Wednesday, September 30, 2015

THE SHIRTS’ Styles [1981]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet
This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #7, dated 1981. It was written by the Managing Editor of the magazine, Julia Masi.

Part of what the Shirts so special was that they were fun. It looked like they enjoyed being on stage, and that transmitted to the audience. I only saw the Annie Golden version play once, and then saw the post-Annie band play at a reunion concert for the late Brooklyn club Zappaz, which was held at the now-also-gone L’Amours in the mid-2000s. As for Golden, I saw her perform at the Bottom Line in a nascent version of the play based on Ellie Greenwich’s music, Leader of the Pack (the Broadway version was not as personal, nor as fun). When the band reformed after Golden left, it took two singers to replace her. That tells you something. Of course, Golden went from the Shirts, to the film Hair, to a recurring role in Cheers, to where she is now, a regular on the extremely popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, where she ironically plays someone who is mostly mute. – RBF, 2015
“Guilt through association,” states Artie Lamonica as re reflects on why the Shirts are so often mislabelled. “We were considered a New Wave band, but we weren’t really. It’s just a tag. We didn’t form because New Wave was happening. We were around before the New Wave and we’ll be around afterwards.”
In their nine-year history, the Shirts – Artie Lamonica, guitar / keyboards; Ron Ardito, guitar; John Piccolo, keyboards; Johnny Zeek Criscione, drums; Bob Racippo, bass; and Annie Golden, vocals – have gone through a metamorphosis from being “the worst cover band in the world” to one of the more popular bands in Europe. The band began when they were teenagers in Brooklyn. They played block parties and local bars until they started writing their own material. By the mid-‘70s, they were headlining regularly at CBGBs and under contract to Capitol and EMI/Harvest Records. With three albums to their credit (The Shirts; Street Light Shine; and Inner Sleeve), a few cuts on the Live at CBGBs album, and legions of fans who wait in line for hours to get tickets to their shows in Holland and Germany, the Shirts still haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve back in the States, considering they are one of the top ten bands on the college concert circuit.
The way they see it, the problem lies in the fact that they are difficult to categorize. All six members of the band have a hand in writing the songs, and their different tastes and personalities are reflected in their work. In the past, they have shown their cynicism (“Laugh and Walk Away,” “Too Much Trouble”), dabbled in science fiction (“Triangulum”), and expressed disappointment (“Small Talk”) and love (“As Long as the Laughter Lasts”). Their music ranges from danceable high-energy rock’n’roll to ballads.

“We never felt that we had certain sound,” Artie continues, “like band that have a whole album based on a sound. We always felt that we liked to do different things. We try to let everybody be artistically free, as much as possible. We don’t shun a song because it doesn’t have the Shirts’ sound. We try not to. We listen to each other. We listen to the radio, what’s on the air. We try to be as modern as possible. We started out trying to do things differently to create different types of chords and just play them. Now we’ve learned how to arrange; how to simplify our music. We created a base and now we can build. We could be just as popular in America.”
“It’s strange in Europe,” explains Annie, “because it just seemed to snowball by itself. The very first album we did had a hit single on the charts in Holland [“Tell Me Your Plans” – JM, 1981]. Our European record company sent us there to do some kind of public interest stuff and they liked what they saw. They took us to their hearts and we had mild success consistently since that first song. And we understand that the Inner Sleeve album is Number One on the Austrian charts. We’ve never been to Austria. It’s very close in Europe, very concentrated. The people are very cultured because the people are so crammed together. Things can catch on a lot better than they can here.
“I’ve progressed as the chatterbox. In our personal life, I’m the chatterbox, but in the stage show, I never used to talk to the audience. We always let our music speak for itself. Now, I feel more comfortable talking to people. I feel like they want to hear what I have to say. I never really go blank. I usually talk about the club, or the next song, or the Shirts.
“When we go to Europe, we’re not stifled. We just talk less, and we just let the music speak for itself. So, we don’t really feel uncomfortable that way. It’s funny: you’ll say something, like if you’re in Holland, ‘You might remember this song from a couple of years ago,’ and they don’t respond, or some of them might. But once you sing that first line, then the excitement stirs, and they go crazy.
“Sometimes it’s hard when people are shouting things at you from the front. You can tell when it’s kind. You can tell by the delivery. And most often it is; you get so frustrated and you wish you could understand them” On the whole, Annie finds European audiences “Anxious and eager; pretty polite. They listen. They don’t stir around or mix it up. They pay attention to you, which is pretty strange. All eyes are on you. We’re not used to that.”
But they should be. When the Shirts take to the stage, their visual presence is almost as strong as their music. Petite, blonde Annie flutters around the stage like a trained modern dancer as she sings and vamps with the boys. The rest of the band plays off each other and sometimes with the audience. They’ve been known to offer their instruments to fans and invite them to play along. “But it’s not contrived,” says Annie, who explains that her stage moves aren’t choreographed; they’re just a natural reaction to the music. She describes them as callisthenic, and admits that aside from her training with Twyla Tharp for the movie Hair [1979], she has never formally studied dance.

