photo & text by nacrowe
my experience with having a radio show precede DEER GOD RADIO and go back all the way to high school. i was lucky in that the boarding school i attended had a radio station that they fully encouraged students to participate in. for me it was a game changer because 1) even back then i was always exploring music and this provided a platform to share such with 2) a new community that i inadvertently joined in the process. the more i got involved the more i listened to other shows and learned about new music. so in essence it was an all-around great vicious cycle to be a part of that i really enjoyed.
during that period of my underclass years in high (roughly 1998-2000) i discovered 1980s HARDCORE. bands like BLACK FLAG, MINOR THREAT, THE GERMS, REAGAN YOUTH, VOID, DESCENDENTS, MDC, YOUTH BRIGADE, THE MIDDLE CLASS, DOA, THE CIRCLE JERKS, and of course, DEAD KENNEDYS. believe me, that list goes on... and on. some of those bands i learned from classmates, but the majority of them were from the shows of upperclassman at the station.
for me, DEAD KENNEDYS stood out because of their musicality and the strident, confrontational nature of their rabidly political lyrics. frontman JELLO BIAFRA was also highly charismatic and funny, something i dont think he gets credit for. i think the lyrics of FRESH FRUIT FOR ROTTING VEGETABLES (ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES, 1980) songs like "KILL THE POOR" and "LET'S LYNCH THE LANDLORD" work because they are so hyperbolic yet earnest. it felt even two decades later like he was very much playing with fire with a smirk and a sense of mischief as well as purpose. its an interesting mix. undoubtedly the reference in his name to the NIGERIAN BIAFRAN WAR also drew my attention, given that i had recently relocated to my boarding school from a middle school in LAGOS. i cant say that association wasnt an initial detail that peaked my interest at the time.
in songs like "CALIFORNIA UBER ALLES," "HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA" and even "VIVA LAS VEGAS" there is a sense of reducing AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS VALUES of CONSPICUOUS CONSUMERISM and POLITICAL ACQUIESENCE to their end extremes. in an era of TRUMPISM and the efforts of extreme elements with the conservative movement actively corroding democracy itself, these songs seem more of a harbinger of things to come than silly pastiche. obviously BIAFRA saw something in RONALD REAGAN's AMERICA that portended things to come.
the last thing i'll mention is the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY, which at times delves into ROCKABILLY and even SURF MUSIC. despite the aura and charms of BIAFRA, the hidden ingredient are the decidedly tasty slap-back delayed, single-not soundscapes that mark much of the songs on this record and future DEAD KENNEDY records. much as BIAFRA infused his political screeds with humor, parodies and clever wordplay, the guitar work of EAST BAY RAY and its departure from the basic power chord monotony of HARDCORE really amplified and focused the attack and bite of the band. for me those are the two main ingredients that made their debut such a remarkable achievement.
aside from being a definitive album of the period, this record likewise reminds me of the power of keeping an open ear to new music, which is something i continued in college as well as more recently with the nonprofit, streaming radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC out of STATEN ISLAND of all places. like GEORGE CLINTON once said, "FREE YOUR MIND AND YOUR ASS WILL FOLLOW."
dedicated to his close friend since childhood, kindred spirit and deceased former bandmate D. BOON, WE JAM ECONO: THE STORY OF THE MINUTEMEN (ROCKET FUEL FILMS, 2005) is an intimate documentary largely narrated by MIKE WATT about his former band, the highly idiosyncratic and influential 1980s HARDCORE band THE MINUTEMEN.
hailing from SAN PEDRO just as the SOUTH BAY was taking over the LOS ANGELES music scene with a more volatile and aggressive wave of PUNK ROCK that included the likes of BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS and THE DESCENDENTS, THE MINUTEMEN represented the conceptual and artistic vanguard of the scene. their lyrics were opaque and their sound kinetic yet off-kilter, skittish and dare i say it, funky. in a scene where subtlety was not the norm, both sonically and in terms of lyrical content, THE MINUTEMEN effectively expanded the out realms of the genre in the same way HUSKER DU had done in their respective scene at the time.
the core of the band existed before HARDCORE emerged, but in that scene they saw a freedom and artistic opportunity. D. BOON was an accomplished visual artist and had a way with lyrics where he could evoke images with a minimum amount of words. this efficiency likewise found its way to his guitar playing, which borrowed from various genres and transcended the extreme buzzsaw tempos of his label-mate and fellow scene participants, BLACK FLAG. in essence they had a chemistry that came from years of camaraderie and basically exemplified the DIY ethos of PUNK ROCK. they were completely self-made and unique.
can't say the same for the construction of the documentary itself. it drags a bit and has a very uneven pacing throughout. it could use another edit, which is unfortunate as the band definitely deserves better. but where it lacks in professional sheen it makes up for in content. its rough appearance may even make the film a better conduit for information as it provides a sense of intimacy, especially with regards to its interview footage.
this film includes archival live performances and then-recent interviews with the likes of peers such as IAN MCKAYE (MINOR THREAT), JELLO BIAFRA (DEAD KENNEDYS), MILO AUKERMAN (THE DESCENDENTS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), J MASCIS (DINOSAUR JR), MIKE MILLS (R.E.M.), DEZ CADENA, CHUCK DUKOWSKI & HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), KURT KIRKWOOD (MEAT PUPPETS), JOHN DOE (X), FLEA (RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS / FEAR), THURSTON MOORE & LEE RANALDO (SONIC YOUTH), ROBERT HOLZMAN (SACCHARINE TRUST), RICHARD HELL (TELEVISION / THE VOIDOIDS) and COLIN NEWMAN (WIRE) among many others.
