Tuesday, March 24, 2015

INTERVIEW - Hardcore Forever: Inside Agnostic Front's America

Photo Credit: Todd Huber

When Agnostic Front say that Hardcore is a way of life, they really mean it.

After nearly 35 years in the New York Hardcore (NYHC) scene, Agnostic Front show absolutely no signs of slowing down. On April 7, the band will release The American Dream Died, easily their strongest album since 1992's One Voice.

A bulletproof collection of songs, The American Dream Died was produced by singer Roger Miret's half-brother (and Madball frontman), Freddy Cricien. Whether taking on corrupt and immoral cops (“Police Violence”) or lamenting the loss of the grittiness that once defined their home and music scene (“Old New York”), there isn't a single second on this album that holds anything back. The older this bands gets, the more incendiary they become. To call them an inspiration would be an understatement.

After numerous lineup changes, Agnostic Front is currently comprised of founding guitarist Vinnie Stigma, longtime singer Miret, veteran bassist Mike Gallo, former Leeway/Both Worlds drummer Pokey Mo and new guitarist Craig Silverman (Slapshot/Blood For Blood/Only Living Witness). 

I recently caught up with Mike Gallo for his thoughts on the new album, the state of underground music in the Internet age and what it takes to keep the world's longest-running Hardcore band moving forward.   

The American Dream Died is the third album that Freddy's produced for you guys. What does he bring to the process of creating an Agnostic Front album that wouldn’t be there if you went with a different producer?

Freddy has been on the road with AF since he was a little kid, so no one knows the band better than him. It makes perfect sense to have his input as a producer on our records. Another guy who is so talented, especially when it comes to lyrical placement and melodies. That's what he really brings to the table when helping produce, so there's no one better to have as an outside ear and producer.

Making “Police Violence” the first video off the album is a hell of a statement. Police brutality isn't a new phenomenon, but why do you think it's captured the public's attention in such a huge way in recent times?

We're living in such crazy times right now. There seems to be a lot of ignorance going on as far as police brutality and on the other side with people shooting cops. I can't honestly say I hate cops. I have a lot of family who are police officers, and it's not an easy job. But when they start acting like criminals and think they are above the law...this is what needs to stop. Their job is to protect and serve. I believe we need cops and I don't believe in anarchy. We just need to all start respecting each other.

I saw your new guitarist, Craig Silverman, play up here in New England with Slapshot a few months back. The guy's incredible! How has having him in Agnostic Front affected the music – not only in the direction of the new songs, but how you're approaching the old material you still play?

Craig is a veteran in the scene and a phenomenal guitar player. I believe adding him to the lineup brought us to another level. He has more of a Hardcore sound and feel to his playing than [former guitarist] Joe [James] had. It actually worked well with a lot of the material we wrote for this record. Most of it was written before he joined, but Craig added a lot of great guitar work as well as some riffs that pieced everything together so well. He's very easygoing on the road and is a real team player. Could not have found a better guy for the band.

“Test Of Time” and “Social Justice” have a real Cause For Alarm vibe, while “No War Fuck You” sounds like it came straight from United Blood. Was it a conscious decision to tap into the vibe of some of the past records, or were the songs on The American Dream Died more the result of just plugging in and seeing what happens?

At first, we really don't sit there and say we want to write a record that sounds a certain way. We pretty much just write as much material as possible and weed out what we're not feeling song-wise. We wrote a few that were really old-school sounding that just seemed to be great songs, so we went with what was feeling right. I believe this record does have that sound that the band has originally sounded like on United Blood and Victim In Pain, but it's still a diverse album. The band has progressed throughout the years and touched on all bases of underground music we are influenced [by]. We're leaders, not followers and are not afraid to create something different at times. This is why we made it this far and have no intentions on stopping any time soon.

I couldn't agree more with “Old New York.” On a personal level, what do you miss most about the way NYC was when you first started going to shows and getting into the scene?

There's a lot of things about New York that has changed for the worse; at the same time, some things [have changed] for the better. One thing is that it is a cleaner and safer place to visit, but the problem is they made the city too expensive for artists and musicians to live here. It's losing its culture and being overrun by money and yuppies. Too many music venues closed down, so that means less shows. The city used to have this gritty feel to it, but now everything is overpriced. Not as many families - and just too many people from everywhere else living there. They're not true New Yorkers. I don't even know my neighbors anymore.  

Agnostic Front has had several lineup changes over the years, but you've been a constant in the group for nearly 15 years now. What is the key to longevity in this band?

There's a few things. One thing is I'm a really easygoing person. Not much bothers me, so I can deal with most situations most people can't. It's not easy being on the road as much as we are, so it can get to a lot of people. Another thing is I love what I do and I have a good work ethic. I'm a team player and willing to do whatever it takes to keep this machine running. I also have a great job as a barber back at home. My hours are flexible and allow me to take off whenever I have to hit the road.

Going back in time a little bit, when and how was your first introduction to Agnostic Front? What was your first impression of Roger and Vinnie when you first met them?

I've been a fan since I've been into the Hardcore scene. They were one of the first bands I was introduced when getting into the music. Victim In Pain was the first album I heard from them. Never heard anything that sounded like that; it gave me the goosebumps. I met Vinnie outside of the club Tramps in NYC. I gave him my first demo tape; the band name was Rise Above at the time. The cover had Robert De Niro from the movie Taxi Driver. He always remembered us, and we became friends. I had met the band along with Roger a few years later at a recording studio called Big Blue Meanie in Jersey City. I guess I was a little nervous meeting Roger at first 'cause he comes off a little more serious than Vinnie. It took a little time for me to be in and get to know him better, and then we became friends. Vinnie is more of a people person; he talks to everyone!

