Ron Asheton on New Order and Rock’n’Roll Nazi Chic

RON ASHETON [ex-Stooges guitarist, 1975]: I’d made contact in L.A. with Dennis Thompson of the MC5 and we put New Order together. I found a backer and guys started filtering in and we found a place to practice. The downside was the trend of music was changing so dramatically that we got caught in the middle of a shit storm. It was disco time, and people weren’t going for the hard-rock shit anymore, so it was like, “Uh-oh, screwed again.” Plus, we’d play gigs in front of my big swastika flag. I wasn’t a Nazi, the flag was just part of my collection . . . I had Jewish girlfriends and black buddies. It had nothing to do with promoting Nazism or condoning it. I just enjoyed flash uniforms. But other people freaked–they were like, “It’s fascist.” New Order didn’t mean to put out a Nazi vibe at all. I knew it was probably a bad idea … how not to get a record deal in an industry run by Jewish people. “New Order? Let’s sign ’em up right now.”

= = =

from Marc Spitz & Brendan Mullen, We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), pp. 30-31.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: Nazi chic probably has a long history in rock’n’roll, especially via biker culture, but this is the first description of band I’ve run across that seemed to have intentionally presented themselves as a Nazi rock group, even if it was cartoonish play. There is no reason to think that New Order was meant in an ideological way; Asheston’s Nazi fetish is well-known. But the circulation of Nazi imagery and themes in rock’n’roll had gone on at least for a good chunk of the 1970s — so when actual, ideologically neo-Nazi punk bands emerged at the end of the decade, was it really a surprise?

Not one to let sleeping dogs lie, after New Order, Asheton played in a band called New Race.

Interview with Nervous Gender (2015)

Formed in 1978, Nervous Gender was a pioneering queer synth-punk band from Los Angeles. They’re easily identifiable by their aggressive punk sound played on all synths, as well as transgressive sexual subject matter and visual style–the latter which presaged the goth scene. While many post-punk and new wave bands adopted synths soon after, almost none continued in the punk vein that Nervous Gender and the Screamers had originally explored.

The band went through a number of permutations before breaking up after the death of founding member Gerardo Velazquez in 1992. In 2007 the band reformed with old and new members, and I caught up with them in December 2014 after their first-ever show in New York City. We talked about the evolution of the band over the years, as well as former members like Phranc; their relation to the LA “art-damaged” scene as well as to No Wave, industrial, and goth/death rock; the question of fascism, homophobia, and what it meant to be queer in the ’70s LA punk scene; and their mention on the 700 Club.

They have recently remixed their 1981 studio album, and released three live recordings, documenting  different periods of the band, including a 1979 show with Phranc and a 1986 show with Wall of Voodoo members. These can be purchased via their website http://nervousgender.com.

DISCOGRAPHY

Live at Target (Subterranean Records, 1980), compilation with Factrix, uns, and Flipper
Music from Hell (Subterranean Records, 1981)
Live at the Hong Kong Cafe 1979 (Nervous Gender Archives, 2006)
Live at the Whiskey A Go-Go 1980 (Nervous Gender Archives, 2006)
Live at the Roxy 1986 (Nervous Gender Archives, 2006)
Music From Hell, 2009 Remixed / Remastered (Nervous Gender Archives, 2009)
“Gestalt” / “Green Tile Floors” (Test Tube Records, 2011), 7″

This is an edited version of a December 7, 2014 interview at the Box Hotel in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Band photos are from Evil Tracey. Please contact her for reprint permission: eviltracey at yahoo dot com.

SPENCER SUNSHINE: So I’m in Brooklyn with Nervous Gender. What’s the name of everyone in the band today and what’s everyone’s history with the band?

Edward Stapleton

Edward Stapleton

EDWARD STAPLETON: Me and Michael Ochoa are the original members. Joe and Tammy were friends from the very beginning, but they weren’t in the band. [Turns to Joe and Michael] How many years ago did you guys start it up again?

JOE ZINNATO: ‘89? I’ve been in the band since ’89, Tammy’s been in the band about…

TAMMY FRASER: I was just the manager and then I became the fill in…

JOE: Like two years ago?

Michael Ochoa

Michael Ochoa

MICHAEL OCHOA: I had a stroke four years ago.

TAMMY: Was it four?

MICHAEL: Yeah.

JOE: So she was in the band for four years

MICHAEL: So I wasn’t able to play, and they had a show, so they got Tammy sucked in.

Joe Zinnato

Joe Zinnato

JOE: Yeah and Tammy actually knows how to play keyboards…

MICHAEL: …which we don’t…

JOE: …and read music, so it was kinda no-brainer. We had a show lined up, so she became our pinch hitter.

SPENCER: So the band has an odd history. The original form was between ‘79 to ‘89, and then Gerardo—this is what I read online—had a trio from ‘90 to ‘92.

Tammy Fraser

Tammy Fraser

TAMMY: It was Joe, Michael and Gerardo.

JOE: The original lineup was from like ‘78 to ‘79. These two, and Phranc…

MICHAEL: …the lesbian folk-singer…

JOE: …and Gerardo. And Phranc left, and there was also a drummer, Don Bolles. That was the original lineup, which lasted about a year. And then after that, people rotated in and out. It was never—except for the first year—it was never a consistent lineup.

