Attacking the Beat
by Eric Lastname
I'm standing in front of a small stage, drunk, yes, drunk, but beautifully drunk, my lips pursed around a stubborn borrowed smoke, my face flush with blood and heat. The band launches into their thing. I am oblivious. No recoil. There's nothing for me to grab onto, no real tune for me to reconcile with; it's just four-five bodies pushing vacant abnormal punk noise onto a roomful of hungry customers.
My head swims in the drink. To hell with it. I flush out the moving colors in front of the eyes and call on the few recycled daydreams I've stored in the brainpan since age 17.5. There I am, naked, swimming in a warm, ambient whirlpool of dimly-lit seawater. There I am, rising out of the ruddy transluscence, towling off, raising my head just in time to spot a figure approaching. And there's Amy C., also naked, shaking her shit as she nears, look at her, Christ, she doesn't even know she's walking sex, doesn't even know her ass is a weapon.
Snap out of it, Lastname.
Fine. To the left: Heads a-bobbin'. To the right: Same. A few pranksters to the rear dancing. Band in front still trudges on, containing antics to the stage proper. Then vox-gal carefully lowers down to us peons in the audience for some much-expected "craziness," replete with mild confrontation-via-pushing. Convulses wildly, eyes back in head, in a show of apparent desperation. Shit. This is danger? Keep my money -- I want my fuggin' dignity back.
Amy C., you really knew how to move. What I wouldn't give for a tumble, a real get-at-it.
Saw James Chance a few months back. He'll never know how he broke my lil' black heart.
James was once the source of much intimidation, much aggravation and, from this jerk, much pie-eyed adulation. He hit several raw nerves, and he did it his way -- with insanely aggressive honesty. When he wanted to get weird or far-out or crazy or violent, either physically or musically, he did so with such intensity that one almost recoiled physically upon sensing his potential energy. His realized energy, of course, came through in live shows and recordings, both of which recalled images of hair-pulling insanity, forceful use of noise and a strong-armed doctrine of belligerence that went right for any passive listener's throat. Sometimes literally.
And his voice: It could melt a face off the skull. In terms of aural abuse, the only rival to Chance's erratic, off-kilter sax on "Dish it Out" -- the most appropriately-titled song EVER -- is his initial vocal burst: "Sick of beeeeeinng/on the losing end!" It's amazing to think that anyone managed to collect such a genuinely caustic heart-ripping scream 'n' shout on wax without suffering some sorta body/head trauma.
But the night I saw him, he transmutated from a lengendary agigtator who could back stage antics with actual-factual funk/jazz/punk/noise chops to man for the elevator muzak biz. Punk/r'n'r-angry funk had been replaced by pure jazz/funk, no edge, no way. Stage antics were limited to in-place dancing. Crowd taunts and baits were left hanging in silence. Even eye-contact was non-existent. The voice: A low yelp. He and his backers, the Fibbs, had played a full set of Contortions songs, but the whole experience was devoid of energy, devoid of intensity, devoid of any desperation or danger. It was truly sad.
Yes, I know: He's old. A real has-been, hasn't recorded anything worth a shit since before I was ejaculate. Even still: When James Chance has lost it, ladies 'n' gents, we know we're fucked. The towel's already hung.
I've seen several "dangerous" bands over the past few years. It's a buzzword: Danger. I think my definition is very different from that of my peers, as well as from that of my fellow contributors at Terminal Boredom or any other underground music publication.,/p>
The u-ground-press-approved brand of danger is usually concerned with surface-cool. Bands can clumsily string together two-three-four nonsensical and choppy punk fragments into one incoherent mish-mash of presumptuous crud, stamp a thin layer of KBD- or art-contrived "attitude" on it (tenth-generation allusions to drugs! sex! violence!), and the 'zines and message boards and gaping mouths flood with reports of amazing, chaotic output. Meanwhile, the band carries on with all the grace of a 9-year-old downie who proudly displays his D- math quiz: I DONE GOOD.
If there's even a slight element of instability or whimsy in a group's live show, they become, of course, the most INSANE, CRAZY, FUCKED-UP BAND ON THE PLANET. Well, I must be a cynical ass, because I expect insane, crazy, fucked-up behavior from all punk/rock 'n' roll bands. It's the nature of the music. Falling down and breaking bottles be damned -- if you're truly disturbed, I anticipate MY blood on YOU. Not vicey-versey.
Speaking of drugs: Unless you're serious about your serious use of serious drugs, stop singing about it. I don't buy it.
Mike Hudson didn't actually live on the street where nobody lives. The guy in Tapeworm wouldn't actually break his face, even if he wanted to. And no one in Pere Ubu ever flew 30 seconds over Tokyo. The difference between these examples and your band, aside from the obvious, is that these people are creating exaggerated and and funny and interesting characters in the name of entertainment; you're dredging up rehashed storybook punk archetypes and, worse yet, casually attempting to smear the lines between fantasy and fact, all in the name of trying to look like a desperate hard-ass.
I'm not a desperate hard-ass. I wear a tie to work. And I drink tea. Every day.
The Clone Defects were one of the best genuinely depraved, fucked-up and FUN bands of the last few years or so. Unpredictable? Sure. Dangerous? To an extent, yes. Violent? Not really. But they didn't need to be -- it was always bubbling underneath. And they were true eccentrics, authentic abberrations submerged in a sea of wanna-bes who envied -- ENVIED -- both the sound and the presence of four guys who probably started playing r'n'r because, in such a miserable goddamned world, it's all that kept 'em from offing themselves.
Funny to think that others are voluntarily wading in this misery in an attempt to collect pussy and u-ground prestige. A proper eulogy to the 'Defects would be the immediate disbanding of the next three poorly-executed KBD-themed groups (of which there is no shortage of right now), wherever they pop up in the U.S.
I wish I had a solution. What's more, I wish I could say exactly what makes a band dangerous or reckless, because similar-sounding and -acting bands don't always usher in the same glee and excitement that comes with a group of loose cannons like the Clone Defects or the Piranhas or the Hunches. If I had an equation, I swear: I'd share it with outfits who needed it so's they could wake me up instead of lulling me to sleep at one of their "insane" shows.
Bands: I hope you're angered by this column. You should probably beat me up. While you're playing. I'm about 5'11'', 140 lbs., soft in the middle, skinny in the limbs, never entered fisticuffs with anyone other than an older brother, faggy dyed-black bangs, a real scenester, yeah, smug look on my mug, a loudmouth, that's right, smoking other people's cigarettes, draining beers, whiskey-cokes, a pussy, a girl, easy prey. And I'm almost always right in front.
I dare you to intimidate me, spit on me, humiliate me. Or, hell, even look me in the eyes when you're singing about killing people and being powerful and fucked-up and crazy. I'll shake your hand after the show and bestow upon you the best bubblegum cigar money can buy.
Or you can just peg me as a pseudo-intellectual. I think too much, a real egghead, can't have dumb fun. A real stiff collar. And so forth.
1854 N. Cambridge Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
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