Friday, October 23, 2015

Suburban Voice blog #116


For those of you who aren't regular readers (or non-readers) of Maximum Rocknroll, I've had a monthly column since 2005. I'm going to occasionally post some of the recent blogs (minus the review sections), once the issues have been out for awhile.


I try not to pay a lot of attention to Dave Grohl or his band the Foo Fighters. It’s kind of impossible these days, given that Dave is in just about every music documentary in the past few years—he seems to have usurped Henry Rollins in ubiquity—plus he has that HBO series and was profiled on 60 Minutes last fall. I don’t know Dave personally—I might have met him briefly when he played with Scream but honestly don’t remember. An acquaintance of mine who played in a pretty good Connecticut hardcore band in the 80s told me he and his son ran into Dave near where the Foos were playing that night and Dave remembered his band and hooked them up with tickets for the show. He said Dave couldn’t have been nicer. Other people I know say the same thing.

Dave recently broke his leg when he fell of the stage at a show in Sweden and they had to cancel some tour dates. He did finish that set, after getting his leg bandaged up and then played a July 4th show at RFK Stadium in DC sitting on a throne. That’s right... a fucking THRONE. I read things like "Rock is not dead, Dave Grohl is the spirit of rock and roll I am now convinced." You often hear them referred to as the last great rock ‘n roll band. Good grief. Anyway, when a friend of mine posted the throne pictures on his Facebook page, I dug into my digital photo archives and found shots of Jon from Victims on their 2004 tour playing while seated after having broken his foot and completely rocking out like he does on two feet. Someone related the tale--Jon broke it getting hip tossed into a tree by trying to drunk wrestle (I’m not sure what drunk wrestling is but it doesn’t sound all that safe). The break was pretty bad and he and Felix Havoc, who was driving them around, had to go back to a hospital in Allentown, PA a few times on that tour for check-ups. No throne for Jon—it was a wooden chair and the foot was propped up on a stool.

Jon and Dave aren’t the only ones who have hewed to the “show must go on” ethic. Far from it. I’ve seen several musicians playing seated while they had their legs in casts. Keith Morris did a Circle Jerks tour in a brace after having broken his back. Bruce from Flipper performed while hooked up to a heart monitor and Will Shatter did a tour in a cast. Jeff Beccera from the death metal band Possessed now performs in a wheelchair. He was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in 1990 and started playing again in 2007 with a revamped lineup. Leonard from the Dickies also did a show in a wheelchair and on crutches after busting his leg.

One of my favorite stories is about Todd Cote from the Western Mass. band BIU (alternately standing for Brain Injured Unit or Bonded In Unity). This is something I actually witnessed. Todd broke his neck stage diving at an Angry Samoans show in Boston in 1983. This happened early in the show. Fortunately, he wasn’t paralyzed but spent the rest of the afternoon lying on his back in the rear of the club. He refused to go to the hospital until after the show because he didn’t want to miss the Samoans. He ultimately ended up with a halo brace screwed into his skull for awhile and did a BIU show in a wheelchair. Top that, Grohl. Or top the guy I saw getting in the pit in his wheelchair a few years ago at a club in Boston. Sure, he toppled over once or twice but it only stopped him momentarily. Speaking of sons (which we were, earlier in this column), my band Shattered Silence played a show awhile back at the Boiler Room basement space in Boston and one of the other bands was V-Sect, who were nice enough to lend us their bass amp. That band’s bass-player, Brendon, is the 22 year old son of a guy I knew from the old Newport, RI hardcore scene—Brian Simmons, who does the recently reactivated Atomic Action label and did Constant Change zine back in the day. I loved going to shows down there. They were at a jazz club called the Blue Pelican and my band back then got a hell of a lot more acceptance than we did in Boston. It was the same for Western Mass. for that matter.