Obviously, social media has changed the way the Hardcore scene communicates about albums, shows, tours and everything else. How has this technology most impacted and influenced Agnostic Front? What are some of the greatest advantages and disadvantages to using it to keep the scene going versus the old days of putting out demo tapes, handing out flyers, etc.?

There's obviously pluses and minuses. I think with the Internet, you can reach out to more people through social media. It's what it was built for, so I believe all around it helps to get your message and music advertised worldwide. What I don't like about the Internet is the fact that it makes people lazy and antisocial. Most shows today, you can see live on the computer, and that's what most people do instead of attending shows. I miss the old flyers for shows, and all the time and effort that went into making them. The artwork was so awesome and I used to collect them at every show. I still have most of them saved in a safe place.

Photo Credit: Todd Huber

It's truly impressive how much Agnostic Front tours, especially after so many years. What is the trick to staying healthy and focused on the road after doing it for so long?

I believe we have a strong work ethic and really believe in what we do. I have to say Roger is the driving force of the band and has managed to keep the band together with hard work and dedication. He always likes to say it's like a bad marriage - we're in it for the kids! We're all team players and everyone has a role in the band. We all do this for the love of the music and the kids who still come out to see us.

What is the best scene for Agnostic Front outside of America?

That's hard to say because there are so many places we've been to that have incredible passion for Hardcore. The European scene is strong all over, especially in Germany, but I think South America has the most intense shows, maybe because not as many bands come through there like they do in Europe. When we do come through there, we're always ready for an energetic show. Those kids have a lot of heart.

The Cause For Alarm album turns 30 next year. What impact did that album have on you growing up? What do you think was the record's greatest impact on the NYHC scene as a whole?

When we were kids hanging out in my garage, we would put on this record and try to play each blistering riff 'til my mom would come down and tell us to turn off this shit. She said it was making her ears bleed! (laughs). It had a huge impact on my life and made me want to play this music. This record fused Thrash Metal and Hardcore together [and] created a sound that so many bands started doing after this release. Agnostic Front have always changed the game with every release. They have been so influential to the underground scene and still continue [to be]. 

The new No One Rules compilation LP and the booklet that comes with it do a great job of providing insight into that era. As a member of the band today, what are you thoughts on that release? What does it mean to you to be a part of a band with such an important history?

I'm still waiting on my copy! I'm sure I will get one once we hit the road, but I'm excited to get this release. It's a collector's item for our older fans and will allow the younger kids to hear some of the rare tracks that are not released. It's a dream come true to be in this band. It has its ups and downs as everything does, but I'm blessed to be with these guys and continuing their legacy.

The American Dream might be dead, but how does music - specifically NYHC - offer hope during challenging times like these?

As bad as things are, thank God we have music in our lives to express what we're feeling. Especially with Hardcore, because there's no better way to release your anger in a positive way than at a Hardcore show. Through Hardcore music, we can vent in a way you can not at other shows. The interaction with the band and the fans is what really makes the show. I believe this music is much more personal than any another kind of music because it's not just about the band, but all of us together. Stigma always says on stage and it is so true: "Without you, we ain't shit."

Agnostic Front is almost 35 years into this. What has enabled the band to last as long as it has?

Hard work, dedication, teamwork and the absolute love for the music. It's shaped us and made us who we are. This is not a passing trend, but a lifestyle. We're in this for life!

Add Photo Credit: Todd Huber

Pre-order The American Dream Died

Official Agnostic Front Website

Agnostic Front on Facebook

Agnostic Front Discography

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

FEATURE - 50 & Free: Steven Adler on Life, Art & Letting Go

Photo courtesy of SceneFour 

Talk to former Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler once, and you'll never forget him.

In all my years of interviewing musicians, I've never been in contact with such an enthusiastic presence. I literally felt the life jump out through the phone when I spoke with him. More than 400 days clean and sober at the time of our chat in late February, Adler projected the joy and enthusiasm of someone who was finally at peace with his past and ready to take on the future. He's the kind of guy you want to call when you're having a bad day, since his jovial nature has the power to instantly cheer you up and put a smile on your face. While his infectious attitude was a pleasure to experience, the most enjoyable part of the talk was knowing that Adler was alive and well enough to make a phone call in 2015 in the first place.

In honor of his 50th birthday (on January 22), his 30th year as a professional drummer and his current (and hard-fought) stretch of substance-free living, Adler has launched his own fine art series – appropriately named 50 – with the Los Angeles-based visual team SceneFour.

Much like previous SceneFour drum art projects with Bill Ward and Dave Lombardo, 50 was created by having Adler play drums in the dark using an array of drumsticks and rhythmic accessories that produce light, much like a painter utilizing brushes and oils. The movements featured within the captured rhythms were then studied and developed into abstract artwork. For 50, Adler played along to the entire Appetite For Destruction album as well as “Civil War” off Use Your Illusion II and “Reckless Life” off Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide. Each song is represented by its own art piece in the collection.

"Rocket Queen" by Steven Adler (Photo courtesy of SceneFour)

I had no idea what I was going to see, but once I saw all the emotion and the anger and the excitement of the songs, it was just amazing,” he says. “I was and am still very excited to be a part of it. If you're a big fan of GNR and Appetite, this is the perfect collection for you.”

The release of 50 is the latest in a series of positive events that are shaping a thrilling era in Adler's life. Not only is he pleased to have such a cool project to commemorate being 50 (which we both agree is at least 250 in Rock Star years), he is finally facing his days stone cold sober.

