Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You Wanted the Best, well, you can’t always get what you want…

I just finished reading Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of Kiss (1972-1975).  Surprised as you might be, this was not Gene and Paul tell the story of Kiss exclusively.  While I’m sure they had veto power over every single word,  there’s a lot of voices throughout this far-reaching, even tedious exploration of all things Kiss from a loft on 23rd to Cobo Hall and a “live” album known to all as Alive!.  There’s even some shit-talking – but not on the level of Morrissey’s Auto.  So don’t get too excited.  Still, this largely enjoyable read made this Kiss nerd dig back through their old LPs (even, and especially, the bad ones).  Now go ahead and take a moment to scoff, curl your lip, and/or point your noise skyward.  Ok – now that you’ve purged, warm to the fact that you just can’t escape the cultural institution that is Kiss.  

If you like loud, ballsy, dumb rock and roll, odds are you like Kiss or the bands you listen to like them.  We’re all affected. After having accepted the fact that Kiss is in your DNA and all denials to the contrary are futile and irrelevant, some Kiss is better than other Kiss.  And that’s ok.  You have a lot to choose from as you integrate Kiss into your existence more fully. A copious amount of recorded material is smeared across four goddamn decades of American rock n roll.  The Author has bravely listened to every fuckin’ LP in the past coupla’ weeks for the purposes of this blog.  With that, the handy guide below will help you on your journey.

Kiss
The first and one of the absolute best. If you like music that has guitar, bass, and drums, you should probably own this one.  Nearly every number is a hit. “Deuce – Strutter – Firehouse – Cold Gin.” When I hear this record, I just think NYC.  Not in a Madball Set it Off kinda a way. More New York Dolls.  Stripped down, primitive, and fun.  The album bombed when it was released.  They even recorded an additional song (the bubblegum cover “Kissin’ Time”) and quickly repressed it in a hasty effort to broaden appeal.  And for those keeping count, there’s a lot of Peter Chris vocals on this one.  Go figure…


Hotter Than Hell
Numero dos.  Here’s what you get: inexplicable Japanese cover art, a muddy attempt to make their tunes heavier, and band photos from some kind of drunken orgy.  The black star covering up the bare breast printed on the back cover was scratched off my second-hand copy as if there might be a nipple down there somewhere and not fuzzy paper pulp. Back to the songs though – not the greatest recording, but great songs. Not as classic as their first shot, but classic nonetheless. 

Dressed to Kill
Despite the rad cover art – Kiss in business suits on 8th Avenue – this album doesn’t stand up as a full length.  A cool mini-album would have been the way to go.  It was basically written on the spot because they were hemorrhaging cash on the road and needed a quick injection.  The first side is almost a joke and the flip is fuckin’ great.  Totally uneven.  But despite this mixed review, Rock and Roll All Night is the closer.  So what - it tanked as a single.  It was the “live” one that broke the band.  Today’s radio programmers got it all wrong when they play the studio version.  Get with it Clear Channel!
Alive!
This is the one that the career-making "RnR All Night" came from. The not-so-live “live” record benefited from some post-performance tinkering. But you know what, every live album does.  Just gonna throw that out there.  Unless you recorded some punk band onto cassette while they played a set on your college radio station, it’s all been enhanced. Reality comes crashing down. If you just want one Kiss record, this is the one.  Well, this and Love Gun and Alive II and Ace’s Solo…aw damn. 

Destroyer
The kabuki boys get all fancy on this one.  Together with Bob Ezrin, they decided since they hit the big time with Alive!, they could stretch out in the studio and really explore the space.  Enter orchestration, piano, soulful back-up singers, and sound effects. There’s even a 1:30 long LP intro that samples, you guessed it, "RnR All Night." That’s basically saying – “this album by the guys that brought you last summer’s smash hit!” Still hustling as the record spins on your turntable.  The cherry on top of all this newfound creativity is the not-so-power ballad “Beth.” It’s a sweet love song that everyone is familiar with.  But it was originally called “Beck.”  I’m fucking serious.  “Beck I hear you calling.”  Still, I kid cuz I love. This album is a personal favorite of the Author’s.  It was one of the first by the band that I picked up as an aspiring metal head.  It has some good crushers like "Detroit Rock City" and "God of Thunder," plus the anthem "Shout it Out Loud" (ahem, "RnR All Night" part deux).

Rock and Roll Over
By this point the band was surging to the top of America’s consciousness, inching ever closer to being a “family-friendly” carnival act.  Rock and Roll Over is sandwiched between two ragers, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s as 1970s hard rock as you get.  Besides heavy rockers like “I Want You” and “Makin Love,” it has the Gene hit “Calling Dr. Love” before it was a Dr Pepper advert.  Let’s not forget Paul’s contribution to English prose with the line “Put your hand in my pocket, grab on to my rocket.”  Peter has another slow number with the Rod Stewart inspired “Hard Luck Woman” where he refers lovingly to a sailor’s only daughter named “Rags.”  Why is Peter’s understanding of standard female names so skewed?  First “Beck,” now “Rags.”
 Love Gun
Up next is the LP subtly named after a penis.  That’s right, imagine if this album was called Cock?  This album is a straight up rocker Side A through B. Possibly the last solid Kiss LP until the 80s.  Own it or stream it or whatever you do to hear music.  It’s fantastic – fast tempos, catchy sing-alongs, blazing Space Ace guitar solos…and fucked up lyric content.  Guys, besides the eponymous title track, there’s a song about pining after a teenage girl.  What the fuck!?  Gene announcing himself as a willing sex offender.  There’s also another song about cock.  That’s a lot of cock for one record.  "Plaster Caster" gleefully accounts the woman who immortalized rock n roll genitalia (ew).  How did anyone’s parents let them listen to this?  Did they truly not give a shit about their kids?  Is that why seatbelts were optional?  As a parent, the Author might have be at the front of the protest line back then wielding a sign indicating KISS as short for Knights In Satan’s Service.

