Friday, July 22, 2011

some old poesy

  • I greet your ghost
    each day

    To think of you
    as a ghost
    is to disregard the reality
    that you are alive

    You will outlive me
    I shiver
    in anticipation
    of your death

    I smile at your ghost
    a hand in the air
    to dissipate
    YO U
    Destroy the moment
    Say "moment"
    Say "immobile"
    Say "In movement I am torment"
    a fucking word that guarantees
    A leaving

    Each day
    a leaving
    a greeting
    a wave

    Cities far away
    Grind at the thought of you
  • Kids Stay Free!
    in the projects
    this girl
    head stuck out the window
    on the first
    nice new day of spring
    looks around like --
    "this shit ain't my fault
    but maybe I can fix it"
    she redeems this ugliness
    with pure presence

    three days ago
    she had a wicked cold
    nose dripping like the leaky faucet
    in the bathroom
    drop drop drop
    but you can't take a wrench to your neck
    and twist --------

    so she was resigned to it
    the sniffling and gurgling and aching chain
    that was this winter
    the endless stream of barely edible Chinese food
    her mother brought home from work nearly
    every goddamn day
    but her mother was a lousy cook
    and they both knew it
    so she didn't complain much

    she had forgotten what people
    looked like underneath the layers
    of clothes they wore
    she remembered thinking that people were lying
    that they didn't really have bodies
    that they didn't even exist
    she would think this about herself, but then
    concluded that she must be real
    because who has ever had thoughts like these before?

    she remembers her mother
    drunk in the living room
    rifling through boxes of memories
    telling her through a curtain of tears
    and snot ---
    "Don't ever trust a man, baby. They'll fuck you
    over sooner than later. I'm sick of being fucked over.
    Do you hear me, baby? I'm sick of being fucked over!"

    she just stood there and watched her mother cry

    even then she knew
    her mother asked for it
    secretly yearned for it
    sought it out like a divining rod


Bleary-eyed, I'm up and out the door way earlier than usual, but that's OK, cuz the headphones are rocking Lizzie Mercier Descloux's early 80s avant dance cover of "Fire," and I can't help but think that, in a perfect world, this track would be sandwiched between Sexual Harassment's "If I Gave You a Party" and The Slits' "In The Beginning" on the universal radio station that was available all over the planet. Well, I ain't on Sirius, but I intend on rectifying this on my radio show after I return.

It's finally gotten cold here in the Cleave and, as I walk to the train, I wonder why I didn't throw some long-john bottoms into my backpack. Whoever heard of taking a vacation to Milwaukee? In the deadtime of late winter, colder climes seem like a raw deal. Especially when most everything you own is ripped. It's okay to indulge in the most mundane of ironies, particularly when they make you out to be a jack-ass. This thought occurs after running into Rafeeq at the makeshift cathedral that is the West 25th Rapid Station. He was going the other way, East, to teach. After hearing where I am headed, he asks, "Are you gonna buy a new jacket there?" Looking down at the blue corduroy jacket, seams split asunder, I think, "Yeah, that's a really good idea," but I just laugh and say, "Fuck no." Hell, it really did have a little more life left in it. So sue me if I get attached to random articles of clothing and think of them as if they were alive. Maybe that's a little strange, but there's some kid out there right now buying $800-a-piece rims for his car, and I know a kid like that, and I don't know how it's related, but you can have your rims if I can wear these rags. But, in the end, it wasn't the jacket that failed me; it was the pants.

There's a loose plan formulated in my mind. It goes something like this: Fly to Chicago, hook up with some friends, go see a show, maybe meet some people who are only names on a screen. Next day, head up to Milwaukee somehow someway, go see a show, actually two shows, meet some more faceless persons, possibly stay in Milwaukee hanging out and maybe seeing Ahia pals We March w/ Holy Shit!, then back to Chicago and fly back home. Why? Saw some good shows were happening, wanted out of town, not totally broke, and, well, why the fuck not? Just the fact that above, this was referred to as a vacation, says something, as I usually loathe the term. When I periodically travel, usually for weeks at a time, I somewhat obnoxiously correct people when they refer to it as a "vacation." "No, I'm traveling," I'll practically sneer. Vacation implies tourist which implies innocence and stupidity which implies easy target ("I hate tourists/tourists suck..."). But this seemed like a vacation. A cold and drunken vacation.

I'm in Chicago by noon, squinting at mid-afternoon sun-peeks through the stunning examples of Midwest cloud formations hovering above the city. Chicago. Only Los Angeles can compare to its vast suburban mega-sprawl glory. If LA is our country's ultimate living glitzy mall community, then Chicago is the strip mall down the road, cheaper stores but the goods are fine. Previous time spent here can be whittled down to a layover on a cross-country Amtrak sojourn and a few shows, Wire and Ex/Shellac/Fugazi. I jump on the El, and goddamn is it chilly up there waiting for that motherfucker. Gimme the piss-stink subways of New York anyday. But then again, the spring/summer is probably glorious in its elevation, as opposed to sweating it out with the rats down in the tunnels.

