Monday, November 20, 2017

A Selection of Incomplete Influences on Screeching Weasel In The Beginning Years

Punk Songs Ben Foster, Matt Nelson and Jughead were listening to when 
Screeching Weasel became a band
by John Jughead Pierson

 Ramones: It’s Alive 

It is very obvious this band was an influence on us, but it is not the key to what our music was. Of course influences on a band are usually varied and hard to pinpoint to the exact inspiring moment. And I feel that is as it should be. This is the supposed video to the live album, It's Alive. I remember this record because Ben would play it in its entirety on all our suburban trips in his car, back in 86 and 87.  He saw the Ramones right before he started working at the GCC movie theater, where we met again, for the third time in our lives, and that is why he asked me to start a band. I have always loved the Ramones, but they never would have been my main influence for starting a band. That was purely Ben. But I would never deny how these black leather clad rock n roll musicians changed us, and the world. The rest of this list is incomplete, and perhaps I will grow it as time goes on. But here is a beginning to placing our moments in punk, and our turning points, when first starting Screeching Weasel. From my experiential point of view only, I have included some of the favorite songs of Ben, myself, and my good friend Matt Nelson  Matt Nelson passed away quite a few years ago, and I include him here, because he was a crucial part of the gathering of punk influences.  These songs, don’t go too far outside the realm of punk, but some do.  These are a condensing of merely the punkish type influences, a list of ALL influences would take another life time.  These are the bands that came to mind the day I sat down to pinpoint what songs got us energized to get out of our basements and start playing shows. These are in no particular order, except the natural order from the chain reaction of a person’s failing memory.  My failing memory.

 Mr. T. Experience - Everybody’s Entitled To Their Own Opinion - Disconnected 

I got most of my records from a place in Wheeling Illinois called Record City. Ben was the best at ordering records from magazines. This record showed up at Ben’s house, via the mail, and I immediately made a cassette copy. I played it for Matt Nelson and he went out and ordered it to be shipped to Record City. Love is Dead would later become a big influence on pop punk, but this record and this song helped Ben and I to realize that we could do this too. We never thought we could play like Frank or Jon, but we wanted them to like us. I still don’t know if they do.  In retrospect I feel one of the things I saw in MTX was a concise, well constructed, yet loose conviction to creating songs that were catchy but also saying... something... not always intellectual but constructed in a way that made you listen and think.

 Circle Jerks - Golden Shower of Hits - Coup D’etat 

Matt Nelson and I saw Repo Man in the theater in 1984. It is no small thing to say that this quickly altered our musical aesthetic. We were still in High School. We were already on the fringe listening to bands like Devo, Oingo Boingo, and Wall Of Voodoo. But when we went out and bought Golden Shower of Hits together, most of our friends really thought we went way too far off our rockers. Matt had a lot of pent up anger and this was a great release for him. My anger never directly came from music like this, for me I think it was more the attraction to the audacity of these bands to say and do whatever the fuck they wanted, within the context of their own moral schematic. I think I was headed this way already, both musically and within the literature I was reading, but FUCK, can’t deny that this band made it easier for me to go against the grain, and know that I would be OK. Kudos also go to other songs from this movie: Institutionalized by Suicidal Tendencies and Repo Man by Iggy Pop. This is also how I discovered Jonathan Richmond and The Modern Lovers by way of Burning Sensations’ cover of Pablo Picasso.

ANGRY SAMOANS - BACK FROM SAMOA - LIGHTS OUT What can I say? You want comedy in music? You want stupid yet somehow informative anti-establishmentarianism? The anarchy of The Marx Brothers put to music. These boys from Angry Samoans new music, they were all avid collectors of music, had larger collections of records, from all genres, than most other punks or other music enthusiasts, they were critics for rock music zines, they knew Blue Oyster Cult, hung with professional wrestlers, made music videos before it was a thing, arguably coined the term Heavy Metal (Look up Metal Mike) Fucking anarchists with a music sensibility in spades! Matt, Ben, and I all dug this band. Talking about insanity, stupidity, murder, but all with a sense of sugary melody, even at their most snotty they were danceable, disturbing, and inspring.

Adrenolin OD - Humongousfungusamongus - Nice Song

 We wanted to be Adrenalin OD. We dressed stupid like them on stage and we combined our melodic and hardcore roots into our band modeled after these boys. (And a few others, of course.) I don’t think we felt we were good enough musicians to pull off their speed. The melody in the chaos of their music was a key to us feeling comfortable moving from more of a hardcore punk band to a more “melodic” seeking punk band. They were also responding to the suburbs and growing up watching television, maybe too much television. Television was our lives as kids, and it was impossible not to let that help us relate to other people and bands around the country. When I did my interviews with AOD talking about TV was an easy in to talk about more personal aspects of their lives and their band.  There was something hilarious about taking the innocence of the tv generation and the suburbs and turning these topics into influences for fucking hardcore songs!  We took this on early in our SW records with such songs as Murder In The Brady House.  AOD helped us legitimate ourselves as suburban punks, and helped confirm that we did have something to say of value about life.  Our topics to explore could be stupid and appear juvenile while simultaneously creating social satire.  We could move beyond the governmental politics that at times were weighing down the creativity of the hardcore in the late 80s and early 90s.  AOD may have helped to give us the confidents to venture out of the burbs into the big city, Chicago, and play alongside the blue collar bands that rightfully held court over the scene, such bands as Naked Raygun, Articles of Faith and The Effigies. 

