Thursday, March 31, 2011

RETURN TO SNAKELAND - Thirty-First Fragment

* This is a fictionalized account of some shit that actually happened. All the names, locations, etc. have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. – JG *

From 1984 through 1985 I sang for a Hardcore punk band called Suburban Trash. I was 14 years old. We were terrible, even by the loose standards of success set by Hardcore. The other guys in the band (Mark on guitar, Don on bass, a rotating cast of uninterested classic rockers on drums) were only a little bit older than me. For whatever reason, West Coast Hardcore ruled Kenton where we went to school and played our shitty, shitty songs. Black Flag and Dead Kennedys were our twin titans in 1984, and the two compilations that made the biggest marks on us were Let Them Eat Jellybeans (put out on SF label Alternative Tentacles) and the Repo Man soundtrack (heavily featuring California bands including Circle Jerks, Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, and the decidedly non-Hardcore Plugz).

It was really odd that we weren't more into NYHC or the DC bands as both scenes were geographically much closer and in full swing by '84 (and the California bands were in serious decline soon after - Flag and the Circle Jerks embraced the metal jones and DKs just imploded after the Frankenchrist poster debacle), but the West Coast Hardcore scene had a real sense of humor, and that counted for a lot with us. Just look at Green Jelly or even Cannibal Corpse, the death metal band formed by a bunch of guys who lived in the suburbs around Kenton – I think a sense of humor, even a sick one, was required to live in the Rust Belt, to see past the depressing exteriors and into a different place, one where you couldn’t take everything as seriously as it would appear to demand.

But anyway: Suburban Trash. The only recording I have of us is towards the end, and it quickly points up why we were so awful, but also why a lot of the bands that couldn’t play much better than we did became far more popular. By that point we were covering songs like “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and “Walking the Dog” because the guitarist had become obsessed with old soul music, “Side by Side” by a band called Doggy Style because the bassist was a Cali-punk purist, and an extended version of the “Peter Gunn” theme with chanted poetry and a microphone feedback solo because I was obsessed with Patti Smith and...well, myself.

Even though the playing on this last recording is rudimentary at best there is something interesting about the big gloppy mess of different styles, but it was that perceived inconsistency that made it impossible for us to develop an audience. Hardcore thrived on consistency and purism, and although this made a lot of the bands impossible to listen to later on, at the time it made them impossibly attractive to us and a lot of other kids. Growth and complexity erode popularity, even at that early age – a good lesson, actually.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

RETURN TO SNAKELAND - Thirtieth Fragment

* This is a fictionalized account of some shit that actually happened. All the names, locations, etc. have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. – JG *

To the McMartin Family: I’m sorry to use your real last name but it is directly linked to the events that supposedly occurred in the Day Care center run by some of your parents and grandparents. I could attempt to disguise your name as I did some of the other victims in this story but I think this would only temporarily frustrate the reader, who would just look up the information online anyway. Besides which, the McMartin Preschool case is the Ground Zero of the “Satanic Panic”, and the shit that people believed during this period is hard enough to swallow without creating more distance between us and 1983. For good or ill, in the words of the Minutemen, “real names be proof.”

One of the best things I have read on the whole McMartin Preschool debacle was “The Dark Truth About the McMartin Tunnels” by John Earl, pubbed by the Institute for Psychological Therapies Journal in 1995. The chapter titles of “The Dark Truth” are as evocative as the titles of the different sections of the Warren Report: portentous, enigmatic, bizarre.

- The Beginning

- The Accusation

- Hysteria Spreads

- Satanic Trappings and the Search for the Secret Rooms and Tunnels

- Incredibly Weak Evidence

- Judy Johnson’s Increasingly Bizarre Behavior

- Origin of a Secret Room

- From Santa Claus to Lions

- Multiple Molestations: Devils, a Dead Baby, and a Ghost

- The Missing Tunnel

Some of them are Hardy Boys homogenous – “The Case of the Missing Tunnel”; others sound like a post-modern stand-up routine – “So, some devils, a dead baby and a ghost all walk into a bar...” Titles aside, “The Dark Truth” casts a very skeptical eye upon a situation that pretty much everyone should’ve been casting a skeptical eye upon during this period.

I feel that one of the most important things to note about the whole McMartin tragedy is not just how many people were taken in by the stories, but the pure outlandishness of those stories. First off, the whole McMartin family aligned together to rape children under the front of a day-care center is much to swallow on its own (again, somebody in the family didn’t say no?), but the lengths they supposedly went to are completely insane, even by “satanic panic” standards. The construction of an extensive series of tunnels underneath the day-care center wasn’t even the most of it – there were trips on airplanes to be molested by unearthly cowboys, there were visits to a lion who watched while the children were sodomized, there was a full-blown sacrificial altar where tiny babies were bled white in tribute to dark gods. And, of course, there were the animals that were slaughtered in front of the children with the warning that this is what would happen to Mommy and Daddy and little brother or little sister if they told anybody what the McMartins did to them. This is the piece of it that stuck with me the longest, the piece I remembered without much prompting, probably because it is the only piece that, in its own sick way, makes sense.

