The progenitors of the Cle scene of the 70s were Rocket From The Tombs, Electric Eels and The Mirrors. The highwater mark for this stage of the scene was Extermination Music Night, December 22, 1974, at The Viking Saloon. It was the first and only time these bands appeared on the same stage. Pere Ubu, Peter Laughner's Friction and John Morton's X-blank-X carried on. In Akron there was Devo and Tin Huey. The latter was a magnificent band that unfortunately peaked before anyone outside of Akron-Cleveland had a chance to hear them. Between Akron and Cleveland, in Kent, the utterly magnificent 15-60-75, the Numbers Band, were the inspirational grandaddies of any and everything. Chrissy Hynde would always be known among that generation as Terry Hynde's kid sister. (Terry was, and is, a horn player in 15-60-75.)
We were the right persons in the right place at the right time. We were the third generation of American rock youth. The first generation had been marked out by the Elvis recording of 'Heartbreak Hotel;' the second by the Brian Wilson - Velvet Underground axis. Noise, abstract sound, analog synthesizers and appropriate techniques and strategies were entering the frame. Come the early 70s the Manifest Destiny of rock music was a clear and obvious plot on a graph. The task at hand was to incorporate abstract sound as a distinct and fully empowered voice in the unique narrative mechanism of rock music and then to advance the story-telling capacity of the form to a mature, literate plateau.
We heard the whisper, "Whatdya got, kid? Get it up."
You cannot choose to be the right person. You cannot plan or work or devise to be that person. Furthermore, you deserve no credit. You were simply standing there waiting for the bus when the bus came along. The only deserved distinction might be that you were aware of the stream of time and circumstance, your place in it, and the obligations that that knowledge laid on you. You were paying attention. You knew there was a bus stop.
There are other factors to consider.
We were living in the last days of regionalism. Where, in former times, mountains, deserts, oceans and rivers might have served to isolate and incubate communities, in the 50s, 60s and into the 70s, radio and TV broadcast throw and reception range would act in a similar way. Those were the days of regional radio hits - localized charts were still the norm rather than the exception. Most TV and radio stations were locally owned and operated. The majority were affiliated with one of three national networks and took nationally syndicated programming, but there were still vast tracts of time to be filled by local management. Driven by local circumstances, inspired by local characters, and fueled by the sort of unrefined exuberance to be expected even in the last wild days of a technological frontier, isolated pockets of 'punk' activity within American TV and radio markets were capable of throwing up sometimes astonishing phenomena that blossomed and then withered unnoticed outside an incubated geography. Of significance to the Cle experience was Ghoulardi.
The early 70s was the golden age of the record store. It should be remembered that Cleveland was awarded the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame because of one record shop, Record Rendezvous on Prospect Avenue. It was there that owner Leo Mintz saw white kids going nuts to 'race' records, rhythm and blues. He pulled in Akron radio DJ Alan Freed, sponsored Freed's 'The Moondog Show,' and wrangled him a time slot on a major Cleveland station in 1951. Decades later when Cleveland was one of the most important markets for the record business, responsible for breaking David Bowie, Roxy Music, Bruce Springsteen and many others, local station WMMS became so powerful that it managed to 'stuff the ballot box' to land the Hall Of Fame for Cleveland. The engine room for all this, throughout, was the record store. Many of the figures of the Cle scene worked in record shops. There was an intense rivalry between shops to stock every record of note from every corner of the world. Jim Jones, eventually a member of every notable Cle band, worked at Record Rendezvous on Prospect. He was generous with his time and knowledge, and, if you were lucky, he'd invite you around to hear his specially compiled collection of split channel Beatles tapes.
Possibly the most significant event for the Cle experience was the appearance of The Velvet Underground at the jazz/folk club La Cave in 1967 - 1968. In that year they played LaCave 26 times. They were considered to be the house band and they considered Cleveland to be their second home.
Two teenagers, Jaime Klimek and Peter Laughner, managed to sneak into LaCave when the Velvets played. Their bootleg tapes, along with others, circulated. Emerging Cle underground bands, including The Mirrors, Klimek's group, learned 'Sweet Jane,' and other unreleased songs. 'Sweet Jane,' rumored to be inspired by The Plain Dealer's pop music columnist, Jane Scott, became such a standard cover in the underground that by the mid 70s it was considered a cllche when Mott The Hoople popularized it.
[When Jane Scott died, Lou Reed, himself nearing the end of his life, delivered a glowing eulogy.]
Bootleg tapes were the lifeblood of the scene. When water is confined to a narrow, rigid channel it is energized. The dataflow through Cleveland was intense, leading inevitably to the formulation of the principle of Datapanik.
The Intrusive Other
"Consider the common characteristics of these bands, particularly the distinctive narrative architecture that is an idiosyncratic mixture of the observational, the self participatory, and the Intrusive Other, by which I mean the notion that the telling of a story should involve the incorporation of additional, intrusive Points of View that might run in parallel or at some angle to the central narrative - crossing it, intruding, overlaying, contradicting, deprecating, or even ignoring it. In other words, mayhem... To tell a story this way was simply how you did things - it wasn't sophisticated, or clever, or important. But it made a neat mess. And that was cool. Consider the startling musical inserts and abrupt image jumps beloved by these bands, the enthusiasm for noise and abstract sound, the appreciation of absurdity and extremism, the sense of the theatrical but an abhorrence of artifice... These bands were fronted by guys with extreme persona, odd hosts archly mediating a musical experience, each serving as a funhouse lens through which the musicians look outward at the audience and through whom, in turn, the audience receives context, perspective, and scale. The observer is himself observed. The narrator is generated by the story he tells." - Lessons In Mayhem by David Thomas.
1. There were, of course, other bands involved in the Cle scene of the 70s. The ones I mention were The Big Three. As well, there were other important follow-on groups, most significantly Jones' Easter Monkeys.
2. Quite rightly, someone has pointed out that Akron's Devo could certainly be described as 'artifice laden.' The paragraph quoted from 'Lessons In Mayhem' is meant to be specific to Cle bands. We 'superior' Cle bands considered the Akron sound to be a bit too 'goofy' - no offense to Tin Huey but with Ralph Carney and Mark Price in the same outfit it was bound to be too much for my or anybody else's mirror. Do your best to find a recording of Price's 'Water Piece.'
3. Tin Huey was way out in front on the timeline. Maybe six months to a year - but in the context of the time and place, that seemingly short period can be described as "way out in front." I remember sitting in Allen's apartment at the very beginning of the Pere Ubu project, hearing an early recording they'd made and thinking to myself, 'Boy, we gotta catch up fast.'
4. On the subject of regionalism, it should be noted that within the Cle scene there was always an East Side vs. West Side dividing line.