SPENCER: So that was one of my questions, there was so many members of the band, like Paul Roesseler, most of Wall of Voodoo, and an eight-and-a-half year-old boy named Sven, sometimes I wonder about bands—was it more like an arts collective then if people are just rotating in and out, or did it have the consistency?

JOE: There was a core.

TAMMY: The core was like Michael, Edward, and Gerarado, basically.

MICHAEL: And then people would come in for fun and play with us…

JOE: …different drummers…

SPENCER: So the sound of the band actually changed, because people were coming in with different instruments—like at some point guitars came in.

TAMMY: That was the Wall of Voodoo period.

SPENCER: There are still keyboards in the band at that time?

EDWARD: They had Chas from Wall of Voodoo play keyboards. He also played, too. We also wanted to experiment too. People didn’t think we wrote songs, or had songs, they just thought we made it up as we went along, like we were improvising, and it wasn’t improvised.

MICHAEL: The analog synthesizers never sounded the same one day to the next. But we played the same thing. It was consistent.

EDWARD: Yes, but it didn’t sound consistent. So when the band stopped performing with synthesizers, when we got Wall of Voodoo, we just had them do it with guitars and a real drummer and the whole nine yards. And it was the same songs.

SPENCER: It was like 4 people from Wall of Voodoo, right?

EDWARD: Yeah.

SPENCER: Why did they step in?

EDWARD: Because they loved us.

SPENCER: Was the band going to collapse, it needed members?

EDWARD: Yes, I said “I’m done.” The scene was very much dying at the time, and people were getting more into DJs and techno and…

SPENCER: This is the late ’80s?

EDWARD: Yeah, then Bruce Moreland was the one who said “You can’t!”…

TAMMY: We were good friends with them.

EDWARD: …and “I want to play in the band, let’s do it.” And then his brother came in and the rest of the band came in, and at one point it was all the original Wall of Voodoo, except for Stan. And it made life easier in terms of—people were more secure in booking us.

SPENCER: Were you cancelling shows, because…?

EDWARD: Yeah, we got bigger shows, because of Wall of Voodoo’s name.

SPENCER: Because this is kinda at their height?

EDWARD: Yeah, they were doing really big at the time.

JOE: Now, that’s after Stan left, and Andy was now the singer. So everyone in Wall of Voodoo except Andy was in Nervous Gender.

EDWARD: But Andy wanted to be!

JOE: Wall of Voodoo went through several phases, too, and had a few different singers.

MICHAEL: I think that that was fun, like a time off from “real work,” to play with Nervous Gender.

SPENCER: So it’s a trio, though from ‘90 to ‘92, and the Gerardo dies.

JOE: Yeah, that was Michael, Gerardo, and myself.

SPENCER: And around 2006 you get back together?

JOE: 2007. We started putting things into motion in 2006. It was basically our intention was just to do a website, and then from that it just kinda evolved. And we did our first show in 17 years in 2007, with basically a trio again—the three of us.

SPENCER: Was there a revival of interest in the band, like along with the queercore scene, was there a certain point that it was, because now the band is looked at as a predecessor to a lot of these—I couldn’t name them offhand—but a sort of the hard synth sound, in the ‘90s hardcore bands started to put synths back in and then people went back and looked at Nervous Gender and the Units and other bands as predecessors to having this hard synth—were people coming to you and being like ‘Oh, you were in this band!’ Is that why you [got back together]?

EDWARD: Was it Collapsing… no, what was that band?

JOE: New Collapse. The Los Angeles synth-based trio.

EDWARD: We went to see them. And when people say ‘You influenced us,’ I didn’t really expect to think I could really hear that, but when we saw them, we could hear it.

SPENCER: Right, the influences are pretty direct.

EDWARD: …and they were very influenced by the Screamers, like they combined them together, and put a new younger, more energetic spin on it, it was amazing, it was really good, and so that inspired us again.

MICHAEL: The only reason we started playing was some guy wanted us to play his birthday party.

JOE: Right.

MICHAEL: And we did!

JOE: We got money to play at his birthday party, and we were like, let’s see if we can do this. And we whipped it together, and oddly enough it was really well-received, and then people kept… there were a lot of people who run clubs who were at that first show, and they kept asking, and we kept getting shows, and more people kept coming. Nervous Gender is more popular now than it ever was in the ‘70s or ‘80s. But that probably has a lot to do with internet and people being able to access you from all over.

SPENCER: Yeah. I know the band because I started listening to punk in the late ‘80s, and all of the early ‘80s records were out of print, and pretty much all the bands had broken, like in ‘86 the wave of bands break up.

