MY FIRST TIME
So there I was today, in the grocery store and heard Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” playing over the store’s music system. That’s kind of unusual this time of year since it’s the holiday season and most music systems seem to be on an endless loop of “Winter Wonderland,” “Silent Night,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” et al, until I have to urge to hang myself from the nearest light fixture. Hell, when walking by the Salvation Army guy who was singing “Jingle Bell Rock” at the top of his lungs, I thought about offering him a buck so he’d stop singing but I decided to let it go.
“Come As You Are” has the line “I don’t have a gun,” which is kind of ironic since Kurt Cobain certainly did have a gun when he committed suicide in 1994. Or was killed—but, once again, I won’t go there. I remember a friend of mine being so upset that Kurt had lied about not having a gun that he got rid of all of his Nirvana CDs. I thought that was kind of dumb since he apparently didn’t get the concept that, perhaps, a song’s lyrics aren’t necessarily what’s going on in the singer or songwriter’s life.
One of my favorite show-going stories over the years was seeing Nirvana play in a basement dorm at MIT during the spring of 1990. This was about 15 months before they became mega-stars. They’d just played a gay club called ManRay a few nights before and weren’t bad but this show was mind-blowing. Pure mayhem. I’m not as big a Nirvana fan as I was—OK, I hardly listen to them anymore but it’s not because Kurt had a gun; it’s because I got burnt out on it and my tastes moved away from the kind of rock they played, although it holds up better than, say, Tad.
But that’s a show I’ll never forget. Show stories—I’ve got a million of ‘em and I’ll put them in a book someday so, if you want to hear/read all my reminiscences, you’re going to have to plunk down some cash for it. As with the Nirvana show, I have a vivid memory of my first punk show. It was the Plasmatics at the Rat in early ’79. Read blog #51 for some of the story.
That’s what the title of this blog refers to. In other words, it’s not THAT first time. That’s classified information and no one’s business. It seems as though people like to bare their souls on blogs or message boards but there are some places I just refuse to go. Go listen to some emo crap if you need a fill of that. The reference is about someone’s first punk show, which is the theme of the new book My First Time (edited by Chris Duncan, AK Press, www.akpress.org). I mentioned the book in blog #51, as well. Anyway, Mr. Duncan has pulled together a collection of short essays from various luminaries (?) to detail their first punk rock experiences. There aren’t the obvious names, either—no Henry Rollins, no Ian MacKaye, no Keith Morris, all of whom seem to pop up in every historical treatment of punk rock. Interestingly, though, many of the shows seem to involve the Circle Jerks and I suppose that’s a testament to their longevity or maybe their drawing power. The contributors are from different sub-scenes, for want of a better term. Many of the stories follow a similar blueprint, different riffs on similar theme. Some go for a direct route, writing from the gut and others aim for a more esoteric, poetic approach. Rusty Mahakian (a writer, stand-up comic and stevedore, according to the info at the back of the book), for instance, writes about the effect that seeing Jawbreaker had on him and calls them his “first ten-speed on the interstate. They were wheels and that show opened my world to the nooks and crannies of industrial neighborhoods, zines and work pants.”
This is what usually happens--an isolated, alienated youth is turned on to punk rock by a more worldly older brother or friend. Maybe there’s a boyfriend or girlfriend (or desired one) who leads the way. The baptism comes through the ubiquitous mix tape or, perhaps, a friend brought back some punk records from a trip overseas. Once that seed is planted, it’s time to make the journey into the big city, usually after convincing the parental units that there’s no imminent danger in such an excursion. Once the author reaches the show, he or she writes about how intimidating many of the other show attendees look, how rough the pit looks but they give it a try anyway and it hooks them for life. Some of them, anyway.
While some of the authors have continued their involvement in the punk scene (I’m using a generalized term here), others have moved away. There are a handful who could be described as “lifers” here and the contributors skew towards the older end of the spectrum. Those individuals who may not go to that many punk shows still maintain some of the ideals and apply those to their ultimate life path but also look upon those years with more of a nostalgic bent. Ben Sizemore from Econochrist writes that, “for a few years there, back then in
It’s an interesting collection of contributors, from long-time punk veterans Joe Queer, Russ Rankin (Good Riddance), Rob Fish (108), Blah Dahlia (Dwarves) and Blake Schwarzenbach (Jawbreaker); Music writers Jack Rabid and Michael Azerrad; Even AK founder Ramsey Kanaan’s mom Ann, who at the age of 41 worked as a “bouncer” at a punk show at a hall in Scotland that he helped set up—that was her first punk show!
Disclosure: I contributed a piece about that Plasmatics show and also provided some photos, as well. But even without my contribution, it still would have been pretty cool. Actually, it probably would have been better. Enough false humility. There’s definitely an air of predictability at times but it’s still a fun read.
