Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CRAYOLA [1977]

Text by Gypsy / FFanzeen, 1977
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images © Robert Barry Francos

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #3, dated Winter-Spring 1977-78. It was written by Gypsy.
Lolly Holly, Janek Five, Hayden Brasseur
The first time I saw Crayola was opening for the Fast at some club whose name I can’t recall right now that came and went, on MacDougal Street; it was the same night I saw Sid Vicious drunkenly kick some homeless guy sleeping on the corner of MacDougal and 8th as I walked to the subway. But I digress… Crayola were a decent, rockin’ all-female band who definitely didn’t get the recognition they deserved. I approached them at CBGB’s the next time about an article, and the drummer, Hayden Brasseur, who would later join the Student Teachers, suggested the anonymous Gypsy write it (I know who she is, but I was sworn to secrecy). Other than legend, Crayola didn’t really go anywhere. I’m not sure they even released more than a single; I certainly can’t find any info on them on the Internet, which is saying something. But they are a part of that period’s underground history, and I am also a champion of those bands that weren’t one of the usual dozen or so you always hear about (Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Heartbreakers, Dictators, Television, Patti Smith, Voidoids, etc.). So for posterity on the Internet, I present Crayola. – RBF, 2015

CBGB’s in New York City is normally a quiet, dignified, out-of-the-way little bistro frequented by middle-echelon bums after a hard day of windshield cleaning. The bands who occupy its stage are the descendants of such groups as the Kingston Trio, the Four Freshmen and the Ink Spots.

Its usual clientele, however, wouldn’t have recognized the place one recent Wednesday night when a quartet of fetching females called Crayola launched into a rattle, a whoosh of guitar power and a singer (with more energy than Con Edison) who asked, “What makes you think you’re soo cool, looking me up and down? Turn them eyes away before it’s too late.”

Even though they knew Janek Five meant what she was saying, the crowed couldn’t turn their eyes away. Janek exploded across the stage like Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn and people jumped in and out of their seats – and kept jumping – through songs like “Scream and Cry,” “At the Rumble,” “You’ll Be Destroyed,” and “Massage Parlor Junkie.” The set ended with Crayola pounding out a scathing version of “Love Potion Number 9,” complete with Janek bursting into an impromptu Hullabaloo-reminiscent Monkey. Then the stage lights went down and the house lights came up and Crayola was gone. But you knew they had arrived. Crayola: you’ve held them in your hands, now they’re melting in your heart.

I’ve already mentioned singer Janek Five, but she deserves as much mention as she can get. She’s like a stick of dynamite, with a voice bigger than she is. No matter what stage she lands on, you get the feeling it just isn’t big enough for her (Madison Square Garden take note). Blonde hair, shorn short, which is ideal because you don’t want to miss one single glance or stare or leer. She is the focal point of Crayola and rumor has it that J. Rotten was dismissed in hopes of getting Janek as a replacement.
Karen Krayon
But this probably isn’t true because the rumor was started by Lolly Holly, the carrot-topped guitarist of Crayola. Sexy, sultry and talented. A direct descendant of Buddy Holly, her ambition in life is to one day wear glasses and ride a defective airplane. She doesn’t move much on stage (possibly for fear of a fatal collision with dervish Janek) but, like the Statue of Liberty, she doesn’t have to move to be noticed. There’s intensity on her face: the intensity of a professional. It was once suggested that if she ever smiled, she’d break the hearts of teenage boys everywhere. She just doesn’t want the responsibility.

Occupying the other side of the stage is every-steady, affable, tall, thin and often green Karen Krayon. If there’s one person in all the hundreds of bands who hasn’t forgotten that rock and roll was supposed to be fun, it’s Karen. She bops and hops and, along with Lolly, occasionally steps up to her microphone to join Janek in harmonic lines like “Keep your hands off my man / Or the shit will hit the fan.” Offstage, fun-loving Karen can be found falling off barstools all over town.
Hayden Brasseur
Backing up Crayola with pow-pow-power is drummer Hayden Brasseur. She plays with such force that drumsticks have started to smoke in her hands and recently, she broke several of her sticks over a bartender’s head. Dark haired and green eyed, smiling, making faces and driving Crayola with innovative pulsating beats, Hayden is what parents everywhere hope their daughters won’t turn into.

Together, these four girls, all aged 20 (birth certificates supplied on request) from one of the most promising new bands to emerge from the new New York music scene. Only together six months, Crayola are already recognized for their uniqueness, their pervading sense of fun and their creative talent (they compose virtually all of their material). See them if you can. If you miss them, invest half a buck on their single in Max’s jukebox (#184). Either way, Crayola is coming after you. Have your coloring books ready.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

DVD Review: Cosmic Psychos – Blokes You Can Trust

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

Cosmic Psychos – Blokes You Can Trust
Directed by Matt Weston
Umbrella Entertainment / Syndicate Films
MVD Visuals
91 minutes, 2013

Yep, I have to admit it, I never heard of this Australian band before. But they certainly have their fans in the U.S., such as members of the Seattle Grunge scene from the ‘90s, like – dare I say it – Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was said to be one. Hence the call for this “doco,” as they say down there in Oz, but more on that later.

