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 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
www.morethanawitness.com
www.positiveforcedc.org
www.wearefamilydc.org      
www.mvdvisual.com

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:
 

Monday, March 9, 2015

DVD Review: The Advocate for Fagdom

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

The Advocate for Fagdom
Directed by Angelique Bosio
Le Chat Qui Fume
91 minutes, 2011
www.thedavocateforfagdom.com
www.lechatquifume.com    
www.mvdvisual.com

Usually it’s the second wave that is more adamant, and more militant that what preceded. For punk, the British scene blasted through the American predecessor; in feminism, the second wave presented the angry side with the likes of Andrea Dworkin as its poster child. For transgressive media, the roots of this documentary had its nascent rising with filmmakers Richard Kern and John Waters, and the No Wave movement of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and the Contortions.

From the foundation of transgression came Bruce LaBruce, blasting out of the furnace of a place that started building by breaking through fear, and into the face of society in a way no one could have predicted. In many ways, one of the focal points that made LaBruce such a powerful force was his consolidation of many difference scenes and genres, and laser focusing them out through a queer prism.

Hailing from Ontario, LaBruce started making small films with gay themes that were grainy 8mm, which somehow made enough of an impact that Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain (from whose quote the title of this film was taken) was known to have said that LaBruce was his favorite filmmaker. LaBruce also produced a Queercore (aka Homocore) fanzine in the ‘80s that promoted a scene that didn’t exist, with enough energy that an outburst of the style arose from it. A hardcore fan (or, as is commented here, a fan of hardcore boys), he wanted to acknowledge a level of queerness that was in the music that was not being noted because of the scene’s violently homophobic element. At this point, I believe it would have been good to interview members of the Pansy Division , or MDC (Millions of Dead Cops, or Multi-Death Corporation), who could tell stories about being on the road with some of those gay-bashing bands (e.g., Bad Brains).

However, it is his cinema of transgression that has made Bruce LaBruce not just famous, but infamous. They look a bit like real-life aspects of ‘60s Warhol mixed with the bizzaro unexpectedness of John Waters. Using both script and improvisation, LaBruce shows a world of hustlers, S&M/B&D, and a copious amounts of graphic M2M sex; it should be noted here that he also shocks his regular audience by having W2W, on which some of the audience walked out). And, please note, that this documentary has some of these clips included in this doc, so if you are a right wing religious nut, you may not want to watch this or it may recruit you to making the choice to go to the other side. Yes, that’s sarcasm.

Okay, back to the serious review. As someone points out in the doc, this isn’t just anti- to be different: having studied deconstructionism via Foucault and Derrida, he uses it to express his agenda, in what seems like crude attempts, but is actually quite astute. And as Waters says in one of the interviews, LaBruce also having fun (Waters tells quite the amusing and telling anecdote about when he stayed at Waters’ house).

I believe it’s true, as is noted on the DVD, that when you make a hardcore gay porno film – especially if you star in it like LaBruce has done numerous times – it probably is harder to get funding to reach the level of Waters or especially Gus van Sant. Even Richard Kern, who directed a number of violent and (straight) experimental films is acknowledged as an auteur and somewhat respected on a cult level, probably will never reach the A-Line. That being said, there probably would be no Shortbus (2006) or arguably The Brown Bunny (2003) without people like Bruce LaBruce breaking the barriers on the micro-budget end. And I would like to point out that the directors of both those films, John Cameron Mitchell and Vincent Gallo, respectively, have not done much feature-length film directing since those releases over a decade ago. For LaBruce, however, his biggest budgeted film came after this documentary.

The third act here is an in-depth look at his insertion of – er – insertions, blow-jobs, and what makes this art with some pornographic images rather than being dismissed as porn. This is, to me, an important topic that deserves to be discussed, especially in today’s world of right wing religious fanatics around the world, and in the West, who are intent on going Biblical and - Koranical? - on all things gay, explicit or a quarter of an inch beyond the ken of their interpretation of “moral.”

But that is not what makes LaBruce so interesting to me. What I find fascinating is a two edged sword that he wields so sharply and intensely. On the one hand, he is bringing homosexuality to the forefront in a way none of the other directors have before, even with Waters’ touchstone being the amazing Divine (d. 1988), mixing transgression with usually leftist politics.

At the same time, he holds up the gay lifestyle to the queer population themselves, showing their own weaknesses by focusing on explicit lesbian sex in The Raspberry Reich (2004), or cultural and material consumerist mentality (borrowing Romero’s zombie = consumer from Dawn of the Dead [1979]) in Otto; or, Up With Dead People (2008). By wagging his finger at both sides, his statement becomes all the louder.

Angelique Bosio keeps a very balanced film going here. There are clips from many of LaBruce’s films, including the explicit scenes; we see the action from his public photographic art performances, and interviews with most of the writers and actors in this film to talk about both LaBruce what it means to them to be involved in a hotspot political movement. There are also a number of directors, including those mentioned beforehand, like Waters, Kern and van Sant, writers such as Bruce Benderson, and even performance artists, including Vaginal Davis. Susanne Sachsse also gives some pointed feminist notes as being one of the few females in the group.

