Young Lions Conspiracy (An Interview with Tim Kerr)

The Young Lions Conspiracy, I.S.A. “What Are You Doing to Participate?”

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The Young Lions is a group of like-minded individuals who believe in living life to the fullest and continuing to move forward — always moving forward — because if you are not moving forward you become stagnant. It is a group that promotes an attitude of diversity in both sound and everyday life. Keep your filters wide open. You don’t have to do what everybody else does and once you realize that it frees you up to be yourself and express yourself in ways that only you can ever realize. It’s much healthier and fun to listen to all kinds of music and find the connections. The sounds with true soul will ring out loud and clear! Just keep doing your best and by all means keep pushing your expression. Stay true to the cause and don’t get caught up in any of “their” hype.


If there’s any one person involved in the underground punk/rock’n’roll scene today that is the be-all end-all to this embodiment of the Young Lions Conspiracy, capable of pulling together influences from various music styles ranging from punk/new wave, free jazz, folk blues, reggae, soul, funk and rock’n’roll and combining them to form his own unique style, it’s Tim Kerr of Austin, Texas.

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I first became acquainted with the work of Tim Kerr back in college in the mid-1980s, when I heard my first Big Boys records. The Big Boys provided me hours of musical enjoyment and curiosity (hell, they played sloppy, fun, rebellious funk’n’roll better than ANY band before or since, IMHO, including the way overrated Red Hot Chili Peppers), as did other classic ’80s Texas punk bands like The Dicks, The Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Really Red, The Offenders, etc. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Big Boys had a bigger impact on me personally than similar bands such as The Minutemen or any other funk/ska/soul punk bands at the time (until, that is, I discovered NoMeansNo, but that’s another story altogether). At the time I had no idea who Tim Kerr was or that I’d be a fan of his various musical endeavors over the next 17+ years. But as time wore on, I would continually see his name associated with other bands that I liked, namely Poison 13, Jack O’ Fire, The Monkeywrench, King Sound Quartet, and most recently, The Now Time Delegation. Around the time that I first got the Jack O’ Fire Beware the Souless Cool LP, I noticed an interesting looking logo showing a clenched fist grasping a harmonica with the words “Young Lions Conspiracy” circling it and the words “What are you doing to participate?” scrawled below. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to ask Tim about the Young Lions, to find out exactly what it’s all about and where it came from. Here’s what I found out.

Interview by Kopper circa 2001/2002, originally intended for inclusion in Head in a Milk Bottle Vol. 2, #3

HIAMB: I once read an interview with someone named “Big Daddy Soul” on an insert that came with the Lord High Fixers’ Talking to Tommorrow 10″. This was from back in ’95. Who is he?
Tim Kerr: “Big Daddy Soul” is a person who has been documenting the Young Lion’s Conspiracy for some time… But the point of all of this is the thoughts and ideas and how they make you think or pertain to you. That’s what’s important, not the source-bearer.

HIAMB: Well, in that particular interview, he mentioned that the Young Lions Conspiracy was growing from that of a smaller underground organization built on the realization of facts and ideas brought about by cause and effect and demise of organizations that have come before and organizations that are happening now. What sorts of “organizations” are these? Sounds like a modern update on the word “conventions” as it relates to customary practices or rules for artistic behavior, am I right? As in musical conventions? This rings of the old artist/poet bohemians and beatniks revolting against convention, or living and creating in an unconventional, nonconforming way…
TK: Organizations as in a group of people trying to organize, get something going… Something that is growing. Conventions are stale old get-togethers, staying within the confines, conventional. They’re an excuse for funny hats and throwing water balloons out of windows when in fact, why do you need an excuse! (smile) Once again, the beauty of all this is the individual’s interpretation and yours on that interview was great!

HIAMB: It was also stated, though, that “the lack of information is in reality the strength.” How is that so?
TK: You can get bogged down with “information” and forget to really think about what is being presented to you. Really think about the words and sentences instead of where the book came from. How many times have you been at a show where people are talking about, “well, so-and-so is in this band so therefore they’re great!” instead of just listening and deciding for yourself how it makes YOU think or feel without any other outside information except what is being presented to you. Once again it’s the ideas and emotions and how they relate to you — not the bearer of the ideas.

HIAMB: How did you first get involved with the Young Lions?
TK: I read something on the back of a Sun Ra record and that’s what got me interested. It was a collection of thoughts that were exactly how I was feeling.

HIAMB: Where did the manifesto or idiom of the YLC originate? If there is a manifesto, what would that be?
TK: I’m not sure when this all first started but the main emphasis is on staying open-minded, because if you are open at all times, you are learning at all times.

