PUNK ROCK: The Birth of a Culture

‘PUNK ROCK “OFFICIALLY” BEGAN IN 1977, sweeping the music industry. It took everyone completely by surprise, bringing raw energy, controversy and some much-needed new blood upon the diminishing rock and roll scene. In other words, it was exciting!
It was basically ‘urban music’ at first, reflecting times which were, in essence, cynical and, at times, violent. In England, where punk is generally credited with beginning (it wasn’t. It may have ‘officially’ begun in England with the Sex Pistols, but it had already been going on in the US for years prior to England even discovering it.), the London groups got the most publicity – or, rather, notoriety.
Between October 1976 and April 1977, things turned around drastically. The Sex Pistols captured all the headlines for using foul language on television – of course there was no mention of the fact that they had been goaded into it by the chat show host. They had lost not one but two recording contracts, and had their concerts banned. Their antics came back to haunt other bands who were legitimately trying to make a living rather than a statement as to how rowdy, obscene, violent, offencive and mean-spirited they could be and the infant movement nearly died right there, shot down by the infantile behavior of the Sex Pistols. Groups like The Buzzcocks, The Clash and Siouxsie & the banshees, to name a few, had trouble booking shows after the Pistols played the clubs they would have played at.
But then, around 1977, things turned around dramatically. The Pistols had a new record deal with A&M in the States, even scoring a Top 20 hit. This seemingly miraculous turnaround helped smooth the way for those other groups, along with The Stranglers, The Jam and The Adverts, amongst many other British groups to find gigs and get record deals.
In the States, things were developing apace – for the most part. The American punk bands – Blondie, Patti Smith, Television, The Ramones, Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, The Fast and Richard Hell & the Voidoids, just to name some – had already being playing punk long before the Pistols – it was actually a Ramones show in England that opened the door to the British punk scene – and American audiences were warming up to these bands playing simple three- or four-chord progressions and simple songs with at least the spirit if not the sound of the music we now call ‘oldies.’
There was also a thriving club scene in New York, anchored by CBGB (Country, Bluegrass & Blues), including the Peppermint Lounge, the Mudd Club, L7 and Max’s Kansas City, through which these and other bands circulated, building up larger and larger followings that eventually would stretch across the country and around the globe. Japan, in particular, picked up on the punk craze in a big way.
Then there was the west coast scene with groups like Angry Samoans, Black Flag, Fear, Dead Kennedys, X, Circle Jerks, The Zeros, The Germs and Leather Nun were making a name for themselves that was slowly spreading east. The west coast scene was angrier, grittier and much more physical than the east coast scene. The styles would eventually merge and form an amalgam of sorts on one side and a ‘hardcore’ scene, usually self-identifying as ‘straightedge’ – no alcohol, no drugs – that was epitomized by groups such as Kraut. Minor Threat, Meat Puppets and Minutemen.

The Sex Pistols had been scheduled to come to America for their first tour here, but they had travel visa issues due to petty crimes by some of the members of the band, but eventually Her Majesty’s government relented and granted the visas. The tour started off on a bad foot, arriving in America after the tour was to have already been underway. They shocked audiences in Atlanta, Memphis and Dallas with their on-stage behavior, frequently needing to play from behind a fence because the audiences would throw bottles, before finally making it to the famed Wintergarden in San Franciso in January 1977, whereupon the band finally imploded and broke up even before the tour was over, with Johnny Rotten’s now infamous line, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ prior to leaving the stage for the last time as a Sex Pistol.
Johnny, Steve Jones and Paul Cook returned home to England, but Sid Vicious stayed in the States with his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon, eventually making their way back to New York where she had lived with her parents before running off to England. Her parents let her and Sid stay there for a little while until they couldn’t take Sid’s behaviour any longer and they were kicked out.
Rolling Stone called their one ‘official’ album (there was another, the soundtrack to the infamous film The Great Rock & Roll Swindle that featured songs by other stars of the film as well as the Pistols, whom the story was purportedly about) the second-best album in history behind the Beatles’ masterpiece ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ Pretty rare air up there at the top of a 100 greatest albums of all time list that spanned genres out of all the hundreds of thousands of albums – millions? – released since the beginning of the rock and roll explosion took hold in the 1950s. Quite the accomplishment for a group you’ll never hear on the radio – even today, when punk rock is more widely regarded favourably –
Major record labels were very reluctant at first to sign any of these groups because of the reputations of some of the bands and the overt politics of others. There was language to consider, as well as style and in-store appearances. The labels and promoters had their hands full with some bands on the road because they were young kids unleashed on the world, usually without adequate parental guidance and they got into all kinds of trouble along the way.
Stiff and Chiswick Records were amongst the first labels to sign punk bands in England, closely followed by Virgin, which had already been in existence for years. Virgin even briefly flirted with the Pistols but, as usual, it didn’t work out – the other label that tried to do something with this rowdy bunch was EMI.
In America, Miles Copeland, brother of drummer Stewart Copeland of Curved Air and The Police, started I.R.S., which was originally distributed by A&M until it got big enough to branch off and become a successful label on its own merits. Notable I.R.S. groups were The Police, of course, Timbuk 3, Stan Ridgway and Fine Young Cannibals, all of which made somewhat opf a name for themselves in the early and mid 80s.

Fashion took off at about the same time. It was de rigeur to wear ripped up jeans and t-shirts held together with safety pins and painted motorcycle leather jackets. Bright garishly-coloured red, blue, green and purple hair, razor blades, nails poking through epaulettes and cuffs of motorcycle jackets and other ‘jewelry’ – anything you could come up with, really – were also in fashion. And finishing out the outfit (most people would call it a costume) were badges of you favourite bands – some hand-made, along with hand-made t-shirts, and finally, high top tennis shoes in bright colours or wild patterns, Doc Martens, ‘winklepickers’ or heavy motorcycle boots. The kids all banded together to worship these bands that were seemingly going to rejuvenate the music industry, and at the same time support the bands that the record companies were still too skittish to want to have much to do with.
‘Fanzines’ sprouted up out of nowhere – Punk and Sniffin’ Glue (named after a Ramones song) were two of the premiere books anywhere in the country. Anyone with anything to say, a few bucks in their pockets for printing costs and a pair of scissors now had a way in this new do-it-yourself scene to say whatever they had to say but had no other forum.

Bob Marley was shot in 1976, and part of the political upheaval going on in England at the time nearly claimed another victim. It’s not punk, but reggae music has a lot of the same things to say as the punk groups were singing, albeit in a different format. Marley had gone over to England from Jamaica to tour and helped to spawn a new ska movement, epitomized by such groups as The Specials, Selecter, Madness, The (English) Beat and many others. The punk rockers took to reggae and ska and The Clash began to experiment with it themselves, quite successfully I may add.
At the same time, disco was digging its talons in – especially in the United States, with New York and Miami being the disco capitols of the world, I think – and hanging on in spite of itself. But it did figure prominently – especially where much of the fashion was concerned – in helping create ‘New Wave’ and ‘New Romantic” music. Many disco fanatics gravitated to the newest fad in music and some of the smaller, less popular punk acts were forced to break up for lack of promotion for any records they happened to be lucky enough to put out.

