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The Suicide Commandos make a music video in front of their own burning house, 1977
08.27.2014
08:58 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Suicide Commandos
Minneapolis


 
DEVO fans take note: Chuck Statler, the director of the spuds’ “The Truth about De-Evolution,” “Come Back Jonee” and “Satisfaction” videos, also made this 1977 video for the Suicide Commandos’ “Burn It Down.” It’s a simple song with a memorable message, namely that you should set fire to anything you don’t like.

The video, Statler’s second, captured the band playing “Burn It Down” on the street as the condemned house where they lived and practiced burned to the ground behind them. (Statler hired drunks from a Twin Cities unemployment line to bowl in DEVO’s “Come Back Jonee” video, and he seems to have used a similar casting technique for the beginning and end of this one, in which local folks wearing fire helmets take turns slurring the band’s name.)
 

The Suicide Commandos “Burn It Down”
 
Now legendary, the Suicide Commandos were a Minneapolis power trio comprising singer and guitarist Chris Osgood (also Bob Mould’s guitar teacher), bassist Steve Almaas and drummer Dave Ahl. Their debut album, The Suicide Commandos Make a Record, was the second and final release on Mercury Records’ Midwestern punk imprint, Blank Records, which perished because its roster was too good for this wicked world. Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance had been the first Blank release, and the Bizarros’ debut LP was to have been the third.
 

 
“Chuck Statler made the video of our house which got condemned because it had no heat or running water,” Osgood told Minnesota Public Radio in 2012. Band members would walk down the street from “Utopia House” to a tennis club to shower. “It was October of ‘77 when Utopia House got burned down, and we knew that it was going to be demolished, or going to be burned [and used as] fire department practice. So I wrote ‘Burn It Down’ so that that could happen, and we had the idea of playing in front of our house as it burned down, ‘cause Chuck Statler had made a little musical movie with a band called DEVO from Akron, and there you go.”

The Suicide Commandos Commit Suicide Dance Concert, the Suicide Commandos’ equivalent of The Last Waltz, was the first LP released by Minneapolis’s Twin/Tone label. Improbably, their music was actually used for a Target commercial in 2004.
 

 
Hüsker Dü fans take note: here’s one of the Commandos’ best songs, “Complicated Fun,” from the Twin/Tone compilation Big Hits of Mid-America Volume III. Hear anything familiar?

The Suicide Commandos “Complicated Fun”

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Anarchy in Paris: Métal Urbain, classic French punk rock group
08.26.2014
09:39 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
France
Métal Urbain


 
Métal Urbain were Francophone contemporaries of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Formed in 1976 by Clode Panik, Hermann Schwartz, Pat Luger and Eric Debris, the French punk rock group’s harsh and noisy sound replaced the rhythm section with a synthesizer and drum machine. Sonically, they came across as aggressive—if not more so—as their English or American counterparts with the exception of maybe Suicide or The Screamers. Lead singer Clode Panik sounds a bit like a French version of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith.

The group’s second single, “Paris Maquis” was Rough Trade’s very first record release and John Peel showed his support on his BBC 1 Radio show, going so far as to record a “Peel Session” with them. Sadly they never really made it and broke up in 1979 as there was no appreciable French punk scene to begin with and the media in their home country just couldn’t be bothered with them. Métal Urbain’s distinctively raw guitar sound is said to have had an influence on Big Black’s Steve Albini and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Métal Urbain reformed in 2003 and toured the US. The New York-based Acute label compiled Anarchy in Paris! that year gathering up their complete output during the life of the band with a few outtakes and alternate versions. In 2006, Jello Biafra produced their album, J’irai chier dans ton vomi, in San Francisco. An EP followed in 2008.

Below, Métal Urbain lip-synching “Paris Maquis” on French TV in 1978:

 
More Métal Urbain after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Satan’s Stomp: The Flesh Eaters’ ‘A Minute To Pray, A Second to Die’
08.25.2014
05:06 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
The Flesh Eaters
Chris D.


 
The Flesh Eaters’ A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die album was one of the musical highlights of 1981—and certainly of the entire Los Angeles punk era—but outside of Southern California, or major cities, it wasn’t an easy record to find out about, let alone stumble across.