Via a bus and a newly-purchased pre-paid cellular phone (first phone of any kind within my reach for over two years!) I manage to meet my pal Sam on the street near his place. Sam is a very smart kid and excellent musician, who, at the tender age of 19, had already experienced quite a bit of the undie rock scene and he's all the better for it. He'll probably be a working musician with a semi-profitable band by the time he's 23, if not sooner. And that's no dis. He's just good and he's got great taste, partly cuz he listens to me (heh heh). Sam's from Cleveland, but he's in Chicago going, barely, to school. And I know the kid likes to get fucked up, but I'm still unprepared for the first thing out of his mouth; "Hey, you wanna get some whiskey?" Well, goddamn if I can argue with that logic, so off to the corner store we go to procure a bottle of Jameson. The easy availability of liquor in this town is a reason to celebrate, as Ohio is filled with asinine old Christian laws prohibiting the sale of hard liquor to only a few spots per district and also to ridiculous times that no alcoholic finds appealing. So armed, we head to his apartment where a half drank bottle of Jim Beam also awaits.

Back at Sam's, me and his roommate Ben and another visitor from Ohio (Columbus), Andy, get down to a few hours of record-listening and dope-smoking and liquor-quaffing like it was our job, and, really, shouldn't it be? We're pretty good at it. Hours later, I'm drunk as shit, but I must go. There's the Functional Blackout record release show waiting for me, after all. Also on the bill is Jay Reatard's new gig, Angry Angles, Milwaukee's Monitors, and New Orleans' Die Rotzz. I've got scrawled directions to The Subterranean courtesy of Sam, but before I leave I'm already thinking I'll fuck 'em up, and, sure as shit, I do. At some point I get on the wrong train, but it's alright, I'm trashed and I figure I'll just walk. I start walking down a major road, heading in what I think is the right direction, but it's getting late and I wanna get to the show, so I flag down a cab which is like conceding defeat, but sometimes you gotta admit when you're beat. I get in, "Corner of Division and blah blah," I slur to the cabbie and he says, "Oh, so just a straight shot down the road then," and I smile and say, "Yup," relieved that I'm not too far away and that this guy isn't gonna try to take me on a wild goose chase through Chicago with dollar signs in his eyes. Guess that target ain't painted on too bright.

I have him drop me off on the corner cuz I feel like an asshole taking a taxi, just one of those stupid quirks. In Jim Carroll's 'Forced Entries,' he writes how him and his girlfriend had a pact that they would never take a cab except in the most extreme emergencies. That's neither here nor there, but I dig the logic. As I'm paying at the door to the SubT, I remember an email that Eric Lastname had sent me a few weeks previous. We were supposed to meet at the show and he mentioned that it was his birthday weekend and I told him I'd get him a present and he wrote something witty about how he wanted a Twinkie with a $20 bill stuck in it, and goddamn if I wasn't gonna grant him his wish. I ask the door guy where a convenience store is and he points across the street (how convenient). I purchase the Twinkie and I'm standing at the counter unwrapping it, trying to stuff a 20 spot into it without mangling the delicate cake exterior when an attractive "older" (probably 5 years older than my ass) lady stares at me, obviously intrigued. "It's for a friend's birthday." "Well, you're a really good friend then," she laughs. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I have yet to meet the dude.

The Subterranean is three stories: the ground floor just a bar that I peeked in but didn't venture, the second story, the stage, the action, and a third level that looks down upon the goings-on below, like a cockfight or an opera. I stumble up the stairs and see B. Costello, FBer and TBer. Add novelist to that list and I stupidly forget to ask if he has copies of his book, but I do spend 10 bucks on the brand-spankin' new record by his band, The Functional Blackouts. This being their record release potty, and them having released one of the best punk LPs of the new millenium with their debut, it feels like the right thing to do. Jaw with Darius of Criminal IQ for a moment and time for a drink.

A whiskey and a beer and a seat, and who shows up, but Russ Romance, former Cleavite. Russ is a character for sure, known to drunkenly scream for pussy and/or drugs in the middle of a show, like between songs, or at the end, hounding whomever for the aforementioned. I think the word "uncouth" was invented for him, but there's something honest and charming about Russ. We had been DJs at the same radio station and would occasionally see each other at shows, but soon after moving to Chicago he began talking shit via the forums section of this digital rag. At first it was amusing and then it got annoying and I got pissed off and physical threats were exchanged and then I think we both realized "How gay" and it was good to see him again. (Just don't let him around a keyboard when he's drunk!)

Ex-Kill-A-Wattses, The Monitors, lead things off, and while their sci-fi new wave punk, think Rezillos meets Zolar X, is fun, it's just a little too quirky and derivative. If you're gonna claim you're from space at this late date you better really SOUND like it, a la Human Eye. Next is Die Rotzz, who mash up sleazy KBD punk with a gutter-garage growl. The drummer from Die Rottz doubles duties for Angry Angles, Jay Reatard's new-ish band with girlfriend, Alix, on bass and backing vocals. I had heard their "Things Are Moving" single, of which the title track is a stunner, but I'm still surprised at how fucking good this band is; fantastic songs which somehow combine the post-apocalyptic paranoia of Lost Sounds with the maniacal, amped-up '50s rock of The Reatards.

