Monday, October 31, 2005

I Remember Halloween!

I don't think I could have picked a better day than Halloween to introduce all of you to our newest contributor at Barebones Hardcore, Mark Kennedy. Mark is the creator of Misfits Central, and for years, wrote a column for the Misfits Fiend Club newsletter called "Kennedy's Shattered Head." After taking a few years away from all things Misfits, Kennedy is back. He will be contributing a monthly column to BBHC, focusing on The Misfits & Samhain. Enjoy!

When it came to drummers, the Misfits often resembled the fictional band Spinal Tap. From 1977 to 1983, the band went through six different “official” drummers, averaging about one per year. Five of those drummers—Manny, Mr. Jim, Joey Image, Arthur Googy, and Robo—are well-known to most fans. Diehard fiends also know that Samhain bassist Eerie Von was offered the drummer position and that Necros drummer Todd Swalla filled in at two shows. But what about that sixth drummer? By the time he joined the Misfits, Brian Keats, then known as Brian Damage, was already a veteran of the New York punk rock scene. Although his time in the band was short, a month at best, his place in history was ensured by the events that unfolded during his one and only performance with the band. Years later, with almost three decades of musical tales to tell, Brian is understandably amused that anyone wants to hear about his “Misfits minute.” Nevertheless, he is willing to provide us with a Halloween treat. He starts from the beginning…

I was into music from a really young age. My parents had good taste and through them I got into music like Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Mott The Hoople when I was really young. I was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. In 1976, when I was 13 years old, the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, and the whole New York scene were just starting. I would save whatever money I made from cutting the grass and washing cars, take it to the record store, and buy whatever new punk rock record was on sale (there were usually only 1 or 2 a week back then—early 45s by the Sex Pistols, Damned, Jam, etc.). I had some friends that were into the same music and we would buy every release that came out. In those early days of punk rock, it was really exciting because each band and record that came out seemed like something entirely fresh and new.

I started playing drums when I was 11. I learned a bit from taking lessons in school but was mostly self-taught. My first band ever was with some local friends (one of whom was Mighty Joe Vincent, who later would switch from being a really bad guitarist to a really good drummer with the Devil Dogs), and we would play concerts out of the garage to our screaming and adoring 11-yr old female audience. There were absolutely no people around who wanted to play punk rock or even knew what the hell it was, so I always ended up in bands with people years older than me—I was 13 and playing in bands with 24-year-olds. Let’s just say lots of sneaking into clubs and many false IDs were involved. One of those groups I had in the early days was called the Strangers (a.k.a. MIA, a.k.a. the Systematics), who played a lot around the New York / New Jersey punk scene, opened for 999 and others, played live on WFMU, and also appeared on the cult favorite Uncle Floyd TV show, in my first of three visits there.

One day, I was shopping in Sam Goody in the punk section and, to my complete shock, found someone else there as well. His name was Bobby Ebz (sporting a bad-ass Banana Splits Fan Club button), who introduced me to some friends of his that I began to play with, forming the band Propaganda. Eventually Bobby and I took the guitarist from Propaganda and formed our own band, Genocide. Years ahead of the scum-rock curve, we played all the New York / New Jersey punk clubs and biker bars we could find, sharing bills with bands like the Stimulators (whose drummer Harley Flanagan, later of the CroMags, was also super-young like me and gigging in that early scene), Bad Brains, Beastie Boys, and the Undead. We eventually released one LP (Last Rites) and contributed a couple of cuts to a Dirt Club compilation.

At the time, Genocide was completely misunderstood and hated by most other bands around, often having to physically fight our way out of gigs and usually ending up banned from clubs after an appearance for causing riots, destroying the bar, etc. Genocide, and Bobby in particular, were all about shock value, Stooges-like primitivism, and veering constantly on the edge of out-of-control as a full-time lifestyle. It was funny how the punk ethic of outrageousness and non-conformity was really only allowed if you expressed that in the approved ways. Ridiculous.

Upon leaving Genocide in the summer of 1983, Brian Damage traveled to San Francisco and ended up living in the basement of a club called the Tool And Die, after joining Verbal Abuse, whose drummer had recently left to join D.O.A. After just a few months, however, Brian was summoned back to New York by an invitation to join the Misfits.

I was of course a big fan of the Misfits and had seen them many times. In fact, I met Bobby Steele in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel on the day he joined the band in 1978. I always went to see the Misfits play because I thought they were a great live band—their gigs were also pretty infrequent and always a big event. While I was in San Francisco still playing with Verbal Abuse, I got a call from my New York roommate, saying that Glenn Danzig called, asking me to join the band. At the time, I don’t think I’d ever actually met Glenn. I think he had just seen me play in bands or had heard about me through other people.