For A Minute To Pray, head Flesh Eater Chris Desjardins, aka Chris D., an aspiring filmmaker and writer for Slash magazine, assembled a “super group” from the LA punk scene: Dave Alvin (Blasters) on guitar, John Doe (X) on bass, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) on sax, with Bill Bateman (Blasters) on drums and DJ Bonebrake (X) on the marimba. The group, unshackled from their “day job” bands, writes noted music maven Byron Coley in his liner notes, “all played like fucking maniacs.” (Coley also calls A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die “the best rock record ever recorded.” Whether or not this is objectively true, I’ll leave for you to decide, but hey, just having Byron Coley declare your record “the best” ever recorded is one hell of a compliment, isn’t it? The man is known for having exceptionally good taste.)

There is a dark, disturbing voodoo underpinning the album’s vision. Chris D.‘s lyrics were unique; he means to make you uncomfortable producing highly literate, yet grotesque noir poetry that went light years beyond anything Lou Reed would ever have had the guts to write about. Gothic, decadent, but in the sense of a completely bonkers, high IQ serial killer cooking up his heroin in a spoonful of absinthe. Jim Thompson meets Baudelaire at a bloody crime scene on Dia de los Muertos.


The Flesh Eaters, 1981. Photo by David Arnoff
 
Describing music in words (especially something this far out on a limb, esthetically speaking) is tricky sometimes, like asking a painter to make a sketch of a novel, but suffice to say that what we have here is a sonic maelstrom of fear and loathing, a ragged, jagged seedy sounding… I mean, the opening song sounds like a steampunk version of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band fronted by an erudite Darby Crash. The squealing, skronky sax and pounding percussion—that marimba!!!—are striking indeed, as are the lunging, tug of war bluesy tribal rhythms. And that voice. If the lyrical preoccupations weren’t already scary enough, the spitting, crazed delivery of them will send chills down your spine. Rock scribe Richard Meltzer memorably described Desjardins’ voice as “a fully realized blabbermouth lockjaw of the soul, which you gotta admit is kinda neat.” Yeah!

Recently the ace archival label Superior Viaduct put out the first vinyl pressing of A Minute to Pray since 1981 and a newly remastered CD. I had not actually listened to the album since it came out and when the CD arrived in the post, I played it immediately. And then I played it again. And again. And again. I think I played it seven or eight times in a row that day. The next day a friend of mine came over and within about five seconds of hearing the opening whispers of “Digging My Grave”—I didn’t mention what it was—he exclaimed “I fucking love this album. I haven’t heard it… well, since I moved to LA. Saw ‘em live then, too!”

Lucky bastard. I caught up with Chris D. via email:

Missing children. Dogs licking up blood. Violent death. These were fairly novel things to sing about 33 years ago—and still are!—but your vocal delivery—so unhinged—is what sealed A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die as an authentic—albeit mutant—blues. The music is powerful and sleazy, but you just sound fucking insane. My first question is ‘so what sort of a fella were you back then, Chris?’

Well, I wasn’t crazy although I sometimes felt on the verge. I was a nice guy trying to exorcise demons, mostly relating to my love life. Much of the imagery was from films (the “dogs are licking up blood” and “squeeze out your milk on the baby’s grave” in the “Pray Til You Sweat” song were images from Eisenstein’s unfinished documentary, Que Viva Mexico.) Other lyrical influences are too numerous to mention, particularly from film, though literary giants like Poe, French symbolists like Lautreamont, Huysman, Baudelaire and pulp fiction maestros like Jim Thompson and James Cain were inspirations. There were televangelists on a local LA station that held up on camera the Minute to Pray LP cover along with some Ozzy Osbourne albums, using them as examples of satanic rock. Minute to Pray was never meant to be satanic. In fact, it was a symbolic exorcism.

How did the “supergroup” form and under what circumstances?

I got the brainstorm that it would be great to put these musician friends of mine, friends who had similar musical tastes to me, all into one group where we would try to synthesize a variety of both ethnic folk music traditions (African rhythms and chant melodies) with American pop/folk genres like 1950s/1960s swamp blues, instrumental rock & soul and late 1970s punk. Fortunately everyone brought their unique brand of aesthetics to the table, and everything blended seamlessly into an amazing hybrid.

What were rehearsals like?

A lot of fun, but very efficient because everyone intuitively knew what they needed to do to make their parts fit. I think we only rehearsed 8 or 9 times before we started recording. And we recorded everything, including the overdubs, in one night (some of the first take rough vocals were kept, though I don’t remember which ones). Mixing took about a week.

You played just a handful of gigs with the A Minute to Pray line-up, for the obvious reason that everyone else had their own bands. Was there anything particularly memorable about those shows?

