Diary Of A Rock Critter
1989 New Music Seminar
by Jim Testa - Jersey Beat Fanzine
The first thing you have to understand about the New Music
Seminar is that it doesn't really have anything to do with
music; its purpose is to provide a forum for the discussion of
the business of music, and that's a whole 'nother thing. So if
there's a panel on songwriting, it's about "how to write a
Number 1 song." The "fanzine panel" wasn't called that; it was
called "The Selling Of The Underground - An Overrated Market?"
I had never realized before that's what I've been doing for 7
years. Live & learn. Yeah, I certainly got my money's worth from
This obsession with turning punk rock into dollars creates
some weird scenarios - this year best exemplified by Old Skull.
I'm sure you've heard of Old Skull by now, the 8 and 9 year old
hardcore band from Wisconsin. Old Skull were feted and praised,
interviewed way past their bedtimes. They played the Ritz and
the Rapp Arts Center, they got on MTV. They are a hype, and
anyone even remotely associated with them should be ashamed of
Okay, let's look at it this way. Let's say you're not Old
Skull but one of the other acts on the Restless Records roster -
Electric Love Muffin or 7 Seconds. Here you've been sleeping on
floors, eating bread sandwiches, and generally devoting your
every waking hour for 6 or 7 or 9 years to your band - and along
comes a bunch of 9 year olds who can't even play their
instruments, and your label goes ga-ga getting them all the
publicity, tour support, and promotion that you've been begging
for. Nobody said life was fair.
I am not going to mention anything else about NMS, except
maybe for my visit to the Giant Records booth, where the new
label manager told me, "It's a whole new label, we got rid of
all that hardcore stuff." Debbie, I liked all that hardcore
stuff. Well, they did sign the Slickee Boys and Peter (Squirrel
Bait) Searcy's new band, so maybe...
Herewith, the diary of a Rock Critter during 5 frenzied
nights on the town, the only really worthwhile part of NMS
Friday, July 14: Big show at the Ritz. Old Skull (sheesh!),
Laughing Hyenas, Mudhoney, and Sonic Youth (celebrating their
signing to Goofen, excuse me, Geffen Records). We walk in as
Old Skull is winding up their set, the singer/guitarist
destroying his ax Pete Townsend-like (sure bet he didnt' have to
pay for it) while the "bassist" sits on the floor banging on a
metal plaque with a hammer. Punk rock, man. Don't trust anybody
over 10, ok? Laughing Hyenas are loud but one-dimensional, a
non-stop drone that sounds like one long interminable song thru
the first 3/4 of their set until they finally change tempos.
Mudhoney pretty much get the crowd riled up, goofy and fun,
"Touch Me I'm Sick" sounds pretty cool even in a mausoleum like
the New Ritz. Next come Sonic Youth, tongue in cheek as always,
playing a ton of old shit and goofing on Geffen (playing Madonna
and Guns 'N Roses samples 'tween songs, fr'instance). Will
success spoil Sonic Youth?
Saturday, July 15th
Check in at the Marriott Marquis. Going up the escalator to
pick up my badge and bagful of goodies and within 5 minutes meet
Jad Fair, Mike Gitter, half of Alice Donut, Agnostic Front's
Steve Martin, and Old Skull (who are skateboarding thru the
hotel giving out flyers for their next show). Show business is
4 p.m. CBGB Hardcore Matinee. Jerry's Kids are a no-show but I
stay for Head's Up, John Bello's newest signing to Hawker
Records. Funny, funky Chili Pepperish punk rock, don't tell
anybody but I was actually dancing to this. Gitter sidled over
and says they sucked, a sure sign Bello has a winner.
9 p.m. For no good reason, go to Bitter End to check out Those
Melvins from Connecticut. Actually, I had a reason - their cut
on the "No Milk" compilation pushed all my power-pop buttons.
Turns out the Melvins are a frat band, 30ish dudes with beards
and Bermuda shorts who look like they'd be comfortable doing a
whole set of Poco covers. With the exception of one or two cuts
(they've got one grabber that sounds like a lost dB's classic),
their nerdy organic poptoons don't impress. Lead singer has the
set list scribbled on successive layers of t-shirts, which he
keeps peeling off to reveal the next song. Cute.
10:30 p.m. Toddle over to Gonzalez Y Gonzalez, a Mexican
restaurant pressed into service as a club when Downtown got
padlocked a week before NMS. Turns out Enigma is having a pre-
show party to which I wasn't invited, but Brian from Electric
Love Muffin sneaks me in anyway for some free beer and nachos
(this is called "networking"). Next stop is Under Acme, a non-
Seminar show with Friction Wheel, who just keep getting better
and better. Bob Mould, who produced their single, is there, also
not wearing an NMS badge.
