Columns

Sid Lives (Actually, He Doesn’t)

Kenmore Square in Boston (forever immortalized in LAST RIGHTS’ “So Ends Our Night”) used to be a much more happening place—it was seedy, it was grimy, it could be a bit dangerous. I’ve written about this in the past. Anyway, those days passed a long time ago. It’s been (or is in the process of being) taken over by overpriced hotels and planned high-rise,“mixed-use” developments. One block was completely bulldozed for the hideous, monstrous, overpriced Hotel Commonwealth. It eradicated a lot of Kenmore’s history and charm. The legendary Boston punk club The Rat, low-priced pizza joints like Nemo’s and the Pizza Pad, Charlie’s Cafeteria, an Army-Navy store and a few record stores were part of the landscape. I spent a good amount of my four years at Boston University (’78-’82) going through the bins at Nuggets, which always had promo copies of new LPs at cheap prices, as well as gem-filled bargain bins. The first record I snagged was AC/DC’s “Powerage” (still their best album) for $2.99. I found a copy of the SUICIDE COMMANDOS’ unjustifiably overlooked classic “Make A Record” for $1.99 about a year later. They even had Lenny Kaye autograph the wall. 

Lenny is best-known as PATTI SMITH’s longtime guitarist, but he was also the “curator” (God, I hate that term) of the original “Nuggets” compilation from 1972 and that’s obviously where the store got its name from. Lenny’s words of wisdom were “It’s a Nugget if you dug it!” The compilation, whose full title was “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era,” was a double LP of not-exactly underground bands like COUNT FIVE, SHADOWS OF KNIGHT, ELECTRIC PRUNES, THE SEEDS, BLUES MAGOOS, THE NAZZ and a lot more, and the liner notes said, “The name that has been unofficially coined for them—“punk-rock”—seems particularly fitting in this sense.” Remember this was 1972 and perhaps those songs weren’t getting played that much on the radio as they were in the 60s. This was before the so-called garage revival spurred a lot of interest in those bands and more obscure ones. Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh (Rolling Stone) and Greg Shaw (founder of Bomp! Magazine) all used the term in their writing in ’70 and ’71. 

So much for the history lesson. Kenmore was also home to Strawberries, a regional record store chain. I forget when they went out of business but their heyday was over by sometime in the 1980s. They had a pretty good selection of punk records in the downtown Boston location. I mentioned them in last month’s column—it was where I bought my ticket for the first local CLASH show. Strawberries would have Midnight Madness sales every so often where all the records would be discounted. I got the REZILLOS’ “Can’t Stand The Rezillos” LP on my first excursion. I also went to one on February 2, 1979. That date might sound familiar. We’ll get to why in a moment. 

My hometown friend and newspaper delivery crew co-worker Tom was attending Northeastern University. He was living in a frat house and called me up and asked if I’d ever heard of a band called the REAL KIDS. Tom wasn’t into punk at all. Pop and disco were more of his thing—I still cringe when thinking of listening to CHIC’s “Yowza Yowza Yowza” or whatever the fuck that song was called while riding around in his Ford Bronco (you know—OJ Simpson’s vehicle of choice). I told him, “of COURSE I’ve heard of them…” Turns out they were playing his frat on that fated evening of February 2, 1979. I made it to the show and was ridiculed by my dorm-mate Bob, who accompanied me, for wearing a cardigan sweater. Bob kept calling me Ozzie all night—not as in Osbourne but as in Nelson i.e. Ozzie Nelson from the old “Ozzie and Harriet” TV show. The REAL KIDS were great, although my attempt to connect with any women there was a miserable failure. 

Incidentally, if you ever wondered where I got my colorful vocabulary, it was on that crew. I can still hear another co-worker, Joe, complaining in his nasally, Mass-accented voice, about a route being “a real pain in the pud.” That was before Tom pulled over, went around to the other side of the Bronco, opened the door and pushed Joe into the snow along with the newspapers he was supposed to deliver. And “pud” was one of the milder terms that Joe used. 

Sorry, got sidetracked yet again. On the way back to my dorm, I popped into Strawberries for the midnight sale and, this time, I picked up the SEX PISTOLS’ “Never Mind The Bollocks” album. Believe it or not, I hadn’t bought it up to that point even though “God Save The Queen” was the song that changed my life in 1977. When I got back to the dorm, another dorm-mate looked at my purchase and said, “oh you must have heard then…” I looked at him quizzically and he said, “Sid died…” I had no idea. It was a complete coincidence. Strange and eerie. Of course, it’s not like I was listening to anything that he played on. The story goes that Steve Jones played all the bass tracks except on “Bodies” and Sid’s bass-lines were buried in the mix. 

