Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Birth of American Alternative: Revisiting R.E.M.'s 'Chronic Town'

Photo courtesy of Reybee, Inc. 

One might factually say that Chronic Town was the sound of an expedition, ready for anything, setting forth.” – Mitch Easter

In late 1981 (or, depending on whom you ask, early 1982 – more on that later), four young men from Athens, Georgia calling themselves R.E.M. entered Drive-In Studio – a garage in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that had been converted into a modest recording facility – to put down tracks for their debut EP a short time after causing a local stir with an indie single called “Radio Free Europe”/“Sitting Still.” When released in the summer of 1982 on I.R.S. Records, the five-song 12-inch record/cassette Chronic Town signaled the true arrival of what would eventually become the first Alternative Rock band to break in America and beyond.

Four decades later, this pivotal release has been given a much-deserved second life for its 40th anniversary.

Last August, Chronic Town was finally released as a stand-alone CD (as well as issued as a 12-inch picture disc and a reissued cassette – along with a now-sold-out Chronic Town-branded cassette player) after previously appearing as part of the awesome 1987 odds-and-sods collection Dead Letter Office and the UK boxset The Originals (1995).

And it’s still utterly gorgeous after all these years.

Produced by the band and Mitch Easter of Let’s Active, Chronic Town proves that all the ingredients that would eventually turn R.E.M. into one of the biggest groups on the planet were already intact at the beginning of its 31-year career. Simply put, every note in these five tunes is a stunner. Guitarist Peter Buck’s signature sound was already fully formed and in full force in the opening notes of “Wolves, Lower,” while Michael Stipe’s trademark unintelligible vocals – perhaps the most intriguing element of the band’s 1980s run – function more as instrumentation than as clear messaging. Naturally, Bill Berry’s drumming is flawless (and beautifully recorded – especially by 1982 indie standards), while bassist Mike Mills – R.E.M.’s secret weapon – was already making his indelible mark on the group’s sound through his colorful musicianship and characteristically strong backing vocals. (Although Mills is always the reserved Southern gentleman in interviews, I’ve always sensed that he was the biggest rocker of the bunch.)
The new 40th Anniversary Edition of Chronic Town features extensive liner notes by Easter, whose wordy (but by no means pretentious) prose provide the kind of in-depth gearhead speak that only a producer can offer. (“Others can write the socio-cultural analyses, but when I buy a record I want to know about the guitars and the studio,” he shares.) Curiously, his essay also introduces a conflicting viewpoint to the official narrative of the Chronic Town era. Thrice in his liner notes, he cites January 1982 as the start date of the Chronic Town sessions despite the fact that the original pressing’s sleeve – as well as the promo sticker attached to the 2022 edition – claim that the EP was recorded in October 1981. It’s an inconsistency that should have been clarified before this new edition hit the manufacturing plant. Considering Eater’s concise, almost academic approach to chronicling the sessions in the EP’s new packaging, I’m apt to embrace his version of events.

At its best, R.E.M’s music was simultaneously dark and uplifting – the kind of sound that young social outcasts (like yours truly) could find solace in by turning the radio dial to the left during the Reagan era. (As Easter so eloquently states in his liner notes, “You could rock out at a show with the people or listen in your bedroom and feel like only you or they were in the same secret world.”) With a boatload of memorable hooks and a splash of sexual ambiguity from Stipe thrown in for good measure, R.E.M. delivered the perfect sonic respite for this pubescent loner back in the day. (And I certainly wasn’t the only one.) The band was "alternative" long before that word became a marketing buzzword; consequently, it spent nearly 10 painstaking years building a loyal audience in a music industry that was slow to fully embrace four awkward-looking guys from Athens who largely sounded like a caffeinated version of The Byrds. (For perspective, consider that the group delivered the forlorn “Fall On Me” the same year Bon Jovi released “You Give Love A Bad Name.” Guess which single sold more.)

Of course, R.E.M. would eventually make it to arenas in the decade that followed, but I mostly checked out on the band by then. To my ears, there’s a world of difference between “Orange Crush” off 1988’s excellent Green, and, say, that goofy and overplayed 1992 song about Andy Kaufmann that I couldn’t stand then and can’t stand now. This is not typical hipster “I liked them better when nobody else did” sour grapes; the simple fact is that R.E.M. lost its edge when its music went right of the dial, and the raw spirit that fueled its first handful of releases was never truly recaptured. (To be fair, I have all the time in the world for “Low” and “Texarkana” off 1991’s mega-selling Out Of Time – as well as the majority of 1996’s underrated New Adventures in Hi-Fi – but I still found most of R.E.M.’s other post-breakthrough output to be an absolute bore.)

