Ska, I got your back!

I have been reading a book for the last month. It’s a good book. It’s well researched and thorough.It’s not just good. It is a great book.

My initial plan was to tell you about that book. I changed my mind.

I woke up this morning and realized that I don’t want to tell you about the book. I do want you to read the book though, so here’s a little story about how I stumbled into a love of Ska.

I grew up in the midwest in the late 70s and early 80s. Life was easy. We loved Night Ranger and Loverboy. It’s what you loved if you didn’t pledge allegiance to Conway Twitty each and every night. We turned the radio on. We turned the radio up.

Maybe I had it easy on my path to Ska, but I grew up in a reasonably diverse household, musically speaking. My dad loved a wide blend of hippy music and acid rock, and my mom was way into Motown. I started to climb a mountain. That mountain’s name was  Rock and Roll.  

I will do you a favor and fast forward you a bit through the horrors of later 80s rock radio. It was a lot more bad than good. Let’s leave it at that.

Radio rock aside, I wasn’t really much into music. My older brother was. He was my gateway into other music. It was hit or miss for a while, but when he played Appetite for Destruction for me, I started to come around. When a friend of his was over and played the new Suicidal (How Will I Laugh Tomorrow) I was hooked. I can still feel my hair growing. That’s how metal I was.

New forms of music became my thing. I liked to be on the forward front, all “Have you heard this?” This continued when I went away to college. New Pantera, cool, but “Have you heard the new Voivod?” “Hey what if we listen to Ween?” In that  quest for “new”, I found new. New to me anyway. In 1993 I heard “Don’t Know How To Party” for the first time. The Bosstones had me hooked on a new thing. 

Later that year I was in a music store (Big Don’s Music City) in Joplin, MO. There was a message board near the front. (For the post-internet crowd, physical message boards were a place to connect with like-minded individuals to sell used appliances and find bass players.) That message board had a “take-a-number” sheet on it looking for members to start a Ska band. Influences including: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Let’s Go Bowling, Toasters. Welp, I had heard the one, Let’s hear more. 

I liked this Ska stuff. It had horns. (was a trombone player once) It was opinionated, but at the same time, friendly. 

About a year later, MU330 rolled through the college town I was living in. I don’t even think they had an opening act. Just them doing a solid hour set. Afterward the sat down to chill and talk to the fans. I remember sitting with Dan and Jason (who was on lead vocals at the time). Jason shook my hand with the kind of handshake where you cover the entire handshake with your other hand, and don’t let go until you know the other person’s hand is fully shook. … if you know what I mean. It’s the handshake of long lost friends; the hug of handshakes. We chatted a bit, Jason, Dan and myself. I asked Dan, “how do you get those guitar sounds? I like it, but everything I try comes out sounding like Black Sabbath.” Dan said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. Keep Trying.” Better words were never said. 

I was in love with Ska. I tried to tell my brother, to share a bit of what he had given to me. He wasn’t into it. I think maybe the first stuff I played for him wasn’t quite aggressive enough. He was still pretty much a metalhead then. … but things change. Something stuck and he was asking me if I knew of more Ska bands, and where I could get more CDs.

I was living in Portland at the time and my brother came to visit. I took him to Ozone Records and he bought every Ska CD they had in the store. If I have my chronology right, later that year, maybe early the next, I went back home to visit. My brother picked me up in Kansas City and we went to Lawrence for a show at The Grenada. Less Than Jake, Skavoovie and the Epitones, and Chris Murray. IT WAS AMAZING. 

Special shout out to Chris. Skavoovie’s keyboard player had decided mid-tour to go back to college (I think that’s the story) So Chris played his opening “Campfire Ska” set, then went backstage, jumped into a suit, and proceeded to rock the full Skavoovie set on the keys. (Many years later Chris played my 20th wedding anniversary party.)

I bought my first Asian Man Records shirt at that show. It was magic. Later that night we went to the record store next to The Grenada. My brother bought me Mepheskapheles “God Bless Satan”, and Spring Heeled Jack (usa) “Static World View”. 

Life was a whirlwind back then. I was young, living in a city. Bands were playing all the time. So many. It was hard to keep up. I saw the Pietasters for the first time then. I was enamoured. Cool jazz guys almost, in wrinkled suits, with a couple of drinks in them. Good times. I bought a CD copy of OoLooLoo. I was blasting it in the apartment and one of my neighbors was all “Pietasters? Fuck Yeah!” She was from DC and totally on board with hometown music hitting the West Coast

A little anecdote here, but while I was living in Portland, my rather concervative grandmother came to visit. She wasn’t happy about a lot of the music I listened to, but she loved The Pietasters. She said it reminded her of big bands from back in the day. 

Nothing ever changed for me after that, as it pertains to Ska. I mean, one time I couldn’t get tickets to Less Than Jack and Reel Big Fish because the show was sold out. Life goes on though. I didn’t turn my back because of that. I just found new stuff. I’m like, “Up yours Reel Big Fish! I’ll listen to Thumper instead.”

I suppose I could ramble on more about the bands that bent my ear (Suicide Machines) and all the great shows I saw, but it would all be driving to the same destination. Ska is awesome. There is, not now, never once, a reason to be ashamed. 

I stand In Defense of Ska. But, as they say, the best defense is a good offense. (I think people say that) So to that end, I say, “GO OUT THERE AND BUY THIS MUTHAFUCKING BOOK AND LISTEN TO SKA!”


-Jerry Actually

The Zeroes


The Zeroes

© 2102 Patrick Roesle

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

It’s the end of the millenium. Somewhere in the shopping mall saturated, suburban New Jersey, The Returners are riding high on the last wave of Ska. Charlie, Sal, Jack, and Joe are fresh out of high school or there about. The world is theirs and nothing stands in their way. So starts what rapidly turns to inauspicious beginnings of The Zeroes, a new novel by Patrick Roesle. At its heart The Zeroes is a story of growing up, growing apart and coming to the bitter realization that even with all the drive and all the talent and all the potential, sometimes life leads nowhere.

The book is presented in a narrative manner by a character that I can best discern remains nameless throughout. He’s Charlie’s best friend and a talented comic artist, but the storyline takes a very first person aspect and is viewed almost entirely from this lens. Charlie, of course is the brains behind The Returners a four piece, ostensibly 3rd wave Ska band with Sal on drums, Jack on bass and Joe on trombone. But this isn’t a book report.

Sufficed to say, things get bad. Nothing goes as planned and the best intentions fall to pieces. Despite the best efforts, people get out of high school and leave town. Relationships drift apart. Dreams are dashed. People snap. People become cynical and jaded. Inevitably there are those that remain behind.

The Zeroes is a fantastically depressing read. It is perhaps an epitaph upon the dying embers of the last wave of Ska or more likely, it is a somber note that not everything works out. For those of us that lived through the turn of the last century, especially ones who were into Ska, Punk and Hardcore, the book reads like a chapter out of life anywhere in the USA. The bands, the shows, the friends, the triumphs, and the failures could have all happened to any one of us.

The stark, visceral reality, combined with the sonic backdrop of my relative youth makes this one hell of a book. It reminds me of what life would be like a bit less than a generation after Salad Days. A little more jaded and a lot more East Coast, but still a wild ride that doesn’t always work up where you wanted to go.

-Jerry Actually

(Oh, for the record, Permanent Revolution is a brilliant record.)

Arkham Asylum-A Serious House on Serious Earth-15th Anniversary Edition

The original edition of this book was printed in 1989 and was groundbreaking at the time as it was the first comic to feature painted artwork, and at the time of publishing the 15th anniversary edition it was still the best selling comic of all time.  I must have been busy because I didn’t get around to reading it until just recently.  But even in 2012 Dave McKean’s artwork still stands out as being incredible.  I think that is one of the four aims of the book, and the one where the book doesn’t fail. 

Each page is perfectly drawn and pristinely coloured.  My favourite part of the book is parts where The Joker is laughing, the colourist did an excellent job of creating the tone of the HA HA HA  that is the character’s signature.  I just wish I could have replicated the same tone while trying to make the laughter in my head while reading.

Grant Morrison’s  second aim of the book is to explore Batman’s pysche by making him face his own demons when entering the asylum.  After reading the synopsis of the book I came to expect a lot of the story.  The basic premise is that the residents of Arkham lead by The Joker take over the asylum and take hostages and will release them on the condition that Batman enter the Asylum to face his own demons and his enemies on their own turf.  But in the end his enemies only make brief appearances and there are really no battles or demons faced.  After reading, I really have no greater understanding of Batman.

But the biggest failure of the book is the it’s third aim, and that is creating a dark symbolism to surround Batman.  Before reading the included original script and footnotes I would have never made connections to the symbolism, and after reading  I kind of find the intention to be pretentious and unaccessible to the common reader. 

The book’s fourth aim is to connect the history of Arkham Asylum to the present day, but where it fails is that the when the story flashes back it doesn’t transition well back into the story.  I look to the book’s contemporary groundbreaking book in its own right, The Killing Joke, for the manual on how it should be done.  Allan Moore and Brian Bollard seamlessly weave The Joker’s backstory into the main story by using the story and artwork together.  Look no further then page 8 when the future Clown Prince of Crime is reaching for his wife’s hand to understand what I mean. 

At any rate, I did like the book, but felt I needed to share what I think are valid criticisms of it.  Like I said, the artwork is stunning, and there are parts of the book that genuinely creeped me out.  For any fans of Batman books it is worth a read to those who haven’t, but as I get further into exploring Batman comics, I am finding that there are better reads out there.

The Walking Dead: Rise of The Governor


by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
(c) 2011

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

This is my first crack at a book review and the book and I have chosen the book I have because from what I have read the book hasn’t been very well received by fans of the series it belongs to. The book that I am alluding to is The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, the first in a series of novels that explore the origins of characters in the series. I am a recent convert to the graphic novel genre and an even newer fan of The Walking Dead and before buying the book I hadn’t read up to where The Governor is introduced (I did read Book 3 before I read the novel). So I wanted to look up who he was and I read a little bit about the book and I read some reviews prior to reading to book.

I think that is why I may have enjoyed the book the way I did. I read about the twist in the story so while reading I kept expecting it to come and when it happened it wasn’t much of a surprise anymore, but it also didn’t seem like it was reaching too far. That was a complaint from other readers that the twist wasn’t believable, but in a story about zombies you have to be willing to step a bit outside the realm of reality if you want to enjoy it all.

The one time I was disappointed (for a minute) was when I realized it was a novel and not a comic, but once I started reading it I left the disappointment behind. Having just finished being introduced to The Governor when starting this book got me excited to read it. Although The Governor was just ranked #86 on the list of top 100 comic villains by IGN, I would have ranked him much higher because he was a BAD guy and one of my two favourite villains (The Joker being the other). Maybe that also biased me. Either way, I enjoyed the book, I felt like as if I was reading one of the comics, which makes it a good companion to the other Walking Dead books. So if you are a fan of the other books, check out The Rise of The Governor.


Knuckle Supper

Alphar Publishing
© 2010, Drew Stepek

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Los Angeles, present day. Gangs run rampant. Sex, money and drugs are the only economics. Gruesome serial murders, rape and robbery defile every street corner. The festering odor of blood shit and puke foul the air. So, you might as, “what’s makes this any different than reality?”

This time the whole fucking mess is controlled by brutal junkie vampires!

Erase any pictures you have of Lestat and his white ruffled Victorian charm or Edward with his dreamy tween-heartthrob looks. The vampires of Knuckle Supper are hardcore junkies that rape rob and kill for blood and drugs.

Drew Stepek’s gory depiction of modern vampire life delivers the reader into a world of factional gangs vying for control of the streets and the life-forestalling drugs. There is no glamor and no hope for immortality, only the next fix. The grim tale in Knuckle Supper centers around what can be best thought of as a two-bit gang of punks, goths and misfits, The Knucklers. In particular their leader RJ, a violent and grimy punk and his protégé Dez, a quick-tempered goth.

At the outset, RJ and Dez brutally murder and consume a pimp and kidnap his underage prostitute, Bait (short for jailbait). The original idea is to have the hooker lead johns back to their house to make the quest for blood and heroin, the Knuckler drug of choice much more clean and efficient. (Incidentally, their drug of choice is heroin, injected into the victim and then consumed during the imminent death. The consumption often takes to form of ripping off the victims arm and draining the drug laced blood from the end of a severed finger, the knuckle supper, if you will.)

Unsure of his reasons why, even after numerous provocations, RJ can’t or won’t bring himself to kill one of his latest victim, the young hooker. It is almost as if there he has a small spark of humanity. The developing relationship between RJ and Bait begins to unravel his other friendships and alienates Dez to an alarming degree.

