do you feel it’s not a conscious effort to be more universal, it’s just that you’re in a happier frame of mind these days?
David: Yeah, you know, it’s funny. A lot of people make a big deal about songwriters and songs and stuff like that; I just write a song because it feels good and it sounds, and stuff you know, basically. Lots of times I write a song at the last minute.

FFanzeen: Let’s get into some of the songs, starting with “She Loves Strangers.”
 Is there a little history behind it?
David: Not really; it’s just alike a hot kinda summer song, I think.

FFanzeen: I think “You Fool You” could be the hot summer song.
David: Yeah, You Fool You”; that’s kind of a preachy tune, right?

FFanzeen: Yeah, but a very truthful one. Now you’ve said “Party Tonight” is one of the only true life songs on the album.
David: Well, I think it’s a song that’s not really just about – well, I got pet themes, you know that, right? And one of them has always been like partying anyway, or in the face of adversity – you know what I mean? And that one falls into that category, I think. But it’s kinda like a real life song, don’t you think? ‘Cause lots of people on the street make cameo appearances in that song and, you know, you see a bum and you think about what’s going on with him or something, you know what I mean?

FFanzeen: I thought a direct connection is in “Marquesa de Sade,” that it echoes “Lonely Tenement” thematically. You know, episodes of oppressed city people.
David: Um, yeah. You like that song, hunh?

FFanzeen: It’s my favorite off this LP. And I was wondering if it wouldn’t be wrong to call this album by DJ and Blondie Chaplin rather than just by David Johansen?
David: Don’t let Blondie hear that!

FFanzeen: In these concerts, you’ve never been in better shape or voice. “How do you do it?”
David: Oh, a strict health regime; clean living.

FFanzeen: Will your stronger voice bring on more diverse changes?
David: Well, I think my voice had kind of found its range or been forced into its range, or whatever, by gunpoint or something. You know, it’s like it just comes from doing it, Al. You know, singin’ and singin’ and singin’, and then you don’t try to sing things you really can’t sing. Although I still do. I mean, like I can’t sing “Build Me UpButtercup,” but I always try, you know? I’m like a natural baritone it seems, but a lot of songs I try to hit like a tenor or a higher note, like on the higher parts of “Bohemian Love Pad,” or stuff like that. So it’s really good for me to try to sing high. I don’t want to always sing low because when you try to sing high, even though you can’t maybe hit it perfect or something, you eventually learn, so it’s good practice. Like singing “Buttercup” so many times gave me what it took to sing those high notes in “Bohemian Love Pad,” or whatever songs are high.

FFanzeen: Will this bring on any more surprises? Like for a while last year you were doing Joan Armatrading’s “Takin’ My Baby Uptown.” 
David: Yeah, “Bette Davis Eyes.”
FFanzeen: Really?!
David: Nah.

FFanzeen: How about “You Light Up My Life (as he’s done before)?
David: Patti Smith used to do that one. She used to tear the house down with it. [I’ve always preferred the Patti Smith version – RBF, 2015]
FFanzeen: Who’s the current band?
David: Tony Machine on drums; Jack Riggs, guitar; Brett Cartwright on bass; Tom Mandel on pian-y; and Blondie on guitar.

FFanzeen: Are they permanent? ‘Cause I know Tom’s gonna play with Ian Hunter this fall.
David: Otherwise it seems that way. But I don’t know; I can’t foresee the future, really.

FFanzeen: Speaking of appearances, did you know that you, Syl and Johnny Thunders [d. 1991 – RBF, 2015] were advertised to appear at the Peppermint Lounge on June 7?
David: No, I never knew that.

FFanzeen: WNYU announced it, and if you called the club, they’d tell you that David Johansen was gonna appear tonight. It was billed as a Dolls reunion/Thunders benefit. Did you know about this at all?
David: I heard there was going to be a benefit there, but I didn’t know they were advertising that as such. But anyway a lot of people showed up, so Johnny probably got bailed out then, right? So it’s a happy ending.

FFanzeen: How do you and Johnny get on these days?
David: I very rarely see him, really. From time to time I see him and we get on just fine.