Despite the ebbs and flows that came after it, Chronic Town still holds up. It’s the sound of a new band growing into its own sound – a short document marking the beginning an exciting new era of American music. It’s primitive and perfect at the same time.

As Easter says in the liner notes, “It’s deep, and it’s fun. Everybody’s contribution is distinctive, and nobody ever sounded like them.”

The reissue of Chronic Town is worthy of massive celebration, and we’re about to get two. On December 14 and 15, all-star concerts paying tribute to the EP will take place at the 40 Watt Club in Athens and the Coca-Cola Roxy in Atlanta, respectively. Artists scheduled to appear include Easter, Darius Rucker, John Cameron Mitchell, Fred Armisen, Kevn Kinney, Lenny Kaye, Steve Wynn, David Ryan Harris, Elf Power, Pylon Reenactment Society, Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin, Gang of Four’s Hugo Burnham and more. Both events, which will be emceed by comedian David Cross, will benefit Planned Parenthood. Although both are already sold out, a livestream of the Atlanta show is available for preorder.


Friday, December 2, 2022

Get Skin-Tight: Rob Moss Returns with More Rockets

Currently based in Massachusetts, musician/songwriter Rob Moss is the Rip Van Winkle of American Hardcore.

As ground floor as you could be possibly be in the Washington, D.C. underground music scene in the early ’80s, Moss provided backing vocals (including the “moooo!” in the intro to the track “Cowboy Fashion”) on Government Issue’s 1981 Legless Bull EP – the fourth-ever release on Dischord Records. As a bassist, he cut his teeth in the bands Assault & Battery and Artificial Peace before joining Government Issue for its 1983 summer tour. (For an ear-melting example of Moss-era GI, check out the recording of the band’s July ’83 gig at CBGB on the Government Issue Live Bootleg Series Bandcamp page.)

And then… nothing. For a long, long time.

It would more than 35 years before Moss returned to music after devoting decades to educational, career and family pursuits. When he finally resurfaced, it was to serve as the singer and guitarist for his own project, Rob Moss and Skin-Tight Skin. His surprise reappearance yielded 2020’s appropriately titled We’ve Come Back To Rock ‘n’ Roll, a 14-song album that boasted 14 different lead guitarists and featured guest spots by musicians from Generation X, Government Issue, Wilco, Velvet Monkeys, Dinosaur Jr, Scream, Foo Fighters, Tav Falco's Panther Burns, Fear, The Four Horsemen, Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band, Smash Fashion, D.C. cult legends The Slickee Boys and many others.

Bolstered by a much beefier production than its predecessor (and also helped along by Moss’ overall stronger vocal and musical performances), the recently released Now With More Rockets finds the resurrected rocker joined by another who’s who of guest lead guitarists ranging from Fu Manchu’s Bob Balch to Greg Strzempka of the criminally underrated Raging Slab. Vocally, Moss falls somewhere between Lou Reed and Shriekback’s Barry Andrews with shades of Camper Van Beethoven’s David Lowery thrown in for good measure. Musically, the album is an eclectic mix of sounds that runs the gamut from Roots Rock (“Rip Van Winkle ’85,” the fantastic “Ink Blue Smoke”) to something that resembles a mashup of The Pixies and Girls Against Boys but somehow smooths out and streamlines both bands’ esoteric approaches without sacrificing any of their sonic quirkiness (“A Rocket Ship To You,” “I’m On A Rocket Ship [Heading My Way Back Home]”).

If you’re looking for a loud and fast Hardcore album based on Moss’ exploits in decades past, then Now With More Rockets isn’t for you. But if you admire the spirit of artistic evolution that is so characteristic of the city that spawned the man’s initial run (think Embrace and Rites of Spring over Minor Threat or Deadline), then this record will make perfect sense to your ears. Let’s hope Moss keeps going and we don’t have to wait until 2057 for his next one.

Now With More Rockets is available at Bandcamp.


