Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Was a Teenage Punk Rocker - Why Dedication Beats Fanaticism Anyday! Even for Punk Rock or Success in Any Field!



"Do something once or do it everyday." - Andy Warhol


Just like the title says, I was a famous punk rocker... Really.... It's true. I was a famous (sort of) punk rocker.... Woo Hoo! And dedication does matter... Even if it is dedication to something that seems as ridiculous as punk rock...


Early 1980 at Santa Barbara for one of our last gigs


I think that everyone knows that dedication has immense value... It is especially valuable if that dedication is true dedication over the long term and not short-term fanaticism.

I was the lead singer of a famous one-hit-wonder band of the late 1970s. We weren't "dedicated" to what we were doing. We were short-term fanatics. By some miracle, or accident of god, even though we were terrible, we sold a sh*t-load of records back then. Bands like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag were opening bands for our shows. We used to play many shows with bands like the seminal Los Angeles Punk band, Fear. The bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea, was a bassist for Fear at one time.


Guys like Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedy's and the members of Black Flag, Flea and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are dedicated. That's why they have performed for such a long time. We were fanatics, so we faded quickly into oblivion.


Dedicated people stick with something for a long time. Fanatics are like people who get interested in a new religion one day and they are "on fire" about it for a very short time... Yes. "On fire" is a good description... So "on fire" are they that they also burn out quickly and lose interest. 


The dedicated ones are on a slow, evenly burning flame...


Maybe it's like "falling in love" is comparable to fanaticism; "falling in love" is easy and quick but can end too soon in a sudden fashion. Dedication is like "true love;" "true love" lasts a long time and requires dedication and work to achieve. 


If you do something, anything, try to be dedicated not fanatical.


Back in those days I hung around with lots of kind of famous people. Many of those people who were famous in those days are now dead...




That's me on the left


But the guys in my band (and I) were stupid. A lot of those people from the other bands figured out something that the guys in my band were too dense to realize... What did they realize? Well, it's simple; if you want to be famous and live off of playing music then you have to live it. I mean really live it. You have to dedicate to it. Many people do the talk... Few do the walk. My band wouldn't do the basics. We wouldn't dedicate.

Why didn't we figure out? Well, we didn't figure it out that "Stick-to-it-tiveness" and "dedication" pay off... We wanted the easy way to fame and fortune. It was so easy to make our first hit, that I think it spoiled the hell out of us. We got lazy and didn't work hard. 

What I am getting at is that, "...if you keep to your guns, and do not compromise and work hard, then maybe, perhaps, you can succeed..." If you don't keep at it, then you fail for certain.... Is there any business or endeavor in the world that doesn't require dedication and stick-to-it-tiveness?

It's pretty easy when you look at it that way, isn't it? You either do or you don't.

"There is no try. There is only do or not do."


I told the guys in my band, at that time, that "If we just stay together for the time it takes to build a crowd and a solid reputation - maybe 10 to 15 years - even without any hits - we can be famous and live off of playing music all our lives." (Perhaps that's also what Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book "Outliers" that says "10,000 hours of work are required for success in any field.")


But it was not to be for us...


Alas, we were too hard-headed and selfish too see the truth in dedication. My band spent more time fighting over silly stuff like trying to alter other people's behavior to accommodate our own, rather than playing and practicing hard. 


The Rotters 1977 (L to R) Phester Swollen, Johnny Condom, Nigel Nitro (me), Rip Chord


What a waste! Now we are all businessmen and/or unemployed and live with high-blood pressure, stress and all sorts of diseases and sicknesses that are going to kill us ASAP. 


What a fun life, eh?


Now, please allow me to indulge myself and allow me now to ramble quite a bit....


From late 1977 to 1979, my name was Nigel Nitro and I was the lead singer of a punk band called the Rotters. We had a single that sold 600,000 records in Europe; supposedly 1 million records all over the world. (But remember that record labels always inflate their numbers so remove a zero from those and you are probably closer to the real totals! Still not bad.)