 Naked Raygun - Throb Throb 

 I was just going to put a link to Surf Combat, because that was one of our first cover songs. It was easy to play and David Grohl used to play it when he first started playing drums too. Then I realized this whole album is Surf Combat, is Chicago punk rock at its best. A band that didn’t shy away from being strange, pretty, yet masculine. It had inner turmoil of wanting to be punk but also wanting to be artsy, and this turmoil surfaced in the first few records put out by these guys.  I feel these first years are what built a foundation that would make them unique in the world of punk.  They later fashioned their sound into a more cohesive energetic tough sound. This move pushed them even farther into a legendary status in the Chicago Scene, and they will have respect from the punk community till after they are all dead and buried, and hopefully onwards. Hopefully some old punk on their death bed writes it into their will that their kids and grand kids must play Throb Throb if they are ever going to see a penny of inheritance.  Naked Raygun always had the best mosh pits.  We aspired to such great greatness. A few of us from Weasel have become friends with these guys, and it is still nice to walk among these giants of Chicago punk rock.

 DI - Horse Bites Dog Cries - Johnny’s Got a Problem 

Southern California band in the movie Suburbia (1983) Matt Nelson loved this band, and he was the one that brought them to our attention. They always remained one of his top bands. Matt and I started a DJ company right out of high school and we called it Out Of Control, based on the title of this song. Later when Ben and I would hand over the band booking at Durty Nellies, Matt would take it over and call the promotion company Out Of Control. This is the promotion company that booked most of all the Lookout bands that came to Chicago, plus nurtured a scene of it’s own with such bands at its core as: Screeching Weasel, Sludgeworth, The Vindictives, Guage, Smoking Popes, 88 Fingers Louie, Pegboy and many others.

Bad Religion - Back To The Known - Frogger 

 I used to sing this song at the top of my lungs… well actually just the chorus, I was never one good at remembering words to a song. Matt had this album in his collection. He was basically the one keeping the hardcore/punk section alive at Record City. There might have been a hand full of other people in the Northwest suburbs buying current punk records being put out. Matt, of course, being raised a good catholic boy, was attracted to the anti-christian sentiments of the logo. I think this upbringing was at the core of his anger, and Bad Religion helped him work through a lot of that dissatisfaction. I never followed the career of Bad Religion any farther than this record, but this ep sure made an impression on me.

 Fear - The Record - I Don’t Care About You 

 This was another cover song done by the early Screeching Weasel. Once again, we never hoped to play or sing nearly as good as anyone in FEAR, but shit, this band was fucking weird and powerful. Watching Ben on stage in the early days, I saw a lot of Lee Ving in him. I would never claim to know if Ben channeled this, but it sure was visible in his performance and his intensity looking at the crowd. Then I saw Lee Ving as Mr. Boddy in the movie CLUE with many of my other favorite actors, and he became even more badass to me.  Plus I have always been a fan of Saturday Night Live and John Belushi, and if you haven't seen the episode in which they played on the show, of which Belushi invited them, then you need to see it.  New York's Alright...

 Dayglow Abortions - Feed Us a Fetus - Argh Fuck Kill 

 I wanted this song on my list, I remember both Ben and Matt listening to this record often. I knew nothing about this Canadian band, except that I thought this song was hilarious. And I loved that they mostly sang this song in gibberish, and were simultaneously able to boil hardcore punk down to three of its most essential humorous properties for inappropriate lyrical material such as, Fucking, Killing, and Arghing. If you have some time you can do some interesting reading on them. They were involved with Jello Biafra and the fight against Obscenity Charges. There is a book in print by their friend Chris Walter. It of course is called: Argh Fuck Kill: The Story Of The Dayglow Abortions.

 Dead Kennedys - Give Me Convenience of Give Me Death - Police Truck 

 To the point, this was one of the few songs I liked by The Dead Kennedys. I tried so hard to get into the energy, but this is about the only one that got me moving. I won’t say much about them that hasn’t already been said, I just felt they needed to be represented here. A short story, which has the markings of punk humor all over it. In high school I did not drive, I hated driving, and told all my friends that I would probably own a house before I owned a car. (Which actually ended up being true. I own a house but I don’t own a car.) On my 18th Birthday, Matt and my other friend Jim spent the day gathering money from everyone who knew me. They wanted to get me the best present ever. And people were so impressed by the grandness of the goal that they all pitched in quite a huge amount of cash. This is a severe shortening of the story, but basically they had a surprise birthday party for me where they presented me with this present… A Car. They knew I didn’t want one and actually raised enough money in one day to buy me a beater. Everyone came up to me for weeks asking, how the car was, and how they couldn’t believe how good of friends Matt and Jim were. On it they painted such things as Nazi Punks Fuck Off, and on the front fender was painted, I Kill Children. How anybody we knew took them seriously I don’t know, but they did it. And I traded the car to my brother that same day for an old beat up power amp that was used to start our DJ company Out Of Control.  I also think that Dead Kennedys were so political, and Jello became so obsessed with it, that it destroyed him in many ways, and this may have affected us to be more a goofy yet more socially aware than politically aware punk band.  This may be recreating the past, but it seems feasible.