HIAMB: So, obviously you must have been really moved, intrigued, and even influenced by that Sun Ra record. What other artists or musicians, like him (jazz or otherwise), did you take influence from?
TK: There is so much! I listen to different stuff all the time—John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, early John Martyn, Nick Drake, Irish traditional, Minor Threat, Minutemen, Aaron Copland, Fugazi, Curtis Mayfield, The Impressions, Sly and the Family Stone…

HIAMB: Everything I’ve read about the YLC seems to be somewhat vague, yet precise in its vagueness. Do you think that’s accurate?
TK: I don’t think it is vague at all. Bottom line: Stay open to what is happening around you and learn. You never know who will be next to be part of your family or your new favorite food or song or book or cool place and so on. Celebrate your time here. That is not vague at all, to me, and it makes so much sense that I try to apply it at all times to my time here. This original seed, or idea, is completely open to grow to become your own philosophy, coming from your own experiences, because everyone’s experiences and their interpretations will be different. The only given is if you shut yourself off from things then you shut yourself off from living life to the fullest, along with all of the knowledge and emotions that come with that.

HIAMB: Do you encounter a lot of confusion, misunderstanding or even hostility from some people regarding the Young Lions movement?
TK: I get asked questions but not a whole lot. The only hostility comes from people who think that, because a thought or experience is written down, then the writer must think of him or herself as above the one receiving the message, when in reality it’s just one thought, one person’s opinion or interpretation, a kind of “did you ever wonder or think this?” that is there for your discussion, thought or time. A human being trying to connect with another human being.

HIAMB: Some people have viewed the YLC as just another elitist clique. Why do you think that is?
TK: Well, first of all people are going to “view” what they view no matter how spelled out it is for them. I can only speak for myself, but I am not concerned with someone’s “bag it, tag it” quick attitude they may have applied to me or my choices, or anyone else’s for that matter. If you understand the “stay open” first lesson of the Young Lions Conspiracy, I personally don’t see how you can equate that with an elitist clique.

HIAMB: I don’t think they put that tag on it once they know what it’s all about—in fact, I’m sure that once they DO understand the message that these preconceptions diminish considerably—but I think that just by having a name associated with it, and a name that also includes the mysterious word “conspiracy” in it, makes them feel that it’s somewhat elitist, or an inclusive club, something out of The X-Files or something… know what I mean?
TK: Yes, I do (smile). We were having a long discussion about this question and were coming to some of the same conclusions. A name is something to rally around for better or worse.

HIAMB: List some of the best teachers you’ve encountered in helping you on the road to realizing your ideals that shaped who you are today.
TK: For me, it’s a combination of people, incidents, experiences, etc. that I learn and am learning from. You can pretty much learn from anything. There are things that have made a strong impression on me such as the original community spirit of punk/hardcore, friends and friends to come who are doing or creating different things for the right reasons.

HIAMB: What about books or literature? Who are some of your favorite authors, thinkers, or philosophers? Read any good books lately?
TK: I am reading the autobiography of (jazz genius) Anthony Braxton right now. Sun Ra’s biography really made a lot of things inside me connect. I like Brendan Behan’s stuff and the book A Prayer for Owen Meany (by John Irving) was really great. Of course Howl (Allen Ginsberg) is pretty amazing and dead on… and yes, I have read all of the Harry Potters and thought they were great! (smile) There is a guy that I read about in Shane MacGowan’s biography (A Drink With Shane) that writes a lot of stuff on zen and tao that is really great but I can’t think of his name right now.

HIAMB: I’m curious to know what other sorts of entertainment you enjoy. What sorts of movies do you like, for example?
TK: I like movies like To Kill a Mockingbird, War of the Buttons, coming of age-type stuff and things that have to do with subcultures… documentaries, etc. I like seeing old ’40s/’50s/’60s Americana “ideal”-type things… architecture, mom and pop stores, etc. I like traveling and going to thrift stores! Bicycles, skating, scooters…

HIAMB: Skating, yeah… isn’t that how you broke your wrist?
TK: Yeah, I had just landed a sweeper and after the initial stall… I went forward, and the board did not. (smile) It was bad… I have a plate. Oh well.

HIAMB: A what? A sweeper…?
TK: What? You don’t play your Tony Hawk skater game? (smile) A sweeper is when you skate up to the edge or lip of where ever you are skating and kick the board out from under your feet and while holding the nose with your hand, you sweep the tail of the board across the edge, then land your feet back on it. Uh… understand? I never thought about describing these things; it’s harder than the trick!

HIAMB: Let’s shift gears here and talk about some of your contemporaries. What do you think of Mick Collins’ work? I see a lot of similarities between the two of you. You collaborated with Mick on the King Sound Quartet project back in ’96 and recorded some amazing stuff. What exactly caused the failure of the 2000 King Sound Quartet session (with Matt Verta Ray of Speedball Baby) that was to have evolved into the second album? And do you think you and Mick will ever be able to get back together on any future projects?
TK: Uh… (smile) I don’t see any similarities at all, other than we have both been in bands. He comes from a completely different cut of cloth and I, and I will just leave it at that. The failure of the King Sound Quartet meant the birth of the Now Time Delegation. We gave 120%, Mick didn’t.

HIAMB: Sounds like you two had quite a falling out! The similarities I was getting at are the obvious connection to blues, soul and R&B that you both seem to share, how you both pull influences from classic artists to create your music, and the fact that you’ve both been involved with so many bands over the years. Sorry if that question struck a nerve. I suppose the two of you could have similar tastes/experiences in music but differ substantially when it comes to personal philosophies and ethics.
TK: Don’t worry , I was not upset (smile) and yes we are completely two different people that happen to like similar things… You were completely right in your assumption.