Alive II
After a worthy trio of 70s heavy metal LPs, it was time to go back in the studio and record another “live” album.  Curiously, you get three “live” sides and one studio side with five new ones. I gotta hand it to the guys.  Rather than recycling numbers featured on Alive!, they stuck solely to post-Alive! tunes for this double LP. So Alive! and Alive II operate more or less as greatest hits albums for their first six studio LPs.  Not bad acquisitions if you are on a budget.  The “live” albums also capture that Kiss feeling better than the studios. 

Double Platinum
A greatest hits of studio tracks.  Huh?  Well, refer to my review of Alive II above and know that this collection is worthless.  A disco-fied rework of Strutter is a haunting harbinger of dark times ahead.

The Solo Albums
So Kiss tried something interesting, when one or more members desired to go off and do their own thing, they reached a compromise – release independently-performed solo albums each slapped with the Kiss logo. All four records were issued on the same goddamn day.  And for the year 1978, this made for five fucking releases! As far as the solo albums though, only one was good…and it was actually great.  Leave it up to Ace!  He made a dynamite solo album.  Song for song, it rules.  I like one song…let me repeat that…one song on the other three solos.  In regards to Peter jazz-boogie fusion, Gene summed it up best when he said, "I think that one showed that the guy behind it didn't really have a clue" [Behind The Mask: David Lead, Ken Sharp]
Dynasty
If you stopped with Kiss at Ace’s solo, you lose out on some legit hits, but you’d also mercifully be spared Kiss’ foray into (gulp) disco.  None of this should be surprising though, given that Kiss was the flagship band for what would become a huge disco label – Casablanca.  Donna Summer, the Village People, and Kiss.  Oddly enough, their most obvious overture is actually a great song and a live standard, “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”  Ace’s Stones cover of “2,000 Man” is fantastic.  He also continues to keep shit real with “Hard Times.”
Unmasked
Despite the cool comic book cover art on this one, things really go from bad to worse with Unmasked.  “Shandi,” seriously “Shandi”?  They thought it was ok to do this song?!  Every time I hear it I visualize a disco ball spinning, I get dizzy and throw up.  So legend has it, Ace was really on the way out at this point (ditto Peter).  Gene and Paul love to talk about how fucked up he was, but still his songs are by faaaaaaaaaaaaaar the better tracks.  He probably was fucked up, you would be to playing on a songs like “Charisma” (Dynasty) or “What Makes the World Go Round.”  To be fair, there are some hard rockers on this and Dynasty, but you really are off in uncharted territory.  You’re exploring the Amazon.
Music From “The Elder”
After Unmasked bombed and with true blue fans forsaking the band in droves, Kiss promised a return to their early heavy metal roots.  Fuck yeah! Only they inexplicably wrapped it in a weak-ass concept album. Even though “The Oath,” Ace’s “Dark Light” and the anthemic “I” are highly defendable, you are subjected to the easy-listening stylings of “A World Without Heros.”  Check out Gene’s teary eye in the video for this one, like a heartbroken Native American stumbling upon a Snickers wrapper on the roadside.  The album also begins with a bizzarely dramatic, symphonic intro that clearly is not a product of this quartet.  Paul’s slow, crooning and frankly embarrassing “Odyssey” makes “Just A Boy” seem like a cathartic anthem.  “Under the Rose”?  I don’t understand this song at all.  What the hell is happening?  You really can’t help but scratch your head on this record.  But the Author has a confession to make.  There’s something in his wiring that makes him enjoy this record. What’s wrong with me?  I would appreciate it if you kept reading this blog, but you would be forgiven if you packed it in on this point proclaiming my taste in music to suck.
Killers
Another pointless, confusing greatest hits.  Made even more pointless by the fact that it was only released abroad.  Made even more confusing by the fact that four mediocre new songs are integrated into the track listing.
Creatures of the Night
What Kiss promised on the last record, they deliver on Creatures.  Except for a soon-to-be requisite power ballad, this LP is nothing but heavy. It’s not a return to form though.  Welcome to the 80s, where heavy metal is just different.  Kiss got caught up in (nay, kicked off) the whole hair metal glam thing.  But for one brief moment, they nailed it.  Solid 80s heavy metal.  Incidentally, this one has 50% different membership (so long Ace and Peter).  This was another childhood fav and I still stand behind it.  The title track, "I Love It Loud," "War Marchine."  All great rockers.
Lick It Up
Make-up, off.  The 1970s, not a trace.  Hair metal transition, complete.  This has got to win the award for most subtle album title ever.  Hey, at least they ain’t sexist. It’s totally enjoyable though and probably their best post-make-up LP.  The two videos from this one both take place in some kinda’ post-apocalyptic construction site rampant with scantily clad members of the fairer.  Of course if you were Kiss in this type of situation what would you do?  Engage in a bizarre food orgy, of course.  Save some grape kool aid for me please.
Animalize
The rare good numbers from this one and the following Asylum could be combined to make a passable cock rock album, but as it stands this is a pretty uneven offering.  You get the killer “Heaven’s On Fire” and KISS’ exclusive (and repeated) use of the word “ fuck” on “Get All You Can Take."  The insert photo maintains the post-apcolyptic motif.  Believe it or not, the costumes get worse…

