Why pre-internet beef was the best beef: HICKEY v. VOODOO GLOW SKULLS

by Brent Eyestone

It occurred to me lately that the internet of things has made beef completely boring, predictable, and unimaginative. A couple of years ago, we were booked to play a hardcore festival at the Nile Theatre in Mesa, Arizona. The Friday night lineup was pretty nuts, capped off by CRUDOS and and INFEST. We drew the Saturday card lineup, which was to be headlined by CHOKEHOLD featuring Scott Beiben with a lab coat and.. a trumpet? Needless to say, it was a rather steep climb to make draw-wise versus the previous night's firepower. Adding a layer of difficulty, CHOKEHOLD’s guitar player Jeff Beckman gave a rant about “All Lives Matter” at a VFW show that ended in him punching a trans person who called him a “racist grandpa" just a couple of nights before the gig with us. 

Common sense dictated that the right move in this case would be to apologize to person that was struck and maybe offer at least some clarification on the “All Lives Matter” take via some sort of online statement. This simply didn’t happen and, as we began the several-hour drive to Mesa from San Diego, I became more and more agitated at the stupidity involved and exemplified via Beckman. Messages were coming in from friends saying they weren’t going to go because they didn’t want a dime going to CHOKEHOLD at that point, people were asking us to drop off and not play with them, Black Lives Matter advocates were organizing a protest, and it felt like we were driving into a complete bust because of one guy’s extremely fragile ego. 

Like a typical 2017 middle-aged American, I expressed that frustration via a post on Facebook on my personal account. Naturally, Beckman screen-shot it and posted it on his Instagram, replete with a bunch of low-intellect drivel and misspellings. As these things go now, once we got there, dude wouldn’t even make eye contact or say anything, even after walking into the bar across the street he had holed up in and sitting in plain sight of him. Annoyed by the avoidance, I started the set with some clear, direct words about/for Beckman and closed with “…so lets’s see: aging white male hanging out at a VFW and screaming ‘All Lives Matter’ before punching a smaller person… sounds like a racist grandpa to me!” 

Even with that, nothing happened. No retaliation. No obese meathead in a hockey jersey getting in my face or so much as throwing something at me while we played. It was the most boring and pathetic beef I could ever have tried to manifest. It all felt so… “internet.” 

(As an aside, a few months went by and Beckman turned into a full-blown alt-right, pro-Trump dipshit via the same Instagram account. All the people that “good dude, backed hard” him over the incidents before suddenly tried to pretend that they had my back in real time.)

The author performing at the Nile Theatre in Mesa, Arizona in 2015

The author performing at the Nile Theatre in Mesa, Arizona in 2015

By stark contrast, twenty years prior and in the same venue, a DIY punk band from San Francisco called HICKEY was in a similar role opening for an Orange County band on Epitaph called VOODOO GLOW SKULLS. Like myself, the singer for HICKEY, Matty Luv (RIP), was simply not feeling the headliner. This was not too long after Epitaph crossed over into the mainstream via the OFFSPRING and had the budgets to market punk on the same level as the majors of the time. There was a tour bus parked in front of the venue, meat trays backstage, and just an overall air to the VOODOO GLOW SKULLS that simply wasn’t present at other punk shows HICKEY was playing at the time. So Matty took to the mic and buried VGS from the stage in a speech decrying the commercialization of punk and the VGS as garbage people.

This wasn’t too uncommon for the time. I remember letting THE PROMISE RING bring their AT&T-sponsored tour to the venue I booked on campus during my time at college. I also remember turning a blind eye when the local punks kept running into the fuse closet and cutting the breakers every time a song was about to hit its peak. Sometimes I just like watching spectacles and shit-shows unfold (if not partially encouraging such things out of pure boredom at shows I'm not feeling). 

Stories vary, but it all boils down to the VOODOO GLOW SKULLS eventually informing the promoter that they would not take the stage or perform until HICKEY was kicked out of the building without pay. HICKEY obliged and, in the process of loading out, intentionally stole the trumpet essential to VOODOO GLOW SKULLS’ ska-punk sound. You can imagine how that night went for VGS, as one does not typically travel with a backup trumpet and the Nile Theatre certainly isn’t the kind of venue that would have a spare trumpet lying around with the backline. 