HIAMB: Were the songs on the Now Time Delegation album originally slated for the second KSQ LP? And does the Now Time Delegation plan on recording another record soon?
TK: Most of the Now Time songs were intended to be the next King Sound, so yeah. I’m not sure what is going to happen with the Now Time Delegation… Everyone is really busy.

HIAMB: What about Billy Childish? He seems to be continually evolving, and exploring new musical directions with his various bands over the years. His new band, in fact (The Buff Medways) seems to be heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix. AND he’s a great poet, artist and storyteller as well. Have you ever spoken to him regarding the YLC and its similarities with Stuckism (his artistic movement)? The philosophies or manifestos seem almost identical in theory.
TK: I will thank you for this one, that is indeed a compliment, and yes we have become good friends. We have talked about a lot of things and just recently about maybe doing something together at some point.

HIAMB: Please list the bands you’ve played with in the past.
TK: Big Boys, Court Reporters, Poison 13, Bad Mutha Goose and The Brothers Grimm, Seventh Samurai, Jack O’ Fire, Fist Fight, Lord High Fixers, King Sound Quartet, Monkeywrench, Now Time Delegation, and Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee.

HIAMB: You’ve been in so many bands over the years… What has been the main reason behind them breaking up? Is it differences in artistic/musical direction? Internal problems?
TK: Bands are like riding in the station wagon with your brothers and sisters when your parents took you on those long vacations… at some point you have to get out of the car. (smile)

HIAMB: What’s been the most bizarre/crazy experience you’ve had from playing in all of those bands over the past 20 years? The one that really sticks out in your memory the most?
TK: There really are too many… really! Everything from Biscuit (Big Boys) covered in motor oil and honey, the couple of, uh, small riots, and being wined and dined in Bad Mutha Goose. The first time the Lord High Fixers went to Japan, being thrown in the air like the Eskimos when The Monkeywrench played Spain, recording The Quadrajets record in someone’s house where we had the drums in the kitchen and amps in the bedrooms and bathroom, doing a question-and-answer thing at a college in Slovenia and being on their national news with the first question being ‘What is the Young Lion’s Conspiracy?’… etc… etc…

HIAMB: When and where was your best show ever? The one that really blew you away as a musician/performer… what were the circumstances, etc.?
TK: Any Lord High Fixers shows, period. Especially the early ones when no one knew what we were up to or what to expect. Just the look on friends’ faces was priceless.

HIAMB: Tell me about Sweatbox Studios (in Austin). You obviously do a lot of production for other bands that record there. What’s your philosophy on how to get the best sound out of a band?
TK: The Sweatbox is owned by Mike Vasquez. I started helping out friends there when they would record and have just stayed there. The room is great and has a really great sound! I am into getting the best sound with the mike placement and stuff, instead of using studio tricks. I’m also really big into the “feel” of the music and set it up to where you don’t have to wear headphones, which I, for one, prefer.the big thing to remember is that you want to be able to look back at that experience and smile. When you play that record 20 years from now it should bring back great memories about that one documentation at that one time with that one set of people.

HIAMB: What if a band wants to get you to produce their stuff… What should they do?
TK: I don’t do this for a living, though I do it all the time (smile), so the beauty for me is I do things I like. I also like the idea that if someone wants to work with me they have to work a little to try and get a
way to get a hold of me. That kind of weeds out the people that don’t really have their hearts into the choices they are making in the first place.

HIAMB: So, the name of your newest combo is The Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee. If that doesn’t sound like a Young Lions name, I don’t know what does! How does this band differ musically or creatively from any of your previous bands, especially the Lord High Fixers?
TK: To me it’s an extension of what the Lord High Fixers had started but just pushing it further. There is a Hammond organ that has been prominently added to the mix, along with new people and new sets of ideas.

HIAMB: Who is in the new band? Mike Carroll? Anyone from any of your other previous groups that we may know?
TK: Yeah, Mike is singing. Pat is our organ player and he has a band called McLemore Ave. He played on some Jack O’ Fire and Lord High Fixers stuff, too. The drummer is Ben who has a band where he plays guitar and sings called Attack Formation. He was in Tune In Tokyo and has played some with Sean Na Na. Nick plays bass and also plays bass for The Crack Pipes.

HIAMB: Explain the idea behind the Young Lions Conspiracy compilation CD coming out on Estrus [Note: As far as I know this comp never saw the light of day -kopper, 2011]. Are these mainly bands that hold these same artistic/creative ideals or are they mainly just your favorite bands right now?
TK: This was (Estrus head honcho) Dave Crider’s idea which (I think) started from the realization that there were some cool bands that I was talking about but he just didn’t have enough resources to help. He asked me if I would be into doing some sort of comp with bands that I knew of or felt were coming from the same sort of ideas or philosophy that the Young Lions encompassed or were part of the Young Lions. I haven’t really had a lot of time to think about it yet, but I think it would be cool to have a combination of old and new stuff on it.

