Wednesday, June 10, 2020

HARDCORE WEDNESDAY; CIRCLE JERKS's GROUP SEX/WILD IN THE STREETS

As some of you know, I wrote a book about my favorite band, Thirsty and Miserable; A Critical Analysis of the Music of Black Flag. Some have poked fun at that title as a little much, but it's supposed to be a little much. That book is the whole reason I started Hardcore Wednesday, because I had to resist multiple digressions into talking about other bands, because I was bound and determined to stay focused on just the album or albums each chapter was specifically about. So, I came out the other side of that book wanting to talk about a shit load of other bands and albums. This is where Thirsty and Miserable and Hardcore Wednesday come together.
Black Flag's debut "Nervous Breakdown" EP  (1978) was a mere four songs, about five minutes total and it changed punk rock. "Nervous Breakdown," "Fix Me," "I've Had It," and "Wasted," were short, fast, brash, kinda funny, but also heart wrenchingly sincere. It captured lightning in a bottle and, though, Black Flag would go on to get better and better with each release (fight me, dude, I don't care what some old scenester thinks about Henry Rollins or My War, haha) within the world of punk Black Flag changed things.
And then the singer left. Keith Morris was/is an explosive front man, brimming with energy and charisma. He's one of punk's great lyricists and recognizable and beloved figures. To this day you'll find people who say "Nervous Breakdown" is Black Flag's best albums. Cool, that's an opinion I can respect for sure. It was less than a year from the release of "Nervous Breakdown" that Morris left (highly recommended-go read his autobiography My Damage. Essential book) and formed The Circle Jerks with Redd Kross (and future ex-Bad Religion) guitarist Greg Hetson. The original rhythm section was Roger Rogerson on bass and Lucky Lehrer on drums, but that would change frequently through the years with a number of legendary names like Zander Schloss, Earl Liberty, Flea, Chuck Biscuits, and Charlie Quintana coming and going.
Morris took his songs he'd written during his Black Flag years to make up parts of their 1980 debut album on Frontier Records, Group Sex, which featured an iconic colored shot of a black and white pic of a Circle Jerk audience, taken by the amazing Ed Colver, who also shot the iconic cover of Black Flag's Damaged. Two notable inclusions was a version of Flag's "Wasted" and "I Don't Care" (which later appeared on Everything Went Black) that pissed off Flag guitarist/founder Greg Ginn, but what could he do other than respond with a re-write of "I Don't Care" as "You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You," sung by bassist Chuck Dukowski on the "Jealous Again" EP (which is my second least favorite Flag song, right behind "Rat's Eyes"). "Red Tape" and "Behind the Door" were also originally Flag songs, the latter surfaced on Damaged as "Room 13."
Group Sex had a lot more going for it than just old Flag songs though. Ripping out of the gates with "Deny Everything," the album burns through fourteen tracks in a mere fifteen minutes, never belaboring the point, never tripping over filler. It's as pure a manifesto of hardcore punk as you could ask for. "I Just Want Some Skank," "Beverly Hills, " "Operation," "Back Against The Wall," "Wasted," "Behind The Door," "World Up My Ass," "Paid Vacation," "Don't Care," "Live Fast Die Young," "What's Your Problem," "Group Sex," "Red Tape," this album is as iconic as the first Ramones album and beat Black Flag by a year with a debut full length. Impassioned, aggressive, tongue in cheek, and packed with anthems. It's one of the purest punk albums ever recorded.
My first exposure to the Circle Jerks came via the Alex Cox punksploitation films Repo Man ("When the Shit Hits the Fan") and Sid and Nancy ("Love Kills") (The Jerks also briefly appear in Repo Man as a lounge act). It was Morris's vocals as much as anything else that lead me to Group Sex, which at the time, came on a super saver double length CD with their second album Wild in the Streets.
As much as I loved Group Sex, I was even more into Wild in the Streets, which opens with the title track, the theme song to a 1960s youth gone wild film of the same name written by Garland Jeffreys.
"'64 Valiant, handful of valiums
Couple of beers really do me right
You better believe us, better trust us
Teenage jive, walking wreck
Wild!"
I've never heard the original and don't even want to. Its a Circle Jerks song as far as I'm concerned and I'm as happy to drive around with it blasting out of my car today as I was over twenty-five years ago. Musically, it's a better album than Group Sex, showing a lot of growth for the band in a mere year, but it contains fewer really memorable songs, but the highs ("Stars and Stripes," "Murder the Disturbed," "Letter Bomb") are really high and the lows ("Forced Labor," "Political Stu") are simply average hardcore, still highly listenable, they just stand out. At any rate, Wild in the Streets remains my favorite Circle Jerks album, but I don't think they recorded a bad album. Critics and fans weren't as kind to Wonderful or their 1995 reunion album Oddities, Abnormalities, and Curiosities, but to me they're still as worthy a spot on your shelf as Golden Shower of Hits and VI. Hell, I generally hate live albums, but I love Gig. 

