Monday, March 29, 2010
The summer of 1980 was a storm of Fix appearances in Michigan. Empty joints in Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Kalamazoo, all of them found the Fix blaring away to no one. We played a biker fest in a field in northern Michigan and were embraced by the methed-out crowd, who had to respect the sheer velocity of the music. One Friday night we sat on our porch after a rehearsal in the basement of the Lansing house Mike and I shared, drinking, kickin' the Pork Dukes, and one of our neighbors came by. The 'hood was a mix of black ghetto and white trash, and our ebony and ivory band fit nicely, aesthetically, anyway. This neighbor was of the white trash influence, but he liked us and cadged weed from us on occasion. So he had a deal and we listened: His dad ran a bar in St. Johns, a farming town about 30 miles north of Lansing and the weekend house band had backed out at the last minute earlier that day.
He could get us $300 a night plus beer for three sets a night for the weekend. By this time, it was 7 p.m. and we were well into our buzz, hitting off 40-ouncers and the occasional pull on a bottle of bad whiskey.
Of course we'll play.
We loaded up the gear and drove out there, conveniently missing a sound check but in time for a 10 p.m. first set. We launched into our version of "Tell Me," the Stones song so adroitly covered by the Dead Boys. We moved through some other covers we had, like "Build Me Up Buttercup." Blank stares. How about a version of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer?"
"Slow down," one of the sodden regulars yelled at us.
Bar boss was getting a bit miffed. Fix guys getting a little used to being stared at. But we were also used to moving through the set quick, which we did, giving them maybe 30 minutes of noise like they had never heard before and would never hear again. The bar paid us $300 and asked us not to play any more.
"And if you don't mind," the boss said, "could you leave? You're making these people uncomfortable."
We played a roller skating joint in Flint one weekday afternoon, and when we were done, sat in the locker room drinking wine while the kids and their parents filtered through. At times the Fix looked like boys caught between trashy glam and MC5/Stooges bare bones glitter. Hair was longish, booze was ubiquitous and the girls who traveled along as seedy as us. Those girls; we were being taken for a ride by some of them and we dug in.
At the same time, we honed our craft, though, and the songs came fast and furious. We would find covers to work in, old three-chord pop songs by bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Box Tops that lent themselves willingly to our sound, which kept getting faster and faster.
In Detroit, we played at a place called Nunzio's, a shitty little enterprise in Lincoln Park that nobody went to on weeknights, which is when we came to play and get our $25. Within two years, the place would be taken over by copycat punk bands who dragged 20 of their best friends along to be part of their little club, making Nunzio's a happening place for about 10 minutes.
We also played the Red Carpet, getting some Sunday night shows to practice on a stage. These were great shows for checking in new material, and we would sometimes play the set twice to fulfill an ageing rock promoter's idea of how bar music works: Two sets, at least. We just dove into our bag of covers to fill out a set that by the end of the year included "Vengeance," "Famous," "In This Town," "Candy Store" and some stuff that would never be recorded, like "You" and "Statement" (which is actually Alice Cooper's "Caught in a Dream" reworked). The Fix was blasting at these places to no one who understood or wanted to understand, and we did it because we felt it. There were none of our friends to impress and we didn't care. In September, Craig, Mike and I moved into a house at 823 Beulah across from the city zoo in Lansing. It was a three-bedroom dump in a shitty neighborhood that rented for $350 a month. The basement, which fit four guys, their gear and little else, was where we would write and rehearse all of the Jan's Rooms session as well as things that would never be recorded.
The practices were as frantically fast as our set -- 20 minutes and we-gotta-go. Figuring out a new song might attach another 20 minutes to a practice or two. "Off to War" and "Rat Patrol" took exactly that. By the time those songs came along in early '81, we were a machine that absorbed each other's thoughts. We wrote our parts telepathically, in fact.
We didn't know shit about what hardcore was or what any of those weak labels meant. We just played. We never tossed our Aerosmith or Zep records, either. We just took the new stuff that we would hear, like Black Flag or the Germs, and pushed it into the creative mix. I remember playing a show at Club Doo Bee, our local venue, and coming home and slapping on the first Psychedelic Furs lp. And it sounded good. We played what we did because we felt it, not because we were aping our heroes.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Above photo -- Barry at CBGB's showing off the ancient Finnish secret of soaping hair and stamps. Photo by Greg Licht
There was definitely no respect given back and forth between ourselves and this old guard of Detroit. These guys just played Detroit over and over again and had one little single out. As soon as we got contacts like the D.C. people or the Circle Jerks and knew we could play out of town, we didn’t even care about Detroit. Once the Necros started going on tour, we ended up playing Detroit twice a year, and that’s from ’83 and up. Negative Approach would play all the time locally; they were clearly the Detroit favorites. It wasn’t cockiness that drove us to play out of town, it was sheer naivety. We were like, ‘Well why not? Let’s try it’ and it went from there.
The Germs and Black Flag had this mythical thing going back then for us when we were in Maumee. I remember reading that review in Slash about that Pollywog Park show Black Flag did and being like "Woah, I gotta check this band out" and I mail ordered it, because that was something you definitely weren’t going to find in a store out here.
