My first reaction to punk rock was a triumph of misanthropy. In high school, people outside of my immediate circle were like demons to me; I avoided them whenever possible. Punk rock seemed like a chance to explore my reject status with like-minded outcasts. How naive I was.
The punk rock scene turned out to be just as exhausting an emotional game as high school. I spent more effort trying to figure out why people were doing what were doing than I did figuring out what I needed to do. For me, "the scene" was a waste of time.
You can't say I hadn't been warned. Back in the late Seventies, the New Times Weekly used to publish a veritable society column devoted to the local punk scene. The "Dewey's Webb" feature was probably first conceived as a nod to Phoenix's disco-era nightlife, but soon scribester Dewey Webb's own interests took hold. As he began to fill it with the doings of his cronies, Dewey's pieces became an unabashed advertisement for punk.
Dewey eventually moved on to bigger things, though on occasion he'd return to his roots for the odd where-are-they-now piece. But his early work best evokes that nascent period when a night of getting beat up by biker chicks still managed to carry an air of sophistication. Here's a sample:
The Exterminators, new pock-mark on the face of punk, are master-minding a When Punks Collide battle of the bands, according to lead screecher Johnny Macho. The Exterminators' local exposure (of the decent variety) so far has been limited to a poorly publicized Zoo break and high decibel home-wrecking on the private party circuit. The Dils, L.A. punks ferreted out of a back street Hollywood dive, are expected to cross state lines to appear at the punkathon, tentatively scheduled for February at the Tempe National Guard Armory.
On other punk fronts, Consumers' bass player Mike Borens waxed enthusiastic over their new show, which has yet to be unleashed on the public. "It's a 1970's return to normalcy! We've gone beyond punk -- we're the first of the Pap Rock!" As a concession to normalcy Borens has pruned his fright wig into a more conventional collegiate coif. Part of the act? "Nah, I had to get a job."
Former Mesa bombshell Liz Renay is the latest Valley star in the heavens with her lead role in "Desperate Living." The comedy is John Waters' ("Pink Flamingos" and "Female Trouble") latest exercise in poor taste and his first feature sans gargantuan cult heroine Divine. Fifty-one-year-old Liz, a mid-life sex kitten, has a checkered past that won't quit. She left the Valley after being crowned Miss Stardust in a pageant sponsored by a girdle manufacturer. In the late Fifties she exploded into the headlines playing den mother to the mob and by being grilled in connection with a gangland murder. The blond on a bum trip was sentenced to three years in the clink on a perjury rap in the early Sixties but bounced back into the news some years later by streaking Hollywood Boulevard at high noon. Liz' last Phoenix appearance was a couple of years ago at an East Washington burlesque house where she and thirty-two-year-lid daughter 'Baby' Renay did a mom-daughter strip act.
The Exterminators and the Consumers may pay lip service to violence but they got more than they bargained for when they made their Tempe debut at Lil Abner's. The bloodbath started early on during the Exterminator's set. As he is wont to do, crooner Johnny Macho leaped from the stage and launched into his canned epileptic choreography shtick. A well-oiled biker of mammoth proportions who didn't cotton to this New Wave Fred Astaire lumbered onto the dance floor and began pummeling John Boy before a couple bouncers interceded. Minutes later Big Bruiser returned for round two, this time seizing upon Sealo's Frank Discussion, who demonstrated his kick-boxing prowess before bouncers intercepted once again. When the Consumers took the bandstand, a pair of Motorcycle Mamas decided to prove to the audience that a woman can be tough. Their knock-down-drag-out rough-and-tumble slug fest didn't cut much ice with the bouncers who broke up the melee. Next at bat was a disgruntled character who had unsuccessfully auditioned for the Consumers not long ago. His sour grapes had long since turned to wrath. He exhibited his consternation by yelling obscenities and making ominous gestures with a knife. Our final contestant stormed the stage and walloped the guitarist for no discernible reason. Her next trip to the stage was with more larcenous intent. As the band prepared to call it a night, she enlisted the aid of her boyfriend to pin the guitarist's arms while she absconded with his guitar and rushed for the exit. Vigilant bouncers nailed her and the ax was duly returned.