Keith Morris and Greg Hetson kept Circle Jerks alive off and on into the 2000s when they finally parted ways for what seemed like for good. Along the way Morris has remained a force in music, fronting the Red Hot Chili Peppers for one gig while Anthony Kiedis was in jail and joining fellow ex-Black Flag members Bill Stevenson (Descendants/ALL), Dez Cadena (DC3/Misfits), and Chuck Dukowski (Wurm/Chuck Dukowski Sextet) with Descendants/ALL guitarist Stephen Egerton replacing Greg Ginn for an all star Black Flag live tour as FLAG. While the material was mainly the first four years covering Morris and Dez's years as the band's singers, Morris does sing the definitive Rollins era anthem "My War," and it will give you fucking chills. But more importantly than anything, is the super group hardcore outfit, OFF!, Morris formed with Steve MacDonald of Redd Kross, Dimitri Coates of Burning Brides, and Mario Rubalcala of Rocket From the Crypt. Initially releasing four four song EPs featuring cover art by Black Flag artist Raymond Pettibon, OFF! has consistently released the best punk albums of the 21st century (fight me, dude, there's a lot of good punk out there, but OFF! is the band to beat).  Hetson, left Redd Kross and did double duty in Circle Jerks and Bad Religion for years. He left Bad Religion a few years ago, but I have no idea why. Morris and Hetson were set to reunite with Zander Schloss this year to do a 40th anniversary tour, but thanks to Covid-19 that's been postponed until next year.



To get your copy of Thirsty and Miserable; A Critical Analysis of the Music of Black Flag click HERE.




Thursday, June 4, 2020

HARDCORE WEDNESDAY (THURSDAY EDITION); THE DICKS

I was driving through New Jersey in the middle of the night, back in 1997, on my way to do a spoken word show in Boston at The Lucy Parson's Center, back when it was still in Cambridge. They had taken most of my book-zines on a previous trip up there and agreed to have me and another writer come back and do an in-store spoken word performance. We'd exhausted most of our CDs and cassettes by the time we'd crossed the state line into New Jersey and we decided to start looking for any local college rock stations that might be playing something cool. We weren't disappointed.
We landed on a station playing something that sounded punk, but the song was ending, but it was followed by a rockabilly sounding riff that heralded an impassioned voice that yelled, "You don't care about a nuclear war/How many people die/You're always laughing in the face of death/I'll look you right in the eye/And say...I hope you get drafted!" We laughed with surprise and joy. What a great fucking song! The DJs came on right after and told us that was "I Hope Ya Get Drafted" by The Dicks. "Probably the meanest song I've ever heard," they joked. I wrote the song and band down really fast, determined to find their work.

Now, I had read a little about The Dicks and saw their name in old punk flyers, and I actually knew who their lead singer, Gary Floyd, was, but I knew him as the singer of Sister Double Happiness, who had albums on Alternative Tentacles Records and Sub Pop, and had appeared on the Tribute to the Dead Kennedys album. I made no connections, though. I had no luck finding any of The Dicks' albums in Boston, but I found the 1980-1986 Anthology from Alternative Tentacles when I got back to Knoxville (thank you Disc Exchange for always being awesome).
1980-1986 was an eye-opening, infectious, and exciting collection of 7" and EP tracks, split between the Austin Texas days of 1980-1983 (lineup of Floyd, Buxf Parrott, Pan Deason, and Glen Taylor)  and the San Francisco (lineup of Floyd, Tim Carroll, Sebastian Fuchs, and Lynn Perko) version that lasted until 1986 (the band would go on to play sporadically up until 2016). Is it hardcore? The first era, I'd say yes, the second era leaned more towards a blues influenced punk, so if you're looking for loud/fast only, I'd recommend having a more open mind, because this is an essential document. The opening track alone, which, sadly, remains extremely relevant to this very day, to this very moment as I type this, is one of the purest punk songs ever recorded. "Dicks Hate Police" doesn't hold back and goes for the throat...
"Mommy mommy mommy
Look at your son
You might have loved me
But now I have a gun
You better stay out of my way
I think I've had a bad day
Daddy daddy daddy
Proud of your son
He got himself a good job
Killing N- and Mexicans
I'll tell you one thing it's true
You can't find justice, it'll find you..."
From there, the band never backs down from fighting authority with songs like "Anti-Klan," "No Nazi's Friend," "The Police (Force)," and "No Fucking War," but they were also on the frontlines of standing up for gay rights, as Floyd was a bigger than life front man and openly gay. In Texas! The gay community has actually always had a place in punk, whether it was the bi-sexuality of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie and the androgeny of glam that gave way to the New York Dolls and Wayne County or the fact that gay clubs in London were safe havens for punks, not to mention the BDSM that inspired the UK punk scene's fashion sense. In addition to The Dicks, Texas also spawned The Big Boys whose lead singer Randy Biscuits was gay as well. Within hardcore though, it was rare to find openly gay bands, which were less rare in punk and other off-shoots, like death rock and goth.