Earlier, I told Russ to point out Eric Lastname to me or vice versa. Eric's band, The Busy Signals, was playing on some small-wattage college radio station ("I live 10 blocks away and I can't get it," was a quote I heard regarding the signal) that night, but he was supposed to come to the show. He shows up and I drag him to a corner and pull the open Twinkie package out of my bag, golden fluff crumbling everywhere. He seems generally confused and later told me that he was freaked out cuz I was so drunk and he thought I was trying to give him half-eaten food. Then he sees the twenty dollar bill and we laugh and share the Twinkie. I tell him the twenty is his, 'cept he's gotta buy me a drink with it, so I guess it's kind of a shitty present, ha! Eric introduces me to the infamous Matt Coppens, whom I recognize from Horriblefest, but don't remember actually meeting. Matt doesn't let me down and begins randomly running into people, heckling audience members, etc.

Last but not least, the Functional Blackouts take the stage and strafe the crowd with their no wave punk. Long having dropped the bile-soaked Clevo-isms of the original line-up, the FBs are now more concerned with making you feel dirty and sick (instead of dirty and sick and ready to party, I suppose). Guitarist Mac sings songs of rubber-room dementia as he and Dr. Filth engage in high-end treble guitar damage that is almost Arab on Radar-esque. Meanwhile, the attack never lets up as Costello pounds away behind them like a hardcore Keith Moon.

The show is finally over and I am insanely ripped and Lastname offers his place for the night, so me, him, and his girl, Carrie, head back to his "shoebox" apartment in Wicker Park. It really is a shoebox, size small, but that doesn't stop us from smoking grass, tobacco, and loudly talking shit. We listen to the several hours-old Busy Signals radio recording, and it's my first time hearing them, and it definitely brings a smile, good songs and playing, poppy but muscular. Eventually, the alcohol takes its toll and we all pass out. 

The next day, me and Lastname sit around the house trying to recover. He cleans a little bit, plays me The Registrators' 'Terminal Boredom' LP, which I had never heard, and then we perform the short ceremony of indoctrination into the TB cult, which is similar to the rituals of the Knights Templar. Somehow I feel more secure, knowing that there are literally dozens of people out there that would probably buy me a drink if I asked them, solely because of my membership in this hallowed fraternity.

So the plan is to drive up to Milwaukee, which is only about an hour away, and go see not one, but two shows. A day show at a house, then the feature attraction at a bar called the Onopa Brewing Co., which has a killer line-up of Hot Machines/Tyrades/Angry Angles/Die Rotzz. But first, it's time to celebrate Eric's birthday as Ana and Jeremy from the Busy Signals and Carrie come over bearing gifts. Carrie has a plate of homemade cupcakes with various inappropriate but hilarious frosting-drawings upon them, while Ana and Jeremy bring a heart-shaped deep-dish pizza. Apparently there is a pizza shop that makes heart-shaped pizza on Valentine's Day, and, since we're close and they were convincing, the shop was nice enough to make one. It's messy, but delicious, as are the cupcakes.

Carrie, Lastname, and I head up in her car, Eric playing DJ. We listen to the recently reissued 'Keats Rides a Harley' compilation and the new Headache City album, of which one of the songs, 'Suicide Summer,' seems to last forever and gets stuck in my head for several days (perhaps in a vain effort to stay warm). I bust Eric's balls about his internet celebrity status while Carrie professes bewilderment about the whole phenomena. We reach Milwaukee by nightfall, hit the liquor store and then onto the house show.

There's a gaggle of Terminal Bores there, including Steve Strange (excuse me, Young Steve), Richard Adventure, Coppens (listen for the guy yelling about everyone being pussies), and Kevin aka Vint. Kevin and I had recognized each other on the forums as somewhat kindred souls, chiefly because of our interest in chemicals and strange musics outside the realm of acceptable punk. We had vague plans to hang out for a couple days. I was hoping he'd come prepared with any number of illicit chemicals, but it seemed like a twelve pack was all he could procure. The dude was a big motherfucker, I'll give him that. The first band starts and someone mentions that it is Steve Strange's new band. I go downstairs to check it out, and there's a smiling young man at the bottom of the steps with a big glass jar for band money. He looks at me strangely and says, "Do I know you?" "No, I don't think so, but you're the drummer for the Catholic Boys, right? I saw you at Horriblefest, you were wearing a We March shirt." "Huh, you look like someone I know. But nice to meetcha, what's yer name?" "Erick," I say. "Me too." "Well, goddamn there are a lot of Eric's here!" "Welcome to my home," he says. I give him some dosh and check out a couple songs by the band (named?). Decent snotty punk in a Rip Off Records vein? Sure. It warms my heart to see so many kids (atleast 75) at a house show, and makes me nostalgic for my own former spot, The Black Eye.

I go upstairs and meet some peoples including Richard Adventure and Casey from Hue Blanc's Joyless Ones, who are playing last. I think a band plays while all this hobnobbing is going on. I go back downstairs to see Rapid Adapter, who are good, tight, and slightly angular. Me and Lastname are bullshitting when some familiar guitar notes buzz into the air. We look at each other and make for the front. We know it's "I.U.D." from 'Bloodstains Across Texas,' but neither of us can name the band. I kept thinking it was The Huns, but knew it wasn't. Later someone tells us, "Duh, Plastic Idols."  

Yeah, duh. Anyway, great cover and a nice way to cap the set. Plastic Pets, who feature Wendy and Ryan from The Monitors, are next. Forsaking the retro-kitsch of their other band, Plastic Pets unload minute-long corkers that remind me of the Tyrades, maybe cuz of Wendy's sneering aggro-vox. One of their songs, "Support The Police (Beat Yourself Up)," jams its way into my brain-pan alongside the Headache City song. Between songs they take jabs at Coppens, which he happily returns. Everybody's getting rowdy and drinking is in full effect. Hue Blanc's Joyless Ones eventually take the floor and dish out double-drum kit/twin-guitar swamp-stomp that could be Creedence Clearwater Revival on a particularly nasty day. Or the Grateful Dead on amphetamines. People are full-on tranced, including Kevin who is flailing away in front of the band. At some point, he introduces me to two cute young ladies, one of which, Rachael, caresses my face and says, "You're pretty." Kevin starts cracking up and I tell her, "Don't say that. You're pretty, I'm drunk. Let's leave it at that." But I'm not as drunk as Steve Strange who lies on a couch upstairs, passed out, just asking for terrible things to be done to his person. Steve, I don't think we actually met, but I swear I didn't draw that dick on your face that was going into your mouth. Seriously.

It's getting near start time for the Onopa show, so people start fanning out, trying to find rides to the bar. I think about walking, but one look at the huge holes in my jeans and the snow on the ground, and I think better of it. Hell, with the cold north wind blowing right up my crotch, I'm fucking shivering already. Somehow I end up in an SUV with Josh Bushmeister at the wheel, sitting next to Coppens and Kevin. We debate having an emergency TB meeting, but instead choose to yell random shit at cars, or the air. We make it to the show safely and we're ready for some more rock.

Die Rotzz lead things off, and sound even better than the previous night. Ditto for Angry Angles, who are electrifying. Much whiskey-slugging is going on and it's good to see the folks from the Tyrades again, because not only does their band absolutely rule, but they are nice people all. They're up next, but ol' stoner Erick is already jonesin' for more THC, even though he finished off his last joint but a few hours earlier. What can I say, you have your Paxil and I got my grass. I bug Frankie, Tyrades and Busy Signals drummer and avid weed-smoker, but he wants to wait til after they play, which is perfectly understandable. Ah, but Carrie is here to save the day. She offers her one-hitter which I greedily accept and I go outside behind the club to further douse my nerves. As I stand there in the snow, the alcohol starts hitting me like a drunk husband. Whew! Just lemme hit this puppy and it'll smooth me out. Wrong! That rarefied sensation, The Spins, takes over my body and fuck if I'm gonna try to resist it. I'm actually surprised by this, didn't think I was that plastered, but, thanks to my years of pill and alcohol abuse, I'm a pro at puking, so I stand there in the snow and let it heave. Fragments of heart-shaped pizza and chocolate cupcakes come out in brown and red torrents, and, standing there, I look around, and think, "It's really quite beautiful and peaceful out here. A fine place to vomit." That over, a couple deep breaths, a few hits of the dug-out (I sterilized it with my lighter, Carrie, I swear!), and back to the show. I end up meeting Aluminum Not Guy, Keith, and his lady, and we talk about liquor and maybe a little bit of music. While we're jawing, Ryan from Monitors/Plastic Pets walks by and flips out on my Germs Army badge and asks to buy it. Then he offers a really sweet Buzzcocks pin I've never seen before, but I can't do it. The blue of my jacket is almost the exact color of the (G.I) circle, plus I got in LA. "Sorry, dude." I feel bad cuz he really wanted it and even went so far as to pull out his (G.I.) tattoo to drive the point home. Well, shit. I did play Lorna Doom at The Black Eye Communist Eyes Players' Ball. Still, I lost.

While waiting for Tyrades to blitz the crowd, someone jabs me in the throat. I turn and see that it's Coppens. I smile drunkenly and kick him in the shin, but I think, "Watch the throat, motherfucker. That's a sensitive issue." Coppens looks at you like he might want to fight, but he might want to fuck. Classic human behavior, it's practically Jungian. Later he gets thrown out for lobbing a pint glass at one of the bartenders (a lady, apparently; real "classy," buddy!). I see him, arms around a chick, wailing outside about it. Christ almighty, let's rock.
There's something about the Tyrades which inspires fits of violent dancing. It makes me feel like I'm trapped in a crowded subway car and the only way out is to thrash my way, arms flailing, elbows out like knives. It's a different thing, but the Jesus Lizard used to make me feel like this; all building tension, sharp riffs that raise the hair on your nape and access some lizard-brain compulsion to kill and maim. It's pretty much what you want in a modern punk rock band: post-millennial terror scares and barely-withheld urban sexual tension. 

