MRR #432 • May 2019
Martin Sorrondeguy is a queer, Latinx punk. He sings for bands you may have heard of like LIMP WRIST and LOS CRUDOS, he runs the record label Lengua Armada, is a longtime shitworker for MRR, directed the 1999 punk classic film Beyond the Screams: A U.S. Latino Hardcore Punk Documentary, and is a top-notch photographer who has authored several books full of amazing photos he shot of bands from all over the world. Martin also happens to be a dedicated teacher who has been involved in radical education for decades, and puts as much passion into his classroom work as he is known for in punk.
This month’s column features a short excerpt from an extended, wide-ranging interview with Martin that will be published in full in the upcoming book Teaching Resistance: Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Cultural Subversives in the Classroom (PM Press, available in Fall of 2019). Martin was one of the original inspirations for this column, and I am very grateful that he was willing to share part of his story as a teacher, a radical, and a punk, in all of its complicated, intersectional, interwoven, and inspirational glory.
Martin: Before I went back to SF State [for a full public school teaching credential], and when I was working at Maximum, I worked at an alternative high school in the East Bay. That was a teaching job where I was doing really cool stuff, and a lot of my students were punks and rockers and weirdo kids, you know, freaks and awesome kids that I loved, and that’s where I had a lot of liberty. I actually did a history class and it was the history of subcultures in the United States from the 1930s forward. It started out with the Zoot suits, like the Pachuco Movement out of LA coming out of the jazz scene, and went into Beatniks and all this stuff, all the way to punk and hip-hop, and so on and so forth. I loved that job, and then I did my teaching credential, and there was a period I was going to walk away from education but I kept getting sucked into it somehow.
MRR: Wow. So you did kind of have a dream curriculum, where you were able to structure things, almost to tie them to the other side of your life that maybe you weren’t so frank about in the classroom. Martin: In terms of my “alternative life,” they knew everything about me. I ended up one day with one of my bosses saying, “Martin, can you go to the computer lab and change the screensavers?” because the students had put all the Limp Wrist lyrics for “Fags Hate God” on all the screen savers! I was like “Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” And I just told the kids, “You guys, don’t do that!” [laughter]. But it was a really amazing place to be, it was wild.
MRR: It’s fascinating that you were able to share with those particular students your “other life.”
Martin: I had kids who were in my class with Limp Wrist shirts on, so they knew who I was. I mean, two of the students, these two young girls, these punk girls, they jumped on a greyhound all the way to Austin, Texas to see Limp Wrist. I just remember their parents called me, “Martin, can you…” and I was like “I will fly there, and as soon as I’m there I will find them, and they will stay with me. Where I will basically take care of them, wherever I stay they stay.”
MRR: Field trip! Just give me a permission slip and we’ll get all this stuff organized. No problem.
Martin: [laughter] …So let me just move forward into going into a more state run school…
MRR: …the school in Oakland. What was the difference in terms of how you were able to interact at that school with the people in charge of the school, the administration, the parents, the student population, and how did you reconcile those relationships with your own personal identities within punk, activism, and queer culture?
Martin: It really did not work. Let me rephrase that—it would not have worked so what I actually did was go to the courts and legally change my name. It was to protect myself and to protect the job I was going to do, because I know I’m a good teacher. And I knew I could really bring something to the classroom, into these kids’ lives, that has nothing to do with my music, with what I do, with my art—nothing. I can teach these kids skills, and I can teach them a lot of stuff about just life, and in order to protect that there was no way I could walk into a classroom as “Martin Sorrondeguy” successfully without it blowing up in my face. It came really close on numerous occasions to blowing up in my face…My students would be like, “We googled you, we didn’t find anything on you.” And I’m like, “It’s because I’m a really boring person. I don’t do anything, I just work and go home.”
That was the sort of identity I had at the school. A lot of the students, they didn’t know. Only one teacher once said, “Hey, Mr. Rock Star!” and I’m like, “What?” She was a teacher across the hall from me. It was at lunchtime and all these kids were in the hall and they all look at me and I go, “What do you mean?” And she’s like, “Hey Mr. Rock Star, I heard you’re in like a rock’n’roll band.” I just looked at her and I go “I’m not in a rock’n’roll band.” I felt bad. I denied it, and she felt really dumb and all the kids laughed at her. But later I pulled her aside and I told her, “Hey, you know what? I’m sorry I did that to you. Yes, I’m in a band but I don’t want the kids to know about that. That’s a part of my life that I don’t like sharing and making public.”
She was really apologetic, and said “I’m so sorry.” I said, “No, no, it’s fine.” She asked why it would be an issue, and I knew she was an openly lesbian teacher, and I said, “Look, I’m super openly queer. It’s not for kids.” Then she’s like, “I’m sorry, I get it.” Asked how she found out, and she said that someone down at a district meeting—who had huge plugs and was like a punker—told her “you have a famous punk rocker working at your school.” They actually revealed it, they disclosed that. And I was just like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this person did that!” I mean, what happened to “What we do is secret,” right? Jesus!
MRR: Right. You really would have to maintain a double life.
Martin: I think that’s where my story gets really unique. In order to do what I wanted to do and to be effective, I felt that I needed to go and legally change my name…I think things have changed so much in terms of private versus public and who we are. In the past there were old punk teachers who were punks way back in the early ’80s and nobody would ever figure it out, or if they had some weird punk name, but I was always Martin Sorrondeguy, Martin of Los Crudos, Martin from Limp Wrist, Martin from whatever, and to try to kind of cover that up was really difficult. The only way that I could see it happening successfully was by doing what I did.
I’m glad I did it, because within days kids [in your class] are googling you. They want to find out who you are. They want details, you know? I’m glad I did what I did, and I think it was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I was able to do the four years that I put into that school in in the best possible way. And that was awesome.
MRR: Did it end up okay? Was there anything in the end that you’d feel comfortable talking about?
Martin: You know what? Everything ended up fine. I think there was something in me that felt like there needed to be a change, and it really was because I was focusing on my photography again. I was kind of unhappy with the school in general…you have to understand, the school I worked in, in the four years I was there there were five principals.
It was really rough, when I spoke to other teachers and their experiences I was jealous, like “what the fuck am I doing?” Where am I, you know? What am I dealing with? It was really unfortunate because I got along, I kid you not, with I’d say 98% of my students. Even kids who I thought hated me and hated my classes. One boy came in a year after he had been gone and he said to me, “I really miss your class, because this was my favorite class.” That shocked me because the kid did zero in my class, and I think it was the way I ran the class. The kids enjoyed being there. I had kids in my class for who every other fucking teacher they had was down their fucking necks constantly, and giving them shit and trying to get them expelled, trying to get them fucking kicked out, like everything, you know? Trying to expel these kids from a school or get them suspended.
I went to this meeting with this young African-American girl, she didn’t even live in a straight up home. She lived in a group home. Every teacher was there, and I just remember all of them going around and saying all this really negative shit about her, and I was like
“I have no problems with her in my class. She comes in tardy but that’s the bulk of it, I have not had issues with her my classes.” She leaned over and told her guardian “This is the teacher I like” [laughter]. It was because I created an environment in my class that kids legitimately felt that they could be in and not get fucked with.
MRR: So tell me how you did that, tell me some techniques.
Martin: It was a struggle at first, it wasn’t something I went into it and was like “Oh I got this down.” It wasn’t like that. It took time and it took a lot of figuring out, but I just was very stern, I wasn’t this loose teacher. I mean, I don’t think I cracked a fucking smile till Christmas time. There was something about that structure that a lot of the kids like, but the thing is I knew my shit, you know what I mean? There would be some clown that would do something really weird on the computer and would think that I wouldn’t know how to fix it, and I would hit a couple keys and get out of that mess so they realized “This guy really knows what he’s doing.” There’s something to be said about when you really know your stuff, and you’re killing that subject, there’s a level of respect that comes with that. But then I was also very attentive to the students. I remember I had a lot of inner city Oakland kids. I remember one girl coming in one morning just crying, she came in late, and I had one of those electric kettles in my class. I would have water going and I remember just making her tea and just setting it right in front of her. You know, just keeping going with my lesson, and you could just see on her face like, “Oh my god.” They sense when you care about them. I think there’s a thing that some teachers, maybe they don’t care enough, or maybe they do and don’t know how to care. Or they don’t know how to go, “Oh my god, there’s something really weird happening with the student right now, what can I do to let them know that I notice and that I do care about them?” I’m really like, “Oh my god, something’s wrong here and what can I do to make them feel a little more at ease?”
So stuff like that, I have bottles of water… it’s just really basic stuff, but the way I put their artwork up on the on the walls, just displaying their work, making them realize that what they had to say or create has value, that was huge for them. I mean, they would walk into the classroom and run up to the walls like little kids, just so proud of seeing their piece on the wall. I also did projects where there was relevancy, as I did to help this poster project where they had to research a health issue that was going on in their community.
They had to do legitimate research, and what we created using photography and Photoshop was a health poster, an awareness poster. So whether it was “I think smoking is terrible, it causes cancer” or whatever it was, every student would address a health issue in their poster. And the last year that I was there, a few of the student posters got picked up [by the city] and were running on buses around town, which is really awesome.
The other thing, though, is that I’m not going to paint a cute picture of [the school] because there were situations that were really messed up, and not good, and not cool, and not positive. The really difficult situations every teacher has. That’s teaching. You’re dealing with adolescents, well, I was at least, and that comes with a lot of baggage. There’s a lot to think about and unpack when you’re dealing with adolescents.
MRR: Absolutely. To a certain extent so much of the punk ideology and approach is not letting go of certain aspects of adolescence in some ways, right? You don’t forget what it was like to be a teenager. You don’t forget, and I think that is one of the things that actually makes punks such good teachers a lot of the time.
Martin: I think so. There were definitely situations, and depending on who it was and what students…There were a little gang of lesbian girls in my one of my third period classes, and they were obsessed with me. They were always fishing and fishing and trying to find out if I was gay. I would say “Oh, I’m going out of town.” And they would ask a question like “Oh, who are you going out of town with?” “A friend.” “Uh huh. What kind of friend?” “A friend”. Trying to get it out of me, you know? I remember finally, like, towards the end of the year, I told them. “Uhh, since you’re fishing, it’s my boyfriend.” And the look on their faces, they were just glowing. They realized “Oh my god!”
MRR: Oh, you made their year!
Martin: Oh, and then they were like, “Can you be our chaperone at Pride?” “Hell no!” It was funny. [laughter]
The Teaching Resistance column is designed to provide a platform for radical, subversive teachers/educators to share their ideas and draw attention to important issues around education; particularly compulsory- and community-based education. If you are a teacher (anywhere in the world) for students of primary or secondary school ages (K–12), community colleges, or alternative learning arrangements such as collectivist free schools, and you want to submit an idea for a column, please write an email to teachingresistance@ gmail.com. The column will continue in a new form after the print version of MRR ceases production, so keep those submissions coming!
Also, as mentioned before keep an eye out for the Teaching Resistance book, coming in Fall 2019 on PM Press, including an unabridged version of the interview this issue. It’s been a nice journey, print mag; gonna miss you but looking forward to what the future brings for MRR –John No, Teaching Resistance editor
An opening thought for all you readers going down with the ship before my final column commences in the last issue of our dear Maximum Rocknroll. I am sure that this issue will be filled with nostalgia and farewell columns, letters, articles, etc. Personally, I decided to get that out of the way last month since the situation had been weighing so heavily on my mind. This month my column will read as if this thing that I love were not imminently coming to an end. I am holding on to very strong hopes that a core group of us who are still driven by and dedicated to the existence of physical copy print media will get together and start something new out of the smoldering ashes of the once mighty MRR. In the meantime, if any of you dear readers are interested in continuing to follow the misadventures of this somewhat inept weirdo in the form of my fumbling dum-dum ramblings, I will occasionally be contributing columns to the National Teen Set Outsider based out of Rochester, NY which may now be the longest running punk print zine remaining, and I also just contributed a column to the first print issue of The Adam Sandler Appreciation Society of Cleveland coinciding with the First Annual Adam Sandler Fest, the new yearly punk festival/most recent wonderfully idiotically, very-Cleveland event. Hey, gotta scratch this itch wherever I can now that I am no longer needed here at Maximum. But here we are, the tides are turning, the times they are a-changing, now is the winter of our discontent, and by that I of course mean that it is really cold in Buffalo right now and that I am unhappy about the situation causing MRR to leave us.