She eschews the preening role of the prima donna that so many female singers are obsessed with. “I hate that ‘Oh, is my make-up on right? Is my hair fixed?’” Although her stage personality is very feminine, she looks upon herself as a mixture of “woman, groupie, and one of the boys.”

The latter day The Shirts
As entertaining as their live shows may be, the band hasn’t relied on their stage presence to get by on film. For their most popular video, “Laugh and Walk Away,” they flew to England and employed the talents of Brian Grant, the best television cameraman in the country. He wrote a story that begins with Annie singing as she is wheeled into a hospital by the band, all wearing white coasts. “We had gone to London to the video and we were all jet-lagged, and everything. And Grant had this storyline for us. I was standoffish, as I usually am about outsiders presenting their ideas to the band. And when I read his outline for the song, I couldn’t believe he had never heard us perform; yet in his outline of “Laugh and Walk Away,” he had me playing all these different kinds of characters. Just the fact that a lot of my physical moves have been said to be puppet-like, and he had me playing the puppet, with strings being manipulated by business people. It’s so funny, ‘cause I don’t drive. I’m terrified to drive. And he had this thing of me driving, and then being terrified in the car. It was really great the way he was naturally in tune with what we were about, never having seen us.

Realizing that it takes more than a memorable video and a polished sound to make a hit single, the Shirts have left Capitol, their American record company. They are hoping to have more input on the next record they do, so that they’ll go on record sounding the same as they do at a live gig. “Our sound man’s been with us for eight years. The ultimate goal would be to have him engineer, or produce or something, because we always get compliments on our live sound. When we hear cassettes of live gigs, it always sound exactly the way we feel we sound.”


Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: PostApoc, by Liz Worth

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

By Liz Worth
Now or Never Publishing (Vancouver, BC), 2013
186 pages, paperback
ISBN: 978-1-926942-29-2

Ontario-based bard Liz Worth rose above the ranks of being known as an established poet with a book titled Amphetamine Heart (reviewed HERE) and a few chapbooks when she released one of the better narrative music chronicles, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond (reviewed HERE).
Liz Worth
It is only natural to take a look at her first published novel, PostApoc, named after a song by the underground fictional band from the volume, Shit Kitten. It’s also a bit literal for the story as well, since the book takes place after that very event.

Without religious overtones but with a poetic timbre of the possible Rapture, or perhaps a global changing environment that has given up, apparently a large number of people have melted in a red rain or have imploded from the inside, and who is left are people trying to survive. In this case, we follow early 20s punk rock fan Ang (pronounced Anj) as her world gets increasingly narrow, striving for food, shelter, companionship and music.

Occurring after what is known as The End, the novel has a recurring theme of It’s my body and I’ll die if I want to. We learn that Ang was not just a fan of the band Valium, she was also the lover of the lead singer. The band and their followers, much like the Jim Jones’ group, decide it’s time to die. As described in the book:

We obsessed over self-destruction because that’s just what you did in those days. Even if they didn’t want to admit it, there were so many people who were ready to die. It was romance for a jaded generation. (9)

They all make a suicide pack, and Ang is the sole survivor, so music fans being what they are, they blame Ang for living. On some level, so does she.

In a sense of the more things change the more they stay the same, even with the hunger and thirst, there is still the desire for cigarettes and drugs. The most popular in this group is something called grayline, a mix of hallucinogen, opiate and possibly the ashes of the dead. While it’s addicting, it’s also not that easy to get, so the addiction does not gnaw as much as pulse. The cost from the dealer is a snuggle and a story. Even though Ang and her best friend Aimee live in a decrepit house with a group, it’s the pangs of loneliness that is as overwhelming as the one for food. And the grayline. “You’d think no one has anything to hide anymore, but there are still pills, secret stashes, hidden connections not everyone wants to share” (31). Or, to put it another way, “Sobriety is exhausting” (92)

While much of the world has changed dramatically, the emotions are the same. Through Ang’s poetic and possibly mind-altered vision, we see that, “This is how we live: either constantly on edge or constantly on the edge of oblivion.” (31) This is more than just Alice falling down the rabbit hole; it’s more coming out the other side.

Worth’s flowery language enhances the story rather than getting the way, such as when she is cuddling the drug dealing and free forming:

…I tell him I was happiest when I had forgotten there was a world before 2PM. I tell him about small crowded stages. I tell him about songs shrouded in reverberation. I tell him about bands I used to know and love that didn’t play music: they played our lives, connected knees to shins at all angles. I tell him about words that nudged and smudged the shine of our eyelids in a silver preamble, lyrics built out of the gradient of recovered memories and the breakdown of exposure. I tell him that we wore it all like a shield. Still do, though mostly only in our heads now, reduced to what we can remember. I tell him too much, but in the end he gives me everything I want: vodka, cigarettes and half a sheet of acid. (101)

Ang is frail, and yet she is a warrior, even when things are constantly falling, failing and flailing around her. We see her world through her eyes in first person, and over the course of the novel, as the grayline gets more into her system, her visions become ours. It’s not pretty, and sometimes it’s otherworldly, such as strange bangs and moans from the basement and attic that is assumed to be the ghosts of those who went before.