Things go from bad to worse when The Knucklers end up with a bag or ill-gotten heroin and decide to sell it from underneath its rightful owner. The world as they know it starts to unravel. Rival vampires begin to battle for control of Los Angeles. The Knucklers are in danger of their very un-lives at the hands of the controlling gang, The Battlesnakes. The downward spiral culminates in a series of not necessarily expected twists.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book. I will state that it isn’t for the faint of heart, there are some serious depictions of violence and sexual abuse throughout the novel that may best be avoided by the sensitive. However, if you’re willing to get past that, there is a pretty good read lodged within. Think to yourself, West Side Story with vampires on heroin and without the music, or maybe its more like The Warriors.

On more of a critical note, I think that the characters were a bit shallow. Or perhaps it was that only the central characters of RJ and Bait were painted with much depth. All the rest seem almost as extras. Outside of that my other major gripe is with editing.

I caught a few text/typo variety errors, no big deal. What bothered me was that every so often a sentence would make a startling drop in continuity as though I had skipped a sentence. On more than one occasion I had to read and re-read the preceding material to be sure that I hadn’t missed something. This was even more awkward when it happened on a page turn.
Without creating too much of a spoiler, Knuckle Supper is a dark portrayal of addiction and life outside of mainstream society. It is potentially and allegory of man’s own inhumanity and the dearth of justice for the denizens of the edges.

-Jerry Actually

Cherry Bomb

by Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna

SSE 2008


Rating: ★★½☆☆

I always thought of myself as a rock chick so I thought Cherry Bomb would be a fun read. My overall conclusion is that it is a cute book but I not sure it can make me a better rock chick. Well, if I lived in Hollywood it might. It has some good parts and some boring parts.

The book starts off with a lessons on drinking Absinthe and making apple martinis which I may have to try someday. Carrie bounces back and forth between how to land a rock star boyfriend and how to dress like a rock star. Not being one who cares too much about fashion and designer clothing I found the chapters about famous rock designers boring.

Also I find that I have no need for a rock star boyfriend due to the fact that I have been married for 16 years. I believe being a rock chick is a state of mind, not the because I am wearing Gaultier or have my tongue pierced. In my book, rock chicks care less about what others think and do whatever the hell they want. Seems more like a promotion for her famous friends than a guide on how to bring out the inner rock chick.

–Kiki D

So This Is Readin?

So This Is Readin? – Tripp Underwood Life on the road with The Unseen (c) 2006 So This Is Readin? the seminal release from Tripp Underwood, bass player for the Boston punk band The Unseen, is light hearted easy flowing read. I was surprised at first, but then I realized that Tripp has in fact been to college. That aside So This Is Readin? chronicles the molasses like rise to the middle of a young suburban punk band. All the trials tribulations and tragedies in tow. The story isn’t incredibly different from ones you’ll hear from any other young punks in a world touring band, with the exception that The Unseen seem to have near limitless motivation. I think this idea is paramount and takes the meaning of the book beyond the mere words in the text. If you are motivated, if you have drive, you can achieve some of what you want. That said, I think the book ends on a little bit of a sour note. It feels to me like the author is trying to justify the current position of the band. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but I suspect that he is trying to defend himself from accusations of selling out. For some final thoughts: from cover to cover the book is 163 pages and a reasonably easy read. I think young punk bands could learn a lot by hearing about the mistakes that bands have made before them. And one more thing, Tripp, a spell check does not a copy editor make.–Jerry Actually

Dream Seeker – The Velvet Mask

Dream Seeker – The Velvet Mask Tony DeCarvalho & Damian Hospital (c) 2006While I appreciate the content, I can honestly say that The Velvet Mask has nothing in the way of punk, ska or hardcore. It is, in fact, SCI-FI. If you’re into it. If you are looking at !upstarter as a sort of WAL-MART for your media, by all means, BUY AND READ THIS BOOK. If have you come to read about music, music reviews and interviews with musicians, PLEASE, don’t waste your time. This novel has not been written well, it has NOTHING TO DO with music and it has TOO MANY BASEBALL AND BROADWAY REFERNCES. The Velvet mask reminds me of a comic book written as a film script for a Hollywood blockbuster. NO MUSIC, NO PUNK, NO SKA, NO HARDCORE. Just sci-fi. I’m sorry, not good reading. You would be better off with a copy of your favorite comic book. Might I recommend anything from DARKHORSE?