I have done some incredibly stupid things throughout my years of heavy involvement in punk. I have always been the kind of guy to say yes to just about anything. Sometimes that can get you into a bit of trouble, but I suppose I would rather regret making a mistake than regret not taking a chance. Over the past few years I have adopted the motto “I’ll try anything twice, in case I got it wrong the first time.”
A handful of years ago I was a approached by a casual acquaintance from Pittsburgh about driving his band on tour. We kicked around ideas and schedules and figured out that it would be a good fit. The band consisted of this friend, a former roommate of mine who I had lost touch with over the last few years when she moved away, and two guys I had maybe met once or twice but didn’t know hardly at all. The main problem with the planning of this tour was that it was to take place starting all the way out on the west coast, as their singer would be out there finishing her time working trimming weed. The tour would essentially start out west, work its way down the coast, then zig-zag through the center of the country making its way back to Pittsburgh, PA which is where they all called home at the time. Being from Buffalo, NY, the prospect of starting a tour in Portland, OR that I was driving was a bit of a daunting task, but having never done it before I of course enthusiastically said yes to the idea.
Having this problem where I constantly agree to things without thinking them through, and simultaneously being absolutely awful at scheduling, I of course decided to make this already idiotic idea even more difficult on myself by agreeing to play a gig in Buffalo on the same day that I was supposed to begin the drive. This is a recurring problem in my life. I once agreed to play a gig in Rochester, NY with one of my bands, another gig in Syracuse, NY with a different one of my bands, and was committed to being at a party commemorating the grand opening of the screen-printing shop that I used to run in Buffalo all in the same day, but I digress. Having already agreed to this gig in Buffalo I planned on having the van all loaded up and ready to go so that I could play the gig then just hit the road. Looking back it seems really silly to have rearranged plans and made a trip more difficult in order to play a forgettable hardcore punk set with my regrettable band to a tiny unfazed crowd in a basement almost exclusively used for metal gigs, but in the moment I wouldn’t have changed a damn thing.
We all know how annoying the concept of “punk time” can be, I assume, but it has always seemed to me that at the very least there is a certain consistency to it. With gigs usually beginning roughly an hour to an hour and a half after flyered time, it is fairly easy to estimate when gigs will begin and how late to show up in order to miss whatever bat-shit wildcard may have been thrown on the gig as an opening act. I am, to this day, still incredibly confused by hipster time, art time, and in the case of this story, heavy metal time. There seems to be far less uniformity with all of those realms. I have seen metal gigs start very promptly and on the flip side of the coin have witnessed them beginning an ungodly amount of time later than I ever would have expected. Perhaps this has something to do with all the different sub-genres of metal and them working on their own clock systems. I imagine that death metal time and grindcore time would be similar to all the pots and pans music but could potentially be very different from NWOBHM time or hair metal time. But then again, isn’t it always hair metal time? This seems like a debate that could go around and around and some modern individual has probably made a meme, or whatever you millennials refer to captioned photos on the internet as these days, depicting the differences. Not remembering which subgenre of metal the gig was that my band played, I cannot use this knowledge to add it to a chart of the appropriate sub-genre of metal’s lateness scale, but regardless, this show ran unbelievably late. By the time I finally left Buffalo it was hours later than I had originally intended to leave town. The trip was off to a great start.
The sun was already rising as I made my way to my initial destination of Pittsburgh. Pulling up to the house I was told to meet the band at, I noticed the one member that I already knew walking across the street. Obnoxiously blaring on the horn and yelling out the window at him, without taking into account how early in the morning it was, I started to slightly question my choices of pounding energy drinks and Sheetz soy lattes on the way down. I parked the van and got out to give him a hug and started helping the boys load in their gear and personal effects. It was around this time that my friend informed me that he wouldn’t be joining myself and the two other unknown band members in our trek across the country. Allegedly he had to work the next two days, tho I still have my suspicions to this day that he didn’t want to be in the van for a bonkers 2,500 mile journey, so he would be flying to Portland to meet up with us. Mocking their counterpart for having to work before saying farewell, these two handsome lads piled into the van and without so much as introducing themselves simply said “Hey Biff. Let’s go!” Sure, I could have admitted that I didn’t remember their names, had a brief awkward moment of re-introducing ourselves, and gone on from there, but we had a three day journey ahead of us so I figured I would make a little game out of it and vowed to figure their names out before we arrived without asking them. What can I say, I love games!
I have noticed in my time traveling that one of two things tends to happen between the people in the confines of a vehicle on an extended trip. Either the time spent in tight quarters together can really cement a friendship in a short amount of time making it feel like you’ve been friends forever, or it can put strain on the existing friendship and you end up trying to put as much distance between yourselves as possible within the confines of the van. Spanning the entire country in a three day timeframe was sure to exacerbate such feelings, but which way would it go?
We were underway with a fresh oil change, a full tank of gas, and caffeine surging through our veins. After a few hours of lighthearted chit chat and missed opportunities to learn some first names, one of them asked if he could put on some music. In a scenario like this of potential new punk friends I would standardly pop on something like Shock Troops which has always proved to be something of a great equalizer for punks getting to know one another. Who the hell doesn’t like that album and know pretty much every damn word? Handing over the controls he turned on the first album we would listen to on that trip and of all things what he selected was a score by Ennio Morricone from the 1969 Italian film Metti, Una Sera A Cena, which just so happens to be a soundtrack that I greatly enjoy. Once we had finished making fools of ourselves goofily sing-chanting in our falsetto voices along with the vocalists and playing the dashboard like keyboard together, it started to take shape just what kind of guys I had here. Immediately following that up, the next musical selection was the 1979 Living Room demo by the Feederz and any doubts I may have had just entirely flew out the window along with the bottles of piss being dumped to limit the amount of stops we would make.
The trip began to fly by. Names were learned, states were spanned, very few stops were made other than the necessities of getting more caffeinated Sweet Drank or at whatever Taco John’s we could find to grab another Six Pack and a Pound. The trip went by in a blur. We giggled about absolute nonsense as the sillies inevitably crept in. We delved deep into the realm of discussing in-depth relationship woes. Time seemed to only be told by how often George Noory came on our radio for another Coast 2 Coast AM broadcast. We sat through a four hour discussion on the history of ouija and other talking boards one night, and then one where the guest ranted and raved about the numerous health benefits of magnesium the next. Both broadcasts had us on the edge of our seats. I am not entirely sure how it happened or if the main clock we were using must have been broken or something as it seemed to be stuck on taco time, but we actually ended up making the entire trip in far less time than it should have taken us. My new friends and I sharing the wheel made it so that we pretty much made the trip in the amount of time it takes to do that drive if you don’t stop to rest.
We showed up at their singer’s house around mid-day, a day ahead of schedule. I remember walking up to the door and still chatting and laughing with the two of them as we knocked on the door. When greeted by their singer and asked how the drive was, the consensus seemed to be unquestioningly that it was “great.” The other one of them had only recently arrived from his flight and was napping when we arrived but our caffeine fueled insanity made short work of his ability to sleep. The rest of the tour was a blast and I have some very fond memories of it, including catching up with my former roommate who was in the band in a very intense and beautiful way of sitting on someone’s lawn in Los Angeles and having her give me a tarot reading. It inspired a wonderful conversation and it felt to me as if no time had passed in our friendship at all. When I think back to this tour though, most of what I remember is that initial drive and how, with the right company, a daunting task can turn into a wonderful experience.
Ending on a serious note, farewell MRR, when this issue is delivered to me I fully expect to begin sobbing as I peel open the envelope and dive in cover to cover one last time. If anyone is involved with other punk publications and wants a columnist I am now officially a free agent (Sorry Will, don’t worry, my National Teen Set Outsider column about obsessively tracking down pinball machines to play while traveling will get to you on time). Hit me up at xFeral_Kidx@ yahoo.com for some soon to be much needed punk interaction.
What’s up, Maximum. Rather than write you a goodbye love letter, this is a love letter to my band.
I don’t remember if I started this column first, or if we started Correspondences first, they started around the same time, and I’ll always associate their beginnings. I moved to Portland, Maine in 2010 because my partner started midwifery school. It was a weird time in my life, because I’d just left the Bay and for the last few years I just. Kept. Having. Shitty. Experiences with queers. This followed me to Portland, too. I had two unrelated shitty transmisogyny things happen with trans guys I didn’t know, in my fucking house, pretty soon after I got to Portland.
I was not trusting queers.
It sucked, because I didn’t want to hang out with queers, but also, have you ever hung out with straight people? They’re even worse.
I spent a lot of time in my room trying to figure out how to be my own band.
I don’t remember why I was at the party where I first spoke with Emily and Lee. Maybe self-harm? I think I was talking to Emily about how I’d been playing guitar and singing in this band Angela Chase for the last three years and I was stoked to be playing bass again, because before I left the Bay Francesca gave me a bass and bass has always been my favorite. Emily played cello. Like, knew how to play it. Like, went to school for it. She’d been in a million music projects and knew what she was doing. So we were talking and I think Lee overheard us and was like “I got some drums because I was trying to join What Cheer Brigade but I didn’t get in because I don’t really know how to play them,” and Emily and I were like “let’s fucking start a band.”
“Dude!” either Emily or I said. “We could play doom metal! That way you don’t have to play anything fast or complicated!”
Sonya and Alicia, the other two members of Angela Chase, had seen a doom metal band once by mistake and had thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen—to the point that we would often bust into dumb fake doom metal between songs or to open sets. But because Lee didn’t have a lot of experience playing drums, suddenly unironic doom metal was on the table.
You ever notice how stupid ideas are often great ideas?
I say a lot of dumb shit. I don’t always make it clear that I’m kidding, and I don’t usually care if you can tell. From the absolute beginning, Correspondences was the kind of band where somebody would say a dumb idea, somebody else would say something dumber, none of us would crack a smile, and then we’d do the most absurd version of the original idea. But it worked from the get-go. Emily talks about how, in her other bands, she always has to turn down her most self- indulgent ideas, but in Correspondences, we lean into them as hard as we can.
We started practicing at Lee’s house, Baberham on Lincoln Street. Lee was working as a baker so from the first practice we had pastries and snacks, which, let me tell you, if your band doesn’t prioritize treats during band practice, fuck your band. It was awesome. She’s also always been an herbalist so she had this epic, overflowing cabinet of tinctures and herbs and stuff, as well as the kind of plants and sunlight and sweet roommates that light up a collective house from the inside. Y’know how sometimes you go to a place where a bunch of people live and you’re like man, it feels good here? It was like that.
My last band had never actually properly recorded anything, so I bossed everybody into recording the first practice and then into releasing it as a demo on bandcamp. It’s still up there, the Baba Yaga demo. They’re long, rambling bass, drums, and cello pieces and they’re awesome. I think we made two of ’em up on the spot and one was based on a slow two-chord arpeggio thing which, to this day, despite having played it a million times in practice and at shows, I am unable to play properly. I made it up! I wrote it but I don’t know how to count it. Apparently I switch between playing it in 4/4 and 7/8 or something, unpredictably, without being aware that I’m doing it. But you know what? Who cares. Because, relevantly, I also bossed Lee and Emily into this idea that the worst thing about music is all the counting and rather than counting to four all the time we should reject patriarchal hegemony by playing parts of songs over and over until somebody decides to go to the next part and communicates it by exchanging meaningful looks. I am kind of incompetent at music. It doesn’t fucking matter! Our band was incredible immediately. That demo is long and aimless but it’s also awesome and I can still listen to it.
We fell into our roles in the band immediately, too. I didn’t need to be able to count music right because I’m the enthusiastic one. Emily is the one who knows stuff about music. Lee is the band mom—she has pastries and herbs and a truck.
Weirdos and queers in Portland actually listened to our demo and liked it, which was wild. We kept writing songs and we got invited to play shows. I started playing guitar on one song, and at our first show—a basement in Portland with Falls of Rauros, an incredible Portland band—I hadn’t made a plan for what to do with the bass when I switched to guitar, like to bring a stand or something, so I handed it to this guy Isaac, who just held it while I played guitar.
We played by candlelight wearing veils.
This is the most important thing about Correspondences: we are fucking stoked about each other and we are completely obsessed with our own band. We self-mythologize so fucking hard. I don’t think it would have mattered if anybody cared about what we were doing, because mostly we’re just stoked on each other. But people did care.