They were all exhilarating. Not to disrespect any of the other great musicians I’ve played with, but it was phenomenal as these guys each brought something unique to the table, and there was a synchronicity to it all that we really didn’t have to work at. We were all on the same wavelength. My only lament is it is very difficult getting everyone together for reunion shows. We did 3 in California and 1 in the UK in 2006 – The first time since 1981. We’ve been talking about trying to do a few shows on the west coast in January 2015, so hopefully those will happen. On a side note, my ex-wife and co-lead vocalist in my other band Divine Horsemen, Julie Christensen, and I have been talking about possibly doing some Divine Horsemen reunion shows as well.

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is a seminal album, but not one that a whole lot of people have actually heard. It was never all that easy to hear back in the day—I for instance, taped it from a friend’s record—so for many people, this new re-release from Superior Viaduct will be their introduction to this 33-year-old album. Aren’t many more people likely to hear A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die in 2014 than heard it when it first came out?

That was always the case with records released by Ruby Records (Slash Records “budget” subsidiary). A Minute to Pray has actually been reissued on CD twice by Slash in the early-to-mid 1990s and then twice again by Rhino/WEA in the early 2000s, but then you would never know it because they did virtually no promotion (especially Rhino/WEA) and I don’t think they sold very well. The fans, they search that stuff out. But finding a new audience, it’s been hard. Superior Viaduct is doing a superior job (sub-licensing from Rhino) – this is the first time it’s been reissued on vinyl and the first time the CD actually has liner notes.  They also have a genuinely great publicist working the release, and hopefully this will also be the case with the follow-up LP Forever Came Today by the Flesh Eaters from 1982, when it is reissued by them on vinyl, and out on CD for first time ever, early in 2015. That one is, I think, just as good as A Minute to Pray and much less well-known. So I’m hopeful a younger audience will rediscover both!

The vision on A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die is a dark one, but it was recorded a lifetime ago. How do you relate to those lyrical preoccupations today?

A lot of those preoccupations are still the same but I’ve achieved some transcendence and letting go of anger that I did not have back in 1981. Still the last year has not been a happy one and coincidentally, for the same time period, I’ve had writer’s block, which is devastating when writing is one of the ways I exorcise the demons. Between 2009 - 2013 I published 5 novels, 1 short story collection and a huge non-fiction volume Gun and Sword about Japanese yakuza films. But since around this time last year – as far as writing – nada. I’ve actually tried to write some song lyrics in the last couple of months but feel just so-so about the results.

I recently heard a hipster DJ—someone with very carefully sculpted sideburns and facial hair, you know the type—mash-up “Cyrano De Berger’s Back” with “Tenth Ave. Freeze Out.” Care to comment on this?

I didn’t even know what “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” was until I looked it up on YouTube! Not a Springsteen fan so I think I’ll let it go at that.

I can’t let you go without asking what are some of your favorite things that would go into an updated “Chris D.’s Video Guide” feature?

Oh, jeez, there is so much stuff. For folks inclined towards a really detailed answer, they can pick up my anthology book, also titled A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die [Highly recommended—RM] , off Amazon which not only has all my lyrics and poetry but also a listing (in the last 5 or 6 pages) of somewhere between 400-500 movie titles, with release dates and directors, that are recommended. As far as watching stuff at home lately,  I’ve recently revisited some noir like Out of the Past, On Dangerous Ground, They Live by Night, David Lynch films Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Mulholland Drive, Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and A Quiet Place in the Country, Friedkin’s Sorcerer, any samurai films directed by Hideo Gosha. Some stuff I caught in the theaters in the last few years that made an impression: Rust and Bone, A Place Beyond the Pines, Drive, Only God Forgives, Out of the Furnace, Cold in July and The Rover.

Chris D.‘s novels, Dragon Wheel Splendor and Other Love Stories of Violence and Dread, No Evil Star, Shallow Water: A Southern Gothic Noir Western and Mother’s Worry, along with his Japanese gangster encyclopedia Gun and Sword, are all available from Amazon.
 

 
The A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die line-up (Chris D., John Doe, Dave Alvin, Bill Bateman, Steve Berlin, D.J. Bonebrake) live at The Whisky a Go Go in 1981. The Gun Club (Chrs D. co-produced their Fire of Love album) were the opening act that night:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Vintage MTV: ‘Punks and Poseurs: A Journey Through the Los Angeles Underground’
08.21.2014
09:29 am

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture
Punk
Television

Tags:
MTV
The Dickies
GBH


This kid.

