Chatterbox #6, ca. summer-fall 1977
mentioned rock 'n' roll, Someone Mentioned. "new wave," and someone finally
gave justice to the over-wrought adjective "new" by mentioning the SCREAMERS.
To my knowledge, what the Screamers "do" is a concept previously untried. It/ they defy convention without sacrificing the "lure" which caters to the "'big fish," the mass audience. They are like the wild animal whose primary goal is to eat, is to survive. Instinct rules. Likewise, the Screamers know who they are (one giant plus - hundreds of bands have died when asking themselves this question, for this confusing question extended onto their records), what they want, and how to get it. Intelligence meshed with instinct - a force to contend with in anyone.
Location: Hollywood. California - it is here the Screamers are finding success; or, more properly, success is finding them. They don't have to look very hard for it now, because they already did their homework way back then. "Then" involves years of "on-the-field training," a roster of win & lose efforts, the most signifi-cant (for Seattle) of which was a musical entity called the Tupperwares. The Tup-perwares (the backbone or the group comprising of Tomata duPlenty, Melba Toast, and Rio de Janiero) lived in Seattle for a few months, putting in their share of life to a vividly lifeless Seattle music/rock scene. One live performance was all we got - the TMT (Tupperwares, Meyce, Telepaths) Show - but they did sponsor a shoving of short silent films (accompanied by music) of rock favorites like Patti Smith. Roxy Music, the Tubes, the Ramones, Ze Whiz Kidz, etc. Another little-known event with little a dent made.
Frustrated, Mr. Toast, duPlenty & de Janiero left Seattle in October of '76. Off to an environment suited to their needs aid lifestyles. Hollywood it was. Preparation for the explosion...
Within a short time, the band had changed their name to Gianni Bugati, later to the present (and permanent, I should think) nomen the Screamers, following a temporary split-up which left Tomata duPlenty and Gear (formerly M. Toast) together, trying to pick up the pieces and start anew. As for Rio - I'm left in the cold. All I knew is that he's employed at a restaurant in L.A. and until recently had not communicated with Tomata or Gear for five months. Is he still playing bass? As I said, I'm left in the cold....
As we forge through time, we find that living in Hollywood, one has little trouble finding musicians, ready and waiting to play, if the match fits. So, Messrs. Gear and duPlenty scooped up a couple of good ones - a drummer from Oklahoma named Keith, called "K.K." by his fans, who had been in Hollywood a scant two months before joining - and from Santa Monica, was David. A keyboard player whose talents fill up the cracks to make the Screamers' sound complete.
And what does this "sound" comprise of? Well, before I slip into that uncomfortable noose called "analysis." let me just present the Line-Up, period:
Tomata duPlenty - Lead vocals
Gear - Synthesizer (ARP Odyssey), Occasional piano. Lead and backing vocals
David - Keyboards, backing vocals
K.K. - Drums, Rhythm arranger, backing vocals
So - what you see here, at its starkest, is a group with a lead vocalist, a synthesizer, a keyboard, and a percussion section. The first reaction (though whether it is "logical" or not could be debated) to this assemblage is "WHAT?! NO GUITARS?!!!" followed quickly by the silent deduction that without any guitars this group called The Screamers must sound (to coin a Sex Pistols lyric) "pretty vacant." In fact, the omittance of a lead, rhythm. or bass guitar is downright scary to those breast-fed on an instrument which is considered a rock 'n' roll essential. Obviously questions are raised...and obviously (in the Screamer tradition) no answers are given. They need not bother with defending or justifying what they are doing. That they are doing it is enough of a plaudit, and that it works knocks down any further need for justification. Actually, the courtroom positions should be reversed, with The Screamers for the Prosecution, scolding the Guitar Man who mindlessly quotes passages from his "Rock 'n' Roll Rule Book".....Rock 'n' Roll is not free with a rule that is supposedly binding.
Anything that binds, strangles. The Screamers' repertoire is free of any such nuisance, taking the listener/viewer from the cold, hypnotic trance created by "Gloomy Sunday" (one of my favorites) to an extremely fun version of "The Beat Goes On" which Sonny & Cher would never recognize. Their range is limitless because they are not afraid to experiment - to add a little here, subtract a little there. And any fan (or potential fan) of The Screamers should be briefed on this fact at the outset of their "conversion" (a fitting word - Gear made lots of references to The Screamers as a "religion" while I stayed with them in Hollywood).
Since they are always writing new songs, it would be foolish of me to try to name the ones I can remember off the top of my head, so instead I will name only the tunes that they practice regularly in their set: "EVA BRAUN," "THE BEAT GOES ON," "I'M GOING STEADY WITH TWIGGY," "G.O. GUY," "GLOOMY SUNDAY," "MATER DELORES," "MAGAZINE LOVE," "PUNISH OR BE DAMNED," and "PEER PRESSURE." Trying to take song titles like these and putting them into one lyrical category is like trying to carry a paper bag filled with water - you couldn't and wouldn't want to do either.