Through it all, there is the core of music, band that play electrically the few times it’s available or acoustic when it’s not. There’s no Xeroxed posters, no cell phones, and no computers (none of which are barely even mentioned through the book). Instead, it’s more technologically basic:

“There’s a show tonight,” Trevor says. We hear of these things by watching for writing on dusty windows and handwritten posters pegged into the telephone poles with the stems of lost earrings and old staples. (102)

The book is both beautiful and painfully unflinching. The use of language is flowery when needed, and at other times minimalist. It envisions a time when exhaustion, sweat and hunger of various needs has permeated everything.

Because of the shift of reality from the drugs and hunger, unusual images are used to throw off the reader in interesting ways (such as a praying mantis woman with two heads). What is real and what is hallucinated is left up to the reader.

The book kept my attention until the end, wanting to know what happens to the characters, especially Ang. It’s beautifully written, and is bound to unnerve in a good way. Poetic novels can sometimes get frustrating as the cryptic messages get lost in words and syntax, but Worth knows how to weave the tangents into a form that keeps the flow going. That’s pretty impressive, especially from a first published work of fiction.

As a sidenote that I believe Worth will see as bemused, throughout the book, in the back of my head, somewhere I kept hearing the Diodes singing, “Tired of Waking Up Tired.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

SNAKEFINGER: Skanks and Shakes [1981]

Text © David G. and Chris Van Valen / FFanzeen, 1981
Introductory text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015

Is there such a thing as experimental free-form jazz rock? Because if I had to categorize the uncategorical British native / San Francisco resident Snakefinger, that’s where I would place him. He found a home on Ralph Records out in California, which for a while was the center of the strange and bizarre, such as the Residents (for whom he was also a member under a mask), Fred Frith, Renaldo and the Loaf, Yello, Tuxedomoon and MX80 Sound.

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #7, dated 1981. It was written by Anglophile music historians of the off-center, David G. and Chris Van Valen.

Sadly, Snakefinger passed away by heart attack while in tour in Austria in July 1987 at the age of 38 years. – RBF, 2015

Time to interview Snakefinger. Chris and I get to the hotel and it looked just like the Overlook: all endless corridors and flocked wallpaper! Call Ralph Records if I don’t come out in an hour!

Well, Snakefinger turns out to be quite an amicable chap, and the difference between mild mannered Philip Lithman (that’s what his mum calls him) and “Snakefinger,” the wild kimono-clad guerilla guitar player that led his hand-picked “assault and battery squad” (Carlos Crypton, guitar; Johnny Jenkings, drums; and Jack George, bass) through a tour of New York City’s zippier nightspots this past October, when this interview was done, is striking. At Max’s [Kansas City], Snake whizzed off manic slide solos and leapt about wildly as the band punched out rock'n’roll versions of tunes from Chewing Hides the Sound, and the new Greener Postures (in contrast to the heavy electronic bent of those albums).

A highlight of the set was the appearance of “Skanking” Ross, a bizarre youth who Snake swears he met right before the show. Ross subsequently appeared at all of the band’s New York gigs.

FFanzeen: Snake, how do you account for the fact that many of the musicians you worked with in England in the early ‘70s “pub-rock” movement are now backing people like Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, and you ended up with the Residents?
Snakefinger: Well, I think that, basically, they followed the logical line of what was going on; they all took the next logical step, and me, being a sort of illogical person, took the next illogical step and came here (to America). I’d already done stuff with the Residents. I’d left them six years previously and I’d told them to keep my tea in the oven – I’d be right back – and six years later I came back and my tea was still in the oven.

FFanzeen: How did you come to meet the Residents and N. Senada?
Snakefinger: It’s completely fate, completely by chance, every single bit of it. I met N. Senada in Austria on holiday. He then told me he’d heard about these people who weren’t as yet the Residents – they were just some people fooling around with sound – so we came together. I didn’t know a single soul in the whole of America. We stopped in (the) New York airport with the idea of stopping in New York for a while. But he didn’t like the New York airport, so he decided to go straight to California. We arrived there, went straight to the Residents’ place in San Mateo, where the “San Mateo sound” was being constructed, added to the construction – basically completed it – and stayed there for a year; he left to go off and do more stuff in the vein of work he was doing, and I left to go back and be a pub-rocker in England – for a while.

FFanzeen: What made you go back to England?
Snakefinger: Well, I was offered a job with a friend’s group called Mighty Baby, who was like a psychedelic-era band. They fell apart just as I got back, luckily enough, and my friend went off and joined a Muslim commune.

FFanzeen: Doesn’t everyone?
Snakefinger: [laughs] Well, I finally talked him out of it and we formed the Chilly Willies [aka Chilly Willie and the Red Hot Peppers – RBF, 2015].