We kept having practices at Baberham where we gobbled up treats; we kept writing songs; Lee got a dog, who usually slept in front of the drums when we practiced; I kept borrowing people’s amps, because the only bass amp I actually owned was a forty dollar piece of broken shit that I think I wrote about buying in one of my first MRR columns.
We did a split tape with this band Swaath, then toured with them. They ruled. They would bring fucking full stacks into basements. Ryan from Swaath let me borrow his amp for I think that whole tour—thanks Ryan. We earned the “playing more shows on a tour than there are days” merit badge by playing at Girls Rock Philly one afternoon on that tour—thanks Smoot. I think we played with HIRS that evening. We went from Portland down to Richmond, Virginia (where I saw a pikachu in the driveway after the show) and then back up to Burlington, where a couple of drunk heterosexuals on a roof called us “hairy leg wooks,” which we had to look up on urban dictionary. We played some of the most primo basements in the northeast and we played with some of the most awesome bands, including the sorely missed Groke from Providence, who also let me borrow their bass amp at least one time. We also played the Space Gallery, the legit venue in Portland, a couple times, including opening for A Silver Mt. Zion for one show, which ruled because I know they’re not really a MRR band but I did get to talk about MRR, radical doulas, and hating misogynists with Efrim Menuck before the show for a while, which was cool. Efrim Menuck rules.
Toward the end of 2011 it it happened that all of us were going to move out of Portland around the same time. I don’t remember exactly what any of us were doing. I think Lee left to do herb school in Vermont? But at this point people in Portland knew us enough that we were like, I bet we could pull of a goodbye show.
We pulled it off as hell.
This Portland label, Eternal Otter, offered to do a tiny run of clear lathe-cut records for it, so we were like fuck it, go big or go home. We recruited I think nine friends and loved ones to be a ghost chorus, put up a bunch of burlap and electric moon phases, and did a “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” farewell show. It ended up being packed! People gave a fuck as hell about our band, we sold way more copies of the record than were pressed (I think we probably owe a lot of people five or ten bucks or however much they cost, because there was no second run), people freaked out, and it was awesome. I mean, it wasn’t really a music venue and I don’t think the monitors were good so we probably sounded like shit, but who cares.
Then that was it.
But we didn’t want it to be it.
I taught bass at Girls Rock Camp in Burlington from I think 2010 to 2015, and Lee taught drums for at least a couple of those years. We have talked about getting back together to play more shows consistently since that farewell show. We did manage to get back together to do a tour for a week at one point, I don’t even remember which year now. 2014? 2015? It was only a week but it was with one of the best bands in the world, Ragana, who it turned out were also fans of our band. (Also one time another of the best bands in the world, Thou, who would go on to do a split with Ragana, name-checked us in an interview. That ruled too.) We played a show in Boston where we jumped on a trampoline in the yard outside the basement while Ragana played, and then they jumped on the trampoline while we did.
One morning I woke up half-dead on Emily’s couch in Providence at the end of a week of touring and saw Maria from Ragana sitting on their tour truck’s tailgate with a guitar, writing music in the sun.
New Year’s Eve a couple months ago Emily invited me and Lee to a party at her house. We had initially hoped to play a brunch show in her living room on new year’s day, but we didn’t get it together. Word got out, though, and people were bummed when it didn’t happen. We did make vague plans to get together and get proper recordings of all our songs this year, though, because all our recordings kind of sound like shit. We also got to self-mythologize. It is still really fun to hang out with those two, they’re some of my favorite people in the world.
This thing also happened where I became a social worker three years ago, Lee started doing circles of accountability stuff with people leaving prison in the last year, and I just wrote a recommendation for Emily to go to social work school. Unrelated to each other, we sort of all ended up doing work to make the world less shitty.
But here’s the thing. (And here’s where it turns out that this isn’t only a love letter to my band, but a love letter to MRR too.) Correspondences was a really important thing in my life for learning not to fucking hate everybody, in the same way that being involved in MRR has been. I mean, we all know that the sort of people who host and attend and perform at shows in basements by bands who have no intention or hope of blowing up are the best people. But before Correspondences, I didn’t really know those people. I’d been reading MRR since high school and playing in bands that played mostly bars, with the occasional living room or back yard, since I started playing in bands. That shit is not a community. Doing a weird band without goals or plans beyond doing weird stuff that we liked opened me up to a world of queers and people who are somehow cool despite not being queer, who are and have been doing weird things, who will continue to do weird things. Freaks, nerds, romantics. The best people. Correspondences—and the stuff that I got to because of Correspondences— restored my faith in people. There’s something about being on tour in a pickup truck with two bandmates and a dog, hot and greasy, getting where you’re going, constipated and exhausted, and meeting a fleet of entirely new people in a town or city you didn’t know, who are stoked and kind and eager to connect. We all know how many assholes there are in the world, but this punk shit? At its core, it’s about the fact that there are way more awesome people in the world than you ever imagined.
And that’s gonna be true even after MRR.
1. I’m a couple hundred words over and, on re-reading this, I barely even gave you a sense of why I love Lee and Emily so much—what they’re like. Just trust me, they’re the best.
2. The world sucks right now, but as Rebecca Solnit has pointed out, hopelessness is a kind of fortune-telling, and you’re not psychic. All the revolutions? All the good, big shit that people have accomplished in history, which from our position in the future seems to have been inevitable? Beforehand, it absolutely did not seem that way. People have been scared for the future before, and they did stuff. We don’t know how this ends.
3. See you in hell, Maximum.
If I could see one band that isn’t around anymore do one song live, it would be FUGAZI doing “Suggestion.” It’s one of those songs that blew my mind wide openthe first time I heard it. I was in 7th grade, and read about it in a book on riot grrrl. It’s got that weird blend of funk and punk rock that’s always had a special place in my heart. It swings between a tight, bass-driven groove and an off the wall, burn-your-house-down chorus. But by far the most interesting thing about “Suggestion” is that it’s a song about sexual assault, written by a man, from the perspective of a woman.
There are two other times that I can think of this happening. They are “Rape Me” by NIRVANA and “She” by GREEN DAY. (Yeah, I am gonna write about them in MRR, you ice cream eating motherfucker.) As far as I know, there wasn’t much outrage when GREEN DAY did it in 1994. When NIRVANA did “Rape Me” in 1993, the controversy mostly came from places like MTV, or suspiciously defensive dudes who insisted that the song was actually about the media. But 1988’s “Suggestion” sparked a ton of outcry within the DIY punk rock community itself. Of course, the bros that wanted to get drunk and beat people up to Minor Threat hated it, but what else is new. What I find more interesting is that a large number of riot grrrls protested the song. People like Kathleen Hanna, who had been saying that sexism affects men for years, were against this song. So, is it okay for men to sing songs about rape from the point of view of women?
I think it is. That goes double for a song as well done as any of the one’s listed above, and triple for “Suggestion” because the of the way they performed it live. Ian MacKaye wrote it for his friend Amy Pickering, who played in FIRE PARTY, coined the phrase “Revolution Summer,” and was a victim of sexual assault. In some of the best live performances of“Suggestion” I’ve seen, she sings the first half of the song with FUGAZI. There’s indescribable power in the way she and the crowd and the band go off in unison. In a 1988 show at the Wilson Center, after Pickering leaves the stage, MacKaye goes on on the one of the rants he’s so (in)famous for. “You do not beat up people for being gay,” he declares. The crowd roars. “You do not beat up people for being black. You do not beat up people for being women. You do not beat up people… period! Usually this song is a song about rape, but tonight it’s a song about beating up gay men at the park.” And from there, the band launches into the second half of the song.
Really, that’s the thing that makes “Suggestion” such a powerful song. The moment it was written, it was a song about a girl who gets attacked by a man. But once you put art out there for the world to see and hear, it tends to take on a life of its own. “Suggestion” becomes a song about the experiences of the listener, about how 1 in 6 American women are rape victims, about what it takes for a man to prove he is a man. On any given night, it might be song about gay people or people of color getting beat up at the park, or at school, or on the highway. Ultimately, “Suggestion” is a song about breaking out of the role you’ve been assigned, whether it’s one of fear or of beating people up or of staying quiet. We are all guilty, but we’ve also all got the power and the responsibility to change the way we think and act.
As always, you can reach me at email@example.com. Hit me up with your nerdy FUGAZI facts, or your art and music, or to tell me you think GREEN DAY are sell-out scum.
I first encountered the Maximum Rocknroll magazine in my teenage years, where copy after copy of new issues and back issues were stacked in the now long gone Repoman Records. I visited regularly after school, scrolling through the records and carefully picking something worth the modest paycheck from my job at the local supermarket. I remember wanting so badly to expand my punk knowledge and fit in with the, in my eyes then, way cooler crowd and their obscure band t-shirts and talk of bands and gigs of the past. Flipping through the MRR issues, I realized that I hardly knew any of the band names printed on the covers and picked out a few back issues that featured the big local bands of the mid-2000 K-town scene. I remember feeling embarrassed to be pretentious enough to read a zine where I hardly knew the bands interviewed and had hardly heard of the supposedly legendary US cities that some of those bands originated from. So, I kept to reading the locally based zines that were floating around in the city as the punk scene grew in post-Ungdomshuset eviction days in Denmark.
Flash forward to 2016, and I’m in the backseat of a way-too-air-conditioned car in Malaysian Borneo, somewhere in the countryside hours from our origin of the town of Kota Kinabalu. Hafiez is in the driver’s seat playing tracks from this year’s hottest US bands. While ping-pong’ing band names that we’ve read about in MRR with the rest of the Kota Kinabalu gang and me and Alex, two slightly sunburnt Scandinavians. You can’t deny that even in the internet era, MRR has had a huge international impact and created an international connection.
It’s part fascinating and part scary that a magazine based in one part of the world has such an impact on the international punk scene, in terms of what’s chosen to be printed or not, who checks off enough of the right marks to be featured on the cover, and the sometimes questionable reviews printed in the magazine. Yes, there are a few handfuls of international contributors such as myself, but the main editorial choices are made by those, no doubt dedicated and hardworking, contributors based in the geographical area around the MRR house.
A DIY media such as MRR is dependent on the labor of the volunteer workers and contributors as well as the support, material and spiritual, from its readers and listeners. There’s no doubt that MRR has received a lot of critique lately, about the editorial choices and of course about the decision to end the printed monthly magazine. And just the recent editorial and ideologist choices are the elephant in the room, which I will now address. In fact, there is no doubt that those choices have made it harder for a good portion of the readers to relate to the content of the magazine. I love the magazine and still at least scroll through the pages of the content that I find irrelevant or dull to me, but I have to agree with the criticism that’s being voiced. The editorial changes were imposed without much further explanation to the reader and it feels like interview questions such as “how do you feel about being an all cis male band?” have slipped into the magazine, without introducing the readers to the reasons behind it. I admire that MRR is trying to include artists and people from different backgrounds, challenging male dominance and actively displaying the diversity in punk. But, if you fail to explain what methods you use, how and why, the effort will be pointless as it’ll fly right over the heads of those readers, who like teenage me are not in a certain loop or do not have the same ideologist focus as the current US West Coast scene surrounding the MRR house.
The mainstream media is reporting that the internet is killing this and that, and millenials like me are killing yet another industry. While those claims are often doubtful, I can’t deny that I see tendencies of punx dropping printed media over the digital medias, especially the mainstream social medias. There are so many alternatives out there in cyberspace, with a convenient portal in your pocket, that makes it easy to say drop a printed magazine if you don’t agree with or understand the editorial choices.
I’m of course curious to see what MRR will bring us on the website based media. I will still insist that bringing reviews and interviews online is not the same as a physical printed magazine. A website gives you the choice to click on a certain article/section— or not. A choice that we make hundreds of times every day in the media buffet that the internet holds. With a printed magazine, you have to at least scroll through those pages you’re not interesting in, with the possibility of a photo, a phrase or name catching your attention and drawing you to read the article anyway. And the myth is that physical things disappear while anything on the internet lives in the cloud forever is false. I bet most of you keep old zines in your house, as punx truly are a nostalgic bunch with hoarding behavioral patterns, and pick some of them to read from time to time. While not a single person has scrolled through a website to re-read a collection of articles published a decade ago on a slow Saturday afternoon.
