Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lunachicks: The Epitome of Punk Rock Creativity?

During this age of “same-sounding-Billboard-chart-downloaded-to-iPod” phase of pop music, one wonders of the existence of an active government conspiracy 10 years ago – a la X-Files – bent on keeping the band Lunachicks in relative obscurity?


By: Vanessa Uy


The first time I listened to Lunachicks was during a point in my life that could be considered “musically” tumultuous. I was 8 at the time when I knew that achieving Joe Satriani like levels of guitar virtuosity is second nature to me. Avril Lavigne’s debut album was conquering the local airwaves unabated when I’m starting to wonder if my newly found virtuosity will only be in vogue in classical music circles (or 1980’s hair metal bands). My guitar skills will always be a legal way for me to achieve easy money by being a session musician, but it’s only fair to thank the band Lunachicks for keeping me sane during this past few years.

First formed way back in 1987 Lunachiks were said to be discovered by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at their second gig. The two members of Sonic Youth thought that Lunachicks were a “noise band” – but in actuality- Lunachicks hadn’t learned how to play their instruments yet at the time. A few years later –in 1990 – Lunachicks released their debut album titled “Baby Sitters on Acid” on the record label Blast First. Baby Sitters on Acid “is” the only Lunachicks album that I haven’t heard or owned yet (CD or LP only offers please).

The principal members of Lunachicks are: Theo on lead vocals full name Theo Kogan, stands a full 6 feet and extensively works as a model in the NYC area. Gina (full name Gina Volpe) on guitars and vocals. Squid (Sydney Silver), on bass guitar and vocal duties. Becky Wreck a.k.a. Susan Rebecca Lloyd was their drummer during their first two albums. Chip, (Chip English) replaced Becky about the time when Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart records – a legendary New York based independent music record label. Sindi, (Sindi Benezra Valsamis) served as the bands other guitarist from 1987 but she’s no longer with the band during the 1998 leg of their tour. Helen Destroy served as the band’s drummer from 2000 to 2001.

After achieving a substantial cult following and critical acclaim from their Baby Sitters on Acid album, Lunachicks released “Binge and Purge” on the Safe House record label in 1992. The album served as a creative template for the succeeding Lunachicks albums. With songs about female masturbation whose lyrical descriptions rival those of Jonathan Swift’s literary description of defecation on his book “Gulliver’s Travels.” As a Punk Rock band, Lunachicks’ uniqueness is the result of their unabashed use of “technical” guitar playing which is the preserve of 1980’s “hair metal” bands.

Lunachicks came into their own when they signed up with Go-Kart records. A friend of Greg Ross once told him to sign Lunachicks because they are NYC’s most popular “indie” band. Around 1995, Go-Kart was still a fledgling record label but as luck would have it Lunachicks signed up with Go-Kart. In May 1, 1995, Go-Kart released Lunachicks’ third full-length album – “Jerk of all Trades.” Because of their popularity, Lunachicks single-handedly became the label’s financial bread-and-butter. During the later half of 1995, Lunachicks toured with “alternative / indie” bands made famous by MTV circa 1995 like Offspring, Marilyn Manson, Luscious Jackson, Rancid, and Reverend Horton Heat.

In February 18,1997, Lunachicks released “Pretty Ugly” on Go-Kart. It’s rare for them to retain the same record label in releasing a new album, but they might have been satisfied on what Go-Kart records did to the band’s career. A quirk about this album is the title track –“Pretty Ugly” was released on a Go-Kart records compilation titled “GO-KART VS. THE CORPORATE GIANT”. Production value-wise, “Pretty Ugly” is somewhat too bass heavy a recording for a Punk Rock band. Either they are following a trend – Massive Attack, Portishead and Trent Reznor / Nine-Inch-Nails - at the time were releasing albums with ridiculous amounts of bass which were selling like hotcakes- or experimenting. Back then, a friend of mine damaged his US$1,500 Velodyne sub woofer during the song “What’s Left” when he played the song at unamplified-drum-kit-sound-pressure-levels. Mind you his audio rig easily passed muster playing other well-recorded drum kit recordings at their natural/unamplified sound pressure levels (105-110 dB SPL).

