Wednesday, September 30, 2015

MOTORHEAD, 1984



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

THE RAMONES, 1985



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

ADRENALIN O.D., 1981



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 their 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.