Knowing firsthand that MTV didn’t always totally suck asswater really dates you. When I have occasion to mention how, once upon a time, that justly-reviled network actually played some seriously cool shit, I half wonder if I’m coming off like my grandma used to when she talked about the Great Depression. But it’s true, even before long-running bones thrown to the weirdos like 120 Minutes and Headbanger’s Ball found their footing, MTV broadcast stuff like IRS’ The Cutting Edge and Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes, which often rivaled even the USA Network’s mighty Night Flight for genuinely informative freak-scene value.

One jaw-droppingly excellent MTV show was the one-off special Punks and Poseurs: A Journey Through the Los Angeles Underground. A big mover behind its production was Charles M. Young, who, as sad fate would have it, passed away this week after a standoff with a brain tumor. He’s the guy at the beginning of the video, speaking with early VJ Alan Hunter, and while he looks for all the world like an unreconstructed Little River Band fan, don’t be faked out by appearances. Young was one of the first mainstream music journalists to take punk’s aesthetic merit as a given, and for that, we owe him a debt of gratitude. May he rest in peace.

At its core, “Punks and Poseurs” is a narration-free concert film, but it’s cut with terrific interview footage that explores the changing nature of punk, from insider and outsider perspectives. There’s a lot of great footage with writer/performers Pleasant Gehman and Iris Berry, torpedoing the influx into the music scene of neophyte phonies who just didn’t get it, explaining title of the program. (After this first aired in 1985, a bunch of the new waver/Durannie chicks at my high school—which is to say all the girls who were trying their suburban Ohio best to look like Gehman and Berry—started calling everyone “poseurs,” which was pretty funny.) There’s also a hilarious interview with employees at a store called “Poseur,” which sold punk fashions and accessories—people had to get that shit somewhere before Hot Topic forever banished punk to the mall, no?  Also keep an eye out for the kid giving a primer on how to fashion liberty spikes with Knox gelatine.

The performance footage mostly focuses on excellent, high-energy sets by The Dickies and GBH —the latter of whom were quite radical by MTV’s regular programming standards (and British, contra the program’s subtitle, but the concert took place in L.A., so whatever, I guess). There’s also an early glimpse of the excellent and still active Italian hardcore band Raw Power. I harbor serious doubts they’ve ever been spotted on that network again.
 

 
Many thanks to upstanding journalist and total fucking poseur Mr. Erick Bradshaw for this find.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Way USA’: Sleazy punk comedy travelogue is the greatest cult video you’ve probably never seen
The time Ian McKellen jammed with the Fleshtones on MTV in 1987
Debbie Harry, Ramones, Nick Rhodes, Courtney Love and more on MTV’s ‘Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes’

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Fugazi: Red Medicine for the White House, live in Washington, DC, 1991
08.20.2014
10:44 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Fugazi
Ian Mackaye


 
Dischord Records, the independent punk label of immeasurable historic importance founded by Minor Threat/Fugazi/Evens singer Ian Mackaye, made an intriguing announcement recently:

In January 1988, after only ten shows, Fugazi decided to go into Inner Ear Studio to see what their music sounded like on tape. They tracked 11 songs, ten of which were ultimately dubbed to cassette tape and distributed free at shows, with the band encouraging people to share the recording.

The only song from the session that has been formally released was “In Defense of Humans,” which appeared on the State of the Union compilation in 1989. Now, some 26 years later, Dischord is releasing the entire demo including the one song (“Turn Off Your Guns”) that wasn’t included on the original cassette. The record has been mastered by TJ Lipple and will be available on CD and LP+Mp3.

This release will also coincide with the completion of the initial round of uploads to the Fugazi Live Series website. Launched in 2011, the site now includes information and details on all of Fugazi’s 1000+ live performances and makes available close to 900 concert recordings that were documented by the band and the public.

 

 
The label’s coyness about the actual release date of the demos is a bit of a drag, but it may have something to do with the near impossibility of getting timely vinyl pressings done these days. Given that these are finally being widely issued, perhaps one can hope that someday we’ll get an official release of Steve Albini’s demos for the album In On the Kill Taker? They’ve been repeatedly taken down from various blogs, but if you can track them down, you may agree with me that they kicked a lot more ass than Albini or Fugazi ever gave them credit for.
 

