I never called myself Corky until I started writing the “Don’t You Start Me Talking” column for the Austin Chronicle in 1985. So Corky is 35 this year. I was trying to come up with a full-of-himself character I could hide behind as I savaged the scene one minute and cuddled with it the next. But everybody started calling me Corky and eventually I became him and had to move away for awhile.
JIBS & JABS
Zeitgeist has received cease-and-desist letters from an attorney representing a Minneapolis new age group which had the name longer. So they’re changing their name. A few suggestions: Whitegeist, Two Nice Couples, Platonic Youth, Good Mutha Kim and the Brothers Grating… Will Sexton will unveil his latest lineup of the Kill, featuring Benedict Escovedo on guitar… After seeing Wild Seeds over the weekend, I’d have to say they’re the most underrated of Austin’s overrated bands… This year’s Woodshock has been canceled due to liability concerns. Here’s the insurance agent on the phone with landowner Mrs. Hurlbut: “OK, now let me make sure I’ve got this right. You want to know how much it will cost to insure an event where hundreds of punk rockers on mushrooms dive off cliffs, drink gallons of beer and slam into one another for the pure pleasure of contact? …Nanci Griffith is a subject of an investigation in the Feb. 20 Washington Post. Reporter Digger Treadwell presents evidence that Griffith, who promotes a literary bent, has not actually read the books on her LP covers and the “novel” she’s said to have recently completed is just a series of letters asking her mother to ship her unicorn collection to Nashville… Bruce Springsteen, the man and his muscles, has come and gone from the Erwin Center. Whatever will Michael MacCambridge of the Austin-American Springsteen write about after he recaps the show, which could take three weeks…Miles Zuniga is one of the celebrity participants of this Friday’s Karaoke Night at Chances, giving him a rare chance to sing lead on a Fastball hit!
The upcoming debut of SXSW looks like it’s going to be a pretty big deal, so we all need to work together to ensure our visitors leave with a favorable opinion. Some suggestions: Someone should print and distribute bumper stickers that say “I brake for Roky Erickson“. Let’s pretend that Curly is Mayor Frank Cooksey. Homeless guys on the Drag should have their hair braided like Willie Nelson. Unless your name is Debbie Pastor, no fucking roller skates in clubs. And let’s keep on pretending to “get” Ed Hall.
The other morning I woke up to see an A with a circle burned into my lawn. I guess a few angry, hairless, non-swimmers took my thing about how “Dragworms Are Better Than Skinheads” the wrong way. I’m on your side, fellas. Hell, I was advocating the taking of skinheads bowling back when Camper Van Beethoven with just a pickup with a dream.
photo by Martha Grenon
DOUBLE BILL BINGO
Biggest Mamou Steve Chaney took a gander at his upcoming slate the other day and, seeing pairings of the WayOuts and the Wigglies and the Shakers and the Tremors, wondered if booker JoRae Dimenno was putting together shows by how the band’s names sounded together. We realize that JoRae has her hands full, what with trying to pull boyfriend J.D. Foster out of the funk because Will Sexton didn’t ask him to play bass on the new Kill video, so we’ll give DiMenno some booking suggestions:
Bad Mutha Goose and Duck Soup
Bubble Puppy and Water the Dog
Andy Van Dyke and Two Nice Girls
Glass Eye and Robert Earl Keen
Passenger and Asleep At the Wheel
Spot and Go Dog Go
Hank Sinatra and Sonny Davis, Jr.
Rudi Dadd and the Grandmothers
James Cotton and Marcia Ball
Shoulders and Child Bearing Hips
Tony Perez and Nice Strong Arm
How To Kiss and French Acers
Avenue D and Ronnie Lane
Johnny Reno and Speedy Sparks
Monte Warden and Huey P. Meaux
Tyrant Swing and Willie Khomeni
The Argyles and the Sweaters
Killer Bees and Trained Ants
Band From Hell and the Fortunetellers (band from Oklahoma)
Zeitgeist is currently on a Midwest excursion with a female guitar player who is not Kim Longacre. Don’t expect to read the replacement’s name. I don’t know it. The band, which was opening for Room City when I discovered them, would not tell me. I did find out that the new player is from Corpus Christi and is a friend of bassist Cindy Toth. The tight lips are the rule here because the current two-week swing will serve as an intensified tryout, and the band does not want to make an announcement now which may be incorrect in two weeks.
Longacre’s last scheduled gig with the group was at the South Bank, Nov. 8. The band had the audience dancing too much to acknowledge the sad passing at hand, but I savored every component of “Freight Train Rain,” “Things Don’t Change” and “Translate Slowly,” being all too aware that the charm of these songs in performance was nearly extinction. The remaining players are creative and efficient, John Croslin’s songs are first-rate, and there’s just too much here in the way of determination for any future Zeitgeist incarnation to be anything but good. From good to great, the intangible element is magic. It can’t be arranged, or planned or bought, even by Rupert Murdoch. It just happens. Like it did with Zeitgeist. Magic. It couldn’t be pointed out at the South Bank, but it was indelibly there, snaking around the formative four like invisible smoke. When they play, you forget that they seem to take this rock and roll stuff too seriously. Amnesia blacks out your vision of the grotesque climb, the gangly arms wanting so bad to hold the gaudy, bejeweled belt overhead. They’re a great band, you think. Who could blame them?
Nothing taints a perceived personality like success. Shyness comes off as snobbery. Confidence becomes conceit. Miss a hello and you’ve got a big head. Miss a goodbye and you’ve used somebody. When Regular Joe really ties one on and makes an ass of himself, the alcohol takes the rap. Not so with our chosen few. The stories circulate for months. The trick is to be bent for success, not by it.
South Bank. I am standing back where the media stands, holding a Shiner Bock, which is what the media drinks. I am thinking media thoughts. Does Cindy Thoth even bother to put make-up on the eye her bangs always cover? Is Zeitgeist as good as True Believers? Why didn’t they tell me the new guitar player’s name when I asked them? There is something very comforting about watching a band from where the media stands Don’t know why I have my favorite observations there. When I stand where the media stands I am working. I want Zeitgeist to play “Translate Slowly.”
Croslin strums lightly, and gradually the decibels split into more decibels though Croslin is still strumming lightly. He takes the rhythm to the corner where Longacre awaits and their vocals collide in passion like first-month lovers meeting for lunch, too in love to eat, too happy to do anything but stroll in love. They never doubt that it will always be just like this.
When you don’t understand me
You need help for to see what you can’t see
In these times that we have
The harmonies hold hands, fingers intertwined the junior high way, and they hope for this sensation to go on like an endless loop. Unabashed naivete is the foundation of love, true love, dumb love. Love is all these voices have in common. The shy, sincere, muscle-bound tone of the male, making no excuse for his imperfection, lays out the pinpoint of his heart. His beautiful lover doesn’t collect it, as the casual observer expects, but rather caresses it in the glow of her purity, inspiring it with her uncharitable loveliness. Apart they seem searching, together they’re fulfilled. Voices so in love. Never doubting that it’ll always be just like this.
A lullaby to myself might mean nothing
But it helps all the same
Years later I will recall Austin as it is now, and this is what I hope I remember best about the spirit of the times.
There are seemingly only two subjects being covered in books these days- fitness and Elvis Presley- and that’s reflected by my current reading list:
* The Peter Fonda Work-Out Book. Sister Jane isn’t the only one making scratch off excercising. Peter shows you how to burn off calories with such unique methods as passing joints between your legs, dropping acid 10 miles from a Grateful Dead concert, smuggling marijuana by foot across the border one brick at a time and by being a really lousy actor so you have to do everything, like enter a room, about a thousand times during a film shoot.
* Elvis: I Can’t Hear You! Presley’s Army years as recalled by his boot camp instructor.
* Elvis: I Coulda Whipped Your Ass! This page-turner is by the karate sparring partner who was told to lose to Elvis or lose his job.
* Elvis: Minutes of Pleasure, Hours of Snoring. A Las Vegas cigarette girl recounts her one-night stand with the King.
* Elvis: Now What Did You Go and Do That For? Former Presley maid Juanita Douglass recalls her roller-coaster time at Graceland. From the first chapter, “I Don’t Do Windows,” to the last one “You Can’t Fire Me, Mr. Elvis, I Quit” it’s made quite apparent that Presley wasn’t nice to housekeepers. Douglass reported seeing evidence of the drug use that eventually caused the singer’s demise. “I picked up a lamp to dust under it and musta been a thousand pills jumped out the bottom,” Douglas related in her most powerful chapter, “Musta Been a Thousand Pills Jumped Out the Bottom.”
JIBS & JABS
Rock family tree originator Pete Frame is in town to graph Bruce Hughes. Hughes is no longer in Skank and his hardcore band All White Jury has broken up, but the bassist says he’s glad for the extra time to concentrate on his seven other bands. He’s also working on a rock opera based on the book Sybil…Even with that super bill (Los Lobos, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dwight Yoakam, Nick Lowe, as well as hosting Fabulous Thunderbirds), Saturday’s T-Bird Riverfest was about as enjoyable as the first day of karate class. First off, the volume at Auditorium Shores was just too low, just slightly louder than a sitcom tantrum…It’s been said that if you have an infinite number of monkeys pecking away at a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, eventually one of them would write Hamlet. It would take 50 monkeys a couple years to write The Aesthetics of Rock... Had a nightmare last night that Antone’s was going to start paying bands according to how long they play “Stormy Monday”…Now that I think about it, Lou Ann Barton doing “Got a Rocket In My Pocket” night after night is like Julio Iglesias singing “Born In the U.S.A.” …The Fabulous Thunderbirds are already back from a “tour” of Europe and I don’t think it’s because they wanted to go home with the armadillo, though after some of the women I’ve seen Kim Wilson with, that would be a step up. Apparently, Pete Townshend scrapped his idea to make a blues album backed by the T-Birds…True Believers have the last laugh on everyone who said they’d never sign with a major label. The debut LP will be out on Zippo Records, the label that gave us Randy Vanwarmer’s hit remake of 1957’s “The Little Boy With Polio (Ain’t In God’s Portfolio).”…Wayne Nagel has done everything in the music biz from managing Charlie Sexton to managing Will Sexton, but he’s never been in a band until now. Nagel plays bass for Rolling Stones cover band MileStones Friday at the Continental…Keyboardist Glover Gill is opening the restaurant Glover’s on San Jacinto St. Used his first name instead of his last because it’s not a seafood joint… The T-Birds‘ Tuff Enuff is finally out and selling well, despite an LP cover that looks like someone used the Beatles White Album as a shield during a food fight…
THE INFAMOUS CHARLIE SEXTON COLUMN
“I figure I’m young an’ I’m gonna do it right the first time, not like all these other assholes.”
Zeitgeist, True Believers?
“Look, I don’t wish to be rude but those bands in Austin, they aren’t gonna do nuthin’ ’cause you gotta leave, you’re just stifled in Austin…Now I’m teachin’ those people in Austin a lesson, which is: forget what’s trendy, and all this ‘don’t make an album in L.A., make it in some studio in Austin bullshit. Because that’s the reason why all those bands that haven’t ‘betrayed’ Austin are gonna be playing those clubs, then breaking up and workin’ in burger stands while I’m still making records.” – Charlie Sexton NME Feb. ’86
CONFIDENTIAL TO CHARLIE SEXTON
Is your name Charlie Sexton? Do you know what “confidential” means? Then am-scray. Beat it. Go read the classifieds instead. This is between me and Charlie. Why, oh why, Prince Charlie, did you have to put down Austin in that NME interview? Why take shots at True Believers and Zeitgeist? Why couldn’t you have written off your bad local press as the work of homely career virgins taking their frustration out on the Boy Who Has It All? Words. Worthless. Words. When I was your age I saw disgusting, abusive words hurled at our President, and I wondered how any man could take such hatefulness, and not be thoroughly depressed. Why would any man want to be President? Now I’m older, as you will one day be, and I see the same sort of demonstrations against Reagan, and I understand how he lets it bounce right off him. He’s the President, one of less than 40 in the history of America and a handful of screaming malcontents are trivial in comparison to what he must engage in daily. What does he care that not all 200 million Americans like him. A lot more people like him. Just like more people like you than dislike you. As a Hollywood rock star you’re closer to being President than any other 17-year-old. Crissakes, man, you’re one of the Luckiest 200 Men on the Face of the Earth. And on top of that you want good reviews?! You’ve made it to the top of the hill without barely breaking a sweat, and what do you do from that esteemed and desirable vantage point? You throw rocks down at those who’ve got as much talent as you’ve had luck, and vice versa.
If you can find a band half as powerful as True Believers, it’ll no doubt be an improvement on what you’re lugging around these days. And Zeitgeist’s album, which cost about as much to make as you spent on bolo ties last year, got the kind of reviews MCA would love to buy for you.
We may have come down hard on you, the press and your old cronies. We figure that you had it all and could take a few jibes and sideswipes. Gossip has a way of balancing things out. But we didn’t desert you. The great percentage of Austinites, myself included, were pulling for you to make it big. We sat up and watched when your video came on MTV, turned up the car radio whenever your record came on and scanned the national press for your every mention. This was not because we liked you personally, or enjoyed your music. We wanted you to make it because you were one of us. From Austin. You were the home team, and entitled to the benefit of the doubt.
Now that you’ve loosened the territorial vicegrip, you’re on your own, Grasshopper, out there to be judged solely by the merits of your work.
Your album stinks.
A year earlier:
Charlie Sexton is parading his bone structure around Hollywood and turning heads in such a way that MCA is convinced they’ve got the next teen idol. Charlie’s been playing guitar in sessions with a singer/songwriter named Bob Dylan and hanging out with the Rolling Stones. Charlie let go the Eager Beaver Boys and has a new Hollywood band, but reports that he has fired his mother and replaced her with Dinah Shore are unfounded…
AUSTIN MUSIC SUCKS!
Musicians. What a bunch of crybabies. It’s my fault nobody shows up at their gigs. How dare I favor an inferior band to theirs! Who do I think I am? I must be stupid if I can’t recognize their greatness. All they do is play goddamn music. In junior high, kids would be called sissies and beat up for such an activity. Nowadays we worship our instrument-players. And it really takes the carpool lane to their heads. Ever have a pretty good friend and then they join a band? After that they’ve only got one topic of conversation, and it’s not world hunger. They’ve all got Marshall egos, turned up to ten. And I’m not just talking about the Vaughans, Elys, Nelsons or Carrascos; this bug is city-wide. I recently sponsored a talent show of 21 new bands at the Continental, and some of them were pulling shit you’d expect from premenstrual Streisand. And every damn one of them thought they should have won. Everybody likes what they hold in their own stool cup, but musicians act like they just walked out of I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Yogurt with theirs.
Don’t you start me talking about these goddamn ingrates! Their voting me as Worst Thing to Happen to Austin Music is calling Mother Theresa a child molester. After all I’ve done for Austin. Then the Beach holds its “Not Cool Enough for the Chronicle” Awards and I win “Most Hated Critic.” The trophy was a toilet seat on which was written “Dump Corky.” That’s it! No more Mr. Not A Bad Guy Once You Get To Know Him!
I’ll mention my girlfriend as much as I damn well feel like. Nobody’s stopping you from going out and getting your own column and writing about your 19-year-old girlfriend. Or if you don’t have a 19-year-old girlfriend (tsk, tsk) you can write about your band, the Vertibeads. What do I care? I get paid the same. And I’ve got this job locked up. It’s mine as long as I want it. I can plug my friends if I want. But they all live out of town so it won’t do them any good. I can put girls’ names in bold print so they’ll like me. Lisa Gamache. See? This is my column and they’ll take it from me when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.
Let’s get it all out in the open. Let’s let it fly. Daniel Johnston: We don’t think you’re brilliant. We think you’re a squirrel. How did you like my Kim Fowley impression? … Will Sexton: Need a title for your upcoming album? How about Magic Coattail Ride?… Lou Ann Barton: Don’t feel bad just because one person thinks your new record is wimpy. And what does Richard Carpenter know?… Hickoids: Your drum problems have been solved by a drum machine that gets drunk and messes up…. Butthole Surfers: Malcolm McLaren’s trying to get ahold of you for a remake of The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle Pt. II… Dino Lee: I found a daily schedule sheet that looks like it belongs to you. It reads: 7-8 a.m. Bullshit girlfriend on why I’m home so late. 8 a.m.- 2 p.m. Sleep. 2-5 p.m. Fix hair. 5- 5:30 p.m. Show hair to girlfriend. 5:30- 7 p.m. Redo hair. 7- 7:03 Work on new material….
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS AT LIBERTY LUNCH 12/12/85
Freaky Styley is Sugar Frosted Flakes in a granola world. It’s Playboy insignia chic in Izod Klein Country. It’s scared of dogs. It’s not knowing the price of gas within 25 cents, but knowing that 20 cents each is a good price for iron-on letters. It’s Rocky IV, not Rocky I, because he won, so who cares which movie was better? It’s sitting every other seat in the theatre and then riding home with three in the front seat. It’s sitting with your knees as high as possible.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers finally hit the Lunch stage that freezing cold Thursday at 1:30 a.m. wild and shirtless. Freaky Styley is watching your breath in the cold. The audience had hung on in the tundra through good but overlong hour-long sets from Skank and Camper Van Beethoven, never doubting that their asses would be thoroughly kicked by the baddest white boys ever to rumble with black music, the real 125th Street junk, and strut out of the alley wearing wounds like medals. Most of the 600 or so who paid $5 to get in dropped anchor as close to the stage, where temperatures were about 20 degrees warmer, as safe navigation would permit. It took about half a song for the Red Hot pyro beat and Chili Pepper physical graffiti to transform the dancefloor into a bingo machine of wool and down-covered balls. By the second song the throng was thrashing which, thanks to the Big Boys’ foray into funk, is not as odd a reaction here as it must be in other places. The band’s fire seemed fanned by the abandon they had caused up front. It was an audience I didn’t mind being part of, for a change, and a band I was happy to see, for a change. But I had to tear myself away at 2:15 a.m.. The members of Skank and Camper Van Beethoven may not have had to work the next day, but I did.
TRACI, I’M PULLING FOR YA, HONEY
An important part of my life has been taken away. Traci Lords, the face that launched a billion sperm cells- in my apartment alone- no longer exists. We had a date last week and, when I went by the Video Barn to pick her up, they said she didn’t live there anymore. It turns out that Traci just had her 18th birthday and suddenly the 50- 60 hardcore porno movies she made the past three years are highly illegal. So I guess I’ll have to go back to having sex with people. Once you’ve seen Traci Lords in action, Seka might as well be Aunt Bea. Traci was Secretariat, Willie Mays and Itzhak Perlman. She was the best and when Don McLean sang “this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you” about Vincent Van Gogh, he could’ve just as easily been singing about dear Traci.
CRIT CLIQUE INITIATION EXERCISES
1. You must take Ed Ward’s feisty dog, Pete, to the Kerrville Folk Festival.
2. You must go on a date with Brent Grulke as the third wheel.
3. You have to ask Chris Walters to buy you a beer.
4. You have to go up to Kim Wilson and introduce yourself as Michael Corcoran.
5. You have to buy drugs from a punk rocker and then sell them at the same price to a good friend of yours.
6. You have to take a dump at the Continental Club during a Doctors Mob set.
“Everybody does what they do because they can’t play guitar.” –Rollo Banks
The Road is that Oriental girl you’ve seen for the first time, on that street where the speed limit is seven. She glistens while the regulars merely reflect. She motions to you and pouts seductively and for an instant you forget that she wants the bulge in the back of your pants and not the one in front. Reality hits hard in the fantasy district… The Road is stringed discomfort, the sort usually restricted to 89-lb Colonels or portable poor white trash chasing down job rumors in a ’67 Rambler… The Road is America. It’s Raleigh and Cleveland and Louisville and Topeka. It’s Route 66 no matter what the road sign reads… It’s Kerouac and Steinbeck. It’s discovery. It’s possibility… The Road’s mystique flattens with the shag carpet in the van… A musician who doesn’t take it out on the road is a boxer who ducks a bout with a contender with a lethal left hook… The Road takes more money than it gives back. It turns bandmembers into drivers, roadies, booking agents and managers. It’s getting a great send-off at the farewell gig in Austin and then going to towns where nobody knows you and nobody cares and the directions are always wrong… The Road is shaving your head for the first time. Features are magnified and unhidden and very few can wear it well, but when the hair grows back, it grows back thicker.
Glass Eye, the LeRoi Brothers, Doctors’ Mob, Texas Instruments, Scratch Acid, Wild Seeds, Butthole Surfers (whose residence is determined by which town they leave their dog in), Omar and the Howlers, True Believers, Dharma Bums, Zeitgeist, Not For Sale, the Offenders, Poison 13, the Tailgators and others have all taken the Road Test recently with varying success. Some traveled better than others. Some were appreciated more. Some made more money. But every last one of the bands consciously or not went out and represented Austin Music to the rest of the country. So what if this civic representation was often only for the benefit of the clubs’ soundmen. Noise navigators usually spend their days visiting all their friends who might have marijuana. They’ll talk about the music the previous night. “We had this band from Austin (inhale) Texas last night. They were really good. (Still holding it in). Can you sell me a joint?” It all helps. So with this in mind, we should all show a little understanding by putting up with all the road stories that have been dominating conversation recently. I’ll admit that road stories are the verbal cousin of vacation slides. They’re often self-serving, modified with each re-telling and rarely of interest to those not directly involved. But what’s a couple hours of your time to listen to what is in many cases the only thing brought back by the bands that wasn’t with them when they left. You’re probably a good listener when these people play (unless you’re reviewing the show for the American-Statesman); why not pay attention when they talk? To thine own conscience be true, but this redhead is all ears.
HE WHO LIVES BY THE SWORD…
Justice has prevailed. John “Johnny Wadd” Holmes has AIDS! Finally, the guy whose member looked like the whole goddamn club has paid his debt to a society of guys whose sexual satisfaction came mainly from tossing off in sweaty stag closets while Big John eyed Miss Utah runners-up and went about filling them softly with his schlong, which looked like it took four “D” cell batteries. How I hated the guy with the Marty Allen haircut and the state of Florida between his legs. There he was, flickering in the dark, beckoning a procession of love slaves to “lay some skull on me, bitch,” and there I’d be, pitifully fueling his libido with quarters I’d stolen from my uncle’s coin collection, until 40 pieces of silver later I’d make like a clumsy parrot and spill my seed. I’d watch Johnny play the meat in a variety of sandwiches, shining his flashlight into countless caverns and then walk away from the money shot like he’d just played a few hands of gin rummy. Then I’d go home and repeatedly dial the first six digits of the phone number of the girl who stuck the ends of her hair up her nostrils in social studies. I swore than if I ever had, like one month to live, the first thing I’d do is hunt down and kill Johnny Wadd and then I’d tell the girl from social studies to lay some skull on me. If I had only a day or two to live, I’d tell her to lay some skull on me, bitch.
Those years of sexual frustration are long gone for me; I’ve had skull laid on me in eight states and Nuevo Laredo, and still the news about Johnny Wadd read like the headlines on V-J Day. I was fairly ecstatic when he was sent to prison for a few years for refusing to identify the killers of some coke dealers, but knowing that he was bisexual and had made a few gay films it became sort of a good news/ bad news deal. But now… I’m walking on air.”
You can bet there was no joy in Smutville when it was announced that the Great White Hope, the Larry Bird of penis size, the guy who made the man with the Golden Arm feel shortchanged, is now packing a deadly weapon in his BVDs. Heck, Seka probably can’t give it away these days. Since J.W. worked both sides of the street and did a deuce in the joint with guys who get hot when they see pictures of the Grand Canyon, the odds that he got the deadly dose from heterosexual intercourse are about what you’d expect a horse with Jimmy Breslin in the saddle to go off at. Still, he probably nailed a few hundred bleachpits since contracting AIDS, and I can’t recall Johnny Wadd ever rolling out the latex carpet while the farmers’ daughters stripped down to their neck scarves. There probably hasn’t been this much panic in the jizz biz since ’86 when a studio guard yelled out, “Here comes Traci Lords’ father and does he look mad!” Serves ‘em right, the lucky stiffs.
If there is a God, and I’m beginning to feel like there is, he won’t send Johnny Wadd to either heaven or hell, but banish him to an eternity in a porno booth watching a loop of lonely guys with small thingies having sex with wayward starlets, while Roy Cohn looks through the glory hole and whispers “Need any help in there?”
THUNDERS’ ROAD LEADS TO AUSTIN
Johnny Thunders is poster boy for the evils of rock and roll. His incoherent live shows of recent years document his suicide-in-progress for the ambulance chasing populace, while others in attendance wonder about calling the Better Business Bureau first thing in the morning. Johnny Thunders is heroin. He’s black leather and scarves, hellish decibels and mascara, blowjobs and broken beer bottles. In JT’s world the line between vomit and orgasm is erased. There is tension and there is release.
Never before has an affected stage name fit so well. Johnny the all-American name. Thunders – nature gone berserk. William Burroughs wrote that junkies look like they’re wearing borrowed flesh, but even face-down on tile, Thunders’ skin looks tailor made. Johnny Thunders is the most beautiful man since Elvis Presley.
Johnny Thunders showed the world how cool Keith Richards would be if he were Italian and from Brooklyn. The albums he made as a sainted New York Doll will not be held in their current high esteem for too many more years. But until the last person who ever saw the Dolls live is dead, they will still draw witness as the best rock and roll band ever. In their heyday they completely owned New York City. They were charming scumbags in an era when you were either one or the other, and the critics and fans heaped hosannas usually reserved for dearly departed rock legends. Every show was an EVENT. Still, the Dolls remain the New York media machine’s biggest no-sale to the rest of the country. They were The Great Gatsby in drag, stiffing in Sheyboygan and cutout bin-bound in Boise. They broke up, moved out and moved on, but never far from New York City where they could always make a few bucks as “former NY Dolls.” Thunders took up semi-permanent residency at Max’s Kansas City. He was always there, always loaded as you’ve ever seen anybody and when JT would knock on the office door so he could go in and do his thing, they’d let him in like they were letting in the dog. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Thunders recorded an album which shall serve as a most fitting elegy. So Alone had to have been recorded in the afternoon to be made at all, yet it’s the best “5 a.m. in New York City” LP ever. Crashing manic chord-slashers are followed by ballads so tender you just want to rock that junkie in your arms and tell him everything’s OK.
The Johnny Thunders who recorded So Alone is not the same Johnny Thunders I’ve seen four or five times over the years. It’s not yet certain which Johnny Thunders will show up at the Continental Club Mar. 14, but take a chance. It could be incredible. And True Believers are opening the show in a labor of love, so at least it won’t be a total loss if JT is a mess…
OMIGOD! DINO’S BLEEDING
“I haven’t played the bass in six fuckin’ years, but Ronnie Lane inspired me to play the fuckin’ bass tonight!” – Dino Lee at Steamboat for the Ronnie Lane benefit, 5/25/86
I don’t need to see the videotape. I was there. Dino was drunk. Everyone was drunk. The show started at around 8 p.m., and the drinking started before that. Even before Dino hit the stage moments before Last Call, I felt the alcohol-induced hostility flutter through the club. Stephen Doster was onstage sounding great, and I’d never seen him before so I moved closer. I brushed past one guy and got an elbow. I turned around expecting to see a familiar face, but it was some stranger biting his bottom lip blue and hoping I’d say something. I wasn’t about to go ahead and make his day so I just moved on. Though a good writer of nifty pop songs, Stephen Doster is not worth fighting for. Later I found prime wallspace in the celeb-heavy area behind the stage that resembled a Small Pond for its inundation of Big Fish, and no fewer than three people came up to me to tell me what a piece of shit writer I am. Most readers of this column think this must be a regular occurrence. People were shocked to see me out after my “Austin Music Sucks” column, thinking I would definitely get my ass kicked, but actually, after a year as “The Merchant of Venom,” I’ve only had one or two confrontations.
Something weird was in the air that night at the ‘Boat. Dino Lee hit the stage as very few have ever seen him. His massive pompadour was combed down Shemp-style, and a few hecklers took issue with that. He was not in some outlandish costume, just his kick-around pinstripe suit. And he wasn’t a wild, prop-waving frontman, but a bass-playing vocalist. Longtime Lee-watchers loved this rare look at Dino without the pomp in that circumstance, but a few unpleasables continued to razz the lack of dildos, buxomy females and flagrant festoonery. Twenty minutes into the set one ringsider yelled “You can’t play the bass!” and Dino launched into a ten-minute tirade freckled with obscenities. It started with his acknowledgement of Lane’s four-stringed inspiration and made its way through well-intended but cloudy telethonese about multiple sclerosis.
The catcalls persisted and Dino baited the hecklers with pornographic suggestions. A few guys moved angrily to the front and hoping to avoid further trouble, the club cut the P.A. Without the weapon of volume, Dino lost control and kicked an offending detractor. He grabbed for his mike stand and the fellow wearing Dino’s footprint on his chest reared back and fired a cocktail glass at Dino’s head, connecting. A couple of bystanders were also cut by the exploding glass, while the thrower ducked back into the center of the crowd. As the blood poured down his face like he was a cover subject for Wrestling Monthly, a blindly-incensed Dino raised the mike stand over his head, ready to swing wildly, as if the entire audience was the culprit. Bandmembers and Steamboat personnel quickly wrapped themselves around Dino and escorted him from the club as blood soaked through the towel he held in front of his face. We stood on the sidewalk outside Steamboat for almost an hour, those of us who know Dino, reeling from the ugliness of the episode we had just witnessed. In the fantasy-filled, fun-seeking circle we run in, not much is real. But violence is real.
A couple of Dino’s bandmembers expressed embarrassment. Guitarist Mike English was formulating the lead to the letter of resignation he would type up the next day. Some club regulars wondered if Dino was finished in Austin. Others said that he’s like a spoiled brat who needs to learn to take responsibility for his actions. Meanwhile Dino Lee was at St. David’s taking 24 stitches of responsibility.
How prevalent in the assessment of personal qualities is it to find that someone is so good in some categories, yet so lacking in others? It’s as universal as perfection is not. The thing we love about Dino Lee is his bravery. We all could be Dino Lee if we only had the guts. Dino Lee can get up in front of 2,000 people in a three-piece plaid suit with a Cutting Edge microphone between him and Peter Zaremba and explain the New Las Vegans concept like a visionary wino. Can you? Dino Lee can steal the show at a $60-a-ticket awards show in Dallas looking like a bad Elvis impersonator flashing rings he bought on the sidewalk in Nuevo Laredo. Can you? At the Austin Music Awards show of ’85, the stilted introductions and shy, nervous acceptances were almost ready to bore people out of the Opera House even before Van Wilks played. Then Dino Lee came out and made a spectacle of himself, and suddenly the night became special. Dino Lee does what has to be done, with no fear of embarrassment, failure or physical harm.
The flipside to this great quality of bravery is what happened at Steamboat. That’s not the first time Dino has displayed a lack of control that led to an ugly scene. But I’ll still take the total Dino Lee package. I hate violence. It makes me sick. But even more stomach-turning at times is the lack of violence. I’ve been victimized by drunken, obnoxious assholes, and so have you. And I have to grind my teeth when I think of some of the things they’ve gotten away with. I’ve seen assholes at the nightclubs terrorizing girls and shouting Southern Rock requests to intimidated bands. They steal your movie enjoyment by talking at the screen and laughing at serious films they don’t understand. They get coarse, boisterous and rude at restaurants to rob you of a nice meal and pleasant conversation. They get away with it every day because it’s not against the law to be an asshole, and most people are afraid that confrontation will lead to violence. In the case of the Steamboat incident, it did, and it got bloody. Dino Lee refused to be the victim of assholes. He challenged them, then lost control and instigated the violence. And he’s wear a scar for it. That’s that.
Heaven is Backstage at Hell
Every once in a while I’ll be at a concert and run into someone I used to know before I became a famous columnist. After the 30 or 40 seconds it takes me to remember their name, fingers a’snappin’, they invariably eye the backstage pass taking up residence on my right front pocket, always the right one, and ask, “What’s it like backstage?”
Ah, backstage. There are blond girls with skirts slit up to the tan line circulating with trays of champagne backstage. The food is scrumptious, but you do have to serve yourself. The members of the headlining act are usually backstage making the rounds and they love to talk about whatever town they’re privileged to be in and really are impressed when someone tells them they saw them in a small club many years ago. Conversation is usually fulfilling backstage. Everyone seems more interested in listening than talking and when they do speak up it sounds like something you might hear on the Dick Cavett Show. I learned about Camus backstage. Just about the only rule you must heed backstage is to be careful where you put your drink down in the Cocaine Room. Chances are you might put it on a mound of pure cocaine, which is clear. The white color of street cocaine comes from the shit they cut it with. There’ll be none of that backstage. If you are lucky enough to get backstage try not to look like it’s your first time back there; don’t stick your pass on your pants, right above the knee. Also, know your lingo. The most prestigious backstage pass, the one that gives all access is called a “hard pass” because most security guards think “laminated” is something you do with meat.