Tuesday, September 26, 2006

in the BEGINNING…[addendum: a few words about videos, CONVULSIONS, and vomiting!]

It occurred to me, after I posted the story of SGT. ROCK, that I really didn’t focus much on CONVULSIONS other than to touch on it’s place in the story of what was happening at the time, and its importance as it related to the future of IMPETIGO. What I didn’t go into detail about was the significance of the ‘video rental’ craze, its influence upon CONVULSIONS (and, subsequently, IMPETIGO), what the true concept of CONVULSIONS involved, and last but not least, my obsession with making audio tapes of myself (and others) hurling their guts into oblivion…an obsession that eventually evolved into a fantastic stage act!

It all figures in one way or another to the overall IMPETIGO story, so here are the details…

This isn’t intended to be a high-brow dissertation on the ‘video rental’ craze (that might be a topic for my other blog!)…indeed, many of us now take for granted that before the early 80s, the only way we could watch our favorite horror films (the ones that didn’t make it to television or, later, HBO and Cinemax) was to order and swap cheezy 8mm reels without sound. When I was a kid, I bought scores of these (mostly from Famous Monsters magazine ads; you know…the multi-page ads in the back) and in many instances, they were the only exposure to several horror cinema gems I was ever able to experience. When my family acquired a Betamax machine, I squealed with joy when we started subscribing to HBO and I was able to tape several films for repeated digestion. I paid homage to HBO by including their themesong in the IMPETIGO setlist. I remember renting Beta tapes at Fotomat (near my house in Freeport, IL) but true horror titles were scarce beyond imagination.

When I moved to Decatur, IL in 1983 was when the ‘video rental’ boom occurred in Central Illinois. I believe it was a Curtis Mathes store that first offered titles for rent as well as VHS and Beta Machines (our Betamax wasn’t ours, and we had to return it when we moved) for rental. Yeah, that was a memorable weekend…I walked in with my dad and spotted several tasty titles on their shelf. Out of about 150 tapes, they had lots of great, old and new horror films for rental. I must have grabbed 5 or 6, plus a machine. It wasn’t too long before the money I earned and didn’t spend on records was going towards weekend dubbing parties, where I would rent two machines (or rent one and borrow a friend’s machine), a handful of tapes, and have a group of pals over to dupe tapes, drink beer, and peruse the klassics. My family didn’t own a VHS machine until I moved out of the house; I lugged a box of tapes with me when I left for college in 1985, where I continued my practice of renting, dubbing, and drinking. I was still an ‘avid dubber’ and video trader all the way up to the mid-90s, giving up about the same time I gave up tape-trading.

It was this manic obsession with horror videos that was truly the co-inspiration for my band CONVULSIONS. This, coupled with my burning desire to form and play in a death metal band, was the main thrust. As I had mentioned previously, all the horrible lyrics were about and inspired by horror movies. However, the concept of CONVULSIONS expanded into a new realm once I had bailed out of college and returned to Decatur…CONVULSIONS wasn’t only a band, it was a movie…yes, that’s right, a movie of the same name that was about…what else? Zombies, vampires, sex, nudity, blood, gore, fighting, witchcraft, bizarre science, and total violence. Right before the advent of SGT. ROCK I was working on a storyboard/screenplay (in comic book format) where I began to flesh out the story of a strange satanic chemical experiment that rendered some very unlucky individuals into death, only to return as zombies to consume (and have sex with) the living!! The vampires fit in as a group hired by the government to try to control the zombie threat. I didn’t get very far before SGT. ROCK happened, and I lost my focus on the project. But, in a nutshell, that was it.

It was during this time (and while I was also working on “Splatter Zine”) that my goofy pals Brian Lehfeldt (WEHRMACHT) and Chris Merrow started sending me audio cassettes of them vomiting. I was so freaked out by this, and hysterically drawn towards this art, that I started taping myself, then others, and sending these out also (usually at the end of tapes I made for my trading pen-pals). I would bring a small hand-held tape recorder with me to parties and other gatherings, and pounce upon unsuspecting individuals when they least expected it and were completely hammered. Sometimes, I had to get them started (and help them get over their ‘stage fright’) by vomiting myself, whether I felt like it or not. I suppose this is when I began to perfect the art of ‘vomiting upon command,’ without using my fingers…anytime, anywhere. I continued this practice of taping vomit-sessions when I moved back to Bloomington-Normal to live (instead of study). It was then that my own vomiting evolved into performance art! I have dozens of pictures of myself puking ‘at command’ during various parties; I had stopped taping them and just started bringing pukes into the public domain, if you will. This evolved further into a private joke; those of you who remember IMPETIGO from the “All We Need is Cheez” days may remember that NAKED HIPPY used to play a joke-song entitled “Puke” and I would usually run onstage with a big sign that had “PUKE” in big letters written on it. Many years later, I had the notion to vomit at the end of “Red Wigglers” onstage, and that worked out great.