Asylum
…because on this jammer Gene dresses (not ironically) as a frumpy middle-aged woman.  While Poison were getting dolled-up like young vixens, Gene considering his age, dressed like your mom on ladies night out.  This LP has the song “Uh All Night,” perhaps the greatest I-hate-my-job anthem of all time.  It advocates sexual intercourse as a way to ease the punch –clock blues (insert hump day joke here)

Crazy Nights
Numero veintidos. So this LP and the following Hot in the Shade hold a special place in my heart.  They’re not great – they’re just the ones that came out as I became a new Kiss fan.  It’s pure pop metal.  “Crazy Crazy Nights” (the song) fucking rules though.  It’s at the top of the heap for Kiss’ many (many) rah-rah anthems.  I guess at this point Gene was more into being an actor (see here and here and here) so this was basically a Paul Stanley solo effort.

Smashes, Thrashes and Hits
Still another pointless and confusing greatest hits.  This time they throw in two understated new ones “Let’s Put the X in Sex” and “(You Make Me) Rock Hard.”  Seriously, the title of the latter is a declarative statement about inspiring an erection.  To make matters even weirder (as they are want to do with these collections), they pull a little “fuck you” to Peter Chris and have their current drummer re-record "Beth."  Wow! Incidentally, I own the picture vinyl for this, housed in a gatefold sleeve.

Hot in the Shade
Pop metal, but good pop metal.  Well written, catchey pop with guitars.  “Hide Your Heart” tells the story of Johnny and Rosa and Tito (“he was king of streets”). Paul raps on “Read My Body,” as was the style at the time. “Forever” is a great song for awkwardly slow-dancing at arm’s length at your junior high formal.  This tour was the first time I saw Kiss live.  They had a giant laser shooting, talking sphinx on stage that sang the third verse (same as the first) of “God of Thunder.”  13-year-old me was psyched!  Oddly enough this wasn’t the first time a robot sang a Kiss song to me.  Two years prior, I was serenaded with “New York Groove” when a robot spotted me wearing a Kiss shirt at Epcot Center.  True story.  

Revenge
Things happen. Styles change.  A band that drifts into straight-up pop music every ten years corrects its course.  This one still has a pop sheen (as hair metal bands do), but it’s more in line with Lick it Up or Creatures of the Night, than the synth-heavy Crazy Nights.  If you really are compelled by post-make-up Kiss, check this one out.

Alive III
Random selection of songs for this third “live” record.  Best part of this record is the how clear all the fireworks and explosions sounds.  It sounds like missiles are being launched during “I Was Made For Lovin You.” I saw them on this tour and the stage set-up for no particular reason looked like the last few minutes of Planet of the Apes.  They even closed with the "Star Spangled Banner" ala Jimi Hendrix.
Unplugged
Two live albums in a row! Kiss reunite!  And it’s confusing.  Cuz it’s not really a reunion is it? I mean, for a few classics they have like two drummers and three guitar players.  It’s like the Kiss ensemble jam band.  It’s a live record, but it’s not a new volume of Alive.  Yeah, when this aired on MTV it was exciting to see Ace and Peter in the company of Gene and Paul, but it was kinda anticlimactic for Kiss, wasn’t it?  Like old men around a campfire, not “you wanted the best you got the best.”  Still, this foretold the eventual reuniting of the original four and the donning of the make-up and the pyro, and the cod pieces, and the blood spitting.
Carnival of Souls
But before the fireworks could be lit…Kiss wrote, recorded, and released a grunge record.  You read that correctly, a grunge record.
Psycho Circus/Sonic Boom/Monster
Since getting all kabuki again Kiss have returned to form with three new studio albums.  A return to form, sorta.  More like an adequate stab at 1980s hair metal while donning 1970s gear and grease paint.  Of the three, I’ll take Sonic Boom.  If you liked Kiss in the 1980s, you’ll probably like this one too.
Alive IV and Alive IV
As if their various “live” albums needed to be a little more confusing.  There is a properly-titled Alive IV (but this is actually the fifth live album, ya’ dig) with the Australian Symphony Orchestra.  And there is an Alive IV preview track on the Kiss box set that is not from the aforementioned symphonic live record from down under. But then there is this thing called the Millennium Concert.  I don’t even know if there is a stand-alone release of this, but there is a Kiss Alive box set (not to be confused with the other Kiss box set) that has Alive uno, dos, tres and the Millennium, but not Alive IV (and certainly not Unplugged).  Finally, there’s something out there called Alive 35.
Ongoing series of nonstop greatest hits collections
Finally, not to be out-done by the series of live albums I just spoke of, their continuous releasing of greatest hits collection is nothing short of amazing. Nobody needs this many thrashes, smashes and hits.  But if you are the kinda’ person who needs a new Kiss disc in your stocking at xmas each year, you are in luck!  There’s absolutely no way even the most ardent of Kiss fans can even make sense of all these.  I once bought one that came with a bonus phone card. Remember those!?  It might as well have come with a pager or a palm pilot.  The only one of this plethora I would recommend is the standard five-disc box set chock full of rarities, demos, and a serious book.  If you are a big enough Kiss fan you don’t need to know this, because you probably already own it.  Or if you already own it and you want to own the fucking thing again, you could also buy the version that comes in a goddamn guitar case.
I seriously doubt anybody made it this far.  Not even my mom.  But if you did read this whole thing – then thank you for your ample attention. I wrote this to have some fun with Kiss, because Kiss is all about fun.  You really can’t take it beyond that.  I love Kiss. You will not solve life’s greatest mysteries, but you will have a good time having Kiss in your life.  When I’m riding the train to work or commuting on the bustling, rush-hour sidewalks of NYC (just a handful of blocks from where they originally rehearsed), I know I’m listening to better music than everyone else around me cuz I’m listening to Kiss.  But you know what, maybe they are all listening to Kiss too. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