That is the question that haunts all the stories, that haunts the blank faces of Dr. Roland C. Summit and Kee MacFarlane who interviewed the children and presented the stories of transatlantic rape-flights and sentient lions with a straight face: why did we believe any of it? No physical evidence of molestation except the anal irritation of the son of a paranoid schizophrenic who killed herself soon after the beginning of the McMartin trial. No graveyard of slaughtered pets or babies was ever found except for 2 turtles, buried in shoeboxes, the way you do for children when their pets die. No tunnels underneath the day-care center (at least not tunnels as any rational human being would understand them) and certainly no private jet or traceable flights to the Land of Unearthly Cowboys. The question remains then: why did anyone, even panicky parents plagued with neurosis, believe this nonsense?

I don’t know where the next question leads us, but it is perhaps the only one really worth asking: why did we want to believe the stories so badly? What did they explain? What fears did they somehow assuage? And perhaps most importantly, what archetypes kicked in, what shadows around the campfire suddenly came alive?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

RETURN TO SNAKELAND - Twenty-Ninth Fragment

* This is a fictionalized account of some shit that actually happened. All the names, locations, etc. have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. – JG *

There is a glib rhyming term for it now, but in the 1980s the “Satanic Panic” wasn’t named, it was just happening – like various little red mouths to Hell that just happened to open up like trapdoors under the pre-schools of a terrified nation. Now the names are scratched into our subconscious like fingernail trails to a cliff’s edge: Fells Acres, ’84; Kern County, ’82; the McMartin Preschool case, ’83; Jordan, Minnesota, ’83. The last two are most important to our discussion – McMartin due to being the most well-known case of the 1980s and also the most well-documented (although most of what was documented was false), and Jordan, Minnesota because of That Song.

That Song was by a band called Big Black, and it came out on their 1986 album Atomizer. I first bought Atomizer because it has one of the best album covers in rock history (clearly labeled with Bugs Bunny-style information arrows: “Earth”, an “Atomizer” featuring a dangling wick, and next to the pack of Big Black matches, the simple request “Let’s Go”), and it came out during a period when I bought records I knew nothing about just because they had amazing covers, resulting in such triumphs as the Replacements’ Let It Be and Husker Du’s Flip Your Wig, as well as some atrocious misfires, as you might imagine. At first I feared that Atomizer was going to be one of those misfires, as Martin said to me when I first played Side One, song one “Jordan, Minnesota”: “This sounds like silly Hardcore.” Which it kind of did if you weren’t paying attention, just with electronic percussion and more rhythmic screaming. However, a quick perusal of the liner notes (which are really a work of art in themselves) instantly informed me that something more serious, more interesting was going on. From the notes on “Jordan, Minnesota”:

they fuck their children, for shit’s sake. a whole town. bus drivers, school teachers, cops, storekeepers, housewives. little boys, little girls. very little. they play games with it, like very special hide-and-seek, and very special spin the bottle and very special poker.

And it went on from there. Oh boy, did it go on. Going back to listen to “Jordan, Minnesota” after reading those liner notes was like peering really hard into a picture that was shot out of focus, trying to decipher what it is and then reeling back in horror when you figure out it is something disgusting, something evil. “Jordan, Minnesota” was like that.

This will stay with you until you die

This will stay with you until you die

And I will stay with you until you die

This is Jordan

We do what we like!

As if this wasn’t bad enough, when you listened past the distortion on the voices during the last minute of the song, it sounded like a deranged Devil-parent screeching “Suck Daddy! Suck Daddy!” Again, we were about 15, 16 years old, listening to this. And later on, people thought Eminem’s second album was “kind of intense”.

Although at 16 years old we found the visceral truth contained in “Jordan, Minnesota” impossible to argue with, in fact almost none of what was depicted in the song and the liner notes turned out to be real. Out of the hundreds of charges filed against the parents of Jordan, Minnesota I think 6 of them stuck, all to one known run-of-the-mill, non-Satanic old child molester. Luckily, only the name of Jordan, Minnesota was really ruined in the pursuit of “justice” (if you Google it today, the results are split evenly between Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sites and the lyrics to the Big Black song) and not those of any of the individuals falsely accused. The McMartins, proprietors of the legendarily Satanic pre-school, would not be so lucky.