Sunday, February 28, 2016

Crushing Sour Grapes of Wrath...

I'm 44 now. I should know better.

I've written before how I didn't really get into the punk rock thing until I was seventeen. That's a pretty late age when you think about it. When I finally stumbled into the party with all my awkward glory I made an easy target. I couldn't tell whether to scratch my ass or wind my watch but I certainly was eager. I absorbed as much of anything "punk" related I could. I didn't have any opinions of my own at this point but was soon to learn some very sour and depressing lessons on elitism, hypocrisy and conformity.

I'm not sure when exactly I started to sour with 'mainstream' stuff. I always gravitated towards harder music for some reason, not sure why. At some point though even the brashest heavy metal bands began to seem cartoony and clichéd. By my mid-teens I was pretty disillusioned  - I love rock and roll and most of what I saw happening was just weak, insipid shit. It was the Eighties and all these bands popped up claiming lineage to the New York Dolls and Aerosmith but of course sounded more like Van Halen. I remember the summer 'Decline of Western Civilization Pt.II - The Metal Years' was released. It was embarrassing. I dunno, all those bands just all seemed stupid. I wasn't a fan.

Of anything.

The guy that more or less 'turned me on' to punk was named Scott. Scott was a big kid; about 6'3 and sported a red mohawk. This was a very rare thing to see in a Charlotte high school back in 1987. His intimidating size and Manson-like death stare thwarted any would-be bullies. I remember before meeting him thinking 'what an idiot', but somehow we became friends and I realized that what he did took a little bit of courage. Scott did little things to be passively obnoxious. One thing he taught me I always remember for some reason was that certain flavors of bubble gum produced an fairly repugnant odor  - Orange Bubbalicious was a favorite - and it was a fun, if juvenile (we were still juveniles after all) way to annoy people without them quite figuring out why. Anytime we were hanging out somewhere he'd pop in a fresh wad of gum.

It was thru Scott that I saw my first punk rock show, a local band called Misguided Youth. It was at a club called the '4808', so named because that was the street address. I'd been to many concerts at the local arenas, but this was entirely different. I remember really picking up on an electricity that excited me. This seemed somehow forbidden. It was like the parents were all out of town and left the city to the kids. It underground, or at least as underground as anything could be in our town. There were no "adults" per se, just few young guys that I guess ran the place. Other than that it was all teenagers. Lots of teenagers.

I remember the first band seemed younger than I was. I can't remember if they were any good or not, frankly I was too inexperienced to know any better. But they certainly impressed me; all blitzspeed adolescent angst thrashing away. I was somewhat disappointed when I later learned they were suburban rich kids from an exclusive private school. All the same they knocked me out, even if only for the twenty minutes I ever encountered them.

At some point the sound guy freaked out over the kids slam dancing. He grabbed a mic stand, unscrewed it from the base and started to wield it like a club. He weaseled down in front of the stage waving the mic stand as if he was gonna start beating kids over the head with it. The band stopped and told everyone to chill out. Personally I thought the guy was lucky - I mean he was outnumbered by about 120 to 1. But as I would come to learn most punk rock bravado was just empty lip service.
Misguided Youth were great. I didn't know it at the time but they were sorta like the 'baby brother' band of ANTiSEEN, although they sounded nothing alike. It was more the fact that they were about the only two bands in Charlotte making original music. Anyways I remember very vividly their guitarist, a guy named Lee MCorkle was wearing a Scottish clansman get-up; replete with a plaid yellow kilt. But he was machine gunning his guitar and aggro as hell. The bassist was a lanky sleepy eyed fellow named Jimmy King. Years later I would meet Jimmy and eventually we played in bands together, including the Mongrels 7" several years ago. Unfortunately Misguided Youth would break up shortly thereafter and I never saw them again.

