So, it’s Wednesday again (all day), and here’s one of SF’s finest: The Avengers, who got things started in ’77 (as so many great bands did), featured Penelope Houston on lead vocals, and Danny Furious on drums (with perhaps the best drummer’s name of all time.) Furious’s affinity for steady crashes on the cymbals is part of their brittle and beautiful sound, and reflects the influence of another band you probably know about — the Sex Pistols, for whom The Avengers opened for at Winterland in January 1978, before we all got just what we deserved.
I haven’t heard the whole thing just yet, but Gary Crowley has put together a nice mix of covers from the punk/new wave era here — and here’s a little cover by The Avengers, which I fancy a bit, and who are still at it, mostly around my beloved San Francisco.
So contemporary Clash news is difficult to come by these days. It seems if you want to curb e-buzz about a “heritage act,” release the definitive box set. But lo! Mr. Mick Jones is bringing his rock’n’roll public library to the Venice Bienniale — nice!
Once again I’m mining chapters from my book to shine a bit more light on certain events given, well, if not short shrift, not all of the attention they deserve. (Stealing, too, got a nice bit of attention, taking home a silver IPPY Award this year, I’m happy to report.)
In terms of the library, I wonder if Mr. Jones’ impressive collection includes this homely beauty, from February 1979, when The Clash dared to take on counter-cultural oligopolist Bill Graham in San Francisco. Graham was on the scene in SF with the SF Mime Troupe in the mid-1960s, and established himself as the promoter through the 80s, when anytime I bought a concert ticket “Bill Graham Presents” was getting a cut–but not every time, in 1979.
When The Clash made their American debut, at the Berkeley Community Theater on
February 7, Graham got his cut. The next night, though, at Theater 1839 — just a couple doors down from the Graham-controlled Fillmore — The Clash, Negative Trend, and The Zeros played a benefit show for New Youth Productions, who had a vision of an all-ages scene for the growing interest in punk. (The lettering for “Minors Welcome!” certainly heralded a typeface that rose to prominence in the US hardcore scene.)
I especially dig the fact that the promoters forgot (?) to identify The Clash by name, and made amends by inking the letters, Johnny Cash style, in black-on-black across their torsos. DIY indeed.
If you have any more information on this night, do be in touch. I figure Howie Klein (who introduced Paul Simonon and Epic’s Susan Blond in 1979) and his comrades have some fun memories of the event, or their role in helping pick the pocket of Bill Graham.
And … here’s a fun ska documentary narrated by the Bay Area’s own Tim Armstrong. Nice work, team.
Adolescence, of course, is rife with cravings and disappointments. At the age of 16, I had little idea how satisfaction of those cravings could result in profound disappointment. In 1984, on a family trip to San Francisco, I wrangled a buck or so from my father in order to purchase a cookie from the Blue Chip Cookie Company, just north of Ghiradelli Square. When I emerged with cookie in hand, my Dad reported, “Robin Williams just walked by.”
“Wait, huh?” I gasped. “Yeah,” my Dad said. “Just walked by with his kid on his shoulders.” It was a Sunday night, in one of the most tourist-y parts of the City, and Robin Williams just walked by. I scanned the heads of the crowd to the east of us. No sign of Mr. Williams. I bit angrily into the worst cookie ever.
Let’s figure Greil Marcus is right, and embrace the notion that punk’s virtue resides in its power to negate all that came before, and thereby wrested new possibilities from history. Williams’ Mork, then, was TV’s first punk on this side of the Atlantic. If The Sex Pistols disrupted the order of things with “Anarchy in the UK” and a few choice curses with Bill Grundy, Williams’ Mork on Happy Days (and after) — and Williams the stand-up comedian — represented so much more. Not the Pistols’ return of the repressed, of course, but a decimation of repression altogether. Williams’ capacity for “improvisatory theater of one,” as he noted in an interview with Terri Gross, tore asunder the form of stand-up comedy, and nearly sent David Letterman back to Indiana, as he reports in this touching segment.
Under Williams’ comic genius, narrative gave way to hyperlinked clips, character-to-character-to-character, and heralded my favorite features of the 80s: remote control television, MtV, jump-cut editing, and day-glo attire. Who can forget Williams as Mork with egg in hand, tossing it in the air and, with profound compassion and hope, commanding, “Fly, be free!” His comedy did the same. It was compassionate, and absolutely rife with hope and possibility. Williams’ work affirmed so much, and helped make adolescence much more bearable.