Flying High Again
Wednesday 04 August @ 15:17:44
by Tom Hallett
Recommended activities to either whole-heartedly embrace or completely avoid when one is trying to quit smoking cigarettes: (1) Stop drinking beer. I know, that sucks, but beer makes ya wanna smoke and you can’t really enjoy candy (which, of course, you’re using—along with baby carrots and sticks of celery—as a tobacco substitute) with a can of Old Mil.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good...I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes are already loaded down and running over with such no-good songs as that anyhow."
SONG OF THE WEEK: "You Burn Me Up, I’m A Cigarette"
Try sucking on a bottle of Extra Dry Gin (a slick mix of ginger-ale, crushed ice, and Hawaiian Punch makes for a great mix!) and a cherry Blow Pop. Hey, it worked for Telly Savalas. (2) Switch to “all-natural,” “body-friendly” “herbal cigarettes.” You know what I mean.
Do I have to spell it out like Tammy Wynette? Sheesh. (3) Throw yourself into your other favorite hobbies with complete abandon. Unless, of course, one of your other favorite hobbies includes mainlining smack, building the world’s largest rubber-band ball, or obsessively recording public sightings of George W. Bush puppeteer Carl Rove.
Me, I just dove headfirst into rock ‘n’ roll trivia, and so far (despite this weird-ass plastic cigarette-facsimile with the words “BETTER QUIT!” printed on its “filter” in giant red letters hanging out of the corner of my mouth like Hunter Thompson’s tiny trademark phallic symbol) I’ve managed to avoid going completely apeshit and relapsing into nicotine-zombie-dom for ohhh....lessee....it’ll be one week to the day when this jumble of (argh) smoke-free words hits the streets of our fair Cities. Now if I can just balance out this mixture of gin-n-juice and my “herbal” cigarettes so I don’t either go hawg-drunk wild and run like a madman around the yard shrieking “BETTER QUIT?” “BETTER QUIT?!” “YOU BETTER QUIT, MOFO!!” or just doze right off in my chair and sleep the sleep of the deprived junkie until deadline has finally, irrevocably passed right on by me and my monkey ...
Flying High Again
(Or, A Tale Of Two Rockets)
Rocket From The Tombs
The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs
(Glitterhouse - 2002)
Rocket From The Tombs
(Smog Veil - 2004)
You know, I have to admit that I’m one of those people who never really knew the complete history of Rocket From The Tombs, and just why and how they affected the future of rock ’n’ roll, even from way back in 1975; even though they never entered a proper recording studio; even though their co-founder/ lead guitarist kicked the bucket at age 25. What’s that? You say I’m supposed to be reviewing that Rocket From The CRYPT album I just got in the mail?? Aw, shucks. I know that. It’s just that it’s always bugged me that two “modern-rock” type bands have names that are so close to each other, and sounds that influenced loads of up-and-coming musicians after them, yet nobody ever goes beyond saying, “Not to be confused with Rocket From The Tombs ...” So I thought, ya know what, I’m gonna lay out the who, what, where, when, how and why and by the time ya’ll get through with these reviews, you’ll never again wonder—er—who, what, where, when, how or why ...
First things first, in the name of seniority, chronology, whatever ... we’ll kick off with the original Rockets. Rocket From The Tombs was an art/punk combo formed in the mid-’70s by a writer for a Cleveland weekly arts and entertainment paper called The Scene. This fellow—a rather rotund, wild-maned character—called himself Crocus Behemoth, and he scared a lot of people in the music community by doing things like wrapping his large frame in aluminum foil, wearing Kabuki make-up, and spray-painting his spewing locks. What’s the big deal, you say? Your 11-year-old niece has been doing worse for months now? Hey, remember, this was 1975, man. Kids were still impressed with Willie Wonka, cowboys, and Evel Kneivel.
Anyhow, this lunatic writer/performance artist eventually hooked up with a talented axe-man by the name o’ Peter Laughner. Laughner, who’d been around the Cleveland scene for some time, had once played in a band called Cinderella Backstreet with future Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde. The pair recruited a second guitarist, Gene O’ Connor, a bassist, Craig Bell, and drummer Johnny “Madman” Madinsky. The group was, as they say, big in Cleveland, quickly becoming hometown stage heroes and opening for the likes of Iron Butterfly. Their original songs were filled with scathing social commentary, punk/junk rage, and, occasionally, they transcended the age they were written in to become timeless p-rock anthems. The world they gazed upon, and drew inspiration from, was the rapidly phony-fying 1970s, as disco caught fire, gas became more precious than gold (or at least a piece of bread), and the economy (particularly in industrial cities like Cleveland) began to bottom out.
Though they cut a handful of (now classic) demos and were taped live in various venues, the band never entered a proper recording studio. Songs like “Sonic Reducer,” “Life Stinks,” “So Cold,” and “Ain’t It Fun” (which finds Crocus howling, “Ain’t it fun/When you get so high/You can’t come?”) were, thankfully, preserved in embryonic states and have been passed along by the various surviving members and their students over the years. As Laughner and Behemoth became more intrigued by politics, art, and social issues, the rest of the band grew discontented.
