Friday, October 24, 2014
There was a time when public radio was nonchalant and freeform in its transmissions of new music. I’m not referring to the coffee shop fodder or indie/folk vagaries of current NPR. Kids were coming out of college with communication degrees, filled with THC and PBR memories, ready with an armful of 7”s to unleash upon an unsuspecting public. On a warm fall afternoon in the midst of this toxic uprising, I was driving around in a not so trustworthy Honda Accord that maybe had a lot of hazy fog in it and a confused destination. The cassette tape player sometimes worked and the FM radio picked up random stations every few miles depending on where I was driving.
By chance, it was a small town I was passing through (that had a nuclear power plant) and a strange station number became audible. A bizarre noise blasted out with extreme turbulence and scattered melodies. A sound baked in thrift store distortion and alleyway “behind the bar” fluency. This was my first introduction to Gaunt. Unfortunately, the song was already halfway into its duration. I had never heard a lo-fi production on FM radio at that point in my life, let alone a frantic mess that I needed to hear more of as soon as possible.
I used to get these cool compilation tapes from friends and I soon received one with the “Jim Motherfucker” single included. This particular 7” had come out on Anyway Records from Columbus, Ohio. I was intrigued by Gaunt, what a strange name for a band. The single was originally released in 1992 and I didn’t hear the radio broadcast until about 1994. “Jim Motherfucker” had this crazy speed drone and moody vocal dipped in minor key Buzzcocks polish. The boiling B-side “Spine” puts any Epitaph band to shame, to this day. Primal, offhand, and overdriven with crackling terminal indifference, this is “fuck art” sonic sculpture at its creative premium.
When I hear people talk “old school” nowadays and bands like Operation Ivy and Anti-Flag come up, I get quite irritated. Those bands didn’t rock my world or get me to register to vote. Gaunt embodied the slacker lifestyle and attitude. A stubborn fusion of reckless early Replacements, second-hand store stilo, and Stooges filth, this band would become a permanent fixture in my music collection. I could relate to it and the lifestyle. An academic rationalization of low-cost rent, economical beer, thrift store shopping (not the overpriced retro/vintage rip offs of today), and revolving door relationships.
During that decade, exclusiveness in relationships was blasé and you could have a different job every month if you wanted to. The temp agency boom was a goldmine for basement bands in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West regions. There was never a shortage of work and pay was actually higher than it is now. Gaunt personified the glory in underachieving and keeping the expectations of others at a minimum. From what I gather, kids stay at home until 30 nowadays and don’t have the pleasure of inheriting chronic low-esteem from the “greatest generation”. The beauty of “booking your own fucking life” (a band guy’s hitchhiking manual that sub culture used for navigation in those times) and couch surfing your way across different cities isn’t much of a reality anymore.
A new world of government babysitting, obnoxious obesity, and doing things for the “greater good” has risen. The thing that made “slacking” and basement-band bombing so different, was that it forced you to create your own identity and amoral values. So many of the great 7” labels of that era only released 5 or 6 singles but man, they sold quick and you would immediately invite all of your friends over to your sub-par apartment to spin them, talk until eternity, and plot to destroy preconceived assumptions about what you should grow up to be. This is the essence of Gaunt and why I chose to write about a single from 1992 in 2014.
If you have an uncontrollable urge to do something for the “greater good” consider the following: boldly follow your dreams until you’re bleeding, make a spectacle of yourself, orchestrate-execute the loudest racket possible, and stop reading self-help books. With those actions and violent movements, permanence takes place. The kind that schemes, swindles its way through the decades, and ensures cantankerous beauty will never take its last breath.
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