It's amazing!” he proclaims. “I wish I was capable of doing this 25 years ago. Unfortunately, I was going through this whole resentment phase for 25 years, and I couldn’t break out of it. But once I learned how resentment is the strongest form of self-abuse, and figured out how not to do it, everything in my life changed. No more taking things personally and no more making assumptions - and always doing my best. Not less and not more – just my best.”

Adler credits his wife, Carolina, for being a constant source of patience, inspiration and understanding.

My wife has been so wonderful,” he says. “I go to AA, but she's been going to Al-Anon for the last eight years just trying to figure out how to deal with me and still be a part of my life. I love and respect my wife more than anything, and she's been a huge part of me getting sober, me being able to do this art and me being able to basically do anything again. She's my Number One fan, and I'm her Number One fan.

It's been a fabulous year!” he adds. “I feel like what I felt like when I was a teenager, when I was full of excitement and just ready to take on the world. It's so great to have this rebirth, because I missed out on 25 years of my life. I'm not going to let that happen anymore. From now on, I'm getting everything I can out of my life. And this artwork is part [of that].”

"Sweet Child O' Mine" by Steven Adler (Photo courtesy of SceneFour)

In addition to his better half's unwavering support, perhaps the biggest key to Adler's recent success at sobriety was repairing his relationship with his childhood friend, Slash.

I had all these resentments towards him because he was a part of [Guns N' Roses] getting rid of me [in 1990],” he shares. “We grew up together, and we accomplished our dreams. We've known each other since we were 12 years old. From the second we met each other, that was our dream – to become successful, travel the world, sell millions of records, make out with all these girls and party. Our dream came true, and I resented that he didn't stick up for me. But then I realized everybody was in a bad state of mind at that time; nobody could stick up for anybody. It's really great that I have a reasonable amount of sobriety time, and Slash himself has [been] like 11 years sober. Now that I'm [more than 400 days] sober, he's my friend again, and we hang out. I didn't understand why we wouldn't before, but now I do understand why.”

Fortunately, Adler was able to reach this realization while all five original Guns N' Roses members are still alive.

If I wasn't able to apologize to those guys and make amends, it would have bothered me for the rest of my life,” he says.

The healing between the drummer and his old comrades was helped along in a huge way in 2012, when Adler joined original GNR bassist Duff McKagan, Slash and later members Matt Sorum (drums) and Gilby Clarke (guitar) for a live performance during the band's induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. As great as the moment was, it was hard to ignore the absence of singer Axl Rose and original guitarist Izzy Stradlin.

It would have been nice if Axl and Izzy were there, because those were our songs,” Adler says of the experience. “That's what the five of us created. It would have been nice if they were there, but it was still very exciting being a part of it, and I feel blessed. [Axl and Izzy] have their reasons [for not attending], and I have no resentments.”

Later that year, he released the excellent Back From The Dead album with his new band, Adler. Featuring guest appearances by Slash and current Rob Zombie guitarist John 5, Back From The Dead was musically strong enough to re-launch Adler's career. Sadly, the band only performed a handful of shows before alcohol once again got the better of their namesake.

I couldn't work anymore,” he admits. “I had to make a stand and say, 'Either I've got to clean up or I'm going to lose everything again before I really even get it going.'”

With those dark times now behind him, Adler looks forward to getting back in action and hitting festivals, casinos and other venues with the band, which currently includes guitarist Lonny Paul, singer/guitarist Jacob Bunton and bassist Johnny Martin.

People don't want to get me shows that I'm not going to do or do right, so I have to prove myself,” he says. “When you mess up, you've got to prove yourself. It's so exciting being a part of a gang again. I love it! There's strength in numbers, and I love being part of a gang where we all are into the same thing.”

Anyone who experienced Guns N' Roses during the Appetite era knows how incredible that classic lineup truly was. Of course, Adler's swingy, cowbell-heavy style was a major part of the band's power at the time. (Check out a recording of the band's 1988 show at The Ritz in NYC for a great reminder of Adler's impact). And nothing else released in '87 could touch Appetite’s explosive drum sound.

I told [producer] Mike Clink, 'I want my snare to sound like a machine gun and my bass to sound like a cannon,' and he accomplished it,” he remembers. “Appetite For Destruction was done in six days. We had two songs a day. We only played 'Sweet Child O' Mine' one time; all the other songs, we played two, three, maybe four times. Basically, we just went in there and he pushed 'record.' [Clink] said, 'Are you ready? Count it off.' I said, 'Okay. One-two-three. Let's go!' You can't play a metronome [to that album]; it won't match up because it's all feel. That’s what we felt that day in the studio. What we did is what you get; there were no click tracks or electric drum sounds. It was just what it was, and that's what we wanted. And you can see it in the art. There's so much emotion in those songs that we did in those six days that it actually comes out in the artwork. That's what I wanted, and I'm very happy that I was able to accomplish that.”

Appetite’s enduring status as one of the most successful and influential Rock albums of all time leads to two big questions for its legendary timekeeper: What made that album work? What was the magic that can't be duplicated again?

Five individuals who were wild children who wanted to do what they wanted to do the way they wanted to do it,” Adler replies. “Nothing was going to stop us. We were going to do it this way or no way. I think what made it happen and be so magical is there's five individuals with five different styles. I liked the Queen and the Pop music and the Kiss. Axl liked Elton John and ELP, and then we got Izzy with The Rolling Stones and Slash with the Aerosmith and Zeppelin and Duff with The Stooges and The Fartz and things like that. All together, it worked really well. That, and me and Duff really worked together so well because he's originally a guitar player. He doesn't play bass like a bass player; he plays bass like a guitar player. That's how I learned how to play drums – with a guitar player, which was Slash. He fit right in perfectly. It was magic; we could do no wrong. Even if we went out of our way to do wrong, God would stop it and make it right. It was just such a wonderful time. Even our worst shows were great.”

