photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
in the popular history of PUNK ROCK, the LEGENDARY BOWERY dive bar/ music venue CBGB'S gets a lot of shine. and that is partly for good reason, as its doors remained open for decades, from 1973 through 2006. it was by default the resident PUNK venue of NYC throughout the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion of the 1990s, when the UNDERGROUND music of the 70s and 80s (i.e. the PUNK ROCK, NO WAVE, POST PUNK, INDIE and HARDCORE scenes) gained a POPULAR national following. even at the dawn of the new millennium CBGB's was a VITAL venue in support of the NASCENT POST-HARDCORE and METALCORE scenes. its cultural cache is a testament to its relative longevity.
whats INTRIGUING is how MAX'S KANSAS CITY, another earlier venue with roots in the 1960s AVANT GARDE art and music scenes, has largely been remembered as a footnote to CBGB'S as the birthplace of PUNK ROCK when arguably it was the other way around. the film NIGHTCLUBBING: THE BIRTH OF PUNK IN NYC (CHIP BAKER FILMS, 2023) is basically an argument for MAX'S KANSAS CITY being the true breeding ground for what became PUNK ROCK and aims to correct the narrative. notable participants interviewed for the film include ALICE COOPER, FRANK INFANTE (BLONDIE), H.R. & DR KNOW (BAD BRAINS), JIMMY ZERO (DEAD BOYS), BILLY IDOL (GENERATION X), JAY JAY FRENCH (TWISTED SISTER), HARLEY FLANAGAN (CRO-MAGS), JAYNE COUNTY, BRIAN SETZER (THE STRAY CATS), LENNY KAYE (PATTI SMITH GROUP) and SYLVAIN SYLVAIN (THE NEW YORK DOLLS) among others.
and its hard to argue against them as MAX'S KANSAS CITY in its first incarnation under the ownership of MICKEY RUSKIN was essentially a restaurant frequented by the nearby ANDY WARHOL crowd of superstars and models that sometimes held special events in its EXCLUSIVE back room. in this context, WARHOL was able to showcase THE VELVET UNDERGROUND at the restaurant in some of their earliest performances. this in time led to other groups and artists like THE STOOGES, PATTI SMITH, WAYNE COUNTY, DAVID BOWIE and ALICE COOPER among others to follow suit. a new wave of bands, most notably THE NEW YORK DOLLS, then started utilizing the venue around the time that ownership switched to TOMMY DEAN MILLS and the upstairs space was expanded from fifty to a hundred person capacity. right in time for ECLECTIC bands like BLONDIE, THE RAMONES and TALKING HEADS to popularize the venue. what marked MAX'S KANSAS CITY from CBGB'S was its owners support of the scene, paying more of the gate to performers and providing them with food, as well as the INCLUSIVE nature of the live act and audience which blurred every line of GENDER, SEXUALITY, RACE, CREED and CLASS. CBGB'S was a dirtier affair that relished its SQUALOR (i.e. the notoriously DISGUSTING bathroom) and owner HILLY KRISTAL was famous for screwing over performers with his share of the gate proceeds. in essence, the venue took advantage of its good fortune in being the right venue at the right time. over time, however, CBGB's promoted a HYPER-MASCULINE culture that came off a bit XENOPHOBIC and HOMOPHOBIC at the very least and attracted a certain lug-head following.
much of the case for MAX'S KANSAS CITY seemed to circle around its ability to invite EXPERIMENTATION and publicize and celebrate the AVANT GARDE elements of society, as it could trace its lineage right back to THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. which is pretty INCREDIBLE. sadly the venue ended in 1981 after the owner sold the building after some shady business deals in ATLANTIC CITY went south. the loss to the arts COMMUNITY basically guaranteed its status as a footnote in the story of ROCK AND ROLL and PUNK ROCK in particular, as its name receded from view before the ascent of the UNDERGROUND scene in the POPULAR mindset a decade later.
makes you wonder about what other past CELEBRATED venues ended before their time had arrived. the MUDD CLUB (NYC)? the MASQUE, the COCONUT TEASZER, and MADAME WONG's (LOS ANGELES)?
photo & text by nacrowe
sometimes ROCK N ROLL bands overthink things. they try to get clever write songs that overly complicated and conceptually dubious for no reason other than because they can.
not TWISTED SISTER.
