Monday, September 13, 2010

Misfits and acknowledgment

A few years ago, author and journalist Michael Azzerad released a compilation of essays and stories about the 80's music underground entitled "Our Band Could Be Your Life" (a lyric from the Minutemen track, "History Part II") The book compiled biographies on various iconic punk rock and alternative acts that struggled through the alleged "Me Decade", shunning conventionality to quote, "DIY" or "do it yourself". The forefather of that attitude was Black Flag, of course, but the book sprawls out to include Midwestern acts such as Husker Du, The Replacements, east coasters Minor Threat and Big Black, and bands from all points in-between. It even chronicles the burgeoning Seattle sound that would eventually spew forth Grunge, a type of music considered landmark at the time, but in my humble opinion is just third generation punk. It does this by detailing the beginnings of Mudhoney and Dinosaur, Jr. (but somehow overlooks Green River in favor of those acts.)

The tome acts as a decent primer for anyone looking into the flash and fury of the bands mostly responsible for influencing many of today's non "Nu-Metal" groups, as well as giving a passing glance to those responsible for influencing the subjects of the book, Television, The Clash, and The Ramones. But there is a huge, glaring, gigantic absence.
The Godfathers of "Do it Yourself" themselves. Lodi, New Jersey's pride and embarrassment, The Misfits. Basically Glenn Danzig, Rock's future purveyor of all things evil, and Jerry Caiafa, (who would eventually adopt the last name moniker, "Only" when people seemed to develop an inability to spell Caiafa). This pair and interchangeable guitarists and drummers (save for Caiafa's brother, Paul (Doyle to Fits' fanatics) who took the job of six string shredder permanently in 1980) were guys who basically created the horror punk genre with their creepy appearance (eye make up, and the legendary devilock, a long narrow piece of their bangs hanging down the middle of their face) and songs about B-movies, murder, and other less than savory things. They were truly the musical bump in the night.

Oh, mind you, they are mentioned in Azzerad's book, albeit briefly, and usually just as some sort of accompanying act for one of the groups Azzerad is documenting. It is sad really, when you consider how much of getting it done the Fits had to do all by their lonesomeness. They did record a bunch of well mixed material in the late 70's using studio time gained basically in trade. Glenn Danzig was smart enough to copyright "Blank Records", the self-styled record label the fits released their debut single, "Cough/Cool" on in 1977. A major label wanted the name and Danzig gave it to them in exchange for 30 hours of studio time, which explains why the "Static Age" sessions have such a higher production quality than many of their later recordings. The stuff was very good and was intended to be a full length album.

No record company wanted any part of it.

Which is a surprise when you consider that at the time (approximately 1978) damn near anything out of the New York/New Jersey in the wake of the Ramones was getting signed faster than you can say Blondie. In London, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned were all making big noise. Somehow, no one wanted in on "Static Age". Perhaps it was the stark lyrics that Glenn Danzig, lead singer and vocal hellion, put to paper. Some of the words to the JFK epic, "Bullet" were pretty gruesome and sexually deviant. But that's neither here nor there. The Pistols lyrics on "Bodies" were almost equally offensive. To me, when you compute the factors of the time period and what the sessions came out sounding like, I am shocked no label, even an indie, wanted in.

So the Lodi boys had to put it all together on their own, and it wasn't easy. They floundered away, cutting 7", 12", and EP records by small amounts, usually less than 5000 copies, and often cut and sealed the covers themselves. The sound quality of much of the work in this period (78-80) was less than impressive, but who can blame the guys. Eventually an album was recorded, "Walk Among Us", and distributed by a Slash records imprint, but by then the group was heading towards it's inevitable end.

Much of the Misfits catalogue from that period has considerable monetary value, even to less than hardcore followers of that groups music. Eventually in the late 80's, bands that were heavily influenced by the Misfits, such as Metallica and Megadeth, brought the group's background into the forefront. A lot of the material was compiled and re-released, however haphazardly in compilations, bringing the value and collectability of the originals even higher, putting a glimmering sheen on the collected works of the masters of DIY.

