Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Seventies and Punk Rock

A couple of weeks ago, Danielle tagged me with what I thought was a fun, innocent little meme: picking out five hit songs from the year you turned 18 and writing about my connection to them.

I actually had a little trouble with it: the year I turned 18, 1979, was a really bad year for music. I actually had to expand the meme a little bit in order to find music I liked from that year. I had to include songs that were not on the Billboard charts.

Bubs, one of bloggers I tagged, took another approach-- one I wish I'd thought of. He picked five of the lamest songs from his year and explained that those songs were what made him begin to dress funny and listen to punk rock. There were many of us in that boat. Barbara took an approach that was a little closer to mine-- stretching the meme to find some cool songs. Of course, she had a way cooler year to work with, 1976. Rock music hadn't been driven completely off the airwaves yet by the disco lemmings in 1976.

The whole thing brought me back to a series of conversations I'd had with a couple of barroom buddies I had in the late 1980's.

There is a bar in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago called Danny's that used to be way-cool-- back when Danny himself still owned it. It was decorated in Elvis memorablia, had a member of Naked Raygun as a bartender (John Haggerty) and a jukebox that had Patsy Cline, Motorhead, the Sonics, Dwight Yoakam and Paul Butterfield-- how could you go wrong? And on top of that, $1.25 Leinenkugels?

I got to be buddies with a couple of regulars there, Jamie and Ivan. Over time, we developed a friendly argument about seventies music. I had, at some point, dissed seventies music. Jamie had countered that a lot of good music had come from the seventies: Iggy Pop and David Bowie had done a lot of their best music in that time. He eventually rattled off a bunch of punk or punkish artists that had done great work in the seventies: X, the Buzzcocks, the Dickies, Television, the Ramones, the Dead Boys, Elvis Costello and many others.

This period of music is nicely documented on the fabulous No Thanks! box set, a set I happened to get from my lovely bride our first Christmas together.

In any event, I backed off of that claim, realizing they were right. Eventually we turned to a discussion of local music of the seventies. The mainstream music coming out of Illinois sucked. REO Speedwagon and Styx were stinking up the airwaves. We did have a local punk scene that had thrived, but being under 21 and living in the suburbs, I'd had extremely limited access to it (i.e. zero access). Fortunately, WXRT, then a pretty cool radio station, had a show called "The Big Beat," that played punk and New Wave. They played a lot of the local bands, including a particular favorite of mine, Poison Squirrel. (they're mentioned in this article.)

I told Jamie and Ivan that there had been a Chicago punk band in the late seventies and early eighties that I loved called "Poison Squirrel" and that I'd only gotten to hear them on the airwaves-- I'd never gotten to see them live, unfortunately. Their jaws dropped, and they looked at one another with a look of shock.

Jamie and Ivan, it turned out, had been the bass player and drummer, respectively, for Poison Squirrel.

As you might have guessed, we continued to stay good buddies.


lulu said...

I've never even heard of Poison Squirrel. Don't forget about ROckford's contribution to local music. Cheap Trick was one of my favorite bands in the 70's, and I think they still hold up.

deadspot said...

The coolest thing I ever heard about Motorhead.

There's a show on Food Network called Ace of Cakes, and whenever Lex sees an ad for it he launches into a Motorhead impression: "The Ace of Cakes! The Ace of Cakes!"

deadspot said...

By the way, if you follow that link, you should probably know that "under-10s" means the players are probably second and third graders.

deadspot said...


and football is soccer.

and a "strip" is a uniform.

Two countries separated by a single language, indeed.

Tenacious S said...

I second Lulu's comment. And of course you were friends with Poison Squirrel. You're Johnny Yen and the epicenter of all things cool in Chicago, or at least a ton of good stories.

Flannery Alden said...

Awesome story.

Mob said...

Nice to know you live in that fabled 'small world' I'm always hearing about.

Great story.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You obviously know how to make friends and influence people, Johhny. What a great story!

And I sure want that No Thanks box set too.

Natalie said...

That's an awesome story. Did your friendship change after you realized they were a band you loved or were you able to keep cool?

vikkitikkitavi said...

I have to tell you that I was completely ignorant, growing up in the middle of Indiana in the 70s, of music that wasn't heartland rock or disco or very bad pop, until I went to college at Purdue. There I saw Dow Jones and the Industrials, a local punk group, and my entire taste in music changed overnight.