What was also very significant this same night was that Scott handed off a worn copy of ANTiSEEN's 'EP Royalty' to me. I drove home feeling pretty exhilarated over the show. I got home and had to sneak up the stairs so as to not wake my sleeping parents. I knelt down before my stereo and put the record on the turntable. Even with the volume at a minimal level the record seemed to scream off the speakers. The opening wash of feedback of 'NC Royalty' buzzed into my consciousness for the first time and altered it so completely that I've yet to recover.

ANTiSEEN seemed to fill in the cracks and connect the dots. Sonically there was still a lot of open empty space in those days that seems difficult to understand today. There were hard lines of demarcation between musical genres, each one adhering to its own ascendancy. Reading the liner notes on the back of their album "Honour Among Thieves"  it said ANTiSEEN were raised on The Who and Blue Cheer - which at the time seemed anti-ethical to what I believed were the tenets of punk rock. Suddenly this band had a little more depth to their roots  - something I didn't readily understand but would quickly learn.

Over the following year Scott and I went off into our own orbits. He "grew out" of punk rock and started to treat me like an asshole. I always tried to be cool but he just wasn't having it. I've long since realized that he was just insecure and chasing whatever uh, whatever he could define himself with. For all I know he's still out there; chasing...

My other friends just couldn't get what I was on about. The whole punk thing confused and confounded them. Most of my friends were ardent followers of all things "Headbangers Ball" and RIP Magazine. This new "weird" music I was trying to turn everyone onto was rapidly forcing wedges within our friendships. I mean I was already a bit of a character to begin with and this sudden rabid excitement was only exacerbating the ugly truth; I was just not wanted around.

Which was fine by me. Onward and upward, right? Well... not exactly...

The punk rock kids in our area were kinda divided into three basic groups. First there were the anarchist/activist "peace punk"types. these were usually smaller, bookish kids who devoted their energies into little fanzines promoting animal liberation and organizing "punk rock picnics" to benefit peacenik organizations like Food Not Bombs. They were snobbish and pious. One of them was a chick called  - I shit you not - "Siouxie".

Seriously, I can't make this shit up.

And I'm not ashamed to admit I had a huge crush on her - I mean, she was hot, right? And in total candor I think I would've had a fair shot except I was just not cool. She made eyes at me but wouldn't dare deign to speak to me. I remember sitting next to her at a show with a sack of McDonalds cheeseburgers in a silly effort to offend her vegan sensibilities. I sheepishly offered her a bite. She merely rolled her pretty eyes and walked away.

Story of my life.

Then there were the grunge/skater types. Kids into all things Sub Pop, Touch & Go, Amphetamine Reptile and Thrasher Magazine. They were more laid back and affable. I generally got along well with these kids. They were less hung up about shit. Still they seemed more into skateboards, smoking pot and getting drunk and none of that was really my thang. It wasn't enough for me to passively listen to high energy records while stoned in some dudes basement. I wanted high energy in my face. I wanted to go off.

Lastly there were the "hardcore" kids. These were were basically guys that bought into the whole New York Hardcore thing; they had a "crew" all attired in bomber jackets and combat boots. They were all about Agnostic Front, Gorilla Biscuits, Warzone and Youth of Today. They all spoke with the curious affectation of heavy northern accents; everything was "youse guys", "yo", "alla ya's" and the like. I mean these were Carolina born and bred kids, right? They would do everything they could to pretend they were something other than who and what they were. They acted like they were hard. Street wise. It was just stupid. One of the hardcore kids was this two faced character named Tim. He would always act friendly and cool but then I'd hear about all this heinous shit he talked behind my back. Sometimes I'd catch him in a blatant lie and after awhile I started to call him on it. The last time I saw him he was singing for this really weak hardcore band still trying his damndest to pretend he was from NYC. It was so pathetically sad I couldn't even laugh at him anymore. He later wound up hanging himself in a closet. So much for being "hardcore".