Talking Heads, Boomtown Rats and The Buzzcocks were amongst the survivors of this first wave of punk / New Wave as the decade turned to the 1980s, though Talking Heads did incorporate borderline disco in some of their songs and, along with the B-52s, became big dance floor favourites. Around about this time Howard Devoto, a co-founder of The Buzzcocks left the group to form Magazine, a ‘post-punk’ group out of their home in Manchester. Peter Shelley stayed with Buzzcocks for a short time later and they broke up in 1982. They have since done more than one ‘reunion’ tour – minus Howard – and occasionally still release new music. A year earlier Devoto broke up Magazine and put out a few not-very-good records until he assembled Luxuria and he found himself back in the charts. Shelley, meanwhile, did a fairly successful solo album, Homosapien and had a moderate dance hit with the title track.
Boomtown Rats, arguably one of the more well-known names in the New Wave scene, with Bob Geldof fronting the band, Geldof was later the driving force behind a historic concert on two continents simultaneously – Live Aid. The entire show is available on DVD and I highly recommend getting it. It’ll be great nostalgia for those of us of a certain age and ‘new’ music from a bunch of old bands that could have come out today. Phil Collins set a record by playing on two continents in the same day – after finishing his set in London he got on a supersonic transport and landed in Philadelphia in time to take the stage there as well. There had been other big concerts to promote causes – The Toronto Peace Festival in 1969, The Prince’s Trust concerts in England, and, as a direct outgrowth of Live Aid, one of the performers in Philadelphia came up with the idea of doing a show like it in America to help family farms keep from going bankrupt. Thus FarmAid was born and has been an annual event since its inception in the mid-1980s.

Some of the old groups, such as The Clash and Gang of Four, became more politically outspoken and active than they had been in the past,as racial, economic and other tensions began to mount in England, out of an economy so terrible that the unemployment rate dwarfed our own. This gave the punk bands plenty to write about. And the Tom Robinson Band, with its message of ‘freedom for gays,’ was one of the most outspoken, staging a series of ‘rock Against racism’ concerts in London, featuring many of the top acts around at the time.
And some groups were simply entertaining, such as New York’s Fast and Tuff Darts and Athletico Spizz and Squeeze from London, and France’s Plastic Bertrand, amongst others from both North America and Europe. Tuff Darts’ female lead vocalist helped usher in a new age of female-fronted bands, which hadn’t been seen in such proliferation since the great girl groups of the late 50s and early 60s.
Pat Benetar, who wasn’t part of the movement, still got a sales bump from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry with Blondie and LA’s Go-Gos, that’s how influential the female-fronted bands were. And then there’s Siousxie & the Banshees. The British chanteuse was beautiful, dark and mysterious, had a smoky voice and helped usher in the Goth Punk movement that enjoyed its biggest popularity two full decades after the inception of punk rock.
Siouxsie Sioux’s sinister sex appeal was in direct opposition to Debbie Harry’s blonde pop/punk hybrid, and was naturally a huge hit with the boys. In fact, the banshees did so well, they landed a contract with Geffen Records that lasted for many, many years, with more than a dozen albums to their credit. As a side project, Siouxsie and bandmate Budgie have another, more experimental group called Creatures that records every now and then. After many years of relative obscurity, they managed to acquire a fair following and remain an underground favourite.
Also from the late 1970s, a French band called Plastic Bertrand hit the charts with a dancy song called Ça Plane Pour Moi. It was the first time a French language record made the charts in America since The Singing Nun’s hit Dominique in 1963.
In 1979, the recoed companies began a steady slide that has lasted ever since (Sales of vinyl have picked up in recent years as more and more bands are releasing their material in records as well as their CDs.), as a world recession hit the economy and the rising cost of the oetroleum products used to make plastic rose, and after a good 25 years of solid growth in the industry, sales slipped drastically and people began to actually wonder if it would disappear completely. Keep in mind that this was still a few years before the first CDs hit the stores.
The major record companies began to cut staff, promotions and even some of their artists. Many mergers also resulted in job losses as redundancy became a problem in nearly all departments at the labels. The price of records soared, and CD prices were considerably higher than they are today, but the industry was literally banking on their success to save the industry – and it did, until the digital wave arose.
Naturally, as groups began to be cut, the punk bands were generally the first to go. They didn‘t have much radio play and it became to expensive to market this new form of music that wasn’t yet meeting the bottom line – that would come about a decade alter – and the labels turned to the ‘next big thing’ – hair metal.
In some respects this wasn’t such a bad thing, as groups started forming their own record labels and putting out and promoting their own music. It worked for a handful of labels that are still around today – SubPop, Ralph Records and BOMP!, amongst others still release albums.
The new labels were actually pretty happy that the majors were having problems because it didn’t cost them as much as it cost the big labels to release their music, It fit within their DIY ethos, they had complete control over their music and they could target their audience much easier, spending their advertising dollars in the magazines and fanzines that they knew their target audience was reading.
Many more new and young bands were picked up, some of which ent on to great success. The Police went to I.R.S. records (of course Stewart Copeland’s brother Miles started the label as I mentioned earlier), which was initially distributed by A&M Records – fortunately the label’s experience with the Pistols didn’t stop them from watching for less radical punk bands to sign. Gary Numan, an odd, character whose electronic music spoke of aliens and other unusual topics signed with RCA-distributed Beggar’s Banquet until the smash hit ‘Cars’ came out a few years later and Numan was then picked up by a major label. The Ramones signed with Sire Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, as did Blondie and many very successful groups. The Ramones remained with Sire until shortly before their sad demise, when they set up their own label. It’s not a stretch to say that of all the ‘independent’ labels – and I’m using that term loosely because they were the most corporate of the indie and spin-off labels. And Stiv Bator(s) of the Dead Boys had his solo album Disconnected released on BOMP!, as were Detroit’s Nikki & the Corvettes and Cleveland’s Wombats.
Suddenly, it seemed, with the breakup of the Pistols, punk began to wane but it obviously never went away. The more successful groups –Johnny Rotten dropped the appellation ‘Rotten’ and used his real name, John Lydon when he started an ‘anti-rock non-group’ called Public Image, Ltd, that eventually got very popular (which it was expressly created NOT to do!! Their philosophy was ‘non-promotion’, hence ‘limited public image,’ which of course is poppycock since that’s guaranteed to draw even more scrutiny every time), The Ramones, the Banshees, Buzzcocks and Clash also experienced various levels of popularity, but the one person who can arguably call the biggest success story to come out of punk rock – and who helped pave the way for punk’s eventual acceptance – is the former front man for Generation X, Billy Idol. He has had numerous hits, his albums still sell and his concerts still sell out.
The entire movement almost died completely with the controversial murder of Nancy Spungeon, which was blamed on Sid Vicious. That’s a story for another day. Sid was accused of her murder and jailed, was released, beat up Patti Smith’s brother, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, went back to jail, got out again and died of a heroin overdose that, it has been said, was given to him by his mother of 2 February 1979 – but it not only persevered and bounced back, but it actually flourished in many of the numerous spawned subdivisions of the punk culture – New Wave, New Romantic, Hardcore Punk, Apocalyptic Punk, Post Punk, Punk Pop, Goth …
And, at around the same time filmmaker Julien Temple shocked the world with his ‘documentary/biography’ of the Sex Pistols, the immortal The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, which also featured many musical numbers by other groups – some of which were created, no doubt by the mad genius behind the Pistols, Malcolm McLaren. The film was loosely based on the story of the tumultuous and short-lived yet highly touted career of the Pistols. The film was shown in very limited release in England, Europe and the United States. It was available for a short time on VHS tape as a limited edition and is currently available on DVD. No doubt McLaren and the band will milk the current popularity of punk rock as long as possible before pulling the release, making it impossible to find. ‘Rock and roll swindle’ extraordinaire.
Some of their earliest recordings were salvaged from Glitterbest, their publishing firm, and released as the soundtrack from the film, with the Pistols being the Pistols, and the other artists that appeared in the film. There are also many bootlegs of their final show, in San Francisco, both audio and video – and Wolfgang’s Vault has the entire show that night – the Pistols and both opening acts.
END PART ONE
‘PUNK ROCK “OFFICIALLY” BEGAN IN 1977, sweeping the music industry. It took everyone completely by surprise, bringing raw energy, controversy and some much-needed new blood upon the diminishing rock and roll scene. In other words, it was exciting!
It was basically ‘urban music’ at first, reflecting times which were, in essence, cynical and, at times, violent. In England, where punk is generally credited with beginning (it wasn’t. It may have ‘officially’ begun in England with the Sex Pistols, but it had already been going on in the US for years prior to England even discovering it.), the London groups got the most publicity – or, rather, notoriety.
Between October 1976 and April 1977, things turned around drastically. The Sex Pistols captured all the headlines for using foul language on television – of course there was no mention of the fact that they had been goaded into it by the chat show host. They had lost not one but two recording contracts, and had their concerts banned. Their antics came back to haunt other bands who were legitimately trying to make a living rather than a statement as to how rowdy, obscene, violent, offencive and mean-spirited they could be and the infant movement nearly died right there, shot down by the infantile behavior of the Sex Pistols. Groups like The Buzzcocks, The Clash and Siouxsie & the banshees, to name a few, had trouble booking shows after the Pistols played the clubs they would have played at.
But then, around 1977, things turned around dramatically. The Pistols had a new record deal with A&M in the States, even scoring a Top 20 hit. This seemingly miraculous turnaround helped smooth the way for those other groups, along with The Stranglers, The Jam and The Adverts, amongst many other British groups to find gigs and get record deals.
In the States, things were developing apace – for the most part. The American punk bands – Blondie, Patti Smith, Television, The Ramones, Dead Boys, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, The Fast and Richard Hell & the Voidoids, just to name some – had already being playing punk long before the Pistols – it was actually a Ramones show in England that opened the door to the British punk scene – and American audiences were warming up to these bands playing simple three- or four-chord progressions and simple songs with at least the spirit if not the sound of the music we now call ‘oldies.’
There was also a thriving club scene in New York, anchored by CBGB (Country, Bluegrass & Blues), including the Peppermint Lounge, the Mudd Club, L7 and Max’s Kansas City, through which these and other bands circulated, building up larger and larger followings that eventually would stretch across the country and around the globe. Japan, in particular, picked up on the punk craze in a big way.
Then there was the west coast scene with groups like Angry Samoans, Black Flag, Fear, Dead Kennedys, X, Circle Jerks, The Zeros, The Germs and Leather Nun were making a name for themselves that was slowly spreading east. The west coast scene was angrier, grittier and much more physical than the east coast scene. The styles would eventually merge and form an amalgam of sorts on one side and a ‘hardcore’ scene, usually self-identifying as ‘straightedge’ – no alcohol, no drugs – that was epitomized by groups such as Kraut. Minor Threat, Meat Puppets and Minutemen.