Sunday, November 6, 2022

Some Thoughts on the Most Gruesome Film in Decades

In an era of safe spaces and political correctness, the modern Horror movie icon known as Art the Clown is a breath of blood-spewing fresh air.

Although Art the Clown had already existed for a few years via a couple of short films and the 2013 anthology release All Hallows' Eve (all made by director/character creator/all-around sick fuck Damien Leone), he got his first true opportunity to shine (and slaughter) in the 2016 feature film Terrifier, easily one of the most offensively grotesque things ever conceived for cinema. In one unforgettable scene, a suspended nude woman (Dawn, played by Catherine Corcoran) is hacksawed in half via her vagina. (Fun fact: Actress Jenna Kanell, who played Tara in the film, insisted on remaining tied up in between takes so that she would psychologically feel as if she were tied up when filming. Neat.)

Art the Clown is a perfect movie monster – extravagantly done up in clown makeup and attire and communicating only through exaggerated facial expressions and body movements. Now, he returns in Terrifier 2, an absolute mindfuck of a viewing experience that takes the extremities of its predecessor and pushes them to the nth degree.

Reviewing this film without revealing any spoilers (or getting too deep into all the awesome kill scenes) is a tough task, so I’ll keep things relatively brief here. What’s important to take away is that Terrifier 2 is hands down the finest Horror movie since the genre’s ’80s heyday. The film greatly expands on what worked best in the first Terrifier – namely the murder scenes and Art the Clown’s menacing presence – and elevates them to stunning new heights. (The surreal and disturbing “Clown CafĂ©” dream sequence in particular is a brilliant work of violent, sadistic art.) While there’s certainly more carnage this time around, Terrifier 2’s greatest strength lies in the incorporation of a rare ingredient in Horror entertainment: Actual character development. Sienna (played with expressive-eyed charm by Lauren LaVera) and Jonathan (played by Elliott Fullam, best known as the host of the wildly popular Little Punk People celebrity interview series on YouTube) are deeper and far more engaging than Horror movie archetypes, leading viewers to sympathize more with their struggles at home – fatherless and attempting to find a sense of normalcy with their overworked, overstressed and widowed mother, Barbara, played by Sarah Voight – than with the fact they spend the final third of the movie getting fucked up by a brutal Bozo. These characters – and actors – have genuine depth. You end up caring and rooting for them even as you enjoy Art the Clown’s efforts to do them in. Shockingly enough, the empathy these characters inspire is actually the most memorable thing about Terrifier 2.

Well, that and the big scene with Allie (played by Casey Harnett), which should come with its own support group. (For fuck’s sake!)

Full marks also go to actors David Howard Thorton – who horrifically (and often comically) brings life to Art the Clown without having to say a single word – and Amelie McLain, who chills to the bone in her role as Art’s demented little sidekick.

A few more things:

1. Already a master of creating great unease, Leone ups his game in the discomfort department by stretching Terrifier 2’s runtime to nearly 150 corpse-creating minutes. (Hint: Keep watching once the end credits begin to roll.)

2. Terrifier 2 was made for only $250,000 – a jaw-dropping figure when considering the high level of effects and overall inventiveness that went into making it. Sure, some of the gore looks cheap and fake as hell, but Leone and Co. clearly put their money where it mattered most – namely in expertly creating a visual and mental mood of impending dread in virtually every scene. There was clearly love put into every ounce of blood sprayed throughout this film – and Thortons and McLain’s makeup and outfits are fucking extraordinary.

3. As far as horror film heroines go, Sienna is this generation’s Nancy from A Nightmare On Elm Street. LaVera is the first real Scream Queen we’ve had in ages. I can’t say enough about how great she is in this film.

4. Fullam, who also just put out some fantastic music on the Kill Rock Stars label, is going to be a major star soon. Mark my words.

5. Make sure to see Terrifier 2 in a (preferably crowded) movie theater. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll love the throwback feeling of seeing a great slasher flick on the big screen.

6. Go on an empty stomach.


"Anti-Hero" and the Further Adventures of Uncle Mo

There are few people in this world more dangerous than a man with nothing left to prove.