We were also real into The Misfits, obviously. When we opened up for them at Bookies that first time, we really didn’t know what to expect. There was nothing heavier than the mystique of The Misfits. Those records had such a presence to them; we wouldn’t be surprised if they were nine feet tall. We hung out with them and they were super cool and they kinda took us under their wing and made us a real band. Glenn had this amazing attitude towards self promotion that was really inspiring. Once we started to grow up and started seeing people like Glenn as peers and not mentors, that’s when things got weird.
Tesco and Dave had made like a hundred bucks or something like that from subscriptions and then we matched that with seventy-five dollars of our money and we did the ‘Sex Drive’ single. It’s really weird to look at all this stuff in retrospect and where it’s fallen into place. At the time we decided to do that first single, it was almost a joke. As a band, we could barely keep it together, so the idea of doing an actual record was sort of funny to us. We sent the record to Ken R’s music, which was a jingles studio and they advertised in the back of the Toledo Blade ‘Make a Record!’ So Todd took it down there.
It was gone so fast. I think Schoolkids’ had five copies that sat there forever. It got sent to Flipside and whoever wrote to Touch & Go or Smegma Journal. It’s weird to think about people handwriting letters and sending records through the mail and communicating that way seems so archaic with the internet. Talking about it now, I feel like I’m saying ‘We walked ten miles uphill in a snowstorm to put out a record’.
I’ve got a buddy of mine who runs a label in Seattle is always asking me these questions about the ‘Sex Drive’ single. ‘Are the plates around?’ ‘Were there any test pressings?’ and I’m like ‘Man, Todd took the tape down to that studio and a month later UPS delivered a box of records to my house. There were no test pressings, no acetates, nothing’. We were pretty naive. We just saw that ad that said ‘Make a Record!’ and we were like ‘O.K!’
Thursday, March 18, 2010
As anyone worth their weight in Punk Rock salt knows, Dave Stimson was the other half of the (cough...cough...splutter) editorial staff of Touch & Go Magazine with Tesco Vee and a major league record collector/wheeler dealer. He was a real pleasure to talk to and right now we're just gonna go through some of the early 80's happenings that revolved around the mag and its' evolution. Dig...
NAILING DOWN THIS ‘HARDCORE’ THING…
Well, I have to say that obviously the first hardcore record I ever bought was Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown. That was a record you couldn’t buy in a store, I had to send away for that. I know I bought a few records before I met Bob (AKA Tesco Vee) that were similar like The Misfits and The Middle Class ‘Out of Vogue’ single, which I’d call one of the first hardcore records.
When I heard ‘Land Speed Record’ by Husker Du, I was like, ‘These guys must’ve been there when The Fix went through Minnesota’; it sounded just like them! Not as good obviously, but they must’ve heard them and got the idea, ’Hey! We can do that!’ I’m not sure if The Fix ever made it out to the Northwest but I’m sure every member of Poison Idea got the same idea because when you hear that “Pick Your King” EP, it’s The Fix all over again! But again, not as good. If you saw The Fix live back then, especially when they came back from their first U.S. tour…they killed! All those bands that tried to play that kind of style, whether it be Discharge or any of those groups, they were never as good. If they could ever be on the same stage, The Fix would’ve just blown them off. Look, I saw Discharge when they first came over to America, and they were ok, but they were not in the same league as The Fix.
FIX/NECROS AND THE FIRST TOUCH & GO RELEASES
The Fix and Necros sort of evolved together, and played some shows together, like at Club Doo Bee opening for Black Flag. There was certainly…I don’t want to say a riff, but maybe a competiveness between those two bands. I thought both were really good in their own way, but I think The Fix first record (‘Vengeance’ b/w ‘In This Town’) is more professionally done and I think had a greater impact, although how much impact you are going to have when there’s so few records out there, I don’t know. The Necros and The Fix handled the actual releasing of the record, and I handled the sleeves. I was taking this graphics class at Lansing Community College, and I was able to do the covers during the class for free. Since we’re only doing a 100 or so of each, I could do them all in one night. The Necros printed up that elaborate insert with the photos and stuff, I had nothing to do with that. There was no insert for the Fix record. Putting out records seemed like the natural next step to us. The magazine had done a number of issues so far and we had some cache to our name, so why not? So we went about pressing up these singles without really knowing what we were doing. Who prints up only 100 of a record? That’s ridiculous! It seemed like a lot to us though at the time. We were sitting around thinking ‘How are we gonna get rid of them?'
TOUCH & GO – THE FANZINE
For me, it was just something to do. If people read it outside of the Midwest, hey that was fine. If they didn’t, then that was fine too. For me, it was just fun to do. I guess if we printed up a hundred or so issues, then that was a lot for us. Fifty was the minimum. So,we were probably trying to print up 100, maybe 200 on an average. I don’t know how many Bob ended up printing up at the end, since I had already moved on from doing the magazine by then. When the first issue of Forced Exposure came out, I could see we had some influence on people, because it was a carbon copy of Touch and Go, especially if you look at the early ones. Toward the end, it really came into its own and it became way more professionally done than any issue of Touch & Go.
