Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

My early 80s punk rock favorites seemed at the time to be disproportionately sung by women, with this band’s hot & bothered “100% White Girl” being probably the second punk rock song I really dug after “The American in Me”. I reckon that the incongruity of a girl belting out aggressive, obnoxious lyrics was such a novelty to my 14-year-old, music-obsessed noggin that I clung to anything that sounded halfway decent (which resulted in some early, soon-regretted SIN 34 and VICE SQUAD purchases). I heard THE VKTMS’ “100% White Girl” 45 multiple times on college radio not long after its 1980 release, but always missed the DJ’s back announcing. Then when I saw X’s “White Girl” 45 in the bins, knowing that they had a female singer, I pounced. Brought it home and went “what the...?”. Hated it, sold it back right away (ironically I think this is one of X’s best songs now). At least the X record isn’t selling for $900 on eBay these days like the Nirvana 45 I sold for $70 only weeks before Cobain killed himself (or was perhaps.....murdered!).

So I never got that “100% White Girl” 45, but I did just pick up this posthumous VKTMS compilation CD from 1997 that contains all of their previously-released material + a few bonus live tracks. It appears that they soldiered off and on in San Francisco for a while until singer Nyna Crawford died of cancer in 2000, with multiple reunion gigs even as she was battling chemo. That’s bold. The band is best known for the great punk hottie “Midget” from an early 45 and the “Bloodstains Across California” compilation, as well as for “100% White Girl” and another smoking punker about a fortified wine I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting called “Roma Rocket”. Crawford had a terrific cracked-voice delivery and snotty alcoholic tuff-chick style that only strays into ridiculousness when the lyrics and music aren’t enough to back up her great vocals. In fact you wanna know why you’ve likely never heard anything by the VKTMS beyond the three aforementioned tracks? Because they’re horrible! Once the band decided to dip a toe into “the new wave”, as on their synth-laden 1982 studio recordings LP (that didn’t actually surface until 1995), they became just another band, albeit one with longer, mid-tempo songs and absolutely cringeworthy lyrics about fightin’, dyin’, drinkin’ and goin’ downtown. Better than contemporaries THE NUBS, but just barely. There was even a righteous hippie connection, as an article from the East Bay Express points out:

“The communal household was important to the band's "hippie connection," Spencer Dryden of Jefferson Airplane, who was for a time both manager and mentor, and got VKTMS one of its top gigs, opening for the Ramones. According to guitarist John Binkov, "[Dryden] said that as long as we lived together, we'd stay together as a band." For a couple of years they did, eating, sleeping, and practicing in the house, and plastering the city with the lively gig flyers they created together: "It was scissors, Glu-Stik, and spit."

I guess my verdict is that THE VKTMS probably earned their afterthought status, and this CD is only worthwhile in the sense that it nets you those 1980 killers (a couple of the live tracks are OK). Keep your change – a bottle of Roma, whatever that is, is probably only $3.99.