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.
Welcome back to the second installment of Jeff Kaplan's THE CAPTAINS CORNER...today he's gonna take a look at a band you may or may not remember called the UNJUST. So sit back, and let The Captain be your guide....ok, where were we now..??
THE ONE BIG CROWD PROJECT:
Side One, Track One: THE UNJUST – “Cannibals”
By Jeff Kaplan (with help from Johnny Stiff)
Well we know they existed. The evidence is there. There are some photos and about 35 minutes worth of recordings. It wasn’t through a lack of trying, I promise you, but I could not track down any of the four guys who made up The Unjust.
The facts are these: The Unjust were a band from the Bronx. They formed sometime around 1983 and broke up around 1989. The guys in the band were ever and only Bruce “Rudy Kane” Ruiz (vocals), Joey “Spliff” Abene (bass), Chris “Ivan” Bernardo (guitar) & Joe Joe “Trap” Trapanessi (drums). If any of them ever played in bands before or after The Unjust, they are well below any radar I could tap into.
About 15 years ago, during the MySpace days, I was briefly in touch with Joey Abene. I wish there was a way to get back into those old messages, but I’m guessing they’ve long vanished from the internet ether. I know we went back and forth a little about The Unjust, but I think we spent more time discussing our shared love of reptiles. He, in fact, at that time, was a herpetologist at the reptile house at the Bronx Zoo. Abene co-authored an article for the Herpetological Review in June 2008 titled “A history of crocodilian science at the Bronx Zoo, wildlife conservation society.” Sadly, my internet searching revealed that Joey passed away in 2012 at the age of 50.
In 1983, the band recorded a four-song demo, a raw slice of punk and hardcore with just the slightest hint of speed metal. Rudy’s vocals are unique – he’s not a shouter. There’s a trace of mournfulness in his voice which almost reminds me of original Saint Vitus vocalist Scott Reagers, mixed with occasional growls….not quite death metal – but maybe more of what Danzig would occasionally do on those early Samhain records. The production is non-existent, but the songs cut through clear. Ivan’s guitar solos hint at a future shredder. All four demo tracks, “In Shape”, “Ivan’s Revenge”, “No Justice”, and “Rather Off Dead” all ended up being included on a 1984 Pax Records compilation ‘Daffodils To the Daffodils Here’s the Daffodils’. The most straight-ahead of the songs, “In Shape” also ended up on the 1984 Big City Records ‘Don’t Want No Pity’ 7” comp (which I ordered direct from Big City Records back in the day and arrived cracked in half – I still have it).
1985 saw the release of the Big City Records ‘One Big Crowd’ comp, which leads off with “Cannibals”. The songwriting and production values have been stepped up a notch since that first demo. The song starts with a descending guitar riff, soon joined by the bass, and then launches into the song. While the basic parts of the song are still rooted in power-chord punk rock, the instrumental break in the middle and guitar overdubs in the final part of the song (along with the vocal growls) show that The Unjust was definitely not going to be confined to simple punk rock songs and were veering towards a more metal future. It’s not easy to make out the lyrical content of the demo tracks, but I can tell you that the move from a song like “No Justice” to “Cannibals” also showed the band treading on a different terrain (“You’ve never lived like cannibals / Eating flesh, stealing souls / You see and hear their dying screams / People can’t live today!”).
Javi Savage of Big City Records, obviously a big supporter of The Unjust (Bronx pride?), released the lone Unjust full-length LP in 1987. Titled ‘Hammerhead’, the band makes a full transition to metal. From the tight guitar picking, the guitar solos, the double-bass drumming, and Rudy’s combination of Klaus Meine-styled vocals, high falsetto screams, and low gutturals show some real range in that department. The A-Side has three lengthier tracks which are fully committed to the new direction. The B-Side has shorter songs and I suppose still has a half-a-foot submerged in punk rock waters. We get a reworking of demo-era song “Ivan’s Revenge” and another older song that hadn’t seen wax in “Where Have I Been”. While the production is by no means horrible, you would never guess that it was recorded at the legendary Calliope Studios in the Garment District – a studio far more well-known in hip-hop circles than punk ones (De La Soul’s classic ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ was recorded here, as well as tons of releases by A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, 3rd Bass, Stetasonic and tons more).
The band apparently hung around for another year or two, but what became of them after the band was over I can only guess.
Since I could not get in touch with anyone from the band for this article, I had a great conversation with Johnny Stiff, who saw them and knew them. These are some tidbits as he relayed to me: they were a great band and for these four guys – The Unjust WAS their band. Meaning, the fact that when the BAND was done, THEY were done, didn’t come as too much of a surprise. They were from the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, a working-class Italian neighborhood. Charlie Benante and Frank Bello from Anthrax were also from the neighborhood and grew up with the guys in The Unjust. I made a last-minute hail Mary to actually try to get in touch with Charlie and Frank to see if I could get a thought or two about their old friends, but that attempt went nowhere.
