The musical landscape in Lansing in 1980, aside from the occasional show at Dooley's, included punk rock nights at some of the local establishments, which meant kids in B-52s outfits listening to the Pretenders. It was savage for us, who were digging Cockney Rejects and the Dickies. We realized out of the gate that finding a place to play would be a challenge, so we contented ourselves with practice. Jeff turned out to be great, a college prep boy from northern Michigan. He knew nothing about punk rock and we set about giving him an education. And he picked it up quick, the song-style changes, the pissed-off tension we were seeking.
The songs came together quickly. Craig showed up one night with "Vengeance." He had the lyrics down, the chords and change in place and said he had written it a while ago. We launched into it, Jeff stuck the drum shifts in there and it turned out to be the A side of our first record.
Not that we were thinking of such things at the time. The thoughts raged anti-social, oddly, because we were just suburban kids with happy childhoods. For some reason, though, anger had always been riding shotgun with me. It was the adults I really disliked, authority figures who asserted themselves by subjugating young people. Gym teachers, coaches, assistant principals at the lower level, bosses at third-rate jobs on the next level. Pompous college instructors on top of that. As far as I could tell, most of them knew little about what made my mind work, and their assertions of knowledge meant nothing to me. I wanted to be alone in my head, even though I relished having friends. It was a conflict that I'm sure created some rage in itself.
The first Fix show was held in a basement in an MSU student ghetto for maybe 25 people who were drinking from a keg of Bud sitting in a tub of ice 20 feet from where we played. People paid attention because it was really hard to ignore the wall of guitar we had right from the start. I was the reluctant singer, relegated so because we had to have one. We wore thrift store rags, a habit we picked up quickly and shed within a year when we realized that the music was more important and clothes could be a distraction.
A week later, we played another party, this one outdoors in a vast space behind a student apartment complex. It got cold in the evening and the guitars began to weave in and out of tune. Add to this that we were just starting out and my guess is that this was not a great show.
There were more kegs and this time more people, college types, guys who were jocks and felt that this new wave thing was going too far with the Fix.
"You guys are terrible and should go learn how to play," one future drill sergeant informed me as he juggled two plastic cups of beer. He had caught me alone walking the grounds, something we quickly realized was not safe when there were drunken frat boys around.
"And fuck you for showing up," he added, as I turned and walked away, dreaming of the day when we would have some roadies who could turn that thick-necked asshole inside out.
Yea, more hate. More songs. Perhaps those sentiments would leave me if I had a blade to stick that fledgling pig with. But I didn't and the hate for mainstream culture festered.
In that spring, 1980, I was working as an office hand for the U.S. Census Bureau, sitting at a large table and, mindlessly and in variously addled states, filing census forms. At my table was Dave Stimson, a former high school football star whose name I recognized immediately. He was a big deal when he played at a neighboring high school as we grew up in the area. Now, here we all gathered, losers in the game of workaday life, hardly using our brains. But what we both had on the side bonded us and made a big difference to both of us.
Dave and his friend Bob Vermeulen had a little magazine called Touch and Go, a pasted together rag that, despite its rugged and anti-pro appearance, lauded some of the best sounds going. We could read about Discharge, the Birthday Party and the Germs in those pages. Dave liked good music, mostly pop along the lines of the Undertones, but also dug into the brand of blitzkrieg ferociousness that the Fix was starting to embrace and exude.
I informed Dave that I was part of a little local combo that embraced punk rock. In May 1980, he came to see us play a house party in East Lansing, where we ripped apart the place, literally, as aroused crowd members knocked a stairway railing into next year and tossed it out into the street. The damage was cool to us. We wanted to burn it down anyway. We had some fans. And Dave was one. He dutifully reported back to Bob, who introduced himself as Tesco, a tall, blond-haired weirdo that we all liked immediately because he was so fucking funny. Even while slapping on the most brutal of sounds at our place, where he would appear with a stack of records and some cheap beer, he cracked wise and cool at the same time. For our part, we sucked down the suds and the tunes, amazed to find there were bands in LA playing the same kind of cacophony that we were. Speed was the musical buzz and fury was the order of the day. We swooned hard to the blend and kept moving.
Tesco saw us in June in the back room of a small restaurant in downtown Lansing. We showed up late on a hot rainy night, for some reason waylaid as we got our gear together. It was unusual for us not to show up for a sound check, since our work habits were meticulous. At this place, though, we had to wait until closing to even get in, 9 p.m., so we bagged the check.
We started to play around midnight, and it was as if the crowd knew what we were up to. The music pulsed, one song into another, a whirlwind of violence playing off of the preceding thunderstorms. Aroused, some audience members pulled the fire extinguishers off the wall and began hosing down the place, starting at the back of the small room and working their way forward. I couldn't breathe, couldn't see and sure as hell couldn't sing. It was great, complete mayhem as people ran to escape the fumes and sound at the same time. The Fix was catching on.
Imagery courtesy of Richard Bowser, James Sinks and Tesco Vee.