The way I go about selecting a topic to write a book about is simple – it’s something that I’ve always wanted to read about…but there was no book on the market. Hence, the arrival of my fourteenth book overall, Punk! Hardcore! Reggae! PMA! Bad Brains!
Part biography and part oral history, the book recounts the entire history of one of my favorite all-time bands (whose definitive line-up consists of singer HR, guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer, and drummer Earl Hudson), and includes all-new interviews with a variety of rock n’ rollers, including current or former members of Soundgarden, Nirvana, Faith No More, Meat Puppets, Circle Jerks, Clutch, Coheed and Cambria, Dillinger Escape Plan, and many others.
Below are a few excerpts from the oral history portion of the book, according to the following topics – “Punk & Hardcore,” “Discovery,” “Show Memories,” “Fav Recordings,” “Influence,” and “Holds Up?”. By all means, read on, and if you fancy what you see, feel free to order a copy (it’s available as a paperback, a Kindle download, and a Nook download).
Punk & Hardcore:
MIKE DEAN [Corrosion of Conformity singer/bassist]: On one hand, it was perhaps easier than now to just start from nothing, and go play, because you had an honest-to-God word of mouth, organic, enthusiastic, hardcore scene, where this is an entirely new thing that people were jumping on of their own accord – you didn’t have to force-feed it to them – and they would go see a band out of town that they’d never heard, simply because they were told it was a hardcore band. If anybody had heard it at all and it was good, everybody was there, because it was an enthusiastic, youthful scene, based on, “I need more of this.” It was like a new trip. So there was that – you could start from nothing and there was an audience. But at the same time, still not a great deal of money in that pursuit, so the level of nutrition and accommodation might include eating at the gas station and sleeping in the van.
Or if you did find a place to stay, you’d be subjected to people that just wanted to party, so getting the rest that even a young person would require was not always on the agenda. And then looking like weirdos could get you harassed. It got us harassed in different places and pulled out of the van and searched. Now, I would imagine adding African skin to that equation would probably make that happen tenfold. It was more than enough to make me paranoid. So yeah, you’re going to suffer a little for your art if you’re in that situation. It was both tough, and in some ways, surprisingly easier than today, simply because the audience was just so motivated for something new to go crazy. Whereas now, it just seems like everybody’s seen it all. To some extent, it’s all been done. You can add a little bit more, but then people might not even know that you pulled off something revolutionary, because they’re playing a game on their phone or some shit. They’re too busy filming something great to actually experience something great.
MARK ARM [Mudhoney singer/guitarist]: I think the first time I heard them, my friend Alex had the ‘Rock for Light’ cassette…maybe the first time was on ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans!’ – it’s a little foggy. They were a great band. But in the early hardcore days, they only came through Seattle once, and they played an all-ages place called the Metropolis. And this was after they had the blowout thing with the Big Boys down in Texas, and they decided to go full reggae. So there are all these punk kids wanting to see the Bad Brains – they had a big reputation, you’d read about them in fanzines how great they were live and everything. And they just played reggae for like, an hour and a half. They looked like they were not having a good time at all. No one really was. But in the middle of the set, they did like maybe three of their punk songs – I can’t remember which ones. But for like, seven minutes, the place just went apeshit, the band was smiling…and then they went back to reggae for like another half an hour. It was a really confusing show. It was like, “Why are you doing this to yourselves and us?”
KEITH MORRIS [Circle Jerks singer]: [The Circle Jerks] played with them a couple of times. Out here in Southern California, we had to follow them, which…that didn’t work. That was a wrong choice. That would have been the equivalent to…I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the black and white footage that was filmed at the Santa Monica Civic, ‘The TAMI Show,’ where James Brown comes out and just fuckin’ annihilates the place. And then the Rolling Stones have to come out and play after him. I mean, the Rolling Stones were great, but not even on the same planet as James Brown. That’s the Bad Brains.
JEAN-PAUL GASTER [Clutch drummer]: I saw the Bad Brains for the first time in 1989 at the old 9:30 Club, just a month after I graduated high school. And for me, that was a life-changing experience. I saw that band, and I knew exactly what it was I wanted to do for a living. I want to do that. I want to make music like those guys…and be those guys. They were scheduled to hit the stage at probably 11:00pm, and it was in the middle of July. The old 9:30 Club was such a small place, incredibly hot. It was probably 150 people oversold. It was absolutely jammed in there. So I remember standing there and it was hot, and the band wouldn’t come out. And now it’s 11:15, and now it’s 11:20. “What the hell is going on?” The house music is just pumping and the crowd is really getting amped up. About 35 minutes later, these four guys just came walking up the steps. Just the coolest, slowest, most casual walk I’d ever seen. And they very deliberately got behind their instruments, plugged in, and then it was like someone just threw a switch. Bam. And that place became electric. That was church, for me. I had never had that feeling ever before that. But that feeling still stays with me, and sometimes when I’m needing inspiration, I think about that time and the energy that those guys were able to bring to this crowd and to that room. So that was really special to me, and for that reason, I think the Bad Brains are one of the most important bands to play rock n’ roll.
