Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
JUKEBOX JURY, ROUND ONE…..It has been said that one’s musical tastes begin to gel for good around the college-age years – a time of experimentation and a supposed broadening of horizons. I'd like to put that notion to the test today. My years in bloom were 1985-1989, a time in which I took up serious recreational drinking, experimented with left wing politics, and bought my first Killdozer record. Looking back on it all now, it seems too long ago – and yet, considering some of the records involved, perhaps all too near. That’s why I will debut the first installment of “Jukebox Jury” here, in which I revisit some of those records and those bands that sounded so robust and so full of life in those halcyon days. We’ll start with five, and discuss an additional quintet in each future installment. I – the sole member of the jury – will also decide where these musicians stand in 2003. Whither Pussy Galore? How do The Fluid make out in the 21st century? Would anyone buy a Halo of Flies record if it came out today? It just may be that 14-18 years can tell us all a lot about a band, a lot about me – and yes, perhaps even a bit about you, too, if you care to admit it. Let’s find out where some of our 1980s heroes stand today. Just as in our criminal justice system, these musicians will be judged either INNOCENT or GUILTY. If Innocent, they have successfully stood the ravages and judgment of time, and their music still sounds good to this day – not a small matter when the original jury was 18-19 years old. If they’re deemed Guilty, these bands are already being judged harshly by history, and will likely be wholly forgotten when the college students who bought their records in the 80s slowly begin to die off. Not even the Trouser Press Record Guide will save them from their fate. This ride may not be comfortable, and may in fact bring back some unpleasant memories. Remember, we were all of college age once.


1. KILLDOZER – I once had all the records, including the rare debut “Intellectuals Are The Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite” LP (on “Bone-Air Records”!). This Wisconsin trio specialized in heavy, sludgy, ultra-slow and damaged riffs, with a skinny guy belting out a gravel-filled wail of the damned on vocals. Covers were often their specialty, particularly from the 1970s, a decade from which they purportedly took a great deal of ironic inspiration. Scored a minor indie noise/rock hit in “Hamburger Martyr”, a favorite of 19 year old college radio DJs who thought it was pretty funny to play a song starting with a croaking “Fffffuck you!” to the audience, while pretending that mom might be listening. Think Neil Young meets Scratch Acid – in theory at least, but oh so short in practice. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Not even close – I had quickly sold off all the records even before Clinton was elected – the first time. GUILTY.

2. LAUGHING HYENAS – Tough one here. Going on my pronouncements at the time, this was one of the best live bands I’d ever, ever seen – and I’ve no doubt that was true. They were a goddamn powerhouse, especially on the You Can’t Pray A Lie tour, with a caterwauling, bluesy heavy attack rooted in the Detroit rock-n-roll pantheon and extending into 80s giants like Black Flag & the Flesh Eaters. So why does listening to the records today seem kinda, I don’t know – silly? First, check out the lyrics. They’re godawful. John Brannon’s screaming? Still sounds raw and powerful, but heeey – my BS detector is starting to act up. JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT? Relax, gang. In 2003 at least, you’re still regarded as INNOCENT.

3. PUSSY GALORE – I recently listened to most of their mid-to-late 80s discography, including the top-drawer Right Now! and the Corpse Love CD of the early material. Without question, it still holds up. Say what you will about Jon Spencer & co., but no one had successfully combined Neubauten-style industrial clanging with straight-up punk rock before. I also still dig the 60s Back From The Grave vibe that saturates the records – these kids were most definitely doing their homework. The sound is tough, the production is LOUD and harsh-sonding, and most of the tracks – dumb teenage nihilism besides – are still garage-punk crude and fully satisfying. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? A no-brainer. INNOCENT.

4. THE FLUID -- When Sub Pop started appearing to be a world-beating label, primarily due to the first 3-4 records from Mudhoney, the glow extended to some of the lesser bands in the stable, many of whom received inordinate amounts of undue attention. The Fluid did earn some measure of what respect they commanded due to a being a great live act – IF you were three sheets to the wind while watching them. I had a good time at their shows, but somehow never listened to the records much, which were kinda retarded Motor City punk mixed with whatever they were calling “grunge” at the time. The Fluid also had a total prima donna singer who you could just tell was dying to be a rock star. I should have seen right through it. Only the wisdom that comes with age enables me to the render the JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT: An irrevocable GUILTY.

5. SCRATCH ACID -- This Texas band’s fantastic first EP trickled out to the public via word of mouth, as it had come out on a tiny Austin label called Rabid Cat. It was a revelation, sort of an American Birthday Party with a hardcore punk edge. The follow-up LP, "Just Keep Eating", was even better -- way out of left field and all over the map, this record even contained a cover from Jesus Christ Superstar -- and it worked. I worshipped these guys, and listening to the compleat CD compilation that Touch & Go put out some time ago does nothing to dull the edge. I never understood the appeal of Jesus Lizard or any of these guys’ subsequent bands, but Scratch Acid, now they were the shit. JUKEBOX JURY VERDICT? Free to turn on a new generation. INNOCENT.

We'll have a visit with the Lazy Cowgirls, Dinosaur Jr. and the Spacemen 3 in our next edition.