Sunday, April 16th
9:30 p.m. Toxic Shock Night at the CBGB Canteen and House Of
Large Sizes opens the evening. I didn't much care for their lp
but live they're a lot better, more forceful and less
archaically "new wave." Next door at CBGB it's Homestead Night,
and I keep shuffling back & forth. Happy Flowers turn out to be
a lot younger and a lot more normal than I had pictured them
(with names like Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly Charred Infant, I was
expecting two burnt-out 30ish ex-hippies, sorta Shimmydisc
material, if you wanna know the truth). Giant Sand are every
bit as boring live as their record. Death of Samantha rocks but
I have to leave.
1:25 a.m. Speed The Plough finally go on for the "11:30 p.m."
showcase at the Bitter End. It has been pouring all night and I
spent most of the evening trudging up & down Bleecker St. from
CBGB's waiting for them to go on, so even tho' they're as
transcendently tuneful as ever, I am wet, tired, and too cranky
to have any fun.
Monday, July 17th
9:30 p.m. I've heard a lot about Too Much Joy from California,
including a rave mention of their 2nd lp by Dean Christgau
(during his keynote speech at SXSW, no less). Said lp is
nowhere to be found anywhere in Manhattan, by the way; I tried 6
different stores, incl. Pier Platters in Hoboken, Tower,
Bleecker Bobs, Sounds, and a few others. Great - they travel
3000 miles to showcase their act and their label doesnt have 1
copy of the record in the biggest market in America. I kept
trying to convince myself these gomers were actually as wacky
and zany as they were trying to come across on stage, but it
didn't wash. The songs aren't bad but I could do without all the
mugging, jumping, and corny choreography. Next up is Fabian
Blue, a teenager from the South Bronx with an 8 piece band,
fuck-me good looks, and massive soul/crossover potential, kinda
like a younger, male Whitney Houston, or Robbie Rosa with better
material. Next door at the Canteen, the Jacklords were opening
up Skyclad Night. With 2 ex-Splatcats, they were expectedly
60'ish garage, plenty of strong hooky tunes and some neato
surf/gtr breaks. Now I know why Yod Crewzy quit the Splats - he
sings and plays guitar better'n the
other 'cats and never got to take centerstage.
11:30 p.m. A quick trip over to the Rapp Arts Center - a
converted schoolhouse and an ideal venue to fill the vacuum left
by the death of Irving Plaza - for Nice Strong Arm (manic psycho
Gerardmetal) and Naked Raygun, who ripped the place in two.
Turns out this was also the farewell performance for Raygun gtr
John Haggerty. They closed with a tribute to Government Issue,
covering "Where You Live." Bitchin'. Word came out later that
their label decided at the last minute not to pay their airfare,
so the Rayguns had to fly in from Chicago, rent a car, pay for a
hotel, and fly back all out of their own pocket.
Tuesday, July 18th
9 p.m. Started the night off at the Philadelphia Booth party,
hosted by Carol Schutzbank and featuring various Love Muffins,
Orifices, Zooboys, and others. Lots of demo swapping and
whatnot. Then we all subwayed over to CBGB for one of the
weirdest bills of the week: All, Bullet LaVolta, and the Swans.
All did a long set full of slower, more tuneful songs - probably
glad they weren't playing to a roomful of 16 year olds - while
Bullet LaVolta rocked per usual. I didn't hang around for the
Swans but crosstowned it to Avenue A for Ultra Vivid Scene's
show at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Rumor had it that Kurt (Mr UVS)
was offered a chance to play the big opening night party with
George Clinton but opted instead for this postage-stamp sized
venue; it couldn't have been more than 105 degrees inside,
packed shoulder to shoulder, everybody swaying to the band's
hypnotizing melodies and offbeat instrumentation (cello,
keyboards, minimal drums, distorto gtr). My notes say "Hank
Williams" after that but I have no idea why.
Wednesday, July 19th
Went to bed at 10 p.m. and lapsed into a coma.
It should probably be noted (again & again) that the bands are
the most exploited aspect of NMS - they usually don't get paid,
often travel across the country to play these showcases, and the
bands who wind up on those NMS Unsigned Bands cassettes even
wind up paying big bucks for the privilege. The clubs rake in a
fortune from the bar (NMS'ers are, after all,
conventioneers...and drink like longshoremen), even the taxi
drivers make out like bandits.
But then, just think of the souvenirs that Old Skull will
have for show 'n tell in September. Was it worth it? You
If you liked this, might we suggest you send $2 and check out an
entire issue of Jersey Beat Fanzine?
Send to: Jim Testa, 418 Gregory Ave, Weehawken NJ 07087
This column will appear in the Sept. 1989 issue.
Another file downloaded from: The NIRVANAnet(tm) Seven
& the Temple of the Screaming Electron Taipan Enigma 510/935-5845
Burn This Flag Zardoz 408/363-9766
realitycheck Poindexter Fortran 510/527-1662
Lies Unlimited Mick Freen 801/278-2699
The New Dork Sublime Biffnix 415/864-DORK
The Shrine Rif Raf 206/794-6674
Planet Mirth Simon Jester 510/786-6560
"Raw Data for Raw Nerves"