We're Not In It To Lose (Fuck You!)

This just in – a rad Big Boys tribute compilation now exists and can be obtained here and here.  I recently saw a photo of none other than Glen Danzig’s fist in the air singing along at a Big Boys show.  To me, that says it all.  How this band affected the most disaffected can’t be matched.  Without them would people be keeping Austin weird?  What would the “Fun Fun Fun” fest be called?  Hell, what would this blog be called, since I stole the title from a familiar mantra of theirs?  Somewhere I read that they were a huge (and somewhat obvious) influence on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Like those guys or not, that really exemplifies their impact.  Yet somehow, they seem to maintain this kinda’ cult status.  Is it because you can’t pin down their sound easily? Or is it because they are not out beating the reunion circuit to death? With Biscuit’s death in 2005, that is not likely to ever happen. Still, if you are not more than a casual fan, you should be.  Trust me on this one.  Take a look at the 20 bands covering them on the aforementioned comp, Influence.  They know what I’m talking about. 



It’s hard to get cooler than the Big Boys.  Somehow they did it all.  With no irony or hipster shtick, they blended punk, hardcore, funk, soul, post-hardcore and art.  Somehow full of equal parts rage and joy.  They had tons of records and they’re all great.  Every one of them.  When prepping this post, I couldn’t help but notice that so many of my favorite songs were missing from Influence. Though nearly every track is great, where were the covers of “No,” “Fight Back,” or “Brick Wall”?  Where was “Baby Let’s Play God”?  It’s more than just a product of there being far too many good tunes to choose from.  I think the reason is that everybody has their own experience with the Big Boys.  Different songs hit them in different ways at different times in their lives.  Well, that’s my experience, at least.  They came and went well before my time.  So what I have to talk about are the intersections of their incredible songs and shit in my life. 

The first time I truly listened to Big Boys is significant primarily as a reference point.  I was riding in a van with Fast Times in 2001 as they drove around the country playing shows.  It was one of those “you haven’t heard the Big Boys?!” moments.  For me, it was one of those “I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” moments.  “Cool, they kinda sound like Dead Kennedys.  Wait, they kinda sound like Dead Milkmen. Wait, what do they sound like?”  This experience was later reinforced by repeated listens to The Fat Elvis while going to/from shows with Eric Yu in Boston.  Eric Yu also gave me my first proper introduction to Husker Du, so I guess I owe him a fruit basket as well.

Driving aimlessly in Boulder, Colorado in ’05.  Recently returned from a few years abroad.  I was married, unemployed, and living in a city I had no connection to.  The mountains were beautiful and right there.  Take one turn too many and you’d be rolling upwards.  It lent itself to great moments of exploration.  Fat Elvis in the CD player, “Which Way To Go” grabbed me.  How had I not been aware of the song until now?  It’s perfect.  The raspy, desperate vocals; the jangly guitar; the faster and faster drums over an ear-worming chorus.  The song title is too literal to be a symbol.  Enhancing everything I felt, it was the exact right thing at a not-so right time and place.

As it happens, I would be divorcing and then divorced within the next 18 months.  As I crashed in a friend’s basement right next to the goddamn laundry machines, you would think a somber or desperate Big Boys song would be fitting as my mantra.  You would think that.  But no, it was “Fun Fun Fun.”  It went on every mix I made.  I’m not sure it had anything to do with my divorce, truth be told.  It may have been a decoy for some legit pain.  Probably was.  Regardless, my external face was Fun Fun Fun.  So much so that in 2008, I had it tattooed on my skin along with a certain armadillo.  Yeah, move over bald eagle, the new beacon of freedom is a grinning, anarchist skateboarding armadillo.

What goes down, must come up.  Meaning – I got hitched, tied the knot, took the plunge, once again.  Foreva’ Wife (a vast improvement on Not-So-Foreva’ Wife) and I took some kinda’ honeymoon to that holiest of holies for music fests.  Austin, Tex-ass!  Chaos in Tejas 2011.  Punk rock summer camp for adults.  Where the aging and aged can see loud music being performed nonstop (often good bands!), eat copious amount of tex-mex (surprisingly vegan-friendly!), go swimming, raid the record stores, mosh and hang out (all while sweating continuously!).  I was psyched to be newly-married to an awesome human being at a fest with tons of cool bands in Big Boys country.  I expected at any moment a band at Mohawk would interrupt their set and invite me on stage.  There would be much congratulations at our recent nuptials.  The crowd would simultaneously and with full-throated enthusiasm scream “huzzah!”  The drummer would click off a four-count and the band would dive into a raucous rendition of “We’re Not in it to Lose.”  The mic would be in my hand as I belted out those words now with a new and personal meaning.  Marriage – “we’re not in it to lose. Fuck you!”