FFanzeen: Your friend was Martin Stone, right?
Snakefinger: That’s right, yeah.

FFanzeen: While you were still in California, didn’t you do a couple of folky-type gigs?
Snakefinger: Yeah, that’s right. In fact, N. Senada and myself did a couple of gigs with just guitars, piano, and saxophone in a few folk clubs that completely astonished the people there; you know, they were all singing, “Here’s a little song me and my chick wrote when we were on acid, hitchhiking to Oregon,” you know, and suddenly this mad guy with dark glasses and a saxophone and myself – who was pretty mad, but I won’t get into that – jumped on stage on audition nights and things like that, and suddenly the whole place is stilled into silence by the total lunacy onstage.

Snakefinger and the Residents
FFanzeen: These days, a lot of different people are into sound alteration the way the Residents were ten years ago. What do you think of that?
Snakefinger: It’s real hard to put them in a block. There are people that I think are real go-ahead and really have something, and a lot of people I don’t really think have anything going for themselves. It’s very easy to make new sounds by piddling around with a few things, you know. I’m not saying that anybody isn’t entitled to go ahead and do it – anybody is going ahead and doing it right now.

FFanzeen: Synthesizers are so cheap that every 18-year-old kid is buying one these days.
Snakefinger: Precisely, and I mean, you can’t go far wrong; you can do almost anything and have it be art. I don’t particularly look at things that way; I need a bit of substance. I think the Residents have a bit of substance and I’ve known the people for a long time and they’re all very, very clever. I mean, I’d go as far as to saying genii – is that the plural? [Answered HERE – RBF, 2015.] But they’re not the kind to sit around and figure out chess games. They’re really down to earth Southern guys who were brought up in Louisiana, spent most of their lives there. Just hospitable, pleasant, and as nice as they can possibly be. But I mean, with these great minds that only come out when they’re doing their work.

FFanzeen: If they’re so hospitable, why is their music so ominous? Is it on purpose?
Snakefinger: Yeah. It’s meant to be that way. They are hospitable amongst themselves, and with friends that come by and everything, but you can’t be hospitable about your life’s work, and they’re not.

FFanzeen: The music of both you and the Residents always seems designed to unnerve. When the music is pleasant, the lyrics are not, and vice-versa.
Snakefinger: Well, it varies between myself and the Residents; we have different approaches. The Residents, I mean their whole thing, when they started off, was to unnerve; was to wake up people in deep trances; was to create completely different alternatives than were available to people. It was very, very stale for the first six years of their existence. The music scene was really horrid. Then came New Wave, which was a good little kick in the ass for the whole world, even though 99.9% of it was just phoney and not really worth bothering with. But it did do something – it opened up broader horizons and things like that. So the Residents changed slightly.

FFanzeen: I thought it was funny to see six-year-old Residents albums in the punk sections of record stores – especially since they are miles away from any punk or New Wave band; even miles away from label-mates like Tuxedomoon, who are in infancy compared to what the Residents do.
Snakefinger: We’re all miles away from each other. On Ralph Records [d. 1987 – RBF, 2015], there is a label sound for sure, but everybody on Ralph is miles away from everybody else on Ralph. There aren’t two people on Ralph that sound even vaguely alike – thank goodness.

FFanzeen: Do you play your solo on the Residents’ “Satisfaction” single on a slide guitar?
Snakefinger: It’s a slide; I play slide quite a lot. I don’t do any electronic solos. Everything I play is on guitar. I don’t play solos on synthesizers. The most I’ll do is put something through a bunch of effects to get a more interesting sound. What we usually do for the records is record stuff completely experimentally; we’ll try all kinds of different techniques to get different sounds, anything but the sound you expect.

FFanzeen: Most of the stuff is made on conventional instruments and recorded or reprocessed in unusual ways later.
Snakefinger: Yeah, in my work in particular. There’s a minimum of synthesizers – just effects. The Residents use considerably more synthesizer than I do, but for the most part they use normal instruments, played by the Residents – which immediately makes them abnormal – but through a lot of electronics at the Ralph studios.

FFanzeen: Getting to your lyrics, is “Picnic in the Jungle” about a situation like Auschwitz or Jonestown?
Snakefinger: On another planet, yes, that’s exactly what it is. As I said, you won’t find anything like “No more Dachau! It’s a terrible thing, how could they do all that stuff!”, but that’s the situation. It’s about Jonestown and it’s about Dachau and things, basically. I mean, if you want to put a story to it – which is another thing you can do to any of these lyrics; just take them as they stand, as a story. I’m into people drawing their own meanings. The show is a ritual – just like the records – but the story of “Picnic in the Jungle” is that these people who are taken by aliens to another planet are experimented on, and one of the prisoners is telling the story that every day they leave a tray and take one away; a cloud appears and melts away the skin of some. But basically, it’s symbolic of all the things that have happened here, and are set to happen again if we’re not really careful.