In a digital age where every punk (no overstatement) has access to a world of media in their pocket, it’s tough and critical for a printed magazine to lose support from readers and contributors. So, this closes the chapter of MRR as a monthly printed zine. Whether you agree with the direction the magazine has taken in the past years or not, this is a huge loss for the DIY punk scene, that’s losing a way to connect, learn, and spread knowledge. Long live the printed Maximum Rocknroll magazine.
Like many people I was shocked to read that MRR was ceasing publication. As a columnist I am not involved in any of the decision-making nor was I even aware that such measures where necessary or being contemplated. I am sad to see this happen and I feel like some effort probably could have been made to preserve MRR as a publication, my thought being that it is easier to see it through some hard times then to restart it in the future in the event that DIY hardcore punk makes a comeback. However, the choices were not mine to make and I didn’t have any of the information.
When I started this column much of the issues I addressed where my dismay at the shape of the scene in the mid-’90s and how far it had come from its early ’80s ideals and values. But now I am back to where I started, feeling like a stranger in a strange land looking around me at the form the scene has assumed in the age of the internet. My first draft of this column was filled with bitterness and dismay at the end of MRR as a print zine. After talking to my wife and thinking about it more I realize that is the wrong approach. Instead, this column is going to be about gratitude, positivity, and inspiration. I have been a regular columnist in this magazine since Tim invited me back in the mid-’90s. It is hard to believe that back then MRR had a months long backlog for ad space due to the high demand for ads. Indeed, people’s frustration with MRR having some kind of monopoly on opinion spawned several other zines such as Hit List and Punk Planet which were supposed to offer some sort of alternative point of view but did not last nearly as long. Those days are long gone now. Times change, technology changes, points of view and people change.
I have stayed at MRR this long for several reasons. Foremost is simply my passion for punk, hardcore, and records. I am still as excited about this music today as I was when I first brought home a Government Issue 7” as a high school freshman. I have been reading MRR since about issue number seven. I used to listen to the radio show every week as a teenager in high school and try to cross reference the bands with the ads and reviews to track down records. I met many pen pals and friends through the old classified section. And in a roundabout way I met my wife through my MRR column. In the days before the internet I photocopied all of the scumpit articles and stapled them together in a notebook as a reference for rare records. In addition to my column I authored a half-dozen scene reports and interviewed several bands. MRR zine and radio played a very important part in exposing me to international hardcore punk culture and radical left-wing political ideas. People my age will understand exactly what I’m talking about, and for the younger generation that grew up with the internet just imagine not having the internet and having something like MRR are being your only access to this kind of information, it was a lifeline to many thousands of alienated bored suburban kids who did not fit in. Therefore, an important reason I have stuck around so long is a feeling of gratitude and respect that someone else put in the hard hours before me so that there would be something as cool as MRR even available as an alternative to Creem, Hit Parade, and mainstream culture. MRR was there for me, so I felt I would contribute what I could so it would be there for someone else to be exposed to as much cool and interesting stuff as I was. I still believe in the power of music and ideas to change people’s lives and I hope that my efforts in this realm have contributed some little bit to creating the kind of bottom up social change I would like to see in the world. MRR, especially with Tim at the helm took no shit and really took a stand for DIY subculture against any kind of rock music business bullshit. Said bullshit is in danger of swamping subculture today as we hand over more and more of our scene to giant tech companies. My greatest concern is that letting the zines and labels die off is putting too much control in the hands of tech companies, this would have been hotly debated in the letters and columns of the MRR of old, and perhaps it is being debated on some platform. But after this month, you won’t be reading about it here. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for buying and reading MRR all these years. I would like to thank all of the contributors, shitworkers, coordinators, editors and advertisers who have made it happen month after month.
I would like to think that I am a more mature, stronger, and more positive person these days than I was when I started writing this column or, even a few years ago. As a result I would like to apologize to those I might have shit talked, offended, or pissed off, with the possible exception of Ben Weasel who I still think is a douche. I have strong opinions, but a diversity of opinions is necessary and I hope no one took anything I wrote in this column too personally or let some dumb shit I said without thinking through get under their skin. I started this column over 20 years ago from a place of anger and negativity. These days there is as much, or more to be outraged about as there was back in the ’80s and ’90s, but I feel more than ever the need to channel that energy into positive change. Creating a DIY subculture was a feat for the generation that got the scene off the ground in late ’70s and early ’80s, let’s not fuck it up just because technology and market forces eliminated our “punk bible.” As for me, my flame still burns, I’m not on social media, but you can find me lingering in the back at the hardcore show or behind the counter at the record store, or carrying a box of LP mailers to the post office. No one really needs old white guys like me telling them about how great it was back in 1984, so I am happy to recede into the background and let younger people try to outdo my generation with whatever it is that comes next.
Safer Sex Work
Last April, the US government signed two federal acts into law: the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). These laws are intended to help stop sex trafficking by shutting down websites where people can advertise and solicit sex, but the unintended (or intended?) consequences are disastrous for people who conduct consensual sex work, which is the overwhelming majority of people in the sex industry. Harm reduction doesn’t just apply to substance use, there are lots of harm reduction measures that have been used by sex workers for damn near centuries. In recent times, the internet has played a major role in reducing harm while exchanging sex.
When Backpage, Craigslist personals, Fetlife, Eros, and other pages got shut down last year, it devastated the community. So many of the safety measures and income streams that people had created over the years were obliterated overnight. And the impact is much worse for communities that are already at much higher risk for violence, murder, stigma, and financial insecurity than other sex workers with relatively more privilege and safety nets.
When asked by Newsweek about her reactions to the new laws, an unidentified sex worker states, “[I’m] devastated and terrified because people are going to die. I know that sounds blunt and maybe a little alarmist, but it’s not. The most marginalized of us are going to die. Trans people, people of color, poorer people are going to die. I’m a sex worker as a last resort…The people who have the privilege of stepping away from doing sex work are doing that, and the people who have no choice are banding together and figuring out new strategies, even financially supporting each other.”
The internet allowed sex workers to cut predatory or violent pimps out of their lives by providing a forum to find their own clients. Using websites like Backpage, people were able screen their clients by verifying their identity, sometimes by getting multiple forms of legal identification. The internet facilitated sex workers to share referrals with one another, contribute to bad date reports, and even weed out potentially dangerous clients by creating email intake forms.
The Red Umbrella Project is a sex worker advocacy organization based out of New York. In 2015, they coupled with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Best Practice Policy Project to publish a report called, Meaningful Work: Transgender Experience in the Sex Trade. I reached out to get a quote from one of the authors of the report, Darby Hickey, who also happens to be a friend I know from back when I lived in DC. Darby is a self- described aging punk, former sex worker, and legislative staffer to a DC Councilmember. Here’s what she has to say about her personal experience working on the report”
“I think Meaningful Work was an important analysis of data because policy makers and the public put such stock in research reports like it, and there is a serious lack of such publications (or the underlying data) in the U.S. context. Those of us who have engaged in commercial sex, or are close to it somehow, know firsthand about the rights abuses that happen, but for a stigmatized community to be heard you need data to back up those stories. Even that isn’t good enough often. Meaningful Work came a number of years after another project I worked on with a team of community-based researchers (i.e. people from the community that was the target of the research) called Move Along which was about the experiences of people policed under prostitution laws. That effort came at a time of terrible new policies in D.C. regarding sex work, including ‘prostitution free zones.’ We unsuccessfully fought that legislation but after it passed we decided to document things, and now, over a decade later, we are in a very different situation—rather than more terrible policies being heaped on sex workers and related communities, there are serious conversations about decriminalization of sex work. For my part, rather than protesting Councilmembers, I now work for one, and harm reduction deeply influences my approach to ‘working on the inside.’ I feel very lucky to have written the law that repealed the ‘prostitution free zones’ and to have helped move the conversation forward, but I also recognize the limits of what I’m able to do. Harm continues to flow from the law and the state, but I try to reduce it.”
The Meaningful Work analysis found that approximately 11% of transmasculine and transfeminine people had conducted sex work at one point in their lives, a much higher percentage than the general population. They also found that almost half of the Black trans individuals represented in the survey had participated in sex work and earned significantly less than their white cis counterparts. Latinx workers are also at a much higher risk of violence, and undocumented people could be deported if they are arrested for solicitation or other “crimes.”
Sex workers who earn less are limited in their ability to turn away clients who set off alarms for them, and experience more violence, trauma, and are even at higher risk of homicide as a result. The overrepresentation of trans people in sex work, specifically Black trans sex workers, speaks to their experiences with workplace discrimination, discriminatory policing and sentencing, and having less access to capital compared to white, cis sex workers. The Meaningful Work report states that about half of Black and Black-multiracial respondents earned less than $10,000 a year, and less than 15% of them received public assistance. They also found that while only 16% of white sex workers had spent more than six months in jail or prison, 42% of POC sex workers had spent more than six months in jail or prison.
Speaking of incarceration, calling the police to make a report or to get help can make things much worse for a lot of people who engage in commercial sex, and the overwhelming majority of violent incidents are never reported to police. Cops all over the world are known to abuse people who exchange sex and often end up humiliating, arresting, assaulting, or stealing from sex workers. One in five respondents of the Meaningful Work study experienced police officers demanding sex in exchange for not being arrested or mistreated. HIPS, Another DC-based organization, surveyed 149 (mostly street-based) cis and trans women and found that 90% of respondents had experienced violence while working, but only one respondent indicated that she would go to a police officer if she got hurt while working.
One of the biggest blows to occupational safety is the undermining of the market for commercial sex. While some people enjoy the work and do it by choice, many exchange sex because they don’t have other options. So with their livelihood in jeopardy, many sex workers have had to go back to working the street.
Working on the street is much riskier than taking incalls. In 2008, The Office of Police Integrity in Victoria conducted a study in which they found that street-based sex workers were more likely to experience aggravated sexual assault, unlawful imprisonment, kidnapping, robbery and non-payment than non-street- based sex workers. A study out of Australia found that street-based workers were twice as likely to experience work-related violence, and were significantly more likely to report accepting alternative forms of payment, such as food or shelter, than non-street based workers. The authors state that this was a clear indication of the elevated levels of poverty and homelessness amongst street workers compared to other sex workers. Incidentally, studies also show an inverse correlation between income level and HIV prevalence among sex workers and a higher likelihood of developing chronic problematic substance use and mental health disorders.
Below are some tips I’ve compiled from sex workers and sex worker-based organizations such as The Red Umbrella project, St. James Infirmary, and the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.
1. Screen your clients and get references whenever possible.
2. Negotiate and get the money up front. Keep a set price list and establish limits of what you will and won’t do.
3. Trust your gut and be aware of your surroundings.
4. Check your local bad date sheet and contribute to it.
5. Have a safe call—someone who expects to hear from you at predetermined times and who knows what to do if you use any of your established code words.
6. Use the kite-string website if you don’t have a safe call. You can set it to call your emergency contacts if you don’t respond to a text after the amount of time of your choosing: kitestring.io
7. Enable your phone to allow your friends to track you on GPS.
8. Keep the money your date gives you separate from the rest of your money so if you do get robbed they may not take your whole bankroll.
9. Always check in with, or pretend to check in with someone once you get into a room or before you get into a car. Make sure your client sees you waving at someone and saying that you will be back in amount of time. If you’re inside, call your safe call in front of the client so they know that someone is expecting to hear from you at a certain time.
10. Carry a personal alarm that can make a lot of noise if someone is attacking you.
11. If you are working out of a car, try and keep one of the doors slightly ajar. Try not to wear clothing or jewelry that could get caught on something, ripped out, or pulled.
12. Put a little bit of menthol solve in your nose in case your client smells bad.
13. Be wary of putting yourself in sexual positions which limit your mobility.
14. Carry more condoms, lube, and wipes than you think you might need. Bring candy and chapstick so your mouth doesn’t get dry.
15. If a client is unwilling to use a condom, here are some options.
● Say fuck that and get out.
● Use lots of water or silicone-based lube, it helps to reduce friction, which will reduce your risk of catching an STI or HIV.
● Cheek a condom while giving head (google it).
● Put in an internal condom before seeing them. You can put it in and leave it there for several hours before having sex. See if your client is willing to continue with internal condoms. If you are using them without telling him, know that these can be noisy and that a client might pick up on it.
16. Always know how many passengers are in a car. Check to make sure there is no one else hiding in the car when you get in.