The Sex Pistols had been scheduled to come to America for their first tour here, but they had travel visa issues due to petty crimes by some of the members of the band, but eventually Her Majesty’s government relented and granted the visas. The tour started off on a bad foot, arriving in America after the tour was to have already been underway. They shocked audiences in Atlanta, Memphis and Dallas with their on-stage behavior, frequently needing to play from behind a fence because the audiences would throw bottles, before finally making it to the famed Wintergarden in San Franciso in January 1977, whereupon the band finally imploded and broke up even before the tour was over, with Johnny Rotten’s now infamous line, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ prior to leaving the stage for the last time as a Sex Pistol.
Johnny, Steve Jones and Paul Cook returned home to England, but Sid Vicious stayed in the States with his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon, eventually making their way back to New York where she had lived with her parents before running off to England. Her parents let her and Sid stay there for a little while until they couldn’t take Sid’s behaviour any longer and they were kicked out.
Rolling Stone called their one ‘official’ album (there was another, the soundtrack to the infamous film The Great Rock & Roll Swindle that featured songs by other stars of the film as well as the Pistols, whom the story was purportedly about) the second-best album in history behind the Beatles’ masterpiece ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ Pretty rare air up there at the top of a 100 greatest albums of all time list that spanned genres out of all the hundreds of thousands of albums – millions? – released since the beginning of the rock and roll explosion took hold in the 1950s. Quite the accomplishment for a group you’ll never hear on the radio – even today, when punk rock is more widely regarded favourably –
Major record labels were very reluctant at first to sign any of these groups because of the reputations of some of the bands and the overt politics of others. There was language to consider, as well as style and in-store appearances. The labels and promoters had their hands full with some bands on the road because they were young kids unleashed on the world, usually without adequate parental guidance and they got into all kinds of trouble along the way.
Stiff and Chiswick Records were amongst the first labels to sign punk bands in England, closely followed by Virgin, which had already been in existence for years. Virgin even briefly flirted with the Pistols but, as usual, it didn’t work out – the other label that tried to do something with this rowdy bunch was EMI.
In America, Miles Copeland, brother of drummer Stewart Copeland of Curved Air and The Police, started I.R.S., which was originally distributed by A&M until it got big enough to branch off and become a successful label on its own merits. Notable I.R.S. groups were The Police, of course, Timbuk 3, Stan Ridgway and Fine Young Cannibals, all of which made somewhat opf a name for themselves in the early and mid 80s.

Fashion took off at about the same time. It was de rigeur to wear ripped up jeans and t-shirts held together with safety pins and painted motorcycle leather jackets. Bright garishly-coloured red, blue, green and purple hair, razor blades, nails poking through epaulettes and cuffs of motorcycle jackets and other ‘jewelry’ – anything you could come up with, really – were also in fashion. And finishing out the outfit (most people would call it a costume) were badges of you favourite bands – some hand-made, along with hand-made t-shirts, and finally, high top tennis shoes in bright colours or wild patterns, Doc Martens, ‘winklepickers’ or heavy motorcycle boots. The kids all banded together to worship these bands that were seemingly going to rejuvenate the music industry, and at the same time support the bands that the record companies were still too skittish to want to have much to do with.
‘Fanzines’ sprouted up out of nowhere – Punk and Sniffin’ Glue (named after a Ramones song) were two of the premiere books anywhere in the country. Anyone with anything to say, a few bucks in their pockets for printing costs and a pair of scissors now had a way in this new do-it-yourself scene to say whatever they had to say but had no other forum.