THE PUNK AND THE ROCK:
Before looking at the record to remind myself where they were from, I guessed Bay Area and I was right. The band’s second 7” EP (they also had a split with Bafabegiya. Pissed-off hardcore that comes out in the hoarse, sandpaper-coarse (hey, I rhyme!) vocals and hard-driving approach. Full-on aggressiveness but the guitar sound adds a melodic effect at times, so it’s not one-dimensional thrash. Slams at religion, the surveillance state and the “war on terrorism,” among other things—and I can’t find fault in their sentiments nor this record. (
BUNNY SKULLS-16 Song Demo (CD-R)
A two-piece raw thrash outfit. The participants are Andrew from
CARBONAS-s/t (Goner, CD)
The Carbonas’ third album and it’s some tuneful ‘n snappy punk. They’ve definitely tempered the roughness and raw energy of their earlier records (some of which are difficult to come by) but they still manage to combine the spirit of ’77 with power pop and garage and don’t sound dated in the process. Thumping songs with jabbing guitars and drums that push things along at an incessant pace. “I’m A Schiso” (sic) is the strongest of the bunch, where all the band’s qualities coalesce behind Greg King’s defiant statement of mental confusion. There’s a pub rockin’ feel for “Assvogel.” This will get your heart racing—a dose of musical caffeine. (
CLOAK/DAGGER-We Are (Jade Tree, CD)
Cloak/Dagger shed some of the raw(er) trappings from their first EP but it’s not as radical a departure as I first thought when I played the EP and album back to back. They always had a garagier/nervier element, anyway, and that’s expanded on for their debut album. The production still has an appealing crudeness and the songs rock with a jarring force—that’s brought on songs like “Hollywood Hills” and “New Year Resolution.” They haven’t abandoned hardcore touches, either---“JC Pays The Bill,” a clever commentary on religion-as-business, favors a locomotive-sounding rhythm and impressive guitar whizzle. Colin Barth’s six string style owes a bit to the slash ‘n jitter of Hot Snakes, only without the somber properties. Jason Mazzola’s wounded bark cuts across the thumping aggression put forth. Edgy and pounding. (
CONVERSIONS-Prisoner’s Inventions (Level-Plane, LP)
The Conversions are one of the best local bands to emerge in the past few years and, with their first full-length album, they take it to the next level. Terry’s nasty, abrasive vocal snarl commands attention but the band’s tightly-executed musical accompaniment deserves equal consideration. The words reveal plenty of frustration with life’s uncertainties—more than reveal them in the way they’re violently expelled. At its heart, the Conversions are a hardcore band and the full-bore aggression of songs like “Basement Escapism,” “Point B” and “The Process” quickly reinforces that point. Meanwhile, more diverse influences are embraced—Minutemen-inspired touches for “Big Game”; a hint of Mission of Burma on opening track “The Answer” and, especially, “R.I.O.” That song concludes with free-form cacophony and that continues after you flip over the record for the title track. The playing is intricate, the compositions sometimes unconventional and it hits hard. (www.level-plane.com)
CULTURE SHOCK-s/t (CD-R)
I’m writing this review while working on a blog about creeping theocracy in the
GERIATRIC UNIT-Life Half Over (Boss Tuneage, LP)
More geezer-core—hey, they’re referencing it themselves with the band’s name and the album’s title. As I mentioned in the review of their last record, some of these guys were in Heresy and that muse remains. A double speed thrash assault that flails off the rails on occasion but not to the point of unlistenability. The cascading pound for “The Return Of Rubbish Past” offers a slightly different wrinkle, for instance. These are minor distinctions—it’s all loud ‘n fast. And, as I’ve stated many times when reviewing bands that include age-advanced members, I enjoy hearing them getting the frustration out of their systems and a kinship is established. Judging by the words printed in red on the lyric sheet, there’s a lot of those negative emotions to be expressed--no patience for the ignorant, the annoying, the lying and not really wanting friends at all, in fact. I’m not quite as misanthropic and their vocalist Gords has seemed like a friendly chap in our correspondence, but I still raise my glass of metamucil, uh, iced coffee in middle-aged solidarity. (www.bosstuneage.com)
I HATE THIS-Demo (CD-R)
In the Bunny Skulls review (see above), I mentioned that the guitar/drums duo would benefit from a bass-player. That’s not quite as true here, although it still wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Still, things sound a bit more fleshed out here and this three piece (rounded out by De on vocals) have a pretty ripping hardcore style. The opening song “I Can’t Scream Any Louder” captures the anger that De emits and the five tracks are succinct blasts of rage. (www.myspace.com/wehatethis)
IN DEFENCE-Don’t Know How To Breakdance (
Definitely the best material by far from this
KILLROY-Football Chants & Angry Rants (Killroy/Nickel and Dime, CD)
Three of this 80s-era SoCal band’s members return and produce of CD of re-recorded songs from “back in the day,” some newer stuff plus a few covers—the Rejects’ “Bad Man” and they turn Sham 69’s “Borstal Breakout” into “Heads Kicked In,” without telling anyone. I guess I never noticed how oi-sounding this band was, the first time around. Pretty straight-forward, catchy ‘eadbanger punk, given a loud sounding. By the way, the football chants are about American football, not soccer and even though they’re Raiders fans, I’ll let it go. This time. (
