Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Punk Rock Masonic Cult.

A funny thing happened when I was in Melbourne a few weeks ago. I was in a popular culture store. A 40 something man buying things for my kids and thinking about buying illustration books and Judge Dredd tee-shirts for myself. Well Judge Dredd, Ted toys (with x rated phrases) Strontium Dog, and action figures. 

In the end I didn’t buy anything for myself. 

Paying for the stuff for my kids, the clerk took one look at my Circle Jerks shirt and smiled with a 1000 yard stare. ‘I haven’t seen that logo for a while’ he said, I grinned back ‘it’s a new one, I bought it on eBay last year, the one I had when I was 14 would be a little snug nowadays’ .

We launched into a quick conversation about how punk is a strange fashion now that hip hop and R’n’B artists are co-opting the clothes and the music is everywhere. He then told me about some awful rap star who got spotted in a spikey punk leather jacket, which had a Cro-Mags logo on the back and those jackets are being sold on Etsy from prices ranging from $400 to $7000. If you would like to buy a genuine punk rock leather jacket you can go here.  

Total wow. I used to make those jackets myself with studded shoulders, painted panels, badges, spray paint and bleach marks. Turns out they are being sold for $7,000 at DNA designs in Seattle.

I walked out commenting to my wife that being a former punk is like a masonic secret society, now that we have grown up with real jobs and a cynical wit.

In a smile at a tee shirt it is understood between men

  • That we survived being easy targets for police harassment. (no its ok officer I don’t mind being treated like a criminal even though I’m just fourteen , shorter than you and I’m sure if I was going to commit some real crime I wouldn’t be dressed like this at all, now would I?) 
  • The terror of a car stopping and four or five assholes getting out and beating the living crap out of you up over your Mohawk or Dr. Marten boots. And then as you get older the terror on their faces as you managed to crack a few heads with said boots and take out 3 of them until they gave up trying to save face. 
  • An obsession with records. Not any records but records released on Touch and Go, Alternative Tentacles, SST and Slash. 
  • Owning Damaged by Black Flag. Or not owning Damaged but buying My War because you couldn’t obtain Damaged and pretty much hating it. 
  • Girls were never going to like our 14 year old selves. So we hung out with boys and listened to Charged GBH and instinctively understood their sexist songs. 
  • Understanding CRASS but growing up to realise it was load of pompous middle class bollocks.

  • Knowing what the Milano Mosh is. (and laughing as Ministry covered United Forces and having to find friends on Facebook who might also understand) 
  • Totally understanding that the Cro-Mags made the best hard core/metal cross over album with Age of Quarrel. Unless of course you think Life of Dreams by the Crumbsuckers was. Both stances are OK by me. 
  • Bad Brains. 
  •  Knowing about arguing over what is and isn’t punk. Of course as you get older you don’t need to believe in anything and begin to understand that because there were no rules and it was essentially anarchy no one could be or couldn’t be punk. Except Good Charlotte because they truly suck dog balls. 
  • Buying all those records again that you sold, lost and missed out on eBay and Amazon. 
  •  Buying DVDs of documentary’s about the Ramones, Circle Jerks, bad brains and Hard core Music because you can. 
  • Wanting to go up to kids wearing Ramones shirts and telling them about the time you saw them or met them (btw did I ever tell you about the time I met the Ramones) and then realising that you hated it when people did that to you by crapping on about Pete Townsend and the Who. 
  • Giving away CDs to friends then asking them 20 years later if they still have them and getting them back.

I met a bouncer at the Brisbane Hotel at an acoustic punk show. My third gig for the week, two hard core shows, one in Melbourne for Every time I Die and a Kiwi band on Wednesday then Joey Cape on Sunday. Good thing about being older is going to these gigs and being able to buy a shitload of beer for yourself or anyone around you. Downside getting knocked in the face by that stupid lawnmower starting dance the kids do these days. 

Anyways the bouncer made a comment about my Cro-Mags shirt, when asking my son for his ID ‘I won’t ask you mate, anyone with a CroMags tee-shirt must be well over 20’ The punk rock masonic cult kicked in again. Conversation flowed and moved onto tattoos we decided we liked tattoos but getting you neck done was just dumb and those new totally tattooed hard core bands aren’t really hard core at all. It’s all just a pose. 

Of course it is, because we know what is and isn’t punk from conversations we had nearly 30 years ago.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Foetus: connections across time.

I have this band I like. It’s not really a band but a man, a single man whose vision has been quietly hidden behind a noun.

I first bought Jim Thirlwell’s LP Foetus Interruptus: Thaw, Christmas 1988 with some record vouches my Mom gave me. I went into the record shop, bought them and returned to her car with this and the Butthole Surfer’s Locust Abortion Technician. Mom took one look at my purchase and sniffed loudly ‘Foetus Interruptus! That means an abortion’. Then she looked mildly disgusted. Mom being the anti-abortionist, Catholic Women’s League member, proto feminist  and hard core left wing lady of the 1980s.  Luckily she didn’t check out the Butthole Surfers LP title. The funny thing about all this the purchase occurred in the beautifully boring sea side town of Tauranga. All sunshine, cheap housing, car yards and old people.  

Thousands and thousands of old people waiting for entry into the hereafter. 