But it was more than anthems that touch your heart and make you ball your fist.  There is this whole other dimension to the Big Boys.  Their artwork and design was so eccentric and bizarre.  Child-like, creepy, and beautiful.  A two-headed baby.  The hand-made covers of Frat Cars.  The skateboard anarchy. That goddamn armadillo grinning up at me from my ankle.  In 2009, I got an only-played-once mint copy of Lullabies Help the Brain Grow from Celebrated Summer in Towson, MD.  According to Tony, the original owner gave it a sole rotation to dub it onto cassette and then sealed it in a trash bag for 20+.  It might as well have been cryogenically stored.  Everything about it looked brand spankin’. I put that smiling black and purple sun in glass and hung it on my wall like it was a Monet.

In 2010, I was feeling at a crossroads again.  This time I was on the way out of an unappreciative job I had given my blood and sweat to.  Damn lucky to be reflecting on my next move from Helsinki with friends, I sought inner peace and solitude the only way I know how…buying records.  Big Boys seemed to make so many appearances in my life at key moments that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I pulled out a mint, still shrink-wrapped copy of the Big Boys / Dicks split “Live at Raul’s.”  I had been looking for that one for quite some time after scouring eBay repeatedly with the unfortunate keyword search “big boys dicks.”  Yeah, I’m probably on a list somewhere.  Hopefully when the cops take me away, they’ll be impressed by my record collection.   

Earlier this year I had a troublesome mole removed from the inside of my left ankle.  This thing sat like an asshole on the “F” in the first “Fun” of my tattoo.  When the flanking margins were sliced out, I was left with “Fun” almost completely erased and replaced with a puffy, pink scar.  The “F” and the “U” vanished; the “N” left lonely and mangled.  So my tattoo now reads “Fun Fun.”  Now we all know when we get older, we tend to have less fun, but damn! 



When Ty Stranglehold was collecting photos of Big Boys tattoos for the Influence comp, I was elated to find an old one of my Fun-having ankle armadillo in its unmolested state.  Originally preserved on my leg by tattooist extraordinaire Mike Schweigert, it is now further immortalized in the accompanying booklet for the album. I couldn’t think of a better place for that grinning armadillo to live than with photos of other Big Boys tributes.



There’s something about Big Boys tunes that make them appropriate or at least adaptable for all occasions. Biscuit’s voice sums up all the rage and pain and joy I’ve felt in my life; a perfect aural expression.  I’m always drawn to their flyer art, their bright record designs, their slogans. After listening and re-listening to Influence and reading the liner notes, obviously I’m not alone in this. Hell, look at any reflection from any of their re-issues or discographies, love and inspiration is consistent throughout.  I get the sense these days that their posthumous popularity is on an upswing.  I hope the result is a further appreciation for all that they were and all that their songs are. They did for me what any good rock-n-roll should do for wayward souls.   They provided the soundtrack.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Obligatory Old Man Birthday Post


A month ago I left for Europe with Night Birds armed with the laptop I’m currently tapping away on, my camera, and a change of clothes.  Now a couple weeks after our return to the US of A, my morning brain on the train is wondering why I’m not typing daily.  Dare I say, cranking out daily updates from the tour van in Germany, Hungary, or Finland formed a habit?  I guess time will tell.  But for now, I feel the need to write and, maybe just maybe, you’ll want to read.  I’ve got a handful of ideas in the pot that still need some time to simmer though.  For today, I thought I would give you a birthday screed, since 38 has got me by the ankle presently. 


I turn 38 tomorrow. Say it with me – thiiiiiirrrrrttttyyy-eeeeeiiiightttt. Hearing it as a booming chorus is probably the only way it can sink in.  At the risk of inducing one of my annual existential bug-outs, I feel the need to reflect.  A birthday is a birthday is a birthday and they are like assholes, ya’ know.  And also after a certain point birthdays don’t fucking matter.  38.  I can’t think of a more meaningless number.  Sure - the Author giggles to himself in a quiet train car – keep telling yourself that. If the number is now meaningless and therefore the significance of a birthday is hollow, then I guess I can mark the day as an opportunity to inventory the past 3-6-5.  See how I did that?  

Not as an effort to cling to the last fading wisps of my youth or prove my virility, I found myself on two hardcore punk tours this year.  I traveled with a European band through America and an American band through Europe.  And both of those bands intersected nicely on both continents for a pair of memorable nights (here and here). When Government Flu hit the States straight outta Poland, I was psyched to have a seat in the van.  My son had just turned one year old.  Family and friends celebrated sweetly with us.  Balloons, cupcakes, party favors.  Just a few days later, I temporarily abandoned fatherhood for hardcore - busing it down to DC in order to catch up with old friends, hear good music, and mosh.  Then I got in the van to catch up with old friends, hear good music, and mosh in a different town.  I more or less did the exact same thing when I was 24 with Tear It Up and Fast Times.  But now I’m 37.  Go figure. 