The original Austin line up of the band reformed in 2004 and did live gigs until 2016. Floyd has stayed busy with Sister Double Happiness and Black Kali Ma. This past Monday, during protests against police brutality, where the cops and white supremacists started a wave of brutality that swept the nation, Floyd posted on his Facebook page this heartfelt note;

"When The Dicks first started we wrote a lot of songs about oppression...sexual, class, racial, etc. I used the N-word in a few songs. I wanted to use the shock element of punk with an anti-racist message...trying to show, and mimic the world we had grown up with. When I was a little kid I said the N-word to a woman who worked at our home...as the words left my lips a sharp quick slap on my mouth from my mother stung and taught me STOP, THINK and YOU'VE BEEN TAUGHT BETTER...I'm thankful for the slap...I will not use the word in those few songs again...I'll use something else...another word. Buxf gave me the idea to think about it and he was certainly right. No one needs a white guy trying to shock or be punk to teach lessons regarding racist cancer language. The songs were always anti-racist...now the language will be.
IN SOLIDARITY
Gary Floyd"
In these times, where everyday we feel like we're on the precipice of a Hell mouth, its reassuring to know we still have heroes out there we can count on, who get it, and who give a shit enough to keep talking about the problems eating away at the heart of our country.
  

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

HARDCORE WEDNESDAY; MISFITS' EARTH AD

"On Earth
As it is in Hell
We'll see you dead and like it in
AD
AD
Kingdom come is not so bad
AD
AD
Bloody Hell is not so bad"




I feel like there was no escaping The Misfits, the New Jersey punk band that combined infectious sing-along whoa-whoa whoas, B-Movie imagery, and muscular aggression. I was destined to find this band and to love them. I didn't know anything about them in middle school, I don't think I'd even heard of Danzig, as he would have been winding down his post-Misfits outfit, Samhain, before going metal with his namesake band. Punk was barely even on my radar. I was obsessed with Metallica's ...And Justice For All and Alice Cooper was still my favorite singer (still is, frankly). I'd see the cassettes for Collection, Walk Among Us, Earth AD, and Evil Live and would always scan down the track listings for each album, always on the verge of buying one of them, but with my limited funds, afraid of throwing my money away on something that might suck. The album covers were amazing; the neon yellow skull, the purple group shot with that rat-bat thing in the back ground, the rough looking zombies, and the group shot individually framed in coffins. Songs like "Teenagers From Mars," "Die, Die, My Darling," "Braineaters," "Astro Zombies"-as a horror kid, I really liked where these guys were coming from. 
Visiting my dad one summer, I was skateboarding with my step-brother and one of his friends, and we were talking about music. Skid Row's "Youth Gone Wild" was big then and the three of us really dug that album. I asked them if either had heard The Misfits, the friend got a big smile on his face.
"The Misfits fucking rule!" He had Walk Among Us on cassette and let me hear a bit of "20 Eyes" on his Walkman. To be honest, I couldn't really tell what I had just heard or if it was any good. Mostly it sounded like a buzzsaw in my head, but the thing about it, I walked around for a year with "20 eyeeees in my head/20 eyeeees in my head!" Starting high school, I got deep into punk, as I've said in previous posts. I still only had a vague idea of who Glenn Danzig was, as his 1988 self titled debut album had completely flown over my head and his second album, Lucifuge wasn't even on my radar, but I'd seen the advertisements on Headbangers Ball. I'd put aside my lunch money for a couple of weeks and on a trip to the mall in Oak Ridge, I made a b-line for the record store and went straight to the cassettes with the intention of buying Walk Among Us. 