What these people all shared in common was an open sense of shame and remorse to be Southern. To them, being from the south was a stigma worse than AIDS. It was as if to retain any semblance of southern pride was the equivalence of riding horseback on a midnight raid with the Ku Klux Klan. Many were merely waiting for the first opportunity to pick up stakes and head to more "tolerant and understanding" metros. I suppose maybe they found what they were looking for, who knows? All I know for certain is that they were all ready and willing to patch into whatever hackneyed contrivance that suited them; cheap easy costuming to mask their own sense of self loathing.

Meanwhile I was just trying to figure it all out. I couldn't fit in. I wasn't interested in cutting my hair funny or wearing combat boots. Most eyeballed me with open contempt and suspicion and made fun of me behind my back. I probably made it easy for them; I was just clumsy and clueless. I liked all the wrong bands and went to all the wrong shows. I had the wrong politics and the wrong ideas. I was just... wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Still I manage to somehow find a few avenues of acceptance. After GG Allin was freed from prison he came to town to record with ANTiSEEN. While here he did an in-store signing at a local record store, The local free paper picked up the story and provided some rather damning editorial comment. So I took pen to paper and sent a snotty little letter to the editor. Surprisingly they printed it, along with another letter similar to my own penned by a guy named Jes Rosenberg. Long story short, we both decided we should meet.

Jes was several years younger than me. I think he was fifteen but he was far better versed in most everything than I was by a long shot. It was thru Jes I first heard Roky Erickson, the Weirdos, the Dictators and all kindsa great stuff. In fact I first heard the song "Ain't It Fun" thru Jes; the original Rocket From Tombs version. Not many people can claim to have heard that version before the Dead Boys version. And it was only because Jes knew his shit. I sometimes wonder how some disenfranchised teenage misfit kid in rural North Carolina learned this stuff in the pre-internet dark ages. And how lucky was I to have met him?

Jes and I also shared a rabid fandom for ANTiSEEN. He knew as I knew that they were special. They were totally unique. While other bands readily aped accepted style and convention, ANTiSEEN defied it. They openly professed a love of Black Oak Arkansas as readily as they did Black Flag. I remember the writer Fred Mills saying that a southern California hardcore band could never write a song like "Mill Workin' Man" - and this was a huge revelation to me. ANTiSEEN were a reflection of their own culture. They didn't try to cop into some other stylized pose.  They didn't wear bermuda shorts or combat boots, they didn't preach politics and they didn't try to play anything beyond a simple thudding brand of punk rock that was about as direct a line as you can get to the heat. It was clear to me and Jes that ANTiSEEN was the absolute unadulterated Real Deal, and everyone else in Charlotte could go get fucked.

But if there was any more glaringly obvious way to wreck my naivety, it was this hackneyed joke of a 'festival' called the "Popsicle Jubilee". I used to promote shows with a kid named Brian. Brian was one of the aforementioned "peace punk" types. He was all about stupid shit like "punk rock ethos" and "punk subculture". Whatever.  He had some connections so he got the bands while I was responsible for the venue and if necessary, the PA. We did NOFX, we did Born Against, we did a bunch. I had located an indoor skateboard park that allowed us to do our shows. It was housed in a giant warehouse which consisted of two buildings joined together. One was filled with the ramps and the other was obviously intended for growth. There were plenty of bathrooms and even a kitchen. It was operated by two middle aged guys who I guess were parents of skaters. They were a little shady and one of them tried to come on to me once.

Anyway it occurred to Brian that it was large and self contained enough to host larger shows than what we had been doing. I was skeptical. Brian was undeterred. I don't know - maybe his rationale was if the cops tried to shut down a big punk festival, then he would be given his opportunity for the civil disobedience he no doubt dreamed of. He partnered with a guy from New York and went about the business of eagerly booking bands while I started to work on the logistics of how to corral whatever audience showed up for this thing. I was gauging our abilities to stay under the radar and out of sight. I didn't think this place was licensed or insured, and although any legal hassles ultimately fell on the owners of the park, it would obviously mean trouble for us on  the back end.

