Wednesday, April 29, 2020


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


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


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


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...)