FFanzeen: How do you react to some of his unkinder public statements about you?
David: Well, you know a lot of the things you read in the paper are kind of image type things. I mean contrary to popular belief, Elvis Costello is a nice guy, you know what I mean? And if people found out about that he’d be ruined. Well, he (Johnny Thunders) does a lot of things for effect or something, like show-biz or something.

FFanzeen: So you take him with a grain of salt?
David: I’m amused by it.

FFanzeen: Do you think he’ll ever fulfill his potential again? Because a lot of people always say Thunders could’ve been the bad boy rocker.
David: I think he could do anything he put his mind to.

FFanzeen: Which brings us ‘round to the inevitable: the New York Dolls. What do you think of today’s teens in Dolls t-shirts? ‘Cause these kids weren’t old enough to “be there” at all.
David: What do I think about that? I think it’s great, Al. I think when the Dolls were out, there was only a certain group of kids who really liked it, right? And over the years, they turned all their friends onto it and stuff, and the whole kind of what they call the New Wave trip, you know? So there’s a lot more people available to be involved in it these days, you know, who avail themselves to such musical tastes. Let’s put it that way.

FFanzeen: The world is ready for it now.
David: Yeah, there’s enough kids that are into it that are tired of – shit.

FFanzeen: And do you accept your role – yours personally as the “granddaddy of punk,” and the Dolls as the first, or “forerunners of punk”?
David: Do I accept my role as that. No, because I don’t like, accept roles. They fuckin’ hang you up, you know? They nail you up, and for the record, I’d like to say I accept the honor of having singlehandedly lessened the standard of an entire industry.

FFanzeen: Also for the record, were the Dolls punk, or an abstract glitter band?
David: When I was a kid, punk was like, the Seeds  and the Amboy Dukes. Love was kinda punky, but there were other punk bands. There were lots of ‘em; the Leaves. Remember all those bands? Lenny Kaye put a lot of ‘em on his Nuggets album. You know, like that kind of stuff was considered punk rock. Like Shadows of Knight singing “Gloria,” you know what I’m talking about? That was like punk rock and I could relate to that because it’s got that sort of garage trip to it.

FFanzeen: What kind of reflection is that on today’s scene that Dolls albums and buttons are moving faster than ever now?
David: Well, it’s like an art statement. You see someone with a Marilyn Monroe t-shirt or an Elvis t-shirt, it’s an aesthetic statement saying about, you know, I’m like this, we’re that way, or something like that.

FFanzeen: And where do you see rock heading now?
David: I have no idea; I don’t care where it goes. It can go to hell for all I care.

FFanzeen: Then what would you do?
David: I’d still play my music. You know it doesn’t concern me really; trends, you know. I think millions of things happen because there’s millions of people who like all different kinds of music and there’s so many people around that want to listen to music; they’re bound to have different ideas about it and there’s plenty of music for everybody.

FFanzeen: How’d you feel about interviewing Vin Scelsa on WNEW-FM the other night? He never gave you a chance to talk.
David: Yeah, well, he likes to talk. I let him do his thing.

FFanzeen: I thought he kinda cut you off a lot
David: Yeah, I caught you doing that before, so… (laughs)

FFanzeen: How’s DJ doing as a person these days?
David: Oh, just fine, thanks. You know, I’m really happy I’m working and stuff again, ‘cause for a couple of months I hadn’t worked, so that’s good for me. You know we went down to Florida to finish up the album and I didn’t really want to come back. But they finally came down and got me and brought me back. I didn’t really want to have to work every night, but now that I’m doing it, I’m enjoying it. All my anxieties were unnecessary.

FFanzeen: What was the fear involved?
David: You know – alarm clocks, contracts, phone calls. Stuff like that.

FFanzeen: How’s New York City doing?
David: How’s New York? It’s summer and it’s great. Everybody’s out and running ‘round like wild people. All night.