 
Those Fugazi Live Series pages are worth a good, thorough combing-through if you’re a fan. They not only boast an exhaustive list of the band’s concert dates (what would you give to have been at “Jan 20, 1988, East Lansing, MI, USA, Matt Kelly’s Basement?”), but also offer recordings of many of them, some made by the band, some by fans. Where they exist, the recordings are offered for sale at the price of—all together now—five dollars per show, in a surely intentional echo of Fugazi’s eminently fan-friendly move of demanding that their concert admissions be capped at $5. One almost has to half-kiddingly wonder if Mackaye’s bed isn’t literally stuffed with five dollar bills.

Since the US is evidently going to be in Iraq for freakin’ ever, it seems fitting to punctuate this post with the show that serves as the subject of Fugazi Live Series FLS0308, the Gulf War protest in Lafayette Park, Washington DC, January 12, 1991. I was in DC for those protests, but to my lasting regret, I had no idea this show was happening right in front of the White House.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Entertainment: Gang of Four, live in Zagreb, 1981
08.20.2014
07:20 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Gang of Four


 
A blog I will never be able to read recently posted a gleaming gem of a video—professional footage of six live Gang of Four songs, performed in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia, of course), around the height of the band’s strength. This was the Solid Gold tour. While that album isn’t quite the stone classic that their debut Entertainment! is, songs like “Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time,” “Paralysed” and “What We All Want” easily rank with the band’s best work. The performance was recorded at Music Biennale Zagreb in 1981, the first year that long-lived festival featured rock music.

Though Gang of Four were on the rise at this time, they were also near the end of their original lineup. In a change from which the band wouldn’t ever recover artistically, bassist Dave Allen would soon leave to form the more dance-oriented Shriekback. In a dismal irony, Go4 themselves would become a markedly tamer, more accessible, dancier band after Allen’s departure. (Mind you, that incarnation of the band STILL slayed in concert—hell, singer Jon King was still an electrifying frontman even in Go4’s why-did-they-bother mid ‘90s resurrection attempt.) But in this Zagreb footage we can see the band still riding their initial burst of ferocious, jagged, Marxist-inspired salvos against leisure class complacency and economic injustice. God damn, they were glorious.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Dialectics & disco: post-punk Marxists Gang of Four get funky on ‘Dance Fever,’ 1982
Entertainment: complete Gang of Four show, 1983

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Holy relic of Detroit high energy rock: Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith & the mysterious lyrics of ‘City Slang’


 
“City Slang,” the punk single Sonic’s Rendezvous Band released in 1978, is every bit as good as “Search and Destroy,” “Kick out the Jams” and “Sonic Reducer.” A summer day that doesn’t end with the cops confiscating your wading pool and scratching the needle across your priceless copy of “City Slang” is a summer day wasted. We’re all going to need a lot more priceless copies of “City Slang” around here.

 
Around 1975, after the breakup of the MC5, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith put together a supergroup with former members of bands from the MC5’s Detroit scene. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band comprised Smith, Stooges drummer Scott Asheton (a/k/a “Rock Action”), Rationals guitarist and singer Scott Morgan, and Up bassist Gary Rasmussen. The “City Slang” single (“City Slang” in mono on one side, stereo on the other) was the only thing the band released before breaking up, though there are now several compilations and live records, including a (mostly live) six-CD box set.
 

Fred “Sonic” Smith in his spacesuit, onstage with the MC5
 
The words to the song have always been a mystery. Seven or eight years ago, I wrote Rasmussen through the Sonic’s Rendezvous Band MySpace page to ask for the lyrics to “City Slang.” He replied: What lyrics? In the live version of the song on Sweet Nothing, Smith does seem to be giving voice to pure glossolalia:
 

 
On the other hand, there’s this interpretation posted on Yahoo! Answers, where it is (perhaps dubiously) attributed to Scott Morgan himself:

Some dirt in my hand
A part of the land
Slip and slide communication
Downtown on the street
They measure the beat
To understand the situation
A taste on the tongue
And no place to run
With all the chances to be taken
The stranger he buys
The angel she flies
My heart is cold just like the nation
Like a dog they kick at night
Gypsy laughin’ but that’s alright
Momma’s cryin’ sister thinkin’
Well you know it’s just city slang

We rode in the car
Slept in the car
All the way to the citadel
Slept on the floor
Surfed on the floor
All the way to the Coronet
Rock was pissed in Paris
Mad in Madrid
Took the sonic European way
Gary and Rock
Sonic and Scott
Meet again up in Ishpeming
When you hear that hammer fallin’
Ain’t no reason to feel left out
Ain’t no reason to call any names
Well you know it’s just city slang