There are lots of amazingly good bands that have come out of that part of the world, including the Saints, AC/DC, Radio Birdmen, Split Enz and the Divinyls, and so many more, even some boring ones that hit it big, like Midnight Oil. But that’s hardly a surprise considering the size of the place. Hell, it’s big enough not just to be called an island, but rather a continent.

Of course, the tale starts with a history of the band, all of its living members happy to share anecdotes. This is especially true for lead singer and bassist Ross Knight, who started out as a farmer, and well, continues as a farmer. As of this filming, he’s living out in a shed as he’s separated from his wife. Just before their first tour, fellow bandmate Bill Walsh describes Ross as parochial and conservative, and a bit homophobic; this comment is overlaid by photos of Ross “in the day” humping a statue of a saint and trying to kiss other band members.

However, what I really found odd with this description is his affair with New York photographer Whitney Ward (also interviewed here), and their delving into the 1990s S&M scene, which certainly led to their song “Whip Me.” According to this it was quite the thing to do, though I never saw a hint of it (though, to be honest, not a focal point of interest for me; perhaps that is why?). And then there’s his appearing on stage starkers with a beer can hanging from a string by his Prince Albert (yes, we see the clip). Perhaps Walsh was being sarcastic?

While the influence of the Cosmic Psychos was felt throughout Australia and Europe, it was also one of the defining factors in the formation of the grunge movement in Seattle in the early late 1980s-early 1990s. Members of various bands of the era, such as Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the Melvins, and all of Mudhoney are interviewed, along with many others, and tell stories of fabled times touring, and especially drinking with the CP (amazingly enough, no Dave Grohl, who usually will appear in anything music related to get his face recorded).

One of the funniest stories is when Donita Sparks of L7, who all befriended the band and even visited them in Australia, lifted the Cosmic Psychos’ chorus to “She’s a Lost Cause” for their song “Fuel My Fire.” They play both bands performing their own songs one after the other, and yeah, it’s basically the same in their own way. Then there’s a clip of Prodigy covering the L7 song, for which they had a major hit (though I’d take the original bands over those poseur overrated wankers).

Never really the grunge fan, I still found this documentary interesting all the way through, with the use of interviews, lots of live music clips, and period footage and photos. Also, I liked the way director Weston uses cartoons to fill in the missing pieces when pictures don’t exist, such as when Ross waves at Whitney upon their meeting, or when Ross tells the story of how one of the members had a fish shoved up his ass when he passed out from drinking.

While all the members are represented here, this really is Ross’ story, and he is the centerpiece of both the band and the documentary. His on and off stage antics, his devotion to his two young sons, and his world champion/record setting weight lifting competitions all make for a charming story.

Their lyrics may be silly, but they still have a power to them that is undeniable, and Weston has done Cosmic Psychos and their fans justice.



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

LEVI DEXTER: Hepcat Heartthrob [1982]

Text by NanSuzy Q. Foster / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981. It was written by “NanSuzy Q. Foster,” aka Nancy Foster, Nancy Neon, Nancy New Age, and Suzy Q.

Note that I have linked some music to artists mentioned by Dexter throughout this piece. Chick on them to hear it.

Fanzine publisher / music fanatic / ”The hottest thing from the North to come outta the South” / my-sister-from-another-mother Nancy Foster and I had tickets to see the Clash play at Bonds, in Times Square. It was the thing to do, I suppose, more than anything else. When we got to the venue and we saw the over-sold crowd on line being obnoxious and bullying, Nancy suggested that we ditch the gig and head downtown. The Rockats were performing that night, recording their Live at the Ritz album. We sold our tickets to someone for just enough of a profit to pay for our way into the Ritz, and hopped on the subway. If you are thinking, “Are you crazy?” then I recommend you check out the video clip below. The Rockats were an exciting band, in a way that the Stray Cats could never achieve, even though they we better at marketing themselves because they were all Yanks. The encore, which does not appear on the record, was a cover of Chuck Berry’s “’Round and ‘Round,” which Levi bend down on stage and shared his mic with Nancy, who has a booming voice of her own. It was a great show. – RBF, 2015

FFanzeen: Was the Rockats your first group?
Levi Dexter: Yes, they were the first group that I ever professionally played with. A couple of years before that, there were other rockabilly bands in London, like Crazy Cavan, the Flying Saucers, and Shakin’ Stevens.

FFanzeen: What year was that?
Levi: Late ’75 to late ’77. I’d get up and do one song with them for a laugh. I never had a band. One day I was doing a song with Shakin’ Stevens in a movie theater, of all places, and Leee [Leee BlackChilders, famous photographer and scene maker who worked for MainMan, managed the Heartbreakers, and is currently Levi’s manager – NF, 1981; Leee passed away in 2014 – RBF, 2015] saw it and said, “Wow!” and helped me to get a band together.

FFanzeen: So, were Smutty Smiff and Dibbs Preston in the original Rockats?
Levi: The original Rockats formed in 1977. It was an all English group. There was Don Deveroux (on drums), Dibbs on guitar, Smut on bass, and Mick Barry on rhythm, and me.

FFanzeen: How did you meet Dibbs and Smutty?
Levi: It was really quite a punk thing. Leee said, “I’ll get you a band.” And I was with Smiff’s family then, and Dibbs was hangin’ around the Vortex (club) and said, “Hey! I can play guitar kind of okay.” And so, Leee introduced me to him; and we met at the Vortex. We met the drummer at a Wayne County concert and we said, “Do you want to be in our band?” That was kind of a rockabilly joint. Smut was there fussin’ around and Leee said, “That looks great. Why don’t we have him in the band?” He could play enough instruments.