sonically id argue they are a back-to-basics TRADITIONAL band in the long GLAM ROCK-inspired bands like the NEW YORK DOLLS, THE RAMONES and even KISS. its no frills, meat-and-potatoes ROCK N ROLL but even under such limitations TWISTED SISTER went for maximum impact. look no further than their third record STAY HUNGRY (ATLANTIC, 1984) and their two MEMORABLE singles "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT" and "I WANNA ROCK."
those two songs are the very poster children of bumper sticker song titles and instantly convey a sense of reckless abandon and directionless REBELLION. "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT" has been used at sporting and political events for decades now to the point that it is a fangless parody of itself. but in my estimation thats fine because it is such an ENJOYABLE and SUCCINCT hit of WARPED POP PERFECTION. its impossible to hear and not smile. "I WANNA ROCK" is my personal favorite TWISTED SISTER song because it just cuts right to the chase and never lets up. its a HARD-CHARGING track about the TRANSCENDENT JOY of anticipating and being a part of ROCK N ROLL. there is almost something TRIBAL and COMMUNAL about it. it definitely brings people together with its INCLUSIVE sentiment even if it is more than a bit GOOFY and CARTOONISH.
and that is where i respect DEE SNIDER, who wrote those two songs, as well as his primary collaborator (and TWISTED SISTER founder) JAY JAY FRENCH. they are unafraid to lean in with absolute abandon into the RIDICULOUS theatrics and crushingly SIMPLE song concepts and structures. to me it feels unquestionably RAMONES-y, almost like TWISTED SISTER are the intentionally forgotten LONG ISLAND step children of JOEY and JOHNNY RAMONE.
the rest of STAY HUNGRY is UNINSPIRED and INCONSEQUENTIAL, but those two singles are well worth the price of admission. just leave any semblance of good taste and rock snobbery at the door. you wont be impressing anyone with that here.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i really enjoyed this film.
not because of its subject necessarily since i have nothing against TWISTED SISTER, their music, their fans or their legacy. what i appreciate about THIS IS F***ING TWISTED SISTER! (ANDREW HORN FILMPRODUKTION, 2014) is that it is two-hour long documentary focused entirely on the tireless struggle to make it in the entertainment industry despite nearly overwhelming odds against the band.
the band spent more than 10 years relentlessly playing and replaying the TRI-STATE bar circuit, building up a rabid following based on SHOCK TACTICS that seemingly glossed over their accomplished MUSICIANSHIP, PRESENCE and STAGECRAFT. their narrative is a populous one since their success was not manufactured over night, but rather organically built up one fan at a time over the crucible of repeat live performances. i thought it was quite refreshing to hear DEE SNIDER and JAY JAY FRENCH speak about the lengths they went to differentiate themselves from the pack and just the general daunting work ethic that they maintained despite years of diminishing returns. it must have felt quite hopeless and downright QUIXOTIC to be in the band throughout the 1970s playing bars in small-town LONG ISLAND, upstate NEW YORK, CONNECTICUT and the JERSEY SHORE.
usually bands in documentaries highlight the glorified heights and record sales of years gone by, but here the band is focused on their salad days when the unspoken connection between band and audience was at its zenith. and looking back that is not to say there arent some CRINGE-INDUCING admissions, such as the DISCO SUCKS shtick that led them to hang an effigy of BARRY WHITE on stage, which went over real well in RACIST parts of upstate NEW YORK where it was confused with a promotion of lynching. yikes! just the idea that the band jumped on the DISCO SUCKS movement at all is a bit DISAPPOINTING given the HOMOPHOBIC and XENOPHOBIC overtones of that popular movement by a largely white heterosexual male audience. there is also a bit of lazy CHAUVINISM and lame attempts at MACHISMO on stage and off throughout THIS IS F***ING TWISTED SISTER! which grew a bit tired. one would think that the band would have been somewhat open to GENDER FLUIDITY or at least the concept of not being outright hostile to other sexual preferences given their stage presence but NO. such was definitely not the case at the time. like KISS, they aped the image of the NEW YORK DOLLS without every coming to terms with its broader meanings and ramifications.
but maybe such RETROGRADE attitudes was all just indicative of a time and place forty years ago. in a sense, i respect them for being open about their past and the choices they dont repeat now. i give them that. i was similarly impressed by how in depth they went back into their years of STRUGGLE, when they were aspirational wannabes living on a dream. doesnt get more AMERICAN than that. it is also a testament to their singular FOCUS, DRIVE and downright STUBBORNNESS that they ultimately succeeded. this documentary is definitely worth checking out and investigating on account of that alone.
i will probably rewatch it again within the year.