Dooley's was the scene of the wildest night in many moons as the Runaways and the Ramones turned the macramed cavern into Bacchanalian Bandstand. Eschewing the slobbering cretin image generally associated with punk in favor of basic black leather, the Runaways took the stage looking fresh from an escape from a correctional facility. Lead thrush Joan Jett cooed "Don't be shy," spurring a mass exodus to the dance floor that didn't break up until the show was over. Although they didn't break any new ground musically and their lyrics are strictly rock-style Dick and Jane, the girls whipped the audience into a lather with their high-kilowatt performance. Joan worked herself into a state of heat as she wailed through teen laments of square parents, reform school riots, and teen lust in El Lay. With the Lennon Sisters in dry dock, the Runaways are easily the most interesting girl group since a trio of Playboy Bunnies masqueraded as the Carrie Nations in "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." The Ramones seized upon the audience's frenzy and parlayed it into near mayhem with their Fun City brand of punk. Fueled by a spectrum of pharmaceuticals running from A to Q, the dance floor crowd was a sea of shades jerking cheek to cheek. But the whole show wasn't on stage. Economy-minded BYOB-ers transformed the men's rest-room into a makeshift bar. When Dee Dee Ramone answered a call from nature, punk molls were left in the lurch as their dates dashed to the can to meet the teen sensation. Ubiquitous Erica, still wearing her "Story of 0" drag, spent a good deal of the evening evading bouncers trying to censor her errant mammary. She did find time to flash a few unsuspecting ringside patrons and cruised Dee Dee. Unsuccessfully.
New Wave fans and necrophiliacs might as well make alternate plans for February 20. The final shovel of dirt has all but been thrown on the alleged Dead Boys concert at The Zoo. Those who know claim that there was never any truth to the story. Zoo personnel are fielding phone queries about the alleged concert with some of the vaguest and most evasive answers heard this side of a politician in election year.
Chalk up ASU's "Desperate Living" premiere as a misguided fiasco. The Cultural Affairs Board scored a coup by unleashing the recently released underground side-splitter before the local midnight movie circuit could get its meathooks into it. So far, so good. Then insaner heads prevailed and Phoenix' foremost punk faction, The Consumers, were booked to do their thing as a prelude to the preem. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Eligible bachelor Frank Discussion showed up wearing an Ethel Mertz housedress with "DIE" spray-painted on it, topped by a premature Easter bonnet. (Girls: Take him, he's yours.) Fashion plate Lisa Ramaci and side order Sharlene Celesky shlepped through the throng in Gay Nineties widow's weeds, and in case anyone wondered, explained "This is our French whore look." Avoiding the Halloween rush, girls? The Consumers did a half-baked pre-screening warm-up and their effort to add new dimensions to their act by distributing 3-D glasses to the audience fell flat. Grasping at straws, the tone-deaf wimps carted a large cake on stage and started flinging it all over the place. The Three Stooges did it better. When the house lights went on at the conclusion of the movie, the high drama began. Neeb personnel, aghast at beer bottles strewn from here to eternity and the crumby aftermath of the pastry melee, demanded that the band clean up the stage. Never ones to clean up their act, The Consumers refused. Highly vocal negotiations continued and a source close to the band reports that ultimately no money changed hands due to the punk breech of contract.
Phoenix's fave boys' choir, The Consumers, may not be long for this Valley. After too many moons of paying their dues in a town without pity, they're lashing out of Desertville and making a stab at stardom. Opportunity rocked at their door in the guise of a two night stand at Hollywood's musical trend palace, The Whiskey (nee "A Go Go"). Nonetheless, they'll have to beat off some mighty stiff competition -- sharing the bill with them are The Alleycats, Word, and The Dils, heavyweights all. There's no small irony in this talent line-up. Back in February The Consumers produced a concert at the Valley Art that answered the musical question "What's there to do on a Saturday afternoon?" In addition to the defunct The Liars, they do some wheeling and dealing with the LA-based Dils and convinced them the Tempe exposure would do them good. After agreeing to take part in the punk package, The Dils pulled a last-minute no-show, with little or no advance warning. Courteous Consumer Mike Borens (or "Bill Fold," as he called himself at the time) remarked "The Dils sure live up to their name." He wasn't talking pickles.
And finally ... rival punks The Liars have disbanded after their last gig at The Zoo had the minuscule audience making tracks for the exits en masse. Evidently working under the assumption that their ill-fated imitation of art was a case of the whole being considerably less than the sum of the parts, the drummer has defected to the Consumers and the bass player to The Exterminators (don't these kids realize the tragic consequences of this incestuous cross-pollination?) The lead singer has reportedly packed up his fifty pairs of sunglasses and headed to L.A. with the remainder of the band where they'll regroup as The Yvonnes.
-Dewey Webb (New Times Weekly)