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.