The first time I saw Brian in years was in 2010 at the big Gallery East reunion show with all the old Boston warhorses like DYS, Jerry's Kids, FU's and Gang Green, footage from which was used for the “All Ages” Boston hardcore documentary. Brian brought Brendon along and I found it mind boggling that he had a son as old he was when I first met him back in the 80s. And then I played with his kid’s band some five years later. Brian gives his son space, though. He mentioned that he doesn’t want his son to feel weirded out by having his old man around. In fact, when I was talking to Brendon at that Boiler Room show, I wondered if I should avoid the topic. I did mention it in passing, anyway, but decided not to regale him with stories of the good old days. The show almost didn’t happen, as it was. When we got there, a couple of guys were carrying out shop-vac canisters full of water to clean up a flood that had happened down there. Luckily, everyone still got to play and no one got electrocuted.

Yep, we’re getting older. Punk rock people I knew in the 80s are not only fathers but grandfathers—Denny, the former drummer for the Mass. band Psycho, was telling me about his grandchild not too long ago. His former bandmate Johnny X is August Spies’ vocalist Christian’s step-father. We’ve now got over-60 year olds or people approaching that age still involved in punk. Keith Morris turns 60 this year and Dave MDC hits that milestone next year. Bob from Kontrasekt and Urbn-DK is over 60 and still plays raw, noisy, no-bullshit hardcore in the DIY scene. As I said a few columns ago, anyone who thinks DIY punk is strictly a youth movement can go fuck themselves. Back off or I’ll hit you with my walker someday.

(July 7, 2015) 



I turned 55 in February. I joked that instead of taking out the AARP card, I was going to celebrate it by having a punk show. It was at the Cambridge Elks (aka Hardcore Stadium) with Dropdead, Fuck You Pay Me, Stranger and my old band Shattered Silence (see YouTube video above). It was great fun. We got a good turnout and all the other bands played solid sets. Robert Williams from Siege sat in with Dropdead to play a few of his old band’s songs. It was our band’s first show in over 20 years and the first time I’d played with our bass-player Christian since 1989. We recruited two new people—Ian on guitar and Jimmy on drums. Our original guitarist lives in New Hampshire and our original drummer couldn’t do it. All four of us are over 40. Originally, we were supposed to do one show at the 15th anniversary party for Sonic Overload but I ended up adding us to this one and also played a basement show at the Boiler Room space in Boston.

As it turns out, we didn’t even play the anniversary show since one of the guys had an emergency. As of now, we have one more show planned before Christian moves out west. We’ll probably play when he comes to visit but I don’t want to be the only original member (already did that with a reunion show for No System, which was also fun) so there’s going to be another hiatus. The shows went well and people of all ages seemed to be into it. I really don’t want to take it any further than that, though. Some people might think it’s pathetic or mid-life crisis fodder for us to have reunited but fuck ‘em. It’s not like we’re cashing in on anything. And I’ve already talked to a few people about starting something new. I don’t know if it’ll happen or not but it’s a possibility.
At the birthday show, I made a point of mentioning that there were 10 people who were over 40 years of age playing the show and got a nice round of applause. I wasn’t seeking validation, just making the point that anyone—young or old—who thought quote-unquote-older people shouldn’t be involved in DIY punk or hardcore could go to hell. I didn’t break into a rendition of “Young Til I Die” by 7 Seconds because, as I’ve said before, I do find that song cheesy as hell.
I made that little speech (the only thing I said the whole set) for a couple of reasons. I was talking to an over-40 friend who’s been involved in punk for a long time and he mentioned how he’s heard people with the attitude that punk should be a youth rebellion and that older people into punk are (in his words) creepy perverts who like hanging around kids and are reliving their youth. That they think they deserve special privileges because they were around back in the day. These are people who express disdain at racism sexism and homophobia, but don’t see a problem with age-ism.
I was also inspired to bring that up after getting into a pretty nasty pissing match with an old acquaintance on Facebook. Yeah, it’s the internet, it’s Facebook, it’s not real life, but it’s a conversation that could have happened off the internet just the same. And oh boy did it get personal. I posted a story about a pretty well-known rock performer who had played a university and the paper there leaked his rider and the amount he got paid. I said, in essence, what an asshole! Just blowing off steam—I mean, I don’t know the guy personally so I probably shouldn’t call him an asshole. I’m not into his music at all, mainly finding it overhyped, overrated garbage that mainstream rock critics gush over. Anyway, it turns out that said acquaintance is his publicist and took great offense at my admittedly gratuitous potshots. I did back off on the asshole comment.
I’ve known this guy since the 80s—not as a friend but, like I said, an acquaintance. He played in a couple of pretty well-known bands and broke into the music biz as a label manager/publicist in the late 80s and has a successful publicity company with some pretty high profile clients. He always had his eye on a music business career and that’s fine. It’s just not for me. But even back then, he always tended to look down his nose at those who held to DIY ideals.
Anyway, he described his client as “one of the last great guitar players still playing rock, creating all of his music on his own label with no input from outside label people or producers. He's a huge musician and not playing basement shows so you gotta tear him down I guess... Doesn't matter that he played basements and bowling alleys in the 90s.” He also bragged about being at the Grammy rehearsals, “defending a real musician from a bunch of small town shit talkers who've done NOTHING. If I'm wrong, please disabuse me of my ignorance and tell me what great band you've played in, what impact you've had on music or who cares about your band etc etc.” Well, his guy did win a Grammy but the record was licensed to a major label so what he said isn’t 100% true. And, whatever label it’s on, it’s still a crappy record—yes, I’ve heard it.
I mentioned how DIY continued to thrive, including in NYC, where he’s based out of. He said, “the NYC DIY scene can thrive all it wants and that's great, but I'm happy working with artists my age or older or at least in their 30s--rather than being the weird 50+ year old guy creeping out the kids at some DIY show.” Ouch! Damn right I took that personally, even though he admitted he was just being a dick because of what I’d said about his client—still, I’m sure he meant it.

