An NYC punk icon says revisiting the past is trickier than it looks.
The Buddha took a piece of red chalk and drew a circle, saying: “When men, though unaware of it, must meet again someday, they may follow diverging paths to the given day when, ineluctably, they will be reunited within the red circle.” — Rama Krishna
Morrissey said he would rather eat his own testicles than re-form the Smiths. In Minor Threat’s “Salad Days,” Ian MacKaye screamed, “Wishing for the days when I first wore this suit / Baby has grown older / It’s no longer cute.” In 1965’s “She Belongs to Me,” Bob Dylan famously sang, “She’s an artist, she don’t look back.” So, outside of the Buddha, my heroes probably wouldn’t have much good to say about the reunion tour I did with my old band Gorilla Biscuits last summer. But for anyone who thinks it’s easy for groups like the Police or Rage Against the Machine to just pick up where they left off and revisit their past glory, trust me — it’s not quite that simple.
Gorilla Biscuits came up in the mid-’80s as part of the New York City hardcore punk scene. Those days, word spread about bands through fanzines and traded cassettes — more of a pain in the ass than MySpace, but a million times more intimate and exciting. Then New York hardcore broke into cliques. And then it turned violent. By the ’90s, the scene had changed and so had my attitude. Rather than write new anthems about unity and brotherhood, I wanted to make music in reaction to that change, so I broke up Gorilla Biscuits after 1989’s Start Today and asked the other members — my friends — not to continue without me. It was my ball, and I was going home. I wanted the band to remain perfect, frozen in time forever, and it was. For 15 years.
Under the threat of losing its lease in 2005, CBGB invited artists who’d made their names there — such as Blondie, David Byrne, Joan Jett, and, less famously, Gorilla Biscuits — to headline benefit shows. That seemed ironic: Karen, ex-wife of CB’s owner Hilly Kristal, banned us back in the day because of our fans’ stage-diving, which was bullshit, and re-forming the band wasn’t something I wanted to do, anyway. Because I’ve continued to make different kinds of music since — with Quicksand, Rival Schools, Walking Concert, and now a solo album — I resisted the idea of going backward. I didn’t think dusting off the old songs would do much good for my psyche or Gorilla Biscuits’ legacy. Why run the risk of souring what had been a positive experience?
The main concern about reuniting a band is not living up to the legend that allowed you to reunite in the first place. I, for one, would love to see the newly re-formed original Bad Brains play again; but even if that show was their best ever, it’s not likely it’d top the one they’ve been forever rocking in my imagination. And no matter how great they are, there’s always going to be the one grizzled old guy standing in the crowd, arms crossed, moaning that they were better in ’79. As a music fan, I prefer to discover new bands, rather than revisit the familiar. (That said, I’m dying to see Rage this summer: Zack’s got six years of Bush and Audioslave to make sense of.)
My change of heart came about when a former bandmate called and reminded me how the hardcore matinees at CBGB, which drew 500 kids every Sunday, were such a special part of our growing up. It was the high school we loved away from the one we hated. We weren’t going to bring those times back any more than we were going to save the club, but he helped me see that we could honor an institution and a scene that meant a lot to us, and maybe have a little fun along the way.
Also, we were gonna reunite the classic lineup, like Black Sabbath did when I saw them at Nassau Coliseum in ’98, with Ozzy reading lyrics off a teleprompter for that extra-evil touch. Having all the original members on board is essential, which is why I preferred the recent Pixies reunion over the substitute-bassist version of Jane’s Addiction. (Worth noting: I saw Morrissey perform in Berlin this winter, and he opened with “Panic,” one of the Smiths’ biggest hits. So I guess either he’d rather be famous than righteous and holy or he just doesn’t want to split his testicles four ways.)
When we finally did our CB’s gig, we were like Star Trek holodeck re-creations of our 19-year-old selves. Unfrozen cavemen of hardcore. If it was cheesy for us to be up there, playing our teenage anthems again, now far removed from teenhood, the audience never let on, and we pressed our luck by agreeing to follow up with a full U.S. tour. I hung out with friends I hadn’t seen in forever and met their kids: second-generation Gorilla Biscuits fans. I was proud to see that what we had done all those years ago still meant so much to people. Sure, we heard the groans, too — one message-board punk claimed our reunion made him respect Minor Threat all the more — but we’re still going to tour Europe together this summer while I continue moving forward by writing new songs and doing solo shows.
And then there’s the 20th anniversary of Start Today coming up….
Damn ineluctable red circle.
The Berlin-based Walter Schreifels’ first solo album, Save the Saveables, will be out this summer. And no, he’s not ready to talk about a Quicksand reunion just yet.