Thursday, February 07, 2008

Suburban Voice Blog #57

I start this (somewhat overdue—sorry) blog with a couple of book reviews:

PUNK IS DEAD, PUNK IS EVERYTHING by Bryan Ray Turcotte, Ginko Press, 5768 Paradise Drive, Suite J, Corte Madera, CA 94925,

This tome is another “coffee table” book put together by one of the two folks responsible for 1999’s “Fucked Up and Photocopied” and the premise is somewhat similar. A hardcover book with glossy color pages and featuring punk rock artifacts and memorabilia—flyers, photographs, zine covers and even set lists. I’d almost like to have seen a trivia quiz for guessing the band for each set list, with answers on another page, but I was able to figure out most of them anyway There are also writings and reminiscences from a number of people intimately involved in the wide-ranging punk universe—musicians, writers, artists and people who associated with those individuals, starting off with an interview with Ian MacKaye. A cross-section of folks and giving a list means I’m bound to miss someone but, glancing through, there’s an off-the-wall entry from Mark McCoy of the Oath/Charles Bronson etc, which makes sense because those bands are a bit off the wall or, more accurately, unhinged. David Yow, Wayne Kramer, Pooch from Flipside, skater Tony Alva and several people I’m not as familiar with but their involvement and memories are just as valid and maybe fresher since they’re not quoted everywhere else. Much like the recently published “My First Time,” about people’s first shows, there’s the sharing of the spark that led the participants into the punk demimonde. It’s a lavish production and it’s worth looking through slowly so you don’t miss the details. This book attempts to capture the feel and diverse dynamics of what punk encompasses—casting its net wide—a musical genre but also much more.

For instance, one of the contributors, Cali Dewitt (I had no idea who he was but a search revealed that he worked at the Jabberjaw club in LA, was a nanny for Kurt and Courtney and posed in drag for the CD face of “In Utero”) writes the “punk is dead” essay, where he basically calls out anyone who still uses the word punk to identify themselves. He has particular disdain for those who describe themselves as “old school”: In his words, someone like that “been a moron for a longer period of time.” He goes on to talk about how the “new generations” are creating something different and new, “identifying as nothing but them selves.” Dewitt’s interpretation of punk is something stale, pre-packaged, irrelevant. It’s hard to deny, in a more mainstream perception, there’s more than an element of truth but I have a different take on it and, while I don’t really like labeling myself as anything other than “Al,” punk still does mean everything to me.

The organization is a little different. In “FUAF,” the segments were broken down regionally. This time, the organization isn’t always based on geography. There are segments that travel through NYC and California, for instance—that occurs in the largest segment of the book, “Myth Vs. Legend.” Other sections are broken up by genre, category and medium. There are sections for activist punk, zines, skate punk, genres outside of punk but tangentially related—speed metal, crossover, glam rock and sections dedicated to photography and artwork.

For me, having been “around” a bit, I always feel wistfulness when looking through these types of collections. It’s easy to be swept up into nostalgia and question myself about the whole attitude about punk being “dead,” being redundant, that it’s somehow irrelevant, as I alluded to above. There are thoughts that, as much as I did get to see a lot back then, I still missed out on quite a bit and probably didn’t realize it at the time.

It kind of puts things in perspective but, even with the passage of time, certain events remain strong in memory. This book conjures up the excitement, the newness of it all at the time also makes me realize that many things have become ritualized, constantly repeated ad infinitum. The same arguments—what’s punk and what isn’t. Should punk be political or just about the music. So on and so on. Just a rite of passage for many people while others stick around for the long haul, become “lifers” in the parlance of some of my acquaintances.

Unlike Steven Blush’s book “American Hardcore,” which was strictly a period piece and seemed dismissive of any current manifestation of a “hardcore renaissance.” this book brings things up to date and shows the same kind of ephemera that was used back then—the flyers, for instance. Some of them look like a throwback, with the cut and paste style or an approximation of it. The flyers for the Charles Bronson and Oath shows, for instance, could have been made in 1982 and some might question the creators’ originality. Also, in the present tense, ephemera might not be the appropriate term since people are probably more likely to hang onto the flyers and zines. There’s perhaps more of a recognition that these items should be saved because it provides an “in the moment” history. Back then, it was just fun to collect stuff but I didn’t realize the value of such archiving until later on.

