The Punk Hatfields and McOi!s

Do yourself a favour: listen to today's song while reading the description below of South Side Chicago, taken from William Upski Wimsatt's book, Bomb the Suburbs: Grafitti, Race, Freight-Hopping and the Search for Hip Hop's Moral Center.

Effigies - Haunted Town

"Imagine a vast abandoned land --spanning an area of about 25 city blocks in all-- a composite of forest, prairie, and urban archaeological dig. Wild rabbits and pheasants live here. At least a dozen city streets find their dead ends along its perimeter… Tall, sinewy plants shoot up five feet through the suddenly patchy Wentworth, a street which deadends after ten miles of grandeur, on the next block. On your right, Dan Ryan tracks plunge into the ground where it is said they will one day connect with the Howard line, and on the left abandoned buildings offer a humble welcome. If you see people on this street your drinking problem is serious."

Sounds like paradise.

*****

Through the wonder of the Internet, I recently learned that Chicago punk bands the Effigies and Articles of Faith (AoF), both of whom were previously mentioned in my April 15 post, have been on the opposite sides of a bitter feud for the past twenty-five years.

The origins of the dispute are hazy.

Part of it seems to stem from image. Whereas the Effigies originally cultivated a tough, working class, skinhead image, AoF's crowd, at least according to AoF vocalist Vic Bondi, was comprised of a "heterodox mix of losers, geeks, throwbacks and freaks." On the AoF website, Bondi actually characterizes the Effigies followers as making "a big show [emphasis mine] of being working class," despite having parents "who were for the most part professors, doctors and lawyers."

Part of the feud also seems to be related to real or imagined political differences. Again, in Bondi's words, "AoF was a left-wing political band and made no bones about it; the Effigies maintained they were apolitical, but would regularly spew right-wing nonsense from the stage." Personally, I don't detect a right-wing slant to the Effigies lyrics, which are usually thought-provoking and topical, dealing with issues like political corruption and the dehumanizing effects of working on an assembly line. I wasn't around to witness what they did on stage, however...

*****

Articles of Faith disbanded in the mid-eighties. Vic Bondi (his real name) has since performed with various bands and as a solo artist, all of which is detailed in his fine website.

The Effigies have been on-again, but mostly off-again since the mid-eighties. They are currently on-again. Effigies vocalist, John Kezdy (his real name), moonlights as the Illinois Assistant Attorney General.

*****

Before I go, I should thank Something I Learned Today, the mp3 blog from which I downloaded the Articles of Faith song "Every Man for Himself." Yes, I have my own copy of the album, and the Effigies EP, too, but they, like almost everything else I own, are in a storage locker far, far away. ®

April 21, 2005 | |

Songs About Cake, Part II

The first thing I noticed about today's song, "We Don't Care," from Kanye West's acclaimed 2004 album, The College Dropout, was the lyrics. "We Don't Care" is a song about the appeal of drug dealing as a ticket out of a poor neighbourhood, when the legal alternative, working at a service sector job for $6.55 an hour, doesn't get you anywhere…

There's nothing particularly new about this story. It has been told a million times. Still, I love the song's sunny choruses, where Kanye and a trio of children warble: "Drug dealing just to get by / Stack your money 'til it gets sky high / We weren't supposed to make it past twenty-five / Joke's on you, we still alive / Throw your hands up in the sky and say "We don't care what people say.""

Kanye West - We Don't Care

The second thing I noticed about the song was the sample looping in the background, of a group of woman back-up singers oohing and ahhing. I was sure I'd heard the melody somewhere else before. So I checked the album's liner notes. "We Don’t Care contains a sample from the Jimmy Castor Bunch recording " I Just Wanna Stop."" Nope. The only Jimmy Castor Bunch song I'd ever heard before was "It's Just Begun," which I heard for the first time, and promptly posted on this website, on March 4… Wait a minute, though. Wasn't "I Just Wanna Stop" the name of a Gino Vannelli hit, too?

I read a little further, and, lo and behold, an "R. Vannelli," presumably Gino's brother, is credited with writing the song.

Gino Vannelli
Gino Vannelli, 1977

What a small world! In 2004, a hip-hop artist from Chicago uses a sample from a song written by an Eyetalian-Canadian in 1978 and has a smash hit! Not bad for a young, black man whose teachers tried to put him "on the school bus with the space for the wheel chair." Not bad for an Eyetalian, either. Not as lucrative as becoming a member of the Liberal Party, perhaps, but not bad.

Gino Vannelli - I Just Want To Stop

April 18, 2005 | |

We're Da Machinists

In the early-to-mid 1980s, I was big on Chicago punk. Chicago punk bands tended to play slower than the garden-variety thrash bands that were dominant in the scene at the time, and their songs had melodies --and sometimes even harmonies-- things that were otherwise pretty scarce on the ground.

The lyrics of the Chicago bands were above the standard, too. When Naked Raygun sang "Gee whiz, pretty, pretty boys, pretty, pretty boys, onward to Managua," again and again for three-and-a-half minutes, they weren't making a different point than a hundred other bands were making at the same time, but they were making that point with a lot more subtlety and class.

Another thing that really stood out about the Chicago bands was the stage names of the musicians. There were no "Johnny Rottens," "Joey Shitheads" or "Jello Biafras" among the Chicago punks. (Although there was a "Virus X.") Instead, most musicians in the Chicago punk scene took on faux-ethnic pseudonyms like "Steve Albini" and "Santiago Durango." Ha!

One of my favourite Windy City bands at the time was the Effigies, featuring "John Kezdy," (ha-ha) "Earl Letiecq," (ho-ho) "Steve Economou," (hee-hee) and "Paul Zamost." Brilliant!