My point? How the hell does a band that epitomizes the basis of the book Azzerad wrote get left out without even a whispering glance? When you look at some of the popular "punk" and metal acts of today, My Chemical Romance, A.F.I., Rob Zombie, and many others, the "splatterrock" genre has influenced far beyond the Metallica/Slayer era of the mid to late 80's. It's still standing today, directly outside the door of rock and roll, clawing it's way in.

Azzerad left a gaping hole in his book.

Sheesh, the Misfits history is a long, black soap opera. Even today, there are original bassist Jerry Only's past and ongoing projects, including two underrated albums, "American Psycho" and "Famous Monsters", with vocalist Michale Graves (who some, including myself, consider superior to Danzig) doing the singing, and a fine cover record, "Project 1950" with Jerry himself on vocals. That was received well by some Misfits fans, and just as passionately in the negative direction with fervor. You can't ever forget Only's tumultuous relationship with Danzig, including a decade long lawsuit over the right to record and tour under the name Misfits, which Only won, with provisos. There are legendary "true" stories like early 'Fits guitarist Bobby Steele vomiting on John Lennon's shoes at the Mudd Club in 1979, and Glenn and Doyle chasing a young unknown metal band named Motley Crue down Sunset Boulevard with the intention of beating the shit out of them. To this day, there is still stormy bickering among the principal players, and more lawsuits. A full book could be written on this monstrous terror of Lodi, New Jersey.

Perhaps it should.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010


In memory of Fear bassist Derf Scratch, who passed away a couple of weeks ago.

In 1977, long before the early hardcore movement featuring the likes of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and the Bad Brains, there were a handful of bands that bridged the gap between the Ramones and those affore-mentioned punkers.

There were Sex Pistols, X, The Clash and the Damned, 3 of the 4 from the disenfranchised U.K., and America offered the east coast Misfits. All the way across the contiguous states, out of L.A., was Fear.

Incendiary to the nth degree, they were still the envy of many punk bands in their wake for despite writing songs that seemed to support bashing gays, or embrace misogyny and debauchery, they could flat out play.

The content of their music wasn't all of the "piss 'em off" variety, however. When they "got serious", political unrest (Let's Have a War, Foreign Policy) and mental illness (Camarillo, Welcome to the Dust Ward) were well thought-out and performed.

Leader Lee Ving's voice could be as tuneful as much as it could display the raw rancor and howl it was noted for. Spit Stix was a demon on drums. His drumming seemed out of control and weird, and I feared for the safety of his snare, as he plain beat the shit out of that thing. It oddly sounded like he used it as a replacement for a ride cymbal. Philo Cramer had some eardrum-shrieking leads and Derf Scratch was an excellent addendum to the rhythm section with Stix.

Fear was getting notices long before they cut their first LP, "The Record" due to John Belushi's drug-addled attempts to push the band on anyone who would listen, and an infamous display in Penelope Spheeris' documentary "The Decline of Western Civilization".

Why, who could forget their head-scratching 1981 Halloween appearance on "Saturday Night Live" where slam dancers destroyed the place, one grabbing Ving's mic and screaming "Fuck New York!!" at the top of his lungs.....

All before their first record came out. That's pre-consummated reputation, folks.

Where am I going with all this?

I had decided to revisit their music a few weeks back while on a cigarette break in my car. (editor's note: I have long since quit since this was written)  I happen to own two Fear cds and on a sauna of a day, began listening to "The Record".  About 5 songs in, I felt the need to switch to their live reunion album "LIVE for the Record".

As I ejected the first disc, my stereo went into it's radio default mode. Turning to my right, and my trusty cd binder to grab "LIVE", the radio voice spoke these words:

"Fear,.... today is the fear show,...I'll show you how to tolerate your fear of investing"

A lot of people may have been a bit taken aback by that astronomical synchronistic event. I just cocked my head, thinking "Of course that just happened." and slid in the second disc, firing immediately into "Null Detector".

However, something like that just doesn't sneak by me, and I knew immediately a blog post would be necessary....

two weeks later Derf Scratch died.

Here it is.