HIAMB: What other current musicians, bands or record labels out there do you believe are in tune with your philosophies and are carrying the Young Lions’ torch and planting seeds?
TK: Estrus, Touch and Go, Dischord… great, great, honest, human beings! As far as musicians or bands, there are just too many to mention and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.

HIAMB: One of the best new bands I’ve heard lately has been The Lost Sounds, from Memphis. Are you familiar with them? And what’s your opinion of the White Stripes? Worthy of the hype surrounding the duo?
TK: The Lost Sounds are cool as well as The White Stripes.

HIAMB: Finally, can we ever hope to see your new band perform live in St. Louis? It doesn’t seem like your previous bands ever did much touring.
TK: It would be great to play there so who knows, maybe! (smile) All of the bands from Jack O’ Fire on have all had people from other states, cities and everyone had or have regular jobs so you can’t take off for very long. Total Sound are all in Austin so it might be easier to pull something off. What’re the thrift stores like there!? (smile)

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My interview with Michael Weldon of Psychotronic Video magazine (circa late 2001)

The following interview was originally supposed to be printed in Head in a Milk Bottle Vol. 2, #3 in the spring of 2002, but the issue never materialized. I recently unearthed an archive disc containing a lot of the articles and interviews that were to be featured in that issue, and will be posting them here on my blog periodically. Keep in mind that this stuff was written in late 2001.

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Cleveland, Ohio native Michael Weldon started Psychotronic magazine some 22 years ago as a hand-written underground TV Guide for B-movie freaks living in New York City’s East Village neighborhood. A few years later it evolved into a book, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, then gave birth to a popular yearly calendar, and later the highly regarded Psychotronic Video magazine and The Psychotronic Video Guide. For awhile, Michael also ran the Psychotronic Boutique, a groovy little underground video store, in New York City. His Psychotronic Video magazine has been in print as a quarterly fanzine since 1989 for fans of Z-grade biker, sci-fi, horror, sexploitation and beach movies, with each issue jam-packed with great interviews with cult-movie stars and directors, columns, DVD, music, book and fanzine reviews, and a plethora of short, well-researched and entertaining film reviews from the silent period all the way up through the new millennium.

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Michael J. Weldon was born on January 17, 1952 in Cleveland, Ohio, the 7th largest city in America at the time, and raised mostly in the west-side suburb of Lakewood, which had been the birthplace of Wired Radio (Muzak). In the ’20s, Cleveland was the 5th largest city in America and was well known for the many millionaires who lived there. “When I was a kid it was promoted as ‘The Best Location in the Nation,’ but soon became a prime target of jokes on national TV shows. When I left (in ’79) it was bankrupt. I still think it’s a great and unique place.”

Michael enjoyed a fairly typical suburban American baby-boomer upbringing. “I got along with—and still get along with—my parents and my brothers. Nothing uniquely bad happened to my family, but over the years we were affected by the same things that affected everybody: the Cold War (complete with bomb drills at school), assassinations, riots, the mass arrival of drugs, shopping malls and McDonald’s taking over. Our neighborhood was also pretty much ruined by I-90 cutting right through it. We grew up playing in the ruins of our former neighbors’ homes. For years it looked like a (safe) war zone. Our WWII vet dad was a semi-professional magician from Oklahoma who had also worked as a ventriloquist and a hypnotist. That alone made our family different, I guess.”

While he never had any big ambitions of being an actor or a rock’n’roll star, he did become fascinated with movies at an early age, and later had modest ambitions of playing in a local band, and in fact was in two. “I became fascinated with old movies as soon as my parents bought our first black and white TV set in the late ’50s (most neighbors already had them). I was around kindergarten age. Old (’30s and ’40s) movies of all types were shown on TV every morning and afternoon on the local stations. My first favorites were haunted house and murder mystery movies, then I discovered the classic monsters.”

A Cyclops in Nathan Juran’s THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958). Photo courtesy Film Forum/Photofest.

A Cyclops in Nathan Juran’s THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958). Photo courtesy Film Forum/Photofest.

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The movies that really stick out in Michael’s mind as being his favorites growing up were The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Captain Sinbad (1963), and Jason and the Argonauts (1963) in theaters. Some of his favorites from TV included the classic H.G. Wells horror/sci-fi film Island of Lost Souls (1933) starring, among others, Bela Lugosi; International House (1933) with W.C. Fields; and Peeping Tom (1960).

When it came to TV shows, “My favorites were, at various times: Captain Kangaroo (when I was really young), local kids shows that featured depression-era comedy shorts (Our Gang, The Three Stooges) and cartoons, A Queen for a Day, Ernie Kovacs, midget wrestling, sci-fi/horror anthology shows (Alfred Hitchcock, Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits), music shows (Shindig!, Hullabaloo, Ed Sullivan Show, Where the Action Is and the Cleveland-based Upbeat!), and spy shows ending with The Prisoner. I watched countless sitcoms but my all-time favorite was The Addams Family.”

