Friday, January 28, 2011

There are several reasons why I have a great sentimental attachment to the band known as the Powder Monkeys. I first met my (future) wife at one of their shows in 1993 at the Great Britain Hotel in Richmond. She'd gone to school w/ Tim Hemensley, though that wasn't why she was there. The band played at the GB often - I know I caught them there countless times - and if you were into great/interesting/worthwhile local music and of a certain age at the time, the GB was like a home away from home. Most nights of the week, you'd see a mixture of just about anything: punk, garage rock, noise, indie, folk, death/black metal (I do recall seeing Corpse Molestation play there once. They had corpse paint, six-inch-high spikes on their wrist bands and a candles on stage. They later changed their name to Beastial Warlust). Fact is, you didn't really care who was playing: it was cheap, it was fun and you'd always bump into someone you knew. From the years 1990-'95, there was no place in the land quite like it. My regular attendance at the venue started seriously tapering off somewhere 'round 1994, at which point the place was beginning to see the end of its hey-day, ruined by the presence of hard drugs. In 1995 or '6, it shut down for good and was closed for several years before being reopened under new ownership. It still operates today as a watering hole for the yuppie douchebags who frequent the area, but the once-interesting suburb known as Richmond (where I lived from 1995-2000) is a whitebread no-go zone these days for anyone who desires a culture beyond strip malls and juice bars. Let's not dwell on that, because life goes on and that "scene" contained a certain magic which can't be replicated. Or if it has been, I'm unaware of it.
I was talking about the band today to a work colleague, and it inspired me to give the band its due right here in cyberspace. The Powder Monkeys formed from the ashes of Bored! in 1991 by ex-members Tim Hemensley and John Nolan. I caught Bored! quite a number of times during Hemensley's period in the band, and anyone will attest to the fact that it was easily their high point. After Tim left, the band carried on for many years, and will still, on a very rare occasion, get together for a reunion show for the faithful/sentimental, though despite a couple of good tracks here and there, I found the post-Nolan/Hemensley lineup of the band to be largely dull and uninteresting. For one thing, other than the Ginn-like guitar freakouts of Nolan, the great joy of seeing Bored! during their peak era was watching Tim lose his shit on stage, abusing the audience, arguing w/ the rest of the band and sometimes even abandoning the show altogether. In December of 1990, I caught a show of theirs at the Sarah Sands Hotel in Brunswick - now an obnoxious Irish pub known for fistfights and suburban drop-ins - and there was a dumb-as-nails punker up the front who insisted on violently slamming into all those around him as the band played. After the first song, Tim called him an asshole and asked him to cool it down. After the second song, w/ no change in behaviour from said punker, Tim took off his bass and whacked the punker over the head. He went down like a sack of spuds and everyone gasped, thinking the guy had possibly been killed or at least seriously injured. He got up again like nothing had happened and egged Tim to play another song. They launched into the next number and punker-boy continued his assholic behaviour. Tim once again took his bass off, swung it at his head and missed, went full circle and belted it into his amp. Angry, frustrated and probably juiced up on various substances, he then tried to tip over all of the amps and PA gear on stage, half succeeded then jumped off the stage and started running through the crowd w/ a baldie security chasing him onto the street. I'm not sure what happened to him that night, but the show was over. It was the best 10-minute performance I've ever seen. Recently I mentioned this evening to a friend I've only known for the last few years, not knowing he was also at that show, and he remembers it just as I do. Maybe they played 4 or 5 songs, or maybe it was just 2 or 3; whatever the case, those who were there remember the intensity and tension of that show well. I never saw Black Flag in '81 or the Stooges in '71, but I figure I did pretty well in catching that performance.
So anyway... then there begat the Powder Monkeys. They were originally a 5-piece w/ second guitar and a harmonica player, though they shaved the lineup down pretty quick to the powerhouse trio of Hemensley, Nolan and Tasmanian transplant Timmy Jack on drums. From the period spanning roughly 1992-'96, they were probably the best rock & roll band in Australia. Their songs spoke of a certain urban anger and frustration which cut right to the point, and the dynamics of Tim's Lemmy-like throat gurgles and bass licks, combined w/ Nolan's Ginn/Hendrix/'Sabbath guitar squawls and the ceaseless, hard-hitting drumming of Timmy Jack rarely made them a disappointment. They cut their teeth playing a myriad of shows at the likes of the GB, Tote, Empress and Punter's Club during this era, and some of us thought they were just good enough to take it to a higher and wider level. They released some shit-hot material on the Dog Meat label (note: that wasn't me who ran that imprint), and word was that Johan Kugelberg had signed the band to a new label he'd set up w/ the help and financing of Rick Rubin, Onion. Onion released some excellent records by bands-voted-least-likely such as Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and V-3, though the Powder Monkeys disc never eventuated. I'm not 100% sure why this is so. I heard