Finally comfortable with his past, Adler looks at the days ahead as an opportunity to embrace the life he miraculously still has after decades of near-destruction. While the 50 art series is stunning and unforgettable, the man's greatest work of art is his newfound happiness.

I live my life one day at a time,” he says. “Right now, I'm doing the best I can to be the most successful person and the happiest person I can be today. Tomorrow, hopefully I'll wake up and say, 'Thank you, God, for a beautiful morning,' and [I'll] keep going on. But right now, my future is wide open.”

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

FEATURE - A Punk's Guide to Health Care

Punk rockers are known for their disdain for the system, but what happens when they find themselves having to utilize it in order to care for an ailing loved one? This is the dilemma at the heart of What The Health Mommie?: The Mommie Chronicles, the new book by NYC Punk mainstay Dave Street.

Known to underground music fans as the one-time manager for The Misfits and the longtime lyricist for The Undead, Street has spent recent years coming to terms with the death of his loving mother, Adele Lichtenstein, and the many struggles he endured trying to work within the American health care system prior to her passing. Self-published late last year as an eBook, the 311-page What the Health aims to inform readers of what they need to be aware of when a loved one faces a lengthy hospital stay. As described on the back cover, “This book takes a close-up look at hospitals, nursing homes and rehabs by someone who was there, as well as sharing warm memories of his mother and the need to appreciate our loved ones while they are alive. The book also offers practical ideas for improving the system – and a Survival Guide for anyone entering a medical facility.”

I felt it was something I had to do,” Street says of the project. “While I was taking care of my mother, I started posting on Facebook about it. I guess it was for own sanity. I wrote stories about my mother, the things she was experiencing and the ways I was trying to give her comfort. I actually got a little following of people on Facebook who were asking me every day about my mother's status. The book really grew out of those posts.”

Serving as the primary link between his mother and the hospital administering her care, Street soon found himself struggling to maneuver through what he calls “the medical maze” of logistical confusion and nightmarish miscommunication that developed during her final months. As detailed extensively throughout What the Health, Lichtenstein's final months were impacted by a disturbing lack of the human factor needed to provide a seriously ill person with the empathy and understanding they need as he or she faces the end. One day, Street walked into his mother's hospital room “to find her surrounded by an official-looking adult and a group of young people, mostly women, who seemed to be of college age.” In turns out that his mother was being used as a subject of a class for medical students.

Mom was in her bed, to me looking distraught and withdrawn, like a frightened animal about to undergo laboratory testing,” Street writes in the book. “The experience took about twenty minutes while I was there, after which the class emptied out. But Mom remained in what seemed like a state of silent panic, still and unresponsive. I wanted to scream. I had never given any approval for this to happen, and Mom was certainly in no condition to do so.”

Despite the frustrations he often encountered while trying to help his mom, Street nonetheless empathizes with many of the folks who work in the medical industry – people who often face their own roadblocks in caring for patients.

You have to understand that the professionals in health care are generally overwhelmed; their workload is usually five times more than any human can take,” he shares. “In general, if we lived in a world where you have a magic wand and you can make it so they can do what needed to be done, then each of their patients would have to be looked at in terms of their own individual behavior and needs. But because of the reality of the system, they're put into categories. 'Everyone with infections gets treated like this' or 'Everyone with a heat murmur gets treated like that.' If they had talked to me and asked me, I could have provided insights into my mother's life and about things she responded to that I think would have helped her. But it didn't seem they had the time to do that.”

Along the way, Street and his mother both found tremendous solace in the healing power of music.

At one point, it became clear to me that my mother was going to be kind of an invalid in bed, even though I wished she would have gotten up and come home with me,” he recalls. “My focus changed to how I can give her comfort and how her days could be happier. She always used to like to listen to music, so I decided to put together 'YouTube concerts' of her favorite songs. I knew right off that her favorite music was Frank Sinatra. The first thing I did was put together a loop of Frank Sinatra videos. When I first starting playing it, she would be in bed, often with her eyes closed. But she would wake up and say stuff like, 'He was young there!' or 'You know, he had a lot of wives' and she would start talking about him, It would bring her back to life...Then, I'd come home at night and get my angst out by listening to Sid Vicious doing 'My Way'! It made me realize that music really did have healing powers. It made me think...When I'm in the old folks home, are they going to play Bob Dylan and The Sex Pistols for me so I can come to life?”

Music has been a crucial part of Street's life and art from the very beginning. As a teenage Folk singer, he once talked his way into opening a show for the legendary Phil Ochs. When Punk hit New York City in the late '70s, Street was a willing and enthusiastic participant. After finding his niche in the scene as a performer in The New Wave Vaudeville Show (which also spawned actress/musician Ann Magnuson and the incomparable Klaus Nomi), he formed the theatre troupe Robot Factory and traveled west at the urging of his friend (and legendary LA Punk producer) Geza X. Street's time in Los Angeles was highlighted by Robot Factory opening for The Cramps at Brendan Mullen's club, The (Other) Masque, in February 1979.

Once back in New York, Street got a job at Punk fashion mecca Natasha NYC, where he made friends with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only of The Misfits, who would frequent the store to support the local scene and try to sell their silk screened Astro Boy and Boris and Natasha T-shirts. Danzig even came to see Street perform a “Punk Comedy” show at Hurrah, a NYC club, and had him open for The Misfits at one of their shows. Street also ended up writing the infamous “haunted house” liner notes for the band's 1979 Horror Business EP.

Insert to The Misfits' Horror Business EP, 1979

I liked Glenn; I thought he was a really nice person,” he recalls. “I used to give him a hard time; I used to call him 'The Frank Sinatra of Punk. ' He was always very nice to me. All the Misfits were.”