FFanzeen: Your lyrics are definitely more specific, and less fantastical than the Residents’ stuff.
Snakefinger: Yeah, my lyrics are more a part of human life. I deal with humanity. The Residents are more fantasy and I’m more reality based, and it’s the same in the music. If it wasn’t that way, I’d be doing what the Residents are doing, but I don’t because the Residents are doing it and you only need one of those – but I do think you need one of those, and I think the world needs one of those, and I think it realizes now that it does need one of those – at least – and they’ve had the most experience and are doing it best.

FFanzeen: There’s so much out there, in art and music, and people are just not interested in it.
Snakefinger: Oh, absolutely, I agree entirely. I mean, there’s discrimination, and being a discriminating person immediately lets you out of a goodly amount of stuff. I’m real discriminating and I realize I miss out on a lot of stuff that way, but being as discriminating as I am, there’s still far more than even I can deal with that I want to get to.

FFanzeen: How did you get the name “Snakefinger”?
Snakefinger: It comes from N. Senada. He named me.

FFanzeen: What did your mother have to say about that?
Snakefinger: [laughs] She didn’t have much of a choice. There was a gig, one of the Residents’ legendary few gigs. It was Halloween, in far Northern California, and it was a full blue moon on a Halloween evening – and it was very, very strange. There were a lot of drug casualities around. Everyone was in fancy dress and people started acting out the parts of their dress, and started to get a little too into them. And the demons that were dressed up were beginning to be really demonic and started to freak people out – you know, the perfect setting for a Residents’ gig. Now, I was playing violin at the gig and according to N. Senada, he saw my figner jump off the violin and become very snake-like. There’s actually a photograph of it which is in the Ralph Records Collection at the Cryptic Corporation. It kind of looks like the camera was sort of out of focus, but there definitely is a snake there – and N. Senada told us about it before he’d even seen the photograph. He said, “Your finger was just like a snake writhing around the violin,” hence, Snakefinger.

FFanzeen: Can anyone get a gander at that picture?
Snakefinger: Yeah, I’m not very recognizable – I have a gas mask and a trench coat on – but it’s definitely me.

FFanzeen: We’re not leaving until you tell us who the Residents are. [laughs] They’re probably not anyone famous at all, just a bunch of guys.
Snakefinger: That would be a big let-down, wouldn’t it? But it could all be a lie. It could actually be John, George, Ringo and whoever else – or I might just be making this up.

FFanzeen: Paul is making too much money to do something creative.
Snakefinger: No, Paul wanted to be one, but we – oh, sorry!

FFanzeen: This doesn’t seem to be much of a tour – you hang around New York for a few weeks, instead of the night-after-night type affair. Is this a prelude to the legendary Residents / Snakefinger tour?
Snakefinger: Well, in answer to that question, yes and no. We’re discussing it right now. We’re discussing how it’s going to get in with all the people what we want to use, and it’s a very strong possibility at the moment. We might do a few little local things first, to see how we like it. They feel how I do about being on the road; the actual shows are exciting and fun, but everything that goes along with it, the whole stigma – there’s a whole mental attitude that is almost impossible to avoid on the road, and I mean, why put yourself into one mental bag like that – apart from selling more records and stuff like that, which is all jolly good I’m sure – but why limit yourself? There’s no chance that you can get out of a tour without being a smaller person than when you went in. And without a few months to recover your scope of vision afterwards, you’re done. People that are on the road constantly, their scope of vision gets to be so tiny; they can basically only see the crew of people that they’ve been with, and the world becomes a terribly small place for them.

FFanzeen: Groupies and journalists.
Snakefinger: Yeah, well, you get to hate your fellow humans after a few months, and you feel like this little assault group on humanity, which is healthy for gigging; gigging’s a ritual – at least that’s what it should be at any rate – to fix something important in your mind, i.e., the costumes and things that people wear onstage, the attitudes they get over. It’s a magical ritual. You cause changes to occur right there in the minds of people that are coming to see you, which is fine, and you need that assault and battery attitude to do it. And it’s like, Us or Them. It’s not that they’re the enemy, but they’re who you have to deal with; they’re the consciousness you have to change. So, to go on like an assault and battery squad might not be the most subtle way of going about it, but it is necessary to maintain some attitude of that sort. Just to get it done, as far as performing is concerned, there’s a middle ground in-between records and live that you have to take because if you go up there and try to be art for art’s sake, you’re just going to alienate everyone. I’d like to get through on a mass level. That’s one of my purposes and one of my points. The more people I can get through to, the better it’s gonna be, and in the excitement of a gig, you have to solo down a couple of times, and you have to make it loud and nasty, and there’s a middle road where you can keep the subtleties in it, but still do things that are semi-expected at a gig – and also, the things that are semi-expected.