Several days before the show kids started showing up. These were people of Brian's ilk; full-on dumpster diving homeless gutter punks. They stunk like skunks and were dirtier than landfill rats. All of them wanted to barter their entry for some sort of service (eg. ticket taking, bouncing etc) Brian was in high heaven but I was quickly losing patience.

I left Brian in charge for the first night, reckoning if there was to be trouble it was better to let him handle it. I guess maybe a couple hundred kids from all over the east coast had showed up for this thing and weren't terribly concerned about hanging out around a warehouse all day while bands played. So they wandered about to nearby shopping centers and attacked the dumpsters. Sure enough it didn't take too long before the cops caught wind (or stench) of what we were doing. They quickly shut everything down, including the skatepark. As for Brian's moment of civil disobedience, well..

After some phone calls and some quick wheeling/dealing, the festival was moved at the last hour to a heavy-metal club across town. The club allowed the bands to play provided they were done before the regularly scheduled metal cover bands played. I told Brian to agree and then take over the club and tell the managers if they didn't like it they risked having a riot destroy their club. It would be easier and wiser to let the bands play and the kids hang out than having a ruckus draw heat on their club. This was an obvious bluff, true, but it was a card worth playing. He should've told the cops the same thing. But instead he quietly accepted defeat, politely conceded to their terms and try to make the best of it. What could've - maybe should've - been a touchstone high-water mark for DIY/independent culture in Charlotte ultimately has been totally forgotten. Why? Because it wasn't about music. It was about looking cool. Just bullshit.   
Here's another part of the story: There was a character that showed up called 'Donny the Punk'. He used to write guest columns and letters in MRR. Anyways he was getting on the mic between bands rambling on about the 'system' and all the other standard item punk rock clichés. At one point he said something that made me prick up my ears. While trying to rally the kids under his exhortations of who and what 'punks' are and should be, he said "punks are full of discontent! Punks are full of anger!!"...  I looked around the room and realized I was standing amid a herd of brainless sheep. The Scene. These people were never committed to anything more than getting drunk and smelling bad.

 "What?!?!" I yelled back at ol' Donny the Punk. "Punks are what?!?"

"Anger.They're full of anger."

"THEY'RE FULL OF SHIT!", I yelled.

People stepped away from me. There was a few seconds of silence. I stood literally alone in a crowd - and in that moment, without aid of a microphone or a stage, without friends to back me up or protect me - I had killed the whole thing. They knew it, too. I finally and forever saw they were all just lame posers hiding behind empty talk and half-assed ideas. I walked out and never talked to Brian or any of those people ever again.

I remember finding Joe Young and Jes Rosenberg out in the parking lot. Joe was passing flyers out with ANTiSEEN tour dates. "Gotta make the most of a bad situation, Russ!" I grabbed some flyers and went to work. Looking back I think maybe that was the moment when Joe saw a little something in me. I had taken my lumps, learned a hard lesson and yet never tucked tail and never gave in. I had made a stand, however small. We talked about it some that night. He said it was better to do things for yourself and the people you know rather than waste time and energy on strangers that would desert you when it suited them. You may not always look cool and you may sometimes get beat up - both figuratively and literally - but you'll have you're integrity.

Years later I found out Brian had drifted out to Chicago and became a junkie. He was murdered over a drug deal gone bad. They found his body in a vacant warehouse with his head and hands cut off. I don't know if they ever recovered the missing parts or not. All I know is I'm still here and he isn't. So fuck that "punk rock ethos" bullshit, if it ain't about music then I don't wanna know. But as I've learned, music was and remains secondary to the pose. The music serves no other purpose for these people than as conduit for their own egos. I readily recognize this in the vacuous noise of the "scene". I see the derivative staleness and as it much as it depresses me, it also inspires me. It makes me wanna do better - to hopefully work a little harder, talk a little smarter and play a little dirtier than I did the day before. 
Yeah, so now I'm old I'm jaded and I'm cynical. But is it really so arrogant to say I'm also right? 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dead Mans Hand Again...