Two months ago, I was sweating bullets at work over various deadlines and projects and the eventual quarterly performance review during the days.  The evenings were spent sweating bullets over pending home-ownership and monthly budgets and moving logistics.  In mid-July, I was off to LA for a work assignment.  12 hours after returning from that trip, my wife and I closed on a house.  Three days later we moved, then another three days later, I was standing at Newark’s international terminal with Night Birds for a two week adventure across 12 countries.  See above about temporarily abandoning fatherhood, but this time throw in any and all familial responsibility. I left my wife and son in a new house full of boxes.   

I didn’t necessarily give any thought to my age as we pogoed from country to country.  My main concerns were centered around having a good time, having some food, and then having a place to sleep.  I mean, those needs tend to transcend age, right?  It’s really just the context that makes it more unique than say, the average 37 year old dad with a nine-to-fiver.  But really, how unique is it?  Bands young and old do this shit all the time.  Maybe they crash in a hotel or maybe they crash on the hardwoods like many a night on the NBs tour.  Not a ton of difference.

I’m certainly not the old guy at shows in New Jersey or NYC.  No way.  One of the advantages of living in the general area of the punk rock primordial soup is there are all sorts of great weirdos who have just been around since day one.  I suppose I’ll join their ranks one of these days.  Or maybe I already have.  I guess it’s all relative.  Still, it threw me for a loop when I wore an SSD shirt to a show and some young kid asked me if I had seen them back in the day.  What the fucking fuck?!

I still mosh at shows, only now I’m way more cognizant of flying fists or diving bodies.  When shit gets out of hand, I immediately think through the ramifications of dealing with a broken nose.  I don’t mosh as often as I used to, and when I do, I basically have the flu the next day and I’m sore for a week.

When I was a kid, the first hard rock, heavy metal, whatever bands I got into were Kiss, Motley Crue and Iron Maiden.  I purchased an overpriced cassette by the middle one at Six Flags one summer night.  Girls, Girls, Girls.  The video for Wild Side is what did me in. For some reason, I was hooked. It was one of my first tastes of rebellion.  They looked like the dirtiest, heaviest creeps ever.  The lyrics were so intense too.  “Papa won’t be home tonight, found dead with his best friend’s wife.”  Whoa!  “No escape, murder, rape.” Crazy! “Our father, who ain’t in heaven, be thy name on the wild side.” Holy shit!  I mean, how did I sneak this past my mom?  Except, one time while blasting a second generation dub of Shout at the Devil, she asked me “hey wait, are these guys satanic?”  My reply – “YES!”  I told Vince Neil that story at a Borders book-signing a few years ago and he was kinda taken aback.  Glad I could freak both of them out.

My passion for loud music and seeking out adventure via good rock-n-roll certainly hasn’t abated with age.  Year 37 is as telling an example as any.  Tomorrow night, after a lovely day on the Shore, I’ll abandon my family once again.  May they breathe a sigh of relief though; I’ll just be gone for the evening.  Got tix to see Motely Crue.  As I stand there in my cheap seats, I’m not sure if I’ll be thinking about being a 38-year-old jerk or being a perpetual kid or being a father.  I suppose I’ll just be thinking of good tunes and where I can find more of them.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tour Post 13: "Oh my god it's Ken Ramsey!"


Well sports fans, this is it.  12 days on the road and a pair of travel days in the air and it’s over.  12 shows and one cancellation.  11 countries in three different time zones. An innumerable amount of roadside toilets.  Countless shirts, records, cassettes, stickers, patches, pins went to good homes in trusting hands.  I weaseled my way on to this tour because Nights Birds are more than one of my fav bands – they're good friends.  I love travelling, seeing new faces, hearing new bands, and eating.  Believe it or not, I love working the merch table.  I also love taking photos and writing, so the blog/photography angle seemed appropriate for the band’s second go-round in Europe.  Except I don’t take photos when the band plays, I mosh (well, usually).  For all those reasons, the guys were nice enough to let me in the van. That and I didn’t smell too bad or snore too loudly.  So at the end of this series of tour updates (now, one week after the fucking tour finished!), I just wanted to extend a thanks and a high-five to those of you bothering to read this stream of reflections, memories, and random crap.  Thanks for passing on your kind words at the shows.  Much appreciated!

PS: Sorry for any bad grammar. You should hear the way I talk...

Brian nods forward in the front seat, Adolescents quietly whispering from his headphones. Joe, also sporting headphones, rocks out in his own personal bubble.  PJ carefully reads Artie Lange’s latest with a furrowed brow.  Ryan makes not a peep from the sleepy loft. I’m just trying not to disturb the peace with full-throated laughter while flipping through the barrel of monkeys that is Seinfeld’s book. Michl pushes the van ahead to the next stop. I fucking love tour.

Like two long-lost spider lovers signaling to one another, PJ and Ryan hover in the sky, backlit by the afternoon sun.  Attached to rope and harness, they spring towards the clouds repeatedly, surrounded by the jubilant chorus of our laughter below.  The ritual interrupted only briefly when the man running the operation grabs Ryan by the feet and holds him down on the trampoline for a few extra seconds ensuring an impressive lift-off.  I fucking love tour.