17. Use a condom over your sex toys and wash them with soap and water after each use.
18. Try never to take drugs from a John. If you’re using, bring your own drugs, syringes, all your works, and pipes.
19. Stay hydrated!
I know I sound like a broken record but I don’t care. Stigma breeds violence and hurts literally everyone. Legalizing sex work and drug use would alleviate so many of the risks that are currently inherent within them, but don’t need to be. Prohibition never fucking works. <3 firstname.lastname@example.org
Might was well start by addressing the biggest news of the year: my five year old son Montgomery wants it to be known in no uncertain terms that the BUZZCOCKS are his favorite band and that “What Do I Get” is the best song ever written. So now y’all know.
In terms of that other thing that’s happening I have no interest in eulogizing or autopsying the print edition of Maximum Rocknroll or its legacy, so I won’t. It’s been a right privilege to have worked with the print edition of MRR for the last decade-plus and it’ll be a right goddamn privilege to work with MRR from here on out, newsprint be damned. Hell, I bet moving online will double my readership. That’s right, as many as ten people might be reading this column on a monthly basis in the future!
The good news is that we’ve got an all- time great lineup of records to go out on. I predicted that the TITS LP would be top ten of the year worthy and holy shit the band sure didn’t let me down. The 悦楽患者 LP is absolutely ferocious, a snarling, swaggering assault that drinks deeply from the font of Indignation-era CONFUSE. There are some brief guitar solos and some moments of near blast-beating on the part of the drummer but for the most part this is for all its heaviness an intensely punk record. It’s difficult to even articulate just how completely on point this band is, from their immaculate sound to the songwriting to the aesthetic…incredible. To take so much inspiration from such a specific scene/handful of bands and to still produce fresh-sounding and interesting material is an incredible feat of artistry. In a hundred years noisecore weirdoes will have put this record right into the pantheon alongside The Very Best of Hero and Nuclear Addicts. Another triumph in a long string of recent hits for Pogo 77.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Japan or possibly on another planet and/or dimension, STAGNATION seem to have completely fuckin’ lost it. The brand new !!! EP on Hardcore Survives is yet another evolution of the STAGNATION sound, with a strongly improvisational feel, driven by frantic drumming and effects distorted spoke-sung vocals. The bass playing is as brilliant as ever, a clean and mostly straightforward counterbalance to the shrieking and squalling guitar noise. At some points, various hand- held percussion instruments lurk in the background of the recording (did I hear a triangle at one point?), at others the spacey effects and languorous pace recall live HAWKWIND at their most tripped-out. An entire LP of this kind of stuff would be absolutely wonderful, it’s strange, aggressive, disorienting and completely fascinating. STAGNATION are a very special band, we’re lucky to have them around. Please note that there isn’t a single word on the packaging of this record except for the faintest hint of the band’s name in the graffiti-inspired cover art, look for the weirdest looking collage cover in your best-stocked record store’s “S” section and you might just find it.
Speaking of packaging, the new MALIMPLIKI record is just goddamn adorable! A laughing troll graces the cover, flanked by a smiling flower and a cute frog and the included poster/insert features a zoo’s worth of cheerful cartoon animals. I assume they’re all so happy because one of Japan’s most ferocious underground bands finally have a record that’ll be relatively easy to get a hold of! This is completely crushing, adding a bit of a MOB 47 speed to their previous TOTALITÄR influenced sound. Five tracks in total, three high-speed crushers, one more mid-tempo grinder, closing with the whistle- driven rocker “Minimuma Kultura Vivo” all sung in Esperanto, the international language of peace. I very much hope that this new record is well-distributed by Hardcore Survives and is able to get into the hands of punx around the world because MALIMPLIKI are a fucking great band, picking up the gauntlet laid down by previous all-female Japanese extreme bands like DEFUSE, CRUSADE, and the GAIA and running with it.
Thanks to excellent distribution by Doomed to Extinction Records, there is already a fair amount of excitement around the new DEFORMED EXISTENCE Hate With Patriotism demo cassette. As well there should be because it’s a fucking ripper. The aesthetic and style are very much of a piece with ’90s crust punk, from AUS ROTTEN and REACT to Swedish crust ala early DISFEAR and DRILLER KILLER with a few nods to Japanese crust gods ACID and the almighty DOOM as well. The sound is huge for a three piece (though the guitar is a bit buried in the mix) with clear barked vocals and super hard-hitting drumming. It’s such a breath of fresh air to hear good, classic-sounding crust with explicitly political lyrics and a genuine approach. This band is good now and I can see them approaching greatness as they carry on.
Let’s close out with a very important reissue. It seems impossible from a Western punk perspective that a 1997 punk release could be considered revolutionary or pioneering but that’s exactly what the BOLLOCKS Revolution cassette was to the Malaysian punk scene. Its influence is clearly laid out in the excellent insert to Glord Records’LPreissueoftheoriginalcassette, featuring remembrances of the original record’s influence from a ton of local punx and aninterviewaboutthehistorysurrounding the recording, release and distribution of Revolution with bassist Adik. The record itself is fuckin’ fantastic, careening from melodic streetpunk to metallic hardcore, all retaining the rough-and-ready recording and replay sound of the original cassette. This is 100% freedom music, mostly focused on building up the punk scene and tearing down the institutions that oppress the people. There’s even one song, sung in Malay that decries the (then) war in Bosnia and declares solidarity with the innocent victims of that conflict. The Southeast Asian punk scene is finally getting some long overdue attention in the West with some crucial reissues of classic records by Filipino bands, I hope that Glord Records and others will be able to do the same for classic Malay punk as well. It bears mentioning that besides the fantastic insert, the rest of this record’s packaging is great as well, with a heavy-duty gatefold reproducing the original art and lyrics (with new annotations!) and a 180-gram LP on clear with black splatters. This pressing is limited to 300 copies, I implore you to track one down ASAP!
This is my last ever column for MRR in a print manifestation; the first column that I wrote for was in the July 2015 issue, which means that I’ve been doing this for almost exactly four years now. I had absolutely zero aspirations to be a columnist, and it’s honestly not something that ever crossed my mind for even a moment before I actually signed up for it. When Grace was still the content coordinator and she had reached out to me to see if I’d have any interest in doing a music column focused on post-punk and weirdo DIY sounds past and present that might not be getting much or any attention elsewhere in the magazine, it really caught me off-guard. Why would anyone bother to read what I had to say about music? Why not leave it to someone who presents as way more “punk” than I feel like I do? Ever since the announcement that MRR was going to cease to exist as a monthly magazine, I’ve heard really similar lines of thought from so many people when recounting their feelings of inadequacy when it came to getting involved at MRR (or in DIY punk in general, for that matter). And not surprisingly, hardly any of those people were straight, white cis- men. We’re conditioned to doubt ourselves, to discount or minimize our knowledge and abilities, to constantly measure ourselves up against arbitrary external standards. I’ve literally been an active participant in DIY punk for half of my life, but I’m constantly struggling with the feeling that I’m still trying to catch up somehow.
Long story short, being asked to do this column was one of the first times that I ever truly felt like all of my years of researching, obsessing over, and advocating for off-kilter genius underground music were seen as being credible and valuable, and I feel so fortunate to have been given this platform—it’s something that I took extremely seriously, to the point of giving myself anxiety attacks while trying to articulate my thoughts for this column every month. In my weird archivist mind, the significance of proper documentation is so paramount, and there were so many bands and recordings that I wanted to pull out from the margins and include in my allotted 2000 words per issue, whether it was a group of punk women who recorded one single in 1981 and then immediately disbanded, or small- town modern art-punk freaks uploading their demos to Bandcamp in 2019.
It’s easy to forget in an increasingly screen- oriented world, but there’s a certain inherent impermanence to born-digital content, and contrary to what some people might argue, you really can’t find “everything” online. I think about the stacks of fanzines from the 1980s that I’ve collected, with the laid-out-by-hand ads for micro-labels that might have only ever released a tape compilation or two, photos of bands who played a handful of shows but never made any proper recordings, or reviews of albums that still haven’t been uploaded to Youtube or chronicled on someone’s minimal synth blog. All of these things live on through those printed pages, and often only through those printed pages. This magazine has existed for nearly four decades, and the significance of that longevity and legacy can’t be understated. I’ve loved being able to contribute to the documentation of all sorts of wild sounds that might otherwise be lost to time, knowing that by creating a permanent record in print, they would be preserved as a part of punk history as reflected in MRR, and one that could still be referenced years down the line. I took this column on as a challenge to myself, to throw myself into something that was overwhelming and outside of my comfort zone in a lot of ways, and battling all of my frustration and self-doubt in the process has been more than worth it to have had this outlet to shout out even just a fraction of the people on the fringes of punk and DIY who I feel deserve more than that.
I’m not exactly sure what’s next for MRR or how I might fit into that, but let’s keep in touch, okay? Email is email@example.com, sights and sounds are at futuresandpasts.org.
LET’S NOT SAY GOODBYE… LET’S JUST SAY SO LONG FOR NOW…
Imagine you’re riding up a roller coaster. Slowly you ascend to the top. The intensity level builds, then over the pinnacle you go, plummeting downward, feeling as though the car is going to go off the track or completely out of control…”
Those were the first words I ever wrote for Maximum Rocknroll, in issue No. 15 (July ’84) and it was for a piece on the legendary (not a word I use lightly) Massachusetts band SIEGE. I’d met and interviewed the band a few months earlier and they asked me to write an intro of sorts. I’d been reading the zine since the beginning. I can’t recall if writing for them had crossed my mind up to that point. I wanted to write something that captured the feeling I had the first time I saw them play. Maybe the writing was a tad pretentious but I wanted it to stand out more than “Siege are a fast hardcore punk band from Weymouth, MA.” And it got my foot in the proverbial door, as I soon began contributing the Boston scene reports on a fairly frequent basis, as well as pieces on such bands as Rhode Island’s VICIOUS CIRCLE and Bostonians SORRY. Speaking of the latter, check them out if you never have—their second album The Way it Is is one of the most overlooked discs of the 1980s. I was flattered when the coordinator at the time, who I knew from his old band, asked me to come on board as a columnist in 2005. I think I’ve only missed a handful of them over the past 14 or so years and that was mainly due to family emergencies. I wanted to make sure I got at least something published every month, while I was slacking on my own zine/blog—which I still am, but that’s another story.
I wrote that SIEGE piece at a time when punk became a way of life for me, so to speak, or at least an escape from a dreary day-to- day existence, spending eight hours a day working at a job I hated, in a bank. Putting on that fucking shirt and tie every day and, at that time, working in a windowless office with co-workers’ whose chain smoking rivaled the cast of Mad Men.
At least there were a few fringe benefits. When I worked in that office (the loan department), I’d open the envelopes with the loan payments and there would be at least a few uncanceled stamps. There was a xerox machine nearby so when I had the office to myself or at least the boss was away, I could make copies of flyers for my penpals all over the world. They probably figured I wasn’t too into the job because I eventually got demoted back to teller.
Even before I wrote the SIEGE article, I was already making contacts through the scene reports and classified ads. The high point of the day would be going home from work and seeing what treasures waited by the mailbox, then excitedly carrying them up the stairs to my one room studio apartment and immediately putting a record on the turntable and clearing away any residual misery from the last several hours. I can’t stress enough how important that was and how it kept me more or less sane.
It’s really sad to see the decline of print publications. I used to get a fair number of zines in the mail but that’s pretty much dried up to nothing. And more publications are going online or offering either print or digital versions. It’s understandable, because mailing and printing costs have become astronomical. So I have to give respect to individuals who still crank out print publications. Welly has kept his Artcore print zine going since 1986. German zine Trust started in 1986 and is up to almost 200 issues, printing on a bi-monthly basis. Jack Rabid (an early MRR columnist) still publishes The Big Takeover. I don’t like about 95% of the music he covers but he knows his shit and I admire his dedication. I discovered some favorite bands through his writing, especially LEATHERFACE. He was an early champion of that band and right on the money.
I also have to give a tip of the hat to Razorcake, who continue to produce a quality read every other month, filled with interviews of punk musicians from the past and present. I have a huge pile I haven’t read yet because, to be honest, it’s tough to find the time. Story of my life—books, records, magazines—I have a backlog of all of them. Once in awhile, I’ll open one and read an interview or two. I’ll think maybe it’s time to throw them out because there’s little chance I’ll ever catch up but it’s hard to do. A lot of effort went into those publications and the people at Razorcake, most of whom are lifers (some of them got their start with Flipside or wrote for this esteemed publication back in the ’80s and ’90s), have always been supportive of my writing over the years and you can tell they’re doing it for the right reasons. They’re not cutting and pasting press releases and passing it off as music journalism or doing “premieres” on their websites. They’re not acting as an arm of a music or publicity company.
And, man, there’s some wretched music writing out there these days. To be honest, there’s always been bad music writing. There aren’t a whole lot of Lester Bangs or Mick Farrens out there anymore. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, look it up. Or read my column because I’ve shamelessly stolen from both over the years (shhhhh).
The terrible writing not only applies to reviews but also for press releases. Someone must have sold or given my name to dozens of publicists because my email inbox is clogged day after day with solicitations for music that is far outside of my scope of coverage. We’re talking hip-hop, Americana, folk, dance music, etc. Once in awhile, I’ll write back and ask them if they’ve actually seen my blog, read my columns or listened to my radio show. There are a few who are at least in the same ballpark—companies that feature some punk, metal, industrial and so-on. I’ll occasionally bite and find good music for the radio show. Of course, these are “digital” promos, which I still generally won’t review.
Speaking of cutting and pasting, one way I’ve been amusing myself and others lately is posting passages from some of the most ridiculous press releases that come through the inbox on my Facebook page. These reek of pretentious drivel that usually amounts to impenetrable word salad and leaves you scratching your head wondering what they fuck it is they’re talking about? I know the SIEGE piece I wrote in 1984 is also hyperbolic and my reviewing has been criticized as “useless” by a few people but, as I said a few columns ago, you can’t please everyone.
Anyway, this release, received from a PR firm a few months ago and originally published by the band in question’s record label, pretty much takes the cake. The introductory paragraph says they’re a blackened hardcore outfit. But then it goes on to say: “While lyrically ruminating in the abstract emptiness of an impervious void and grappling with paradoxical duality, the auditory gloom of (album title) conjures sorrowing burial strings that furiously discharge into an onslaught of punishing resonance wrought with crushing despair, depression, and scavenging hopelessness.”
Shall I continue? “Pummeling blasts and D-beats pound into peripherally orbiting shadows of the pixelated black, beneath the pulverizing density of nihilistic bass distortion in a mournful offering of somber funeral strains; the digested celestial nothingness of the eaten, frozen in dimensions of cyclical nooses and gnawing bacterial ether. Conceived incarnations of sorrowful mists from the harvest, bereaving the morbid light in which we suffer.”
I think they could have saved time by just saying they’re a blackened hardcore outfit. I might have added they mixed hardcore, death metal and crust into a gloomy concoction. There you go. In fact, it’s not really that bad. The songs are on the long side—the shortest one is still nearly five minutes long—but I could see some of you who like the heavier stuff enjoying this (I’ll spill it—the album is Lament and the band is TOTALED). I might have written a bit more but I think it conveys things effectively. There’s really no sense in being as verbose as the author of the press release since I don’t get paid by the word. Hell, I don’t get paid anything.
There were some funny responses to it in the thread on my page. One individual said it looked like something from Mad Libs: Metal Edition. Someone else succinctly called it “word diarrhea.” Rick Sims, from the late great DIDJITS, opined, “Whatever happened to ‘It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it??’” If you don’t get the reference, Google “Dick Clark good beat” and you’ll find out. While you’re at it, go on YouTube and type in “American Bandstand PIL.” That was one of the more surreal appearances on Clark’s long- running show. After that, look for YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s appearance on “Soul Train,” where they do a very cool cover of ARCHIE BELL & THE DRELLS’ “Tighten Up.” Seeing a very confused Don Cornelius interview them is pretty humorous. He asks YMO’s drummer/vocalist Yuki Takahashi about influences. Yuki mentions KRAFTWERK and asks Don if he knows them. Don goes, “Of course. Hey, this is Big Don here, brother!” but then he admits he’s not familiar with the record.
Music criticism is rife with trite phrases, tropes, clichés and so on. Michael Azerrad is the author of the 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life—Scenes from the American Underground 1981-1991. I’ve only read it once and that was when I got it but it was more or less an overview for people who generally think nothing happened musically between the SEX PISTOLS and NIRVANA. The chapters center around individual bands and covers the “big names” of the ’80s era, like BLACK FLAG, MINOR THREAT, MINUTEMEN, HÜSKER DÜ, MISSION OF BURMA, SONIC YOUTH, and BUTTHOLE SURFERS. It gives a somewhat adequate overview of what happened then. MRR is mentioned and the bibliography includes a number of underground publications, including yours truly’s. But it doesn’t go too far underground. DIY is only given a passing mention and not always in a positive fashion. Andit’scriminalthatabandasimportantasthe WIPERS doesn’t garner any attention at all.
In recent years, Azerrad has a Twitter account called @RockCriticLaw, which basically pokes fun at music critic crutches and clichés—overused expressions like “seminal,” “criminally underrated” or “angular.” Writing things like, “Quickly strummed guitar chords with a lot of distortion must be compared to a buzzsaw” or that a singer with a raspy voice has been “gargling with broken glass.” Those tweets have been collected into a book called Rock Critic Law: 101 Unbreakable Rules for Writing Badly About Music. It’s Azerrad’s first since Our Band Could Be Your Life. It’s a fast, funny read and it also strikes very close to home because I’m guilty of using many of those expressions and phrases. I’ve called drummers “sticksmen” and referred to second albums as “sophomore efforts.” However, I have never used the term seminal in any column or blog I’ve done in this century. And I’ve only used “visceral,” a word that someone once said I use too often, 15 or 20 times in the past 14 or 15 years. Once a year? Not too bad, I say.
Azerrad’s not completely innocent, either. In a Slate magazine article, Matthew Kassel decided to investigate Azerrad’s books to see if he’d “obeyed” his own laws and Kassel finds that he’s disobeyed about 18 of them— saying that undistorted guitars are “chiming” or “ringing” or “jangling,” saying a vocalist is “prowling” across a stage” or a bass player is the only musician who can be “nimble.” He got busted for those and I’ve used them as well. I use “post-punk” as a common description and say those bands are spiky, angular or arty quite frequently. In fact, the number is probably a lot higher for me than Azerrad. I didn’t count how many because, well, it’d be too embarrassing. My only defense is, after 35+ years of writing about music that’s usually in a limited stylistic ballpark, at least in the grand musical scheme of things (another cliché! Ah-HA! You’re so busted, Al), it’s sometimes tough to come up with new and creative ways to say things and not descend into the maelstrom of pretentiousness (Oops… I did it again!).
I’d better quit while I’m still ahead. Thanks to everyone I’ve worked with at MRR, both past and present, even those I’ve had the (very) infrequent disagreement or difference of opinion with. And I hope that I’ll be able to continue contributing online.
If anyone wants to get in touch, my contact info/web pages remain the same: Al Quint, PO Box 43, Peabody, MA 01960, subvox82@ gmail.com, sonicoverload.net and subvox. blogspot.com
This column and every project I’ve ever done or will do are in loving memory of Jane Simpkin (1965–2001) and Chelle LaBarge (1966–2015)
A few weeks ago, during a lazy Sunday afternoon, a woman rang my bell and asked my opinion on the point of life. I cut the conversation short and told her I would not join whatever cult she was recruiting for. A few hours later I was wondering whether she was ready to experience the exact same possible epiphany that she expected from me. Was she prepared to say, if I poured my vision out to her, whether that could bring her peace, give more sense for her existence and change everything?
Then I wondered when was I ever ready to encounter anything that might subvert my life and as I was digging through my mental palace—which I call “tam tam”—I realized this is my constant wish. Although, since I am not eight years old or “crazy,” things I encounter do not alter my reality on daily basis. At the same time they definitely do. But whenever I look for new bands, whenever there is a new record that has come out, whenever I go to a show to see acts I have not heard of before—I want them to, I hope they will be something so good I cannot even imagine them, like experiencing a new color, so fresh that it will turn my world upside down. I’m driven to search for this forever; this is why I look for bands that don’t recycle already existing forms but, instead, invent their own sound that reflects on their own environment and conditions.
This is why MRR is such an important institution. It is not a channel that filters the world of punk but a platform where everyone has the chance to show what they are up to. A chance to alter even MRR itself. Although I spent manic weekends counting issues without scene reports and made statistics on the amount and outcome of US vs. non- US reviews, still MRR provides a chance for bands to show who they are, what they do and why do they do it.
Punk turns bad when platforms are mistaken as filters and effort is wasted trying to fit the shit to the pipe. I appreciate that MRR was able to shift from an important and cool radical publication to a chaotic mess no one really seemed to care about anymore and then back, sometimes within a quarter of a year. It shows that MRR only cared about itself, made mistakes, and presented what punk was. No one can escape this responsibility: all punks made MRR what it is.
I stopped writing my column because I got bored of the modern bands and of my modern self. I got upset by my unsuccessful adventures to find bands in hidden places who played amazing music. Many of these foreign sites were empty. I got tired of bands’ sonic searches that turned to following and got tired of me waiting on something to happen. I also got bored of telling my opinion. I rather wanted to hear others. I felt I was just filling out a template every month, and I felt I’d rather hear others opinion; I’d rather be a manic fan of someone else than try to beat some sense into my typing.
I miss stories and it feels as if the modern world takes them away. I still get excited about bands and feel like I should tell the whole world, not sure exactly whether they sound amazing or even how much I love their amazing sound, but I also feel guilty for trying to shape the world around me by trying to convince others to feel the unbearable enthusiasm I got from some nonsense guitar parts. I feel bad when I dump a lot of information on people. I can give someone years of music and they will just have it without their own part of ownership. Without the search, without figuring things out, without luck, without excitement, detective games, paying attention, to lack, to desire and finally be satisfied with something completely different.
This is a bleak future, one without everyone having their own reference points, sounds, shameful mistakes, hidden favorites. I would like everyone to be different, unique with only excitement in common. And if we are lucky, we will end up at the same places but via different paths. Forget echoes, I want to learn about new things rather than to hear how similar others are.
This is might sound stupid but please respect my “crazy” idea, I invested a lot of time into developing it.
I also do cheat in every possible and lame way but there is nothing that I like better than the bands I have found on my own.
Stories are key. I wonder why at 32 I prefer to listen to 16 year olds who recorded their songs 30 years ago. It might be because they were not even intended to invent anything that is hailed and strictly followed now but they expressed their own stories with whatever they had. And they did not have too much. When they learned and tried to play music, they failed.
I thought a lot about Cosey Fanni Tutti writing that THROBBING GRISTLE played industrial music as a reflection of the industrial environment of their then-contemporary life and not because they liked how they sounded. The result—the songs—was the end of the fun. If it was self-expression for them that we can only witness, listen to, then that is it. We cannot fully relive or participate in their experience. Should we at all?
By liking how they sound, would we like what they were reflecting on? Or should we like what they were doing? Do you know that I am not only talking about THROBBING GRISTLE but mostly all crasher crust bands who keep singing about nuclear wars and genocides?
We should tell our own stories rather than reproduce reflections, it is way too meta to be real. SORTO, WRETCHED, and CONFUSE are some of my favorite bands because they were brave enough to run ahead, move forward, not stop at lines. If I complain about the current scenes then I do not want Italian bands to sound like BEDBOYS or STINKY RATS, nor do I want the reanimation of SOLUNSKI FRONT or DISTRESS in Serbia but I want local bands to be brave and inventive enough to tell their current stories the way they want, inspired by the boldness of past bands who created something new and they stopped but have not finished anything. Punk is still open. Everything is.
The good thing in punk, and in everything else, is that if you are brave enough and if you just put in everything you feel then it will sound, look, be amazing. Hello PIG DNA, EXIT HIPPIES.
Punk used to be local, it was about personal suffering, local politics, inside jokes, diatribes against the neighbors. Regions had their own sound. Now bands sound like record labels and festivals with slots for exclusive shows. The same, few, very talented people master and mix a large percent of records, the same, few, very talented people make the layout and design for a large percent of records. They sound and look the same no matter if they are from different continents. It tells a lot about a subculture, it tells almost nothing about the people and their context. It is pretty boring.
It fuels me to read about PLASMID practicing and recording on the forth floor of their block of flats. In the current environment there would be people trying to book that exact same room for a studio session. We mistake uniqueness for future standards. I do think it is amazing what La Vida Es Un Mus does but it should be an example of how one built this from a basement and how brave some of his choices were. And now we can yelp “oh Spanish punk is trendy” or “bands from Singapore are hyped” but why don’t you make your local scene cool, unique, better, different? Why wait on others?