The world is swinging ever further to the Right, and it’s good to have a strong voice pulling in the opposite direction in a way that is so extreme to make its point. This film is both exquisite and at times anguish to watch, which is to say, that it represents Bruce LaBruce and for what he stands. This should be in Gender, Queer and Film Studies departments/programs around the world.
 
Trailer HERE
 
Bonus video HERE

Thursday, March 5, 2015

CLINT RUIN: The Foetal View of Heaven, or, the Top-40 From Hell [1986]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1986
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

While I never saw Clint Ruin play, I did have the opportunity to meet him, sorta, back in the 1983, when he appeared on Videowave, the long-running cable access show while I was a floor manager on the program.

He was interviewed along with fellow Aussie Nick Cave by present-day fashion maven Merle Ginsberg. They arrived with Lydia Lunch, as they were all collaborating on a join project called Immaculate Consumptive. When they appeared in the studio that late morning, Clint and Nick entered with literal bottle in hand, and were already smashed out of their minds, giggling like little girls. They were courteous, nice, and seemed to have a good time with the whole event, never letting go until the container was empty; whether they remember it or not is another matter. After the taping, they disappeared into the late afternoon. A clip of the interview is at the bottom.

Considering the categories that describe his music, such as Electronic, Experimental and Industrial, it should come as no surprise that I’m not a listener, though I respect the work he has accomplished over the years, with his own music and his production work with bands like Jon Spenser Blues Explosion, the Swans, Pantera and Nine Inch Nails.

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #14, dated 1986. It was written by the Managing Editor of the magazine, Julia Masi. – RBF, 2015
 
No one understands red haired people. Our intellectual superiority is ignored by the masses who fail to appreciate why we contemplate death during a day at the beach or the fact that we face aesthetic terrorism every morning when we look in a mirror. Although some of us have been accused of possessing a persecution complex, Clint Ruin’s work on the album Nail, which hasn’t a prayer for commercial success, and his confession of a “crucifixion addiction,” inspires the revelation that he is either an extremely avant-garde genius or his brain has rusted.

Clint Ruin is the current alias of Jim Thirlwell, the man who introduced the Foetus concept to rock’n’roll. “It’s the lowest common denominator. Everyone will not deny being one, yet everyone is offended by it. So, it’s basically the words that surround it that people take offense to, I suppose,” muses Ruin, who has fronted such bands as Foetus Art Terrorism, You Have Foetus on Your Breath, and now, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel.

All of the LPs that he has released have four letter titles (Dead, Ache, Hole, and Nail) and his music has a strange appeal. It’s your basic Top-40 From Hell, concerned with subjects running the gamut of negative situations from murder to death and disease. Oddly enough, some of these songs sound almost pretty. And Nail would be a great score for a (very modern) ballet. But not even in your wildest nightmares could you imagine this stuff being mainstream enough to make elevator music.

Nail is a concept LP. A short of catalog of oppression that describes Ruin’s vision of “the balance of power” and a state of mind called “Kingdom Come, a Foetal View of Heaven.” Nail culminates with “the ultimate tour de force in my positive negativism theory, which is a song called “Anything,” which is a rejection of all that oppression.

“So, having built a seemingly negative landscape beforehand, I am rejecting it.” Further questions on the theory of positive negativism lead Ruin to fix his laser-like blue eyes into a piercing stare that scores your soul as he sneers, “Buy the record.” He also declines the offer to share his concept of death with a menacing growl of, “I’d rather show you.” But he does love to talk about his theory of aesthetic terrorism.

“I see aesthetic terrorism as plundering various forms and throwing them together in a way they’re just not supposed to be thrown together. I mean, plundering forms of music as well as visuals, for the sleeves, and juxtaposing them in such a way that they haven’t been seen before and, as a result, terrorizing them.”

One of the most terrifying images of Ruin is a poster that he put out a few years ago that depicts him nailed to a cross. “It was the natural culmination of the recording that I was doing that time, and the visual equation of the rigorous schedule that I’d been holding. Just the basic rigors that I’d put myself through under such a situation. I think everyone, to a certain extent, has a Christ complex.”

He acknowledges that his music is a “cathartic experience. It’s getting a lot of the seemingly negative aspects of my personality out.”

One of the more positive aspects of his personality is that, when he likes a question, he gives an honest answer. “As an artist, I don’t’ feel oppressed because my art is carried out in fairly rarefied circumstances, like a recording studio. As a human being, I feel oppressed.”

 As with his audience, he feels (aesthetically) terrorized.

 


 
 
 
 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

DVD Review: Black Lips – Kids Like You & Me

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

Black Lips – Kids Like You & Me
Written and directed by Bill Cody
Subterranean Productions / A Middle East Tour Film
MVD Visual
79 minutes, 2012 / 2013
www.mvdvisual.com

A week after huge anti-United States riots in Cairo in 2012 that included storming of the embassy, the Atlanta-native pop-punk band Black Lips began a tour of the Middle East. It was two years of preparation to line up all their punks in a row, and they were on their way.