Johnny remembers a gig at CBGB, which he figures was probably sometime around ’84 or ’85, where Rudy got beat up by a bunch of skinheads. He theorizes that incident may have hastened their exit from the hardcore scene, Johnny admitting, “it wasn’t for everybody….and who could blame ‘em?”
It’s telling that Johnny wasn’t even aware that the ‘Hammerhead’ LP existed – which probably tells us just how much they distanced themselves from the hardcore scene at that point – and were probably focused on playing to a metal crowd by that point.
After all of these years of listening to The Unjust, Johnny did lead me down a bit of a rabbit hole, which, I’m happy to say, ended in success. He mentioned that the song that was played the most often on the radio was “Lebanon”. Going through all of the recorded tracks I was aware of, I wasn’t sure if Johnny was mistaken or had confused it for the real title of a song. But, the magic of the internet came through. A Pat Duncan radio show (WFMU) from February 14, 2002 (featuring Jett Brando live in the studio), which is still online to be heard, does have in its playlist two Unjust songs taken from a May ’84 show at the Dirt Club – “Where Have I Been” (later showing up on ‘Hammerhead’) and…yep….”Lebanon”. In fact, before the song starts, Rudy says, “this is our big hit on WFMU” – which begs the question – what version was being played on the radio? One mystery leads to another I guess. It’s a mid-tempo tune which has a slight dub feel in the verses, with a more traditional punk rock chorus. A good tune, although not the one I would have thought would be the “radio hit”. The sound quality of the two songs is pretty solid and if anyone has this complete show on tape – get in touch! You can hear these songs by going to https://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/2568 - click the “Pop-up Player” button and you’ll hear the two songs right at the 57:15 mark.
Why The Unjust ended is something I’ll probably never know. Bands run their course and The Unjust gave it a good run of six years. They were a pretty good hardcore band in the beginning and a pretty good metal band in the end. They have not really gone down in history the way many other bands from that era did and are rarely spoken about these days, but they left behind a pretty solid collection of songs that are overdue to get rediscovered.
Next time out I’ll be covering the Armed Citizens. Get in touch at email@example.com with any comments, complaints, suggestions or leads on that live Unjust show.
Thanks again to Wendy & Don for indulging me in this crazy writing project – and of course to Johnny Stiff for giving me about 30 minutes of his time on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Why I’m Still Talking About Hardcore After 38 Years
By: Nancy Barile
I was involved in the hardcore scene for only about 5 years. So I often ask myself why those 5 years had such an enormous impact on the person I became. And it’s true—my time in punk and hardcore completely defined me as a human being, a wife, a teacher, a friend. And I think that’s the same for many of us. So here are some of the reasons why I think hardcore had such an intense and long-lasting impact:
1. I Heard and Saw Some Incredible Music
I was fortunate enough to come of age in the 1970s and 1980s. That makes me really old now, but it means I experienced a lot of great music. I saw my first real concert, Rod Stewart, in 1975 at the age of 14, followed up by Alice Cooper, Roxy Music, and Kiss. After that, going to shows became my focus in life. My dad was a Marine, and I went to Catholic school—I was looking for an escape, and music provided it. Once I saw Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Blondie, the Clash, and the Ramones, punk became my favorite genre of music, and then hardcore. After seeing Black Flag (with Dez on vocals) at City Gardens in 1981, I realized there was something even more powerful than punk out there: hardcore. Hardcore bands were explosive and demanded a physical reaction. I will never forget the first time I saw the Bad Brains—it was nothing short of transformative. Those guys were incredible musicians with intense energy and strong songwriting. They had a magnetic force that pulled me to the front of the stage. The chaos and camaraderie of a Minor Threat show was unlike anything I’ve witnessed then or since. And the sheer strength and potency of SS Decontrol quite literally knocked me off my feet. I was fortunate enough to often be at the right place at the right time, seeing performances by SOA, the Dead Kennedys, TSOL, the Circle Jerks, MDC, DOA, the Effigies, Agnostic Front, the Necros, Murphy’s Law, the Misfits, and the Meatmen, just to drop a few names. The energy those bands brought to a room was astonishing. It was pure, it was organic, and it was formidable. Those memories fuel me to this day. I would bet a lot of folks who were there with me can relate.
2. Hardcore Empowered Me As a Woman
I realize this goes against the narrative that hardcore was inherently misogynistic. But that wasn’t my experience. For me, hardcore was a place where I could be myself without being judged by mainstream society. Part of that is because I came of age in Philadelphia, which had a diverse and welcoming scene. I managed a band and wrote for a fanzine. I had no musical talent, but I wanted to be a contributor. We put on all ages shows—a feat for which there was no blueprint at the time. I will never forget the sense of accomplishment I felt standing onstage after we promoted our first show. It was one of the single happiest moments of my life. As a teacher today, the do-it-yourself work ethic I discovered as a kid, now helps me to get resources and knock down walls for my low-income, urban, multicultural students. The women I met in the hardcore scene, who were on stage or part of the infrastructure as some the coolest, smartest, and hardest working women I know. Many continue to inspire me to this day.
3. Hardcore Taught Me About the World
After I graduated college, I still had no idea how politics and government worked. I was woefully ignorant. But I began to learn from punk and hardcore bands like the Clash, Crass, the Dead Kennedys, and MDC. I started to read more. And as frustratingly annoying as politics and government can be, I understand a bit better now. At least I can see why we are where we are today. I’ve seen the positive impact a strong and honest mayor can make on a community. I’ve seen the impact a strong local government has on schools. I’ve worked with my ward councilor for change. I’m still incredibly aggravated and exasperated with the current state of the presidency, as I see the harm Donald Trump is doing at both a macro and micro level. Even today, I’m learning about the racism that Donald Trump and others like him fuel in white people, who are too blinded to see the truth, and who act against their own self interest to support policies, including repealing gun laws, fighting against the ACA, and fueling massive cuts to schools and social services, that contribute to their own deaths. I’m not sure what I can do to effect a change at that level, but I’m certainly going to keep fighting. So many of my former punk friends are still activists, and that makes me proud.
3. Hardcore Made Me Strong
Back in the day, attending shows was an adventure. Cops and locals often made it dangerous. I’ve been in several riots. I’ve had a bomb thrown at me. It’s all a testament to how important the music was to us—we were, quite literally, willing to risk our lives for it. Those experiences helped make this suburban, Catholic school girl street-smart. I learned how to protect myself. In my career as a teacher, I worked with a lot of gang kids, and that fearlessness helped me to connect with them, and it enabled me to help them. I also have no issue standing up to bullies.
4. I Made Incredible Friends
I married a guy I met when I was promoting a show in Philly, and I called his band to play. We’ve been together 38 years. I’m still friends with so many of the folks I met back in the day. Since the school where I teach doesn’t have huge funding sources, my punk friends have funded many of my projects for books, guest speakers, and field trips. We’ve had punk rock reunions in Philly, where I’ve reconnected with the people who made my early days so fun. I have a network of friends across the country, whom I respect and value. It’s wonderful to see how well they’re doing now. We shared something special in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and those common experiences created indelible bonds that I am quite sure will live forever. We still have each other’s backs. Punk and hardcore was always about being true blue.
When I went back to college to earn my degree, I learned that everyone has a Master Status Trait—at trait, which defines who they are more than anything else. Being a punk is mine. It’s something that’s lived on in my heart, my head, and my soul for many years. I think it made me a better person, and I bet there are a lot of punks out there who feel the same way.
A few thoughts/words w/ RON
Ron G. is a known figure known from fronting bands like DEATHCYCLE to being that guy you've seen at probably every single show from Long Island to the lower east side that you might and might not remember...he's outspoken and well informed - but what he has to say might not be to everyone's liking...but he will definitely make you think. He recently had made a commentary of sorts, and when asked - he didn't mind sharing it with us. So get ready to be challenged - you've been warned.....
Since this pandemic started you can feel the vibe of the world is different .when i walk out the door and see people they smile and nod and co-exist very peacefully . it feels similar to how NYC was after 9/11 when for a brief time everyone forgot their differences and realized we are all in the same boat. however, when i walk past a TV set all i hear and see is the typical attempted division that has kept us divided for too long . it is THEIR JOB to do that. that energy breaks down the commonalities we share and puts us at odds with each other. The situation we are all in has us all scared confused and searching. everyone is looking for someone to blame and to project their anger and fear on . People are blaming everything from other countries to the opposite political party to a hidden hand and cabal behind the scenes. some are petrified they are going to get sick , others are petrified they are going to lose their freedom. this is a toxic matrix built to make us snap on each other since tensions are so high. This is ORDER THRU CHAOS . do not fall for it or fall into that trap. think of who stands to gain and who is pushing for what and at what price ? when you figure out who stands to gain and look at who exploits tragedies you'll find the truth. My personal take is prob far more radical than anything you guys have read on any page but has love and freedom at its core and thousands of hours and decades of reading to come to my conclusions . Take a deep look at what has been completely shoved down your throat and what has been banned from public viewing . what kind of democracy is this when you cant even mention a fucking certain phone technology or show video of people installing it during a lockdown without your video getting pulled ?? Most of you are not working so take this precious time to find some answers to what may be the most life altering event in our lives . do you like the life you were living ? did you like the system we were living in ? were your goals just and honest or vain and superfiscial ? have we as a species been livng properly or have we been on the wrong path for a long time . you'll prob never have this much down time again so take advantage of it . Also, anyone of you who goes on someones page to mock or insult their opinions really need to stop . it is counterproductive and in this day and age with all that is going on pretty fucking pathetic. I have a lot of friends and many probably think my ideas are from fucking mars. thats ok, i lay out my truth and live by it and i look back and see a world that i have sensed was coming for decades and now it is here.. peoples true colors are showing and agendas and things that are hiding in the darkness are now being exposed by the light. this world is changing and it is going to turn into a beautiful new world or a disgusting dark new world order . be on the right side of this change and demand a better world and resist every single fucking thing they try to pressure you into doing that isnt true to yourself. be good to each other and stay fucking free . peace
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