As if I’m watching a TV show in the middle of the night, I was not an actor, but a brainless viewer.  “What are you doing?!” Brian yelled in our Punk Rock Holiday dorm in the mountains of Slovenia.  Michl apparently trying to crawl out the second story window turned toward him and spouted off in tongues.  Not German, not English, pure gibberish.  “What the hell are you talking about?!”  And like turning off the TV, I rolled back over and drifted away.  Also, there were fireworks lit off sometime before dawn.  That’s the reason there’s a chair flipped over in the room.  Of course.  I fucking love tour.


Hearing that we were at risk of another showerless, hobo night in an airport, Masa from Ydinperhe arranged for us to clean up and rest up before the journey home.  Like every night of this tour it was a singular experience – some nights you watch Jingle All The Way; other nights you drunkenly miss the bed after turning off the light and your arm gets torn up like a mountain lion attack, other nights you squeeze into a crowded dorm of 100 snoring punks; still other nights you gotta’ suck it up and skip sleep or even sleep on the floor of an airport.  On this last night we sat around buzzing on the success of European tour and digging Finland’s hospitality while listening to a vintage poetry slam of black power activists from the early 70s.  I fucking love tour.

Every punk, every mosher, every hardcore kid, every normal, every weirdo, every jerk that came to the show.  Everyone that lost their mind, that banged their head, that screamed along, that rattled their brain.  Everyone that stopped by the merch table to chat or throw their hard-earned down for a t-shirt or record.  Everyone who is psyched to wear a dagger pin on their denim, their bag, their hoodie, their leather jacket.  Everyone who drove across town or international border to see NBs for their first time or 50th.  Every local band, every other touring band, new friends and old pals.  Everyone who put the band up, fed them, made them sound good, hung up posters, posted online, or just said hello at the show.  You are the reason I fucking love tour.



Monday, August 18, 2014

Tour Post 12: Takin' a Ride



One day while leaving my work in NYC, I noticed a woman standing on the sidewalk looking perplexed and a bit lost.  She had a roll-aboard suitcase and carry-on with her.  Staring into a phone, she clearly was trying to figure out her next move.  Let’s face it – travel rules, but the travelling part of it can be awful!  I met a friend for dinner that night and several hours later rolled back past my work.  There in the exact same spot as before, sprawled out on the sidewalk and very much asleep for the night, was the woman!  Oof – travel fail! Or actually homeless? Hard to tell. But now, as I sleep far too comfortably on the floor of Brussels Int’l surrounded by my earthly possessions, I can relate a little.

Without reasonable accommodations and facing an early morning flight to Helsinki, we had no choice but to bunk down at the airport.  We found a quiet space near the end of the terminal and set up our hobo camp; a punk rock shanty-town for six sweaty assholes.  Remember, that morning we were denied our ferry after driving through the night from London, we were denied a slot at Ieper Fest in the pouring fucking rain, and Night Birds had gigged at the Pits a mere handful of hours earlier.  So we were in no mood to discriminate.  The airport floor didn’t have blood, shit, or corrosive acid on it, so it was fine.  According to various reports, I was snoring within minutes.  PJ crashed with part of his body directly on the floor sans sleeping bag; Joe like a sentry working a double shift, fell asleep leaning against the wall in a perfect right angle; Ryan was happy to be there; and Brian, the winner of the tour’s insomnia award, wandered about until he discovered a closed-for-the-night cafĂ© with padded chairs. 

Despite scouting out a reasonable location, minutes after we crashed, the adjacent check-in desk lit up with hustle and bustle as more-well-rested-than-us travelers prepared for an early flight.  At least we gave them something to stare at and be disgusted by.



Awkward travel aside, we sleepily loaded in to the Kuudes Linja in Helsinki, Finland.  We opted to use our dinner tix for a late lunch and chowed down on burgers and fries and strong coffee on tap.  Strong Finnish coffee like spinach for Popeye.  This was the last day of tour. With an afternoon free, we sat outdoors at a picnic table eating good food and drinking good coffee on a beautiful day in Scandinavia laughing about all the crazy and wonderful times we had been through in two short weeks. It reminded me of the first night of the tour where we also sat at a picnic table – this time in Amsterdam – just bullshitting and laughing and wondering what lay ahead.   

Fuckin’ Helsinki, man. 

Four years ago, I visited Combat Rock Industries during a visit to Capital City, Finland and got turned on to The Heartburns, so I was totally psyched that they were on the bill tonight.  As we relaxed backstage, we hit off with their crew, but sadly could not take them up on their offer of a pre-show sauna.  Not only would this be bad for new tattoos, a pre-show sauna would probably render me far too relaxed, detoxified, and needing of solid uninterrupted sleep for days on end.  No, I would need a sauna in 24 hours, instead I would get a crowded train commute to work.

Ydinperhe also played on the bill.  Another great band and further proof that Helsinki may be punk/hardcore’s best kept secret.  Seriously, hey touring bands - put Helsinki on your radar.  You won’t be disappointed.  We definitely weren’t. 

I was just about to take the 50 euro bill for a stack of merch, when the familiar chords struck my brain.  “I can’t get clean, I can’t get clean.”  This crucial Night Birds rager had been cut mid-tour when Brian’s raw throat began to get the best of him.  But here it was closing out the night in front of a near sell-out crowd on a fucking Monday PM in Helsinki.  “I’ll be right back!” I told the paying customer and moshed my ass from the merch table to front of the stage.  “The filth all over me will never leave my sight!”  The closing notes of an amazing tour rang out. 