 Descendants - FAT - I Like Food 

 Yes, of course I could put another song on here by Descendants that is more characteristic of a melodic musical influence on Screeching Weasel. But… No. This was way more influential on us than the music that would eventually be more similar to what Weasel would become. The stupidity but precision of this band was exemplary. They are the South Park of punk rock, but a decade before South Park was even a twinkle in the eyes of Parker and Stone. SST Records would become one of the strongest influences on Ben. And via Ben, on me. Some more SST bands below.  Starting with Black Flag.     

 The Queers - Grow Up - Love Love Love 

What can I say? The Queers became our musical brothers in arms. The moment we ate at Joe’s restaurant, and he brought us home to stay with him, treating us like we were the next Ramones, he became forever connected to Ben. When we played with them that first time, in Joe’s basement, with Hugh and B-Face backing him, I heard this song, and said, “What the fuck is this?” Ben had already had Joe’s demo tape, but this was all new to me. This man had a natural yet nurtured knack for writing the most catchy tunes that seemed simple yet spiritually complex in their fucking catchiness. I think the two most crucial out of Chicago experiences for Screeching Weasel were staying at the Ashtray Punk House in Berkeley California and on the other side of the country, Joe’s Basement in New Hampshire.  Ben and Joe would become so close that their songs became one, not knowing who started or ended what and who wrote which part or the other.  They both loved overhearing unique, odd, phrases, writing them down and repeating them, then adopting these gems into their normal vocabulary, and giving them a poetic life in lyrics that through their usage in songs, begin to speak to a commonality in people.  The phrase, Crying in my beer is a perfect example here.

 Pink Lincolns - Back From the Pink Room 

 If you asked me who is the most punk person you know, it would be definitively Chris Barrows. In person he is one of the most soft spoken lovely humans I have ever met, but put the man on the stage and the anger of the fucked up world spews from the man’s body. Behind this whole scene of punk sits one of its quietest rulers, Chris Barrows. Ask almost any punk of repute and they will have had some kind of run in or respectful mail correspondence with Chris Barrows. He was the first one to respond to my reaching out for band connections across the US, back in 1986. Back when we both only had demo tapes. He has been my friend since the day I received his first letter. And no matter how divided Ben and I have gotten or will get over our lifespan, I think Chris Barrows will be the one thing we will always agree on, as one of the most important persons in our punk lives. A side story: When I sent Chris Boogada Boogada Boogada the day it came out, he wrote back immediately, and he said something to the likes of, “You two just created something that will change the scene. This is a serious piece of vinyl.” Those words are my creation, all I can remember is what he said to me almost made me cry, it meant so much.

 Fudge Tunnel - Little Red Fire Engine.  

Russ Forester put out our first record on Underdog Records. We used to play with Russ’ band at a club called Batteries Not Included, the booking agent was the late Jim Ellison from Material Issue. Russ was a hippie, but that was just a part of this complexly disturbed and enigmatic man. He is a freak. He was a freak and will always be a freak. And he is still my friend. Still creating music. And doing things with his life that helps others, and that’s all I feel I should say about that, but wanted to mention it.  Because he is relevant now and always.  Russ created music and listened to music that bounced from genre to genre, and he inhaled it all, he attached it to the decades that had preceded him, and he threw it into the present future, and formed a raw band known as Fudge Tunnel. He played guitar with a coin, a quarter, and stared through the audience to the back of the room. His eyes would have scared me if they weren’t so enthralling to watch. One of the first Weasel tours was with his next band Sponge Tunnel, and even though I didn’t key into the vibe of most of their music, I would watch them every night. They would play Little Red Fire Engine almost every evening, I think in part due to the fact that I loved it. I would stand there in the center of the audience and watch their every move. It is still probably one of my most listened to songs over decades. It’s fucking weird, and it gets under your skin and stays there. This song is not for everybody, and I had to learn this over the years, because I would play it for most people I met, and they just didn’t see it like I did. But here it is, still in my head this many years later, and worthy of an influential mention.

 Bhopal Stiffs - Demo - Not Just In My Head 

Seeing Vince and Larry on stage… like football players with guitars, not like they were jocks, but more like they could take those guitars and bend them over your head or kick them for a field goal. Neither of them would claim to be great guitarists, but I have never seen a duet as powerful as them in my life. And THEN put a strong rhythm section behind them, Steve and Dave… well… there was no bother trying to compete with them. We used to play all our early Chicago based shows with them, and each night I made it a goal to try to sound at least half as good as they did. I wanted to be able to play my guitar as hard as they did, and try to create that energy that felt like their lives depended on pounding sound out of their instrument. I could have chosen any song from their first demo. I loved all these songs. But my memory of them, as a live band, playing for a hand full of friends and drunk strangers, is what lives in my head. Still to this day, I think of them when I am looking for inspiration to play hard, to play like it all still matters.

