(Originally published on Agony Shorthand in 2005)
"WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN"
"We Jam Econo : The Story of The Minutemen" is screening all week in San Francisco as we speak; I was fortunate enough to find a scalper on the sold-out opening night last Friday kind enough to sell me her extra with no markup. Yeah, the legend has grown, no doubt about it, but I remember even back in the early/mid 80s — those people who were into THE MINUTEMEN were really into The Minutemen. In high school I tried in vain to convince some friends to go to Palo Alto (!) with me to see the SST tour (known as “The Tour”) featuring the Minutemen, HUSKER DU, MEAT PUPPETS, SACCHARINE TRUST and — wait for it — SWA. Missed it, and later that year when D. Boon died — and I had just really fallen hard for the band’s back catalog — I kicked myself up & down the dorm room for not being a brave 17-year-old & hoofing it there by myself. It was very small penance to have seen several of the earliest fIREHOSE shows that next year, but because I did, I at least got to experience many of SST’s best & worst either opening or headlining, from the DIVINE HORSEMEN to GONE. But jesus, enough about me — how was the friggin’ film??
It’s great. The two guys who put it together obviously passionately did so on a shoestring, an irony not lost on them, doubtless, given The Minutemen’s admirable overall working man, “econo” ethos. They gathered footage from about 5 different shows spanning the band’s career, and feathered it in liberally between dozens & dozens of testimonials from scene celebs of the day. A few things struck me watching folks like Jack Brewer, J. Mascis, Ian Mackaye, Kira Roessler, Dez Cadena, Byron Coley & many many others talk up the band — first, this band touched a ton of hearts in a way that most bands never will. It may be in small part to the Minutemen’s tragic end, but I’m certain it’s far more attributable to what an incredible trio of guys they were — intelligent, funny, down-to-earth, dedicated to spreading the good word about art & music, and about as non-condescending to the audience as any band’s ever been. I mean the Minutemen talked about having shows that started at 7pm & in the suburbs or blue-collar outlying towns “so the working man can get to the shows”. As a working man, though I doubt they meant me, this would have been fantastic, and would probably have cost the band a significant amount of hipster points. Like they cared. They also took the meathead 1981-82 punk rock scene head-on, and quite literally challenged the jocks with abstract, crazy, bullrushing jazz lines woven into the fabric of of traditional punk. They played softly, or flat-out jammed improvisationally when opening for Black Flag in Huntington Beach or wherever. The name “Beefheart” comes up often in this documentary, and little wonder. These guys didn’t expand the punk rock canvas, they exploded it in a way that slid under the radar of virtually everyone but the musos. (They’re well represented here, too, in the persons of Joe Baiza, the Urinals/100 Flowers guys, the Slovenly folks etc.). Watt mentions his then-love for WIRE and the POP GROUP, and that makes a whole heck of a lot of sense as well.
Another thing I noticed, just because it’s impossible to escape for all of us, is how old everyone is now. Far more time has passed between the Minutemen’s untimely end & this documentary’s release — 20 years — than I thought could truly be possible. The 28-year olds of 1985 are the 48-year-olds of today, with lots of hard drinking and overall heavy lifting having taken their tolls. Say what you will about such a superficial observation, but it was jarring nonetheless, recognizing of course that I myself am well on the same path. The documentary is held together by two intertwined MIKE WATT interviews, who naturally serves as the defacto narrator and key historian. I was gonna get really pissed about the initial overdose of D. Boon/Mike Watt play and the lack of George Hurley recognition when the film sort of turned and devoted about 5 minutes to Hurley’s genius drumming. I didn’t used to vote him #1 drummer in the Flipside poll every year for nothing! As great as Boon & Watt were, without Hurley’s bebop-infused, rimshot pounding and cymbal manipulations, this band wouldn’t have been half the champions they ended up being. Still probably my all-time favorite drummer in rock and roll, and a total unlikely drumming lunatic — a toiling-class surfer & initial drummer-for-hire who sort of stumbled onto the Minutemen (then called The Reactionaries) and learned punk rock from them via near-osmosis.
