Rebels: A Journey Underground is an excellent Canadian documentary history of “the counterculture” produced for television in the late 1990s and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland. It’s the work of writer/director Kevin Alexander, who did a great job with it. More people should see it. I’m happy to see that the series has been posted in full on YouTube.
The six-part series covers a wide swath of historical countercultures moving from William Blake and 1830s Parisian bohemians to mostly 20th century movements like hippie, Jazz, Beatniks, punk, and what was at the time the series was produced, the brave new world of cyberspace.
When Malone (an extreme conservative dubbed “Darth Vader” by Al Gore) saw Disinformation for the first time, his reaction, I was told by two people actually in the room, was “We paid for this anarchist bullshit? Get rid of it!”
Talking heads include Robert Anton Wilson, William Gibson, Douglas Rushkoff, Genesis P-Orridge, John Lydon, Jello Biafra, Captain Sensible, Richard Hell, Malcolm McLaren, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, Jon Savage, Caroline Coon, Paul Simonon, John Doe, Poly Styrene, Rosemary Leary, Ken Kesey, Paul Krassner, Ray Manzarek, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, RU Sirius, Mark Pesce, John Perry Barlow, Rudy Rucker and many others.
Part 1: Society’s Shadow
From Bohemia and 19th century European romanticism, this film looks back through history to uncover the beginning of “new vision” thinking in Western civilization and its links to what is now called counterculture. From 1830s Paris to New York City’s Greenwich Village at the turn of the 20th century, it follows the paths which brought Europe’s most rebellious voices to America. Includes profiles of William Blake, Victor Hugo, Theophile Gauthier, Charles Baudelaire, John Reed and Woody Guthrie.
Parts two through six of Rebels: A Journey Underground after the jump…
The more my daughter and her friends listen to Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, and Ke$ha, the more I miss Wendy O. Williams.
However, if you are under 40, there’s a good chance that you haven’t heard of Wendy O. Williams, and that is tragic.
There have been imitators of the shock rock icon known as the Priestess of Metal here and there, but no front-woman has come close to replicating her aggressive sexuality, gleeful destructiveness, violence, provocative art, or flagrant disregard for her own personal safety.
Ivy League-educated artist, producer, and promoter Rod Swenson hired 27-year-old Wendy O. Williams as a dominatrix for his experimental theater/live sex show “Captain Kink’s Theatre” in New York City in 1976. Wendy had led a nomadic existence since running away from home at sixteen, making and selling crafts, cooking, working a string of jobs such as lifeguard, stripper, topless dancer, and Dunkin’ Donuts server. Swenson was also making videos for young New York punk bands like The Ramones, Dead Boys, and The Patti Smith Group. He decided to form his own punk-metal band, The Plasmatics, a year later and recruited Wendy, by then his girlfriend, to front it. With an initial line-up of Richie Stotts on guitar, Chosei Funahara on bass, and Stu Deutsch on drums, The Plasmatics debuted at CBGB’s in 1978. Wes Beech was soon added on guitar and the only band member other than Wendy to weather repeated personnel changes. The Plasmatics’ music and stage shows became infamous, prompting the curious to wait in line for hours to watch them at CBGB’s.
Live Plasmatics montage from 1981:
Plasmatics songs were loud, authentic tributes to sex, violence, independence, and rejection of societal norms. Their fusion of punk and metal, common two decades later, perfectly complemented Wendy’s raspy, shouting, snarling vocals and her wild stage persona. With a platinum blonde mohawk (offsetting Richie Stotts’ blue one), smoky eye makeup, lean, tanned body clad in tight black leather or as little as possible (sometimes only a leather jacket and black underwear, a G-string and shaving cream), Wendy’s physically demanding act involved wielding chainsaws to dismember guitars (in lieu of guitar solos) and hefting sledgehammers to smash television sets. When the band outgrew CBGB’s, Wendy added smashing and detonating cars (especially Cadillacs) onstage, an unmistakable middle finger to consumerism.
“Basically, I hate conformity. I hate people telling me what to do. It makes me want to smash things. So-called normal behavior patterns make me so bored, I could throw up!”—Wendy O. Williams
Below, WOW talks with Tom Synder. You get a great sense of her personal philosophy here:
Sexually provocative without even trying, Wendy shamelessly simulated sex and masturbation onstage, which eventually led to her arrest on obscenity and public indecency charges in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Following these charges (eventually dismissed), Wendy took to wearing her trademark strips of black electrical tape over her nipples like a walking censored photograph. She dominated her performance spaces like a tattooed Amazonian stripper with rage issues.
Thanks to MTV’s willingness to play Plasmatics videos, Wendy will always be remembered for her doing her own dangerous stunts involving explosives, helicopters, school buses, and cars with no brakes. She was a peculiar contradiction of reckless daredevil and fitness and health nut. Unrelated to her sexual persona and shocking subject matter, she had a soft spot for animals, so much so that she pioneered animal rights, vegetarianism, and ecological concerns at a pre-Meat is Murder time when these views were not widespread among musical artists—forget the general population—other than Paul and Linda McCartney.