Bob Marley was shot in 1976, and part of the political upheaval going on in England at the time nearly claimed another victim. It’s not punk, but reggae music has a lot of the same things to say as the punk groups were singing, albeit in a different format. Marley had gone over to England from Jamaica to tour and helped to spawn a new ska movement, epitomized by such groups as The Specials, Selecter, Madness, The (English) Beat and many others. The punk rockers took to reggae and ska and The Clash began to experiment with it themselves, quite successfully I may add.
At the same time, disco was digging its talons in – especially in the United States, with New York and Miami being the disco capitols of the world, I think – and hanging on in spite of itself. But it did figure prominently – especially where much of the fashion was concerned – in helping create ‘New Wave’ and ‘New Romantic” music. Many disco fanatics gravitated to the newest fad in music and some of the smaller, less popular punk acts were forced to break up for lack of promotion for any records they happened to be lucky enough to put out.

Talking Heads, Boomtown Rats and The Buzzcocks were amongst the survivors of this first wave of punk / New Wave as the decade turned to the 1980s, though Talking Heads did incorporate borderline disco in some of their songs and, along with the B-52s, became big dance floor favourites. Around about this time Howard Devoto, a co-founder of The Buzzcocks left the group to form Magazine, a ‘post-punk’ group out of their home in Manchester. Peter Shelley stayed with Buzzcocks for a short time later and they broke up in 1982. They have since done more than one ‘reunion’ tour – minus Howard – and occasionally still release new music. A year earlier Devoto broke up Magazine and put out a few not-very-good records until he assembled Luxuria and he found himself back in the charts. Shelley, meanwhile, did a fairly successful solo album, Homosapien and had a moderate dance hit with the title track.
Boomtown Rats, arguably one of the more well-known names in the New Wave scene, with Bob Geldof fronting the band, Geldof was later the driving force behind a historic concert on two continents simultaneously – Live Aid. The entire show is available on DVD and I highly recommend getting it. It’ll be great nostalgia for those of us of a certain age and ‘new’ music from a bunch of old bands that could have come out today. Phil Collins set a record by playing on two continents in the same day – after finishing his set in London he got on a supersonic transport and landed in Philadelphia in time to take the stage there as well. There had been other big concerts to promote causes – The Toronto Peace Festival in 1969, The Prince’s Trust concerts in England, and, as a direct outgrowth of Live Aid, one of the performers in Philadelphia came up with the idea of doing a show like it in America to help family farms keep from going bankrupt. Thus FarmAid was born and has been an annual event since its inception in the mid-1980s.

Some of the old groups, such as The Clash and Gang of Four, became more politically outspoken and active than they had been in the past,as racial, economic and other tensions began to mount in England, out of an economy so terrible that the unemployment rate dwarfed our own. This gave the punk bands plenty to write about. And the Tom Robinson Band, with its message of ‘freedom for gays,’ was one of the most outspoken, staging a series of ‘rock Against racism’ concerts in London, featuring many of the top acts around at the time.
And some groups were simply entertaining, such as New York’s Fast and Tuff Darts and Athletico Spizz and Squeeze from London, and France’s Plastic Bertrand, amongst others from both North America and Europe. Tuff Darts’ female lead vocalist helped usher in a new age of female-fronted bands, which hadn’t been seen in such proliferation since the great girl groups of the late 50s and early 60s.
Pat Benetar, who wasn’t part of the movement, still got a sales bump from the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry with Blondie and LA’s Go-Gos, that’s how influential the female-fronted bands were. And then there’s Siousxie & the Banshees. The British chanteuse was beautiful, dark and mysterious, had a smoky voice and helped usher in the Goth Punk movement that enjoyed its biggest popularity two full decades after the inception of punk rock.
Siouxsie Sioux’s sinister sex appeal was in direct opposition to Debbie Harry’s blonde pop/punk hybrid, and was naturally a huge hit with the boys. In fact, the banshees did so well, they landed a contract with Geffen Records that lasted for many, many years, with more than a dozen albums to their credit. As a side project, Siouxsie and bandmate Budgie have another, more experimental group called Creatures that records every now and then. After many years of relative obscurity, they managed to acquire a fair following and remain an underground favourite.
Also from the late 1970s, a French band called Plastic Bertrand hit the charts with a dancy song called Ça Plane Pour Moi. It was the first time a French language record made the charts in America since The Singing Nun’s hit Dominique in 1963.
In 1979, the recoed companies began a steady slide that has lasted ever since (Sales of vinyl have picked up in recent years as more and more bands are releasing their material in records as well as their CDs.), as a world recession hit the economy and the rising cost of the oetroleum products used to make plastic rose, and after a good 25 years of solid growth in the industry, sales slipped drastically and people began to actually wonder if it would disappear completely. Keep in mind that this was still a few years before the first CDs hit the stores.
The major record companies began to cut staff, promotions and even some of their artists. Many mergers also resulted in job losses as redundancy became a problem in nearly all departments at the labels. The price of records soared, and CD prices were considerably higher than they are today, but the industry was literally banking on their success to save the industry – and it did, until the digital wave arose.
Naturally, as groups began to be cut, the punk bands were generally the first to go. They didn‘t have much radio play and it became to expensive to market this new form of music that wasn’t yet meeting the bottom line – that would come about a decade alter – and the labels turned to the ‘next big thing’ – hair metal.
In some respects this wasn’t such a bad thing, as groups started forming their own record labels and putting out and promoting their own music. It worked for a handful of labels that are still around today – SubPop, Ralph Records and BOMP!, amongst others still release albums.
The new labels were actually pretty happy that the majors were having problems because it didn’t cost them as much as it cost the big labels to release their music, It fit within their DIY ethos, they had complete control over their music and they could target their audience much easier, spending their advertising dollars in the magazines and fanzines that they knew their target audience was reading.
Many more new and young bands were picked up, some of which ent on to great success. The Police went to I.R.S. records (of course Stewart Copeland’s brother Miles started the label as I mentioned earlier), which was initially distributed by A&M Records – fortunately the label’s experience with the Pistols didn’t stop them from watching for less radical punk bands to sign. Gary Numan, an odd, character whose electronic music spoke of aliens and other unusual topics signed with RCA-distributed Beggar’s Banquet until the smash hit ‘Cars’ came out a few years later and Numan was then picked up by a major label. The Ramones signed with Sire Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, as did Blondie and many very successful groups. The Ramones remained with Sire until shortly before their sad demise, when they set up their own label. It’s not a stretch to say that of all the ‘independent’ labels – and I’m using that term loosely because they were the most corporate of the indie and spin-off labels. And Stiv Bator(s) of the Dead Boys had his solo album Disconnected released on BOMP!, as were Detroit’s Nikki & the Corvettes and Cleveland’s Wombats.
Suddenly, it seemed, with the breakup of the Pistols, punk began to wane but it obviously never went away. The more successful groups –Johnny Rotten dropped the appellation ‘Rotten’ and used his real name, John Lydon when he started an ‘anti-rock non-group’ called Public Image, Ltd, that eventually got very popular (which it was expressly created NOT to do!! Their philosophy was ‘non-promotion’, hence ‘limited public image,’ which of course is poppycock since that’s guaranteed to draw even more scrutiny every time), The Ramones, the Banshees, Buzzcocks and Clash also experienced various levels of popularity, but the one person who can arguably call the biggest success story to come out of punk rock – and who helped pave the way for punk’s eventual acceptance – is the former front man for Generation X, Billy Idol. He has had numerous hits, his albums still sell and his concerts still sell out.
The entire movement almost died completely with the controversial murder of Nancy Spungeon, which was blamed on Sid Vicious. That’s a story for another day. Sid was accused of her murder and jailed, was released, beat up Patti Smith’s brother, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, went back to jail, got out again and died of a heroin overdose that, it has been said, was given to him by his mother of 2 February 1979 – but it not only persevered and bounced back, but it actually flourished in many of the numerous spawned subdivisions of the punk culture – New Wave, New Romantic, Hardcore Punk, Apocalyptic Punk, Post Punk, Punk Pop, Goth …
And, at around the same time filmmaker Julien Temple shocked the world with his ‘documentary/biography’ of the Sex Pistols, the immortal The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, which also featured many musical numbers by other groups – some of which were created, no doubt by the mad genius behind the Pistols, Malcolm McLaren. The film was loosely based on the story of the tumultuous and short-lived yet highly touted career of the Pistols. The film was shown in very limited release in England, Europe and the United States. It was available for a short time on VHS tape as a limited edition and is currently available on DVD. No doubt McLaren and the band will milk the current popularity of punk rock as long as possible before pulling the release, making it impossible to find. ‘Rock and roll swindle’ extraordinaire.
Some of their earliest recordings were salvaged from Glitterbest, their publishing firm, and released as the soundtrack from the film, with the Pistols being the Pistols, and the other artists that appeared in the film. There are also many bootlegs of their final show, in San Francisco, both audio and video – and Wolfgang’s Vault has the entire show that night – the Pistols and both opening acts.
‘HARDCORE’ PUNK NEVER REALLY ENJOYED AS MUCH ‘SUCCESS’ in America as it did in England and other parts of Europe, though there was a hardcore scene in America in the mid-80s for a short while. In any case, not nearly as much as its calmer, less violent and often artier American precursor. People in the States did enjoy the music of Robert Gordon, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Wreckless Eric, Boomtown Rats (I Don’t Like Mondays’ was a moderate hit when it originally came out) and Niclk Lowe’s Rockpile (all but the Rats were Stiff Records artists), who were much more ’commercially viable, more ‘pleasing to the ear,’ and more ‘rock and roll’ (translated: more commercially viable) than the other more ‘confrontational’ groups such the Pistols or clash, and certainly more so than the newer groups like Anti-Pasti, GBH and The Exploited, or America’s Minor Threat, Jodi Foster’s Army (JFA), Angry Samoans and many others.