that Rubin had pulled the plug on the money-losing enterprise due simply to finances, and I also heard that the label got cold feet on the band after hearing of their rampant drug abuse. Probably a combination of the two. By then, Tim had gotten himself a serious habit, as had John Nolan, and for me it started impacting on the power of the band's live shows. I saw them do some terrible gigs in the late '90s, sloppy and uninspired like a band pushing shit uphill, but they'd still rip out the occasional set which would have you believe they could get back on track and be the band they once were. They still managed to successfully tour Europe during this time, and even released an excellent album - possibly their best - Lost City Blues, on the White Jazz label out of Sweden in 2000. It never even got a domestic release, and kinda sank w/out too many people knowing it even existed down here.
I was working at Missing Link at the time and Tim came in a few times and sold copies he'd received from the label, and I had a pretty good idea what he was doing w/ the money he received. He'd come in about once a week and regal us w/ stories, usually sticking around the store for an hour or two cracking us up (or at least me up) w/ various ridiculous rants about records and bands he either loved or loathed, and it was during this period that I probably engaged w/ him more than I ever had previously or afterwards. I'd do the late shift on a Friday, he'd rock up, sometimes w/ a beer or two in hand, get on his soapbox and espouse his opinions to the world, or at least to the customers, most of whom were intimidated as hell by this 5-foot-tall motormouth passing judgment on what they were buying. Sometimes I'd have to tell him to shut up and leave them alone, especially if he was giving some young kid grief for buying a NOFX CD, though he mostly knew his limits and when to keep it quiet. Tim had eclectic taste in music, and mostly good taste at that. He could talk about the Seeds or Pharoah Sanders or Hawkwind or John Cage or Robert Pete Williams at the drop of a hat, and he'd just as easily tell you what sucked. I was baffled by his loathing of the Melvins just as I was surprised by his love of Crass. One day a young, aspiring anarcho-punk came in and dropped a bunch of Crass LPs on the counter for purchase. Tim sidled up next to him and proceeded to loudly proclaim his love for the band, asking the little wallflower if he'd ever heard Rudimentary Peni. The crusty kid looked scared to death, mumbled out some incomprehensible answer, paid for the records and hightailed it out of there. I told Tim to ease it up on the kids, and he seemed pissed off at me. "I was paying the kid a compliment!!"
Timmy Jack left the band sometime during this period; replacing him was Seminal Rats skinman Todd McNear. Todd's as good a drummer as Timmy Jack, maybe even technically better, though his skills couldn't hide the fact that the band was on a downhill slide. Tim had sold his bass for junk, resorting to borrowing friends' gear for shows. My brother lent his bass to him several times; it usually came back w/ a string broken and blood on its body (having cut his hand on it whilst playing). I don't think my brother ever asked him to replace the strings. Tim had a certain charm that would make you forgive his failings, and you knew he never had any money anyway. Things got pretty desperate near the end. The last time my brother saw him, Tim was trying to sell him Powder Monkeys CD at the front bar of the Tote.
Probably the day after he died in 2003, I happened to be in the city for work. Tim's friend Scotti at Missing Link rang me on my mobile and asked if I'd catch up w/ him for a coffee. I met him at a cafe and he looked miserable. He told me he had some bad news. I knew instantly what it was. Just a few days previous, my wife and I were discussing the possible fate of Tim and what his future entailed. He'd never really held a steady job, the band seemed to be going nowhere (as had the solo shows he'd been playing) and we sadly assessed that we couldn't imagine him growing old. He never did. The day before, or maybe the day before that, he'd OD'd in the bathroom at his parents' place. The news spread like wildfire, music web sites paid tribute en masse and it even made a dent in the mainstream media. The daily papers featured articles on his life and death, and I recall there even being a montage tribute to him that week on a 7PM chat show on one of the major TV stations. I couldn't help but be glad that he was finally getting some recognition, despite the terrible circumstances. I've never understood the attraction to hard drugs. To me it seems to be all about blocking out rather than letting in the good stuff, but then again, I've led a pretty blessed life so I'll stop the moralising. I talked to Tim several times when he was high on heroin and he was boring as shit, like anyone else in that state. When he was straight and fired up, he was the funniest motherfucker on earth. He'd been a bona fide punkin' rock & roller since he was in primary school, publishing his own fanzine at the age of 10 and playing in bands such as Royal Flush and GOD, and was quite the inspiration. I won't bullshit you and say I was a close friend, though I'm certainly glad I befriended him during his relatively brief life. During their peak years, the Powder Monkeys were just about the best band I've ever seen. They were a force of nature, blowing away any other act they played with, the combination of lyrical black humour and rock & roll dynamics unbeatable. There's talk of reissues in the works, and I'm just hoping they get a second life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photo by Helge Schreiber