First signed to Stiff Records in the U.K., The Plasmatics recorded five studio albums (New Hope for the Wretched, Beyond the Valley of 1984, Coup d’Etat, Electric Lady Land Sessions, and Maggots: The Record) and three EP’s (Meet the Plasmatics, Butcher Baby, Metal Priestess). While not massive sellers, these releases, particularly New Hope, were hugely influential, and The Plasmatics gained mainstream attention from unexpected sources: ABC’s late night comedy show Fridays, Tom Snyder’s talk show Tomorrow, an opening spot on a 1982 KISS tour, and SCTV, for which The Plasmatics made a charming cameo in the “Fishin’ Musicians” sketch.
The Plasmatics on Fridays:
Wendy recorded three “solo” albums (W.O.W., Kommander of Kaos, and Deffest! And Baddest!), using Plasmatics members but not naming the albums so for legal reasons, and three collaborative EP’s with Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead (Iron Fist, Stand By Your Man, What’s Words Worth?).
“She was great, I used to fuck her. Although sometimes you ought to say she fucked me. She was a workout freak, muscles like steel rope.”—Lemmy Kilmister, Lemmy: The Movie
“No Class” with Motörhead:
W.O.W. was produced and co-written by Gene Simmons, with some of the songs appearing on later KISS albums. This hard rock offering earned her a Grammy nomination in 1985 for Best Female Rock Vocalist. Kommander of Kaos, her second solo album, was co-produced by Swenson and Wes Beech.
Wendy ventured into acting as early as 1979, when she appeared in porn (Candy Goes to Hollywood), later followed by indie film (the execrable Reform School Girls which at least contained her songs), musical theater (Rocky Horror), and mainstream television (MacGyver, The New Adventures of Beans Baxter) with moderate success.
Then suddenly in 1988, when heavy metal hair bands were dominating popular music, Wendy was bizarrely convinced by Rod Swenson to change her career path to rap (technically “thrash-rap”). This was only a few years after Dee Dee Ramone’s own similarly bad decision. In 1988 Wendy released Deffest! And Baddest! as Ultrafly and The Home Girls. Unfortunately that was her last recorded work. Her final live performance was on New Year’s Eve, 1988, with Richie Stotts’ post-Plasmatics band, playing “Mastermind.”
Wendy abruptly left both music and acting in 1991, when she and Rod Swenson moved to rural Connecticut. Wendy’s explanation was that she was tired of dealing with people. In Storr, Connecticut Wendy worked as an animal rescuer, natural foods activist, and kept a day job at a health food co-op.
But she was not happy and fulfilled in her retirement and seclusion. She struggled with untreated depression for seven years, and made at least two unsuccessful suicide attempts. She finally succeeded in a methodically planned suicide in 1998, spending her last moments alone in the woods, feeding squirrels before turning a gun on herself.
“For me, much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm.” – Wendy O. Williams, suicide note
The loss of Wendy O. Williams’ voice and strong personality is still felt, 14 years later. Little has been released of her original, unedited concert footage, and there has been no proper retrospective of her career and enigmatic personal life. She deserves better.
I am 99% sure that I was in attendance at this Big Black show at CBGB’s on July 13, 1986.
I saw them play around this time at CB’s and this must be that very same gig. I recall it being hot as fuck that night and that the set was a scorcher, too.
1. Clear Out!
2. Fists of Love
3. Big Money
4. Passing Complexion
6. Pigeon Kill
7. The Ugly American
8. Kerosene (stopped)
9. Kerosene (with Mission of Burma/Volcano Suns’ Peter Prescott on drums)
10 Rema-Rema (with Peter Prescott)
There have been versions of this video on YouTube before, but this one, uploaded by Greg Fasolino, the guy who shot it is the best quality, by far. You can practically smell the stale beer and the BO.
The low-fi black & white video quality of this 1980 Clash concert doesn’t detract from the enjoyment and in fact may even enhance it (the soundboard audio is top notch).
Complete Clash shows are rare enough, but this also happens to be an especially great (and super energetic) Clash gig with one of the best set lists of any of their tours. Plus Blockhead Mick Gallagher on keyboards. PLUS dub legend Mikey Dread (how much footage exists of The Clash together with Michael Campbell?) and two encores. What more could you ask for?Listen LOUD.
Shot (with at least three cameras) at the legendary Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ on March 8th, 1980.
Clash City Rockers
Brand New Cadillac
Safe European Home
Guns of Brixton
Train in Vain
White Man in Hammersmith Palais
I Fought The Law
Police and Thieves
Julie’s Been Working on the Drug Squad
Complete Control ————————————-
Armagideon Time (ft. Mikey Dread)
English Civil War
Bankrobber (ft. Mikey Dread)
A year on from the release of The Sex Pistols first single “Anarchy in the U.K.” and their infamous appearance on the Today show, Steve Jones and Paul Cook gave their first interview to Australian television.