FORMING THE SCENE
The Fix and the Necros sparked interest in others starting bands. Obviously, the guys in Negative Approach were going to see the Necros. Bored Youth had that one great recording that showed up in that Lost & Found boxset in the 90s’. It’s a shame we never got around to doing a record with them. Then you had Larissa’s band L-Seven, which was different. They weren’t hardcore, but they were still part of the family. And then you had the Kalamazoo kids. Kalamazoo had some bands earlier, like this band The Brain Police, who I never saw, but they had one good record. I saw a lot of the earlier Detroit bands, back when it was just sort of punk groups like Cynicide and Cult Heroes. Those guys were all pre-hardcore and they never became a part of the hardcore scene when it took off in 81-82. Those guys kinda disappeared. At the time, if it wasn’t in that particular niche that we were listening to at that time, then we didn’t want to know about it. In retrospect, that Cult Heroes ‘Berlin Wall’ single was actually pretty good. You know, when you got thirty years to reflect on a record, it doesn’t suck as much as you thought it did! If it wasn’t played at 100 miles an hour, we basically weren’t interested.
THE MIDWEST/D.C. CONNECTION
They sent us the Teen Idles single and the first one they sent came in pieces. Bob picked it up at the post office and I guess they just didn’t pack it well or something. They must have gotten a copy of the magazine in some store in D.C and sent us a record when it came out. We immediately wrote them back with cash in the envelope asking for another one because it looked so great and that started a line of correspondence between us. The Necros, me and Bob, and maybe a couple others, drove to New York and saw the Circle Jerks at Irving Plaza, and the D.C kids came up as well, and that’s when I met Henry and Ian for the first time. I was very impressed with Ian. He seemed very down to earth, very unpretentious, and very approachable. The D.C. scene had gotten some sorta rep even by then, and they obviously had a particular look. The Midwest kids were more rat pack looking and were less concerned with how they looked. The D.C. kids were way more into a particular look, and then the Boston kids kinda took that same look and made it worse. They became a little more dogmatic about the attitude and look I thought. The biggest difference obviously was me and Bob had no problem getting drunk, where that was sort of taboo, as highlighted in the Meatmen cartoons in Touch and Go.
Monday, March 15, 2010
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Wednesday, March 10, 2010
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.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Black Flag made good on their promise to play Lansing, Michigan and rolled into Club Doo Bee on a Sunday night in March of 1981 with the obvious choice of The Fix and Necros as the warm up acts. The latter group had lost yet another member to collegiate pursuits in guitarist Andy Wendler, but were quick to bring another local punk convert, Brian Pollock, into the fold. They had also finally found a bass player; the video toting Corey Rusk. Both new members would be playing their first live gig opening up for Flag. As expected, the young punks were eager to flex their muscles and show off what they learned from the videos Rusk brought back from L.A. Once Black Flag launched into their set opener “Damaged II” and Andy Wendler rammed head first into a local record store employee, chaos ensued.
Barry Henssler – I remember people being taken aback at how violent we were. Black Flag got there late and did a five or six song sound check before anyone played, but people were inside the club. Everyone was anticipating them showing up, so that little sound check brought the energy up that much higher. This wasn’t the lame ass Farfisa organ New Wave bands that normally played at Club Doo Bee. You would have to be an idiot to ignore it.
Todd Swalla – We were pounding the hell out of the New Wavers trying to pogo. We were stage diving off of tables and for the first 10 minutes it was like a fist fight set to music. Then the New Wave folks finally got the fuck off the dance floor and we had it all to ourselves for the rest of the set. Not really as much fun but still cool, it was fucking Black Flag in your face! I got to play drums during “Louie Louie” which was my main goal that night!
Steve Miller – A trio of police cars sat in the parking lot across from Club Doo Bee the whole night, which both frightened and excited me. I didn’t want the cops to break up the show, but I figured something must be going right if it brought this sort of reaction in this town.
Tesco Vee – I remember leaving the club and having the soundboard tape from the show. We had just left the show and we were already listening to the tape in the car, listening to Dez (Cadena, then Black Flag vocalist) scream “I’M NOT A MACHINE!” over and over again.
Richard Bowser – I spoke to a guy a few years ago who was in this band in the eighties from Chicago called Strike Under and he was at that show. Every few years, I run into someone who was there. It seems everyone who was at that show went on to form a band or was in a band already at the time.
Steve Miller – The beauty of the whole situation is it happened in Lansing! It wasn’t New York or anything. It was truly a people's idea and notion to get this together and it had nothing to do with fashion or anything like that. We had a kick ass party at our house after that with the Black Flag guys.
Craig Calvert – Greg [Ginn, Black Flag guitarist] and Dez [Cadena] cranked out some Beatles and Neil Young on our stereo at that party. That certainly surprised a room full of punk rockers. I think that might have been the night someone set our couch on fire. I remember the police weren’t so happy about that, and shut the party down.