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It didn’t take long for Michael’s fanaticism in movies to really festoon itself and become more than just a casual diversion. “I became serious about the movies I liked after the local Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) late night horror host show debuted in Cleveland (in ’63), and I discovered Famous Monsters, Castle of Frankenstein and all the other monster movie magazines that were around then. I started wanting to know as much as possible about Boris, Bela and Peter Lorre (and later, directors) and started scrapbooks of pictures and advertisements.

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“Ghoulardi’s original late Friday-night show was Shock Theater. His Saturday afternoon movie show was Masterpiece Theater. His half-hour weekday afternoon show was Laurel, Ghoulardi and Hardy. We just called all of them “Ghoulardi.” They were on Channel 8, WJW, the local CBS affiliate (it’s Fox now). I’ve written many articles about Ghoulardi, the movies he showed, and the amazing music (rock, R&B, and jazz) heard on his shows in various issues of PV (Psychotronic Video magazine) and interviewed him for Fangoria. I don’t know of any other local TV personality that had the intense and lasting cult appeal of Ghoulardi. His three main descendants (The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul, and Big Chuck) are all STILL on Cleveland-area TV! Ghoulardi’s influence was so great in northeastern Ohio that kids blew up plastic models (and other things) with M-80s and said “Stay Sick” and “Turn Blue” to each other for years because of him. The Cramps were heavily influenced by Ghoulardi and Iggy and The Stooges were big fans of The Ghoul. I could write a book about him but somebody already did (Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland TV’s Wildest Ride by Tom Feran & R.D. Heldenfels, paperback, 1997). Ernie was also the comedy partner of actor Tim Conway (on local Cleveland TV and on comedy LPs), was the official announcer voice of the ABC network, and was the father of director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia).”

Michael’s love of obscure film wasn’t shared by many of his friends growing up, which is interesting considering a lot of kids will get into what their friends are into. “I was pretty much on my own with my childhood movie obsessions but my mom also liked old monster movies and my dad had rare, old magic show posters on the wall of devils and decapitated heads. I didn’t really know how many other Cleveland-area people were into the same movies I was, though, until I attended a sci-fi convention in 1966. It was fun, but by then I was more excited about music and bands than the Star Trek pilot that was premiered there.”

Later on, there were a few things that influenced Michael to start reviewing movies, and to later publish Psychotronic, but for the most part it was his own love of the genre, as well as punk rock, that caused him to want to start writing. “My capsule movie reviews were influenced by the ones in Castle of Frankenstein magazine from New York City, and probably by Leonard Maltin, who started writing his movie review books when he was still a teenager. When my first reviews were published (in Cleveland) we were all heavily influenced by the growing D.I.Y. punk ’zine scene. We sold Sniffin’ Glue, Search and Destroy, NY Rocker and many others in The Drome, the record store where I worked.

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Regarding music, and being a musician in the great early ’70s Cleveland rock’n’roll scene, Michael says, “I’ve loved all types of pop music since I first heard top-40 radio, probably before we had a TV set. I was too little to experience the peak of original rock’n’roll (my parents were into typical MOR), but can clearly remember what was on the radio from about 1958 on. I liked novelty songs and instrumentals first, then was a fan of surf music, girl groups, early Motown, crossover R&B and country and singers like Gene Pitney, Del Shannon, Dion, and Roy Orbison—pretty much whatever was good on the radio and there was a LOT. Late ’50s and early ’60s music was great but the British Invasion caused a major exciting shift away from solo acts and singing groups, and really was the reason why so many guys started playing guitars and forming local bands—all over the world. The first band I was in (The Water’s Edge) was around 1966–’68. I played rhythm guitar (a black, solid-body Hagstrom) through a used Ampeg amp with a torn speaker. It was an exciting time because local garage bands could actually hope to maybe have a local—and sometimes national!—hit, and guitar effects (feedback, distortion, echo, wah-wah, etc.) were being discovered and accepted. The band I was in played all covers of hits, B-sides and LP cuts by Love, The Blues Magoos, The Byrds, The Who, and The Yardbirds plus the great songs every band played then (“Louie Louie,” “Hey Joe,” “Gloria,” “Wipeout,” etc.). There were two older guys in the band, which was a good thing if you wanted to learn new things. The singer owned Freak Out! by The Mothers of Invention (we never attempted to play any of that!) and the bass player owned LPs by all the bands I just mentioned. We weren’t organized enough or wealthy enough to make any records, though. This was before any of us had tried any drugs (although one guy sniffed glue) and I hadn’t even had a beer yet. Two band members later became junkies. I don’t know if either one is still alive.

“As far as favorite artists go, I still love The Beatles and The Stones but also Howlin’ Wolf, The Shadows, Link Wray, Phil Ochs, The Kinks, The Pretty Things, Captain Beefheart, Thirteen Floor Elevators, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Stooges, Can, Motörhead, The Cramps, The Avengers, The Saints, and Wire to name just a few.”

During his formative years in Cleveland, Michael held quite a few jobs. “I worked in restaurants for too long, then at the Record Rendezvous store in Cleveland’s Public Square. Leo Mintz, the owner of this small local chain of stores had been a friend of Alan Freed. Mintz sponsored the famous early ’50s Moondog Matinee show and has been credited with convincing Alan Freed to play R&B music on the radio for white kids and call it rock’n’roll. Mintz also sponsored Cleveland’s wildest-by-far DJ, The Mad Daddy. After ‘The Vous,’ I worked at Northern Records, a major regional one-stop distributor, and then The Drome.”