KIM THAYIL [Soundgarden guitarist]: I have ‘Rock for Light’ and ‘I Against I.’ ‘Rock for Light’ I know was produced by Ric Ocasek. And I remember hearing this other version of “Pay to Cum,” that wasn’t quite as cool as the version I was acquainted with on ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans!’ If I played this song for somebody, they’d say, “Wait a minute…this isn’t the song I wanted to hear. It is the song, but it’s different.” And what impressed me was “Pay to Cum” was on ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans!,’ the ‘ROIR Cassette,’ and then it was on ‘Rock for Light,’ and the ‘Rock for Light’ version – although it’s cool – was not the one I was acquainted with and heard at my friend’s house, and kept searching for. Eventually, I was reminded that it was off of this compilation.
But ‘I Against I’…it’s hard to say what’s my favorite one. I like ‘Rock for Light,’ but ‘I Against I’ had a great story we learned – the song “Sacred Love,” supposedly HR sang that while in jail. That’s an anecdote that went around that we all thought was great, and made the song “Sacred Love” stand out – just the recording technique was very unusual and it was a great story. It’s hard to say which one I like best. ‘Rock for Light’ was cool because it was produced by the guy from the Cars, but it didn’t sound as raw and energetic as the ‘ROIR Cassette.’ ‘I Against I’ came out in a period of time when we were signing with SST and it was a very exciting time. There was so much cool stuff that we were interested in, being produced by Hüsker Dü, the Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Bad Brains. And for ourselves, we made a record on SST after leaving Sub Pop [1988’s ‘Ultramega OK’]. It was a very exciting point in time in American post-hardcore/American indie…really indie music, not the “faux indie” that is being passed off today.
GREG PUCIATO [Dillinger Escape Plan singer]: I think their attitude definitely was [an influence on Dillinger Escape Plan]. I don’t really know – to be honest with you – how much of a Bad Brains fan Ben [Weinman, guitarist] was, but I know that he’s a fan of Dr. Know. I know that he’s a fan of his guitar playing and kind of using a lot of free-jazz elements in his playing, and things that Vernon Reid later expounded on in Living Colour. I can’t speak for everybody. But I know that we watched a gazillion live videos of theirs and were all just like, “Fuck. This is incredible.” But as far as being a mega-fan, I don’t think everybody else is as much of a geek about it as I am. I mean, I only have one band tattoo, and it’s a Bad Brains tattoo.
I have a tattoo on my arm of the Capitol Building being struck by lightning, and it says “Attitude” underneath of it. We were on tour maybe a few years ago, and I was in Dallas at Oliver Peck’s shop. And Oliver Peck is a huge Bad Brains fan, too, so he was like, “Hey man, if you’ve got any time today, let’s do some tats.” So everybody in the band went down to Oliver’s shop and got just random little things that he can knock out in like, 20 minutes. The one commonality that both he and I have is that we’re turbo Bad Brains fans, so I was like, “Fuck, if there’s any band that I would get a tattoo of, it would be the Bad Brains, and if there’s any guy who understands my level of geekdom, it’s you.” So it just made sense. Yeah, I think we did! [In response to being asked if they listened to Bad Brains music while getting the tattoo] I think it was his call, too. He was like, “Let’s make this the full thing.”
CHAD CHANNING [Nirvana drummer]: I think Seattle – as a whole – really took to punk rock. The whole punk rock scene in Seattle was really cool. If you listen to the Bad Brains, I think everybody appreciated them. And I think with them and music as a whole in punk rock, we all kind of took our influences from that. I guess somewhere, the sound or the attitude or something, we brought that into what we do. We listened to ‘Rock for Light’ sometimes [in Nirvana’s tour van], but we never really talked about it. [Cobain] never really got into talking about the band. But I had a tape of the ‘Rock for Light’ record, so it was always with us on tour. I think I saw that somewhere, too [that Cobain once listed the album as one of his all-time favorites]. That’s pretty cool.
TRAVIS STEVER [Coheed and Cambria guitarist]: It’s basically still fresh. In this day and age – and you could have said this ten years ago, but it’s happening more and more – that it’s less musicianship, less driven by people that just want to get lost in their instruments, and more driven by people that want to get lost in their laptop. Which is fine. And there’s a certain degree of that kind of music that I do dig. But Bad Brains has this fresh thing that when you listen to it, it still gives you that feeling of passion of people that just really care to explore with their instruments. And sometimes, just pull the straight demons out of there. And I don’t mean “demons” as in metal – I mean “speed demon kind of punk rock.”
And able to pull out certain parts of your emotion being a listener with those instruments – without having to have a Protools/cut-and-paste consistently. It’s real, raw, beautiful music, and that’s missing now. And they had such a unique sound – with every sound that they changed to. Because they changed, they evolved throughout time, and definitely explored more of the reggae kind of thing. And there’s certain aspects of the reggae thing that I really do love. But like I said before, I’m a huge ‘I Against I’ fan, so there’s not as much of that going on, on that record. But then there’s not as much speedy “Banned in DC” kind of shit, either. It’s somewhere right in the middle, where they developed a certain sound.
CURT KIRKWOOD [Meat Puppets singer/guitarist]: When I hear it now, I still think it’s the best played punk rock from that time. I think they’re just heads above. It has as much of that jazz/rock fusion finesse in it, to me. Some of the stuff I listened to back then is hard to listen to – honestly – now. I just go, “Well, I was excited. But a lot of it is really sloppy and sounds kind of pretentious, and just punk rock for the sake of punk rock. Just attitude.” But every time I hear the Bad Brains, it just reminds me, like, “They were really the best at that stuff. Just lickity split dexterity, a lot of feeling.” I think it definitely holds up.