Street's way with words would prove to be the catalyst for one of the most important episodes in Misfits history. Serving as the band's ad-hoc manager, he helped facilitate The Misfits scoring the coveted opening spot for The Damned's show at Hurrah in NYC in June '79. The band's success at the gig led to The Misfits landing an opening spot for The Damned's UK tour the following November. It was quite a trip: The band's involvement in the tour swiftly fell apart over money issues, drummer Joey Image split from the band and flew back to the US and Danzig and guitarist Bobby Steele got in a fight with some locals and temporarily ended up in jail (and wrote “London Dungeon” in the process). In hindsight, Street's gift of gab had (for better or for worse) dramatically changed the course of The Misfits' career.

Although he got along with all members of the then-current Misfits (a rare feat if ever there was one), Street built a particularly strong friendship with Bobby Steele. When the guitarist formed The Undead shortly after being jettisoned from the Danzig/Only camp in 1980, Street contributed the lyrics to the band's early number, “A Life Of Our Own” (featured on The Undead's 1981 Stiff Records EP, Nine Toes Later.) The ensuing decades saw Street contribute lyrics to The Undead on a frequent basis, with many of the band's most popular songs featuring his creative input. Not surprisingly, he is quick to praise his longtime friend and songwriting partner.

I think Bobby has a sensibility that combines Punk with Pop,” he says. “His music is very listenable. He's a great guitar player, but as a songwriter, he makes listening to his music easy. Some music you have to endure, but Bobby’s work is enjoyable. He definitely deserved a bigger audience than he got.”

Considering his long history with the classic Misfits, it comes as little surprise that he is dismayed by the constant mudslinging (legal and otherwise) between past and present that has unfortunately become as much the band's trademark as their spikes and Devilocks.

I like a lot of the new Misfits stuff, but it makes me sad that a lot of my friends don't get along with each other,” he says.

Dave as a punk comedian in the '70s. During that time period, he emceed a number of Punk shows, was in local downtown NYC comedy shows and opened for The Misfits and The Ramones. (Photo courtesy of Dave Street)

As wild and crazy as Street was in the old Punk days, he was always the apple of his mother’s eye.

I think she was a true Jewish mother,” he says. “She didn't judge me; she was more concerned with making sure I had enough chicken soup to stay well. She never talked down my dreams, and she was always there to give whatever support she could.”

Lichtenstein's love for her son is clear throughout What the Health. One night at Studio 54 in the 'late 70s, Street had more than a few drinks before hitting the dance floor with an unnamed TV starlet. While an utter blast, the evening ended with him drunk and contending with a badly sprained ankle. So what does this wild, nonconformist, anti-establishment punk do to seek relief? Get a cab to Penn Station, take the train all the way to New Jersey and crash at his mom's house.

As he writes in the book, “When I woke up the next morning, my foot was swollen like the size of a elephant's. Mom iced it, kept it iced, fed me chicken soup for a week or so [her basic cure for just about everything] and then, when the swelling finally went down, sent me back into the city restored and armed with a least a week's supply of more chicken soup and a few frozen meals.”

Dave and Joan Jett on the set of New York Dance Stand in the early '80s. (Photo courtesy of Dave Street)

In addition to fielding offers from traditional publishing companies, Street is currently working on turning What the Health into a musical. Above all, he hopes to build “a community around the book of people who have similar issues who care about health care.” This includes his fellow old school Punks, who could find themselves in a similar situation in the not-too-distant future.

The whole original Punk generation is getting older,” he says. “Some of us are already ready to go, and some of us have parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who are getting there. It's relevant to all of us, and we are going to have to deal with the issue of health care. Just like Punk changed the mindset of a country about what music is, I think this book can contribute to changing the mindset of a country about what heath care is – not looking at people in their eighties as expendable and a waste of money, but looking at the dignity of all life.”

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

FEATURE - Katrina Leskanich Catches a New Wave

Former Katrina And The Waves frontwoman Katrina Leskanich is one of the most fortunate musicians in the world.

While millions of performers spend their lives struggling to break through to the masses, Leskanich was the voice behind a genuine Pop classic that will be appreciated 100 years from now. It was impossible to go anywhere in 1985 without hearing “Walking On Sunshine,” a brilliant summer anthem that remains as fresh today as it did decades ago. Now, Leskanich is back with the fantastic Blisland, her first new studio album in 10 years.

Leskanich's return to the studio was prompted by her involvement in last year's Retro Futura Tour, a jaunt that saw her hit the road with fellow '80s hitmakers Midge Ure, The Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey, Howard Jones and China Crisis. Encouraged by the positive response to the shows – and the fact that she was the only artist on the tour without a new product to support – she got to work on what became Blisland.

“It ended up being a transformational experience,” she says of creating new music. “It was really great because I didn't know what was going to happen, what the songs were going to be about and how I was going to do it. I just picked up the guitar and just wrote it.”

Bolstered by a stellar band including ace guitarist Darren Loveday, Blisland offers fans of Katrina And The Waves a modern take on Leskanich's trademark voice and sound, particularly on the instantly unforgettable “Dizzy.”

“That's my favorite track on the album,” she says. “It's sort of a sociological comment... I thought it would be kind of fun to have a chorus that asks, 'If this is what is expected of us in the modern world, and the world's constantly turning and it's supposed to be so fabulous, how come I'm not dizzy? If love is supposed to bring burning, how come my heart's not on fire? It's kind of like, 'Am I missing something here?' Obviously, I wanted to camouflage the deep meaning of it by putting it with a really lightweight, sort of whimsical tune.”