Blondie actually hit it big in England twice before becoming a hit-making Top 40 group with their Parallel Lines album from 1978 (their previous two releases, Blondie and Plastic Letters were both punk-pop, but Parallel Lines had more of a ‘discoish’ sound and were much more commercial. One side nota – back in the late 1960s Debbie Harry was in an obscure and called Wind in The Willows, a very hippyish record, to say the least. Unlike many artists who had records out in the late 60s are now too embarrassed to talk about it, but Harry isn’t. We talked about it a little when I had the honour of meeting her during the ‘Escape from New York’ tour in the early 90s, which also featured The Ramones, Tom Tom Club and Jerry Harrison’s band (he’s also a member of Tom Tom Club).

Back in England a neo-Mod style was catching on with groups like The jam and The Undertones being two of the better-known groups of the period in the late 1970s. its followers were dressed better, usually with sport jackets and skinny ties, yet there was a level of aggressiveness that epitomized punk still latent in these groups. Both bands wound up having large fan bases on both sides of the ocean, and Japan simply adored them.

John Lennon’s murder on 8 December 1980 was almost the final death knell of the recording industry as a whole. Sales had dropped off nearly 30% and even more companies merged, severely cut back operations again and laying off even more people.
Fortunately the indie labels managed to hang on and, in some places flourished due to lower overhead, bands that didn’t demand huge incomes from performances – many worked for the door proceeds – and some of these labels actually saw increases in sales. London’s Rough Trade and Manchester’s Zoo and Factory records didn’;t make long-term contracts with their artists, further cutting overhead, generally doing deals for generally a record at a time, and it was incumbent on the bands to put out consistently quality product or they wouldn’t see their next contract with the label. The labels distributed their records as equitably as possible, in lesser quantities than the majors, which cut down on the percentage of product that didn’t sell, saving even more money. And concerts were done as inexpensively as possible, as the bands were usually less well-known and could play smaller halls. Occasionally, a group like The jam, New Order or Gang of Four would get lucky and get an opening slot on a bigger band’s show, giving them more exposure than they had been able to get outside of college radio in the States. Certainly most of the major radio stations in the country were not including these groups in their daily programming lists. Meanwhile, the labels continued to look for and demand top-quality, in albums and singles as well as their live performances.

At around this time, Richard Branson’s Virgin records was also beginning to ramp up and has now become one of the largest conglomerates in the world – from music, television, film and book publishing to airlines and soon even to space flights – and he continues to keep his fingers involved some of the leading growth industries in the world (more so overseas than in the US).

In 1980, the British music scene was even more fragmented than in the States. Much oj it was out of step with its counterpart in America, when music had reached somewhat of a stagnated feel – there was punk and New Wave on one side and classic rock on the other and not much in between. And US radio stations weren’t playing anything new unless it was top 40 because the labels couldn’t see past their own next bank deposit and signed a bunch of bands they thought would make them, fistfuls of cash today and the hell with tomorrow, because they knew that there were hundreds of bands throughout the country who would be delighted to sign with one of them. The past three decades are littered with good intentions by these bands who just didn’t get much label support or promotion and many bands that popped up disappeared almost as quickly – The Romantics, The Kings, Pearl Harbour and the Explosions and many, many more.

American music seemed bland in comparison to what was coming from overseas. The ‘post-punk’ era was beginning – even though there was a plethora of music that had been recorded much earlier – with groups like Gang of Four, Crass, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire (who had begun to have some success with a new more danceable sound than they previously had), and they Had much more musical sophistication and appeal than their earlier counterparts and, on both sides of the Atlantic new bands seemingly appeared every day.

Many of the most successful groups were white or multi-racial who revived and reworked earlier black musical styles. The Police, for instance, (featuring former prog-rock drummer Stewart Copeland and son of the founder of I.R.S. Records and the F.B.I. booking agency) one of the most successful ‘’alternative’ (translated: punk or New Wave – the term ‘alternative’ was not being used yet), based much of their rhythms on reggae and its precursor, ska.

Ska, the precursor to reggae, much as skiffle predated British rock and roll and continued to act as a major influence of a growing number of bands of the 1980s. The Specials from Coventry, England were in the forefront of this happy, bouncy style of music. Madness, Specials, The Selecter and The [English] Beat (there was already a band in America called The Beat so they modified their name to avoid sticky and drawn out court proceedings over a band name) epitomized the format and a new record label, Two Tone, was created to release music from most of these groups.

