Friday, August 5, 2011
THE DIZEAZOES #12: ON WHETHER OR NOT THE DIZEAZOES WERE, IN FACT, THE FIRST PUNK ROCK BAND IN ST LOUIS
Being first is good. From a historical perspective, the idea of "the first" is incredibly important. For example Neil Armstrong was the first to lie to the world about the fact that he walked on the moon and he's one of the most famous people alive. In music, especially, being first is of utmost importance. It connotates a certain degree of hipness, as if the members of whatever band were possessed with some prescient vision of what the rocking masses needed that no one else around could understand. Black Sabbath was the first heavy metal band, Chuck Berry was the first rock and roll guitarist, etc, as if it all matters at all. But for some reason it does seem to matter and for all intents and purposes, The Dizeazoes were the first punk rock band in St Louis.
I need to be clear about something here. The members of The Dizeazoes do not claim to be the first punk rock band in St Louis. That is my contention, and it is based on the eh, not exactly miniscule, but far from comprehensive, amount of research I've done. So anyone wishing to contest the fact that The Dizeazoes were the first punk rock band in St Louis should bitch to me, not The Dizeazoes. I contend that The Dizeazoes were the first punk rock band (which is different from the first punk band) in St Louis because of their attitude, the music that they played, and, more importantly, their attitude towards the music they played, which was that the music they played was important and they (the band) were not. Which is the way that rock music, regardless of what qualifier you place in front of the word "rock", is supposed to work, but is the exact opposite of how most rock bands work.
(Keep in mind, if you were a member of an unheard of rock band from the early 1970s and you send me an email that says something like "Hey, you're an idiot, we were the first punk rock band in St Louis!" I will respond with "Great! Let's do a story!", and, if you agree, you'll have to put up with me pestering you for months on end ((I've been bothering Paul Wheeler about this for over a year now, and, while he's been incredibly gracious and patient with me, I'm sure I have grated on his nerves a bit. Sorry 'bout that, Mr Wheeler.)
But all of this is just drunk talk, and really, it's not all that important. When I asked the members of The Dizeazoes about the idea that they were the first punk rock band in St Louis the answers were varied. And, really, all of them were more interested in talking about music than talking about the band. Wheeler said "I certainly don't mind that statement,", but qualified it by pointing out that Wolf Roxon and Jon Ashline's bedroom freakout project Wolfgang and the Noble Oval had possibly predated them. Dardick told me that it all depended on my definition of the word "punk". All of which sort of makes my point: even now the members of the band still see themselves as ultimately unimportant, even when confronted with the question that might stake their small place in history. Instead of saying "Yes, we were the first!" they tell me that "Perhaps is a meta-discursive term to use," and babble about bands that played "Kick Out the Jams" at high school dances, or seeing a band called Rush, which was, according to Dardick, "a fairly well known band influenced by the MC5 and Steppnwolf" play in the park on Sundays in Forest Park in St Louis.
It's all very confusing, especially to someone who wasn't there. By the time The Dizeazoes played their first show The Moldy Dogs had already started putting songs together on the campus of Webster College, and other bands like The Welders, were starting to emerge. Steve Scariano, who was an early fan of many of these bands, and today plays in The Jans Project, explains it all better than I can:
"When I first became aware of that little original scene back then, the small handful of bands were all already up and running, so I really have no idea who may have actually been first. Doesn't really matter all that much to me either. I'm just glad they were all there and doing it. I think all of those guys; Dirt Wheeler, Shelton, Norman Schoenfeld, Joey Schadler, the Moldy Dogs guys, Billy Love, Jim Maresca, Bruce Cole, and of course the Welders, all deserve statues in their honor for planting the flag and starting it all here."
I've babbled a lot in this series about how The Dizeazoes were a cover band and the fact that they were a cover band that played music that no one would like is really cool, but The Dizeazoes did dabble with the idea of doing original songs (and, in fact, the subject of original music would eventually be a factor in the bands' dissolution, which will be discussed later).
"I had been writing lyrics since 1970... One day Norman Schoenfeld said to me, 'You have all these lyrics. You play bass. You can write music for your lyrics now.' I guess I was kind of like, 'Really?'. Norman instructed me to bring over my bass and some lyrics. Jeff Rosen came, too. I brought over lyrics I had written for a song called ‘Elevator Mind’. He sat me down and said, 'OK, sing the lyrics you've got.” I started singing, and he started working out some guitar chords to go along with my singing. I simplified them a bit so that I was happier with it, and that was it. Click! Norman had shown me how to put music to my songs. After that, when I wrote lyrics, I generally wrote out some music on my bass to go along with them. I wasn't very confident with my songwriting at that point, though. I did bounce my lyrics and songs off Larry regularly. The first song that we worked up was one called ‘Dead Fed’. It even had background vocals to it. We got Jeff Rosen down in the basement and tried to teach it to him, and it was like bouncing our heads against the wall. Jeff had never heard the song before, so he didn't have a clue how to sing it. Basically, we gave up. It was just easier to play 'real' songs. Admittedly, ‘Dead Fed’ was not one of my better songs. I have dug up other songs from those days and played them, but that was the last time I tried to do anything with ‘Dead Fed’. When Mike Shelton and Greg Carmack took over the direction of the band, one of the things that Mike, especially, wanted to do was original songs. He didn't have any. He may have had some lyrics, but he never showed them to me. I pulled out a song I had written recently, and we worked up and began playing ‘Outside On The Ground’. This was something Mike wanted to do, and it had an easy blues structure, so we started practicing it. Mike's contribution was to change the title (in his mind) to ‘Outside Observation’. As far as I remember there's no recorded version of The Dizeazoes doing ‘Outside On The Ground’.
"‘Dead Fed’ was a rock song about a cute girl who was new in town, and turned out to be a narc. ‘Outside On The Ground’ was a blues/rock song about a guy watching his ex-girlfriend through her window at night. There was also a recording of a riff I had come up with but not done anything with. I just started playing it during a very loose jam session, and the other people there began playing along, and a friend who was there (I believe his last name was something like Ronollo), just started making up lyrics and singing along. That's the one original thing that was actually recorded that The Dizeazoes did. I only had about twenty seconds of it on the tape I recorded the CD from. On the original tape, I remember it going on for several minutes, but it was just a jam, nothing we ever “worked up”.