Without hesitation, I dropped everything and moved back to New York. I took the bus out to Lodi and went to Glenn’s house for my audition. He told me that Robo wasn’t playing with the band any more and that they had a big Halloween show and possibly a tour of Germany coming up. I didn’t know the band was about to fall apart or about the dysfunctional relationships within the band and with the ex-members. I found out pretty quickly though.

We went over to the studio where they rehearsed, which was a converted garage at Jerry and Doyle’s house. My first memory of meeting those guys was them pulling up in a monster truck, blasting Van Halen’s “Unchained” on their way home from working out at the gym—not the exact image of the ghoulish Misfits that I had in my head. We went into the garage and rehearsed every song we could think of until they basically said, “You’re in, do you want to go do this thing in Detroit?” That was it—one rehearsal with the band, which doubled as my audition. We never got together to play again and I don’t remember if I even talked to them much before the Halloween show.

The Misfits’ annual Halloween show was scheduled for Saturday, October 29, 1983, at Graystone Hall in Detroit. With the imminent release of Earth A.D., a tour of Germany in the works, and a two-record deal with a German label, the Misfits appeared to be on the verge of something big. What Brian and the other Misfits didn’t know was that Glenn was disillusioned with the band and had already started rehearsing with an early incarnation of Samhain. On the morning of the 29th, Brian arrived at Glenn’s house to make the long trek from Lodi, New Jersey, to Detroit.

At Glenn’s house before we left Lodi, I spotted a copy of the ultra-hard-to-find “Cough/Cool” single, which Glenn generously offered me. Then we drove out to Detroit to play the Halloween show with the Necros at a pretty big place that held about 1,000 people. I knew the Necros guys pretty well from when they used to tour New York. When we got to Detroit that night, I started hanging out with them after soundcheck—drinking, goofing off, and having a good time. Without realizing it, I definitely started getting seriously buzzed.

Eventually, we got on stage to do the show—no set list, Glenn’s just gonna call out the songs. During the very first tune (20 Eyes?), we start playing, and of course the band is louder than all hell. I knew from seeing them so many times that they always had ten times as much equipment as they needed, but it looks good up there right? It was so freaking loud that when Glenn called out the first song, I couldn’t even hear what we were doing. It was just a complete nightmare of distortion coming through the monitors. So right after that, Doyle walks over, screaming “What the hell’s going on?” and I yell back that the sound was all fucked up and I couldn’t hear anything. So now Glenn calls out the second song, which I can’t even discern the title of through the distortion, and I’m just playing along hoping to hear something—anything—in the roar that’ll let me figure out what we’re playing. But it’s the same thing, just “KKZXRWKWKKXXZZ!!!” That’s when Doyle comes over and, still screaming, lifts me up by the collar and literally drags me from the stage.

It all happened so quickly. I was off the stage and just walked out the back door. Pacing back and forth, pissed off, I heard Glenn asking if anyone in the audience knew how to play drums. Eventually, Todd from the Necros went up and finished the show. We all stayed in Detroit that night and the next morning I was super-apologetic, trying to explain that I stupidly did have too much to drink but, more than anything, just couldn’t hear what was going on. I felt awful. The drive back to New Jersey was a solemn trip in complete silence. When we finally got home, to add insult to injury, I realized that somehow, in the tight confines of the van, I had accidentally sat on the copy of “Cough/Cool” during the trip and cracked it. Perfect.

After that I never spoke with any of those guys again. I was so fucking sunk by the whole thing, angry with myself for letting them down, and feeling like I’d just probably caused the breakup of my favorite band. On a positive note though (pretty much the only one)—as bad as the whole experience was, it was a major turning point for me, leading me to take the responsibilities of performing and being professional way more seriously from that point on.

Indeed, the Misfits had broken up. Glenn had surprised the audience and his bandmates by announcing, in the middle of the band’s set, that it was their last show ever. The Misfits were over, but Brian soldiered on. When he arrived in New York, he wasted no time and returned to what he knew best: punk rock. But his musical interests were changing.

After the Misfits, I played in a few more punk and hardcore bands, including Hellbent (who coincidentally opened for Samhain at their very first gig!), the Kretins, and the Skulls. A few years down the road though, I got tired of the whole punk scene in general, the attitude, and how violent everything had become. It had gotten away from being a place to have an original voice and it seemed like the people who used to beat up on punks were now the ones in all the bands. So I took a complete detour out of it.

That’s when I started just diving into other shit—old country blues, early jazz, Indian music, reggae—basically catching up on musical history from day one. I didn’t listen to any rock and roll for about two years. During that time though, I did start playing with rock bands like Angels In Vain and Princess Pang. Before punk existed, I had been heavily into Bowie, the Dolls, Lou Reed, and T. Rex. I loved the whole English glitter scene and I knew the guys from Angels In Vain, so when they asked me to do it, I said, “Why not?” Following that experience, I lived in London for about six months, trying to put a band together with several people, including Jimmy Pursey from Sham 69 at one point. When I came back to New York, a good friend and ex-bandmate of mine asked me to join his new group, Princess Pang, who really wanted nothing more than to be the new Sweet/Mott/Aerosmith rolled into one. Right out of the gate we got an incredible amount of interest and really good gigs, and things progressed very fast, leading to our record deal, major tours, MTV videos, and that whole thing. At the time though, I really wasn’t even interested in or listening to rock and roll. I hated hair metal and all that shit.

Princess Pang released a self-titled album in 1989 and seemed to be heading toward success, but the band imploded during a tour of the U.K. Frustrated, Brian decided to try something new.

I looked around New York for a while and found that there wasn’t much going on at the time. A friend of mine in Los Angeles invited me to join his band, which was on the verge of being signed. Although it wasn’t my ideal location, or band for that matter, I was ready for a change of scenery and this provided an opportunity to continue playing music for a living. So I sold a couple of armfuls of rare records at Bleecker Bob’s to fund the trip, getting ripped off in the process (hello Bob—you cheap bastard!). Unfortunately, when I got to L.A., I found out that the band had literally broken up during my flight out!

That’s when I met guitarist Michael Lockwood, then just out of Lions And Ghosts. Coincidentally, the last record I had bought before I left New York was Lions And Ghosts’ “Wild Garden.” We formed the band Wink, which quickly became pretty popular around the local scene. We were courted by several labels, played often with bands like Weezer, Redd Kross, and Celebrity Skin, and counted members of Cheap Trick and Jellyfish among our regular fans. Although a major deal eluded us, Wink provided me with connections and exposure that led to many other opportunities, including session and production work with Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, Low Pop Suicide (working alongside Dave Allen of Gang Of Four), Jason Falkner, and many others.

After a few years of this session work, I once again returned to the band thing with 3 Day Wheely, who played intelligent, edgy, alternative pop. In a period of about three years, we released an indie EP, signed to IRS Records, and toured numerous times around the country with the likes of Aimee Mann, Semisonic, Gin Blossoms, and others, and had many songs used in films and on TV. On the verge of having our full-length debut CD released by IRS, the label went under and shut their doors. End of that story.

At that point, I thought, “That’s it. I just can’t spend another two or three years pouring my heart into getting another new band off the ground.” So again, I dove back into session work, touring and recording with people like Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles, Teddy Thompson, the Fuzztones and Jason Falkner. I recorded with Jordan Tarlow from the Fuzztones on his very cool garage/psych solo record, “Tonebender,” and also played briefly with Dave Vanian of the Damned with his side project the Phantom Chords. Dave graciously stopped into the studio to sing two tracks on Jordan’s CD, one of which, “Magic Potion,” the Damned now perform on tour. I played with roots rock/psychobilly maniacs Superhonky for a while and recorded a CD and performed live with up-and-coming artist AM, who was voted L.A. Weekly’s Singer / Songwriter of the Year for 2005. Most recently, I’ve been playing with the band Rayon, who are about to start recording their first full-length CD with John Avila from Oingo Boingo producing. And I’m still freelancing with other projects. So, if you need some fine rock and roll drumming…

One of Brian’s latest projects is his web site, The site features photos and sound samples from all eras of his career as well as news updates and a comprehensive list of his diverse recording and touring credits. The one thing you won’t find there is a photo of Brian with a devilock…

I’m pretty excited to finally have my website up, after much prodding to get all that crap together into one place! I’m hoping to get a lot more up there still to expand on things, including some history, more sound files, and some rare video. I’m also really looking forward to the Rayon record, which I think is going to be a complete killer, continued recording, touring and whatever else lays ahead. Despite all the great music I’ve been involved with in the past, I’m really not very interested in sitting around looking backwards. Some people who hear that I was in the Misfits expect me to be a punk rocker forever and think there’s been some sort of betrayal. But you know, that was one type of music in one band that I loved, at a certain moment in time. I have pretty eclectic tastes, and I absolutely don’t regret any of the bands that I’ve been in or any of the time that I spent doing it. The way I see it, everything was a good time, a learning experience, and a stepping-stone to the next thing. Just not to a Misfits reunion, okay?

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