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The Decline of Northern Civilization: Jenn Gray of AK INK

(This is an ongoing interview series about the alternative / punk music scene in Anchorage and its attendant culture, from the 80s through the 00s.)

Jenn held down the punk rock fort in Anchorage from 2002-2006 with her zine AK INK. Local music live reviews, attitude, beer reviews? The local music scene needed an infusion of fresh blood, and she delivered. She was kind enough to speak with me a few years ago about her days in the Anchorage scene trenches.

Interview by Josh Medsker

When did you first get involved in the punk scene in Anchorage?

I guess I first became involved in the scene when I was 16. My family moved back to Anchorage from Germany in 1993. I started dating musicians, and going to the local shows.

Who were some of your models for zine writing? What zines (local or non-local) had you read or contributed to before the start of AK Ink? I still remember your Skeeve’s Christmas Story comic! Hahaha! I loved that.

I liked comics a lot, and tried to make some. Not dumb boy action adventures, but more cynical crass feminine humor. I wasn’t interested in zines at first because I had only been exposed to perzines where people drone on about their personal bullshit. I was familiar with the reproductive aspect of zines, and replicated my comics in the same way. I remember NNN a lot because of how the half legal sized pamphlet felt nice to hold. The full sized letter zines were bulky and lame, and the half letter sized zines were too narrow and awkward. I started making AK ink in half sized legal sheets too. NNN seemed to have the right amount of scene coverage, music reviews, and other shit that I found appropriate of a scene zine. I figured if I made one, I could interject all of my drawings and comics in-between the scene coverage. With NNN I could see that the past was documented, but at the same time I could see that no one was documenting the present.

I left AK in 2000, and honestly… from 1996 when I quit NNN, up until then, there didn’t seem to be a lot of zine-ing going on. And by the time you started AK Ink, the Verve had gone kaput, right?  What was the local zine/small press scene like at the onset of AK Ink?

Yeah we began at the end of 2002, and not a lot was going on zine-wise, aside from a few perzines found at Subterranea. There was some scene coverage in AK This Month and the Press, but I wanted AK ink to focus primarily on the local underground punk scene, because there wasn’t much documentation of that.

An important note about the timing of AK ink, was that it began right as the internet was starting to explode. Paper zines were practically already obsolete. So if there weren’t a lot of zines out there, that’s a huge contributing factor. Making copies at Kinkos was all revised; you had to have a credit card to run the machines, so I’m sure that deterred some of the kids. We intended AK ink to be a website zine only because we lived in this new digital world, but we made the paper version just for fun. Then we said fuck it, and made it paper too. Good thing because the paper copy is the only thing that remains.

I don’t know if you experienced this, but during NNN, it almost seemed like–because we were writing about it, more bands popped up, or maybe, the bands that were around took what they were doing a tad more seriously… dunno.  Was that your experience?

I think we noticed more bands pop up because we were searching them out, and collecting them into history. Not everyone remembers the lame band that three of your friends were in back in the early 2000s, but zines do. I think creating a zine is a big contribution to the scene, and compliments the contributions of the bands. Not everyone is a musician. Instead of making music with melody and lyrics, we made visual art with photography and type. Perhaps it does inspire, and encourage some people, but the scene was definitely already alive and kicking by the time we started writing about it. There were lots of mohawks in the pit, and fist banging all around.

Also, looking back on it, it seems like AK can only support one ongoing local zine at a time! Hahaha! I think the Ak Verve/NNN dual run was a fluke.  In the 80s, it was only Warning.  In the 90s it was me and Bmac (an anomaly), and it seems like in the 00s it was only you. Did you find that to be true?

No, I think we tried to encourage each other to create, whether it was in AK ink, or in other zines. Actually, there were several zines going on the same time as AK ink, maybe not as consistent, or in the same vein, or as reproduced and promoted, but we would run ads in each other’s zines to show support. The more perspective, and the different perspective, on the same subject is wonderful for archiving.

Tell me about the birth of AK Ink. What made you want to start a seriously local zine in Anchorage?

I wanted to do several things. I wanted to get my art published, I wanted to have a fun creative enslaving project, and I wanted to document the scene so I could remember it. I have a terrible memory so creating a zine was perfect. I was going to all the local shows and hanging out with band people anyway. I coupled it with my favorite genre, punk rock, and AK ink was born. “AK” stands for the geographically fucked location, and “ink” stands for pen art, type, toner, and the blackness in reproducing art. A nice plus was that it gave me something to do besides drink at the shows.

Why did you fold it up, ultimately?

It folded because I was poor and working with my back. I figured I better get my shit together and finish my bachelors before I got all crippled working manual labor jobs. I quit the zine, and my shitty warehouse job to go back to school.

Do you think you’ll put out #20 ever?

Yes. Everything for it is sitting safety in my attic waiting for my next move. Though, I’m not sure if I will release it this year, next year, or in 10 years, whenever the inspiration and time comes.

What are some of your favorite AK memories?

I’m really interested in subcultural group thought/aesthetic/action, and the conformity of nonconformity. Youth culture and underground communal response might be found in all cities, but we got to experience it, and document it, in Anchorage. I like how the scene doesn’t really pedestal the bands. They are usually just dudes with day jobs dragging their equipment through the snow, keeping the scene alive, giving a reason to congregate. The scene is about the people who come together, the bands and the crowds. Granted, everyone is usually more interested in finding drugs, an after party, or a lay, rather than focusing on the sound, but the music is the soundtrack to this weird intermingling. Sometimes there are tons of people contributing to this collective, sometimes people just stop trying, and go about their lives. It doesn’t matter; the Anchorage underground scene always peaks again. I find this shit fascinating.

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I Love The Eagles! There, I Said It.

I first became aware of the Eagles when I was around ten years old. It was 1983, I was just beginning to listen to music, and generally, my tastes were quite diverse. My sister and I particularly liked their live version of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” from their Greatest Hits Vol. 2, and would try to match their matchless harmonies. We’d play it any chance we got. Family trips up to Lake Wasilla, Christmases, Mondays… Sometimes, at home, I would put on the vinyl and the giant space-age headphones my folks had (the kind that covered half your head) and just marvel at that song. It was my first taste of a cappella. And fingerstyle guitar. And I’ve never quite gotten over it.

Once I got older, around high school age, I became keenly aware that the Eagles were not cool. They were to be openly mocked by the young musical cognoscenti. Too rock for hardcore country fans. Not rock enough for stoners or metalheads. Not street enough for rap fans. And for my crowd? Alternative kids? Too ubiquitous and mainstream. I mean, their first Greatest Hits is one of the best selling albums of all time. Would my Doc Marten-wearing, backcombed black hair sporting, top 40 out-of-hand dismissing friends sign off on that? Not bloody likely.

Dutifully, I kept my Eagle-love hidden until my late 20s when I proclaimed my forbidden love to the world. My love of rockabilly took me deeper into country music, then on to country-rock, and deeper into the Eagles.

I was surprised and delighted to find that their roots in country-rock run deep, with Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon stamping his twang all over their first three albums. His Gram Parsons tribute “My Man” is gold. And those harmonies, with heavy lifting on the high end from Randy “Take It To The Limit” Meisner? Again, they stomp everyone aside from CSNY. This is not up for debate. And the fact that Meisner was in Rick(y) Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band in the late 60s was just… damn.

For me, “Already Gone”, from their 1974 album On The Border straddles their rock and country sides perfectly. Lots of woo-hoos and tight harmonies, with that raucous (yet not quite unrestrained) guitar edge they’d take further as the 70s wore on. Don Felder rips at the end of the song, especially, and when they go up a half step in the coda, it still gives me chills. The song is rocking, pretty, economical and tight.

Generally I lean towards their early work, but I will admit that I once drove around the block 3 times, coming home from Walgreens, just to listen to Joe Walsh and Felder’s mind-blowing guitar duetting on “Hotel California”. Rewind, and rewind, and rewind…

For me, though, these songs, more than any fanboy music geekery, remind me of my family. Invariably, whenever my sister and I have hung out over the years, at some point the Eagles will come out. We’ll drive around Anchorage, Boston, or LA, wherever we are… blaring it, just enjoying, singing along, remembering.

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Snacks on Snacks on Snacks – Guest Column by Tony Metz

“But you’re a potato!” Disgusting. (Frito Lay)

I need to bring something very important to your attention. Snack food cannibalism. The taboo of cannibalism is well-established in cultures across the world. There are forces at work which are trying to dismantle this ages-old social more, using our snacks to normalize this repellent, barbaric behavior. I for one, need to speak my mind. You must have noticed the onslaught of commercials slyly promoting this godless liberal agenda. Firstly, there is a Lays Potato Chips ad, where the husband and wife engage in eating one of their own, seemingly as some sort of precursor to intercourse (which is a whole bigger issue, but I digress). The husband catches the wife eating a stack of Lays, and gasps in horror. Rightfully so. However, by the end of the commercial has convinced him to engage in her abhorrent practice as well, and they bond over their sick delight in self-consumption. Are we meant to be convinced as well, through appeals of humor and gluttony? We cannot remain silent while these evil forces chip away at our long-established morality. A similar situation is portrayed in a current Snapple commercial, where a group of 4 Snapple Mango drinks sit, drinking Snapple Mango, which is horrifying enough. One of the Snapples inquires about the whereabouts of their friend, Phil. Upon realizing they are in fact drinking Phil, they shrug off their Snapplephagy and continue their previous conversation. Whatever compunction they had has been sapped by their lust for mango-flavored juice drink. Thanks, Obama. Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to the current series of commercials for the breakfast cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch whose tagline is “crave those crazy squares”. This commercial may be the most disturbing of the three, because it shows a series of cereal bits eating each other, one after the other, in what can only be called a bloodthirsty manner. Unlike the characters in the Snapple ad (who were unconcerned) and the Lays ad (one of whom at least started out concerned with his wife’s behavior) the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Squares exhibit any conscience or remorse whatsoever. No, liberal media, and your shills in agribusiness, I will not “crave” these squares or any other food that engages in such reprehensible behavior. Behavior that goes against the very moral fabric that this Christian country was founded upon, and I ask you, reader, to stand up and say NO MORE. Here is contact information for you to make your voice heard:Frito Lay North Americahttps://mcu.pepsico.com/m/Html/Home.htm?brand=fritolay&culture=en-USDr Pepper Snapple Group Consumer Relations(800) 696-5891General Mills (Cinnamon Toast Crunch) Consumer Helpline1-800-248-7310

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Born to Lose

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1996. (Photo by Virgil Porter)

What I remember most is the giant hill covered in black ice and trying to climb it, wearing Doc Martens, supporting myself by grabbing onto side windows of cars on my way up to the liquor store.  It was New Year’s Eve in Alaska—going into 1997 and I was at a party. I came with my friend Joni, who I’d been sleeping with, in-between drowning our mutual sorrows in cheap beer. In what was probably the darkest year of my twenties, hanging out with her was a bright spot.

It was this guy Gabe and I, climbing the hill. A year earlier, at a different party, Gabe and I got into it. He tried to beat me up because he thought I was a poser, a pussy, and a full-of-shit writer. I was majoring in journalism but flunking out of college. I had been doing a punk zine for a few years and had recently retired it, feeling burned out and overwhelmed by my life. It took a lot out of me, but I also lived for it. Music and writing were my life—and I was at an impasse. I was despondent that the local music scene— something I’d based my life and identity on for two, three, four years—was dying. I was very happy that Gabe and I were finally hanging out though. I felt vindicated in my quest to become a genuine punk rocker, whatever that means.

We finally reached the liquor store then made our way down the hill, sliding all the way back to Alan’s party house. The nice coat of snow on my motorcycle jacket complimented the pre-existing sweat, dirt, and vomit. I was looking forward to seeing Julia, Alan’s new girl, who was a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a while. We’d all heard from around that she wasn’t doing so well, that she had relapsed. She was a fixture in the local music scene but had been AWOL for a few months, and no-one knew for sure what had happened to her.

She had moved up to Anchorage from Los Angeles a few years prior, to clean up from years of IV drug use. I was drawn to her, mostly because she I both came from very religious upbringings and had both rebelled in our own ways. I had much admiration for her outsized attitude and her willingness to try and make a better life for herself. Deep down, I knew she was fucked up—maybe beyond repair.

Gabe and I barreled through the door, dropping our bundles of beer onto the carpet. I sat on the couch when Julia came out, wearing a sloppy getup of sweatpants and a blank, dirty t-shirt. Her skin looked yellowed and rubbery, and it aged her ten years. She looked like she was pushing forty, hair plastered back onto her head and pinned with a barrette. She sat down next to me. I wondered where her daughter was.

“Hey, Josh,” she said, putting her arm around me.

“Hey,” I said, afraid.  I hunched my shoulders.

“How’s it going?”

“Good,” she said.

“You want a beer?” she asked, reaching down to grab a can from the box.

I had forgotten all about it. “Um, yeah, thanks,” I said, taking the can of Milwaukee’s Best that she offered.

“So, where’s Cheyenne?” I asked, looking around, trying to hide my disgust at her appearance.

“She’s in our bedroom,” Julia said, motioning down the hall.

I felt the sadness and anger rising in me. All of her friends, myself included, had tried for over a year, to keep her off of hard drugs only to have this stranger, this Alan guy, swoop in from Nevada—or wherever it was—and just blow the whole thing to shit. But ultimately, it was her choice in the end. We all knew it—especially me. The sick thing is, even after everything I knew about her drug problems, I still wanted so badly to do heroin with her. I was jealous that she had slid so far down.  It would’ve been so easy—just get up, walk back into the room, and boom, relief.

*

I wanted so desperately to be accepted by Alan, Gabe, Julia, and all of the gutter punks. I wasn’t satisfied with my skunk pompadour, tattoos, leather jacket, radio show, punk zine, or any of it. None of it helped alleviate my feelings of worthlessness. I felt that Gabe was probably right: I wasn’t living the authentic life. I was a college student—unlike these other kids. They drank until they passed out, shot drugs, and they had facial tattoos. In trying to achieve my goal of heading straight down, I became a dabbler. It started with whip-its in high-school, and then I moved on to weed, hash, mushrooms, acid, and eventually meth—all in varying degrees of use. I craved scene cred, but I never found what I imagined was true abandon. Then I finally found something that made me feel better, something that took the edge off of daily life: burning myself with cigarettes. I can’t recall the first time I did it, but I will never forget the rush. Every day when I look at my arms, I remember. The sizzling sound it would make, hitting my skin and the sick joy I felt, knowing I had marked myself permanently in the process. I wanted people to look at me and cringe, knowing what I had done.  I would do it when no one was around, to make myself feel better, and I would also do it on a dare because people asked me to.

“Do the smiley trick,” they would say. That’s where you press the hot lighter top to your skin, leaving a burn that, ironically, looks like a smiley face. I had found real release.

I had never been able to shake the feeling that I had failed my parents. When I was eighteen, I told them I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I dropped out of that life. At the time I wished that they had been self-righteous zealots, so I could tell them to fuck off and be done with it. But, religion aside, we had a pretty good relationship. So I was stuck. I didn’t have the guts to sink into the gutter, but I had turned my back on the person I used to be. I was nowhere.

*

A few months after Alan’s party, I saw Julia was at a Social Distortion show at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage—all the scene kids were there. It was February, 1997, right before my twenty-fourth birthday. I was in a mood and was burning myself again. I sat outside the auditorium, brooding, in my sleeveless t-shirt, which I had written “Sick Boy” on in black marker (and Joni stole from me!)  I was talking with my friend Rex, who owned the local punk shop. He was fiddling with his septum ring, and giving me his usual half-cynical, half-uplifting pep talk. As Rex got up to go into the show, he hugged Julia. She came and sat next to me. She had shaved the sides of her head clean again, revealing her “PUNX” tattoo, and her liberty spikes were freshly dyed green, and standing in all their glory. My leather jacket was draped over my legs. My arm was pink and raw. I brought the lighter down again.

“Stop it, Josh,” Julia said, reaching her arm out. “Stop!” I pulled the lighter away from her grasp.

“What,” I said, baiting her. “What?” As if to say, who the hell are you to tell me to stop, doing what you’ve done? I brought it down a second time, looking at her. She turned and walked away in disgust.

My arm really hurt. The second burn was right on top of the first one. It would be the ninth and last one I ever did. At the end of the show, the lining of my jacket stuck to the wound. I winced, slowly pulling it off. I decided to forgo hanging out at, so I walked the two miles from downtown to midtown: up C Street, to the Village Inn to eat alone, have my late-night coffee, and think. I realized that Julia was right—I had gone too far. It was frightening that she was afraid for me. I ordered my coffee, took out my notebook, and, like so many nights before, began to write.

I continued to use various drugs; but seeing Julia, during that winter of 1996, changed my outlook: I tried to stop using them as tools to obliterate myself. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. There were very few times that writing gave me the level of release that was comparable to burning myself or doing drugs. Still, I carried a little notebook with me, inside the secret pocket of my motorcycle jacket—just in case.

*

I had one of the most odd and, strangely enough, transcendent  experiences of my life on that New Year’s Eve, in Julia’s front yard. I remember standing with Julia, Gabe, Joni and a couple other people, smiling, watching the downtown fireworks show. Everyone just seemed so happy to be alive, looking at the bright explosions in the sky. I cut out early and quietly, an Irish goodbye as they say, and began scrambling back up the hill, filled with purpose again. I felt happy and newly innocent, and a feeling came over me: maybe things would get better eventually, if I just kept putting pen to paper—if I just kept going.

***

(This memoir originally appeared in Criminal Class Review, in a different form, in 2013).

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Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex

I was extremely saddened to hear about Poly Styrene’s death a few months ago. She was always one of my favorites… didn’t stick to the punk formula. And she certainly was unique in the late 70s London punk scene, being one of the few black women around (‘cept maybe Pauline from The Selecter).

I got to speak with her via email in the summer of ’96, after the new Spex put out their record, Conscious Consumer. We talked about eastern religion, the Pistols reunion, and more. Shame I never got to meet her in person. -JM (2011)

Interview by Josh Medsker

(from Noise Noise Noise #11, Oct. 1996)

(note: after their appearance at the Holidays in the Sun Brit punk reunion-fest this summer, the Conscious Consumer lineup has split.)

What have you been doing, since the breakup of the original band? I heard that you put out some solo records in ’80 and ’86? Have you done anything other than music?

I’ve been writing songs, and a diary and a book on Bhakti Yoga. I did put out a solo album in 1980, called Translucence, which was a therapeutic retreat from electric music, and was mainly for my personal development as an artist and a human being. I also put out an EP, called Gods and Goddesses, that was a fusion of styles.

spex95How would you say going to India changed your personal life, and your musical outlook and ideas?

I’ve been very much influenced by Indian culture and philosophy, which has had a profound spiritual significance in both my personal life and music and has helped me introduce mantra therapy in my work and private life.

How do you think the new album, Conscious Consumer, fits in with the other X Ray Spex material?

It’s a progression but still carries quite contemporary concepts of social issues, which aims to se the listener free from consumer bondage. I’m no exception to this rule. I like to hear the messages transmitted as much as I like to sing them. I think Conscious Consumer was more an exercise in communication.

What happened to the original band? Who’s in the new band?

The original band tried to do X Ray Spex without me, unsuccessfully. So I went solo for a while, and then re-formed Spex with new people. The new band is me and some friends.

What do you think of the Sex Pistols reunion tour?

I haven’t seen them. Paul Cook said he gave all his tickets away for Finsbury Park. Everybody who sees them says they sound great. Shame they haven’t any new songs.

You keep up with music these days? Which bands interest you?

The band Shelter have a good message, but musically, I like instrumental, chill-out music. I hope to put on a one-day event once a month, in London and LA, of all my undiscovered bands.

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SEMI-VISIBLE HANK: Punk Icon Eludes Dogged Interviewer

This piece will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first thing I wrote that I got paid for, launching me on my first (albeit short-lived) career. All thanks goes to Robert Meyerowitz for taking a chance on me. And Mark and Gretchen Fitz for letting me crash in their spare room even after walking out of my day job. Read on! -JM (2017)

By Josh Medsker

(from The Anchorage Press, Feb 1999)

I had tried to get an interview with Henry Rollins for a week, shortly after his spoken-word date at UAA was confirmed. The UAA Concert Board put up a brick wall: no interviews. Then I noticed a paper on the fridge at my friends’ Mark and Gretchen’s house, where I was crashing. Mark was working with the Concert Board, and had Rollins’ itinerary, including t19059140_10155555496924994_2609964065141975273_nhe hotel where he was staying. I knew what I had to do.

I was supposed to go to work at the Century 16 Megaplex the day of the show. I was the barista boy. I had to weigh my options. Shitty minimum-wage job or possibly meeting Henry Rollins. Serving coffee (with no tips) or talking with one of my punk rock heroes. Making $30 dollars and sitting with my thumb up my ass for most of the day or sticking my neck out to do what I love to do.

I got up at 6am, the day of, and headed out to the Captain Cook Hotel. I was scared as shit. My first balls-to-the-wall journalism experience. Most of the interviews I’d done before were calm, set-up affairs. No big surprises. But this was guerilla commando shit. I expected the hotel to put me out on my ear, when they figured out what I was doing. But I staked that place out for hours.

I arrived at 7am and sat in the hotel restaurant, figuring it was a safe place to start my spying. As far as the hotel knew, I was just another guest. I went over and over the questions I was going to ask, careful to keep my pad and tape recorder out of sight. After about an hour, I got up and took a look around. I noticed there were two towers, with the front desk right in the middle. I sat near that desk for the next five hours, reading Johnny Cash’s autobiography, ready to nab Rollins when he checked out. I never did see him. I was so pissed.

I found out later that night that Rollins was producing commercials that day and left the hotel early. I also found out that the hotel had made special arrangements to get him out of the hotel unnoticed and untouched. There was no way in hell I would’ve gotten to talk to him. But at that point, I was just looking forward to relaxing and enjoying his show, with a scant possibility of getting backstage after.

Rollins busted out for over 2 hours, on everything from Christianity to Black Sabbath to dating, and did it all with graceful showmanship. He’s much funnier than he’s given credit for. He went back and forth between his obsessive fanboy antics hanging out with Black Sabbath and his acting roles without missing a beat. He railed against mediocrity over and over. One of his targets was modern music. “All those guys sound the same,” he said. “Hootie. Eddie Vedder. The guy from Creed. They aren’t particularly bad or good–they’re just sort of there. And that’s the worst.”

Whenever Rollins is home in LA, he says he gets the urge to roam again. He calls it immaturity, but it seems more like an overwhelming desire to explore. Fear of dying without accomplishing anything seems to drive him.

After the show I wandered into the wings. My plan was to find a friend of mine who’s on the news staff at KRUA. I found her, and she’d been denied access as well. I found out later that a group of high school journalists were grilling Rollins backstage. No interviews, huh?

On my way out the door, I ran into Mark. “What one question would you ask Rollins?” he asked. I knew what he was getting at. “I’d ask him what lessons he’s learned, having been deep in the alternative music scene for nearly 20 years.”

I met up with Mark later at Village Inn where we guzzled coffee and ate shark pate taken from backstage. He was one of the few people allowed to talk with the man. He and Hank had sat and talked punk for a bit, and upon hearing my question, Rollins imparted this bit of wisdom: “If you want something done, get off your ass and do it yourself, because no one is going to do it for you.”

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The Day of The Damned

In preparation for the unveiling of GEEZERS OF PUNK SPECTACTULAR (PART DEUX), the massive gathering of interviews with “punkers of a certain age” I’ve done for my zine / small press, Twenty-Four Hours, over the last decade or so, here’s an article I wrote in 1999/2000 for a fanzine I’m quite fond of. Please excuse the hyperbole. I was young and excitable.– JM (2017)

THE DAY OF THE DAMNED by Josh Medsker

(From Neat Damned Noise fanzine, 2000)

The Damned with The Doormats and Wench @ The Fillmore, San Francisco. Oct 1, 1999

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Vanian with a copy of my old zine Noise Noise Noise (#6), SF 1999.

If I’d thought of it, I would have tried to get a free ticket too… I was so excited when I found out The Damned were coming to town, I thought I’d puke. On the day of the show, I went up to the Fillmore, the famed 60s hippie hovel, and asked to get backstage to talk to the band. Their tour manager said okay when I explained I was writing this article for NDN (Hi Henrik!). I was ecstatic. I still can’t believe I met the Damned.

I missed the first band, The Doormats, but I caught the next band, Wench. They kicked some ass. Their main instrument was the drums. Huge booming electronic drums. They were a tasty mix of Ministry and early Siouxsie and The Banshees. Then came the Damned. “Sensible’s a Wanker” and other chants were thrown out from the crowd as the band boarded the stage. Monty the Moron came out in a sort-of clown suit, and wowed the crowed with an extended, moody keyboard into to “Wait for the Blackout”, which sounded a lot like the version from their late 80s reunion period, on Final Damnation. After Monty came Patricia Morrison (ex-Sisters of Mercy, The Bags) all resplendent in her black vinyl dress and long black hair. Sensible walked out in some horridly silly t-shirt and camo pants, plus his trademark beret. He looked the same as ever. Then Dave Vanian waltzed out from the wings, microphone in hand, singing.

Much to my amazement and joy, they played a smattering of songs from their gothic 80s albums. And they played a bunch of my other favorites, such as “Disco Man”, “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today”, and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. The music was even better live than on the albums, and even though I’d listened to every album a million times. The bass guitar combo of Cap’n Sensible and Patricia Morrison played everything a little different, just to switch it up. What I loved the most, though, was that they played “Shadow of Love”, and “Curtain Call”, with a long moody introduction (although not nearly as long as long as the seventeen minute version on The Black Album).

Later on, they played more stuff from their early albums, such as “Neat Neat Neat” (or “Ni Ni Ni” as I like to say…), “Love Song”, and their ultra-super classic “New Rose”. In the midst of all this, Dave Vanian said to the crowd, “I’ll bet you recognize this one”, and then launched into a brand new song, “Democracy”. The song was fast, and had complex guitar parts, sort of like the faster songs from Anything, but with its own special feel. After this debut, they kicked off, “Looking at You” with a nifty breakdown in the middle, before roaring back into it, driving the crowd to madness. They ended the night with another personal favorite, “Ignite”.

sensible and me
Cap’n Sensible and some idiot, SF 1999.

Dig this. Go listen to that song “Shattered Dreams”, from the new Offspring album, and TELL me that that doesn’t sound exactly like Machine Gun Etiquette-era Damned (mixed with Offspring’s brand of O.C. punk, of course). I mean, they already covered “Smash It Up”! Think about it.

After the show, I walked backstage, ALL ACCESS page in hand! I talked with the dudes from The Doormats, who showed me where Sensible was hanging out. I walked up to the Cap’n, nervous as hell, and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m a huge fan! I play bass too!” After telling the Cap’n that I was from Alaska, we got onto a weird conversation about the Arctic Land Bridge and Native Americans coming over from Europe… Of course I got pictures. After chatting with the good captain for a while, I ventured into the back room, where I found Vanian. We talked a while, and he updated me on what The Damned has been doing recently. Vanian has been working to get the original Phantom Chords album from 1990 released, and hopes to have it released very soon. “It never got released,” he said. “I had the rights to re-record the song, but I wanted to get the originals. There are some good recordings in there.” He also said that this line-up of The Damned is permanent, and are going to be a fully function touring and recording band. The newest incarnation of the band (which is made up of Vanian on vocals, Sensible on guitars, Morrison on bass, Monty the Moron on keys, and guy they call Pinch -formerly of The English Dogs- on drums) have been debuting new songs at each show on this tour.

Sensible busted in, “Please say good things!” The band also has a song on the new Fat Wreck Chords compilation Short Music for Short People. “We recorded it just for that album,” Vanian said. “We packed a lot into that 30 seconds!” According to Mr. Vanian, the band easily has an album’s worth of new material, and would like to record an album soon. “The new material is sort of like The Black Album and Machine Gun Etiquette, more experimentation,” he said. “We’ve been trying to put a few in [our sets] as we go along”. He continued, “Many of them are in the rough stages, but we’ve got plenty of material.”

ShortMusicForShortPeople_albumcoverSHORT MUSIC FOR SHORT PEOPLE (FAT WRECK)

This mamba-jamba has 101 songs on it! Each of ‘em clocking in at a whopping 30 seconds! One of which is a brand-new song by The Damned! The new song, “It’s a Real-Time Thing” is over way too soon and it absolutely rules! It’s straight outta the 80s with its reverby vocals and doomy bassline. The other bands on the album crank out some great stuff too. GWAR’s “Fishfuck”, Bad Religion’s “Out of Hand”, and Spazz’s “A Prayer for the Complete and Utter Eradication of all Generic Pop-Punk” being the most boss tunes. There are also classics by Black Flag (“Spray Paint”), Circle Jerks (“Deny Everything”), and The Descendents (“I Like Food”), all of which rocked, of course. Except for the moldy golden oldies, all of the songs on this album are either brand new or close enough. Run, do not walk, to yer record store and get this album.

www.officialdamned.com

 

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Four Don’ts for Writers

Daniel-Bryan-NO-NO-NO-WWEDON’T—Talk trash about other writers, either in public or in private. This will only make you seem small and petty. Get back to your own work.

DON’T—Complain about how your work isn’t getting published. No one likes a whiner.

DON’T—Confuse arrogance for strength.

DON’T—Make lists telling other people how to behave. They are smart enough to learn it on their own.

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No Pay, No Play

freeI’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I think I’m ready to say it. I am tired of writing for no money. Somewhere along the line, not paying writers for their work has become commonplace in the literary world. I, for one, am tired of not getting paid. It’s the same mentality that allows companies to abuse poor college interns for no pay, for the prestige of putting the experience in their resume.

But an internship lasts a few months maybe? Our writing careers will hopefully last a little longer. But I put it to you like this: We will only succeed when our value is recognized.

At its core, my argument isn’t about money. Your labor is the only thing you truly own. Don’t give it away. Starting May 15th, for one year I will be sending out my work for publication, but only to publications who pay cash money. Then I’m going to see how successful I was, and write a follow-up to this essay. And no, contributor copies are not good enough. I understand that no one has any money (except the Random Houses of the world), but isn’t it about time you asked yourself… Why?

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The Real Value of Rejection

For the first handful of years as a writer, I dreaded rejection letters. Every letter I got, I would keep, as a reminder to myself to do better, and would file them away in an ever-growing pile. My office wasn’t the cheeriest of places, and I got discouraged. Now, I see them as an opportunity. Why, you ask? It’s probably not what you think. Read on.

Now, we all know that getting rejected toughens you up. That’s undeniable. But have you ever thought about a rejection letter as a subtle nudging open of the door? Hear me out. Whenever you send out your work to be published, your name goes out with it. That’s a very powerful thing. It’s a chance for the editor to get to know your name! So now, when I send work out to be published, I take a little solace in the fact that I’m a little less anonymous than before.

And this may be the most important step… After I get the rejection letter, I send a simple “thank you” back to the editor, for taking the time to read my work. And I mean it. Having published Twenty-Four Hours for so long, in near-anonymity, any acknowledgement is wonderful. These editors are just like you and me, with car payments and school loans, and chores, and a slew of other things taking up their time. If you send them a note saying you appreciate them, it can only be a good thing. For everyone.

 

Just some things I was thinking about, and wanted to share.

Have a creative day, folks!

 

Josh Medsker