Thursday, December 31, 2015
Well, my dear friends, BRAZENBLOG turns six months young on January 2. And in just that time it's already racked up its first press appearance AND first award, both at the same time! Yes, Bao Le-Huu of the prestigious tabloid Orlando Weekly, a longtime champion of the Brazen cause, has just named this blog "Best Music History Porthole" in his 2015 edition of the Undie Awards which celebrates the work of Orlando's best local talent! And not only that, but it's my second Undie in as many years, sitting quite comfortably next to my "Best Local Release" trophy I won last year for Ray Zinnbrann's Time Tunnel!
I am grateful and indebted to Bao and the Weekly for their continuing and unwavering support and love of all things Brazen. And I am also thankful to YOU, dear readers, for all the positive words I've received for this humble blog's revival, which have been plentiful and have come from folks too numerous to mention here.
Here's to a happy, safe and prosperous 2016 to you all! And stay tuned for much more in the new year right here on BRAZENBLOG!
Oh, and if you're in the Orlando area, and aren't doing anything on Thursday, January 7, please come out to Spacebar to witness the unveiling of my newest sonic excursion, ZBR. Hope to see you there!
Sunday, November 22, 2015
When I first discovered them, they were almost literally a secret cult. I'm talking about those two albums I stumbled upon one fine day in 1986 as I was pilfering through the massive record library at WFMU, that station I volunteered for and sometimes appeared on. One had its original cover and was called "Contact," while the other was a self-titled white label promo in a plain white jacket. The one album cover depicted two very stoned-looking long-haired hippie types sitting in the cockpit of an actual Pan Am jet on the front, and the same guys superimposed on top of a stock photo of a plane crash to make it look like they were just hanging out in the wreckage on the back. One of the two guys was playing a banjo in that shot and so I assumed I was in for some weird album of psychedelic banjo music or something when I put it on the record library turntable. Which it was... for two of its nine selections, anyway. The other seven tracks were just... plain... indescribable. Total electronic madness. Basically it was all one guy freaking out on a bank of oscillators and singing while the other guy played a huge, specially tuned drumkit. Sometimes it sounded tuneful and catchy, other times it descended into sheer chaos and confusion. But all of it was truly original and like no other electronic music I'd ever heard up to that point.
The mysterious duo was named Silver Apples, and their two albums were originally released between 1968 and 1970 on Kapp Records, a label generally known for anything BUT electronic, experimental rock music. I still half-cringe every time I think of Kapp's main claim Roger Williams' "Autumn Leaves" with his ridiculous cascading piano conjuring the falling of said leaves. Anyway, apart from the label and the names of the two members, one named Danny Taylor and the other simply called Simeon, there was nothing else in the way of information. It was obvious I wasn't the only guy at the station who was hip to Silver Apples, as both albums had warnings handwritten on their sleeves that serious consequences would befall anyone who attempted to steal either album. And soon I would become wise to the aforementioned secret cult of Apples fans which consisted of about half the station staff and a tiny handful of its listeners. It seemed like no one knew about them but us. In fact, the only outside reference we knew of was in some book about electronic music, the title of which escapes me, which had a single paragraph describing them, ending with this sentiment: "I think I may be their only remaining fan."
For a whole damn decade I wondered who and what and why about Silver Apples. How did a group this bizarre wind up on a fucking easy listening label? And who were these two guys who'd made this music, anyway? For awhile there was speculation that Simeon was the psych-rock alter-ego of another electronic musician, Morton Subotnick, who had released an album a year earlier called "Silver Apples of the Moon," but that was nothing more than all-too-obvious deductive reasoning. Nonetheless, a legend this good was bound to grow far beyond WFMU, and by the summer of 1996 bootleg CDs of their two albums had appeared, their German origin confirming that the intrigue had gone global.
And smack in the midst of that very summer, I tuned into WFMU one fine Saturday afternoon just in time to hear DJ Johan Kugelberg say "Stay tuned for a live interview with Simeon of Silver Apples." At long last the mystery had been solved! He told his story in detail and I stayed glued to my radio the whole time, hanging on his every word. They were indeed NYC-based, and the first band in history to play at Max's Kansas City. More than that, though, what really blew my mind was the fact that Simeon had been rediscovered at an art show which had taken place just down the street from where I was living at that time! It was there that Christian Hawkins overheard him identify hinself, offered to be his new drummer, and that was it -- Silver Apples were back in action for the first time in a full quarter century. With a new lineup and new setup, Simeon played several gigs in NYC and abroad over the next two years. I kept meaning to see these new Apples, but never got around to it.
Surely it was fate, then, that placed Danny Taylor in front of a radio tuned to WFMU at the precise point they were airing a song by... you guessed it. He called the station in earnest, was told Simeon (and the world) had been looking for him, and invited his old pal to see him at his home in the Catskills. While they were looking through a box of old Apples memorabilia in Danny's attic, they found a tape of songs they'd recorded for their unfinished third album, recordings which were thought to have been lost forever, just like Danny himself. The inevitable next move was to bring the Silver Apples revival full circle.
And again, surely it was fate that made September 18, 1998 the night I'd finally get it together to see them live at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ... just in time to bear witness to the first performance by the original duo in 28 years. My timing was perfect... as we shall now see.
I fully expected the place to be packed, but for some odd reason there were only about 40 or so people in the back room of Maxwell's. Flyers were passed out at the door proclaiming the special occasion and actually including the setlist for the show. Danny hadn't played drums since the pair broke up, so he bought a used kit at a pawn shop. The mysterious bank of oscillators called "The Simeon" had withered and died in Simeon's basement, forcing him to turn to more modern methods of recreating its sound. In spite of all this, they sounded pretty darn magical, though as you'd expect, a bit messy, with Simeon's voice occasionally cracking and Danny missing a beat or two. But that ragged quality added a certain charm to it all somehow, and with the small room and even smaller crowd, it felt almost like they'd come over to my house and set up in my living room.
You could feel the love for the band from the few lucky bastards (like me) who were there, and the love the band had for us in return, but most of all you could feel the love Simeon and Danny had for each other. I swear I saw tears in their eyes by the end of it. I may have had a few tears in my eyes too. In the final moments of their last song they rose from behind their gear, threw their arms around each other in a tight, brotherly embrace, then danced their way out to the last loop Simeon had left playing on his keyboard. A fitting climax to the absolute warmest, most intimate, most moving reunion show I'm sure I'll ever see in this lifetime.
I was damn lucky to be there that night, not just for the historic impact of it all, but also in light of what unfortunately happened next: just over a month later, after playing just two more shows, Simeon and Danny were involved in a near-fatal auto accident. If not for Danny's knowledge of CPR, Simeon, who had broken his neck, might have died before help arrived. It took him years to recover, and by the time he was able to play live again, Danny had passed away. It's kind of sad to listen back to the interview they'd given to WFMU the week of the gig at Maxwell's and hear of all the plans they were making for their future before fate intervened, which included a new album and a tour of Europe.
There is yet another subplot to my Silver Apples story: namely, their connection to a band from my current city of Orlando, Florida. The band is called Obliterati, and they've actually performed as Silver Apples with Simeon, an experience their drummer, the very versatile and multi-talented Nadeem Khan, told me was even more technically challenging than he expected; they also released an album on Simeon's own Whirlybird label in the late '90s. When I met the members of Obliterati here in Orlando, I was quite shocked when saxophonist Jim Ivy suddenly sprang to life as I spoke of seeing the reunion show at Maxwell's, then told me they had, in fact, opened for Simeon and Danny that night. I was, in turn, profusely apologetic for having ignored their entire set, opting to wait for the headliner at the bar with my friend. Yeah, I could have just pleaded ignorance, but truthfully, my mind was on only one band that night.