At 63, bassist/singer Jerry Only (“Mo” to his family and friends) has done – and survived – it all. As the teenage bassist for Lodi, New Jersey’s legendary Misfits, he was already hitting the stage at CBGB by the spring of 1977. Until 1983, he served as the band’s blue-collar secret weapon – regularly recording and performing with the group while working at his family’s machine shop to fund the entire evil endeavor. Glenn Danzig was the captain on stage, but Mo was the soldier on the streets making things happen. It was a partnership that worked for years until internal disagreements and power struggles led to the classic-era Misfits’ implosion.

In 1995 (and after a head scratch-inducing stint alongside his brother/1980-1983 Misfits guitarist Doyle in the Christian Power Metal band Kryst The Conqueror), Mo set out to put together his own version of The Misfits with Doyle following a lengthy lawsuit with Danzig. After several months of tedious vocalist/drummer auditions, a new Misfits lineup completed by singer Michale Graves and timekeeper Dr. Chud finally emerged. This incarnation of the band lasted for five years and two studio albums before everyone except Mo split. (Naturally, reports on the reasons for the breakup vary. Go ask those guys for answers; I ain’t touching the topic with a 10-foot pole!)

This was when things got interesting. For the next 16 years, the bassist led a frequently changing lineup of the band – let’s call them The MOfits – with himself on lead vocals.

Marky Ramone, former Misfits/Black Flag member Robo, drummer Eric “Chupacabra” Arce (Murphy’s Law/Skarhead/Electric Frankenstein), Black Flag’s Dez Cadena and even Mo’s son, Jerry Jr. (rechristened “Jerry Other,” tee-hee), all served as MOfits at one point or another.

In the fall of 2016, “The Original Misfits” (a.k.a. Mo and Danzig with Doyle, drum legend Dave Lombardo and second guitarist Acey Slade all serving as hired guns) finally got their legal and interpersonal shit together well enough to do a reunion show in Denver – and they’ve been selling out arenas ever since.

So, where does this leave The MOfits? Well, presumably in the same dead waters as the final, Tony Martin-fronted lineup of Black Sabbath that existed before Ozzy rejoined in 1997. (Many Sabbath fans wondered why the 2006-2010 reunion of the Ronnie James Dio-era Sabbath went out on the road as ”Heaven and Hell.” Why was this even a question? Simply put, Ozzy still sells out massive venues on his own, while Dio circa 2006 was a club headliner at best. Going out as “Black Sabbath” with Dio up front would have butchered the Sabbath brand in the marketplace – the same way a new MOFits release or tour would shit all over “The Original Misfits” today. Harsh but true.) Frankly, there’s simply no need for – or public interest in – a MOFits album in 2022. So, what we have instead is Mo’s first-ever solo album, Anti-Hero.

Unencumbered by expectations surrounding the Misfits name, Mo is finally able to stand or fall on his own musical merits and do whatever the hell he wants. This truly is Jerry Only time, and he has the freedom that comes with plenty of hard-earned cash in the bank and absolutely no fucks necessary to give. Heavy on the MOfits vibe but also sonically falling somewhere between glam-era David Bowie and oldies radio (two of the guy’s primary influences), the eight-song Anti-Hero is the album that Mo was born to make.

Retaining MOFits members Arce and Jerry Other – and bringing Slade, Lombardo, Cadena, producer extraordinaire Ed Stasium (who also contributes percussion, guitar and backing vocals), former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, keyboardist/backing vocalist Andy Burton and Dennis Diken of The Smithereens (!!!) along for the ride – Mo has crafted a solid, catchy and memorable record that largely sounds like a mix between The MOFits’ 2011 album, The Devil’s Rain, and 2003’s criminally underrated covers collection, Project 1950. If you enjoy those albums as much as I do, then you’ll find plenty to love on Anti-Hero. If you believe The Misfits broke up in October 1983 and didn’t play again until 2016, then you’re not going to bother with this fucking thing anyway. Those who are willing to give Anti-Hero a fair shake will be treated to a lot of great meat-and-potatoes Mo music here, including the brilliantly anthemic “Snake Eyes” (which gets better with each listen) and the exceptional album closer “Anti-Heroes” (which surprisingly enters Queen territory in spots thanks to some truly fantastic playing by Caggiano, Lombardo and Burton. Those final 69 seconds are fucking amazing!) Other standout moments include the mid-tempo scorcher “Illuminati” (a track bolstered by Arce’s tom-heavy performance) and a raucous rendition of “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.”