FFanzeen: What kind of band set-up are you using for these gigs?
Snakefinger: The instrumentation is completely straight. I think the music is weird enough in itself that one doesn’t have to go to synthesized cow udders and things like that to get weird music. It’s a basic set-up, with two guitars, bass, and drums. The other guitar player’s a co-founder of the Dead Kennedy’s. They’re all very young, very fresh, without time to pick up any heavy attitudes yet about what they are or what they like. They don’t really know what cool means yet, which I really like. If I’m gonna tour, I certainly don’t want to do it with a bunch of seasoned old soldiers; I want it to be fresh and exciting.

FFanzeen: Are you using any visuals?
Snakefinger: No, we’re on the tightest budget you ever heard of in your whole life. Also, I think the added extraordinary visuals in the way of slides and films would just help to confuse the issue.

FFanzeen: People ask you about the Residents so often, you probably feel like just handing out a printed statement sometimes?
Snakefinger: Yes and no, for two reasons: one reason is that you take the question and answer it, and then you can turn it around to take in the subjects you want to talk about; the number two reason is this – and it’s something I wanted to say to you – I’d sign a paper and say that everything I’ve told you so far, and every question that I’ve answered has been the truth and the way I really feel – right now. If you want to come back and do an interview next week, every answer might be completely different; my whole concepts on life might have changed. That’s the only real difficulty I have with interviews, and it’s the only real thing I like to say at the end of any interview I ever do. This is the way I feel now; tomorrow it might all be different, so don’t take the philosophical word of the Lord out of what I am saying. It all changes.

FFanzeen: That’s reasonable, since everything is always in a state of flux anyway.
Snakefinger: That’s why, particularly with rock’n’roll stars – or whatever they’re called – rock’n’roll morons – these big quotes of ”This is my stance,” and “This is my view on life, come hell or high water,” are just full of shit. I’ve never agreed with it, whatsoever. I’ve never endorsed it.

FFanzeen: Right, but don’t you ever get sick of answering questions about the Residents?
Snakefinger: That’s okay. They’re interesting to talk about. I don’t mind.

FFanzeen: Okay then, who are the Residents?!
Snakefinger: Well, my mum’s one of them!


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Nicole White NDP House Concert Fundraiser, featuring Allyson Reigh

Images and text (c) Robert Barry Francos

I've known Nicole White and her partner Jai Richards since I've been coming to Saskatoon, and especially since I moved here in 2009. A more intelligent, warm-hearted, socially-driven is hard to find (not counting Jai and my own partner, of course).

On August 30, the day before NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was set to speak in the city, Nicole and Jai had an intimate fundraiser in their back yard in the form of a house concert. The performer was the warm and wonderful Allyson Reigh, who is as fun solo as she is in her group, Rosie and the Riveters. The emcee was Brice Field, who also organized the event.  

If you are interested in contributing here are some contacts:

Nicole White on the left, and Brice Field in the center

Jai Richards leans over the railing

Allyson Reigh prepares

Brice introduces Allyson

Baby pink nail polish!

The sun sets over Allyson's shoulder

In front of a beautiful old tree


Monday, August 31, 2015

A Fuselage Called SHRAPNEL [1983]

Text by Diane DeVito / FFanzeen, 1983
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Shrapnel were a fun – albeit jingoistic – band, being straight ahead basic rock’n’roll, if you could picture a mash-up of the Ramones and the Dictators. Stripped down and raw, this electric group called CBGB’s its home. It was there I saw them a couple of times, and they didn’t disappoint.

After Shrapnel, lead singer Dave Wyndorf, the focus on the interview, would go on to form and front the popular Monster Magnet, with bassist Phil Caivano. Drummer Dan Clayton would join Mayday Parade. David Vogt passed away a number of years ago. Daniel Rey would produce three Ramones albums, be the guitarist on Joey’s last solo LP, and replace Top Ten as rhythm guitarist for the various incarnations of the Dictators. Their manager, Michael Alago, would go on to be a music executive and photographer who would sign the likes of Metallica and White Zombie.

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #11, dated 1983. It was credited to Diane DeVito, but it was actually by the Managing Editor of the magazine, Julia Masi. She did so much writing for us, we both agreed to use the occasional pseudonym. – RBF, 2015

What’s faster than a speeding bullet? More powerful than a locomotive? Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s… it’s a rock’n’roll band? Shrapnel, fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.

David Wyndorf, alias mild-mannered lead singer / songwriter for Shrapnel, says, “We’re American guys. We’re an American band. So we use a star. I like the star ‘cause it’s on Captain America’s shield,” confesses Dave, the truth finally apparent.

Ace reporter that I am, I wouldn’t want to reveal Captain America’s secret identity, but one is tempted to look about and see if there’s a telephone booth nearby into which Dave could run to change into his other outfit, the red, white and blue one. The Captain America one.

Shrapnel is Wyndorf, vocals; Daniel Rey, guitar; David Vogt, rhythm guitar; Dan Clayton, drums; and Phil Caivano, bass. They are a comic book band, like Blondie and the Ramones. Joey Ramone even contributed some neat vocals on the band’s single, “Combat Love.”