To this day (in fact, right now!) I can still work up my bile and send it in any direction I feel like anytime I choose to do so. It looks better if I’ve been eating chili dogs, but I can still do it!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

in the BEGINNING...[Part Two...the story of SGT. ROCK!]

When I returned to Decatur in January of 1987, I was a wreck. Mark was the koolest guy I had ever met, and we were both on the same page on so many things…there was never another individual whom I had met that would have made a better bandmate, but my situation was what it was; I was broke, flunked out of college, and I was (still) desperate. Bloomington/Normal was only an hour away, but that hour seemed like a million miles at the time.

After being branded and exiled, I turned my creative energy back on what I had unsuccessfully attempted while at ISU, and in Decatur, the worst of places. As I mentioned, my attempt at reviving DEAD TRENDIES was a bust, as was my campaign to form a ‘death metal’ band called CONVULSIONS…this was a band I tried to start with Shayson Clay (later in NAKED HIPPY, MASTERFISTER, and an INSOMNIA member for a while; Shayson was also my roommate later on), all we needed was a drummer. While at ISU, I peppered the campus with flyers and spread the word around as best as I could, but it was no use. Back in Decatur, I continued my attempt to jumpstart CONVULSIONS by writing a handful of terrible, S.O.D./DEATH/MASSACRE/C.O.C. influenced material; generic 4-note ‘homage’ riffs (‘homage’ means I stole them from other songs), really bad lyrics (simple, 5 or 6 line DISCHARGE-style) about horror movies and inside jokes. Typical of my ‘band fantasy world,’ I had artwork, flyers, lyrics sheets, and all faithfully drawn out and ready to go. Decatur was worse than Normal was; there was NOBODY around who wanted to play this stuff (or had even HEARD OF the bands I was imitating) and since Mark and Shayson were way out of the picture, it was destined to fail. The rest of my energy went towards publishing my own fanzine, “Splatter” (influenced by Mark’s “Uni-Force” zine), and in tape-trading and doing free-lance artwork for several bands. Mark and I still kept in touch through the mail and phone calls.

Other than recording some bass tracks of the songs I had written on my home stereo, CONVULSIONS was dead before it was born. I still had a ‘bad reputation’ in Decatur amongst the small handful of people who were either into or played hardcore/punk music, and I knew of nobody who was into death or speed metal. My ‘bad reputation’ stemmed from the DEAD TRENDIES days, where I was frustrated with the ever-rotating lineup of this band from back in 1985 and their lack of dedication. It’s a long story (and too silly to tell here), but basically, the remainders of DEAD TRENDIES had teamed up with a guitarist fellow named Jymi and a vocalist named Jim to become “Necrophilia” (the other members of DEAD TRENDIES wanted to call themselves this, and I had refused) and had been working on originals and covers while I was at college. Jymi had been around for years, and was an original member of Decatur’s first punk band, ILL NOIZE…as a person, he was nothing more than an asshole, but because of his work with ILL NOIZE, I had a deep amount of respect for him. Jymi had ‘discovered’ speed metal while I was at college (interesting historical note: Jymi had traded me his copy of Venom’s “Black Metal” some years earlier, as he ‘hated it’ and thought it was ‘awful’) and upon my return to Decatur, Jymi had re-named his band ILL NOIZE. Jim, the punk vocalist, was replaced by Geo, a ‘metal’ vocalist. Jymi’s new influence of POSSESSED, ANTHRAX, S.O.D., etc had moved into his songwriting, and the band was sounding pretty damn good.

Jymi’s brother Jeff had always been a great friend of mine, was the drummer of DEAD TRENDIES and was in the new ILL NOIZE. After some revolutions in my battered brain, I started to think that there might be a possibility of getting CONVULSIONS going with Jymi on guitar and Jeff on drums, as long as I could handle Jymi’s ego and his aloof nature (Jymi was one of those guys who was always your ‘best friend’ when he needed you for something, and he was nobody’s friend when he didn’t need them for anything). One evening, I was at Jymi’s house with a dozen others…there was always a crowd in his room most evenings, as all the punks in town would bring their beer to his house and sit in the room, junk and band instruments all over (ILL NOIZE practiced there), and we’d drink and listen to music; sometimes the band would practice also. Jymi and I were talking and I was trying to introduce my idea about CONVULSIONS to him, when he introduced his idea about an S.O.D.-like band to ‘warm up’ at ILL NOIZE shows (there weren’t many, trust me!)…he was a big comic reader (like myself) and a huge S.O.D. fan, one thing led to another and I had my bass over, his friend Mike from work got behind the drum kit, and we blasted out about 6 or 7 real quick S.O.D. type short crossover songs, and SGT. ROCK was born. Jymi’s concept was to make all the lyrics humorous snippets all military-related. I was also a SGT. ROCK fan, and it was the closest thing to a band I had been involved with since DEAD TRENDIES, and I was so obsessed with playing in a band, I was genuinely chuffed. A couple of days later, Jymi had all the lyrics written, we had added a few more songs (some of them riffs that I had written), and during a ‘practice’ he taped the whole 20 minutes or so of material and we had a demo.