The Dicks' Gary Floyd, Hank the Tank and Randy "Biscuit" Turner of the mighty Big Boys hangin' out in Austin, August 1981. Vans sneakers all 'round, boys! Wish I was there. I wasn't.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I feel like an aimless ramble today. I have a backlog of releases I could talk about - there's always a backlog of releases - and perhaps one day I'll get to those discs by Rev. Charlie Jackson, Adolescents, John Zorn, Joe Houston, Yusef Lateef, Die Kreuzen, Milton Nascimento et al, or perhaps a roundup of some '90s zines worth a revisit, but it won't be today. I don't want this blog to simply be a consumer advice column for music nerds. The last week has been the busiest in a while, a situation brought on by the fact that I just turned 39 two days ago and actually celebrated the occasion in somewhat of a quarter-arsed fashion, and also due to the fact that I caught Wire play at the Corner Hotel to a packed crowd (must've been roughly six- or seven-hundred people there) a few days prior. I don't get out that much these days, so when I do, I like to make it count. Wire played here six years ago at the same venue. They sounded like a different band then. Back in 2005, they came out on stage like a gang, confronting the audience with attitude and contempt, or at least that was the way I perceived them. They looked like four intimidating old geezers who didn't give a fuck. They tore through their set like a young hardcore band. They only played tracks from Send, then their latest release, leaving any older tracks (always from the first three LPs) to be played during the encore. When I was informed beforehand that that was the way the show would be played out, I expressed disappointment. I hadn't heard the latest album, and frankly, wasn't really interested. Sometimes veterans just have to accept the fact that people are really only interested in their early material. If the Rolling Stones played a concert and solely concentrated on their woeful post-1983 works, there'd be a riot. Wire managed to buck all (diminished) expectations by playing their latest album with an aggression, force and commitment usually reserved for bands half their age. I still haven't heard Send, but if it's half as good as the way they played it in 2005, I probably should. Ironically, of all bands, the one they reminded me of the most was Minor Threat, a band obviously heavily influenced by Wire, and perhaps Wire were returning the favour. There was minimal chat, just short/fast/loud rock & roll. By the time they got around to playing tracks off the likes of Pink Flag and Chairs Missing - albums born of genius few others can ever touch - I didn't really care. I knew not a single song they'd played up until then, and it was all brilliant. When I check my hazy memory, I can still rate it up there as one of the top 5 shows I've witnessed in this life, right up there w/ Love, Neil Young and that venue-destroying set by Testicle Candy all those years ago at the Empress Hotel in North Fitzroy (that last one isn't a joke, and anyone who witnessed it will never forget it).
And so now it's 2011 and Wire are back. My gig expenditure for 2011 has been spent, at least for the first half of the year: Wire, Swans, Hawkwind. I attended Wire this time w/ trepidation, not wanting to sour the good memories. Nothing was soured, though nothing was particularly gained, either. They (apparently) only played tracks from their recently-released full-lengther, Red Barked Tree, and things started a little soft. Not soft as in lame, but I've always felt it necessary for bands to own the stage from the get-go by starting the show w/ their most powerful statement. Even if it's not fast or "heavy", it should be forceful. The band sleptwalked through the first half-hour. I listened in great depth to the songs, and I was impressed by what I heard. They were quieter and more subtle than some of their more infamous, aggressive tunes, but still unmistakably Wire, complete w/ strange guitar and electronics effects throughout. Bruce Gilbert is now missing - a fact which bummed a few of my compadres out - but I was willing to cut the band some slack with 3/4s of the original lineup, and I'm more than willing to cut Gilbert the slack since he's now a man entering his mid 60s. And that's not mentioning the fact that his replacement, young enough to be the son of any of the other members, did his job well. Bassist Graham Lewis still looks like the most threatening member on stage, swinging the bass neck around and hunching over whilst plucking out meaty notes like a young Tracey Pew, and Colin Newman's vocals have held up well and he strangely possesses the onstage aura of a frustrated bank clerk moonlighting in a rock & roll band. Robert Gotobed hits his skins on time and with great force: what else does one require from a drummer? By halfway through the set I found myself getting restless and spent the next 40 minutes chatting away to the usual assortment of old heads one bumps into at such a show. The encore grabbed my attention and had me shutting my mouth for a smattering of early tracks, all of which were played with a true sense of purpose and closed the night on a high note. I didn't dislike the show by a long shot, but to put it in perspective I'll say this: six years ago, I couldn't have cared less whether they played anything from the first three LPs, the core of the set nailing it so well that a trip down memory lane almost seemed like an afterthought. I sensed that w/ last week's show that the audience was craving some of their "hits" after an hour's worth of seemingly OK new material, and they were delivered to quench that thirst. The first time around, that wasn't needed.
Well, shit, that was the last thing I intended to do, but I guess I just wrote a review of a rock band.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

