Monday, October 02, 2006

The Goons Have Left the Building

Why did I drive 500 miles to see my friends' band play? Why did I wake up at seven in the morning, drive across the border into the United States, and then across four states only to get to Virginia an hour before leaving for the show? And then wake up the next morning and drive back another 500 miles? What can I say? It was The Goons, man! And this was their last show!

A little background is in order here. I've been standing in the middle of sweaty crowds in dirty clubs to watch punk rock bands play the same three chords for over half my life. Since I was 14 actually. It's hard to believe now, but I desperately wanted to be 'normal' when I was a kid. I went to the sort of school that doesn't exist any more, outside of Sweet Valley High novels. We had no punks, no metal kids, no stoners, and maybe a few weirdos. Everyone I knew was into football and shopping basically. The worst thing you could get called was 'homo' and a majority of my classmates were on the honor role. Our senior speaker was Oliver North. Our neighbors were all going into debt to make sure that they had whatever car was trendy this year, and every single adult male in my life was brow-beating me for being an 'oddball' creep. Is it any wonder I was miserable?

So, I just sort of went my own way and rented bizarre horror movies and wrote weird stories in my room, which was where I spent every single night. I wanted desperately to be invisible- to avoid getting picked on by the psycho athletes and their bitchy girlfriends. For the most part, I was successful. Kids left me alone. The only people who gave me a hard time were my Dad, and the Scoutmaster, and Mr. Harris, a dick teacher who singled me out and made me miserable for a year for being the oddball creep. My goal in life was to be invisible.

The first weirdos I knew were my best friend Emily and Greg von Winkle, who I met at the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Instead of being friendly, but uncomfortable around me, like everyone else I knew, Greg lent me The Book of the Subgenius the first time I talked to him. It was the first idea I had that there were other creative misfits in the world. There is a reason that I have "Bob" tattooed on my leg, even though I don't keep up with the subgenioids.

After that, it was a kid in lunch who played me a Dead Kennedys song on his walkman after I complained to him: "I like metal, but I wish it was faster and had less solos, and more songs about real-life stuff, instead of so much about monsters and plagues, and stuff." The first punk song I heard was "Too Drunk to Fuck", and it literally changed my life. Holy shit! It was fast, and loud, and had the best guitar riff I'd ever heard! And was that guy making a joke about Eraserhead? I love Eraserhead! The kid was sort of a jerk, but he taped me the MDC album Millions of Dead Cops, and showed me where the shows were- even though he made it clear that I was a poseur who he was putting up with to get a ride to the Metro from my mother! Whatever... I was just blown away by the music.

I still remember the first time I heard on an album that there was nothing wrong with being a misfit, or that jocks really do tend to be horrible, or that being gay isn't a crime against nature. Imagine this today- I actually remember being blown away the first time someone said to me "I don't really see what's wrong with someone being gay"! I'd never heard such a thing before. This was the late 80s. Punk rock was great for me because it said to me: "You know how the world seems to be made up of blow-hard authoritarians who are stupider than you, but who still get to make your life miserable? Well, screw them."

After that I saw through it all- it was like a stage play that I'd been buying into until suddenly part of the stage had collapsed. I couldn't buy it anymore- not any of it. I lived in a suburb in which people cared more about their lawns than their lives. I was taught by adults who knew less about the material than I did, and who wanted to be there less than I did. The most important lesson anyone was trying to teach me was "Shut-up and do what you're told!" Sure I was miserable, but maybe that wasn't something wrong with me. Maybe I wasn't going to have to kill myself after all!

So, I started going to shows. To be honest, the bands were pretty terrible at that time. Hardcore was the big thing, and I remember all of these bands that looked like body builders singing about how "their crew" was going to "roll over you". Some of the bands were really good- I still love the Gorilla Biscuits, for example. But, I remember being at The Safari Club in DC watching this band from NYC and feeling like I was at a muscleman contest. Didn't anybody sound like Dead Kennedys anymore?

I'd like to say that that was when I first saw The Goons, but it wasn't. So, to skip ahead, next:
1) I started going to Positive Force Shows and getting into PF.
2) Riot Grrrl DC formed.
3) Nirvana made it big and everyone started 'signing' to major labels.
4) Fugazi got really big.
What happened when Fugazi got really big was that every stupid band in DC sounded like Fugazi. For a few years, every show I saw featured at least one skinny guy screaming while the bass player started and stopped. It was boring emo music. I remember watching Fugazi play at some show and thinking: "I did not get into this music to watch a ten-minute 'jam'. If I wanted to see the Grateful Dead, I would!" To make matters worse, I was the only person I knew who didn't like The Nation of Ulysses. Where the hell were the punk bands?