FFanzeen: So, he started playing bass after he joined the band?
Levi: Yeah. He could play. Originally, he learned like, two songs that we would play first, really horribly loud. Then we’d unplug him and say, “Oops! Sorry, something went wrong with the bass amp.” And then he got into this trip where he’d have half a drum stick and he’d just wack on the upright bass. It sounded awful, but it was good fun.

FFanzeen: Where were the two Levi and the Rockats singles recorded [“Room to Rock” / “All Thru the Nite”; “Rockabilly Idol” / “Note From the South,” both 1979, on Kool Kat Records and Peer Communications – RBF, 2015]?
Levi: Out in Los Angeles. I can’t remember the name of where we actually recorded it [LRS – RBF, 2015], because it was such a little place. But out in Radio City, there’s a big joint, where we mixed it [Greg Lee Processing – RBF, 2015].

FFanzeen: Were your British fans exclusively Teds, or did you have punks as fans, too?
Levi: No, we never played to the Teds or rockabilly audience because it wasn’t pure, original – Charlie Feathers – they would freak out. Back then; they could deal with it now. The first date we did was, like, a reggae thing. Then we played with the Fabulous Poodles at some college date. And then the next date we did was with Spiv, of Athletico Spiv. I think it was Spiv Oil back then. The Unwanted, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Adam and the Ants.

FFanzeen: So, your fans were mostly punks, right?
Levi: Yeah. We went on last that date, so it was really scary. The punks really loved it, cos it was noise and fun and rowdy. And it gave us time to learn to play.

FFanzeen: When did you first get into rockabilly?
Levi: My father was a drummer so there was always a lot of that goin’ on. And my mother would play rock’n’roll records, like Eddie Cochran and Little Richard, and Elvis and stuff. I was eleven or twelve, and I got into being a Ted for about two years. And then I just started goin’ out to the rock’n’roll joints and just started hearin’ nothin’ but ’50s music. When I was (first) bein’ aware of music, the only places I’d go were, like, Ted joints. It was all pre-‘60s and it was really all a small-minded, simple attitude of, like, if it’s after 1960, it’s not cool. “The Twist” is not cool because it’s, like, the third number is a six. But some garbage song from 1955, of some guy singing rockabilly was cool, because it was rare. There’s two levels of music: there’s the constant changing thing, level one, where this is in, that’s out, this is in, that’s out; and there’s a level just below that, of the boring, middle-of-the-road stuff, like the radio plays.

FFanzeen: Like AM pop?
Levi: So, either you’re one of those kids that gets into what’s on the radio or you get into the cults, like Teds or Mods or skinheads. But it seems that everybody eventually gets sick of all this constant switching, so thy just settle into whatever fits them most. So, if they’re into, like, ‘50s rock’n’roll, they become Teds, or not really Teds anymore; they’re finished now. Well not really finished. They’ll be around ‘til doomsday. But they became rockabillies, or hepcats – things like that.

FFanzeen: Do you like the new stuff, like Tex Rabinowitz?
Levi: My kind of stuff. Now that I’m into live (performing), it’s hard to tell what’s going on, record-wise. In Los Angeles now, it’s the Blasters, the Cramps – even though they’re going psychedelic. In England, the Hepcats. They’re brilliant live. Always dependable live; they’re gonna be really crazy. The Meteors. They’re the ones to watch cos they’re coming up out of the underground. They’re sort of like the English equivalent of the Cramps, their sort of style. They do horror, like, “My Daddy Is a Vampire.” They’re really scary, but they’re lots of fun. They haven’t played America yet, but they’re brilliant. They’re really great.

FFanzeen: When did you decide that you wanted to make music your career?
Levi: When it first dawned on me that I would put a band together.

FFanzeen: What was your first impression of America or New York?
Levi: When we first came over to America, we landed in California. And I went, “This is it! This is America! I’ve made it!” and just stated huggin’ palm trees. I loved it. We were there six weeks and then we went down South. The idea, when we first came, was that we weren’t gonna play. We were just gonna drive around because we’d been singin’ songs about New Orleans and down South, and stuff like that. We’d never been out of England, so we couldn’t really sing about American rock’n’roll stuff. Then we went to Texas and we got into a lot of crap there. We went to Dallas, had a party there for about two days. Then we went to Kentucky. We were expecting guys with guitars coming out of their pockets, and it was all these farmers and rednecks and hippies, and people who were into KISS and Aerosmith and stuff. And I thought, “This is not what I thought it would be!” We stayed there for four months. Then we finally made it to New York and it was like a breath of fresh air. Kids that were really sick of that stuff. To me, rockabilly doesn’t have a lot of messages. It’s supposed to be spontaneous fun, but it has a lot of passion in it. The only people that I believe can really do it right are the kids. They do not only rockabilly, but rock’n’roll in general – with a lot of passion – and people can feel it. If somebody’s stuck-up and they’ve got a cushy number, they come off real polished and slick, and people feel that. It’s just not what it’s all about. To a lot of straight people, that’s why rock’n’roll is scary. You can have a whole band gettin’ sweaty and throwin’ themselves all over the place and rolllin’ around on the floor. And straight people will go, “What the hell is goin’ on?” It’s just as scary for the kids, with problems and a hard time to watch some slick band. I believe that you should be larger than life. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t wear jeans and a t-shirt, cos I’m supposed to be bigger than life, as opposed to who I am – or what I am. I like to dress flashy. And I don’t like people to tell me I should or I shouldn’t.