DWARR - Animals LP/CD (Drag City/2010)
Drag City's strike rate in the reissues dept. the last couple of years has been spotless. First there was the Death reissue, the Michigan brother-band trio who, in the mid '70s, recorded an unholy combination of the MC5, Funkadelic and (very early) Bad Brains before imploding, only to see their sadly ignored wares given a whole lease of life in the 21st century; then there was the Endtables 12" from last year, which pieced together this Kentuckian mob (I've written about them before here)'s scant studio recordings - the missing link twixt The Wipers and Pere Ubu - and let them be heard by a wider audience; and then there's Animals, the second LP written, played by, produced and released by the man known as Dwarr, AKA Duane Warr from South Carolina in 1986.

I must admit to having never even heard of the guy prior to hearing this CD and receiving a press sheet. So far as I knew, the Holy Trinity (+1!) of '80s doom metal consisted solely of Saint Vitus, Trouble, The Obsessed and Pentagram. If you were keen on low-end riffs, boogie beats, bellbottoms and Tony Iommi moustaches, the '80s was a lonely place. Sure there were others, but the ones most people care to mention have been spoken for. Unbenownst to me, the cult of Dwarr had spread far and wide in the interim, w/ this LP commanding the kind of price which would have the average collector living on pasta for a month.

Although often lumped into the "metal" genre, the music of Dwarr is far less "metallic", in the classic "heavy" sense, than any of his contemporaries. Baked in a deep glow of psychedelia, w/ the foot often heavily placed on the flange, Animals possesses some major Hawkwind and Pink Floyd damage, both with and without Syd, with some moments uncannily reminding me of early Siouxsie & the Banshees (the opening Oriental motif at the start of "Time" gets me thinking of "Hong Kong Garden"). Of course none of this is to imply that this is anything less than HM at its purest, or that it's informed by punk rock (or post-punk) in any manner, and if you've seen photos of Duane Warr, you could probaby hazard a guess that the Sex Pistols meant zip to him.