Well, they didn't have it! All they had was Collection and Evil Live. I went with Collection, as I was never big on live albums and I rode home with the cassette safely hidden in my pocket. (If you missed the previous posts, I was raised in a house that was very strictly against heavy metal music and every album I got caught with was scrutinized and judged and could be thrown in the trash, so I always had to be careful.) Fortunately, I was mostly left alone to my own devices. I lived in a windowless room in the basement, I had a drafting table from my dad, an old desk that someone was throwing away, and a decent/cheap stereo from my twelfth birthday. That night, I went downstairs, put the 2x4 under my door knob, so my brothers couldn't fuck with me, put The Misfits on and sat down at my typewriter to work on a new short story. 
The production quality was rough, to say the least. Very muddy and I couldn't understand many of the lyrics, but the energy the album was flinging off on every track was infectious as hell, revving me up like I'd taken too many caffeine pills. I credit the music for one of the best horror stories I'd written up to that point. It was zombie story (I was obsessed with George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and wrote a fair number of living dead short stories and comic book scripts in high school) called "Long Night of the Living Dead" or something like that. I really liked how it turned out and to this day Misfits are a staple of my writing sessions.
Over a couple of years, I got my hands on the entirety of their small discography and actively looked for any information on the band I could find, which was scarce in the early 90s. Danzig didn't like to talk about the Misfits and bassist Jerry Only and his brother, guitarist Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein hadn't won a lawsuit that allowed them to reform the Misfits yet. Evil Live seemed to be the last of the recorded material available (until the 1995 release of Collection II, which rounded up all the remaining singles and EP tracks not available on Collection I), which on cassette and prior to the remastered version that came out after the box set (1996) sounded too muddy for it to be in heavy rotation and likewise with Earth AD, it just didn't sound as good as anything on Legacy of Brutality or Walk Among Us to me. So those albums mostly collected dust.
Fast forward a few years, I get Earth AD on CD, and I do a complete 180 on the album. You can hear the whole album on Collection I and II as those tracks close out each album, so it's not as if I'd not heard them all a hundred times, but I'll be damned if it didn't feel like I was hearing them all for the first time. I guess it was the clarity of listening to them on CD vs cassette or maybe my ears finally became attuned to a more thrashy sound after years of listening to hardcore punk, at any rate Earth AD went into heavy rotation, usually paired with Black Flag's Damaged.
I read an interview with Jerry Only sometime in the 90s where he said of the album that it was supposed to sound like Motorhead meets the Misfits, hence the thrash direction, with less anthemic sing-along tracks like on Walk Among Us. The album came out on Danzig's Plan 9 Records, two months after the band broke up in 1983. Danzig was already looking for the exit during the album's recording. He was writing new material for his next project while feeling increasingly disillusioned with the direction of the Misfits and not getting along with his bandmates. Until 2016, when Danzig and Only buried the ax and reformed the "original" Misfits, their's had been one of rock's saddest rivalries. There were lawsuits back and forth, shit-talking, lies, accusations, and even after Only and Doyle brought the Misfits back with Dr Chud on drums and Michael Graves on vocals, shit still couldn't work out and Only was abandoned by everyone to start all over again.
But what rock band worth their salt is without drama? What about the music? The original vinyl release of Earth AD was only nine songs long, the title track, "Queen Wasp," "Devilock," "Green Hell," "Death Comes Ripping," "Wolf's Blood," "Demonomania," "Bloodfeast," and "Hellhound." Clocking in at a mere fourteen and a half minutes. Fortunately, the album was reissued with three additional tracks, a studio version of "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight," "Die, Die, My Darling," and "We Bite." Danzig later said that "Bloodfeast" and "Death Comes Ripping" were originally intended as Samhain songs (and they did play "Bloodfeast" live).
"Earth AD," which I quoted at the top is a tribute to the Wes Craven cannibal classic, The Hills Have Eyes. It sets the tone for the album as a whirlwind with that furious drumming courtesy of Black Flag's Robo. Jerry and Doyle, across the bulk of the tracks, might as well be playing chainsaws, the way they buzz and burn over the beats. From "Earth AD" to "Queen Wasp" you can't catch your breath as the group blasts on with gang chants of "GO! GO! GO!" And then "Devilock" comes on, going even faster and the only moment of reprieve is the brief rumble before my favorite track "Death Comes Ripping" blasts your spine out. I always assumed that "Green Hell" was probably about the Italian cannibal films like Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox, because the Amazon rainforest is also called the Green Inferno. Green Hell is also the title of one of James Whale's (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein) last films, from 1940 about hunting for Incan treasure, but the lyrics don't really seem to match up with any of that, so I don't know. It's a heavy song. I love the studio version of "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight" and that's no knock against the live version on Walk Among Us. The mid-tempo stomping intro that fades into a wash of feedback as Danzig asks the eternal question; "Mommy...Can I Go Out...And Kill TONIGHT??" Before the band thrashes back in like psychos on a rampage is fucking glorious and one of the Misfits finest and most iconic recorded moments. I can easily imagine Danzig becoming a werewolf while singing "Wolf's Blood." "It's wolf's blood/It's pumping like it's fucking in my veins/And I feel my vertebrae shaking..." Such a mean song! And sticking with what I assume must be a werewolf theme, "Demonomania" finds Danzig proclaiming that his "father was a wolf" and his "mother was a whore." "Bloodfeast" is the album's slowest track and you can really hear Samhain coming here as there's more of a goth/death rock feel than thrash/hardcore. And it's a good, catch your breath track, even if Robo is still pounding the fuck out of those cymbals like his life depended on it. "Hellhound" starts with the chorus ("that's gonna rip your face off") spinning out of control, but tucks in for the verses and then releasing again. It's a hell of a fun yo-yo effect, which originally ended the album. Instead though, we're next treated to another one of the Misfits' most iconic songs, "Die, Die My Darling." "Die die die, my darling/Don't utter a single word/Die die die, my darling/Just shut your pretty eyes/I'll be seeing you again/I'll be seeing you...in Hell!" What a break-up song! We end on an absolute rager, "We Bite," which brings back both cannibalism and wolf references, making it a sort of summation of Earth AD.
The brilliant cover art was painstakingly hand drawn by LA punk legend Mad Marc Rude, who spent days on the stipulation and undead characters. Depending on which version you get the black and white art was augmented with a green and purple or green and pink background. For a band known for having cool images on their t-shirts, albums, and 7 inches, the Earth AD is my favorite of anything they've ever released. there's a brilliant and heartbreaking documentary on Marc Rude, currently streaming on Amazon, called Marc Rude: Blood, Ink, & Needles [2014], and I highly recommend checking it out. He also did the artwork for one of Tex and The Horseheads' albums. He was a mighty talent plagued by personal demons.)
Misfits were never a hardcore band before Earth AD, in fact, when they started, there wasn't even a guitarist. Glenn played electric keyboard and the Misfits sounded more like Suicide. But after getting Bobby Steele on guitar and later Doyle, they truly became the epitome of everything good about punk rock. They created the sub-genre of horror punk, and influenced countless bands over the next four decades. Earth AD isn't there best musical statement overall and not the strongest album they could have gone out on, but for the aggression, for the catharsis I get from listening to it-the album is a beast unlike anything they unleashed before or since. When the band came back in 1996, they went for a happy medium between the sing-along anthems of Walk Among Us and the muscular thrash of Earth AD, with greater success on American Psycho than on Famous Monsters. The last album of the only-Only era, Devil's Rain, also reached back to Earth AD, with just a bit more metal influence and longer songs. Now that the "original" Misfits have played a number of shows together, Danzig has stated he's open to recording a new album. Frankly, I don't care if it sucks. I don't think it will, but regardless, they've already sold a copy to me, whatever it winds up sounding like.