Tauranga was God’s waiting room if the waiting room was mostly retirement villages and council houses.  

I bought Thaw after months of having no money after leaving school early at 16 and learning to quietly starve in the social experiment that was New Zealand. It was after the stock market crash and NZ was getting back to its roots of agriculture, voting conservative and cutting down tall poppies.

Thaw was a rich soundscape of evilness.  To my ears it sounded nasty, vicious, artistic and deep. After years of listening to straightforward Hard core punk like Millions of Dead Cops, Suicidal Tendencies, Crass and Black Flag I had moved onto bands that even if you had every article, interview and review you were probably no closer to knowing what their intention was. I became a Laibach fan that same year with the purchase of Opus Dei and Let it Be.

I found Foetus scary.

He said things you didn’t say in polite company ever, the songs seemed to be about murder, racism, madness and misogyny. At the same time the music was soaring, complex and rich. Thaw made full use of stereo ambient movement between speakers and held it together with samples of movies and voice overs. It became my soundtrack to the isolation of being unemployed, wearing black and hating just about everything.  I totally believed everything Foetus said. As a na├»ve 16 year old the thought that someone could make a piece of art as a singular statement without politics or marketing was alien to me. I read his lyrics and liner notes trying to piece it all together and in the end giving up and just enjoying it as an enigma that doesn’t require punk’s tendency to wear its heart on its collective sleeve.

My friend Lisa liked Foetus (so did some acquaintances but they were kind of mean and kept it their little goth secret). At Lisa’s house she played me the Foetus All Nude Review: Bedrock relishing every word as Jim Thirwell growled in his whiskey soaked, gargling with gravel voice ‘a woman’s place is on mah face’.

So I bought that EP.

Then I bought Nail and Hole in 1989. Second hand from Real Groovy Records in Queen Street, Auckland. (quite surprised to find it still standing when I returned to Auckland this year after a 20 year absence) Stupidly I didn’t buy the Wiseblood EP and LP. They were all available as it seemed every University student sold their record collection every summer to either pay rent or buy REM albums now that they had graduated.

Nail and Hole have a huge amount of groove to the songs. You can sing along with them. Provided it meant singing ‘choke up another marlboro’ ,‘The chosen few are gonna arrive 10050 Cielo Drive, The pigs are gonna taste the knife when the chosen few arrive’ and ‘he kisses big, he kisses black’.

I revelled in liking Foetus. Everyone I knew hated him (well apart from Lisa, goths and cool student radio DJs). Flatmates would borrow Laibach but give back the Foetus records. I was never sure why. My wife would say she hates his voice, or it was too noisy but happy for me to buy his music. All the other people I knew liked Nick Cave or the Birthday Party. I had Sick Man I didn’t need no stinking Nick Cave.

And then silence.

I didn’t buy much Foetus after that. I bought an EMF remix EP and the Pop Will Eat Itself album that had the Kick to Kill remix on it. But basically got married, moved countries, had kids and just listened to what I had managed to put on cassette as I never had a turntable. 

Foetus ruined industrial music and performance art for me. Every time I went and saw a local band or performance that was trying to be industrial or artsy. I would unfavourably compare it to Foetus. Usually they didn’t have any songs or their strobe light, dildo whipping performances just looked silly and pretentious. To this day every time I see a performance in an art gallery I just want to scream ‘HAND ME ANOTHER NAIL’.

If an industrial act or art performance isn’t up to scratch, then I just end up putting a Foetus veneer over my bias and hating on it. It’s not a bad bias to have. It means, in terms of my own practice I always think ‘what would Foetus do?’ or ‘what would Jim Thirlwell think of this?’  Luckily he never says anything or I might be disappointed, close shop and just go and become a proper lawyer.

In 1995 Foetus released GASH. I didn’t know. I was up to my ears in nappies, poverty and sub-tropical heat. I had videotaped Rage on ABC TV one Friday night and there was Mr Thirlwell singing Verklemmt . He didn’t look frightening or scary or mean or even rock and roll. He looked kinda cute in his silk shirt and suit jacket. 

But the music was as brutal as ever.

I tried to buy the album, hoping my wife wouldn’t notice that I might have spent $25 on a CD, but alas no one in Brisbane stocked it. So I stopped buying again and managed to buy a Nine Inch Nails EP and my wife bought Marylyn Manson. I kept the VHS of his video clip though. 

So for a long time I didn’t buy any Foetus at all. At art school I recorded my LPs and put them on CD so I could listen to them. Making new covers in Photoshop. I watched YOUTUBE on dial up to watch songs, when I got ASDL I watched a lot more and downloaded bootlegs. 

Then I finished Law school and started making money after a long, long, long time of not having any. I started spending my money on CDs from the Foetus website and the Foetus Shop and bought all the new stuff I had been missing. 

I could sit in my office and get on Amazon or eBay and buy CD versions of my vinyl records, remix LPs, or buy downloads of Foetus’s earlier hard to find LPs. Or on the day something got released buy a new CD and ask Jim Thirlwell to sign the CD for me in the shipping information box on Paypal. 

I imagine if I ever meet Mr Thirlwell I will hopefully say something cool like’ Hi I’m Rob, long time listener first time caller…’