Back in 1977, the Phoenix club scene was a typically undistinguished landscape, lousy with wannabee progressive rock and disco bar bands, clinging tight to its local kids made good, like Stevie Nicks, Alice Cooper & The Tubes. This excerpt from an old local music rag of the day tells the sad story:
"Smokey [is] far better at playing funk and jazz than they are at rock even though they insist on cranking out such classics as 'Takin' Care of Business'....Once merely a Yes-copy, Be has expanded their style to include more basic rock and funk...well worth the price of admission (provided it's under a buck and a half)....Once a cult-rock band with lyrics about shamans and devils, the defections of a very talented singer and lead guitarist left [Autumn People] in more of a space-classical mode."
- Larry Schweikart (Sounds)
You can imagine then how angry I was to pick up the Phoenix New Times one afternoon and read the following:
It's Wednesday, October 26, in the musically momentous year of 1977 and it's too late. You blew it. The Consumers and The Liars played the Zoo last night, the New Wave began pounding away at the distant desert shore of Phoenix and you ... weren't ... there ... You might as well forget about being in the local musical vanguard; you might as well stop trying to claim you're on top of things. It's all over - and you've blown another chance at boosting your status immeasurably...
How does it feel to know that you've missed something that's going to change the shape of things to come for quite awhile, something small and obscure and almost beneath notice but something so torqued it promises to twist the lives of everyone it touches?
- Bart Bull, "Even in Arizona: PUNK ATTACKS!" (New Times Weekly)
I had really wanted to go to that show. I had tried to scam my way past the bouncer, but at seventeen, I had no idea how to navigate Phoenix night life. So I sat down and wrote Bart Bull an angry letter, damning him for his smugness and whining about being left out. And that's how I met Bart and his roommate David Wiley.
David sang for the Consumers. He wrote me back immediately, included his phone number, and invited me over to get high and listen to records. I learned I'd been following David for months in "Sounds," where he reviewed punk records under the name "Canker Phelge." As for Bart, he was an editor there. Between the two of them, they had contributed probably ninety percent of everything thing I knew about the punk scene up to that point. Now, they proceeded to turn me on to all the records that I'd had only read about.
David moved to California shortly thereafter, only to reenter my life a couple years later. In the meantime, Bart stayed in touch. He used to push me to start up a band. The Atomic Bomb Club had not yet started, and all I was doing at the time was noodling with a few high school buddies. None of them had any interest in punk rock or any desire to perform live. But they finally caved in to my pressure and allowed me to present ourselves to Bart as "Elmo & The Electrocutions." There, in the safety of my mom's guest house, we jammed impotently for about an hour. Afterward, Bart mustered enough grace not to make too much of it.
Bart had an annoying (to me) habit of inviting me to party with him after every show we'd attend. I would turn him down every time. After-parties -- even with the coolest folks in town -- were entirely out of the question for me. I hate parties to this day, even get-togethers with my own family. In this respect, I was always a complete failure at being a rock star. Bart eventually got the message, dismissed me one night with an exasperated "fuck ya!" and permanently rescinded the offer. Soon afterward, I moved to Tucson, started school, and lost touch with the Phoenix scene. Bart continued to pursue his journalistic ambitions and eventually moved away.
Decades later, Bart called me one day out of the blue. He was married to Michelle Shocked at the time, and wanted to know whether or not my record label, Rykodisk was worth a shit. I gave him a non-committal description, and as soon as he rang off I called my label guy. He was happy to share his thoughts on whether or not he thought Michelle and Bart were worth a shit.
More recently, Bart has taken a stab at chronicling his contribution to Phoenix punk on the We Are The Consumers blog. But that site's now two years moribund, though Bart continues to be prolific elsewhere. His boosterism from the "New Times Weekly" and "Sounds" makes for great reading. Though somewhat dated, his Lester-Bangs-meets-Julie-Burchill-at-Woody-Creek-Tavern style really captures the spirit of the times. I hope he posts more of it.
As for David, he returned to Phoenix in the mid-80s, and dabbled in local promotion and rock journalism, but nothing really caught fire for him. The last time I remember seeing David before he died in 1986, he was waiting tables at a Tempe restaurant. But in his 1977 heyday, the rhetorical fire burned hot. Here then is "Canker Phelge," in all his glory:
REPRESSION!! Repression is the word of the day. Repression of our music on the airwaves, those sacred media tools that inevitably make or break. Repression! Ignorance!! What more do they want? Cover stories on virtually every national 'zine, not to mention Sounds and New Times locally. And still they choose to ignore the ONLY thing happening in modern rock 'n' roll with any validity. That's right, the ONLY THING. Call it what you like. Love it or hate it, you just can't ignore it any longer. If you close your eyes it will not go away.
Obviously, in this town anyway, the only way you will find out exactly how great this music is, how vital and important it is in relation to the modern world, how it can creep in and liven your very existence, is to buy it. That can be a problem too. You may have to order it; any record store that carries imports can get a wide variety of import and some domestic new wave LP's and 45's. (I'm talking about the relatively obscure stuff, like DEVO or THE DILS. You can find new LPs by STRANGLERS, TALKING HEADS and others anywhere.) Whatever it takes. Demands, threats ... violence ... We mean business. It's time the people in power became aware that this is not a passing phase. Turn off your TV's, Phoenix is BURNING!
Everybody knows about the stuff they play on the radio, on Top 40 radio, because everyone who's remotely in touch hears it just about everywhere. I mean, I could discuss at length the social merits of "Jet Air-liner" or add some cute little anecdote about the new mass-murderer of rock' n'roll, Shaun Cassidy-or how about a list of hates and loves from those ancient sea cows Crosby Stills etc. Nah -- that's boring. That music's just there, there's little we can do about it. It's there whether we enjoy it or not, and if you want to find out about it tune your radio to any number of stations for a full survey of what America likes. If that dictates your tastes you're a stretcher case and should read this column faithfully (twice! three times!) every issue.
45's, believe it or not, are back in vogue thanks to the efforts of those involved with the new wave. It's the perfect medium for a short statement without all the hassles of an album. Some groups and individuals even form their own labels, avoiding big company pressure, and give the artist complete control. More time and care is put into the product, so that most singles now are more than just a song pulled off an album because it's commercially viable, it still happens, but the music I'm talking about generally doesn't sell much at all. It is picking up rapidly, through word-of-mouth and the printed word: radio has yet to recognize its potential. Distribution is a problem. but most can be purchased or ordered through any store carrying a decent import LP selection. Almost all are stereo, are excellent recordings and have picture sleeves.
SURFING IN FROM CALIFORNIA come THE WEIDOS, THE DILS, THE GERMS, THE ZEROS and CRIME. THE ZEROS are from San Diego. They try to look real tuff. One of them looks like Donny Osmond, blows the image. They've been called "the Mexican Ramones" but while their sound may resemble the Ramones' stark metallic drone they lack the wit and punch that separates the Ramones from all this other stuff. B side: "Wimp" is limp. A side: "Don't Push Me Around" (Bomp 110) has kind of a neat riff but the lyrics are dumb and it gets boring real fast. Save your money for THE WEIRDOS' great maxi-45, "Destroy All Music"/"Life of Crime"/"Why Do You Exist" (Bomp 112). Hot stuff here. Almost captures the controlled hysteria a la the Three Stooges that reigns during their performances. They look great, where are they coming from exactly? Hollywood alley chic with a cheap perfume aura. They take the Theatre of the Absurd conception to a new height (or low, depending on how you look at it).
Fast faster fastest... THE DILS are aiming for the latter. They pack so much energy into 21/2 minutes it leaves you breathless. They play like they've been on an amphetamine binge since they were born. They shun drugs, by the way, and also concentrate on message numbers like their first single "I Hate the Rich" and "You're Not Blank (So Baby We're Through)". They have other songs like "God's A Korean," etc. etc. They're on fire. Primitive, yes. I hear Chip Dil bashes the pure piss out of his guitar. On the other end of the primitive spectrum lie THE GERMS, who have been billed as "L. A.'s most despised band." Cute names: Lorna Doom, Bobby Pyn, Donna Rhia (who's since been replaced by Cliff Hanger) and Pat Smear. If you enjoyed the first couple Velvet Underground albums, the Godz, the Fugs and think that John Cage is a real mover, this is essential. Especially the "Germs Live" side, which most of my friends can't stand. All these marvelous records, as well as all the others I've mentioned in the past, are available by mail from BOMP Records, Box 7112, Burbank, CA 91510.They're prompt as hell, they're reasonable with their prices and they will rtd a tree catalog on request.
CRIME's second 45 (missed the first one, -eh? --- you're not alone) is pow'rpacked with their trademarked jagged, sputtering feedback and dark lyrics delivered in stabbing thrusts. They aim for the brain. They infect your lilywhite soul with composed sloppiness. "Murder By Guitar." "Frustration," the A-side, has thoughtful lines like " all you hippies can fade away ... " Hmmmmm...good beat, danceable...I'd give it an easy 94. For more of the same try "Baby You're So Repulsive" and "Hot Wire My Heart", their first one. Both can be had from CRIME, 537 Jones St., Suite 9062, San Francisco CA 94102, which is also their fan club address. Which criminal's your fave? Johnny Strike? Brittley Black? Ron the Ripper? Frankie Fix? They're all so special.
- David Wiley (Sounds)