As for Mo’s singing voice, it still sounds like a fairly passable Robert Gordon impression done by a drunk uncle who’s grabbed the mic late into an Italian wedding reception. I like it just fine – and I even liked it years before The MOFits when I sat next to him as he belted out ’50s classics behind the wheel during an all-day road trip back in ’95. The guy’s having fun and doing his thing. Let him be.

(As an aside, it’s interesting to experience how much The Misfits’ 1995-2000 members’ individual solo endeavors reflect their unique personalities: Mo is Mo, while Doyle’s output is full-on machismo with a “fuck you” attitude. Graves is the sensitive Pop-leaning poet, while Dr. Chud’s goofy Punk/Metal schlock is fueled by the man’s under-the-surface intelligence and vast talents behind the production/engineering desk. It would be an intriguing listen if these four guys ever reconvened to put their collective near quarter-century of post-Misfits artistic growth into a new album together. Fuck, fellas, do it under the moniker “American Psycho” if you have to – just do it before one of you assholes croaks. I’m not the only one who loved and misses your version of the band!)

Mo is a polarizing figure amongst fiends, but there’s no denying the guy’s passion for what he does and the fact he’s busted his ass every step of the way. (I’m not just talking out of my ass here. There were plenty of times in the mid-‘90s when Mo would tirelessly practice the band’s lengthy set even when no one else from the group was available or had bothered to show up. The fill-in drummer for many of these occasions? Yours truly.) The Misfits name may have opened plenty of doors for Mo when he brought the band back from the dead in ’95, but it was his ingenuity and sheer force of will that kept The Misfits in the room for the next 21 years. Mo was the guy who kept The Misfits alive in the market - and thus the band’s back catalog in circulation – until the inevitable reconnection with Glenn took place. The millions-making reunion we’re seeing now would not have happened without Mo’s hard work in the years preceding it. This is not open for debate.

With Anti-Hero, he finally gets his true moment in the spotlight after decades in the trenches, and it’s fucking great.


Monday, September 26, 2022

Bleeding Metal: Raven Storms North America

Left to Right: Mark Gallagher, Mike Heller and John Gallagher of Raven (Photo by Yuki Kuroyanagi)

To put the lengthy career of English Metal legends Raven into perspective, the band formed in Newcastle the same year Aerosmith released Get Your Wings and Bon Scott joined AC/DC. That’s a long goddamn time ago, but Raven – led since the beginning by brothers John and Mark Gallagher – is as active now as it was when it first broke through in America in the early ’80s.


This Friday will see the release of Leave ’Em Bleeding, a new Raven compilation on SPV/Steamhammer. Showcasing some of the heaviest music the band has ever recorded, Leave ’Em Bleeding features three tracks off 2020’s Metal City (“Top Of The Mountain,” “Metal City,” “The Power”), two tracks off 2015’s ExtermiNation (“Destroy All Monsters” and “Battle March/Tank Treads [The Blood Runs Red]”), a live track (“Crash Bang Wallop” off 2019’s Screaming Murder Death from Above: Live in Aalborg) and six rare bonus tracks (including covers of Thin Lizzy’s “Bad Reputation” and Montrose’s “Space Station #5”).

“As we are moving on to another label [Silver Lining Music], it seemed a great way to sum up the last 10-15 years with some of the cool tracks off those albums plus all the Japanese/Brazilian/Outer Mongolian extra tracks that a lot of people missed out on!” John explains. “We picked the ‘barn burners’ from the last few [albums], those extra tracks, one from the 2019 live album plus an unreleased version of ‘Stay Hard’ from our 2017 US tour, which is pretty cool!”


The material on Leave ’Em Bleeding features intense drumming courtesy of both Joe Hasselvander (who was a member of Raven for 30 years before health concerns led to his departure in 2017) and current skin basher Mike Heller, who also currently drums for Fear Factory. John is quick to praise Heller for his part in keeping the band’s engine running.


“He’s been quite the inspiration and a great fit. He’s a phenomenal talent behind the kit but also contributes in so many other ways. He always has ideas for artwork and is a big part of writing and arranging the songs with us.” 


While 48 years would age anyone – this writer is 45 and grey as hell! – John’s timeless Metal vocal stylings still pack plenty of 80s-era power. 


“I’ve always looked after myself and my voice – no drinking, smoking or the funny stuff. Being a ‘Boy Scout’ has paid off in that my voice is as good if not better than ever. As long as I get my 40 winks in, I’m good!”