"We Jam Econo" is an excellent documentary about a very special band. The fact that I feel more so about the band than I have in years means the film did its job quite well. I recommend it with a man-falling-out-of-chair if it happens to hit your town on the film tour now underway. Oh hey — one more thing. We got to ask the filmmakers a bunch of questions after the screening, and they said that a 2xDVD set is in the works, a set that will contain the film, tons of extra interviews, and four complete Minutemen shows, the ones that were all over this documentary. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, punker!
(Originally published on my Agony Shorthand blog in 2004)
THE BOTTOM 10, CIRCA 1985-1989
Somehow the band “SUICIDAL TENDENCIES” popped into my head today and it got me reminiscin’ about my 1980s college-era punk rock/garage/rock & roll radio show “White Trash” on KCSB-FM in Santa Barbara, California.
Not because I’d ever play such an atrocity, but because several of my listeners repeatedly begged me to. Requests for true quality did come in but were few and far between, yet these mid-80s clunkers were always, always being dialed in. The Top (Bottom) 10, in order:
1. (By a goddamn mile) SUICIDAL TENDENCIES “Institutionalized”
2. DEAD MILKMEN “Bitchen Camero”
3. BLACK FLAG “TV Party”
4. anything by DR. KNOW (consider my then-location and proximity to the “Nardcore” scene)
5. anything by METALLICA, ANTHRAX, C.O.C. or MEGADETH (consider the onetime popularity of what we then called “speed metal”)
6. RKL “Pothead” (consider the marijuana intake of many college students)
7. VANDALS “Anarchy Burger” and “Urban Struggle”
8. anything by THE ADOLESCENTS or D.I. (what is D.I., you ask??? Don’t ask.)
9. AGGRESSION “Money Machine”
10. anything by the DEAD KENNEDYS
Except for “Money Machine”, which is just a numbskull politico-corporate rant and not really a punk novelty, I never assented to any of these requests. Sadly, no one ever requested “Destroy Exxon” by CIRCLE ONE or “Fuck Money” by RF7, but I wish they had….
The sheer rip-off audacity of this band is so over the top, I can’t help but admire them. LIFE STINKS blatantly and without apology steal the riff from Flipper’s “Love Canal” on their new 45 – and it’s fantastic. They did the same thing with “Sister Ray” on their album, and if they’re cool with it, and you’re cool with it, I’m cool with it.
I’m back on the wagon w/ Life Stinks now that they’re put out this massive single. Stream it above, and read what we had to say about them in Dynamite Hemorrhage #1 in my next post.
MAKING WAVES #3 just arrived in the mail yesterday. The mere existence of this fanzine, and its combination of professionalism & slipshod messiness, helped convince me that my own print fanzine still might be a viable option in 2013/2014.
Looking forward to digging in. You can grab your own copy here.
DYNAMITE HEMORRHAGE RADIO #45
Another large load of new releases grace Dynamite Hemorrhage this time, including a bunch of 45s from HoZac and other fantastic new things from the likes of SLOWCOACHES, HONEY RADAR, SNEAKS, KING TEARS MORTUARY, OCTAGRAPE, SOUTHERN COMFORT, RADAR EYES, LOS CRIPIS, LIFE STINKS and more.
We’re also spotlighting some amazing new reissues from PIP PROUD, SONIC CHICKEN 4 (pictured), ELECTRIC EELS, MARY MONDAY and others - in addition to other gnarly tunes scattered around those. Download it or stream it and tell a friend today.
Download Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio #45.
Stream or Download Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio #45 on Soundcloud.
Subscribe to the show on iTunes.
SONIC CHICKEN 4 – Under Fireworks
OCTAGRAPE – Vertical Slum
RADAR EYES – Positive Feedback
SOUTHERN COMFORT – Suzanne
THE WORD D – Today is Just Tomorrow’s Yesterday
PIP PROUD – Latin Version
HONEY RADAR – Say Goodbye Maggie Cole
KING TEARS MORTUARY – Flippers
ELECTRIC EELS – Splittery Splat
BUCK BILOXI AND THE FUCKS – I Don’t Care
KRAUT – Matinee
LIFE STINKS – Portraits
SLOWCOACHES – Raw Dealings
SNEAKS – X.T.Y.
