Monday, August 24, 2015

THE RAYBRAZEN.COM STORY: PRELUDE



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

THE MISFITS



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.