Animals, like the best doom metal, sounds like it was recorded and released in 1971, no matter what era it was really birthed in, and the lo-fidelity recording adds an extra aura of mystery surrounding the cult of Dwarr. Of course, you don't spend good money to be mystified by the aura of a man w/ a guitar if the results aren't worth hearing (or perhaps you do), and what makes Animals worth the bucks is the strength of the songwriting.

There's reconfigured 'Sabbath riffs throughout, though Warr's buzzing, clanging psychedelic guitar strangulation is what makes this such a hot listen. He's part Tony Iommi, part Jimi Hendrix and part Greg Ginn, w/ spastic guitar shards flying in all manner of directions. He can exude a light spaciness when it's warranted, like the quieter moments on 'Floyd's Ummagumma, and erupt into discordant solos in a moment's notice, sometimes his lightning fast fret work, such as in "Just Keep Running", bordering on a kind of shred that would usually make me wince, though it's still steeped heavily in a '70s drug-metal vibe and not the school of guitar masturbation so popular at the time of recording.

Fact is, his relentless string-bending is hardly given a moment's rest, each song twisting and turning w/ chaotic, layered solos shreeking inventively throughout so that each song's course is a fairly unpredictable ride. Lyrically, he's also in the mold of early '70s primo metal, visiting the themes of war, death, drugs, despair and alienation in a non-idiotic manner, w/ no bragging of banging hot chicks to be heard. None of this sounds affected, none of it is contrived: it's an honest reflection of the vision of its creator, certainly a unique record for its era and still one which is hard to pigeonhole 25 years later.

Duane Warr later found God (as they all must) and released a few more LPs of Christian rock/doom/metal which I'm yet to hear, though if they're half as good as Animals, then they're twice as good as most records hailed as "forgotten masterpieces" which only result in disappointment, a sense of despair and the feeling of a wallet being emptied for no good reason. Take the punt on Dwarr and thank me later.

LATE ADDITION/POSTSCRIPT: Here's a promotional clip I just found for "Are You Real?" from the album in question. Dig the "heavy" vibes and the awe-inspiring visuals which obviously kept to a tight budget.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Technology has gone crazee the last decade, the pace of life being amped up by the day. We're attached to our iphones and our laptops, we don't even have to leave the house to "socialise" anymore: it's all done online. As a semi-Luddite who is caught somewhere between loving and loathing all this technology, it frightens me, and makes me wonder how us humans will be communicating with each other in 20 years time. But on the up side, it also means that I can kick back on my bed on a Sunday afternoon and aimlessly browse Youtube footage from half a century ago. Just about any clip there be: I can view it w/ a click. All this choice has spoilt us. Back in the '80s (kids, gather 'round), finding footage of a band or musician you loved was a slog. I had to resort to renting VHS tapes from Collector's Corner in Swanson Street, where they had things like Flipside videos, Dave Markey films or that exceedingly average Black Flag Live '84 performance (the one w/ the terrible sound), or if you were really keen (and I was), you'd trade the things w/ folks via ads in Flipside and Maximum Rock & Roll. I suppose I should be careful what I wish for - unlimited access to every cool music clip ever caught on tape - because even when it comes true, you'll still catch me complaining.
And now we have an awkward segue way to this clip. I wrote about Max Roach last year; read it here. This clip is one I'm glad has been preserved for the ages, and I'd like to share it: Max Roach and his quintet, featuring his wife Abbey Lincoln on vocals, performing a track from his ace We Insist! LP from 1961. Really, ignore my rambling and simply observe.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Someone alerted me recently to the "PCP Crazy" clip above and a tinge of nostalgia hit me. I figured I should say something about the genius of Venom P. Stinger. Have I written about them before on this blog? I don't think so. In the back of my mind, I feel like I have, yet a search has me semi-convinced that I'm not repeating myself (and if I am repeating myself, there's always the option of not reading this). Dugald MacKenzie was their original vocalist, singing w/ them from their inception in the early/mid '80s until his wild life got the better of him at the dawn of the 1990s and he was replaced by the relatively mild-mannered Nick Palmer. Don't get me wrong: Palmer was a great vocalist and a nice guy to boot (he lived around the corner from me for years and we'd always chat when we bumped into each other at the local supermarket), but his onstage persona couldn't compete, from what I've heard, w/ that of MacKenzie's. Tragically, or perhaps foolishly, I never saw the band in their original incarnation.