FFanzeen: There’s no more WLIB, though [WLIB-AM is now a gospel station – RBF, 2015].
David: Yeah, only on weekends now. That’s one of the most sad things. I think they got certain good people on that station, like Pablo Guzman. He did this description of Bob Marley’s funeral that was stirring. My hairs were standing up! I had goose bumps just from someone on the radio rappin’ about something. So that really moved me, but you can do that and still play music. That’s awful ‘cause I look forward to Sundays and, like, Haitian Day and stuff like that. Now it’s like they gotta play reggae on Sunday ‘cause they gotta worry ‘bout their numbers [ratings – ed., 1981]. But they should play music. It’s all news and information shit. It’s for the dogs. I mean, how much can you learn?

FFanzeen: Same syndrome on WPIX [WPIX-FM is now WFAN Sports Radio – RBF, 2015].
David: I guess that’s what the deal is.

FFanzeen: What music do you listen to at home?
David: I listen to the soundtrack from  Rockers a lot; that’s one of my favorites. And I got this tape of, like, rhythm and blues singers from 1952. They got Roy Brown [d. 1981 – RBF, 2015] on it and wild things like that. You ever hear a song called “Butcher Pete”? 

FFanzeen: No.
David: Well, we might do it. You’ll hear it if we do it, but I don’t know if we could do it ‘cause it’s really an outrageous song. I don’t know if people will get the right idea if I sing it. It’s a great song. It’s the most outrageous rock’n’roll song I ever heard anyway.
[Enter Blondie Chaplin]

FFanzeen: Does he know “Butcher Pete”?
David: Sure he knows it. Hey, Blondie, how about “Butcher Pete”?
Blondie Chaplin: He’s still hackin’, whackin’, and smackin’ his meat. (laughs)

FFanzeen: Have you seen the Four Tops now that that they’re back on the club circuit?
David: No, but I’d love to.

FFanzeen: Have you ever seen ‘em?
David: Not lately; ‘bout ’65 or ’66.

FFanzeen: I feel you bear many similarities to Levi Stubbs [d. 2008 – RBF, 2015] – vocally.
David: Well, Levi Stubbs and Gary U.S. Bonds were some of the first guys who made me want to sing. You know, I heard “Seven Day Weekendby Gary U.S. Bonds and I just wanted to sing after that, because I could sing like that and I finally found a singer that sang like me, in the same area of tone that I sing in, so it gave me some kind of –

FFanzeen: – Point of reference?
David: Yeah.

FFanzeen: How come you dropped almost all the songs from In Style from your show?
David: Well, we do “Wreckless [Crazy]” and “Melody.” What others do you think we should do?

FFanzeen: “She”? “In Style”? “Flamingo Road”?
David: “Flamingo Road”? No way!

FFanzeen: Yeah, well, you said you took that out of the show because it was too cold. Do you want to make it a more “upbeat” show?
David: Well, at the moment and by the time this magazine comes out, I may have a whole other thing going on. But at the moment, I’m just having fun doing the set I’m doing now. I wanna try new songs and see if people like them. We’re adding songs and dropping songs. I think as far as the old songs we do, I think they’re the favorites of the people.

Mick Jagger in his "Funky But Chic" tee in 1979
FFanzeen: Even in interviews and all, it seems like In Style is being pushed back like it doesn’t hold up with the rest of your catalog.
David: By who, the press or me?

FFanzeen: By you.
David: Well, what do I do when the first LP? “Frenchette,” “Funky [But Chic],” “Cool Metro” – “Girls” – so I do four from the first LP. Maybe I’ll do “She” for you the next time, but I don’t think I’ll do “In Style”; it’s too moody. I wanna rock, you know?

FFanzeen: Well, I always like you because you could balance rockers with a lot of moody pieces, too.
David: “Well, “Marquesa de Sade” is kinda moody, right? “Frenchette” is moody in the beginning. And we’re gonna do “Heart of Gold” [the latest LP’s closing confessional – AE, 1981], you know? I’m trying to learn Elliot’s (Murphy) harmonica solo; it’s difficult to me.

FFanzeen: Do you think you’ll ever lose the Jagger comparisons? For instance, even your recent Daily News write-up called you “Jaggeresque” in the headline.
David: I think he said that because he’s a virgin, you know what I mean? Like the first time someone’s ever seen me they usually say that, but then they don’t say it after that. I mean, it’s just kind of a chintzy way to describe somebody. Like to say he’s like Lee Marvin or Peter Noone, or he’s like David Eisenhower, because you haven’t got the vocabulary or the information to describe something originally. There’s certain similarities so he can say that, but it’s not saying much. It doesn’t describe much of me. Maybe a tenth of me.