EDWARD: Right.

brief mention of Nervous Gender in 'Hardcore California'

brief mention of Nervous Gender in ‘Hardcore California’

SPENCER: But you’re on Subterranean and Subterranean stayed active as a label and had cheap records, and so it was the one label where you could actually go and buy some of these odder ‘70s and ‘80s San Francisco and, they did other bands right, and so that’s how I got the record. And I was like ‘Oh, this thing’s great!’ But if you’d have been on another label then, like Posh Boy was gone… it didn’t matter how many records you had sold before, it just mattered how long the records remained in print… because I was living in Georgia and Ohio, and you couldn’t go to a used record store—the records weren’t circulating, in New York or something, the Bay Area, people would be selling their old records. Records wouldn’t circulate and if they weren’t in print, you couldn’t get them. For me that was key to being able to hear the band. Like I used to read Hardcore California, and you’d read about all these great bands but you had no way to listen to them. Now, you can go on Youtube—that was your point—you can go: Oh, that’s what Johanna Went sounds like! I always wondered. She looks great, but what does this sound like? Oh, it sounds great, too!

MICHAEL: She was great live!

EDWARD: There was only one of her.

MICHAEL: The LA punk scene was really fun in the early ‘80s. Different people… what’d you call them, “art rejects”?

EDWARD: “Art damaged” was the term used.

TAMMY: Yeah, art damaged.

EDWARD: So it was it was like punks who had some education in art, and they brought that art thing into the music and into the performance. While the newer punks from the suburbs were, for a lot of them it was the first time they’d ever done music, so they didn’t have any other influences, and they didn’t care about art. So they got more into the violence and showing how tough they were.

SPENCER: So to me this was always an interesting story to learn that the LA scene was very art-centered, was very experimental, was very queer, and then the OC hardcore scene comes in and just shoves it out of the way.

TAMMY: Yeah, you had to stop going to certain shows and booking certain… we used to book certain bands, everybody mixed up. It was not the bands themselves that were so bad, it was the audiences. Because most of the bands were really nice.

MICHAEL: Everyone was friendly. If anything went wrong, you’d borrow an amp, and run the amp to your gig, very nice people.

EDWARD: People were getting their idea of what punk was from the news. So they would see ‘A Stabbing at the Starwood,’ and think ‘that’s what’s supposed to happen at shows’. The violence started to become more real.

JOE: It’s like there was overnight punks: the day before they were football jocks, the very next day they’d be wearing chains and flannel shirts and beating on the people who had been around for years. So I stopped going to shows because I didn’t feel safe anymore. So we all kinda faded into the background.

SPENCER: So what what’ve happened if… the changes were happening all over as people were moving into hardcore and some bands are moving, like Wall of Voodoo, into something …less punk? Some odd form of New Wave, not quite commercial. … And so the LA scene set the template. So for all the ‘80s, punk became this really like macho­—as hardcore replaced punk, it was largely this very macho scene in LA and New York, while DC was always a little different. What would’ve happened if the LA—could it have happened that the earlier LA scene remained, it wasn’t pushed out of the way? I always wondered—what if that had set the template for punk in the ‘80s instead of hardcore?

TAMMY: I dunno. Cause all those scenes fragmented into little different scenes. There was like the real art and performance art scene, and then there was in LA that whole roots rock with the Blasters and the country kinda stuff that started, and the Paisley Underground… so everything just kinda fragmented away from being called punk.

EDWARD: And people who would have originally played with each other would no longer do that.

SPENCER: Was that purely a musical thing, or did that have other…?

EDWARD: Well, I could give an example. We played with Fear.

SPENCER: Right, I saw that—I was surpFear & NGrised.

EDWARD: They opened for us. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but that’s what happened. But even bands like that would see us do a soundcheck and say ‘Oh fuck, let’s get outta here, they’re going to drive the audience away, cause it’s not real punk rock,’ so they’d say, ‘we’ll go on first, and let them play when everybody’s left. So first it was all very cozy, but then, they started to, in some ways, they started to see it as a career. And Wall of Voodoo is the only band who had a big audience, and sometimes a new wave audience, who would then have Nervous Gender open for them, or the Mentors open for them. They had no problem about insulting the audience, or the label.

SPENCER: So Fear’s an interesting question, because to me they are always the big homophobic band. And I think personally—later I learned they were actually skilled musicians—and they were probably joking about some of this stuff, but that‘s not how it was taken.

TAMMY: I think that was a big problem back then, especially in LA, which was a very fragmented, tense, spread out place anyway, the whole punk rock philosophy was that you could say anything—this was like, you could say anything, piss people off, go right to the forbidden—so the original punks themselves were all calling each other faggots, and every name you could think of was hurled around the punk scene—in good fun. I mean, people, you knew they really weren’t, you know… you just were supposed to be shocking, and you were supposed to break rules. But I think a lot of that got picked up by the media, and, very quickly, and like Joe said, there were a thousand jock kids coming in, and Fear had developed this schtick…

JOE: It was all schtick with Fear.

TAMMY: Yeah, completely schtick.

JOE: Because in private life, none of them were like that.

TAMMY: Right, so it just became: you posed as angry, you posed as aggressive, you posed as violent—and suddenly it attracted people who were angry, aggressive, and violent. And the media inflated only that part and announced ‘Oh these shows are horrible, people are beating each other.’ Things that weren’t happening were reported and then attracted that type of person. We were all very young, I was like 15 when I started hanging out, and I learned a very big lesson back then about don’t put out in public about what you don’t want to create. The world doesn’t get sarcasm and humor, evidently!

The cover of Fear's second album, 'More Beer'

The cover of Fear’s second album, ‘More Beer’

SPENCER: The Nazi skinheads who were in my community loved Fear, because they used Nazi imagery and talked about how much they hated queer people… and it wasn’t taken as sarcastic or a joke at all

TAMMY: And that’s what I said. I would confront artists that had the swastika and I’d say, you know, what… and they’re like ‘oh, well, we have to reclaim it and take the—what is it they were always saying?’

EDWARD: Be iconoclastic.

TAMMY: And ‘Take the forbidden away from it.’ I can’t remember…

SPENCER: Was this visual artists or bands?

TAMMY: just different people that, who were first doing that kinda thing. But I’m like ‘You can’t explain your ironic, artistic philosophy when you’re walking down the street. When you’re walking down the street, you’re just broadcasting that, and it’s normalizing it.’

SPENCER: So here’s one thing I’m interested in—and I’m just asking you because these are my other interests—the people in the band have said you’re closer to the early industrial scene then the punk scene?

EDWARD: There was no industrial scene.

TAMMY: Yeah, there was no industrial scene.

EDWARD: I mean I knew Genesis P-Orridge and I knew some other members of the band. They would come visit LA, they came to some rehearsals.

TAMMY: They came in ’81.

PTV & NGSPENCER: The band opened for SPK and Einsturzende Neubauten and early Psychic TV.

EDWARD: But that was later on.

SPENCER: So my question was, some people in the industrial scene authentically are into fascist ideology, people like Boyd Rice and Douglas Pierce from Death in June. I think they took this early, people threw these symbols around, but people did develop…

EDWARD: They will deny that, tho.

SPENCER: Yeah, I understand that well.

EDWARD: Boyd will say, ‘That was all schtick, I don’t feel that way.’ Now, I don’t know if he’s just saying that, or…

MICHAEL: He was friendly to us and we’re a bunch of fags, and I’m Mexican, and Gerardo is Mexican, and he was friendly to us. And then he goes to England and all of a sudden he’s a Nazi or something.

EDWARD: Yeah, so, who knows.

SPENCER: I understand that he denies these things. It’s interesting to listen to white supremacists because they have a different story about …

EDWARD: Sure, because they want to make it theirs.

SPENCER: The band is seen as a queer band? That’s the perception.

EDWARD: The song contents have a LOT of gay sex in it.

MICHAEL: Gerardo and me were gay and Phranc was lesbian so of course there was a lot of gay angst in our songs.

SPENCER: Did the band have a relationship with the gay community or was it purely in the punk community?

EDWARD: No connection with the gay community, they had no interest in what we were doing. The audience was basically punk kids, art kids, and some were straight and some weren’t. No, the gay community—the few times they heard the name and they thought we were going to be something they’d like—then they’d get a tape from us and we’d never hear from them again. No, the gay pride did not want us out there.

TAMMY: People were afraid of Nervous Gender when they started, because they were openly gay and they weren’t camp. Because there were a lot of gay people in the early punk scene, who we all knew were gay, but they didn’t, they didn’t announce that from the stage or in their lyrics.

SPENCER: This is like Darby Crash, right?

TAMMY: Now, Darby was closeted. Darby was one of the only ones who was actively denying that he was gay.

EDWARD: He didn’t want to sit too close to us at shows!

TAMMY: And all my best friends were openly gay in the scene so Darby would come over and just be like a gossip queen, but then he’d go out and be in his little leather and stuff.

MICHAEL: I don’t think he liked it when Don started drumming with us either.

TAMMY: No, and that was the other thing, Don was in Vox Pop and Darby got really angry because he went to a show and Don was wearing a dress. And then Don was drumming for Nervous Gender. So that’s what broke up …

SPENCER: Was he drumming while he was still in the Germs or after he was kicked out?

EDWARD: Yes.

TAMMY: No, while, I think.

EDWARD: Did he drum when Darby came back from England?

JOE: On that Germs reunion.

TAMMY: Right, yeah, Don drummed on that, but that all happened in what, like within 6 months?

JOE: But isn’t that why Sven came in as the drummer, temporarily, because Don had commitments with the Germs?

EDWARD: But we’ve never had any… we’ve had negative responses to us when we performed, but we never had people had enough nerve to say it to us, where a lot…

MICHAEL: Well, the waitresses at Patrouille.

EDWARD: Well that was a different story, they paid us to stop playing.

SPENCER: I read this story. How much did you get paid to stop playing?

EDWARD: $175, which was a lot of money.

JOE: Yeah, back in 1979 money.

SPENCER: So why did they give you so much money?

EDWARD: Because, we just did one song, and it was some bar in a skid row area of San Diego, and the waitress was like ‘I can’t take it!’ And they went to their tip jars and they started putting their money together: ‘Take this and go away, go away!’

MICHAEL: It was actually more than what we were promised.

EDWARD: We were happy.

SPENCER: Were there other bands that were gay or were perceived as being gay in the early scene?

JOE: Perceived as? I mean, there were a lot of gay musicians.

SPENCER: But bands.

EDWARD: No. There was nobody saying what we were saying.

JOE: Well the name Nervous Gender…

EDWARD: …implied that there was something…

JOE: but… I don’t know if there ever was like a “gay agenda” … just gay and punk.

MICHAEL: And there were no openly gay bands.