But all these years later, to my great surprise and delight, Simeon is suddenly about to bring his act to Orlando for a show at Will's Pub (to me, the city's equivalent to Maxwell's with its chill vibe and superb mix of interesting local and national acts) this December 2nd. With none other than the recently reunited Obliterati opening once again, along with my clearly awestruck friends Moon Jelly. Sometimes you do get a second chance. I will be there for sure, marveling the whole time at how things just keep coming full circle for me since I arrived in Florida. (Check out the groovy poster for the show by my very dear friend, graphic designer Adam Ibrahim, above!)
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Of all the bands I've ever known personally in all my years of hanging out with fellow musicians, the absolute, downright scariest of them all has to be, without a doubt, Missing Foundation. They were more than just a band, they were a full-on confrontation. Emerging in the lower east side of NYC at the dawn of gentrification, they were hellbent on trying to stop it, and they stopped at nothing. The spray-painted upside-down cocktail glasses which were prominent on virtually every corner of the East Village in 1988 were no mere stroke of self-promotional genius -- they were a genuine threat. Missing Foundation were at the forefront of the local anarchist movement, and made it clear they meant business.
I first met Missing Foundation one fine day in October of 1986. I was hanging out at the studios of WFMU radio on a Sunday afternoon in which they'd driven out to East Orange to play live on the air. I'd never heard of them before, but was immediately blown away by their brilliantly rhythmic noise-punk, made even more incisive by its scrap-metal percussion section. Oh, and during their set, lead singer Peter Missing banged a big gash in his forehead with one of the studio mics and used the ensuing blood supply to paint Missing Foundation graffiti on the walls of the station. Little did I know he was only hinting at what I would witness from them in future meetings. Anyway, my first encounter with them is actually up on Youtube, and you can see my very enthusiastic (and painfully skinny) self in the background in a quick shot or two.
Did I say Missing Foundation was dangerous? Any band whose frontman would paint graffiti in his own blood surely had to be. And in late '87, I experienced just how dangerous firsthand. They were playing at a squatted location in the heart of what was then the creepiest part of the East Village, Alphabet City. By then they already had two self-produced albums out and I was an even bigger fan than before. William Berger was equally as enthusiastic about 'em by then, and the two of us went down there together. I don't remember which one of us suggested we snap up front-row spots for the occasion. I do remember we both wound up damn near regretting it. The band came on and in an instant the atmosphere went from peaceful to violent. Scrap metal flew through the air as Peter Missing, using a magic trick he'd learned, literally set his hands on fire... and then headed straight for me and William with his arms outstretched. We both turned around to bolt out of there as fast as we could, but were faced with a sea of writhing bodies to get through. Somehow this sea finally gave way as the panic spread to the back of the house and we escaped without injury.
We ended up watching the rest of the, er, show from the street. Warzone was more like it. From outside we could hear all the crashing and smashing. People kept on getting tossed out of the place, then running back in to rejoin the fight. At one point someone ran out, went to his pickup truck that was parked just up the street, extracted a tire iron from its tailgate, then headed back inside swinging. At another, the bassist got tossed out, bass still in hand. When he re-entered, he tried to shut the door so that no one else could escape. It was simply the most frightening twenty minutes I ever went to see live in my life. And then, just as suddenly as it started... it ended. The band finally stopped playing, and life went on as before. In retropsect that could well have been the night's eeriest moment.
The word was spreading quickly among local club owners: don't book Missing Foundation, they're trouble. Despite this, CBGB booked 'em in April of 1988. I wasn't at this one, but I've heard several varying accounts of what happened, one saying that they set oil barrels aflame, then rolled them off the stage, another saying they knocked the club's famous PA to the ground, and one claiming a huge pool of blood had to be cleaned up afterward. I can't say which tales are true and which are false, but whatever went down, the band was now completely blacklisted from all NYC venues.
Now, it's only fair that I point out that, in spite of their onstage demeanor, the members of Missing Foundation were actually pretty nice guys offstage, especially Peter Missing. I can personally attest that they always greeted me warmly and treated me with respect whenever our paths crossed on the street, which was fairly frequently. I especially remember running into them at a favorite Mexican restaurant just a few days after the CBGB debacle. I also recall Peter attending a gig by Van Gelder, a band I played drums for briefly, at ABC No Rio and looking quite amused when our frontman tossed handfuls of exploding snappers into the crowd. I believe all MF really wanted was to make sure their message was heard -- a message that nearly three decades later stands as a spooky, prophetic warning of the imminent transformation of New York into a rich man's theme park. Their live shows were a sort of provocative performance art whose confrontational nature forced you to pay attention to what they were saying. Anyway, I don't recall hearing of anyone getting killed at a MF show, much though it often seemed likely.
Tompkins Square Park, with its mix of anarchists and homeless people, had become ground zero for the anti-gentrification movement, and clashes between police and park denizens became more and more frequent, until finally, on August 6, 1988, things exploded in the form of a riot. Police had a field night breaking up a huge demonstration and beating up protestors. With damning video and testimonial evidence mounting against the pigs, someone had to shift the blame somehow. CBS News reporter Mike Taibbi went to the east side, noticed all the MF graffiti, and concluded that they were to blame for starting the riot in Tompkins Square, in the form of a special Channel 2 News report which ran in three parts that November. This, too, can be seen on Youtube, and is a masterwork of yellow journalism. I'll let it speak for itself rather than say more about it here.
I will say that although all sorts of threats were made against MF afterward, neither band nor police were ultimately prosecuted. In fact, just six months later, in a truly remarkable display of defiance, the band returned to the very park where the riots they supposedly incited took place, and played a short but triumphant set without incident as the cops stood idly by. It was the last time I saw them live, and I remember shaking Peter's hand and congratulating him afterward. Shortly thereafter, the battle for control of the park ultimately went to the city. But Missing Foundation surely had their say in the end nonetheless. Ultimately they took off for Europe and left the east side to the rest of us. Peter Missing has recently returned to NYC with a new lineup of MF and their message is still timely, though to be sure, their live performances are a lot less dangerous nowadays. in fact, I'm told he teaches art to kids now. Hopefully with a little dose of anarchy.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
This Saturday, October 17, is Cassette Store Day. In honor of that fact, and also the fact that my Illuminated Paths release "Ray Zinnbrann's Time Tunnel 1983-1988" is now both streamable on Spotify and available for purchase on Amazon, allow me to relate how it all began for me so many years ago, when I never thought my music would ever become playable in any form beyond the mighty cassette tape.
I was making home recordings long before I knew how to play an instrument or had any friends who were musicians. It was a very tentative process in the beginning to say the least. First I tried improvising my own lyrics to whatever instrumental recordings I had lying around, but I didn't like that. Then I tried just singing acapella, again making it up as I went, but that didn't seem to fly either. So finally I got an old beat-up guitar at a garage sale and without even learning to play it first, finally made up "songs" I delighted in driving my family crazy with. It was even better and more annoying sounding if my elementary school friend Zoltan or my 2-year-old cousin Jamey was around to bang on a piano while I banged on my guitar. We also had a big toy drumkit my mother had bought me at Toys-R-Us at our disposal; Mom still regrets the purchase of those drums to this day.
Just before I turned 17, I took a few lessons from my high school punk friends and finally learned how to play guitar well enough to write real songs at last. I wasted no time in getting to work, with nothing but a cassette deck, a cheap beginner's guitar and a very early fuzztone (pictured above) my aunt's brother gave me. I discovered quite by accident that if I plugged my headphones into one of the input jacks on my tape deck that it functioned as a microphone. I plugged my guitar directly into the other jack and I was set.
In February 1983 there was a huge blizzard which dumped over two feet of snow in North Jersey. To occupy myself while snowed in, I started recording these new songs I'd been writing. By the time the storm passed, my very first demo tape was complete. Calling myself Ray Zinnbrann for the first time, I made a few copies of it and passed them around my high school. One student I'd blessed with a copy proceeded to play it on a boombox on her school bus, not knowing it was Not Safe For School. I still wish I'd been there when she played the song that ended with me insulting the school's dean of discipline by name. She said it got a huge response!