I think it’s important to mention right here, right now, that none of these guys had any notion of tape-trading or the underground at that time. Jymi (and the others) only knew of what he could buy at Camelot music or what they could read about in Hit Parader. I remember bringing over DEATH demos (like, “Death by Metal”), playing them, and hearing snickers all around. The SGT. ROCK demo didn’t come from a need to promote ourselves in the underground…well, to ME it did, but to Jymi, he must have thought ‘if those guys can do it, so can I’ and we recorded the tape, the rest was entirely up to me. I made a cover, printed out a shitload of flyers for my mail, and the rest…as they say…is history. That summer, ILL NOIZE played a handful of gigs, and everytime SGT. ROCK was their ‘warm up’ act. Again, I took SGT. ROCK much more seriously than the rest. Our very first show in St. Louis with MEAN GUYS FROM HELL was my first actual live performance EVER. If it weren’t for the SGT. ROCK experience, IMPETIGO would never have been what it was. The initial concept was Jymi’s, but from that point on, the band was driven by me. I took the reigns of introducing songs and between-song banter, and I sold demos in the mail for cheap (I gave away more than I sold). I broke the cardinal rule of fanzine editors and featured an interview with SGT. ROCK in my own fanzine (Jim, the ex-ILL NOIZE vocalist) did the interview for me. During this interview, Jymi exposed his true intentions for the band, “drink beer and play stupid songs.”

Our performance at the outdoor Decatur Band Jam was the high point in the summer for me…Mark made the trip to see us play, and his presence there was stellar; it was as if Monte Conner himself had made it to the gig. Mark liked SGT. ROCK (and had done his own ‘project,’ the legendary P.G.L.S., which is a “lost demo” as we both taped over our copies in the early IMPETIGO days) and was very enthusiastic in his support of my ‘first official band.’ Also playing with us that day was LEVIATHAN, a great speed metal band from Peoria, featuring a young Ty Smith on drums. Ty would become one of my greatest pals; he later became involved in NAMLAND with guys from IMPULSE MANSLAUGHTER, moved to the Pacific Northwest and became a member of RESIST, among others.

We had added a couple more songs to our playlist, one of which was a song that I wrote 100%, “My Lai.” It followed the SGT. ROCK pattern, a silly song with a military theme. It was one of my earliest fulfilled attempts at writing a song seriously for this genre, and I think most of you can probably tell that it was entirely influenced by SACRIFICE…I even got to sing it, Rob Urbanati-style!! It was a short summer, but we were very busy with this. Interest in the band via my pen pals and tape-trading buddies was lukewarm, but enthusiastic…there were dozens of other joke bands, inspired by S.O.D. and SPAZZTIC BLURR, and we were far from taken seriously. Jymi started to get worn out (actually, bored) with the whole thing…ILL NOIZE was working on a studio demo tape, and it wasn’t going that well. We had a 4th of July party gig coming up, when I was contacted about playing in Peoria at the end of July. Our contact was the guys from LEVIATHAN (I think), and at first both bands were going to play, but for some reason, only SGT. ROCK was going to play…I don’t think this sat well with Jymi; he had no reason to be jealous of one of his bands over another, but ILL NOIZE was his priority and if they didn’t play, neither was SGT. ROCK. In response, Jymi bailed out of the 4th of July gig (his excuse: to help with a ‘fireworks program’ and drink beer), so I went from two shows in one month to nothing.

On the fly, and on a lark, I made a decision…without even blinking…to call Mark and get him involved immediately. I wanted to play the Peoria show so bad I could taste it, and there was only one way I was going to do this…usurp Jymi’s role in the band somehow, get Mark in as guitarist, and make the show…and I didn’t even have an entire month to get this going…and Mark was still an hour away, in Bloomington/Normal!!

Things move pretty damn quick from this point, but we were young and felt no pain whatsoever…hang on, the story continues and gets weirder from here!!!

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