Plus, it's fun. Robert stumbling across the stage, engaged in a private conference call with himself, every once in awhile speaking to us, or maybe just threatening Jenna, in that robotic retardo-voice that reminds me of a character from the never-written Men's Recovery Project radio play (or the gimp from 'Pulp Fiction'). Jim chops at the guitar, bug-eyed, doing self-contained leaps cuz he's got too much energy and not enough noise to satiate it. Jenna stands there, eye in the hurricane, her voice like an air-raid siren. And you can always count on Frankie demolishing his drums at the end/peak-point of the set. I dunno how that kit stays together.

Two things other than maniacal pogoing happen during this set. First, Kevin takes off back to Green Bay. He said that Todd Trickknee would give me a ride back to Milwaukee in the next day or two, but I felt like that was wandering too far from the vanishing point. So, there went any plans of gratuitous drug use, but that was OK, partly cuz of number two. Some hot blonde cocktail started booty-rubbing with me during the Tyrades set, so I started slapping her ass and she was into it, and we basically performed some honky version of an R. Kelly video. When the set was over she disappeared into the throng of sweaty hipsters. Nice not meeting you!

Hot Machines are next and Frankie wants to smoke, so we duck down into the dungeon-esque backstage area which is right next to the stage. We shoot the shit and smoke down, or up, or whichever. Hot Machines is Miss Alex White, Jered from The Ponys, and Matt Williams aka Billiams on the drums. Jered and Miss White take turns singing on their respective songs, and it walks a nice line between their styles. I can't see liking their other work and not feeling this shit. They had a new single for sale (it being a Dusty Medical record release show; HM 7" and a Hunches 7") so I scoop it. Show is over and I can barely stand or see. Lastname comes up and asks if it's OK if he and Carrie get a hotel room without me, so they can celebrate his birthday in proper style and I wave him off. Of course, have fun, I'll figure it out. Well, brave words, but soon the place is empty and I have no prospects so I stumble up to Jimmy Hollywood and ask if I can sleep in the Tyrades van. He says to ask Robert, so I do, and Robert looks at me pitifully and says, "Just come with us." All the bands are headed back to a Mistreaters' place, also, I believe, Dusty Medical himself. I end up in the Die Rottz van next to Jay Reatard, and I can barely keep my eyes open. We take a long drive to an outerskirt of Milwaukee and finally get to the spot. Up some stairs and into a real nice place with all manner of cool artifacts and records. I spy an armchair and swiftly plant my ass. The Tyrades head to a different apartment, so nobody at the place knows me, but no one seems to mind as I quietly pass out in the chair.

I'm woken up the next morning by some dude cracking up about a "broken ball-gag." What happened while I was out? Seems the toilet busted on this guy. I pry my eyes open and eventually meet him and the dude who passed out across from me. Scene photographer extraordinaire Canderson and Hozac major domo, Todd Killings. Canderson can't stop laughing about the busted ball-gag and the exploding toilet and pretty soon my hangover fades into infectious goofy grins. Nothing like a little bathroom humor to kickstart the day. After sitting there for awhile I figure it's time to leave. Alex White says, "Good luck on your tour!" thinking I'm in one of the bands. I say, "Oh, I'm touring by myself, and thanks, you too." I go to the coffeehouse across the street on the corner. On the wall are some of Canderson's photos. Eventually, some of them come over and I tell them my deal. Stranded in fucking Milwaukee. They sympathize and wish me luck. I just need to get downtown to the take the Amtrak back to Chicago. I decide that my predicament is partly Kevin's fault, so I call him. He seems to feel bad about the whole thing, so he tells me to call his buddy who lives at the house that had the show the day before. I ask him about the two girls, Racheal and her friend. He gives me her number too, and tells me to call her. I call Bret first, and leave a message. "I'm Kevin's friend from Cleveland, blah blah blah, can I maybe stay at your house, blah blah blah." Then I call Rachael, and she answers. She's out of the city proper, doing boring family things (ah, the life of a teenager), but she seems to feel bad about my predicament and curses Kevin for a minute, claiming "he's always pulling shit like this." Well, it's not really his fault, but still, I'll take the pity. Then she pauses and tells me she'll call me back. A couple minutes later, she calls and tells me her and her friend are gonna come scoop me. Ah, the life of a teenager! A half hour later, they pull up and I jump in. There's some scowling kid in the back who's brother. Now I'm entertaining fantasies of liquor store hold-ups and under-age brushes with the law, but it's Sunday, and that's the Lord's day, and he don't like no funny business, so, to the train station it is. I thank them profusely and they act like it's no big deal, which I suppose it isn't, but it saved my ass. I buy a ticket (20 beans one way) and then wander around downtown for a few hours. Soon, I'm gazing listlessly out the window at abandoned factories sitting like castles on the tundra. Back to Chicago, and a little more drinking left to go.