At this time, the local NJHC scene was first being championed by WFMU DJ Pat Duncan. He delighted in turning the station into a weekly local punk party during his Thursday night program, playing seemingly any tape his guests would throw at him. I so wanted to be on the show myself, but for some odd reason the folks I knew who went to these little on-air meets were reluctant to deliver tapes of my music to Pat. Then came the fateful evening when one of them needed a ride there one Thursday night and asked me to do the honors. I accepted most willingly and made damn sure to bring a tape to hand to Pat myself. He aired it, and I was officially in. Now knowing exactly where the party was, I began attending Pat's show religiously, bringing tapes whenever I had new recordings to share. I would get the occasional compliment (and the occasional criticism) here and there, but my big moment came when I made a song about a female scenester I'd developed a crush on at Pat's shows. That song, "I Found Love at WFMU," got enough requests in the summer of '84 to finish at a respectable #40 on Pat's Top 100 list at year's end. My first brush with fame!
Irwin Chusid, the outsider music champion whose show followed Pat's at the time, picked up on the buzz generated by "Love at WFMU" and invited me to accompany him on a spoof of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized," which quickly became a follow-up smash and in fact still sees occasional WFMU airplay to this day. With a "crossover hit" under my belt in record time, I moved to expand my base beyond the hardcore scene in earnest. In early 1986 I met William Berger, who had just launched his "Lo-Fi" program spotlighting the now-growing home-taping scene, and found that he, too, craved a taste of Ray Zinnbrann. Soon I was giving all my new tapes to him, winning continuous airplay and appreciation. By then I had "progressed" to recording tracks on a boombox, then playing them back on my good deck while I did additional things over them with another tape going in the boombox -- now I was multitracking.
Two years' worth of "Lo-Fi" contributions and networking with other artists who had sent their music to the show led to the formation of the greatest music scene I have ever had the pleasure of being a member of. On February 10, 1988, we took it to the streets when "Lo-Fi Night" took place at the Lismar Lounge in New York. It was then that I finally got the chance to see for myself just how deeply my music had resonated. After years of making music exclusively in the bedrooms and basements of my hometown, I made my official live debut that night in front of a crowd of fellow "Lo-Fi" artists and admirers who greeted me with a thunderous ovation, sang along to my songs and left me feeling like I had "arrived" at last. I went on to collaborate with other Lo-Fi artists (most notably Jurassic Jet Screamer and the deeply missed Terry Folger) and carve out my own little path of musical mayhem that I strive to keep going till I die.
All of which brings me back to the start of this blog entry. The musical journey I have just related would not have been at all possible if it had not been for cassettes. And I never saw this glorious cassette revival coming either. The next generation is now seeing for themselves just how we did it, and embracing it with the same sort of passion, and it makes me very proud. Cassette Store Day is the wonderful antithesis of that bloated monster Record Store Day, and it honors a format that will always mean more to me than vinyl ever did (except maybe when said vinyl had music I'd made on it). They were inexpensive to produce then and still are now. And as we celebrate this Saturday, well, you may want to buy yourself some cassettes. Like this one. Or, perhaps, this one...
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
It's a god-given fact that most, if not all, of the original punk rock fans were into hard rock beforehand. But when punk and metal crossed paths in the early '80s, most punks weren't willing to own up to that fact. There's no doubt that thrash metal polarized the hardcore scene, but even so, too many punks were pissing all over the same Black Sabbath records they listened to ten years earlier just because they didn't want to lose their so-called street cred. I was not one of these people, I'm happy to admit. Growing up in northern New Jersey, I lived quite close not only to the Misfits but also the HQs of Megaforce Records, the label that launched Metallica. (Perhaps it's no accident, then, that they would've heard the Misfits!)
In 1983 I bought Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades" after hearing some of the local punks tell me it was "pretty good for heavy metal." One listen to the title track and I almost felt like I was one with the local metal kids. But how many of the local metalheads even liked Motorhead? To them, metal was AC/DC and Van Halen. And most of them thought punk sucked, and delighted in sharing this opinion with me at every given turn.
With Motorhead under my belt, it's no surprise that I loved power metal from the very first time I heard Venom on WMSC radio out of Montclair State College. I could sense immediately that this was not your typical metal sound. WMSC devoted its entire Saturday afternoon and evening programming schedule to heavy metal, and it wasn't long before the underground thrash metal "tape traders" took it over, playing new bands from all over the world who sounded more like punk than metal. (One of these tape trader DJs in particular, Gene Khoury, should rightfully be credited with turning me on to Venom, Hellhammer, and Sodom... especially since he is now a born-again Christian.) I began taping WMSC regularly and before long, I was buying thrash metal records, beginning with Venom's "Blood Lust" 45 and moving forward from there. Hellhammer's "Apocalyptic Raids" soon became my number one favorite, and yeah, I admit I bought the first two Metallica albums and enjoyed both at the time. So it was only a matter of time before I attended a metal show, right?
And so, on Saturday night, December 15, 1984, I finally went to one. The mighty Motorhead were the headliners on a triple bill combining them with two bands from the new metal underground. I picked up my pal Jim "Rex" Hogan at the William Paterson College domitories, and off we went to Passaic. The Capitol Theater was packed to the rafters with metalheads. The ladies were gorgeous but most of them were on the arms of the scruffiest dirtbags you'd never want to see them with. Security could not possibly have cared less about people smoking weed, so you guessed it... a stoner metal Christmas party complete with appropriate party favors.
The first band was a trio named Exciter, from Toronto, who were signed to Megaforce. I was impressed not only by their music but the fact that their drummer was also the lead singer, and I've always had a strange fascination with bands whose drummers sing lead. I liked 'em enough to buy their first album the following week.
The next band up was Mercyful Fate. Now, I've come to appreciate this band in recent years. But god, I hated them back in '84, and so did all my friends of the era. They were definitely not popular with any of the punks who liked power metal, and most of those in attendance flocked back to the lobby in droves when King Diamond and his merry men took over. But this must have been an off night for them, because before long even some of the folks who dug them were returning to the lobby going "Man, they suck tonight." (It should be noted that Mercyful Fate broke up just four months later.)
At long last it was time for Motorhead. Of course, by late '84, Lemmy had ditched the lineup that recorded all their classic material, but it didn't matter -- the night clearly belonged to him anyway. It was the last night of their tour and he wanted all us New Jersey metalheads to dance -- "Get up or get out!" He also urged the ladies in the audience to "make this last night really special for us" by showing him their tits. At one point, he brought out a young, well-endowed lady named Colleen and introduced her as "the best looking member of our road crew we've ever had." I don't recall her showing her boobs, but I do remember the big scream she greeted the crowd with. But for me, the absolute highlight of the show, apart from having my request for "Overkill" that I kept screaming out between every song ultimately honored as the very last song of the night, was when Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics came out to help Lemmy sing "No Class," sounding like the female version of her duet partner the whole time. I never had the honor of seeing the Plasmatics live (though old friends of mine did, and have some great stories to tell), so this was the next best thing for sure.
It was phenomenal, and yes, it was loud. No, make that LOUD. Again, that night was a Saturday. My ears didn't stop ringing till the following Wednesday. With all the recent reports of erratic performances and health scares, Lemmy is another one I'm proud to say I saw in his prime. Let us all pray now for his continued survival.