  

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

HARDCORE WEDNESDAY; HUSKER DU's METAL CIRCUS

SST Records turned out some of the most enduring and meaningful, not mention influential albums of the 1980s and early 90s. One of those bands, who started life as a hardcore band, but would go on to probably be a much bigger influence on 90s college/alternative rock, was Husker Du from Minneapolis. Husker Du was a power trio featuring a guitarist/singer and a drummer/singer who both had very distinct song writing styles that gave later albums a perfect balance between pop melodicism and musical hardcore. Bob Mould, the guitarist, would go on to form the college rock band Sugar, not to mention a distinguished solo career and drummer Grant Hart would work as a solo artist first, before forming the group Nova Mob, and later return to recording under his own name. Bassist/vocalist Greg Norton had far fewer writing credits with the band, but his contributions as a bass player are irreplaceable. The man was a great player whether we're talking the frantic early hardcore albums or the later melodic albums. He's often overshadowed by Mould and Hart, but Husker Du worked because of what the three men individually brought to the table.

In 1983, the band released an EP that would be an important turning point in their style. In a way, Metal Circus is abit like the Husker's Damaged, in that the A side is rooted in that propulsive hardcore of Everything Falls Apart, but points the melodic future of albums like New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig on the B side. It was certainly a strong warm up for the next album, the double LP Zen Arcade, which is certainly an all time top ten album, at least for me.

I was already obsessed with Black Flag and on the look out for any album with the SST logo. Metal Circus wound up being my first Huskers album. I found a copy on vinyl and, having already been familiar with Sugar, was very surprised that this sounded nothing like that. Mould is raging on the opening tracks, "Real World" and "Deadly Skies," before Hart injects a bit of pop in there with "It's Not Funny Anymore." I don't know how this played with fans in '83, but when I heard it around '94 it sounded like what everyone was ripping off at the time. Nirvana was a revelation for my generation, then we all went out and discovered the Huskers, Pixies, Meat Puppets, and the Minutemen and said "ah ha!" At any rate, Robert Christgau, at the Village Voice, gave the album a well deserved A, but he loses credibility with me for calling side B of My War a waste of time.

Side B of Metal Circus opens with Mould's "Lifeline," which gives no quarter in pace or aggression, then comes the biggest song on the album, "Diane," which has been covered by a few other bands, including Coffin Break, Therapy?, and Superdrag. It's a pulsing, mid-tempo Hart song about the tragic and horrific, real life rape and murder of St Paul waitress, Diane Edwards. The song has a bit of a SST era Sonic Youth feel to it, at least that's what I think of when I hear, but those albums were a couple years away at this point. That year, Sonic Youth released their debut album, Confusion is Sex and then would go on to release much better albums from then on. The album closer, "Out on a Limb," is probably the most SST sounding track on the album, less straight forward, slower, but with a frenetic jazz/metal guitar that sounds like Mould trying to dual with Greg Ginn. The song doesn't really go anywhere, but it's a good enough closer for an album that clocks in at less than 19 minutes.