Raven is currently on a North American tour commemorating the 40th anniversary of 1982’s Wiped Out, a bonafide Metal classic that is being performed on stage in its entirety for the first time ever.


“[Wiped Out] was a groundbreaking album in that it had fast, crazy songs and was unrelenting,” John recalls. “It’s certainly gonna be a blast playing these songs, as many of them haven’t been played in many, many years – and three have never been played live!” 

The tour also marks the 40th anniversary of Raven’s first-ever American show: The 1982 “Halloween Headbangers Ball” in Staten Island with Riot and Anvil. In a cool coincidence, Riot Act – featuring former Riot guitarist Rick Ventura – is opening for Raven on its current US dates.


“[Riot Act] has some absolutely classic songs, and I saw them in the UK not long ago – great show, too! I’m looking forward to having them on board!”


In addition to living on the road for the next several weeks, the members of Raven are preparing for the 2023 release of their 15th studio album.


“It’s gonna ‘leave ’em bleeding’!” John comments with a laugh when asked to describe what fans can expect from the upcoming record.  “We knew we had a tall order to follow Metal City, and I think we’ve done just that in all departments – songwriting, arrangements, musicianship and pure energy! We are currently mixing the album, and it’s sounding amazing. It will be out in May, so you shall have to hang in there!”


In the past 48 years, the Gallagher Brothers have seen and been through it all – record labels both large and small, drummers who have come and gone, peaks and valleys in the popularity of Metal and even a freak 2001 accident that crushed Mark’s legs and kept the band off the map for three years. No matter what, Raven has persevered – and its legion of diehard fans keep coming back. John credits the band’s longevity to a single word: Tenacity.


“It’s an attribute of our hometown people for sure, and that stubborn ‘never say die’ attitude has paid off. People know when you are real and you are doing this for the right reasons. We also really enjoy being in this monster we’ve created – as well as knowing how incredibly lucky we are to do this – and doing it at a high level. It’s humbling to look back at 48 years of this band, and we uphold our legacy by giving 100 percent 100 percent of the time!”


Sunday, September 25, 2022

"I'm Not Trying to Be Smug Here:" Words for Anton Fier

Photo by Rick McGinnis

In many ways, Anton Fier – who passed away last week at the age of 66 – died years ago.

Long before social media gave the world a platform for self-aggrandizing, Anton packed up his music box and split for parts unknown without a single word announcing his intentions. The year was 1996, and he had just released Dead Inside – one of the darkest albums ever committed to disk – with his long-running project, The Golden Palominos. Largely created in collaboration with spoken word artist Nicole Blackman (perhaps best known for her bullet-between-the-eyes work with KMFDM), Dead Inside was bleak, distressing and fearless. (Kidnapping, murder and infanticide were among its primary themes.) Even in a post-Cobain musical landscape accustomed to depression set to sound, Dead Inside was too much for too many. (Cheekily, I once put it on for a ladyfriend who had basically been my high school’s answer to Sylvia Plath. She politely asked that I turn it off after the first song.) Naturally, I absolutely adored the thing – despite the fact that I’ve only been able to sit through it thrice in the last 26 years.

As career suicides go, Dead Inside is a masterstroke. From 1980 to 1996, Anton had been everywhere as one of Alternative music’s most expressive and versatile drummers. His extraordinary talents made their first major appearance on The Feelies’ amazing 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms. Over the ensuing decade and a half, his personal discography blossomed to include standout work with Pere Ubu, The Lounge Lizards, SWANS and Bob Mould, among others. Under his own steam, he led The Golden Palominos – a revolving who’s who of underground music elites – through a series of captivating albums (with 1983’s eponymous debut, 1985’s Visions Of Excess and 1994’s Pure being my personal favorites). Critics and adventurous music fans couldn’t get enough of the guy – but then Dead Inside shook the Cult of Fier into a stunned silence. Years went by without a peep from him.

Where did Anton Fier go? And why? Why was Dead Inside presumably his final word? In early 2005, I decided to find out.