Friday, September 11, 2015
As much as I will always consider the Ramones one of my greatest influences, and the band that changed my life, my emotions about 'em will, quite honestly, always be mixed. The tale of my stormy relationship with them shall now explain why in detail:
It all began in March of '77 when I bought a little single called "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" at Harmony Hut Records at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ. The flip side had two live songs, the second of which was "I Don't Wanna Walk Around With You." That was the one that did it. It was simple, insane, catchy and silly. I immediately asked for their first album for Easter. I showed it to my grandmother and she was puzzled. "PUNK ROCK? What the hell is THAT?" she asked, quite loudly. A year later she'd go on to ask me, "What was that song you played that went 'daddy's telling lies, baby's eating flies?' I like that one, it's cute." Why, it's "We're A Happy Family," grandma!
In December '78 I attended a special school assembly at which the featured attraction was a local comedian and TV show host named Uncle Floyd. I was so blown away by his performance that morning at my school that I started watching "The Uncle Floyd Show" that very evening and did so every weekday for the next two years. The Ramones made three appearances on his show in early '79 and I saw every one, and still have the old cassette tape I made of them in fact. Now if only Floyd weren't so frigging uptight (why?) about his fans posting old episodes of his show online.
In the late '70s there was this record fair called the Rock & Roll Flea Market which took place periodically at the Diplomat Hotel in midtown Manhattan. My mother took me there twice. The first time out of curiosity and the second time because word had gotten out that the Ramones were going to play live at it. But the planning wasn't very good, and of course a huge mob turned out. I waited on a line that didn't move for almost three hours, got in but got turned away from the show itself, and didn't get to see a thing. I also almost got knocked down by an enraged fan as he brawled with security trying to force him out. We left just as the cops arrived. Mom claimed she saw Joey make his way in while I was trying to get in. I sure didn't.
As insane as that day was, though, it pales in comparison with the grim night of June 15, 1985, the night I did get in to see the Ramones... with even greater complications this time. There were these local girls I wanted to take out who wanted to see them. The show was at a heavy metal club called L'Amour's, in Brooklyn. I was initially reluctant because I'd never driven to Brooklyn in my life. But they had a friend who knew the way there... or so they claimed. We picked him up along Route 4. That should have been the big red flag right there, but I let him in anyway, and after he insisted we take him to score some drugs first, he got us lost in Brooklyn for an hour before we finally found the show. Then we almost didn't get in because the girls were under 21. Fortunately the doorman was suggestible and eventually caved in, and then we almost got thrown out for lighting up a joint in celebration. I have to give L'amour's credit here. They were nice guys.
At 2 AM the Ramones finally made their grand entrance in a haze of dry ice to the strains of a Morricone soundtrack. Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee (and CJ on drums) were all there, alive and well. They were just phenomenal. Loud, savage, blistering, giving a new hardcore edge to their classic songs and totally nailing its energy. Suddenly the world around me disappeared and for one single glorious nonstop hour, nothing remained of the night but me and them. Dee Dee's turn upfront on a snarling "Warthog" was a personal highlight. I was on cloud nine, forgetting everything I went through to get there, caring only that I was there and boy, was it worth it. This was the promised land I'd taken so long to finally get to.
Then the music stopped, the lights went up and the ride was over. I crash-landed back on earth to find it was three AM and there was a monsoon outside that we now had to find our way home from Brooklyn in somehow. It took us two whole hours. The dirtbag who "directed" us there, and who almost wrecked my car when I foolishly let him drive for me for five minutes, then got pissed off because I wouldn't drive an extra half hour to take him home. I dumped him on the side of the road. A week later one of the girls I'd taken to the show ripped me a new one for doing so. So much for that. But at least I saw the Ramones, right?
Two years later, in '87, at a Butthole Surfers show at the Cat Club, I spotted Joey Ramone at the bar. I got up the nerve and said "Hey, Joey!" The bastard didn't even acknowledge me. I may as well have been invisible. Perhaps I was. And a few years after that, I was eating Mexican food at San Loco on the Lower East Side and who did I notice a few tables away from me but Dee Dee. He looked horrible, walking with a cane and seeming more than a bit strung out. It was hard to believe this was the same guy I'd seen doing that killer version of "Warthog" just five or so years before. I didn't even bother trying to say hello that time. By then it was definitely all but over for them. We all know what happened later...
Yes, my relationship with the Ramones was a rocky road indeed. But it was real. And with all of them gone too soon, I guess I can appreciate what I went through to see 'em on a more humorous level now. But it sure didn't seem funny at the time.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Friday, October 23, 1981. A night I will never forget, and neither will anyone else who went to Clifton High School's Battle Of The Bands that evening. It was Adrenalin OD's very first gig, and it was a riot. In the literal sense of the word. And they called upon me to introduce their first performance in a very unique way. Well, that's what the original gameplan was, anyway. But before I get to the grisly details, some historical background is necessary.
In the beginning, there was The Executives. They were Elmwood Park, New Jersey's first punk rock band. A cover band, true, but my hometown's first punk band nonetheless. The lead guitarist was Tommy Koprowski, who turned me on to the Misfits at a time when few people outside of their native Lodi (two towns away) had heard of them (see my previous post on them), and on bass was future AOD member Bruce Wingate. Bruce's best friend was a tall, skinny blonde-haired guy named Jack Steeples. By the time AOD started I had gotten to know all three of these folks quite well. In April 1980, the Executives played Elmwood Park High School's gymnasium, unintentionally blowing up a very expensive sound system and almost starting a fire in the process. It was the very first punk show I ever attended.
By the end of '80 the Executives were history, and Bruce, Tom and Jack were making plans for a new band. Around this time a speakeasy called the Diamond Chips Cafe opened right next door to the famous Capitol Theater in Passaic, and right across the street from a punk boutique called Two-Tone. The boys talked the owner of this very short-lived new venue into letting them play there on the day after Christmas that year. Following this, they came up with the utterly brilliant idea of naming this new band Hitler Youth -- a name chosen purely for its shock value and no other reason. But after they got chased out of Two-Tone by its Jewish owner while trying to post a Hitler Youth flyer in the shop's window, they quickly realized this name would cause more than a bit of trouble for them, and in their haste to come up with something less offensive, they renamed the new band the Seductors.
Their show at the Diamond Chips Cafe on December 26, 1980 was quite wonderful for many reasons, not least of which was my onstage performing debut at the tender age of 15. Before the show they handed me Jack's bass, taught me their cover of "Pills" (the NY Dolls' arrangement of the Bo Diddley standard), and then I sat in with 'em on the song in the first of two sets they played that night. Though I had never played bass before in my life, my performance -- a single three-note blues progression played entirely on the E string -- went well enough that they repeated the number in the second set, again with me on bass. I was quite a small cat in those days and the main thing I remember was repeatedly thinking "Fuck, man, this thing weighs a ton!" as I struggled to hold onto the bass throughout both performances of the song. There was also a 12-bar blues number in their repertoire called "I'm Gonna Buttfuck My Baby" which they let me sing a verse of, daringly inserting the names of local girls into my interpretation of the song's very provocative words. (Such a cocky kid was I.)
The Seductors' sounds quickly attracted the ears of a Clifton-based teen punk named Dave Scott Schwartzman from the street as he was coming out of Two-Tone. Hearing the strains of our version of "Pills," he became very intrigued, and wasted no time in walking across the street and introducing himself to us. Through Dave, the boys soon met another local punk named Paul Richard, who lived a bit further down the road from us in Union. When guitarist Mike Putz departed the fold, Paul took his place, and the band changed its name to the East Paterson Boy's Choir. The new name was a reference to Elmwood Park's original one before the town's residents voted to change it a few years earlier, most likely to disassociate itself from the decaying city it lurked in the direct shadow of.
The East Paterson Boy's Choir broke up not long after a gig at the Clifton City Picnic in the summer of '81, and Bruce moved to Waco, Texas (later home to the infamous David Koresh cult compound) to live with his older brother Donny for awhile. By the time Bruce returned to NJ, hardcore was taking over, and Dave was playing Black Flag and the Circle Jerks for anyone who would listen. Another new band quickly sprang up as future Electric Frankenstein guitarist Jim Foster joined Paul, Jack and Dave to form Adrenalin OD. Their mission: to introduce hardcore punk to North Jersey.