EDWARD: No.

SPENCER: What does Phranc think about her time in Nervous Gender?

MICHAEL: Well, when she sees us, she’s happy!

TAMMY: She’s always really nice to us!

EDWARD: But I totally understand why she left the band. We did not know her previous history. I did not know she had been a folk singer, I did not know she was part of the feminist movement, I thought originally she was a gay boy. And then when we got to know her, then we found out she wasn’t a boy, but that didn’t matter either.

SPENCER: So she quit the band in ‘80? And then went to Catholic Discipline?

EDWARD: Yeah, she went straight to Catholic Discipline

SPENCER: Do you know how long, I’m just a little curious about her history, how long was she in Catholic Discipline?

JOE: I think Catholic Discipline lasted about 6 months to a year.

SPENCER: They just were in [the movie] Decline [of Western Civilization] and so people know them?

JOE: Right. I think maybe they did three shows. Well, Claude Bessy, the lead singer, was involved in Slash, and Penelope [Spheeris] was involved in Slash, so it was kinda like, let’s put…

EDWARD: …our friends…

JOE: …yeah, let’s put our friends in.

TAMMY: And Phranc was real quick doing the folksinger thing in the clubs.

SPENCER: Was she doing that at the same time?

TAMMY: Yes.

SPENCER: That’s something I always wondered, when her transition from avant-garde punk musician to folk singer happened.

JOE: And she was briefly involved in all-female band. I don’t know if it was Castration Squad or another one of those…

TAMMY: Cambridge Apostles?

JOE: Nonono, she may have been in the original…

TAMMY: Castration Squad?

JOE: Castration Squad, and then quickly was out.

TAMMY: Maybe not even performed?

JOE: Or maybe performed once, and then gone.

MICHAEL: Too hardcore.

SPENCER: Yeah, they were a harder band. What was the relation with the emerging goth scene, people were friends with Rozz Williams?

TAMMY: It was all the same scene, at that point no one split anything.

EDWARD: They called it Death Rock then. And bands like Christian Death we performed with, and Super Heroines. They were friends. At that point you could do something like Nervous Gender and Christian Death and it work. It was starting to shut down in terms of only one type of band hung out together. But at that point we all interacted.

SPENCER: Is it true that Pat Robertson denounced you on the 700 Club?

TAMMY: Yes!

MICHAEL: We have the recording.

SPENCER: Oh, you have to put this online!

JOE: Oh, it’ll be on the retrospective.

MICHAEL: We have the actual video.

EDWARD: I was watching television and it came on.

SPENCER: How did this come about—how did he know the band?!

EDWARD: It held up the album cover and said, ‘You think these Black Flag people are terrible—they’re only promoting violence. This band is promoting Satanism!’ And then they put Rozz’s photograph up and then our photograph up.

JOE: Right, they’re like, ‘If you turn the back cover, it’s an upside down cross. It’s called Music From Hell and, look, “Christian Lovers” …’

SPENCER: What year is this?

JOE: Well it had to have like ‘81 or ‘82, that’s when the album came out.

SPENCER: How did he know about it?

EDWARD: I watch the 700 Club every morning.

JOE: Oh I’m sure they got people who…

TAMMY: …call in…

JOE: Look, Christian Death! Someone probably brought it to their attention. They have investigative reporters for the 700 Club.

EDWARD: That was a new high.

SPENCER: Is it also true that someone committed suicide at one of your shows?

EDWARD: Yes, that was in San Francisco.

MICHAEL: Yes, but that’s not from our show.

SPENCER: [laughs] ‘It was before—not after—we played!’

JOE: It just happened that someone threw themselves off the building where the Deaf Club was in San Francisco, and the others saw them pass down the window.

SPENCER: Oh, they weren’t in the show space.

EDWARD: They were on the roof of the building. And me and Gerardo were in the dressing room and were looking out the window and I saw something falling and was like, ‘What was that?’ And then we look out there and see the body splat, blood everywhere, and then I hear ‘NERVOUS GENDER, COME ON, YOU GOTTA GET ON STAGE!’ And we were like, uh, uhhh… People said ‘That was an amazing show!’ and I’m like ‘What show?’ We were really shocked.

JOE: So no, no one killed themselves at a Nervous Gender show.

SPENCER: I was thinking, if you were going to commit suicide, it would be really weird to go into a show and do it, it could be like some kind of ultimate performance art, but…

EDWARD: It was someone from the flophouses above.

SPENCER: Right, it was residential housing above.

JOE: Well, this was the San Francisco Deaf Club, and they started renting space to music promoters. But there was also residential apartments in the building.

EDWARD: And the deaf people really specifically liked us because of the rolling noises.

MICHAEL: The vibrations.

EDWARD: The deaf people were on one side of the stage while we were performing.

SPENCER: Its true that deaf people would come to the shows?

ALL: It was their club!

SPENCER: I thought they rented it out to promoters.

EDWARD: No, the deaf people, they were drinking and hanging out at the bar, that was their social club… they stayed there as we did shows and other people would come in, they just didn’t have to pay.

SPENCER: Did they rent it, where there particular promoters who went in, like Dirk or other people that were doing these shows?

JOE: No, these were smaller, independent people.