Dugald's lifestyle was the stuff of legend. He came from an upper-middle-class family and his father is (or perhaps was) well regarded in the medical field. He and his two brothers also attended the same high school as I, his youngest sibling being in the same year as my brother, which is how I first learnt of the band when I was 13. My brother used to sneak into shows when he was 15/16 and see them play at places like Thrash 'n' Treasure and the like. I had to make do w/ listening to their "Walking About" 7" or hearing their music played on the radio (which it was, occasionally).

They released two studio LPs, Meet My Friend Venom and What's Yours Is Mine, in 1987 and 1990, respectively (as well as a live album on Siltbreeze), though a band as abrasive as Venom P. Stinger are much better heard in short bursts, such as singles and EPs. The best thing they ever did, so far as I'm concerned, remains their Waiting Room CDEP from 1991, released on Au-go-go. A four-track CD in a slipcase, it sold next to nothing locally and later wound up as a bargain/"warehouse find" item in the Forced Exposure catalogue. For the life of me, I can't locate my copy amongst the mountains of CDs cluttering up the spare room, but when I do, I'll tell you about it.

Rumours abounded of MacKenzie's life back in the '90s, and I can't confirm whether any or many of them are true. He acquired a major heroin habit back in the 1980s at some point, and he apparently never shook it off. There were stories of him being in jail, rehab, holding up chemist stores and even trams (the story was that he tried to hold up a tram full of commuters w/ a knife but nodded off halfway through his failed attempt) and that he'd become involved in organised crime and was on the run, living in Adelaide. When I brought up the last story to John Murphy back in 1993, he just laughed and noted that he couldn't imagine Dugald being involved in anything which was organised, let alone crime. You can likely take all those stories as being laced w/ bullshit. The fact is, he had a major drug problem, and I'm not being a gossip in saying that. He died a few years ago from bone cancer: as for whether his chronic drug abuse has any relation to this, you're best seeking a physician for advice (see the comments box for that). For the last 6 months of his life, he was, for the first time in a long time, "back on the scene", so to speak, buying records regularly at various independent music outlets around time, always interested and enthusiastic to hear music from contemporary young bands. His rep as a wild man w/ a litany of personal problems clouded the fact that he was, from all reports, a funny and personable guy. After his death, there was even an obituary for him in my high school's magazine (still delivered to my parents' house quarterly), noting him as a "punk pioneer" highly regarded for his music with the likes of the Sick Things and Venom P. Stinger. Bet that one went down a storm w/ the readership.

Ten years ago, Pavement or Steve Malkmus must have been touring Australia, and Malkmus was asked to program the music-clip show, Rage (Australian readers don't need the show explained). Among other interesting oddities (Merzbow, Boredoms, Coloured Balls), he played Venom P. Stinger's "Walking About" video. I'd seen it many times before, but obviously others hadn't. The next day I was working a weekend shift at Missing Link, and every second customer, usually gormless young men, would ask me if we had any Venom P. Stinger, wanting to know about the band and their records. I was only too grateful to clear my throat, ascend the podium and pompously espouse the shorthand history of the band as I saw it. By halfway through the day, if a nervous, socially-challenged young gent approached the counter w/ a quizzical look on his face, I'd jump the gun and simply say, "No, we don't have any Venom P. Stinger and the "Walking About" 7" is long deleted." 90% of the time, I got it right.

I was surprised that so few people had heard of the group, as they were kind of a big-deal u/ground local band back in their day and VPS members Jim White and Mick Turner had since become a much bigger deal w/ the equally fine Dirty Three, but then I'd come down off my high horse and realise that the band known as Venom P. Stinger hadn't been a functioning unit for a few years and that these young folks asking for the record were, after all, just kids. But I was glad that the video had obviously made such an impression on many of those watching the show. After all, no one came in that day desperately seeking Pavement albums.