But I can still appreciate the awesomeness of Styx, dude. Don't bad mouth the Styx. Listen to Suite Madam Blue. It's still pretty cool.

Skylers Dad said...

I am such a music dork, but I did enjoy listening to Styx. And Vikki is right, Suite Madam Blue is great!

Splotchy said...

Nice story!

Maybe someday I'll meet the members of Chia Pet, a mysterious band whose album I heard in college (no affiliation to the band from Palatine, IL who later changed their name to Robespierre).

As far as Styx goes, how can you diss a band having a song where you think there are some angels, but then they get in their spaceship and fly up into the skyyyyyyyyy?

Big Orange (a.k.a. "Uncle Moonpie") said...

"Disco Lemmings"?! Well... I guess... The trubble is I first discovered that the radio actually played MUSIC on something called "FM" just as disco was taking off like a shot. I've got a soft spot in me heart for it.

Neat story.

BeckEye said...

I would now like to see squirrels dressed up as the members of Poison and forced to record an album, ala the Chipmunks. I guess that would be considered animal cruelty, but it would also be considered awesome.

Beth said...

You're luckier than us in the South: We had to listen to Skynyrd and lesser Southern rock bands ad nauseum.

10,000 Spoons said...

what's with the umlaut over the 2nd "O" in Motorhead?? It's like Motley Crue, which means it'd be pronounced "Motley Croo-ee".

I dunno, maybe I just never got into punk... Didn't have the right attitude or something...

Johnny Yen said...

You will note that Cheap Trick is conspicuously absent from the "stinky Illinois bands" list. I love those Rockin' Rockford boys.

Poison Squirrel played at the same clubs as Raygun, but were mostly done by the time Jeff and the boys got bit.

That is way cool!

My favorite Motorhead moment was in The Young Ones, when Lemmy and the boys suddenly appear in their living room, play "The Ace of Spades" and disappear. Holy non-sequitar, Batman.

An acquaintance of mine played pool with Lemmy in the Exit one night. Too bad he wasn't there the night we went.

I don't know if I have more weird coincidences in my life than most people or just notice them more.


And it keeps getting smaller. Years ago, one of my regulars at a popular rib joint I worked at brought a friend of his in, along with the friend's pretty red-headed wife and their newborn daughter. When Kim and I started dating, it dawned on me that she was that red-head (she's since gotten divorced, obviously), and that baby is now my ten year old stepdaughter.

A few months after we got married, we ran into my old regular and he was amused and delighted that she and I ended up married.

Don't tell that to Dave Alvin.

Yes, you need that set, as well as the "Left of the Dial" set, also by Rhino, that covers '80's punk and "alternative."

Thanks! No, they were such regular guys, and I knew them pretty well by then. It was fun, though-- they formed a new band that became the house band at Danny's.

It's funny how that happens, isn't it? For me, it was the first time I heard the song "London Calling," by the Clash.

Busted on Styx. I actually loved their earlier stuff, including "Suite: Madame Blue," as well as "Madamoiselle," "Best Thing" and a handful of others. They used to play my high school (Lyons Township). When they got big, I hated them.

When I started learning guitar, I began taking lessons at a music store called The Music Stop, in Lagrange. There was a quiet, friendly guitar teacher teacher everyone called "J.C." I found out later he was John Curulewski, who left Styx right before they broke big-- he was replaced by Tommy Shaw.

Skyler's Dad-
I'm with you on Suite: Madame Blue, definitely.

My friend The Elk has a pathological hatred of Styx. A few years ago, he, I and a couple other old college buddies were at a Cubs game at Wrigley, and who should sing the seventh inning stretch rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame?" Yep, a newly reconstituted Styx. It nearly killed him. It was a magic moment.

Big Orange-
Yeah, remember the good old days, when radio played music you actually wanted to hear? Even my thirteen year old son finds only the oldies station tolerable.

I don't think that singing Poison would be as cruel as forcing them to use all those hair products.

Oh, no-- we got our snootful of them here in the North, as well. I think there were people at my high school who actually cheered when Lynnard Skynnard's plane crashed.

GETkristiLOVE said...

BTW, I haven't forgotten!

Johnny Yen said...

Hey-- you're on vacation! Take your time!

King Cormack said...

Good morning Poison Squirrels: