Thursday, May 03, 2012

Early '80s Lansing Punk Scene Revisited

Written by Steve Miller
(Former member of The FIX)

When I came home one afternoon, I realized that being part of a nascent music scene meant some great perks.

Other than the loud noise you could inflict on strangers, the Bad Brains would roll you joints in your living room, play your entire Pablo Moses collection with the bass turned up the right way and cook spinach noodles with spicy peanut sauce for lunch. 

In the ‘80s, the music may not have been any better than today, but it was easier to find because it stuck out more. In Lansing, it sometimes came to my door.

As a member of a Lansing-based hardcore outfit called the Fix, the only such unit in town, I was also part of the network of hospitable places to stay for bands touring the U.S. I had used the network and it was only fair to give back.

The Bad Brains stayed for a week at my place at 2204 Stirling. Black Flag stayed at the Fix house at 823 Beulah after a sold out Black Flag/Fix show in March 1981 at Club Doobee, now The Watershed Tavern & Grill in Haslett. Walk in the place and little has changed since it hosted Oingo Boingo, the Fast, Lydia Lunch, Destroy All Monsters, and D.O.A.

The latter were also guests at the Beulah house. They outdrank us – no easy feat – like the proud Canadians they were. One morning D.O.A. bassist Randy Rampage was walking out to the van looking rock as could be, with bleached do’ flying high and wallet chains dangling hipside. Some kids came up and asked him if he was in a band.
“Yes, I’m in KISS,” Rampage told them.

Most of the local venues were at first tenuous and often one-time only shots. There was a Hobie’s downtown, where the rich realtors are now building their so-called “lofts” off Washington, that was used on at least one occasion. That would be the night Ron Wood of The Dogs let off a fire extinguisher toward the end of a Fix set in the jammed back room of the eatery, choking every drunk soul in the place.

The Lansing Civic Players hall also worked a couple of times – Minor Threat on one packed bill. That place ended in acrimony when someone uptight noticed that local heroes the Crucifucks were on a bill that was to include Boston hardcore band SS Decontrol who were big for five minutes.

It wasn’t that the Crucifucks were on the bill, but the flyer.
“The Civic Players found out about it and I got like thirty calls in the middle of the night,” said Meatmen honcho Tesco Vee, who was putting the show together. “I put my phone number on that flier, and some guy started calling, “What the hell is this Crucifucks shit?” Vee, of course, also co-founded the legendary Touch & Go zine in Lansing along with Dave Stimson.

Madison had Merlins, Ann Arbor had the Second Chance; what was taking E.L. so long to establish a full-time venue for our music? What is now Harper's in downtown East Lansing was Dooley’s at the time. It was good to go just one night a w
eek, the usually dead Mondays. The Stranglers played there twice, as did the Ramones, X, even U2.

Johnny Thunders and Gang War came and Thunders spent the night in the East Lansing jail. “The dumb fuck robbed the bar and left a trail of coins out to the van,” says Ron Cooke, Gang War bassist.

When Flat, Black & Circular owners Dave Bernath and Dick Rosemont opened a small café in East Lansing, a lot of folks thought that the college town was catching up. Bunches Continental Café served sandwiches with sprouts on them, then at night opened its glass tabletops and Cali-copped wooden booths to music. Not some weak jazz or blues that was wasting everyone’s time in the area, but real music with a backbone.

Gun Club played two sets one night in March 1982 to almost nobody. Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s plastic cowboy boots hurt his credibility. It was the Ward Dotson/Rob Ritter version touring the Fire of Love LP.

wheeled in around the same time and was listless and standoffish to the few curious locals there. Southern-fried hicks trying to play some bastardized Byrds. ‘They’ll never amount to much,’ we sniffed. The band got $300 that night.
The Bad Brains showed up a couple weeks later and showed everyone how it’s done. Two nights of mayhem that came off with nary a blemish to the plants, the old-school glass pie display and other very enticing breakables. 

The Boners from Detroit played Bunches, and singer Jerry Vile couldn’t keep it together around the pastries. “Towards the door there was one of those rotating things with pies in it,” recalls Paul Zimmerman, who put out the White Noise fanzine with Vile in the early '80s. “Jerry was eying that thing. Next thing I know, I’m turned around talking to someone and sure enough he hit me with a pie.”
The owners could have been mad, but nothing was busted. In fact, “None of those glass tables ever got broken,” Bernath marvels today. He was booking the good stuff with little regard to what made him dough; MX-80 Sound played to a dozen people. Eugene Chadbourne came in. The Flesheaters, the Panther Burns. When the place closed in November 1982, Bernath was in talks to bring NYC legends Suicide to town.

Lansing didn’t have a Mr. Brown’s (Columbus) or a Seventh Street Entry (Minneapolis). It did have a moving host of little places, though, that could bring the national, now legendary, noise.

Visit Steve Miller's blog, here.

View My Stats