FFanzeen: Who are some of your favorite rockabilly singers?
Levi: My taste fluctuates to whatever I’m being exposed to at the time. If you asked me that question two years ago, I would have gone, “Oh, Charlie Feathers, Johnny Carroll and all these very obscure rockabilly guys. But now, that’s not really enough for me. I like the sex life of rockabilly. I like it to be really wild and crazy. But I like it to be pretty sick. Old stuff I like are the guys that never really made it, like Jackie Morningstar that did horrors in the ‘50s. And this blonde girl, Sparkle Moore, who does a song called “Skull and Crossbones.” She was really sick. She does this heavy breathing, like panting and stuff, like really bad taste. She was great. Pure ‘50s trash! She wore a leather jacket with skull and crossbones on the jacket. Like trashy, mayhem stuff. That’s what I like now. I’ve gone through all the, “Oh, I like that stuff cos it’s rare.” Now I’m just into what gets me excited.

FFanzeen: Have you found any places in New York that are cool to pick up rockabilly records?
Levi: Yeah. The trouble is it’s, like, record companies release the record and they’re, like, country-swing rockabilly stuff. There’s too many people rippin’ off the rockabilly kids cos they put out an album that has two wild rockabilly tracks and the rest of it is bad. It’s not fun; it’s not wild; it’s not sick – it’s garbage. It’s just like third-rate country and western with a beat. I may dress in things that cost me a lot of money that I work hard for, but that won’t stop me from rollin’ around the floor and getting’ it all scuffed up. It doesn’t’ matter to me. All that matters is that you’re doin’ what you feel.

FFanzeen: Do you dress the same offstage as on?
Levi: Pretty much. When I’m playin’ I like to wear baggy pants, mainly cos I can move. I like to wear jackets for security. Like some people like to go out holdin’ their guitar, even though they don’t play nothin’. I like to wear a jacket, then take my jacket off. Once I get my jacket off, then I’m, like, “Now I’m ready to deal with the whole thing!” I’m not some prissy showman. I don’t buy $300 suits and then I’m too scared to get them wrinkled up. When I’m on stage, I like to dress like I’m on stage. When I’m off stage, it doesn’t matter. But if there’s gonna be a lot of lights, I like to clash colors, sparkles; cos if you’re on stage, no matter what ya are, no matter if you’re in the biggest joint or the seediest hole, if somebody is watching ya, somebody is watching ya. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want people to look at what I’m doing. A lot of bands – not just in rockabilly but music in general – are brilliant bands, but I just don’t wanna look at them. Some bands I can watch that are dressed in jeans and motorcycle boots and I’m just entranced by their music. But I really don’t’ give a crap about what they’re doing onstage. Some bands look good in boots, a t-shirt, and a leather jacket. And some bands are so obviously miserable cos they think that’s what they have to wear. No matter what anybody says, an audience of honest kids can feel whether you’re fakin’ it. Whether it’s music or attitude, or clothes or anything.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

DVD Review: Circle Jerks – My Career as a Jerk

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

Circle Jerks – My Career as a Jerk
Photographed, edited and directed by David Markey
MVD Visuals
96 minutes, 2012

The one time I saw the Left Coast SoCal hardcore Circle Jerks, it was at Irving Plaza in the mid-1980s, and if I remember correctly, they opened for the Dickies (rather than the other way around). There were more bands, but for many reasons, none of them pharmaceutical-, herbal- or alcohol-related, my memory of the night is quite fuzzy. As was my tendency, I started off standing by the stage, but very quickly I learned that was not a smart thing, as slamming had become more than just moshing. This was when the transition from jocks hating punks to jocks joining punks, so they can smash, crash and bash anyone and everyone. Yes, I was and remain a wuss about this mostly masculinist (especially at that point in hardcore history) activity, but I still have my teeth, so it was worth it.

By the end of the first song of the opening band, I was waaaay in the back near the bar, a place I had successfully avoided at the joint for most of the times I was there. Even the balcony was a ruckus of flinging bodies, so I just listened to the music without being able to see the stage, and enjoyed the noise. What I do remember is the distorted sounds over the PA. This was quite a different audience than when Eddie & the Hot Rods played at Max’s a few years before, and was annoyed that those in attendance just sat there, like there was anywhere else to go in that confined space, eh wot?

Also, I remember safely seeing the Jerks do a few songs on a special “punk” version of Rock Palace in 1985 (see clip below), sharing a bill with the likes of Rank and File. I still have it on VHS somewhere, which I taped off the telly.

Yes, I have their first three albums, and enjoyed them – though honestly I was more of a Descendants fan back then – but the Circle Jerks definitely had an appeal. They certainly had one of the best logos around, a drawing of a hardcore kid skanking, possibly only outdone by Black Flag’s four black bars. The irony, of course, is that the lead singer of the Circle Jerks, Keith Morris, started his life as the singer of BFlag. With the nearly infant guitarist from Red Cross (soon to be renamed Redd Kross), Greg Hetson, joined with drummer Lucky Lehrer and a series of bassists – most notably Zander Schloss (who appeared in both Repo Man [1984] and the Ramones’ “Something to Believe Invideo) – they were on their way in the early days of Hermosa Beach’s infamous scene.