Elsewhere on the album, the tongue-in-cheek “Farmer's Song” offers the singer a chance to look back on a humorous experience she had with her folks.

“In the mid '80s, I went out to visit my parents,” she explains. “They bought this tiny, little ramshackle farm here in England. They decided – without any training whatsoever – that they were going to buy a whole bunch of animals. They had cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, geese, goats, seven dogs, 14 cats...I mean things just went completely crazy out there. I had just had some success with the first [major label] Katrina And The Waves album, and I had just seen Live Aid on TV in Boston. I went back to England to visit my parents and said [to them], 'What did you think of Live Aid? Did you get a chance to call up and donate any money?' And my parents pretty much said exactly what it says in the song, 'I'm part to blame for everything that goes wrong in this world, [but] Katrina, you go ahead and save the world because we've got hogs to feed, and we've got cows to milk'...When I was writing the album, I thought of that moment. My parents aren't alive anymore, and I just thought it would be kind of fun to do it like that. It's kind of like Acid-Country-Pop.”

Leskanich's history in England dates back to 1976, when the then-14-year-old's family (including five siblings) settled there due to her father's work in the Air Force. The move was especially welcomed by her mother, who was deeply fascinated by British culture.

“It was always her dream to go to England,” she offers. “We had Welsh Corgis growing up, and my mom was a little obsessed with the Royal Family.”

Naturally, the family’s ownership of these unique dogs (as well as mink cats) while living in Omaha, Nebraska at the time caused quite a bit of curiosity and concern from the locals.

As Leskanich says, “We had these animals with no tails. People used to drive past our house in Omaha, slam on their brakes, come to a screeching halt, roll down their windows and say, 'Y'all shouldn't have done that to them animals!' Every animal we had didn't have a tail, and it just looked like we cut their tails off or something!”

By 1978, she was performing in a cover band called Mama's Cookin' with bassist Vince de la Cruz. After cutting their teeth playing shows at military bases, the duo eventually hooked with drummer Alex Cooper and former Soft Boys guitarist Kimberley Rew to form a new version of The Waves [a band featuring Cooper and Rew that originally existed in the mid '70s] in 1981. The following year, The Waves debuted with the hard-edged Shock Horror EP shortly before adding “Katrina And” to their moniker. The band worked together for nearly two decades before breaking up in 1999.

Currently based in London, Leskanich honored her adopted home in 2013 with Peggy Lee Loves London, a fun photo book of some of the city's cooler places (pubs, clubs, coffee shops, bars, parks, bakeries, etc.) with her toy poodle Peggy Lee serving as the tour guide.

“I always feel that I'm constantly in transition,” she says of her history across the pond. “I still feel 100-percent American, [but] as it happens, most of my work is over here – Scandinavia, Europe, England. We won the Eurovision Song Contest [in 1997 for the Katrina And The Waves track “Love Shine A Light”], and that gave us quite a big hit over here that didn't translate to America. I've had a bit more success in this country, and it led me to sort of believe there wasn't a place for me in America anymore. But that all changed last year when I was out doing the Retro Futura Tour.”

Currently, Leskanich is on a stateside tour with her “little badass New York band” – former Joan Jett And The Blackhearts members Jimi K Bones (guitar) and Sean Koos (bass) with drummer Kevin Tooley (John Cale/Klaus Nomi/Julee Cruise). Katrina is handling rhythm guitar duties.

“We're going to keep it really simple,” she says, “No horns – not even an organ. It's just going to be pretty raw.”

As Blisland easily proves, Leskanic is just as captivating on her own as she was with The Waves. Her solo career is highlighted by her sedate 2006 cover of Kirsty MacColl's immortal “They Don't Know.” It was a rendition she had wanted to record since her days with The Waves.

“I kept saying to them, 'Let's do a version of 'They Don't Know' like that,'” she shares. “[It was] really, really broken down; there's another song in there that Tracy Ullman and Kirsty MacColl – who even wrote it – didn't touch. It could be really, really tender. When The Waves split up, I thought, 'Good, now I can do it!' (laughs)”

In addition to her solid discography, Leskanich has turned up in more than a few unexpected places over the years. Hanging around in a London bar one night in 1982, she ended up meeting – and having quite a few beers with – the members of Hanoi Rocks. Before long, she was in the studio singing on their track “Don't Follow Me” (later released on their essential Oriental Beat album).

“It was wonderful experience,” she says of recording with the Finnish cult legends. “It was hardly memorable [due to] all the alcohol we imbibed when we were working on that track. It was totally bloody chaos, but of course they were realty, really sweet.”

Leskanich''s unmistakable voice can also heard on Natalie Imbruglia's massive 1997 hit, “Torn.” Her involvement on the track came thanks to her neighbor, producer (and former Cure/Johnny Hates Jazz member) Phil Thornalley.

With a great new album and a current tour, Katrina Leskanich is still going strong nearly 40 years after forming her first working band. Thirty years after “Walking On Sunshine” first captured the public's imagination, she looks back on the song with fondness – and a heavy dose of self-deprecation.

“When Kimberley first presented the song to us in the early '80s, it was the dead of winter,” she remembers. “It was depressing, and we were all poor. I was washing dishes in the chow hall; I did that for five years. Vince had a weird job of drilling holes in the bowling balls in the bowling alley on base, Kim was a postman and Alex worked at a mortuary. Kim shows up with this song, and we just thought, 'Well, okay. That's slightly irritating.' We were going through a phase thinking we were really cool. I was going through my Nico phase with the black eyeliner and black turtlenecks, and he comes up with this really happy song; it wasn't like any other song we had. But it was obviously his lucky day. Vince kept saying, 'Oh, God. That song's irritating'...All I knew was that after two weeks, it was still going 'round in my head. We kind of stick with it, but at the time, we were playing around military bases in England and at the Royal Air Force clubs. It was a dance floor emptier. Nobody liked that song...We [eventually] dropped it from our set 'cause it just stunk. Nobody knew how to dance to it. It was the cool Joy Division [era], so it wasn't just working out. We actually stopped doing the song for a few years...So that came back to bite us in the ass, didn't it? (laughs)”

Katrina Leskanich plays tomorrow night at Johnny D's in Somerville, MA and the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH on March 21. 