In 1998, Lunachicks released “Drop Dead Live” which to me is probably the best Live Rock Concert album of all time in sound quality terms. Rivaling that of Kiss’ “Alive” and Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan”. This is where –as a live band – Lunachicks’ performance rivals that of Iron Maiden circa 1984. This just proves that independent labels –like Go-Kart – good sound quality comes naturally.

In 1999 while still with Go-Kart records, Lunachicks released “Luxury Problem”. I think –as epitomes of the Punk Rock ideal – Lunachicks became somewhat “uncomfortable” with their popularity in the audiophile community chose to record their “Luxury Problem” album with heavy amounts of audio compression and “dry” i.e. no reverb. But the resulting sound quality made the recording sound as if Lunachicks are playing in the cramped confines of a typical Punk Rock venue in New York City like CBGB’s. Are they trying to mimic the godfathers of Punk – The Ramones – on this recording? The tattoo references are still present though.

From 2001 onwards, the band’s tour itinerary has gone from few to nonexistent. The band’s members are busy with their “other jobs.” Gina is now the lead singer and guitarist of the band Bantam. Theo now play’s with Theo and the Skyscrapers. Theo also appeared in the movie Zoolander, you know, the tattooed woman in Hansel’s loft. Becky was the drummer for the Blair Bitch Project back in 2000. Helen Destroy plays drums in the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin (The Lesbian Led Zeppelin?). Squid is currently working as a tattoo artist. I wonder if Squid did Theo’s tattoos?

Despite of their album’s quirks sound quality wise, it’s really hard to pick a single favorite album from Lunachicks. It’s like picking a best Mark Levinson amplifier. To me, Lunachicks’ influence reached beyond the confines of Punk Rock. Theo grazed the cover of Tattoo Magazine’s international edition and probably influenced a generation of women on their taste in fashion. They made some “conventional guys” that I know into loyal fans even though these guys are Soldier of Fortune types who helped Zimbabwe to become independent back in 1980 even though the country has bee going to hell recently. Some used to roam downtown Grozny, Chechnya with Kalashnikovs back in 1992. They don’t care about the “Brickface and Stucco” connotations, to them it’s all about the music and one’s “preferences” is his or her own business not the Government or the Church or whatever.

The songs that stuck on me are “FDS” from Jerk, which sounds like a Broadway show tune Punk Metal hybrid. I also like “Bitterness Barbie” for reasons that might result in me writing a 250 page Doctoral Thesis about what is wrong with George W. Bush and his neo-conservatives. “Spoilt” for it’s critique on Capitol Hill / Wall Street Imperialism that required the sacrifice of working class American blood in running it. And who could forget “Fallopian Rhapsody”, the Roe v Wade question that nobody seems to care or the American women whose voices are silenced by the Moral Majority / Right Wing Christian extremists. Remember the January 16, 1997 Sandy Springs incident?

To me, Lunachicks deserve multi-platinum status. Their drummer Chip’s been playing like they already had one. When the Suicide Girls appeared in Jerry Bruckheimer’s CSI New York, I thought would an appearance by Lunachicks be not far behind? Or is that prospect as viable as a Henry Rollins – Black Flag reunion tour?

18 comments:

Apple said...

My "legwork" on the Internet has shown that Lunachicks has not performed or appeared live in either The Tonight Show with Jay Leno or Late Night with Conan O'Brien. What is this Lunachicks' song "Spoilt" being about Capitol Hill and Wall Street imperialism? It seems like their are Fulbright Scholars who are into Lunachicks. From the Vietnam War era Operation Ranch Hand where DOW and Monsanto spread Agent Orange and napalm over the Vietnamese countryside to the recent Moodys' downgrading Vietnam's credit rating as of June 5, 2008. Maybe when Barack Obama becomes president will Vietnam's fortunes turn for the better.

Al said...

I only started viewing "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" on a regular basis in 1997. Even though this shows existed some years before that, it's quite unbelievable that Lunachicks never got to perform live in either shows. Especially on Conan O'Brien where Lunachicks regular gig spots were probably only a cab or a subway ride away from "30 Rock"!
Are we pertaining to Operation Ranch Hand, the 1961 to 1971 spraying of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War? At the time, the element of racism was very relevant when Capitol Hill approved the large scale spraying of MONSANTO 's then newly developed herbicide. The high dioxin content of MONSANTO 's mass-produced Agent Orange and the ensuing toxicity issue was overlooked because the policymakers at Capitol Hill view the Vietnamese people as non-White and non-"Christian". If this is not racism, I don't know what is.