Hard to believe so many kids turned out on Monday for a band that had never ventured this far northeast before.  Kudos, exaltations, and much reciprocation abound!  I think the promoters were blown away by the success of the show as well.  The bar had been verbally lowered by all, but the night far-exceeded even the highest of expectations.  We moshed happily, screamed the words, and watched the Night Birds kill it again and again and again.  Every song, like every night of this tour. 

Fuckin’ Helsinki, man.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tour Post 11: The Brits and The Pits



“It’s the fucking principle of it!  This is bullshit!” I hung my head low as if trying to dodge the active row I psychically sat in the middle of.  I stared at my phone like it actually had wifi.  The woman marched out of the room and the tattoo artist went back to cleaning his station.  A fog of tension permeated everything.  Across Camden, a debate raged over whether additional tattoos would be done since soundcheck was devolving into a nightmare.  Three years ago, their first gig in London had gone awry and they longed for redemption tonight. One floor below me, another argument brewed over the five agreed upon tattoo slots.   Due to apocalyptic London traffic, we were operating two hours late for everything.  I’m next in line for a tattoo of a dagger going into a hamburger spraying up ketchup like blood with a Nirvana “Nevermind” smiley face on the bun.  I hope the pissed-off artist doesn’t have a heavy hand.  This is an awkward spot for this tour.

The venue tonight is The Black Heart in the center of Camden, a rare four-band show.  Michl is savoring a brief reunion with his girlfriend.  Joe is chatting it up with Ergs fans.  Erin from Fat Records is in attendance.  There is a vegan Thai buffet around the corner.  All the tension surrounding the tattoos dissipated and my latest “sick ink” looks great.  Tonight is gonna’ rule!

Unfortunately, I missed the first band when we were getting dinner (remember, we are operating two hours behind on everything), but I caught the Dry Heaves and they killed it.  So good!  One of the best openers of the tour!  The singer/guitarist for the third band of the night performed with a motorcycle helmet fitted with a wireless mic.  The Brits’ gracious, friendly demeanor charmed the author and made selling merch a goddamn pleasure.  Regardless, I dropped everything and squeezed up front for NBs. 

Escape from New York and the place erupted!  Born to Die in Suburbia and the author did a busted stage-dive to the grimy floor.  Modern Morons and the whole place is soaked with sweat.  Brian can’t even see as his eyes burn with it.  Barred Out and new tattoos be damned; there’s no such thing as soreness.  Sex Tape and there is no room to really mosh. It’s just soaking punks bumping into one another.  Everyone screaming the words.  Redemption had, it was one of the absolute best of the tour.  Thanks to Tom Ellis for putting together this rager! 

The plastic wrap around Brian and Ryan’s arms, protecting their new tattoos, evaporated.  Seemingly, the same thing occurred on PJ’s thigh as a sizeable blood stain formed on his jeans.  Joe, having skipped on the tattoo, could sweat, swim and sauna with impunity.

While loading out into the narrow alley in front of the club, a security guard’s car was accidentally scratched.  Thankfully, this did not turn into Joe dancing on the bar in white high-heels to “Tequilla.”  After clinking drinks with Erin we piled into the van to hunker down with with Daniel, Thai, and Julia before an all-nighter to the coast. 

If you read my previous post – Tour Post 10 – you know the rest of the story.  So we now pick up the string at a quiet bar in Kortrijk, Belgium sipping espressos, cappuccinos, and the occasional beer.  The bar keep is nice and plays rockabilly and punk records for us.  It’s a fucking monsoon outside.  That’s ok – for now we have nowhere to go, the toilets are clean and the wifi is fast.  Reeling a bit from the bullshit morning we just endured at the ferry port and at Ieper, caffeine and disappointment pushes us along. The nice-as-hell promoter from the Pits rolls in to introduce himself like a ray of fucking sunshine.  He opens up the venue and half of us crash in the van and half on the couches backstage.  Sleep.  Finally, sleep.

A couple hours later I realize I can’t breathe.  The top of the loft in the van has turned into a microwave oven as the rain cleared and the sun came out.  Franz and Brian seem to be fine, though maybe their brains are already cooked through.  I stumble out onto the cool, damp streets and into the venue.  The Pits, a petite corner venue, has hosted over 1,000 bands since 1988 (that’s the year PJ was born, folks).  It is also likely the only venue where the urinals are just against the front wall for all to witness.  It makes the CBGBs toilet look like a bastion of discretion.

By and by, the Night Birds take the stage as a one band show.  This was the third show of the tour that they supplemented their set with additional surf instrumentals.  The crowd was rather sedate, but digging the tunes.  Despite that, the band earned at least one off-the-bar-stage-dive.  My heart sank as various kids came up to the merch table and said they were waiting for the band at Ieper that morning.  I told them a short version of the unvarnished truth – Night Birds got bumped.  I apologized profusely, thanked them effusively, and slapped a dagger pin in their hand.  So glad they didn’t hold it against the band and chose to leave the fest and pay again to see the band in such a classic venue.  Thanks, dudes.

We re-arranged gear, luggage, and toiletries for an early morning flight to Helsinki.  After donating the remainder of the absinthe bottle to the Pits, we piled in the van for our final ride.  Destination: Brussels International, with not a bed, shower, or lick of privacy in sight.

On deck: the Night Birds final show of their European tour in one of the author’s fav cities/countiries.  I’m talkin’ Helsinki, Finland!