Also around this time, electronic music was starting to take hold, with German veterans Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream enjoying a resurgence in their careers and new English groups like Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark (OMD) and Tubeway Army (which went on to have a smash hit, Cars, under the name of the band’s leader Gary Numan. The ska bands tended to come from England’s midlands, and the electronic groups tended to come from the bleaker, more industrialized areas like Liverpool and Manchester.
Numan, as has been stated, went on to have a highly successful career with his stark, highly futuristic, almost paranoiac theatrical style that featured high-tech staging and lighting. Liverpool’s OMD, Echo & the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes – both featuring Julian Cope, who left echo to form Teardrop)] and Manchester’s New Order (in reality they were Joy Division after their lead singer, Ian Curtis committed suicide), on the other hand, as well as other electronic groups, could be said to have taken the style much further.

Another fragment of the British punk scene was ‘Goth,’ epitomized by the likes of Siouxsie & the Banshees, Joy Division and Bauhaus, with their dark songs and musical style. Bauhaus, in partcular, is the band usually cited as being the progenitor of this branch, but Joy Division’s stark songs could well have fit the bill as well – that is until frontman Ian Curtis committed suicide on the verge of Joy Division breaking out in a big way. The remaining members of the band formed a new group, New Order as joy Division’s future was at stake with Curtis’s death, until they released the single Ceremony. The addition of a female vocalist/keyboardist New Order has since gone on to become one of the best of the electronic front that would eventually give rise to what we know today as EDM. Not long after the release o the debut single, their first album, Movement dropped and the band’s future was secured.

Meanwhile, even though the industry in the States mostly paralleled that of the scene in England to a small degree, the independent labels didn’t fare quite so well as their British and European counterparts. Disco, which had dominated the latter half of the 1970s had finally begun to die down and was instead replaced by ‘corporate rock’. Spurred on by the homogeneity of bands like REO Speedwagon, Journey and (Jefferson) Starship, punk groups became even more prevalent in California and then else3where. New York had seen its heyday with the likes of the New York Dolls, ramones, Blondie, Television and Johnny Thunders (both with and without The Heartbreakers) but now it was the West Coast’s turn to dominate the punk scene. Bands like X, The (shortlived) Germs, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Fear and the Dead Kennedys became the focus of the American punk scene. The only knock against these groups is that their music was still formulaic and predictable, only in a different way than the ‘commercial’ bands, even though they were heavier and ‘angrier’ than anything that had before been seen on this side of the Atlantic.
Back on the East Coast, Washington, D.C. was becoming the hotbed of American Hardcore, with the influx of a slew of straightedge (no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes) bands like Minor Threat and 7 Seconds, and in New York, Kraut added an almost heavy metal influence and Bad Brains introduced a reggae flavor, which produced widely mixed results. The songs flew by, in many cases clocking in at around a minute or a minute-and-a-half, with lyrics that spoke of government betrayal and disappointment in a system they felt had left them behind.

Low-budget filmmakers began to try and document the ‘punk generation’ on film. Punking Out from 1977; Rude Boy by Jack Hazen, David Mingay and Ray Gange, starring The Clash and featuring a lot of live footage, D.O.A. featuring the Sex Pistols on their ill-fated American tour, along with a slew of other bands – The Dead Boys, The Ramones, Generation X, X-Ray Spex and The Damned).

Even the movie industry tried cashing in, with Times Square showcasing a handful of New York’s New Wave acts, Breaking Glass about the rise and fall of an alternative band in London and starring Hazel O’Connor and her band Megahype. O’Connor was nominated in England for Best New Actress for her portrayal of Kate, a conflicted song-writer and her relationships within the band; and probably one of the best, Rock and Roll High School, starring PJ Soles and The Ramones about an overzealous school principal who tries to destroy rock and roll.

Rude Boy was more or less a docudrama – the study of the life of a British youth (Ray Gange) who hangs around with a punk group (The Clash). And Swindle created its own form of docudrama starring the Sex Pistols and a handful of other bands by combining real life with Monty Python-style humour and animation, Its stated ‘purpose’ was to ‘analyse’ the rise of a rock band – the Sex Pistols – while pulling a scam on the audience by calling punk rock a sham (remember Johnny Rotten’s closing statement at Winterland, ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated.’) and Franco Rossi’s Babylon, an widely-unheard-of obscure film was still another lively yet pessimistic project about a black reggae group in a hostile South London setting.

On the West Coast, Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization revolved around many of the California groups I mentioned above along with interviews with their fans. The movie’s soundtrack (released on Slash Records) features some of the best of the West coast scene – X, The Germs, Alice Bag Band, Fear and Circle Jerks, along with some other lesser-known groups. Spheeris also did a similar documentary on the heavy metal scene as it was current at the time.

Of course there have been numerous others – Australia’s Dogs in Space starring Michael Hutchence of INXS and one of the best documentary offerings, Urgh! A Music War, which is a chronicle in concert form of dozens of bands, including U2, The Cramps, The Go-Go’s, XTC, Devo, Dead Kennedys and about 15 other performances. Soundtrack albums have also been released for each of these films too.

Around 1980 another new phenomenon arose in the name of Adam Ant who, with his band the Ants, came at you with a big double kick-drum sound that critics dubbed ‘antmusic’ the first album, Dirk Wears White Sox, was more art-punk, but the second album, Kings of the Wild Frontier, quickly became a big hit at dance clubs in Europe and, eventually, in the US.
Concurrently, the so-called ‘New Romantic movement’ was getting underway, epitomized by artists with garish clothing, make-up and an electronic sound. Represented by groups like Classix Nouveau Spandau Ballet, Visage (featuring Steve Strange of Ultravox, another group somewhere in between New Wave and New Romantic) and, as I had predicted at the time, ‘one of the most-liked and, as history will reveal, hottest-selling of the descendents of punk, Duran Duran.

The New romantic craze was actually a spinoff of a lesser-known form of music dubbed ‘Blitz,’ named after the club in England where it has been said to have gotten its start. Characterised by fancy, frilly shirts buttoned up the side, high peaked hairdos and artistically applied makeup – both males and females – this was one style which endured and flourished for many years, becoming the frontrunner fir many high-fashion styles the world over. Duran personified this style with their smooth grace onstage, elegance of dress and highly danceable music, and there wasn’t a girl in a Duran audience who didn’t melt over one member or another.

As of the 1990s we were able to look back over a very fertile couple of decades of alternative music. In the early part of the decade, grunge was all the rage, featuring groups like Soundgarden and Nirvana, grunge distinguished itself with its growling guitars and a move back toward more complex musical styles and away from the three-chord format that characterised punk – even to the point of extended guitar solos on occasion.

Around the same time, a new pack of punk bands cropped up, dominated by Green Day and accompanied by The Offspring, Less Than Jake (ska-punk), Reel Big Fish and Rancid, among many others. Years ago, punk rock was the pariah of the music industry. Today it’s a moneymaker. We’ve seen that there is still some excitement and rebellion left in this homogenous music industry. We’ve also seen that there are still bands who have that spark inherent in what originally created the artform called rock and roll music in the 1950s and the legacy of the Beatles in the 1960s and their innovations.