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In the late 1960s and into the early ’70s, Michael got to know quite a few people involved with the early punk scene in Cleveland, and he also played drums for a band called the Mirrors, who would later evolve into the Styrenes. “I only played drums because nobody else wanted to and there was a cheap used set around. I never played drums before or after The Mirrors. By the early ’70s, most Cleveland-area bands were strictly cover bands and they tended to cover whatever was the most popular at the time. Any “scene” that had existed with The Choir, The Baskerville Hounds, and The Outsiders was long gone and the days of the local-based, more experimental bands (James Gang, Glass Harp, Damnation of Adam Blessing, etc.) was over, too. I knew and hung out with all the members of The Electric Eels and some of the Mirrors since high school. Founding Mirrors members Jamie Klimek and Jim Crook were older. When I was still in school Jim was fighting in Nam, which was where we all expected to end up. I first met the late Rocket From the Tombs and Pere Ubu founder Peter Laughner when I was still in school (late ’60s) because his bass player then was my locker partner. The Mirrors later played on bills with the Eels and Rocket, and I later worked at The Drome record store with (Ubu frontman) David Thomas. He quit when Ubu was signed, which was about the time I met the Pagans, whose records were on Drome Records. Other people I knew, had worked with in record stores, or had at least met, ended up in bands in Manhattan (The Cramps, Dead Boys, Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, DNA, Feelies, Zantees, Bush Tetras, etc.).

“I knew the guys in The Electric Eels the best since we all went to Lakewood High. I went to The Atlantic City Pop Festival (featuring Dr. John, Arthur Brown, Little Richard, Lothar and The Hand People, Tim Buckley, and others) with Brian McMahon (Eels) and Dave. I was in a high school movie that Paul Marotta (founding member of The Electric Eels and infamous Cleveland studio musician and producer/engineer who also worked with the Pagans, Pere Ubu, and the Styrenes) made—something about sex under a table during dinner and shooting drugs. I shared apartments with Dave (had to throw him out) and Brian. Brian and I spent the night in jail after partying at Peter Laughner’s and I was threatened with guns in a working class bar because of John Morton’s (Eels) and Brian’s confrontational antics. After the drummer for Rocket from the Tombs stole equipment from The Eels, I went with John and Nick Knox (Eels drummer, later of The Cramps) who were planning to beat him up, but we never found him. Other memories are of going to see bands like The Stooges, The New York Dolls, Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper and Sun Ra with various Eels and best of all, seeing the looks on people’s faces when the Eels played live.”

Even though he was spending a lot of his time running around with these notorious Cleveland punks, Michael was still very much interested in B-movies. “I got into ‘underground’ films going to weekly midnight shows at a local (Lakewood) theater during the late ’60s. They showed features and shorts of all descriptions—usually featuring sex, drugs, and politics that had been banned from mainstream movies. The films ranged from West Coast hippie dreams to Warhol/New York stark reality. I started writing about movies in school, pretty much for myself. Shortly after I went to work at The Drome record store (in ’77), Jim Ellis, David Thomas and store owner John Thompson (a.k.a. Johnny Dromette) started Cle magazine and I wrote a column of movie reviews being shown on local Cleveland TV.

“By ’79, the exciting new ‘punk’ scene had already devolved into ‘new wave’ and cocaine was becoming a serious problem for many people. There were still great new bands, but the emphasis was on stupid gimmicks (picture discs, colored vinyl, etc.). Cleveland had defaulted and many people I knew had already moved to NYC. The Drome had been thrown out of its Cleveland Heights location and had moved to Lakewood (a mistake). The local radio stations refused to play our commercials if they had any music that sounded like ‘punk’ (the same sounds now used on countless commercials selling everything). Everybody seemed depressed by the state of the incredibly shrinking city of Cleveland, Jonestown and Three Mile Island. We put on a show in ’79 at The Drome featuring the pre-LP B-52s and tried showing Eraserhead as a midnight movie. The number of people at these shows numbered in the tens. It was time for a major change, so I packed up a rented van and arrived at former Eel John Morton’s loft in Brooklyn on the 4th of July.”

Eager to continue his movie critiques and do something productive with his time, Michael started Psychotronic as a weekly, xeroxed, hand-printed alternative NYC TV guide in 1980 shortly after moving into an East Village apartment and landing his first NYC job, which was with another excellent record store, now long gone—Record City on Broadway. “It just seemed like the thing to do. I hand-delivered copies every week to shops around lower Manhattan, then returned and tried to collect money. There were no ads. I had help and encouragement from Village Voice employees Akira Fitton (still with PV) and artist Sally Eckoff (my girlfriend at the time). Some others who helped out in various ways included Charlie Beesley and Fred Brockman (both from Ohio), Fangoria editor Bob Martin and Lester Bangs, who actually asked me if he could write movie reviews for Psychotronic.”