Though still playing mostly covers, the East Paterson Boy's Choir slowly but surely branched out into songwriting during its brief existence, and by the time AOD started, the boys were ready to adopt an original repertoire. So they wrote a bunch of songs, had a few rehearsals, got the gig at Clifton High's Battle Of The Bands... and then, one week before the gig, Jack and his future wife Sandy mysteriously disappeared, telling not even their closest friends of their intentions to elope. They finally miraculously reappeared with just one day to go before the big night, by which time Sandy had become pregnant with their first child, though she wouldn't find out until the following week.
All of which brings us back to the night of October 23, 1981. AOD were scheduled to play last. In retrospect this was probably a wise move. All the other bands on the bill were unmemorable classic rock cover affairs. Backstage before AOD's set, I was shown a pet cage big enough to hold a large dog. The band then somehow managed to talk me into becoming a participant in their unique idea for their grand entrance: the curtain would open to reveal my puny little self locked inside the pet cage in front of the band with a spare microphone placed in front of it. I would simply growl and say "Ladies and gentlemen, Adrenalin OD!" after which I would then be carried offstage as they launched into their first song. But you know how things seldom turn out exactly as planned. Showtime arrived and I was put inside the pet cage and carried onstage. What happened next still stands to this day as the absolute scariest moment of my entire history of going to live shows.
For starters, nobody bothered to place a mic in front of the cage so I could bark out my intro. Quickly realizing this, the band just went ahead and started into its first song, a cover of the "Courageous Cat" cartoon theme music, as the curtains drew back. The chaos started right from the very first note as the crowd of local punks who had come to the show started moshing and stagediving all over and in front of the stage. A select few of them jumped right onstage and started to kick, punch, and push the pet cage around -- with me locked inside with no means of escape. I just about turned white, panicking as I saw my life flashing before me. I began to scream, "HELP! HELP! SOMEONE GET ME OUT OF HERE!" But my shrieks couldn't be heard above the surging wall of noise the band had created. For 30 terrifying seconds it looked like I was gonna wind up getting my ass kicked royally by this unruly mob of punks.
Just in the nick of time, though, one of the moshers, having realized something had gone very wrong with my act, took it upon himself to rip the door right off the cage in one quick, fell swoop. Needless to say, I crawled out of there as fast as I could and ran to safety as the crowd then proceeded to rip the now-empty cage to shreds. I then spent the rest of AOD's set just watching as all hell broke loose around me.
And what a riot it was. Not surprisingly, the local jocks who formed much of the audience were definitely not pleased that their classic rock cover band night had suddenly been invaded by a bunch of punk rockers tearing through songs pissing all over their beefhead lifestyle. It didn't help that booze had flowed freely all over the parking lot all evening with no effort made to stop it (ah, the days before drug-free school zones were invented). Midway through, someone tried to close the curtains in a frantic attempt to stop the show. Someone else punched him square in the face and reopened them, and the show raged on. For their closing number, Jack handed his bass over to Tommy Koprowski, who had given me my ride to the show, and they did their cover of "Louie Louie." Jack grabbed the mic and began shouting out his unique rewrite of the song's lyrics: "Louie Louie, man, he's such a fag! Louie Louie, he's all pissed off because his girl's on the rag!" This finally pushed the crowd past its boiling point.
It was obvious we had to get our asses out of there as fast as we could right after AOD played their last note. The band was whisked backstage by school security and given a police escort out of the auditorium, as Tommy and I ran for our lives back to his car. The last thing I remember before we finally made it out ourselves was the angry mob smashing the trophy cases in the hallway outside the auditorium and charging down the parking lot chanting "PUNK ROCK SUCKS! PUNK ROCK SUCKS!"
But by the time we pulled out of the parking lot, somewhat shaken up but definitely unscathed, our state of panic was quickly replaced by -- what else? -- an Adrenalin OD as we came to the realization that we had survived this grisly encounter, and I couldn't help but feel a rush of excitement and perverse pride at how AOD had succeeded in telling all those jock beefheads we all hated so much exactly where they could stick it, right to their ugly faces. To this day I still think it ironic that in their brainless delirium, they wound up desecrating the trophy cases which represented the very symbols of their pathetic existences. My parents were still awake and waiting for me when I finally arrived back home, and I couldn't stop telling them about how I had just witnessed one of the greatest spectacles I'd ever seen, sparing them most of the hairy details of course (especially the dog cage incident).
AOD, of course, went on to have a long and storied career, continuing on in the same lineup that debuted at Clifton High until early '83, when Jim Foster left the band just as the Let's Barbeque EP was released. Jack tagged his buddy Bruce Wingate to replace Jim and the rest is history -- four albums, tons of live shows, their own record label, a big local HC scene forming in their wake, Dave Scott writing a column for Maximum Rock & Roll, and a nationwide reputation built on several summers worth of exhaustive touring. I was witness to a lot of this as well. But that's another story altogether.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Back in 1997, the internet was a very, very different little beast. You had to tap into a telephone line to get online, and downloading took forever and a day. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Youtube, no Soundcloud. But the word was out that HTML was so easy a child could learn it, and the "homepage" craze had begun accordingly in earnest. Most of the people who were creating these pages had anything but talent and original ideas. Thus, you had 1,000 "websites" on the Beatles and Pink Floyd, and about half a billion Simpsons "homepages," all with the same damned completely generic content. The web in '97 was anything but a worldwide archive of everything that exists under the sun. There was no Google, only a gaggle of equally shitty search engines like Altavista and Lycos and I forget the names of the rest.
The idea of a website devoted to a latin rock group whose records I'd discovered on a day trip to Mexico was certainly innovative for its time, but it seemed like an absurd idea to bring into this sort of online climate. Yet that's exactly what I did, though only after joking about it to myself for some time, I now admit. And again, none of today's powerhouse social media outlets existed then, so there seemed nowhere to promote my site but on those shitty search engines, which you had to send your web address to and then wait weeks for the listing to appear, and a seedy little garage-rock message board I never felt like I fit in on. But through some folks I met on that board I heard albums I'd not heard yet by the band in question, and through the search engines, my site quickly reached Mexico City... and Armando Nava, leader of Los Dug Dug's, that band whose music I'd first come across in Mexico.
Quite honestly, were I first discovering Los Dug Dug's today, I would definitely not be starting a site devoted to them. With every last bit of worldwide knowledge of music at our fingertips now, there would surely be no need to. The sites started by myself and so many others on Geocities and the like were primitive offerings in both content and design, created with the limited capacities of the web as it was in '97 in mind. These days the various templates are already in place so all you have to concern yourself with on your Facebook, Blogspot etc. is the content itself. But back then, I had to make do with what little I had available... including my own practically nonexistent design "skills." Somehow, though... I got my message across. And oh, what I got in return for it all.
Over the course of several future posts I plan to tell the full story of raybrazen.com, the websites I produced and maintained under that banner from 1997 to 2010, and the amazing adventures, both good and bad, which came as a result of its many successes. Stay tuned, folks.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Early 1979. I'd just arrived at Elmwood Park High School months earlier and already my penchant for openly displaying my punk rock pride was attracting much attention, not all of it good. But there was some positive attention from the other like-minded kids in the halls... of which I would soon meet more than I thought I'd even find there. And Tommy Koprowski was the first one.
I was in Walgreen's hanging out by the magazine racks flipping through the latest issue of Creem one evening when Tommy first approached me. He introduced himself and we began to talk. After only a short spell of conversation, Tommy began to ask me if I'd heard of this punk band and that. He started with the obvious, Sex Pistols and Ramones. But then he hit me with several more obscure names... and to his astonishment, I was able to prove I knew every last one of them. Finally, he asked me, "Have you ever heard of the Misfits?" I drew a blank right there and then. Tommy had called my bluff at last.