Using a somewhat standard formula, director David Markey gives us a mixture of present-day interviews with some of the key players; at this point, it seems like dreadlocked Keith Morris will let himself be interviewed in just about anything, as I see him in so many music documentaries about the ‘80s. There is also some exciting live clips, and tons of interesting information. Happily, while the violence in the early hardcore scene escalated by the police and fire departments in California is mentioned a little bit, they don’t swim in it, which is fine because it’s been covered so many times.

What Markey does instead is to focus on the band itself, discussing the flow of  successes and failures, tensions within the band over songs, people coming and going so quickly, good musicianship drummers Chuck Biscuits and Lerher over some guy who replaced him  who Morris truthfully posits, “[Lerher] was replaced with a guy who played drums.”

Of course, it’s the anecdotes that make any of these kinds of documentaries, and people like Henry Rollins (who will also appear in any documentary music-related), Flea from the overrated Red Hot Chili Peppers who was in the band very shortly (there is  a clip of him playing a show), Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis, and Lisa Fancher, who ran the infamous Frontier Records, among others including other band members, flush out the stories from third parties. One interesting comment is that even though Rollins replaced Morris in BFlag, he still has respect for the Jerks as musicians, claiming in their own way they were better than his home-town Bad Brains. One thing that is missing, I am happy to say, is the music critics and writers to discuss their historical importance. I’d much rather hear it from the band themselves, and those that were there.

After a semi-disastrous turn towards mainstream – and I say this for the quality of the work, not the “sell-out” fantasy – by signing to Mercury Records, the Jerks began the very slow melt into the inevitable darkness of dissolving. One thing that often gets mocked about the band that I’ve heard in real life was when Debbie Gibson sang with them, but to tell you the truth, that made her more interesting (okay, just interesting) than putting anything on the band.  For me, it was their stage dive into more “rock” (as Morris puts it) and dreams of the Nirvana bandwagon fame and wealth that put the final nail in, years before the relative final curtain.

The last third of the story by the Jerks is sad¸ including death, resentment and fading away with the occasional reunion show, such as the one shown in 2009, outside of North America.

It’s kind of telling that with all the interviews with several of the Jerks, some obviously done at different times (no historical discussions, all done recently with rearview mirror memoirs), nearly all of the conversations are in single rooms, and not once do you see any of the other members occupy any of the same space at the same time. One of the things I liked about the story of the Cockney Rejects, East End Babylon (reviewed ‘ere), is that you see some of the band interacting, often walking around the area they grew up. In this one, you see almost nothing of Hermosa Beach or the area, other than a couple of quick shots such as Morris standing on the block where he grew up. Photos and videos of the past are good, but they a difficult to get a peripheral feel of perspective.

Usually, over an hour and a half is quite a bit long for this kind of oral history, when dealing with a single group (in my opinion), but Markey wisely not only uses many clips of the band playing in its many stages, he also either shows entire songs, or much of them. I find it a bit of an annoyance when you see a 25 second or so clip; just as you start getting the song and the direction it’s either coming from or going, it’s over. Here, you get a better picture, and if that means a longer-length documentary, then it’s worth it. That is especially true if the band was as interesting as the Jerks. If this was a documentary about, say, Maroon 5, complete songs would probably drive me bonkers (Levine has a decent voice, but the music is awful, and the productions are worse, but I digress…).

Extras include some deleted scenes and 30-minutes of some very interesting additional interviews, including one of Rollins talking about being on tour being a roadie with the Teen Idles and seeing steel-tip boots, moshing and stagediving for the first time at a Circle Jerks show in San Fran, and then bringing it back to the East Coast, where it was very quickly adopted.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Damned Fans Talk to CAPTAIN SENSIBLE, DAMNED Bassist in N.Y.C. (at CBGB’s after first Damned Set [1977]