I call Sam and Ben and they tell me to come over. I'm just about broke, but I have enough to hit TBX, a burrito joint that Sam swears is a coke front. He tells me of his plan to write an expose' on the place for one of his creative writing classes. He also firmly believes that they put cocaine in the burritos and that is the secret of their success. The burritos are pretty damn good, but I don't get a numby, so maybe the dude's imagination is getting a little feverish. We mostly sit around listening to free jazz records. Then Sam gets a call that there is a half-full keg at a friend's house, but the tap is broken. So, it's up to me to get the tap (seeing as I'm the only one of age) and we go to the house and drink some beers. I'm suitably unenthused by the very young mix of kids and can barely stifle my constant yawns. Me and some kid start talking about music and he proceeds to make me feel really old, but in a charming way. "No way, you saw [blank]! Holy shit!" "Yeah, they toured constantly, it's no big deal." "I would give my left [blank] to see them!" Ah, the life of a "middle-aged" undie rocker, yeah, don't get much better than that. Then again, years ago I worked with this dude that would regale me with stories of seeing Black Flag, Husker Du, and the Minutemen in the mid-80s and I would seethe with jealousy, so, what goes around comes around (I won't tell you why). Sleep comes easily after all this.

My final night in Chicago and I got no money, but Ben wants to go out and is willing to pay for some beers. Apparently, the Empty Bottle has free shows every Monday with decent, or at least known, bands, so we head up there to see Mice Parade, a post-rock band that just keeps plugging away. Ben's a musicianly sort so he appreciates their mind-numbing well-played neo-elevator music more than I, but I do appreciate the rich irony of seeing what could be called "typical Chicago post-rock" on my last night in town. I try to get into their sub-Tortoise vibes, but the one-dollar Pabsts and cute art chicks trying to look aloof occupy most of my attention. But I do notice a familiar face behind the bar, Billiams. I introduce myself and tell him how I enjoyed the Hot Machines a few nights previously. Matt seems to understand the underlying message and offers me a shot of whiskey. He waves me off when I tell him I got no cash. After the show, Ben and I go on a bar-hopping stint that didn't pan out for much excitement outside of Ben drunk-driving his car to comedic effect through the streets of Chicago. We fly by a cop, Ben swerving into the oncoming lane, and I'm sure we're fucked (the kid's only 20 on top of it all; good fake ID though), but he seems nonplussed. I'm waiting for the lights, but they never come. We go to a few more bars, including some punk rock joint that he swears is always swinging, but the only thing swinging there were all the dudes' blue balls. We give up and go home.

The trip has finally come to the end, but it ain't quite over. In my rush to get to the airport, I get on the wrong train once again, and find myself back-tracking and losing valuable time. For the second time in my last three flights, I find myself running in my socks, clutching all personal items, through the terminal in an attempt to catch my flight. I get to the gate and there's no one around, but the door to the tunnel is still open. I consider just walking down it, but am paranoid of the security situation and don't want to be assaulted by any Homeland Security dipshits, so I just stand there, vainly hoping someone will appear and usher me into the plane's bosom. Almost answering my prayers, a stewardess emerges from the tunnel and shuts the door. "Hey, can I still get on that flight?" "Sorry, once the plane doors are shut, we can't legally re-open them." fuck. 6 more hours in Chicago, here I come. No money, starving, thirsty. 
At least I have a good excuse to miss work that day.

[circa 2005]

Monday, July 18, 2011


Whatever happened to the Punk Singer? The larger-than-life personality who screamed out your frustrations as if they were trapped inside your head, desperately trying to get out, but also to be heard, to have their voice acknowledged in this Babel-like modern age.
Rotten, MacKaye, Crash, Biafra, Styrene, Discussion, Danzig, Henry Garfield.
All of these folks not only had unique and unclassifiable voices, they had the burning itch to thrust their own neuroses and obsessions into the public consciousness. Of course, they had varying degrees of success, but no one can say they didn’t try. And outside of all the big names, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of idiosyncratic voices littered throughout the country during the early days of the American hardcore explosion. You could do a blind grab at a stack of early hardcore records and come up almost every time with a clearly-defined persona and vocal approach (negative or otherwise). Try that nowadays and you will find yourself drowning in a vortex of generic and inseparable screaming about nothing, or, if something, buried in clich├ęd vocal moves and indecipherable yammering.

Even if he is finished, as he hints below, with the concept of bands, a case can be made that Sam McPheeters is/was the last of The Great Punk Singers. Beginning with the now-iconic Born Against in the twilight era of late 80s hardcore (the wild world of NYHC to be specific), continuing through the 90s with the sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-frustratingly-inscrutable, always-entertaining (or annoying depending on your frame of reference and state of mind at the time) Men’s Recovery Project, to the mid-Ought return-to-hardcore ferocity and slicing wit of Wrangler Brutes; McPheeters managed to dredge his own canal connecting the roiling seas of old-school hardcore/punk with the often too-calm and not-shark-infested-enough waters of modern underground rock music.

On one hand you have Sam’s bitter, incisive, mocking, often political lyrics, and on the other hand you have the amazing YEEOWWAARWWLLL of his voice, which recalls Darby Crash’s at his gnarliest, but can access his old stomping grounds for a tough, brutal vocal beatdown. If you need proof, you can always subject yourself to Born Against’s classic “Well Fed Fuck.” MRP took Sam’s muse in a twisted direction, channeling vintage DEVO in both sound and visual aesthetic. Sometimes they come off like a hardcore interpretation of The Residents, satirically mocking underground music and taking the wind out of many a windbag’s sails (DVD forthcoming?). Wrangler Brutes brought him back to the punk rock fold, banging out a succession of awesome material and blazing through a few tours.