LOS CRIPIS – Don’t Hurt My Little Sister
THE BRENTWOODS – Going Out
MARY MONDAY – Popgun
PROPER ORNAMENTS – Sun
BLUE SCREAMING – Gunpoint
VICTOR DIMISICH BAND – Native Waiter
THE MAN – Pay
Some past shows:
Dynamite Hemorrhage #44 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #43 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #42 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #41 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #40 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #39 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #38 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #37 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #36 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #35 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #34 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #33 (playlist)
Dynamite Hemorrhage #32 (playlist)
JACK RUBY have long been a band who merely existed by whisper and rumor. Some old-timers would mutter they were the most amazing band of the ’77 NYC no wave scene that ever there was, a totally fried proto-punk explosion of Stoogoid power and crazed stun-guitar on the level of Mars or Red Transistor. Ultimately, it’s kind of hard to meet that level of expectation, I’m sure you’d agree.
Now that this stuff’s finally out on a 2xCD compilation called "Hit and Run", it appears that Jack Ruby really only pulled it off in the studio thrice, on the songs “Hit and Run”, “Bad Teeth” and “Bored Stiff” (which I’m posting for you here), which by themselves are reason enough to spend what you have to on this collection – particularly when there are only five studio-recorded “rock” songs on the two discs. These three are monstrous, and well worth the wait, with a swagger and an aggression that was radical and intense for both its own time and any other.
The rest? This is where tastes may fork. On the rehearsal tapes, which date from a 1977 practice, Jack Ruby sound like a KBD punk band who even leaned skinny-tie power pop on a few numbers, except when they do an exceptional (and fairly different) version of “Hit and Run” – which amps up its “Loose”-style riffage with a free-form guitar interlude that absolutely drenches the room with chaos and uncontrolled feedback, and has all the subtlety of a fat lip.
The remainder – and these are more than half of the running time of the entire collection – is electronic, avant-garde “pieces” that are as far away from rocknroll as Guy Lombardo and Dinah Shore. Don’t be fooled by the number of titles on this thing – it’s those 5 studio recordings that you’re looking for, and maybe one or two live tracks – everything else is pure stuffing that allows for a comprehensive “complete recordings” to be packaged, marketed and sold.
Not much information turns up on VAIN AIMS and their one and only 45 (“You/Count”) in internet searches, but this 1980 single from Cardiff, Wales is a heroic blast of sideways post-punk thump. We thought you might want to hear it.
There’s actually a need at Dynamite Hemorrhage HQ for more information on Vain Aims. Can anyone provide us a little bit of info on this thing, and maybe an inroad into the band?
Erika Elizabeth played this monstrously hooked-filled 1992 charmer from Black Tambourine on her podcast recently and called it an “indie pop classic”. I was too busy consciously ignoring female-fronted C86/shoegaze-ish noise pop at the time to pay it any attention, but that makes discovering this stuff 20+ years later all the better.
This American band were something of a touchstone for the Slumberland generation to follow in their wake. I’m not sure the rep is fully earned, but then again, they aren’t all as amazing as this song is.
(Originally published in November 2012 on my Hedonist Jive blog)
LET’S GO RECORD SHOPPING IN 1981 BERKELEY
The nostalgic mythology we reserve for life-changing events and places in our lives exerts a powerful pull that only grows greater the older we become. Cliché, right? Of course it is. Well, right up there with the birth of children, weddings, family moves and baby’s first teeth are cultural touchstones, particularly for those who’ve defined a large portion of their life by their relationship to the “culture” or “art” of their choice. My first rock and roll show – The Police at Oakland Stadium! – wasn’t particularly memorable or nostalgic, but, as I’ve written about before in other blogs, my youthful trips to record stores in other cities a few years before that had an absolutely mind-blowing effect on my psyche and my cultural development. I’m still frequently revisiting the crate-flipping sensations I got from those explorations at age 13 in dreams today, over thirty years later.