I grew up in Budapest, Hungary. It is the capital of a Central European country. We are not as exotic as the Balkans but wild and damaged enough to be misunderstood by the West. I spent most of my time in a small room listening to punk music in a flat in a six floor brutalist building that was a part of several streets of concrete block. In this hole I started to write what ended up here. MRR thought it was cool what I was doing and I am still not cool. But I did what I felt was missing from my world and it turned out it had place at MRR. Via this, I have become a part of something bigger. I received messages from people who still shock me if I think about how they like what I do. Shout out to the Swedish guy who offered me to smash his face with a brick! I still cannot believe that Layla hired me for this, my favorite punk writer. I guess the conclusion is obvious. Just tell your fucking story and fuck shit up.
Bandmates require time, attention, patience, forgiveness, stimulation, trust, and a general sense of commitment, same as a partner, and I believe that band relationships are just as important as any romantic relationship. They’ll become a part of your life, good or bad, and if you’re going to stay together all these things need to be addressed. That’s what this column is here for: to discuss why bands fight, why bands work or don’t work, why bands succeed, and why bands break up. In almost every way this is kind of a relationship column, to examine the fragile relationships that you have with your bandmates.
I have a running list of topics and issues that bands face that I choose to talk about each month, and it’s nice to take a few weeks to reflect on it and try to really formulate an opinion. Examine my own personal experiences, listen to other’s experiences, consider the opposite side and try to consider how each member involved felt and what they went through. I get to feel healthy and centered when doing this, but something that I tend to forget about is that feeling of being blindsided and having to process everything on the fly. I’m writing this in my room at 12:49 a.m. now that I’m home from band practice, during which we lost a band member. I walked into the studio tonight literally only ten minutes late and one of our guitarists was absent. There was a tense feeling in the room and everyone just kind of fell into a song without talking.
An hour later when we took a break they told me that our guitarist “Rachel” wasn’t in the band anymore. I literally chuckled and sipped my beer, totally brushing it off. Our guitarist “Neil” reiterated that she was gone and that was it. I didn’t even process it. Of course she’s not gone. I was ten minutes late, there is no way a decision like that could be reached in ten minutes. Neil hadn’t been happy with her for a while apparently, but she’s only been in the band for about a year so she’s still finding her voice. She herself has also been frustrated apparently because she doesn’t feel like she’s made much progress in finding her footing as well. Regardless, parting ways is a huge decision with five band members involved, and there’s no way we can objectively make huge decisions in one night, let alone ten minutes. Once the others started weighing in and I heard their sides and opinions it started to take shape and become real. Still, I wasn’t going to agree to this in one night, and I was confident in that.
The more we talked and started to put pieces together I could see that this was much bigger and longer than one evening, and I started to feel the cold sweat of considering the fact that she may no longer be a part of this band. When I think back, it’s true. She hadn’t been happy, both with our process and with her own clashing with that. She’s hard on herself, and I’ve seen that a lot. I understand, and I’ve always tried to downplay that struggle because I want to be the factor that reiterates that the positive outweighs the struggle and she’s totally worth it. This is her first time playing our genre of music, and we’re admittedly horrible at communicating what’s happening, let alone being effective teachers in any sense of the word. Neil knows exactly what he wants but has never been very good at communicating it, using body language and conflicted vibes in lieu of words. We know the genre really well because we all grew up with it, so we can pick up on what band’s influence he’s channeling and follow him from there. She’s brand new to this, so she’s treading water in an ocean of material without any of us being an effective life preserver. On the other hand, she does admittedly have a lot on her plate with work and outside projects, plus recently getting out of a big relationship doesn’t leave a lot of emotional room to struggle every week and essentially fall behind from the rest of us. We go on tour next month and I know she’s been stressing about that as well, so it very well could be too much too fast with horrible timing. By the end of the night I was starting to consider what I wasn’t at all willing to put on the table: what if she’s honestly just not the right fit at this point in everyone’s life?
Fuck, that’s hard to consider. She gels with us really well on a personal level, and her instincts musically being so different from ours was really inspiring and I felt like she was breathing new life into the band. The problem was that it wasn’t consistent, and every time she was flying blind without a parachute hoping that she’ll land on something cleanly that will benefit us as a whole. But the adrenaline and uncertainty didn’t leave her any room to retain any of what she was doing so she couldn’t find a groove to replicate it. If we had time, and we were better at communicating, we could commit to that time to address her struggles and help her through it. But we’ve been a band for ten years and we have a shorthand that’s hard to clearly draw out. Honestly if someone wants to join our family they’re going to need a lot of time and patience to push themselves to figure us all out. If she’s at a point in her life that she doesn’t have that to give, than maybe it’s time to part ways. I absolutely hate that feeling and it completely breaks my heart, but just because we’re open to finding another member to add to what we’re making doesn’t mean we can assign that role out of convenience. I want to assume that I’ve encountered enough shit to be able to apply scars to any situation, but honestly things like this transcend logic. It’s not something that you decide with your head. It’s not worth it to fight the current if the goal is to convince the ocean otherwise, and sometimes the first instinct is worth giving the lead to. At these times you don’t even have to follow the lead, you can just float and let the current make the right decisions. Damn it, that makes me so sad to to write it out and acknowledge it, but I guess it feels a little better to therapeutically write it out and make it real. I don’t know if there’s necessarily any advice in there, expect that sometimes the best option is the only option, and sometimes letting someone go is best for everyone, but fuck I’m really going to miss her. Guess I’m all grown up now.
Each month BAND DRAMA will either be reviewing a universal issue that all bands face, or I’ll be reviewing one of your band’s issues. I feel like it might be even easier now that Maximum will transition to being fully online, so the connection will be even quicker and easier. We ain’t dead yet, and we’ll get each other through this just like we do everything else. So if you’d like a fresh perspective, advice, or just to vent in general (anonymously or not) reach out to banddramamrr@gmail. com. I’ve been in a lot of bands for the past sixteen years, which means that I’ve been in a lot of bands that have ended or failed. I’d like to think that I’ve grown from each, learned from each, and taken the time to reflect on each failure or success. I’m also still learning and experiencing and I always will be. So I want to share what I’ve learned, as well as learn from all y’all punks in bands too.
I started this column the same way I have the past 9 months or so—I opened up a spiral notebook to look at a list of barely half thought-out column ideas. Most of these ideas are only a few words long, and probably thought up in the shower. A few days after each month’s deadline, I look at them and sigh to myself—I know that none of the ideas written down are worthy of the pages of MRR, but I have to choose one of them and just run with it. This month, I have that same feeling that all my ideas are complete drivel, but with the added sadness that I won’t get the chance to write them all. Sure, I probably never would have written 1,500 words on “not punk in high school, not punk for life,” but now that I can’t, I really want to. Does a “long-form review of Metal Machine Music as an entry point for discussing the history of musique concrète” even belong in a magazine about contemporary punk? Absolutely not, but I am going to regret not being able to write it. And certainly no one would want to read a column that claims “the most recent tiki revival is a direct critique on Donald Trump,” who found pu-pu platters so tacky that he personally closed down Trader Vic’s in 1989. That was a column I was excited to write as the election closed in. So, too, will I regret not writing about how leap day is the greatest holiday waiting to be turned punk, or a plea that Halloween celebrations be returned to October 31, regardless of the day of the week. And honestly, I don’t even remember what headspace I was in when I scrawled “putting out records is not a worthwhile pursuit,” but now I even want to write that too.
But what actually merits a place in the last monthly print issue of MRR? Well, it seems fitting that I should dedicate my small space to something other than my own asinine ideas. Instead, let me sing the praises of my favorite record: You Goddam Kids! by GEZA X And The MOMMYMEN.
As a bona fide power pal, I’ve sung the praises of GEZA to anyone who would listen for years. I stopped a gig to explain that it was he himself, the first true genius of American punk, who invented the headset microphone, and as such I felt totally comfortable using one—despite the objective correlative to late ’90s mega-pop. Every day, when I pop a handful of pills, I ask the ether in a nasally voice, “Doctor, what’s wrong with me? Doctor, what’s wrong with me? Doctor, what’s wrong with me?” When I sit down with a nearly finished recording, I always invoke the muse. “Save us, Geza,” I ask, and end up adding a few extra layers of xylophone or jaw harp. He pervades almost every aspect of my life, and if you have time, I’d like to talk to you for a moment about our Lord and savior, GEZA X.
You Goddam Kids! may be GEZA’s only eponymous LP release (though his band SILVER CHALICE would put out an LP in 1985—not nearly the KBD gem of their ’79 7”, but still worth a listen), but by the time it came out in 1981, Geza was already credited in the liner notes on almost every release from California that matters. As a product of 1960s counterculture, Geza was a bit older than his Hollywood contemporaries and was one of the few new punks who had some tangible know- how behind a mixing board, though much of his pre-punk experience was recording “lot of mariachi and disco” bands. Because he was working in the studio across the street from the Masque, he ended up being the sound guy there, “sort of by default.” But, being behind the soundboard at the Masque made him the most visible and obvious choice to produce a whole slew of records that were about to spew forth from the LA scene.
Working constantly as the in-house engineer for Dangerhouse and the entire Hollywood scene meant that the last thing Geza really wanted to do after a long day of black-beauties and recording was work on his own records. He likens it to a gardener’s own lawn being in complete disarray. So, we are left with precious few GEZA X recordings— despite his influence on other people’s recordings stretching further than almost any other punk.
So why is this LP, itself, so special? A lot of bands like to make the claim that they don’t really sound like anyone else. In most cases, that statement is self-aggrandizing delusion. You Goddam Kids! actually doesn’t sound like any other record. You could make some comparisons to the funkier BLACK RANDY songs, but the MOMMYMEN aren’t really funky, despite their heavy use of saxophones. This is undeniably a punk record—the songs are relatively simple in their structure. The arrangement, though, is just absolutely wild. Geza concerns himself with texture. There are xylophones; there are backup vocals in soprano, alto, tenor, and bass registers; the record oozes with horns; there are bleeps and bloops and bells and whistles everywhere. Even something as simple as the guitar tone was over-thought until it became something mesmerizingly new—the “Gezatone.” That can be heard in an earlier incarnation on the Lexicon Devil 7”, as instead of running through an amp, Geza ran Pat’s guitar through a dozen pedals and then straight into the board. And there’s a reason why that 7” version is so much better than the LP version, no? Mainly, Geza was more adventurous than his contemporaries when it came to venturing out of sonic pockets. The lyrics is endearingly cheesy, but what else would you expect from a genuine eccentric like Geza? Any time I get frustrated with recording in the digital age, I imagine him on the floor of his studio, cutting the JOSIE COTTON demo into a million different pieces and splicing each one back together again. To him, there were never any shortcuts to making art, but what’s the point of creating something if you aren’t going to unnecessarily overcomplicate it?
So, why did I use this last column in the last issue of Maximum Rocknroll to discuss GEZA X? Well, because Geza still makes his living recording, mixing, and mastering. He doesn’t charge extra because he’s a legend— just honest and affordable rates because he’s doing what he loves. A few years ago, he mixed and mastered a 7” for a band I was in for $200—and he didn’t phone it in, either. He went out of his way to ask for a couple parts to be re-recorded because he truly cared about the end product. My point is that you can still contact him via his “Studio X at The Vortex,” and he will be more than happy to work on your record. The world still needs more records that Geza works on, and your band can help remedy that. I couldn’t be more excited to hear what you create together.
[E]verything that was in opposition was good… —Michael Baumann, How It All Began, 1975
No one who likes swing can become a Nazi. —Arvid (Frank Whaley), Swing Kids, 1993
It was Movie Night at Maximum Rocknroll at the old Clipper Street headquarters circa 1994. The featured movie was Thomas Carter’s 1993 film Swing Kids. It was Tim and me and maybe one other person. I think Tim actually made Jiffy Pop popcorn and I had my ubiquitous six pack. The plot was simple; as the Nazi Party rises to power in pre-WWII Germany a tight countercultural scene of young kids grow their hair long, wear British fashion and use Harlem slang as they listen to banned American swing music, hold underground dances and street fight the Hitler Youth. Two rebellious young men take different paths—one into the Hitler Youth, the other into the Swing Kids and eventually jail.
The parallels to the mid-1990s were clear, with the rise of the Right politically and the explosion of punk’s second hardcore wave in the streets. After the closing credits rolled and Tim popped out the VHS tape he made the connections explicit. “Punk is like swing was in Nazi Germany. It’s the core of a revolutionary youth culture with rebellious kids resisting fascism in the streets.”
Tim loved punk, no doubt about it, but he was also on a mission. He not only wanted to cover the scene and its music, he wanted to push the politics of punk to the fore. And that link between punk music, the scene, its politics, and the fight against the Right is crucial to understanding both Tim Yo and his project, MRR. Tim considered MRR a lynchpin between punk music and the punk scene on the one hand and the Left’s fight against reactionary politics on the other hand.
Tim was a friend. We both loved punk rock but whereas I had eclectic tastes ranging from pop to noise Tim insisted on only the rawest, most aggressive three chord rock’n’roll. We didn’t hang out together at shows although we were sometimes at the same shows. We were both politically on the Left although he was a mellowing Marxist-Leninist and I was an aspiring libertarian Marxist. Tim had a loud raucous belly laugh, could hit a fly ball over the fence, and was dedicated to the punk scene like nobody’s business. But he was also rigid, authoritarian, and sometimes an unmitigated asshole. In fact, when Tim was dying of non-Hodgkins lymphoma and preparing MRR’s transition team to take over, he advised us never to shy away from being an asshole when it was warranted. Meaning, we needed to stand firm about making the tough decisions—firing idiot shitworkers, refusing connections with sketchy bands and labels, cutting out cancerous corporate influences— whenever necessary. Tim and I were friends, but we weren’t ever “besties.” And I was never part of the coterie of friends who played Risk at the MRR house. Tim had modified the rules to make the game more ruthless, and there was no better metaphor than that long- running Risk game for Tim’s aspirations to punk rock world domination.
This tribute to Tim is also about the print edition of MRR. But MRR, which began publishing as a zine in 1982, started much earlier as a radio show in 1973. Both the early years of the radio show and the beginnings of the magazine involved a quadrumvirate of pioneering punkers—Tim Yo, Ruth Schwartz, Jeff Bale, and Jello Biafra—who changed punk rock in the Bay Area and internationally. Never the sharpest shōnen knife in the punk rock drawer, Jello fully deserved losing the Dead Kennedys back catalog for ripping off his band. Now a para-alt-rightwinger, Jeff Bale dropped racial epithets when his vintage sports car was vandalized by black kids. A millionaire hipster capitalist, Ruth Schwartz abandoned her faux conscious capitalist ethics when confronted with unionizing efforts by workers at Mordam Records. Having known and worked with them all, the only one I truly trusted was Tim Yo who, despite his personal flaws and political problems, was forthright, genuine, and completely dedicated to the scene. Tim helped me get the job at Mordam and in turn I fed him inside information about the distributor. When Tim moved to drop Mordam as MRR’s distributor, I gave Tim detailed backroom distribution and sales information ahead of the move, and provided him with lists of the distributors and sub-distributors Mordam dealt with. My punk loyalty was to Tim and MRR, first and foremost.
Tim’s influence on punk rock was epic and wide ranging. Tim and MRR arguably coined the term DIY—do it yourself—as well as defined the anti-corporate, bottom- up, decentralized nature of punk rock with regular scene reports and calls to “support your local scene,” two crucial characteristics of punk. Punk projects that Tim initiated— from the radio show to Gilman Street—are still going strong today. He made “no major labels” the magazine’s rallying cry. And Tim was an adamant anti-fascist, insisting that the magazine and affiliated projects have absolutely no truck with Nazis. He routinely confronted Nazis when the entire Gilman Street community shut down punk shows in response to Nazi skins in the pit. The vagaries of print media notwithstanding, MRR kept publishing for 16 years under Tim’s direction and 20 years after his death, quite a feat for an all-volunteer not-for-profit punk zine. Tim’s insistence that punk rock get back to basics with his 1994 purge of MRR’s record collection and music coverage forced punk to return to three chords and the truth, the basis for the music’s original greatness that fostered a revival of the genre.
Ultimately, the connections Tim fostered through MRR between punk music, the youthful punk scene, its leftist politics, and the fight against the Right and fascism influenced me the most. It’s facile to argue that because the young are rebellious by nature there can be no particular political philosophy innate to any form of rock’n’roll. The young are considered rebels without a cause and therefore without a clue. “Just don’t fucking tell me what to do!” is supposedly their mantra. But while the young are often individually rebellious for the sheer sake of rebelliousness, with all opposition considered good, there were definite political trends brought about by concrete material circumstances. As social phenomena, the rebellious hippie counterculture of the 1960s and the defiant punk subculture beginning in the 1970s were viscerally anti-authoritarian, which stimulated interest in and a revival of anarchism each time. No similar interest in conservative politics emerged, putting the lie to the claim that “conservatives are the new punk.” Fascism remained anathema irrespective of these youthful rebellions.
It’s equally facile to contend that because Tim witnessed the ’60s radical youth counterculture firsthand and was rumored to have been in the Revolutionary Communist Party in the ’70s he intended MRR to be a punk rock Bolshevik Party. As I pointed out above regarding MRR’s origins, Tim worked with a collection of fellow punks who differed wildly from him politically. MRR was frequently criticized as narrow-minded, politically correct, and elitist, but it never attempted to be a political vanguard for punk. The magazine’s shitworkers and columnists were diverse and their politics, while generally left wing, were eclectic. Tim had strong opinions and politics, but he was never a punk rock Stalin.
I was making links between punk and politics before I moved to the Bay Area. Joining MRR and working with Tim not only deepened those links, it changed my life. Not miraculously, but nevertheless significantly. My musical experience broadened dramatically as a result of hanging out at the MRR house. The anti- statist and anti-authoritarian components to my left libertarian politics grew more sophisticated, thanks in large part to Tim making me a columnist. I was always a writer, but I became a published author with a literary and internet presence during my tenure as “Lefty” Hooligan. I’ll continue writing and probably do some version of my monthly “What’s Left?” column online until they pry my cold dead hands from my keyboard. As of this writing, the future of MRR as a punk project remains to be determined. It began as a radio show, so it looks to continue as a radio show for the foreseeable future. The record reviews and other punk related reviews should be going up online shortly. And slowly, painfully, the full archive of MRR’s print era, the magazine in all its glory, will eventually be posted online. “Long live Maximum Rocknroll” is a reality, and the project will go mostly digital to survive.
There’s a long tradition on the Latin American Left of using the word ¡Presente! (Here! Present!) to invoke the memory of those comrades who died in the struggle for a better world. So this is only fitting:
Tim Yohannan. ¡Presente!
PERSONAL PROPAGANDA: You can download free EPUB, MOBI, PDF, and DOCX files of my latest cyberpunk mystery story “The Death of David Pickett” at 62milepress. com/the-death-of-david-pickett. To find links to my blogs, websites, Facebook, and Instagram, visit my social media aggregator at gamatiasz.com. You can purchase copies of my near-future science fiction thriller “1% Free” through either site.
I steeple my hands with palm fronds. The plant does not speak back. I remind myself I wasn’t talking out loud so I’ve no right to be annoyed. Back in Sydney after seven months in exile in London, or is it the other way around? Tropical rain is still rain. It would serve you well to re-examine your notion of home. It’s gauche to say it because wow, what freedom and what luck to leave where I was born and to make homes in other corners, but two lives in two cities is maybe too much for my big hot heart! Opening my throat again at a reconvened band practice to feel the full weight of old songs, seems like the heavy weight was ballast, after all. What’s more, these are tiny, unregistrable sadnesses on the Great Scale of Pain. It’s on this that the world’s traumas constantly have to recalibrate to account for how much worse it can get.
I’m refreshing the news right now because a man has taken guns to a mosque and he has written things he read about on the internet onto those guns and then he has shot those guns at the people inside and now his bullets are under their skin, mangling the insides of them, the delicately held together parts that their mothers built so they could live. I absorb this information and I then go to the gig and drink three beers and an espresso martini.
Nobody mentions it. What has happened has happened insomuch as I have read about it on the internet. They need volunteers to wash the bodies. Now someone has thrown an egg at an elected fascist and it feels good. We run towards the good feeling. How are we going to overcome this?
CHRONOPHAGE’s album is called Prolog for Tomorrow. Make sure you eat up the sensation of being joyfully blindsided when something this good slides on by you in the sewage river of contemporary sounds. You’ll wanna venture a finger in the sludge to save this one, seemingly output from a totally complete genius universe. On this recording, you can hear the room and there are mature roots growing around all the amps. Everything, and I mean, everything, is sprouting. You don’t need glue to hold it all together just some fuzz and a prayer. These are the spiritual inversions you need as the world outside folds in on itself. You face them down in the sewer to thank them but they shake the nub end of a rubber crucifix in your face and turn away. Grinning.
SOOT, from Brisbane, have a tape called Pockmarked with…Soot! There is yelling and clanging and you spin and you win the demented tombola when the horn hits. The siblinghood of the bent notes. It almost stops completely at points. Three hatched brains slurping up the albumen. “I can’t speak when I feel this way.” Open your whole throat to the world and laugh as you gag and let your neon bile get all up in the global urethra. Soon you’ll be lost in the boy-girl goy-birl sing song, taken out totally by an incessant glockenspiel. Then, after all that, they chose to cover “Give Me Back My Man” by the B-52s. In the recently moments when I have been struggling, adrift, totally confused, I have put on the original on repeat and zoned out to Cindy’s wail. The SOOT version is like a detuned, heard-through-a-wall echo of the original, i.e. exactly how it sounds when I sing along. Perfect.
Did you know Fred Schneider was in BONGWATER for a minute there, too? Have you heard this group? Absolute mid-eighties nut job sounds from which test the limits of what could reasonably be categorized as “song.” There are monologues set to half- heard psych out of space and out of time, wild yelps towards the light. These dream journals set to mental journeyed rock but the joke is deadly serious, too many words in one line and no regard for anything like a tune. Their best songs are led by sardonic get-it-out- of-me rage of Ann Magnuson, evidently a renowned performance artist and East Village legend who consorted with Keith and Jean- Michel. It figures that this scene held hands under the banners, too. B-52s were much more than “Rock Lobster.” BONGWATER sang about assassinating Jesse Helms. The single-minded preoccupation of exposing the galling hypocrisy and saving their friends’ and lovers’ lives and that undergirded so much of the first and second waves of AIDS Activism has a cool inverse in the free wheeling yet still laser focussed art and music connected to it all. Everyone was doing their part. I re- watched the ACTUP documentary called How to Survive a Plague recently, where you see Keith Haring and many other non-famous people at meetings. While there is much to discuss about that doc in regards to who is not shown, whose stories are followed and not, it’s an incredibly moving document of how to change the world.” If you are my age maybe you remember films and TV that side- eyed at the crisis, referenced it in evermore subtle ways, subtler still until it was all gone, forgotten, a historical nugget. No. We owe it to everyone who did not survive to look at what happened during these times through the eyes of those who were there and those who did not make it. Schulman’s Gentrification of the Mind revs this idea up further. What are the stories we tell ourselves about these disasters? That they have ended? That PrEP is just a random science miracle? Every inch crept towards humanity has a corresponding death toll and an arrest count. If our planet does not, somehow, burn up to a crispy husk in the next ten years, this will be why.
I had a vivid dream last night about a room full of lamps. I had to choose one to take but the bulbs kept flickering out. We are hot fuses who cannot leave each other in the dark. This is my last attempt at flinging observations for print towards the counter-institution that changed my life. Ten years deep. Damn. I hope it’s okay. I hope you’re okay.
In lieu of the advice column I never wrote, a couple of commandments from me to close us out: Never suck the dick of someone who acts like they deserve it. It’s also okay to be inscrutable, illegible to the squares, a total shapeshifter. You don’t have to lock yourself down with a fixed identity if it doesn’t serve you to do so, and if you do, the lock combination is yours alone. The statistical chance that you will find all your people at the punk gig is honestly close to zero, so make sure you speak to strangers. Open the windows and doors of your alienation palace and air it out, remembering what Assata said: “A wall is just a wall and nothing more at all.” Be suspicious of anyone who takes joy from pulling other people down. That will to silence, wherever it comes from, is a will against the sputtering engine of a fairer future world, our only hope, the last word: solidarity.