|JOHN BRAUN RIPPING IT UP|
This is a late night post based on my friend Graham Rae asking me about a band "I was in" that I must have talked about in an early Screeching Weasel interview called TORTURER. This is my grammatically unchecked response:
I have been working on a new Jughead's Basement podcast this month with Dan Vapid. The band he recommended working on was Naked Raygun, then both of us said Throb Throb. But this post is not about Throb Throb, or Naked Raygun, or Dan Vapid. It's about John Braun and a band that was but never was called TORTURER.
The Naked Raygun members are about a half decade older than me and Vapid, but both Vapid and I have slightly older brothers so there is a common ground when talking about influences. Vapid was fascinated with asking the Naked Raygun members if the music genre that made "you" pick up an instrument was the same as the genre that propelled "you" to be in the band. It was mostly unanimous that the two were not the same. In most cases the members of Naked Raygun were raised listening to Led Zeppelin, The Who, Van Halen, and my favorite UFO. But these bands, even though causing one to pick up an instrument, mostly frustrated more than inspired. It was just two damn difficult to play for a novice. What lead most of them to playing in a band was the arrival of punk music with The Ramones, The Stooges, and one of my favorites The Stranglers. These bands gave hope that a novice could play like them. This did not mean you would be able to write songs as melodically interesting but that did not matter at the time one was to be propelled. Just to know that I could put two fingers on the fret board and it would create a power chord was inspiration enough to continue.
But this was not the case for my best friend since shortly after my birth John Braun. Technically he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, even though his father was a well respected cop who got free fireworks, records, and concert tickets for his son (he has an older sister Lora, also into music, damn she was physically, emotionally, full bodily in love with Aerosmith), John Braun was more or less born with a silver gibson flying V in his hands. My brother, because of his highly fire conducive room full of posters and pages out of cream magazine dried out from pot smoke and cigarettes, from floor to ceiling, he was the one that gave me the vision to see what rock could be. For a time I could put down my Mary Poppins record and gaze at his walls when he was gone, the freaky early look of The Tubes, a old school 3d poster of Pink Floyd, concert tickets from the tiny venues called Haymakers and Beginnings that attracted such new acts as The Scorpions, Judas Priest, and UfO. He took photos from the crotch of his pants and became a master at snapping shots of bands worthy of framing.
Anyway, I was talking about John Braun. Damn that boy could play, even when we only had brooms for guitars, or just plain old air, he was leagues ahead of me, in style, and in actually understanding rhythm and melody. Really at times he was so damn good and deserving of my admiration that I became more of a voyeur of our own playtime, our imagining of ourselves as Alice Cooper or Brian May from Queen. I did not improve in my imagination or even when we got instruments. This was about the time my family was falling apart, my dad had left my mom with 5 kids, she never having worked as an adult now had to take care of all of us and pay for food. There was no time to even entertain the idea of getting me my own guitar. For the longest time I had to play air guitar along side John playing his actual first guitar which I think was not a flying V but an Ibanez Destroyer. I eventually got a job at a movie theater, under age, with permission from my mother, and earned enough money to buy a cheap copy brand called a Hondo Stratocaster. (I got a stratocaster because I thought it would allow me to play like Ritchie Blackmore.) I would bring it over to John's house at the other end of our neighborhood and we would listen to cassettes called "Guitar Licks" which you could purchase from Circus Magazine. The first one we had was Hot Licks by Randy Rhoads. Randy Rhoads was our hero, way more than Eddie Van Halen. Now that I think of it Randy had some kind of punk aesthetic going, metal yet super melodic, fast yet simple at times. God damn he walked into those Ozzy auditions an unknown with a tiny peavy decade amp and blew the minds of all listening. Then of course he had to die in a plane crash, but I got to see him live, YOU BET I DID. One of the best damn days of my life!
So… where was I? Yes John Braun. Fuck, he was good! So we started a band! The band was just like our underground fort we never built. Our bass player and drummer was as non existent as the stove and bunk bed that were to be built 100 feet under the grass in my backyard. We weren't a garage band, we were a basement band. But he LEARNED, and I stumbled, I tripped, My fingers wandered the fret board like an elephant in a quadra-pair of skates for the first time on ice as thin as a strawberry fruit roll-up. But do you know what? I fucking named that band. I fucking read a book called The Shadow of The Torturer and declared that our nonexistent band was to be called TORTURER. And by fucking god, it was! Without me there would have been no Weasel, without me their would have been no Torturer… well actually there was no Torturer, but while it lasted not existing I was in a glorious spacious friendly and inspiring metal hell with the most awesome air-guitar jammed dreams of Rosemont Horizon Stadium proportions.
And yes, to this day that fucking John Braun friend of mine is thousands of times better than I'll ever be, and that's as it should be. He's one of my unsung heroes.
He is the one that accidentally taught me one of the most important lessons. And that's how I'll end this: While I was air-guitaring and he was actually playing to a video featuring Alice Cooper's live concert of Welcome to My Nightmare, with blood, spiders, tight spandex, long hair, and plenty of sweaty wanking, wanking. I stopped, put down my air guitar and stared at the television screen. "God damn that guitarist sure can rip it up." Then John said, "Yeah, he's great. He also plays guitar for Elton John." And I said, "Wow he most love this so much more!" And then John stopped, put down his real guitar and asked, "Why would he love it more?" And I had no answer. Why would he love playing with Alice Cooper more than Elton John? Why was my sister's boyfriend hit in the face with a brick outside a Disco Club (that was later set fire and burned to the ground) by a Rocker just because in the disco they liked to dance instead of thrash their heads?
Here is one thing I learned about music theory, with 1,4,5 you can write a Ramones' song, a Lead Belly blues, an Iron Maiden metal lambast, a Bach sonata, a disco Donna Summers ballad, a Roger Whitaker soft sound, or even a non-existent wank for a band called TORTURER!