Husker Du broke up after their second major label album, Warehouse; Songs and Stories, which I've never really been into. I thought their previous album, Candy Apple Gray was much stronger as was the post-humous live album, The Living End, even if it did include a regrettable cover of "Sheen is a Punk Rocker." I never really cared enough to find out what went wrong with Huskers, but I remember back when many other SST bands were suing to get their albums off the label, the Huskers never did, because Mould and Hart couldn't be in the same room long enough to get it done, although they did appear on stage together once before Hart died in 2017.



    

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

HARDCORE WEDNESDAY; DOA'S BLOODIED BUT UNBOWED + WAR ON 45

Vancouver's DOA is as integral to to the beginning of hardcore as Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, or Minor Threat. Between 1980 and 82, they released Something Better Change, Hardcore '81, and War on 45 EP, not to mention other singles from 78 to 80. They may have gotten off to a start with songs like "Disco Sucks," but they soon carved out a rightful identity as Canada's Clash and then very much stood in no one's shadow, as their "Talk Minus Action Equals Zero" motto and outspoken political songs made them one of hardcore punk's most beloved band, which (with only founding member Joe Keithly remaining) remains active to this day and Keithly himself putting his money where his mouth is as a member of the political Green Party in Canada.
Formed in 1978 by Keithly, Randy Rampage, and Chuck Biscuits (I'm just going to say at the outset, this band never had a consistent lineup, people left and came back and not many albums have the same lineup. If you're interested in who played on what, there's a Wikipedia page and I'm not going to copy and paste.) the band has only taken a couple of short hiatuses, without ever really breaking up. In the late 80s they flirted with a hard rock sound and even a bit of a thrash metal sound, but they in the early 90s they'd returned to their punk roots and have been very consistent with their releases.
I couldn't decide which of the three early albums to focus on, so I decided to go with my first DOA album, that I bought on cassette; Bloodied But Unbowed + War on 45. This is a compilation album, that takes the best tracks from Something Better Change and Hardcore '81, which is what's currently available on CD, vinyl, and iTunes. My cassette included all eight tracks from War on 45 EP, but that's been re-released as a full album, with a number of extra tracks. Both are essential, hell the actual albums are essential, even if they have a bit of filler/lesser tracks, but for me, in the mid 90s, finding that cassette was incredibly special and I've long bemoaned the fact that it was stolen and the only copies I've found since don't have War on 45. It really is (with or without) the best introduction to DOA, you can't not love them after hearing tracks like "The Prisoner," "Fuck You," "Waiting For You," "Woke Up Screaming, " or "America the Beautiful."
One of the cool things about DOA in relation to a lot of other hardcore bands, was how musical they were. There's a reason we still talk about them, Black Flag, and Dead Kennedys so much and not so much about any of the hundreds of Minor Threat clones. These bands weren't afraid to try new things, embrace growth/musicality, and mix up the sound here and there. DOA has plenty of sing-along-ready anthems and mixed in tongue-in-cheek humor with sincere protest songs, that feel vital and less preachy. I think, also the fact they that weren't afraid to wear some classic rock influences on their sleeves helped to make them an overall more approachable hardcore band, but that never compromised the sincerity of their vision.
 I would blast DOA on my way to high school for most of my junior and senior years, it was as good as coffee for getting the blood flowing and the brain firing on all cylinders. Not to mention the pure vitriolic joy of pulling into the parking lot in my smoking, rattling Hyundai with the volume dial turned all the way to the right on "We don't care what you say...FUCK YOU!" Around that time their album Loggerheads had come out on Alternative Tentacles Records (the Dead Kennedys label) and I found the Terminal City Original Soundtrack, which featured two of my favorite late 80s DOA songs, "Behind the Smile" and "Concrete Beach." My favorite DOA thing from that era was laying my hands on Best of Flipside Video #3; DOA/Dead Kennedys. This was a great performance, and as many who were there back in the day will attest, DOA were amazing live. Youtube is full of live clips of varying quality and you can go down a glorious rabbit hole of videos, some in their entirety. I encourage this. I've done it myself many a day and found it a very rewarding use of my time. (I think all of the Flipside videos are on Youtube now, which include Bad Religion/Circle Jerks, Minutemen/Minor Threat, and others. There was one recorded for the Misfits that never officially came out, but I found it on the Video Hell bootleg.) I'm including the whole Flipside video below, it's so fucking good. 1984, an election year, and DOA opens with "You Fucked Up, Ronnie"-a song they still perform now, as "You Fucked Up, Donnie." Both bands are in good form, even if there are better quality videos of both (for Dead Kennedys I recommend the Live at the On Broadway).