Text by Bernie Kugel / Big Star fanzine, 1977
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet
This interview was originally printed in Big Star fanzine, issue #2, dated August-September-October 1977. It was written by its publisher, Buffalo Musicians Hall of Fame Inductee Bernie Kugel, who kindly granted permission for this reprint.
I feel lucky to have seen the first generation of the Damned (i.e., pre-Goth) a few of times at CBGB’s in the 1970s, usually with the Dead Boys. For the interview below, Big Star publisher and good friend Bernie Kugel wanted to interview them for his Buffalo-based fanzine (I hadn’t started mine yet), so Bernie, his college roommate and The Good original bassist Steve Lum, and myself headed down to see them play. Somehow, Bernie managed to get the Damned’s bassist Captain Sensible to sit down at a table with us along the north side brick wall and talk. He was not aware there was a tape recorder right there, so he was in Raymond Burns mode, rather than the aggressive, punk Captain, and we actually got some straight answers off of him. That is, until he realized the tape recorder was on and taping, and with a surprised, non-verbal WOT! he took off in seconds flat. When Bernie published the interview, he took the questions asked by Steve and myself and listed us as “Kid at CBGB’s.” I asked the Ramones question, natch, and Steve asked the others. [Quick note from Bernie: We have not been able to ascertain the whereabouts of Steve Lum for a few decades, so if he reads this please contact this Website.”]
In its latest incarnation, Captain Sensible and lead singer Dave Vanian are the two remaining original members. – RBF, 2015
Dave Vanian, Rat Scabies, Brian James, Captain Sensible
 The Damned came to America, saw lots of stuff (most of which they didn’t like) and if they did not quite conquer the place, they at least played some really alive rock and roll. They’re now in England again and after finishing a tour with the Adverts (where it was advertised that the Damned know three chords and the Adverts know one, so you should come to the concerts and hear all four!) they have put out a new single [“Stretcher Case Baby” – RBF, 2015] and are supposed to be working on their second LP [Music for Pleasure – RBF, 2015]. Meanwhile the first album [Damned Damned Damned – RBF, 2015] contains many stunning cuts and their “Neat Neat Neat” and “New Rose” singles are a couple of the best songs out of the new wave; all their stuff stands up well, even after large doses. The only complain I might have with these guys is that they sometimes don’t seem to really want to talk, and most of the interviews done with them in the States seem to reflect that type of attitude. But when a bunch of Damned fans cornered Captain Sensible, Damned bassist, after the very first Damned set in the U.S., he spoke openly, happily, and had some really interesting things to say. Here’s the conversation…
Bernie Kugel: We hear that all you guys like the Damned and Clash can’t play in England anymore…
Captain Sensible: Well, we can’t play in London. There’s nowhere we can play in London apart from the Roxy, which is a crappy, silly little club a little bit bigger than this place. But around the country we can play. We can’t play in London because of the GLC, the Greater London Council, who won’t have any punk bands because it threatens the morality of the children or something stupid like that. [Of course, since this conversation the Damned have been playing in major halls in London and in all of England – BK, 1977.]
Bernie: Do you have a favorite band that you like?      
Captain: Yeah, sure. My favorite band is the Sweet and Abba and…
Kid in CBGB’s: Whadda ya think of the Ramones?      
Captain: I like them but they’re not my favorite band. I like Gary Glitter, people like that.
Bernie: Have a favorite British New Wave band?
Captain: Yeah… Ever hear of a group called Chelsea?
Bernie: Yeah… What about this group called Eater?
Captain: Eater are young kids. I like Eater ‘cause they’re young kids and they put two fingers up [like saying fuck you – BK, 1977] to their school. They put their two fingers up to the headmaster who don’t want them to do music or anything. They’re working on stage when they should be doing their lessons.
Kid: Hey, are you gonna do “One of the Two” in the second set?
Captain: Yeah, we are…
Kid: Uhh, “Fish”?
Captain: Yeah…
Kid: “Born to Kill”?
Captain: Yeah… My favorite.
Kid: “Stab Your Back”?
Captain: Yeah…
Kid: Then you’re gonna do the rest of the album?
Captain: Yeah, all the rest of the album.
Bernie: Got any future singles planned?
Captain: Well, I’ve got a song I’ve written, but we haven’t done it yet on stage. The first song I’ve ever written for the group.
Bernie: What’s it called?
Captain: I haven’t got a name for it yet. It’s all about normal things like how fuckin’ materialistic the world is and all that shit, ya’know? Like we don’t usually do political songs as you probably know, and my song isn’t political, it’s just about how the media in one form or another, i.e., either television, newspaper or anything like that, molds and brainwashes people. It’s like non-stop propaganda and the masses don’t realize just what mucks they’re taken for. Now, you tell me, if there’s 5-1/2 million people in Britain, how can they have 1-1/2 million people unemployed who don’t kick up fuckin’ hell about it? All the people I’m friends with are unemployed now. We were all unemployed when the Damned formed, ya’know? I was unemployed for two years.
Bernie: What do you think of what you’ve seen of America so far [being basically New York City]?
Captain: I love it. I’ve only experienced it in one other place: Edinburgh, Scotland. Like when I went to Edinburgh I was knocked out by the people, by how so over the top nice the people were. Like in London, they’re all poseurs, ya’know? When you talk to a poseur in London they’re all “cool” and all. They’re into their pose. They’re into status, right? By status I mean one person is high up on the status thing than another person ‘cause they’re either a journalist or a rock star or a rock promoter or something in the music industry. There’s so many people like that in London. They come to our concerts, they go to other concerts and you see them there. They make you sick, ‘cos they have nothing to do what I think is honest and real. Like, I don’t know if we’re honest and real, maybe we’re poseurs on a stage; offstage I don’t know.
Bernie: What was the trouble you had with being kicked off the Sex Pistols’ tour?
Captain: That was a mix-up. I’ll tell you the true story about that. Starting out, there were four bands on the tour: us, the Pistols, Clash, the Heartbreakers. Pistols topped, us second, Heartbreakers third, Clash fourth. Now, the Pistols needed us on the tour to pull the punters in the seats, ‘cos we’re as big as the Pistols in London and (the rest of) England at the time. At the time, they needed us. Then the Pistols started getting into the press by doing bizarre things like any group does – like swearing on TV, we wouldn’t have done it – or smashing up flower pots in hotels, sticking things out a window, which we do; we’ve done that, it just so happens that the press aren’t there when we do it. Like maybe they were conscious acts, maybe they weren’t. They got a very, very shrewd manager who I respect tremendously, Malcolm McLaren [d. 2010 – RBF, 2015]. He used to be my manager. And I know how clever the geezer is and I know how he’s a genius ‘cos he’s made the Sex Pistols the biggest, most popular thing in the whole world. I mean, who do you wanna see? You wanna see the Sex Pistols. So do I, I’d love to see them. But that was before the controversy, so they needed us. There were 3,500 seat halls and they couldn’t fill that.  Sex Pistols could get about 500, we could get about 500; they needed us. So they got all that publicity, front pages for about a week in all the British daily press, so they didn’t need us anymore. Also, the fact that we’re sort of a hot band and we’re better musicians, anyway. They’re good because they got a real good attitude, you know? I mean they really don’t care. I don’t think we care, but they really don’t care, you know? In fact, they’re real chaos. When they’re good, they’re great. In fact, the worse they are the better it is to watch ‘em. Incredible. Like, we played one gig with them, we blew ‘em offstage completely; we were on the tour then. I think we blew ‘em offstage anyway, and they were getting booed off. So they didn’t need us anymore, we were too good to play before them so they said, “No, you can’t play with us.” Also, the fact that we agreed to do the gig like you said. [Meaning that they would do a demonstration of their set before a local council so that the council would let the concert go on. The other groups refused to do that. So that just about cinched the Damned getting thrown off the first – and possibly last? – Sex Pistols UK tour – BK, 1977.] But we had a bomber manager at the time – he’s not our present manager – called Rick Rodgers, and it blew the whole thing for us. It cost £2,000 to get on the tour, so we lost £2,000. That’s why we’re very poor. We’re selling a lot of records, but it costs money to play gigs. We just done a tour with Marc Bolan & T. Rex we lost £1,000 on. We’re losing a £1,000 coming over here. We lost £2,000 on the Sex Pistols tour and that’s wiped out anything we’ve earned from the album.
Bernie: There was a band called SS Something…
Captain: London SS.
Bernie: Yeah. Who of the band was in that?
Captain: Brian [James], the guitarist, Rat [Scabies] on drums, Mick Jones from the Clash, and Tony James of Generation X. And they didn’t like Rat so they threw Rat out, and Brian went with Rat ‘cause Brian liked Rat. Then I got together with the two of them ‘cause I used to work with Rat. I used to be a toilet cleaner with him. It’s an easy job, toilet cleaning. Then we got Dave [Vanian] in. We picked him out of an audience. Not when we were playing but thought that guy was the best, weirdest lookin’ guy we could see.