 White Flag - Wild Kingdom - Instant Breakfast 

 This was a Ben Weasel band. He made me listen to them. He made them become an influence on me. These guys could play their instruments! They were a tribute to a scene being able to laugh at itself. The band name is obviously a play on Black Flag, and the band names are all based on punk musicians of the day. I wish I knew more about them, or could say more about them. Just look them up and learn more about them and report back. Pat Fear (Bill Bartell) played a flying V, like my other metal influences like The Scorpions and UFO. Bill was a punk with a wicked sense of humor and irony. I liked that. Bill died, and he was a punk legend. Really, look him up. Instant Breakfast is the song I would put on mix tapes for years to come. Pat in Spin Magazine

 Black Flag - Damaged - Rise Above 

This, this is the band Ben would play to annoy everyone he knew. When he was listening to Black Flag, I don’t know a single other person who liked them. We even went to one of Henry Rollins first spoken words in Chicago. He was supposed to perform from the stage of the Metro, but the turnout was so poor he just jumped down to the audience where we were, about 7 of us, and we sat around him in chairs. Ben had all his books and all his audio tapes. He was a true fan of Black Flag, SST, Greg Ginn, and Henry Rollins from the beginning days of that label. When Ben and I worked at the movie theater together, we used to sit up in a small room on the second floor of the theater and pop popcorn for hours, he would crank Black Flag, and the manager would come in occasionally and say things like, “Don’t you have anything else you can listen to?” For those days, my band was The Circle Jerks and Ben’s was Black Flag. These two bands were already so intertwined in the history of hardcore. They were our idols.

 Meat Men - We Are The Meat Men and You Suck - One Down, Three To Go 

 Ben loved this band, their level of offensiveness I think was nearly a hero worship for Ben. Plus Tesco V was a chronologer of punk in Zines and I think Ben was highly influenced by the way this man lead his musical and literary career. Tesco started the Touch and Go zine, which later became the Touch and Go label. I believeTesco’s ability to make a joke out of John Lennon’s death, even though it may have been “too soon.” was an aspect that affected our band, and I feel lead directly to the creation of the song I Hate Led Zeppelin.

 Runaways - School Days 

Joan Jett was around for awhile before I even owned a guitar. A young rocker discovering their own sexuality couldn’t deny the draw towards Joan Jet, the bad girl of rock n roll. That would have been enough, but shit, she was talented, and the music was so strong and melodic.  It should be a given that women can rock as hard if not harder than men, but to me growing up, it wasn't obvious.  And people like Joan Jett paved that way for transformational realizations and gender politics to take root in the music scene, at least in the world of a punk rocker.  Ben had the Runaways album. I was only familiar with Joan Jett, I had her debut record. If you listen closely to some of the Weasel songs you can hear choruses and verses that sound eerily similar to some of the Runaways’ and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ music.

 Pretenders - Self Titled - Precious 

 Go back years before Screeching Weasel, I am a small boy hardly a teen, and I get into the RCA music club, I see The Pretenders on Fridays, a television show spawned from Saturday Night Live. On the night they were performing Andy Kaufman was the host. Fuck, that rocked my world in both a musical and theatrical sense. I decided to take a chance and order their self titled debut album. Some of the more melodic songs stuck instantly in my head like Mystery Achievement, Stop Your Sobbing, and Brass in Pocket, but the one that made a punk impression on me was this song that leads off the album, Precious. The first song on the record and Chrissie Hynde is telling you to “Fuck Off.” Now that’s punk. Fucking Chrissie Hynde, a rock god. This is my influence, I would not say this for Ben or Matt, but to me Chrissie is not just a female rocker, she is A ROCKER! I wanted to be as good of a rocker as Chrissy. That really hasn’t changed.

 Velvet Underground - Rock N Roll 

This influence came to me via, Janes Addiction and The Feelies. Ben also had a couple Velvet Underground records, but I don’t recall if we ever listened to them together. I have some recollections of it happening but I don’t think it was a shared love, just one we both liked. This band would influence me more with what I ended up doing with Even In Blackouts, but I can’t deny that Lou Reed had his influence all over everything in music in the 70’s and 80’s, and Ben and I were both a product of what these bands had forged. This amount of experimentation but allegiance to melody, even in its stripped down and even destructive incarnations in their music, it was signal to us from a prior generation that we could do it too, we could make music of our own, by our own rules, and that it could be good. (For further searching for those interested, The Feelies was one of the only bands that Ben claimed he liked of the artsy-garage-type oriented bands I listened to.)

 Judas Priest - British Steel - Breaking the Law 

 This is how I learned to play guitar. Bands like Judas Priest, UFO, The Scorpions, and Iron Maiden are the ones that I tried to emulate when I first got a guitar. The simple scale solos of Judas Priest was something I could learn, and years and years later when trying to create melodic lines to what Ben was bringing to the table, these are the influences I relied on to show me the way. I had no musical theory, I only had the scales of Judas Priest. And years later when Rob Halford came out of the closet and threw many of his overly masculine, somehow sexually ignorant, fans into a ethical dilemma, I loved it, and the already overflowing amount of respect I had for Halford increased. That was punk! I saw Judas Priest live when I was like 13 years old, when Rob Halford drove on stage on aarley in a leather cap and chaps, and then he proceeded to sing in falsetto… I should have known, and I should have cheered even harder.

 Pee-Wee’s Playhouse 

 This is an influence, I don’t know how it has made its mark on me and Ben, but we use to watch this almost every day before rehearsal in Ben’s Parents’ garage. We used to fucking laugh so hard. This HAD to have shaken something lose in our communal brain, something that twisted our sensibilities enough to create art that ITSELF would go on to influence others. Don’t ask me to explain it any further, but it’s there in our genetics now warping our synapses and causing permanent damage. 

 Ciccone Youth - White Album - Into the Groove(y) 

 What? I band from the members of Sonic Youth an influence? Yes, with all hates there comes a love… or at least that was the case with us and Sonic Youth. I think it was really us, trying to make a mark in music, and Ben doing what he does best, insulting others. Sonic Youth printed a Ben Weasel criticism in their Master=Dik inner sleeve. Ben then challenged them to a wrestling match in… I think Jello or mud. It never happened, but… The Sonic Youth music did live in our collection, and we used to listen to this version of the Madonna song quite a bit. We might even had tried playing it in rehearsal, I seem to recall that happening. And I would go so far as to say that Ben’s Madonna tattoo was a product of not only his then girlfriend, then wife Portia, resembling Madonna, but the deal was cemented by the prior history starting with this cover song. Mike Watt is also on this record which leads to the next influence.

 Minute Men - Double Nickels On The Dime - A Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing

 There were very few records allowed on our Screeching Weasel tours. One of them was Ramones’ It’s Alive, and the second was Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime. Here is another band Ben and I could never hope to sound like, but we couldn’t help but be drawn into their sound. It was yet another SST band that rocked our worlds. I would later get to interview Mike Watt, and that was an experience I will never forget. For a band to mean so much to us, and then have one of the main creators of that music talk to me, not like I was a fan, but an equal, meant the world to me, and it is how I try to treat all the people that sight me as an influence. Minutemen could be melodic and then they could not be melodic. It all was relevant and it all was jaw dropping when hearing it for the first time, and even the 90th time. Fucking D Boon, fucking dying. Shit! Fuck that! Fuck. Nothing more to say. Listen to everything these guys did.

 Dead Milkmen - Big Lizard in My Backyard - Bitching Camaro 

Over the years I became less and less a fan of The Dead Milkmen, but who could deny the hilarity and catchiness of Bitching Camaro?  It was one of the few songs that helped bridge the gap between Matt, Me, and our more mainstream oriented friends. There was something about the Dead Milkmen that appealed to punks, the mainstream casual listeners and the independent college radio network. The opening to this song is still some of the funniest shit, dated references, like a punk time capsule but still hilarious. My attempt at writing a song before I actually new how to write songs, was directly influenced by Dead Milkmen. If you ever want to go back and torture yourself with our Self Titled record, the song Don’t Touch My Car was a lame attempt at trying to pull off what the Dead Milkmen did with more elegance and wit in this song. Another band that I feel pulled off this genre and scene hopping was The Violent Femmes. They are a heavy influence on my later band Even In Blackouts.

 Hüsker Dü - Metal Circus - It’s Not Funny Anymore 

 Here is the last of the SST bands I will mention. If this were Ben’s list I would imagine that he would talk more about Zen Arcade. I don’t remember the words that were said between us back then but I know that this record affected Mr. Weasel in a way that could have allowed him to be more open to the idea of beginning to give his records a theme, a concept that moves through the record, in such albums as Wiggle and Anthem For a New Tomorrow. Zen Arcade was another of the few records that would be allowed in the car during our early tours. Honestly not nearly played as much as Minutemen or Ramones, but a substantial amount of times to make them quite an influence on us. I took a liking to the songs penned and sung by Grant Hart. At the end of the first play I ever wrote, the philosophy of nonthings, my punk influence, my rebellion, perhaps immature, against theatrical convention was to NOT have a current call. At the end I blacked out the room, and when the lights came back up all there was on stage was a mirror facing the audience and this song playing as loud as the Columbia College sound system would crank. To me at that time Grant Hart was the Punk Rock Cat Stevens. And I say that with a deep respect for both men. Recommended read for more about Husker Du, Minutemen and a few other bands would be, This Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad, a reference to a Minutemen song.