And then there were punk bands. The Suspects, the Abducted, Jarhead, and the Goons were only the first of many, but they were actual punk bands- not 'post-punk', not 'emo', not any of that. They were loud and obnoxious punk bands. The Goons weren't brilliant, but they were fun. They were made up of Serge, a singer who is fat and obnoxious, and as he adds "But I have a good time, so who gives a fuck?!", Mike, who looks vaguely like Frankenstein and whose 'drunk Mikie' stories are legendary, and some other guys who were always changing. It's strange to think that I remember when Pat, the guy from Deathcamp Skinny (who I imagine gave the band their name because he has CF and really is deathcamp skinny!) joined the Goons. And I still think of the drummer Tom as 'the new kid' after six years in the band!

Mind you there were always great Baltimore bands, but the Goons were like the best Baltimore band ever to come from DC! And I still remember when they started to get really good. All of a sudden, Serge was a great singer! And I started liking them better than the Suspects, and actually better than any DC band. After a while, they became the working man of DC punk; every other show I saw had them on the bill. I became friends with the band. Even though Mike was always drunk and Serge was completely obnoxious, they're some of the smartest people I know. Eventually, I lived in "the Goons house" for a few years, and I found that not only are they smart, but they're the most stand up guys I know. They're good people, for Goons.

And it's weird when your friends' band starts to get really good. There was a point when I really started wondering when The Goons were going to 'break out', and get to quit their lousy jobs. When would they be one of those bands on a 'major minor label' that headlines once a year on their US Tour? When would I be able to buy Goons Zippos at Hot Topic? I briefly had a plan to bug Alternative Tentacles or SubPop to put out a Goons 7". This came to nothing. What if they were always going to be the dirt poor working man punk band?

When I heard they were breaking up, I was saddened, but not really shocked. They kept this up for 12 years, and were in debt the whole time. Maybe it was time to call it a day. Their flier announced one last show at the Black Cat club- I had to be there. This wasn't just the best band I knew breaking up; it was the last band from when I was a dumb kid breaking up. When I started seeing The Goons, I was living with the Abducted, working on the road crew, eating nothing but PB&J sandwiches and Pepsi, had no job prospects, no luck in love, and no future whatsoever. Now, I'm married, live in Canada with my wife and cat, and teach kids who are often as screwed up as I was then. This was going to be the last nail in my youth.

But, you know, I still listen to the same music really. The last CD I bought was The Freeze, who were on one of the first albums I ever bought. I still see shows at the Underground in Hamilton. I still geek out about new albums, and when I see the kids at shows, I think they're the only sane ones left. Not only are punk kids aesthetically beautiful. But, they get it.

The Fartz recently reunited and put out a retrospective album entitled "Because This Fuckin' World Still Stinks". When I think about why I still love this stupid, angry, sloppy music, that's my answer. I mean, I'm an adult now- I'm part of the system. But, every time some idiot my age wants to tell me all about some stupid thing they've bought recently, every time I think how much of my adult life has been spent watching my country keep shuffling further to the right, every time I have to deal with some administrator at Mall University who is stupider than me, but still gets to make my life miserable, every time some asshole says 'How dare you complain about our President! Do you love terrorists?!'... Well, let's just say that those punk kids might not grow out of it. Because the insipid stage play keeps on going long after you realize that it's all an act. Because the fuckin' world still stinks.

Thanks to The Goons for everything- they were the best band I ever saw in DC and they still are. And when they get their inevitable 'new bands' together- which they will, trust me, these aren't 9-to-5 guys, I'll be there, even if only in spirit. And when I'm home visiting, I'll go see them play at the Royal Lee. And I'll continue to geek out in my car to their old CDs. The show was the best one I've been to in a while. Thanks for the sleazy memories.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Rufus.. I have to say again I'm so glad you made it down... I hadn't heard from you in a while and was really surprised to see you... and thanks for the kind words...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rufus.. I have to say again I'm so glad you made it down... I hadn't heard from you in a while and was really surprised to see you... and thanks for the kind words... SERGE! AKA FAT OBNOXIOUS ASSHOLE...

Rufus said...

Hey! I was going to email this to you! Well, saves me from having to remember to do that. Anyway, yeah, it was a great show and worth the trip.

Mike said...

Hey Rufus - like serge said, thanks for coming down and for the write-up. Look us up next time you're back in DC.

Drunk Mikie

Todd I. said...

Carlton (as is your Jesus-given name), as you may know, I'm off in IDAHO for grad school in writing. I was doing a search on 'The Abducted' so's my friends out here can see the trainwreck of my old band and your site showed up.

Weird I met you in GT class at London Towne elementary, thought you were pretty damn smart and we both end up in grad school. Strange.

Hope all's well, stay out of trouble, you. Read more Stephen King.