About a year ago, I discovered a post on the Anti-Snob blog entitled "Because I Wasn't There," written by Will Tynor, aka Vil Vodka. Professing an odd outsider's obsession with the late '70s Phoenix punk rock scene (he didn't actually move to town until 1988), Will set out to document those early years using whatever second-hand info he could find. Naturally, Will's article stirred up my own memories, and it was all the excuse I needed to fish out some of my own ephemera from those days.
Perhaps my most cherished keepsake from back then is a beat up old cassette containing a live show from 1977 by three guys who used to call themselves The Liars. They were just some older guys from another high school who decided to put on thrift store sunglasses and take up instruments they didn't play very well. But they were also the first "real" punk rock I ever heard, and though it seems like a stupid notion thirty years later, the Liars may have changed my life.
My friends and I first got to know John "John E. Precious" Vivier through our relentless search for a good pot connection. I no longer remember who introduced us, but it turned out that John not only had a taste for the good bud, but he and his pals also were into the same music we liked: cool obscure (for Phoenix, at least) groups like King Crimson, Gong, Eno and Kraftwerk. John's band at the time was the Heavy Metal Frogs, a progressive sort of proto-punk noise outfit that would pound out abrasive renditions of "Helter Skelter" and "20th Century Schizoid Man." They played at my high school once, but of course the students hated it. In fact, when they played one night at a local desert "boondocker," John received a severe beating from one of our drunken redneck classmates who did not appreciate this "faggot" music.
To be honest, most of my friends hated it too. They preferred their good old Grateful Dead, Yes, Zappa or Crosby Stills Nash & Young. But I loved punk rock the minute I heard it, especially Los Angeles groups the Germs and the Dils, and of course the Sex Pistols. But it was John's new group, the Liars -- featuring John on guitar, Don Bolles on bass and Dale Smith on drums -- that really got my blood flowing. They were the first band that really spoke my language. I don't suppose you'd hear it any more, the passing of time having made what was so special about them commonplace now. But thirty years ago, their covers of Leif Garrett's "That's Rock And Roll" and Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," played with such nihilistic abandon, hit me like a bolt from the blue. Their original songs, "Science Teacher," "Just Like Your Mom" and their signature "Bionic Girl," became the archetypes for my emerging aesthetic. Even the endless between-song tuning was a revelation to me.
I was so star struck by The Liars, that when I finally met them, the experience was actually traumatic. The only time I ever saw them actually play was in John's living room (I was too young to get into clubs). I was so self-consciously awestruck, I could hardly stand to be in the same room with them. I'm sure the good bud didn't help.
The Liars didn't last long. Don moved to the coast and landed a spot with the Germs. John quickly joined every other punk rock band in town, including the Feederz, Killer Pussy, International Language, the Cicadas, Chicken A-Go-Go and the Precious Secrets. And as the Phoenix scene grew, John and I began to hang out more, though I had to masquerade as a Meat Puppet in order to work up the courage. But we were never close. He was older, and had his own crowd. And, though I was too naive to notice at the time, he was also seriously addicted to hard drugs.
As my own band's future began to grow brighter, the parties at John's house grew darker. New "friends" began to show up that I'd never seen before. And as doors began to open for me and my band, doors began to close for John. He became a no-show in his own home, rarely emerging from his bedroom. I finally stopped going over there. I had begun to feel like I was intruding.
John didn't last very long either. Complications from his self-destructive lifestyle killed him before he managed to reach the age of thirty. Word quickly circulated that anyone who'd partied with him should visit a doctor and get a shot. His passing marked the end of an era in Phoenix. The same week they buried John, Phoenix's first ever first punk club, The Hate House, was demolished. Shortly thereafter, Curt Kirkwood became the father of twins, and the Meat Puppets completed the record that would truly change my life, "Meat Puppets II."
And so, the world moved on, without Johnny Precious. John was one of the few "heroes" I ever had, and the only one I ever actually got to know. And now that the endless nights of my youth are nothing but fading memories, I'm glad I hung on to these old tapes. There's plenty from my past that I'd like to forget, but my memories of John and The Liars are some I'd like to keep.