FFanzeen: Did you know that in the Stones’ ’79 Toronto concert, Jagger wore a “Funky But Chic” t-shirt?
David: No, I didn’t know that. Maybe I heard it and I forgot.





Wednesday, November 25, 2015

DVD Review: What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf: Live at Cat’s Cradle

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet
What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf: Live at Cat’s Cradle
Produced, directed and edited by Gorman Bechard
What Were We Thinking Films
88 minutes, 2011 / 2012

The 1990s was a good time for indie music. Just listen to Mary Lou Lord’s song from that period, “His Indie World,” and you’ll possibly think, “Oh, yeah, right.” One of the bands not mentioned in the song though, was the Archers of Loaf, hailing out of Ashville and Chapel Hill, NC.

Everybody seems to talk about how bad a band name it is, but what I never hear anyone say is that it’s actually the “badness” that first absorbs the attention of the listeners. In other words, people will remember the name better if it’s badder [sic].

That being said, what the band is most memorable for is their music, of course. As director Gorman Bechard describes them on the DVD cover: “Archers of Loaf were the greatest indie rock band of the ‘90s. No one had more energy on stage. No one put out better records.” You might even say he is a fan (yeah, I’m bein’ a smartass).

The group formed in the early ‘90s, broke up in the late ‘90s, and reformed again for short tours (one of the band members refer to themselves as “weekend warriors”) in 2011, when this concert was filmed by seven pretty steady handheld cameras at the Cat’s Cradle, in Carrboro, NC, a mere few hours from their home turf.

Well, enough with the history lesson, let’s examine the documentary. Before anything, let me state that one of my pet peeves in concert footage is quick edits, I prefer slower and longer shots, to see what the band is doing musically (e.g., watching hands on frets). The tendency is to match the music to the edits, and with indie or punk bands, the inclination is to do extremely quick shots. For this film, the edits fall somewhere in the middle. Bechard uses medium length clips that are not gonna be flashing so fast it could set off a grand mal, but it’s not lingering, either. It’s a pretty decent flipping camera-to-camera ratio.

Most of the cameras, however, are either from the back, the side, long shots of the whole stage, or close-up to vocalist Eric Bachmann; often it’s hard to make out exactly what they’re playing. However, some of the camera work is excellent, such as the one to the far stage left near guitarist-lawyer Eric Johnson, which often manages to get his guitar and the rest of the band at a great angle.

The Archers had four albums, so at this point when they play live they are a more or less a Greatest Hits group, like the Beach Boys. This is not a criticism, it’s just the fact. Luckily the music holds up after all these years. You can see it in the faces of the fans who look like they were in infancy when the Archers was originally active, and they mouth along with the songs. That’s a testament to both the band and the material.

The band takes a song or two to settle in, especially Bachmann’s vocals, but by the time the ballad “Greatest of All Time” comes up, he’s in top form. Some of my favorite bands have that couple of songs warm-up, so that’s not unusual. Except for some gray here and there and some hair loss on a couple of them, their energy levels were on full force. This is especially true for bassist Matt Gentling, rocking ripped cargo shorts, and just plain physically rocking…and jumping…and moving.

The Archers of Loaf sound is definitive ‘90s, with jangling guitarwork full dissonance, discordant chording and almost atonal melodies, but manage songs that you can sing along with, which is one of their strengths. It should be noted that they are one of the early proponents of that particular sound, and helped popularize it.

That style definitely feels strong here, thanks to the concert audio recording and mixing by Minnesotan bred, Carrboro living Brian Paulson, who was once in the band Man Sized Action (still have the LPs). More notably, though, he has produced recordings by this band, Wilco, Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk, etc.

Between songs, there are brief interviews with the quartet which I really found interesting, as they are a personable bunch of guys, especially Gentling. They tell of the origin of their name and the infamy of having such an unusual one, the differences of touring in a van versus a bus or plane, their friendship, and being in a band while holding other jobs, to name a few topics. For anyone who is going to be making a music documentary, please note that I (and I am assuming others) would rather the interviews have been after the film, rather than inbetween songs, because it’s harder to get into the music when it’s interrupted for talking heads, even when it’s the band doing the telling.

For the extras, there are six more songs from the same set (you can see the list below), giving you an additional almost 25 minutes of music. Also included, as Bechard is really good at giving these perks on his discs, is an additional 12+ minutes of interviews with the band, each of whom tell an extended anecdote that are worth a listen, and the trailer for the film (see below).

As for me, I still like their first song, “Wrong,” best, followed by “1985/Fabricoh.” But that’s neither here nor there, really.

Eric Bachmann: vox / guitar
Eric Johnson: guitar
Matt Gentling: bass / vox
Mark Price: drums

Song List:
Harnessed in Slums
Greatest of All Time
Lowest Part is Free
Freezing Point
What Did You Expect?
Worst Defense
Attack of the Killer Bs
You and Me
Web in Front
Slow Worm
Plumb Line
Second Encore:
Scenic Pastures
All Hail the Black Market

Bonus songs:
Dead Red Eyes
Strangled by the Stereo Wire
Form and File
Let the Loser Melt
Step Into the Light
Smoking Pot in the City

Friday, November 20, 2015

DVD Review: Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)
Written and directed by Scott Crawford
New Rose Films / MVD Visual
102 minutes, 2014 / 2015

There were so many important Third Wave scenes when the hardcore explosion grew into fruition, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Phoenix, and so on. There is no doubt, however, that the standing of the Washington, DC base is among the strongest. Two names tend to rise to the top, Henry Rollins, and especially Ian MacKaye, both of whom are represented here.

Of course, the opening shot is of Ian MacKaye talking. Without meaning this as any form of sarcasm or complaint, is there anyone in the punk scene who is represented on indie documentaries about the genre as much as Ian? After all, he was the one who started the whole Straight-Edge movement (though he did not invent the symbol of the X on the hand) that became somewhat of a preachy religion to some. And the fact that he’s this present so many decades later just proves how much he has injected into the movement.

The second person to talk is Henry Rollins. Henry, one might say, left his band SOA and joined one that was arguably bigger than Fugazi ever became, namely Black Flag. Flag had an influence on the world, but MacKaye was definitely – and rightly so – king of his kingdom, the land known as DC. Whereas Black Flag spread a sound, MacKaye spread a philosophy.

The growth of DC hardcore was nothing less than ferocious, with Little Ronnie Reagan right there, in a town mixed with rich government overlords and extreme poverty. This split personality was a societal PTSD with a beltway around it. Generally speaking, you could get depressed or you could get angry. Punk in that town went down the road towards the latter, with Doc Martins and spiked hair.

It’s no secret that the home base for Third Wave in DC is the 9:30 Club. Every town had it, be it CBGB, the Rat, or the Mabuhay Garden. In DC, it was the womb that launched a hundred bands that would have a ripple effect on every other club in every other town, even the older, more established ones.

The film is broken up into segments, each of which covers a topic or two. This is extremely well handled, as are the interviews. Yes, talking heads, but even when it’s the same person discussing her or her view, sometimes you can tell it was done over time as you can see them in different settings. Mixing in with this is some of the best hardcore photos I’ve seen, mostly in crisp black and white, and music clips that ranged from clear to pre-camcorder fuzzy, of bands and fans in action.

Let’s talk about some of the guest interviewees. There are the likes of Thurston Moore (known for Sonic Youth, but before then he was in the Coachmen, and I do believe that FFanzeen was the first ‘zine ever to publish anything about Moore; but I brag and digress…), Fred Armisen (the actor/comedian from Chicago was also in the band Trenchmouth), J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. , Tim Kerr (Big Boys, from Austin), and arguably the almost as omnipresent Dave Grohl, who was in the early DC scene and in the local band Scream. For once his stories didn’t sound like Whocares to me. And what, no Keith Morris, who is also usually on these types of documentaries?