Wednesday, April 15, 2020

HARDCORE WEDNESDAY; SLAPSHOT's SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME 1989

I was Straight Edge for years, even before I knew what Straight Edge was. Growing up in a hick town where I had classmates in middle school who were getting drunk and high on a regular basis, I was repelled by the very notion of drinking beer. It seemed like the jock/redneck/asshole thing to do. Add to that, being a huge Alice Cooper fan and knowing about his deep struggles with alcohol, I just didn't want anything to do with a drug/drinking scene. So after Sick of it All pointed me towards Minor Threat and I heard the song "Straight Edge" (not to mention already being a Rollins Band fan), I felt like I had found my niche within my tribe (punk rock). As I said in the last installment, this was the 90s and I had no internet to help me track down more bands, it was all trial and error with the occasional assist from a knowledgable record store clerk or an older friend.

At the time, there just wasn't that much around, as far as I knew, but bands like Judge and Slapshot were out there doing a second wave SxE thing, while older bands were becoming Emo/Emo-core/post-hardcore (some of which led me backwards, like Quicksand, who was formed by members of Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today), and the third wave of the more militant side of SxE, like Earth Crisis, hadn't quite happened yet. (Before I drag you down a fucking rabbit-hole of hazy history, let me recommend Tony Rettman's amazing book, Straight Edge; A Clear Headed Hardcore Punk History Book. Lots of great stories and insights from the bands themselves.)
Let's get in the TARDIS and jump to1997. I was scheduled to do a spoken word show in May with Priscilla Grimm. (She and I had met earlier in 96 after my first book, Destroying Lives For Fun and Profit came out. I had become aware of her when I caught a dry reading of her play, Definition of a Grrrl. We ran in some adjacent circles and met at an open mic and quickly became friends.) The show was at the Lucy Parson's Center, back when it was still in Cambridge. I had fallen in love with Boston the previous year while on a road trip, and got LPC and Revolution Books to carry my book-zines. Without much money between us, we drove from Knoxville TN to Cambridge MA, did a show, and ran back to K-Town in about 48 hours. There were plenty of 'issues' on that jaunt and not many people showed up, but those who did were mainly members of The August Spies and one or two members of Toxic Narcotic. Priscilla had a friend among them and we stayed at The August Spies' house. They took us to The Rat (RIP) and out for Chinese food. At one point we stopped off at a park to smoke weed, which I declined, and we wound up running from the cops. So, despite my insane girlfriend, who had insisted on coming along and then had a mental break from reality, and behaved like a psycho, it was a good weekend.


What does any of that have to do with Slapshot's Sudden Death Overtime? Absolutely nothing. Except, it was that trip where I hit a record store in Cambridge and found that album, along with the Flesh Eaters' Forever Came Today and the Drag Strip Riot double LP. I'd say, that store, Looney Tunes was actually a big reason for wanting to move up north to begin with. I'd get light-headed going through the racks of vinyl and CDs. I bought a Black Flag VHS bootleg on my first trip. That time I was excited to find that Slapshot album, because I already loved The Mighty Mighty Bosstones cover of "What's At Stake."

By the time we got home, I had less than an hour to take a shower and get to work. I dropped the records on my shelf and took off on no sleep, running on pure anger, anxiety, and caffeine. (My version of straight edge didn't include abstaining from caffeine pills, because they were over-the-counter and found naturally in coffee and tea. It was only later that it was pointed out that I abused No-Doz, White Crosses, and .357 Magnums like an addict. Fine, whatever.) 10 hours later I staggered home, happy to find my girlfriend not there. I'd been awake around 24 hours at that point and still couldn't sleep, so I got out my records. Flesh Eaters were fucking brilliant. I listened to both before I put on Slapshot. In my sleepless delirium, I was stomping around my apartment with joy, blasting that shit in the middle of the night.

Slapshot formed in 1985, a virtual super-group made up of members Terminally Ill, Negative FX, and DYS. Their line up chained almost with each album with Jack "Choke" Kelly being the sole original member as of their last recording in 2012. They had a built in reputation and I'd say lived up to it on pretty much every release.

I loved the beefy, two-guitar sound of Sudden Death Overtime. It leaned towards metal, without being crossover, and I liked Jack "Choke" Kelly's vocals. Between Sick of it All and Slapshot, I established a particular taste for the late 80s/early90s hardcore. Later bands were sometimes too metal and earlier bands simply weren't as good as Black Flag, Minor Threat, or Bad Brains.
The album opens with "What's At Stake," a mid-tempo stomper with a great bass sound (courtesy of Jamie Sciarrapa, formerly of SS Decontrol, whose iconic "Police Beat" was also covered by The Bosstones). After that warm up, the band puts the pedal to the floor with "Firewalker," which took aim at televangelism, a popular target for punk and metal bands at the time (see also Suicidal Tendencies' "Send Me Your Money") "Dealing With Pennies" is pretty straight forward, classic hardcore, while "Transmission," slows back down to a mosh ready mid-tempo. "Something To Prove" brings back the tempo and "Nation of Hate" is a good anti-racism song with the best guitar solo on the album. "Punk's Dead, You're Next," is a great anti-conformity song and then "Say Goodbye" is one of my favorite Slapshot songs. And as far I'm concerned the album could have ended right there. It's not that "War on Drugs," "Get Me Out," or "Change" are bad songs, but for me, every time I play this album, it goes from the strength of "Say Goodbye" to beating a dead horse in half a track. Then there's the album's closer, a cover of Jefferson Airplane's overrated "White Rabbit." The only version of that song I like is The Damned's. Otherwise I can completely do without it.

