Bricks For Your Window: Milwaukee Punk Highlights
This is a guest post, written by Eric Beaumont. Eric is a co-writer of ‘Brick Through The Window‘, a retrospective focused on the Milwaukee punk scene between 1964-1984. He also fronts Eric Blowtorch and the Inflammables. Get your hands on a copy of the book to get deep into Milwaukee’s punk history. In the meantime, here’s a taste of what you’ll learn.
For Steven Nodine, Clancy Carroll, Dave Luhrssen and me, working on ‘Brick Through the Window’ primarily involved probing other people’s memories. Sights, smells and other sensations were critical to our attempt to take readers back in time, especially because punk rock and its variant musical styles were so scantily documented in Milwaukee. Our work on the book also involved recalling our own interactions with the music and the culture.
One reward for this work was receiving several personally compiled CDs worth of Milwaukee punk from our co-author Clancy, a performer, fan and archivist since the 1970s. So the thrill of extracting engrossing stories from our subjects – and from each other – was enhanced by the joy of discovering recordings we’d missed.
Going into the project, certain favorites were especially motivating:
The Blackholes’ self-released 1979 45 ‘Warren Spahn’ represents 20th-century Milwaukee in three exhilarating minutes. Mark Shurilla, the songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and conceptual mastermind behind the record and its outlandish release party (the 1979 Old Timer’s Game at Milwaukee County Stadium, before which the great Spahn pitched to the great Shurilla and the Blackholes mimed to their recording, all as part of a benefit for disabled kids in need of transportation), intones the question “Where have baseball’s golden heroes gone?” like a child lost in a crowd, adding the beatific wish, “I hope they’re having fun, yeah!” The yearning melody of this power pop track raises my spirits every time I hear it.
In 1982 the Couch Potatoes, eventually known to the world as Couch Flambeau, released a 17-song cassette, ‘Curiosity Rocks‘. ‘Girl with the Big Forehead’ opens the set with singer/guitarist/drummer Jay Tiller demanding – in a loud, joyous Brian-Wilson-aping-Elvis high baritone – to know where the girl with the big forehead is. The answer only comes in cryptic clues: “Her mother said she bumped her head”, “Her mother said, ‘She wet the bed’”, “Her mother said, ‘Go drop dead’”. The band rocks like a steamroller, driving the good-natured lyrical humor like an angry drunk, pounding all manner of misery into the ground, falling apart, and rising to destroy song after song. Re-released in various forms, including cassette and CD, ‘Curiosity Rocks’ remains forever fresh.
The Haskels‘ appearances on Various – The Great Lost Brew Wave Album & History in 3 Chords – Milwaukee Alternative Bands 1973 – 1982
Milwaukee’s most beloved punk/new wave band, The Haskels – the original four-piece featuring future Oil Tasters, Richard LaValliere (bass/vocals) and Guy Hoffman (drums/vocals) – never released a record or cassette during their brief late ‘70s heyday. It wasn’t for lack of great material. Demo recordings of ‘It’s Hard to Smile (When You’re Laying Face Down on the Floor)’, ‘Drop the Bomb’, (both released in 1997 on Mark Shurilla’s CD compilation ‘The Great Lost Brew Wave Album‘ ) ‘Baby Let’s French’ and ‘Liberace Is Coming’, (both released in 2001 on our co-author Clancy’s History in 3 Chords – Milwaukee Alternative Bands 1973 – 1982 double CD compilation) give you generous doses of singer/guitarist Presley Haskel’s battered romantic persona and singer/bassist Richard LaValliere’s comically defiant attitude. Almost 40 years later, The Haskels’ riotous musical manifestos still won’t leave me alone.