MUNICIPAL WASTE-The Art Of Partying (Earache, CD)
When I saw the Waste awhile back, their vocalist Tony began the set saying, “let’s pretend it’s 1987!” That’s pretty much always been their modus operandi—well, when they perfected the thrash metal style they’ve pursued since their more traditional hardcore origins. No excess, lean and mean, all of it hard and fast and executed with uber-tightness. That’s due in no small part to Dave Witte’s incredible drumming He’s a machine and about as technically solid a drummer as you’ll hear. Ryan’s lead work is tasteful and also non-excessive. They’re definitely capturing a sound, a time period, right down to, as always, the cartoonish artwork and obligatory photo collage centerfold. Many of the songs follow the theme laid out by the title, mainly about drink, puke, repeat although there’s a smart-assed sense of humor and a message from time to time—could it be that “Mental Shock” is an anti-death penalty song since it deals with an innocent person being executed? But there’s nothing lyrically heavy. A sense of sameness does set in after awhile but there’s also a purity in their attack to keep it lively. (43
OUT WITH A BANG-Love My Life (Fashionable Idiots, 7” EP)
Feel the loooove in the air from these romantic Italianos. Yeah, right. Not with the calculated outrage of “Fagophobe,” which will definitely offend those who it’s meant to offend and make others go, “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke." I'm not even offended--just kind of bored with the button-pushing, to be honest. In any case, that song and “Love My Life” do have a sloppy ‘n chaotic fervor—and that should be viewed as a positive. “I Can’t Come” is an abrasive, lengthy piece of garage-scum, degenerating into a noisy mess and it definitely provides a sonic interpretation of ejaculatory frustration. In other words, Alessandro sounds as though he’s in agony and after "Fagophobe" baits "morons scared of using stupid words for what they are," as he told me in an email, maybe it's some kind of karmic payback. Serves him right! (
PUNCH IN THE FACE-At War With Everybody (Lengua Armada, LP)
Chicagoans PITF’s first 12” piece of vinyl has been a long time coming. When this band started, they had a pretty blatant “Pick Your King” tribute angle, especially in the guitar sound. That was something I didn’t mind, since that Poison Idea slab is my all-time favorite hardcore 7” (well, that and Negative Approach’s). And there are certainly nods to classic hardcore sounds, all the while bemoaning the fact that “everything’s a reunion, everything’s a remake, everything is retro, how much can I fucking take?” (“Retro”). Even if it is retro, it doesn’t matter. This is the way hardcore should be done—short songs, simple riffing and a strong blend of speed and more rockin’ parts, coming out for the title track and “Reap What You Sow,” in particular.
RED DONS-Death To Idealism (Deranged, CD)
Damn, there’s a title I can relate to, the older I get. As “No Pain” states, “it’s all about/the mistake that we made/to believe in anything.” Cynical but I’m afraid idealism sometimes fades with age—that doesn’t mean giving up completely but being resigned to the fact that a hell of a lot ain’t gonna change, at least in a broader sense. The Dons are the new band with former Observers vocalist Doug Burns and Clorox Girls guitarist Justin Maurer is along for the ride as well. Despite Burns being joined by an entirely new crew, it’s not a lot different from the Observers. The emphasis remains on melodic punk with ’77-era influences, particularly the Adverts and Buzzcocks, although Doug’s vocals don’t have the same sort of nervousness one finds in those bands. It’s more of a mannered croon. They’re perhaps a little poppier but there are some driving, energetic rockers here—“Just Write Romeo” best falls into this category and the aforementioned “No Pain” also has a similar punch. (
SINKS-s/t (Fashionable Idiots, 7” EP)
Says it was recorded live on a 2-track and the four songs from this trio certainly have a primitive ambiance. Actually, ambiance is too fancy a word. How about bashability? Crude, slam-bang garage punk that probably wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if it was any more polished. If older Rip Off Records bands are something that floats your boat, this will sink (oof) it quite effectively. (
SKITKIDS/NIGHTMARE-split (HG Fact, 7” EP)
Oh…my…fucking…god! Getting a package in the mail with a record this blazing makes it all worthwhile. A fiery blitz-bomb from both bands, those being Skitkids, from
VARIOUS-Bands That Don’t Give A Shit About Being God (Social Napalm, 7” EP)
The title is a pun on the old Conflict Records anthology “Bands That Could Be God” and, I don’t know, maybe they’re not going to be god but these bands at least deserve high status. One side features bands from
VOIDS-Sounds Of Failure Sounds Of Hope (Dr. Strange, CD)
Fast-paced, female-fronted punk. Adri’s vocals sometimes overwhelm things but not to the point of distraction and the songs do have a consistently speedy delivery. I’m not too thrilled with their cover of Reagan Youth’s “Are You Happy,” where it seems a somewhat stiff rendering. The type of album that sounds good when you’re listening to it and nothing mindblowing but some of the songs have presence. (