Girlie May said...

Though Lunachicks never appeared in "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", "Late Night with Conan O'Brien", "Saturday Night Live", and even "The Tonight Show with David Letterman" their vocalist, Theo Kogan, did appear on The Jon Stewart Show back in April 29, 1995 (That particular episode aired on June 9, 1995). The Jon Stewart Show was a short lived talk show that premiered on the MTV Channel back in 1993 before Jon Stewart started his own parody news show titled "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart".
P.S. Don't you think that the best Lunachicks' album is "Jerk of all Trades" because this particular album showcased the uniqueness of tone of the band's guitar works. I personally think that on the "Jerk" album Lunachicks joined the guitar world's credo of adopting uniqueness of tone as a pathway to guitar greatness. Just like the late, great Albert Collins with his somewhat bizzare minor tuning.

Nancy said...

Is this the same Vietnam War era "Operation Ranch Hand" featured in the documentary titled "The Last Ghost of War" pertaining to the class action lawsuit against the Monsanto corporation for their improperly manufactured Agent Orange defoliant which - till this day - still continue to maim the citizens of Vietnam. Looks like the Lunachicks song "Spoilt" just became Monsanto's de facto anthem. I also found out that Monsanto was also responsible for the worldwide contamination of PolyChlorinatedBiphenyls a.k.a. PCB s. Especially around the Great Lakes region.

Judith said...

Speaking of Lunachicks' forays into the "wild blue yonder" of the "Mainstream Media", Becky once appeared on Howard Stern's Lesbian Dating Game. When compared to Mark Levinson Amplifiers, I think Lunachicks' "sound" is moreakin to tube amps with more "joire de vivre" like the original Quad II or Marantz circa 1959 than solid state offerings.
P.S. I think it was General Electric who are responsible for spreading PCB s in the American Great Lakes Region. I just hope GE Bank won't lower my mom's credit rating for saying this. Ha!

Letiche said...

Please let me add my two-cents worth of wisdom. Gutar-tone wise, Lunachicks' "Jerk of all Trades" album is their best. In the Punk Rock universe, I only know two bands who are conscientious when it comes to creating a great guitar tone. The other one is the band "Kittie".
When it comes to the probable reason why Lunachicks hasn't played or will never play Conan O'Brien, Saturday Night Live, or any other NBC / 30 Rockefeller Plaza venue - apart from the band already being disbanded - is that when Lunachicks wrote the song Spoilt, the band have reached a consensus on their opposition to the despotic policies of the American Military-Industrial Complex. In which General Electric is a principal contributor and part owner of NBC. Like those GE product placement spoofs made by Alec Baldwin's character on "30 Rock". Plus their is this issue of GE polluting the Hudson River with Monsanto's polychlorinatedbiphenyls.
I stand by my views, despite fears of GE Money Bank's withdrawing support from our local credit union.

Geraldine said...

When it comes to having a great guitar tone, Lunachicks' "Jerk of all Trades" album really pass muster. Not only for the axework being recorded / engineered in a loud yet ear-friendly manner reminiscent of Blackface era Fender Champs being made to sound arena-filling loud, but also having a tone that complements Theo's vocal style and delivery. Majority of "punk purists" hate her Broadway-esque-in-tune kind of singing but not me.
Speaking of the evils of MONSANTO, does the song "Rip U" on their Binge and Purge album contain a referrence on that former MONSANTO "legal lap-dog" Clarence Thomas?
As a band, I think Lunachicks pioneered "Corporate Social Responsibility" before it became popular in our 21st Century post-An Inconvenient Truth world. By refusing to play on NBC's 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York venue - which is owned by General Electric - Lunachicks manages to avoid being labeled as hypocrites and sell-outs by their devoted fans. Remember what they stood for every time they perform "Spoilt"? Being honest to yourself doesn't hurt a bit. And besides, GE has recently been criticized by their shareholders as being "too big to manage". Plus there's also concerns about GE's lack of transparency of it's finance arm - i.e. GE Money Bank - as reported on BBC World's World Business Report on July 11, 2008.

