Inspired by the glut of MP3 blogs that I've been trowling of late, I spent the other night rifling through my own records on a quest to dig out some bits of musical esoterica from my past that might make for interesting reading. Naturally, I do this every week to some degree in preparation for my radio show, but there's a large chasm dividing music that's sonically pleasing and music that also has a decent story attatched to it. Suffice it to say, it was hard to decide exactly what I'd end up making you all come sniffing around the curb for. After I'd torn apart the record shelves, scattered picture sleeves across my kitchen, unearthed 45s from under the bed, and otherwise generally destroyed my apartment for the purpose of a decent blog post, I settled on a small stack of 45s by a monosyllabically wonderful late 80s band from NYC called GO!
Let there be no confusion: GO! was a hardcore band, albeit an unusual one that cut a lot of new ground in a genre which then, as now, was pretty tired by even the biggest fan's estimation. They were, as far as I know, the first band of their kind to have an openly gay singer. (A tattoo-covered, 6'+ guy who publicly went by the name "Mike Bullshit" and also penned a great fanzine of that time called Bullshit Monthly.) They also spearheaded a genuinely creative alternative to the NYC club system via the hardcore shows they promoted at the dilapidated ABC no RIO squat/art gallery on the lower east side. GO!'s music had little in common with the thuggish, moshpit slaughter soundtracking of more popular bands like the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, or Leeway -- All of whom were great, and typified the storied CBGB matinee scene of the 1980s, but had gone from playing the kind of short and noisy music that was originally termed "New York Hardcore" to something more metallic sounding. Unlike the by-the-numbers CBs matinees, the early ABC no RIO shows documented something brand new right from its inception, and drew such small numbers at the beginning (30-50 people per show, maybe) that everyone there felt like they were part of something so underground that it might as well have been illegal.
GO!, along with a lot of the other original ABC bands, had a fierce DIY aesthetic which contributed to their series of 7" EPs sounding a lot more primitive than what was being released by the bigger bands. Like many historically miniscule art/music scenes, it all started out simply enough with the strongest enthusiasts releasing records by their friends' bands, and vice-versa. In other words, everybody knew everybody else, and all of those people were either in a band, had a radio show, did a fanzine, etc.
The low-budget, photocopied sleeves of these records and their similarly cheap production values gave them a unique sound -- The guitars were tuned to destroy and the drummer sounded like he was whacking sticks against an empty suitcase. For any other kind of music, Mike Bullshit would've been a horrible vocalist -- his singing voice was much like his speaking voice: a low, gutteral mumble. So it's a good thing he could spit his lyrics with such blinding efficiency, and in doing so, was able to transform his wordy mantras into a barrage of whipcracking syllables. Take a listen to the opening song from the band's first EP Survival+It's Up to You (MP3) and be sure to admire what is one of the single meanest guitar sounds I've ever heard. (At the kicker part when the vocals come in...)
Since GO! was forced to operate on the fringes for having a gay singer, another song from that 1989 Noo Yawk Rehkids release (I vividly recall buying mine for $2.50 at the old Venus Records Shop) marginalized them even further. Holy Roller (MP3 -- Not safe for work) took the utterly deified Bad Brains to task for their lyrics, which Mike Bullshit felt were vehemently homophobic and sexist. Whether his was a pointless, one-man crusade is open to interpretation... But you've gotta admire Mike for having the nuts to picket the line at a Bad Brains show, handing out flyers to the local criminal element that decried the band as hypocrites for preaching their "positive mental attitude" from one side of their mouths, while riffing on about faggots and dykes from the other. It's amazing the guy didn't get the snot kicked out of him more often than he did, but whatever his motivations, it definitely helped set his band apart from the pack and brought them a considerable amount of notoriety in the few dinky zines and late night radio shows that were covering this sort of stuff at the time. Thanks to that exposure, people were rightly primed for the band's 2nd single, which came out soon thereafter. Here are a few standout MP3s (all clocking in at less that 1 minute!) from the "Your Power Means Nothing" 7" EP (1990, Kingfish Records.) King of Nothing -- Me vs You -- You Say You'll
Man, I love those pick slides. Why didn't more bands do that?
GO!'s 3rd single, "Why Suffer?", was arguably their best, but also the last one I really liked. They put out one or two more, including a flexi-disc that featured a goodly chunk of their now-legendary appearance on Pat Duncan's show. By the time it came out, they had a couple of tours under their belts but were playing 2nd fiddle to some of the more polished bands that had come into their own thanks to the scene GO! had helped kickstart. (Citizens Arrest, Nausea, Bugout Society, Rorschach, and Born Against among them.) Witness for thyself, the following MP3s from "Why Suffer?": Decide -- On the Need to Need
In the years following GO!'s breakup, ABC continued doing shows that brought a ton of great underground bands of many stripes to the city that most NYC clubs never would have booked. WFMU even held a benefit there in 1990 with Cindy Lee Berryhill, Paleface, and John S. HalI. ABC continues holding all manner of shows and events in their cramped quarters but seem to be terminally at odds with the city, who would probably prefer to use the their space for more profitable purposes on the now-trendy L.E.S. Not surprisingly, I fell off the radar for GO!'s style of music around 1992 (hey, I'm easily distracted and have never been content just listening to one kind of music), so I'm not the guy to tell you what happened to the various band members after that. I heard Mike moved to Texas, and a girl I went to high school with dated their bass player for a summer. I know all the old singles are way outta print, and probably fetching stupid money on the web, but they've been collected on numerous discographies, including this one, which might still be in print. No kidding that the music is admittedly not everyone's thang (whose is, after all?) but GO! holds up as one of the more interesting period pieces from that particular chapter of local noisemaking.
Next time: Shorter, less pictures, crappier music, me not going crazy over stupid formatting problems.