It’s no wonder that Rolling Stone considered the Pistols one and only official release, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols the second-best album in music history behind only Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ Without that record, many of the groups mentioned here and in part one may never have existed, let alone spawned the music we listen to today. Nirvana, Soundgarden,, even Guns ‘n’ Roses, Metallica, Armored Saint, Anthrax and Megadeth owe their success to the Pistols, the Ramones and all those punk bands that endured derision, bad reviews, even so far as beatings (Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz was stabbed numerous times in the late 1970s) and British skinheads are notoriously violent (the Oi! Movement consisting of groups like The Exploited, Angelic Upstarts, and Sham 69). But these groups have made an indelible mark on today’s music, even in a strongly commercial, corporate rock, Top 40-oriented society.

I hope, as you’ve read this, you either relived the magic of those halcyon days of music that initially drew you to this upstart music (or perhaps repelled you) all those years ago or, if you weren’t around then, you were able to glean some of that which keeps us interested in this music called ‘punk rock.’ Maybe you’ll go back and seek out the earliest punk bands to discover the roots of the music we listen to today. I can’t see a band like Korn, Linkin Park, Rob Zombie/White Zombie in existence today had punk rock never been born. And that’s one of the biggest reasons that Rolling Stone gave such kudos to the Pistols’ album.

With the re-release of the entire Ramones back catalog, the Dead Boys two albums, Young, Loud & Snotty and We Have Come for Your Children or Johnny Thunders’ great solo album So Alone, due to the advent of CD technology, we get to hang on to our musical past in ways that we couldn’t with vinyl records, since we usually get extra songs, outtakes and demos – some of which is even better than the actual release. In any event, this essay will hopefully convey the perseverance, determination, despair and triumph it took – and takes – to make a lasting impression on the world and will be a lesson in how we should stick to it no matter what we do in our daily lives.

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The Monitors

HERE’S A THROWBACK to Cleveland’s vibrant underground music scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. This time I bring you The Monitors, one the more popular bands who, along with The Adults, could be found most frequently playing Hennessey’s on Lakewood, Ohio’s ‘club strip’ near the Cleveland border. Consisting of Nelson Yandura on vocals, Chris Andrews (later of Shadow of Fear) on guitar, Ed Lash on bass and Rik Keihl on drums, The Monitors grew out of the original punk rock movement of 1975, but weren‘t a ‘punk rock’ band per se. But here, let them tell you.

WHAT KIND OF INSPIRATIONS DO YOU HAVE AS FAR AS MUSIC IS CONCERNED?

CHRIS: Money, drugs and women. No, not really. Actually, it was Jimi Hendrix. For real. That’s what made me want to play guitar. I got turned on to him and I said, ‘I wish I could play like that.’ No, really, that’s what made me want to play guitar was when I first heard Jimi Hendrix. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ I was always into music before that. I used to play trombone and accordion. I played trombone in Artemus Ward and I played accordion. And they were gonna put me on [Cleveland’s Sunday early afternoon television programme] ‘Polka Varieties’ even. Honest. Playing accordion. That’s when I kicked out, I said, ‘No more.’ I don’t know, I was always in to music, I got into it all the time. I started getting into Hendrix and shit like that. I said, ‘I want to play guitar.’

IS ALL THAT ON THE LEVEL OR ARE YOU JUST MAKING THAT UP?

CHRIS: No, honest to God.

ED: My inspiration was that my brother [Tom Lash of Lucky Pierre and, later, Hot Tin Roof] bought a new bass and he had his old one sitting around, so I said, ‘Why don’t you turn the strings around?’ – ‘cause he’s left-handed. He changed the strings around and said, ‘Here, have it.’ Self-taught [applause from the other band members sitting around].

CHRIS: Same here.

RIK: I started playing when I was about 15. We used to go over this guy’s house and beat on his drum set ‘cause he didn’t know how to play either. He got jealous and would never let me play it. I used to come over when he wasn’t around and used to play with my buddies. And Ed. And then the house got busted and they took all the equipment away and took it all to Lakewood Jail.

ED: We had to get our equipment out of jail. It was in a cell.

RIK: Then I just kept playing and playing. Didn’t play with any bands.

ED: Until last year. This was the beginning of 1980. myself, Chris and Rik got together and …

CHRIS: Through a mutual friend. Well, actually, I didn’t know Ed was coming along. It was sort of a package deal. Frank Kilbourne goes, ‘Yeah, man. I know this drummer. He’s real good. I’ll bring him down.’ And he brings him down. And Rik just stands there, looking around. He was afraid to say anything to me, he’s just standing there looking around and shit. Then he fuckin’ booked and the next time I see Frank I said, ‘What about this guy?’ He goes, ‘Well, he came down but he didn’t say nothing to you.’ I go, ‘Well, fuck, what’s that gonna do me?’ So then after he comes down again he goes, ‘Yeah, I was jamming with this guy who lives a little down the street from me.’

ED: Yeah, but a long time before we got together, me and Ricky would say we should get together with Chris. And he would say that he should get together with us. But then we never did anything for about six months or eight months we talked about it, never got together. So finally, one day we came down here and trued ti play some tunes. But still none of us knew any copy tunes … none of us knew the same copy tunes … we decided to throw something together of our own. The whole original idea, though, was to do all original stuff. We decided right from the beginning that we wouldn’t do copy because we didn’t know any anyway. It would be just as easy to do our own tunes as someone else’s. so we were going to try some people for singing and Chris says, ‘Yeah, I know this guy at record conventions and stuff,’ and he told me supposedly that he tried to sing with a band. So he brings Nelson and we were down here and Nelson put on …

RIK: He smelled like a cologne factory.

ED: Nelson put on Bowie ‘man Who Fell to Earth,’ and was warming up. So then we tried him out and he became quite a lyricist at that.

CHRIS: What was funny was I knew Nelson from the record conventions and I saw him at John Cale. I saw Nelson there with a friend of his and I started talking to them, just shooting the breeze, about conventions and shit like that. I said, ‘Me and these guys get a band and we’ve got to find a singer.’ I remember Nelson goes, ‘Well, I know somebody.’ I said ‘Who?’ He says, ‘Me.’ Talk about cornering yourself into something. I said, ‘Let me talk to these other guys and see what we can get together.’

NELSON: I’ve been wanting to for a long time. I did in high school. I was with a band but they were lazy. These guys aren’t lazy.’

CHRIS: Weren’t you into theatrics too?

NELSON: yeah, I did a lot of theatre in high school, after school, shit like that. When I was nine years old I won a talent contest in ’66 or something. I won first prize.

RIK: What did you do?

NELSON: I did Petula Clark’s ‘My Love’ or something. After that I was really turned on to it. They used to take me all around the school. I’d get out of classes early. I’d go down to each room and entertain at lunchtime. So I thought that was kind of neat. My mother told me one day, ‘Why don’t you quit buying records and start making records?’ so I said OK and 1980 rolled around and I said, ‘I’m gonna get off my ass. If I’m going to do something I might as well start now.’ So at John Cale I started talking to Chris. I didn’t want to be too arrogant or pushy. But we hit it off pretty good and, like, I didn’t know these guys from Adam, really. I thought Chris was kind of a freaky person. But we’re more like brothers now.