Shrapnel’s beginnings were more than a little controversial. They played CBGB and other Lower East Side hangouts, and were building quite a following. But then – things began to sour. They were caught in the crossfire of negative New York press. The accusations flew. The Village Voice labelled the band, “proto-fascists and neo-Nazis,” in response to Shrapnel’s army garb and militarist lyrics.

Wyndorf now views the situation with a grain of salt: “At first I laughed. I could see the writer sitting the other way and staring at the wall. Hell, writers must have a hard time sitting there thinking about stuff to write about. [It’s a dirty job, but someone has got to do it – dd.]

“Because I had black boots on, they said, ‘Yankee militarist.’ Which wasn’t bad, you know, but neo-Nazi’s? Come on!”

Shrapnel has since shed their army attire. “I felt like a hypocrite after a while…we go out and sing these songs we wrote when we were drunk, [shouts] ‘Kill, kill, kill / John Wayne is God,’ and fling G.I. Joes around. The purpose was to get people mad (which they did), which was real fun.” It was comical, almost vaudevillian-like.

When the mood strikes, Shrapnel still does “Chrome Magnum Man,” and used a “bomb” as a stage prop. Michael (Alago, Shrapnel’s manager and all-around good guy) hates it. “It’s a song about a little kid who gets to turn into a giant super-hero. And throw a bomb around.” All in fun, you know. But something tells me Dave is that little kid, who is transformed into a super-hero.

“I like super-heroes. I can’t help it. I still like ‘em.” Dave’s in good company. Another rock hero, Ray Davies, is a super-hero fan. He wanted to fly like “Superman” and heard “Captain America Calling.”
Dave does not think Shrapnel has reached the caliber of rock-hero. Yet. “A rock-hero; I’d like to be a rock-hero, man, rock-hero, like on the cover of Circus magazine.

Shrapnel does fit the comic book hero persona. “I’d love it to be like that. I’d love to work it so we’re a bunch of crazy atom-age kids lost in a world we never made.” Sounds like a scene from a comic strip. Are you listening Marvel?

Click to enlarge
Marvel Comics did take notice. Shrapnel appeared in the 1980 Spider-Man Annual. Dave considers it “our crowning achievement.”

Presently, Shrapnel will be shopping around their tape, which includes two new songs, “Hope for Us All” and “Crime.” Record labels take note.

“’Hope for Us All’ is my song,” smiles Dave. “It’s a tribute to the human spirit. It’s a real optimistic song. ‘Ha! We know where you’re going, pal,’” he kids. A more serious expression appears, “But that’s the way I felt. I was watching some movie about some guy making it as a Broadway star and it was so great! You know there’s hope for us all. If this sluck [loosely translated as “jerk”] can do it, I can.”

At that moment, I believed he could, and so did Cap! Good night, Captain America, wherever you are. Dave, pass me the funnies.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

DVD Documentary Review: In Heaven There is No Beer: The Kiss or Kill Music Scene

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

In Heaven There is No Beer
Directed by Dave Palamaro
No Money Enterprises / MVD Visual / Modern Distributors
89 minutes / 2013

Of course, every music scene has its own subscene, based around specific clubs or groups. For example, during the early 2000s, there was the Brooklyn-locus Punk Temple collective. From 2003-2007, Los Angeles had the Kiss or Kill scene, which is the focus on this documentary. Many variant settings have common overlaps, so just be warned I will be using a comparative analysis as well as an individual one.

Kiss or Kill is the name of an organization that gave a place for a scene to foster and grow. It’s also a collective of supportive bands that played once a week on a Tuesday work night (to assure fewer adults in attendance?). The story goes that the members of two bands, Cooper of Bang Sugar Bang and Johnny 99 of Silver Needle were tired of – and rightfully so – the whole “Pay and Play” scheme of many music venues (it swept New York, as well, before all the clubs moved to Brooklyn), as well as the elitist attitude of some of the audiences, such as those in Sliverlake. Now, I remember when Eddie and the Hotrods played Max’s Kansas City in 1977 or ’78, they complained about the audience being like that by us not dancing – not that there was any place to dance at Max’s).

Here is a bit of interjection and presumption on my part: as with everywhere else, there are so many bands that trying to find a known club to let you play is a tiresome game of calls and trying to fit on bills. In part, that’s why the evil Pay and Play works, because bands are desperate for a space to play, and will do so even if PandP is involved (any mic is a Marshall, you might say). Around the time as the origins of Kiss or Kill (KoK), bands starting taking matters in their own hands, and putting on their own showcases. In the mid-2000, the showcases put on by Brooklyn band The Nerve! at Peggy O’Neill’s in Coney Island, for example, worked in very similar ways to KoK: find a place that would house you that has a stage, and you put on your own shows. My presumption is that while KoK had its heart in the right place, it was also a means for Bang Sugar Bang and Silver Needle to play often, as well as getting their friends onstage. Perhaps that it why it stung so bad when BSB were not the first band out of KoK signed? I’m speculating

Starting out in a stripped down bar that used to be a bowling alley called Mr. T’s Bowl in Highland Park, KoK was eventually closed down due to overcrowding and fire hazards. It is almost exactly what happened to the Punk Temple in Brooklyn, a rented out basement of an old Bensonhurst neighborhood synagogue; it would be torn down a few months later after not meeting safety codes following neighborhood complaints. I bring this up because most scenes follow a similar pattern.

