Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Still Whining After All These Years
When I was a teenager in the suburbs of Chicago, Jim Skafish, or Skafish, as he was known, was a hero of mine. He was homely, hurt, angst-ridden and angry-- I identified with him. He had a minor hit, one of my favorite-ever songs, considered an early punk/new wave song, "Disgracing the Family Name."
One night in the late eighties, I was talking to someone about the early punk/new wave scene in Chicago. Believe it or not, it was pretty lively. Bohemia, Poison Squirrel, Wazmo Nariz, and of course Skafish were all part of that. We talked about all those groups-- we were in the Artful Dodger, hanging out with guys with the Slammin' Watusis, who were remnants of Bohemia, as this conversation took place. In fact, Karla, formerly from Bohemia, was bartending. The conversation eventually turned to Skafish, and someone pointed out that Jim Skafish was a totally self-absorbed twit who believed that he alone had brought new wave to Chicago, but got no recognition for it.
Flash forward about a year later. It was 1989. I was living in Wrigleyville with my friends Mark and Dan. We chose our apartment largely for it's proximity to Caberet Metro, where about 80% of the good shows in Chicago in a given week took place. One night, we were coming home from a show at the Metro, and decided to stop at that Subway down the street. As I walked in, I saw a face I recognized, but had never actually seen in person (he'd actually played my high school in the seventies, but I was so busy working and saving for college, I saw few shows). It was Jim Skafish.
As we waited for our sandwiches (or rather my friends did-- I hate eating when I'm drinking), Jim Skafish droned-- no, whined, in a high-pitched voice, to the people at his table-- about how he had brought new wave to Chicago, but got no recognition for it. It was pathetic.
Flash forward 17 years. A week ago, I finally got a chance to sit down with a glass of wine and a Chicago Reader I'd grabbed because the cover story interested me. I came across a story about Jim Skafish-- what he's doing now, what he'd done-- and how he'd brought punk and new wave and alternative to Chicago, but got no recognition for it.
It was downright sad. It made me think about the recent reunion of Naked Raygun-- how sweet and dignified it was, and how it brought a bunch of people who are aging pretty gracefully-- both themselves and elements of their audience-- together with people who are literally young enough to be my kids, and unabashed fans-- out to see these guys. For some of the kids, it was the one and only time they got to see them.
Someone made the comment on their blog about Jeff Pezzati looking like a soccer dad. Yes, this is a good thing- it's normal life. It's not better to burn out. You change the world, and then you have a life.
One of my customers at the restaurant a couple of months ago told me about meeting Dylan in LA last summer-- they were at their grandson's little league game, and Dylan's grandson was on the other team. It made me love Dylan's music even more than I already did. He puts out albums I love, from "Another Side of Bob Dylan" to "Time Out of Mind," and then is just a doting grandfather, He's earned the right, in my book. And Jeff and the boys have earned their right to take pride in what they accomplished and then live normal lives.
The guys in Naked Raygun changed so many lives. They, like Jim Skafish, sent out the message that there were other people who weren't just laying down and conforming. They weren't from New York or from LA-- they were blue collar lunkheads from Chicago, just like me. They showed 'em all that we could do it too, here in Chicago. When it was time to quit, or move on to other things, they did it. I wish Skafish could have as much much good judgement.
A few years ago, my friend Andreas was at a rock festival in Northern California. It was wonderful-- X was playing-- with Billy Zoom and everybody. Reverend Horton Heat and a bunch of other great bands, including Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes, were playing.
After seeing Strummer and his band playing, he and his girlfriend were walking around and came upon Joe Strummer sitting, having a beer, chatting with a couple of fans. He joined them, bought Joe a beer and chatted him up. He got him to sign a poster for me-- my Christmas gift from Andreas in 2002-- and talked to him. He told me later that Strummer was just a great guy. He loved where he was at-- a happy husband and dad, an elder statesmen of punk.
When Stummer died a year later, Andreas and I were devastated. For Christmas that year, I got him "Westway to the World", a wonderful documentary that Don Letts, who was a friend of theirs (he was later in Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones) did. I also got him a Blasters t-shirt signed by all of the original Blasters-- more on that in another post.
But we realized that Strummer lived a very fulfilling life. If you watch Westway to the World, it's clear he had regrets. He regretted that it wasn't until after the Clash split that he realized how influential they were, artistically, culturally, politically. But he'd reached a happy place-- proud of what he'd done, but not sitting on his laurels. It made his loss that much more painful.
Raygun made their mark, and have moved on. They're not sitting, whining about how underappreciated they were or are. Of course, it helps, I'm sure, that they were and are appreciated. But as I approach 50 (I'm 45 now), I am trying to balance the sparkplug I was at 28, when I would go out to see Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Billy Bragg, X and Naked Raygun, with the guy who's going to be the dad of a teenager on March 7 next year, and will have to pay for college for a couple of kids in a few years, and somehow through it all grow old with some kind of dignity. Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg (great show at the Double Door earlier this year!), Dylan and Naked Raygun have shown me a way. I hope Jim Skafish finds a path too.