Wednesday, July 29, 2015

BUTTHOLE SURFERS, 1984-1987



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

THEY'RE PRAISIN' RAY BRAZEN!



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

THE MINUTEMEN, 1985



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

DEAD KENNEDYS AT BOND'S, 1981



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

MAX'S KANSAS CITY, 1980





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.