In and of itself, this was a hilarious move by all accounts. Just thinking of VGS's "trumpet guy" throwing a tantrum in the middle of the desert makes me laugh uncontrollably. 

And yet, the story merely begins here.

Voodoo Glow Skulls

Voodoo Glow Skulls

In the following months, the members of VOODOO GLOW SKULLS of course got increasingly pissed at HICKEY to the point where they began calling the house where at least some of the HICKEY guys crashed in San Francisco. They left threatening, homophobic, and dare I say Beckman-level commentary on the answering machine. We’re talking drivel like: 

"If you have any money right now, you better invest in a fuckin' bar of soap and wash your ass because... y'know, your ass is gonna have to be clean when I fuckin' stick my dick up your ass, you fuckin' cocksucker, faggot motherfucker.

HICKEY stayed silent and just collected a bank of these answering machine messages.

And then, one day, they hit the recording studio with their gear, the VGS trumpet, and the answering machine tape.

A couple of months later, VOODOO GLOW SKULLS & HICKEY “Split” 7”s started showing up everywhere, all seemingly released as a split release on Probe Records (HICKEY's label) and Epitaph Records (the logo was on the back of the sleeve, after all).

Back cover of the "Split"

Back cover of the "Split"

What purchasers found on the record itself is nothing short of genius. The A-side kicks off with a legitimate HICKEY song called “Food Stamps and Drink Tickets.” At this point, if the purchaser hadn’t checked out the 28-page zine inside just yet, the record’s authenticity, while unexpected, still seems entirely plausible.

Things go completely off the rails once the HICKEY song draws to a close and the VGS “song” (titled “Me and My Homies”) begins. It turns out the what comes next is, in fact, Matty and his band taking turns trying to play the VGS trumpet over an edited montage of the voicemail messages left by VGS... about 8 minutes of it. 

To top it off, once the record was out and circulating, HICKEY decided to finally "give in" to the threats and demands from VGS and affiliates by agreeing to send the instrument back via registered post.

Eventually, VOODOO GLOW SKULLS got their trumpet back…

…and the trumpet was filled entirely with chocolate pudding.

You can hear the entirety of the VOODOO GLOW SKULLS/HICKEY “Split” here (the "VOODOO GLOW SKULLS" side starts at 1:45):

Asleep in the Wild Kingdom (1990 DIY short film) & Fallout Records/Skateboards

by Brent Eyestone

A little while back, I digitized a VHS tape for my friend Peter Whitley. It was a short DIY film called Asleep in the Wild Kingdom that he helped his buddy Benjamin Beebe with back in 1990. Benjamin lived in Seattle and rode for the Fallout Records/Skateboards team. He attended shows, made zines, and constantly pushed himself to create things. I never knew him, but it was nice getting a peak into his brain via the film.

From the back cover of the hand-made packaging:

'ASLEEP IN THE WILD KINGDOM' is the only film I know that successfully integrates themes of media addiction, alienation, and Tolstoyan redemption with 'The Price is Right,' 7-11, an especially manic junk food scene.

The Man's television is his electronic siamese twin, his perception filtered through the dull red-green-blue of its six inch screen. Even in his dreams, the television is an alter (sic) at which he sacrifices his will.

'ASLEEP IN THE WILD KINGDOM' is the 'Reefer Madness' of television addiction, a provocative parable of... uh, I gotta go. 'Sgt. Bilko's on.

- W. Shellabarger

Digitizing this tape triggered an inspiration to try to dig up my old Fallout Records newsprint catalogs from the late 80's and early 90's... those things kept me tremendously occupied as I tried to learn and understand the punk/hardcore/underground stuff going on at the time. I remember the selection being rather comprehensive and I would spend hours wondering what Pussy Galore or Big Black even sounded like. Here's Robert Crumb and Husker Dü hanging out in front of the store before it ultimately closed shop in 2003.

From the Fringe: February 19, 2017

by Brent Eyestone

We've got a couple of BLACK ARMY JACKET reissues coming up on digital and streaming platforms via Magic Bullet Records on 2/22. The response from music press has been excellent and I've enjoyed seeing the guys get their just dues. Metal Hammer over in the UK ran an interview with Carlos Ramirez and a full stream of 222 here. Noisey did the same with Dave Witte and the 50-song Closed Casket compilation here.