Last year I wrote a piece about my sacred pilgrimages to Los Angeles record stores in the late 1980s. As fruitful and “plenteous” as those many journeys were, they were also, at their core, simply fun trips to buy new records. My record store visits to Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, starting in 1981, were something way more mentally massive. They changed the way I consumed my culture of choice – rock music – for all time. Let me put it into some context for you. First, there’s me. I turned 13 in October of 1980. I lived in San Jose, California with my parents and sister; while a big city now and a medium-sized one then, San Jose was and remains suburban and bland to its core, forever and always in the shadow of San Francisco, one hour to its north. My grandparents lived in El Cerrito, right next door to Berkeley, and we’d frequently stay with them for a week at a time and look for things to do together all over the Bay Area that might be cooler than what we could do in San Jose (and in case it’s not clear: that was just about everything).
They started taking us to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley for lunch & store-browsing. This is the main drag next to the UC-Berkeley campus, and a legendary countercultural hotspot from the 1960s onward. Head shops, pizza places, comic stores, t-shirt shops, bookstores, and most powerful of all for me: Record Stores. Telegraph’s street scene in the early 80s was punk rock to the max. Colored mohawks – the real UK-style "liberty spike" look – were actually displayed by multiple peacocking boys and girls without irony. Not retro - this was real-time. This was a little intimidating for a suburban 13-year–old, but my grandpa was a calming presence, and someone who loved people – especially unusual people – and wasted no opportunity to walk up to some sneering punk and quickly disarm them with a, "How are you there today, young fella??". Telegraph was a real hangout spot, the sort of street where kids would come from all corners of the Bay Area in the morning, loiter all day, and leave late at night. To some extent, it still is, but its best days are way behind it.
I was in thrall to new wave and punk music by that first time I visited the Telegraph record stores in ‘81. I was pulling in a college radio station, KFJC, at my house, and they played everything from Adam and the Ants, to weirdo import 45s from England, to early US hardcore. I was trying to figure it all out, knowing that this stuff was so much better than the milquetoast Top 40 and disco I was raised on (and was equally obsessive about, from about 1975 to 1979). I would sit by the radio with a pen and paper, and write down the DJ’s back-announce as quickly as I could, frequently muffing things up myself when the DJ himself hadn’t. I discovered Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Devo and The B-52s this way, and would read about current bands from England that sounded even cooler than those.
OK, so that’s a little context. Now let’s talk about the stores themselves. From 1981 to about 1984, there were four that I visited every time we went to Berkeley: Rasputin’s Records, Universal Records, Leopold’s Records, and Tower Records. We can dispense with the last one first. If you consumed recorded music up until the early 00’s, you certainly know what Tower Records is. Berkeley had one, and it had a great magazine section and many of the newest imports. It was usually an afterthought on these visits – I’d hit the three indie stores first, walk them up and down for hours, and only then go to Tower, mostly because it was just part of the established routine.
Rasputin Records – also known as Rasputin’s, and currently known as Rasputin Music (and still on Telegraph, albeit in a different location), was the big mecca of the 4 stores. It was an absolute epicenter for new independent music from England and from small labels across the USA. The images from my first moments in the store are forever burned into my psyche. On the lefthand wall, a long row of 45s. Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Visage (!), Adam and the Ants, X, the Au Pairs, The Cramps and many more. To the right, more in the center of the store, were the LPs that the store wanted to feature. I remember my jaw dropping that first time when I saw this one.
Everything unique and groundbreaking about punk and postpunk – music, sleeve design, band names, fashion, politics - had converged and was on display in this one store, at this one time, and I’ll never forget how my horizons exploded in a few short hours. I would flip through these records multiple times (especially the singles, because I could afford them), staring at sleeves, reading liner notes, and carrying armloads of stuff around all afternoon until it was time to check out because my grandpa was going to pick me up outside the store.
Being a kid, and therefore having limited allowance money to spend, I bought two 45s that first day that I’d been hearing on KFJC: “Antmusic”, by Adam and the Ants (yeah!), and X's “White Girl”. Such was my musical cognitive dissonance at the time, though I suppose it's not as far a leap as it might once have seemed. Trouble was, I thought when I bought “White Girl” that I was actually buying a frantic, female-fronted punk rock song I'd heard on the radio once before, which was "100% White Girl" by San Francisco punk band THE VKTMS. Expecting that song, and instead getting Exene’s whiny, nasally voice and the methodical pace of the original “White Girl”, I was thoroughly bummed as I listened to it late that night, after my grandparents had gone to bed, of course. When you only have $6 to spend, and you “waste” $3 of it on one of the best days of your young life, it can be pretty crushing. Of course, now I love X’s song, and I wish I’d held onto the Slash Records 45. Never did end up buying the Vktms record, either.