SPENCER: But the people who ran the club, would contact a promoter who would book the bands, the deaf people weren’t booking the bands.

EDWARD: But they loved it, we’d go to some place and the people don’t want you there, they were happy to have us there.

JOE: They may not have been having such a good time had they had hearing.

TAMMY: Our best audience were the people who couldn’t hear us!

EDWARD: I enjoyed that aspect of it.

MICHAEL: They enjoyed the vibrations.

SPENCER: What did you call the genre you were playing at the time? Synth-punk is I guess is the newer term.

JOE: Punk.

SPENCER: Techno-punk I read in one interview.

JOE: Well, at one point.

TAMMY: ’89–’90 era

JOE: I think Gerardo at one point always referred to it as techno-punk; yeah synth-punk is a much later term, but yeah it was basically punk.

EDWARD: Yeah, people did use the term synth-punk periodically—and then roll their eyes.

SPENCER: So there were several scenes going on simultaneously, so there was a lot of the weird post-punk in England in particular, and in New York there was the No Wave scene, which was pretty much contemporaneous. Did you know about these at the time?

EDWARD: Sure

MICHAEL: They actually called us…

EDWARD: No Wave, too.

MICHAEL: It was our response to the No movement. Remember?

Yes LAEDWARD: Yes LA?

MICHAEL: No, but us in particular…I was told that a couple times.

JOE: Nervous Gender was kindred to the No Wave scene, and we all went to record shops, and read the fanzine, we were all aware of what was going on elsewhere.

TAMMY: And there was a kind of like, kids now are social in social networks and stuff, punks were always mailing postcards, there was a ton of travel and a ton of postcard mailing, and zine swapping.

SPENCER: The mail arts scene also kind of came out of this. So what are people’s relationship with the more formal art world? Was there one before or after?

EDWARD: With us? I went to art school in England, and then I went to design school in LA, for fashion.

SPENCER: Before the band?

EDWARD: I was working in the fashion industry when I started the band, I was like 23.

MICHAEL: Gerardo was trying to do an arts degree in design, didn’t he?

JOE: Wasn’t that much later? He got his MFA, he must’ve been working on that…. Gerardo himself was an artist and was working towards that goal.

SPENCER: Did other people in the early LA go to art school, what’s the big LA school again?

JOE: CalArts.

SPENCER: Were there CalArts people or was it?

EDWARD: There were some people, Monitor, who were very educated in the arts.

JOE: That was CalState Northridge I think tho, Monitor?

TAMMY: Wasn’t there a whole bunch of the… Pasadena Art Mafia or something?

JOE: The Los Angeles Free Music scene? But I don’t know what their formal education was.

TAMMY: I don’t either but I think a lot of them have gone to [art school], that was the impression I got…

MICHAEL: The Pasadena Art Mafia, we called them. The Human Hands, B-People…

JOE: …and Shadow Minstrels.

EDWARD: …and Dream Syndicate? Were they part of it?

TAMMY: No.

MICHAEL: They were the mainstream.

SPENCER: Was the band associated with a neighborhood in LA? Did y’all live in the same area or…

JOE: East LA. Gerardo and Michael, East LA.

EDWARD: I lived in Burbank.

TAMMY: Yeah, I think it was associated with East LA mostly, Gerardo and Michael.

SPENCER: Where were the practices, or did they move around?

MICHAEL: In Gerardo’s living room. With his poor 80-year-old mother working in the kitchen!

EDWARD: And these cholos would hang outside…remember those kids?

JOE: And scream!

EDWARD: They’d hear the songs and go: “Mommy’s Chest!”

SPENCER: So how often do you play these days? This is your first show out of California, right?

EDWARD & JOE: Yes

SPENCER: And how often do you play in California?

JOE: We’re averaging about one or two shows a year. So we’re not really trying to be an active, working band, it’s like if something comes up that interests us or it sounds like fun—like this [Brooklyn show], where Oliver said ‘I want you guys to play.’ But no, we’re not hustling to get gigs, so.

MICHAEL: Usually another band interested in us asking us to play.

JOE: Or, we put out a single and we call our friends at Part-Time Punks and say, let’s do a show, so, again, not active, we’ve all got outside things going on.

SPENCER: So now the stuff’s in print, or available online at least, right, the album is and couple live shows and the seven inch.

JOE: It’s all available on iTunes—that is a whole new phenomena, that we’re now able to reach… But, yeah, we put out three live things from ‘79, ‘82, and the Wall of Voodoo period. We remixed and remastered Music From Hell, so it sounds like the way the band wanted it to sound. And then the new single [“Gestalt”/”Green Tile Floors”]

NG-gestaltSPENCER: Is the single a new recording?

JOE: Yeah, those are contemporary recording of old songs that never got recorded. And we’re going to continue doing some of that.

SPENCER: Are there going to be new recordings, is there going to be new material?

JOE: That’s the intention, of “new” old material.

SPENCER: Is there going to be new material or is it all going to be…?

MICHAEL: If we think of something we’ll do it.