Asked how he could afford to live in Manhattan on a record store clerk’s salary, he says, “If you were lucky, apartments could be found in the Village for even cheaper than in Cleveland at the time. Many were rent stabilized or controlled. I met people in my building who were still paying under $100 a month! After a while all of them either died or were bought (or scared) out of the building so the landlord could charge $800, $1,000 or whatever. I held on to mine for over 20 years. When I lived at 341 E. 9th St., tenants included a one-time member of The Holy Modal Rounders, a former Voidoid, an Irish female filmmaker whose main star was Lydia Lunch, and a resident biker/dealer who collected pulp novels.”

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It didn’t take long for the weekly Psychotronic guide to attract some good local media attention. “After all, I was in New York City writing about ‘trash culture’—it would have been amazing if I hadn’t gotten any media coverage.” This led to a deal at Random House/Ballantine to do a book of reviews. “I knew I couldn’t devote enough time to a book then AND still grind out a weekly ’zine, so with mixed feelings I stopped publishing Psychotronic and used my advance money to live on for a while. When it was published (in ’83), The Psychotronic  Encyclopedia of Film got many great reviews, good publicity and sold well and steadily. It has been reprinted many times and is still in print nearly 20 years later, which is unusual for any movie book.”

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Michael continued writing movie reviews, and thirteen years later published the second volume, this one being called The Psychotronic Video Guide. “It has done well too, but 1996 was not 1983 and, although St. Martin’s is a ‘cool’ publisher, it’s not Ballantine. I would love to write and assemble one Psychotronic book with everything from both earlier books (with corrections and additions) plus newer reviews. Since every company on the planet is busy being bought out or merging these days, I figure if I wait long enough, my former publishers will both be owned by the same multi-national conglomerate and there will be no more legal problems. I just hope that books are still being published by then!”

In 1989, Michael decided to take Psychotronic a step further and start a more or less “real” magazine again. “It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. I had recently been inspired by touring Europe with a package of Psychotronic movies (which included Dementia (a.k.a. Daughter of Horror), Robot Monster, Carnival of Souls, Night Tide, and Nabonga), had met my future wife, Mi Hwa, and was tired of writing formula freelance reviews for video magazines. Psychotronic Video grew slowly and we have had to deal with the realities of the real world ’zine distribution system (they’re all crooks), rising paper and postage costs, and the rush towards our current ‘connected’ world. I still love publishing a magazine but whenever anybody asks about starting their own ’zine I tell them that unless they’re independently wealthy and have spare time they’d have to be out of their mind to do it and expect to not lose money. We continue to sell enough issues and enough ads and subscriptions to hang on. Otherwise, as I said, you have to be out of your mind to do this for so many years without ANY financial backing and at the mercy of distributors.

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“Fanzines peaked in popularity at some point in the ’90s when there were books about them; Factsheet Five was around and there were more and better distributors to handle them. It now seems like they were on the way out even then. The Internet really is changing everything. Most of the distributors that didn’t declare bankruptcy or were bought out changed all of their policies (on returns, percentage paid, and other matters) and made it even harder for indy ’zines to survive. The biggest distribution nightmare was when Fine Print of Texas went under owing money to all the ’zines they had carried.”

Even though Michael now lives in Virginia, he says that PV is still printed in the NYC area. “We moved to the Eastern Shore of Virginia in 2000 after a series of memorable negative events both personal (we nearly died in a head-on car crash in New Jersey) and well-known and newsworthy. 1999 was the year of the Y2K panic, The Woodstock disaster (we had first-hand reports) and Columbine. Locally, The Narrowsburg International Film Festival was part of a short-lived but book-worthy con orchestrated by a low-level wise guy from Brooklyn who had starred in an autobiographical shot-on-video movie called Wacking Cows. We had to escape from the huge Times Square Loews Theater in Manhattan on Easter during a wilding-style riot at a showing of The Matrix. Our car was totaled by a guy talking on his cell phone. We spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square and decided it was time for a change of scenery (and weather).

“I basically felt the same way I did in 1979 when I decided to leave Cleveland; things in general were getting dangerously out of hand and it seemed like something really awful was going to happen. Just after I moved to NYC, the Iran hostage crisis happened, Reagan and Bush were elected and Lennon was shot. Just after we moved totally out of New York (City and upstate), George W. was elected, the WTC (where we ate dinner on our wedding day) toppled and George Harrison died. Somehow we seem trapped in cycles as things devolve. Did I mention that Devo played live in The Drome?

“I first saw Devo in a small club in nearby Akron. Johnny Dromette got to be friends with Mark Mothersbaugh and their hard-working original manager (who they dumped after being signed). The Drome showed Devo’s amazing videos to open several Disasto shows (starring Pere Ubu, Suicide Commandos, Destroy All Monsters, Pagans, and others) and Devo played live for free in the store once, complete with Mark as Boogie Boy in a playpen. I thought they were totally unique, funny and disturbing. I remember hearing Mark talking to David Thomas about the future and goals of their still-unsigned bands, never imagining that both would last so long and do so well. Mothersbaugh had a homemade scrapbook illustrating all aspects of de-evolution. That must have been the primer for the Subgenious Foundation.”

