My childhood was idyllic until my family was part of the middle-class exodus from New York City in the early 1970s. I was eight years old and would have been able to walk across the street by myself to school the next year. My parents made this promise and then I found myself in what should have been a suburban paradise, only I was jaded and bitter before my time.
It was about this time that the great bubblegum hits on AM radio were replaced by disco and I turned the dial to FM, but the opening chords of Iron Man were too scary for a pretentious Jewish boy who was beaten daily by fans of Black Sabbath. I went backwards. My parents had an eclectic collection that included the Beatles, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and hits from the 1920s.
Things weren’t all miserable. I had TV. Everything was good if it was on that box. I stayed up late to watch Johnny Carson, discovered Saturday Night Live a couple of episodes into the first season and even tuned in on the news. That’s how I was introduced to punk, during one of those closing segments before the local news segue into the network news. These stories were human interest or humorous and the newscasters had a good laugh about that crazy trend out of England. But I don’t recall their snarky jokes, only the vision of the Sex Pistols.
The local record store had imports. Late at night some radio stations played good music. I mean, I already loved the Velvet Underground, but this was music that was happening now and it sounded like everyone in a punk band had parents who moved out of New York City for the suburbs and were channeling that into angry anthems.
I got to CBGBs a bit late and watched a reunion of the Dead Boys minus Stiv. Drove to Asbury Park to see the Clash in what was more of a religious experience than my bar mitzvah, though I didn’t get as much cash.
Even though this was the late 1970s, no one was into punk rock in Harrison, NY, only a short train ride away from Downtown Manhattan — except the German foreign exchange student. But he was an odd duck for the time: loving the Dead Kennedys and the Grateful Dead. I mean, the closest came to acknowledging punk as in a parody band for the talent show. I was in that band, but I didn’t think it was funny.
After two horrible semesters at Syracuse, where I shaved my head and was thrown out of the dorms for taking the blame for my roommate busting a beer bottle in the hallway (I didn’t endear myself to the administration, as I flirted with him, waving my acrylic-painted black fingernails at him in a very effeminate fashion), I ended up like all punks in art school.
There I was invited by friends, none of whom could play a note (just like me!), to be in a band. The Swamp Goblyns played a club called the Dive with bands who were fetishists for the garage bands of the 1960s and opened for our friends in Reagan Youth at the Hardcore Matinee at CBGBs. Neither crowd was very enthusiastic for our freak show.
Who cares? We were having a ball until half the band left to start a Romantics-type power pop band with hopes of stardom. Meanwhile, the singer and I started a band called Da Willys, our only ambition was to get drunk.
It took some time to find others who shared our objectives. In the meantime, a drummer, even a mediocre one like me, is always in high demand. I played with anyone who asked, including friends from art school, who called themselves White Zombie. Yes, I’m the Pete Best of punk rock.
Once Da Willys got started our sets had some fierce energy that usually imploded into ugliness, which seemed to fit into the burgeoning scum rock scene. The death of our guitarist, Leon, ended that run. We weren’t really musicians, but there was a chemistry that was great and fragile. Our singer, Lynne, was the exception and she still makes great music, now with the Carvels. Look them up.
As for me, I still play the drums. I played with my kids in a blues band and now a friend and I have two bands. Both are literally garage bands, as we rehearse in my garage. One band is sort of punk, and the other is sort of noise (lead by an avant-garde 18-year-old virtuoso named Felix). Do I have regrets? Yes! But I’m almost deaf so I can’t hear them.
My dearly departed friend Mike McPadden as Selwyn Harris launched the zine Happy Land, which I contributed fiction throughout its run in the 1990s. He was quite the character. I worked with him at Genesis, a glossy men’s mag. He worked at Hustler and helped create Barely Legal. Mike was in Tracy Lord’s Ex-Lovers, another scum rock band, and years later, when he moved to Chicago, Gays in the Military. He was a movie buff and hosted two great podcasts, Crackpot Cinema and 70 Movies We Saw in the 70s, which are great — the latter continues without him. He also authored two fun books Heavy Metal Movies and Teen Movie Hell. Enjoy!
Da Willys (with the Lunachicks and the Reverb Motherfuckers) were in a video magazine called Hard n’ Heavy. It was a segment on, what else? Scum rock! It was sequenced between a profile of Ace Frehley and Steve Jones, I believe, which was oddly appropriate. Also, Da Willys original bass player, Willie Kerr (no relation to our name, strangely enough) was the Cramps roadie in the 1970s. He worked at a steel mill in Pennsylvania and would come to NYC flush with cash (that’s how we met him years later — he loved the Swamp Goblyns and introduced himself with a handful of blotter acid). He was a fixture in the early CBGB’s scene, easy to spot being over six feet tall with a light brown afro. Anyway, he’s in some punk rock movie that I forget the title of, but it features a lot of footage of CBGB’s in those days with live bands like Janye County, Dead Boys, Television, etc. I think it was called the Punk Rock Movie, but when I search it all I find is some English title, which is not what I’m talking about. The one Willie’s in is the NYC punk scene of the 1970s. If you can find it, which should be that hard, it’s a great one.
For those that want to see Peter’s scribblings they can be found at www.instagram.com/peterlandau.