And let’s not forget Sam’s forays into writing. Starting with his Dear Jesus zine, then Error, and his excellent columns for both Maximumrocknroll and Punk Planet. Recently he has been writing for Vice, The Village Voice, and various LA-area papers, along with spoken word gigs around the country. Punk Renaissance Man? I’m sure he would snort at such a handle, but let’s give it to him anyway.


[EH] There seems to be a thread in your work, beginning with the “Save the Children” cut on the Fear of Smell compilation, extending through the Sam McPheeters as Patrick Henry split 5” w/ The Catholic Church (in which Sam recites the famous “Give me liberty or Give me Death!” speech), up into your current work as a storyteller/spoken word artist.
How did this develop and how did it evolve?

[SM] The Fear of Smell comp was inspired by the old New Underground series of comps like Live is Ugly So Why Not Kill Yourself and Life is Beautiful So Why Not Eat Health Foods (the third and final was Life is Boring So Why Not Steal This Record -ed). “Save the Children” was done at the absolute last minute. Me and Joe Martin lived together at the time and Joe had done a piece that wasn’t that great and I think he knew it; and I didn’t know what I was gonna do. We were sitting around, each drinking a 2 liter of Coca Cola per day, looking at Ebullition records, and we thought “Why not?” and we wrote it really fast and didn’t think much more of it.
The Patrick Henry thing happened when I was living in Richmond VA and was dealing with a lot of serious mental issues, having panic attacks, and was just generally in a grim place at the time. One of the recurring themes in most of the bands I’ve been in has been gross incompetence, which was disguised a bit by the nature of the bands themselves. In Born Against I was put in this sort of “leadership” position, but I wasn’t competent to do anything. For example, I didn’t own a coffee maker because I didn’t know how to operate one. So, when I lived in Jersey City, I would walk to the hospital across the street and go into the emergency room past screaming children to get my coffee. I didn’t know how else to do it.
In Richmond, I reached a certain point where my memory got so bad, I thought that I would memorize this 5 minute speech. I went to the actual church where the speech was given and they stage re-enactments. As soon as George Washington stood up everyone shut the fuck up he was so commanding. When Patrick Henry gave his speech people were dead silent and some were even getting misty-eyed. And I thought, “I wanna do that!” I had a job where I could spend time memorizing it, so I did.

[EH] So it wasn’t politically motivated at all?

[SM] Well, it was in the sense that people were getting whiney about me not doing political stuff so it was like, “You just got 5 minutes of the raw shit. No crust punk band is giving you that.”
But I’m really enjoying the spoken word stuff. It’s way more satisfying than any live band experience I’ve had. I’ve had maybe 6 times where I’ve really enjoyed being on a stage with a band. I can remember specific instances, like a show in Oakland in ‘92 where I was like, “I’m the singer of Born Against, this is awesome!” But that only happened a few times. There’s one or two MRP shows and some Wrangler Brutes shows, because we were a much better live band. But the spoken word shows are fun.
It’s like having a conversation with a bunch of people at once.

[EH] Do you see yourself being in another band anytime soon?

[SM] I’m too old for it. Wrangler Brutes was very hard on me physically. I don’t necessarily look down upon older people in bands, but the kind of stuff that I do, because I don’t play an instrument, takes its toll.
When I was a kid at summer camp, I won two awards. One for Archery, and one for Dramatics. I said, “What the hell is Dramatics?” My bunkmate leaned over and whispered, “It means you act like a fucking baby.” And that’s me being in a band.   

I don’t want to be one of those pathetic 40-year old men who harps on about their old band. I think that sucks and there are a lot of those people out there. There’s a lot of band reunions. I don’t look down on them but I find it sad. If you’re a 45-year old man and you’re talking about your frigging hardcore band, you need some therapy and you need a hobby.

[EH] I always had this theory that Wrangler Brutes was this weird concept that you came up with where you were going to have this awesome hardcore band with all of these dudes who had previously been in great and well-known bands, make some records, do a few tours, and then break-up just to piss people off.

[SM] No, it wasn’t like that at all. Wrangler Brutes were very ambitious. But let’s be honest, there was an element of “Come back in [to the hardcore scene].”
Wrangler Brutes were like John Kerry’s Presidential run. Think about it: He’s a war hero, but he’s against the war.  In 2004 he’s like, “Hey folks, I’ve done these two completely opposing things, how do you like me now?” That was Wrangler Brutes.
All of our ambitions were horizontal. We didn’t have any cynical careerist desires, but we were doing the legwork to set up a tour throughout Europe, including Russia and Turkey. We were also working on going to the Philippines and China. Our Japanese tour was originally much more extensive. Unfortunately, things unraveled very quickly and it was over.

[EH] When Wrangler Brutes were touring the US did you encounter people who expected Born Against songs or anything like that?

[SM] No, not really. There were actually a lot of MRP fans, in addition to the Born Against fans, that came out of the woodwork. The conversations would range from, “When I was 14 this band changed my life,” which was really nice to hear, to, “Here, take this broken dustbuster.” It was pretty easy to tell which fan is which.  
I know there was some question as to Wrangler Brutes’ motives, but it’s not really my job to clarify that. I will say that we were a very female-friendly band. Fifty percent of the audience would be ladies and they would be up front dancing, which was really nice to see.