I have another perhaps eerie Sid-related anecdote. A few months before, I was dating a girl named Becky and we went to a Halloween party at a local dance club. She was a huge movie buff and went as Charlie Chaplin. I decided to let my inner punk flag fly and took a torn white t-shirt and scribbled SEX PISTOLS on it and borrowed a chain necklace (no padlock, though) from Jim, one of the only people in my dorm into punk (I mentioned him in last month’s column, too). I went upstairs to pick up Becky and, the second I walked into the room next to hers, one of the girls started screaming at me. Becky quickly got me out of the room and then explained to me that the girl’s sister had been best friends with Nancy Spungen. This was about two weeks after Nancy had been murdered so, yeah, my timing wasn’t too great. Becky said I shouldn’t feel badly about it and that I obviously didn’t know. Maybe I should have borrowed Jim’s ULTRAVOX shirt instead. Our relationship fizzled pretty quickly after that but I don’t think it was about me being a PISTOLS fan. In fact, it wasn’t but no one wants to hear a sob story so… 

But, yeah, it’s the 40th anniversary of Sid’s death. And there were plenty of punks who admired and perhaps wanted to emulate him or pay tribute. During the summer of 1980, there was the Heatwave festival outside of Toronto that featured some nominally punk and new wave bands (opened by the underrated TEENAGE HEAD and headlined by ELVIS COSTELLO) and the review in Trouser Press mentioned there were tabs of acid being passed around with Sid’s name on them. I’ve always wondered—not that often but in passing—if, had Sid lived, Malcolm McLaren would have installed him as their frontman and brought in a competent bass player (maybe Glen Matlock again). He actually had an OK voice, if you listen to the EDDIE COCHRAN covers on “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” album and “My Way” is an all-time classic. I own the “Sid Sings” album (a live NYC recording), mainly to keep my admittedly-incomplete PISTOLS collection together, but can’t bring myself to take it off the shelf and see how it holds up. I remember reading another Trouser Press review that said it was “morbid and disgusting.” I’ll take their word for it. I only paid a buck or two for it, anyway. 

I’ve never been much for hero worship, idolizing so-called iconic individuals. I’ve certainly admired people, generally those who I’ve met in person and have left a positive impression, making some sort of personal connection. They’ve influenced certain things but I’ve really never felt the urge to completely emulate them, but use that inspiration to better my own situation. MDC, ARTICLES OF FAITH and TOXIC REASONS were all bands who had songs that got me thinking about the world around me and my own life. They planted the seed that made me realize I didn’t have to do what others expected. I didn’t have to buy into the whole “American Dream.” I figured out very quickly it was all bullshit, anyway. 

I’m not looking for any sort of guru. There are shelves full of books and TV and online stations full of programming from various self-help hucksters (let’s call them what they are) offering you enlightenment, the key to a better life and fulfillment. I’m not talking about religious figures, although a lot of the people peddle some kind of bogus spirituality. I’m not sure if it’s narcissism or wanting to make a quick buck or maybe a combination of both. I always chuckle that I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I should become some sort of punk rock shaman. I think there are probably at least a few people who aspire to do just that. It’s true that I’ve found some sort of salvation, in a way, through punk rock, but also learned to not take everything at face value. I’m embarrassed to admit that wasn’t always the case in my younger days. I also learned that some people I admired or respected turned out to be full of shit. 

But enough about me. I was talking about Sid being an icon to some punks and GG ALLIN also seems to have achieved that sort of status in some quarters. GG was not dumb by any stretch but, from my armchair observation, it seemed as though he felt he had to be the disgustoid GG 24/7 during the last few years of his life. Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies is one of the most depressing music documentaries I’ve ever seen. His antics and his fans, in particular, are often difficult to watch. 

The recent The Allins: One Hell Of A Family is better crafted but also somewhat depressing, for a number of reasons. This movie focuses not only on GG’s musical and personal escapades, but his family dynamics, as well. His mother Arleta laments that she loved Kevin (his real name) but hated GG. His brother Merle, on the other hand, has flogged GG’s legacy for all it’s worth, even continuing with a current incarnation of the MURDER JUNKIES. Their drummer shoves sticks up his ass, autographs them and then sells them. Merle takes a dump in the toilet and uses the excrement to create paintings. Not too many things gross me out but that was almost a bit much. As for the fans, you can see one paying tribute by literally pissing on GG’s headstone at the cemetery. In fact, there was so much vandalism to the stone that it ended up being removed. Punk as fuck, right? It’s still worth seeing—I caught it on Showtime. 

I knew GG a bit. He was always generous sending me records for review—I’ll never sell my copy of “Eat My Fuc” with the hand-drawn cover of a cock shooting its load. He also contributed a pretty sharp and lucid column shortly before he died (it was published posthumously in issue #33-34 of Suburban Voice). Some of it was fairly self-aggrandizing and bombastic. He also suggested I use the full-color photo of him smeared in his own shit for the cover. I have that photo tucked away in the file cabinet along with the hand-written text for the column and a few other letters he sent from prison. But I think these words that he wrote are timeless: “It’s time to send a message to the corporate music industry that we, the real non-conformists, in the rock ’n’ roll underground cannot be bought and sold-out.” He did urge dropping bombs on Lollapalooza and various music biz conventions. Maybe he meant it in a literal sense, since he said, “true terrorism must reign in rock ’n’ roll.” But the underlying theme, that it’s important to resist co-optation and defy those entities, is something to always embrace. I’m not sure I would give my blood and guts for it. I’m not sure if people trying to imitate what he did is exactly non-conformist, either—it seems like a herd mentality. You could say that about any sub-group, including in the punk realm. But I still take pride in trying to at least go against the grain and try not to go along to get along. 

Next month—the final print column. Hard to believe… 

Al Quint, PO Box 43, Peabody, MA 01960

subvox82@gmail.com / subvox.blogspot.com / sonicoverload.net