More recent: Vanian and Sensible
Bernie: Was he dressed like he is now, with makeup and all?
Captain: Yeah, he was. And we went up to him and said, “You wanna join our group?” and he said, ”Doin’ what?”  We said, “Singing,” and he said, “But I’ve never sung before,” and we said, “Yes, great, sounds good.”
Bernie: He was a gravedigger before, I hear?
Captain: That’s true, really. And I was a toilet cleaner, that’s true.
Bernie: Meet a lot of people as a toilet cleaner?
Captain: I cleaned toilets in a concert hall, so I met people like Glen Campbell and what’s-his-name, Bert Kampfert [d. 1980 – RBF, 2015], and all shitty people like that; and Mrs. Mills [aka Gladys Mills, British singer, d. 1978 – RBF, 2015]. And just a load of really different people. Wrestlers, boxers, all that lot. Really interesting. We got sacked.
Bernie: Are you gonna do “Singalonga Scabies”?
Captain: No, we’re not gonna do that. Have you heard that?
Bernie: Yeah, it’s really good.
Captain: It was my idea. Why are you taping this?
Bernie: We’re from a fanzine here, Big Star.”
Captain: Send us a copy.
Bernie: Sure. See ya.

Friday, March 13, 2015

DVD Documentary Review: Positive Force: More than a Witness

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

Positive Force: More Than a Witness – 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action
Directed by Robin Bell
We Are Family DC
69 minutes, 2014

As with any other kind of music, there are not only different styles of punk, but reasons for existence. Everyone knows the populist cars, girls, surfin’, beer attitude that was especially prevalent in the First Wave, the anarchy in the [fill in the blank] anti-politics of Second Wave and the anything goes of the Third Wave [quick nod here to Jersey fanzine publisher Paul Decolator, RIP, 2002] hardcore scene.

However, in each one of these, there was also an undercurrent of political activism that did not get as much mass media attention, as the mainstream focused on the anti- rather than the pro-. Remember Joy Ryder (d. 2015)/Avis Davis Band in the 1980 film No Nukes? Probably not, as the film focused more on the big money makers like Springsteen and Carly Simon/James Taylor.

There were other bands from around the world whose focus was political, such as Crass, D.O.A., the Dead Kennedys (to some extent), and just about anything associated with Ian MacKaye.  Though the one person who is the thread that runs through everything is Mark Anderson, who helped found the organization, and is still it’s voice and face after all these years.