 Buzzcocks - Singles Going Steady - Orgasm Addict 

 What the fuck? Is what I said to myself when I got back from the record store with this record that I thought was a Beatles type band. At this time of my record buying career, I would purchase records based purely on the cover of the record. Going Steady was one of them. And the first song blaring from my speakers would be Orgasm Addict. What the fuck? This was before I heard punk. There was no internet, there was only the radio and record stores. I may have heard The Clash, but THIS, this singer and these words, and this melody and energy. What the fuck? I didn’t even swear back then, so I probably said something in my head more like, “who put… when… argh… huh?” This song talking about Masturbation, and then the sexy tough Chrissy Hynde swearing at me right there from the first song. Two first songs, telling the mainstream to watch out, because we have different ideas about what our audience wants to hear. Even though these records are on major labels, they signaled the move to a more independent world of music. A world where bands once again were able to take chances deciding what their audiences wanted to hear, or could handle hearing.  They were once again willing to make their audience scream, or cry or get angry, or do anything resembling something.  This was one of my first introductions to that possibility.

 Wire - Pink Flag - Ex Lion Tamer 

 This is a full album of delight, from the early days of punk. This was on heavy rotation at Screeching Weasel meetings, parties, and rehearsals. It never became a record that we would listen to on tour, but when Ben and I went to community school together, to fill our time, taking a poetry class and a music theory class, this was one of the records we would listen to on our way to Dairy Queen for lunch. This album is so dark and moody and yet melodic and wonderful. And yet another example of a record doing what it wants, and allowing itself to start slow, to set a mood. Wire would go fast and they would go slow, they would sound so British and yet, it resonated with us. This is one of those perfect records. This was not a Matt passion, he owned the record, but I think he owned it because I told him to buy it. He like me really loved the song 1 2 X U, which appears on one of the best British punk comps ever to surface, Burning Ambitions: A History of Punk. But Ex Lion Tamer is one that both Ben and I dug to no end, moody shit that disturbs and pleases your innards.

 Jawbreaker - 24 Hour Revenge Therapy - Boxcar

I wanted to put Jawbreaker on here because they were fellow compatriots and an influence on Ben and Vapid. I never really took to them until Blake formed Jets To Brazil. My memory of Jawbreaker was them meeting us at a playground in San Francisco maybe around 1990. (someone let me know if that year works and if not I will fix it with some more real fact.) We sat on the Swings and See-Saws. We would later play with them at one of our first last shows in Chicago. I asked Vapid what one of his favorite records was and he chose 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. I chose this song. I used this song in a play for the neo-futurists.

 Operation Ivy - Hectic e.p. - Here We Go Again

 Matt Nelon, Ben, and I promoted Operation Ivy's one and only tour to Chicago. They played Durty Nellies. They were our contemporaries and each band did what they could to help each other. We used to stay at their places when we toured California. Lint (Tim Armstrong) was a big influence on me as a guitarist, not how he played stylistically but they way he held himself on stage, the ease in which he moved around the stage, low to the ground, totally absorbed in what he was playing. Watching him deeply affected how I wanted to “look” on stage. Over the years, Jesse Michaels would become the one that continued to influence me. He and I are best when we are not pinned down to being a certain type of artist. I think we give each other a wink every now and then to let each other know, that it’s ok to be so artistically scattered and weird. I like this song because it has melody, ska, and heart, it has an opening with Lint and continuing words by Jesse, and I like these voices together.  It was one of the first songs I heard from them.  I got the Hectic e.p. at their show in Chicago in 1988, before they had their full length record recorded and released.

 Crimpshrine - Summertime

Crimpshrine, to do my discussion of them justice you should listen to the Jughead’s Basement Podcast about them: Jughead's Basement. This song, Summertime, I chose because I feel the vocal pattern of Jeff influenced many of the later vocal patterns of Ben, especially on EMO. But as early as Wiggle. Crimpshrine stayed at my house for a week in 1988, healing and regrouping, living in my basement. Jeff, Aaron, Me, and Ben all in one room. Ben and I split the responsibility of learning songs to play at a few shows scheduled while they waited for their new bassist Paul Curran to get to our house in Chicago from California.  We each learned half of their set on bass and played badly but passionately for them. Summertime is one of the songs that I had to learn. One of my favorite Weasel songs was penned by Aaron and performed in their style. Going Home (Lyrics by Aaron Cometbus.)

Here is a list of other punk bands we were listening to during the beginning days that I did not have time to write about.  This list will probably grow:

Forgotten Rebels - I Think Of Her
Teenage Head - Disgusteen
Toxic Reasons - God Bless America
Gray Matter - Take It Back
Viktimz Of Society (Joey Vindictive's first band) Nuclear Drool

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Brain Hurts - What We Hate - top 50 "pop" punk records
I remember we drove Ben's malibu to the west suburbs of Chicago to play in one of our parents' basements, to start learning the new songs for our reforming the band, under the blanket of following our passions and being a bit more melodic. I called it Melodic Punk then, there was no term "pop punk" yet. Ben showed us the basics for What We Hate, I chose to play an octave higher than Vapid, thought it would give it more desperate energy, which is what Ben and I talked about alot, playing beyond our capabilities, neither of us were very good guitar players at the time. And this helped to give it that feel. Ben wrote the easy melodic solo for the opening, but I decided to play this wanky weird hammery thing when the song kicks in after Vapid plays the rhythm guitar part at the start.  And as soon as the band began rehearsing this song with the pieces in place that day, behind Panic's drumming for the first time... FUCK! It was magical. I felt it then and still feel it to this day when I listen to this song.

