The Mississippi River, Bettendorf, Iowa
Photo by by Mike Safran
Drink the Repulse Kava
by Joe Carducci
Bill De Leonardis met John Seden in a hallway at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in July 1986. John was wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt and they discovered they were both into punk, hardcore, and free-jazz. Bill says, “Although my move to Chicago was to attend art school, my decision to go to SAIC was predicated on the music coming out of Chicago and the region.” The “distinct arty edge” of bands like Naked Raygun, Big Black, Articles of Faith, and the Tar Babies was unlike the bands he knew on the east coast. “Although I had been in some straight up hardcore groups, I wanted to be in a group that was like The Minutemen meet the Bad Brains and filtered through King Crimson.” The original RK duo was pretty abstract but they built a somewhat more conventional lineup from fellow SAIC students:
Bill De Leonardis - bass
John Seden - vocals, noise
John K - guitar
Chris Levack - metal, noise
Kerry Brown - drums
They lasted a few months and several performances this way before the other three quit to focus on school. De Leonardis and Seden rather quit school to do the band full-time and find similarly committed bandmates.
Ads in The Reader and New City listed as influences The Minutemen, King Crimson, Void, The Stranglers, Led Zeppelin, and Bad Brains. Craig White responded. He’d just quit the hardcore band No Empathy. Craig was a black kid from the southside who, when I asked him what he grew up listening to, mentioned being into his older brother’s Guru Guru albums! I worried about Craig cause he seemed to live on jelly donuts. They played a bit with drummer Brian St. Claire but he was soon replaced with Andy Young. Soon in 1987 the new line-up was playing hardcore shows and opening for White Zombie, Flaming Lips, and Friends of Betty. Peter Margasak saw them and interviewed them for his fanzine, Butt Rag. Peter asked them to do a single and they recorded three songs -- “Coercion”, “Sabotage Time”, and “Value of His Own Simplicity”.
Bill picks up the story: “Upon release, the e.p. was chosen as CMJ's record of the week. From that point, people started to buzz about us, including Gerard Cosloy. I think the e.p. had been out about a month when Andy told us unexpectedly that he was leaving the group. We would later find out that he had joined the cult Jesus People USA. As we had a show coming up and wanted to continue to forward momentum, we asked my friend Virus X, who had previously been the drummer of Articles Of Faith. Virus obliged to help us until we found another drummer but did not want to commit to us as he was predominately involved with the Revolutionary Communist Party. After an ad was placed, we brought on board Craig Hall. Craig played a few shows but his style was ultimately incompatible with our sound. He left amicably and joined the group God's Acre, who Repulse Kava played with many times.”
Another set of ads brought them drummer Bob Rising. Although Bob was more rock oriented then the rest of the band Bill says, “I think he was intrigued by a band that loved hardcore and art rock and had multiple part to their songs… his considerable skill brought the group back into focus.” They did a second record for Butt Rag but made it just two songs (“The Daddy’s Crowbar” and “Judging”) as they were beginning to husband tunes they hoped would make an album that some bigger label such as SST, Touch and Go, or Homestead might be interested in.
Bill again: “‘The Daddy's Crowbar / Judging’ 45 came out in '88 and was reviewed by Byron Coley in Spin and received a good amount of press. We played some shows on the east coast. We believed that it was a matter of time before we were signed... Of course, nothing happened. I really don't remember what happened but John quit--I think it was just personality conflicts and disappointment. Craig, Bob and I wanted to continue so we reinvented ourselves as an instrumental trio.”
I first saw Repulse Kava on Feb. 17, 1989 at the Cubby Bear. I’d moved back to Chicago in late summer 1986 and bought a four flat near North and Ashland and spent most of 1987 rehabbing it. Then I began to go out and see some bands again and I resumed work on my book Rock and the Pop Narcotic. They were opening for Eleventh Dream Day and Doug McCombs introduced me to Bill before they went on and he was excited to talk about SST, The Minutemen, and what I was doing in Chicago. I remember he told me how he’d had his hardcore mind blown in 1984 at a Black Flag gig by their support Saccharine Trust when singer Jack Brewer knocked himself unconscious with a liquor bottle and the band kept playing around him until he came to. Repulse Kava’s set was great. Craig, Bill and Bob were the best, hardest art-rock trio since Robert Fripp kicked Jamie Muir out of King Crimson. Craig’s fingers reminded me of Hendrix’s; they were so long and nimble it made what he was doing look really easy but your ears could tell how sure his effect on the frets was. And Bob’s drumming was great as well. He didn’t just rock the groove, he also had all these trip-ups and syncopations to set the song up within a rhythm arrangement. Bill too is a natural whether he’s on a fuzzed out bass or a guitar. (Check out the MP3 of “Food of the Gods” linked below.) I remember that John Seden was there too and went up and reprised his vocals and turntable noise on the singles that they felt people would know.
While on the west coast from 1976 til 1986 I kept an ear out for what was going on in Chicago and had largely been disappointed. Even the important bands (Mentally Ill, Special Affect, Ono, Naked Raygun, Effigies…) didn’t seem to work it. The whole town seemed to accept that only the clubs on North Clark were important. It sure wasn’t like Los Angeles. Bands would turn down gigs in the suburbs... But by the late eighties it seemed that the Wicker Park area was opening up as a second club area, more hospitable to new bands doing different things. I first noticed that Chicago had more good music going on than was apparent when listening to WNUR in 1987 as I worked on my building. I found the two-hour Saturday show of local music that m.d. Octavia used to do to be better than the rest of the programming. What may have really turned Chicago into a rock scene again was how cheap it was to live there in those years. It collected a generation of hip kids leaving Minneapolis, Ohio, Texas, and elsewhere who were attracted to how easily you could live and get by in the city. When I bought my building the rents for the two bedroom apartments were $200/mo. Once I fixed them up a bit I charged $325 for them!
Tim Adams of the Ajax Records mail order catalog-cum-fanzine had launched a label and Repulse Kava recorded their album, Flow Gently Sweet Alpha for him. I worked on it with them and watching Craig, Bill and Bob work out their arrangements in the basement of Bill’s apt building near Damen and Division was like watching skilled woodworkers putting together very sturdy, artistic and functional three-leg stools. Bill now considers that the album was a bit too rock even with the musique concrète interludes that were added from other sessions. The mixes sounded sharp and heavy, but we were the first band through a brand new studio (Process) and the test pressings came back disappointingly flat. If I was thinking quicker we’d have just sent the cassette to John Golden to cut from. Instead we did a quick re-e.q. and let it go. Still, the Repulse Kava album is a major Chicago landmark from that period. I don’t think they did a gig for the release, though it did get released in Europe as well.
Joe Baiza’s post-Saccharine Trust band, Universal Congress of, came out to Chicago three times in the late eighties and they stayed with me and must’ve told Jack Brewer they’d had a good time because he came out when I suggested he could do some recording and a gig with Bill De Leonardis and another new line-up, now called just Kava. Bill says, “I was very happy with what we did with the shortened Kava. I only wished that we had released more of the stuff we had done with Jack.” Those sessions were also a lot of fun. John was back with Bill and a new drummer Peter Kessell. They did a kind of improv free-rock with Peter skittering around skilfully on his drums more like a bop drummer than Bob’s stark rock effect. I remember Jack was really thrilled with their abilities and how easily they could put together interesting pieces for him to speechify over. After years spent waiting for Joe Baiza’s exacting demands to produce SaccTrust arrangements, Jack loved the racing productivity of Kava. I put out a 7” e.p. of the stuff but we never did get an album out. The idea was to edit in some of the recordings made at the improvised Lounge Ax gig (Aug. 13, 1992) as well to insure it was truly insane. But suddenly, there was no band, and then not even a record business.
[Photos: Repulse Kava, Jack Brewer & Kava]
More info and MP3s
Four State Trip: a Photoessay
by Joe Carducci
From Congress Parkway, Chicago, Illinois
Along I-80, near Wiota, Iowa
Along I-80, near Gothenburg, Nebraska
Along Hwy 130, near Centennial, Wyoming
From the London desk and Steve Beeho…
Nick Kent was the closest that the English music press came to producing its own Lester Bangs in the 70s. Each possessed a distinctive voice that hooked you from the outset, both of them ruinously pursued lives of excess at their peak and both created their own pantheon of artists which ironically seem like the conventional wisdom nowadays. And as the decade ended both branched out to front their own bands when the urge to practice what they preached became irresistible. (Kent had earlier been in an embryonic version of the Sex Pistols but was excommunicated by McLaren who thought he might contaminate them). But unlike Bangs, Kent pulled himself out of the nosedive his life had taken and turned away from self-destruction. He has now found God and is a clean-living house-husband living in France. Sixteen years after his classic collection of journalism, The Dark Stuff, Kent has finally published his 70s memoir, Apathy For the Devil although at least one ex-NME colleague has been less than gushing. It's a great read but I do wonder though if the, er, oxygen of publicity hasn't made him temporarily take leave of his senses, as he declared in one interview: "I owned the 1970s. Okay, David Bowie owned them too, but he spent a lot of time with his people, just making his music. My job meant I was everywhere." Such modesty! I wonder if David Bowie broods about how he'd've enjoyed the 70s more if only he'd been Nick Kent. It's kind of ironic though that the dead Lester found himself sanitised for posterity by Cameron Crowe in Almost Famous (2000) when the very-much-still-with-us Nick Kent's 70s descent into self-destruction and subsequent religious epiphany feels like pure Abel Ferrara (!). I'm not quite sure what the moral is there.
A tantalising preview of the expanded Raw Power.
And talking of raw power, even the stifling surroundings of the ICA can't smother the intensity of Billy Childish's solo exhibition “Unknowable but Certain” that runs until the beginning of May. Although the exhibition runs across three galleries and encompasses his painting, music and writing it feels as if it barely scratches the surface of what he's about. With his uncompromising commitment to direct expression and unflagging industrial level of output it's hard not to think of Billy Childish as a truly heroic figure. As part of a bid for world domination there's also a simultaneous exhibition of recent paintings at White Columns in New York.
Extra: The artist interviews himself
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
From our desk at 8,000 feet and Joe Carducci…
Spin magazine is up on Google-books, apparently the whole thing. I guess you could say Spin tried, but look at the date on issue one, May 1985. I believe that any band that started later than 1982 was not part of the punk era in that sense that one’s commitment to music took one away from everything Rock or Pop for the forseeable future -- the hippie at the record store, the college radio faculty advisor, the students… all despised you. And if you didn’t pass that bar as a band you were part of an upwardly mobile Indie-world-on-the-way whose diminutive name said it all. This doesn’t mean you couldn’t be good or that there wasn‘t any like-desperate commitment later on, but back then it was the world for us. I’m not saying any of it was healthy, least of all the life-stylers who looked around after Woodstock and whispered to themselves “We could make a fortune with this, a Righteous fortune. And of course a Righteous fortune is one worth defending at any price. Spin was concieved as a ground-flooring of indie and the British new wave which had jumped right past the AOR stations and onto the CHR formats starting in 1982 with Soft Cell and ABC and Culture Club etc. Rolling Stone was still printing in black and white when Spin debuted with color minis of album covers and a new formula. At SST suddenly there was a national music magazine interested somewhat in our releases. Billboard had always reviewed our records, but not RS. Creem was in the game but sputtering. Ed Rasen was in touch with us and our shit was included in Spin’s new wave/indie/aspirational pop mix. Years later after I published R&TPN they asked me to go cover Alice in Chains on tour, which was not what I was interested in, though I love the band, still do even. But it was nice to be asked, though on merit-plus-recompense Jan Wenner should have offered me the keys to Rolling Stone. I wouldn’t have been interested in that either, but I did write a bit for Details because Roger Trilling made it an interesting magazine and they at least mentioned my book in their pages. Still, Spin doesn’t seem an important magazine to me. It was too late for 1975 to 1984. There were some attempts to groundfloor that (Punk, Slash, N.Y. Rocker, Bomp!, Trouser Press, Search & Destroy, New Wave Rock, and others.), but radio airplay was oxygen and that was denied -- in the late seventies even college radio was at best late hippie anomie.
There were a lot of great weirdos in the early Portland punk scene but it wasn’t until a band called The Ziplocs showed up that I thought the music might make the jump to kids in high schools generally. Took a long time for that to happen anywhere but Los Angeles, but unfortunately The Ziplocs didn’t get their own record together and aren’t even on the Live at the Earth album though the singer Suzanne yells out their name to note their absence, but they did open for Pere Ubu and played a KBOO on-air benefit among other notable gigs. Here’s guitarist Jeff Williams later music over his Rose City Custom Bikes website page.
Burning Ambulance #1, 84 pages, just out via print-on-demand with a nice Phil Freeman consideration of two of my books and several metal tomes illustrated with my favorite Naomi Petersen shot of Black Flag. Supposed to be a quarterly; this one also features pieces on Matthew Shipp, Henry Threadgill, Bill Dixon, Orthodox, and an essay on Christian pop culture of the '70s and '80s. There’s other material on some of same at the BA blog.
Barry Hansen and John Fahey interview Son House, May 7, 1965 in Venice, Cal.
Abbas Kiarostami's open letter:
“In order to make a living, I have turned to photography and use that income to make short and low-budget films. I don’t even object to their illegal reproduction and distribution because that is my only means of communicating with my own people. For years now I have not even objected to this lack of attention from the ministry and cinematic authorities.”
Islamist freebies, those plus temporary marriages allow for a little fun on earth before paradise itself.
Magdi Khalil on How the Mubarak Regime Enables the Persecution of Egypt’s Copts.
Le Monde’s Iran by-the-numbers.
The NYT editorials Tuesday were a trifecta of strategic switcheroos.
-- “Iraqis Vote” does claim good news, albeit inertly, and chides Iraqi pols as if they were mere American aldermen, but you have to read the web-only NYT Stanley Fish blog to get to what he claimed to be predictable back before Bush left office. Fish’s told-you-so is triggered by the current Newsweek re-contextualization of W. on the carrier (Mission Accomplished), but in the UK their Iraq Inquisition featured Gordon Brown following Tony Blair’s re-enlisting for their former fiasco which is no fun at all for the BBC by the sound of their vocal cord strain. It seemed to me that the war happened because the middle east whole (Israel, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Libya, Saudi, et. al.) has insisted on putting themselves on our plate over and over. There was only one Gulf War but there has been several battles. Bush-Cheney-Blair and whole lot of other folks saw the logic and signed on. As everyone behind them lost their vision it still seemed unlikely that a President Obama would bug out as some of his voters apparently thought was going to happen. But one could tell as the supporters of the war dwindled to Bush and Blair that some day they alone will have any credit due any success that comes. This too is in part unfair, but that’s history’s second draft re-write. I picture that parade-to-come down Wall Street, Christopher Hitchens covering the press covering the last war, tears streaming down the faces of neo-cons, oil traders, and cabbies.
-- “A Nonfrivolous Suit” argues that $2 million is fine for severe grease burn on one’s lips at McDonalds. Sure, can we get the “medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering” each and all itemized, you know, for the IRS, and then another napkin.
-- “Healthy Solution: Taxing Sodas” is a brain-teaser they refuse to acknowledge because like me I guess the NYT editorial board doesn’t do math well. But since the federal and state governments are supporting both the American sugar-growers and the corn syrup provider community, aren’t we thus proposing to tax our own taxes? Our own infrastructure spending? Our own stimulus? Our own sold votes? And if childhood obesity is the so important why not just focus on the abortion issue?
John Strausbaugh interviews Henry Bauer, chemist, scientist, for The Truth Barrier. Henry Bauer:
“Peer review has ALWAYS been a reinforcer of whatever the current consensus is. How could it be otherwise? The people who are chosen as reviewers are the ones known for their accomplishments, which means accomplishments under whatever the present consensus happens to be. Any halfway productive and innovative researcher will have a drawer full of rejections. It's easy to get something published that just OKs the prevailing theory. Try to publish anything else and you have loads of trouble, always have had. Read the rejection letters and you'll note that they typically don't really speak to the evidence for the new claim, they just express disbelief because it contradicts "what everyone knows." Unfortunately people don't like to make their rejections public, so examples are not part of the conventional wisdom, but talk with individuals who've experienced it and you learn that it's a common phenomenon: rejection on the basis of theory and not evidence.”
Tribune SOO (Something-or-Other) Randy Michaels’ list of no-go words for WGN AM and TV personnel. Don’t panic, “notion” is not one of them! Word might be that staffers possibly heard Foghat cranked inside his office before this was revealed. Some infotainment we just can’t nail down to our own satisfaction.
IBD beatdown on Paul Krugman.
Why would a hard rightist try to defend Dutch social welfare?
George Irvin, retired prof of economics, research fellow at Univ of London defends the boomers; our problems are only thirty years old. That would be… let’s see… Thatcher Year One. One thing that strikes me about the fight over the sixties legacy is that there are many missing participants who can’t take the witness stand. When our betters of the Ivy League and at our finest public and private institutions decided they knew better, that was one thing. But these lifestyle freedoms were experienced differently several years later elsewhere without a net. The good professor seems to hear the discussion as simply a blame-the-boomers bait-and-switch, then he moves on to display his own subtle nuanced position against “wild-west capitalism”. His concern is still the young, he says, who’d be hurt by any cuts at all. There were a lot of young who never got old; lucky for the partisans of the sixties they were outta site and outta mind in the ghettos, tract homes and apartments, well off campus. Much of this is further hidden under the boomers insinuation that they are to be credited for the civil rights movement, which archeologists have recently proved was actually well under way. Boomers were, to their parents and teachers credit, in favor of the goals of that movement, but boring old church folk had more to do with the actual risks taken.
"Dedovshchina: Bullying in the Russian Army" by Rodric Braithwaite in Open Democracy.
"Grozny" by Tanya Lokshina in Open Democracy.
“We are faced with a very complicated problem: we need to buy a pair of tights. The shops are still open, but the purchase turns out to be an unreal quest. The place is awash in foreign cosmetics. Posh leather, bags, coats, boots – take your pick, though when you see the prices you have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. But when you ask for a pair of tights, the young sales girls titter disdainfully, tapping their stiletto heels on the highly polished floor impatiently. Putin Prospect is clearly not meant for people with everyday needs. We lose heart and go into a dark café, where we sit down on a comfortable red sofa and have a coffee. Pop music is playing, but not too loud, and bright images flash across the huge, modern flat screen TV. There’s a choice of espresso, cappuccino, mocha, latte or Viennese coffee with whipped cream. As we sip the hot foam out of china cups, for a moment we lose any sense of where we are. The stored memories of years bear no relation to the Chechen capital today. Grozny is now a completely different city.”
This is a brief report on a meeting of Latin American conservative parties as they look for a pendulum swing back from various leftist approaches.
Help the homelandless, all present and accounted for, except Tibet, Lo, Kashmir, and Ecotopia.
Addie Goss on fifties AM Basque radio for sheepherders in northern Wyoming.
Will Self for Lent in the New Statesman.
“The Worldwide War on Baby Girls” in The Economist. Well maybe not worldwide exactly, right? I mean let’s not be polite if we’re trying to get real.
Something kind of interesting called Neurocapitalism, at least according to Ewa Hess and Hennric Jokeit.
(thanks to Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho)
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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