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Facts of Destiny

31 Oct


There are facts, and then there are facts. Yes 2 + 2 = 4, and they tell me sunlight can trigger photosynthesis. But then . . . there are those things that might as well be facts, things you’d just be fucking wise to expect. Things like: when you run your fingernails down a chalkboard, someone in the room is gonna end up with goosebumps. Or: separating two burly Englishmen in a Harringay pub punch-up will get you brained with a pint glass. And so forth. Facts and facts.

Now there was once a group of underappreciated SoCal oddballs who called themselves THE CENTIMETERS. They clawed their way out of a cesspool of obscuro mid 90’s aggregations like THE BOYSCOUTS OF ANNIHILATION and the misleadingly named PARKAS, who I’m fairly certain never did any WHO covers. They were young but attracted patronage & musical support from an aging bunch of certified LA nutcases: Joseph Hammer of DINOSAURS WITH HORNS/STEAMING COILS/SOLID EYE, stinky Michael Sheppard of the old 80’s Iridescence label, and of course ex-GERM Don Bolles, who not only sang vociferous CENTIMETER praises back then, but also produced and played on a number of their releases. All of this can be easily verified.

But there were less tangible forces at work too. To my grave I will maintain that repeat exposure to THE CENTIMETERS does trigger certain odd phenomena with disturbing predictability. Like: listening too closely to their single “I’m Not Exercising Enough” has caused me trip and fall on London Underground escalators not once but twice now. Or when I sing along to “Dracula Gary” I invariably develop a temporary case of the hiccups. And after much research I am now confident that it’s CENTIMETER singer Nora Keyes’ voice, and not poor skin care, that has given rise to an itchy rash in my armpit in recent months.

As unique a presence as Nora is, I always reckoned her CENTIMETER musical partner, Max Gomberg, to be an even subtler musical magician. His was a grounding force in this often chaotic soundworld, providing a calm, Dean Martin-like foil to Nora’s unhinged Jerry Lewisisms. Max was more than capable of matching odd, Syd Barrett-inspired chord changes with assbackwards lyrical content in deeply intuitive, painfully funny ways. And his idiosyncratic performances humanize & alienize quite disparate sentiments, weaving it all into one swirling, tapestried singularity.

People often point out the Brechtian inspiration behind THE CENTIMETERS theatricality. And yes, I suppose they did once do a cracked version of Jacque Brel’s “Next” not to mention a chromosomally-challenged take on “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. But it’s actually the dank, dislocating shadow of early LA artpunk that they appear to be channelling – MONITOR’s electro seances and JOHANNA WENT’s wraithlike babytalk come to mind. Bolles, himself once a member of NERVOUS GENDER and the similarly art damaged YVONNES, must’ve recognised THE CENTIMETERS were in this grand tradition too.

THE CENTIMETERS left us three unclassifiably weird, full length studio CDs (German Verbs, The Facts of Destiny, and Lifetime Achievement Awards) one EP, and a live CD that may or may not actually exist. Everything I’ve heard by them is totally great, full of sounds and songs that once succeeded in turning the burgeoning 90’s emo esthetic insidefuckingout, with bloody entrails on display for all us rubberneckers to gawk at. They were then sucked right back up into the ether from whence they came, protoplasm-like.

Nora has since released a solo CD and now “rocks” with Bolles in FANCY SPACE PEOPLE; Max plays with a post PHANTOM LIMBS act out of Chicago called LOTO BALL SHOW. But such facts only occlude deeper truths, the sorts of facts you’d be wise to heed.

THE CENTIMETERS – “Help Is On The Way” (from Lifetime Achievement Awards, Space Baby, 2001)


Do You Remember When You Still Had Hair?

2 Mar


CELEBRITY SKIN: my kinda pop superstars, indeed.

Some fool once noted that CELEBRITY SKIN marked “that point at which 80’s underground camp/freak consciousness rose to meet the average BAM magazine reader on terms (s)he could comprehend”, and I’m gonna haveta agree. Call me glamfag, but their sloppy n wildass playing, hooks-up-the-butt tunage, and wry, SPARKSian humour spelt a little AM gold in my book. That they wore lamé clown pants and green dreads all around Hollywood shouldn’t be ignored either – I reckon them to be some of my last fashion heroes of the 20th century. They played dozens of shows around LA in the later 80’s/early 90’s with like-minded dayglo body painters DEATHRIDE ’69, MOTORCYCLE BOY, PIGMY LOVE CIRCUS and the always mediocre JANE’S ADDICTION. But the closest I ever got to seeing them live was in a short performance included in the shitty 80’s romantic comedy “Rich Girl” – anybody else see that? Gary Celebrity singing in a bunny suit. Perfect.

Genesis P-Orridge wore a CELEBRITY SKIN t-shirt at PSYCHIC TV’s Easter ’88 gig that I attended at the Variety Arts Center in LA, and between songs he gushed about “this great new Don Bolles teen combo”. Yeah not unlike PSYCHIC TV, the CELEBS almost succeeded in complete and utter world domination – well, in/around LA clubland anyway. While drugs and death cut their creative stride prematurely, somebody named Courtney Love was hiding in their equipment van all along, studying their every move, wishing she could be as cool as them. Don told me that it took heavy legal pressure for Ms. Love to eventually fork over even a tiny payment as compensation for appropriating their name wholesale for her hit record & tune.

To my immature mind CELEBRITY SKIN, the band, will always stand as THE GERMS psychoparty (un)consciousness all grown-up-wrong and stuffed into neat 3 min. pop songs. That they originated out of Pat Smear’s VAGINA DENTATA in the mid-80’s and somehow roped in homeless Don Bolles to bash for em, then not long outta SILVER CHALICE & 45 GRAVE, ain’t no mere coincidence. But when you note that Rob Ritter (ex-BAGS, GUN CLUB, SILVER CHALICE) roadied for em, and Geza X produced it all – well, this was a Masque club reunion by anyone’s measure.

Their best ever recorded moment was also their first: “Radiation Man”, preserved forevermore in sadly muted, poorly mastered form on the long-forgotten Tantrum compilation LP. KXLU DJs played a sonically superior, radio-cart version of this throughout the late 80’s, no doubt in response to my pestering phonecalls requesting they play it again, “and this time, really really loud!” It sounded like vintage DAMNED ripping through REDD KROSS’ “Linda Blair”, and to this day still gives me chills. Later work on the Triple X label is uneven, but the best of it – like their straight cover of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” and the supersweet “Poisanna” – are well-worth searching out too. Though you angry punker types are gonna bum hard on the happy, radio-friendly CHEAP TRICK powerpoppin’ of it all.

Whatever, them shitty Triple X masters are positively cryin’ for a proper reissue. Any takers?

Check em out:

“Radiation Man” (from the Tantrum comp. LP, Cocktail Records, 1989)

“Poisanna” (from Good Clean Fun, Triple X Records, 1991)

And OH SHIT. Just now stumbled on a held-held vid of them performing live in the late 80’s at Hollywood High School – doing what is, hands down, my favorite song of all time! I’m over the mooooooooon!