I recently started a “pen-pal” (i.e. internet-free) relationship with a guy from Baltimore named Paul. He sends me handwritten, multipage letters that just flow with passionate opinions of punk and hardcore. He doesn’t own a computer and I don’t think he even has a CD player—although I know many people reading this column have a purist attitude towards vinyl, as well. It’s like stepping back into time and I have to admit it’s fun to make the effort to do it “the old fashioned way.” I just sent off a pair of mix tapes, which I made from a list that he had sent. I did use modern technology to make it. Since I didn’t have vinyl copies of some of the songs he wanted, I was able to track them down on a file sharing program and, with those songs, other MP3 files and CD rips, I put the songs on a playlist on my MP3 player and then recorded it onto tape. Kind of a complex way to do it but it was a means to an end. I also have to type the letters on my computer because my handwriting is nearly illegible and my hand shakes a bit when I write due to the epilepsy medication I have to take. Writing by hand is a difficult chore, unfortunately.

This is how I used to do it—sending packages of zines, flyers, records and tapes for trade with people around the US and all over the world. One of the few perks of my bank job from ’83-85 was having access to a copy machine and I would run off tons of copies of flyers to trade with people. And, as I’ve written before, coming home from that shitty job and seeing a few packages waiting by the mailbox made it worthwhile. Hell, some days, I’d go home during lunch to see if the mail had shown up yet.

With “Punk Is Dead, Punk Is Everything,” there’s a lot to take in and, much like the chaotic nature of this music, it’s presented in such a fashion. No images on a page can completely put you there but I think it still captures punk’s essence. You can tell this book was created by someone whose own life was irrevocably touched by this music, much like this author and I’m sure many of the people reading this piece..

OUT OF VOGUE: hardcore punk live shots by Patrick Baclet, Syntax666. Katzwanger Hauptstr 42 , 90453 Nürnberg, GERMANY,

Patrick refers to his photography as “analog,” i.e. without the use of digital technology and I have to say the photos here (all in black and white) do display a warmth and depth that the digital image doesn’t often deliver. I suppose it’s the same argument regarding vinyl vs. digital formats and Patrick falls into the former camp on that topic as well. Except for a brief intro where he explains the purpose of the book which, simply, “to show a variety of important hardcore and punk bands through my works of 14 years,” the only other written material comes at the end, where he gives a brief biographical sketch and describes the equipment he used, which is pretty basic. No commentary accompanies the photos and, truth be told, it’s really not necessary. I’m far from an expert on photography—I just point and shoot my digital camera and hope I get a decent shot--but, while some photos have a straight-forward design, others use different effects such as blurring (if that’s the appropriate term).

The photos are set against different backgrounds which occasionally include band lyrics or names and, in the case of Fucked Up, the 12” label for “Generation.” All the photos were taken in Germany and encompass just about every underground hardcore/punk style and that’s as wide-ranging as the crust of Harum Scarum to old-school purveyors like Cut The Shit and Dead Stop to those on the snottier/garagier tip like Henry Fiat’s Open Sore. Most of the photos do strictly feature the band members although you do get a sense of their surroundings. Occasionally, there are pictures that also include interaction with the various audiences. The classic singalong shots, which are a staple of punk and hardcore. That’s one of the appealing elements of DIY—to use a cliché, the breaking down of barrier between performer and audience. Sure, the “bonding” is often superficial, only temporary—I guess that’s some cynicism setting in—but being in the moment is still a wonderful thing when a band is putting every ounce of energy and emotion on the line and the photos in this book capture that beautifully.


AKUTARE-Riot City (Schizophrenic, 7” EP)
Akutare hail from Japan and include a couple of guys from Extinct Government. Fired up rock ‘n roll with a raw punk edge to it. Pretty good—maybe MC5 crossed with Teengenerate, to an extent—but not on that level. That would be asking for too much anyway. They’ve still an abundance of energy and I get the feeling they’d be fun to see live. (17 West 4th St., Hamilton, ON L9C 3M2, CANADA,