My post in facebook has opened many conversations, and this was one of my responses which I feel hits what I think about mainstream outlets and any forms of promotion, advertisements, and social network recommendations and criticism:
 I never let magazines dictate what I listen to, not even zines, for me it was always word of mouth, listening to what friends were excited about. Also, and almost more importantly, following band's family trees and their influences. That to me is such an important thing that people just don't seem to do. To me a true music lover is equivalent to an historian, anthropologist, and sociologist. Anything less and you are just a person who listens to music. Which is OK. And I have become more of the second than the first, and so when I see lists like this, I don't have a problem with them. To me it is not made for music connoisseurs, it is more for the common person who likes music, but has other interests that dominate most of their time.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Punk Rock Wizard's Guide to Hiking Yoshino Mountain

Today, I lost the path... And I said to myself while hiking through this self imposed situation, "When you leave the warn path, you are in new territory that is exhilarating and scary, independent of whether it was deliberate or accidental. You feel lost. You stumble over rock and river, wondering if somebody has been here before. Did they get lost too? Did they leave you clues to get somewhere that keeps you alive? You get anxious about the darkness that looms in the near future, you make jokes, and laugh into the deep forest as you misstep, stumble, and slip. You fall on your ass and slide backwards grabbing onto what seems stable. You start regretting this choice to forge into unknown territory. You search for a way back to what is known. And if you stay determined and perhaps have a bit of skill and a whole hell of alot of stupid luck, sometimes you find yourself safely back where you began, a bit dirty and tired from the travels, and slightly disappointed you didn't end up somewhere new and exciting. Do you want to try again? It is later in time, the world did not wait, and you feel out of step. It all looks changed although you know it is the same. Is that good or bad? Does all of this just not matter? You have been lost, dealt with heightened emotions, and yet you are back where you started... and yet again you feel different. You have gone all that distance to have gone nowhere. And yet when you start reviewing what has happened, you realize that you have experienced something unexplainable. You are happy, ecstatic to still be alive. You have new stories to tell. It will be a challenge to express this ambiguously wonderful thing that has happened to you without explaining away the wonder or being dogmatic about how to deal with what you have been through. You search for a truthful way to share your story, a story that is yours and therefore inherently unique to your own experiencing of it, yet somehow communal. You want to be surprised when you discover people can apply this story to themselves, to feel as if it is there own. You want it to add to there own perspective, to make them feel they have thought about something differently than they expected. You want it to give them pause for thought."

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Everybody has an Andy Dick Story

This last summer I got to spend a few days with Dino Stamatopoulos. He let me stay in his Servant's Quarters. When I thanked him he said, "Actually I live in the servant's quarters, you are staying in the quarters of the servant of the servant's quarters." This was true. Unrelated to my stay in LA, I happened to be in town the same day Dino was supposed to be recording his podcast with Andy Dick. Directly prior to my stay, I told an LA friend, Billy Brown, that I might meet Andy Dick, and he said, "Everybody meets Andy Dick eventually. Everybody has an Andy Dick Story." I have been putting off telling my Andy Dick story because those few days were such an adventure, and much more than just an Andy Dick encounter. It is a story not about extreme weirdness, but a story which incorporates pleasant outings, drinking, and being a voyeur where I witnessed one of the most dumbfoundingly complicated friendships in LA. This type of story is harder to tell, they take more time. I don't have an anecdote for my time with Dino and Andy, I have a short story, maybe an essay, or an essay and a short story. I even got Dino's permission to be completely frank in publicly sharing my experiences at his house. I don't know if that is about trust or about him not giving a fuck, or maybe both. Permission given has been even more reason to let the stories ferment in my brain. I have promised myself to wait as long as it takes to know what I want to say, and why I would want to share it, or even if anything is worth or needed to be shared. All I can say now is, Dino, in general, has a very sad dog seriousness to his expressions. I like to look people in the eyes, it is a trait of mine that sometimes makes people nervous. I like his eyes, I find it a challenge to see through his thick self deprecating goggles. When many others meet him they find it necessary to joke with him, to prove their admiration or to challenge his wit. I find myself, silent, or saying the most serious things, pretending I know him better than I do. And I got to witness some of his actual close friends with him and it was pleasant. It was real. Maybe he likes that I act this way with him. Paige says it is obvious that he likes me. Why that matters to me, I am not quite sure yet. Some part of me is in awe of his talent, but another part of me feels oddly responsible for him. But this is about Andy Dick, because that is what this movie title says. What I am saying now, that I will someday say in a longer form, is that this serious face of Dino's would lighten up the moment Andy Dick walked into a room. There is no hyperbole in my statement. We waited for Andy in their Starburn's studio. We sat around talking about meatless burger joints, interrupted incessantly with Dino wondering where the fuck Andy was, is he going to be late again? Is he even going to show up? And when he did walk in the room, all that anger, and frustration disappeared and Dino became a giddy child. These two have years and years of history together, an Abbot and Costello combined wit sharing the mentality of two very close brothers fighting for their mother's affection. All the stories that could possibly be told from all the third person perspective eyewitness encounters of them will not even scratch the surface of what the hell these two mean to each other. And that I witnessed in just the first moment of meeting Andy Dick.