With Funky and Dog
To Minni and Mad
All the way to the Aragon
Cleveland and Chi
Ann Arbor, Detroit
All the way back to the Second Chance
Je suis un son
Un autre son
Qui n’entend qu’une cloche n’entend qu’un son
Je suis le son
Je suis son son

Hey what kind of fool do you think I am
Keep a-talkin’ those city dreams
Well you know alright you know what I mean
Detroit, Chicago now New York to L.A.
They all been talkin’ bout city slang

The first verse matches the single very closely, but the second and third don’t match at all aside from a few lines and phrases. These lyrics don’t match any live recording I’ve heard, either, and yet they seem credible enough. They mention a number of contemporary Midwestern landmarks—the Aragon Ballroom in Cleveland, the Second Chance club in Ann Arbor, the tiny township of Ishpeming, Michigan—and the passage in French, which consists of a proverb bookended by puns on the French word for “sound,” seems like the sort of thing Patti Smith’s husband might sing. Or am I the naive victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by a teenager? You be the judge.
 

 

Face-damaging footage of SRB playing “City Slang”

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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The Long-Lost Go-Go’s: Elissa and Margot


Original bass player Margot Olavarria (far left), Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, and Belinda Carlisle

The Go-Go’s hit songs from the early ‘80s have been Disneyfied to death over the past decade, but that unfortunate fact doesn’t diminish their influence as one of the most important bands to emerge from L.A.’s early punk scene.

However, their early history was as fraught with drama as any other band from the same period and place. In fact, the cutthroat machinations prior to their mainstream success alienated many friends and fans from their punk days at the Masque.

The first lost Go-Go, founding member bass player Margot Olavarria, was “a Valley Girl with dyed day-glo hair and chola make-up whose friends called her ‘Popsicle Head.”  After seeing The Sex Pistols perform in the U.K. as a teen-ager, she returned to L.A. with the intention of starting her own band. She was introduced to drummer Elissa Bello and the two of them started the first incarnation of the band, briefly called The Misfits (no connection to Glenn Danzig’s early band in New Jersey), in 1978 with—according to Elissa—Margot choosing guitarist Jane Wiedlin and singer Belinda Carlisle. Guitarist Charlotte Caffey was added a few months later.

Later versions of how the band formed skim over the original line-up and Margot’s role entirely, even though to this day there are original L.A. punks who still earnestly describe her as the heart and soul of the band.

Elissa Bello was fired and replaced by Gina Schock in late June 1979. The band’s manager, Ginger Canzoneri, later claimed that the band “just weren’t happy with Elissa’s abilities as a drummer.” Elissa went on to play in other bands like Sexsick, Alarma!, Castration Squad, The Boneheads, Interpol, Suave Bolla, and Pasional. In an interview shortly after her firing from The Go-Go’s she said:

I was chucked out on my ass. I was dating this girl (Kari Krome of The Runaways) whose ex-girlfriend (Ginger Canzoneri) decided to become the new manager of The Go-Go’s. She just happened to know a drummer who had been playing for years and had her own truck, and great equipment, etc. Plus her father made her these great drum cases.

I never joined The Go-Go’s, as you can see. Margot and I put the band together. Although it was Margot who picked the girls. I wasn’t too happy with some of her choices, but Margot was relentless. I think she may have regretted those choices later on…

Margot lasted another year and a half.

The Go-Go’s toured the U.K. with Madness and The Specials for three months in 1980. In their absence the L.A. punk scene had shifted to hardcore and a predominance of angry white boys, but The Go-Go’s were developing more of a pop sound. Margot objected to the turn the band was taking, particularly since they had originally aspired to a sound similar to The Buzzcocks. She was increasingly estranged from the others and became ill with Hepatitis A in late December. As a result of her illness and the contagiousness of the disease, everyone else had to get shots right along with her. To make the year an even worse one for her she was also arrested for buying cocaine for someone else. X drummer D.J. Bonebrake kindly bailed her out of jail. 