[EH] As to the issue of Men’s Recovery Project…

[SM] I am not at liberty to discuss Men’s Recovery Project.

[EH] OooooKkkkkk, well, how much of…

[SM] No.

[EH] Hmmm…….

[SM] The only thing I will say about MRP is that I don’t see how I had any choice but to be in Men’s Recovery Project.

[EH] How did the Doc Dart article come about?

[SM] After Wrangler Brutes broke up, I got a job doing computer work for an industrial painting company. It gives you a lot of clarity on your life when you realize that you’re doing something you don’t want to do. That’s the motivation for 40 year old men reuniting their hardcore bands. They realize they’re not having fun like they used to, sitting behind a desk all day.
So what did I do? I started to scout around for articles I’d like to write. With Doc Dart it seemed like there was a great story there. Alternative Tentacles put me in touch with him. I’d actually talked to him on the phone in 1991.
I was in Wisconsin for about a week. I went out there, got a hotel room, rented a car, and he was very receptive to the whole thing. I had done my homework, so he appreciated that.
The first day we went out to lunch and he said, “Alright, you probably want to talk about the Crucifucks,” and I said, “No, that’s Wednesday; today we’re going to talk about your childhood.” I don’t think he had ever had someone approach him like that. Of course, that’s flattering for anyone; after all, he is a man with strong convictions, but he was extremely forthcoming about his life.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was given full access to someone with an incredible story. He completely trusted me to tell his story as respectfully as possible, which is what I attempted to do. In all likelihood, I’ll never get that set of circumstances again.

At the end, we both had the foresight to acknowledge that he was not going to like the article. He’s very particular about his life and odds are, if somebody’s writing an article about you, you’re not going to like it. For instance, somebody wrote a Wikipedia page about Men’s Recovery Project and, surprise surprise, I didn’t like it and I corrected it. Everybody’s like that.

[EH] Do you feel like you’ve entered that rarefied stratosphere of The Old Man Punk, like a Rollins or Biafra or Mackaye?

[SM] No, I don’t think that. I’ve got about 2,000 fans spread across the country. If I play someplace outside of a major city there’s 5 people there who are really stoked, but I don’t have any illusions about my fame or impact. Ultimately, it’s a very minor form of celebrity.

[EH] How do you feel about the “legacy” of Born Against? 

[SM] When I was 11, I co-wrote a book with a friend of mine and it was published. I went to a very unusual alternative school in Albany, NY. My best friend was 18 and he went to this school also. We researched and wrote a book together about Albany folklore. I wrote 5% percent of it, he did most of it. When the book was published we got a lot of press because, “Hey, an 11 year old helped write a book.”
In seventh grade, my history teacher took me aside, I guess he thought I was depressed or something, and he went on this crazy personal speech. I don’t know what he thought; he must have presumed I was some frustrated prodigy, it was really weird. He said, “Some people only do one great thing in their life.” And I thought, “I wanna do other things in my life, dude.” 

The Born Against situation is eerily similar to that.
I’m not so convinced that that’s what will be on my epitaph. I’m not embarrassed in any way by Born Against, but I’m not necessarily celebratory. People come to these shows and they’re almost nervous to meet me. Years ago, in Richmond, I had dinner with Bikini Kill and I was talking to Kathleen Hanna and there were these two 14 year old girls sitting near us, staring at her, and they couldn’t even talk. I’ve never had that. But it’s weird, people have been flustered, tongue-tied, it’s a strange experience. Whoever they think they’re gonna meet is long gone; that person doesn’t exist. It’s very flattering though. There was a time in the past where I would have just mumbled, “That’s cool,” but that is over; if someone says, “Hey, I like Born Against,” I’m like, “That’s awesome, what’s your name?” and have a conversation with them. Be a smooth-talking George Clooney guy that everybody knew I was anyway (laughs).

[EH] Has there ever been a time where you hated Born Against, like it was an albatross around your neck?

[SM] No, I’ve never felt like that.

[EH] Not even in the Men’s Recovery Project era? You had to enjoy fucking with people’s expectations.

[SM] Perhaps. But Born Against was doing that also. It’s all the same thing.
The problem with Born Against is that everyone talked about it too much. I’m not going to add to the chatter. There were a couple of good songs…
There’s all of these books coming out about 90s hardcore, and I don’t agree with the premise: That 90s hardcore is worthy of further documentation, or is in any way equal to 80s hardcore. There was a time in Born Against where we thought we’d be grandfathered in because we started in the 80s. Clearly not, we were a 90s hardcore band. That makes all the difference. We weren’t bad at what we did, but we weren’t of that time, and that’s that.

[EH] You don’t see yourself as a bridge between the two eras. I think a lot of people see Born Against like that.

[SM] No. That’s fine. I just don’t agree with it.
I think Black Flag is great. And we were no Black Flag.
There was some weirdness there with the Radio Silence guys because I declined an interview. It’s a very well done book, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, you should not have a photo of 1981 Henry Rollins next to a picture of Token Entry. That’s nutty talk. That’s not real.

 [originally published in NEGATIVE GUEST LIST #25]