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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

STEVE SHELLEY SPEAKS OF NO ZONES, NEW WAVE AND NICEITIES...Sonic Youth skinman Steve Shelley raps about the early Michigan punk scene, joining the Crucifucks and oh so many exciting things in this weeks’ blog installment...

The first band I was in was The No Zones. It was mostly covers; just a teenage basement thing.But then my friend (and future Crucifucks bass player) Scott Begerston and I started playing with a New Wave band from Lansing called Faith and Morals and that’s when I met Doc Dart (vocalist for Crucifucks) We were playing at Club Doo Bee and we started talking to him; it certainly wasn’t at a Black Flag show like that article in Vice states. I never saw Black Flag ever in my life. I don’t remember an exact date when I joined Faith and Morals, but I know there was a point where Scott and I played in both that band and the Crucifucks. Playing in Faith and Morals was fun. At the time, Scott and I really didn’t know too much about the bands that the singer Ron was into like Joy Division or New Order, but we were sorta learning as we went along. It was a very keyboard driven group.

At the time, there was The Fix and all these New Wave bands in Lansing. There was this band called Trainable, which actually featured a guy, John Erskin, who became a sound man for Sonic Youth for awhile. There was also a band called Let’s Talk About Girls. I was aware of everything. We’d go to Lansing because there was a record store there called Flat, Black and Circular, and we’d buy import records and try to go to shows if we were old enough. Most weekends were either spent in Detroit, sleeping on floors and going to shows, or going to Kalamazoo, or Lansing. I saw the Fix at a place called Dooley’s in Lansing which was a college kid’s bar that was starting to get other things going on. I met Steve Miller (vocalist for The Fix) early on, and he later ended up playing in a band I was in, Strange Fruit; the band was also called The Spastic Rhythm Tarts at one point.

Scott Begerstons’ parents were divorced, and his dad lived in the Hermosa Beach area of Southern California. So Scott would go visit him over Christmas break and come back with a lot of records. Scott liked anything that was just new, it didn’t matter how good it was. So Scott would bring home records from Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, but he’d also bring home records from the Plasmatics. Anyting that was outrageous and new, he was really into it. Also, we were at a time where punk had already happened, and the post punk thing was going on; so our lives were just as informed by English stuff, post punk and even new wave, as it was by the California scene. So we were a bit different from the kids in Maumee where the Cali punk thing changed their lives. We were interested in The Clash or The Jam, but we were still interested in The Who or Neil Young. We never threw away our Led Zeppelin records, which a lot of people did, and then ended up buying again in the late 80's. I wasn’t interested in people who had a poster of Sid Vicious up in their house. That wasn’t exciting to me. There was this whole other world of possibilities. One week you heard about P.I.L and the next Gang of Four. There was this whole progression going on and it was insanely fun.

Going to Lansing and finding those issues of Touch & Go really helped as well. There were just like little pieces of the puzzle and every time you’d visit Lansing you’d learn about something else. It came in fragments, it wasn’t all of a sudden you knew all about punk rock. Today, there’s an instant gratification of things, and it’s such a big deal with youngsters today. Back then, everything was so mysterious, you had to figure it out. My favorite thing was mix tapes. The best thing about them -to me - was if your friend didn’t do a particularly good job of writing down which band did which song, you’d get confused, which was actually a good thing. You might buy the wrong record by mistake and discover something even cooler! You’d learn about drips and drabs from friends. It was a lot of fun.

Doc seemed so much older to us. By that time, he had to be in his late twenties or early thirties. When we first started to practice, there was this guy Terry who was the guitar player, and he had a similar history to Docs’. He may have been in Vietnam, so he didn’t stick around very long. He was even more mentally fragile than Doc was as far as dealing with people went. He may have made it through one practice, maybe two. He’s mentioned in one song where Doc screams, “I hate the government, and so does Terry.” He was replaced with Docs’ cousin Joe Dart. He was a high school kid who wasn’t really into new music that much, he was more about being a rock star. So he became the guitar player for a little bit, and then he was replaced by Gus Varner. Gus was a much better fit musically. His two favorite things were Black Flag and Jimi Hendrix.

I know that everything happened really quickly with The Crucifucks. We started opening up for bands really quickly and we kinda went all over, because there was no town that was big enough to keep you active or interested. I think we did really well obviously because of Docs’ antagonistic character; it made us stick out right away. I don’t think we ever considered ourselves a hardcore band, but we played on a lot of hardcore bills. Doc specifically had an antagonism towards hardcore, making fun of the kids, especially when things got a little more meat headed and macho.

I don’t know when I first came across L-Seven, but to me they were the greatest thing in Michigan at the time. It’s sort of hard to describe that band to someone who wasn’t there, but the one description I could come up with is an American version of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Larissa had the John Lydon vibe and she was just great. I tried out for them once and I didn’t make it, which was probably the best disappointment in my life because then I moved to New York. It was all the more a drag when Kory Clarke ended up leading this Warrior Soul band on Geffen Records. It was such a disappointment, he was my favorite drummer. All the hardcore kids were so mean to Kory because he was totally cute and got a lot of girls and he was a real musician.

I guess I was around before the hardcore thing really happened in Detroit. When we’d go see L-Seven, a lot of times it would be at gay clubs because that was the only place where you could have weird music. I saw a couple of my favorite shows at Bookies, like Killing Joke. But more so than Bookies was this club called Nunzios, and Scott Bergerston started working there for awhile, as well as two guys that were really important to the Detroit scene, Bryan Mullen and Brett Mullen. We were really niave, we were really fresh, so everything was okay with us. We would walk in that area of Cass Corrider and felt nothing was going to happen to us. We didn’t have any money anyway, but we were very niave because it was the red dot of the murder capital of the world at the time, but we were just like, ‘We haven’t got anything, no one’s gonna bother us, we’re not the bad white people!’. But shortly after, something happened. The Detroit or the Maumee kids went to DC, and they all came back and shaved their heads, and it kinda ruined something. All of a sudden there was this anti-gay thing, and I wasn’t into it. We learned about so much cool music in the discos and the gay clubs, like Kraftwerk. But that’s when something happened where this hardcore thing and this New Wave thing really had to have a divider, and not all of us felt that way inside, but the shows became different events though. So the Freezer theater developed its own thing, and it was just four walls of concrete and madness.. L-Seven was the only band that could straddle all sides of it, like they’d play Nunzios and they’d play the Freezer Theater.

I know at one point, we recorded an EP with Corey Rusk that was supposed to be released on his subsidiary label, Special Forces. Special Forces was somewhat assigned to that whole thing of, ‘Well this isn’t hardcore but we kinda like it’ vibe. The recordings just sort languished and never happened, but I think Doc might have alienated someone and Corey might of been like, ’We just won’t put that out.” Maybe Doc and Tesco stopped getting along at a certain point. They got along for awhile because they were the two older guys, but I think Doc might have gotten jealous of Tesco’s power by the Touch & Go fanzine.

In the meantime, Jello Biafra got interested in the band. Through either Timmy Yohannon (editor of Northern Californian fanzine Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll) or the M.D.C. guys, Jello heard that tape we did in Corey’s basement. He invited us to play with them at the City Club that summer. I think Jello saw something of himself in Doc and wanted to take us under his wing. He invited us to do a northwest tour with them and asked if we wanted to do a record on (Jello's label) Alternative Tentacles. To all those Detroit punkers, the Dead Kennedys were already something that was totally passé. Being involved with them was not cool at all, but they provided us with opportunities that didn’t exist for us in Michigan.

After that, we went on the Yippie sponsered ‘Rock Aginst Reagan’ tour in ‘83 or ‘84. We rode in a school bus that the Yippies had, which was really uncomfortable. We met up with The Dicks, and I think D.R.I came for part of it and then M.D.C showed up, so Doc found some real kindred spirits there. I wasn’t the biggest M.D.C fan but I became really close friends with The Dicks. Those shows were pretty huge and we learned a lot. We played clubs but then we’d also play state capitols and stuff. W played in Madison Wisconsin near the capitol and I remember joints being rained down on the audience, because the Yuppies were all pro-pot, so it was this “Reagan sucks, smoke pot!” moment.

We recorded the first Crucifucks album out in California with Spot. It was kinda weird being out there because we stayed at SST and we kinda were met with this paranoid caution because we were recording for Alternative Tentacles. The SST people were like ’Why aren’t they recording for us?’ We just liked the records Spot had made and we were big fans of the Minutemen. I remember Spot telling us he was really proud that he just finished this new project which was ‘Meat Puppets II’ and Doc and I were giant Neil Young fans, so he played it for us and we loved it. The line up that recorded that first album was the last real line-up of The Cruicfucks. Both Marc Hauser and I moved to New York in the Spring of ‘85 and subletted Kim and Thurston’s apartment and I joined Sonic Youth shortly after.

Credits - 1st image -- Brian Turner/2nd image -- Courtesy of James Sinks/3rd image -- Originally on the lyric sheet of the Cruicfucks 1st it is plastered all over the interweb/4th image -- Courtesy Bill Danforth (originally from Inside View #1)/5th image -- Courtesy Ian MacKaye/6th image - Courtesy Bill Wend.


  1. What about "De Ja Vu" and the early days playing at the Midland Parks and Recreation outing at Chipewassee Elementary?! Jeff Shultz would be hurt, brother! Oh, by the way, I haven't received my Midland Daily News in nearly 40 years, Steve!

    HAHA! Now we're going back!!