While Margot was ill, the others began auditioning supposedly temporary bass players to fill in for six sold-out shows at the Whisky a Go Go. They settled on Textones guitarist Kathy Valentine, who, despite no experience as a bassist, acquired a bass and learned their songs in a few days. She fit in well with their new disarming, fun, cleaner, de-fanged style, and the three Go-Go’s decided to allow her to replace Margot permanently. The band sent their manager Ginger to break the news to Margot, since they were too cowardly to do it themselves. This decision angered and alienated many people from the early L.A. punk scene, not least of all friends of Margot’s like Exene Cervenka and Pleasant Gehman, who thought she was treated shabbily.

The Go-Go’s debut album on I.R.S., the iconic Beauty and the Beat, was released July 8, 1981, with no mention of or thanks to Margot in the liner notes. The only person credited with writing “We Got the Beat” was Charlotte Caffey. Margot had appeared on the original single version of “We Got the Beat”, recorded for Stiff Records and released in the U.K. July 27, 1980. The re-recorded album version was released as a single in the U.S. on January 16, 1982, and is the one most listeners are familiar with.

In Brendan Mullen and Marc Spitz’s book We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk Margot said:

I had no indication that it would be that successful. My mind wasn’t set on those heights. I was really pissed off. Beauty and the Beat was number one and I was squatting in an East Village apartment full of holes. I was still being recognized in the club scene as a Go-Go. That sucked, it really sucked.

Margot sued the band in 1982, but the case was settled out of court in 1984. Meanwhile she had moved to New York City, where in 1983 she joined drummer Martin Atkins’ first post-Public Image Ltd. band, Brian Brain, replacing Pete Jones on bass. Martin described Brian Brain as: “early punk/anarchic performance art meets disco madness…Brian Brain was pretty wild.” 

Martin later told Opening Bands:

I started a label called Plaid after I left PIL, and I had a band called Brian Brain, which was my self on drums and vocals, Margo from the Go-Go’s, she was the original bass-player for The Go-Go’s and she co-wrote ‘We Got the Beat;’ and this guy Jeff [Geoff Smith, Margot’s husband] on guitar. We did a four song EP, put it out on Plaid, we had a distribution deal with a company called Greenwall, they went bankrupt, with 5,000 of our EP’s and that was it.

Margot appeared on Brian Brain’s 12” singles, EP’s, and one album (Time Flies When You’re Having Toast) until Martin moved on to other projects in 1987. Still a friend of Martin’s, Margot (now a PhD), edited and contributed the essays “Roadies,” “Detained for No Reason,” and “Grrrrrrl’s Guide to the Road” to in his 2007 book Tour: Smart.

The Go-Go’s, still with Margot, in Urgh! A Music War:

The Go-Go’s live at the Whisky, 1979:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
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‘Rumpole’ novelist John Mortimer defends Sex Pistols in ‘Bollocks’ trial, 1977


 
Nothing represents the Sex Pistols’ ability to push buttons as well as the choice of the word “Bollocks” to appear in the title of their first record in 1977. Unquestionably vulgar in an in-your-face way, the word was nevertheless not obviously obscene, or “indecent,” to employ the legal terminology used at the time. It was offensive enough that Her Majesty’s Government sought to suppress the display of the word in public—but not offensive enough for that position to carry the day in court. “Bollocks” clearly has some relationship to the word “Balls,” but it’s not a 1:1 relationship—it’s a little like the word “freaking” to substitute for “fucking,” but better and more vivid. Bollocks to that! “Bullshit” would be an a close synonym for American English. It’s the perfectly rude Sex Pistols word.

On Saturday, November 5, 1977, a policewoman named Julie Dawn Storey spotted the Never Mind The Bollocks display in the window of the Virgin Records store in Nottingham. She went inside, confiscated a couple of albums, and informed shop manager Christopher Seale that the appearance of the word “Bollocks” in the display violated the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act. Then she arrested him. For the couple of weeks before the trial, nobody could risk the legality of the album’s name—shop owners were forced to sell the album under the table, and a Pistols’ expensive ad campaign appeared to go to waste because no publications would dare to run it. Naturally all of this had the effect of adding to the Pistols’ reputation as the most controversial band in Britain.
 
Christopher Seale
Christopher Seale and the Sex Pistols’ immortal album art
 
On November 24, 1977, the court convened to rule on the fate of the shop owner, Christopher Seale, and Virgin Records. Defending the Sex Pistols was a fusty-looking chap who didn’t look like he belonged on the same continent as the Sex Pistols, much less the same courtroom. His name was John Mortimer, and by the time of his death at the age of 85 in 2009, his status as one of the most beloved attorneys and novelists in British history would be rock-solid.