Some of you fellow zinemakers reading this who may have encountered printing/publishing nightmares may be relieved to know it’s not an uncommon thing, and has even happened with PV. “The most memorable production memory is when our new printer refused to print at the last possible moment because someone at the company was offended by a photo of a naked woman. We’ve been turned down by other printers because I refuse to censor things—at least not at their demand.”

Michael and his wife decided to close up their Manhattan-based Psychotronic Boutique video store (which was recreated by almost-resident fan Quentin Tarantino in his movie True Romance) in ’93 when they bought a house in Sullivan County (upstate), which was surrounded by a farm with cows and overlooked the Delaware River. “We thought about having somebody else run our store so we could live in our house, but (wisely, I think) decided to close up. We had a good and profitable time running the Psychotronic store for a few years but we also had to put up with relentless shoplifters (including bored students, homeless people, junkies and drag queens), ‘anarchists’ from Tomkins Square Park who smashed windows and glued our locks shut, gangster garbage collection shakedowns, a psycho super, and New York’s (Mayor) Dinkins-era general chaos. While we had our store, two neighboring restaurant owners were murdered, and a guy down the street was arrested for killing a ballerina and boiling her head. Our store was basically in storage for years until we moved to Virginia.”

When flipping through the most recent issue of PV, I noticed he has “Legal Counsel” listed on the masthead for BOTH coasts. Michael told me there’s a good reason for this. “I never thought of hiring a lawyer for anything until after the first book came out and I found out how many different ways you can be cheated and conned if you are doing something others would like to profit from. We have had to use lawyers to collect money, to work out convoluted publishing deals, and to stop several stores and an international corporation from blatantly misusing and abusing Psychotronic.

“While our NYC store was open, an existing local chain of video stores (that I was a member of) started putting the Psychotronic logo on their membership cards and above their own name outside their stores! When I calmly told the (immigrant) owner that this was unfair, uncool and illegal, he started yelling ‘This is America! I can do whatever I want!’ He pointed at a truck going by and said ‘I can call my store Coca-Cola if I want!’ It took a lawyer to stop him. Then, some men from a very large international corporation came by and said ‘We love what you’re doing and we’re planing a syndicated Psychotronic TV show. We’ll hire you as a consultant but we’re going to do it if you agree with us or not.’ They had already shot a promo short (using our logo) for it and everything! A lawyer stopped them. After a while, whenever I’d hear the words ‘fan,’ ‘synergy’ and ‘business’ at the same time, I’d know to call a lawyer.”

When I asked him if he could recall some of his most memorable features that have been included in PV over the years, he recalls, “The most memorable people interviewed for PV for various reasons were David Carradine, Susan Tyrell and Sammy Petrillo. I didn’t interview them myself but dealt with all of them. Meeting Al Adamson shortly before he was murdered was memorable, too. Of the interviews I conducted myself, I have the best memories of Ernie (Ghoulardi) Anderson.”

Michael says the people he has working on PV (most for no money) are a good combination of old friends and people who he’s met or have contacted him with good ideas over the years. “I have assigned some interviews but others were just sent in out of the blue.

“The film industry has always been a mindless greedy machine. It’s amazing that any good and worthwhile movies are and were produced. Luckily I also enjoy watching mediocre and terrible movies. I hate paying top dollar to see a boring, mediocre movie, but love seeing a good one in a theater and I’ll watch just about anything on tape or TV—it’s part of my ‘job.’ Even the best directors usually only make a few really great movies. I’ve pretty much given up counting on any of them. For example, I like some films by the Coen brothers and Jim Jarmusch a lot, as well as ones by David Cronenberg and David Lynch—but not all of them.” When asked if he thinks the B-movie film industry might be drying up to the point where it might become increasingly more difficult to find subjects to cover in the pages of PV, he says, “There will NEVER be a lack of interesting PV-type actors, directors and musicians to interview, or releases to review.”

And that, my friends, is good news indeed.

“Stay Sick.” – Michael J. Weldon

To order a copy of the latest issue of Psychotronic Video magazine, send $5 (plus $1.75 for postage in the U.S.) to Michael Weldon, c/o Psychotronic, 4102 Main St., Chincoteague, VA 23336. Subscriptions are also available. On the Web: www.psychotronicvideo.com or e-mail pvzine@intercom.net

Camp Freddy Radio

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Billy Morrison of Camp Freddy Radio on Indie 103.1 in L.A. did a short phone interview with me during his show this past Saturday night and you can hear it here (MP3). For more of a background on Billy Morrison, check out the entry on him on Wikipedia. Those of you that caught the last episode of Savage Kick heard Billy’s comments about GaragePunk.com from his show the week before (scroll down the page a few posts to get access to that file).

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Le Soir

Ryan Katastrophe and I got interviewed about the GaragePunk Podcast for a Belgian newspaper called Le Soir. The link below will take you to it (don’t worry, it’s in English). I guess this would count as “press,” right? 😉

Click here to read it.

Le Soir has been around a long time, btw (founded in 1887). It is the most popular newspaper in the French speaking part of Belgium, followed by La Libre Belgique.

Enjoy, or something.