JOE: There’s a couple of new songs that we’re gonna…and we also want to do a series of covers. Sort like what Bowie did with Pin-Ups, ‘These are the bands that influenced us,’ of course we want to do like the Go-Gos…

SPENCER: So what was influencing you when the band formed? Did the band listen to things like Chrome, or… there aren’t really a lot of things that I can think of that are direct predecessors.

JOE: I don’t think anything really influenced Nervous Gender to sound the way… I think it as a combination of punk, and Michael’s interest in Wendy Carlos and Kraftwerk. And everyone brought something…

EDWARD: Gerardo had an obsession with Yoko Ono.

SPENCER: Yeah, I can see that.

JOE: And Neil Diamond!

TAMMY: And then he also had theories. He was always trying to cram more lyrics than could fit into the musical space.

JOE: Because that would make it tense.

TAMMY: Because that would make it tense! [laughs]

MICHAEL: ‘Faster! Faster! Faster!’

EDWARD: ‘I can’t scream that fast…’

JOE: So we kinda stripped that down.

SPENCER: That’s pretty much it. Do you have any closing thoughts?

EDWARD: Coming to New York has been really, I really enjoyed it.

SPENCER: I guess I was going to ask: did you ever thing that 35 years later people were going to…

EVERYBODY: No!

EDWARD: And people show up, and are happy!

TAMMY: And they know the lyrics!

SPENCER: I know, multiple people were singing the songs!

MICHAEL: what was shocking was the show at Part Time Punks, all these young people, singing all the fucking songs.

JOE: We played a show with Factrix, who was on that Live at Target, and the place was packed—much larger than the club we just played—and, yeah, there were all these kids we didn’t know, they knew every single song, and then when we were over, they left, and the next band didn’t have much of a crowd.

EDWARD: What I find scary is that people come up to me and tell me personal things about my life, and I’m like ’How do you know that?!

JOE: It’s on the internets!

Chumbawamba, the Pentagon, and the Bombing of Iraq (1998)

“Martial Music”

The tentative U.S. military campaign against Iraq already has its own unofficial theme song. Last week, senior Pentagon staffers privately circulated an audio-file E-mail with a pro-war parody of “Tubthumping,” a hit from the British band Chumbawamba. The blend of drinking song and rugby cheer (“I get knocked down, but I get up again”) has been transformed into a jingoistic war cry: “Let’s hunt him down and shoot him in the head, / Let’s beat the crap outta Saddam…. And if he won’t let us look for all his nerve gas / The U.S. Army is gonna kick him in the a–.” An ethereal voice chimes in with “Don’t screw with the U.S.A.”

= = =

U.S. News and World Report, March 2, 1998

Deleuze: Nietzsche is “the dawn of counterculture” (1973)

“Probably most of us fix the dawn of our modern culture in the trinity Nietzsche-Freud-Marx. And it is of little consequence that the world was unprepared for them in advance.  Now, Marx and Freud, perhaps, do represent the dawn of our culture, but Nietzsche is something entirely different: the dawn of counterculture.”

= = =

Gilles Deleuze, “Nomad Thought,” in David B. Allison, ed., The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation (New York: Delta/Dell, 1977), page 142. Translated from the French by Allison; original is “Pensée nomade,” in Nietzsche aujourd’hui (Paris: Union Générale d’Editions, 1973).

Ian Bone: How Crass’s Penny Rimbaud Saved EP Thompson from Being Decapitated by Class War

[Ian Bone describes how Class War is being confrontational towards speakers at a CND rally in Hyde Park in October, 1983]

Next up is silver-mained EP Thompson, author of The Making of the English Working Class, a book we all hold in great esteem and whose mob traditions we even feel we’re part of. But no matter—[Class War’s] Doc Whelan’s limited patience threshold has well and truly been breached. He has a glass cider flagon which he was reserving for Kinnockio [Neil Kinnock] but decided ‘some fucking professor’ will do just as well for a target. He has a sighting heave with a piece of concrete which whistles past EP Thompson’s locks on a still rising trajectory. He starts to spin like a hammer thrower with the flagon as the hammer. EP Thompson’s health is seriously at risk, and I’m doing fuck all to protect one of my favorite writers from decapitation. Thankfully, others aren’t so paralyzed. A firm arm grabs Doc’s wrista move usually likely to incur the dreaded Whelan forehead crunching down on the bridge of your nose. Doc recognizes the owner of the arm as Penny Rimbaud. ‘He’s not the one that deserves that,’ says Penny, ‘save it for later.’ Wise words and Doc concurs.

= = =

Ian Bone, Bash the Rich: True-Life Confessions of an Anarchist in the UK (Bath, UK: Tangent Books, 2006), pp 139-40.

Dorothy Healey on Angela Davis and Eastern European political prisoners

The Angela Davis defense campaign had been the biggest [U.S. Communist] Party-initiated movement of the entire decade, and it was the one occasion on which the Party was really attuned to the political mood of the younger Left. It had a big effect on the Party and brought in a number of young recruits. Indeed, whatever political credibility the Party had to draw upon from the early 1970s was largely a product of that campaign. Certainly nothing else it has done since compares with the importance of Angela’s defense campaign in terms of image and the ability to interest outsiders. Angela Davis, not Gus Hall, has been the most attractive public face the Party has had to offer. But one of the sadder aspects of the whole episode was the impact it had on Angela herself. She felt that it was the Party and the Soviet Union which saved her life. She became unwilling to consider any criticisms of those she regarded as her saviors. When she was released from prison, the first thing she did was embark upon a tour of the Soviet Union, eastern Europe, and Cuba to thank them for supporting her during the trial.

