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.