Punk scenes that last long enough seem to follow a similar trajectory. A group of people start playing at a bar or a new space and an insular crowd with camaraderie forms. Everyone knows each other, bands respect each other (even with some rivalry), and everyone gets picked on by the local jocks and cops. Time passes and the scene starts to get popular, and the very jocks that were doing the jumping are now doing the moshing, and being violent inside the club. People get fed up and stop coming. The scene disintegrates. On some level, that fits DC as well, even though it splintered in the early 1990s, rather than disappeared.

The scene starts with the likes of the surf-inspired Insect Surfers (saw them play Hurrahs), the pop-rock Tru Fax and the Insaniacs (both these bands not mentioned in the DVD) and the garage-laced Slickee Boys (I saw them play twice at CBGBs and was a fan), and becomes the balls out Bad Brains. The BB left early on in 1980 to move to NYC, but they were adults by then. So the kids start forming their own bands, like Gray Matter (their drummer, Dante Ferrando, was amazing), Iron Cross and especially Teen Idles, began to rise.

The latter, with Ian MacKaye, didn’t last long, but they were the first to release a DIY single in the area. After they broke up, MacKaye formed the more iconic Minor Youth. It was here he started the record company that would define the scene, Dischord Records. Soon touring bands from DC would find gigs on just the strength of having a Dischord release.

This is the first section of the film. Another part discusses the violence coming from outside the close-knit group, from Georgetown College boys in Mustangs who would gang up on punkers. Henry Rollins tells a great story of how a group of punks used Alec MacKaye (Ian’s younger brother) for bait to catch the guys who were doing the beating to return the favor. They needed to take actions into their own hands due to a police force ambivalent to their needs. This would be mirrored in a later section on how moshing turned into performed behavior independent of music (I’ve seen this too, where the music playing was not as important as the stage diving; it could have been Andy Williams and gotten the same action), which turned into violence as the pit became the eye of the storm of the elbows and knees of skinheads and “Drunk Punks.” This led to gay bashing. Some started DIY self-promoted shows to limit this vehemence. MacKaye, again wisely, says he realized that the music they were playing and its subject matter are partially to blame because, as he put it, “Violence begets violence.” This led to his forming the less ferocious yet equally energetic (and nationally popular) Fugazi.

You really can’t discuss the DC scene without detailing the whole Straight Edge movement started by Ian, with the black “X” on the hands. While this is a quasi-zealous group, it did have at least two important results: it lead to the All Ages shows, which opened up a whole new, younger fan market, and (b) created a backlash that sometimes broke the scene into two defiant schisms, and bands would fall on either side; e.g., Black Market Baby came out as anti-SE, calling their counter-movement Bent Edge. The legacy of that lives on: when I wrote a blog on how I imbibe just a tiny bit and called the piece “OnBeing Straight Edge, Kinda Sorta,” l had some interesting responses blasting me for not being all in; this was in 2008.

While even the director of this film, Scott Crawford, becomes part of the story as he discusses his own introduction to the scene at age 12, and also fanzines, including his own Metrozine. There is a short, interesting segment on Go-Go, a black music scene that was incorporated into the punk catalog, much as earlier British punk celebrated reggae. As MacKaye succinctly puts it, you would find punks at Go-Go shows, but no Go-Go fans at punk shows.

The more interesting and intersecting segments to me dealt with social issues, including Misogyny (the “boys club,” dismissed by one dude as “we were young”) toward the female musicians who explain what it was like. Also there was the political and social upheaval as DC became the “murder capital of the U.S.” and the mayor, Marion Berry [d. 2014] was caught on camera smoking crack (sound familiar, Toronto? DC beat you to it!). One of the results of this, in 1985, was the formation of Mark Anderson’s Positive Force organization, that booked shows and held fundraisers for various causes (poverty, end animal cruelty, etc.). They were (and are, after three decades) a bit preachy, but a definite positive influence in the region. There is a documentary about / by them called Positive Force: More Than a Witness – 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action.

The extras include 14 “Extended Interviews” (aka deleted scenes), and 10 full live song performances (each averaging around two minutes) from the likes of Fugazi, Government Issue, Gray Matter, and Marginal Man (acknowledged as the first Emocore band, coined by Brian Baker of Dag Nasty), and others.