It was also the only song by an American band that the Clash played for the BGM of their first American tour. It was also one of the first (and only?) records to be banned nationwide on American FM radio. The song was called, "Sit on my Face, Stevie Nicks." It was a monster hit and why were are called "one-hit wonders."




It was all a scam (of course, it was Punk rock, right?)... I think about it now and can't figure out how the guitarist, Phester (real name is Tom) and I arranged all that... But we did. We talked people into recording our record, making a master, and printing it.... All for free...


It was totally DIY in late 1977!



By some miracle of timing, we were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to be one of the late 1970s Los Angeles punk bands... 

At that time, I had all the most beautiful girls in town as my girl friends (in my vanity I considered them decorations) and our band was hot and famous. We charted on radio stations all over the country and were guests several times on Rodney Bingenheimer's radio show on KROQ and, according to Rodney, "The most requested song in the history of the radio show..." (beating even the Bay City Rollers and the Sex Pistols!).... 

I met the Clash, the Ramones, Blondie, Phil Spector, the Knack (My Sharona) and many others; we played at the Masque for Brendan Mullen with the Germs, the Dils, the Bags; as I said, we often played gigs with Fear, the Angry Samoans, Black Flag (before Henry Rollins) and bands like the Dead Kennedy's were the opening band for our shows!.... I was even at the debut show of the Go-Gos (they were terrible!) and I've gotten high with Dee Dee Ramone and the Ramones before and so many artists that I can't name them all.... In fact, I've even gotten stoned with Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO in Santa Barbara in 1980! All because I was in a one-hit wonder band!

Joey Ramone and I even became good friends....

Oh, those were the days, my friends. I thought they'd never end! We'd sing and laugh forever and a day....

So don't you tell me there's no god!

How did that happen?

Here's how: I was a college student in 1977. I was a full-time stoner... I never studied... One day I came home from school high as usual, and turned on the TV.... 

TV in those days was sometimes redeeming as I found Monty Python at that time (I have always been an "early adopter") and would come home to watch PBS. There, that day, on the TV was a program about this, "New and sick music craze that was sweeping Britain!" It was Punk Rock. I immediately loved it!

All I really remember was that people had short red hair and were wearing dog collars and jumping around. I'd find out later that it was a video of the Damned live. They were choking each other. The announcer was saying how sick these kids were. I thought it was cool. The kids also had cool fashions and wore lots of leather. The bands were real and they were rock and roll. I thought and, as I watched, I felt that I was watching a revolution.

That moment changed my life. I became a fanatical fan of Punk rock. Within 3 months, I got together a band and arranged a recording session and we made our first and biggest hit... We toured a lot and played many shows... But my band members fought constantly and weren't dedicated...

And, that, in a nutshell, my friends, is how we became "one-hit wonders."

With the White Stripes on July 25, 2002
(Left to right: George Williams, Jack White, me, Meg White) 

That may sound disappointing and it was to me for a long time. For years I was bitter and sad about it until one day, Jack White of the White Stripes - way before they were famous - once put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, "Mike, it's better to have punked and lost, than to have never punked at all!" 

Wow! That was like lightening hitting me right between the eyes. He's right!.. I'm glad I was in the Rotters... Too bad, though, it could have been so much more...


Actually our second single did get some airplay and sold pretty well too...
I once saw it in a record collectors shop selling for $250... I told the clerk that I was
the lead singer of the band... He didn't believe me...

Oh, but that's all past now... Long past. Up until a few years ago, the guys in the band had many reunion gigs in the USA, and asked me to come perform, but I never did. The last time I ever played with that band was a few shows in Japan in 1988.

I don't want to do that anymore. It's a good memory and I want to keep it that way.

The point of this all is, like I said, determination and dedication.... Fanaticism isn't necessarily a good thing. Long term thinking, planning and work and practice - no matter what the business - pays off; whether it's music, a new business venture, sports, or a hobby or craft. 