I was touring around in Egypt for a week in 1993, and while there was a level of happiness by businesses that we were there spending tourist money, there was also an undercurrent of suspicion, even then, about us scholars from New York University traipsing around the Nile tombs and valleys. I certainly did not hear any Western music there back then, never mind punk rock. Post-9/11, it is even more astonishing to have this band touring the countries of Cyprus, Egypt, U.A.E., Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. I am going to assume that no member of the band was a – er – of the Hebraic faith.

The documentary of this tour begins with news broadcasts of the riots, leading into a live performance by the band. This is a nicely handled juxtaposition. There are a couple of other wise choices, such as starting in Cyprus, which is an easier country to transition into the tour. The band also picks Lebanese “indie rockers” Lazzy Lung to share the bill. The lead singer moved to Lebanon just as the Israeli conflict happened and formed his band then.

For the first show in Egypt (where a majority of this documentary takes place), we see a clip of the band playing, the audience bouncing, mixed with annotated film excerpts of the Arab Spring two years earlier. The added historical video bites include sound that drowns out the band, which does seem like an unwise choice because in this context it sounds preachy. See the band or hear a history lesson? Both important, but both conflict. It’s the same mindset as having a PowerPoint slide that says one thing and the person at the podium saying something else. Well, it can be read or heard, but not both. By presenting the history lesson during the song, it takes the emphasis away from both.

The band also starts off coming across as a bit shallow to me, I’m sorry to say, but I think that's more of the director's choices. I mean, we follow one of them in an excursion to buy aftershave. You’re in Egypt and that’s what interests you? Then they’re skateboarding on some steps; well, falling more than skating. I would have not bothered including that footage, as it has nothing to do with anything. Plus, they’re touring with a band that speaks the language, so why not show them as interpreters (which they probably were)? The answer is probably that theoretically, cinematic “confusion = chaos = interest.”

Now before you think I’m talking all doom’n’gloom, there are way more positive things about the film than not. Besides many shots of Black Lips playing, as well as giving some nice time to Lazzy Lung, we do get to see some really interesting current news, such as a brief commentary by an ex-pat (woman) writer, and we watch the band listen to an NPR report about them being in the Middle East.

More interesting than bad skateboarding is seeing them at the Giza pyramids (a life highlight when I did it), and talking to locals who are interested in who the band are, and what Westerners are doing there, braving possibly dangerous waters of political and cultural change. I met up with some of that as well. It’s both scary and thrilling to have complete strangers in that part of the world walk up to you and try to talk to you because you are different.

One thing I noticed is that at their shows, there seems to be a lot of Westerners, including blonde women. However, you never see the band do any hook-ups, with men or women (I have no idea about their orientation, honestly), which is fine with me. Another female-related aspect I was interested in is that the film is shown being shot by a Western woman with dyed blonde hair, and wondered how the locals would react to her. Apparently, this is never mentioned or touched upon, which I think is a mistake, even if she isn’t a member of the band.

It gets more interesting as they head off to play in Erbil, Iraq, not a place you may imagine as being welcoming to an American band. Also, comparing the extreme opulence of Dubai to the more austere Erbil is a lesson all in itself to this viewer.

I also found the interviews with members of Lazzy Lung talking about living through the civil war in Lebanon, and how “normal” life became in the midst of it, more fascinating than most of what is said by Black Lips, and wanted to hear more about that.

For me, the big flaw of the film is that we never really get to know much about the band as individuals. Yes, they are interviewed separately, but nothing deep. I know as little about the band’s personnel as when I started the film, other than they like to skateboard, nearly all have facial hair of some sort, one of them is a “news junkie,” and one of them always annoyingly wears an oversized baseball cap. What we do learn about them, and this is a strong point in the film for me, is that we see the band interviewed on numerous media in various countries, including Cairo and Dubai.

Also, it would have helped if their music had a caption crawl. Speaking of which, to be honest, I wasn’t really familiar with the Black Lips, musically, before this, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to hear what they sound like. Definitely not my taste, and they reminded me of the slickness of the Eagles of Death Metal more than punk, which is fine, just not something I’m going to run out and buy. I found the music of Lazzy Lung more interesting.

There isn’t anything really controversial here; nothing to make you say “wow,” but it is interesting how the news footage is interspersed with the location of the band. The closest they get is a very quick discussion of how one of the venues cancelled because the band had once been in Israel, but they get another gig in that city in Egypt, so all is good, I guess. The tour seems to have been a success, and when they talk about how an earlier excursion in India did not go well or as expected, I wanted to see the film of that. Perhaps a prequel?

The extras are the trailer (natch), an almost three minute clip in Cairo of the complete song “Oh Katrina” by Black Lips, a (more interesting) complete song by Lazzy Lung at the same venue, and a nearly 8-minute interview on Lebanese MTV (I kid you not).

If you’re a fan of the band, or curious about them, this is a release that is worth the view; if not, well…