worth checking out only if you are a deep fan of the genre or the artist, but may be less interesting for those not familiar or eager to explore either. there are other documentaries that are arguably a better introduction to the scene in general like AMERICAN HARDCORE (AHC PRODUCTIONS, 2006) or PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005).
here is a blast from the past. ever since MP3s took over the music business back at the turn of the millennium, long before streaming was a thing or even the iphone for that matter, there was a resurgence of interest in VINYL RECORDS. this was due to the warmth of that analog sound that just can't be replicated on a digital format. call it psychosomatic but we all know its true.
roughly a decade ago the television channel FUSE (remember FUSE?!) had a series of small segments called CRATE DIGGERS in which they interview producers, artists and musicians like AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, PEANUT BUTTER WOLF, HANK WILLIAMS III, PETE ROCK, JELLO BIAFRA, LORD FINESSE, DJ MUGGS, SHEPARD FAIREY and DAN THE AUTOMATOR about their vinyl collections and how they went about amassing them. its basically a love letter to the pursuit of new unexplored sounds.
definitely worth checking out.
PUNK: ATTITUDE (3DD PRODUCTIONS, 2005) by legendary DJ / MUSICIAN / DIRECTOR and original PUNK ROCK scenester DON LETTS is probably the most comprehensive documentary about the beginnings and evolution of PUNK ROCK, both stateside and in ENGLAND. it includes an exhaustive yet entirely impressive cast of participants, many now deceased, whose insights provide an appreciation for the wide array of interests and backgrounds that led to the formation of the genre. this includes, but not limited to, musicians such as JOHN CALE (THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), JELLO BIAFRA (THE DEAD KENNEDYS), MARTIN REV (SUICIDE), CHRISSIE HYNDE (THE PRETENDERS), DAVID JOHANSEN, SYLVAIN SYLVAIN & ARTHUR KANE (THE NEW YORK DOLLS), MICK JONES & PAUL SIMON (THE CLASH), DARYL JENIFER (BAD BRAINS), POLY STYRENE (X-RAY SPEX), HENRY ROLLINS (BLACK FLAG), WAYNE KRAMER (MC5), PAT SMEAR (THE GERMS), SIOUXSIE SIOUX (SIOUXSIE SIOUX & THE BANSHEES), TOMMY RAMONE (THE RAMONES), CAPTAIN SENSIBLE (THE DAMNED), ARI UP (THE SLITS), STEVE JONES & GLEN MATLOCK (THE SEX PISTOLS), THURSTON MOORE (SONIC YOUTH), K.K. BARRETT (THE SCREAMERS), RAY CAPO (YOUTH OF TODAY), GLENN BRANCA (THEORETICAL GIRLS), KEITH MORRIS (BLACK FLAG / CIRCLE JERKS), ROGER MIRET (AGNOSTIC FRONT), PETE SHELLEY & HOWARD DEVOTO (THE BUZZCOCKS), DEE POP (THE BUSH TETRAS), ALICE BAG (THE BAGS), RICHARD MANITOBA (THE DICTATORS), JAMES CHANCE (JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS) and film director JIM JARMUSCH, CBGBs owner HILLY KRISTAL and various managers, writers, artists and photographers.
i think one strong suit of this documentary is its ability to elucidate the long line of influence that followed one band to another over time. how bands like THE DOORS influenced THE STOOGES who influenced THE SEX PISTOLS and BLACK FLAG and NIRVANA and so on. in essence you see how bands such as THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, SUICIDE, THE DEAD KENNEDYS, PATTI SMITH, THE DAMNED and THE RAMONES (among many others) are all linked and part of a greater movement towards challenging, complicating, questioning and, in turn, revitalizing the form of ROCK AND ROLL.
examples provided included the concurrent POST PUNK and NO WAVE that came about after the first wave of PUNK ROCK. both took the ethos of originality and freedom and applied such to the music, creating new takes on song structures and experimented with expanded palette of instruments.
the HARDCORE scene of the 1980s was the opposite of such in that songs got condensed and sped up even faster. scenes that began with first wave PUNK adherents more interested in art and originality were taken over by HARDCORE bands that were largely aggressive and violent. part of that anger was political at the REAGAN administration as well as a feeling that their lives were set to be disrupted by economic uncertainty. that scene begat the ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene of the 1990s, or as JELLO BIAFRA puts it "punk inspired rock bands." as the 1990s dragged on you get bands like KORN and LIMP BIZKIT with their dumbed down break down sections and shocking lack of social consciousness.
there was nothing revelatory about this documentary, but it serves as a welcome definitive statement about a genre for anyone new or interested in the place of PUNK ROCK in music history. it really gets at the core idea of the genre in spite of its many permutations: that being the value being an individual. finding your voice, whatever that may be, and speaking your truth vociferously with an almost disregard for the opposition. thats a healthy sentiment for anyone to learn.
my only gripe with this film is that they spends way too much time talking about THE CLASH and JOE STRUMMER, but that is my own personal bias making itself apparent. i still find that band, despite their influence, to be full of themselves. just my opinion.