Venom P. Stinger didn't sound like too many other bands back then, and they still don't today. Nominally, you could say there's strong elements of early Fall and the Birthday Party, but neither band really approached their sound w/ the ferocity of hardcore like VPS did, and no one - barring perhaps the Laughing Clowns - was mixing up their rock & roll w/ bizarre percussive rhythms which sound part Gene Krupa and part marching band. You can thank Jim White for that: he remains one of the finest and most expressive percussionists on earth.

The band played a show last year at Brooklyn's Shea Stadium as part of the Pavement-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival, this time w/ ex-Bird Blobs/Sea Scouts/Mouth dude (and NYC resident of a few years), Tim Evans, on vocals. I heard nothing but good reports. Strange how things work out in the 21st century. Negative Approach and Saccharine Trust get flown over to the UK to play big festivals, and Venom P. Stinger, a band few cared for back in their hey-day, get to play a stadium show in NYC to a bunch of people who probably weren't even alive when they formed. I ain't complaining: they deserve all the hooplah and praise people pour on them. Someday soon their discography will finally see the light of day again in some sort of reissued form, and when it is, snap it up but quick. These clips are ample proof of just how great they were as a band.

Henry Rollins turns 50 next month. I hear he's planning a big bash in Washington, DC. 20 years ago, I thought Rollins was a bad-assed rocker; 10 years ago, I thought he was just flat-out bad. If you ask me what I think of him now, I'd have to say that I appreciate his role as an elderly statesman of the counterculture and that I wish him well, just as long as he chooses to record no more music.
20 years ago, my brother and I were just a little bit obsessed w/ a Hank Rollins book by the name of A Thousand Ways To Die. It consisted of 1,000 haiku-style poems dedicated to the misery of life. We knew it was ridiculous, and we also knew that Hank was slipping into self-parody, if he hadn't fully already, and yet his poems, despite their absurdity, still made a dent somewhere. At least enough for my brother to draw a whole series of individual Pettibon-styled captions documenting those 1,000 ways to die. You can check out the full range at Art Thug. Despite all the ups and downs over the years - the genius of the 'Flag years, the brilliance of the first couple of Rollins Band albums, all those other bad albums, the shitty films, the funny stand-up routines and the not-so-funny ones, the pretty fine cable TV chat show - I dedicate these to Hank and 50 years.
I've been busy devouring the contents of my copy of the Destroy All Movies!!! book (written about below two entries ago) the last week. Re-reads and the all-important toilet browse have confirmed my original suspicions that it will likely, as they say, wind up being a classic of its genre, hopefully forever in print, updated annually like the Leonard Maltin film guide and readily available for all those w/ an undying interest in the melting pot of punx + celluloid. Naturally, a closer read will have one disagreeing w/ certain opinions expressed in the book.

The editors, for whatever reason (my guess is that it's likely because of Penelope Spheeris' helpful co-operation w/ the writers/editors for the book [the book is in fact dedicated to her], and the fact that she did make at least one bona fide classic slice of punk rock cinema in Decline of Western Civilisation, and if you're feeling generous, you can also stick the flawed but still highly entertaining Suburbia in there, too... boy, these brackets make me waffle sometimes), consider Spheeris' hopelessly bad - or just plain bad... or hopeless - Dudes from 1987 something of more worth than the steaming pile of terribleness that it is.

And you can just picture my apopleptic rage when I discovered the total absence of the original Mad Max in their tome, despite Mad Max 2 (AKA Road Warrior) given a major tip of the hat (for the record, and as another pointless aside, whilst Mad Max possesses no overt punk rock content, especially so regarding the soundtrack, its punk imagery - all cropped hair, biker boots, black leather and not a flare to be seen - is unlike just about any other film you'll see which was made in 1979. But I digress...).