On later visits I bought Bauhaus' 12” single “Bela Lugosi's Dead”; the complete early Simple Minds collection (pre-stardom; this was when they were a futuristic dance band of sorts); the Surf PunksLP; Au Pairs’ "Playing With a Different Sex" LP; the Human League's “Being Boiled”, and a variety of new wave singles I've forgotten about now. This is likely for the better. I laughed at records by “Surgical Penis Klinik” and the Meat Puppets. I saw a lot of records that are undoubtedly paying for children's college educations now.
Practically next door to Rasputin’s was Universal Records. I think they may have closed well before I left for college in 1985; I seem to remember them disappearing around 1983. This was the punk store. Cluttered, dirty, and with loud UK punk like Discharge and The Exploited blasting at top volume, it took all of my teenage courage to shop here and look cool. Actually, though, the pimpled punker behind the counter was totally friendly to me every time I came in – answering questions and steering me to new purchases. His punk name was Rob Noxious. There were many dudes with variants of that name back in the day, including Bob Noxious, singer for San Francisco’s Fuck-Ups. This guy, I later learned, was the singer of a hardcore band called Intensified Chaos. He prodded me to buy my VICE SQUAD “Stand Strong, Stand Proud” record, and patted me on the back when I sold him my novelty Surf Punks record back in order to help afford it. My memories of this store are full of “Punk & Disorderly” record covers, Crass, Anti-Pasti, “Oi Oi That’s Yer Lot” and so on.
Finally, there was Leopold’s Records. This was a two-story store, housed next to Tower Records and both above and to the left of LaVal’s Pizza, which itself was a must-visit on every trip (two slices for $2 or something like that – remember though that this is 1980s money. That’s like $174 today). Leopold’s would later gain notoriety for being a phenomenal store for underground hip-hop as that scene was exploding; I remember it as another place for British imports. I got the early Kate Bush records there! There were rows and rows of records in plastic polyvinyl sleeves (classy) - prog-rock from the 70s and 80s seemed to be something in high traffic there. Either that or the Gentle Giant and Marillion records were right next to the areas I would frequently browse. As amazing as this store was, it was a distant third for me to the glory that was Rasputin’s and the eye-opening head trip that was Universal. I still made it a point to spend an hour here each time, however.
My trips to Berkeley continued even in college and afterward a bit, especially when Amoeba Records – the very first one – opened there in 1990. By then, Rasputin’s was trying to be all things to all people (instead of an imports/punk/used vinyl kind of store), and went through a bit of a crisis in competition with Amoeba and almost closed. It’s now a gargantuan store again, right there on Telegraph, in a new location, with a cool “history of Berkeley punk and metal” photo exhibit on the outside of the store today, right at street level. Leopold’s is long gone. Tower is long gone. The great bookstore of the avenue, Cody’s, is long gone, though Moe’s hangs on for dear life. Berkeley was subsequently supplanted by San Francisco, and later by the internet, as the best location to shop for records from far corners of the underground.
I miss that wide-eyed feeling of discovery I would get there, when “everything was totally new” and now-legendary 80s subcultures were still ripe for exploration. I was trying on a teenage mental identity, as every teenager does, and this was the perfect place to experiment. More to the point, it was the best place in the world (that I knew of) to buy some totally rad records. I wish I could somehow capture that frenzied, electric, worlds-of-possibility brain rush again.
Dynamite Hemorrhage #1 is also a 68-page print fanzine, with multiple interviews (Chris D./Flesh Eaters; Sally Skull; Household; Sex Tide; Bona Dish), 50+ record reviews and loads more.
It's available to purchase right here for $7 + the true cost of shipping it to you wherever you are in the world (which can get expensive - sorry about that):
Issue #2 coming in November 2014.
Dynamite Hemorrhage is also a bi-weekly podcast that you can subscribe to on iTunes.
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The Hedonist Jive