RIK: What inspired me the most were the drummers: Carl Palmer, Keith Moon, and the book I learned out of was a Carmen Appice book. This was when he was in Cactus. That’s what inspired me most. I always liked Keith Moon a lot. I always thought he was real cool. I used to jam with this guy, Butch. He used to be with the [local] band Strutter. He inspired me a lot, too, and my cousin. We used to jam at this building down on West 6th Street above [the dance club] Trax.

ED: We used to jam above this place on Sunday afternoons because that was the only safe time for us to go down there. Nobody was around.

SO NOW YOU’VE GOT A RECORD IN THE WORKS THAT’S BEING PUT TOGETHER RIGHT NOW, RIGHT?

CHRIS: The recording is done. It’s being mastered now. Down in Nashville. I just talked with the guy as a matter of fact. We’re expecting a test pressing this weekend. He’s going to send it to us and if it’s OK we’ll give him our OK and send it back to him. Then they can start pressing them. The recording and all that, that’s all done.

RIK: Kevin McMahon [of Lucky Pierre and later of Prick] producer. He helped us out a lot in the studio, as well as a couple other people. It as recorded at North Coast recording Studios.

ANY THOUGHTS OF GOING FURTHER THAN JUST THIS SINGLE AT THIS POINT? [The record was ‘Trouble’ c/w ‘Rip Your Dress’ and ended up being the only record the band ever put out.]

CHRIS: Oh, yeah. As far as recording goes, we went back in again already and we recorded just about all our songs. Not with the intent to release them yet. They’re more or less just for our own benefit. The thing we want to concentrate on more right now is playing out. We want to get our equipment together and we want to start going out of town. Like right now we’re in the process of trying to work out something with CBGBs. I’ve got a bunch of places lined up. I act as manager of the group. But I’ve been talking. I have a few places lined up in New Haven, Connecticut and I have something in the works for Baltimore this summer. I want it almost like a tour. Because we were planning to go out to Vegas this summer for a couple of weeks, but it seems more practical to go to the coast and do a bunch of different shows in a bunch of different towns because I think it would cost us a lot less. This way if we go to the East Coast here, we can drive our equipment up there, you know, it’s not that far, whereas in Vegas, we’d have to fly there. All we could take really is our guitars. We can’t take all our stuff with us. We can’t drive it out there, it’d be too much. This way we can go do some dates in New Haven, Baltimore, hit New York, then swing back and hit Pittsburgh maybe, and then come right back. Stretch it out like over a couple weeks, you know, try to do a couple dates in each of these towns.

ARE YOU GEARING FOR OPENING FOR OTHER BIG NAME ACTS OR ARE YOU JUST GOING TO PLAY IN FRONT OF LOCAL ACT? IS IT GOING TO BE, LIKE, LARGER HALLS?

CHRIS: Well, like I mentioned CBGBs, things of, like, that caliber, almost like an Agora-type of thing. Not real big halls, nothing like that, no. Yeah, just smaller concert halls. I don’t get into that big hall shit. You can’t fucking see who’s standing ten feet away from you.

NELSON: That might be good for Frank Sinatra, but not for us.

CHRIS: We’re looking for a crowd maybe 1000 – 2000 people at the most. The kind of band we are, we have to have contact with the audience and shit. I mean, me and Nelson jumping out into the audience and running around and stuff. I mean, we have to have some kind of contact with out crowd, you know. I don’t want to be alienated. I don’t want to make it seem like they’re there to see us. I mean, I want it to be like they’re there and we’re there and we’re all gonna have a good time. And that’s it.

RIK: You can just call us the good time band.

CHRIS: Cleveland’s a great town. This is where we got started from, they’re behind us. But still I want to go out … I want to go as a true test. You’ve got to realize and understand that people that come to see us,, almost, like, become our friends, okay? They’re gonna tell you … I’m not saying that they’re going to completely all and out lie to you and say, ‘You guys were great’ every time we play out, but they might not tell us the exact truth. What they think, you know what I mean? To me it’s like a test going out of town, to really see what people really think of us. We’re not going to know anybody there. That’s what I feel is a true test. That way I’ll know whether I’ve really accomplished anything or whether it’s time to go back down to the hall and practice some more. That’s what I really want to do. after that’s been done … after I go out and play in, like, New York or wherever and people like me, then I’m going to start thinking a lot more seriously about recording more, really trying to push for some sort of contract or something.

ED: I think the most important thing any of us are looking for is self-satisfaction. I don’t care if I play a hall and everybody boos us off the stage. If I think I’ve played a good set, then that’s all I’m looking for.

RIK: You’ve got appreciate your music and play it.

ED: That’s what I’m really looking for. I’m not in just to make a lot of money or have somebody I don’t know come up and say, ‘Hey, you guys were great.’ I’m looking to get better for myself.

CHRIS: I feel good when somebody I don’t know comes up after a show and congratulates me.

ED: That’s just reassuring what you think of yourself.

CHRIS: That’s what we were saying before. You go out of town, you don’t know the people and they like you, that makes you feel good. You know that people are appreciating your music and not just appreciating you. That’s pretty much what I think we’re into doing.

ED: We’re not out to make a million dollars.

RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE A LOT OF ENERGY IN YOUR SET. ARE YOU LOOKING TO INCREASE IT?

NELSON: Sometimes that’s up to the audience too. The goonier the audience gets, we’ll get goonier. Sometimes we’ve had a few people in the audience and you’ve got to get your momentum going. If the people get into it, I find we get into it more.

CHRIS: You want to try to do the best show you can. Everybody’s like that, whether it’s one person or a thousand. You always want to put on a good show because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. I want to go up there and play the best I can, no matter who’s there because you never know who that one person might be. And not just for them, but for myself too. I don’t want to go and just play shit. Because I know I can do better than that. Even though some people don’t think so. But that’s besides the point.

NELSON: We’re the type of band that you either like us or you hate us. But some people that hate us suddenly realise they like us. Like, once we opened for this other local band, and one of our friends told me that she was in the john and there were two chicks with their fingers up their ears saying, ‘Boy, they’re terrible.’ Of course they just sat down during the next group that played and just sat there looking real cool. They weren’t into it at all. They were just trying to make the scene or something. So you either like us or you hate us. We’d like you to like us, but if you don’t like us, that’s okay too. This is ‘Monitor-Rock.’ It’s not punk and it’s not New Wave. Anyhow, that could be our problem. A lot of people don’t know how to describe our music, like, ‘Well, I heard they were a good punk band …’

ED: No, we’re not a punk band. I’d say we’re not a Bob Seger band. And I think that’s mainly because none of us are really into that music. When you’re playing all original music, you start to have your own style rather than copying anybody in particular. Although, your inspirations and people who you have followed and listened to, inspiring music and stuff, will show up a bit. But that, like Nelson said, it’s like we’re not trying to be anybody and we’re not trying to show anybody up, and I don’t think we’re competing against any other band. We’re just trying to better ourselves. The whole idea that we’re better than this band and we’re better than that band is a bunch of crap.

Well, folks, there you have it. A candid interview with four guys from Cleveland, Ohio who call themselves The Monitors. Oh, there was more to the interview, but none of it was germane to what we have here. We just sat around having a laugh about this and that.