Bad Chopper had a 7” under its former name Warm Jets a few years ago and the b-side, “Diabla,” was a killer. With the name-change comes their first album and this band, which includes CJ Ward (aka Ramone) on vocals and bass and Out Cold’s Mark Sheehan on drums and rhythm guitar, bash out basic, sturdy three chord punk rock ‘n roll with a Noo Yawk vibe. In fact, there’s not a lot of differentiation from song to song except for the harder-driving rant of “Why” (with Mark on vocals). The minute I hear the lead guitar lick for “Sick Of It,” it makes me think of the Heartbreakers and, lo and behold, Walter Lure from that band is playing it. Daniel Rey, onetime Ramones producer (and guitarist for Shrapnel back in the day!) contributes guitar on a few songs, as well. CJ’s vocals have a swagger and arrogance, a little overbearing at times but appropriate for the material and it’s made up for with the searing buzz here. And “Headshot” is the first punk rock song I can recall referencing Watergate criminal/talk radio host G. Gordon Liddy. (PO Box 441, Dracut, MA 01826,


CONCRETE FACELIFT-Loud Fast Raw (Welfare, CD)
Thrash thrash thrash by CFL, currently on hiatus and leaving behind this quick-paced effort. The songs, as with their past releases operate mainly at a hyper speed, although there are some breakdown and slower passages. “Loud Fast Music,” for instance has an ominous intro and “I’m Not Done” medium speed, interspersed with the thrash, stands out a little more than the rest of the songs. An endearing boil-over quality to these songs, even if it gets monorhythmic on occasion and the drums suffer from some tinniness. Their motto could be skate, rant, party and repeat. And, having driven I-84 through Connecticut many times and having to ‘hold it in,’ as they say, while waiting for the next rest stop coming up, I can empathize with their about-to-burst bladders. Maybe that’s more information than you need. (58 River St, Haverhill, MA 01832,

CYNICS-Here We Are (Get Hip, CD)
The first Cynics album in some years and, as a long-time fan, it’s something of a disappointment. Let’s do a little comparison. “Rock ‘n Roll,” which is their benchmark album (in my humble opinion), starts with the fuzz-buzz of “Baby What’s Wrong.” This time, it’s an acoustic guitar that introduces the album’s title track and a ballad is never a good way to begin. While there’s some cuttin’ loose for “Coming Round My Way,” there’s not a whole lotta rawwnch evident until “Last Mistake.” That starts a trio of ferocious rockers, along with “Hard To Please” and “What She Said.” Those are the Cynics I know and love but that’s the exception here. The rest of the time, there are fair-to-middling forays into Who/Creation-ish pop (“The Ring,” which is actually pretty good), Byrdsy-inspired psychedelia (“Me Wanting Her”) and soul w/horns (“All About You”) ending on another soft note, with the piano ballad “Courtney.” Come to think of it, “Rock ‘n Roll” ended with a ballady whimper, as well. Interestingly, all the songs are originals—usually, garage inspired bands throw in a cover or two—so that’s unusual. Ultimately, while there are moments, “Here We Are” really doesn’t hold a candle to the band’s classics. Even this album’s predecessor, “Living Is The Best Revenge” packed a wicked punch helped along, no doubt, by Tim Kerr’s production/guidance. (PO Box 666, Canonsburg, PA 15317,

DOA-The Black Spot (Sudden Death, CD)
Another reissue of a 90s era DOA album, this one from ’95 and the last album with long-time bass-player Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble. While Joe Keithley penned a good amount of the material, the other members make contributions and the fill-in drummer, John Wright from NoMeansNo, is solid. There are hints at the band’s catchy punk sound such as the “Nutwrencher Suite,” with three songs connected together by chainsaw sounds and “Cut Time” has a hint of the band’s old spirit. Same for “Je Declare” and the best song here is a cover or, more accurately, an adaptation of David Peel’s “Marijuana Motherfucker.” Ultimately, it’s not an album that ranks anywhere near the band’s best. That might make me a traditionalist but there’s just not much to get excited about here and, if you’ve ever heard “Something Better Change” or “Hardcore ’81,” you’ll know what I’m getting at. (Cascades PO Box 43001, Burnaby, BC, CANADA V5G 3H0,