Stick to it. Dedication and hard work pay off... Even if it's only Punk Rock.

NOTE: The above is far too serious. I've always thought that Punk rock should be laughs and fun. If you want a laugh, actually many good laughs, read the below. It is a short recollection of those days by the guitarist, Phester Swollen. Phester has a way with words and this is hilarious! From the online band information site, Break My Face has this:



PULL IT AND YELL...

It was 1978 and rock and roll was the worst putrefying heap of overblown bovine excrement imaginable. Walking into a record store was about as fun as having a raging bout of the Hershey squirts and with no choice but to use a Super Seven gas station toilet that was plugged with some wino's puke and butt blow. Hearing the likes of Peter Frampton, Steely Dan, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and that phony working class schmuck, the Boss, left us contemplating the big sleep to put us out of our misery. What the fuck was this shit? It sure as hell wasn't rock. We were frustrated, pissed off and offended.

Nigel Nitro and I were a couple of nasty film production students at Moorpark College, just northwest of Los Angeles. We stuck out and didn't fit in. Neither of us wanted to make films with a couple of retarded lovebirds walking on the beach to some lame ass Jim Croce ballad. Our goal was to make vicious, stabbing satires. If people were offended we knew we were on the right track. One night we both saw an episode of 20/20 on the lobotomy box ranting on the evils of this hideous new scourge on society from England called punk rock. It featured live footage of the Damned and the Sex Pistols with subtitles for the lyrics so that the world could see how vile and disgusting they were. They hated it. We loved it. If it pissed them off so much it HAD to be good! It had everything we'd been dying to hear for years and besides, any idiots could do it. That meant us, too.

Within a couple of weeks we started The Rotters with another Moorpark film loony, Bruce Brink on drums and Rip Chord on bass. Bruce soon bailed out for fear that the local Oxnard or Ventura hillbillies would kill him for playing punk, a reasonable concern. Rip's friend Johnny Condom took over on drums. Since Nigel and I were both students at Moorpark College we were able to weasel our way into the recording class almost immediately as they were in need of bands to record on the four track. The recording students hated us. We weren't real musicians. We were sloppy, not together. We were out of tune most of the time. We didn't know what the fuck we were doing. But we didn't care. We had a lot of wild enthusiasm and the teacher of the class, Richard Simpson, caught on to this. He told us; "you guys aren't any good, but you have fun and that's all that's really important." Then he encouraged us to put out a single, which he would master for us for free.

We'd played a few volatile shows. After being kicked out of the Mickey Moose disco in Ventura for sucking and being pelted with debris in Anisque Oyo Park in Isla Vista for being shitty, we knew we were good. "Sit On My Face Stevie Nicks" was a standout and the logical choice for the single. It had been written in about ten minutes as one of the worst songs possible while at the same time taking a stab at the big bucks rock world we hated so much. "Amputee", a kind of anthem of the stupid, was on the flip side.

Once we had a test pressing we naively decide we should take it down to KROQ and give it to Rodney Bingenheimer to play. Rodney's show Rodney On The ROQ was THE punk show on L.A. radio at the time. We drove down to Pasadena to the station and snuck in by standing at the back door with a bunch of punk looking guest types. When they let them in, we walked in too. We didn't know it right away but they were the Ramones and Clem Burke, the drummer from Blondie. Even though we didn't have any drugs for Dee Dee, Rodney still played our record and put us on the air with Joey Ramone. Almost immediately Rodney asked us, live on the air, if we liked the Ramones. Nigel and I simultaneously said, "uh... er... we like the Sex Pistols". They broke for a commercial, told us "you guys gotta leave now!" and kicked us out. But the damage was done. KROQ was inundated with requests for "Sit On My Face Stevie Nicks" the next day.