Guitarist O’ Connor and the rest of the boys had always been leather-jacket wearing, whiskey-swilling rock ’n’ roll outlaws, and they didn’t cotton much to protest singing, even if it did have a punk edge.
Mostly, they just plain couldn’t fucking stand Behemoth’s caterwauling, freak-show vocals. The end was already on the horizon when Stiv Bators, a snot-faced young upstart from Youngstown, Ohio, auditioned for (and failed to get) the job of lead singer.
Things came to a head later that year, after Laughner sent a demo tape in to rock critic Lester Bangs at Creem Magazine. Bangs loved Rocket’s whole trip, and the two became fast friends. At Bangs’ suggestion, Peter lit a shuck for NYC, where he walked smack dab into the middle of the CBGB’s punk/art scene. Blondie, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Television; it was a whole new world for the curious young guitarist. He returned to Cleveland a changed man, and within less than a month, Rocket From The Tombs was no more.
Laughner went on to play with several lesser-known outfits, but spent most of his time writing prolifically for Creem. Behemoth changed his name back to David Thomas and formed art/punk pioneers Pere Ubu, and the rest of the Rocket-heads followed suit.
O’Connor became Cheetah Chrome, and the “Madman” became Johnny Blitz, they called Bators back, and The Dead Boys were—uh—(still?) born.
And all of that would make for a fine, happy rock ‘n’ roll tale if it weren’t for the tragic endings to come for several key players. Sure, Pere Ubu made a serious mark on the late ‘70s/early ‘80s art/punk world (whatever that was/is), ending up on compilation albums with the likes of the Police and 999, and Thomas (the former Crocus Behemoth) is still a vital, important part of the music world today. But Laughner, Bangs, and Bators are all gone—and all victims of self-abuse, too. Laughner drank himself to death—died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 25. Bangs, of course, gave up all or most of his wild ways and probably died because his system didn’t know how to function without those substances (um—should I really be trying to give up smoking?).
After years of Iggy-esque stage abuse with The Dead Boys (he claimed he’d been the cat who handed Mr. Pop that jar of peanut butter the Stooges frontman became famous for rubbing all over himself back in the day), the band eventually fired the lead singer they’d tried to fire Crocus to hire back in the ‘70s. Legend has it Stiv found out about his sacking via a newspaper ad for a new lead singer, had the ad made into a t-shirt, and wore it during his final performance with the Boys. Bators went on to form several other ground-breaking outfits, attempt a super-group with Johnny Thunders and members of The Ramones, and try a stint at acting. He died in Paris in 1990, after being hit by a speeding automobile.
Nonetheless, the musical legacies of all those involved with the original Rocket From The Tombs band stand by themselves. The surviving members of the ‘Tombs reunited in 2003 to record Rocket Redux, a collection of all those great singles that never were.
Fittingly, Laughner’s guitar hero, Television axeman Richard Lloyd, filled in for him on the sessions. The band also released a live concert from Cleveland in 1975 (The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs...), where you’ll find the essential stage versions of their classics. Fitting, too, was the band’s choice to start the show with a cover of The Stooges’ “Raw Power” and end it with a cover of that band’s “Search And Destroy.” If any band and its members absolutely encapsulated the ultimate definitions of those songs and The Stooges’ ethos, it was, and is, Rocket From The Tombs. Hallelujah, and pass the Sonic Reducer, motherfucker ...
O.K.—NOW I feel like I’ve got that outta my system and given props where props were due, finally. Whew. That little printed tribute wasn’t meant to take anything away from Rocket From The Crypt, who probably love the shit outta Rocket From The Tombs, anyway, but to reinforce how much influence the original Rockets had on the Rockets of today—and tomorrow. It’s kinda like the comic book character The Human Torch, y’know? I mean, the original Human Torch was a World War II Nazi-fighter, and he had a dorky little sidekick and hung out with Captain America. But the Human Torch I grew up with was the hot-tempered young firebrand in the 1960s-era Fantastic Four. Not even close to the same dudes. But my Torch (Hmmm. Note to self: I could use the Torch to light something .... something special .... NO!! Don’t ... need ... tobacco ...) would never have existed without the original, who, I think, did come back in the FF story-line somewhere as a clone or a robot, and that’s how we got the low-down on the story. Just like you just did with the first part of my little tale of Two Rockets. And now for the very cool, very talented Rocket From The Crypt ...
(Tune in next week for part two of Flying High Again: A Tale Of Two Rockets)
That’s it for me this time ‘round, ladeez n’ gents. Tune in next week for more of the same. Until we meet again—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d like to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to complain that I forgot about ‘80s one-hit cover wonders The Rockets in the above tale, send replies to: (temporary e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org.