As always, in any scene, there are the regulars, here self-given the name of The Punters – at first not knowing that it originally was meant as an insult in the British punk scene, and then not caring, much like the designation of punk.  Many of the KoK crowd are interviewed here, such as Mike TV who booked the shows, Front Stage Joe who would go on to front the punk rap Pu$$y Cow (their spelling), along with members of other bands such as the Muffs who attended regularly.

After Mr. T’s Bowl, the scene changed from larger to larger venues, due to need thanks to local, national, and international media (referred to here as “the vultures”) bringing in more people, including one place in the dreaded Silverlake area, before eventually ending up at a club on the Sunset Strip, becoming what they started against. CBGB’s had the same problem, in my opinion. When we started going there in the mid-70s, nobody wore brands (with the possible exception of Ked's Sneakers and Levi pants; hey ho, good enough for the Ramones, good enough for us). Then, after Duff of Guns ‘n Roses wore a CBGB’s tee to the Grammys, suddenly it became cool, and then CBGB’s itself became a brand, which is why I will never wear one. New York Scene icon Gyda Gash told me that when Hilly would give her a tee-shirt, she’d go home and take a black marker to it to cover it (I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s a great story). But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

To become a KoK band, there were rules to follow, all good and one of which I agree with wholeheartedly: if you play a gig – either in support or headlining – you stick around and watch the other bands. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, when bands would play and then leave (unless for a great reason, like needing to get on the road to the next gig, or to fly ahead to wash your socks in Iowa). Note that being strait-edge was certainly not one of the rules.

One of the aspects of what I liked about the KoK scene, and it is discussed briefly, is that it was “girl friendly” (as a female fan states). Lots of women in their bands, lots in the audience. That’s really the way it should be; same with LGBTQ(etc.). In the Punk Temple scene, guys did outnumber gals by 60% onstage, and were given a lot of respect. There were also many females in the audience, especially right up front, though not many in the pit. However, there were definitely some misogynist/sexist comments about female regulars on the BBS for the Temple, which I didn’t understand (e.g., the reference to “coatracks”). I had thought we were beyond that. It is not mentioned in this film, but while you do see stagediving, you don’t really see much of a mosh area.

The first 50 minutes or so of the documentary is about the rise of KoK, and then, very subtly, we start to see the unravelling as the two top bands begin a rivalry over ego and stubbornness, after one, the Dollyrots (one wears a Rattlers tee in a PR shot!) gets signed. This signing also leads to more press, more crowds, and a thinning of the herd as other bands get deals and move on to more established venues and tours, or break up (or both).

Eventually, as tends to happen in scenes, people get disenfranchised as the cohesion of the “family” gets replaced by the needs of the venue (the Sunset Strip club, in this case; overselling tickets in the case of the Punk Temple; the break-up of The Nerve! as the lead singer strikes out as a solo singer-songwriter). While most scenes eventually crash and burn (as a quote by Kurt Cobain states at the film’s opening), one person from the band The Knives correctly points out that at least KoK didn’t break apart because of drugs or violence, as most do. Much like the Bowery in New York, the KoK was killed by its own success.

Sorry, one more quick, random comparison: Just like in the KoK collective, there was also a great band in Brooklyn called Midway that played the Temple. I digress…

And how is this as a documentary? Well, there are some cliché’s, such as having title cards between each segment, talking heads interviewed mostly individually and then all mashed together, and a mix of talk and live music. Okay, that being said, this was really a well-made mixture of oral and visual history. There is a lot of music here, gratefully, and the fact that nearly all the major principles, from band members to organizers to fans, give a very cohesive storyline that’s easy to follow. A nitpick is that some of the text that tells you who is talking comes and goes a bit too fast, but at least they’re shown often, rather than just once (thank you).

The sheer volume of music played – 140 songs, though never a complete one – gives a good impression of what made the scene so special. There are tons of still photos of, well, everything and everyone involved, and the viewer gets to know them a little bit, which of course elevates it to more than just talking heads. It’s all put together very well.

Lots of extras here, as if the film didn’t give enough, but I’m grateful! There are four extended Deleted Scenes (10:43) that is totally worth watching unlike so many other documentaries; complete Live Performances by Bang Sugar Bang, Midway, The Waking Hours, and The Dollyrots (13:43); a Photo Gallery of stills narrated with a commentary about the whole process that delivered this documentary by director Palamaro (2:44); and four related trailers, including the one below and a filmed radio interview with Palamaro (6:09); and images of Palamaro’s handwritten production notes (0.54, but you can still frame).

It’s said every scene is worthwhile. KoK did a lot of good and arguably changed the way music business was done in Los Angeles. That’s impressive. So is this documentary.