Before the “Bollocks” trial, Mortimer’s primary claim to fame as a lawyer was his work on obscenity cases. He successfully defended the publication in Britain of Hubert Selby Jr.‘s Last Exit in Brooklyn in 1968, and three years later lost a similar case involving the scandalous Danish book The Little Red Schoolbook. In 1976, he defended Gay News editor Denis Lemon for the crime of publishing James Kirkup’s poem “The Love that Dares to Speak its Name” against charges of blasphemous libel; Lemon lost the case but it was overturned on appeal.

Although he would achieve much greater fame later, Mortimer had already been a writer of fiction for some years, which may partially explain his interest in obscenity cases. In the 1960s he had written A Voyage Round My Father, an autobiographical play about his relationship with his blind father (also a barrister)—it was later made into a TV movie with Laurence Olivier and Alan Bates. With his wife, Mortimer also wrote the script for Otto Preminger’s 1965 movie Bunny Lake Is Missing. In 1975 Mortimer began his lengthy series of bestselling comic novels revolving around Horace Rumpole.

In 1978, just a year after the Pistols trial, Thames Television launched Rumpole of the Bailey, its immensely popular series about a rumpled—if you will—and principled barrister who defends his clients against the weight of the Crown with everything he’s got. Rumpole was portrayed by Leo McKern, who became synonymous with the role—although DM readers might know him better as the heavy in the Beatles movie Help!.
 
Mortimer and McKern
Mortimer and McKern, in costume as Rumpole
 
As odd a fit as it may seem, Mortimer obviously had impeccable bona fides on free speech cases, which in fact made him a perfect choice to defend the Sex Pistols in court. The website 20thcpunkarchives describes Mortimer’s strategy:
 

John Mortimer raised the question of why Seale was prosecuted for displaying the sleeve while the newspapers that used the same image as an illustration were not. Mortimer continued to outline the history of the term “Bollocks” tracing it back to roots in the Middle Ages. Mortimer continued by bringing in a Professor Kingsley, head of English Studies at local Nottingham University. Kingsley told the court that the term had been used from the year 1,000 to describe a small ball (or things of a similar shape) and that it has appeared in Medieval Bibles, veterinary books and literature through the ages. He also revealed (not surprisingly) that it also served as part of place names throughout the UK. Eyebrows were raised when Kingsley said that the term had been used to describe the clergy of the previous century. In that connotation it was used in a similar fashion as the word rubbish and used to describe a clergyman that spoke nonsense. The defense continued to intimate that perhaps the prosecution was not interested in decency of the word in question but instead were waging war against the band themselves. After making the case clear, the judiciary deliberated for twenty minutes and felt compelled to dismiss all charges against Seale. The Sex Pistols’ cover was ruled as “decent” and set a precedent that would protect other shop owners who displayed the cover.

 
Johnny Rotten had attended the trial wearing a safari hat. As he exited the courtroom, a reporter solicited his comment—I remember hearing about this line when I was in high school, and it tickles me now just as much as it did then. Rotten was quoted as saying:

“Great! Bollocks is legal. Bollocks! Bollocks! Bollocks!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Men in black: The Stranglers’ BBC documentary about the color black, 1982
07.29.2014
06:42 am

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Music
Punk
Television

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The Stranglers


 
In 1982, BBC Southwest aired a short documentary about the color black made by two members of the Stranglers. Singer/guitarist Hugh Cornwell and drummer Jet Black
“were asked to put together a piece about the colour black for an arts programme called RPM,” according to Cornwell’s autobiography.

Around this time, the Stranglers were obsessed with the sinister Meninblack (as they stylized it) legends of UFO lore. They had released their great concept album, The Gospel According to the Meninblack, and changed their names to Hughinblack, JJinblack, Daveinblack and Jetinblack; they were even thinking about changing the band’s name to the Men in Black. Ultimately, these pursuits scared the band shitless.

“We were unearthing very curious connections between UFOs and dark forces,” Cornwell writes in his autobiography, characterizing the period as “disastrous.” “It wasn’t until after we had finished on The Meninblack album and had moved on to working on La Folie, that the misfortunes stopped.”
 

 
Cornwell touches on the BBC documentary in The Stranglers: Song by Song: “Jet and I made a television programme about how the colour black has always been associated with authority. We were doing a lot of research into the Meninblack, but there were certain crucial books that we couldn’t get hold of at the National Library. It just so happened to be the books that related to the connection between the Meninblack, religion and civilisation.”
 

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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