I’m done with the self-indulgent navel-gazing and this shouldn’t be taken as the ruminations of a bitter old man. I accept the fact that some will have a snotty attitude about older punks but not everyone’s that way. Bottom line—ideally, age shouldn’t matter. One of our songs goes, “the youthful spark, it burns so bright/it flickers but it won’t go out.” Damn, that’s way cheesier than “Young Til I Die.” It doesn’t seem to always burn as brightly as it once did and I’m tired of a lot of the drama, cliques, etc, even more than in the past. I won’t deny it—there’s some second guessing. I do feel the effects of aging a bit. But, like it or not, I’m not going anywhere.

Incidentally, I have an AARP card. Finally took the plunge last year. $16 a year and with a lot of good deals and discounts? No embarrassment about that, although I don’t think it gets me any discounts from record distros. Damn...

(April 4, 2015)


I was doing some spring cleaning not too long ago (it’s still spring, as I type this) and was going through all the crap in the rickety wooden desk that I’ve owned since I was around ten, complete with my name carved into it. It serves as a TV stand but still holds various treasures—old eyeglasses (god, those aviator frames—what the FUCK was I thinking?), plastic mini football helmets, a baseball signed by Wendell Kim aka “Wave ‘em In” Wendell, one of the worst 3rd base coaches the Red Sox ever had and a banana yellow Panasonic Toot-a-Loop radio that was my sister’s but somehow ended up in my possession and ended up with a sticker of the underrated Boston band Sorry plastered on it along the way. I think it still works, too, but it needs a battery.
Mainly, though, it’s various clippings, photos, report cards and papers I wrote from grade school through college and assorted lyrics I wrote for my various bands—some of which I should burn before they’re discovered. There’s a cute half-page essay I wrote in the second grade about “The Nicest Person I Know,” who was a “very good girlfriend and name is Amy Esterkes.... I love her and might even marry her. She will be my girlfriend forever.” Amy was one of my many grade school crushes—after Linda Weiner in the first grade (she peed her pants outside when we had a “date”)  and before I moved on to Christiana Beatrice in the third grade and Tina Millot in the fourth. Tina quickly quashed my romantic intentions by scratching my face when she found out I liked her. The school nurse got a big kick out of that one. Yes, I remember all this shit. Amy claims I was the first guy who ever kissed her—she told that to Ellen when they were chatting at one of our high school reunions. In all honesty, I don’t remember that but I’m pretty sure she didn’t scratch me like Tina did. As for that essay, my teacher Mrs. Lane left a comment on it before I brought it home—“you better watch him!!” Mrs. Lane didn’t always watch me that well. She once sent me out in the hall because I’d been misbehaving and then forgot I was out there until school ended. It was only half an hour, at least. Maybe I was singing Electric Prunes or Blues Magoos lyrics too loudly.