Official Katrina Leskanich Website  

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Remembering Rock Action: A Tribute to Scott Asheton

Photo Credit: Mick Rock (Order Raw Power-Legacy Editionhttp://www.iggyandthestoogesmusic.com/us/music/raw-power)

“God loves The Stooges.”

- Scott “Rock Action” Asheton, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, March 15, 2010

When The Stooges were given their rightful place in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, the music industry and mainstream listening public finally caught up to what some of us had known for years: The Stooges are one of the greatest American Rock bands of all time. Although it was a shame that the late Ron Asheton wasn't able to enjoy the moment, Scott was there to celebrate his brother's impenetrable legacy and also receive his own share of much-deserved accolades. After a life and career marked by considerable ups and downs, Scott was able to truly see the effect his drumming and influence had on generations of players. Nobody played the drums like this guy, and it was a great moment to see the man get the respect and acknowledgement he earned through his years in the trenches.

Exactly four years after that special night, Scott Asheton died at the age of 64. Today, one year after his passing, this writer is one of many fans spending the day looking back on the many incomparable performances the guy gave us on record and on stage in the 45 years between The Stooges and the day he left us.

Scott at His Best
Originally, my intention for this feature was to go through Scott's discography and select the 10 best examples of his unmistakable power behind the kit. My plan swiftly fell apart when I went through Fun House first and ended up listing every song on the album. I then grabbed The Stooges and Raw Power...and the exact same thing happened. By the time I got through The Weirdness (which paired Scott's thunder with that classic Steve Albini drum sound), the Georgia Peaches live disc that accompanies the 2010 Legacy Edition of Raw Power, Ready To Die and a good chunk of Sonic's Rendezvous Band bootlegs, I threw up my hands in defeat. Simply put, there is no such thing as an okay Scott Asheton track. He was the perfect drummer – heavy, economical, to the point and from the gut. (Just listen to those drum fills on “Search And Destroy.” Never before or since has a drummer done so much with so little.) In an era where a musician's talent was often measured by the length and grandiosity of his or her solos, Scott hit listeners over the head – and launched more than a few careers in the process – by simply cutting the bullshit and kicking ass. He didn't just make his drums talk – he made them scream “Fuck you!” to the pomposity of the era and brought Rock music back to its primitive roots.

Scott for Beginners
Although any song featuring Scott would serve as a powerful introduction for the uninitiated, here are the Stooges songs I'd choose if given only enough room to fill one CD to demonstrate his style:

“1969,” “Not Right,” “Real Cool Time” and “Little Doll” off The Stooges

“Down On The Street,” “Dirt,” “1970” and “Fun House” off Fun House

“Search And Destroy,” “Penetration” and “I Need Somebody “ off Raw Power

“Head On” off Georgia Peaches

“You Can't Have Friends,” “Greedy Awful People,” “She Took My Money” and “Mexican Guy” off The Weirdness

“Burn” and “Gun” off Ready To Die

In addition to being readily available right now for purchase, all 18 of these tracks are on legitimate releases that are considered part of The Stooges' official discography. While it is a policy of mine not to promote flat-out bootlegs (or releases of questionable /controversial origin), I will say that there is a staggering array of Stooges live records and compilations available to those who want to dig deeper into the band. A ton of this stuff is also easily found on YouTube. If you're looking for a good place to start, you simply can't go wrong with any live recordings of the Stooges' five-piece 1971 lineup with Ron Asheton and James Williamson on guitar and Jimmy Recca on bass.

Of course, there's also Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Formed in the mid '70s, the group featured Scott, Fred “Sonic” Smith of The MC5, Scott Morgan of The Rationals and Gary Rasmussen of The Up. Unlike many bands comprised of known names, this supergroup absolutely worked. The best (and only officially released) place to start for Sonic's Rendezvous Band is the amazing 1978 single, “City Slang.” Like The Stooges, there are countless recordings of Sonic's Rendezvous Band floating around. My tip would be to track down and listen to the studio recordings of “City Slang” and “Electrophonic Tonic” and build your collection from there once you pick yourself off the floor.

And if you want to go even deeper into Scott's history, check out his work with Dark Carnival (with Ron), Standfast (with his sister, Kathy) and the great Sonny Vincent.

A Stooge Speaks
For many, Raw Power will always be The Stooges' great moment. It wouldn't be a chore in the least to write a feature 10 times the size of this one on this album alone. And it would not have been the same record without Scott Asheton's drums to drive it forward.

“Scott was the anchor for the Stooges,” offers Stooges guitarist James Williamson. “He's the guy that would sit in the back of the pocket and hold everything down with his understated yet powerful - almost tribal - rhythms. While Scott didn't do any of the songwriting on Raw Power, he was nonetheless such an essential part of the group that his presence alone certainly impacted the music. Without him, it would have been a different recording for sure.”

Rollins on Raw Power
If you ever need proof that Raw Power changed lives, talk to Henry Rollins. A longtime (and very vocal) Stooges fan, Henry was kind enough to offer these words on Scott's contribution to Raw Power for this tribute:

Many years ago, a guy I played with said that when it came to Rock bands, if the drummer wasn't solid, it didn't matter how good the rest of the members were. The Stooges, and another one of the greatest Rock groups ever, Sonic's Rendezvous Band, had something in common: Scott Asheton.