Attached below is an episode of Dino's Podcast, Singsongers.  This was the reason I was in LA.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Our Retinentia (Part I)

Wanna hear something funny? My mother is losing her mind. Oh Sorry, that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that the more I experience her mind slipping away, the more I realize mine is slipping away too.

It could be that when I am around her the assuring positive way in which she commits to what she believes to be true is so often adamantly proposed that I find myself doubting what I really know. The other day my sister, Jeannie, messaged me while I was sitting at my computer to say,

“John, was Paige with you when you came to visit last week? Mom thinks Paige was with you?”

And I found myself asking myself, “Was she?”
Even though I knew she wasn’t. At the time my girlfriend Paige wasn’t even in the same country. But was she there?

I know my mom. She raised me. She is the one who raised all 5 of us by herself. It made her a bit crazy, but in a way that was grounded, solid. She kept us alive. There must be a logic to her recollection. I can’t believe it was based in nothing. She experienced something.

So with my fingers frozen on the computer keyboard, I made myself recall that day, all that we had talked about… saving the world, Japan, the history of my friendships, video games… Then, I took my fingers off the keyboard and said, out loud, to myself, “Oh, Paige WAS kinda’ there.” I realized that my mother and I had been talking about Paige, about her growing fame in the video game community. I showed Mom a video on youtube, and at that exact moment, Paige called me on the phone, and I relayed questions and answers back and forth between them. "Ah, she was there."

I put my fingers back on the keyboard and typed to my sister, “Well it is more complicated than if she was there or not.” Then I told Jeannie the information above and she said, “So Paige was there but wasn’t. I get it.”

The other funny not so funny part is that my mother is in the midst of nursing my father’s first wife who has Alzheimer’s disease. Yes, my father’s FIRST wife, my father had four wives, my mother being the second and longest. As the story goes, one day, these two divorcees, my mother and my father’s first wife, met for coffee, commiserated and became good friends. My half sister Nancy was a big part of our life, and that made that relationship easier. My half sister Nancy died during the tight grip of Alzheimers on her mother, and now this mother does not even remember that her only daughter is dead. My mom has gone to visit her constantly and has had to make the hard decision to put her in a care facility. This ex-wife now, after months and maybe years of this, barely remembers my mother, but knows that she is the woman that has always been there for her. This woman will ask, many times over and over, “Where is Nancy?” And my mother, who hates to lie, has to tell her that she plans on coming later. But Nancy is never coming. And soon this woman will remember nothing, and then nothing will remember her.

I don’t know if you can catch dementia, actually I know you can’t, but I would like to think that maybe my mother is just tired, and if we make her sleep enough and drink enough tea, she’ll get better. She’ll become younger, and she’ll fly to Florida, alone, forget that we exist, sit on the beach in a young woman’s bikini, calm, maybe a little smile in the corner of her mouth, catching a tan; like she liked to do but never did. It’s been a hard life, she would deserve that, and that’s why it should be possible.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tender Demon

“You looked like Steven Seagal with your stupid long hair pulled back into a ponytail, I wanted to fucking hate you, but you’re alright Johnny.” That was one of the first things Peter said to me when we finally got past him being my boss at the bookstore. He was the assistant manager at Crown Books back in 1991. There was many things we liked about each other, but I think he thought he knew something about me that most others didn’t. I am aware enough of myself to know that I am perceived as a standoffish yet kind fellow. But as close friends know I have a deviousness that lurks underneath, and sometimes not so underneath. I can lash you with my tongue, often without you even understanding the level to which I struck back. He said I was a tender demon. I am a precarious balance between father and mother.
My mother has always been kind, even in her old crotchety age, she still has a gleam in her eye that makes you want to hold her tight. She is a wonderful slice of humanity. She will drive back to the grocery store if she discovers too late that the cashier had accidentally given her too much change back, even just a few cents. 
Peter loved the beat poets, their writing, indistinguishable from their life style, was a very personal matter for him. The love of literature was a selfish but infectious part of his personality. His opinions about the meanings of things needed to be fought for and shared. I was not a big fan of the Beats and this did not please Peter. One day after work, traveling back home on the bus, I reached into my back pack and found a pristine, new, copy of the book Dharma Bums by Kerouac. On the front cover was a post-it note that just said, “Read This!” It was a touching gift but, I too felt I knew Peter pretty well. He did not pay for that book. He had snuck it into my bag so that I would have to unknowing steal my own gift. But you see? I could have returned it. I didn’t.

I have been thinking about Peter a lot while preparing for my character in ONCE, The Musical. He was an incredible musician, with an Irish heart that bled buckets. He was soaked in beer and whiskey, and he sang like he would die if he didn’t. Some people say I had a man crush on Peter, I don’t know about that but I sure did love him. But the thing about loving hims so much is that this is what has allowed me to hate him as much as I do too. I hate him for many reasons but mostly for taking his own life and leaving us all behind with an empty Peter-shape clawed out of our lives.