Sarah said...

Speaking on the subject of "great guitar tone", it's still quite rare to use Lunachicks and great guitar tone in the same sentence. To my ears at least, the guitar tone on Lunachicks' "Jerk of all Trades" album draws on the strengths of the two greatest stompboxes of all time - namely the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face and Rat. Mix that with the tonal beauty of Blackface-era Fender Champ with the greatness of volume and crunch of Marshall stacks and you'll get - more or less - the guitar tone on "Jerk". Sadly, this great guitar tone seems to have disappeared on their succeeding albums.
Speaking of bands / musicians distancing themselves from Eisenhower's Military-Industrial Complex, just look at NOFX's 2004 appearance on The Late Night with Conan O'Brien. NOFX seems to be obliviously ignorant about this when their point of appearing on Conan - which is venues on a General Electric owned building i.e. 30 Rockefeller Plaza - is to criticize the Bush Administration's despotic Foreign Policy. Mind you NOFX is probably America's most politically correct punk band in current circulation. Even Elvis fans were powerless, when back in 1958, Elvis Presley was conscripted by the US Army - with behest from the Eisenhower Administration - and sent to the Sudetenland.
Speaking of Operation Ranch Hand, have you noticed how the military adventurism of that Nazi John Wayne in Vietnam conveniently ended when the large-scale spraying of the dangerous and toxic defoliant Agent Orange got underway? Despite of the large scale chronic health problems of returning American Servicemen and the Vietnamese people, it seems that MONSANTO has managed to get away Scott-free from their environmental responsibilities again. Despite of this, there are a number of new species discovered in Vietnam. Such as a new kind of snake back in 2007, which goes to show the Republican / GOP and Wall Street's efforts to destroy Vietnam after all these years seems to end in futility. They even resorted to lowering Vietnam's credit rating as of late. Is Vietnam stronger than the proverbial "White Man's God"?

Rudolph said...

For everyone's benefit, General Electric is NBC 's parent company. But whether we should be compelled to feel guilty everytime we watch "30 Rock", "Conan", "Leno", or "SNL" by people who have a beef with GE or other companies sustaining the US Military-Industrial Complex is one thing altogether. I am too are a Lunachicks fan after a female acquaintance of mine introduced their music to me back in 1998. As far as I know, Theo and the rest of Lunachicks never condemned the "Earth-destroying excesses" of Monsanto in public. Does the Lunachicks' official website has any thing about their views on Monsanto? Probably everyone who is a Lunachicks fan already knows that Monsanto is probably the most hated company on the planet.

WAR CHILD said...

Wasn't Theo and the gang singing about that Vietnamese girl being hit by napalm? You know, that Pulitzer-Prize winning photo of a nine-year old Vietnamese girl named Kim Phuk which the then President Nixon doubted the photo's authenticity.
Speaking of Theo's tattoos, have any of you seen the November 1999 edition of International Tattoo Art magazine in which Theo was the cover girl? In the mag, her bandmate and personal tattoo artist Squid is considered one of the best inkslingers in New York. By the way, Theo also did modeled for Calvin Klein, Betsey Johnson, Kitty Boots, Patricia Fields and Michael Kors.
Speaking of the song Spoilt, isn't it high time for someone to make it into a Broadway musical like ABBA's "Mama Mia!"? It would be free advertising for Monsanto's Agent Orange and DOW Chemical's napalm.

Yvette said...

Has any of you heard of the "Uncle Floyd Show"? Lunachicks did perform on that show back in April 1990 when the show still lampoons the carelessness of the parties involved in the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.
Speaking of Theo's tattoos, she can be found hanging around Fly Rite tattoo studio in Brooklyn, New York where bassist Squid slings ink.
About Spoilt the Musical, wouldn't this be just a repeat of that other Vietnam War-based Broadway musical titled "Miss Saigon"?...Or maybe not because Miss Saigon doesn't contain "enough" references on that 9 year old Vietnamese girl named Kim Phuk being hit by napalm whose photo's authenticity was doubted by then President Richard "Big Dick" Nixon. Or Monsanto's Agent Orange gaining widespread use in Operation Ranch Hand. Maybe a Broadway musical with a Michael Moore documentary like spin. Spoilt would become the next "Mamma Mia!" given the nature of Lunachicks' fanbase. Is Rob Halford of Judas Priest a Lunachicks' fan? Then imagine Theo Kogan walking the "Red Carpet" with Michael Moore reminiscent of Mickey Rooney hanging out with Ava Gardner a couple of generations before.

Lilith Fair said...

Spoilt the Musical? To me, it would be as dangerous as if some fluke a musical / rock opera called "Friedrich Nietzsche Superstar" is shown on Broadway / The Great White Way.
Every time I listen to Lunachicks' Spoilt, it always remind me of that 1972 Pullitzer-Prize winning photo of Kim Phuc. The then 9 year old Vietnamese girl being hit by napalm and survives which is the most lasting impression left by the Vietnam War. Including those Vietnamese civilians and American servicemen who contracted chronic health problems due to Monsanto's Agent Orange exposure. Back then President Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon openly showed his doubts about the authenticity of the Pullitzer-Prize winning photo, this is probably the reason why Theo wrote Spoilt. Sadly, no official press interviews regarding the true reasons behind Lunachicks' inspirations behind this particular song.
As a musical similar to Abba's "Mamma Mia!" I think it would work, given that most of the original - "been there since 1976" - punk rockers also are also unabashed Abba fans like The Meatmen's Tesco, who is a famed Abba fan.
Maybe some proceeds of "Spoilt the Musical" would be used to fund victims of on-going conflicts since the true victims of war are the civilian populace. Proven true ever since Goya painted the Third of May or Fernando Botero's paintings about the Abu Ghraib prison fiasco in Iraq.

April Rain said...

Spoilt, the Musical could be the first time when a Broadway Musical revolves around Botique Guitar Amps with a Fender Blackface Champ tone that can play as loud as multi-stacked Marshalls. Or could it be about Lunachicks' critique on the atrocities of the US Military-Industrial Complex during the Vietnam War. Who would have thought that the impact of that Pulitzer-Prize winning photo of the then 9 year old Kim Phuc being hit by napalm could still stir anti-Tricky Dick Nixon sentiments till this day.
In my opinion, this could mean big money for their record label Go Kart. And given that their also successful label mate The Meatmen has a frontman who is an unabashed Abba fan in the name of Tesco Vee. Given the recent success of the Abba based musical "Mamma Mia!", Spoilt the Musical is not that far fetched.

April Rain said...

P.S.
Has anyone of you visited the blogsite http://bethlehemghetto.blogspot.com ? There's a photo there of former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in drag who disturbingly looks like Lunachicks' frontwoman Theo Kogan wearing her trademark outrageous stage costumes.

Claire said...

It's quite strange though that Abba is well-loved by the punk rock community with The Meatmen's Tesco Vee openly so. Yet they / we hate the Spice Girls, especially those in the Sleater-Kinney and Team Dresch camps which I currently belong. Lunachicks is probably the best loved all women punk rock band despite being denied appearance on MTV's TRL. A Lunachicks-based musical based on their song Spoilt would be a very good thing. But Lunachicks are now broken up and we have to resort to hiring thesbians to make "Spoilt the Musical" possible. Jessica Beal would certainly look good as Theo Kogan. To make it like the movie based on ABBA's Mamma Mia! would certainly make it an anti-Monsanto / anti-Bush Doctrine kind of musical. I did visit http://bethlehemghetto.blogspot.com and the former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani in drag does look like Theo Kogan with on of her trademark on-stage costumes.

Hera said...

Hey guys, Gov. Sarah Palin's racism has segued herself into one of the characters of Lunachicks' Spoilt the Musical. We should thank Tennessee Williams by the way for the inspiration.
FDS sounds like a show tune but the show hasnt been written for it yet. Just like what Nina Simone said about Mississippi Goddam.

araon said...

Thanks for sharing. you did a great job. looking forward on this post. psd template

gb23 said...

So what is Fallopian Rhapsody saying, it seems contradictory?