Representing the scene is more than thirty people interviewed, including musicians, photographers, fans (titled “Scenesters,” I term I often use), fanzine editors, and organizers. It’s an excellent oral history of the period. Mix in all the stills and films, plus some interesting graphics, it’s well-edited together and gives a well-rounded view of what was going on during the 1980s in the Capitol’s punk capitol.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

DVD Review: GG Allin – (Un)Censored: Live 1993

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

GG Allin – (Un)Censored: Live 1993
Produced by Merle Allin
MVD Visual
110 minutes, 1993 / 2014

Iggy Pop’s infamous glass on skin and self-peanut butter smearing was outrageous in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The next step up was Suicide’s in your face aggression and Transistor’s Von Lmo chasing his audience out of clubs (usually Max’s Kansas City) with a running chainsaw. They all paled in comparison to what GG Allin had in store for his audiences. His shows (and arrest records) were notorious.

This DVD is a collection of four shows during the Murder Junkies’ Terror in America 1993 Tour in the spring of 1993. GG would be dead less than a month later from the last one here, after an extremely wild and violent show at a New York club called the Gas Station.

If Allin wore any clothes at the beginning of a show, odds were good he was stark naked at the end (not counting the dog collar, boots and gloves), and somewhat lighter than when he came in, as he was known for both peeing and crapping on stage (and on occasion throwing said releases into the audience). Words to describe him have been transgressive and disgusting, but the first word in my mind is fearless.

The first show is from New Orleans at the RC Bridge Lounge, on May 16, 1993 (22 minutes long). Starting with his iconic “Bite It You Scum,” this actually ends up being the closest to a real show of GG’s I’ve seen in quite a while. Other than the occasional foray into the crowd, he stands his ground on stage and there is actually some quite agro moshing by the audience.

Here is also something I don’t see very often when watching these shows, and that is the audience gives as much violence at they get, if not more so. There is one fuckin’ huge inked and shirtless mofo (the bouncer?) who stands on the stage with him occasionally before diving off. The crowd is hyped, and when GG starts swinging at them, they don’t run away, they actually fight back. Props. I would like to believe that GG acknowledged them in return by actually keeping with the songs. Unlike some later, more theatrical shows (see the Chicago one, for example) where he’s brought props to the stage, here he keeps his jacket and jockstrap on for the whole show, though he does pull it down and do some yanking on his surprisingly micro-member (this was even discussed at his funeral, from the 1993 video I've seen called GG's Last Ride).

While the lighting is questionable due to the lack of decent illumination from the stage, and it seems the only brightness you can see is from the video cameras, the action is mostly viewable other than the occasional near “blackouts” when the floodlights from the videos are off. As with all the shows on this DVD, the entire gig is single-shot-camera, with no editing.

Next up is in Houston at the Catal Huyuk on May 17 (26 minutes). Funny, but the most eye-opening part of the show for me is when his microphone inevitably dies about a third of the way in, and as the techs work on it, GG goes into the audience and says, ‘How ya doin’?” and then sits down with them on some wooden, joined bleacher-type fold-down chairs. Someone hands him a plastic clear cup with beer and he drinks it down. It’s a very calm moment, and something I’ve never seen before at an Allin show, even when there are technical problems.

This is, in fact, a pretty sedate audience. Even as he prowls among the throng, they seem to be just standing them. When he whacks one or two along the way, they either duck or get hit and laugh. It is hard to explain just how surreal this all is. It is for this reason that a sudden fierce fist-led gang-up attack by a group occurs, it is also a shock. Still, this is one of the better musical shows of the four.

The Chicago show is from the Medusas club, on June 5 (33 minutes). It’s kind of fuzzy and the sound is terrible, also shot on a handheld camcorder in VHS. For over half an hour you get balls out (literally) GG, and the Murder Junkies pile drive their sound.