I think America's single greatest Rock album is Raw Power by the Stooges. It wouldn't be a fraction of what it is if any member was changed. That being said, without Scott, there would be nothing for Iggy, James and Ron to stand on. Like a lot of people, I have deconstructed that album more than once. It's Scott's record.

I really miss him.

He was great. We are lucky.

Sonny Says It All
As we remember Scott Asheton today, let us also think of all the great musicians out there right now who create magic under incredibly difficult circumstances. There are so many people playing in shitholes across the world who are worthy of your time and support. In honor of Scott, find a band you've never heard of before and check them out. Buy your next 10 albums instead of downloading them for free. Hit a basement show in your area. Buy a band's shirt at the merch table and help them fill their gas tank and hit the next city. 

Support music that has balls and heart. If you ever need a reminder of what that is, put on a song featuring Scott Asheton.

As one of Scott Asheton's longest-running friends and musical cohorts, Sonny Vincent had the opportunity to see a side of Scott that few fans ever witnessed. While The Stooges get plenty of love these days, there were plenty of years – entire decades, in fact – that saw Scott working hard to simply keep going. I conclude this tribute with the following story by Sonny, originally posted a couple of years ago on his Facebook page and reprinted here in full at his request:

I would like to share something somewhat personal, sad, mysterious and somehow very important to me. Anyone who knows me knows that I am absolutely crazy about drummers, I swear I have spent entire days (if not weeks) solely thinking about Charlie Watts and what a perfect creation he is. Sometimes I listen to Charlie so intensely, the world disappears. Same goes for Jerry Nolan, Machinegun Thompson, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Rat Scabies, tons of Motown dudes, many, many drummers all the way to Luis from Bell Gardens, California. Sure, I do listen to all the parts in music, but there is something about the drums that can not be bullshitted. Lots of dudes can play a bunch of rehashed riffs on a guitar and polish em up, but there is no polish that can create a groove and the kind of passion a drummer must provide. Maybe for some music, but not my kind of RockNroll. Sometimes listening to music, I blot out everything else in my cognizance and only listen to what's going on in the drums. Don't get the wrong idea, I can get by without food or human companionship simply by listening to the guitar on 'I Want You Back' by the Jackson 5 or better yet something by the MC5! But there is always this extra attraction for me that the drums provide. The drums transport a lot of the passion in my world. That brings me to my pal Scott Asheton, the drummer of 'The Stooges.'

I first met him in Detroit back in the day and then later in the '80s when him and Rob Tyner were at a show of mine in Detroit. I hit it off with Scott right away and in no time we were laughing and goofing off like bad delinquents. Later I invited Scott to play drums on a song for one of my albums (Roller Coaster). Again at those sessions in NYC, we got along great and had tons of laughs. Later that year, I asked Scott if he wanted to do a tour with me. The Stooges had long before broken up, as well as the Sonic Rendezvous Band. He occasionally did some shows with Scott Morgan and filled in with his brother and Niagara's band 'Dark Carnival' sometimes, but generally Scott was picking up manual labor whenever and wherever he could. I remember one time he told me he was digging fence pole holes at a farm in Michigan, and this was in the winter. A fuckin' crime that a drummer so great and killer had to be regulated to shit work to feed his kids. Between him and his dedicated wife (she worked part time as a nurse), they struggled through very tough times.

Anyway, sometime during the '80s... I had asked Scott to do a U.S. tour with me but he couldn't...for reasons I don’t wanna say 'why' here because it's his biz. We talked a lot on the phone though (I was living in Mpls back then and he was in the Detroit suburbs.) During one of the phone calls, he said he sent me something in the mail. A few days later, I received a large pack of flyers that he had run off at a copy shop. He called again and said "Yeah, Hey Sonny! I figured that since you were hitting nearly every town in the USA and Canada, you could post these flyers around the clubs and the hip areas where you go and maybe I could get some work that's not in the ice cold." I swear that's exactly what he said. Folks, can you fuckin' believe it? I put the flyers around and he didn't even get any calls! But that's not the saddest part. For me it is simply a crime through and through. That the drummer of the fuckin' Stooges, one of the monolithic 'greats,' is sitting at his kitchen table hand-drawing a motherfucking flyer to get work. After writing his name he lists the albums he played on. Then he draws a lightning bolt on the middle of the page and his wife or kids color it in???? This is beyond fuckin belief .. But it's true, cold fact.. Could you imagine Ringo Starr having to do this?? Ummm.. yeah... ummm let's see... Name –Ringo Starr ummm.... Experience .. ummm yeah let's put it at the bottom... umm Abby Road, Meet The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper. ABSURD, no?

Often, this whole thing made me dizzy and a bit tearful at times. Later, Scott was in my band, we recorded albums together, and did tours. I always told him if Iggy ever called he could just ditch me in Kansas or wherever we were. And I have never parted from this flyer. Normally it is not more that 50 feet away from me. When I travel, it's in my bag. It's part of me, like my skin, where I go that flyer goes. I reminded Scott of it years later when we were on tour in Europe. I showed it to him and he laughed. We had many good times together and considering my fixation on great fucking drumming, you can imagine it was heaven for me to work with him. A lot changed since Scott sent me that flyer. The Stooges reunited and both Scott and Ron were able to enjoy the glory they deserved after some long living in a sort of limbo/shadow. And also the money came to Scott when he played huge festivals around the world with the reunited Stooges... No more digging fence post holes in the ground in the winter in Michigan. It all made me very happy for him. My brother.

Photo courtesy of Sonny Vincent 

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com