BLACK ARMY JACKET reunion at Best Friends Day in Richmond, VA: circa 2010

BLACK ARMY JACKET reunion at Best Friends Day in Richmond, VA: circa 2010

Decibel Magazine took notice of the VHS tape digitization project I've taken on this year. All of the tapes tend to be from the 90's and early 00's and the individual sets have been uploaded to YouTube. I've been pulling from Larry Herweg (of PELICAN)'s collection heavily, but am also in the process of digitizing tapes from Charles Maggio (RORSCHACH) and my own collection. It's been a fun and nostalgic process that should go on throughout the rest of the year. If you're sitting on a stash of your own and would like my to include it into the queue, drop me a line for an address to send to. I can currently work with VHS, VHS-C, and Hi8 tapes. Decibel's curated playlist of videos to watch is posted here

POWER TRIP's new album Nightmare Logic is almost upon us via Southern Lord. Riley had sent me an advance some months back and I've been relentlessly playing it ever since. If you don't pick up a physical format of this one, please consider streaming via Spotify, as that platform publicly displays the number of total plays. A high number of plays leads to better tours. Better tours yield more opportunities and stability for one of the most underrated bands currently out there. Check out the premiere of "Executioner's Tax (Swing of the Axe)" via Stereogum here.

Huell Howser: Godfather of Public Television Bedlam

by Brent Eyestone

Somewhere around the advent of video tape and subsequent, affordable video production, there was an alarmingly sharp spike in grown-ass men with no prior experience just completely going for it on the weekends; self-producing their own slice of life and hobby-driven content. I remember my dad and his military buddies starting some sort of custom fishing rod-decorating side business that delved headlong into video production in hopes of standing out at trade shows and perhaps getting picked up by whatever regional sportsman programming opportunities they imagined were available at the time. Like all things baby boomer, much of the small-production video programming of the era was marked by cocksure, surface level narratives and all the compelling grit of a deleted scene from “The Andy Griffith Show.”

And then there was Huell Howser.

Huell Howser (right) with his friend Bill Esparza

A man whose given name was an amalgamation of his parents (Harold and Jewell), Huell was clearly on some other shit when it came to his contemporaries in the baby boomer video production auteur movement of the 1980’s. While his hosting and production style had nearly all the markings and common practices of the times, there was a diabolical waggishness at the core of his creativity. One could even perceive of Huell as an early progenitor (if not outright inspiration) for the chaotic pseudo-documentary-comedy style later brought into mainstream television and film by Sacha Baron Cohen via his Ali G, Borat, and Bruno characters.

Check out this clip of Huell completely pushing every button of a United States border patrol guard in December of 1991:

Invasiveness. Feigned lack of comprehension. Repetition. Straight up SETTING A PICK for a Mexican guy to sprint into the country unchecked. Soft yellow fleece… Huell Howser was all about that life and set the template for Cohen, Tom Green, "Wonder Showzen," "Loiter Squad," and countless others to pick up and run with on much wider platforms years later.

Sadly, Huell passed away on January 13, 2007. Most of his productions were regional in scope (“California’s Gold” being the most notable at 24 seasons on KCET in Los Angeles), so he never got full credit and appreciation for what he was doing at the time. If you check out the all-knowing smile toward the camera at 0:22 in the clip above, I’m not even so sure adulation mattered that much to him. Regardless, roughly thirty years after the home video revolution that gave us Huell Howser, we celebrate his work via another form of revolutionary video distribution: countless clips archived around the web. You can check out out any number of his episodes and outtakes via a simple search for his name.

Long live Huell Howser.

02.13.17 Update

On the music side of things, we are currently completing The End of Everything Good, which will be the band's first 12" release. Essentially, I need to finish the vocals and then it's off to gang vocals, mixing, and mastering.

We are also currently working on the first issue of a print zine. A portion of the copies will be accompanied by a 7" lathe featuring an exclusive song called "I Killed A Werewolf Once (It's On Film)."

Today, I created this website for the band (you're on it). The discography section will keep up with our recorded output and the online zine section will feature articles and updates written by us and our friends. The online zine will focus heavily on articles and features that are impractical for the print zine (for example, pieces that feature a lot of video references) but will also eventually archive most of the print zine content once the physical copies are gone.