For some strange reason Fleetwood Mac took offense. Well, there's no accounting for taste. It seems this was the era when Mick Fleetwood was boning Stevie Nicks behind Lindsey Buckingham's back and he felt he had to rescue her honor. Christ! As if they didn't have enough problems of their own with all the break ups, infidelity, cocaine addictions and millions of dollars burdening them! They had to throw their weight around and go after some fledgling punk band. I guess it was a case of the big bully beating up the asthmatic wimp on the playground for making a smart ass comment and laughing during his oral report. We soon found we were banned in Los Angeles. Someone claiming to be Mick Fleetwood himself called KROQ and threatened them with a lawsuit if they played the song, then called Nigel at home with the same threat. All the major record stores in Los Angeles were threatened with no more big selling Big Mac albums if they sold our nasty little single. Ooh scary! What a threat. Who the hell bought Tusk anyway? It sucked the turds out of a dead bloated water buffalo's anus. Some stores hid our records under the table like a bunch of pussies and some gave Fleetwood Mac the finger and still got their albums anyway. Then they decided to be less obvious and the doors to a number of the clubs in town closed to us mysteriously.

We didn't really need their help in fucking everything up though. We could do that ourselves. Any money we might have made went into beer. We couldn't play worth shit most of the time, didn't follow any L.A. punk clique rules and were lazy as hell. None of this helped at all. The second single, "Sink The Whales Buy Japanese Goods" b/w "Disco Queen", we couldn't give away. None of us had any use for stacks of the record so many of the 1,000 copies went into the trash. Now it's a coveted collector's item. Go figure. Disillusioned, with our dreams of glory crushed, we broke up early in 1980. However, The Rotters have managed to survive although not with the original line up. But what the hell, how many punk bands stay the same for more than 20 years? The whole idea of middle age punks is offensive anyway. But then again, that's the point.

— Phester Swollen


The first Rotters 7 inch. had at least two distinct pressings. The first pressing says "BANNED" only while the second pressing says "BANNED IN L.A." (pictured above). The second and far more rockin' Rotters 7in. was a single pressing, but with a couple of different paper stocks. The more common sleeve is on standard white stock, the less common is on heavier yellow stock (though either are practically impossible to find). Some copies have both sleeves. Both Rotters 45's (along with several other early L.A. punk greats) have been reissued by Dionysus Records.



Here's a video that I made that has footage of our 1988 show in Japan:




Thanks to Jp Valentine


For my dear friends Yuri Tsujimoto, Sharon Kennedy and Tom Swollen

1 comment:

Andrew Joseph said...

How the hell did I not see this until today?! Awesome! Bloody effin' awesome!
Amputee reminded my of Devo's Mongoloid... but you guys were pretty tight. I thought you be all over the place like The Sex Pistols, but no! You could play! I wish the video showed more of the band, but dammit, it was fine!
So... Sit on my Face, Stevie Nicks... where can I listen to that? And, who wouldn't want Stevie Nicks to sit on their face?! I hate Fleetwood Mac. I always felt they were overrated, and you are correct - who the hell did buy Tusk?! Black Flag, Henry Rollins (he can still kick ass!), Devo - I love Devo! Question, are me not men? We are Devo. D-E-V-O!!!
I never dyed my hair or tried to look like a punk... but I always loved punk music. I was a suburban punk.... society hated me... the little minority kid who was 5-feet tall until he was 17, wore glasses until he got contacts and shades that he wore all the time. I got bigger and kicked the sh!t out of everyone who ever tormented me. Give Me Convenience Or Give me death remains one of my favs. I also never thought that the Clash were punk, but I didn't know them. Same with Big Audio Dynamite. The Ramones... ahhhhh the Ramones. Great bunch of guys. I always thought they were brothers until a year ago. Sad but true.
Mike... this is one of favorite blogs ever. Even knowing all of the crap you went through in detox et al... I envy you for having the balls to do what you did. Jack is correct. It is better to have punked and lost than to have never have punked at all.
God save the Queen!