And then there's the ultimate claim: Repo Man from 1984 is the definitive punk rock film. They may be right there, so far as fictional movies go, but they also neglected to mention that the film ain't that great. Now don't get me wrong: Repo Man - more the soundtrack than the movie itself, to clarify things a little - was a pivotal event for me. I bought the soundtrack LP, which I've still got, when I was 13 and, along w/ other records by the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag, it was the gateway towards early '80s American hardcore and all the great things it spawned. I have great sentimental attachment to the film and will defend it to the clueless 'til I'm breathless... but that still doesn't make it a great movie. Good, for sure, a cult classic, too, but not a film I can sit through for repeated viewings w/out acknowledging its occasional tedium and flaws.

The problem may just be that film-maker Alex Cox - God bless 'im, his heart was always in the right place - wasn't as good a film-maker as some claim him to be. Sid & Nancy sucked, I've been reliably informed that Straight To Hell is too painful to watch, and few have ever seen Walker (or liked it). And then there's his other films which no one has ever seen. But this post isn't meant as a beat-up on Cox, the book or the film. Nor is it one whose sole intention is to slay a sacred cow. Maybe I'll just wound it a little.

For one, the storyline isn't much to write home about. And if you did choose to write home about it, I'd still like to see you make some sense of it. It's essentially nonsense about aliens, secret agents and punk rockers. And repo men. The best thing to do is to ignore the attempts at an interesting storyline, for in Repo Man, it's the little things that count, and make it not only worthwhile, but essential viewing, and by that I mean that everyone reading this slice of pointlessness should see it at least once. After all, you do get a terrific slice of '80s SoCal HC w/ star Emilio Estevez's punker pals Duke and Archie, the former played by Dick Rude, who co-authored the film and was a genuine baldie. By my standards, I'd usually consider them horrendous stereotypes, though if you've ever seen Decline Of Western Civilisation and some of its participants (notably the fans), you'd be aware of the fact that the caricatures present in the film aren't that far from the truth.

Mentor to Estevez, repo man and philosopher Harry Dean Stanton steals the show, and just about any scene he's in is worth a shot, hence the clip pasted below. The Circle Jerks make an appearance, a rare glimpse of the short-lived line-up featuring Chuck Biscuits and Earl Liberty. It's a pity they never got to blaze it up as a rock & roll combo on screen, though their brief stint as a nightclub lounge act is still an amusing moment (they're also in it for a split second as a motorcycle gang). Estevez, despite his turgid subsequent career (esp. post-'80s), makes for a decent anti-social asshole in the pic, though his acting is still pretty stonefaced and the character itself is unsympathetic and, by halfway through, flat-out annoying to watch. I wasn't there, but if there is any film which captures that essence of the time for punkers, it's probably Repo Man. I just wish the film itself was better.

What is better is the soundtrack. It's got several classics in its grooves: Black Flag's "TV Party", Circle Jerks' "Coup D'Etat"; some good lunk-headed HC I still have a soft spot for, such as Fear's "Let's Have A War" and Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized" (first album still sounds like fun to me); a surprisingly good solo track by Iggy Pop, the title song, featuring Steve Jones on guitar, and a rare song from Iggy's vast solo catalogue which actually "rocks"; some great Hispanic New Wave/punk cuts by The Plugz, including their cover of the Secret Agent Man theme song and an excellent Spaghetti Western-style closing instrumental; the Burning Sensations' cover of Jonathon Richman's "Pablo Picasso"; and lastly, a cool, sleazy funk churn by the Juicy Bananas, complete w/ dialogue from the film interpersed throughout. Some of these tracks are obviously better than others, but it's all at least "good".

For '80s punk culture on film, I'll vouch for Return Of The Living Dead over Repo Man. It's a better film, even though the soundtrack isn't quite as consistent, despite killer tracks by the Flesh Eaters, Cramps, Damned and Roky Erickson. This review is all based on the fact that, last Sunday evening just gone, inspired by Destroy All Movies, I watched Repo Man for the first time in over a decade. It's aged well, in the sense that I have the same opinion of it that I held upon first viewing as a 14-year-old: a half-decent storyline w/ perhaps a character or two you could give a shit about would make it a really great film. Get the soundtrack.