Lest we forget, it was Jones, more than Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious, who launched the Pistols into the headlines with his stream of abuse at TV presenter Bill Grundy, and certainly without Cook’s disciplined drums and Jones’ era-defining guitar (together with Glen Matlock‘s bass) and their song-writing talents Never Mind the Bollocks would have been a much lesser album.
In this interview from 1977, Jones and Cook talk about the Pistols’ back history, records, and their appearance on the Today show:
Jones: If someone wants an argument, you give them an argument back, don’t ya? He started it. He said, “Go on, you got another 5 seconds.”
Cook: What did you say, Steve?
Jones: I fucking gave him a load of abuse. He asked for, didn’t he? It was pretty funny. It’s like, you know, they put all that on the front-fucking-page for all that. Just for swearing on television. Stupid.
Cook: We forgot about the whole thing, a couple of hours after, we didn’t expect nothing to happen from it.
As punk rock was throbbing in the clubs downtown, Manhattan cable TV was experiencing its own kind of anarchy. D.I.Y programs from cats like Efrom Allen were offering some demented and surreal stuff to get us energized before hitting the clubs or to soften the crash as we wound down from a night on the Bowery. The coaxial pipeline was sending signals into our decrepit little apartments that were raw, spontaneous and often exhilarating, punk rock’s cathode equivalent.
In this episode of The Efrom Allen Show (1978?), a 12-year-old Brooke Shields does a fashion shoot with Stiv Bators while discussing her career with the wisdom of an ancient soul. Stiv seems to enjoy just going along for the ride.
Efrom, a Realtor these days, should try to clean this video up and release it, along with his footage of The Ramones and Marilyn Chambers, on DVD. This is pop culture history and there’s so little of Manhattan cable programming available for viewing. Someone should do a book on this wild era when the TV eye was bloodshot and beautiful.
When The Damned’s guitarist Captain Sensible hit with his whimsical solo cover of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk” and “Wot?” it looked to me like one of the original punks wanted to host a kid’s program. He could have been the Pee-wee Herman of Britain (Oh, come on, you know what I mean! How dare you disrespect the good Captain with your filthy minds!!!).
At the very least they could have given The Damned their own Young Ones-type sitcom. That would have been classic, what a tragically missed opportunity.
I’m obsessed by “Wot?” with its fantastically “chic” bassline and “straight out of Croyden” rap. Nine times out of ten, when I was actively DJing, I’d put this sucker on. People would always go nuts for this record.
If “Wot?” isn’t one of the greatest, glorious and most underrated singles of the early 1980s, I’ll eat a red beret…
Bonus: “(What D’Ya Give) The Man Who’s Gotten Everything?” from 1981’s “This is Your Captain Speaking” EP on Crass Records:
Siouxsie Sioux (Feb 1979) This is certainly a young woman who knew exactly who she was, wouldn’t you say?
Nevermind those sterile museum retrospectives, First Third Books has just published Punk+, a gorgeous new coffee table monograph featuring Sheila Rock’s documentation of the formative London punk scene. Although many of the faces are familiar, the emphasis on punk as a youth culture, as a tribe, makes this a welcome departure from many other books of punk era photography. These shots are from when the participants were still really young and Rock’s intimate images haven’t lost any of their power from being overused (85 to 90% of the photographs are unseen according to her estimate).
I get sent books like this, well, frequently, and Punk+ is far and away one of the best. Speaking as a former publisher myself, this is a high quality piece to be really proud of.
With a brief introduction by Nick Logan and commentary from some of the participants, Punk+ wisely lets Sheila Rock’s portraits do the talking. I especially loved the pics of a young John Lydon in what appears to be his own flat.
Jordan outside of Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX boutique
Girl (Leather Jacket)
Subey (June 1977)
The Subway Sect, Chalk Farm (Dec 1976)
Rob Symmons: “They’re the only public photographs of us that exist from that time because we wouldn’t have any photographs taken. When you (Sheila Rock) rang the door bell, (that little black door at the side Rehearsal Rehearsals) you asked for The Clash and were disappointed they were not there, didn’t believe us and came in to see. To save a wasted trip, you reluctantly photographed us. After we told Bernie [Rhodes] you had come to the studio one evening and taken our pictures, he was cross. I remember his exact words: “When the cat’s away. the mice will play”
Generation X (1977)
The Buzzcocks (Nov 1977)
Paul Simonon: “We did a couple of shows with The Buzzcocks and we used to go on stage with Jackson Pollack Shirts. One time they did a show with us and came on with Mondrian shorts. It was great!”
The Damned (Nov 1976)
Paul Weller of The Jam (1979)
Sheila Rock’s Punk+ is available as a signed limited edition and standard edition directly through First Third Books.