Being a pop music fanatic (in other words, I love HITS), The Screamers' song I most adore is "I'm Going Steady with Twiggy," a Tomata duPlenty classic. To love from afar is always a beautiful yet pain-inflicted kind of love, and this is what "Twiggy" is all about. But far from depressing or ballad-oriented is this Song. The tempo is FAST and if I were on American Bandstand I'd give it a 95 on the spot! "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it..." Uh huh, that's right. And with one inspection of Tomata's bathroom, you know that this song is sincere, one entire wall is covered with pictures of Twiggy - from magazine covers to note books, to movie pics of all sizes - you name it, he's got it. A Twiggy Devotee forever...
"Peer Pressure" is The Screamers' personal choice for the Hit 45. Here's how it opens: "Everywhere I go I get pressure from my peers/Some of them are straight and some of them are queers/Some of them are black and some of them are white/Some of them are wrong and some of them are right/Peer Pressure, Peer Pressure..." The song starts out with a slow, almost dragging tempo, then, without any warning, the speed doubles as the chorus is sung, and keeps this ferocious tempo through to the end, all four members chanting "PRESS ! PRESS! PRESS!" with raised & clenched fists. "PUSHIN' ON YOU! PUSHIN' ON YOU! PUSHIN' ON YOU!" One gets claustrophobic just listening to it... If it doesn't scare their audience too much, it could become a bona fide hit (if it were up to lie, I'd subtitle it "Get Off My Back!" - no Problem identifying with that feeling!).
In this age of artificially constructed music (three "power chords," let's whip off some "catchy" (meaning moronic) lyrics to it, then we'll decide if it means any-thing later...) - where lyrics have transformed, largely, into something incidental, just a vehicle to express oral "sound" with - The Screamers present their lyrics as a major focal point, the hidden key which tells you why such-and-such a sound is being used at any particular instance.
Visually they have always been adaptable, a half & half extension of themse1ves and how they would like their audience to perceive them - their "audience" inc1uding (of course) the press, the photographers, am the inquisitive record company head. Without these three "biggies," no matter how good a group may be, the chances for fulfilling one's ambitions are slim. And, as I said earlier, The Screamers have received an avalanche of each. Greg Shaw, famous critic, "historian and organizer" (and owner of the L.A. Hotspot BOMP Records) wrote in the newest Bomp Newsletter that The Screamers are the most. photographed and written about group in L.A.. I can easily vouch for that, having witnessed and heard news of publicity like this: a large photospread in the debut issue of_Slash Magazine (focusing on the "New Wave" scene), a picture & article in Record World. (an international trade magazine resembling Billboard), a photo session with Bravo (Europe's counterpart to America's 16 Magazine), an interview for the L.A. Free Press (done the day I was leaving for Sea-ttle), three plugs in the latest Phonograph Record Magazine (w/Eric Carmen on the cover), an interview for I Wanna Be Your Dog (a popular fanzine originating in France), countless items in New York and Los Angeles gossip columns, and most re-cent1y, a photo on the cover of the June 27th issue of the National Observer (as part of the feature article entitled "The Music They Call Punk Rock."
With all of this spoon-fed publicity, you might imagine that the Screamers have played many a concert and thrilled many an audience - your assumption is incorrect. In fact, before the end of last May, the Screamers bad "made it" entirely on their notoriety - not one performance. Psychology, the power of suggestion, elementary knowledge of human behavior - channeled and directed for positive results...
"I look at going to L.A. as a business necessity. I mean, it's not something I personally like to do, but it's something like your job takes you there...It's just a business set-up..." said Gear, then known as Melba Toast, during a CHATTER-BOX interview in Seattle, "I don't like music...I don't conceive of what we're doing as music. I think music is like a package or a facade, a context in which you can work. I think mu-sic is secondary to what we're doing, really." - Gear
"It's true. Actually, we don't really write songs, we write more like anthems. When we write our songs, we visualize thousands of people marching... " - Tomata
"Music is not really the correct context to place us in. Unfortunately, I think, in the culture as it stands today, there really is not a niche that we can really feel meaningful in... The kind of niche that would be meaningful to us would be more political...political-artistic, than say, musical. I find music to be very tawdry. I prefer to think or myself as a designer - of sound, of noise, in the context of time. I think that's a more realistic way of looking at music, the pur-pose being some kind of political outcome..." - Gear
"I think of politics in terms of power. That's what politics is, is power -am I think a lot of times Americans get confused that politics means political parties, of left wing - right wing, and all politics really has to do with is power and the exercise of it. . . Power to control people's wants, power to control people' s conceptions..." - Gear
"Like a magazine, in a way..." - Tomata
"A record contract is nothing compared to the people that you want, or the spirits that you want to follow you. You have to attract something that's supernormal before you can attract something as ordinary as a record contract..." - Gear
"Supernormal. " No better word to describe the shaping of events which have helped to propagate the sensation called Thee Screamers. Their first major perfor-mance was at the Starwood, the Fourth of July. Mob mania - dangerous fireworks -- and Donovan was there. Prime-time reception.
At the time of this writing, they will be bringing their act to the Mabuhay Gar-dens July 28th & 29th. Record. contract offers? Yes - but why act in haste? Des-peration is not one of their hang-ups. Or as Melba Toast once put it (quite reminiscent of a certain David Bowie malpractice) :
"...We are finished flirting with (the rock 'n' roll persona) at the present time. We may decide to flirt with it in the future again."
WELCOME THE SCREAMERS...