Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scars and memories (...in which I buy a damaged Dead Kennedys record and wax nostalgiac for my teen years)

I found something really special at the Audiopile Boxing Day sale today - a copy of the Dead Kennedys' In God We Trust, Inc. Not a great album by that band, in my opinion - some of their most aggressively thrashy songs are on it, which makes it a bit special, I suppose, and there are great moments (mostly on side two; "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" is indubitably a classic, and I must admit singular fondness for the "Rawhide" cover), but most of it's too aggressive for its own good, Jello's lyrics racing by in a breathless power-rant and East Bay Ray choosing, rather than deft, precise guitar lines, to just play really noisily. Nothing on it is as captivating or catchy as the songs on Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables or Plastic Surgery Disasters, and for the most part its far less developed or musically satisfying than the later Frankenchrist. It's kind of creatively on par with Bedtime For Democracy - but much, much briefer. The cover is the high point, memorable and eloquent; showing a golden Christ nailed to a folded-dollar cross, it's not necessarily blasphemous, just a critique of the church and the exploitation of Christianity by capitalist interests, but it was startling enough back in 1981, when it came out (my parents certainly didn't much like the T-shirt, which I would later buy, probably at the DK's 1984/1985 York Theatre "Fall Of Canada" gig). I've seen used copies of the album before, and passed it up, but this particular copy I absolutely had to get, because there was a tear on the cover - a white spot where the surface of the album art was ripped away when tape was affixed to it and then removed. This made this copy very very special to me. The reasons why require some explaining:

1. In 1982, I was a young and none-too-worldy teenager, for whom rock music was a world of great mystery and adventure. I'd previously, with my guitarist friend Greg Terry - with whom I'd sort of formed a band called Epicurean Nightmare, with me writing the lyrics and him the music, our songs never performed, to my knowledge, outside his room - listened to a lot of metal, as the most rebellious, potent, and energetic music we could find here in suburbia. I'd seen Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the original Van Halen lineup at the Coliseum at that point, I think with Greg. One day, though, he played me the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks - I don't know if it was a new discovery for him at that point, too - and it changed everything. I was still relatively new to cursing - profanity had lost none of its taboo - and "Bodies" was really a shocker, impressively so. There was no question that whatever danger and rebellion were present in metal were intensified exponentially and scarily by the Sex Pistols; there was something far more real, raw, and POWERFUL about punk, something I hadn't realized was out there in the world before Greg dropped the needle, and I needed to hear more. I don't remember if I bought the Pistols' album right away, or just listened to Greg's copy; as it was on a major label, it was one of the only punk albums you could find at mainstream record stores, which is all there were in Maple Ridge, or Coquitlam, or anywhere close by. I had yet to figure out about shops like Collectors RPM or Odyssey Imports or Quintessence (which I believe I actually would go into once, as a kid, during my early vinyl forays into Vancouver); I don't think I'd even put it together that you could find certain records in Vancouver, but not here, at that point.

2. But once I knew about the Pistols, I kept my ears open about punk; I read about it, connected a few dots from magazines and from Greg, and I gathered that there was a band called the Dead Kennedys that were even more rebellious and dangerous than the Sex Pistols. The name alone was compelling as hell. Neither Greg nor I knew where we could find such a thing as a Dead Kennedys record - this was long before the internet - and none of the record stores we knew could help us; they'd never heard of them (or DOA, or the Subhumans, or any of the other bands we asked about). Part of my deep desire to find one of their records, besides simple curiosity, was an adolescent manhood thing: I wanted to one-up Greg, by being the first to find a record by this seemingly mythical band, supposedly even more intense than the one he'd played me. Then one day, at D & G Collectors Records, on East Hastings across from the Kootenay Loop - a shop long gone, needless to say - I found In God We Trust, Inc., which I promptly snapped up, paying over $10 for it. A very high price for a record, in those days, but this was big stuff for me - almost akin to the first Playboy I bought, nervous as hell, at a Maple Ridge drugstore a couple of years previous. It was potentially dangerous stuff - the word "cunt" was even on the lyric sheet, right out there in view on the back cover! It would surely take Greg and I to the next level of our punkhood - a hard-won, long-sought initiation.
3. Now, it happens that on this day, I was on the way to the Pacific Coliseum, I believe to see the Blue Oyster Cult, on their Fire Of Unknown Origin tour. I had floor tickets - standing room; and for whatever reason - laziness, or fear that the record would get damaged or stolen if things got rowdy - I decided to leave it in the coat check rather than carry it with me into the crowd. The coat check person - glowering in disapproval at the artwork - affixed a tag with a number on it, and handed me a card with the same number; I could pick the album up after the show. While I barely remember the BOC - vague images of a giant Godzilla head blowing steam behind the drum riser - I have strikingly vivid memories of the experience after the concert, of going to collect my album and watching the coat check person take the number that was stuck to it with tape and RIP IT OFF, taking a generous chunk of the cover with it. I don't remember if I actually yelled or shouted in shock when this happened, but angry words got exchanged: they had permanently damaged my precious album, before I had even heard it! For years afterwards, while the record was still in my collection, I would feel a little shiver of dismay every time I contemplated the white patch on the front. It may well have hastened my selling the EP (probably to the late Ty Scammell, whom Jello used to buy records from when he was in town). Certainly by 1999, when I moved to Japan, it was gone - I had sold off almost all my records by then, as I didn't want to try to find a space to store them. I wouldn't start rebuilding my collection for ten years...

The astute among you will realize that this damaged patch was, at least to my memory, exactly the same as the one on the album I found at Audiopile today. I believe - I can't be 100% sure, but I believe - that this is the exact same copy of the DK's album that I first bought circa 1982. My first punk purchase on my own steam, which I never ever expected to see again, is now back in my collection. And suddenly, the torn white patch, which used to be a scar, a marker of an old wound, has become precious to me, because it's only by virtue of this scar that I recognized the record at all. If it hadn't been damaged in its own unique way, I would never have realized its imporantance - that it was in fact MY old record, come full circle. And suddenly the scar is a thing of great fondness.
Found me a signed Mojo Nixon, too.
...

Shame about the recent history of the Kennedys. If the Wikipedia page can be trusted, it looks like they may have finally stopped touring with their various ringer members. The title of their new "best of" album, Milking The Sacred Cow, is depressingly cynical, and seems to vindicate estranged, abused vocalist Jello Biafra in his various harsh comments about his former bandmates. Jello, meanwhile, has a strong, fun new album out, The Audacity Of Hype, with his new band the Guantanamo School Of Medicine. I gave it a slightly snarky review in the Straight - there's one song that flat out annoys me, and I sometimes find something in Jello's righteous manner that is akin to biting on tinfoil - but it's still a goddamn good album and will please any true punks out there (or people who just like good, smart rock). All of Jello's musical ventures since the Kennedys' broke up have been noteworthy, of course, and I'm particularly fond of "Full Metal Jackoff" on his album with DOA, Last Scream Of The Missing Neighbours, and all of Never Breathe What You Can't See, with the Melvins (the cover of "Halo Of Flies" off their next release is pretty damn special, too, even if the album is a bit "padded" with remixes of songs from the previous disc; it feels a bit like the Jelvins had a few leftover songs from the Never Breathe sessions and filled the album out with remixes and a live track...). Still, it's nice to see him with his own band; here's hoping there'll be a Vancouver show, eventually - they play Seattle and Portland in the next few days. Viva Jello!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Allan!

Fantastic post. Brought back memories of my own punk awakenings. Especially like reference to D & G Collectors.

Don't always comment, but have been following your blog religiously.

Sorry about the bad times. Hope things get better.

Reg

ammacinn said...

Thanks, Reg! Yeah, D&G had some great scores now and then, and must've been pretty convenient to folks in Burnaby like yourself. There's actually a fun "part two" to this story. One of the next big concerts I went to at the Coliseum was the Clash, on the CUT THE CRAP tour - not the REAL Clash, but it meant a lot nonetheless. On the way down, me and a buddy stopped at D&G, where I scored an uncensored first pressing of DOA's TRIUMPH OF THE IGNOROIDS. No way was I leaving THAT - with its flimsy cover - in the coat check, after my last experience! By that point, I'd SEEN the DK's at the York and knew how rowdy punk shows could get, so I insisted to my buddy that we stay in the nosebleed seats we'd bought tickets for. Eventually Joe did his thing of calming the security guards down about stage diving and stuff - which actually backfired towards the end of the night, when a million kids rushed the stage and the band had to perform kind of hunched around their microphones - and he started inviting people to come down from their seats into the floor, where the action was. After awhile, EVERYONE was on the floor, except for a smattering of losers like me an' Doug, and Joe started to ridicule us as "not getting it," staying safely at a distance and consuming it as spectacle. My buddy protested that he wanted to go down there, but I was adamant: "No way am I going down onto the floor with a rare DOA album! This thing's worth money! I don't want it to get wrecked!" He was most unhappy. Truth be known, I felt a little satisfied that Joe ended up with a big crowd on stage, which I don't think is what he'd intended or wanted. "Serves him right for ridiculing me!"

I forgave Joe, and saw him three times after that, tho' - once with the Pogues and twice with the Mescaleros, in Japan. I'm glad to have seen him at all.

By the way, folks, I have two interviews with Reg online, both of which have us talking about our early punk years, here:

http://alienatedinvancouver.blogspot.com/2007/07/reg-harkema-monkey-warfare-interview.html

And here, which was a sort of postscript to my big Motorhead interview in The Skinny:
http://theskinnymag.info/view_article.php?&article_id=404

ammacinn said...

To the person named Ronn who tried to comment -

Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed the post. I assume the link you provided was for Valerie Solanis' SCUM Manifesto, but I couldn't open the "Womynkynd.org" site it came from, and I'm reluctant to put hyperlinks in my comments section that could lead readers to dangerous sites (I have had spammers post hyperlinks to porn and to potentially infected sites before). I have elected not to publish your comment. Plus I'm not really interested in that document, to tell the truth. Men are problematic creatures, but I don't really feel the need to direct people towards hating them; my self-esteem is low enough without piling on more shit!

Anonymous said...

And of course I was at that Clash concert, too! Down in front! Never got to see the Mick Jones version