Welcome to the COLUMNS & RANTS section...the newest part of our fine little family!!! Here we are going to have a place for our peers, friends and those who want to contribute a little something a space to do as they see fit.
And kicking it all off is none other than Jeff Kaplan, known to many as the Captain, from the band 2 Man Advantage (and a few other bands, but more on that later...) with his own space right here that we shall call
THE CAPTAINS CORNER..
.so get ready - strap in, and remember - no time for sippin'...so here we go...!!!
No Form Letters ....... Jeff Kaplan
In the summer of 1986, I turned 13 and was already several years deep into my weekly ritual of riding my bike to Island Sound Records in Merrick, New York to liberate whatever paper route money I had earned that week. Those trips yielded the stepping stones of my musical journey, which I still walk on today: Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath – heck – even bands like Triumph and April Wine came home with me. I was the first person in that store to buy Motley Crue’s ‘Theatre of Pain’ and Roger Waters’ ‘Radio K.A.O.S.’. I remember buying Anthrax’s ‘Spreading the Disease’ and Slayer’s ‘Haunting the Chapel’ when they first came out – futilely trying to introduce them to my friends who were still in the phase of reacting with such gems as: “you must worship Satan” or “you must want to kill your mom”.
But one day during that summer, I walked into the store and hanging by the t-shirts was an image I could not shake: a puppet with a sinister grin holding a knife. The big, black block letters revealed this was a band called Black Flag and an album called ‘My War’. I had to have this. Ron, the owner of the store, who I had annoyed for years with my endless musical questions (and my begging for a job I was too young to have), seemed pleased with my curiosity this time, and although he didn’t have ‘My War’ in stock – he did have ‘Family Man’ and ‘Slip It In’ – which he agreed to sell me with the promise that if I didn’t like them, I could return them in a week. Needless to say, those cassettes still sit in my tape racks 24 years later.
That summer, my weekly trips to Island Sound led me to the “Punk/Hardcore” bin. I bought every Black Flag record and, in fact, anything containing that SST Records logo. I bought every Dead Kennedys record. An early crush – the cute girl with the green hair that worked there – suddenly started paying attention to me and would be my weekly guide and led me to the first Murphy’s Law record, the vinyl for which matched her hair.
But the record that was perhaps the most life-changing from a perspective point of view was the ‘Big City’s One Big Crowd’ compilation, released by Big City Records one year earlier. Now of all the great compilations that have documented the NYHC scene over the years, and there are many, the Big City comp would probably not be the first one mentioned if you started listing them. Strictly speaking, only half of the album actually had bands from New York, with the second side being split among bands from New Jersey and Connecticut. But this was the first comp I ever heard with bands that were actually within striking distance of where I lived and, to this day, is my favorite of all the local scene comps. I’ve listened to it a thousand times and know every inch of it. Like many comps, some bands became legends (Sheer Terror, A.O.D.) and for others, this was their sole recorded document (Shok).
But while I loved every song on that record, what shifted my perspective wasn’t what was on the vinyl, but rather the 26-page booklet that came with it. Each band had prepared their own page for that booklet, which contained various combinations of illegible Xeroxed photographs (which really let your mind wander as to what some of these guys actually looked like), drawings, lyrics and….mailing addresses.
Not all 20 bands provided a mailing address – but most did – and one night I developed a hell of a case of writer’s cramp and sat down and wrote a letter to every band on that comp that provided an address. Now I had written to bands before and the responses you got were simply catalogs to purchase t-shirts or sweatshirts or whatnot. My 11-year-old self was disillusioned that Angus Young didn’t write back to me personally.
Slowly but surely, the responses trickled in. There were no form letters. Each was a handwritten, and usually fairly lengthy reply, from someone in the band. This blew my mind more than any music ever could. People who were on an actual record were communicating with me! Each of them appreciative of my letter, and a few even sent me back some records (specifically, my Bodies In Panic and Stetz albums came with those letters). Someday I hope to come across those letters again in an old dusty box, but I figure that’s a long shot.
But my favorite response came from The Psychos. I received a letter from guitarist Stu Psycho, who thanked me for writing, but told me that, unfortunately, The Psychos had recently broken up. The good news, though, was that he had started a new band called Trip Six with Tommy Rat from Warzone, Zippy (who would later go on to play with Sheer Terror and Crawlpappy) and Charlie Rage (R.I.P.) from Ultra Violence and Warzone and they would be going in to record a demo in a few months. He promised me a copy when it was done. Sure enough, a few months later, the demo arrived in the mail.
When you’re a kid growing up in the pre-internet age, discovering underground music pretty much on your own, information is incomplete. It’s like a puzzle that slowly gets put together until, eventually, you figure out what it is exactly you’re looking at.
I had this perception that any band who was on a record must be this larger-than-life entity that you would never have any access to. I didn’t know what I was expecting when I wrote to these bands. I suppose nothing more or less than when I had written to Rush or AC/DC. The idea that I would get personal, handwritten responses from these bands, let alone free copies of a record, was not a part of that equation. So when it happened – repeatedly – it completely shifted my perception. More than anything else, it demonstrated the stark contrast between big time arena rock ‘n’ roll, and the underground world of hardcore.
Now, having been in bands myself for the past 30 years, I realize that the guys writing me back were only a few years older than I was and probably just as excited to get my letter as I was to write it. The experience reminded me to give a little bit of time, whether by an e-mail or in person, when someone who likes what I do takes the time to tell me they appreciate it. Well, I appreciate it right back and I promise you won’t get a form letter from me.
PUNK THE CAPITAL (DC HARDCORE documentary reviewed in full and up NOW!!)
...NEW HAPPENINGS...and MORE to follow!!!!