That was how I first learned of a new band that had recently formed in Lodi, just two towns and ten minutes away from us. And at school the next day, Tommy called me over to his locker, where he handed me a cassette of the Misfits' unreleased first album, Static Age. I put it into my cheap mono portable Panasonic tape player when I got home, and despite the very lo-fi quality (not helped by the fact that the cassette had been copied from an 8-track tape!), I was in love from its very first notes. I couldn't stop playing it for the next two weeks. Tommy practically had to beg it back from me. I soon found myself at Bleecker Bob's in Greenwich Village, asking Bob if he'd ever heard of the Misfits. He answered by reaching behind him and pulling out a copy of their latest single, "Horror Business," pressed on lovely clear yellow wax. I paid only two bucks for it. Take that, collectors.
Even then, as a local NJ band in '79, the Misfits were shrewd marketers. All their singles came with free memberships to the Misfits Fiend Club. All you had to do was send them your name and address and you'd get 8x10 glossy photos, badges and stickers sent to you absolutely free, along with order forms for t-shirts silkscreened by Glenn Danzig himself. Soon all the punks in school were hip to this still-local phenomenon and we all had Misfits buttons and shirts.
The legend was growing. One day in October 1980 someone in my biology class who knew I liked them claimed he had a line on someone who worked behind the scenes at the Uncle Floyd Show, the crazy comedy and local music show we all watched at dinnertime, and that the Misfits were going to be the musical guests on Halloween. I thought he was joking and so didn't tell anyone I knew about it. Of course, then I tuned in Uncle Floyd on Halloween night and... you guessed it, the Misfits were right there on my TV screen. As great a moment as it was to witness, I took to feeling like a jerk for not saying anything to my friends about it. That is, until I met up with them later that night and they all greeted ME with "Hey man, did you see the Misfits on Uncle Floyd tonight?" Everyone had seen it regardless, and everyone was buzzing all night about it.
The Misfits very quickly became one of our top favorite bands, both for the quality of their music and the fact that they literally "walked among us" in suburban New Jersey, though we never seemed to see much of them around. Though they formed in the first wave of punk, it was in hardcore that they finally found their core audience, and the legend soon spread well outside of NJ's borders.
All of this brings us to the last day of my junior year in high school, June 25, 1982. And how do you think me and my pals celebrated no more pencils and no more books? Well, it just so happened that our last day of school coincided with a Misfits show in the big city. I was offered a seat in the carpool Tommy K. was organizing to go to the show. I wasn't sure if the folks would let me go, so I said "Maybe, I'll have to let you know later." But when I got home, I found out they were going out for the night and wouldn't be back home till dawn. I still remember watching their car disappear up the street as I dialed Tom's number: "Yeah, just swing by anytime, the coast is clear..." He swung by in his green Ford Pinto station wagon, picking me up as his first passenger before making stops to fetch Bruce Wingate of Adrenalin OD, and two future Danzig personnel, Steve Zing and Eerie Von. A classic NJHC carload for sure.
The first band to take the stage at Irving Plaza that night was the Beastie Boys. They'd just released their very first EP consisting entirely of straight-up hardcore, but they were already experimenting with rap in their live shows. I remember liking the hardcore songs and hating the rap songs with equal passion. But even so I remember thinking, "These guys could be stars if they tightened up their act." The Necros, perhaps midwestern hardcore's most criminally underrated band ever (and who still have yet to see their classic works reissued, believe it or not), went on second. They played their songs twice as fast as on their EPs and I remember being fascinated by the speed their drummer Todd Swalla seemed capable of. After his band played, he took a quick breather and then proceeded to fulfill his duties as guest drummer for the next, and final band... The Misfits.
You know how all those cats who saw the Beatles at Shea Stadium tell you all they could hear was a swirling mass of noise and screaming? Well, I could say the very same thing about the Misfits at Irving Plaza. I watched most wisely from the balcony as "all hell broke loose" below me. And all I could hear was a swirling mass of noise and screech and echo. After awhile it become impossible even to tell what song they were doing. Guitars fed back uncontrollably both during and in between songs. After the second song Jerry Only literally offered his black custom bass to the crowd. A sea of hands reached out and soon there was a brawl over who got to keep it. Jerry seemed unfazed as a roadie came out with another bass of the exact same design and he strapped it on and continued. Some joker in the crowd soon took to chucking bottles at Mr. Danzig. On this recording of part of the show, you can hear Glenn calling out the offender and Mike D. of the Beastie Boys calling him "a fucking pussy!" It all melted into one mass exorcism of noise and flailing bodies and disembodied bliss.
I worried whether Tommy, who had weathered the entire storm upfront, would still be alive to take me home after the show, but lo and behold, he wore his battle bruises proudly all the way back to Elmwood Park. Our timing was impeccable as he got me home just minutes before my parents returned. They never knew the difference. It was an amazing end to an amazing night.
P.S. If Glenn Danzig ever reads this: the copy of "Evilive" I ordered from the Fiend Club in 1983 arrived in my mailbox broken. I promptly sent it back to you with a note explaining the situation. You still owe me a replacement copy. I would appreciate it sometime soon. Thank you. Love, Ray.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
September 21, 1984. It was the day Adrenalin OD's first album was released. I was hanging out celebrating this fact with the members of the band somewhere out in Union, New Jersey. It was a Friday night and before too long there was talk in the air of moving our party elsewhere -- CBGB, to be exact, where a new band from Austin, Texas called the Butthole Surfers were headlining on this last night of summer. Somehow the boys talked me into using my car to transport us there, and off we went.
Truth be told, I was the least excited of all of us to be seeing the Buttholes. They had only just released their very first record on Alternative Tentacles and while I didn't dislike it, I didn't think it was anything special either, and I would never have gone to see them live had I not been talked into it. But there I was, entering CBGB to find a packed house and a band already in full flight onstage. I, at first, didn't know who this band was, but within just 30 seconds, I was head over heels in love with them. They had an almost 7-foot tall singer, a guitarist with a blonde crewcut, and two drummers, one male and one female. And they were making the most infectiously psychedelic racket my ears had ever heard in a live setting. The singer was just maniacal, the guitarist was wildly inventive, and the drummers, both of whom played standing up, were just lost in the passion of their tribal rhythms, sometimes trading drumkits with each other in mid-song. And needless to say, I was shocked, but ultimately very pleasantly surprised, when what I thought was one of the opening bands turned out in fact to be... the Butthole Surfers.
Hardcore punk was still my main thing before that night. But seeing the Buttholes convinced me there was something beyond that, and it wasn't long before I left the hardcore scene for greener musical pastures. A year after the CBGB gig, in 1985, I saw 'em again at the Show Place in Dover, NJ, by which time the legendary Mark Kramer had become their new bassist (for just three months) and they were fully established as a live force to be reckoned with. Those first two shows were basically just the band and their great music, and Gibby's stage antics; their "Blind Eye Sees All" video was filmed around this time and it's a fine example of what their early gigs were like.
I didn't see the Butthole Surfers live again until May 1, 1987, when they played the Ritz. What a night. Redd Kross were the openers, at the height of their "Neurotica" success. Before the show started I saw Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie just casually milling about the club, and when I casually waved "Hi" to them, they came right over and greeted me like a long lost friend. By this time the Buttholes had expanded their show to include autopsy footage screened on the stage wall behind them and a topless dancer named Kathleen Lynch -- who I would later meet once at a private party I was lucky enough to crash a year later -- dancing on a raised platform in front of it. They didn't take the stage until 2 AM (oh, the days when headlining bands rarely went on before then!) and promptly rewarded us for waiting up more than half the fucking night for them by playing their deranged noisefest "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave" as their opening number... for ten whole minutes. In the process they became the first, last, and only band I know of ever to smash their instruments at the BEGINNING of their set! The other Buttholes shows I saw were generally charming affairs, but this show, by contrast, was deep, dark and brooding, the most chilling music I've ever heard them make.