During “Bite It You Scum,” the opening number, GG removes his overcoat, which revels that all he’s wearing is tall leather boots, black gloves (I am assuming leather as well), and his spiked dog collar. As his brother Merle leads the band with his bass, GG rolls out an American flag onto the stage floor, gives himself an enema with a turkey baster, poops on the flag, pees on it and into a cup (which he flings out into the audience after a swig), and then uses lighter fluid set the flag alight (after wiping his butt with it, of course). In between all of that, he takes physical swipes at members of the audience, who douse him in beer from those omnipresent red cups. I’m not making an opinion, just relaying the action. And this is only the first song.

GG roams the crowd, occasionally being herded by the club’s bouncer to behind a fence between the front of the stage and the people in attendance. As many times has he climbs over, or tries to breach it (including breaking the separator’s metal braces which he wields as a weapon that someone grabs out of his hand), he is thwarted, sometimes not to daintily.

My major complaint about this quarter of the film is more in the line of how fuzzy the picture and sound is. If I didn’t know “Bite It,” I would not have been able to make out any of the song.

The last show is at the Marquee in Detroit, on June 6 (32 minutes). This one starts off a bit freewheeling, with fewer props at the start. Yes, “Bite It” is the first number, but no flag.

So what’s an artist to do? Crap on the stage and fling it, of course! He continues to roam around with a big, brown smudge on his rear, like someone with lack of sphincter control who did not wipe himself. However, none of this is as gross, to me, as when he does a “Pink Flamingos.”

There is no barrier between the man and his crowd in this place. He roams and with the exception of people taking pictures of him, people tend to avoid him and scream out verbal abuse. He spends more time off the stage than on, but that’s not too unusual.

Also not unusual is that his microphone keeps going in and out. Nearly every show I’ve have seen (recorded; was always too much of a wuss to see him live) the spotty mic has been an issue, but it’s hardly surprising with all the abuse it goes through, between his hitting his head with it until he bleeds, or shoving it up his anus. I think about the modern remote mic, and how that might have made a difference (not to mention HD video).

The club is kind of a cavernous  warehouse setting with pool tables, but the audience doesn’t seem to be that extensive; either that or they are staying way far away from him, and possible (make that probable) genetic projectiles. However, it’s the audience who is the most violent here, throwing either objects or oral confrontations. Yes, GG definitely confronts the occasional audience member, but it’s the macho jock assholes that just seem to be there for no other reason than an excuse for violence that had me scratching my head. At one point, GG screams at them, “Say that to my face!” but the chickenshit cowards never do, preferring to insult him from a safe distance. Some of what GG does on (and off) stage is not pleasant, but he’s the real deal. These guys doing the hollering are bully posers, and far more disgusting in my eyes. And I bet some of those same pussies smugly went home and said, “Yeah, we showed him.” Yes, you showed the world that you’re not even worth having poo flung at you.

What is interesting to me is that no matter what is happening by or to GG, the band just keeps playing, as if they were in another room. Singer’s microphone doesn’t work? They play. GG is in the audience beating someone? They play. Someone or a group is beating on GG? They keep playing. It really was an interesting social experiment.

When I see GG being interviewed in other places, like on the infamous Springer episode, I see theater. When I see video recordings of him perform, I see theater. Yes, I believe he believed in what he was saying, I also believe there is some narcissistic element that underlied his way of thinking that he is supreme, and I know people who have taken his message of “no PC as I envision it” that translates as just another way of either self-aggrandizement or the degradation of others (from the interviews, I believe GG would agree with that): “I can say whatever shitty thing I want, be it racist, sexist, homophobic or genderist, and if you don’t like it, you’re just being ‘PC.’ This is the same mentality of those hyper-Christians (and other religious groups as well) that state that if they discriminate against others, it’s religious right, but if someone complains about it, it’s a War on [Religion]. I could rant on for a while on this, but I will stop as I digress…

Whether you agree with GG and his stage performances or not, as a media theorist, I admire that a musician at his level has as many shows available as he does – thanks in large part to his brother Merle, who controls his estate – and remains a strong presence in the likes of social media and YouTube.

Songs list (in total from all shows):
Bite It You Scum
Cunt Sucking Cannibal
Expose Yourself to Kids
Highest Power
I Kill Everything I Fuck
I Wanna Rape You
Kill the Police
Live to Be Hated
Look Into My Eyes (and Hate Me)
Outlaw Scumfuc
Terror in America