Eight great songs out of 12 (14, if you get the newer CD with two live tracks) isn't bad at all. The album still sounds as good as ever and remains my favorite Slapshot album. I don't think the band is currently active, as it's been eight years since their last album, the "I Believe" EP (Taang! Records).
These days, actually for more than twenty years, I find Straight Edge to be full-on cringeworthy as a sub-genre of punk. I remember going to shows at the Mercury Theater in Market Square and seeing a lone kid with X's on the back of his hands get a boot party from some crust punks. When the poor kid complained to the bouncer, the bouncer told him he shouldn't have come in there with those X's. The next year, things flipped and it was younger SxE kids causing all the violence at shows. Militant SxE bands started popping up, and news of violence spread across the country. To me, it wasn't punk, it was pure fascism. I wanted nothing to do it. I was 20 the last time I took a fat Sharpie and drew X's on my hands. It couldn't be a badge of honor if it was something that was going to violently infringe on people's right to be themselves. I still love a lot of those albums though, they still hold good memories for me, even if the stance has been corrupted.
    
  

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

HARDCORE WEDNESDAY; SICK OF IT ALL

Ok lets roll back the clock almost 30 years to 1992. I was sixteen and still transitioning from metal to punk and looking for anything to satisfy that itch I got from bands like The Damned, Ramones, and Black Flag. I had just found The Exploited's Live in Washington DC, Social Distortion's Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, Descendants' Liveage, and Bad Religion's Generator. All great. This was pre-internet, of course, and it being East Tennessee and not even Knoxville, it was hard to track things down and know what to get next-so occasionally I found a dud, but more often than not I was getting what I needed. At that point I didn't really know what differentiated "punk" from "hardcore," but I got a lesson the night I scanned through the cassette racks at some chain record store in the Oak Ridge mall and found We Stand Alone by Sick of it All. It sure sounded punk.

The album was an EP, released the previous year and was my introduction to New York Hardcore and for me, to this day, I hold it up as the gold standard of NYHC. It absolutely set me on fire the first time I listened to it on my walkman. It was my skateboarding soundtrack and got me looking for Minor Threat with their incredible cover of "Betray." I'd drive around Kingston, just letting the tape flip over and over. It was hard time for me emotionally and spiritually and the mix of positivity and aggression was good medicine to help me keep my head up. "We Stand Alone" would always electrify me, make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Here it is once again, tales of conformity
By the ones who would be king
We never set out to impress anyone
It's just an outlet, our chance to be heard
At first you said we hated too much
Now you say we just can't hate enough
Now you're screaming that we've changed
We've grown up but our beliefs are still the same
It's still an outlet for anger and strife
But one more thing, it's also our life

(We) We don't need any help (stand alone)
Our beliefs are strong enough to (stand alone)
Our desire's burning deep, in our hearts
It's in ourheads, it's in our souls
(We) We defy your fucking lies (stand alone)
You question our beliefs (stand alone)
Our desire's burning deep, in our hearts

It's in our heads, it's in our souls (stand alone)
The band was formed in 1986, in Queens NY, by high school friends Lou and Pete Koller, Rich Cipriano, and Armand Majidi (the latter two replacing Mark McNeely and David Lamb before the band recorded their self-titled debut album in 1987 for Revelation Records). They played Saturday Matinee shows at the legendary CBGBs and would go on to be one of the biggest, most important, and longest running of all the NYHC bands. Still together and releasing new music to this day. I never owned their original 7", but I went out and found their 1989 debut full length, Blood, Sweat, and No Tears and the second full length, 92's Just Look Around. Through freshmen year of college I listened to a ton of hardcore and straight edge hardcore, and while I found a lot of bands I loved, more often than not, I was getting two or three songs from an album worth adding to a mix tape and the rest being pale imitations of better bands. And no one, not Slapshot, Warzone, Agnostic Front, Earth Crisis, whoever, knocked me out the way Sick of it All did. The only band I listened to/obsessed over more was Black Flag. Now at 44, SOIA and Flag remain two of my favorite bands and still get me fired up when I'm having a shitty day. 
Sick of it All's latest album is 2018's Wake the Sleeping Dragon, and the band hasn't lost a step. I'd say the last ten or so years, the band has gotten even better than their "commercial break through" era Scratch the Surface and Built to Last. Not many bands have that kind of staying power. Last year they were on tour with another band I dearly love, Napalm Death, but sadly I was too broke to go. (I'm not sure if this would have been the first time those two toured together since the 1991 New Titans on the Block Tour which also included Sepultura and Sacred Reich. Can you fucking imagine that lineup in 1991? If I had a time machine...)