Miss Charlene Mitchell, a close friend of Angela Davis, the black militant, said today that Miss Davis would not be responding to the appeal for help from Mr. Jiri Pelikan, one of the leading figures in the “Prague Spring” now living in exile.

Miss Davis, she said, did not think that people should leave socialist countries to return to the capitalist system. This was a retrograde step, and even if such people said they were communists they were still acting in opposition to the “socialist system,” objectively speaking.

In his appeal, which was published in The Times today, Mr. Pelikan asked Miss Davis to call for the release of political prisoners in Eastern Europe as well as in capitalist countries.

Miss Mitchell, who said she was acting as a spokesperson for Miss Davis, took the line that people in Eastern Europe got into difficulties and ended in jail only if they were undermining the government. ­­­ —(Manchester) Guardian, July 29, 1972.

While Angela was on her tour and not always available to western reporters, Charlene and other Communist leaders sometimes put words in her mouth, denying that there was any political repression within the Soviet bloc. Not that Angela was willing to do anything to challenge that view. In fact, within the next few years, she accommodated herself to the stalest clichés in the Party’s outlook. She remains to the present an important public figure, able to attract larger audiences than any other Party leader. But rarely if ever in her speeches and writings today will you see evidence of the kind of fresh thinking of which she was once capable. Whether she is capable of breaking free from the Party orthodoxy is a question still to be answered.

& & &

Dorothy Ray Healey and Maurice Isserman, California Red: A Life in the American Communist Party (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990/1993), pages 220­–21.

Jason Adams, “Nonwestern Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context” (2001)

“The future of anarchism must be appraised within a global context; any attempt to localize it is bound to yield a distorted outcome. The obstacles to anarchism are, in the main, global; only their specifics are determined by local circumstances.”
– Sam Mbah

“To the reactionists of today we are revolutionists, but to the revolutionists of tomorrow our acts will have been those of conservatives”
– Ricardo Flores Magon

 

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to help anarchist / anti-authoritarian movements active today to reconceptualize the history and theory of first-wave anarchism on the global level, and to reconsider its relevance to the continuing anarchist project. In order to truly understand the full complexity and interconnectedness of anarchism as a worldwide movement however, a specific focus on the uniqueness and agency of movements amongst the “people without history” is a deeply needed change. This is because the historiography of anarchism has focused almost entirely on these movements as they have pertained to the peoples of the West and the North, while movements amongst the peoples of the East and the South have been widely neglected. As a result, the appearance has been that anarchist movements have arisen primarily within the context of the more privileged countries. Ironically, the truth is that anarchism has primarily been a movement of the most exploited regions and peoples of the world. That most available anarchist literature does not tell this history speaks not to a necessarily malicious disregard of non-Western anarchist movements but rather to the fact that even in the context of radical publishing, centuries of engrained eurocentrism has not really been overcome. This has been changing to an extent however, as there here have been several attempts in just the past decade to re-examine this history in detail in specific non-Western countries and regions, with works such as Arif Dirlik’s Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution, Sam Mbah’s African Anarchism and Frank Fernandez’ Cuban Anarchism. It is within the footsteps of this recent tradition that this paper treads further into the relatively new ground of systematically assessing, comparing and synthesizing the findings of all of these studies combined with original investigation in order to develop a more wholly global understanding of anarchism and its history. To begin our inquiry we first must make clear what it is that is actually meant by the term “Western anarchism.” Going back to the debates within the First International, it quickly becomes apparent that this term is a misnomer, as it is actually the opposite case that is true; anarchism has always been derived more of the East / South than of the West / North. As Edward Krebs has noted “Marx (and Engels) saw Russianness in Bakunin’s ideas and behavior” while “Bakunin expressed his fears that the social revolution would become characterized by ‘pan-Germanism’ and ‘statism.’” This debate has led some to characterize it as largely between Western and Eastern versions of socialism; one marked by a fundamental commitment to order and the other marked by a fundamental commitment to freedom (1998, p. 19). So in this sense anarchism can be understood as an “Eastern” understanding of socialism, rather than as a fully Western tradition in the usual sense of the term. At the same time it should be remembered that there also developed an extremely contentious North / South split between the more highly developed nations of England and Germany and the less developed semi-peripheral nations of Spain, Italy and others. This split was based on differences of material reality but developed largely along ideological lines, with the northern Anglo-Saxon nations siding primarily with Karl Marx and the southern Latin nations siding with Mikhail Bakunin (Mbah, p. 20). So in both the East / West and the North / South sense, anarchism has often been the theory of choice for the most oppressed peoples; particularly in those societies whose primarily feudal nature writes them out of historical agency in the Marxist understanding of the world. This may explain a good deal of why anarchism became so popular throughout Latin America, and why immigrating anarchists from the Latin nations of Europe were so well received in country after country that they visited, attempting to spread the anarchist vision.

Continue reading ‘Jason Adams, “Nonwestern Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context” (2001)’



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