I saw the band one more time after that, just a few months later, at the Cat Club, a place once ransacked by GG Allin. The weird videos and nude dancer remained, but this time the show was a lot less disturbing. In fact, the entire thing can be watched right here. It's grainy but gives off some of the vibe of that night, as Gibby announces before singing "Lady Sniff" that he would never sing it again. I can't vouch for whether he kept that promise, for that was the last Buttholes show I saw. But in retrospect, perhaps Gibby's proclamation was a prophecy, for the band's downfall set in shortly afterward in a mess of increasingly disappointing albums and increasingly destructive drug problems. And by the time the band finally made it onto mainstream rock radio in the age of grunge with the unforgivable Beck ripoff "Pepper," they were officially dead as far as I was concerned.
But when they were alive, there was no band more transcendental than the Butthole Surfers, and I'm glad the boys in Adrenalin OD talked me into taking them to CBGB that night in September '84, for I may never have known what I would've missed if they hadn't.
Friday, July 24, 2015
As most of you know, not only am I a well seasoned punk rocker and avid gig-goer of well over thirty five years' standing, but I've been creating my own music for nearly that long a time as well. Last year, my dear friend Joshua Rogers, who runs the awesome label Illuminated Paths, invited me to assemble a compilation of some of my favorite lo-fi home recordings from the 1980s which we released both on cassette and online as "Ray Zinnbrann's Time Tunnel 1983-1988," its title a nod to the stage name I used up until 1995. Since then, the Brazen mystique has grown anew in a wild and wonderful way, including but not limited to my fair share of renewed attention from the local press here in Orlando and various other music blogs.
First and foremost, "Time Tunnel" received a solid four stars out of five from Orlando Weekly's Bao Le-Huu, who even went so far as to give it an Undie Award in his This Little Underground column as one of 2014's best local releases. He calls it "a vivid, vintage glimpse inside the restlessly creative mind of a true eccentric, and one of the best imaginable primers to weird Orlando." And as if all that weren't enough, he attended my most recent live show at Uncle Lou's last month, and praised that accordingly as well: "On his incidentally signature Brazen electric guitar (the interesting story of which can be heard on this recent episode of the Moonmen From Mars podcast), the unboxable outsider artist swung wildly from punk to metal to quirky pop. If being anti-norm is the meter, he may be the punkest one around here."
"Time Tunnel" has also received favorable notice from the music blog Raised By Gypsies, where Joshua Macala raved: "There exists this raw, punk quality to the sound of Ray Zinnbrann... it's something that as it stands, for the influences it has, maintains a level of sincerity that cannot be matched and based on that merit alone this should be an instant classic." After comparing my tape to a few contemporary artists who weren't even around yet when I recorded it all, he further concluded: "Listening to this is like finding a cassette from the 1900's that had music on it that could be classified as the rock n roll sound made most famous by Elvis Presley and it being noted that he and other contemporaries could not have possibly had any knowledge of its existence. Except for the fact that, you know, that would be impossible... and this is not only an entirely possible scenario here but it is in fact sitting right in front of me."
Not one to rest on these laurels, I've forged straight ahead and added to the revelry by following up with a cassette/digital EP of my own with three new songs, "The Revenge of Davey Dawson." And wouldn't you know it, this too has won me critical acclaim, this time from one Drew Smith on his Riot in My Brain blog: "He’s an eccentric and awesome personality that’s hard not to love. 'The Revenge Of Davey Dawson' is a classic campfire-style story telling song, it’s freaking awesome. 'Me Too!' is a pretty awesome acoustic punk track... these songs work together to make a really awesome and fun little tape. I definitely think you should check it out if you want one of the funnest rock n’ roll personalities in America; I really think more people should embrace the eccentricities of Ray Brazen."
He's absolutely right, you know. And you should embrace Mr. Smith's eccentricities too, for that matter, for he is also on Illuminated Paths, as a member of Bad Kids To The Front, whose "Post-Teen Drama" is truly unique and like no other release I've heard in the past year, a heady mix of spacey and experimental influences well worth your time to get your ears involved in.
I know I'm tooting my own trumpet (and those of my friends) quite a bit here, but dammit, I think we're all more than worth it, and we all wish more of you were heeding some of this great hype and buying some of this great music accordingly. None of it will break your bank and I promise I will treat you right, and maybe even throw in an extra surprise or two for the privilege. I'm sure everyone else named here will do the same.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
About five years ago, in the back room of a restaurant in Orlando, Florida, I had the privilege of witnessing a very interesting performance by a band of very bright young men who had just graduated from high school. The set, played by select members of a local outfit called Studebaker Hawk, consisted entirely of cover versions of songs by one of my very favorite '80s punk bands, the Minutemen. It was a very meticulously rehearsed and well-executed set, but while I enjoyed it, I couldn't help but feel a bit strange throughout, and for very, very good reason: I had actually seen the Minutemen themselves play live 25 years earlier, long before any of these cats were even born, and just two months before a major tragedy ended the band forever.
Anyway, after this Minutemen cover band played, one or more of its members (who have since become good friends of mine) happened to overhear me mention the fact that I had once seen the real Minutemen to someone in the audience. A week later I was hanging out at Will's Pub, my favorite live music venue in Orlando, when I suddenly found myself surrounded by the members of this Minutemen cover band. They ganged up on me like a street posse, staring at me hard, and I wondered immediately what the hell I'd done to inspire their alleged wrath. Finally, one of them spoke, in a voice ever so loud and stern: "YOU SAW THE MINUTEMEN???" I gasped and sheepishly replied, "Um... yes, as a matter of fact, I did." They then demanded that I tell them the whole story of that night from start to finish, refusing to let me go until I complied. It was an even stranger moment than seeing their tribute band play for sure. Fortunately I escaped unharmed!
The fact is that not only was I lucky enough to go to that show at Irving Plaza in NYC on October 26, 1985, but I also actually came face-to-face with D. Boon before the show. The Minutemen were recording select dates on the tour they were on at the time, with the intention of releasing a very special live album their fans would vote on the track listing for. Hanging out in the lobby before the show, I suddenly spotted D. passing out flyers, and I eagerly approached him for one. Without a word he handed one to me, in the midst of handing out a dozen more to other pie-eyed fans. It was a ballot listing every song they ever recorded, with instructions to "vote for your favorites" for inclusion on the live album. (I never did get around to sending mine in, but surely I would've voted for "Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!" if I had.)
When the band finally took the stage and opened with "Anxious Mo-Fo," the very first thing Mike Watt did was break a bass string. The very first thing! While he fixed it, D. did a nice job of filling the time by playing his lovely instrumental "Cohesion." When they finally started up again, they didn't stop for almost two solid hours. I'll never forget how D. moved up on that stage. I can tell you for sure that I have not seen a 250-pound man dance like he did as he played, before or since -- with his size, he looked positively gravity-defying.
They played every song you would have wanted to hear from them and then some, including songs from their forthcoming "Three-Way Tie For Last" album and a surprise cover version of "Prelude" by Tyrannosaurus Rex that had this lifelong Marc Bolan fan's jaw squarely on the floor. George Hurley did a great, and well-received, drum solo midway through the show -- how many punk bands have gotten away with that? The band's energy was relentless and even after almost two hours they didn't seem fazed by the crowd's call for encores. They ended with "History Lesson Part 2," and I recall how D. and Mike pressed their foreheads together in a show of brotherly love as they played the song's final crescendo. It was a beautiful and touching climax to one of the best shows I ever saw in my life.