F-Four From ’84 (Burrito, 7” EP)
When people think about the Florida band F, they might believe that it was the band that put out “You Are An EP” and appeared on one of the Flipside Vinyl Fanzine comps but that wasn’t the original band and, in fact, there were two F’s for awhile. Confused? Bob from Burrito includes an extensive interview with F vocalist Flash, who started the original F and he’s kept things going until this day. Unlike the hardcore of “You Are An EP,” these recordings present more of a snotty punk sound, drawing on 70s influences. Flash’s raspy vocals grate at times and the opening song, “I Saw Your Vision In A Three Car Collision,” drags a bit. The tracks were recorded in ’84 and part of a cassette-only release. A rough appeal although not what I’d call essential. (PO Box 3204, Brandon, FL 33509-3204,

KING SEXY-Like A Dog In Heat (Dammitman, CD)
Jeff Coleman has banged the drums for such bands as Seizure and Clusterfuck over the years and, in King Sexy, he straps on a guitar and steps in front of the mike for a fun, spirited, buzzing garage/punk/rock ‘n roll excursion. The method is the KISS one—“keep it simple, stupid” and the lyrics, delivered in a spoken-sung style by Jeff, don’t go for any complexity—they aim somewhere else and the intent is to be “sexy,” using his parlance. Whether Jeff fits that bill or not I’ll leave to others to decide. From a vocal standpoint, I don’t think you’ll hear anything else quite like this right now and the trashy, mid-tempo arrangements get the job done. And you won’t forget the female backing vocals going “Ewww!!!” on the song with the same name. (24 Circular Ave., #1B, Bridgeport, CT 06605,

NIGHTSTICK JUSTICE-Mindless Violence (Way Back When/Even Worse, 7” EP)
Speaking of “punk is dead” or “hardcore is dead,” if anyone says that after hearing this new EP by Nightstick Justice then THEY must be dead. This band’s demo (later pressed on vinyl) was a complete ripper and this one is no less explosive. Jesus fucking christ—this is a musical buzzbomb with gigantic guitar and bass powerchords and malevolent lyrics—justified malevolence, I might add, towards people who engage in domestic violence and sexual abuse of children, which are two lyrical topics covered here. And there are some absolutely STOMPING breakdowns (not the martial arts type—the circle pit type) for the title track and “No Trust.” Set the stereo knobs for kill. (Noel de Boer, Saenredamstraat 44-2, 1072 CH Amsterdam, HOLLAND,

NUCLEAR TOMORROW-s/t (self-released, CD)
Good hardcore punk from San Diego with a an old school sound and snotty attitude fueled by plenty of alcohol, judging by such titles as “Let’s Start Drinking” and “DUI.” There’s definitely a west coast inspiration and I hear some early Suicidal Tendencies in there, although these guys have more of a stripped-down sound. There’s nothing particularly original here but it’s one of those discs I keep going back to—I like the no bullshit approach. (

PECHBLENDE-Collapse (Tuned To You, CD)
I kept this sitting around awhile (not intentionally). A pretty pronounced Born Dead Icons influence for this Quebec City band, in terms of the heavy-yet-melodic approach and rough-hewn vocals.. Still, this band don’t have the same intensity level. There are moments—the speedier “Consent” and Cars Make Shadows,” but there’s definitely a mixed level of success here. An attempt at epic-ness (?) that sometimes drags its musical feet. (1695 Lavoisier Apt. 13, Saint Romauld, QC G6W 2H9, CANADA,

RESONARS-Nonetheless Blue (Get Hip, CD)
The Resonars sound as though they stepped out of the 60s—their oeuvre being beat pop and mild psych that really only cuts loose on the final song, “Three Times Around.” Pleasant harmonies and arrangements and, thankfully, it doesn’t fall into the folkier or more baroque tendencies that the original “artyfacts” produced but this is still on the light side and lacks grittiness or any sort of mind-bending presence. (PO Box 666, Cannonsburg, PA 15317,

REVISIONS-Revised Observations (Dirtnap, CD)
This is a band project for people from the Red Dons and Observers. I can’t keep the lineups for those bands straight but the vocalist is Douglas Burns, who handles(d) that job in those band. Before I snuck a peek at the liner notes or press sheet, I thought the voice sounded familiar. The wrinkle is the Revisions play acoustic-based rock, including some “revisions” of Observers songs, such as “Lead Pill.” The hooks are there but the energy level is missed, with the complete absence of electric guitar. I suppose that’s the idea—a new way of approaching the material, but I’m not going for it. Also, the violin-laced “Empty House” has too much of a “Dust In The Wind” vibe for me to stomach. Pass. (2615 SE Clinton St., Portland, OR 97202,