My college doesn’t even exist anymore—well, the school I went to at Boston University, the School of Management aka SMG (aka School of Money and Greed). SMG reacently changed its name to Questrom School of Business. That’s because some rich guy named Allen Questrom (hey, same initials as mine!) donated $50 million to SMG and they changed the name to honor him. So instead of my alumni info being listed as SMG ’82, it’s now Questrom ’82. Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things but that irks me a bit. It irks me that my school’s name has been eradicated and the fact that someone, for all intents and purposes, bought the name. If you try to put your school as SMG on that well-known social network starting with F, it switches it to Questrom so I changed it to just going to Boston University and, in the description, said I’d been in the School of Management. Yes, I know it’s a first-world problem. And it’s not like I have lots of great memories of BU although it wasn’t all bad and I really can’t complain about the education I got. I could still kick myself for not taking a course with the great historian Howard Zinn, though. He was still teaching while I was there.
There was a paper I wrote for one of my senior management classes—it might have been Business Policy but it doesn’t say which one. It was titled “Attitude Towards Work” and I began by saying that work has always “played a central role in my life.” I mentioned how I’d get my schoolwork done ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to worry about it last minute. That has definitely changed during my years as an MRR columnist and I’m sure my mom is tsk-tsking me, wherever she is.
Then I got to the part about work for pay—that I felt as though I couldn’t enjoy my leisure time unless I’d earned it through hard work, saying that it was fulfilling to be rewarded with two days off after having worked hard the entire week. My parents’ philosophy was work comes first, above all else. I wrote about how I went into work for a few hours on a day off even though I had a guest staying with us who I didn’t get to see all that much.
Ah, yes, that good ‘ol American work ethic. Work hard and you’ll be rewarded. The gap between the highest paid and lowest paid is OK because, dang it, they’ve earned it and so can you!! What a fucking crock. A friend of mine just got offered a full-time job in a restaurant with zero benefits. Nada... no insurance, no sick time, no paid holidays. He was looking into it because he has a long commute with his current full-time job but he’s keeping it because it does have some benefits. The standard of living for working Americans is pathetic when compared with the rest of the industrialized world. Americans have been made to feel guilty for taking time off even if they have earned it. That their jobs could be at risk. And they seem to accept it, scoffing at those lazy Europeans and Scandinavians with their socialized medicine, longer vacations, better work hours and less income inequality. It makes me want to ask “...and the problem is?”
The state of things makes me think of the lyrics to The Jam’s “Smithers-Jones,” after the protagonist has been sacked. “It's time to relax, now you've worked your arse off/But the only one smilin' is the sun tanned boss/Work and work and work and work till you die/There's plenty more fish in the sea to fry.” I know The Jam were a UK band but ain’t it the truth, at least in this country?

Anyway, the paper did have a happy ending, in addition to the A- grade. I wrote that I couldn’t “imagine spending my life doing something that I do not enjoy, no matter how much it pays... I also hope that my job will never so dominate my life as to squeeze out my other interests... I should not feel guilty for enjoying life and should try to allow proper room for both work and leisure.” It took awhile but that did eventually happen, to an extent.

(June 6, 2015)


Bort Frock said...

Did your 80s acquaintance play for 76% Uncertain? And didn't 90s Al like the Foo Fighters somewhat? These are rhetorical questions, but I know that I still like their 1995 debut album. This is the main reason I can't dislike Dave Grohl even though it is tempting. But could we agree that the term 'rockstar' is very annoying? It is usually used by people who have no clue about rock music (e.g. "Are these the 200 photocopies I asked for? You're a rock star!") New rule: enough of that!

Al said...

you are correct about the acquaintance. 90s Al liked a lot of music he doesn't like quite as much anymore although he'll (god, why am I talking in the third person)admit he still has the first Foos album and, yes, it has a few tracks. Like I said, I don't really have anything against Dave, I just roll my eyes at people who think the Foo Fighters are the only ones carrying the banner for rock.