I'm especially lucky I saw this one, for had I not taken that chance to see them when I did, I would have blown it forever: just two months later, D. Boon was killed in a freak accident on the way to visit his girlfriend's family for Christmas. On the day after Christmas, I was hanging out at the studios of world-famous radio station WFMU with my DJ friend Pat Duncan when a listener suddenly called in to ask if we had heard that D. had died. I went into an immediate, prolonged state of shock. The station aired a minute of silence in the main Minuteman's memory as I tried to wrap my mind around that grisly thought. What a sad, sad holiday that was.
Monday, July 6, 2015
New York City hosted its first ever hardcore punk matinee on Sunday, April 26, 1981. And no, it wasn't at CBGB, but Bond's, an old casino turned nightclub. I had a crush at the time on a punk chick in school named Tracey and one morning after homeroom she told me about it, said she and her older (and even cuter) sister Tiffany were going, and would I like to join them? Man, I was over the moon that day! I remember the ad she showed me announced its all ages premise as "No one over 18 admitted without child!" And the first band to play a punk matinee in NYC would be none other than the Dead Kennedys.
They had already reached their peak by this point, fresh off those great first two singles and first album, and all the punks in school were nuts for them, not least of all myself. So on that day in April, I went with Tracey and Tiffany on a Sunday afternoon field trip to NYC totally unlike any my parents had ever taken me on. The notes I was smart enough to take almost 35 years ago are still there to help me tell the tale.
It may have been advertised as a booze-free event (hence my parents allowing me to go), but there was plenty of weed burning all around us at this first all-ages show. Bond's was only about 3/4ths full, a far cry from the infamous oversold shows the Clash played there the following month which attracted the fire marshals. Anyway, there they were before us, the mighty young Dead Kennedys, with Jello Biafra at the helm dressed in a mad scientist jacket, asking the audience "Do you want new wave, or do you want to see us put an end to new wave?" -- no doubt a response to the music the trendy DJ played before they went on. The band charged right into "Kill The Poor" and Jello's jacket soon came off, along with his shirt.
Four songs into the set, just as they launched into "Man With The Dogs," Jello suddenly made what could very well have been history on top of history -- at the very first all-ages hardcore matinee in NYC, he became the first person I ever saw take a full-on head first stagedive into the audience. Then, as he continued singing while crowdsurfing, several audience members proceeded to climb onto the stage and leap back into the audience headfirst themselves, just as Jello had done. Could this have been the first time moshing took place at a punk show in NYC? Still to this day I wonder. I can say for sure, though, that I saw it for the very first time here.
Jello returned to the stage at song's end to find that East Bay Ray had broken a string. But no sooner was it fixed than Jello stagedived a second time. And just like before, a dozen audience members followed suit. This happened several times more before the show was over. I was happy to be in my position further back in the crowd so as not to have one of them land on me! Jello's stage banter was politically charged as you would expect, but it was surely more humorous and less overbearing than it would become in later years. The band played a fast but full set with two encores and the premiere of their new song "Too Drunk to Fuck," which came out as a 45 just a few weeks later. The last song was "Chemical Warfare" with Klaus Flouride slamming his bass down flat on the stage and Darren kicking over his drumkit Keith Moon-style at the end... as Jello dived into the crowd one last time, but of course.
It was a great show despite a lousy sound mix, and just like the full-fledged classic Misfits with Danzig lineup I saw the following year (which had an even lousier mix), the DKs with Jello is something I can say I saw live and you can't. With its formal introduction of thrashy, sped-up tempos and what was then called "slamdancing," this was a genuine glimpse into the crystal ball of punk for me. Hardcore took the city by storm that summer, and by the end of '81 every gig I would attend would seem just like this one. And how.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
THE BRAZENBLOG IS BACK! I'm Ray Brazen and this is the relaunch of my blog which I had on Myspace from '05 to around '10 or so. Of course, when those douchebags changed their format, they automatically eliminated their blog feature, instantly wiping out mine and everyone else's hard work forever. Unlike the original, this Brazenblog will be somewhat different. It'll still concentrate on my current happenings, but along the way I'll tell stories about some of the legendary events in rock history I've witnessed over the past 40 years or so. You will thrill to tales of everything from my earliest concerts to my discoveries of certain bands. I also plan to finally write my memoir regarding my years as creator of raybrazen.com, which I started way back in '97 to champion the causes of classic bands both at home and in Mexico. And you will be dazzled by all of it, I promise. So strap yourselves in and enjoy this first piece... all about my very first visit to a nightclub, and oh, what a club...
I still don't know how I persuaded my parents to let me go. But a very old diary of mine confirms that somehow, on August 28, 1980, just two and a half weeks after I turned 15, I managed to secure their permission to accompany my high school punk pals to Max's Kansas City. I guess it helped my situation that Mom had met some of them and concluded they were nice boys. What she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
But when me and my friends got there, via bus and taxi, I began to wonder immediately what I'd gotten myself into. Presumably we had gone to see the Rattlers, a band who featured Joey Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh and who had a big local hit with a song called "On the Beach." But as soon as we got there, we were instantly approached by some scruffy, shady guy who asked us quite loudly, "Anyone here wanna buy some quaaludes?" A couple of my pals did go for them as I watched in mortal fear of this man, and grew even more scared when he approached me and repeated his quaalude question. I just sheepishly replied that I wasn't into drugs (yet)... and he responded by giving me a gentle pat on the head (I was a short and very skinny dude!) and saying "Smart boy!"
I felt better when we got upstairs and inside. There was an atmosphere inside Max's that couldn't be denied, the air of history mixing with the breeze of this very night. I feared we wouldn't get in, but lo and behold, not only did we get in, but I soon discovered we weren't even the youngest ones there! Going to the bar for some soda, I got into a conversation with some kid who couldn't have been more than 11 or 12 years old and was totally into the Max's scene! We talked for quite awhile and he introduced me to the now-legendary space rocker known as Von Lmo as a video of one of his live performances ran on the TVs at the bar. Wtnat a moment that was.
I sat with my friends, got talked into having a beer (a Heineken, which I only drank half of), and waited through the first band, who I hardly remember, but I do recall it was a thrill to finally be experiencing that punk energy firsthand after all those years of hearing and reading about it. One of my friends got a little too far out there on the 'ludes and accidentally cut himself with a broken beer bottle.
And then the Rattlers finally went on... and we had to leave. The last bus back to our little Jersey town was soon to depart, so we had to start our hustle back to the Port Authority at that very moment. At least we got to see their first one and a half songs as we scrambled to avoid being stuck in NYC until sunrise. My drunk and 'luded friends were mumbling stupid shit all the way home. I was the only sober party, having barely even gotten a buzz from half a beer. Somehow we all made it home by 2 AM.
My folks, of course, had been unable to sleep. They asked me how it went and I of course was unwilling to reveal any details other than "Oh, it was cool." They were amazed that I was able to get in without even so much as an ID and then said, "Did you drink anything?" I didn't think it was any big deal, so I said, "Oh, I had like half a beer." Dad immediately turned to Mom and said, "He won't be going THERE again!" I wasn't about to spill more details after that. If they knew the only thing I saw there that was legal was the live music, I'd probably have been grounded for a month.
Dad's orders meant that I had to decline my pals' invitation to return to Max's a few nights later to see Johnny Thunders, a "show" I later heard Johnny himself didn't bother to attend. Or maybe they had to catch the last bus again, I don't know for sure. Max's closed the following year, while CBGB went on to grab all the fucking glory. No night I ever spent at CBGB had half the magic of my night at Max's, not even the two times I actually stood on their stage.
I only went to Max's once. But I still recall the minute details like the DJ playing "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" by the Shangri-La's, and Alfred E. Neuman's "It's A Gas" (burp) and the guy at the bar who yelled out "Carrasco!" when a video by Joe "King" Carrasco came on the TV and how cute the waitress who brought us our drinks was and even what she looked like. Some nights, you just don't forget the slightest detail of. And with good reason.