Moving into the new year with a lot of opportunity. We're settling into our new practice room, a pretty great place that John Hayes found . As per his character, he has generously opened the room to us. I don't really know John too well personally, but his help and generosity is pretty humbling. I think I can safely speak for the others when I say that we appreciate everything he continues to do for this band. Moreover his support extends to many others on many different levels. In a world where genuine "good guys" are rare, John really steps up and literally puts his money where his mouth is. 
The year ended sadly with the tragic loss of Lemmy Kilmister. It should be obvious the influence Motorhead has on ANTiSEEN. Lemmy stood as a literal "warts and all" ugly face in defiance of mainstream affability. His music offered refuge and solace to outsiders and misfits of all kinds. I remember as a kid that Motorhead frightened me. Seeing pictures of them sneering and leering I could only imagine their music as outside and beyond my teenage comfort zone. I felt much the same about punk rock then. It was more than I could understand or assimilate in my pre-adolescent brain. Rock & Roll held a lot of mysterious and unnerving avenues. It would take several more years for me to muster the courage and open mind to explore them all.

And then of course, then there was no going back.

No sooner have we adjusted to the shock of losing Lemmy than comes the news we've lost Bowie. And if there was ever a guide for the mysterious and unnerving avenues of Rock & Roll, it would be David Bowie. Of course to write anything about Bowie is redundant at this point. The greatest of rock & roll reflects something of ones inner self - which Bowie's many facets so easily allowed. We all can claim at least some tiny part of his many personas and permutations as reflections our own. It is why we feel so deeply about these losses.

Closer to home is the loss of Clarence "Blowfly" Reid. ANTiSEEN would enjoy the good fortune of sharing shows with Blowfly including a West Coast Tour several years ago. Never mind unimportant PC terms like 'diversity', Reid was an influence and inspiration to Clayton going way back. Bottom line is that no matter what lines of demarcation might exist in your brain; everything great always bleeds thru in the end. So sponge up what you can, while you can.
We are left now with an increasingly shrinking fraternity of musical icons who are not only leaving us, but seemingly taking so much in the process. There sadly isn't anything rising in their wake - we are left with a legacy that we share with so few others. I don't wanna get off on another one of my rants, but suffice it to say, as we grow older and the tide of popular culture grows increasingly facile and disposable, even the legacy seems to be in jeopardy of simply fading away.

Meanwhile we are still working on new songs - a lot of them actually, so it takes time to work them up and over. I recently had a discussion with Clayton over how well we all seem to be working together. This line-up really has gelled. The biggest obstacle now isn't having enough material, rather how quickly we can get it all recorded and released. One track, a "live" workover of 'Burnin' Money', has already been released on a compilation CD called "Invocation of Obscene Gods". It also features twenty six other bands including our old pals Hellstomper and the Gooch's old band, Brody's Militia. It also includes a cool zine featuring an interview with Clayton. It's available thru

 We also have two in the can finished and ready to go; one of which we've been playing pretty regularly since summer called 'Let The Working Man Rest A Little Bit'. The other is a retooled version of a song by our Australian friends Rupture. It's called 'If I Had a $1000 Dollars I'd Be A Millionaire'.  I say "retooled" because it was also recorded by Clayton and myself on the Mongrels 7". Anyway, we really dig the song and I think y'all will, too.

Another new song we've played out a few times is 'Favors Are Over'. This song is a rewrite of a Mad Brother Ward song. I stole the title from an ancient unrecorded ANTiSEEN song that was eventually recycled as 'Violence Now'. Jeff added some lyrics and we retooled the arrangement a bit. Speaking as a long time fan it's been pretty exciting to see it come together. Some other (working) titles include 'Cousin Eddie', 'LO-FI', 'Give It Up', 'I Am A Problem', 'Whats In it For Me' and a cover tune that I don't wanna spoil the surprise on.

We have a few upcoming gigs over the next month, including the Berserker Fest in Detroit March 5th. Check out and of course for all upcoming shows.

Hope to see you all soon!!