Driving down Sunset Blvd. one day, I came up with the idea to write a book called Albums that (Should’ve) Changed the World – a more grandiose title than, say, Albums that Really Deserve a Second Listen. Within seconds of coming up with the title, I decided that Dead Inside would be one of the releases I’d write about. At the time, I viewed Myspace – still primitive in those days – as a passing fad not worthy of much attention. So, I started my journey the old-fashioned journalist’s way – by connecting the dots through phonebooks, legwork and organic networking. I was soon in touch with various Palominos and Pere Ubu types, hoping to gain a glimpse into Anton’s working process and personality. Before long, a common thread surfaced: Many spoke highly of their working relationship with Anton, but they cautioned that my attempts to get to the heart of the matter directly with the man himself – who could be quite a cagey fellow at times, it seemed – would very likely lead to a brick wall. Additionally, it appeared that nobody had heard from him in years. These were tantalizing circumstances for a journalist, and finding Fier became a fixation for me.

I tracked down and hit up more past Palominos. None of them seemed to know where Anton’s feet had landed. I left a few messages at the NYC bar Tonic (RIP) after a SWAN tipped me off that Anton was last seen working there. Nothing. Shortly after my Eddie And The Cruisers-style search for the man hit its ninth month, I finally came across a presumably old email address for him in the liner notes to Tzadik's reissue of his solo album Dreamspeed after unexpectedly finding it at Amoeba Hollywood one day. I sent him an email but didn’t expect much. Amazingly, he wrote back two days later. Here’s an excerpt:

“While I appreciate what you're trying to do, I'm just not sure that talking about the music or the past holds much interest for me. I'm not trying to be smug here, but outside of technical details, I'm not sure what information I can offer you that would be relevant – relevant in the sense that it sheds light on the work. The work is the work, created by the people who created it, and it speaks for itself.”

The journalist in me hated reading those words, but the creator/musician in me understood and respected the hell out of them. During a conversation I had with him a few years back, the late Andy Gill of Gang of Four cautioned that artists could too easily end up being “guilty of trying to be [their] own reviewers and trying to really spell out what [they] think [the work] is supposed to say,” adding that such practices “can take away some of the magic in things by over-talking them.” Creators are in the business of creating; in a perfect world, that would be enough. Unfortunately, publicity and promotion don’t work that way, and this often leads to otherwise solitary people being bugged by, well, people like me. Having existed on both sides of the fence over the years, I tend to favor Anton’s go-away-kid-you-bother-me approach to public relations over the time I need to take away from DOING things to discuss things I’ve already DONE. A necessary evil is still evil, and I found Anton’s reluctance to give away too much a breath of fresh air. And in a modern world where photos of lunches provide midday entertainment for millions, Anton accomplished the great feat of a public death without actually dying. Brilliant and admirable.

Now Anton IS dead, and we’re left with his work to tell the tale. Thankfully, that tale is an extraordinary one. As a young drummer growing up in New Jersey (The Feelies’ headquarters), I learned a lot about finesse by listening to Crazy Rhythms – especially via the gradual tom buildup of “Loveless Love” and the tasteful-yet-powerful timekeeping genius of “Moscow Nights.” I’ll also state without reservation that White Light From The Mouth Of Infinity – largely viewed as SWANS’ return to form following the commercially driven misstep of 1989’s The Burning World – would not have been the album it was without Anton’s presence. And then there’s Pere Ubu’s Song Of The Bailing Man. And Bob Mould’s Black Sheets Of Rain. As far as I’m concerned, these are ANTON’s records. He was not a sideman; he was the engine.

On a personal note, Anton’s death is another nagging reminder that my Albums book – long delayed by nearly two decades’ worth of marriage, parenthood, divorce, car accidents, world travel and actual paid work – is still unfinished. I’d like to think that if Anton had lived long enough to read the final product, he would have enjoyed my investigation and interpretation of Dead Inside.

Although Anton briefly resurfaced about a decade ago with another Golden Palominos record (this time a collaboration with Drivin N Cryin’s Kevn Kinney) and a couple of surprise live shows, he largely maintained his elusiveness until the very end. No official cause of death has been announced, and I’d be surprised if one ever comes to light. (There are online rumors, of course. I will neither share nor validate the more prevalent ones here except to say that I hope Anton left this world feeling a sense of personal dignity.) At the end of the day, Anton did his job by leaving us plenty of great music to mull over – and then staying out of the way of his own creations.

“The magic in things,” as Andy Gill would say, remains intact.

You were right, Anton. Your work does speak for itself. And it will always say – and mean – a hell of a lot.