Positive Force is a Washington DC-based punk activist collective (there’s a word to make the Republicans shiver under the covers) initiated in 1985 as a reaction to Ronnie Reagan’s (and others’) destructive pattern of 1% government that would continue until this day as the Re-PIG-licans (a term used by Long Island, NY activist and punk rocker Jimi LaLumia) take over both of the US’s Houses after years of obstructionism and blaming.   But I digress…

Early on, this documentary shows its hand by quoting Karl Marx. No, no, no, I’m not saying I’m pro- or anti-Communism, as I believe that most forms of government have positive and negative aspects depending on the actions of the leaders and/or number of constituents involved. For Positive Force, being a relatively small organization with big ambitions and ideals, communal-think is beneficial for them. Along with other DC organizations and bands, they produced a large amount of material that questioned the government, took action against poverty and animal cruelty, and made awareness of world issues more prevalent.

As for this documentary, there are a lot of big names giving talking heads testimony, including among many, MacKaye (Minor Threat / Fugazi), Henry Rollins (Dead Kennedys), Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), the ubiquitous Dave Grohl (Scream / Nirvana / Foo Fighters), Jenny Toomey (Simple Machines), and members of other bands including 7 Seconds. Lots of topics are covered, such as (listed on the DVD cover): “homelessness, hunger, racism, corporate globalization, sexism, homophobia, war, gentrification, ageing, and animal / earth liberation.”  The problem with this kind of thing is that left-leaning (which includes me) activists tend to be, well, kinda boring. 

The reason for this is the same / flip problem with Middle American conservatism: seeing issues through “isms” and code words (my friend and punker Tony SQNS would call this PC), or slogans. “1-2-3-4 / “We don’t want [pick a topic] any more” is all well and good – and necessary – but it becomes underwhelming in its simplicity. The earnestness of those involved here makes their causes almost a religion. For example, those of us old enough remember when Ian MacKaye’s Strait-Edge became a synergic thing unto itself that had followers demeaning those who have the odd and rare drinks (like me) as if they were raging alcoholics (e.g., I once wrote a blog about this called “On Being Straight-Edge, Kinda Sorta,” and the response I received was as follows [errors included]: these is only one level to straight edge. you are or you arnt. no gray area. I think its cool that you arnt a junky, but you arnt straight edge. These is no closes with straight edge. If you are close to being completely sober, why not take it to the next step and commit?). The point is the zealousness of activism can both raise awareness and bully it closed.

I admire people who can find a focus that is important enough to them to give themselves to it. There is someone close to FFanzeen who works with the charity God’s Love We Deliver and promotes the foundation, but doesn’t beat anyone’s head over it. Hell, I’ve marched in a number of protests for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, to rally against the raising of tuition at CUNY schools, and even participated in one of the Yusef Hawkins marches in my Bensonhurst neighborhood. Point is, there is commitment and there is commitment. Believing in a cause can be constructive, but if it reaches a certain level of shrill, well, it’s no better than the NRA. Left wing nutjobs are as annoying as right wing nutjobs. I offer PETA as an example.

That being posited, I think this documentary is important, because it needs to be said that not all punk is nihilistic, and that there is a strong level of many wanting to improve, as well. The question I have is what is the percentage of people represented here who came to punk through political activism, and how many found activism through punk rock (both of which are suggested by the end)? That would make an interesting documentary in itself. Kathleen Hana does broach the subject when discussing the origins of the Riot Grrrl movement (e.g., Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, and perhaps Hole), which I consider much more interesting than the male-based alternative bands in Seattle at the time (Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc.).

About halfway through the documentary, the tone of focus changes from the formation of the political / activism movement to a more music / activism direction, which is additionally interesting. Starting with the Riot Grrrl, as I mentioned, what is discussed is the corporatization of punk starting with the Seattle scene (Fourth Wave, if you want to label Alternative as Punk). Positive Force co-founder Mark Andersen correctly discusses how before Nirvana, Rolling Stone magazine had no interest in punk, and Henry Rollins posits that punk music was good and eventually the corporate music entities would become more involved as the interest (money) started to flow.

There is a lot of good clips of music by many interesting bands, such as Bikini Kill (doing a rare live version of “Girl Soldier”), 7 Seconds, Fugazi, and others. A longer version of these performances totaling 34 minutes is included along with three (30-minutes each, on average) short doucmentaries included as extras, films between 1991 and 2014. The first is “Wake Up! A Profile of Positive Force,” another one-sided stroke-fest. “Green Hair, Grey Hair” is a bit more interesting as we follow the We Are Family organization, founded with a donation by Good Charlotte (also from DC), which focuses on destitute elderly African-Americans displaced by gentrification, and how Positive Force punkers help deliver food and company to them (similar to the aforementioned God’s Love We Deliver, FYI).

The last film is called “Punks Votes, Riots,” which deals with the Punk Vote movement that was started by Fat Mike of NoFX to get rid of George Bush in favor of whomever was running against him, and the riots that followed the benefits. This is the best of the three, and explains how the movement caused a rift within Postiive Force. My only issue with this one is the maaaaany jump cuts, and the lack of identification of the speakers, some obvious like Jello Biafra and Ian MacKay, others not so much for those outside of DC. Of course, the live music is the best part, hands down.

Of course, I realize that this documentary was produced by the very group that is being discussed, so there is not going to be critical thinking about its mission as much as self-back slapping, as it is a self-promotion tool. His makes it sound preachy, and a lot like those late night Christian Feed the Children infomercials. That to me is the core of the problem here, and what makes it less interesting, even though the topic being discussed is incredibly important. And yet, if you are interested in activism, this is a worthy manifesto to check out.

Bonus video from DVD: