Never let it be said that, from it’s very inception, punk wasn’t up to providing the world with a unique update on the slow and the heavy. Sure THE STOOGES could riproar through “I Got A Right”, but I still get way more excited hearing them crawl through the broken glass of “Open Up and Bleed”. And while PERE UBU did once squeal around the “Non-Alignment Pact” raceway, they reached their early pinnacle in the FREE-esque trudge of “Final Solution”. Yeah it was punk’s slower numbers that always cut the deepest, dug the furthest, and hit the hardest.
Hands down, San Francisco was the seismic epicenter of slow-punk in late 70′s/early 80′s America. Other towns had their fair share of killer slow-punk moments too, but few places had this many great bands who could slow it down, so fucking well. If I ever gotta choose (and I sure hope I don’t) between the fascistic 1-2-3-4 countoff of the RAMONES or the ominous, narcoleptic surge of THE SLEEPERS, well, it’s California here I come. Consider the evidence:
THE MUTANTS – Tribute to Russ Meyer
These guys/gals have been consigned to the lost new wave bin for far too long, probably due to the B-52-ish, pop-oriented ambitions displayed on their Fun Terminal LP from 1982. But early on, they were as real, dark, and rockin’ as anything else on the SF scene – check out their first EP from 1978, compiled on their definitive White Noise Records CD. This is another of those early, heavy grinding moments. A great & tortured singer Fritz Fox was.
UXA – Death From Above
Everyone I’ve talked to agrees that the early UXA, before relocating to LA, was by far their strongest line up. Michael Kowalski is in the band here, right? I had their later Posh Boy record at some point a couple decades ago, and I don’t remember it leaving much of an impression on me. But this one burrrrrns, and stays slow past the 3-minute mark. Singer De De Troit comes off like Alice Bag at her meanest & fiercest – fellas, do give her wide berth. I used to buy the occasional beat-up used CD off De De at our store in Hollywood in the mid-90′s – no she wasn’t looking very healthy by then, but she was always nice and had intense presence. She never failed to make my day.
NEGATIVE TREND – Black & Red
Not sure what the heck’s going on in this video, but the song’s self-hatred is forever burned on my emotional palette. “I have always liked/ the color red/ because it looks so good on my arm . . .” Thank eternal fanboy Henry Rollins for recently reissuing this one. Just the heaviest punk churn imaginable.
SLEEPERS – Sister Little
The only band who could rival THE GERMS in my personal cosmology of West Coast Kings of Thee Punk Rock Beyond. Their The Less An Object comp. on Tim Kerr Records is a crucial part of any record collection (hot tip: the vinyl version has two alternate versions not found on the CD, so serious fans need both!) Singer Ricky Williams was such an incredibly talented, beautiful singer capable of penning lyrics so wrong he was somehow accidentally right every goddamn time. Unlike other early SLEEPERS classics (such as the gorgeous “Linda”) this one ain’t exactly slow, but it’s what I could find, and I don’t find myself swooning any less.
TOILING MIDGETS – Again
There is nothing about the TOILING MIDGETS I don’t love – the multi-dimensional (i.e. space AND time) gtr attack, the panoramic musical structures, the deep rhythmic throb, the long-gone lyrics, the desperate narcotic croon. I once published a much longer, more tangled appreciation + chopped up interviews with various MIDGETS on the web – should really repost that here sometime. Who knows: if these guys could’ve mustered the courage to turn around on stage, maybe more people’d remember the faces of such formidable musical grandeur today.
FLIPPER – Sacrifice
Pretty much defined the intoxicated end of SF punk in the 80′s – without them, there would be no FANG, no MELVINS, no NIRVANA, and even no MOBY fr christs sake. And although Craig Gray of THE TOILING MIDGETS once told me they kinda embarrassed him, I reckon FLIPPER would take his embarrassment as a badge of honour. I love that Bruce Loose cropped his hair short in this video like he was a suburban HC skater or something – ha! It was akin to that SoCal hippy Chuck Dukowski getting a mohawk, only ironic.