Articles of Faith (i.e., "Vic Bondi, "Joe Scuderi," "Dorian Tajbakhsh," "Dave Shield," and the aforementioned "Virus X") took the joke even further, incorporating faux-ethnic elements into their music, as in today's song, "Every Man for Himself."

Articles of Faith - Every Man For Himself

Of course, the whole idea that ethnic minorities --Eyetalians, Latinos and Eyeranians-- could play musical instruments and write songs was ludicrous! It is a well known fact that Eyetalians, in particular, are capable of nothing more than being bricklayers, janitors and (maybe, just barely) administrative assistants to white people.

April 15, 2005 | |

Hinckley Had A Vision

You may have noticed that I've been a little quiet lately. This is because I started a full-time job a week-and-a-half ago and haven't had the energy to write when I get home at night. Hopefully, with the passage of time, I will develop a brain callous that will allow me to do something other than vegetate in the evenings.

Afterbirth has not been totally dormant, however. As of last weekend, reader comments are now being handled by Haloscan. This means that they no longer go through me and will be posted almost instanteously. (Go ahead, say something outrageous!) Of course, nothing being free in the world, this enhancement comes at a price: there will now be advertising on the comments pages. But, while at first this may seem a little gross, when you think about it, what is rock criticism, anyway, if not salesmanship?

Thanks to Martin Reis of Bike Lane Diary for the Haloscan tip.

*****

Anyway, lately people have been asking me what's up with baby boomers. Like, how is it that boomers, who occupy all positions of power in our society, and control most of the wealth, can't even get it together enough to look up a phone number in a database?

The answer, my friends, is argyria. Yes, that's right, having been born with silver spoons in their mouths, baby boomers are now dealing with the effects of silver poisoning. A merciful end to the suffering cannot come soon enough.

The Crucifucks - Annual Report

The Crucifucks was the vehicle of singer/lyricist Doc Dart, of Lansing, Michigan. The band's self-titled first album, released in 1984, is a collection of grating, rumbling tunes, musically and lyrically similar to today's song, "Annual Report." In addition to ditties attacking Christians and fretting about lost pieces of blotter acid, the album features a series of telephone conversations between the local police and Doc Dart, including one wherein Dart poses as a citizen concerned about an upcoming concert featuring a band called Millions of Dead Cops. Extreme stuff to be sure, but, like all strong medicine, ultimately good for you.

The Crucifucks did a show in Toronto in 1986. It was, and remains, the best gig I have ever seen. My words will not do it justice, but it was … punk rock. Doc spent an hour or so baiting the audience, referring to people with funny haircuts as "butterfly heads" and "caterpillar heads," all the while getting more and more drunk. Finally, Doc puked on his microphone and passed out. It was, in a word, absolutely brilliant.

The second Crucifucks album, Wisconsin, which came out soon thereafter, was a somewhat different kettle of feces. With clear references to the sound of the early Who, the occasional jangling acoustic guitar, and vocals that sound more like Pete Shelley than Jerry Lewis, the album is actually pretty in spots. And, while Dart's obssession with dead cops continues unabated (as on "Pig in a Blanket"), his lyrics have become more oblique and poetic. In "When the Top Comes Off," he writes about opening a can of worms --literally-- and, in "Concession Stand," he makes the point that "you can't see the game from the concession stand." A great record.

Some time later, Doc Dart released a quiet, harrowing solo album called Patricia, containing exactly none of the vitriol of his previous work. Rumours abounded that he was grappling with mental illness. The album never clicked with me, my attention wandered, and I assumed Dart would never be heard from again.

As Mark Prindle and his readers make clear, however, Doc Dart is still around and still recording -- currently under the name 26. The discussion about Dart, his family background, unconventional beliefs and behaviour is fascinating. Particularly priceless is the submission by one reader who writes "Anyone who condones the death of innocent people should fuckin die."

*****

The first two Crucifucks albums have been reissued together on one compact disc as Our Will Be Done. If you're only going to buy one CD of 1980s hardcore punk, a strong case can be made that this should be the one. Our Will Be Done is available from Alternative Tentacles.

April 10, 2005 | |

Baking a Motherfucking Pizza Pie

Today's song is performed by the Norwegian "death punk" band, Turbonegro. The leadoff track on the 1998 album, Apocalypse Dudes, "The Age of Pamparius," starts with a guitar riff almost identical to that played during the intro to the 1972 Alice Cooper (Group) song, "My Stars." This is followed by verses and choruses of the kind of hard-driving cock rock you haven't heard since the last time you listened to it, with a brief Big-Ben-by-way-of-Cheap-Trick bridge thrown in for a few good measures.

Turbonegro - The Age of Pamparius

Judging from the photos I'd seen of Turbonegro over the years, I'd always just assumed they were a gay version of The Village People. Album titles like Ass Cobra and song titles like "The Midnight NAMBLA" and "Young Boys Feet," simply cemented that image in my mind. So puffery on the band's website proclaiming Turbonegro "the most evil band in the world" seemed believeable.

Turbonegro

On Apocalypse Dudes, Turbonegro have a "Rendezvous With Anus," while celebrating "Good Head" and "Zillion Dollar Sadist[s]." Clear musical references to (The) Alice Cooper (Group) and the Ramones abound, peaking on the track "Get It On," where the "Like it / Love it / Like it / Love it" refrain from the Cooper hit "Eighteen" is quoted directly. Elsewhere, the band cops blatantly from Ted Nugent, Black Flag, and the Rolling Stones.

Now, then... Listen to today's song again. Pay particular attention to the lyrics this time. Note, in the second verse, how "pepperoni" is rhymed with "calzone." Note how the hook line in the choruses is about "baking a motherfucking pizza tonight."

Turbonegro, then, is a band with tongues planted firmly in cheeks.

April 3, 2005 | |


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